Well I'm back after a long stint of not posting here at GameSpot. Lately I have had less time available to write the more fullsome reviews of games that some will be used to. Work and family take up increasing amounts of time and for me "real life" takes precedence over gaming. That said, I am still using keybogard and mouse to free the digital world of the forces of evil (or recently varieties of "mutants"). Also I have been diverted, as part of family time, to playing games with my son on the PS3 and have enjoyed watching and playing (though not so well, being all thumbs on the PS3 controller) games from the Uncharted, Assassin's Creed and Killzone series of games and indeed my favourite (in its PC version) Saboteur. I found it easier to get into the 3rd person games on PS3 more so than the FPS (although the gritty Killzone games are fun) as I did struggle with the controls initially but am slowly getting better.
One thing I have noticed, though not for the first time, is that with PS3 games installing and running the games is simple, whereas the newer PC games this becomes more painful and indeed my rig is now out of date for most graphic-intensive games post-2009. No searching the internet for obscure fixes, patches and tweaks, just insert and play. So as usual I have been scouring the planet, via the internet, to find some of the more famous "older" PC titles. Sadly it is cheaper for me to buy the games ex-UK (primarily) and ship to me than to support my local retail outlet. Indeed quite a few retailers here in Perth, including EB Games, are stocking shelves with UK-sourced product.
Recently I have been playing some arguably "classic" FPS games. While I started drafting reviews for some of them I just don't have the time to complete them, so here instead are very "brief reviews" of those games.
The narrative certainly fits in with the idea of "Area-51" given its association with alien-linked conspiracies. The story is quite deep and you ultimately discover it's not so much about evil scientists doing experiments on aliens but rather vice versa. The voice acting of the protagonist Ethan Cole is performed by X-Files legend David Duchovny. Duchovny's work here gets panned in some reviews, however to me seems totally appropriate as he is relating the tale of Area-51 after the event, in a somewhat shellshocked state, given all that Ethan Cole goes through.
I guess one could describe Area-51 as a horror-survival FPS. That said there are interesting "asides" and nods to the alien's visiting earth genre as well as an expose about the alleged NASA landing on the moon! It is really in the exploration of the deeper levels of the Area-51 complex that the story really gets cracking and becomes more sci-fi than horror focussed. Don't be mislead, these are not the friendly aliens of Steven Spielberg. The story is smoothly advanced by cut-scenes and Duchovny's voice overs during the loading screens.
Area 51 has a storyline that runs for 19 "chapters" and the narrative becomes more convoluted and indeed the game itself becomes increasingly harder as you progress. Alas there are no quick saves and you may, from about chapter 12, find that you will need to replay segments of the level a number of times as the game does get more difficult, although there are health packs in the form of injections scattered around each level. From chapter 17 the game became quite challenging as extended "boss fights" (which I loathe in any FPS) came to the fore.
Overall gameplay was typical shooter with the protagonist carrying multiple weapons. The story provides a variety of enemies which range from lumbering mutants to alien drones however combat can be quite intense and enemy AI is reasonably good in most cases. Ethan Cole, as the game progresses, can also use some alien technology and the "mutagen" virus to enhance his capabilities. Alas there were, for me, too many boss fights that ruin the pacing as these often needed multiple replays to work out how to destroy them in order to progress.
The game is reasonably graphics intensive and a few tweaks on your graphics card GUI may be required before it runs smoothly. One cannot really fault the graphics and sound work on this game.
OVERALL: While it took me a while to get into it I ended up really enjoying Area-51, although some may find the game somewhat linear and scripted. Recommended (8.0/10).
Far Cry (Ubisoft)
Finally, after buying this game years ago, I actually played it. It is, as reviews almost unanimously agree, a great game. Far Cry is visually appealing with a great tropical outdoors settings unlike most horror/sci-fi survival shooters which take place in dark corridors of factories and warehouses. The overall story is an update of sorts of the Island of Doctor Moreau (by H. G. Wells) in which a mad scientist mutates humans and animals to create the perfect fighting machine.
The main character Jack Carver, unsurprisingly for an FPS, is a former special forces operative and very much in his element fighting off the mercenaries and later mutants. Jack's mission, as it unfolds, is the usual FPS narrative to save the world by killing the scientists and destroying their laboratories and ultimately the multilevel base. Jack is "controlled" by a government agent who directs him to different locales and the odd meet up with Valerie, a female government agent. The story takes a twist when mutated mercenaries (trigens) take on the still human mercenaries, but this does not make life easier for Jack as he must battle both. Unsurprisingly the government controller is not all he seems either.
The mix of wide open tropical outdoors and gloomy base interior environments are well portrayed. Jack can drive vehicles and spends a fair bit of time swimming. There are some great set-piece missions in Far Cry and the game spans some 20 missions/levels although I preferred the earlier outdoors missions than the more horror survival missions later in the game. That said, as the game progresses you often need to infiltrate a major indoor complex, perform your mission, before escaping to the fresh tropic air. Once your character is outside, the game feels far more "open world" than on the rails and scripted and allows multiple ways of moving Jack to take-out or avoid the enemies.
Gameplay is quite satisfying with Jack able to carry only a reasonable allotment of weapons not the wheelbarrow full in other games. Jack has a set of special binoculars that allows him to store spotted enemy locations on the minimap. This is extremely useful as you can play the outdoor missions in a stealthy manner and avoid or limit combat and often Jack is running low on health and health packs are few and far between. Combat can get intense and AI is quite good as well, so the use of stealth, while perhaps not as exciting as run and gun, is at time appropriate. Again, like Area-51, for me there are too many boss fights, especially in the final levels of the game. But this seems to be an unavoidable part of the, especially non-historical, FPS formula.
For me the voice acting in the game was average and there was no development of the story as regards Jack and Valerie. But the emphasis in Far Cry is more on action and less so on deepening the narrative. Otherwise graphics and sound were excellent and you did get that "you are there" feeling. A few glitches were encountered, most memorably when Valerie drives the bomb-carry forklift into the elevator and the elevator descends leaving her and forklift stuck up in mid-air ... this was a worry as I expected a game-crash, but no, Valerie and the forklift dutifully showed up later on the lower levels to complete the mission.
OVERALL: Far Cry is a great FPS, despite the battling mutants theme that develops. Solid FPS gameplay, exciting missions and beautiful settings though somewhat let down by the narrative. Recommended (8.5/10).
Wow, what a game. Well after Area-51 and Far Cry, I was more or less used to the idea of horror/survival shooters, but FEAR has a far more moody atmosphere. Scary? Well, more so than the previously mentioned titles but if one can differentiate between reality and digital fantasy you will live to tell the tale of Alma. Tell the tale, that is, if you can work out what is going on in this enigmatic narrative.
You are the un-named "point man" of a Delta Force group sent to deal with a paranormal situation. There are plenty of enemy forces, which seem to be highly skilled drones (replicants), controlled by the mind of a truly sinister character named Paxton Fettel, the son, or so it seems, of the mysterious Alma an ethereal but powerful woman-child.
Graphically this is a stunning game, largely taking place indoors usually gritty, dark and basements, offices and corridors with occasional forays into poorly lit open areas. Great graphical effects are used as Alma and Fettel, or ghostlike images of them, mysteriously appear and then disappear.
FEAR is rather demanding on the graphics front and the only way I got it to run without crashing was to turn shadows off (even minimal shadows crashed my system after a short while). With shadows off everything else could be set to maximum or in some cases medium, alas I could not find a stable balance with shadows on. It is indeed a glorious looking game and coupled with the eerie sounds, occasional screams, disembodied voices you will become fully immersed.
Gameplay again is pretty typical FPS, but with the ability to lean from cover missing in some FPS games. Weapons are largely "real world" type although some special sci-fi type ones appear later in the game. The game, despite its claustrophobic environments does feel quite "open" although it is heavily scripted due to its checkpoint nature.
OVERALL: Atmospheric and at times quite unsettling, FEAR is well worthy of its acclaim. Recommended (9.0/10).
Sniper: Ghost Warrior (City Interactive)
One would be forgiven for thinking that "City Interactive" and "good game" are mutually exclusive terms. One would usually be right, especially having played a few CI titles over the years. However even I must concede that SGW breaks with tradition; it is really quite good. That said, I'm unsure how it played out of the box in its initial, poorly received, edition. I have the GOTY edition which, via the Steam portal, is fully patched and includes the excellent Second Strike mission pack and indeed it downloaded ~3.5GB of "stuff" so it is presumably much improved.
SGW follows on from FPS games with a very similar narrative, like the Terrorist Takedown series titles, Covert Operations and War in Colombia, in that the player character is a special forces operative battling jungle-based narco-terrorists. SGW has Far Cry-like quality graphics and sound to bring the jungle to life. While CI has always done a good job of portraying jungles SGW is a marked improvement on the earlier titles noted above.
Gameplay-wise SGW is also much improved over earlier titles, although without the usual barrow full of weapons the protagonist must generally make do with a silenced pistol, knives and the sniper rifle only. That said the emphasis is on sniping missions and the silenced pistol should deal with most surprise issues if you play the game in a "sniping spirit".
SGW is NOT a run and gun shooter it very much about stealthily getting to you sniping position, taking down the target and then "getting the hell out of there". Sniping, unsurprisingly, is where the real satisfaction in SGW lies. The bullet-cam effect is excellent and reminiscent of of that used Sniper Elite, which in many ways is a superior sniping/FPS game. Another improvement in this CI title is enemy AI, which while not perfect with enemies that are either "blind and deaf" or eagle-eyed, is better than previous offerings. What of course remains a problem in this, and indeed many other non-CI FPS games, is that SMG armed enemies can blow you away from great ranges, even if in cover, soon as you are spotted (as in Sniper Elite). That said, if you adopt stealth style of play there is a good chance you will not be spotted (but remember to quick save regularly, just in case).
While sniping missions are quite good in the base game, they excel in the Second Strike add-on which has extended missions in a more open environment, and if anything enemy AI is improved. Where SGW fails for me, or at least the enjoyment is spoiled, is the introduction of Delta Force missions, in which you play as another character, and perform assault missions armed with automatic weapons. Why this fails, apart from being an illogical fit in a sniper-themed game, is that the weapons of the Delta operative cannot (or I have just failed to find how to do this) be switched to semi-automatic. Consequently the automatic weapons suffer from a huge "kick-up" making anything but run-in and gun-down ineffective. This to me is a nonsense, especially as the silenced pistol is portrayed more accurate at range.
The Delta Force missions in SGW of themselves would probably be fine if not for the poor automatic weapons modelling. (If anyone knows how to switch these weapons to semi-auto PLEASE tell me.) Unfortunately this somewhat ruins the pacing and feel of the overall game, even if these missions fit in with the narrative. Such missions were dropped in the Second Strike mission pack.
While a checkpoint based games, SGW is far less linear than many FPS games and indeed feels rather "open world" at times, though eventually you will need to get to the next waypoint. There are some moments that are clearly scripted and cut scenes are quite good, seemingly rendered by the games graphics engine. These are a marked improvement on CI's previously non-existent or poor quality cut scenes.
OVERALL: Good sniping missions in the base game, great in the Second Strike mission pack (or GOTY edition) but unfortunately poor Delta Force assault missions in the base game. Be aware that SGW is a Steam title, so only buy it new. SGW is a good "modern era" companion piece to Sniper Elite. Recommended (7.5/10 for SGW and 8.0/10 for Second Strike add-on).
So there you go; a few "mini reviews" to bring you all up to date with my gaming since my Battlefield 2 marathon.
I'm presently "playing" a few games actively, including FEAR Extraction Point (essentially a mission pack for FEAR picking up the story where it left off) and Red Faction (only playable with Pure Faction patch, otherwise it's a glitchy graphical mess), with others on the back-burner like Scarface (which I really love but need time to re-immerse myself) and Freedom Fighters (an interesting theme of a Soviet-dominated USA).
Ofcourse I'm also still playing those PS3 games every now and them or watching junior play.
That's all for now, except to say:
Go the Rabbitohs for 2012!