Monday, March 21, 2011

REVIEW: Homefront

I absolutely hate it when I have to do this. I understand that there are a lot of people more talented than I, who work harder than I do, who pour a lot of time and energy into something that the last thing they want to hear or see is some dippy thirty-something-amateur-video-game-blogger shit all over it. I'm not one of those assholes that ridiculously trashes a game to make some point or has some preset agenda just to sound cool. I try to dissect a game by looking at what works, what doesn't, and whether you should buy it or rent it. I'm not going to say "avoid this game at all costs because it sucks royally".

However, I'm going to come very close to saying exactly that today. (/suspense)

I was really looking forward to Homefront, which dropped this past Tuesday. I was a big fan of Red Dawn, a movie from the 80's which I understood was an inspiration for this game. John Milius, who wrote Red Dawn was writing the story. Kaos Studios, who did Frontlines Fuel of War was going to develop it; I didn't think Frontline was groundbreaking but if they could build on that and make a better game, this could be something enjoyable.

Last week, an article circulated that Homefront's Single Player Campaign was only five hours long. Red Flag. Ok, maybe that was just someone breezing through the game on easy; hell, Dead Space 2 would probably clock in at that time on the easiest difficulty. Then after release, investors took wooden bats to the mailbox of THQ's stock price , upon the news that the game's reviews have been rather negative. Red Flag number 2. Then when I had the game in hand and tried to play online multiplayer, we failed over and over again. THQ issued a statement saying they had more traffic than anticipated which meant some delay in getting into online multiplayer games. Red flag number 3: There is no joy in Gameville, my wallet has struck out.

If you are familiar with Red Dawn, then you get the premise of Homefront. Input North Koreans for Russians, grown-ups leading the resistance instead of kids, and you are the essentially the Powers Boothe character. Now, as Homefront begins, you get the notion that this game has some potential. You get the back story behind the decline of the America's power, how their economy cratered and left it susceptible to internal choas and occupation by a foreign regime (basically everything that people expects to happen after the oil crash). You open to what is a grizzly scene; while being escorted as a prisoner, you witness the horrors of occupation: military outposts sitting by the neighborhood drugstore, "processing areas", people murdered on the street corner with their infant children crying over their mangled bodies. Its all pretty powerful and a good setup.

Its playtime.
Unfortunately, everything that comes after that setup is a letdown. You are freed by the local resistance freedom fighters and as you escape, you alert the KPA, who are none too happy.  As you get into the action and weave your way through suburban neighborhoods, you find yourself in a few situations where you are facing 10-15 bad guys who have you pinned down and seem to have all their gun sights trained on you (this will be a recurring theme filed under "things that make me rage").

(Spoilers below)

To be totally honest, for a single player that's very short, there certainly is a difficult time discerning what the hell you are doing. Basically, you are doing a fuel heist: since gas is a rare commodity, the American resistance is going to take the opportunity to seize some fuel tankers and deliver them to the United States Armed Forces in San Fransisco (I guess the coming and going of Peak Oil, the US ignored its pursuit of alternative energy sources by the year 2027). Your role as a former marine pilot is to help gather information about how to track these fuel tankers, then steal a helicopter in order to hijack the convoy and escort them to the military and turn the tide of the occupation. In case you were wondering, yes the Single player campaign is rather short. Don't be stunned if you beat this game in one evening or maybe two at most.

I think Homefront had the opportunity to tell a more compelling story, something that could have immersed the player more into the world of despair and desperation. There is a scene where you happen upon a community baseball diamond that's become a dumping ground for the dispatched local dissonants. Instead of using this moment for tension and drama, its cheapened when your co-hort feigns rage and alerts the bad guys directly to your position. I would have rather liked it if that was left to you to be disturbed by this sight. You'd think that the people in the midst of resistance would have some knowledge that all their buddies are being disappeared in the middle of the night.

You will also happen upon a fellow enclave of freedom fighters later in the game, that are somehow interested in killing you as well. After a fierce gun-battle in the opening sequence, you infiltrate the camp to steal a helicopter, encountering more sentries in your wake. I had a hard time believing that a fifteen minute firefight would leave the remaining guards totally unaware or even ignorant about bullets flying not 1000 feet away.

These guys: not your friends.
Beyond the plot hole elements, the gameplay is infuriating.  As I've eluded to before, there are moments where you will find yourself grossly outnumbered by enemy. The game wants you to use cover and move around to the flanks, but the problem is the friendly AI does nothing to help you in terms of drawing fire away from you, and the enemy AI are nothing but sharpshooters who completely ignore your friends and trains all their weapons on you. There were many points in the game where I was completely pinned down, could not train my sights on a bad guy with enough time to shoot him before he dropped about 6 rounds right in the ten-ring. You could do your taxes in the time it takes to aim down your sights, even then its rat-a-tat-tat: you're dead. While I did find the scenery and the sound pretty good, some of the animations are frankly substandard for this generation's console first person shooter. Throwing a grenade is pretty laughable. As well as enemies that attack you head on with little to no cover themselves.

For a short single player game, there is another part that cheapens the experience and that is when you are controlling a remote "Goliath" that will put down enemies in your stead. I really would rather have used some basic combat tactics of having one group lay down some cover while you moved around to the sides and flanked your entrenched enemy, instead of just having your RC Bigfoot with minigun do it all for you. There is a similar scene in Bulletstorm (that I just reviewed); wasn't cool there, wasn't cool here.

As of right now, Multiplayer is a mess. I tried for two evenings to bring a party of four into a multiplayer match with no success. Here's a few hints to THQ: You know how many copies of the game you pre-sold (anywhere from 200,000-300,000), and you figured that a good majority of those presells were going to pick up the game in the first few days and want to play online. So when you tell people that you had a higher-than-expected capacity on your dedicated servers, it totally comes off as amateur hour, ESPECIALLY when your game comes with a code to "unlock multiplayer".

Once I got into a few games, I found the classes were totally unbalaced. Your score becomes currency to unlock new things, weapons, abilities, vehicles. Well people that managed to put in more time than you online have already the capability to unlock a chopper that just rains death upon you and is near impossible to take down. Your games are going to be pretty lopsided; either you have a 10:1 kill/death ratio or 1:20 because you can't go 5 steps without getting mowed down.

Now again, I hate to belittle anyone that puts a lot of time and effort into something that had promise and just does not come close to delivering. I won't tell you to not play this game, but you certainly wouldn't want to drop $60 on it unless you hate money. You could rent it, but kiss off playing multiplayer or else you'd have to pay $10 for your online access code. I wouldn't recommend that, either. If you rent it, just play the Single Player collect your 150ish gamerscore achievements and send it back in. You get the feeling though, upon finishing the game, that THQ/Kaos kind of leaves you hanging; that more will come in the way of a sequel or more missions via DLC. If that's the case, its a sham money grab and you needn't waste your time.

TL;DR- "... In the early days of 2011,  the hopeful - mostly suckers - bought the game Homefront. They were shown great fail and gave up their money, so that 'this nation shall not have to waste their time on this Earth'. "

Monday, March 14, 2011


Recent photo of Lord Bling.
I wanted to take a moment and highlight another opinion of Dead Space 2. I, of course, fellated it, but not everyone on the TL;DR staff agrees. Lord Bling posted his take in the comments section of my review but I wanted to do one better and pull it out and place it in its own post.

"Well, I tried, but fuck this game. I just couldn't get into it like I did the original. The 'story' is threadbare compared to the first, and most of the twists you'll see coming a mile away. You're constantly low on ammo (even on Normal), no matter how much you buy at the Stores. For a survival horror game that throws a shit-ton of enemies at you, it's unfair to limit the ammo found in the environment. Apparently, you're supposed to use telekinesis and objects in the environment a lot more in this one, but that's quite a change from the first (where I played through it entirely with just the Plasma Cutter) and there's not enough time to coordinate all of that when you're constantly getting raped by three or four monsters. And raped you will be. Every fucking hallway sees you getting jumped and overrun, and the 3rd person perspective doesn't help when you're surrounded. And to this point, why can't your character stomp while reloading? This was never an issue in the first game, because you rarely got so outnumbered. It's an issue in multiple instances in this one. There are 'puzzles', but they're barely a diversion from the next raping you're going to get (and in many cases, you'll get attacked in the middle of solving them, which defeats the purpose). Power Nodes are sparse enough to where you'll have to pick and choose what you upgrade (and they expect you to play through it again in order to level up more than a couple of weapons and/or your rig and stasis module). Sorry dudes, but I couldn't even finish one playthrough, much less start a second.

Having said that, the voice acting is great. The audio and graphics are top-notch yet again. And a couple of strong set piece moments stand out.

Basically, Visceral tried to pull an 'Aliens' by taking the atmospheric original and going all-action, all the time, but they should've put more ammo in the game if they wanted to go that route. They also should've given us a reason to care. 

TL;DR -- Save your money and play the first one again."

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

EA - Why are you so #$%& Stupid?

I am usually the "water off a duck's back" kind of guy... go with the flow... not prone to hate in general but dammit if the retarded customer service at EA didn't piss me ... at least enough to bitch about it publicly.

So I've been participating in the upcoming Darkspore Beta, which I'd planned on reviewing but now refuse to offer an opinion on. To hell with EA and their incompetence I'll not pander their wares. Sufficed to say I enjoyed the beta enough to preorder and to sweeten the deal EA sent out an email announcing that if you preorder Darkspore you get a free digital copy of Dragon Age. So Sweet! Or so I thought......

So I preordered Darkspore last night ~10:40pm CST... so even if these asshats are on eastern time I got my order in before midnight on the 8th.

I got an order confirmation at 10:47pm on the 8th confirming my order. I look it over the morning (the 9th) and notice that Dragon Age isn't mentioned anywhere in the order detail. I get on my EA account, no mention of it there either. Hmmm suspicious, but I figure maybe they won't offer the download until Darkspore is released. Not one to just let it lie I get on the EA site and decided to just confirm that the free copy of Dragon Age would eventually be forthcoming... Here is the chat which followed much to my dismay:

Corey: Hi, my name is Corey. How may I help you?
2374929329: Just inquiring about the Dragon age offer.. per my question
Corey: Please let me know
OK WTF Did I type in my long ass question when attempting to contact Customer Support if I'm just going to have to do it again... sigh, I trudge on.

2374929329: I'd preordered Darkspore which offered Dragon Age for free. the invoice made no mention of Dragon Age and I don't have it for Download so Just wanting ot be sure it will be made available to me (I assume whenever Darkspore is)
Corey: You pre-ordered from our EA store?
2374929329: yes
Corey: Please provide us the order number
2374929329: k looking it up
Corey: Sure, take your time
2374929329: #############
Corey: Hold on. Let me have a look
Corey: Please give me a few more minutes. Am still checking it

Christ WTF how hard is it to look up an order #

2374929329: k
Corey: Thank you for waiting
Corey: I have checked your order and found that the order is for DARKSPORE Limited Edition only
Corey: There is not additional offer of Dragon Age game with it

OK at this point I'm like, "WTF do you mean... ok maybe there was a mix up, lets see about correcting the order. "

2374929329: I followed the link on the EA page for the Dark Spore with Dragon Age offer. Can you correct my order then?
2374929329: Here is a link to the offer if that helps
Corey: One moment please
Corey: I am so sorry for the misinformation. I have just confirmed again that the game Dragon Age doesn't come with the pre-order of Darkspore
2374929329: Why then does the website say that it does?
Corey: I sincerely regret any inconvenience caused due to this issue.

WTF? The game doesn't come with it... Not only did I get an email from your fucking store it was on your god damned front page last night you dillhole and you are acting like it never fucking existed! Lets press him further about the link which gives the offer details.

2374929329: The link I provided you is still active
Corey: I have re-checked the link and couldn't confirm any information that you mentioned

Seriously you have GOT to be fucking kidding me man! That link could not be any more fucking straight forward. Preorder Darkspore and get Dragon Age for free Offer ends 3/9. Are you hard of reading? Did you even click the link you jackass?! Lets regurgitate what the site says for him.

2374929329: Says Dragon age free if Darkspore is preorderedfore
2374929329: Offer was good until 3/9, i ordered on 3/8
2374929329: If EA isn't going to honor its own offer, please cancel my order.

Maybe if I get a little more haughty this'll spark something in this retard... maybe the threat of canceling my order will help... =)

Corey: Please accept my apologies. This is a misinformation. We do not offer any game with the pre-order of the Darkspore.

This is misinformation? So EA sends out an email for a special offer, also has said offer on their front page so this isn't a fucking limited to email offer, and I am somehow misinformed... by EA?


2374929329: Seriously. I received an email plain and simple that offered Dragon Age with Preorder of Darkspore... That link i gave you is where i was directed... it still shows the offer when i open it... Since there appears to be serious incompetence on the EA side.. Cancel my order.
2374929329: I've been participating in the beta, got that email

Maybe if I brag about being in the Beta I'll earn enough cred to turn this around... coupled with my threat to cancel the order again... sure its a longshot but what the hell.

Corey: Okay if that is what you want, then I will unwillingly do it for you.
2374929329: Not going to participate in a bait and switch.. please do so. thank you

You will unwillingly do so? Do you even realize how oxymoron-ical that fucking sounds? How can you use "Will and Unwilling" consecutively in a sentence you retard?

Needless to say at this point he did indeed find the willpower to cancel my order.

EA... Gratz on sucking! Perhaps that's why I haven't bought one of your games since Ultima Online... Rejects! Fucking Fail!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

REVIEW: Bulletstorm

There is something vaguely familiar about all of this. I feel like I've been here before. You know, they say nothing is original anymore, and you see it everywhere. Music samples from earlier music (which usually ends in the new music sucking). Newer music samples from the music that just sampled the older music (also sucks). Movies are being 'rebooted' (sucks). American television shows are being either rebooted, or are directly ripped off from British Television (the result of which is pretty sucky in nature). With video games, its more there is a trend that gets set and is repeated and then variants are built from it. The side scroller. The first person shooter. The RPG. The JRPG. The MMORPG. 3D. Even with that, I think video games can differ from other media in that although they follow a certain predictable pattern, if done properly, they can stand out as unique through milieu, presentation, and gameplay.

Bulletstorm doesn't.

I could just end things right here and simply tell you what this game Frankensteins together. However, that wouldn't be fair and that lets me off the hook way to easily. So I'm going to show you but also say a couple of good things as well. I will start of by saying that Bulletstorm is not a bad game. There shouldn't be points taken away because a game isn't extraordinary, or redefines a genre, or is life altering. Which is good, because this game isn't extraordinary, genre definitive or life altering in anyway.

You are Marcus Fenix Grayson Hunt. You're a wayward mercenary, seeking revenge on the commander that you feel betrayed you and cast you out of your elite military unit. In the attempt to take revenge, you crash land on a once populated resort planet that is now overrun by mutants, convicts, and indigenous creatures.  Your mission is to escape the labyrinth of dilapidated buildings, cavernous terrain, and war-torn urban chaos, and figure out a way to exact your unpleasant reciprocity.  You aren't alone in your run of terror; your main companion from the get-go is Ishi, a fellow crewman who, during the first engagement, suffers a catastrophic injury and must become half cyborg in order to sustain his life. You will also gain another companion about a third of the way in that knows the ropes of the city and will help you get through (though she doesn't trust you much).

C'Mon, Sal. The Tigers are playin'!
Early on you will acquire your trusty machine gun, and...what I can only describe as your "power whip". Its an attachment that you'll use to grab either items or people. As you move through the game, you are able to grab more weapons, upgrade them, and enable their special abilities.

You earn your upgrades and are able to buy ammo through points you accumulate through kills. You just shoot a guy a billion times until he dies? Ten points and boring. You aren't buying a lot of bullets with that. Kick him into a a mutated cactus? How about a hundred points. Blow up that explosive object next to four guys? Fifty points each (times four). THAT is how you accumulate your experience currency. Its simple to grasp, and pretty fun to toy around with, trying to pull of 'kill trick shots' just because you can. Its very arcade-like, and something that you may have experienced before.
Whoops, wrong game. But do you see what I mean? 

One thing I do want to point out that is an overwhelming positive about the game, and something that is praised in almost every review I've read, is that the environment and look of the game is totally gorgeous. Though the controls are somewhat clunky (you can't jump, buttons can be slow to react when you want to change weapons or target something), but the landscape, the action, the characters, movement, all just fantastically rendered. There are times where it almost has a Borderlands feel to it, some have that cell shaded feel, but there are definitely elements that are staples of Epic games style animation.

If you had honestly told me that Bulletstorm was a 'Gears of War' side story, part of the cannon, just sans the main characters I would have believed you. Its first person instead of third, but when you run, the camera gets that familiar blur. When you shoot, you need a hailstorm of bullets to take someone down, if you can get in a good decap, that feels the same.
Ishi the Killer. 
Even the banter and speech in which Grayson carries himself is all very...Gearsish. That banter, among other things, landed the game under a little bit of scrutiny from our resident mega media squeaky wheel. They felt that the crude sexual comments Grayson (and later on General Serrano) makes, the names of some of your killing moves, extra bonus points awarded for shooting enemies in their nether parts, all made Bulletstorm the beacon that summons young children to mischief.  Trust me; there are better other games more vulgar, more gratuitous, and more gore-laden than Bulletstorm. This is not the pole in which to waive the "video games corrupt children" flag. The game is rated M for a reason: and honestly, its not really even a very good one. The crudeness is forced. The gore isn't anything new. You've seen it before, you've heard it before.

This is where I talk about the multiplayer aspect of the game, but instead of deathmatch or anything like that, we get a co-op horde mode. I played a few games, and was pretty much done with it. I've mentioned in years past that games with good stand alone single player campaigns really don't need multiplayer. Bulletstorm needs multiplayer. Although I usually suck at Epic games that have multiplayer (Gears, Unreal Tournament), I think I would have enjoyed what they could have thrown together in close spaces or a large landscape using the weapons from the campaign. While I won't count the lack of true multiplayer against the game, the fact the single player campaign clocks in under seven hours playing on normal difficulty, it would have been something nice to extend what is otherwise a rental at best.

Bulletstorm is what it is. Short and unoriginal. But what it also is, honestly, it is fun. Its a quick ride, but despite what you may think reading the words above, I didn't hate the game. Its a quick, not very frustrating (at least at the level I played), sometimes smirk-inducing, mindless game thats fun to look at and fun to play. In short...