Monday, January 30, 2012

Team Fortress 2 Review

Game:  Team Fortress 2
Year (s):  2007
Company:  dev.  Valve Corporation
            pub.  Valve Corporation
Engine:  Source
Type:  Multiplayer Online FPS

Price (as of January , 29 2012 )

Regular price on Steam:  Free
Lowest Buy-It-Now on eBay (new, with shipping):  $13

Game Time:  mindlessly infinite

Obligatory Trailer:


There is no plot.  You are either red team or blue team.  Complete the mission before time runs out.


I would argue that Source was the best engine of its time.  Now, it's getting somewhat dated.  TF2 looks cartoonish compared to other Source games, making it comparable to Borderlands rather than the more realistic new engines.


TF2 has nine classes, each with different strengths.  A Heavy has the most health and is devastating in close to mid-range combat, but is the largest and slowest character, easily taken out by a sniper.  The other eight classes are similarly balanced, and particularly suited to specific roles.  A good team makes wise decisions on classes upon re-spawning based on what the opponent is doing.

Rarely, servers have bots.  However, this isn't an option available when creating a server, so I'm not sure how some pull that off.  Servers are not all created equal.  TF2 has absolutely no tiering system, so sometimes I was like a god, and sometimes I was sniped fifteen times in a row and killed no one. 

Achievements and Gear

A few years back, different (but not superior) weapons for each class could be unlocked by completing achievements.  Many an hour did I spend to get these extra items.  To date, TF2 has 394 achievements.  For those that like earning achievements, that's a lot of potential game time..

When TF2 was made free, things changed.  Random item drops became part of the game.  These drops can be the same item that could have been earned by achievements, making achievements less alluring.  Valve added a TF2 store, to buy swag outright.  If you don't want to spend real dollars, you can smelt items in hopes of then making a good item.  I estimate that smelting would take, at a minimum, dozens of hours of time to get anything useful.  Sound like WoW, anyone?  Items can also be traded between players.

After playing on the new incarnation for ~30 hours, I found a supply box.  This was a rare box that would have a rare item.  All I had to do was spend $2 of real money dollars to purchase a key to unlock it.  You know what I got?  A tweed hat, for the Spy class.  You know what this rare item does?  NOTHING.  Then I deleted TF2.

Final Thoughts

I think this is Valve's attempt to be World of Warcraft for shooters.  From a money perspective, they figured out a good way to profit off of a several-year-old game.  Most of the players I played against had all sorts of unique items.  WoW has you kill five orcs, then five dragons, and so on.  In TF2, there isn't even that level of distinction.  All games are essentially the same, with only a couple of official maps for each game type.  While it's tempting to play for a few hundred hours, unlock achievements, smelt, trade, and spend real money, I have better games to play.  Not a terrible game for multiplayer, and the different classes are well constructed.  I really hate the new item system though.  That tweed hat moved me from mostly neutral feelings about the game to being a little pissed. 

It is, however, free.  So if you're bored and want something mindless to do, well, one can't beat free, I guess.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Halo: Combat Evolved Review

Game:  Halo: Combat Evolved
Year (s):  2001 (XBox), 2003 (PC)
Company:  dev.  Bungie, Gearbox Software (PC port)
            pub.  Microsoft Game Studios
Engine:  Halo Engine
Type:  First-Person Shooter

Price (as of January 21, 2012 )

Regular price on Steam:  Not Available
Lowest Buy-It-Now on eBay (new, with shipping):  $15

Game Time:  esteimated fifteen hours on the first run

Obligatory Trailer:


A human military ship exits hyperspace to inspect Halo, an ancient, artificial, ring-shaped world.  Unfortunately, a Covenant armada has followed, and the human ship is quickly attacked and boarded.  Master Chief (the protagonist) is awoken from cryostasis and helps the crew fight their way to the escape pods.  The survivors land scattered across Halo, soon hunted by the alien Covenant forces.  The fight for survival quickly becomes a race between mankind and the Covenant to uncover the secret inside Halo, a secret that could destroy all life. 


Halo was ported to the PC in 2003, with some graphical improvements over the 2001 XBox version.  Considering that 2004 brought us the Source Engine and id Tech 4, Halo looks like crap.  It's comparable to the polygonal glory of Quake 2 (1997) or Half-Life (1998).  There may have been some rag-doll physics used, but overall not an impressive engine either at the original release or the port release.

Combat and Gameplay

Shields regenerate if you take cover for a few seconds.  You have a few grenade types and can carry any two of the half-dozen weapons at a time.  While Master Chief usually goes solo, the enemies are usually in squads.  There are a few vehicles, all of which are confined to specific areas.  None of the vehicles are particularly noteworthy.  Saving is checkpoint only.  On normal, combat is generally not too bad but occassionally a decent challenge. 

Multiplayer game types include maps with vehicles (this is one of the first shooters I can think of that had that).  There are no bots.


The music in this was rather well done.  It was more memorable than most, and fit the mood of the game.

Voice talent includes Steve Downes (Chicago classic rock radio DJ), and others like Jen Taylor, whose name you might not know, but whose voice might sound familiar from having been heard in other video games. 

Expansions / DLC / Sequels

Halo: Combat Evolved was the first in a franchise that now has at least six games, with more on the way.  In 2011 an anniversary version of Halo was released with improved graphics.  The first game is the ONLY one that can be played on Windows XP.  All other titles require XBox/360 game consoles or Windows 7.  Halo 2 and 3 set records for sales in their first week out.

Halo has been used in professional gaming competitions, sparked a series of novels, and inspired the entertaining machinima Red vs. Blue ( , sorry, it has ads).  Red vs. Blue does not require knowing anything about Halo to get some good laughs. 

Final Thoughts

Halo is a fun, sometimes challenging shooter with innovations like vehicles and regenerating shields, solid audio, and a satisfying story.  The graphics are terrible, but if you can get over that then this is a pretty great game for fifteen bucks.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Red Faction II Review

Game:  Red Faction II
Year (s):  2002 (platforms), 2003 (PC)
Company:  dev.  Volition, Inc., Outrage Entertainment (PC only)
            pub.  THQ
Engine:  Geo-Mod Engine
Type:  First-Person Shooter

Price (as of January 10, 2012)

Regular price on Steam:  9.99
Lowest Buy-It-Now on eBay (new, with shipping):  ~$45

Game Time:  Six hours or less, first time, on normal.  I should get a free pizza.

Obligatory Trailer:


After the Red Faction rebellion liberated Mars, the illegal nanotechnology that was uncovered was seized by Earth defense forces.  This led to the creation of super soldiers and a totalitarian state for all of Earth.  Now your renegade squad of super soldiers and the Red Faction fight to topple the evil empire.  The plot is at no point engaging. 

Geo-Mod Engine

It's the same engine as the first game, and doesn't look any better, though it is more stable.  Just like previously, many surfaces can be destroyed.  While this was just a waste of explosives in the first game, blasting through walls and floors is required in the Red Faction II campaign. 

There are a few flubs in the design.  Saving is check-point only, however, there is no notification when these saves occur.  I left the game paused for hours at a time so I wouldhn't lose progress.  Annoyingly, cutscenes cannot be skipped.  Scenes before boss fights are therefore enjoyed over and over every time you die and start over.  One last quirk is that if you have this as a game on Steam, it will only run if your DVD/CD drive is empty.  If anything is in it, the game launcher will prompt you to put in the game disc, and never launch.


Three are three types of combat situations in Red Faction 2: the usual, vehicles, and boss fights.  Usual fighting is corridor-based, against inaccurate enemies programmed to often run away and occasionally fire a shot.  Vehicle combat is generally fun, but also very easy.  Boss fights are tedious bouts of hopping out of cover to fire from afar, and then running away and/or finding cover.  Health will regenerate, but you have to away from bullets for maybe ten seconds or so.  You can carry up to three medkits, which are used automatically if you would die.  There is no sprinting.

The combat system has some problems, too.  Strangely, you can play matches with bots but not with other people.  For the first time ever, I had the problem of too many weapons.  Weapon selection is strictly by the mouse wheel, and having to scroll through three sniper rifles, three assault rifles (which look similar and are easy to mix up), a handful of handguns in both single- and dual-wielded options, and a handful of of guns just to equip a shotgun was a huge hassle.  Weapons do not change automatically if you are out of ammo.

Expansions / DLC / Sequels

This is the second of what is currently a four-game franchise.  The latest came out in 2011.  There are no expansions for Red Faction II..

Final Thoughts

Red Faction II is incredibly short, with laughable AI, lack of attention to detail, average to poor graphics for the time, and essentially no plot.  A fast-paced, action packed campaign with voice talent by Lance Henriksen (Aliens franchise) and Jason Statham couldn't save this mess.  I have the third game in the series, but now I'm certainly in no hurry to play it.  Don't bother with this one.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Serious Sam 3: BFE Review

Game:  Serious Sam 3: BFE (Before First Encounter)
Year (s):  2011
Company:  dev.  Croteam
            pub.  Devolver Digital
Engine:  Serious Engine 3.5
Type:  First Person Shooter (throwback gameplay)

Price (as of January 3, 2012 )

Regular price on Steam:  39.99
Lowest Buy-It-Now on eBay (new, with shipping):  Not Applicable

Game Time:  25 hours, first time on normal

Obligatory Trailer:


Aliens attacked, and nearly everyone has been wiped out.  As Sam, you fight your way through Egypt attempting to uncover and activate an ancient alien artifact that will send you back in time to save the world!  Thus time travel explains why Serious Sam 3 is illogically subtitled Before First Encounter.

While the other games had text-based story elements, BFE has cutscenes.  These cutscenes allow for more of the testosterone-and-smart-ass personality of Sam to be enjoyed. 

Serious Engine 3.5

While Serious Engine 3.5 has definite graphical improvements over earlier engines (for example, they added particle effects and some physics), the franchise's engines continue to be about five years behind the cutting-edge.  On the other hand, there are dozens of enemies at a time in Serious Sam.  A graphically competitive engine with that much going on would have an unplayably low frame-rate for nearly everyone.  With the constant carnage, I wasn't stopping to admire the textures. 

Gameplay Compared to The First Encounter

Most weapons have to reload now, but all the familiar weapons came back.  Finishing-move melee attacks and two hand-to-hand weapons have been added.  Gameplay is nearly identical to the first, with only one or two enemies programmed to not charge directly at you.  Nearly all the enemies are back, plus a couple of new ones.  Cover is of limited use, as a lot of scenery is destructible.

There is more gore, especially with melee attacks.  Bullets that hit sand or stone will send up a short-lived cloud of dust, adding to mayhem by obscuring targets.  The pistol and the assault rifle can be aimed (slight zoom), and Sam can now sprint as much as he wants.  Sprinting is faster than most enemies, but you can't reload while doing so.  As in the original, health, armor, and other items are picked up by running over them.  Secret areas are also featured.

I liked The First Encounter because it was hard, but I didn't like having to cheat to get past a couple insane parts.  I didn't cheat in BFE.  While First Encounter threw you in to the shit pretty quickly, BFE ramps it up over the course of the campaign.  There also seems to be (at least, on normal difficulty) a lot more ammo and other goodies to pick up.


Two different directions were used here.  Most of the time, there's relatively ambient background music.  Boss fights (and the bosses are gigantic) loop a few songs by metal group Undercode, albeit without the vocals.  This reminded me of playing Doom back in the day, while listening to Metallica.  Good idea, Croteam. 

Expansions / DLC / Sequels

A handful of third-party indie games with Serious Sam in the title were released on Steam to promote the release of BFE. 

The Digital Deluxe Edition, which can be bought stand-alone or as an upgrade to the regular version, offers a few bells and whistles, but no new BFE gameplay content.  No information right now on further developments.

Final Thoughts

Croteam has been putting out essentially the same game for the last decade.  Either you like the old school style with difficulty turned to eleven, or you don't.  I won't begrudge anyone if they can't get in to Serious Sam.  That being said, BFE was more enjoyable in many ways from The First Enounter, and it would be a much better introduction to the franchise.  I thought the last boss fight was lacking, but found the rest of the game tons of fun.  I'd recommend playing BFE on someone else's computer than already owns it to see if you'd like it.