While 2013 has already provided us with some great high profile releases like Tomb Raider, Bioshock Infinite and Metro: Last Light, most of my time over the last few months has been spent in a variety of Alpha's and Beta's for games slated to release later in the year. Here is a rundown of the game's I've been playing for dozens of hours despite their not having been released yet, and what I think of them so far.
I'll start with Rising Storm, the stand alone expansion for Red Orchestra 2, since it is the most recent beta I have been playing. I loved Red Orchestra 2, and eagerly pre-purchased Rising Storm for 12 bucks when I learned it would get me into the beta right away. Despite somewhat tepid first impressions, I have since become totally hooked on the game. It keeps the basic mechanics of RO2, but it feels totally different mostly due to the change in map design, difference in play style between the two sides and presence of the glorious Banzai Charge. This involves the Japanese screaming their heads off and sprinting at the enemy lines, which suppresses them making it hard for them to aim. The more people involved in a Banzai charge, the more dramatic the effect of the suppression. This results in some pretty epic moments of last minute ditch efforts to capture points.
Creeping through the dense jungle on either side is super intense, especially since it can be really hard to determine if someone you see moving in a bush 100 yards away is a friend or a foe. After getting used to the new mechanics and learning the maps somewhat, I'm having the more fun in Rising Storm than I've had in any competitive online shooter since Bad Company 2. People really seem to using teamwork which can be really involving, especially since servers hold 64 players. At this point, the community is thriving and there are loads of populated servers, something that was often a problem with Red Orchestra 2. If you are tired of the lack of teamwork in BF3 or have an interested in a really authentic WW II game, you should absolutely check this game out.
I currently have 1 spare beta key for Rising Storm for one lucky winner, first person to ask for it in a comment gets it!
Company of Heroes 2
Continuing with the WW II theme, I had the chance to play the Company of Heroes 2 closed multiplayer beta for about 30 hours, and came away largely pleased. CoH 2 is the game I am most excited for since I know it will provide a lot of play time for me, and I can already tell from the Beta it will live up to this hope. While the balance between factions is currently a bit dubious, the gameplay is as good as ever, with matches becoming more and more intense as they progress. The weather effects on the winter maps really force you to think of new strategies to deal with the cold, and some of the tweaks to the base game work really well. The best change in my opinion is the way points are captured. Instead of having one squad go cap a point, forcing them to become ineffective in combat and not allowing another enemy squad to cap a point, there is now a ring around each point. You must clear the ring of enemy soldiers in order to start capturing a point, a mechanic which serves to further increase the frequency and intensity of the fighting.
I'm really looking forward to getting my hands on the final release of CoH 2 when it comes out later in June.
I have always liked the idea of the Arma series, a large-scale military sandbox full of flexible missions and gameplay, but I have never been able to really get into the games. I spent loads of time on mods for Arma 2, namely Dayz and Wasteland, but only ever spent a few hours in the base game. I decided to pre-order Arma 3 since it was cheap and gave access to the Alpha, and I put about 15 hours into it. The clunkyness of Arma 2 has certainly been reduced, and I had some fun with the multiplayer, but I'm still uncertain about the game. The amount of content that shipped with the Alpha is pretty small compared to what the full game will have, so I am interested to see how the title progresses as it moves into the Beta phase down the road.
Trackmania 2: Stadium
I poured a ton of hours into Trackmania 2 Canyon, a game that set itself apart from others in the series with its epic drifting mechanics. Stadium is the second environment coming to Trackmania 2, and it is currently in open beta accessible through steam to anyone. To be honest, its exactly the same as Trackmania Nations Forever apart from some minor graphical improvements. The handling is the same and in multiplayer most of the tracks are the same since they are being ported directly from TMNF. Only difference is that TMNF was free and TM2 stadium will cost 10 bucks when it comes out. Not too impressed with this new environment, hopefully Valley proves more interesting.