Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Rise and Fall of the First Person Shooter, part two

Okay, it's morning now. Actually, it's 14:23, which is sort of late morning. So, where was I ?

Ok, uitandu-ma in urma mi se pare ca m-am intins cam mult cu unele jocuri, asa ca voi schimba un pic stilul de prezentare si ma voi concentra asupra seriilor, ceea ce e de fapt si scopul acestui post (desigur, mai raman si titlurile individuale care nu au inca sequeluri). De fapt, voi incepe cu doua sub-genuri:

Shooterul "realist": acesta este genul a carui actiune se petrece aproximativ in zilele noastre, cu arme uzuale: pistoale, automate, grenade etc, si inamici in general umani. Singura problema este ca fie acesti inamici beneficiaza de o rezistenta iesita din comun, fie gloantele au o viteza foarte mica, cert este ca de obicei nici macar o lovitura in cap nu este suficienta pentru a ucide pe cineva, chiar si in acele jocuri, mai noi, care fac distinctia intre cap si... well, restul corpului de obicei. This is formally known as the Law of Ballistic Impotence. Ce sa mai vorbim de conceptul de stopping power, care este o gluma, singurul efect notabil care mai apare din cand in cand fiind scaderea vitezei de miscare atunci cand esti lovit de o rafala o_O. To make matters worse, this kind of game usually takes a sadistic pleasure in annoying you to death by using the worst idea ever: SPAWNING. Look, I didn't mind monster teleporting all around me when I was playing Doom, but that was a FREAKIN SF/FANTASY GAME FOR CRYIN OUT LOUD ! And there was a nice green flash and specific sound to go with it ! But when soldiers start pouring out from a house you've just swept clean, you have to admit that things are very very wrong. The oldest title I can remember that belongs to this genre is probably Soldier of Fortune(2000), although I never played it. But I played the sequel(2002), and it had the worst spawning ever *shudder*. De altminteri, dupa acel joc am ramas cu sechele, acesta fiind si motivul pentru care nu am jucat prea multe titluri de genul asta, cu toate ca au fost destule. Dintre cele pe care le-am incercat, la aceasta categorie intra Return to Castle Wolfenstein(2001), Medal of Honor Allied Assault(2002), Counterstrike(2000 - multiplayer only - no spawning - duh), Project IGI(2000) and the fascinating Sniper: Path of Vengeance(2002), the game in which you were anything but a sniper. Call of Duty(2003) va intra tot aici, dar este totusi un joc bun, desi cam scurt (si nu am jucat addon-ul pentru ca am citit pe IGN ca au pus (mai mult) SPAWNING in el *shudder*). Cel mai bun titlu din aceasta categorie ramane probabil Far Cry(2004), despre care am scris suficient in alt post, mai ramanand sa mentionez ca NU are spawning.

Shooterul militar: same setting as above, dar nu respecta (prea mult) LBI. Apparently, in aceste conditii spatiile deschise sunt mai potrivite decat indoor environments, si solutia adoptata cel mai adesea este de a adopta un setting militar, hence the name. Delta Force(1998) este probabil jocul de la care a pornit totul, dar din pacate a iesit cam plictisitor si cu multe buguri (cu toate ca avea un multiplayer foarte bun), si am renuntat sa ma mai joc undeva dupa Delta Force 2(1999). Fortunatelly, the genre will be brought to its peak by a somewhat unknown title: Operation Flashpoint(2002). OFP was the first game that made me feel like I was holding an M16 and not a peashooter, although the enemies would push that point on you a bit too often for my liking. While in the beginning you're just a private and part of a squad, later on you'll get to drive tanks, fly choppers, infiltrate the enemy base at night, or command your own men into battle, all on the background of a well-written and interesting story. Other titles that fall under this category are the Battlefield series(2002;2005) (although the bullet damage is still pretty low) and Hidden and Dangerous(1999;2003) (same here; I never played the second part of the series, though).

Okay, so now that we're done with the bigger categories, let's take a look at some series:

Splinter Cell(2003;2004;2005): I'm putting this up front because it would probably fall under the first of the above categories if not for special considerations. Mind you, I've only played Pandora Tomorrow(the second game), so the following might not apply to the other two titles. SCPT was supposed to be a stealth game, and it would have failed miserably if not for the hell-spawned idea of the producers to artificially impose the stealth part onto the players. So what happens is that on the average, for the first half of each mission, you can't kill. Period. No matter how stealthy you are. (Amazingly, you are still allowed to render enemies unconscious, and noone cares one bit.) But then, after one objective or two, ta-daa ! you may actually give a use to the lump of metal you've been carrying around (commonly refered to as a "rifle"), and quite frankly, it's a relief. Although it makes you wonder if your commanders are on crack or something. To make things worse, SCPT was so short that I never got a chance to use any of the cool moves Sam Fisher can pull out more than once or twice. The story was also pretty silly, but that's just me not being too excited about Tom Clancy :D. To sum it up, SCPT was one of most disapointing games I've ever played and finished.

Aliens vs Predator(2000;2003): although inspired by a couple of movies, when this game came out it was surprisingly original. Each of the three playable races appealed to a different category of players (and I don't suppose you have to ask which was my personal favourite :D), and the engine was well-suited for a dark, gloomy atmosphere that made the game unlike any other up to that point. AvP also featured a lot of unlockable content which gave it quite a bit of replay value. About the sequel, sadly, I can only say that although I've played it, I don't remember squat. So it might be safe to assume that is wasn't too good.

Red Faction(2001;2003): what this shooter does best is prove that putting a bunch of good ideas together doesn't make a good game, not by a longshot. It was still moderately fun to play, but really, my biggest disapointment was that noone used that beautiful engine for a better game. The sequel, RF2... it's the same situation as with AvP2.

Jedi Knight(1997;2002;2003): I've already covered the first game of the series. Since then, LucasArts have dropped the Dark Forces label from the title, a good move IMO. Jedi Knight 2:Jedi Outcast appeared years after its predecessor, used the Q3 engine, and was a huge step forward (although it dropped the FMVs in favour of in-game cutscenes, like so many games were starting to do). JK2 continues the story of the ex-mercenary, now Jedi, Kyle Katarn, whose lightsaber color apparently changed between games and noone noticed. The fun part of the game was that the lightsaber and new powers were so good that they were all that you ever used really, which made you feel like a true Jedi. Add to that a number of classic SW settings like Yavin 4 and the Cloud City of Bespin and things couldn't get much better. About the bad side of things, the game did have a "stealth part" that was very artificially imposed on you (much like in SCPT later), but at least it was pretty short and not very hard. The last game of the series, JK3: Jedi Academy, was maybe a bit better, although not much. It added the posibility of using two lightsabers or a dual-bladed lightstaff on top of the usual one-saber style, and you got a number of new moves to go with your choice. But the story was somewhat weaker, and I think the game was shorter, too. And they locked the camera to third-person while using a lightsaber ! The truth is that it's best this way for melee combat, but at some times I really wanted to duel in first person... And since you stick to the saber 90% of the time, the game doesn't feel FP anymore.

Half-Life(1998;2004): of course, I couldn't forget about one of the most important shooters of all time. I still remember that when it first came out, we were actually waiting for three games: Half-Life itself, SIN and... one more. Of them, only HL managed to impose itself as a top shooter. Valve impressed by using the Quake 2 engine to create a game that looked and ran better than Q2 itself ! HL had an amazingly good gameplay, but IMO its strong point remains the story, which used the interesting idea of "contemporary SF". The fact that the setting was a top-secret US military research base loaded with high-tech gadgets played right into the overall feeling of the game. Half-Life also had a couple of add-ons, which I have played, but they are of course not nearly as good as the original. But the most important legacy of HL was that it spawned a whole generation of mods, the most notable being obviously Counterstrike.
Eventually, HL's long-awaited sequel also came out. About Half-Life 2, the truth is that I have mixed feelings. I cannot but acknowledge it is a really good game, but IMO it would have been better without the whole Half-Life baggage it came with. It really is a wholly different experience from its prequel, being set quite a few years in the future and all that, and for those (like me) who liked the original because of those things that made it unique, it will always be shadowed by its great predecessor.

Unreal(1998;2003): a game as good as Unreal was bound to have a sequel or three. Actually, first came an add-on named Return to Na Pali(1999), which continued and ended the original game's story. RNP was ok, but not really as good as Unreal. Next came Unreal Tournament(2000), an entirely multiplayer experience if you don't count the bots. Eventually, UT would evolve into a series of its own, being followed by UT 2003 and 2004. The actual sequel to the original, Unreal 2: The Awakening, actually came out just a couple of years back. Unfortunatelly, it's the Half-Life 2 story all over again (although chronologically incorrect :D), except that this game didn't impress me so much to try and finish it even once. Bummer.

Max Payne(2001;2003): not a FP game, but a shooter nonetheless. And a damn good one at that, which is why I'm writing about it right now... heck, who am I kidding; Max Payne was very good, but what I really want to do right now is complain that it wasn't first person. Why oh why... this is really my only problem with this very good game (and its equally good sequel The Fall of Max Payne).

Deus Ex(2000;2003): with Max Payne I've sidestepped out of the FP area; this time I'm getting out of the shooter zone, at least to a degree. Actually, there are two reasons why Deus Ex, although an RPG (and one of the best) warrants inclusion here. First is the fact that you can finish Deus Ex without killing anyone or anything... but I've never tested this, because the shooter action was too good to miss :p. The second is that the sequel, Invisible War, felt a lot more like a shooter than like an RPG. Surprize-surprize !... Inca o dezamagire, si daca o sa am un post despre RPG-uri (hint ! hint !) o sa scriu mai pe larg despre asta. Ah si la categoria chestii interesante, Deus Ex este singurul joc in afara de Jedi Knight in care ai lightsaber (sort of :D).

Ahh, only four titles to go. I'm getting tired.

Hitman(2000;2002;2004): ce mi-a placut la Hitman a fost in primul rand faptul ca desi camera default este 3rd person follow, modul first person nu a fost neglijat, si de altminteri este preferabil, cel putin din punctul meu de vedere. Cand m-am jucat intaia oara primul joc din serie, Hitman: Codename 47, ma asteptam la un stealth-game, dar nu a fost chiar asa, jocul fiind mai degraba un shooter cu elemente de stealth (exista inclusiv o serie de misiuni in care vanezi oameni prin jungla cu M16 in mana). Sequelul, Hitman 2: Silent Assassin, avea partea de stealth mai buna, oferindu-ti posibilitatea de a termina orice misiune cu minimum de victime. Din pacate, erai atat de usor deconspirat incat adesea un masacru general era preferabil. Aceste probleme vor fi insa rezolvate in a treia parte a seriei, Hitman: Contracts, in care in sfarsit optiunea stealth este atat accesibila, cat si foarte interesanta, jucatorul fiind de altminteri rasplatit cu cate o arma noua in fiecare misiune terminata fara a fi detectat. Bineinteles, posibilitatea de a lua arma in mana din prima secunda a misiunii exista, si chiar daca il jucati ca pe un shooter ramane un joc foarte interesant, cu gameplay excelent. Since this is one of the few series to actually become better with each new title, I'm looking forward to the next Hitman game, Blood Money.

Doom(1993;1994;2004): fireste, am scris deja despre primele doua, deci mai ramane doar Doom 3 (daca uitam de Ultimate Doom). Doom 3, desi un joc bun, sufera si el din cauza comparatiei cu predecesorii, cel putin in opinia mea. Desigur, arata mult mai bine, dar nu asta este de fapt important nu ?... Povestea este acum mult mai vizibila decat inainte, cu dialoguri, mesaje, jurnale, obiective(!!!) etc, si cred ca multi nu se asteptau la asta (eu cel putin nu). Gameplayul sufera din cauze vitezei mari a proiectilelor care nu iti mai permite sa faci strafe ca inainte, si din cauza atacurilor de apropiere care te naucesc complet, facand lupta de la distanta mult mai preferabila. De asemenea jocul este scurt, dar deja nu mai am pretentii in aceasta privinta. Dintre punctele bune ale jocului voi mentiona faptul ca este destul de infricosator (desi partial se datoreaza faptului ca armele nu lumineaza deloc cand tragi si jocul este foarte intunecat), precum si partea care se desfasoara in iad, foarte bine realizata.
A aparut intre timp si un add-on, Resurrection ef Evil(2005), care putea la fel de bine sa se numeasca Doom 4, fiind fata de Doom 3 ca Doom 2 fata de Doom (phew, a lot of doom around). Daca din asta ati inteles ca e mai bun decat originalul, well... asta era intentia. There's a double barelled shotgun in it, anyway.

Painkiller(2004): aparut cam in acelasi timp cu jocul anterior, Painkiller este in general privit ca ceea ce Doom 3 ar fi trebuit sa fie (desi mi se pare ca seamana mai mult cu Quake, mai ales cand am ajus la partea cu zombii care arunca halci de carne in tine). Actiune, actiune si ceva actiune in plus este cuvantul de ordine in acest shooter foarte dinamic care nu te lasa sa treci mai departe inainte de a fi lichidat tot ce misca in zona curenta. Armele sunt excelent realizate (stake gun anyone ?), settingurile se schimba in continuu si la sfarsitul fiecarui capitol exista un boss, de obicei GIGANTIC. Povestea este mentinuta la strictul necesar sub forma unor FMV-uri intre capitole. Exista si unlockabile (powerupuri si cateva nivele), singura problema fiind ca unele din cerinte sunt extraordinar de ridicate, fiind in mod evident facute pentru old-time gameri care pot executa cele mai absurde acrobatii aeriene fara eforturi prea mari (saritura "dupa colt" e doar inceputul... noroc cu unele powerupuri care iti permit sa o iei "pe scurtatura" :D). De asemenea, Painkiller are de departe cel mai superb nivel final facut vreodata intr-un shooter. Trust me, it's worth playing to the end just to see it.
Painkiller are si el un add-on, Battle out of Hell(2004), in care amazingly... you don't battle out of hell. (IIRC, you actually try to get back IN - strange, but true). Addon-ul consta dintr-un nou capitol cu 10 misiuni, dintre care una este unlockabila (sau erau doua ?...), doua noi arme (adica patru, fiindca in Painkiller toate armele au si foc secundar complet diferit de cel principal), and overall a lot of new fun (dar din pacate mi s-a miscat mult mai prost decat originalul, desi arata cam la fel; I can only guess a higher poly count).

And finally...
Oh, wait.

Pentru ca in ultimul moment mi-am adus aminte de inca doua shootere pe care le-am jucat la viata mea, o sa scriu cateva cuvinte si despre ele (cu toate ca probabil mai sunt altele despre care am uitat complet). Primul este HALO: Combat Evolved(2003). Man was that game boring. Singurul lucru interesant era settingul, un mic ringworld care pluteste undeva in spatiu. Apparently a avut si un sequel, pe care nu m-am obosit sa il incerc. Daca vreti mai multe informatii despre acest joc, ask Vomex, he liked it.
Celalalt este The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay(2004). In acest joc, amazingly, incerci din rasputeri sa scapi din Butcher Bay. Si incerci. Si incerci. De vreo 5 ori. I was actually so relieved when I finally managed to escape that I danced a little happy dance. Altminteri, jocul e destul de bun, are parti de adventure care sunt interesante, precum si parti unde stealth is the only option, fiinca nu ai arme. And besides, Riddick is very cool. Okay, I'm done here.

So, we end with...

The Quake series(1996;1997;1999;2005). Of course, this probably comes as no surprise considering the way I started. Actually, there are only two games left. Since Quake 3 is multiplayer only (+bots), it's pretty much out of the picture. That leaves us with the newest title, Quake 4. The story in Q4 apparently picks of where Q2 ended, although I was never aware that Q2 actually had a story. Anyway, apparently there's these bad guys called the Stragg or something, and for some reason humans are at war with them. You're a marine (of course) and you go around killing them while attempting to complete whatever objectives are at hand.
Q4 has some nice ideas. First, you choose a rank at the beginning of the game, which sets the difficulty level and which you also carry around with you the whole game (so far I've only played as a Corporal, but I plan to investigate the effect of your rank on the course of the game). Then, there's these nifty vehicles you can pilot, like a hover tank or a mech. You also get some weapon upgrades every once in a while, such as extra firepower for your nailgun or a scope. And the coolest thing so far... at some point in the game, you're captured and partially turned into a Stragg... it's a really bloody and brutal process :D Afterwards, you can move faster, you have more life and armor, and you can read the Stragg language. Pretty nice.
Still, the game doesn't really shine in any way. The gameplay is ok overall, but so far the only exciting moments were when I played the hover tank. As a foot soldier, you'll try to kill the enemies as quickly as possible and move on; the smartest trick you can try in combat is probably hiding around a corner to avoid damage. The enemies are as unexciting as everything else except the giant spider robots which you can only really damage when inside a battle machine. And the story, while not exactly bad, it's simply not something you'd really care about; mainly, you get your orders, and you try to carry them out. Sometimes you'll get some background information on why you are doing that, but it's all straightforward - you are trying to win the war. That's that.
So, the game is not bad. It's simply not something I'm looking forward to playing when I get home. It's that kind of game which I keep around in case I get bored, and if I'm ever going to hit a hard spot in Q4 I'm probably going to either use cheats, or if necessary, uninstall it, with no regrets ("hard" typically means "horribly annoying" in my book). And hey, I haven't finished it yet, so there might still be some goodness lurking about.

So I guess that sums it up. If you like first person shooters, and if you're still lucky enough to not have played some of the titles I recommended here, maybe you should try them out. Otherwise, if you find a good shooter that I haven't written of, let me know, I'll want to play it (just remember that story and gameplay are what matters to me). I plan to play F.E.A.R. next since it was just released, and as I'm hopelessly optimistic, I have quite high expectations for it (in anything but game length that is, since that is a long-lost cause).

Phew, am terminat. Observati ora la care am postat. Yes, it took me a whole day to write this post. THIS is what evilness is all about. Or something.



Blogger Danut Enachioiu said...

Well, nice post what can I say. Don't agree with some views (imho Doom 3 was way better than Doom 1&2 - not because of graphics but because of feeling, etc.) but anyway.

Have fun and all.

8:26 AM  

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