Dec 31, 2012
Face Off pits two gladiators against each other as they tackle gaming's most perplexing conundrums. This New Year's Eve edition is a chronological throw-down: which decade gave PC gaming the most? Podcast Producer Erik Belsaas says it was the '90s—the origin of modern PC gaming. Executive Editor Evan Lahti insists it was the '00s, with its speedy internet, better PCs, and shinier graphics engines.
Evan: The 1990s had the CD-ROM and the McRib sandwich. The ‘00s had Windows XP and two terrible Star Wars movies. I think the latter birthed better games: the Battlefield series, Crysis, Company of Heroes, BioShock, Dragon Age: Origins, Guild Wars, The Sims, Rome: Total War, Star Wars: KOTOR, and the best Civilization games happened then. What've you got, Erik?
Erik: Lucasarts, id, Ion Storm, Interplay, Blizzard: the iconic names that created franchises that we still discuss today. “RTS,” “FPS,” and “MMO” had no meaning before the pioneers of the '90s came along with some-thing other than sequels and rehashes: Baldur's Gate, Wolfenstein 3D, Duke Nukem 3D, MechWarrior, Unreal Tournament and every LucasArts adventure game from Sam & Max to Grim Fandango.
Evan: This is going to devolve into who can name-drop more game titles, isn't it?
Erik: Pretty much.
Evan: Cool. In that case, let’s put the best we've got on the page. What are the top three games from your decade? Mine: WoW, Counter-Strike, and Half-Life 2.
Erik: Just three? How about X-COM, Fallout, and The Secret of Monkey Island. Timeless classics that we still play today.
Evan: Is that the best that the decade that gave us the Spice Girls has got, grandpa? The innovations of the '00s will last far longer. Half-Life 2 wasn't just the basis for the way modern action games tell stories, it’s the technological foundation for the most ambitious mods we have today and the preferred canvas for machinima creators. World of Warcraft’s meteoric rise brought PC gaming into popular culture, ruined innumerable marriages, and earned its own South Park episode. Top that.
Erik:Your great games are all parts of established franchises that began in the '90s. For that matter, the original Counter-Strike mod came out in 1999, before Valve turned it into a retail product! Take away the names that began in the '90s, the '00s would've created very little of their own.
Evan: Megabyte for megabyte, I’d rather replay Half-Life 2 than its predecessor. Likewise for Diablo II, Warcraft III, Fallout 3 and other major franchises that began in the '90s but matured in the '00s. I really think that the tech of the '00s (better operating systems, fast internet, faster PCs) produced better gaming experiences. EVE Online couldn't exist in the '90s. Team Fortress 2's dozens of free content updates couldn't have streamed down our wimpy modems—the same goes for 25-man WoW raids or a heavily modded playthrough of Oblivion or Morrowind.
Erik: You've got a short memory. EverQuest allowed 72-man raids. And before Oblivion and Morrowind came Daggerfall, which was amazing and heavily modded. Doom, the father of modding, came out in '93.
Evan: I’ll play your game, Belsaas. Here's my ace: Deus Ex, our most favorite game ever, happened in 2000.
Erik: Deus Ex is a good game...but how about StarCraft? Has any other game absolutely defined its genre or rallied an entire nation behind it like a sport?
Evan: I was worried you’d play the Korea card. What can I counter that with? The 100-million-selling main-stream success of The Sims? The booming popularity of independent gaming? ...Peggle?
Erik: Peggle? Well I’ve got...you know...uh...Carmen Sandiego. Fine. Peggle wins.
THQ's global communications boss Huw Beynon recently spoke to OXM about Metro: Last Light's post-apocalyptic appeal and handsome Russian mutants. Benyon's thoughts eventually expanded to a criticism of the rut he believes the FPS genre has wallowed in for years. Specifically, he calls out Call of Duty's rinse-repeat military formula for "stamping out" other creative shooter ideas.
"I think it's probably very true to say that there's reaction to what used to be a small subset of the genre of a military shooter," he said. "It's ballooned and mushroom-clouded to almost define the genre and kind of stamp out memories of what I remember being great about first person shooters, whether that was Half-Life, System Shock, or GoldenEye—where a FPS didn't necessarily have to involve military material, it just meant an invitation to a fantastic other world, which to me was always the point of video games in the first place."
Beynon also suggested gamers are slowly detaching themselves from the idea of always playing as a military superman, and that gamers are hungry for different experiences—like Metro. He also points to Dishonored as a successful experiment. "I've hugely enjoyed and I'm thrilled that they've had success with that—it's probably the game that's interested me most this year and am glad to see it get the critical and hopefully commercial success that it deserves."
THQ filed for bankruptcy earlier this week but continues to keep its publishing duties and upcoming releases active. Elsewhere and earlier on, Black Ops 2 raked in gobs of profit, but not quite as many as its big brother, Modern Warfare.
Dec 21, 2012
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - firstname.lastname@example.org (Alec Meer)
Last Light, from an hour or so I spent watching real-time play recently, appears to be almost a do-over of the ambitious but awkward Metro 2033 rather than a traditional sequel. It’s rescuing and remixing the stuff that worked but, as far as I can tell, without devolving into a shiny Call of Dudebro affair. That critical switching between indoor and outdoor action and gun-free survivor settlements remains, as does the strange bullets-as-currency system. It’s much more like 2033 than I’d presumed, I’m relived to find, glossier though it may be. (more…)
This article originally appeared in issue 247 of PC Gamer UK. Written by Craig Lager.
War on the Russian steppe is very different to the Normandy landings. You can’t learn about it simply by watching Saving Private Ryan over and over again, for one thing.
“We do an obsessive amount of research about the setting, about our feeling of what the intensity should be, and how to deliver that in a game,” says Relic’s Quinn Duffy. “We could never get close to the real feeling, but we try. Our approach to authenticity is not about getting every bolt in the right place, it’s about making sure that a T-34 feels like a T-34.”
The mission I played was split into two parts: first, raid a small German encampment, then repair and reclaim a broken light tank. Starting out, Company of Heroes 2 feels very familiar – the same view, control scheme and general mechanics as Relic’s last few games welcome you in. But, as you progress, what initially seem like small changes start to make a big difference.
Play CoH2 for long enough and you will get a grounding in unpronounceable tank names.
Weather and the cold play an important role, for example. Just outside that first encampment I split my force up so that half could push straight on, as the other half vaulted a fence and went through a field to flank. I found out too late that the field was covered in deep snow, reducing my units to a crawl. When the Germans spotted them, exposed and trudging through snow drifts, they invented the word ‘schadenfreude’.
Without fire support, my central force was in serious trouble. But this is not Company of Retreaters. They held on, they pushed, and eventually they managed to get close enough to the objective for me to be granted a special ability: air support. Machine guns from a circling plane ripped through the base, slaughtering everyone.
The next job was to traverse the countryside to reclaim a tank on the other side of a frozen lake. The environment in CoH2 can be as deadly as German bullets – without shelter or a fire to keep warm, soldiers will die off, silently falling into the snow one by one as the harsh weather sets in. It’s grim, sombre, and pushes the game more into the moral and ethical reflections of war rather than only blowing stuff up.
Quinn offers another example: “If the enemy leaves a casualty on the battlefield and they’re crawling away, those casualties are still providing line of sight. My decision as a player is ‘do I shoot that guy?’ because he’s giving an advantage to the enemy. It’s just a little thing, but it adds some of that choice and consequence to the battlefield.”
The cold and extreme weather conditions play a big part in CoH2.
‘Run across this frozen lake towards the Germans’ is not the most strategically sound order to have ever been given in a pretend war. However, Russian troops know better than to question orders from The Motherland, so bravely they ran across, and bravely they got pinned down by machinegun fire, and bravely mostly bled to death in the cushioning snow.
Those few survivors didn’t last much longer. The barrage of gunfire had weakened the ice, so when a grenade landed amongst the troops, the outcome was unavoidable. The ice collapsed, plunging them into the frozen depths. A restart and a new strategy of ‘go around the lake’ let me attack the tank’s position. I pushed the Germans back enough for my engineers to reach the tank, get it fixed, and then jump some guys in. The enemy force brought in a tank as well, and we exchanged a couple of shells before that exploded too. I smile and admire the carnage, but then Quinn speaks and I don’t want to smile any more.
“You see one of these tanks blow up? You can draw a lot of inspiration from the experience and horror, because you know it’s not just a tank exploding. There are four or five guys in there burning to death. There’s a pressure to make it feel right.”
Company of Heroes 2 does feel right. What I’ve played perfectly captures the grim tone of war while still being an exciting and tactical RTS. Hopefully you won’t be too depressed to play it.
In a statement released today, THQ announced it filed bankruptcy as part of a sale to equity firm Clearlake Capital. Though financial issues troubled the publisher in the past, the announcement stressed everything will continue as normal while THQ seeks a new owner.
"THQ will continue operating its business without interruption during the sale period," read the statement. "All of the company’s studios remain open, and all development teams continue. Consumers and retailers should see no changes while the company completes a sale. The new financing will support business operations throughout the period. THQ does not intend to reduce its workforce as a result of the filing."
THQ's filing specifically fell under Chapter 11 of the government's Bankruptcy Code, which allows a company to reorganize and essentially get its bearings without disappearing entirely. Which is a good thing, with upcoming games such as Metro: Last Light, Company of Heroes 2, South Park: The Stick of Truth, and Saints Row 4 hanging in the balance.
On a positive note, THQ's substantial success generating over $5 million through its recent Humble Bundle deal boosted its stock nearly 40 percent!
The Ranger difficulty for Metro 2033 (PSA: free keys are being given away on Facebook) stripped the UI, crosshairs, and health while making precious ammo even more scarce in Russia's monster-infested tunnels. Such a masochist's dream come true degree of challenge will reappear in Metro: Last Light, but only as part of a deal for those pre-ordering the $60/£37 Limited Edition.
Early buyers also receive an extra bandolier of military-grade ammo for barter or blasting and a modified AKS-74U rifle. Ranger was also previously packaged separately as free DLC for Metro 2033, so THQ will probably follow suit for Last Light. To some, Ranger might represent the "best" experience of a harsh, barely survivable world, but at least the pre-order is the same price as the launch version, and will probably be available to everyone after release.
Metro: Last Light releases in March.
Dec 14, 2012
Happy bleak post-apocalyptic holidays! Hardware giant Nvidia is giving away free digital copies of Metro 2033 in exchange for hitting the "Like" button on its Facebook page. The promotion lasts until into Christmas Eve.
4A Games' atmospheric shooter is one of many high-quality games, such as Portal and Amnesia: The Dark Descent, that are turning up in sweeping sales events and bundle sales at a heavy discount. Its upcoming sequel, Metro: Last Light, took a few delays as THQ struggled with financial difficulties, but it still seems to hold the same excellent scares and Russian expletives as its predecessor.
The Company of Heroes 2 singleplayer campaign will focus on the Soviets, but in multiplayer we'll also get to command the Wermacht, who have received some significant updates since Company of Heroes 1. The multiplayer alpha is imminent, which means lucky invitees will get more time to figure out some of the quirks of the new asymmetrical multiplayer set-up. In Company of Heroes 1, the US had a slight advantage in the early game, which gradually tilted as both armies built up their bases. Relic say they want to keep both sides even at all phases of battle to encourage closer contests. Whatever happens, millions of tanks will die gloriously.
Dec 12, 2012
Many were surprised when THQ announced their Humble Bundle because, you know, they're a huge evil publisher and not "indie" in the slightest. Still, they are in fairly dire financial straits, and given the value of what they were offering - at least four AAA titles for as little as $1 - who's complaining? The campaign turned out to be quite a success for the publisher, as it's gone on to make a grand total of $5,097,376.36, resulting from 885,285 sales. That means that not everyone opted to pay the minimum fee for these titles which is... really quite nice of them.
The publisher is after email addresses on the Humble Bundle website for what could potentially be forthcoming humble bundles. Better still, if want a game for free, then you could always get Metro 2033.
World War II's massive fronts and costly campaigns are the gunpowder-flavored butter to Company of Heroes' bread, but future entries in the RTS franchise beyond Company of Heroes 2's snowdrifts and drifting tanks might not necessarily keep the same setting. Speaking to Rock, Paper, Shotgun, Relic Game Director Quinn Duffy said the series could go "anywhere" and deal with other military conflicts. It's called Company of Heroes, after all, not Company of Russian, American, or German 1940s Heroes.
"We could look at setting this game anywhere," Duffy said. “We know what we want to deliver in a Company of Heroes game. We know what we want it to feel like. So the setting becomes another piece of military history to tell, or another set of stories. But the game should feel like a Company of Heroes product.”
Company of Heroes 2's chilly Eastern Front likes reminding us how flamethrowers were apparently standard-issue weapons for every soldier, but it's also entering a closed beta "shortly after the New Year" before releasing early 2013. Anything goes after that—including a potential reentry into free-to-play territory after the short-lived Company of Heroes Online.
"It’s an interesting new market and there’s a lot of potential for strategy-type games in ," Duffy explained. "It’s definitely part of THQ’s vision going forward and ours in the studio as well. You know, making sure we’ve got good coverage going into these new models.”