Friday, May 30, 2008

Enemy Territory: Quake Wars

So why did I just post about a five-year-old PC game that I don't play anymore in my Xbox-centric blog? It seemed like good background for introducing my next game, Enemy Territory: Quake Wars.

This game was completely off my radar. When I heard that some Geezers were looking into it, I was completely uninterested. Although it did have "Enemy Territory" in the name, I didn't connect it with my previous hobby. After all, despite being from the same publisher, Wolfenstein and Quake are very different games. But when a couple brave Geezers picked it up and started talking about it, it caught my attention. They talked about Engineers and Covert Ops and calling in air strikes, and I started to realize: This is Enemy Territory. So, despite their somewhat negative reviews (which seemed to revolve around being unfamiliar with the game and having some difficulty picking up on the mechanics), I went out and bought a copy and joined them that night.

Being a W:ET veteran, I found it very easy to jump right in to ET:QW. The basics are all there, with the same five classes with very similar abilities as before. However, one thing that stands out right away is that the objectives are no longer focused on the Engineer with such myoptic tunnel vision. While yes, there is a lot for the Engineer to do — things must be built, and escorting a tank could take numerous repairs as it gets repeatedly stopped by the enemy — objectives in general have been spread across other classes as well. Planting explosives is now the duty of the Soldier (although it still takes an Engineer to disarm), and there are "hacking" objectives that belong to the Covert Ops class. And to give you a little guided boost, when you're selecting your class, the game indicates which class is required to accomplish the next objective.

Also new to ET:QW is AI. Whereas W:ET required human players, ET:QW will fill out the teams with bots. And, as an added bonus, when it comes to man-to-man combat, they're halfway decent. (Friendly AI does seem to have a problem with vehicles, though, whether controlling friendly or eliminating enemy.) AI medics also seem eager to heal, sometimes not even waiting for a request before dropping a medkit on you (or rushing at you with a pair of electrically-charged paddles). AI Field Ops sometimes take a little nudging to get them to give out some ammo, but eventually, they, too, will help out.

The environment is very different, of course. Instead of Axis vs. Allies, you have humans vs. aliens. To go with that, the weapons and equipment have been vastly upgraded from their 1940s representatives. Engineers can now deploy auto anti-personnel and anti-vehicle turrets, and their landmines arm themselves and only trigger when an enemy approaches. Covert Ops carry PDAs that, in addition to performing hacking functions (completing objectives and disabling the aforementioned turrets), perform the disguise function using some sophisticated holographic projection, instead of physically stealing a uniform — very useful in that it doesn't leave a half-naked body behind. ;)

The way they did weapon/equipment cycling, I found took a minute to get used to, but very handy. Weapons cycle on the right bumper, and equipment on the left. You still only hold one thing at a time — if you're placing a mine, you're not holding a gun — but because they're on different buttons, and because equipment can take time to deploy, it does make it convenient. More than once, I had a mine waiting to deploy, and an enemy approached. It was always a single right-bumper tap to switch back to a gun, instead of, say, rotating through all available equipment to cycle back to guns.

The game definitely moves faster than W:ET. There is a very strong aim assist function that I dare say almost makes it too easy to shoot, but at the speeds at which players moved, it was most welcome, especially on those rare (and they were rare) occasions when the lag kicked in.

I definitely had a lot of fun with the game, and from what I can tell, so did my fellow Geezers, especially as they got to know the game a little better. I do admit, it was a lot easier for me, being so experienced with Enemy Territory from the Wolfenstein version. That's not to say there's not a lot for me to learn here — I still don't know what happens when you "level up" a class, as it doesn't seem to be immediately obvious; and although the game prompted me to use the alt fire of certain equipment, I couldn't figure out what happened when I did; just to name a couple unknowns — but I think it won't take long for those in unfamiliar territory (so to speak) to get up to speed, and hopefully we'll get a few more Geezers to take the plunge. After all, with this game, the more you have working together, the better it gets.

Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory

About five years ago or so, id software released a game that was originally to be an expansion to Return to Castle Wolfenstein. For some reason, instead they released Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory as a free download in 2003. It was online multiplayer only, and it became a bit hit.

At the time, I was active in the online forums at the UserFriendly webcomic. Over time, a couple members hosted dedicated servers for the UserFriendly community. The members were fairly decent at maintaining "house rules" — basically, things like no cheating/exploits, no spawn killing, etc. and so forth. For the most part, people respected the rules, and just got together for the fun of the game. I logged many, many hours in W:ET in those days.

W:ET is a team-based, class-based, objective-based first-person shooter that pits the Axis (Germans) against the Allies (Americans). In the majority of scenarios, the Allies are on the offense and have to accomplish some objectives, while the Axis are on the defense and have to prevent the Allies from accomplishing their objectives. (There are maps that switch the offense and defense, but they are the exception, at least in the standard set.)

Each class has certain, special abilities. Engineers can build and repair structures and vehicles, plant and disarm dynamite, and plant landmines. Covert Ops can steal enemy uniforms, which allows them access to doors only accessible to the enemy team. They can also plant C4 charges, which can quickly blow up small structures (gun emplacements, for example). Field Ops can call in air support, spot land mines, and resupply teammates with ammo. Medics can heal and revive teammates. Soldiers have access to heavy weaponry.

The game is very focused on team play. While it is possible for a single Engineer to play the game and accomplish all the objectives solo, he is far more effective if there's a Medic nearby to heal or revive him when he goes down, and a Covert Ops to let him in the back door. A Soldier with a portable gun emplacement makes a fair defense, but he will run out of bullets or die if he gets hit enough. Position a Medic and a Field Ops nearby to keep him healed and full of ammo, and he can sit there mowing the enemy down all day.

Probably my biggest complaint in the game is how heavily it focuses on the Engineer. Just about every objective requires an Engineer, whether you're building or destroying barricades, planting or defusing dynamite at critical locations. The other classes are very effective at what they do, but in the end, they come down to how well they support the Engineers at doing their job. Now, not to toot my own horn, but I got very good at being an Engineer (I tend to do better at objective-based games where the objective is something other than "kill the other team"), so although I tried to spend time building up my skills in other classes, I found I had to keep switching back to Engineer to get the job done. And, as I mentioned before, when other people who excelled at their "support classes" were doing their job well, the results were devastating.

I have many fond memories of that game, including my "Al Bundy" moment were I was on Axis defending our Very Big Gun when a team of Engineers slipped in and planted four packs of dynamite on the controls. I ran in, wiped them out, and while they were busy congratulating each other in the chat window waiting in the respawn for the kaboom, I defused all four dynamite packs just in time.

The game is still available through official channels, on the Enemy Territory website in the "Downloads" section; and although I'm all but forgotten in the UserFriendly crowd these days, I have noticed they still have the daily "W:ET Bar" post on the forum.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Bang, you're dead

One thing I hate in video games is the "instant death", where with one or two hits or shots or whatever, the computer can completely negate the past half hour or so of game time and end your game.

The biggest offenders I've noticed of this happen to be japanese games. I don't know if that's an element of the culture, or if it's just a coincidence or my dumb luck. With such a small sample size, it's hard to say.

Anyway, the games on my mind in particular are the Dead or Alive series, and Samurai Warriors (especially on the harder levels). Both of these games have this feature where the AI can "juggle" you, where each hit knocks you up in the air where you have no control, cannot block or counter, and it can hit you over and over and over again. Effectively, all you can do is sit and watch as your life goes from full to half or often below.

Not only is it extremely unfair that one series of unblockable hits takes off most of your life, but it's something that just seems impossible for me to do as a player. Dead or Alive seems to be especially cheap in this regard, in that I've seen the computer actually break out of being flung in the air. Lack of skill on my part? Lack of knowledge maybe; if there's a way to do it, it's not obvious to me.

There's also the blocking disparity. It seems the computer is capable of blocking any move at any time, while it laughs at my blocks. How is it that the computer can be standing still, I come at it with any attack (standard, power, charge, whatever is applicable for the game), and it blocks it perfectly; yet when I'm standing in a blocking stance and it comes with a normal attack, it scores a hit? Is it any wonder I haven't really learned how to use the block under stress, when even under the simplest of circumstances it just doesn't work? And yet, the computer reserves the right to block out of any attack or combo at any time, whether they're in the middle of being pummeled by a combo, stunned, in the air, or on the ground.

Sometimes, it's not the juggling, but the enemy will just be able to do so much more damage per hit. When I can sit there and wail on someone (actually hitting, when I get past their block) for a 50-hit combo and they only have maybe an eighth of their life gone, and in two hits I'm near death, that's just not fun. It's frustrating. I encountered that in Project Sylpheed as well, in some of the dogfights against enemy "bosses" — I'll score a few dozen hits and maybe take half their shields, and in half a second they somehow manage to remove my shields and half my armor in a single volley.

Plus, I hate wasting time. I don't have a lot of time to play as it is, so when I spend 40 minutes attacking and parrying and trying to find a way to get health back, only to very suddenly and immediately lose to a two-hit, unblockable, unbreakable attack (or a fifteen-hit juggle, hoping my feet will touch the ground long enough for it to acknowledge a button press from me before scoring the computer's next hit)... I want to throw my controller through the TV, snap the disc into a hundred pieces, and never play again.

If I wasn't such a "completionist", I'd take my 950 points from Samurai Warriors and move on. But I'm so dang close to those last two — yet I've been there for three days, and the game seems determined to not let me have them.