Tag Archives: EA

Game good, DRM bad

The furore over SimCity’s always-online DRM has been inescapable over the last few days. EA has joined Activision (via Blizzard) in spectacularly failing at launching a major new game with mandatory online functionality, hopefully casting doubt over the future of the approach when titans with such deep pockets can’t make it work.

People are understandably upset, and it’s led to a predictable outcry aimed at media outlets who haven’t factored such technical issues and consumer-unfriendly DRM into their scores. Reviewers are out of touch, the argument goes, because they get to play these games without paying for them, in conditions where the authentication servers are nowhere near capacity, with a PR team on the other end of the phone who’ll bend over backwards to fix any issues, lest the critic have anything other than a stellar experience.

I’m siding with the reviewers here, though. And I think Polygon was wrong to change the score on its review.

That said, I’m not defending this form of DRM. It’s shit, and it’s a practice that shouldn’t continue. If the rumours about the next Xbox requiring a constant Internet connection and so effectively doing this across the board – and as good as Xbox Live is, it can’t be said that it’s been immune from capacity issues – are true, it’ll put my investment in the console in doubt.

But the quality of the game and the DRM are separate issues. The fact that its DRM is overzealous doesn’t make SimCity a bad game any more than the fact that I can’t rip my Blu-ray to watch the movie on my iPad makes Wreck-It Ralph a bad movie. That argument would be ridiculous in film criticism, but when writing about games it seems to be a common opinion. Maybe, if games are art, we need to separate the reviews of the game from the program, as a DVD review would award separate scores for the movie and the AV quality.

It all comes back to an argument I’ve made before that people want consumer advice, not reviews. A list of features and a number at the end, being careful not to rate it anything that might affect the Metacritic score too negatively.

When all this is ironed out and SimCity becomes reliable and playable, it will be a 8, 9, 10, or whatever score you think it’s worth. And since it’ll be the same game as everyone’s trying to play now, so it should always be.

Best of 2011 #1: Battlefield 3

Battlefield 3Yes, really.

A good multiplayer game has the ability to hook me like nothing else, and Battlefield 3 really, really is. In terms of days it’s already my most-played 360 game in terms of days, and even though I’m not nearly done with it, I’ve still clocked more than 86 hours at the time of writing. That’s almost unheard of for me, and the only thing I can think of that come close is the 120 hours spent one wonderful summer on Return to Castle Wolfenstein’s multiplayer. Another class-based multiplayer FPS? Funny, that.

Fair enough if you think the campaign is mediocre at best, because it is. A couple of highlights aside, it’s not even as good as Bad Company 2’s offering; the most uninteresting kind of generic hoo-ah Black Hawk Down nonsense. But I still don’t care; it’s a Battlefield game, and as such it’s kind of a new thing to even have a single-player campaign. Don’t bother if that’s what you want most in a game because you will be disappointed, and you’ll be going into this game for the wrong reasons.

I’m now conscious that I’ve put more criticism into the game at the top of the list than any other here, so allow me to gush a bit.

There are more polished multiplayer games, there are more popular ones, but none is better at the epic feeling of taking part in a real battle than this. Playing the attacking team on Tehran Highway, cresting that first hill in a convoy of tanks, APCs, jeeps and infantry as the defenders try to repel you, missiles launching in the background. Fighting your way up the hill in Seine Crossing towards the M-COM stations, taking it in turns to draw defending fire as your team pushes forward before putting a rocket into the building where the enemy snipers are holed up. Sneaking up behind the tank that’s giving your team some grief to stick some C4 to it. Perfectly judging the drop of a bullet through your ballistic scope to put a bullet into someone’s head from half a kilometre away. The fact that this kind of thing happens on a nightly basis keeps me coming back and will likely continue to.

The beauty of these kinds of lists is that they’re personal, and the position of Battlefield 3 reflects how, no matter how much I value great writing, classic characters and innovative game design, the fundamental reason to play games is to have fun. Plenty of other games did that this year, but none did it better than this.

Mass Effect 2: How You Do a Sequel

My history with Mass Effect is fairly chequered, and although it had its bright spots, it took a fair bit of discipline on my part to force my way through it. I put together a post about it a couple of weeks back when I finally did it in preparation for the sequel.

Mass Effect 2, on the other hand, I had no such issues with. It’s a massive improvement in pretty much every area and a must-play.

Visually, it advances the series in both performance and overall quality. A few minor glitches aside, it runs relatively smoothly and still manages to throw around some impressive character models, all animated to an extremely high standard. Maybe it’s the West Wing influence now that Martin Sheen’s on board, but gone are the endless conversations between two characters who are rooted the spot, in favour of digital people who move around and emote, even walking from place to place during their chats. They act, in other words, and BioWare seems to realise that there’s more to this than good facial animation.

Mass Effect 2

Throw in an abundance of new background detail, from the often-amusing adverts and wandering civilians on the Citadel – be sure to check out the Salarian game seller, extolling the virtues of that new human game, Solitaire – to the vagrants on the Blade Runner-esque Omega, as well as wonderfully aggressive use of ambient sound that demands to be experienced in 5.1, and what was a vibrant world hamstrung by technical issues is able to fulfil its potential. The worlds look designed rather than generated now, and all look distinct – the planet with the supernova sun that forces you to fight in the shadows was a personal highlight.

It’s a lesson in streamlining when it comes to the gameplay, and although I’m sure that some, particularly in the PC community, will bemoan the ‘dumbing down’, it keeps stuff like inventory management and juggling upgrades – unwieldy in the first game, to say the least – from getting in the way. In fact, it’s almost been turned into a straightforward squad-based shooter, but it doesn’t bother me, because the important aspects like dialogue trees and exploration are largely untouched. The combat and micromanagement were obstacles and now they’re not, which makes it a net improvement. That’s not to say that I buy the kludgy explanation for why ammunition technology has regressed in the universe, though.

Ultimately, what best illustrates my feelings on Mass Effect 2 is that while I found my interest – or, rather, my patience – with the first game running out by the end of the 18 hours that it took me, I loved every minute of the 26 hours that I spent with Mass Effect 2, and will gladly pop back in for more when some substantial DLC arrives. It’s probably one of my favourite games of the generation so far and has set the bar incredibly high for any game that wants to be the best of 2010.

Best of 2009 #6: Battlefield 1943

Look at how far downloadable games have come. From Geometry Wars and 16-bit arcade ports to what basically amounts to a fairly significant chunk of the classic that is Battlefield 1942, all completely remade for DICE’s latest engine and with all the next-gen goodness that it entails.

OK, so it wasn’t as feature-filled as other, similar stuff like Warhawk, and it did only have three recycled maps, but Battlefield is Battlefield, and I’ve loved this series through 1942 and Battlefield 2 – I pretend that Battlefield Vietnam didn’t happen, as does DICE from the interviews I’ve read. 1943 was a blast to play online, as I did for many, many hours – it’s only the second 360 game that has moved me to relieve it of all its achievements – and even now, with Bad Company 2 on the horizon, I’d gladly drop points on some new maps for it.

For all the cynicism surrounding World War II as a setting for a new(ish) video game, there’s something to be said for driving a unwieldy great big hunk of metal through some destructible trees in pursuit of some little bugger who’s after your flag. Modern combat may be where the big bucks are these days, but sitting in an AC-130 is just far too clinical by half. Let me run someone through with a bayonet any day…

Battlefield 1943

Remember when I said that Killzone 2 was the new Battlefield? I was wrong. Battlefield is still the new Battlefield.

This series is an old favourite of mine, going back to when I first got a gaming PC and played hundreds of hours of Battlefield 1942 and its expansions. It’s had its ups and downs, but few gaming franchises have reached the heights of the sublime Battlefield 2. That was the end of my affair with it, though, because after that the likes of Modern Combat, Battlefield 2142 and Bad Company just seemed like a step down.

Battlefield 1943

This, though, taking three of the maps from 1942 and porting it all to the Bad Company engine – complete with the real-time destruction that it entails – for only a tenner, is genius.

I see a lot of criticism doing the rounds, calling it some variance of Battlefield for babies, often with a dig at the console audience in there for good measure, but I don’t get it. Maybe it’s just that I’m a whore for this kind of games, putting countless hours into the good Battlefields as well as the decent pretenders like Warhawk – still the best game on the PS3, by the way – but I can tell that this will be a favourite for a long time. I still play Warhawk because it’s perfect for dipping in and out of, and having it there all the time, launchable from the hard drive, is extremely conducive to dipping in and out occasionally. Keep it fresh with new maps and you’ll keep me coming back for a long time.

Yeah, this only has three – soon to be four – maps and three character classes. Does this damage the game? Not really. This has been planned as a trim and accessible version of Battlefield, designed for new players and veterans, and everything from the consolidated classes to the infinite ammo – it recharges in the same vein as health now does in every FPS ever created – reflects that. I suppose you could argue that it’s ‘dumbed down’ if that’s your thing, but it hasn’t really affected my enjoyment. There’s something to be said for keeping things simple when your base product is already so good.

The first few days were pretty rough going, with a delightful combination of the expected DICE bugs – BF1942 still had launch bugs after gigs of patches – and EA’s always-wonderful server infrastructure, but the teething problems seem to have been ironed out and it’s smooth sailing now. It’s quite stable and things should continue to improve fairly rapidly, so this one gets a definite thumbs up.

I Love Dead Space

It’s a veritable Halloween in February here, what with this and Left 4 Dead occupying lofty positions in my current playlist and F.E.A.R. 2 shortly to join my collection, but before the inevitable comparisons to Resident Evil 5 start turning things a bit nasty, I have to state how bloody good this game is.

Get it? Bloody good?

Dead Space

I’m not getting into that whole Resi 5 comparison because it only ends in tears – suffice to say that Resi did it first but Dead Space has better controls – and this game can stand on its own merits. Yes, it has obvious filmic inspirations as well, and the similarities between the aesthetic here and stuff like Event Horizon, Alien, and The Thing are so clear as to almost go without saying, but this does its own thing where it matters and has plenty of surprises as it begins to ramp up within a couple of chapters. By that point you’ve been through several of the Nostromo Ishimura’s environments and it starts to mix things up on you a little bit.

It’s actually quite difficult to put my finger on what exactly it is that I like so much because so much has been seen before, so I’m just going to have to shrug and say that it’s just a very good, very polished game. It doesn’t really do anything new, a couple of nifty gimmicks like the dismemberment and zero-gravity sequences aside, but what it does it does well.

Maybe the fact that people have seen a lot of the stuff before is part of the reason why it didn’t set the sales charts on fire, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing. There’s nothing wrong with a game just doing old things in a polished and pretty way. It has fantastic presentation – the graphical quality is obvious from the screenshots and the HUD design is superb, but the audio is beyond stellar – and, if nothing else, the development team at EA Redwood Shores knew which parts of which games to borrow in making a well-rounded horror experience. Nothing wrong with that when it’s done as well and is as fun as this, right?

This may be tempting fate – new EA is still EA, after all – but fingers crossed that Dead Space did enough business to warrant a sequel.