Monday, 25 October 2004

Archive Review: Star Wars: Battlefront

(PC, Xbox review)

Use the Force, Stormtrooper.

Why do I get a buzz from playing games as the bad guy? Why do I actually prefer being evil in Role-Playing Games as opposed to good? It's likely because I have always thought that the bad guys are so much cooler than those of the good. And this applies particularly in the Universe of Star Wars. Whether it be a Stormtrooper in that cool looking armour or Darth Vader and his killer voice, or even good old Boba Fett (who is a female, apparently!) with his (or her) Mandalorian Armor and jet suit. And we better not all forget Count Dooku, Christopher Lee, so act like you know!

It's no easy task reviewing Star Wars: Battlefront. On the one hand it plays a heck of a lot like Battlefield 1942 / Vietnam and some will argue it simply just isn't as good as that God-like game.

To me Battlefront is an example of a game that manages, almost perfectly, to capture the essence of the content. It feels, sounds, looks, and plays as you would expect the Star Wars World to. Every single map shows a level of effort from the developers that surely must be respected.

Incase you have never played Battlefield 1942 and own a PC, i.e a foolish, silly type-person, then let me briefly go over the gametype that Battlefront is. It is a third/first person shooter where you can play as any of the main factions in Star Wars battles from Episodes 1-6. You can be a Rebel Scout in the woodlands of Endor, or play as a Dark Trooper in the Battle of Hoth. Whenever you die you select a respawn point on a map that represents the battle zone. The objective for either side (always 2 teams) is to capture the control points and take over the map. Control points are points where a presence of a troop from either side will have an effect on who controls it. If you are a Storm Trooper and enter a neutral or Rebel point the flag will slowly filter to red and the Empire will suddenly control that section. Some maps also have other objectives that are linked to the movies, like for example the Empire have an aim to destroy the shield generator in the Battle of Hoth (from Empire Strikes Back).

The game has a single player mode and multiplayer. Many say that Battlefront is really only worth playing online, whether it be against anything up to 32 players on the PC, 16 on the PS2 network, or 24 on Xbox Live. I agree it's great fun online but I totally disagree the singly player is merely glorified training.

My reason for this is the fact that, unlike Battlefield 1942, this games battles are always majorly huge in scope. This is down to the amount of bots or A.I that scatter around the maps. You get such a large amount of A.I allies and enemies in the fray that it feels very large scale indeed. Another factor to Battlefront is the amount of vehicles you can see or control. Everything from snowspeeders and X-wings to AT-AT's and Tie-Bombers are there to control, destroy, run from or simply drool over.

The actual A.I in this game will not only be a factor in single player but will be a factor online. Even battles with large amounts of players will also include many bots. This gives the battles a real feeling of scale. The only issue here is that many have argued that A.I bots in online games creates Lag and Lag has been an issue with Battlefront online, particularly on the consoles. Lucas Arts have released a patch though and it seems to have done something, at least.

The A.I has been the topic of debate in this game. Many argue it's downright pants and many will suggest it's absolutely fine. It was always going to be a very important factor with the game, since offline you totally rely on the bots to actually have a game. After really giving this game some solid playtime I really am of the opinion that the A.I is fine in Battlefront. It's not going to suddenly develop sentience and take over the world via Xbox Live, and it's not going to really turn the tide of events without you getting really involved but it is certainly good enough. The bots will heal each other, throw you ammo, control vehicles, repair fixed turrets etc, and do use cover. You can issue basic commands to them as well such as "Follow me", "Hold position," and other simple orders that really are all you need in a game like this. The A.I will confirm your order and do it just fine.

You soon find yourself running around the battle with large numbers of bots running alongside and behind you, all doing as you command. It feels great. What's nice about the command feature is that only bots near you will do as you say. So this will mean that you have to round up the numbers if you want to form some band of wannabe heroes to go behind enemy lines with you for some sabotage and recon action. This is good since imagine if your commands went out to every bot.... before you could say "Death Star" every bot on your team would have ran towards you, a big no no. It's good to split from the main gunfights and go off with a fire team of your own. It's also nice to see bots commanding other bots. You always get the bossy ones, demanding they take some fodder with them as they charge towards an AT-ST.

This is great online too. Whenever you run into a player on the enemy team they will likely be with a bunch of bots under their orders. So it feels like the players in this war are the big time General's amongst grunts and squaddies. It sometimes feels like something from Dynasty Warriors.

The vehicles are really cool and very varied. Everything is here and crafted in awesome detail. Some vehicles are very tough to destroy, the large AT-AT's in the Battle of Hoth are almost invulnerable when enemy troops make a point of repairing them as well as using them to own the Rebels. But a fast and brave Rebel pilot can use the tow cable from their snowspeeder to bring the mammoth down, like from the film. A.I bots will also do a fine job of achieving this and this is a really impressive factor.

The roles you play as also vary. It's all here, scout sniper, medic, engineer, pilot, heavy weapons, all the classes Battlefield players know and love but with some nice twists. Pilot's, for example, will repair what they control automatically just from piloting it. This gives players an incentive to select the pilot character. Unless your in control of a large shoulder mounted anti-vehicle weapon you have no chance of taking down a big vehicle (unlike the Battlefield series where hand grenades could end tanks) and some classes are just sweet. I have got really into playing as the jet-trooper class within the Empire and Republican Army of clones from Episodes 1-3. The Republic Commando is basically Boba Fett with a large EMP weapon and the Dark Trooper from the Empire has a less effective jet pack but a really decent shotgun-style primary weapon.

Playing as the Droid army from Episodes 1-2 (3, maybe?) is really fun too. The Droideka is the best class and seriously great to play as. These are the ones that roll around in a ball then extend up and deploy an effective shield around them and blast away with dual blasters. Apparently even Jedi Masters fear Droideka's... which is rather odd since The Emperor just didn't keep the production going and I'm willing to bet they'd have been pretty decisive in Episode 6, the Return of the Jedi :)

The maps are basically battles straight from the films. Some of them are weaker than others and their are obviously going to be those few maps that are played the most (Likely Genosis from Episode 2 and Hoth).

I do have some issues with a few of the maps from Battlefront. Some of them, like the cloud City from Empire Strikes back, include the full selection of aerial vehicles. You get the X-Wings, Y-Wings, Tie-Fighters/Bombers but on maps of a pretty small size. This means that you'll fly around in circles, closely avoiding the boundaries at the end of the map, as you get on with the dog-fights. As long as you fly slow it's no big issue but I would have liked to see some big time aerial battles set in large areas for speed build ups etc. It would have been good to see maps actually in Space, like the battle to take the Death Star out, but I guess Lucas Arts use other games to portray space combat - Battlefront not being one of them.

With this in mind one should see the flying in Battlefront as a nice extra, but just not one of great detail or implementation compared to games like, say, X-Wing VS Tie Fighter. (If I had to decide, it's Tie-Fighter all the way son).

Another nice feature is the inclusion of "heroes". In battles both online and offline you can, as an option, have A.I controlled characters from the movies fight alongside and against you. I personally spent 30 minutes trying to kill Mace Windu (Samuel L Jackson) in the battle of Genosis. They can be killed but it's almost impossible as they deflect everything with their lightsabers and hack you up. It was particularly fun to fight alongside Darth Vader whilst he killed rebel scum after rebel scum on Tatooine. The sound of his evil breathing kept the morale of the Storm Troopers up quite nicely, until Luke Skywalker popped around the corner!

The sound is one of the absolute gems of this title. It is literally perfect. The music is awesome and includes many of the classic Star Wars themes and play's nicely in the background during gameplay. The sound effects from everything from a blaster pistol to a swooping Tie-Fighter are just marvelous and truly cinematic. The graphics are also very good but nothing groundbreaking.

On the whole, a really solid game. It's not very long or of much depth, but this was not the intention. It's pick up and play and a title that is one for those of us who want some serious fun, being partial to Star Wars really helps, too...


+ Pick up and Play

+ Decent balancing

+ Superb Sound

+ Acceptable A.I

- Lag Issues online

- Maps too small for flying


Solid Fun Star Wars Style

by The Critical Alien
© 2004

Thursday, 14 October 2004

Archive Review: The Sims 2

(PC review)

Reminds me of the time I...

Not being one to brag I often just look back on days in my life where I lived a James Bond style existence, drifting from continent to continent, playing poker with retired oil industrialists, and having my fair share of easy women. I rarely tell people about my times as a super spy extraordinaire and instead just make obscure references to it in reviews like this one. Of course, my days as a wannabe Bond were actually, rather sadly, within the realms of digital reality - a computer game to be precise.

It was only when I played The Sims 2, Maxis' latest people simulator, that I realised I actually could make myself and live this excessive lifestyle (without the poker and traveling). I was soon to give it a whiz, or a swirl, possibly even a spin.

I had never played any Sims game before except for Sim Copter which was hardly anything like The Sims series itself. In that respect this review comes from someone who won't bother comparing it to the original or expansions, since I rarely played them.

Now before we get going I would like to draw the audiences attention to my four part preview of The Sims 2. After giving this comical account of my wrong doings a read it will be easier for you to follow the review for I will be cross-referencing with the preview quite rapidly.

My first encounter with this game was the process of making your sims and designing your house. I wanted to get the most from the game so worked on my own everything, except for actually creating my own neighbourhood itself which you can do thanks to Sim City 4 (which I do not own or likely ever will). I made the initial mistake upon making my house of making it way too expensive for my new family to move into but the fact was the house designing process taught me the basics and it all seemed easy enough to pick up.

I was impressed with the house designing system. It not only let you create design's exactly as you imagined them but it also has an interior design system that lets you almost re-create any room you've been in in your life. I tested this by making my bedroom and other common rooms I am aware of and the results were often scarily lifelike. The only problem I found with the design system for houses and interior content (furniture, wall paper, etc) was that some objects will not place themselves diagonally within a room. Say for example you build a bedroom with one diagonal wall, you won't be able to place a wardrobe along that diagonal wall, only the straight ones. This is no big deal though as you simply don't see many diagonal angles in houses nowadays!

After early attempts of designing I finally made the perfect dream pad. See the preview for the pics of it and the full account in a longer, drawn out, and painfully detailed, fashion.

It then came to the creation of the sims themselves. I made me and my mates all share a house. The create-a-sim system is really very good. It is like a conventional create-a-wrestler mode in wrestling games but seems even better. The clothing system is good enough but I feel there should have been an in-game ability to change the clothing colour and an ability to have more than one clothing layer. But even with these issues the final result is often more or less what you aimed for - a great sign!

The most detailed part of the creation of sims is their face. You can spend hours, literally, getting the look perfect but I realised whilst making my pals that I simply didn't know them well enough, if you know what I mean, to go beyond just a quick "that'll do" make-up. I made myself and my buddies look pretty lifelike by the end of it but my main gripe here was that you couldn't alter height's or really customise the body sizing. Apparently this is down to the fact Maxis wanted to make sure the player model animations looked perfect at all times, so maybe making an obese man would have made the animations look all messed up. With this in mind you can accept it I guess, just.

When finalising a family you must set the age and relationships. This area really annoyed me. For example Maxis, obviously overly politically correct with this "people" sim, don't let old men act as father's for teenagers. Teenagers can't live in a house without... an adult, and can't have teenagers with their own kids. My feeling is that you should be able to set whatever family you want, in other words, it shouldn't have any restrictions based on the ages.

The aging of sims is something I really didn't want to happen since in my opinion the time it takes to go from young stud to old has-been is way too short. Luckily you can cheat and just turn the aging process off.

The other factor to create-a-sim is the Sims 2 Bodyshop, a separate program to the game which you get with the game. It enables you to make sims outside the game then save them into the game directory, great for making sims whilst not wanting to keep minimising the game to reply to "Dan" on MSN Messenger. It also lets you export textures or "objects" such as a shirt and fiddle with them in something like Adobe Photoshop, thus letting you change the colour of clothing etc and even make your own - but outside the game. It's good to be able to do all this outside the game since it keeps the games create-a-sim system simple enough to be able to work out quickly, as opposed to requiring you to read a fat tutorial first just to make "Brian", your imaginative alpha male with black hair and blue eyes.

On a quick note the game lets you log into the Sims 2 website in-game to download the latest in community made chars, houses, etc and stuff Maxis have worked on. It's a nice system but the in-game browser is quite honestly crap compared to just going on the website itself in an explorer and downloading stuff manually.

Time to get into the game! As you can tell from the preview I made all sorts of mistakes in the game but eventually worked out how to play it in a way where I was playing it "well". The thing is that you can't suck at games like this. Even if you work hard and end up with a family of happy, rich, sims living in a large villa/compound whose to say you are a good Sims 2 player? The truth is some people (me) might want to capture the essence of grim, suburban, life by making my sims experience "reality". Yes, reality, being not getting that dream job, getting double timed by that bitch of a girl, and organising a party only to have one person turn up, late. Yes my gaming time was as morbid and "lifelike" for my sims as I could make it.

The A.I in this game acts in a way where it will not require your help in doing basic tasks. The dev's call this Sim Autonomy or Free Will. Unlike the first game, but not the more recent expansions, the sims will not require you to point and click them in the direction of the toilet. They will get on with all the basics, and a little more, without needing, or wanting, you involved. In all honesty if this had not been the case I would have not only lost interest with this game within three and a half minutes but I would have likely tossed it aside forever.

The fun that can be had in watching the lives of the sims play out is great and highly amusing. But to me it felt like a form of voyeurism and I ended up asking myself some pretty tough questions. Is this truly what man has come to? Watching artificial people sit and watch tv whilst you sit and watch them watch tv? They could probably do more in this respect to make a game like The Sims 2 but with this want and desire to watch more of a factor. I lost interest in bothering to "interact" with this game, I just wanted to watch funny things happen and didn't label them funny if I had had anything to do with it as player.

After going around the various community lots, discovering all the things the sims can do, and seeing all the stuff you can buy and learn, I felt as if I had watched a television show and one that really only requires the viewer to see it once, maybe twice if you missed bits whilst getting up to make a coffee. It's a good game, and a serious piece of software since the amount of stuff actually in it is quite immense, but I just lost interest once I'd seen my sims do all the "funny" stuff - like strip naked and take a wash in a public toilet - more than once. In that respect I would dub this game a really good piece of entertainment, but the entertainment fades the more "you" interact. I wanted to just watch, but maybe that was just me.

The Sims 2 is fun, funny, full of features, and I can't think of another relevant word beginning with "f". It's certainly not fast, feisty, or ferocious but would you really want it to be? In my view this game does actually bring up hard-line questions about us as a society that I will bore you with.

The people who really dig games like this, on the level of going beyond me and really "playing" it on an interactive level are often the same people who want more from their lives in general. When I play an FPS game I don't hope that one day I too will be getting shot at by punks and aliens whilst dishing out my own version of ownage. But I feel as if people who are fans of The Sims franchise in general sub-consciously are looking to forge the perfect world or reality for them.

Personally I feel there is a "real" world to live and computer games to play.... There is also a time and a place, and a moral to every story. Not to mention clouds that have silver linings...


+ Highly amusing

+ Solid create-a-sim

+ Good house design system

+ Sims have A.I

- Sim's act like spoilt brats

- Missing good features from the original's expansions


At some point you do yawn

by The Critical Alien
© 2004