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Buncha Reviews

August 1, 2011

[I wrote these about a month ago, not sure when]

Dungeons:

Something of an homage to the Dungeon Keeper series. To that end Dungeons does the job adequately. As far as gameplay goes, this game couldn’t be more different. It seems to have more in common with the Theme- series of games (Theme-Park, Theme-Hospital), where you mostly spend your time creating fixtures in your sandbox to entertain digital people. Rather than take on heroes in mass combat (as in the Dungeon Keeper series), you entice them through a dungeon, fatten them up with loot, then kill them with the _only_ controllable character in the game, your avatar. That’s right, you cannot command any minions in this game. Instead, monsters are generated by spawn beacons – and to be honest, the monsters appear to have virtually no use but to “fatten up” some specific heroes that you are supposed to lure into your dungeon. If combat wasn’t so agonizingly banal and 1992, then it wouldn’t matter much. But as it stands combat consists of your avatar taking very slow whacks at heroes and casting a handful of cool-down based abilities. The missions are tedious, the voice acting is terribad, and the story is… well, what story? It’s not a horrible game, it’s just horrible gameplay on top of a mediocre homage created by people that obviously played way too much of The Sims and far too little of Dungeon Keeper. If you want to celebrate the Dungeon Keeper series, do yourself a favor and play the originals. R.I.P. Bullfrog Software.

 

Demigod:

I believe that I have played every DoTA clone, and so far this one is my favorite. I think it’s a matter of presentation and style, however, and not gameplay; because Demigod brings absolutely nothing new to the table in terms of gameplay. Almost all of the DoTA clones makes the same mistake of trying to not only rip off the entirely DoTA formula, but also the underlying WarCraft III presentation. This is where they go wrong, in my opinion. As if WoW addiction hasn’t already over-saturated the market with a rediculous plethora of samey WarCraft-esque cartoon fantasy video games. Demigod has a strikingly different visual presentation, and the theme seems a lot deeper. The back story on a few of the Demigods provides a more intrigue into the characters than the other DoTA clones that I have played.

The only other DoTA clone that I enjoyed for very long was LOCO (Lands of Chaos Online), which is largely due to the “over the shoulder” presentation and action based gameplay. The isometric view that is forced into almost all DoTA clones is likely due to DoTA’s WCIII heritage, and so few games bother to shake this trend. I, for one, can’t stand the early 1990’s isometric view when playing an “action” game. Strategy games – sure, go isometric gonzo – but leave action games out of the isometric arena. The problem with LOCO however is a problem that plagues ALL DoTA clones: a severe dearth of maps and playstyles, and an extrutiating end-game. As with Demigod, LOCO matches past the first two towers tend to drag on, and on, and fucking ON, because the bases are given far too strong of defenses. Valve learned the lesson that aggressive playstyle should be rewarded much more than turtling, as turtling is frustrating and boring for both sides. I think that most DoTA clone makers lack the inginuity to see passed that however, since they are making a _clone_ afterall, so I don’t expect any of these issues to be addressed in future DoTA clones, and especially not by /successful/ DoTA clones since niche market games like DoTA tend to fare better if they simply advance the existing bland format, rather than reinventing it.

What’s funny is that DoTA itself was an innovative mod, yet it has become the posterchild for clonedom – perhaps even moreso than Doom or Street Fighter II.

Bulletstorm (vs ArmA)

I played through the extremely brief Bulletstorm demo recently, and I’ve got to say that I don’t know why reviewers have a problem with the game being immature and vulgar. Reviewers act like they are insightful for pointing it out. I think the entire point of the game is to be outrageous and inappropriate. It’s like pointing out that shitting in public is rude; look, I think that the person taking a shit in public is /probably/ doing it because it is extremely vulgar. You don’t score points for pointing out the obvious.

Anyway, on to the game itself … or, really, more of a comparison / contrast with games on the opposite end of the spectrum. Playing through the demo I realized very quickly that the entire point of the game was a glorified shooting gallery; there is no (survival) skill required whatsoever and you are scored purely on your ability to make trick-shots on moving targets that might as well be rolling off of a conveyor belt. You know what? I’m fine with that. It’s cathartic. It’s definitely not something I want to do for extended periods of time, but it’s something I would like to do if I want to blow off some steam. To that end, I think Bulletstorm is great. It’s basically a digital carnival game. Beyond that, pointing out the shoddy plot, the terrible characters, and this that and the other is just pointing out obvious.

After my play through of the demo I thought about the complaints that reviewers had of the game, and thought “what then, would be the opposite?”. In terms of gameplay the literal opposite is probably Operation Flashpoint or its spiritual successor ArmA. I remember OpFlash very fondly, yet every time that I have tried to play it after my first play-through, I find myself bored silly. Likewise with ArmA. I can’t even get through the first mission before getting tired of slogging through extremely pixelated digital weeds, just to get one sniper shot. OpFlash was basically a military simulator. In fact, it was /so good/ at being a military simulator that the developer (Bohemia Interactive) went on to actually create a /real/ military simulator that is now being used to train soldiers. Yet, despite its realism reviewers found the same issues with the game that I just mentioned: it’s painfully slow and the hyper-realism detracts from the fun, shooty aspect of the game.

So, there you have the two extremes. Hyper-fake Bulletstorm and hyper-real OpFlash / ArmA. Both tend to score mediocre reviews, and neither sell super well.

What’s in the middle ground then? I guess that’s where the real hits are to be had, especially when paired with good writing and interesting mission design. Half Life and Half Life 2 come to mind, as does Halo. None of these games come off as hyper /anything/, yet they sell like crazy and reviewers tend to eat them up.

So I guess that the moral of the story is, don’t take a game too far to one extreme or the other, and you’ll do better. Balance realism with gameplay such that players don’t feel like “just another pawn in war” but they also feel more challenged than a flat-ass carnival shooter. By adding too much realism you make players feel frustrated and weak, yet if you make them god-like they will feel unchallenged.

Walk the line, sonny, walk the line.

 

Clining Clyde Demo:

The 16 Bit Era again, but … not quite what I was looking for.

While I really, really liked Trine, I can’t say that I care much for Cloning Clyde. I don’t know if it’s the “Look mom, I made a game” quality of presentation, or if it’s the tile based gameplay, but it just didn’t grow on me.

This is definitely a game for Lemmings lovers and fans of Three Vikings. There’s puzzles to be had with very modest amounts of action, all in an attempt to get your guy(s) from point A to point B.

Monday Night Combat:

Oh boy. Where to start. First of all: did you know that Team Fortress 2 is FREE? Did you know that Monday Night Combat is basically a poorly executed TF2 rip-off? Well – if you didn’t know, now you do. So go download TF2 and forget that Monday Night Combat ever existed.

I appreciate the fact that game makers are trying to inject the DoTA formula into different genres, however this is a very weak and frustrating attempt.  Basically, the mindless AI bots just “get in the way” most of the time, and do nothing to enhance this snipe-happy, slow paced shooter. Bots or no, the snails-pace gameplay is utterly stalemated by the one and only class that is capable of firing more than /10 yards/. The sniper class dominates matches with such ridiculous impunity, that a single sniper can stop an entire 12 player map. This would be “fine” in a regular shooter, however this is a progression based DOTA-style game where matches quickly _stalemate_ as each team tries to out-sniper the other. Unenjoyable and unsporting, to say the least. Even for you snipers out there, this game is a poor offering in comparison to other snipe-happy multiplayer affairs that are in the same price range (BF2 or Bad Company 2). There is no rock-paper-scissors in MNC. There is no fast-paced, instant-combat action. So the entire TF2 “aspect” is missing.

MNC also entirely misses the DOTA “point” as well: namely the character development and strategic aspect. In MNC character progression is easy to cap out and otherwise meaningless, so that entire part of the DoTA experience is lost. The strategic aspect is /kinda/ there, but falls flat on its face when paired with how OP sniping is. No amount of base-upgrading or turret building will prevent a match from stalemating if there is a sniper war going on in the rafters.

While I enjoyed the somewhat unique presentation, the game utterly fails as a DOTA clone and fails as a (much pricier) TF2 clone. /uninstall and forget.

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