Saturday, October 23, 2010

Medal of Honor - full review

My initial impressions are here. The main issue I had early on in playing the Medal of Honor [wiki entry - plot spoilers there] campaign was distracting audio dropouts during heavy onscreen activity, specifically when my character was firing the PKM machine gun. I'm happy to report I had no further incidents of such dropouts during the remainder of the campaign.

The only other sort of glitch I noticed is that I was able to run up onto a spawn point for the enemies in one of the later levels. I think it was in the "Rescue the Rescuers" level where you are advancing up a rocky mountain. I don't know if I moved forward too fast or just went an unexpected direction, but me and my squad were all sitting around this spawn point just killing enemies as they appeared. It took me a few seconds to realize what was happening and how these guys seemed to be getting the jump on us so quickly.

The overall narrative of the campaign is quite good, and pretty different from most games of this genre. The focus is on the soldiers and their loyalty to each other, not some overarching mega-mission to save the world. You play a number of different types of special operations soldiers, including Army Rangers, Delta Force and Tier 1 operatives, each at different points and from different points of view of the same overall sequence of events.

My favorite game mechanic is the slide - as you run to cover, if you crouch while you're running you will go into a slide and stop against the cover and end up in a crouched position, ready to go. It's really too bad this mechanic did not carry over to the multiplayer aspect of the game. The slide is a great addition that I haven't seen before, and the mechanic is executed flawlessly, much like Rainbow Six: Vegas 2's implementation of anchoring behind cover and rotating out or above to shoot (see here at about the 33 second mark).

The campaign is quite short, maybe four to six hours, depending on your skill and aggressiveness. I wish it had been longer, but what is there is good. There is a good variety of vehicle and weapon usage. The gameplay is fairly structured, however, and while you are definitely not playing "on rails," the game takes you where you need to go, providing the appropriate weapon for the situation. Also, as I have seen others mention, there are areas in the game with "invisible walls" where you can see an area your character could obviously go to, but the game simply won't let you. This sort of funnels you through some parts of the game, and while it is a small complaint and something I only noticed once or twice, it would be just that more immersive if your character could explore any area that appears accessible.

The multiplayer felt good, other than the fact that the controls did not directly carry over from the single player campaign. For one, the slide mechanic is missing, and the other thing is that your controller settings have to be set separately. For many games I don't use the default controller configuration and I had to set that configuration up in the multiplayer separately even though I had already done so for the single player campaign. Also, the configurations are named differently between the single and multiplayer, so it's not immediately apparent which in the multiplayer will be the same as what you use in single player. This is fairly small, easily remedied and hopefully a one-time thing, but I spent 10-15 seconds in my first live multiplayer map sitting vulnerable while I configured my controller.

There do not appear to be a lot of options to select the type of game you want to play in multiplayer. Admittedly, I have not played a ton of games, so maybe I just haven't found all of the options, but it looks like you select a "type" of game (combat mission, team assault, objective raid, sector control or hardcore) and go. That's fine with me, but I imagine for the multiplayer junkies out there who like specific settings, it may not be enough.

Comparisons to Battlefield Bad Company 2's multiplayer are inevitable as the same developer did the multiplayer for this game. The feel is similar, but the settings and goals in the various gametypes are different enough that I was not constantly being reminded of BFBC2. This multiplayer stands on its own. Now I just need to get some of my friends online to play with me.

I definitely give this one a "thumbs-up." The only hesitation I have in a full "buy" recommendation is that you should probably make sure your friends online are also going to buy this one since the single player campaign is so short. The campaign looks to have decent replayability with multiple levels of difficulty and a "Tier 1" mode (available after completing the game once) which involves beating each stage under a "par" time, but once that's done you'll be playing with random people online if your friends don't have the game.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Medal of Honor - first impressions

I picked up Medal of Honor for the Xbox 360 today and played through the first few levels on the single-player campaign. I have not played multiplayer yet. The game is good, but I have to say I'm a bit disappointed. My biggest gripe is that there are some serious audio glitches when there is a lot of action on the screen. The sound just drops out for fractions of a second, which is very noticeable and distracting. The drops have been most noticeable so far when using the PKM machine gun. I'm using headphones, so the effect is probably amplified for me, but it still shouldn't happen. My in-game audio "Speaker Type" is set to "Headphones."

In addition, movement of the enemy vehicles and soldiers can be a bit stiff, sometimes making angular turns instead of smooth movements. You also seem to be able to "play ahead" of the audio. By that I mean you can kill an enemy or move to a position before the game's script gets there and the audio prompt (e.g., "tango at 12 o'clock") will still play. That's small, but it's something I noticed.

On the good side, the graphics are pretty good, and I like the way you can shoot through holes in buildings or other cover to take out enemies. Your squadmates are particularly good at clearing enemies on their own too, which helps. So far, I like the feel of the game, the focus on working as a squad. I'll give the multiplayer a try this weekend. If DICE did that as well as it did Battlefield Bad Company 2, there should be no issues.

UPDATE: added in-game audio settings

Saturday, October 02, 2010

PAX Prime 2010

The Penny Arcade crew continue to do it right. Despite the 67,600 attendees during the course of the weekend, the "con" experience was great: friendly people, effective line management, and the volunteer Enforcers were awesome.

There was an endless variety of panels to attend and topics to learn about. There was simply too much available to do everything one might find interesting, so picking and choosing was a must. I attended the Bungie panel on Halo Reach, a live taping of Major Nelson's podcast and a panel on academic research related to gaming.


The Reach developers shared some insight into the creative process and thought behind the design of this final game in the Halo franchise to be developed by Bungie. Among other things, they showed video of some of the motion capture techniques used which was overlaid on game footage so you could see how it was integrated into the game. The captured facial expressions for the voiceover actors was quite amazing.

Major Nelson
Xbox Live's Major Nelson put on a pretty good show. The usual cast from his podcast was there live, and the resulting podcast was posted that weekend. They took a lot of questions from the audience, and everyone who asked a question was given some extra swag. Plus, they gave away probably ten of the new special edition Xbox 360 controllers and the grand prize giveaway was the very first publicly available Halo Reach edition of the newly redesigned Xbox 360.


Academic Research and Game Studies
I didn't quite know what to expect with this panel, but I probably should have since it was exactly what the title says. This was a panel of researchers, some still graduate students, who were adapting more traditional areas of social science research to the area of gaming. It was a little bit dry, and correspondingly I did not take any pictures. It wasn't too bad, but I wasn't the intended audience of potential grad students or teachers who were interested in formal research about how people interact with and play games. Just goes to show the variety of topics available at PAX.

Exhibit Hall
With the main theatre located off-site at the nearby Benaroya Hall, there was much more space available for exhibitors this year. There were two "wings" of the exhibit hall and more than once I became turned around and had to keep wandering to find something I remembered I had seen before and wanted to revisit.

All manner of gaming-related companies were represented, from game developers and specialty hardware manufacturers to clothing companies and book publishers. Countless videogames were available to look at and play: Rock Band 3, Duke Nukem Forever, Metroid Other M, EVE Online, Halo Reach, Fallout: New Vegas and a lot of smaller indie games from all types of developers. The focus of PAX continues to be on games, but a number of related industries like comics and to some extent movies and T.V. also have enough crossover appeal to warrant a presence.

Characters and costumes
Another cool and fun thing that has become more and more prevalent at PAX over the years is the effort that people put into making costumes of their favorite characters. Taken to its extreme, this is called cosplay and involves live roleplaying or posing in-character. Below are a few great examples from this year.


The last PAX I went to before this one was 2008, when it was really beginning to become a huge event, and the waiting in lines for virtually everything took away a lot of the enjoyment of the show. This year, the Penny Arcade crew appeared to have addressed the line-waiting problems with pre-planning (taped or roped off line queues along with plenty of Enforcers to answer questions, keep people informed and play games involving the line-waiters) and active monitoring (counting of people in line versus room capacity, for the largest events there was a twitter feed specifically for updates on line length and remaining room capacity).

What this convention continues to have that makes it so enjoyable is the community. Everyone is there to have a good time, and there is something for everyone and every type of gamer. The volunteer Enforcers also make a difference - they are not simply temps hired to monitor just another convention floor, they are gamers themselves and have just as much enthusiasm as the regular attendees. As the Penny Arcade crew have said before, they create the opportunity and space for the show, but it is the gamers who create the atmosphere and the community.


Many more pictures are at my flickr page.