WWE 2k15 followup video: Custom intro

Posted in Commentary, Media, Review, Sports, Video, Wrestling on December 16th, 2014 by ZekeDMS

Another example of the game’s inconsistency that plays havoc on otherwise excellent mechanics.

The custom intros have a lot of options, and they rarely line up. The intro is done in 5 phases, and nothing carries over. If you use smoke effects, the smoke is gone between the phases. The timing of the cut varies, too. Kofi Kingston’s Intro and ramp run cut while he’s in mid-air, meaning you have to use his ramp intro as well, or you get a really disjointed edit. This is a problem for a lot of intro pieces, really, and you can’t pick custom camera angles, only piece together intros from a collection of other superstar’s entrances with the predefined angles.

There’s only one original entrance – “Quiet! I’m on the phone!” – a heel entrance which seems like something The Miz might have tried early on and rejected.

The upside is that you do get to put in lighting effects, stage effects, etc., even if in limited amounts per section, and they’re set to your timing. The downside of this is that you have to time them to running, looping video. No option to pause or shuttle for when you want to set the cue – hit the place button around the right time, slide it left or right as you watch the video on a loop. Good idea, bad execution – especially if you want to nail the timing on something.

Here’s what I arranged for my custom character, Joeseph Joestar. You can get some good results if you spend enough time working on it, and I’m pretty proud of how it came out, especially the timing on the last piece – even if there are some (weirdly consistent) physics errors.

You might notice the exit button and lack of announcement/crowd. That’s because I took this video in preview mode, in the editor. Unfortunately, once you’re wearing a belt, it goes out the window. While you’re chasing the championship, you have a custom intro. Once you HAVE a championship, you can only pick one of around seventeen intro choices, purely predefined.

In case you’re wondering, I started with Ultimate Warrior, but changed to Summer Rae for that.

Don’t worry, JJBA fans, I’ll likely be uploading that as a bonus.

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WWE 2k15

Posted in Review, Sports, Wrestling on December 14th, 2014 by ZekeDMS

More inconsistent than a 15 time champion

Every year, come October, I embrace disappointment.

That’s not strictly true – every year, come October, I find that something which was on a fantastic track has taken one step forward and two back yet again. This time, we have a generational shift, which means changes to the pattern.

This year, WWE 2k15 changed that pattern by taking three steps back.

To get this out of the way, the Smackdown Vs. Raw series peaked, in my opinion, with 2009. 2007 was a fantastic edition that had a variety of modes, plenty of wrestlers, and lots of attacks to use. It was a bit of a dial-an-attack situation, but it had options. 2008 lost some of those attacks in favor of an mixed analog control system that provided a lot of branching. It kept things unpredictable, and added a lot of environmental interactions. Players really got to dictate the timing, picking just when to throw that punch to the guy on the turnbuckle, how fast and hard to shake that rope. 2009 worked to combine the two, and mostly succeeded. It didn’t have the variety of environmental interactions of 2008 or the moveset of 2007, but it put things together admirably.

It’s all been downhill from there, but hey, new generation, new company, new branding. No longer Smackdown Versus Raw, it’s 2k15!

But it feels like 2k6.

If we start with the big step forward, it’s undoubtedly the community content and creation options. WWE 2k15 makes a masterful move of letting players download jpegs and apply them as textures to a wrestler. No more spending inordinate amounts of time applying primitives, and the value of the approach shows – a few hours is all it took for the community to update Cody Rhodes by uploading countless incarnations of Stardust. Clothing options have a decent variety to go too, although the load times per item are absolutely brutal, as are reversions. There’s no preview per item, so players spend a lot of time deciding a thumbnail looks good and waiting to see how it looks once loaded, then an equally long time as it’s unloaded.

There’s plenty of room to create great wrestlers, but it does require a lot of patience – and a specific facial structure, since that can’t be edited. Players can work with a pre-defined face, but alterations common in other games (eye distance, nose shape, chin size, etc.) are utterly missing.

It’s more like a step forward with its own steps back, because for all the incredibly accessible nature of the new layer masks you can apply, it comes with PS2 era trappings.

So, what about the other half of the time you’ll spend?

It’s alright.

The core game, well, it’s a wrestling game. Grapple button, strike button, special button, throw button, reversal button, run button. There’s a little more going on, but it’s all combinations of those things, really. The problem is, the combinations are less and less every year. In previous iterations, there were branching grapple paths. Armlocks, headlocks, waistlocks, accessible via directional inputs. While there’s a new chain grapple system I’ll get into in a moment, 90% of the action takes place in the same headlock, it seems. That’s not quite true, but a grapple ends up in the same position, always, and provides 10 (give or take) options from there. Wrestlers also can get 4 quick throws from the front, and four from the back, 2 running, 2 turnbuckle…rather than list them all, it’s safe to say here that they’re reduced from the past, significantly, and the options wear very  thin, very fast in any decent match. Moreover, they just feel meaningless. Yes, some attacks hit certain targets – overwhelmingly damaging the head or body – but there’s nothing very unique about the timeframes, the counter windows, and by the eighth time you see the Russian leg sweep into bulldog in two minutes, it stops being fun.

The core mechanics themselves are otherwise solid, if just not meeting their full potential. Because it’s so predestined, there’s a diminished tactical game. The best performance doesn’t come from watching the other wrestlers, but from guessing when an attack is coming. Environmental interactions are particularly limited in this regard now, only using one or two attacks, occasionally a finisher, rather than what once was a sequence. I’m all for simplification, but a lot of classic wrestling is missing because of it. Nobody rides the top rope, nobody gets a series of chops in the corner. Heels can’t even hold a submission for four seconds after a rope break.

Even the new mechanic, the chain wrestling, falls somewhat short. As long as the current match involves only two wrestlers, both of whom having stamina meters at the top level out of three, a regular grapple results in a quick paper-rock-scissors selection of headlock, arm lock, waist lock. From there, rotate the right analog stick to find the sweet spot and hold it to transition, like some sort of homoerotic lockpicking mini-game. Dominant wrestlers can also attack, which interrupts progress and randomizes the sweet spot location, but the tactic doesn’t see a ton of use, and the chain wrestling ultimately turns into a contest to see who loses the first level of their stamina bar before the match continues as normal.

This thinness of mechanics isn’t just important in terms of single matches, although it clearly matters. Where it really becomes clear is in the flagship mode, “My Career.”

The new career mode aims high, and lands like Yokozuna attempting a hurricana. It tries, but it just doesn’t have what it takes, despite a very solid foundation.

Career mode starts out in the Performance Center, with a created wrestler in for tryouts, moving onto NXT, and through the ranks of the prime time lineup, with the occasional pay-per-view event scattered in. Progression is based mostly on social media followers, meaning that to get ahead you have to get over. At least, that’s the idea. In practice? Just win the match. The promise and the performance really show their dissonance as you start to get further and further into career mode.

The core idea is a really exciting one for fans, and the presentation is generally one that sticks to kayfabe – a little odd for something that has such a behind the scenes approach, where winning is purportedly less important than putting on a good show. After every match, players are given a rating from 1-5. Personally, I never saw anything below 3 stars, and that was for a lazy squash match when I stopped caring. Anything with a hint of effort is likely to be rated “instant classic” or “greatest of all time”, particularly for any player remotely skilled at countering the predictably timed attacks of the AI. Throw in a signature attack and a finisher, that’s all it takes. The core action itself is still enjoyable, but wears thin.

It only wears thinner when it’s hard to figure out why it matters. Of course, in any fighting game, if there’s no fun in just picking up and playing, there’s no point at all. It’s certainly not that bad in the match-deficient quick play modes, but career mode just rings hollow. While a wrestler makes his rise to the top (sadly only his – the women’s side of things is incredibly lacking at 8 members, despite a constantly strengthening WWE roster), it’s almost entirely a series of standard pinfall matches with nothing else going on besides “you should win.” Rivalries are rare and unexplained, and no significant storylines unfold. Vickie Guerrero tells someone to beat the next four opponents, Bray Wyatt doesn’t like you, The Shield attacks you. There’s virtually no dialog thanks to the mute player created wrestlers, just occasional social media interactions limited to one of up to four Twitter responses.

These things are supposedly determined by face/heel status, but it’s hard to tell how much effect is had, and just what affects that. There’s a meter on the main career mode menu showing which direction a wrestler is in and how much, but no clear indicators of what affects it. While it’s fair to assume dirty wrestling adds to heel status, it’s mostly a guess as to what does exactly what. Some moves are labelled as such, and presumably removing a turnbuckle or defending a championship by getting disqualified are classic heel tactics, but others – like holding a submission too long – are missing. As for what gains face points, there’s no indication at all – and the same applies to what takes them away. Players are left to guess whether or not stealing someone’s finisher is a heel tactic, whether busting someone through a barricade is considered bad, or even using a steel chair in a fatal 4-way.

Vince McMahon mentioned these very issues, interestingly, on the Steve Austin podcast. Good wrestling alone isn’t enough. People want stories, they want to care. They want to know why these two men are fighting. The new career mode provides none of that. Wrestlers are purely passive agents in the affairs, finding themselves ambushed or ordered around, never initiating. The subtleties of the dynamics are lost entirely as well, diminishing the effects. Dean Ambrose is one of the company’s biggest draws right now, pulling tremendous amounts of pop by acting like a heel. Ambushes and cheap shots are why the crowd loves him. Historically, The Rock was an anti-face, only getting over when he became antagonistic toward the crowd; rather than the expected heat, he was met with applause. Even Bray Wyatt, distinctly a heel, got cheered for his feud with Cena. In WWE 2k15, there’s no place for that. Either one is a face or one is a heel – there are only Bob Backlunds and Shane McMahons, and no story to go with them. Only a cutscene of an ambush.

The ultimate symbol of this emptiness is the – spoiler alert – ending to career mode.

The promise of career mode was a 15 year journey. Now most sports games are only 10 years, so it’s ambitious, moreso when it’s sticking with the same roster. The game could make random characters, pull from the community, use people in NXT that are going to get a push, of course, or younger superstars.

Instead, it just skips ahead as soon as someone gets the WWE title belt.

Over the course of my five year journey, I’d participated in around twelve pay per views – players only get to pick 3 per year they want to be part of, and those choices are actually limited by some invisible flags. The first year had four to choose from, as did the last, even with a full complement of events on the docket in the middle years. Frankly, none of them were exciting. Extreme Rules? Pinfall match. Tables, Ladders, and Chairs? Pinfall match. Hell in a Cell? Pinfall match. Royal Rumble? Pinfall match. Only one of those was a championship match. There was an early no disqualification match for the intercontinental title belt at Survivor Series, and the feud with Bray Wyatt ended on a cage match at Extreme Rules. Two matches of 15 pay per views, including multiple championship matches and rivalries, were anything besides what happens every night on the show I was currently booked on. In my entire career, I never saw anything besides a very rare no-DQ match, a single falls count anywhere match, and two fatal 4-ways. No ladder matches. No table matches. No elimination chambers. No brawls. Just the same match versus random opponents with a choice of “earn more followers or earn more money.”

When I finally got the WWE Championship in a regular Pinfall match at Royal Rumble, from my supposed bitter enemy Randy Orton, who swore he’d come back for the belt, I thought “Surely this is where it begins. Now that I’m at the top, this is where the interesting matches start.”

Everything stopped. I was presented with a tile of text saying that my wrestler had joined the greats and would dominate for the next ten years, and was suddenly shuttled to the end for my retirement match, allowed to choose between “an up and coming superstar”, Daniel Bryan, or my rival – a player created wrestler I cannot even begin to remember. It was a standard pinfall match at Wrestlemania, of course, because why suddenly add excitement? Why, after I reached the pinnacle of WWE and was rewarded with 10 years of nothing, should I expect anything else?

Sure, there are other things I can talk about. The bug I ran into that caused everything I’d painstakingly unlocked to return to the ether, permanently. The fact that after all this time, WWE games still don’t tell you match objectives ahead of time in Showcase mode. That the music is terrible and that the crowd’s reactions are completely random, eliciting more cheers for a chop to the chest than a superplex over the turnbuckle. Awkward attempts to force in references to make fans happy, such as “I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news. The cost to raise [skill] is [credits].” Weirdly specific things, like the near impossible nature of leaning someone against a ring post, or that any created wrestler who does a spinning leg drop to an opponent on the security wall starts with a Rob Van Dam taunt. The times Cole will talk about a ferocious elbow drop and shattered announce table when someone gets suplexed into the steps.

Really, though, it all finds itself best summarized by the way career mode ends – a microcosm of WWE 2k15’s pervasive question: “That’s really it?”

WWE 2k15 scores two out of five title belts. It’s loaded with potential, but never lives up to it.

(This review refers to the Xbox One version of the game, rented via Gamefly. The PS4 version is comparable. Don’t even bother with the PS3 or X360 versions.)

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Counter-Strike? Again?

Posted in Action, FPS, Review on August 21st, 2012 by ZekeDMS

The short version is the simple one. Counter-Strike: Global Operations is really fun, and it made CS fun again.

It’s weird in that I’d quit CS utterly as of 3-4 years ago. I played some CS:S when it came out, it was still decent, but I basically did nothing but botmatches. I played again over the winter for some presents and it just…well, it didn’t do it for me anymore. Some of the conventions didn’t work for me, the community didn’t do it, the maps, all of it. Seeing it as it was was a rough experience. Too much waiting, too much imbalance, too many rough edges by modern standards.

A friend sent me his beta gift, I jumped in and did some Arms Race (team deathmatch type mode where you get the next gun for getting a kill, and win by getting a kill with all weapons). The speed was a bit hectic (as expected for a deathmatch), but the balance seemed a lot better. The weapons all felt a little more balanced, except shotguns which are actually useful finally. It’s a fun mode on its own, a good way to feel out guns and a good warmup for other modes. Most of all. It’s got an interesting power curve. Start at SMGs, move to shotguns, assault rifles, sniper rifles, machine guns, and then…pistols! It’s a ramp up up up and BAM, you wanna win, you’d better prove you’re so good you can beat all those other guys just with a pistol, and the final kill is with a knife. So, it’s really entertaining.

Next up I tried demolition. It’s a 20 round game, 10 on each side, and it starts players with a mid-level rifle (M4A1, AK-47). If you get a kill in a round, you get the next weapon in the chain. More than one kill and you get a use it or lose it grenade (which goes HE, Flashbang, no idea past that). Again, it follows a power curve of valleys/peaks. It actually drops your power at first, then boosts it back up, then down, and if you manage a kill for EVERY round you end up with an AWP. It’s an on the fly balancing system, it resets at match 10 for team switch. It’s also a bunch of short rounds timed to (I think) 90 seconds, with one demolition site on small maps. It’s a very careful mad dash to the site, the terrorists have to plant the bomb ASAP if they’re going to, and it’s a nice series of quick bites of CS action.

After that I moved into the classic modes (competitive is my preference in this case). It matchmakes pretty nicely even in beta, you pick a map rotation (Demolition, hostage rescue, or Dust (yes, dust maps on their own)), and off you go. There’s a new buy method now, too. It’s a wheel instead of a list, you can use number keys for fast buying, but you can use the mouse and get detailed info on everything. It displays a chart of costs, penetration level, and ratings rate of fire and damage among other  things, so you actually have a clue what the stats of every gun are. It even gives a little more info in text. As an example, the menu explains that the AK-47′s accuracy can be suspect at best, but the accurate first shot and the stopping power are what make it a favored gun. True enough, the first shot WILL go exactly where you’re pointing. Score a headshot on that and it’s already over, but if you’re spraying at anything over a close range you’re losing the fight. Close-mid, though, spray/burst wrecks people.

It feels like everyone moves a little faster now, and the guns are a little tighter in their recoil. The obvious best method is strafe/spray/jump and be a real nuisance basically – it doesn’t work that well. It seems like now it pays off more to actually use a different approach by distance, and more wise to retreat sometimes. Long range encounters demonstrate the importance of crouching and firing from a stable platform in very controlled bursts. If you’re in close it pays to stick and move and know your ammo count. Spray with a p90, burst with a UMP, but the pattern of move, stop, shoot is pretty important.

It also seems to move faster than previous CS versions without breaking the pace that worked so well. High tension marked by short moments of intense bursts of action, high lethality as ever, but the moments come a little closer together and start a little faster, especially in the new maps.

The new maps are very well designed and have a little more verticality in spots (in one, site A is upstairs from site B via several routes). The new things, like the Zeus tazer (a one shot kill that only gets one shot for the CTs) and the decoy grenades (which simulate gunfire, as in the gunshot sounds are played by them AND an enemy marker is produced on the radar) work well. They add a new tactic that doesn’t break the feeling of CS at all. Same for the molotovs/incendiary grenades (I think they’re new, I sure don’t remember them), they light a nice patch of ground on fire. Not a ton of damage unless you score a direct hit, but spectacular for holding a corridor or small area of ground against incursion. Nobody likes to walk through fire!

In short, it’s still Counter-Strike, but with massively improved balance and a pace which has been improved from the original/source versions. Moreover, it’s a big facelift into the modern Source engine. The biggest standouts are the improved lighting/shadow, which CAN give away position, and that everyone is the same “type” of terrorist/CT. All l33t, all GIGN, all SAS, whatever, by map, but it’s 5+ individuals versus the same guy five times. It actually solves an old problem CS had, which is that you never knew what you were looking for. It results in faster enemy recognition without feeling stale, a very good thing. Even the voices are different for each team now. Collected GIGN members, excited SAS Scotsmen, and hyper hooligans running around Office.

If you never liked CS, GO isn’t going to do anything for you. If you really enjoyed CS back in the day, but fell out of it and never got back in, this is the time. It’s absolutely the heart of CS, but the improvements are so numerous that even when they’re not readily apparent, they’re obvious. I just couldn’t get myself to play CS again before now, despite repeated attempts. Now I’ve spent 13 ours playing, and that was in 4-5 days of beta alone. It’s a more responsive, prettier, better version of CS, a modern version of the old game and at $15 it’s priced just where it should be. Above budget “what’s wrong with it?” games, below the $20 “new boxed release” threshold. Enough for a triple A arcade game, basically, without making you feel angry you’re buying Counter-Strike (again). Hell, I hate multiplayer games 99% of the time, and I really did hit 13 hours in beta alone. I fully endorse this game on that value alone, I paid a dollar an hour!

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From Capcom PR

Posted in Commentary on August 9th, 2012 by ZekeDMS

For those out there who haven’t experienced the innovative action RPG Dragon’s Dogma yet, Capcom is pleased to confirm that a brand new demo will be available from next week. Exclusive to PlayStation 3 owners, the demo will feature the game’s Prologue, access to the in-depth character customization screen before the player embarks on a quest to defeat the mighty Hydra and deliver one of its three heads to the castle. As with the original demo, players will be able to carry their character’s save data into the full main game. The demo will be available from August 15th in Europe and on the North American PlayStation Store on August 21st.

Additionally, starting from today, August 9, players will be able to participate in a new competition being held on the Pawn Community website, The Gran Soren Times. Players will be able to submit in-game screenshots taken using the photo sharing feature in Dragon’s Dogma into three different categories: The Fairest Maidens, The Most Dashing Gentlemen, and The Most Unique Myrmidons. Winning entries will receive exclusive avatars for PSN or Xbox Live and 18 very lucky grand prize winners – six each from Europe, North America and Japan – will have their pawns showcased in the “Special Pawn” area of the Rift. For more information be sure to check out The Gran Soren Times at http://game.capcom.co.jp/DD/en/top/

Lastly, to help new players enjoy the world of Dragon’s Dogma, a title update delivering an all new ‘Easy Mode’ is now available on both PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

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From: GameStop. Subject: Send her flowers so you can game!

Posted in Commentary on January 31st, 2012 by ZekeDMS

In world world is this acceptable? We’re trying to make some god damn progress here, and GameStop is trying to reinforce “Whatever you sad nerd, girls don’t like video games, they like flowers and kittens and if they DID play games it’d be Barbie Horse Adventures I bet.”

Women do play games, the men who play games want more women to play games, and maybe GameStop should stop pandering to the crowd that makes women mute their microphones when they get on Xbox Live.

I think this is actually my final “You know what? Fuck GameStop” catalyst. Turns out shitty customer support and being a glorified pawn shop didn’t quite do what misogyny does.

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Sin and Punishment:Star Successor

Posted in Action, Review on January 15th, 2011 by ZekeDMS

I admit, as much as I love my Wii, I don’t get a lot of time on it. It’s always one of those things where the potential is so much greater than the actual results, especially with third party offerings. Combined with a ton of shovelware for the expected “kids have no taste, grandmothers don’t know better” market I’m always wary.

Sin and Punishment:Star Successor completely bucks the trend.

The name, of course, screams “weird Japanese RPG”, and while it’s definitely got the first two parts covered, the last couldn’t be further from reality. S&P:SS is apparently the sequel to Sin and Punishment. I know, shocking. It was a Nintendo 64 title released only in Japan, and recently enough via WiiWare in the US, and that’s all I know about it. That’s all that matters for backstory. What the game tells you is that you’re in the future, you’re under attack, and some bad people are after the girl who looks, but naturally isn’t, human. So you shoot them.

S&P:SS is a rare new entry into the behind the back shooter, one that never saw a lot of games even in its arcade heyday. All I can think of right now would be Cabal, Nam-1975, Dynamite Duke, and Blood Bros, maybe the Space Harrier games can count. The genre was and is obscure, partially due to being at home brutally punishing players, demanding quarters from them regularly, and this new entry is no exception.

Sin and Punishment demands a split focus of players, making it a demanding exercise to begin with. The player avatar is always on screen and under attack, making step one protecting yourself from damage. Step two, kill everything. Traditionally the cursor and player avatar have been linked on a joystick, but the Wii has either the option of playing a dual stick style, or the more natural analog+wiimote style. It’s the same core gameplay as before, with a spectacularly streamlined control mechanism. It lets players dodge and aim in different directions for once, something that always pulled the genre down.

But the developers, Treasure, love to kill their players, and they take advantage of the new options. Whereas old games of the genre only had movement left or right, this one eschews the Galaga slide for four axes of movement, each one essential to survival. There’s a helpful inclusion of a lockon mechanism, which keeps shots true to the target but lowers their power, allowing players to worry about surviving the assaults first and foremost. Melee attacks have been added in too, which both are powerful and essential to survival in many cases, and have the bonus of reflecting projectiles. Missiles and grenades can be reflected, Jedi style, wherever the player is aiming or to their locked on target for massive damage, but managing the maneuver is always a challenge when energy blasts are overwhelming the screen.

The game’s intro level is a gentle enough affair, intended to teach players the basics, and it does so effectively, only getting a little more difficult at the boss fight. As soon as that level ends, things get cranked up to “ridiculous” even on easy, with what feels like an absolute wall of enemies, gunfire from all angles, and constant danger. Even as a genre veteran, the end boss to level one took me a solid 20 minutes to beat. There are always patterns and weaknesses to bosses, particularly level end bosses, but figuring them out and exploiting them is a real challenge. The same tends to go for mid-bosses as well, of which there are plenty, and they reappear as normal enemies later as is the traditional way of the shooter.

Sin and Punishment:Star Successor is a rare on-rails run and gun affair, and it’s absolutely brilliant. The action is non-stop, the pace is undeniably frantic, and the challenge is massive. This is a game that truly takes advantage of the Wii’s mechanics. The only real problem I had with the game is setting up a good control scheme because there’s so much going on at once, and because the default zapper setup is geared toward a wiimote and nunchuck. Once that barrier is overcome it all becomes smooth, natural, and a ton of fun. Break out the PerfectShot, Zapper, or Clone Blaster, stand way too close to the TV, and feel time melt away as you end up back in a 90s arcade.

It’s a Wiio-Geo game, and I couldn’t be happier to have found it.

9/10

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Reckless Squad

Posted in RTS, Review on January 14th, 2011 by ZekeDMS

Reckless Squad was recklessly released.

The first release from D2P games takes a chance, eschewing the very concept of being a triple-A title from the start, opting for a simpler, fun experience. In some ways it succeeds, but it’s not without issues, some great, some small.

Reckless Squad is a convoy based RTS. Yes, a game built entirely on escort missions, traditionally the worst, or at least most difficult, part of any game. It’s a concept that makes RTS fans hesitate, and Wing Commander veterans cry out in terror. Surprisingly enough, it’s been done here in a way that makes it enjoyable. At first.

It also might be necessary. Reckless Squad takes a lot of pride in being procedurally generated, and when single-player procedural generation is mixed with no goal but “Kill ‘em all”, it can get boring, fast (for those wanting to experience this firsthand, see Soldier of Fortune 2). Procedural generation lends itself to games where the idea is to survive, not to thrive, and Reckless Squad understands that. The convoy, really just a covered wagon that fell off the Oregon Trail, chugs right along obliviously, only slowed occasionally by magic. That’s not a bad thing in and of itself, because as long as it reaches the end of a map, it’s a success, on to the next level. It also forces players out of the old habits of clearing ahead, moving, stopping, clearing, moving, stopping, which is a recipe for tedium.

When it works, it’s fresh and exciting. There’s a thrill and a challenge to knowing that the units you have need to last for at least a few more levels, and a boss fight most likely. There’s tension in the decisions that have to be made on the fly. Clear a path ahead while there’s time? Leave troops near the caravan for a rear guard? Send a few into danger for a potentially critical treasure chest? Players have to think fast, because as said before, that caravan stops for nothing. Not you, not the enemy, and not to caulk the wagon and float across. Gaining and maintaining resources is critical, but it’s dictated by time and careful control of your units.

Maintaining that control is unfortunately where things tend to start to suffer. The player’s units just don’t listen. In a twist on the norm, where one complains about units that just sit around lazily, like goons in the basement, these units cause problems when they take the initiative. They run forward to enemies, they pick off what they see as easy targets, and they rain down fireballs anywhere that isn’t water. In most RTS games, that would be great, but in a game where the goal is to protect a convoy and units are limited, you need them to stick close and not draw extra attention. Even the mission modes fall victim to this where one actually is just tasked to kill everything. A careful pull honed by years of MMO experience turns into a horde of angry enemies, each one following its friend back to your carefully chosen “Take ‘em one at a time” point, and a quick slaughter of your forces often ensues.

Even more annoying is when a stealth unit runs ahead even as a battle rages around the caravan, picking a target in the middle of a group and ensuring its own demise. The newly alerted enemies just love run back to the caravan and overwhelm the surviving forces at that point, and the fun gives way to rapid annoyance. Once there, the lack of control over individual units combines in with a horrible lack of visibility and unit information. There’s no information per unit, only unit types, and the mass of green lifebars gives no feedback at all when a large group is engaged in a big ball of violence. Even worse is when the fragile units such as achers, mages, and rogues get in the mix. Archers haven’t ever heard of skirmishing it seems.

Another oddity of the game is that units seem to have a strong desire to only move in cardinal directions. Not always, but there’s an odd tendency toward moving only 8 ways. Occasionally a unit will pick a bit of an angle to get to an enemy, but that’s less common than one would expect, more common when intercepting an enemy (regardless of your desire for them to) than actually following a move order.

The annoyances continue to pile on, some major, some minor. The edgescroll is a pain in windowed mode, only reacting at the very, very far ends. There’s no option to switch whether or not the scroll is placed above the UI bar at the bottom, and the shift key is useless, instead relegating all functions of grouping and multiple unit selection to the crtl key. And for those who feel like avoiding the edgescroll, here’s hoping you’re left-handed. The game has a distinct lack of hotkeys, which would free WASD up for control, logically. It doesn’t. Instead, players are stuck with the arrow keys and numpad. Very inconvenient for a game controlled almost entirely by mouse.

When you get down to it, Reckless Squad just feels rushed. There’s typos everywhere, lots of dialogue and exposition that seem like awkward translations into English, despite the studio being Montreal based. There’s no real movement/aggression controls, units are in full aggro mode at almost all times. The controls are minimal, and the feedback virtually nonexistent. The AI is completely lacking, with no concept of retreat or point defense, the most important aspects of an escort. Selecting individual units is as much a challenge as any boss fight, and in the heat of battle, the non-standard controls are an absolute hindrance.

The good news is that most of the problems could be patched out, major as they are. Add some positioning control. Add an attack move, add a hold ground order, add a return fire only setting. Add a critical follow order. Enable the shift key, give better breakdowns with units so it’s not a challenge to rapidly assign each healer to its own squad while under attack as soon as a level starts.

The idea of Reckless Squad is great, but it’s a well formed idea without a well formed game around it. The novelty of the procedural generation wears off rapidly as the frustrations of the many shortcomings set in. It’s an unfinished proof of concept, more suited to Kongregate than GamersGate as is. If the developers take the time desperately needed to fix the critical flaws, it could be great. But for now, it’s just bad.

Final Score: 3/10

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This is a fake page.

Posted in Commentary on August 5th, 2010 by ZekeDMS

A lot of steam users seem to be getting phished lately. http://storesteampoowered_viewprofile48759231215797.9hz.com/ is FAKE. It sure looks like a Steam page at first glance, the URL format really manages to hide the 9hz domain, and the page is a spectacular copy.

But I assure you, this is a phishing page. Please watch out, folks.

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You maniacs! You blew it up!

Posted in Commentary on July 3rd, 2010 by ZekeDMS

Look what you’ve all done to Steam. Look at it!

slowsteam

This is what happens when the hottest titles on Steam go on sale for ridiculous prices. Hell, even the ones you’ve never heard of. “What is this “The Pipe?” Adventure game…looks European. A little odd. How much is it? $1.24? Shit, sold!”

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Your wallet is doomed.

Posted in Commentary on June 24th, 2010 by ZekeDMS

It’s a Steam sale again, and just like the January sale this one is utter madness. One day sales, deep discounts, and all the best games for bottom barrel prices. Telltale Complete packs for $50, THQ complete packs for the same, 33% off anything Ubisoft.

Say goodbye to your money.

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