Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Operation Metro 2014 - A study in AWFUL...

Second Assault, the second DLC expansion and, previously, timed Xbox-One exclusive for Battlefield 4, has hit all Premium players' platforms on February 18th, and will be available for everyone else to buy on the... 4th of March (February is iffy when it comes to counting days). "Finally!" or "Sadly...", well, that depends on your personal preference. I know what mine is, though (and I will be dropping subtle hints from now on out).

Second Assault, or "Second Insult", as I like to think of it, is probably one of the "cheapest" map packs I can remember. Featuring four (allegedly) re-imagined "Fan-Favorite Maps" from the abysmal Battlefield 3, they're really not new at all. And there really is nothing much new about any of the maps. As such, DICE did not really have to put much work or effort into it, and they really didn't.

So, Firestorm 2014 has some more destruction - no, wait, "Levolution", they call that - to, mostly,  make fires.

So, Gulf of Oman, the remake of the remake originally from BF2, has a sandstorm to blind and annoy you.

So, Caspian Border has a tunnel, a wall, and the huge tower can be blown apart - and is hands down the best map of this debacle, not in the least because 64 players make it finally feel not completely deserted.

So the grass, once lit-up, burns away - in those two maps, where there is grass, anyway. Big deal.

But the one that undoubtedly stands out is "Operation Metro 2014".
Hailed and celebrated by Battlefield players all over the world as "the worst BF map, ever", and welcomed as "exciting, new and tactical" by the pre-pubescent "Call of Duty"-Crowd, the Original Operation Metro was bad. It was small, cramped, with no destructible environs, and so blithely linear, so painfully lacking in flanking routes, that it was nothing but a repetitive, one-way meat grinder. There just had to be something wrong with a map, if the Rush map was bigger than the Conquest Map. That was Battlefield 3. And it was horrible. But, to my profound shock, it's even worse in BF4.

Now, with BF4 and 64-player Conquest, everyone, including me, expected some big changes to the map, and the previews did look somewhat encouraging. You could see walls coming down, and the ceiling collapsing, and you thought "Oh my, I can't wait to see what else they changed, and use these new features to get outside the metro for some flank and maneuver warfare!" Because there just had to be a way now to flank into the back of an enemy entrenched in the center of the map around capture point B - like the outside area in the, comparatively amazingly open, BF4 map Operation Locker. For that matter, with 64 players, they would have to open up the whole map and add at least two additional capture points, not just the inside areas and that little square outside near the Russian Spawn. Right? Right?

Sadly, that was not the case. The Conquest map size, despite playing with almost three times as many people, is the exact same as before. The number of capture points? The same as before. The ways to maneuver behind an entrenched enemy? The same as before (meaning: none).
Yes, there have been a few "additions", although those quotation marks indicate, that "additions" is quite relative:
You can bring down a good number of ceilings throughout the level (once) to try and kill people beneath it. Of course, nothing stops the enemy from eliminating those dangers safely before you can even get there and try to use them to your advantage.
And there are two, presumably valid, new "flanking" routes, a very narrow hallway and some elevators, but all those really do is... well, nothing, except give you new places to run to to die.

As in BF3's Metro, the main objective is to "run-like-fuck to Capture Point B" and try to hold it. And since there are only three points and no way at all to get around Point B to the points on the other side, Point B wins the match. The problems with this are many and, to me at least, mysterious - as in "Why the Fuck were they allowed to be there?!"

And I do have Video Proof:

And now, that you have seen the problems, it's time to read about them:

Problem number 1: The Russians win. Why? It's pretty simple, really. The Russian team can reach point B quicker than the US team.

Problem 2: The Russians win. Why? Because not only can they reach B faster, but, to reach B from their side, the US team must fight up through five extremely narrow bottlenecks without any cover at all: two bands of narrow escalators, two very narrow elevators, one stairwell and that one new hallway. And despite this being a video-game, moving and fighting uphill is always harder than standing at the top of the hill and throwing down grenades.

Problem 3: The Russians win. Why? Because even if the US team should manage to get a foothold upstairs at the front of B, through the elevators or the first set of escalators, they are stuck, in a pretty small area, behind another set of choke points - completely vulnerable from at least two sides.

Problem 4: The Russians win. Why? Because grenades and bullets trump smoke and mirrors. With the choke points being so narrow and predictable (since severely limited), tossing some smoke to obscure your approach or a flashbang to stun entrenched enemies does not really help. 32 grenades do not care if they see you or not. Bullets from a Light Machine Gun pointed at a doorway, or down a hallway, do not care if you are obscured by smoke.

Problem 5: The Russians win. Why? While the same map in BF3 was horribly lame, at least it wasn't predetermined to be this one sided - for the simple reason that you only fought against 12 players. You could push through 12 players, even 12 decent players. In BF4, there's 32 enemy players doing nothing but throwing or shooting grenades downhill, or waiting for the elevators to open or someone to run around a corner up a one-man wide hallway, and start shooting fish in a barrel. Oh, sure, it might just be possible to push through with an organized team of 20, or even 10 people, but it's very, very easy for even for 32 monkeys to stand somewhere and throw grenades.

So, in the end, 9 times out of... well, 9, the Russians win. It's not a fight, it's a slaughter, with one side helplessly running up a hill of death.

Now, some might say it's easy to recapture a Russian-held Bravo with the US team:
"You just need to coordinate the team, get some smoke, some incendiary grenades, 10 of those MP-APS systems at the bottom of the stairs, a group of supports with the Airburst to keep the enemy in cover, then you feint to the right, throw some smoke, then all 32 people throw grenades up the stairs and rush the center, through smoke, with incendiaries securing the flank, and yes, the first few rows will get mowed down something fierce, but if everyone just pushes, it can be done!"

To which the Russian Team responds:
"You. Throw Granada. Down there. Then do again."

Whether or not it's even possible to get 32 video game players to do something together in a coordinated way, is another thing entirely. And I've heard of people using Skype to circumvent the (still embarrassing) 8 people party limit on PS4, and try to get whole teams together. But the fact that one team pretty much has to mount a complicated, coordinated attack, while all the other team has to do is spam grenades and shoot at huge targets piling out of very small doors, should speak for itself.

Operation Metro 2014 is an insult, and in its Conquest Large 64-Player iteration by far the worst multiplayer map ever conceived. And what's worse, people will still love it...

For all your PS4 or Xbox One needs, especially the European needs, head over to Amazon UK - best deals in Europe (mostly). For TV or Movie Streaming needs, as well. Yes, I do buy there myself. Exclusively. Unless I find a better deal, elsewhere...

Friday, February 7, 2014

the SH!T that HAPPENS (right about now...)

So, now that Warframe on PS4 is finally starting to make sense to me - and others, I might add - it only makes sense to leave the Frames alone for a while. And that has absolutely nothing to do with my monumental lack of coverage concerning the first ever PS4 Community Event, the Cicero Crisis. It was pretty fun, though. Sorry you missed it :)

Anyway, let's take a look around at other stuff happening in the world of gaming. Not all the stuff, but at least the stuff that caught my interest.

Where to start? The Battlefield. Battlefield 4 has had its share of issues - on all of the five platforms it has released on, a feat, that has sadly been buried under, might in fact be partly responsible for, said issues. As is a universal custom among the universally malcontent gaming customer, people have been clamoring for some "free stuff to compensate us for yadda, yadda, bla". Which, with EA as a publisher, was like asking the proverbial Wall to just go away where our head is going to go through. Then EA actually does give people stuff for free, and makes me look like an idiot.
Yes, I speaketh the truth:
BF4 Player Appreciation Month is in full effect, and giving you muchos freebies.
Every weekday, a log-in will net you a Bronze Battlepack, every Saturday and Sunday, there'll be a Silver Battlepack waiting for you. Those packs contain everything from XP Boosts to Cammo to Weapon Attachments, and are, as such, pretty nice. You could earn those simply by playing, but still. Nice, DICE.
More free access to equipment can be gotten by two upcoming Unlock Shortcuts, completely - and voluntarily - unlocking all grenades and handguns (of the main game, not the extensions). It's a shortcut, yes, but you don't have to, if your ego won't let you. It's mostly for newcomers and absentees, and I do welcome it.

Finally, a series of community events (everyone, do this so often in that time), will get everyone Golden Battlepacks, those with the rarest free stuff to be had. The first event, 10.000.000 Dog Tags in 6 days across all platforms, is running right now, so go ahead and stab someone.
They also promise more interaction between devs and the community, but I will believe that when... well, never. Gonna happen. Oh, you can also download BF4 Ringtones for your phone. And one has to wonder, which part of its customer base a "Mature" rated game wants to appreciate that way...
Anyway, it's not free Premium or something, but it's nice to be told you're appreciated. And apparently, what we get is the measure of appreciation we deserve. Or do we?

Moving on, February 25th/28th (US/EU respectively) marks the release of one of early next-gen's most anticipated titles: Thief. The "reboot" of one of gaming's most popular niche-game series was quite a long time coming, but it has recently "gone gold", so, for better or worse, it's almost upon us. Eidos Montreal, acclaimed creators of "Deus Ex - Human Revolution", recently showed off a new, six-minute "Thief 101" trailer - offering a quite compelling look into the world and the ways of the Master Thief.

Now, the younger crowd will undoubtedly have one question burning in their minds: Dishonored, much? It's a valid argument, as so many aspects of Thief seems to resemble Arkane Studio's epic journey of dishonor, dark magic and retribution. People familiar with the original Thief series probably said the exact same thing about Dishonored copying Thief, but to be brutally honest, Thief 2014 coming pretty close on the heels of Dishonored, makes the resemblance a lot more... promising.

Yes. I don't care if it's Dishonored 2.0. I loved the heck out of Dishonored, and from what I can tell, Thief looks very similar - but spectacularly, breathtakingly better from a graphics standpoint. On the other hand, Dishonored probably did have the advantage in cool abilities and nasty gadgets. Stopping time, then leaving a spring razor mine amidst a group of enemies, and vanish again never got old. Thief seems to try and be more grounded in "reality" - whatever that means in video games, anyway. There are the so-called Focus Abilities, but you will have the option (as you did in Dishonored) to forgo the use of most, if not all of them, completely. There is no denying, though, that it looks simply gorgeous, and if the game play can be held to the same high standards of its predecessors (literal and spiritual), Thief looks like pretty much everything fans of stealth-games were hoping for.

Finally, there will be a new Lord of the Rings Game. Yay. More Legos. Well, no, not really, this one looks like "Assassin's Creed - Batman in Mordor", or something to that effect. Actually, a former Ubisoft developer literally accused WB Games and Monolith Studio of copy-pasting code from Assassin's Creed 2 into their open-world adventure set behind the enemy lines in Mordor, right between the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. Middle Earth - Shadow of Mordor teases hope of a game truly deserving the LotR label, with an allegedly open world, various ways to deal with your missions, wraith-like superpowers and a procedural enemy development via the "Nemesis System".

And, yes, okay, we might see where that AC2 comparison came from. I mean, seriously, why would you have these ropes between houses? AC2 was a great game, but Shadow of Mordor already has it beat. Why? You can sneak. If there was one thing I absolutely hated in all Assassin's Creed games, it was the inability to sneak. And no, "Fast Walk" is NOT sneaking! Same goes for the legendary Batman: Arkham Franchise, whose quick combat and detective vision obviously had some impact on SoM's developers.
There are most definitely worse games to be "inspired" by, and let's be honest, when I wrote "Assassin's Creed - Batman in Mordor" who here did not have his heart skip a beat with excitement? The nemesis system, procedurally created enemies that change in every playthrough according to player choices, might the one piece of innovation, to set Shadow of Mordor apart from its spiritual ancestors. It is a very promising premise, but we will have to wait until the end of 2014 to see if the game will live up to it. For now, what seems to be known, is that enemies will indeed be different from game to game, but there is no information on how varied your choices to deal with them are, or if they are simply differently garbed place holders for the exact same missions, the only differences being cosmetic.
Further, it seems that Half-Ranger, Half-Wraith hybrid and hero Talion (oh, did I forget to mention that to the continuity and LotR Canon enthusiasts?), can instantly switch between his two existences, only use his bow in "Wraith Mode", can scale and jump and run like Altair and Ezio, can do stealth kills from both the back and the front and, sadly, seems to be employing Quick Time Events during boss fights.
Well, we can hope. I do. And if you want to learn more, feel free to join the SoM community.

For all your PS4 needs, especially the European needs, head over to Amazon UK - best deals in Europe (mostly). For TV or Movie Streaming needs, as well. Yes, I do buy there myself. Exclusively. Unless I find a better deal, elsewhere...