Battlefield Bad Company 2: VIETNAM

I have a lot of mixed feelings about this add on. For one, it’s a lot of fun. It also brings back the fast rush gameplay since C4 (TNT) now does the old level of damage. On the other hand I spent a countless amount of hours playing the original vietnam, and it is not the original game. Hastings and the remake of Wake Island (the C shaped island with the carrier deployment) in the original are the two iconic Vietnam maps which got the most rotation. Both of these are conspicuously missing, minus the fact that Hastings will come out when they have 69 million player supporting actions (revives, etc). Or basically the end of January.

The good stuff is that the maps make decent use of the battlefield engine (frostbite). There’s a metric ton of trees and grasses and the battlefield engine does that particularly well. There’s PT boats and a variety of paths for good players to use to get between objectives. The problem is that the maps tend to feel cinematic rather than strategic. The other problem is that they all blend together. I played it for about three hours last night (counting the bottlecaps) and I can’t tell you which map is which. There’s nothing particularly distinctive about them except that one has a napalm strike and one has a temple. The temple could have been a cool urban-ish combat feature, but it’s not. The napalm strike turns into sniper wars since you walk out and go oh that’s COOL right before you realize there’s only one tunnel in and out and that’s the first thing that gets filled with flamethrowers and shotguns. Basically that’s the end of that map. Maybe the other team plays it badly or maybe your snipers are good enough to keep their heads down but if you make it through the tunnels you end up at the objectives and met with more flamethrowers and shotguns. I hate to say it but the maps, while they look cool, just aren’t as well built as the other maps for this game. Even the ones which they shoehorned into the other mode and then patched to move the MCOMs (white pass) are better built than the vietnam one. And what’s conspicuously missing is Heavy Metal, which would have been an awesome vietnam map but is an utter failure in the bad company 2 vanilla format. Finally, urban combat? Completely missing.

The classes have good balance. The engineer feels grossly underpowered. I barely silver starred the engineers machine gun. The RPG just doesn’t do enough damage. The medic does well, there’s no real gripes. The sniper takes quite awhile to get used to, the bullet drop isn’t there. The mortar strike is wonky. The anti-tank mines seem to do less damage, which is also a bad thing because it makes the engineer entirely unremarkable. You absolutely must have an assaulter follow you around since you’ll be running out of mines and RPGs. Even the extra explosives perk only gives you one extra, instead of doubling it. Finally the worst of the worst is that marking bad guys, even bad guys which should be terribly obvious (helos, tanks), only sticks around for 30 seconds or so.

Vehicles – vehicles are cool. The jeep is just about uncontrollable and slow which sucks because it makes it more of a target than a tactical helper. The jeep is useless. The tank is actually decent, it takes a good beating due to the engineer being useless. Tanks really get killed by TNT, otherwise things just marginally hurt it. The mortar strike, which used to be a super mortar strike with the explosives perk, only really hurts a tank about 10% to 20% of it’s health. The helo is a death machine. It’s fast and maneuverable and the guns on the side do stupid amounts of damage. On the other hand all the weapons hurt it, so on a half competent team even the engineer can kill it with small arms. Mostly though it seems like the bullet penetration is set to max because it’s not uncommon to shoot both gunners out of the helo. The PT boat people are bitching is too strong, it’s not. The trick is to shoot the driver and gunners with precision fire. The PT boat itself offers them no cover whatsoever, so a thumper or an RPG aimed at the crew will often clear the decks in one hit. People shooting at the boat itself are the people bitching it’s too strong. In fact one of my games had two PT boats consistently wrecking us, the solution was to shoot the driver so it was still enough I could make use of cover to shoot the gunners. (The other team went entirely sniper after that).

The really bad stuff I’ve saved for last and it really comes down to the flamethrower. It’s so powerful everyone is using it but the range is so short it’s reasonably balanced. If you’re using explosives perk as an assault, you can usually grenade them out of cover. On the other hand the flamethrower itself seems glitchy. People standing in water take fire damage for as long as you’re shooting them, but they go out immediately. People in the presence of a med pack don’t seem to catch on fire (or even take damage sometimes). There’s nothing to distinguish between friendly and enemy flame streams. You don’t hurt yourself with the flamethrower even firing it at your feet. The flame spread is cool, but as an assaulter I usually just toss down ammo, hold down arm and spin wildly shooting flames to put up a wall of death around me. It doesn’t set off C4, mines or TNT. It doesn’t blow down buildings. It takes awhile to clear brush with it. It’s not obvious if it gets buffed by explosives or magnum ammo. Finally the worst part is that you have to hit “reload” to transfer “ammo” from your “pouch” to your weapon. It’s just weird. If you let the game reload for you, the flamethrower sputters. It’s just buggy. The worst is the fact that it won’t burn down a building. Toss a grenade in the huts and it’ll blow the hut down. Hit it with a flamethrower and nothing happens (but weirdly enough the people inside get hurt even though the animation doesn’t show fire inside). I have a feeling they won’t fix it though.

Is it worth it? Yes. It’s fun. It brings back quick rush mode. The maps are neat despite their flaws and the flamethrower is hilarious. It would have been nice to see better maps and the vietnam weapons available in standard battlefield 2, but there’s enough there to justify the cost. What it really needs is tighter integration where multiplayer could be “battlefield 2”, “vietnam” or “both” just like rush or conquest can be sorted, or not. But these are things which can be patched, and I think the price was fair considering the amount of other freebies we got from DICE.

Game Review – Army of Two: 40th Day

I got this from Gamestop for $25.

Gamestop now has a new promo where if you get cold feet about a game within 7 days you can return it for a full refund. Suddenly I’m a lot more interested in those singleplayer titles I can breeze through or like Army of Two, it’s coop singleplayer. Return it for store credit and now for the price of Gamefly but without the monthly subscription, you too can rent games you don’t really care about!

That being said, if I had paid $60 for it new, I would have felt let down. $25 is pushing it, but it’s the right price given that Extraction Mode is included now.

The game is gross fun. You can be a sadistic jerk and it gives you weapons, or you can be a nice guy and… Oh there’s no incentive to be a nice guy. No seriously you get $30k cash for saving this kid and maybe one crate unlock but otherwise shooting everyone down gets you more guns and more money by far. Also sometimes the correct choice is still a messy choice. Saving the “trainer” guy in the first scene merely gets him killed anyway on a beach, and you lose $30k. Saving the kid later in the game gets you $30k, but he goes on to hate mercs and kill a bunch of people. If you let that kid live you also pass up on unlocking the most powerful sniper rifle in the game. You can play the game making the “nice” choice the entire time but it’s a lot harder since you’ll spend most of it starved for cash and ammo.

The bromance in the game isn’t as overt, but you can still express camaraderie and otherwise gay it up when you feel like it. Put in oftentimes weird camera angles and it’s not uncommon for Salem to look like he’s blowing Rios (air guitar). There’s apparently a points system here for expressing how awesome you are as buddies but otherwise it adds little to the game except for the downtimes between shooting. There’s also a paper-rock-scissors minigame which lets you win $100 from your buddies when you win. It’s fun to play during inappropriate cut scenes. Bored with that doctor reaming you out for warcrimes? Play some paper rock scissors for folding money! Bored with that guy talking about the majestic white tiger at the zoo you just had a firefight in? Hit camaraderie until Salem is blowing Rios over the video phone.

The aggro model works better in this game then it did in the previous game, but the AI doesn’t use it. More on the point when you’re customizing weapons, it’s not clear why the AI needs “money” at all. It would be nice if his money were given to you. Since you can get an achievement for making a “hate machine” (mine is a gold plated AK47 with a bayonet and an “enhancer” which is the opposite of a silencer) aggro plays a huge role just on accomplishments alone and it’s easy to rack up. With an AI which is ignorant of aggro, there’s no real reason to draw attention to yourself. I’ve never once seen the AI get killed. Also the game changes the AI’s attributes to cover up for occasionally shoddy AI work. In the hostage situations, the AI will always succeed in taking a hostage. The AI will always remain undetected. The AI will always pass a quickdraw. When you eat a rocket, the AI will simply take a knee for a second. And for parts where you split up suchas the first area with the fences or the area with the building cut in half, send the AI in on the hot side because the game won’t let the AI get cut down before accomplishing the “button push” sequence to let you regroup. (This may not be true on contractor difficulty but for the default difficulty, this is true – I’ve basically hidden behind the AI in the harder shootouts full well knowing he won’t go down).

The enemy AI is vastly improved over the first one. In the first one you couldn’t wound the AI. Now the AI has a DBNO status where wounding them (and leg shots will wound) cause them to go down and call to their buddies like you do. DBNO badguys can still hit you with the pistol, for the automatic pistol in the game this is particularly annoying. You can execute them, but there’s no option to force them to surrender. Grenades have a gears-of-war style arc preview which extends to the grenade launcher also. Bad guys will intelligently run from grenades or point their shields at them. Bad guys also try to fan out, which is also refreshing since the airport level of the first game was largely an excercise in reloading it until you ended up with a favorable spawn of bad guys and then hit the group with the RPG. This time around still suffers from a bit of luck, but it’s mostly lucky shots. More than a few times we’ve been hit by heavies and I’ll get lucky with a blindfire on a shotgun that saves us (or not).

Level design is worth a hat-tip here, it feels a lot like gears of war. GoW comparisons are inevitable in any game which also uses cover-and-concealment. Each level feels distinctive. Even in the hospital basement which could have looked like the skyscraper, it feels unique and you’re like “oh I’m in a different area”. The zoo feels like a zoo, each slum feels suitably slummy, the highrises feel like office spaces (although shot to pieces). More importantly each level clearly has an eye for “player space” where the players are likely to spend all their time, so these areas are highly polished. The hit model works well too – rebar sticking out of rubble will even block shots – and the game rarely suffers from rendering issues even with wide open spaces. Everything looks good. More importantly like GoW MP levels, everything flows nicely. There’s no one good spot to dig in, but it’s not like Modern Warfare where its absolute luck and each level is either “bowl” or “doughnut”.

The problem with multiplayer is twofold – strangers don’t wear headsets, which forces you to play in a game where people are required to communicate with people who don’t want to and it’s so late for this game that no-ones playing. Extraction might have been really cool with 12 players, but after checking the public servers for about an hour late my time, there were only three people playing on average. Multiplayer is a wash. It’s like Gears 2 now where the only people left are uberhardcore and they turned the bots up to 11. If you didn’t learn it before, you’re not going to learn it now. It’s actually still sort of fun since your buddies get a lot of cash for getting you up, but it’s not fun having to have someone babysit you because you’re not a headshot machine from playing the game since release. More on the point in straight up deathmatch, don’t even bother. There’s two kinds of players – headshot machines with the sniper rifles (unlike gears, the maps are big enough to make some decent use of the sniper rifles) and headshot machines with the shotguns. The maps are varied enough that you can get away with an assault rifle, but people who specialize in one of those two weapons classes will routinely score big.

Was it worth it? Probably not for $60, but at $25 and the ability to return it for a refund for 7 days, yeah. There’s enough content there to justify two sick days worth of time. For $60, I’d feel like it was short on content. There’s not enough going on with the assault rifles to make them distinctive, the same for the sniper rifles. Shotguns are interesting because they’re automatic or not, but basically there’s only four guns here. Levels are short and unfortunately divided up into bite sized chunks with “heavy troopers” in between. Once again the campaign just feels like training for multiplayer. The problem is, of course, that multiplayer is dead with a slew of new shooters out and it was never popular to begin with since the first Army of Two wasn’t really fun. So, for $25, it’s worth it to buy just for the experience, but trade it in quick.

XBOX 360 – Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising Review

HALF out of FIVE stars. Where 5 is good and 1 is “managed to get all the textures right”.

Actually this game would deserve a 2.5 star rating except that the developers have conducted themselves in a completely reprehesible way.

What we were promised: Accurate damage models, simulations of vehicles, simulations of weapons, killer AI and realistic warfare.

What we got: A steaming turd. To aggrevate things, developers wanted to charge for the patch.

The game works well enough as a game until you get good at it and can start pushing it’s boundaries. By that I mean you get good enough at maneuvering that you’re not in fear of doing the wrong thing while orders are coming in over the radio, which often tell you to do something completely different. Case in point, there’s a mission which asks you to storm a beach. Mid storming, you’re told to sweep up the side and eliminate anti-tank teams.

Now this would be all fine and dandy, but one of the games problems is missing sound queues. There’s times where, unless you have captioning turned on, you don’t get the audio for the radio calls and you wouldn’t know you were being given instructions. To add insult to injury, if you storm the antitank crew (or the mortar crew later in the mission) because you discover them before you’re supposed to, the AI isn’t initalized and the opfor will blindly stand around until you kill them all. Kill them you will, they won’t even react when you’re knifing the guy next to them. To really make this aggrevating, the game also scripts Things That Kill You. Getting into a vehicle on a map where there’s an enemy chopper results in instant death – even if you already shot down the chopper.

This really comes to a head later when, during the night raid mission, you’re told you must not be discovered and hold out until the marines execute their distraction. Given the amount of freedom you have in maneuvering and the fact if you go low and slow like you do in Ghost Recon you can avoid discovery indefinitely, I waited a half hour for the marines to distract. Only later did I manage to sneak down to the base and found out the walls of all the buildings were simply props – the player was never intended to enter the base and the walls of the builds would let you (and bullets) pass straight through. Sloppy coding, and more on the point I had to go online and pirate the strategy guide to find out you’re supposed to be discovered. Were I playing it on the hardest difficulty which only shows you your final waypoint, I could have easilly infiltrated the base without being discovered and really been bewildered. As it stood on normal difficulty, one of the waypoints did take you through an enemy bunker which I had opted to simply skirt.

The manual is crap. There’s not a whole lot to say about it except it has a picture of the controller in vehicle context, infantry context, and airborn context in three languages. It doesn’t tell you anything about the weapons. I’m a gun nut and I hadn’t even heard of most of the weapons since you’re playing as SAS or another foreign military for some of the missions. Pirate the game guide since it’s clear they intended you would buy the guide and read that in leiu of the manual. That being said, the vehicle controls are for naught. Unless you’re on a paved road, vehicles which should reasonably be able to drive off road (tanks) get stuck on rocks, bushes, low walls, stumps and other crap. Hitting someone with a car at 60mph is an excersize in hit detection – sometimes you kill them and sometimes they pass clean through. It’s not uncommon to have jeeps, APCs, hummers and similar with their noses pointed at the sky over a rock.

I haven’t said a whole lot about the pros, and frankly I’m hard pressed to come up with any. Sniping works realistically, and all weapons have bullet drop. The zeros aren’t published but I’m thinking they used 100 yards since shooting MPBR causes hits too low. Guns jam realistically, if you’re reloading when you’re laying down or have dirt being kicked up – it’ll jam. The AI does a decent job of keeping itself alive even if it doesn’t always follow your orders. And, it’s awe inspiring to call down artillery strikes on towns. The problem with all this is multiplayer. With only 8 players maximum in an area 230sqkm, they opted to chop the theater of operation down. This is OK, but it’s still too large. What it turns into is “Who can get to the chopper” (and use missiles unopposed since the AA vechicle gets stuck on everything) or “who is a sniper”. One of the outstanding bugs is that the cover draw distance is calculated from you. Zoom in on a player on a hill opposite you and he might see himself in a bush, but there’s no bush drawn making for an easy shot. It’s even easier with guided missiles from the aircraft since they have no cover and you don’t have to aim.

Then there’s also the incredibly frustrating problem that using the medic kit causes the medic to get stuck or fall through the map. There’s several places where this happens when you spawn, but it’s really frustrating when you’re the medic and performing your job causes you to die. Enough said.

So when’s the patch come out? Well, the game only ships with three maps for deathmatch, and the only game modes are single deathmatch (each player gets a squad) and single DM (8 players individually). These numbers are both abysmally small. You can get unlock codes for four more maps, brining the total up to 7. Unlike Gears or Ghost Recon where game modes make up for lack of maps, there’s only two, essencially identical game modes. Code Masters opted to release a network patch so you don’t get dropped from games all the time (sometimes that costs you all your points and achievements), but they said the rest of the fixes would come out with the mappack.

You have to pay money for the mappack, thus you have to pay money for the patch.

I don’t really know what codemasters was thinking – anyone who buys the game used won’t get the maps, and there’s plenty of people who are going to be buying this turd used. Maybe they get a kickback from gamestop. I’m trading it in while I can still get $25 for it and buying Modern Warfare 2. Maybe when Battlefield Bad Company 2 comes out (what is with these terrible titles?) we’ll have a half decent total war game.

Perdomo Lot 23

Good god what the hell.

For all the positive reviews this cigar got, it was only passable in my opinion. This reflects one of the few honest reviews I think someone gave them.

Appearance: Nice wrapper, but what is this a picture of on the band? Pompeii? There’s a house with a mountain in the background but it’s really not terribly attractive. It feels pretty low-fi.

Light: OH GOD THIS IS STRONG TASTING WHAT THE HELL. I’m told there’s a lot of variation in the cigar, but I almost got “chemical” out of it smelling it. There’s no real discernible flavor here.

First Third: Again, no real flavor, just a strong, cedar taste out of it. I felt it was overwhelming, I almost wished it had less woody flavors and the whole thing was subdued. I tried letting it rest but it didn’t improve much.

Second Third: Seems like I get the walnuts people talk about but it’s like astringent walnuts. While the flavor is there, the taste and heat is strong enough it’s not pleasant. I let the cigar rest here and it took some vanilla notes but the whole thing is framed in that strong cedar backdrop which is hard to get over. I feel like if I let it air out, it might be better.

Final Third: It gets really good right before it gets too hot to smoke. Vanilla and cream for maybe three puffs worth.

Verdict: 5/10, this is overpriced at $5/stick MSRP for the quality. Or, if you do like them, store them for a year or two, then hit it up. There’s a lot of potential here once things calm down a bit, but don’t expect it to roll out of the box. Also a quick warning: Since the allure of these cigars is in their construction (all one farm, all one lot of plants, all within the same 10 square feet of one another), they are going to vary quite a bit.

Army of TWO Review

If you liked Gears of War, check out Army of Two.

It’s basically Gears without the scifi angle, but the gameplay is exactly the same.

The only addition is the “AGGROMETER”. How distracted the bad guys are from the other player. If you shoot at them (miss, hit, or HEADSHOT) the badguys start paying attention to you. There’s some crazy bullettime maneuver that works entirely like Max Pain – whoever activates OVERKILL either goes crazy with bullettime and shooting while the other guy remains invisible.

The only gripe I have it that I constantly try to slide into cover only to have my guy climb over whatever I’m trying to hide behind. Unlike gears, there’s no separate button for melee attacks, and ammo seems scarcer. It’s not uncommon to exhaust your primary and be low on your secondary before finding either a place to stock up or killing someone who has some ammo left that works in your weapon. Unlike gears, you can’t grab weapons off the ground, but you wouldn’t want to.

Army of Two has the ammo shop you’ll either love or hate, which lets you buy weapons and upgrade. Primaries are all assault rifles or squad automatic weapons. Secondaries are all sub machine guns or pistols. Special weapons are fun – they’re sniper rifles or miniguns or other stupidity like an RPG. Upgrades are barrels, clip size, whatever but it’s mostly cosmetic representations of damage, accuracy, recoil, clip size, and arrgo (how much attention it attracts to use that weapon). Upgrades can be exclusive – the G36 with the pistol grip improves accuracy and recoil, but the shotgun will hurt accuracy and recoil while improving the damage greatly. Basically, figure out how you want to play the game and upgrade from there. It feels like it’s going to make a tactical difference but really the 50 cal sniper rifle does the same damage as the fully upgraded G36 but it zooms in much further. Buy something which suits your play style and work from there – there’s no surprises. Weapons which dish out damage can be upgraded to dish out more damage, but they don’t get much more accurate. Weapons which are accurate can be made more accurate. Weapons which are well rounded do everything decently without being stellar at any one thing. The only extra factor is “aggro”, which “pimped” upgrades (think: golden AK47). But again, if the G36 does 80% of the damage of the 50 cal fully upgraded, there’s no reason to buy the 50 – just shoot everyone twice.

This is where the game falls flat – you can’t buy ammo. You start with a full primary, generic grenades and secondary and that’s it. They don’t fill the special weapon unless you’re on a mission that needs it (parachute insertion). This is intentional since there’s plenty of situations someone hanging back and sniping would work swimmingly well while the other guy collects the aggro. If you said “that’s how I beat Gears of War!” you’re right. They don’t let you do that however. The emphasis is on keeping the game and you and your teammate close together. This is also where ass-to-ass mode comes in, it’s basically double bullet time where you and your buddy do twice the damage in slow motion at the risk of someone tossing a grenade or blowing themselves up and killing you both. Later missions this becomes vogue, if you don’t kill the explosives guys you end up getting knocked out of ass-to-ass mode.

The last deviation from Gears is the addition of the GPS. This is what pissed me off about Gears – it was pretty easy to get turned around since all the indoor stuff looked generic. Army fixes this by having a GPS with a path on it you can activate and it also has locations of observed traps and such. It still suffers from Gears “rail shooter” feel sometimes but the areas feel bigger which makes it a bit less hokey. Exploration is encouraged in the form of extra objectives and briefcases filled with money people leave laying around. Unlike gears, you can’t just leave your buddies to go exploring and “get around to” reviving them. Your buddies will eventually bleed out or get executed if left on their own (a lot like Gears online). Unlike Gears, downed buddies can shoot (not well) and you can drag them while shooting. The shooting-while-down leads to Blackhawk Down-esque moments but it’s really only good at bringing down people right on top of your position trying to execute you. Otherwise you end up simply drawing fire to an already bad position. This does occasionally lend itself to some unintentionally hilarious moments. Since grenades are “true” (they hurt everyone in the radius, friend or foe), there’s been times I’ve run behind the “bosses” (guys wearing superior body armor which don’t take damage from the front) only to catch a grenade tossed by the cannon-fodder which severely damaged the boss while also knocking my player down. With the “shoot while down” addition, this makes it a good strategy to suicide-squeeze the boss and then empty the clip into him from the back once he turns towards your buddy. Since most of the levels end shortly after killing the boss (or when you kill him), you go down and all your aggro is transferred to your buddy – just in time for you to kill the boss and end the level before you bleed out.

Three Philosophers Belgian Style Blend (Quadrupel) Review

If my previous touch with Ommegang was bad, this more than made up for it…

Appearance – A bit less carbonated than I expected, there wasn’t even a pop from the bottle. The pour revealed a bit of a head, which seemed to lay low and stick around. There was a good, but not spectacular bit of lace. If you sat around in a cave for three years, you might not be terribly exciting either.

Smell – Really good. Dark fruit, toffee (but not butter), coffee, vanilla, but not roasty despite what you would expect given the flavor profile. No astringency, hops, tannins. Reminds me of dark port wine. Cherries and dark malts, but nothing that screams syrup or otherwise artificial flavors and colors. Does not contain MSG.

Taste – Ah, the big one. Whereas the other Ommegang seemed like it was all hands with dark malt syrup and cherry soda, this one had hit it’s stride. The cherry note is still there, but no longer soda syrup. The dark malts are there. You can even find some hops in there. But I do think there’s oak in the back, maybe some dryness on the sides and combined with the nose, that seems to indicate coffee and port wine. The effect is spectacular, and there’s absolutely no alcohol taste to be found. This is good – it’s aged spectacularly well.

Mouthfeel – About right. A bit heavy, but this is required. More carbonation would be nice but I do understand the corks can be iffy. I sort of wish it did have more carbonation though, either the blending got it or the corks don’t hold enough pressure for me.

Drinkability – Very drinkable for a quad. Drink responsibly, this one absolutely will sneak up on you.

Serving type: bottle