Sep 292011

Now that the “early” access for pre-orderers is over, the Battlefield 3 “don’t call this a demo” beta is open to all, on the platform of your choice. All the juicy details are here, and if you’re playing on the PC, be sure to update your drivers, as described here.

I had a chance to check out the beta, and can say the gameplay is mostly what you’d expect from the next BF game, with some pretty great visuals.  The Battlelog stuff, as I previously speculated about here is a mixed bag, but has a lot of potential assuming DICE can streamline and optimize the experience.  Now’s the time to stop taking everyone else’s word for it and decide for yourself, no strings attached.  Get downloading, soldier!

Sep 262011
Battlefield 3

With the BF3 beta starting on September 27th for pre-order customers before opening to a wider release on the 29th, you’ll want to make sure your rig is ready to go to enjoy all the action.  Nvidia and AMD have you covered, with BF3 optimized drivers.

Nvidia’s drivers, version 285.38 ,are out, promising a 38% increase in performance and improve stability and image quality.  Grab your Nvidia flavored drivers here.

UPDATE:  AMD now has  their BF3 tweaked drivers available too. You can download them here.

Sep 102011
I’m a fan of zombies.  I’ve pretty much watched all of the zombie movies and played a good chunk of the more notable zombie games throughout the years.  I’ve sunk insane hours in to the Left4Dead games and am always willing to give a zombie experience a fair shot before casting it off as a painful exercise, such as the Dead Rising games.  So when Dead Island had that really great trailer earlier this year , it made my list of zombie things I need to try.This week I have had a chance to actually try out Dead Island, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised.   This being a “first impressions” piece means I have not played the full game (or close to it), so this is by no means a full review.  Just my thoughts as I play the game, especially in the light of the botched PC release and the negative press that ensued.

Of course, we all know by now that the version of Dead Island that was released on Steam this week was the wrong version.  Some internal development and/or testing build that was never meant to see the light of day.  Considering this version was horribly broken, according to those gamers who waited up all night to play the game, this was a massive blunder which will be difficult to overcome since bad press has a tendency to stick around.  Months from now, Dead Island will be known as the game that had the dev build released by accident, and not as a different and interesting zombie/action/rpg game.  The good news is that it was quickly fixed later that same day and had a follow up patch two days later further correcting some performance issues I saw.  Luckily for me, by the time I got around to sinking some significant time into DI, all the initial outrage inducing issues were addressed and I was left playing a relatively bug free game.  Naturally in the highly variable world of PC gaming, your mileage may vary.

So what is Dead Island?  It’s pretty much just a Left4Dead clone at a tropical resort, right?  Not even close.  Yes, it will be forever compared to L4D in that it’s a zombie game and that it supports 4 player co-op, but that’s where the similarities ends.   Since we naturally tend to compare new things to old things, I will expand that out by saying that Dead Island is most certainly an action rpg game that more closely resembles Borderlands than any other game.

The combat focus seems to lie heavily on melee, and it’s about as gruesome as it gets.  Those easily offended need not apply, although if that’s the case you’re probably not into zombies anyway.  You’ll be smashing and decapitating many skulls, breaking many limbs and dismembering zombies all day long.  It’s actually quite satisfying.  While L4D is mainly cartoonish in its violence, DI goes for a visceral, realistic approach and doesn’t hold back.  The first-person melee combat works surprisingly well, and you can target basically 5 different points on a zombie’s body, the 4 limbs and the head.  Breaking arms makes them hang limp and breaking legs limits them to crawling around.  Destroying the head will put them out of their misery, but on tougher zombies (or larger numbers) it’s not an instant kill, you may need to disable a few zombies before giving them a finishing blow — so only going for the head doesn’t always make sense.

There are four characters to choose from, each with their own specialty: bladed melee, blunt-object melee, throwing weapons and guns.  This does not limit you as to what weapons you can use, since all weapons are available to all the characters, it just limits where you can spend skill points on bonus abilities which favor those types of weapons.  Weapons do break down over time, and all weapons have their own stats, easily visible before you pick them up — also making it clear as to how it compares to your current weapon.  The weapon durability varies and the game does a good job of visually showing you what kind of shape your weapon is in.  After bashing a decent number of zombie skulls with heavy metal pipe, it will be pretty badly bent up not to mention completely covered in blood.  There’s also a straight up hud meter showing you how much “life” is left in that weapon.  Weapons can be repaired and modded at workbenches scattered around the game in safe houses, and for whatever reason cost in-game money to do so.  Luckily, money is literally laying around everywhere and is available for looting — again much like Borderlands.  Also, loot drops are regularly replenished so I doubt resources will ever be a problem unless you skip looting entirely.  The inventory system is fairly well balanced in that you can carry 12 weapon or health items with you at any given time, but you can hold unlimited amounts of weapon mod components encouraging you to loot everything and also ensuring you’ll most likely always have the various parts needed to make up some insane weapon contraption.

You gain experience by killing zombies, completing challenges which are in-game milestones similar to those in Borderlands (i.e. break down 10 doors, decapitate 10 zombies with a kitchen knife, etc.) and by completing main mission and side quests.  You can find quest givers throughout the environment which usually amount to finding items and bringing them back, or clearing out areas of zombies/enemies — again, very similar to Borderlands.  XP points earned level your character up, which then gives you points you can spend in skill trees boosting your characters combat styles (i.e. 10% damage boost, 10% weapon degradation reduction) and also survival skills like lock picking or health increases.  There’s also in-game collectibles to be found which also reward you in XP.

The game feels completely worthwhile playing in solo mode, unlike L4D or Borderlands — which almost have to be played co-op.  You can make your game publicly joinable or private, and the game will notify you if there is another player in the same area as you around your same level with a joinable game, and you can jump into his or her’s session with a key press.  A quick tip if you don’t want to see these pop-ups, you can actually set your game to be multiplayer – LAN only and you won’t be bothered by the notifications.

The more I play it, the more I like it.  I’m just starting to scratch the surface of the game, but there are lots of missions to do, lots of loot to loot and lots of XP to gain.  The story isn’t anything great, but makes sense in zombie-lore, the voice acting is solid but not outstanding, and there is a boatload of stuff to explore and roam around in — in an open world setting.  The graphics are great but do suffer from too much bloom in my opinion.  The Steam forums offer a convoluted way to disable bloom although I may wait for a more “official” way to do that.  Luckily, changing the game’s FOV isn’t nearly as difficult, but still not as easy as Deus Ex: Human Revolution’s in game control.   Can we somehow get a standard of in-game PC settings for the gaming industry to adopt?  Editing config files reminds me too much of setting jumpers and DIP switches on hardware.  We should be beyond that, but we’re not.

So far it’s an enjoyable game that what it lacks in polish makes up for it in content, depth and atmosphere.  Check it out if you’re a zombie nut who’s into action rpg type things.

Sep 012011

Now that September is here, the holiday game rush is upon us.  It’s also back to school season, back to serious work season and before you know it, the actual holidays themselves will be here, all resulting in limited gaming time.  Lots of games plus limited time equals important decisions to be made.   Let’s take a look at three of the more notable multiplayer shooters that will hit the PC over the next month or two and examine what will be worth your time and money.  Each one is a sequel and each has an appeal to a specific market segment.

Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad

The first of our 3 games we’re looking at today will hit the virtual shelves on September 13th.  RO2 is the underdog in this fight, coming from Tripwire Interactive, who got their start as a Make Something Unreal winner with the original Red Orchestra UT2k4 mod.  RO2 is the ambitious follow up to the retail version of RO, now using the latest version of the Unreal 3 engine.  RO’s focus is on realism (relative to other games in this genre) and provides a bit slower paced, more strategic experience than the BF and CoD series of games.  Another noteworthy aspect of RO2, is it is one of the few World War II games still around, after they were totally over-done in the past decade.  That means you won’t have any high-tech gadgets or laser guided nukes to kill your enemies with, which depending on your point of view may or may not be a good thing.

Price:  It will be the least expensive of the 3, with a MSRP of $40. Pre-ordering on Steam will knock off 10% or 20% if you own the original game.  Early beta access (right now) requires the “Digital Deluxe” edition for an extra $10.

DRM: Steamworks.  No matter where you buy this game, it will have to be activated and tied to your Steam account.  No additional layers of DRM should be present.

Summary:  RO2 will be a good choice if you’re tired of a lot of the “arcade-like” elements traditionally found in the CoD games and, to a lesser extent, BF games.  Classes and vehicles play a large role and allow you to play the game in a way that more fits your style, similar to the BF games.  Keep in mind the community for RO2 will be smaller than that of CoD and BF, so you may not have many friends playing this game, at least initially, although word of mouth could be strong.  Generally speaking, the community will be a little bit more mature than the other two games as it’s catering to a smaller, more realism based market.

Battlefield 3

BF3 is far and away the most hyped game of the three, especially on the PC side.  DICE has been touting the PC as the lead development platform and has promised key PC centric features like Direct X11 visuals and robust community and social features through their web interface dubbed “Battlelog.”  BF3 on the PC will allow for up to 64 player battles on huge maps and a few different game modes including conquest, rush and death match.  Since it’s set in a modern warfare setting, you’ll have lots of high-tech gadgets, along with lots of vehicles, including jets to play with.  While the BF series does rely heavily on team play, it does have its share of arcade-like elements and is probably best described as somewhere in between RO and CoD in terms of gameplay speed.  Lastly, BF3 will have a co-op mode that is separate from the single player story, allowing you to team up with a friend to complete missions like rescuing hostages and the like.

Price:  BF3 and CoD both retail at $60.  Pre-ordering gets you the “Strike at Karkand” DLC (basically a retro map pack) which will cost an undetermined amount of money post release.

DRM: BF3 will require you to register and associate the game to an EA Origin account.  Origin will be mandatory no matter where you purchase it from, and the game most certainly will not be on Steam.

Summary:  BF3 will have a large community and will likely be played for years to come (if it follows previous BF games).  Chances are you’ll have friends that will be playing it, and it promises to offer worthwhile single player and co-op game modes.  The upside of a long lasting game is that you could wait a bit, play one of the other games and pick it up deeply discounted at some point next year.  BF3 will be out October 25th.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 aka CoD 8

Admittedly, I’ve followed the progress of MW3 the least out of the 3.  After being an avid player of previous CoD games, the yearly iterations have resulted in a bit of a “CoD fatigue” for me.  Gameplay reports for MW3 seem to follow a similar CoD model with the usual assortment of kill streaks, perks and multiple game modes.  Also, single player will be back, continuing the saga of the previous two MW games.  Of course, your enjoyment of that mode will depend on how much time you invested in the earlier games.  Also new this year is the addition of social features for the CoD community, similar to BF3’s Battlelog.  Most parts of that will be free, although certain aspects will require a subscription fee.

Price: CoD MW3 has a MSRP of $60.   Expect regular releases of pay-for map packs post release.  Subscription fees for “premium” social features.

DRM: Steamworks.  Continuing the trend from MW2 and BLOPS, MW3 will use Steamworks, meaning no matter where you buy it, you’ll have to register and activate it through your Steam account.

Summary: CoD MW3 will most likely be the most popular of the 3 across all platforms.  Fast-paced shooting with minimal team-based elements.  MW3 won’t make you a CoD convert, at this point, you know whether you’re a CoD guy/gal or not.  Like BLOPS, it will support dedicated servers, so it’s not as PC-unfriendly as MW2 was, but still MW3’s bread and butter lies on the consoles.  Chances are you’ll have friends playing this game, but don’t expect this game to stay popular for more than a year, since CoD 9 will supplant it around this time next year.  CoD: MW3 will be released November 8th.