Reviews by m0thbanquet

85

Succeeds Where So Many Have Failed

m0thbanquet | June 20, 2014 | Review of Aliens vs Predator Classic 2000

Like any good horror movie, you might be tempted to look, point and subsequently laugh at Aliens versus Predator Classic 2000 whilst guffawing "get a load of those rubbish special effects, who'd be scared of that?". Well, if you do that, you are an ignorant fool. Notwithstanding this game introduced us to the first accurate representation of the Aliens genre, that being an experience that focused more on isolation, tension and near-blind encounters conducted at blinding speed, it was a step forward for games in general.

Harken back to the year 2000, if you can. If you're 14 or under, this whole paragraph is probably pointless. Polygonal shooters are ugly and cartoonish, with true dynamic lighting rare. You've obviously (and rightfully) seen underage screenings of both the Aliens and Predator movies and you excitedly boot up a demo disc containing a sliver of gameplay from the much-anticipated Aliens versus Predator Classic 2000 (back then it was just called Aliens versus Predator).

You begin in a pitch-dark APC, the same one seen in the seminal 1986 movie, and instantly you feel a giddy sense of anticipation. You clutch the USCM's weapon of choice, an M41A Pulse Rifle. You scream to yourself, or aloud if feeling bold or just have no consideration for those in the next room, "I am the ULTIMATE badass!". It's dark outside the APC but you don't care. You stride out, eager to pump your enemy full of white lead (not a euphemism) and then it begins. Your motion sensor bleeps. You grin at the sound - it's just like in the movie!

Then an alien shows up and you die.

Now, bear in mind at this point realism in games was restricted to Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six - which your childish mind was not prepared for in 1998 and the disc was subsequently left to reside somewhere under the bed - and you can understand the terror this Aliens versus Predator Classic 2000 (Aliens versus Predator back then) demo generated. Aliens and Predators, unless played on the Training difficulty, are fast and deadly. Light is scarcer and arguably more valuable than ammo. Your armour may stop a few bullets but against razor-sharp claws and shoulder cannons? Might as well wear Kleenex, mate.

The single-player campaign features six missions in three distinct flavours. The marine, despite having access to meaty weapons and a sharp haircut, is undoubtedly the most vulnerable of the three. Your xenomorph enemies move swiftly and often you've only got a couple of seconds to react - usually to a telltale hiss, scratch or bite to the head - before you become their food. Add to this the facehuggers, whose surprise one-hit kills have induced fear-comas in the stoutest gents, and you can see the developer's statement of intent. In this game, humans are the prey.

As a Predator, you have access to deliciously effective weapons and equipment. Injured? No sweat. Just whip out your pointy healy-sticks and one agonised scream later, you're ready to go. Naturally, your human opponents are just flimsy, sweaty meatbags in the face of your cloaking-device enhanced magnificence. Properly ambushed, you can exploded them with your shoulder cannon, impale them with your spear gun or give them a good old Carl Weathers-style send off with your wrist blades. Xenomorphs prove a slightly tougher challenge but with your enhanced vision modes (which, like the Mass Effect 3 ending, come in red, green and blue flavours), superior endurance and aforementioned healy-sticks, your chances are a sight better than as a marine. Facehuggers are still cheap, insta-killing little shits, though.

The true beauty of the game, however comes in the shape of the late H.R Giger's chillingly graceful alien killing machines. Or rather, taking control of one. My personal favourite game mode and a real change to the pace of the campaign, the Alien can dismember humans with the flick of a wrist, walk on any surface and providing it's sitting in darkness, can become near-invisible to enemies. While this is disorienting at first, there's a true pleasure in carving up everyone you come across before they can so much as react, or stalking that particularly annoying marine from the ceiling before dropping on him unawares.

Being from the year 2000 (the flashback to that year ended a few paragraphs ago), the game does look its age. Polygons are smooth but the textures are a little muddy, but the Steam version runs well on Windows 7 and at resolutions we'd never thought possible 14 years ago. There are even an additional 5 or 6 missions for each character to be unlocked after finishing the game on each difficulty. The sounds are all accurate and pertaining to their franchises, though for atmospheric purposes I'd recommend turning the music off altogether for the marine missions.

The only truly inexcusable issue relates to the truly awful in-game cinematics. While the original release had a modestly-budgeted yet competently acted cut-scenes of a marine who was black yelling at you (or about you, in the case of the ETs), at some point they re-released the game with vids of fully costumed men who are white, with possibly the worst American accents this side of Gerard Butler. Yes, they look prettier but...well, just don't exit to desktop the first time you hear 'Lissen up Prahvat".

In summary, for anyone who knew and loved this game back in the days before bloom lighting and other graphical terms I can't be bothered to Google, pick it up and see for yourself how easy and forgiving modern games are. For everyone else, just pick it up and receive a masterclass in how an Aliens game should be done, i.e. with darkness, quick deaths and loud, piercing yelps of fear and shock.

80

Brutal, Unforgiving, Frustrating...But Undeniably Engrossing

m0thbanquet | June 20, 2014 | Review of Full Spectrum Warrior: Ten Hammers

It's high noon, possibly just after lunch time. I have one fire team locked down in an adjacent street, unable to move for the risk of insta-kill RPG death. I hear the crackle of their SAW on the wind, their gunner furiously spewing hot lead on the enemy, desperate to keep them from them out-flanking.

But there's a problem. Several, in fact. The team have been on-mission for nearly two hours, having only progressed the same distance as a goat can kick a medicine ball. They're low on ammo, nerves and, oh yes, their grenadier copped one a junction ago. For wont of a better word, Bravo team are up KIA-creek without a paddle.

But Alpha are near. A few feet are all that separates them from a nearby house which offers aside from an abandoned and well-kept kitchen area, a vantage point overlooking the beleaguered Bravo and more importantly, their aggressors.

It's only a few feet. My men are US (United States) infantry, fit and battle-hardened. I order them forward, ready to stack up and clear the target building.

Scarcely do they "hoo-rah" before I realise my error. I know it even before it happens. I swear aloud, kicking and cursing as an OPFOR (Opposing Force - silly word for 'bad man') opens up on my exposed squad from a window on the opposite side of the street.

The jugulars of my men explode in showers of arterial red. It is a shade matched by my angry face as I realise the last checkpoint was sometime between 4 and 6 pm (it's 7:30 pm now).

This is what Full Spectrum Warrior is all about. Methodical progression, leaving nothing to chance and often furiously trying to dig yourself out of holes your complacency has gotten you into.

Certainly a game for those who have finished the more balanced and simple first entry, this is a direct sequel. The parallels with history (read: Second Gulf War/Afghanistan and following insurgency, respectively), Ten Hammers deftly sidesteps topical and potentially inflammatory references by setting its story within the nation of Generistan. Pitted against the nefarious and innocent child-hating Generihadeen, you'll be utilising real MOUT/FIBUA (I would explain this abbreviations but you can just Google them like I did) infantry tactics to weed out your enemies and survive with enough men alive for the game to consider you the winner.

Ten Hammers, like its predecessor, shows you just how far warfare has come. Far from the mad 'Red Tide' massed assaults of old Soviet Russia or the 'stand there and pray you don't get hit' mentality of line warfare in the 17-1800's, modern soldiery is executed with surgical precision and (providing you don't give a Scot a bayonet) intelligence. This is aptly demonstrated in a game where you must consider every move you make, weigh every single risk you take, and set every firing arc with the knowledge that if you mess up, your whole team will die in seconds.

It's gritty, it's scary, it's plain ball-out tough but damn, it's good. Most of the time.

There are hiccups. The friendly AI can be slow, while your enemy - despite being armed solely with an AK and tea towel - can display a deadliness that can only be described as an unholy union of Terminator and Christopher Lee. It will frustrate you plenty, but as with most hard games, this frustration will have come about as a result of your own error.

The gameplay is simple but effective. You embark on psuedo-point-and-click missions, guiding two squads of four, which in this instalment can be further divided into two teams of two, into multiple-approach (yet strictly linear) areas with objectives spattered along the way.

Graphics and sound were good for the time, being functional and effective. I would argue that the firearms used sound a little too close to paintball (or the infinitely superior Airsoft) rifles for my taste, though on the whole it all holds up well even today. The up close and personal third-person camera perspective gives us a good all-round view of the battlefield whilst plunging up neck-deep into the viscera of battle, allowing us to hear the grunting swearwords and panicked cries of our squaddies.

The likeable characters alternate between US and UK armed forces, with the latter - despite some inaccuracies - represented oddly well, for a change. There is a basic plot in there which keeps it personal by focusing on the human aspect to the war instead of FSW's pure 'kill the evil dictator' approach. Here, war is hell and nobody truly wins (except the people still alive at the end, obviously).

On a final note, it's also one of the few games that properly portray a Scouser (Liverpudlian) in the form of a truck (that he's presumably stolen) you must escort in one of the early UK forces missions. For this alone, it deserves an extra star for accuracy.

Altogether, it's an atmospheric and intense strategy game, one that punishes harshly for mistakes and survival is reward enough - and isn't that what war is all about?