Tag Archives: Review

Masters of Puppets

Let’s play a mobile game, shall we? One of the top rated ones, preferably, one that promises light-hearted entertainment for the weary traveler, all for the price of watching an advertisement now and again. That seems like a fair deal. A no-brainer, right?

How about that zombie shooter with all the exalted reviews. Best zombie shooter ever made, they say. Best graphics. Looks like a console game. This could be on PlayStation 4, they say. All the cool kids are playing this, they say.

OK, that sounds slightly unrealistic for a mobile game, to the point where your mum would notice it, but let’s not be a party pooper. Maybe the game developers are just really good, right. Right? Don’t look at me like that.

The hook

First off, you get hit over the head with some jizztastic graphic shenanigans powered by Latest Fashionable Game Engine, Improved Shininess. Fire! Smoke! Exploding helicopters! What a show. Looks awesome, almost to good to be true for a mobile game, you think.

Until the first level is over, which happens suspiciously quickly, and you’re dropped in the real game. The hook has been deployed. The façade is ditched quickly. The scripted explosions and bombastic particle effects have faded.

The world turns into the blocky, repetitive sequence of boxes that it actually is. The shine dims into a tasteless, worldwide fake cubemap reflection. The pretense falls by the wayside until you can’t help but notice that fan made Quake levels look better than this pseudo-shiny console-quality wannabe contender.

The vicious circle

The basic gameplay seems surprisingly adequate for a mobile shooter, which these days is good enough to serve as part of the lure, until you realize that it isn’t terribly challenging.

Challenge is merely simulated by turning the basic zombies into bullet sponges over time in order to force you to upgrade your guns, which is otherwise completely pointless because the upgrades don’t actually do anything new. You see, the challenge is a lie.

The game just creates an endless grinding cycle of weapon upgrades that not only cost ingame money (read: your time) but also require you to upgrade the gunsmith first, which requires you to upgrade the tech level first, which requires both extra money and extra time, UNTIL you may then finally upgrade your pea shooter, which makes you wait for another 24 hours.

Bitch.

As if that wasn’t enough, the game will force video ads down your throat while you grind through the merciless slog that will make your gun’s damage output keep up with the ballooning hitpoint count of the common lead pipe zombie. Congratulations, mindless victim, you have been turned into a drooling button pusher while the game developers are laughing all the way to the bank.

But rejoice, there is a way to avoid all that: Paying real money.

The special offer

For just a couple quid, you can have enough gold to buy that upgrade now! Hey, what’s a couple quid, asks the hapless victim as he pulls out his parents’ credit card, tapping blindly down the downward spiral carefully prepared for him.

Hey, says the game, while you have your credit card out, why not buy a premium-only GOLDEN AK 47 for just 50 quid? Your friends will be impressed!

But here’s the thing.

The alternative

Once upon a time, games used to hand you all the cool stuff. You’d get a better, more impressive gun after simply playing for a while. No grinding, no paying for extra premium currency packs. The game would simply give you the rocket launcher, or the grenade launcher, or the crossbow, or the magic wand that freezes enemies so you can shatter them into a thousand pieces with one shot of your immense fertility dispenser.

Just like that.

And enemies would actually behave in more interesting ways the longer you played instead of simply having a variable increased whenever the developers felt they needed to wring some more dollars out of an audience of mindless MasterCard equipped teenage puppets.

And you’d only have to pay once. Up front.

And the best part: These miracle games are still around.

You see, when you can get classic games such as Quake, Half-Life 2, Crysis, or Left4Dead for under ten bucks, and play forever, spending fifty quid on a golden AK-47 in some ripoff mobile shooter looks about as attractive as a can of cold jizz.

And when you can play Team Fortress for free online, or download STALKER : Shadow of Chernobyl as a free, completely playable alpha version from the developer’s website, then spending real money on a premium currency pack for Zombie Money Laundry 2.5 seems to be something only a demented weasel would ever seriously consider.

Don’t fall for it

Here, says the game, with a desperate toothpaste smile, have a free slot machine to win some premium currency! Don’t have enough gold? No problem, ten gold just 3,99! Special offer!

Aw shuddup.

 


Doom 3 revisited: Monorail

You’ll see a bit more of the Martian surface here. I guess the claim that idtech4 can’t do large outdoor areas was false even back then. Anyway, the train ride is pretty fun although it’s purely cinematic, there’s not much interaction until you arrive at Site 2.

Now here is where they made possibly the single biggest blunder in Doom 3. Opening the monorail airlock (the only real objective in this level) requires a code, which can only be found by reading the emails on the PDA. Why they didn’t simply make this a button is beyond me, as the code doesn’t really add anything. So this is where the game does force you to read the stuff on the PDA. It’s not localized, and I’ve watched a Let’s Play by a German player who didn’t know what to do here. It sucks if you don’t speak English, but in this case, it wouldn’t even have been necessary if they just made it a button instead of a number pad.

Once you do figure it out, you can ride the train until it crashes into another malfunctioning airlock. Get off the train, watch imps be mowed down by a ceiling turret, deactivate said turret (this time, it’s a button!) and welcome to the Delta Labs.


Doom 3 revisited: Recycling

Up comes Monorail Skybridge, aka Recycling 1. This is a classic “waste processing” themed level filled with pumps, slime, service ladders, monster closets, and a nice blend of hostile inhabitants. To make your life properly miserable, you’ll start seeing Revenants here.

The layout of the level will wind over, under and around itself, and you’ll often see areas that you can’t get to until later. It’s quite competently done, and it’s not as dark as the previous ones. It’s another run and gun but the pacing is different, there are some tough fights now, and a lot of scare attempts where an imp will just walk through a door or wait directly behind one (I memorized most of them, but eventually one of them will always get me), and monsters respawn in “cleared” areas so you can never be too sure of yourself. There are tons of items hidden around this foggy industrial environment, so exploration is rewarded as usual.

Kill monsters, disable the pump, stay alive, and you’ll finally be rewarded with the rocket launcher. You’ll promptly get to use it, as well. It’s probably obvious by now that this one is a bunch of fun and quite pretty as well, if you like industrial.

Recycling Sector 2 is the continuation of the first one. After Dr. Betruger gives his master-villain speech, you’ll enter another layout that likes winding around itself and is stocked with lots of items and bunches of Revenants. Lost Souls are also back here.

The atmosphere of the level is outstanding, spooky, foggy and reeking of disaster, and gives one a first taste of what’s to come, especially in the game’s last few levels. It’s very foreboding in that way. The environment is again expertly done, the lighting is appropriately dank, and some of the brushwork is very pretty.

I guess it’s probably my favourite piece of level design in Doom 3. Screenshots don’t entirely do it justice, but it is really very nifty. The pacing of the gameplay is a little more relaxed than in the previous one, but there’s plenty of action, some very disturbing new enemies, and a mini-boss fight to top it off.

This level is simply a class act and I always look forward to it.


Doom 3 revisited: Communications

If a shipment of chainsaws gets accidentally routed to Mars,  you know there will be trouble. After all, what can you do with chainsaws on mars? Your friendly neighborhood zombies figured it out, and are quite eager to show you: Cutting up things.

The other noteworthy thing about Communications Transfer is the service lift. Now I like moving, rotating, extending gizmos with lights on them, and this one doesn’t disappoint. There is a small network of tracks and service stations and bridges that can be explored using this nifty toy.

Verily, it is dark in there, and demons are prowling the… catwalks? Remember, cutting things up, and remember, the flashlight. Some parts of this level are pretty spooky – it is the orange version of the Alpha Labs, only with more blood, more darkness, bigger demons, chainsaws and  — A BERSERK POWERUP!!11!1  Quite weird combination of things, but unlikely combinations often end up working well, at least this one definitely does.

A short walk across the Martian surface later: Communications.

Now this is one ugly level. It’s dirty, run down, and generally greasy, bloody, and unwelcoming. Only its mother could love it, if it actually had a mother. It’s actually not unlike a mix of Enpro and Mars City Underground, only more cramped, darker, and with a different monster lineup. It is actually full of Z-Secs with shields, shotguns, and machine guns supported mostly by cacodemons and imps. It is also hard. There are a couple gadgets and many ominous red lights, but the only useful thing is a machine that churns out sentry bots. If yours is broken, you can return there and get a new one, which is quite nifty.

Did I mention it is ugly? Most of the level looks like this. It’s almost as if its only purpose was to be ugly and try to kill you. However, the gameplay is almost as good as Enpro‘s, meaning it is a run-and-gun level, with sentry bots, but hard and short on ammo. It’s a shotgun level. Grenades actually come in handy here.

I had a hard time liking this at first, but it grew on me.


Doom 3 revisited: Enpro

Find the transmission card, repair the reactor, meet the girl with the lost soul. Gaze at the beautiful environment. The theme with the big “skylights” is probably my favourite in Doom 3. The level itself is chock full of imps and lost souls and only a select few zombies, maggots and wraiths. Gameplay is proper run-and-gun for the most part, with and without sentry bots. Did I say that the number of imps in this level is staggering? A real pleasure, and good looking as well. And well stocked on plasma ammo.

They gave her the office at the trench… I can see how that must suck. Unsurprisingly, all her collegues were very eager to accomodate all of her requests. It didn’t work out so well though.

I’m sure this is one of the more memorable cutscenes in Doom 3. Meet the Lost Soul. Thanks for the plasma gun, too.  Nice fit.

Awesome level.


Doom 3 revisited: Alpha Labs

Alpha Labs. To a lot of Doom 3 players, one boring corridor maze with blue wall panels stretching across 4 full levels, housing such esoteric gadgets as the Elemental Phase Deconstructor, Hydrocon, Molecular Fuel Storage Compactor, and Enpro Fuel Reprocessor, along with dozens of low-level, low-life monsters . You know what, you’re wrong. There is a lot of good stuff in there.

#1 is a rather long affair, and it’s true there’s a lot of corridors in there, but you gotta hand it to the guys that very few of them are uninteresting. There are details and nice colour combinations everywhere. Almost all of those little corridors are busy looking. In fact there is not one bad looking place in here. I found this quite enjoyable.

I love me a nice corridor. Most of those come with zombies. Hm, tasty.

#2 is the level where you escort the scientist who, inevitably, gets killed. However, it’s more rewarding to go off track and look in the places you’re not supposed to go, as you can find lots of goodies there. This actually happens regularly in the game, items are found in the most unlikely places and you’re usually rewarded for not doing what you’re told. I wish more games did that.

And this is why they gave you a flashlight.

#3 is the level with the poisonous barrel “puzzle” – you get to use a crane and dump them into the incinerator. Also, every code on this level is 123 which is very welcome.

#4 is where it gets interesting again. Right after “they took my baby”, and before you meet the Vagary, there is a pretty good and long platforming section.

You didn’t ever do any platforming there? Then you probably chose to extend the service bridge instead of activating the EFR. The former simply unfolds a few catwalks and spams them with more spiders. The latter turns on a bunch of moving platforms and gadgets. And much like Super Mario, you get to ride platforms, jump or duck past rotating and extending stuff, and leap across and between moving machinery. There is also a shitload of items to collect here again if you look carefully.

Don’t like platforming? Too bad. The route across the service bridges is both easier and more boring. I tend to find this level good fun. The game gives you a choice in quite a few places, and while that usually doesn’t change much, it does here. It helps if your Doom 3 is modded for faster running speed. 😉

Overall I found Alpha labs quite all right this time around. It gets a lot better though.


Doom 3 revisited

Just been playing a bit of Doom 3’s Mars City / Mars City Underground levels on Veteran skill. It’s a lonely Saturday night and I’m past the second beer and I have this feeling of boredom and nausea that’s hard to put a finger on. I have to say, Doom 3 is just what the doctor ordered on such an evening. The atmosphere it still manages to conjure up, a feeling of Alien-type sci-fi horror where the protagonist is caught in the unfolding chaos of a Mars base under attack by an unknown alien force, and soon to be the last sane person remaining, is just pulled off incredibly well.

The voice acting, foreboding e-mails and audio logs on people’s PDAs you get to access (if you so choose) just serves to drive the point home that shit is very soon going to hit the fan in a really bad way.

And then there is the visual experience.

I have to say that even after playing a lot of Crysis, which is rightfully considered to be a very pretty looking game, Doom 3 still delivers the goods. The idtech4 engine (Doom 3 was released in 2004) is still one ace looking piece of technology, and can still hold its own among more modern games (the upcoming Brink and Prey 2 still use idtech4 as a base). And the amount of details in the game is jaw-dropping. Even more so when you consider it’s largely still brushwork and patches (there are map models in Doom 3, but they’re usually only used for decoration, terrain, and things like doors, with the exception of the “Hell” level). A lot of it is real old fashioned brushwork. They pulled this off incredibly well. The lighting just makes it even more impressive.

Doom 3’s textures aren’t high resolution by today’s standards, but they still look reasonably good while playing. In fact the environments look better, sharper, and more detailed than most of the props in Crysis. I notice the textures on brushes are usually more hi-res than the ones on models, which is a trend that apparently continued in newer games (thus leading to complaints of low-res textures in Crysis 2, for example). I’m not sure why this is the case. I’m aware of at least one hi-res retexturing project for Doom 3, which should further prolong this game’s visual impressiveness.

The gameplay, while much criticized for lame attempts at cheap scares, omnipresent predictable monster-closets and in-your-back spawning of angry imps, was never a real problem in my view and I think its definite oldschool approach (i.e. killing monsters in the dark with a shotgun, instead of cattle-prodding the player through a sequence of scripted events and endless cutscenes) is convincingly pulled off. Yes, in such a game there will be monster closets, flickering lights and teleporting nasties. So? Nothing says “Fuck you!” better than a shotgun blast to the face. As such, the core mechanic of the game (it’s a shooter, and doesn’t try to be a movie) works to my satisfaction.

It’s a game for men, because you have to be able to appreciate what they pulled off here. Playing this again after quite a while prompted me to write this, because I think it is really a quality piece of game design. It’s all so impeccably done, the artwork, the brushwork, the voice acting and the ambience. I’m not saying it is flawless, but it is executed competently. And it’s running in a wonderful engine. It’s all the better because it’s also a free game development toolkit (OK, the game itself is like 6,99 from the bargain bin, but the tools and SDK are free and there’s still hope for the engine to be open-sourced.). What more can you want.

You’ll have to excuse me now, I have to go back to killing infernal demons in dark corridors.

Love you, Doom 3.