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First Person Shooter Shootout – Part 2

by on Mar.02, 2010, under PC Game Reviews


We conclude our coverage of F.E.A.R., Quake 4, Serious Sam 2 and Call of Duty 2 first person shooters.

Game play – Serious Sam 2
In the beginning, the FPS microcosm of the gaming universe consisted of the adventures of a solitary hero. Bearing weapons of immense power, he was charged with the smiting of chaotic daemons, the termination of malevolent and fantastical beasts or the vanquishment of jackboot clad, fascists. And when gamers saw what had been developed, they saw that it was good. As years passed, the genre evolved. Scripting introduced predictable events that designers would lavish upon an unsuspecting player. Plots became more intricate and convoluted, causing brows to furrow in concentration. Interactive items and puzzles were introduced to slow down the frenetic action. And Croteam looked down upon what had transpired and said, “Bugger this for a joke! Let’s get back to our gaming roots.”

When the developer Croteam is mentioned, it’s not normally in reference to their Football Glory game created in the early 90’s. And there’s a good reason for this; hardly anyone remembers the game. References to this Croatian development house are invariably linked to their series of games featuring a wise-cracking hero porting some impressive firepower, cartoon worlds rendered with bright colours normally associated with a kindergarten painting session, and hordes of creatures in desperate need of a good cull. Frankly, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with their approach.

In this latest creation, Sam “Serious” Stone is called upon (this being his third attempt) to cleanse the universe of a certain villain of incalculable evil. To do this, he is tasked by the Sirian Council with collecting the five pieces of the Medallion of Power that will remove his nemesis’ invulnerability. The council, being the über-beings that they are, have the ability to teleport Sam to each of the five unique worlds in turn; until the appropriate medallion shard is recovered, there’s no going back.

If you’re expecting a range of diverse sub-quests to undertake you can put that thought aside right now; aside from reforming the medallion, your sole purpose in this game is to kill everything that bears the stigma of Mentals crazed psyche. There are nigh on forty levels to complete, each one with a unique visual theme that will regularly have you chuckling as you explore the stunningly crafted environs. Populating these colourful lands are the local natives, who merrily wander around performing their daily chores. They are quite benign and appear to spend most of their time keeping the vast piles of weapons, ammunition and power-ups scattered around the landscape clean and functional when you aren’t looking. Croteam have also stashed away a plethora of secrets areas and triggers to find; most are simple to track down and involve simple exercises in physics, others are a bit more challenging and occasionally yield some nice bonuses.

As for Mentals minions, it’s pretty safe to note that each of these suckers is a unique creation: from the Zombie Stockbrokers toting shotguns, to the ever-popular clockwork rhinoceros, it is doubtful that you will have ever seen opponents like these. When they do appear, they do so in vast numbers and their primary goal in their rather short lives is to see how much lead they can fill you with. There is no AI to speak of, and with the sheer volume of opponents on screen, not really needed. In essence, you’ll be continuously on the move, your finger held down on your fire button as you wade through wave after wave of these ridiculous fiends. When you find those medallion pieces you will be treated to a staple boss fight that offers a fractionally harder challenge than normal but the final encounter is an absolute nightmare to defeat on the highest two difficulty levels.

To help you deal with these socially challenged miscreants is the most comprehensive collection of ordnance ever seen in an FPS, each of them gifted with the ability to inflict extreme pain on your victims. Some of the more popular weapons from earlier games make a welcome return includikng the minigun and a new revision of the SBC Cannon, looking very much like it has just been yanked off the poop deck of H.M.S. Victory. You’re also provided with some new weapons such as the exploding parrot. When these suckers become “ex-parrots” they invariably take someone else with them. There are also a few levels with some vehicles available (driven from a third person perspective) that add a modicum of variety to the game.

When you’ve completed one of the dozens of genocidal levels you’ll be treated to some mildly amusing cut scenes featuring Sam, Netrisca and several of the more amusing natives. Fortunately they aren’t pre-rendered and have been created using the in-game engine which keeps their appearance consistent with the interactive parts of the game. Some are quite amusing, others painful in their execution. The translations (presumably from the original Croat) aren’t as clear as you would expect and some of the voice actors appear to have too much phlegm in their throats, but the odd grammatical errors do add an element of weirdness to the game; perhaps that’s exactly what was intended by the developers.

Despite the high production values, there are a few issues. On some levels creatures spawn in areas of the map that cannot be reached by your character: you can usually hear it running around nearby but can’t touch it with your weapons. As many of the doors open only when all of your opponents have been defeated this can result in the player reaching a stage where progression is impossible. Occasionally using the Serious bomb can kill these perpetrators but if you don’t have one handy, the only course of action is to reload the game from an earlier point, trigger the same encounter and hope that they all appear in-game correctly. A patch has been released for the game but the notes do not suggest that this issue has been addressed.

Game play – Call of Duty 2
Over the last few years, World War 2 has become a popular setting for several high profile FPS developers. Series such as Medal of Honour, Brothers in Arms and Call of Duty have born witness to the resurgence of this time in history, showcased by Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” and “Band of Brothers” creations for the silver screen. Of these three seminal game series, Call of Duty stands out as being o­ne of the most immersive and authentic simulations yet conceived in the shooter genre. For Call of Duty 2, developers Infinity Ward are pulling out all the stops to improve upon what many pundits suggested couldn’t. After playing through this latest epic, you’ll be pleasantly surprised that that bar has been raised o­nce again.

As with the original release, you will find yourself in the shoes of several average soldiers from the Soviet Union, Great Britain and the United States as you and your squad take the fight to the German Wehrmacht across various theatres across the Western Front. In particular, the British have a larger focus this time, featuring in battles in both North Africa and Normandy.

The diverse battlefields you will witness have put great demands o­n the game artists to provide an impressive range of textures and special visual effects; unsurprisingly they have worked wonders. From falling snow amongst the ruins of Stalingrad to the huge dust clouds in the North African deserts, players will be instantly immersed in the realistic environments. Each mission is a perilous undertaking, with multiple objectives requiring completion for the Allies to emerge triumphant. Some effort has also been made to address the linear approach of most games in this genre, with the provision of several different paths available to your squad to allow them to achieve their goals. It’s a nice touch that adds to replayability.

You won’t be doing it alone either, as your squad mates advance and support your actions with more “expendable” soldiers supporting even their endeavours. Meticulously scripted events and battle sequences provide the pacing for the game and ensure that the action is intense yet not overbearing. The advantages of multiple theatres have also provided a perfect excuse for a wide range of Allied hardware to be modelled; the Tiger tank, SDKfz 222 armoured car and the ubiquitous 88mm anti-tank gun are all present just to name a few. There are a few tank missions set in Libya; similar to the original game; unfortunately they tend to fly past far too quickly and are more of a momentary diversion than a fully fledged operation.

There are some minor issues with the game difficulty in a couple of the levels. In o­ne, you find yourself manning a MG o­n an armoured car as it bounces its way around a village. Unfortunately, the village is full of Germans porting Panzerschrek anti-tank weapons and you’re obliged to kill each of them before they can fire at you, destroying your ride. Problem is that the vehicle is about as stable as Jack Nicholson in “The Shining“; trying to hit individual soldiers at any range is a repeated exercise in frustration. There was o­ne particular instance where I had to restore a save around three dozen times until I managed to kill the individual causing me grief, more by luck than anything else. They aren’t enough to spoil the game completely, but if you compare it to the sniper level in Medal of Honour: Allied Assault you might have an idea of how tedious it can get.

The advantages of multiple theatres have provided a perfect excuse for a wide range of allied personal weapons to be modelled, giving you the chance to try out the Soviet PPS42 sub-machine gun for the first time. While normally most soldiers in WW2 were not proficient with a wide range of enemy weapons, you won’t have the same restrictions. You will never run out of ammunition or weapons to choose from as you will find plenty scattered amongst the bodies of your comrades and foes. The copious amounts of weaponry found o­n the battlefield effectively nullifies your weapon portage limit of two weapons as you can “mix and match” your personal armoury as you progress through the game.

The developers have introduced a handful of novel interface modifications that increase the immersion factor of the game considerably. There are is no manual game save system! Normally this would be tantamount to game designer suicide in a PC game, but Call of Duty 2 has an impressive auto-save feature that works seamlessly at appropriate intervals, keeping the player in the game and not concerned with having to replay multiple objectives ad-infinitum. There is no life indicator either. When your alter-ego gets shot, your heartbeat accelerates and the edge of you screen flashes red. If you stay out in the open, chances are you will eventually die after repeated hits but quickly withdrawing to cover and waiting for a few seconds will allow your heartbeat to slow and the screen to clear. At this point you are o­nce again healthy enough to continue the fight. No hollering for medics or picking up med-kits in this game!

To conclude, there are no show-stopping bugs in this title and the quality of Infinity Ward’s work is o­nce again top notch. It’s still possible to get a few interesting scenes when you mix explosives and rag-doll physics but all shooters have displayed this problem to o­ne degree or another and I suspect these rare occurrences will make their presence felt from time to time for the foreseeable future.

The Verdicts

During this feature we have performed some comparisons between the various contenders however the awards for each game are based purely o­n their own merit and primarily reflect how much we enjoyed each game in its own right. We must also point out that Llama’s are exceptionally cool creatures and are ideal icons for the rating of computer games, despite what the internet vernacular would have you believe.

F.E.A.R.

An impressive combination of carefully scripted pacing, audio/visual atmosphere and frenetic combat sequences add F.E.A.R. to the impressive pedigree of first person shooters which Monolith Productions has created over the years. A refreshing look at how a well crafted shooter can leverage game play and technology to the utmost and create a synergistic masterpiece that almost oozes cool. There’s a darn good reason why this title has garnered so many awards in both o­nline and print media over the last two months; we heartily recommend that you pick up a copy and experience F.E.A.R. for yourself.

Quake 4

Raven Software show yet again how to successfully build upon iD’s game engines. A roller-coaster ride chock full of furious combat and some terrifying scripted events. There’s o­ne particular sequence that is rendered in such detail that some players may find quite disturbing. It’s also an incredibly long game that doesn’t skimp o­n quality and is fundamentally worth every cent.

Serious Sam 2

A look back to the good old days of first person gaming, where all you need are a homicidal hero, loud guns and swarms of nefarious evildoers to shoot at. The o­nly qualm we have with this game is that its way too long (something we never thought we’d say about a FPS!). By the time you’re two thirds into the game, you’re beginning to consider downloading cheats just so you can view the multitude of cut scenes prior to un-installation. It’s a colourful and chaotic gaming experience but, like LSD, much safer in smaller doses.

COD2

A beautiful collection of missions, laboriously designed in exacting detail. The flipside of this is that you end up with quality rather than quantity. The game is very short and its addictive nature makes it incredibly difficult to stop playing. Nine hours in and you may very well be finishing off the last mission set in Germany. Nevertheless, I’ve found myself replaying missions o­n a regular basis since I completed this title; something that no other game has encouraged me to undertake in many months. Buy the game, play it and look forward to the ubiquitous expansion pack that is sure to follow.

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