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“Se7en Favorite Games of 2010″ or “Sheppard Plants Assassins Northrend Explosions Protoss Bada-Bing-Bada-Boom!”

January 3, 2011 3 comments

Note: Sorry this is a day late, I got caught up in some work stuff / my cat swallowed a hairball / my dog ate my blog post.

2010, much like everything else in life, had it’s ups and downs. The gaming industry continues to grow, and with growth comes more variety and better quality games. On the flip-side terrible games also stick out like sore thumbs when juxtaposed against lauded AAA titles. All in all, I had a blast in 2010 playing video games, and despite some fairly horrid titles, botched reboot attempts, and sub-par production values in some otherwise solid titles, I was quite pleased with what the industry had to offer.

I didn’t play as many MMOs in 2010 as I did in the years prior. I quit Eve Online. I finally said goodbye to World of Warcrft, despite a stellar new expansion (I was in the beta). I started dabbling into LOTRO and realized it was a completionist’s wet-dream, and I have been having a blast on my novice Elf Hunter (yes, I know that race/class combo is real original). I tried out Perpetuum and was turned off by how similar it was to Eve Online in terms of systems, UI and looks, and how much it paled in comparison in actual execution. I also tried my hands at World of Tanks, a game that really took a lot to get used to, and so far it hasn’t been entirely disappointing. SynCaine’s ramblings finally made me cave in to Darkfall and I have been getting my ass kicked ever since. But all things considered, I spent the least amount of time with MMOs in 2010, especially when you contrast that against 2-6 hour daily sessions with World of Warcraft and EvE Online in prior years.

At any rate, the following are my favorite games of 2010, in no particular order:

Mass Effect 2

What a stellar experience this game was. I found myself thinking of the game weeks after I finished it, always intrigued by what could have happened if I had played a particular fight with another set of allies using different tactics. Mass Effect 2, of all the games I have played in 2010, had the most powerful ending I have experienced in a video game, despite a terrible “final boss” fight and holes in the story regarding the final set pieces. Mass Effect 2 gave me goosebumps, and I am ever thankful to BioWare for making such a fantastic title. It speaks volume for a title that has quite a few flaws, but those flaws completely pale in comparison to the rest of the package.

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Starcraft II

This game is the primary reason my MMO habits suffered so greatly in 2010. (The other reason being a lack of interesting MMOs to play in 2010 – just my opinion, disagree all you want). Twelve years in the making, this title had the kind of hype that eventually leads to inflated expectations, which, inevitably deflate with rancid disappointment because no title can live up to such high hopes. Starcraft 2, however, shocked fans and critics alike when it launched, not only meeting, but in some cases exceeding expectations. Couple this with the fact that the title shipped with no LAN support despite resounding disagreement from the core fan base, and that this is only a third of a trilogy that will be released over several years, and still the title did so well both commercially and critically. The single player campaign was phenomenal, and there was a hardly a mission where I felt like I was playing an RTS. It was immersive, innovative, the missions were varied and featured a plethora of objectives for you to accomplish and the production values were incredible. It took me nearly 40 hours to get through the single-player portion of the game. But the multiplayer is where I find myself losing hours on a daily basis: 386 hours to be exact (that’s over 16 days in real-time – sheesh!). I love the 1v1 match-ups and a friend and I have been tearing through the 2v2 rankings for several weeks now. This is a game I will be surely playing well into 2010.

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Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood

Talking about completionists’ wet-dreams, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood hit the (digital) shelves in November. I have already shared my thoughts on the title, so I will spare you the re-iteration, but suffice it to say AC:B was hours upon hours of fun, featuring huge improvements over the previous titles, and kept me happily occupied for days.

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Split/Second

A racing game? Yes, I was surprised as well. A colleague at work first recommended this title and then demanded that I play it. I have never been a big racing sim fan, so I was a little skeptic. But then I lost a bet the following week to the same colleague and my “punishment” was playing this title. God I wish all punishments could be like this. Expecting a racing sim with questionable production values and a botched, convoluted “career mode”, I was completely blown away (pun-intended) by what I saw. One of the most satisfying games I have ever played, Split/Second is a fictional reality TV show in the ‘near future’, where drivers compete on tracks laden with explosives and traps. These obstacles can be triggered by any of the drivers as long as they have power, which is earned through air time, drafting and drifting. There was no major car customization, no excessively ‘real-time’ mode, just the directional pad, an accelerator, a brake and two buttons for small and large explosions respectively. It is deceptively simple and shockingly involved and deep. You can win/lose in the final few moments, and the music is so well done, it actually gets your adrenaline pumping for those final precious few seconds of a hard-fought race. Check it out if you haven’t yet, and look on YouTube for some of the soundtrack.

World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King

My love-hate relationship with WoW continued to grow/dwindle in 2010, but finally fizzled out towards the end. Despite the fact that I am no longer playing it, I had a lot of fun playing WoW casually in 2010. I learned what it was like not to raid for 4 hours a night, 4-5 days a week. I learned the fun in creating and pursuing your own little goals, such as going after a particularly elusive reputation, or earning the Chef’s Hat. I ran heroics with strangers and 10-mans with old friends and guildies, and I had a blast. I was also in the Cataclysm Beta from quite early on and played it for nearly three months. I experienced most of the new content and enough of the revamped world to know what Cataclysm had to offer. Eventually I realized it wasn’t enough to keep me around, but I had a great time nonetheless. And who knows, maybe I will find a reason to go back at some point in the future.

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Plants vs. Zombies

PopCap hit gold with this title. This game seems so simple on the surface, but as the levels progress and the various types of zombies and plants unlock, it turns into one of the most complex, strategic and exhilirating titles I have had the pleasure of playing in recent memory. I was initially skeptic of the title, Bejeweled and Peggle (the other smash hits from the developer) aren’t exactly what you would call my cup of tea. So imagine my surprise when I played the game and realized what an incredible experience it was. Not that the title needed any additional critical acclaim, but it has now been immortalized in WoW as a series of quests in the Hillsbrad Foothils starting with Brazie the Botanist.

Mafia II

And finally, we have the crime drama. The game didn’t get very high reviews from most gaming authorities, getting an average rating around the mid-70s. I am not disagreeing, I don’t think it was as good as it could have been. But the original Mafia, a game I played start to end three times, holds a special place in my heart. And even though the characters didn’t have much cross-over between the two games, I loved every minute of Mafia II, even the abysmal driving controls and the long rides between mission points. Mafia II didn’t live up to its predecessor, but it was a hell of a ride, and I am glad for it.

Honorable Mentions

  • Metro 2033: Great game, supremely atmospheric. Horrendous AI that breaks the game in my opinion.
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops: Excellent single-player campaign, especially when juxtaposed against MoH. Awful PC multiplayer ruined my experience.
  • Borderlands: Released in 2009, I kn0w, played it well into 2010, lots of good DLC content, had a blast.
  • Darkfall: SynCaine was right, it is difficult to go back to WoW after experiencing Darkfall in all it’s brutal, unforgiving glory, still learning, still trying to wrap my head around it.
  • Machinarium: Actually can I have eight favorites of 2010? Yes, it’s that good.

“Plenty of Previews” or “GLaDOS is Still a Bitch”

June 22, 2010 Leave a comment

Bunch of previews that I finally got a chance to get through today.

Rage [Joystiq]
Looks interesting. The premise  does not seem terribly novel, and we have already seen some of the finest post apocalyptic worlds crafted in Fallout 3 and Metro 2033, so I am curious to see what id’s version of a less-than-ideal future may be like. But then again, Doom III, at least for me, was a massive disappointment. id claims the game is part racer and part shooter, and that is what sets it apart. Hello! GTA did that like eight years ago!

Deus Ex 3: Human Revolution [Joystiq] [Kotaku]
Deus Ex will always hold a special place in my heart, although Invisible War sort of ruined the whole thing for me. But if these previews are any indication, we seem to be back on track. I was initially wary of the lack of Warren Specter in the development of the third title, but maybe that isn’t such a bad thing after all.

Mafia 2 [Joystiq]
I loved the first Mafia. That game had me hooked from the moment I saw the rippling waters of Empire City as the camera panned over the lighthouse, and into a city teeming with life and opportunity. In many ways, I think Mafia was a better and smarter game than Grand Theft Auto 3. But that, of course, is more of a matter of perspective than anything else.

Portal 2 [Joystiq]
I am rabidly following any Portal 2 news, as, I am sure, is everyone else who got a taste of the brilliant title a few years back. And co-op? I am going to need several new shirts by the time I am done drooling!

Homefront [Joystiq] [Kotaku] [Trailer]
The more I look into this game, the more interesting it seems. Modern Warfare 2 extensively explored the possibility of America’s soil coming under invasion by Russia in a contemporary setting, but there is something about the grit and passion behind Homefront that seems to set it apart. I can’t quite put my finger on it yet though.

“2033 Different Ways to Die in the Metro” or “Artificially Stupid”

April 3, 2010 Leave a comment

I wanted to take some time and write a follow-up to the very initial impressions I had from the first few hours of gameplay in Metro 2033. But certain observations in the game have prompted, nay, urged me to put together some thoughts on the enemy A.I.

As I stated in the initial impressions, Metro 2033 is all about the atmosphere, the story and the hopelessness of the post-apocalyptic world Artyom carves a path through. It is not, however, a good shooter. In fact, it is not even a mediocre shooter. Sure you have guns, they shoot bullets, pellets and some pneumatic weapons even shoot throwing knives, and there is a wide variety of weapon types and upgrades you can invest into with the ever-precious pre-war ammunition/currency. But the combat is hollow and feels like a bloated attempt by the developer to concoct something that was supposed to go above and beyond a shooter, but couldn’t even surpass basic standards.

To make matters worse, the A.I. is fundamentally retarded. They seem intelligent on the surface, rapidly dashing between cover, trying to take advantage of pillars, barriers and sandbags to avoid your hail of gunfire. But observe a while longer and you begin to realize there is a monotonous, pre-meditated almost obsessive compulsive nature to the A.I. behavior. They dart quickly between cover, but soon it is evident that this is all they do, rapidly oscillating between two points of cover, almost oblivious to your presence. Furthermore, while they seem smart enough to utilize cover to protect themselves from your onslaught, when they move from cover to cover, they completely ignore your line of sight. At several points I was able to gun down enemies because they were out in the open, running, with no explicable reason, from a perfectly shielded spot to another 15 yards away, through an open patch of terrain.

But the retarded behavior gets even more bizarre when you realize they the enemy has no sense of sight or sound. On a particularly difficult map, the terrain literally drenched in a never-ending crossfire of bullets, I managed to flank an entire group of enemies. When I approached them from behind, I decided to run up to them, shooting at the last second as they turned toward me, their countenance locked in an eternal expression or shock and awe. However, having charged at top speed, making more noise than a bull in a china shop, and with my bright flashlight illuminating my enemy’s face, the opponent didn’t flinch. Instead, he simply looked over the cover he was hiding behind, the same cover I was in, standing not a quarter of an inch from him, and fired a random burst into the distance, away from me. Just as an experiment, I shot near his head, the bullet burying itself into the sandbags an inch from his nose, but even this grievance was not enough to give my position away and the A.I. continued to direct his gunfire at the phantom foe downrange.

This pattern repeated for every enemy from that point onward that I managed to flank (at least on that map so far). It is sad to see that a game with such an unusual attention to world detail and such a rich and contextual background failing at the two of the most quintessential aspects of a shooter: visceral gunplay, and wicked A.I.

How unfortunate. How very, very unfortunate.

Categories: Metro 2033, Review

“Manhandling Metro 2033″ or “Creepy Cavern Crawling Children”

March 24, 2010 4 comments

I started playing Metro 2033 last night. From the little I had read about the game, I could glean the following:

  1. It is a very strict linear experience. Some labeled this as a negative thing, and I am not sure why. The Max Payne series was a straight line with nay a single opportunity to veer from the beaten path, and still managed to deliver incredible atmosphere and story. More recently, even groundbreaking and blockbuster titles like Modern Warfare 2 featured a story campaign that bee-lined from beginning to end, no side missions, just powerful storytelling.
  2. It is highly atmospheric and entire sections/areas have been constructed just to create a better sense of the world.
  3. It is a mediocre shooter.
  4. It is based on a Russian novel.
  5. The world is post-apocalyptic with the remnants of humanity residing in underground subway stations, passing the days till the surface becomes remotely habitable again. You could say it’s a Fallout ripoff, but the damn book came first, so suck it Vault-dwellers!

All of the above is more or less accurate.

Like a Bull to a Matador

The game is painfully linear, to the point that if you are traveling with companions and they start marching off to the next checkpoint, they will not stop to check on you if you decide to sprout adventurous wings and go about exploring the area for scarce ammo and other supplies. In fact, the AI-controlled teammates will cross a digital threshold that triggers 6 mutants to be unleashed in the area, and will calmly keep on marching ahead, oblivious to your frantic cries of help as you hobble about trying to ward off and shoot the creatures with starter weapons that can only be compared to glorified slingshots. In a way, this reinforces the concept that you need to stick with your team if you don’t want to end up in the mutants’ crock pot that night, but it does break realism in that the AI will very strictly follow pre-determined paths and objectives of the woefully linear mission.

There is some room for exploration. Deviating from the path, while mostly hazardous and, for the lack of a better term, lonely, does net considerable advantages in the form of much needed and increasingly scarce gas mask filters, ammo and even upgraded guns. My favorite gun so far is a revolver, modified with a rifle barrel extension for increased accuracy and a silencer to pick off targets without attracting unwanted attention.

A Rich Back Story

To say that the game is atmospheric would be sort of like saying Avatar was quite under-hyped. There are little snippets of information strewn about in the form of pre-nuclear-winter memorabilia, random conversations from individuals in the populated stations (I use ‘populated’ loosely, ‘crammed’ would be a more apt depiction), and vestiges of lost civilization the NPCs cling on to for dear life. People are jam-packed like sardines in these nuclear shelters, claiming improvised shacks, even cupboards and benches in old, unused subway cars as their new home. The show, as they say, must go on. There are entire sections of the game world that offer no plot advancement, trade or combat; they have been created just to portray the harsh underground existence of these doomed denizens. It is blatantly obvious to anyone who spends more than a few minutes just exploring a locale to realize this was a labor of love for the developers, and they have poured their collective creativity and meticulous attention to detail and subtext into virtually every nook and cranny in the game. Sheer brilliance. 11/10 for atmosphere.

So-So Pew Pew

It is not a mediocre shooter, it’s actually below average. Gun don’t pack the satisfying punch that brings with it an unsaid level of comfort. The recoil is too mathematical and under-compensated. In the time it takes to reload, I could probably read the book the game is based on. The enemy AI seems cunning on the surface, ducking out from behind cover, darting between different areas to keep you on your toes, but if you sit back and observe, you realize they are darting about primarily for the sake of darting about.

No one is flanking you, they seem to be determined, programmed one might say, to move about haphazardly, to create a false sense that you are up against an enemy that is responding to your attack logically. All said and done, if you are looking for a great shooter, you will find the makings of one here, but it falls quite short of the precedent set by MW2 and ME2.

Did It Just Get Cold In Here, Or Is It Just Me?

Some may claim the game is not creepy, just radiating an ambiance of dread, uncertainty and a few unintentional cheap scares. I wouldn’t disagree entirely, however, there were some moments that jolted me. One of these moments came quite early on. A party of four, myself included, were pushing a hand cart down a subway tunnel with the intention of reaching the next station.

As the cart rounded a corner, I saw the shadow of a little kid, 4, maybe 5 years old, donning a military helmet walking down the track directly ahead of us. I though to myself, this is a throughway, there are bound to be traders or migrating families moving about within the metro system. Except I could see no one else with the child. And then I realized I couldn’t see the child either. It was just a shadow, a silhouette that eerily marched down the tracks, got larger as the light from our cart approached it, and then simply disintegrated into nothingness as we moved past it. Color me creeped out!

Conclusion

All in all I am thoroughly enjoying the experience. It has its drawbacks, but the void Mass Effect 2 has left is at least partially filled with the atmospheric work of genius that is Metro 2033.

Categories: Metro 2033, Opinion, Review
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