Thursday, 1 May 2003

Archive Review: Joint Operations: Typhoon Rising

(PC Review)

It has been a while since I last slapped on the face paint, jumped into a pair of magnum boots, and went paint balling. In fact, I've only been once. But one thing I have done to a level that surely slots me into the "veteran" category is multiplayer gaming, and virtually all of my early days on the e-battlefield were taken up in the classic Novalogic title of 1998, Delta Force.

Since then there were the infamous tours of Delta Force 2, where the first ever attempt at long grass as a 3d landscape feature was implemented. I enjoyed both these games online. I will go as far as to say that I have never played any multiplayer game since that had me so hooked and so eager to get the kill. Of course many giants hit the scene post these titles. We had the glory days of Counter Strike for instance and the giant that is Battlefield 1942 - and all it's mods and minions. I have enjoyed these immensely, still playing them on the odd occasion but not as much as I initially did upon their releases. A part of me just never left Novaworld and it's officially hosted game servers of anything up to 50 players.

I guess I missed the grass, the open landscape and the green face paint. I missed my Barrette 50. sniper rifle and my l33t ability to get headshots at 1200 metres (or was that fluke?). I missed sniping on a hill far away and having some sneaky player crawl up to me from behind, in the hope of getting a knife kill, only to get blown to bits by my well positioned claymore mine as it covered my rear. My mind still looked back on the days where tracers shot across the sky and you could fire a grenade from your M203 grenade launched high into the sky, wait 30 seconds, and watch as it flies back down and gives you a fatal headache.

Novalogic seemed to have lost it. Land Warrior was nothing special and lacked the edge of the first titles. Then came Black Hawk Down. This was simply a weak game with a bad single player mode due to some pretty odd level design decisions and a real lack of depth for multiplayer - there were only a few maps to play and all the aspects that made the DF titles so cool were absent, such as long range sniping, and large outdoor maps.

Then, suddenly, like a flash from a M82 50. sniper rifle 1200 metres from you, it came... Joint Operations: Typhoon Rising was released. I was swift to try it. I felt like some old pro putting back on the kit for one last time, or was this to be an entirely new war, a fresh chapter? I found my old ghillie suit, a camouflage netting wrapped around your entire body which makes you look like one big moving bush, and blew away the dust from my trusty Barrette 50. I logged into the new and improved Novaworld, Novalogic's unique multiplayer server system, and entered the busiest, largest, server currently on the large list of games.

Enough of the sentimental's. This is Novalogic's latest offering and one which they really have put the effort into. It is an online only first-person shooter based on realistic military combat. I have always digged the simple touches Novalogic throw into games. With Joints Ops, like in previous titles, they throw in a keyboard template that you can put on your keyboard for easy reference to the controls. Once it's all installed and ready you can select to play as an elite soldier from Britain, Germany, Russia, Indonesia, France, Australia or, of course, the US. Each Country has one or more categories of player model to select from, each category based on a specific unit in that Countries armed forces, e.g. for the US the categories include Seals, Delta Force, etc etc - you get me. The other side to this two way battle is the Rebel team, Indonesian rebels to be precise. There are just as many guns and player models to choose from here. It all depends on which is your preference, Ak-47 or M4 assault rifle?

The goal to the game on the most popular game type, attack and secure, is to secure key points on the map; the larger the attacking force, the more quickly the area is converted to your side. But while you’re advancing and securing enemy territory, the enemy is doing the same, leading to a bullet-riddled, high-octane tug-of-war. Again, it's straight out of Battlefield, but Joint Ops does more than a few things differently.

Take the five character classes: engineer, medic, rifleman, sniper and gunner. Each has specific weapons and functions on the battlefield, creating a nice variety of play styles. Snipers, for example, will play a slow, methodical game to take out key opposition and paint targets for air strikes and mortar fire. Engineers man mortars, explosives and essential surface-to-air artillery to take down airborne threats. Medics travel light, zipping around the battlefield answering the call placed by their wounded buddies, while gunners and riflemen get down and dirty using all kinds of guns to take down enemy soldiers and vehicles.

Regardless of your class, the gameplay is very intuitive thanks to the clearly delineated icons and easily accessible world maps. Finding friends and enemies is no hassle at all and you can even customize your GUI to create more or less viewing space. You can also set certain player names to appear certain colours on your map and screen for easy finding and set up your own in-team squad with buddies.

So once you set your name, Country and player model category, it's time to select the guns and gadgets. This game does not disappoint with this aspect. There are a wide range of weapons all categorised into classes. You set your player class and select a gun choice from that class. This is really very well done since it does not restrict in any way for when on the battlefield you can just go to a team armoury and choose any gun you want. Classes are there to help teamwork but do not effect your avatars ability to shoot straight like some RPG - it's simply there to categorise players for the multiplayer gaming.

Joint Ops also expands on Battlefield with its potential for team-play afforded by the Commander system. You’ll find the option to form many smaller squads within your army, and at the click of a button, a request for squad members is sent out to all recruits. If you choose to join you will see new icons placed on the world map that represent your squad members. A squad commander can set waypoints for his squad mates including detailed descriptions at each point. Though it’s essentially a fragfest, if you want to get fancy and try to organize an elite task force, Joint Ops allows it.

It's a jungle out there

You play in huge Novaworld servers, many with up to 150 players in. You fight on huge maps, some 50km2. The graphics in this game are absolutely exceptional. They rival Far Cry in terms of the almost photo realistic landscapes. The real amazing feature here is the way that you actually feel like your in an outdoor environment - not some flat green field without real grass and hills that bend at 90 degrees angles like the rest. The sound is also totally awesome with some of the very best sound effects for gunfire, explosions, bullets whizzing by your head, and everything else I've heard in a game. Add to this the fact that all the magic of the old DF games is not only back, but better than ever, and vehicles. Now we have a large selection of helicopters, armoured land vehicles, boats and buggies to hop around in. For such huge maps these are vital for many reasons such as mobility, teamwork and logistics.

Imagine starting a round with 149 other players on one huge outdoor map, filled with dense grassy fields, rolling hills, caves, rivers and oceans, and all deploying in choppers, boats and trucks. It's not like Battlefield 1942, it's the next level. Ten players get in a truck which is driven by another player into the back of a Chinook chopper with another 15 players in and then this flies onto a huge hovercraft with even more players and vehicles in and suddenly you, along with your entire team (except the spawn campers and laggers) are on the move, heading for action.

I found myself soon remembering the old instincts. I took a quite look at the commanders screen, a big map showing all your teammates and waypoints, and made a move for the high ground away from the action. I soon found myself fighting alongside "GanGSt@_BiaTch KillA" and "Timothy" as we sniped from 500 metres towards the enemy rebels as they charged into the fray. Finally, that feeling was back.

It's hard to explain why this is such a good game, and definitely some of the most fun and excitement you can currently have in an online FPS. You just need to experience it. You need to see the graphics, hear the sounds of war, and realise that Novaworld's 150 player servers are actually reliable, lag free, and sweet-as. There is no single player to this game but this is not a big deal. The original DF games were all about the multiplayer, Novalogic know that. There are co-op maps though that allow you to play in objective-based scenarios with teams of other human players. This is a really good feature and one that I am very glad to see here. Co-op gaming is often overlooked in multiplayer FPS games. It was Raven Shield's best gametype and is a great inclusion here.

I am very excited about this title. With the latest patch there are no big or obvious bugs to it and the Lag factor really is no issue thanks to Novaworld. The game is fun, intense, large-scale, and a challenge. If you like online FPS games this is a must have title. I'll see you in the field, well I will see you that is, your just see a flash... my Barrette 50. again, another headshot :)



+awesome graphics +huge, reliable servers +many weapons/classes to play with +huge maps +downright addictive +co-op mode


-no single player -no free lollipop


Some of the very best of online gaming

by The Critical Alien
© 2003

Archive Review: Enter the Matrix

(PS2, Xbox, Gamcube, PC Review)

When Enter the Matrix was due for release there was excitement amongst Matrix fans and gamers alike. It boasted over 1000 motion captured martial arts moves, integral plot with amazing and exclusive DVD quality extra footage, and more importantly the developers dubbed it as:

"The next generation in digital entertainment."

If this game is a sign of the next generation in gaming then that means that the next generation of games will be bugged, repetitive, overly hyped, and lacking in the gameplay department.

Enter the Matrix is a third person action game where you can shoot or fight - it's a lot like Max Payne with the Kung-Fu Mod. What was meant to be so special about ETM though was that it was in the Matrix world. This means bullet time, insane martial arts moves, running up walls, actually Max Payne with the Kung-Fu mod has all that...

I was one of the excited gamers to get my hands on this. I was hoping for a really good scrolling beat em up (Streets of Rage series) with gun fighting elements and bullet time which worked with martial arts. ETM gave me all of this and to begin with I was in heaven. My first encounters with inept security guards was bliss. The camera tracked in for a more cinematic angle on the action and I performed a series of ace moves in slow motion of course. My excitement continued as I worked my way through the first level, I was now sussing the controls and getting the hang of it. Before long I knew the controls and could block enemy punches, counter, throw, and punch/kick back with ease. I could run up walls, cartwheel whilst shooting from the hip, flip, dive, perform a polka dance for small change... it was really fun.

That initial fun then begun to alter to that of, "Okay I have already performed that throw twice in the space of 1 minute now". "I've seen this move so many times". I ran out of variety. 1000 martial arts moves? Try 30, at most. This game promised the best fight engine ever created, instead we have abysmally poor ai running at you with you pressing an attack key to swiftly end them. They are no challenge at all, even when you are up against 5 at one time. The on-screen number never really exceeds about 5 either, so don't expect any Matrix Reloaded style fights with dozens upon dozens of agents or cops. What about the gun fights? In bullet time (the max payne term for the matrix slow motion panning effect) gun fights are cool. They are cool, but just not as cool as Max Payne. You get no cross hair and instead it auto-aims at the enemy. You can select your target but cannot aim manually at things. Old school? No, just piss poor.

The level structure is akin to Sonic the Hedgehog. You start at point A and must get to point B but to get to point B you must work your way through a pre-set linear pathway with shockingly unchallenging A.I placed to try and kill you. Once you pass these obstacles and reach B you are faced with... an end of level Boss! Yes, this game has last level Bosses. They are just like the stereotype in your head too: think crappy unfair big things that attack you in a repeated pattern which can easily be memorised. Once memorised you know when to strike and know when to hide, and eventually work the Bosses energy bar down until it either dies or blows up to reveal another form of the Boss, like a SWAT helicopter without a chaingun, so it starts using a rocket launcher.

One of the most tedious aspects of this game is that it does not allow you to control the camera. What drives you crazy though is that this game, on the console versions, only uses one analog stick! There is an entire stick free! Why didn't they allow this stick to control the camera, like Splinter Cell? Why? I demand to know why? It defies logic, and intelligence? Did they just not think about it? I thought this game cost more money to make than any other in history!

Is there anything good to say about ETM? Okay, it can be fun. This fun factor relies on the player enjoying the cool looking fights but over and over again. I do not doubt that this game has the best looking visual representation of martial arts action ever, what I doubt is that the martial arts action plays well. The game needs more moves, and tougher A.I who block and actually fight you instead of standing there saying: "Hey, you shouldn't be here" whilst pitifully trying to slap you. Do I care that the voice of that A.I guard yelling at you is really good acting from a highly paid professional voice artist? Do I Moses.

Graphics and Sound

Etm has pretty neat visuals. The characters look good, I played as Ghost and he looked like the onscreen guy. He had a goaty, sunglasses, black suite with tie, and sideburns. Niobe looks fine too. The motion capturing is very impressive. But imagine if it wasn't? The Brothers Grim themselves (Matrix trilogy directors) commented on this game using the best motion capturing technology available. Too damn right this game has good animation. But did I mention it's by far from perfect? The next generation in digital technology does involve clipping issues, bad connection timing (sometimes chars look like they are getting hit when there is a foot of air between them and the fist). This makes it often seem like an episode of the 60s series of Batman. I wanted to see "Pow" and "Boof" in bubbles over the heads of the enemy. It just didn't happen for me.

The sound? Ah well here we have a strong point. The sound comes in two parts... 70s kung fu movie style "doosh's", "umpffs", "ushh's" and I could have sworn I heard the bloke with the long hair from Karate kid 3 go "Ha-Sah" once at least. Maybe I had the tv on. But then there is the music! The diagetic music is sweet. Most of it comes from the Matrix movies with a decent array of techno rhythms which go well with the action. But there were so many moments I just got pissed of. I was close to lobbing my ps2 controller at the tv when I was in a section of level 3 that basically recreates the gunfight from The Matrix in the Skyscraper Lobby. Pillars can be shot up with tiles cracking and police charge you. Remember the devs are the film makers too with all the music licenses... Did they play the music that was played in this scene in the film? Did they jack! In fact the music was lame at this point, not fast paced or cool in anyway. The diagetic music is bugged and often won't boot up fast beats in combat at all. Cackness.

Before I finish this review... I have to mention the fact this games boasts "driving action". Sure this game has a car... you shoot from the roof as which ever character your not playing as drives (the A.I drives). You race down a street with an mp5 that oddly has unlimited ammo and never needs reloading. So you just never let go of the trigger and the insanely thick police cars chasing you blow up or drive into the back of you and blow up. I suddenly realised when playing this, do you even need to shoot? Nope, just sit back and enjoy the view of stock city textures as suicidal police cars drive into you and blow up.

I have one message for the world when it comes to this game: Let the film makers make movies, the games developers develop games, the chef's cook food, and the dossers doss.

Note how I have not mentioned the fact this game has been advertised as having "extra" and "exclusive" footage of the Matrix Reloaded story. The content is good, but this aint a film! I consider this addition simply an attempt to sell more units.

This game is a sham! Another piss poor movie tie in, keep clear or rent it.



Fighting looks cool, very neat music, novel "hacking" console for cheats.


Shoddier than a shodmeister, buggier than buggsville, repetitive, very un-inspired.


The next generation in digital entertainment sucks

by The Critical Alien
© 2003

Archive Review: Dead or Alive: Xtreme Beach Volleyball

(Xbox review)

Dead or Alive: Xtreme shopping simulator... with volleyball elements

I like your err... bra

I have always been a fan of the Dead or Alive beat-em-up series. I found Dead or Alive 3 particularly pleasing both to the eye and to the thumb. The gameplay was solid and although the essence of the fighting in these games has never been as complex as say, Tekken, it doesn't matter. I found the fights cool and easily complex enough. Dead or Alive 3 remains to this day one of my favorite Xbox games. One of the reasons I love this game so much is the actual characters in it. I find most of them really interesting and generally want to know their differing stories. Tecmo did good at creating a firm sense of reality with the inclusion of many styles of brawler from female ninja (Kunoichi) to Bruce Lee style bouncer. The games story mode included basic links to the story of the character you played as and it just was pretty neat to have this feature. Tecmo then decided to turn this fictional world into a more surreal one. It's time for some volleyball!?

When a publisher cashes in they normally make it obvious. Say a great game came out and the developers then forge a spin off that has no link to the initial games story... that is fine. Tecmo, on the other hand, went for the more serious approach. DOAX has a story oh yes, it has a story. Zack, a Dennis Rodman wannabe who has his actual voice in the game, was an awful kickboxer character in DOA3. He got lucky and won the lottery or something, I don't actually care, and done what anybody would do with a fortune... buy an island. He then announces Dead or Alive 4 - everyone turns up on the island, which resembles the one from Enter the Dragon a little too much, and gets ready but hold on! Zack is a joker, he has only invited the females along. Cheeky.

He announces that he was actually just messing and he simply wanted to watch the girls generally hang around an island paradise in skimpy beachwear - oh and shoot some volleyball, of course, whilst he watches from a window with his binoculars whilst rubbing his - thighs. The girls should have taken that dude and thrown him into the sea and checked out of the "Zack Hotel" but no, these girls are pretty mannered and go along with it. DOAX is born.

You select your character and head to the island. I went for Kasumi, I love her and I know your laughing. We, well I, went to the island after a basic cutscene. There are a few locations you can go to on the island. You have a series of shops, beaches, a jungle, your hotel with casino, and a radio station. Your find yourself spending most of the time hanging by the pool though. If your a warm blooded Alpha male like myself you will simply spend the first sitting of this game staring at the visuals of scantily clad females. You can even opt to watch gravure videos of them doing stuff in the location, like sunbathing or stretching. Its all very pretty, and I'm sure a lot of tissues were used at the Tecmo studio during this design phase, but please! I have some credit! There are videos...

So ignoring the glorious visuals what is there to do on Zack island? If your a girl, unlike me, you will tend to enjoy shopping and generally looking at sunsets while reciting such sentimental drivel as, "I will sleep well tonight," or ,"damn this cheap pair of shades". I personally am not so easy to please. I wanted to play volleyball, really. So I went to a beach and played. It's very basic. You use two buttons and direction. One button passes to your computer controlled teammate, the other strikes the ball over the net. It really is virtually as simple and basic as this. Sure you can hold the attack button down harder and strike it harder but who cares? Lets face it, volleyball gamers, all 4 of them, didn't buy this game! Who did? Hormone driven teenage fanboys or dirty old men. This game is so ludicrous in every sense of the word I am quite baffled to why it didn't actually get slammed by most reviewers. I am quite confident that the reason everyone seems to like this game is due to it's visuals and shopping and friendship system.

The friendship system plays like some banal Japanese dating game. You see in this harsh world of Xtreme beach volleyball it's not easy out there. It's tough to make friends and survive the grim sprawls of sand, sea, and sun. To get a volleyball partner you need to make friends. The mad thing is bitter rivals from the Dead or Alive story such as Kasumi and her half-sister Ayane can make friends in this game and shoot volleyball together! Well excuse me Mr. Developer man but shouldn't they actually be killing the crap out of each other here? To make friends with a girl you do one very simple, capitalist, materialist thing: Buy them gifts, lots 'n' lots 'n' lots of stupid pressies. Their friendship can, and must, be bought. Money can't buy me love? Hah! Whatever, it can in DOAX.

Bloody Jap money

If games really did influence the younger generations then this would prove entertaining. Then again, if all the big evil brand names had their way buying friendship certainly would prove hegemonic.

Shopping in this game is highly comical. You have a choice of three places to go to, well access (there just glorified menu screens - you don't actually roam around this island) and here you buy with Zack Dollars that you make by winning volleyball games and mini-games and gambling in the casino - I'll get to that a lil later. Now there are a vast amount of things to buy in this game. You can buy a plethora of swimsuits, some obscenely sexy, and other clothing like sunglasses, hats, sneakers, and even nail polish. Everything can be used so for example you can apply your nail polish or wear anything. There are more bizarre items too like a guitar - click play and you hear one crappy note! Why did they bother? You can also gain miscellaneous stuff like videos of trailers for the Dead or Alive games from the old days etc. This is all novel and fun but nothing more than icing for a pretty questionable cake - one of those ones that just isn't happening.

Whilst clicking through the stuff to buy you can turn your character into any form of sexy beach babe you desire. Maybe the simple look turns you on, maybe you want costumes? Who are we to judge. But I actually found this aspect sickening. Kasumi, the female runaway Shinobi of intense skill and prowess, can be turned into a "Towny". Yes, that's right, you can now transform this Kimono clad ninja babe into one of those girls who just doesn't know when enough sunbathing is enough! Get sunburn, wear cheap sunglasses and an old base ball cap and slip on the Nike sneakers! The fictional fantasy world of Dead or Alive is dragged down into social realism, real life stereotypes, and having to actually apply lotion! Fickle.

You have a choice; use lotion and keep pale or apply the oil and burn. Other more questionable items in Zack's shops include a TMP 9mm Sub-Machine gun? Why? I heard someone say something about Christie, a character in the game, liking guns hence the lethal weapon in the tranquil paradise. I consider this bizarre, wrong, and silly of Tecmo to include. Those fools... Oh did I mention the fact your wrapped gifts (you have to wrap them first) may be disliked. You need to experiment to find out what the girls want in order for them to like you. Not only are they materialistic they are rude and hard to please. Zack, just send me home now pal... What do you mean I've gotta wait two weeks?

So the casino. Kasumi dresses up in a black suit, hmm, and walks down those marble stairs. "Ah Mr. Bond, we've been expecting you," says Blofelt whilst stroking his white pussy. That has nothing to do with DOAX by the way, I'm just daydreaming. The casino can be accessed at night and consists of poker, slot machines, roulette, and maybe something else, I don't remember. There all marginally fun to play but quite honestly if I'm going to play virtual cards I'll do it on my PC online against Marcos from Brazil and Han from Hong Kong. The slot machines are just a mini-game, that's all. Another mini-game is poolside. Instead of sunbathing get your beach babe to play the hoops game. A series of floating pads are in the pool in a line and like a game of stepping stones you must jump onto each one and reach the other end. The distance you need to jump is determined by how hard to press down on A. After a few minutes this game gets boring and is quite frankly so trivial and basic it shouldn't be classed as a reason to consider purchasing this title - although falling in the water looks, well, nice :)

A neat feature of this game is the fact it is another recent title to include the custom soundtracks which Xbox owners so love to see. Personally I feel, like most sane people, that every game made for Xbox should have this feature like a rule of thumb. But programmers and money men are thick and live in a different world to us. Who knows what ticks in their $head$? I put a fair number of tracks on to rid the world of the tripe that the game has on for a default soundtrack. The default music is proof enough that Tecmo were on magic mushrooms whilst coding. Since when was Reel Big Fish good music? I now can't wait for a game that will put custom soundtracks to good use (WWE Raw 2: Ruthless Aggression maybe). DOAX is a pretty basic game that might prove fun to some yet lacking to others. Great graphics, hot girls, gameplay? You can't have it all!

Yeah man volleyball! No, hot girls though



Excellent graphics, wow that girl looks hot! Lots to buy.


Basic volleyball action, repetitive, no real point to any of it, no conclusions to any of it - *coughs* story?


The graphics alone deserve a 6, the rest is plain average

by Joey T 2003