Doom – A Game Out of Time in All the Right Ways

Doom 2016Last night I finished up all of the achievements for the base set in DOOM, wrapping up one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had with a game in quite a while. From top to bottom, I think this was the most fun I’ve had with a shooter in years – giving games like Destiny and Call of Duty a run. While it’s still fresh on my mind, I thought I’d put down a couple things that kept popping up as I was playing it.

Maybe more than anything else, I couldn’t help but think that this game is exactly what an FPS game would look like if the advances of the last 10 years or so hadn’t happened. This is what a classic FPS game should look and play like. It’s a direct line of progression from the classic id shooters – taking what has always worked and adding in a couple sprinkles of modernity to foster exploration and completion. I kept thinking that this was exactly what DOOM should be – not trying to shoehorn in a convoluted story, or contrived RPG elements; it’s fast, it’s brutal, it rewards execution and precision and has just enough bells and whistles to keep you looking in all the nooks and crannies. It’s a classic style FPS boiled down to the most important elements, and done so, so well.

That feeling that DOOM thrives on is possible because of how well the game plays. Maybe there were a handful of times I felt like the controls or mechanics didn’t work for me – the only one that jumps out at me is when the mantling didn’t take. You’re rarely in a position where those traversal elements actually factor into a fight though. Instead the combat is built around the foundation of all FPS games – circle-strafing and jumping. No aiming down sights, no thrust packs and sliding – just point, shoot, strafe repeat. The additions that 2016 brings – weapon mods/masteries, Praetor suit upgrades, Hell Runes and Glory Kills – all just add in a couple new layers of depth to the combat. And that combat is as brutal as brutal can get. DOOM certainly earns its M rating, but not through heady themes like drugs or sex – no, this is a pure, blood-caked, innards coated romp through Hell. The Glory Kills in particular are so over the top it’s incredible – there are a handful of animations I found myself chuckling at as my gruff Doomguy ripped and teared. It’s a game that is so self aware without showing it – some games like to give that little wink to the player, this one just knows exactly what it is and goes about its business. It’s challenging, it’s a love letter to the early days of the genre and at the end of the day, it’s a damn fun game. If you have yet to play it, and have any interest at all in FPS games – especially the foundation of the genre – this is the perfect game to get.

Late to the Party – Overwatch

Overwatch Tracer SplashLast week I finally bit the bullet and picked up Overwatch, a game I’ve been super interested in after watching a bunch of Funhaus videos. I played the beta, enjoyed it, but let it go by the wayside. Now that I’ve put a week or so into the game, I thought I’d talk a bit about my thoughts with the Xbox One version.

I want to start with my biggest complaint, and that is that the story for the game and characters is being told outside of the game. There’s a bunch of animated shorts and comics that flesh out the world, and also the Heroes that you play. Since I was away from the game from launch until now, I had no clue about anything – I had to go on to the wiki to find out anything about the characters and story. On one hand, I understand that this isn’t really a game that depends on the story to drive the content – just pick a Hero and go to town. But Blizzard is one of the better developers out there at fleshing out a world and making the characters feel real, so I would have really liked to see something in game explaining it all.

Beyond that though, Overwatch has very quickly become one of the most fun games I’ve played this year. Even playing it solo, I’m having a blast pretty much every game I play. The only one that I really got annoyed with was a match on Numbani where the Defense team posted outside our spawn and just kept sniping in our doors – it took nearly the whole first phase to get out to the point. It’s a game that I absolutely understand is more fun with friends in a party to coordinate with. Even with that though, the roles are all pretty clearly defined where solo players should easily be able to have good teamwork. Each game mode feels similarly enough where you don’t have to play a few games in that type to get it under your thumbs, while still shaking up what team comp you should bring in. An escort match requires different Heroes and play than a control or hybrid match. Going in at level one, I certainly felt a little overwhelmed because the rest of the lobby was a bit higher ranked than I was, but the game does a great job of teaching you as you play that it wasn’t a learning curve at all. That of course is dependent on which Hero you play.

Overwatch Reinhardt

Of the handful of Heroes I’ve played so far – Reinhardt, Roadhog, Widowmaker, McCree, Reaper, Zenyatta and Genji – I’ve enjoyed every one, for different reasons. There’s a lot to dig into with the Heroes, and that really is why I haven’t tried some like Symmetra or Torbjorn since I see their learning curve a bit more intense than others. For me though, the most fun Hero I’ve played has to be Reinhardt – I have loved every game with him. I don’t normally like a support style tank, I usually lean more toward a Roadhog style, able to dish out a bunch of damage, but for whatever reason, Reinhardt has just been exactly the character I needed to pull me in completely. I just wish he had a little bit less reliance on healers or health packs. I also know that I’m coming in to the game at a little weird spot with the meta – on the competitive side of things, Zenyatta and Lucio are pretty much the most important characters on any team – and I need to learn the balance a bit more still. It boils, to me at least, back down to what I mentioned earlier – the roles that each character fits into is where that character will perform the best. The ones that are able to break their mold, those are the ones that are a little too strong – when a support/healer character like Zenyatta can dish out more burst damage than a number of other characters, that’s a problem. Same can be said with D.Va – a tank Hero that can dish out more sustained damage than almost any other Hero, with limited weaknesses. I don’t know when the next patch is inbound – I would expect maybe with Gamescom this week we might find out; we know that a new short is coming soon based around Bastion which might mean patch too. If that’s the case, I really hope that Zenyatta and D. Va come back to the pack a bit. We’re getting closer and closer to the fall deluge of games, with a superb lineup on deck, but if you haven’t picked up Overwatch yet, I think now is a perfect time. It’s a damn fun game, especially if you like old-school style arena FPS.

No Lack of Faith Here – Star Wars Battlefront Beta Impressions

Star Wars Battlefront

Yesterday marked the console launch of the Open Beta for Star Wars: Battlefront. After a relatively long download – busy servers I’m guessing – I was able to play a few matches and get a pretty good feel for how I think it’s going to unfold.

The big thing that was on my mind going in was just how close this new Battlefront would feel compared with the old classics from 10 years ago. So far, it feels very similar – but I think that’s more due to the strength of the Star Wars licence. DICE did a good job of not making it just a reskin of Battlefield with lasers. I really like the infantry system in place for the secondary items. Instead of worrying about ammo and item count, you have two item “hand” cards to pick, along with a “top-card” item that requires charges. The hand cards recharge after using them – you don’t need to worry about grenade count or secondary ammo. Just keep your cooldowns in mind, and you’ll be at full power frequently. Ammo in general is a thing of the past here – your blaster has a meter to watch before it overheats, but there’s no reloading (which takes a little to get used to) and you don’t have much in the way of recoil to watch either.

I would offer up this one caution if you’re unsure about Star Wars: Battlefront. It isn’t a true hardcore shooter. If you go in expecting a set of game mechanics like Call of Duty or Battlefield, you will be disappointed. It’s still got a competitive feel to it, but it just seems a bit more about the overall experience to me. I don’t feel like I’m going to be worried about my K/D or overall win/loss with this game. I think I’m going to be more interested in the moments that happen in the games – especially in Walker Assault, or playing as the hero characters. That was how I always used to play the classic games too. There are plenty of other, more intense shooters in the market this fall if I want a more competitive game; Star Wars is all about the fact that Star Wars is just plain awesome.

Titanfall: One Year Later the Titans Still Work

TitanfallNow that we’re officially into March, it’s been one full year since the launch of Titanfall, the first game from Respawn Entertainment. It had a lot of hype going in – a new FPS IP from the creators of the Modern Call of Duty format. Add in that it was coming from EA – not Call of Duty‘s publisher Activision and the story was rich enough before the game even was released. There was extra pressure since it was also Exclusive to Microsoft – PC and Xbox only. And to tell the truth there was a lot riding on the success of the game for the Xbox One. It was the first FPS that really was built for the “Next-Gen” system’s abilities. Running on the Microsoft Cloud was supposed to keep lag at a minimum – and the game also had the ability for players to choose their server locations to help that further.

Titanfall Expedition

The question then is, one year later, did the game live up to the expectations? The short answer is yes, but there’s a lot more going on here. Sure, it sold well, and had a pretty solid player base for a while – although the numbers have really dropped. I played a couple games this week to refresh myself and the biggest player count was in Attrition with just about 6,000 worldwide players. But the impact really goes beyond the numbers with Titanfall. It gave the Xbox One some life early on in the console’s lifespan – which it really needed. The PS4 came in with a bit more receptive audience than the Xbox One, which you could argue is still the case, but with Titanfall the public began to look at the Xbox with a little more positive views. Having an exclusive, especially one that’s an FPS, was a huge plus for the early days of the Xbox One. Beyond that, Titanfall also helped illustrate a fundamental shift in the design of FPS games. We’ve seen it now with Advanced Warfare  and Destiny as well, and even in Halo 5. The days of waist high walls are seemingly past, and we now have games that are built around movement and speed. Each game has approached it in different ways, but I still think that Titanfall has done it best. The emphasis on wall running really helps keep the flow of pilot combat fast paced – it was rare to see much down time in a full lobby. Even the Titans had a lot more mobility than I think anyone really expected.

Titanfall Frontier's Edge

Titanfall I think will end up being one of those games that in a few years, we’ll look back at as one of the first true Next-Gen games. It was a completely fresh take on a genre that’s as old as any – and one that tends to get stagnant after a couple years. Regardless of how long this trend of mobility-focused shooters lasts, Titanfall will have been the first one out. There’s really no way, without talking with all the developers out there, to know exactly how much influence the game has had right now; but I do think if we look at what FPS games look like at E3 we might be able to start to see just how important it was. The post-launch DLC season was kind of short – only three packs with three maps in each; but the season pass was also cheaper than usual – it was $30 instead of the usual $50. But Respawn also had a bunch of free updates that were rolled in with patches that added in tons of content – the Black Market for Burn Cards, Private Matches, Titan Customization and the Co-op Frontier Defense all were free content add-ons. I would have liked to see the player-base hang on to the game for a bit longer, but we’ll see how it goes with the sequel. While it hasn’t been officially confirmed, I think it’s a given that EA and Respawn will have a second game out in a year or so.

What Makes a Perfect FPS Map?

I have returned, from the throws of a nasty cold and I have in mind for today a post spurned by watching a video on YouTube over the weekend. WatchMojo.com – a site that produces lots of Top 10 countdown videos on YouTube across all sorts of topics. Over last week they released one that intrigued me right away – the Top 10 FPS multiplayer maps. Normally I watch them for entertainment, but of course, this is my area of interest – I watched this one with a bit more intent. So, in the mind of fairness – here is their top 10 countdown:

Now instead of just offering up my top 10 and calling it a day, which would be rather simple, I thought I’d look more at a top level here. Rather, let’s look at what exactly goes into what we could consider a perfect FPS multiplayer map.

Blood Gulch

Let’s begin with our set-up. If you really break it down, the maps ultimately boil down to one of two set-ups: Symmetrical, or not. Generally, that focus helps determine if the map will perform well both as an objective map or as a free-for-all/deathmatch style one. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it has to define how the map will play – for example, Crash (from Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare) – it’s an asymmetrical map, but it still manages to work in any game mode. Same with Blood Gulch (from Halo) – it’s symmetrical, but yet still works well for slayer games too. So the top down, overall arrangement is the first step – but it’s also got to be fitting for the scale of your player count. A big symmetrical map in a game that based more around close range encounters doesn’t make any sense and in the end won’t be a good map. It’s the problem with a map like Wasteland (Modern Warfare 2) – it’s a fine map, assuming you play it in Ground War, anything else feels too sparsely populated. So the next major factor to look into is size – large maps work as long as you’re building a game that works for large player count. Look at Titanfall – all the maps are large to accommodate the Titans, and even though the player count is small (only 6) the population of A.I. helps make them still work. But if you remove the Titans, and the maps don’t work, same with if you had small maps with Titans.
Facing Worlds
So, if we look at the final major factor, we can really get a feel for what our map will be. That final factor is the flow – all the extra little details that you put into the maps to direct players around it. Staircases for vertical play, objects for cover in firefights and routing for multiple paths all help give our map personality. The actual setting for the map really doesn’t necessarily matter – as long as it fits in with the setting of your game, that’s fine. If you took, let’s say, Facing Worlds from Unreal Tournament, and used the same design philosophy, but designed it with Call of Duty aesthetics and it could work – as long as you make sure that the flow still works.
Modern Warfare Crash
It’s not an easy thing to do – look at all your favorite games and I’m sure that you’ll find a couple maps that you just don’t like. For me right now, it’s been BioLab in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare – I find the flow just doesn’t really work with the gameplay. Instead of having hotpoints to focus around, it just feels like the map is a constantly rotating set of hotpoints around the spawn zones. That’s really part of the issue across the whole Call of Duty series – so many maps across the games are great looking, well built maps that are saddled with the issue of spawning. But that’s the fun of games like this – one map that’s a miss can fuel the desire for the next game’s batch, and that could mean a classic one.

First Person Shooters: My Journey as a Virtual Soldier

Advanced Warfare CoverThis might be the best 6 months for the FPS genre I can ever remember seeing. Between Destiny in September, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and Halo: Master Chief Collection in the next two weeks; followed by Far Cry 4 and Evolve in the Spring, and Battlefield Hardline next spring as well, the genre is stacked with incredible games. That’s discounting Titanfall from this past spring, which I think really provided a major boost to the genre. With all of these great games on the horizon, I got to thinking about my history with FPSes. I thought it would be pretty cool to put down my thoughts here.

I got started with shooters back in the glory days of PC shooters – the first one I ever played was Quake II. Gamers today think of CoD Vs Halo when they think of shooters, but really the first duality of games was Quake Vs Unreal. I was more of a Quake fan, preferring Quake II over the story-based Unreal games. When I started playing online I came on at the perfect time – Quake III and Unreal Tournament were just coming into their own. The style of shooter has really changed drastically over these last 20 or so years, arcade style shooters are essentially all but gone from the market. But the skills that I learned with those games are still incredibly important, even with all the new advancements. Playing the Crucible in Destiny has really helped bring those different aspects of my particular game into focus. From the old guard, movement was so important, with jumping in particular being a key part of the game. Which really boils down to the fact that the Rocket Launcher was king back in those days, and jumping helped to mitigate as much of the splash damage. That tactic has remained in my skill-set ever since.

Halo Master Chief Collection

Which brings me to the next major game in my journey – Halo. That game sold me on the Xbox, convincing me to go out and pick up Microsoft’s first console. But beyond that, Halo may be responsible for shaping how I approach online shooters more than any other game. Strafing was so incredibly important in the first game, especially against other good players armed with that awesome pistol, that if you played Halo in any competitive way, you were all but guaranteed to get great at it. For better or worse, my first instinct in games now in firefights is to start strafing, using the same basic ideas I did way back in 2001. I also reload after every single gunfight, thanks to Halo, where you needed as many shots as possible. That’s gotten me killed more than I’d like in recent games where it’s not quite as important – especially in Call of Duty, where you only need a couple shots to kill; but it’s been ingrained in my game since then. That said, the most important skill I took from Halo was map knowledge. It’s a complex skill that has a simple tag – when I say map knowledge, I don’t just mean knowing the layout of the maps, I intend a much deeper meaning. With Halo in particular, it was key to know when power weapons would be spawning, along with the power-ups, so you needed to keep timing in your head, along with their spawn locations. Now that weapon drops are basically a thing of the past, map knowledge really boils down to map flow. I pride myself on learning quickly how players go about approaching each map – especially off the initial spawn – and using that knowledge to help keep me higher up on the leaderboard.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare

Which is a great segue to start talking about Call of Duty. I’ve seen a few articles this week talking about the decline of the franchise’s sales, and that they might continue through this year. I’ll talk about that a bit more on Friday during the news recap, but I really think that’s totally overblown – the series is actually I think in a pretty good spot to be. But it is a series in flux – Titanfall really helped illustrate that gamers were open to a change. Destiny, for all it’s flaws, provides players with a real unique option for competitive play. Where Call of Duty really stands out is in Pro/MLG – Destiny and Titanfall really don’t function well as a truly MLG option. There’s such a close tie with CoD and Halo with MLG that I think both will have strong upcoming rotations. As for lessons that you can learn from the Call of Duty franchise, it’s a little hard to pinpoint them. The series is so diverse from game to game, but there are a few important things to keep in mind. Map knowledge continues to be incredibly important, but what I’ve found more so is communication. In the other games I’ve pointed out, it’s pretty easy to excel while being a lone wolf. While it’s still possible to do that in CoD, especially in Team Deathmatch – playing any objective game, it’s much more important to have at least a couple teammates that you can talk with. It gets you more kills, less deaths, and a much better chance to win the game’s objective.

One of the things that I’ve always liked about shooters is that they allow me to play exactly how I want. Over the course of the last 18 years or so, since I’ve really been playing them, I’ve been able to determine what exactly that playstyle is for me. What I’ve learned is that I am a fast-paced, close range, reckless guy online. I play the objective, I like being in the thick of things. And I like to think that I’ve learned a lot over the years playing these games. They’re fun games, that tend to dominate sales every year; but still get flak online for being “fluff.” Chill out and enjoy the firefights – it’s a really wonderful time to get into shooters after all.

Titanfall Beta Impressions Part 2!

I said last week that I had a lot of stuff about the Titanfall Beta that I wanted to talk about, and that I would finish up today. So let’s dive right in, shall we? If you missed last weeks post, where I talked about a bunch of specific things like weapons and the Titans, feel free to go check it out now. This week I’m going to look at the beta from a broad view, looking more at how the game played and my overall impressions with it.

Titanfall

So let’s start with the part I was most worried about going in to the beta – the balance between Pilots and Titans. Prior to actually sitting down and playing the game, I was worried that when the enemy team had Titans up, that would be all she wrote; that the players on foot wouldn’t have a chance at destroying the Titans. I think in general, Respawn did a really good job of giving the Pilots a real chance against Titans – there were only two anti-Titan weapons, but both worked really well at causing some damage, plus the rodeo feature makes every Pilot a threat in a fight. Now, going against three Titans on foot is a really bad idea without some Titan backup, but in general, a Pilot really has a good chance against a Titan. This balance is easily the most important part of the game – mess it up, and the game just wouldn’t work. So kudos to Respawn there for getting it right so far.

Check out my clip of me taking out a Titan in style – on foot.

Next I want to talk about what I think was the breakout star of the beta – the parkour system. Going in I think most fans were most anticipating hopping into Titans and crushing enemies that way. After a few rounds, I found myself delaying calling in my Titan, because playing on foot is just so much fun. And again, this was a really important part of the gameplay that Respawn had to nail, or it would kill the fun and mire down the action. One thing that struck me early on in the beta was the pace of the gameplay. Thanks to the parkour system, the pace is way faster than Call of Duty, Battlefield or Halo, by a fairly noticeable amount. It’s not quite Tribes, but it’s definitely closer to that series than any other shooter out there now. And the parkour system is so smooth – no extra button pushes, just fluidly run along walls and jump all over the environment.

I hate to use the phrase “game-changer” because I think it’s way to early to crown Titanfall one – this was just a week long beta after all, with a limited experience for sure. But I think that the seeds are sown for it – assuming that the full game builds on everything we saw in the beta I think it’s not a big leap of faith to say Titanfall could be this generation’s breakout shooter. We still have to wait and see what Destiny does, as well as the next entries in Call of Duty and Halo, but I think the trend is going to skew back towards high mobility like we saw in Titanfall. The past seven years have all been featuring shooters with strong cover systems – Gears of War, Call of Duty and Battlefield especially come to mind. I think the audience is ready for a change, and Titanfall is not only coming out at the right time, but also is doing it very well. So we’ll see in a few weeks if “game-changer” is appropriate, but based solely around the beta, I think we definitely have a great shooter on our hands here, one that I think we’ll be playing for years down the road.

Next week I plan on giving you guys my impressions on Thief, which comes out tomorrow, Feb. 25, as well probably talking a bit about something I’ve come to really enjoy over the last four years or so – Achievements.