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.

Settlers of Catan for XBox Live

If you’ve got an XBOX 360 this is probably a post for you.

Bad Company 2 – I haven’t tried onslaught mode. Jon says it’s good but with the AI being lackluster at times it’s tough to pay $10 for it when it’s just Gears of War 2’s squad camp mode. The new maps (which are really old maps shoved into a new mode) are terrible. OK it’s sort of cool to have new vehicles but if you put them on a crap map the entire experinece is soured. The rebalanced weapons patch means that the shotguns are grossly overpowered since a lot of guns now do a lot less damage. Since the shotgun shoots 8 “bullets” and only one bullet to the head kills a player, shotgun sniping goes back to being a valid tactic.

UNO on XBOX Live – Dropping you into a game sort of sucks since a lot of players who know they’re going to lose simply drop out. The pauses while someone drops in or out are stupidly long. People tend to put the controller down. People with a headset tend to talk about being high, a ghost in the room unseen by others named “mom”, or AVATAR THE LAST AIRBENDER. Strategy is almost nonexistent. I’ve lost a few simply because someone feels some overwhelming need to play a draw 2 on you which means you can’t possibly play your draw 2 on the guy who called uno. The AI is marginal at best even set to hard and will not fill in more than half the seats. I swear to god the desk isn’t random.

Catan on XBOX Live – My wife hates economy games while I love them. If you’ve played Ticket To Ride, that’s Catan Lite. It’s well worth leaning to play. Catan reminds me of monopoly without the four and a half hour long time commitment. (What would fix monopoly would be having a quarter of the properties on the board). I know you can play Catan online for free. Frankly they should make economy games required playing in school because no-one seems to know how money works anymore. Anyway, Catan is worth the $10 because the online players tend not to suck on the whole, but the AI also can give you a real run for the money. The “roundhouse strategy” (build a ring of settlements around the middle tile) gets far too much play online and I’ve seen people drop out simply because they didn’t get a complete ring. Note that you can use this strategy to effect a monopoly on resources, but a lot of people don’t use or want to use the counter strategy of buying the soldiers to move the robber. On the other hand if you get the center ring, no-one else can get that middle tile. If you don’t ring it out, other people can lock down their part of the board. Strategy aside, the AI is damn good and they give you a stats tracker at the end of the game showing the dice rolls and everything else. It’s enough to make sure you feel like you got a fair shake on the deck and dice.

EA’s Online Pass

The long and the short of it: EA is playing games with content in terms of the “online pass”. For Battlefield 2, it was a few maps and the VIP Pass would get you them. Don’t have a pass? Pay up $12 and you can get the maps. Preorders also came with perks unlocked for high level players. There’s two problems I see with this system. One being that it’s not uncommon to have multiple gamer tags on an XBOX. I know my wife keeps one and I keep one. We got fed up with the permissions being different and this gamertag having something that the other gamer tag didn’t, so my wife doesn’t user her tag anymore. The net result is that MS loses their $50 a year. But, this was only for netflix or whatever, it never was really codified for games. Now there’s stories of people saying that they’re unhappy that two gamertags on the xbox have access to different content. Now as a parent, if my two kids wanted to play xbox and I either had to pony up $12 or save $50/year for a gold gamertag, it only makes sense to drop the one subscription. And, since a lot of the XBOX games don’t play with two people split screen against random strangers on XBox Live, it’s not like the lack of a second gamertag puts a dent in anyones gaming.

However, the vague threat of letting $50 subscriptions keel over a year later doesn’t really impress Microsoft – where I see the push against this coming from are services like NetFlix and GameFly and even the MS Games on Demand service. The games on demand service in particular doesn’t give you anything – even a manual. How are people supposed to get the codes? What happens when the game is $5 and the code is $12? Or for gamefly and netflix, does EA think people are really going to pay money to play online? Probably not. More on the point if I were gamefly, I would probably be suing EA for anticompetitive practises.

Bad Company 2 Initial Impressions

I play very few genres on the XBOX. I play racing games, I play shooters and I play demos of other genres to remind me why I stick to the genres I do. Before anyone flames me that X is better than Y, understand I liked Operation Flashpoint 2, I liked Modern Warfare 2 and I like Bad Company 2. Out of all three, I like them least-to-most in that order. Flashpoint took the cake for having the most potential and the worst execution. Making me pay for patches is a no-no. Modern Warfare 2 had slick execution and excellent graphics, but the multiplayer was absolutely ruined and they botched the patch. Bad Company 2 seems like the game I wanted to play in the first place.

Usually these choices keep me happy.

Multiplayer is also a huge factor. If the game doesn’t have multiplayer, I’m probably not going to buy it. Reasons are entirely personal but my videogames need a good bit of tread to keep me interested.

Basically it boils down to time. I don’t have a ton of it and if I can’t play a round in 15 minutes or so it’s tough to play. Modern Warfare 2 scratched this itch. The singleplayer was great, the multiplayer was (initially) really good. My gripes about MW2 are numerous and they’ve been retread a ton on the blog. I finally got to the point where I picked it up for 15 minutes and played a few rounds and finally quit again in frustration. Two words: GOLDEN DEAGLE.

EBGames was having one of their power-trade things, so I figured I would dump Left 4 Dead 1 (which I didn’t trade to Amazon) and MW2. I ended up with a used copy of Battlefield Bad Company 2 (with a code in it for the maps, not sure if this is still relevant or not) for $17. Not bad, cheaper than beer, right?

Singleplayer review follows – everyone is reviewing multiplayer but I’m firmly convinced both MW2 and BC2 use singleplayer for training and thus it’s important to finish the campaign on normal just once before going online. In both cases this is true, but I haven’t finished the campaign yet in BC2. Also I’ll throw in Operation Flashpoint 2: Dragon Rising comparisons since, to be fair, BC2 has more in common with FP2 than MW2.

Menus – Strange to start a review here? Not really. While MW2 menus had a tendency to take up the entire screen and be well laid out (minus the weird main menu where you “drilled down” into an entirely different set of menus for multi or spec ops) both FP2 and BC2 borrow the “yellow bar” menu system. Don’t worry, it’s entirely usable, but seems a bit strange. In the game, FP2 uses Ghost Recon pie menus, but MW2 and BC2 share the same “bottom bar” menus for gadgets and options and whatnot. Also object interaction in MW2 and FP2 is nonexistent, but in BC2 it’s much closer to Left 4 Dead. If you can interact with something, you are either presented with what button to press (like MW2) or you can use the generic “mark” button (“back” on the controller) to call enemies, vehicles, etc. It’s all done quite nicely. The whole “press this button” or “mark” meme continues through the menus and the game and it flows quite nicely.

Enemy AI – FP2 failed it big time here. The game was entirely scripted, and this is OK, but it was done badly and in a way where if the player didn’t follow “the route”, the events wouldn’t be properly triggered. To make matters funnier, one of the singleplayer maps was terribly broken as a result. MW2 also features AI which is largely scripted. The bad guys always appear at the same places, with the same weapons, and take cover where they need to be. They would rarely break from cover. Even grenades are scripted in the MW2 single player campaign where someone will toss one at a predefined point. The level design is so linear in MW2 that it’s a rail shooter, but it’s so well executed you won’t notice. The AI in BC2 is good. While enemies still have patrol routes, they do make some attempt at maneuvering and they’re reasonably aware of the destruction to the environment. Good examples of this – in the second level if you blow out the wall to a building in the courtyard, enemies shooting from the windows will run away and find a new window. Examples of this being lackluster – if you sufficiently skirt the “engagement area” you can sneak around some obstacles without firing a shot. I’m fairly sure this is intentional as the areas this option presents itself with are usually so filled with bad guys it’s ridiculous. Examples are the lumber yard and the last area of the second map where you can ride a quad to the objective and leave the area onto the “escape truck” without engaging the bad guys.

Maps – Maps are well thought out for what BC2 will do. They understand you’re here to have fun, so they give you plenty of buildings to blow up and propane cans to kick around. They don’t make it overt where you’re destroying everything in your path (minus missions with airstrikes), and some of the missions require you to explicitly not do this. The overwatch area with the sniper rifle makes it incredibly tempting to simply run in and tap off all the gas cans to level the camp, but I failed the mission doing this. On the other hand, the mission with airstrikes is hilarious since the whole place comes down. MW2 is a rail shooter, and while BC2 suffers from the same bit of scripted bad guys, the AI is strong enough to let you get off course and try new stuff. In MW2, if you were smart enough to get in “the wrong place”, you could pretty much dominate the campaign. The terminal map comes to mind here (the end of “no russian”), where the shield guys are a real PITA, but if you were smart enough to run forward before the spawn event, you could literally walk down the line and knife them all without being hit. FP2 failed it utterly, thankfully it merely serves as example of what not to do. While FP2 had trigger areas and weak AI that relied entirely on scripting, BC2 has none of that.

Vehicles – MW2 fails it utterly. The entire game is a rail shooter so it’s no surprise when you step into a vehicle and its a rail shooter. FP2 had terrible vehicle physics, on par with Battlefield Vietnam. It wasn’t uncommon for vehicles to get stuck and to get stuck under vehicles. Actually running someone over might work, but usually not. Stepping out of vehicles was hilarious because you could fall through the planet. It was crap, all around. BC2 does it right. The vehicles might be over simplified but they work correctly. They don’t get stuck. The game is really good at dismounting you properly, including when you do intentionally stupid stuff like drive a boat at high-speed up the side of a hill to get a better shooting position for the cannon (lumberyard). Also FP2 wouldn’t let mounted soldiers fire, which was stupid as all heck but with the AI being as bad as it was, this didn’t surprise me. BC2 lets mounted soldiers fire. BC2 has vehicle damage, so when you blow out the windshield of a vehicle you can kill the driver, or you can shoot people off the quad bikes.

Blowing Crap Up – FP2 you assumed would let you drive over trees and stuff, it never happened. MW2 had scripted events where things would explode, and it had a strange bullet penetration system where sometimes you could shoot through a wall and sometimes not, even with FMJ equipped. BC2 has its own quirks where sometimes sandbags are indestructible, and sometimes not. However, vehicles seem to take the “correct” amount of damage, and so do walls and whatnot. More importantly you really can bring down trees, which provide additional cover if you’re infantry or obscure vehicles shooting and view. The trees thing is nice, and it never seems to get in the way. On the other hand blowing the crap out of buildings means – as infantry – you better surprise them or you’re  toast after the first few rounds.

Sound – Normally I don’t care about how my games sound so long as there’s music to establish the atmosphere, etc. FP2 sucked for this – everything was loud. MW2 had a good soundtrack and excellent voice acting. Bad Company 2 actually sounds real. I’m putting that in italics because the effect is so profound it’s visceral. I shoot in real life, I’ve played with rockets, I’ve blown up things where “danger close” would have been an ironic joke. Normally guns make generic “gunshot noises” and clips make “reloading noises” and explosions go “boom”. If you choose the proper speaker setup, the sound makes the firefights in Bad Company 2 absolutely intense. The guns make the right noises. Plastic clips (called “bullet tupperware”) make the right noises. Metal clips make the right noises. Linked belts make the right noises. More on the point you can hear the brass hit the floor and roll around (or grenades) or not, and standing outside lets you hear far more than standing inside. Also there’s a deafness model at work – if you empty a clip you won’t hear much of anything. If an explosion goes off near you, you won’t even hear teammates yelling. The aural model is really, really exceptionally well done.

I expect multiplayer to be more of the same. All in all I shouldn’t have bought FP2, it was a disaster. I don’t regret buying MW2, it was fun for what it was but in the end the users ruined it and Infinity Ward couldn’t keep up with Activision messing with them constantly. Battlefield Bad Company 2 is the game I should have bought in the first place, but frankly getting all three games for $20 each time because of trade ins means I don’t feel bad about the experience.

I’m Probably Trading in Modern Warfare 2

Ugh, what a mess. First Infinity Ward (IW) has it’s management scalped by activision because they didn’t want to actually pay someone for having the best selling game of all time, then two other managers resigned and nine more developers quit. 12 people is piss in the river for all the people who actually worked on it, but my guess is that it’s their top talent since it wouldn’t be worth it for some minor developer to make a stink about resigning.

What we’re left with is one addon pack which got released and was bugged at release, and we’ve got fundamental issues with how the game actually works for multiplayer. Despite the team doing a pretty decent job cracking down on the cheating, there’s still the fundamental problem that some user accounts have things like ranks they shouldn’t, weapons they shouldn’t, and camo they shouldn’t. These are legit accounts running on legit XBOXes which haven’t been modded, they just have extra attributes.

The modded XBOXes continue to see through walls, autoaim, all the perks listed above and modified weapons attributes. Nothing like finding yourself in a map with ice skaing enabled and sentry guns which shoot grenade launcher rounds. While it might be cool if these were codified into some kind of official mod, that’s not how it’s being used.

XBOX 360 Wireless Part Deux

I scored the D-LINK DWL-G730AP for the XBOX 360. This was suggested when researching wifi solutions. Amazon shipped it and it got here the next day. Hows that for service? To make a long story short, I had exactly an hour to set it up yesterday before I was supposed to hop on for work.

How did that go?

For one, I’m running Linux, so I never got to review their quick start CD. The manual, however, is total crap and I ended up downloading the PDF from the website. D-Link tends to be better and consistent across their administration interface, and I had owned one previously before getting a netgear for the XBOX 360’s wired connection. The XBOX 360 shits fat packets, and if your hardware isn’t certified your connection used to completely suck. Nowadays people figured out the trick and the firmwares work, but be aware if your router crashes (and the REV A hardware and firmwares before 2 do for this device) you need a newer device. The old D-Link did this to a T and the Amazon reviews pretty much say nothings improved since 2006. It either works, or not. Thankfully buying it news means you get Rev B, and firmware 2.

This does nothing for the UI.

The UI is junk, frankly. To start with it depends on a swith on the bottom to configure it as a client (what you need for the XBOX), a router (with only one uplink port, lol) or a firewall. The last mode is next to useless, but if you’re looking to add wifi connectivity to a switch or router, it might scratch your itch. The problem is that the firewall settings are godawful. This doesn’t become a problem if you’re not using it as an AP. On the other hand, the other settings are godawful too and it’s not hard to see why there’s a totally seperate UI on the disk.

Configuration is the standard D-Link blue and white UI. The problems start with that switch. The UI changes from the position of the switch, but the modes are all roughly the same and bits and pieces either appear and disappear based on that switches positon. Sometimes this makes no sense at all. Trying to configure the device for a bridge lets me set the LAN side to DHCP. This makes sense, right? We want the XBOX to get a new IP when we plug it in, right? No. This means the LAN side of the bridge is DHCP, which means that it’s no longer 192.168.0.30 and now expects to have it’s IP assigned. Since the XBOX, or your laptop isn’t a DHCP server, this makes no sense at all in bridge mode. Similarly the gateway should be unconfigured (0.0.0.0) and the DNS server too. Since this device cannot be a DNS server (or relay) I’m not even sure why they put those features in there. Also completely weird is the SSID search –  you must find your router using the wizard and select it with the radio-button. You also need to specify a channel and it can’t figure out the authentication on it’s own. Why? No idea. The Netgear stuff can cloak the SSID and hop channels to avoid interference, but not using this device.

The final insult was that – for configuration – you need a static IP. After configuration, you need a dynamic IP. This is probably something gracefully handled by the install disc, but it’s not mentioned anywhere in the manual. I spent most of my time second guessing the config. Finally I fired up the DHCP client and bound it to the eth0 device which already had a static IP configuration and it magically worked. However, you’re not told (or prompted) to switch your settings once the device is configured. If you’re wondering, the gateway is set to the IP of the LAN side, but DNS needs to be another server. Your IP address is dynamically assigned and the device actually treats the whole process as full NAT, which is exactly what needs to happen to host XBOX games.

I’ve thrown these things under the bus pretty badly, but to be honest, once it’s configured you don’t have to worry about it. I played Modern Warfare 2 last night with no hiccups, and also watched a few Netflix. I saw no issues with either, and Netflix gives me the “five bars of signal”. If you can put up with the terrible UI once, it’s worth the money compared to the same crap from Microsoft. It has the bonus of being usuable for any device with an ethernet port, so in this way it’s superior. Friends and hunting buddies who want to get online with their computers now can just use this business card sized device instead of me having to run cable. If I had to reconfigure it many times, I probably would suggest passing on it.

XBOX 360 WiFi

After the disaster that was the first attempt at XBOX 360 wifi (protip – 802.11N isn’t a standard yet), I decided to look for alternatives. Paying $60 for a glorified USB-bridge wasn’t my cup of tea because routers themselves are cheaper. Plus I have a Wii and everyone knows the encryption support is a joke.

Turns out there’s a ton of people who felt the same way, and they wrote documentation.

So, why do this when “official” MS adaptors are out there? Because the official support sucks. The Wii has to use crap encryption, you can’t hide your SID, etc. The XBOX 360 adaptor won’t even work in the next rev (although you can get an original XBOX wifi adaptor working if you can find it). Also maybe I want a tivo, how do I wifi that? The solution is to buy a supported device (as silly as it sounds, “supported” only indicates “it works”).

Or, for the same price, you could just buy this from Amazon and not be a total geek.