Thursday, March 27, 2008

How much is a good FPS trainer, anyway?

So I've been trying to get back into playing Halo. I really, really wish I knew how to get better in that game, or in FPSes in general. "Stick together", my teammates say. Yet, it doesn't seem to matter if I'm standing next to a teammate or across the map from them; when I die in two shots, I'm no good to anyone, including myself. When I hit someone in the back, they turn around, give me a noogie, and I keel over dead, HOW DO I FIX THAT?

Here's the thing. I want to actually play the game. To me, playing the game is not spending most of my time watching a respawn timer. That is not fun. Neither is knowing that your team would've won, if it wasn't for your double-digit negative K:D ratio.

The new maps came out this week, and I did get a chance to play on them. Until they get into the main matchmaking playlists, not too many skilled players are voluntarily playing them — which means I've actually been able to play. Unfortunately, it also means I've been able to roll over these real "newbies" (I don't know that it's fair to call them n00bs, unless they really do suck). See, I may get wasted going up against people with real skill, but I do have some skills of my own. My real rank is probably around 20. Anyway, wasting another team isn't fun, either. It's like running around with god mode turned on — sure it's fun for a few laughs, but it gets old very quickly.

So tonight I was playing with some rather skilled players who are on their way to level 40, hoping maybe they could drag me along. Stupid, stupid me. My level in Team Slayer is already up to a laughable 32. I'm sure the other team had a good laugh when they saw my name appear in red over their reticule. "Ha ha, look at that, CyberKnight just hit me in the face with a hammer. *bang* He's dead." "Ha ha, CyberKnight is shooting me in the face with his little water pistol. Watch me take him out with one shot with my battle rifle." "Ha ha, CyberKnight just dropped this grenade under my feet, and he thinks it'll do some damage to me. Little does he know he can't hope to penetrate my Mark VII armor."

In a way, I'm glad I don't have hours to spend trying to improve, because I can't seem to improve at all, and this way I still have an excuse. A flimsy one, to be sure, considering other working parents don't seem to have the same troubles I do. But I guess it'll have to do. I don't see me spending money on a personal trainer because (1) it's just a game, there are more important things to spend the nonexistent money on, and (2) I have my doubts as to how helpful it'll be, since what help my friends have offered seems to be "about as useless as JPEGs to Helen Keller".

It seems, when it comes to playing FPSes online, I'm doomed to mediocrity — which I suppose wouldn't be so bad, if Microsoft's precious "TruSkill" algorithm would do as promised and actually match me up with people at my skill level, instead of constantly matching me with people so much higher (thus frustrating me to no end) or lower (thus boring me) than I am. Believe me, I don't want to be at this skill level, either, but it doesn't seem I have a choice.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Out of the mouths of babes

Expanding a bit on my gamerscore challenge experience, I thought it might be interesting to mention how my kids reacted to some of the games that were played. I admit, more than one game was aimed at kids. Achievements for kids' games tend to be easier to get, so for a challenge, they're ripe for the picking.

As I mentioned, my oldest son just happened to rent Open Season just as the challenge started. What did an 8-year-old boy think of this game? Honestly, he didn't seem to like it very much. He played it the first night, but on the second day, he really wasn't that interested in playing, even when we warned him that, as a rental, the game wouldn't be with us for very long. The following day was a weekend, and he did play a little more then, especially when he found out that the little treasure gems unlocked facts. Being a little know-it-all, he's very into facts with which he can show off later.

He seemed to have a little more fun with TMNT. Its game mechanics are really simple and easy to pick up, and the game has a lot of action. My second-oldest, who isn't as big a gamer as his big brother, liked to watch his brother play this one. I don't recall him getting very far in it, but he did have fun with it.

My son likes playing EA's NBA 2002, the last basketball game I purchased (and still playable, thanks to backwards compatibility), so I figured besides the easy points, NBA 2k6 would be an appreciated upgrade. The first game we played together was full of frustration — despite the fact that we were playing a team whose every player's stats grossly outranked every player on the computer's team, we'd miss wide-open shots the computer would make under pressure, easily. He complained the whole game (as he's wont to do) how he'd rather play the old one.

Then I introduced him to the sliders. We pulled the computer's abilities down to about ¼ and put ours up to about ¾, and suddenly it was the Harlem Globetrotters against the Washington Generals. I forget the final score, but it was well over 200 to zero. He (and I) had a lot more fun then. :D

Finally, the kids played a bit of Avatar. Turns out there is more to the game than the first five minutes. ;) After the whole family took turns milking the game's easy points (even my wife, boosting her score from a mere 40 to a whopping 1040), the kids decided to play the game the way it was really meant to be played. I guess you might cast it as an action/platformer, along the lines of the first three Harry Potter games — sometimes you're fighting bad guys, sometimes you're pushing giant blocks around to climb up on, sometimes you're just running through dungeons blasting giant rats. Occasionally they had a little bit of trouble trying to decide where to go next, but all in all it didn't seem too hard for them to pick up. It's pretty simple, with cutscenes that are fairly reminiscent of the cartoon show (or what little I remember of it — we don't watch a whole lot of TV around here as a habit).

If I had to rank the games, I'd say Open Season was probably dead last. TMNT and Avatar would be in the middle, although I'm not sure in what order — the turtles seemed to be on a slightly older level than he might be ready for, and I can attest to the game getting a lot harder, especially in the boss battles; whereas Avatar was definitely set up to be more of a cartoon feel, and they definitely liked that. NBA 2k6 is a little higher up there, as long as the settings are modified appropriately.

The real winner is one game that I haven't mentioned at all yet: Samurai Warriors 2. On the last night of the challenge, I called up local Geezer FireMedic41 to see if he had any games with easy achievements, and he loaned me that one. I didn't mention it because, although the achievements are fairly easy, they take a lot of time. After I played NBA 2k6, I started playing Samurai Warriors 2 to fill out the rest of the time (until I discovered that I needed to play Avatar), and I got about two-thirds through one story, which would've earned me one 50-point achievement. I'm still plunking away at it, because I'm a certified achievement whore, but it should be noted that my kids have played it just about every day that they've played any games at all. They have been loving the hack 'n' slash gameplay, even if they don't have a full grasp of the objectives.

So there you have it. Open Season, definitely bad; Samurai Warriors 2, definitely good.

What happens in Vegas...

I had high hopes for Rainbow Six: Vegas. I like the Splinter Cell series, and I thought a tactical shooter would make for interesting gameplay. When the multiplayer demo was released, I had a great time with it, in fact. It was interesting, heavily promoted team play. And the single player features were promising, not the least of which being the ability to use the Vision camera to put your face in the game. (Yes, I know it's a gimmick, but as the owner of one of these gimmicks, I'd like to get more use out of it.)

So the single player demo was released, and I got a chance to play it. Remember what I said about Gears of War and excessive swearing? This was pretty bad, too. I had the same feeling then. This was not a game I wanted to expose myself to, let alone bring into my home.

So along came Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 (bottom of the eighth, Vegas is up, bases loaded, two outs...). I hoped that maybe this could be my entry into Vegas. If they cleaned up the language at least, then even if they released the same game, I could get some enjoyment playing one version of the game.

Fortunately, my participation in the Geezer Gamer community paid off once again. I can usually count on somebody getting a copy of just about any game on release day, especially one anticipated such as this, and posting their impressions. One such Geezer had this to say:

Sounds is as always amazing, with this game having the most foul-mouthed terrorists I've ever heard in my life. Apparently in Terrorist Training Camp™ they teach how to swear using the "Fock" word until they get it right such as: "Dude, they just focking killed him!!"

The reviews had been a little lackluster so far. It seems to be a good game, but not much of an improvement over the original. With a lack of community excitement, I was on the fence about this one, but that comment clinched the deal. No sale.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

You Challenge Me?

This past month, I was involved in a gamerscore challenge called "You challenge me?"  This gave me an opportunity to put my gamerscore whoring to the test, as well as find some new games that I might not have otherwise played.

As luck would have it, my son just happened to decide to use the free game rental he got for Christmas on the game Open Season. So, to start off the challenge, I found a good FAQ on the Internet and set to work for the first thousand points. I only have vague memories of the movie. I saw it while I was in the hospital recovering from an appendectomy, and my attempts at watching it while my kids came to visit were interrupted by my falling in and out of consciousness. As such, I can't say for certain how faithfully the game follows the movie plot. It did seem familiar...

In any case, the game was fairly unremarkable. It had pretty simple gameplay, although there were a few achievements that weren't so easy to get, even with the FAQ at my side. The ones that stand out in particular in my memory were those that involved getting a certain score on levels where your forward motion was uncontrolled — sliding down a mountain or racing down a river on an outhouse. (?) Otherwise, as I said, pretty unremarkable. You could tell it was put together without a big budget. The menus aren't the easiest to navigate, and for some reason, while most of the movie scenes are recreated with the unimpressive yet capable game engine, the touching final moment is done as a slideshow of stills from the actual movie. If they couldn't have done full video, they should've just stuck with the game engine. Totally ruined the effect.

The next big rental was my own, and it was TMNT. I liken this to a low-impact Prince of Persia. The game is petty straightforward, and so are the achievements. Although I had a FAQ with me, it turns out it was completely unnecessary. Almost all achievements unlock just by playing the game. Unfortunately, I haven't seen the movie so I can't comment on its accuracy to that plot at all. It was good, simple, ninja turtle fun. Not a whole lot else to say about it.

Fellow Awesome Possum member Hyperdive was kind enough to support me in my quest. He mailed me his copy of the game TimeShift, and Maizrim added his support by helping me boost a few of the multiplayer achievements. Granted, I only got a taste of this game's potential, but this could easily ft into the same category as Shadowrun — a shooter with some unique elements that really set it apart and make it interesting, unfortunately overlooked by the community at large.

The last day of the challenge was really interesting. Ahead by only 500-some points, I was at work, watching the second-place challenger going through TMNT. I stopped by Blockbuster on my way home and found a used copy of NBA 2k6 for sale cheap. I knew the 2006 sports games were rather infamous for easy achievements. I also decided, since that would put me back up by only 500 (assuming she finished TMNT and I finished NBA 2k6), to rent Avatar. This game has the dubious honor of granting 1000 gamerscore for a mere 5 minutes of play. I felt it prudent insurance, in case the other player had something else up her sleeve after she finished TMNT.

NBA 2k6 reminded me of why I don't play sports games anymore. On the default settings, I watched what should have been easy shots miss, and the computer be unstoppable. When he can hit anything covered by 3 men and I can't hit closer shots wide open with statistically better players, the game just isn't fun. Fortunately, you can tweak the settings to ridiculous levels, and the game is a mindless blowout. As far as achievements go, I wish I had a camera to snap a picture for the end of the game, when the notification popped up: "Achievements Unlocked — 5 for 1000G"

For the rest of the night, I kept watch on the second player's profile. She finally finished TMNT with about a half hour to go... and then, she put in Avatar and picked up a quick 1000 points to gain the lead. It turned out that my insurance paid off. I put in my own copy of Avatar with about 15 minutes to spare and earned my own 1000 points, countering her last-minute cheap shot and winning the challenge.