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PC Games (Games) First Person Shooters (Games) Media Movies Quake Star Wars Prequels

Old School Gameplay Collides With Modern Graphics 314

Posted by Zonk
from the film-at-eleven dept.
While console shooters like Halo have gotten a lot of press in recent years, I will freely admit to being a PC man first and foremost when it comes to the genre. Getting the chance to use mouselook and engage in some old-fashioned shooter action is a wonderful nostalgic thrill. While stories are nice, brainless, shiny, visceral action still has a place in modern games. Proving that tried-and-true formulas are still enjoyable today, Star Wars Battlefront II and Quake IV deliver visually impressive violence-fests that uphold their series pedigrees with distinction. Read on for my impressions of these two new games with thoroughly familiar experiences.
  • Title: Quake IV
  • Developer: Raven Software
  • Publisher: Activision
  • System: PC (360)
  • Reviewer: Zonk
  • Score: 7/10

Although Unreal Tournament has been the game of choice at most of the LAN parties I've been to, Quake 3 has always been my preferred way of dealing out rocket love. The game's combination of frenetic action and gothic trappings is something I've never been able to get enough of. Developed by my hometown's most well known player in the games industry (sorry Human Head), the most recent entry in the Quake series updates its look ... and not much else.

Quake IV is the story of a marine participating in the invasion of the planet Stroggos. After the events of Quake and Quake II, humanity has had enough and is taking the fight to the dirty space aliens that wrecked up our planet. The single-player mission that explores this story is well presented. The developers seem determined to have Quake stand up to more modern gaming experiences, and there are some successes on that front. Quake IV's AI is nothing particularly intriguing for most of the game. While both your soldier buddies and alien opponents will occasionally take some cover, for the most part they have a saturation-with-plasma-fire approach to combat. Towards the end of your combat tour, though, highly intelligent Strogg become your opponents. They're highly aggressive, have the same weapons you do, and know enough to get behind a crate when a grenade lands in front of them. It would have been interesting to fight more of these baddies throughout the game, as for the most part the average Strogg is cannon fodder.

The story itself features elements you'd never expect from a Quake title. There's a little bit of mission variety, for one, with some fetch the hoozle missions, escort missions, and rail shooting mixed in with the usual run and gun. While they all devolve into 'shoot things and keep moving' it's obvious that Raven put some thought into providing a variety of experiences. At least one level actually takes you out of the fighting and attempts to flesh out your understanding of protagonist Michael Kane's world. You're given the chance to wander around part of a dropship, encountering fellow marines and overhearing numerous scripted conversations. While it can't hold a candle to City 17, the non-combat detail is a first for the series and once again shows Raven's commitment to modernity.

The problem, such as it is, comes in the fact that the minute-to-minute gameplay is virtually unchanged from the Quake II days. It looks better, to be sure, but you run down a hallway, some Strogg jump out, you shoot them. Repeat until level clear, then repeat until game finish. While I personally have no problem with that venerable and highly enjoyable sequence of events, be forewarned that if you play Quake IV you're just not going to encounter many of the aspects that are hallmarks of modern FPS titles.

As you'd expect from something built on the Doom engine, Quake IV looks terrific. One reason that the graphics stand out so much is that, unlike in Doom 3, you can actually see the environments, objects, and creatures around you. While there are some dark sequences several of your weapons have flashlights built into them, making the darkness more ambiance than gameplay element. Character appearance and animation is top notch, and the scare factor of critters leaping at you is heightened by the sometimes disturbing ways in which Stroggification has warped your opponent's appearance. Composed sound elements plays a subdued role, with minimal musical cues doing their best not to get in the way of the action. Sound effects are loud and for the most part satisfying. Weapons have weight, and cries of anger and pain definitely get across success or failure as you shoot at an enemy.

If the last game in the series is any indication, there are a lot of you out there that couldn't care less about the last few paragraphs I've written. The multiplayer aspect to id games is always top notch, and this one is no exception. Quake IV is Quake 3 redux, right down to the jump-pads and the announcer. Weapons have no reload time, and level design is focused on making sure there are plenty of fragging opportunities. As with previous titles in the series Deathmatch seems to be the design focus. 16-player maps seem to be the order of the day, with several even lifted directly from Quake 3. Gameplay is extremely fast, and the twitch-bunnies you'll face online make the AI in the single player campaign look like statues. In order to get the kind of response I wanted from my online experience, I had to turn down some of the settings I was using for the single player missions. With some of the more expensive shinies turned off, the game responded quickly and I had no problems staying in the fight.

Despite the game's adherence to elements from previous Quake games, Quake IV somehow fails to capture nostalgia and comes off feeling retread. The modern graphics simply highlight the sometimes simplistic level design, and while there are some physics elements used in the game for the most part the Doom engine feels more funhouse than realistic environment. Gameplay, too, feels very much like the same experience we had in 1999. Nostalgia is one thing, but the fact that the Quake world has nothing new to offer after a six year lapse is frustrating. The bottom line: if you've played previous iterations in the Quake series and enjoyed them, you'll like Quake IV. It's a solid, fast, frantic style of FPS that is becoming far less common nowadays. The frustrating mix of new and old may throw gamers who aren't fans of the franchise and accepting of gameplay from the previous decade.

  • Title: Star Wars Battlefront II
  • Developer: Pandemic Studios
  • Publisher: Lucasarts
  • System: PC (PS2, PSP, XBox)
  • Reviewer: Zonk
  • Score: 8/10

The original Star Wars Battlefront (SWB) was the a traditional FPS title that did a competent job of capturing some of the essential atmosphere of the Star Wars franchise. Putting you in the boots of J. Random Clone, the opportunity to see the Battle of Hoth or fight in the streets of Theed was powerful mojo for Star Wars fans. Star Wars Battlefront II upholds the standard of the original title, and successfully expands its scope with new places to fight and new ways to go into combat.

With the exception of the Super Star Wars series of titles back in the SNES days, Star Wars movie-specific game titles have almost universally disappointed. The blending of the mythology into a more cohesive whole makes for a much richer and ultimately more rewarding environment to set a game, and SWB II makes full use of all six movies. The single-player campaign starts you off in the final days of the Clone War, filling the boots of a Clone Trooper under the command of a Jedi Knight of the Republic. If you've played the previous title you'll have almost no trouble getting into the thick of it. Gameplay is essentially unchanged, preserving the wise decisions from the original title's designers. You'll have the option of choosing from among several unit types to spawn onto the battlefield. Each has a specific set of weapons to draw on, such as a heavy weapons trooper or a sniping unit. The average Battlefront mission tasks you with keeping control of several nodes scattered across the map. Nodes can be flipped from one side to the other by occupying the area around the node with troops. Most maps are won when all nodes have been converted to one side or the other. SWB II"s single-player campaign switches this up a little with non-node mission objectives. One level, for example, requires you to hold just one node for a specific length of time as a massive force of droids marches on your position. Another has you fighting off the monstrous Acklay creatures before they can kill too many of your troops. This variety adds a little more interest to what would otherwise be multiplayer games played between you and a bunch of AI.

The biggest change in Star Wars Battlefront II is the inclusion of space combat. While it's no Tie Fighter, space missions will please the dogfighter in every Star Wars fan. Most of them are fairly quick, with just one or two simple objectives (destroy these ships, keep this ship alive). Gameplay is fast and enjoyable, with a more straightforward version of the controls you might expect from other Star Wars titles. The straightforward design makes it easy to just hop in a craft and blow stuff up. Some single player missions have a little more to them, requiring you to fight in space and then land for another objective. Dropping the shield protecting a landing bay, piloting a troop transport inside, and then stealing data from the ship's computer is a highly satisfying experience. To provide the entire range of Star Wars gameplay, Jedi characters are also available. They're fast and powerful, and a side with one available to them has a great chance of prevailing. Control is similar to what you'd expect from Jedi Academy, and there are several force powers available to the Jedi that makes fighting one as a normal ground troop a short and stressful experience.

Visually SWB II is an obvious improvement over the previous title. There's a great deal of detail, and the overall presentation of the game has been refined. Both the visuals and soundscape do their best to adhere to the Star Wars universe, and succeed admirably. Ships explode, battle droids splinter, and gungans gargle with the sights and sounds you'd expect from a licensed title. As with all Star Wars games, the sound experience is particularly enjoyable. John Williams scores strain to be heard over the zip and pop of blaster fire or the scream of a passing Tie Fighter. While there aren't any appreciable physics elements, playing SWB II also probably won't strain your graphics card overmuch. The feel and look are dead on, dropping you into the mythos of the galaxy far, far away.

While the single player game is enjoyable, multiplayer is really this game's strong suit. Extremely large battles are possible, and every aspect of the single player campaign is available to multiplayer combatants. Maps are fairly roomy and are usually set in extremely evocative locales. While fighting on the snowy ground of Hoth was done to death five years ago, some of the new levels offer a distinctly different experience. Kashyyyk, Dagobah, and Coruscant are all battlefields in this (sometimes continuity breaking) free-for-all environment. Action isn't nearly as fast paced as Quake or Unreal Tournament, but that's okay. The joy to be had in popping off shots at a fleeing droid or charging Rebel soldier means that it's fun to savor the moment. The 'hold-the-node' gameplay is the default choice, but just like in the single player experience there are space battles and objective missions to be had as well. There was very little slowdown or technical problems related to the game during battle I participated in, and the necessarily aggressive tone that teams have to take to win matches ensures both offensive and defensive players will have a blast.

Given that it's only been a year since the last Battlefront title, it should come as no surprise that gameplay still feels fairly fresh. SWB II improves on already enjoyable gameplay by expanding the scope of the title. More Jedi, and space combat completes the full arc of what makes the Star Wars universe unique. While I don't expect that SMB II is going to be knocking Half-Life off of the top of the server population list anytime soon, it's a satisfying update to a title that scratches a dorky itch. Whether on foot or in space, Star Wars Battlefront II puts you in the moment like few other license titles can.
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Old School Gameplay Collides With Modern Graphics

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  • by adavies42 (746183) on Friday November 11, 2005 @03:53PM (#14010797)
    "Dirty space aliens that wrecked up our planet"--cute.
  • by American AC in Paris (230456) on Friday November 11, 2005 @03:55PM (#14010817) Homepage
    The AI in SWB 1 was so bad they might as well have stuck 'em on rails. How substantially has the AI in SWB 2 improved? For example, do bots still dash for vehicles and fly in circles for the duration of the match? Will they still hop obligingly into your line of fire without so much as a batted eyelash? Will they wait patiently in your crosshairs as you unload on them with your sniper rifle?

    If they've fixed the AI, SWB2 might be worth checking out. If not, then there's really no compelling reason to grab it beyond the fact that it's Star Wars...

  • by thatguywhoiam (524290) on Friday November 11, 2005 @03:59PM (#14010859)
    I lost pretty much all interest in FPS games somewhere around Quake 3/Unreal Tournament. It became apparent even then that these games should not have a sequel number after them, but a version. We have seen Quake, versions 1-4 now for instance. Its the same game.

    I looked with hope at Halo 2 (first one was, sorry to say, dead boring, apart from the neat little plot twist with the Flood), hoping that the famous sequel would be a sequel.. but no, its another version, and unfinished at that. I loved that game, but they are all That Game now, and I have played a hellof a lot of Unreal and Quake. So much that I feel like I never need to play it again, until the genre decides to stretch a bit and offer something beyond Grr! Skullz! and Hot Babe with Howitzer!

    I do see Zonk's point - of course there is a place for 'the twitch', and Nintendo does quite well in that area.

    But I will wait until FPS games truly do something new. Apart from easy questions like, why can't I blow a hole through a wall? (Red Faction came close to this.) Where is the weather? Why is the AI so mind numbingly stupid?.... there are harder questions, like, is this a good idea to have a single point of view for the entire game no matter what? A counter-example of this would be something like Metal Gear Solid, which could switch between views depending on circumstance... Valve looked like they were onto something with HalfLife 2, but that sort of turned out like a really neat tech demo, with the physics... seems obvious to me that they are selling an 'engine' now, with a game as an afterthought. Kind of like id.

  • by leather_helmet (887398) on Friday November 11, 2005 @04:00PM (#14010865)
    Great developer - they have not (yet) sold thier souls to EA or other huge publishers

    Quality staff as well and thier studio in SantaMonica is really nice...happy employees = good games/product
  • Re:Quake (Score:3, Interesting)

    by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Friday November 11, 2005 @04:02PM (#14010890) Homepage Journal
    I wholeheartedly agree. It's amazing to me that you could have a great experience playing quakeworld on a 28.8k modem (or even slower!) but today you need fucking broadband just to play a FPS. The server requirements have gone steadily up, and for what? The net gameplay certainly hasn't gotten any smoother. I still play Q1 occasionally by myself, let alone on the 'net. Maybe it's just because I haven't played HL2, or because I'm just plain jaded, but I am still of the opinion that there is no finer FPS than quake 1.
  • Look around you! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Inoshiro (71693) on Friday November 11, 2005 @04:09PM (#14010948) Homepage
    "For that matter, why arent there Flash versions of new games in the older styles?"

    You mean like Alien Homonid? Or did you want a 2D game like Viewtiful Joe? The problem is that these are not sellers. People do not buy them.
  • by TheSifters (228899) on Friday November 11, 2005 @04:11PM (#14010963)
    There are lots of independent developers doing just this for PC games. I've recently released my first indie game [sortasoft.com], and lots of other people are doing great things. You really have the freedom to make games that are fun to play!
  • by syrinx (106469) on Friday November 11, 2005 @04:15PM (#14010987) Homepage
    You're a dumbass. "Movie-specific". You even quoted it. X-Wing is not from a movie. Neither is KOTOR. Or Dark Forces. Or Tie Fighter.

    The "Phantom Menace" game is movie-specific, because it's, wait for it, specific to a movie. Also, it sucked. This is Zonk's point.
  • Re:Game AI (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Ignignot (782335) on Friday November 11, 2005 @04:27PM (#14011123) Journal
    I played Far Cry on the hardest difficulty level. While I agree that its AI was more sophisticated than I normally see in FPSs, (putting to lie my statement about always playing against the same AI), I thought that most of the difficulty in that game came from the fact that the computer could shoot unerringly with some weapons, such as rocket launchers, through smoke and trees. Otherwise I agree, it had well done notification between enemies, good patrols, and good use of cover. What it didn't have much of was mercs working together in an effective way - they'd always come at you as directly as possible and not wait for their buddies. This was disappointing. I could run into a bunker, shoot one guy, and the bad guys would come in as soon as they arrived so I could pick them off one by one. I'd have liked it more if they would take up station around all the exits, then just start throwing in grenades until I either had to run out or just died. Alternatively use flashbangs to disorient me and then rush me. Alternatively, drive a tank through the building and crush me. Alternatively, drop a grenade by the propane tank outside the building and blow me to hell. Alternatively, throw in tear gas. But no, they just come in, one by one.
  • I can't wait... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jbarr (2233) on Friday November 11, 2005 @04:35PM (#14011218) Homepage
    ...to see the Zork series in a new, and better interface!

    Seriously though, I have to admit that most games have lost my favor because they have simply become too detailed. For me, (and I admit I'm and old fart at 39) games are those things that are the most fun when they are limited in scope, provide diversion, entertainment, and overall, let me have fun in a short period of time. Challenges like Zork, and "classic" arcade games like Road Blasters, Tempest, and Centipede, really held my attention. Don't get me wrong, current games are certainly quite interesting, but to me, a "quest" or "campaign" or "mission" is not what I tend to look for.

    There was a great show on G4TV (Icons, I think) a couple months back that detailied the history of arcade games, how they have evolved into what are now current console games, and how the arcade industry is struggling. It was interesting to see that when arcades bring back the "classic" games, revenue spikes.

    But then again, retro isn't always the best thing. I'd like to see more innovation and new concepts and designs.
  • Re:Quake (Score:3, Interesting)

    by KanSer (558891) on Friday November 11, 2005 @04:48PM (#14011328)
    Oh I sincerely agree. You know the number 1 thing they never replicated that really helped the speed? The grenade launcher. It's timing, range, and explosion upon hitting a target was awesome. Wait for 6 guys to get in a shotgun war and just pop 6 in. Instant gibs. Quake was definitely the first great multiplayer experience. I remember as a snot-nosed brat of 12 shouting with glee over a 56k modem (What a terrible memory!), and logging onto my ISP's server. Good ole quake.sonic.net. A year or two later I was at a superbowl party hosted by a husband and wife, the husband was my dad's friend and the wife worked at Sonic ths isp. Put that many geeks in the room and talk eventually shifts to video games, and quickly to the craze of the time which was still quake. I inquired to all their aliases and they found out mine, and they had the most hilarious expressions on their faces when they realized they had been getting owned for months by a 12 year old. Best. Day. Ever.
  • by Craig Ringer (302899) on Friday November 11, 2005 @05:07PM (#14011498) Homepage Journal
    Some games that REALLY need a remake with polish, expansion, and modernized graphics but much the same core gameplay ideas:

    - UFO: Enemy Unknown / X-Com: UFO Defense / X-Com: Terror from the Deep (utterly, totally, completely awesome games begging for a version that doesn't need DOS, 320x200 graphics, and a few annoying bugs)
    - Master of Orion II (MOO3 was barely even a game)
    - System Shock II (already has updated graphics and co-op mod, but co-op is a tad flakey and it barely runs on modern OSes)

    Maybe Star Control II as well, though it's been updated to run on modern systems and is free now ( http://sc2.sf.net/ ). Great single player campaign.

    I'd say the Monkey Island games too, but really they just want an engine port to an OS from this century. I can't imagine how you could even fix up the graphics without ruining the game.

    Then, of course, there are some that've got updated versions that don't suck (eg the Civ games).

    So, let me echo the sentiments of the others here - "what do you mean, old school?". Hell, the ones I've listed are relatively modern too. I'll be there are a few folks out there begging for more Commander Keen games, and then there's the MAME crowd...
  • Re:Game AI (Score:3, Interesting)

    by xtieburn (906792) on Friday November 11, 2005 @05:36PM (#14011741)
    Have you ever looked in to games AI. It is truly awful.

    People have this movie type image of AI how it can think for itself and may one day rule the world killing us all with its machines of chaos and destruction!!!

    If that day is to come it wont be for a long long time. Currently we have rather large debates in AI on how to get from one side of a room to the other. A* most asuredly but how do you implement that? Depth first? Breadth first? Iterative Deepening? How do you make it real time? Break up the path? recalculate the whole path each tick? recalculate the path if anything at all changes?

    The handful of possible answers I gave to each of those questions is only the tip of the iceberg (e.g. you can search from the thing thats moving to the target or search from the target to the thing thats moving to it or, and this is probably the best option, both.) Each solution has bonuses and flaws quite often to the point where two solutions appear just as good as each other in theory.

    Oh and as I said. This is all just to get something to move from one side of the room to the other. Never mind trying to make that thing behave in a human way or making it work in a team with others its a good enough start that it doesnt get stuck in an infinite loop and try to walk through a wall for all eternity.

    This is also ignoring the fact that this is kind of pseudo AI if there can be such a thing. E.g. to make a team split up around various obstacles whilst patrolling from one point to another all you have to do is have the team members get as far away from each other as is possible whilst always trying to converge them on there target point. i.e. They _must_ get to a target point but on the way they stay as far away from each other as possible. This has no reasoning to it the agents involved arnt thinking. There is no commanding agent saying. 'Hey you. Go round that way we'll go round this way.' They just do exactly what they are scripted to do. This means that you will never get a commanding officer of a squad sending a man in to a dead end by accident etc. You can of course script in that permutation but who on Earth is going to do that for all the possible mistakes and maps they could be on.

    In short AI is hard. Really, really hard. There are hundreds of people particularly in the field of robotics that have spent years sometimes decades of there lives just answering the 'How do you get from one place to another.' question.

    I dont know what the solution to this is but my best bet is do the same that has happened with the good ol physics engine. One of the reasons that people buy off the shelf physics engines is because they are also really, really hard. It boggles my mind that the same hasnt been done with AI which after doing some AI and Physics I can tell you for a fact AI is many, many times harder. AI has developed, but quite slowly and I doubt you will see anything ground breaking until there is a full team working constantly on an AI engine alone that can then be distributed to any game that requires it. In other words, until there is an AI version of Havoc I dont think things are going to change much.
  • Re:Quake (Score:3, Interesting)

    by kin_korn_karn (466864) on Friday November 11, 2005 @05:43PM (#14011806) Homepage
    Quake 1 had this goofy abstraction about it that made it fun. You have all of these pointy-headed guys, running around these lava-filled dungeons, shooting each other into bloody chunks of pot roast, all the while then the status says things like "Dysdic accepts BauM's shaft." Quake 1 was the last FPS that felt like a game and not some kind of training simulator.
  • Re:Game AI (Score:3, Interesting)

    by The OPTiCIAN (8190) on Friday November 11, 2005 @07:25PM (#14012500)
    Why is game AI in FPS's always defined as "they can hide behind boxes?" Does that define sophistication for us now? It has been around since at least Half Life. People still ooh and ahh about it though, and I can't understand that.

    I remember that in Half-Life, and damn that was cool. I think a big part of the problem is that there's not a great deal of room for strategies. The level designs tend to be linear - sometimes it's cleverly disguised (again - I remember playing through early stages of Half-Life and wondering whether I was taking a good route - in fact I was going down the only path). There's not much room for intelligence here. The whole premise of FPS is flawed - one person against a sea of other fighters. One person doesn't survive against a sea of other fighters.

    Here's a bold statement: we reached the limits of AI within linear FPS games long ago.

    It would make much more sense to have some sort of open environment. But the way games are designed at the moment this is very difficult to build just because the artwork would cost so much, and it's also expensive in terms of processor and memory (because you have to track the progress of all the characters around the gameworld and they have to be working out strategies).

    One way that a game could get a lot in return for a low investment would be to have the player come into an existing defined conflict that is playing out. One scenario I've been thinking about: what if there was a prison riot of some sort going on, and you were part of a special ops unit sent in to extract someone held in high security. An easy way to create a diversion is to start letting prisoners out. Thus, there is a conflict going on: the guards and the prisoners are fighting, and there are perimeters they reach as they do that change the dynamics of the game world (ie: prisoners get hold of key vantages or the comms system and it changes control of regions and suddenly the guards are fighting for their lives instead of just keeping the prisoners at bay). Meanwhile you don't want the prisoners to get too powerful too quickly because then the guards will get air support which will threaten your escape. Everybody is suspicious of you, but they have a range of priorities in their heads and keeping you at a safe distance while you're hostile is only one of them.

    But we're talking about serious memory to track this all. It's possible though. If you had a server farm and could cluster the intelligence out you could host it. And you wouldn't need a huge number of script points for it to start to feel like genuine intelligence.

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