Sunday, February 20, 2011

Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. 2 (2010)

More information here.

The Plot. Like all Tom Clancy games and the previous HAWX, this one also tells a story about government conspiracy and some great hero who comes in and saves the day. This time it's Russia and a separatist government who seizes power and starts messing about with some nuclear weapons. At one point you'll have to blow up (!) like 20 of them. Yes, Tom Clancy, blowing up nukes mid-air is not a bad thing to do, not at all. Anyway, you get to fly as either a Russian fighter pilot or an American HAWX squadron pilot. Crenshaw from the first HAWX is also present, but here he acts as a commanding officer.

General thoughts. First of all, I liked it. Not because of the flimsy controls or some of the frustrating missions, but because I'm into fly-sims and this one is exactly how I like it. It's not complicated, but it's not too easy either. It's just enough for it to be fun, but still feel realistic enough.
In the first HAWX you could enjoy a ground that only looked pretty 15,000 feet from the ground, but i HAWX2, they put a little bit more effort into actually rendering the buildings and at some point you're even going to do some close-call flyby action. That is quite awesome. So this is something that has been improved greatly.
While in the first HAWX you started and finished all the missions in the sky, in HAWX2, you get to actually take off and land your fighter. Sometimes it's an aircraft carrier, sometimes an airfield, sometimes you get to refuel mid-air. All of these actions are quite tricky at first, but soon you understand, that the arcade assists make all of this quite simple and fun. It just feels a lot more natural, if you get to take off at the start of the mission, return to the airfield if you're out of rockets, flairs or you're just broken and you get to land your fighter once the mission is done.

I did have a lot of problems with controls in this one. I'm using a Logitech Freedom 2.4 cordless Joystick, which is as good as normal joysticks get. It has loads of functions, it's quite sensitive, but the game has to know how to handle it. I mean, come on. If the throttle slider has a million different positions, you can't have only four positions in the game. Even the cheap joysticks have more options there. If you turn the slider half way down, you don't expect the game to turn off your engines. It's realistic enough that if your engines aren't burning, you lose speed quite quickly in the middle of a dogfight, but if the slider is half way, it's not supposed to stall right away. Also, when starting the game, initially the Joystick buttons aren't even set up properly, so the first mission was about me setting the controls to work the way I want them to. I couldn't get some of the sensitivity right until the very end of the game so the last mission was a real pain.
At one point you also get to fly a Harrier, which is known for it's VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) capabilities, but in HAWX2, it stalled just like all the other fighters. Maybe I just didn't know how to turn the burners in the vertical position, but I sure as hell was not instructed to do it. I mean, if you have some cool airplanes, why not make them work like they're supposed to. An A10 Thunderbolt isn't supposed to act like a fighter in a dogfight and no MIG could counter the maneuverability of an F22 Raptor. This was the same in the first HAWX.

It's a bit of a shame that HAWX2 lost some of the perks that HAWX had, like the chance to pick a fighter to use in the mission and even pick the weapons you want to use. I mean, it makes sense that in the Story Mode you just fly what you get assigned, but in some missions I thought that I could do a lot better with a different type of fighter and a set of weapons. It's supposed to be more fun than realistic, right? Another thing that bothered me was the choice in weapons. You got to use all sorts of different weapons against fighters in the first HAWX, but the main thing you'll be using in a dogfight in HAWX2 is a simple HSM (heat seeking missile). Somewhat of a disappointment. I was hoping for a more fascinating arsenal.
An interesting thing they added to the HAWX2 was the chance to use the AC130 Spectre. You didn't get to fly the thing, but you got to support ground action with it, which was way fun. You also got to do pretty much the same with drones. In some missions you used them to guide bombs, in some to listen on the enemy's phone calls and such. Even some of the weapons on the fighter were used like this, where you could aim a surgical strike or a bomb of some sorts in a different perspective.

All in all, I really liked this game. I would seriously recommend this to anyone who is into arcade-style fighter sims like I am, anyone who has a joystick and don't have any games to use it with or just anyone who likes flying. It can get frustrating at times, but in the end it's fun and fast-paced. Now I can go back to playing the Arcade missions.

8/10 Flogs

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Borderlands (2009)

Important info here.

The plot. You are a treasure hunter fresh off the ship on a remote planet, when you're contacted by a mysterious woman, or rather the voice of one, that instructs you to find and open a thing called the Vault, which is apparently what most people in the region are after. The Vault is supposed to be something so awesome, all sorts of organisations want a piece of it.

General thoughts. This one is an interesting game. It is set on a remote planet called Pandora, which is, unlike the Avatar Pandora, a bandit-infested ruthless little place. Most of the planet seems to be desert-like and most of the inhabitants are not too friendly.
You start off as one of four classes (hunter, soldier, siren and berserker). I chose Mordecai the hunter. He is pretty much a skinny dude who prefers snipers and revolvers. And owns a hawk called Bloodwing, which you can use as a special power. Not too useful, but is fun to watch every now and then.

Anyway, you start off as one of these characters (or more than one, if co-op) and you appear to be on a quest to find an ancient Vault which opens once in two hundred years. You are also contacted by a mysterious woman, who appears only to you. She informs you that your task is indeed finding the Vault and opening it.
Now, what makes Borderlands so very different from anything else of the same type, namely open world RPG-s, is the peculiar style it's portrayed in. While the life on Pandora is very complicated and gruesome, the world and everything in it is drawn in a cartoonish style. This is a very interesting approach in a world, where every game is trying to get closer and closer to photorealism. The graphics of Borderlands are not bad, oh no, they're just a little bit on the weird side. It looks almost like the whole thing is drawn with a pen instead of 3D rendering. You get used to it really fast, though, so it doesn't affect gameplay in any way. A lot of the characters you meet are also drawn in this weird style and some of them look a little bit funny, even.
Games like these usually have some sort of funny characters to make an otherwise evil and depressing world a little bit more cheerful. In Borderlands there are a lot of little robots called Clap Traps, who assist you with information, finding loot, activating all sorts of devices and provide amusement. Clap Traps are small robots with two hands and one wheel to move around on. As the story progresses, you will encounter a lot of broken Clap Traps with side missions for fixing them by finding a box of tools. These are usually not very difficult and very beneficial, since every fixed Clap Trap gives you three additional storage spaces and they usually point you to some sort of hidden stash.

A nice touch, I think, is the separation of weapon stashes and ammo stashes, where ammo stashes are usually normal boxes, weapon stashes are more interesting and take a little bit of time to open. This gives a really interesting feeling of anticipation, as the box opens. You never know what you're going to find there.
A weird thing I noticed was the evolution of equipment. Now, the usual approach would be that the equipment gets better as the game progresses, but for Borderlands it peaked more than once. Somewhere around the middle of the game you receive a bunch of really good weapons and shields and then the game proceeds to hand you only bad stuff. I don't know what's up with that.
The ending of Borderlands was a little bit disappointing. I'm not going to tell you what happens, but prepare to be not amazed. At least you can keep playing once you've finished the main storyline.
If some RPG-s tend to feed you a lot of really boring side quests, I found most side quests in Borderland quite interesting. You get to do all sorts of things, mostly 'go kill that' or 'collect 10 pieces of that', but some of these are quite interesting. Also, since you're always on the lookout for better equipment, and side quests sometimes have bosses who tend to drop good equipment, the side quests are helpful there, also. I actually did about 90% of the side quests, which is really rare for me.
You also get to drive around in a weird buggy a lot and you can respawn them for free whenever you're in a car spawning station. Now, I was actually hoping for more of an evolution on the car thingy than just more armor, so if you're expecting to end up riding a tank, prepare to be disappointed. The buggy stays the same. You can choose either a machine gun or a rocket launcher to be the turret. Right from the beginning. No evolution there either.

The whole game took me around 30 hours to finish, so it's not super long for an RPG, but I think it's just long enough. Much longer would probably get boring. This game is definitely something completely different from the standard RPG we're all used to. And yes, Borderlands is a good game. I recommend trying it for anyone who is into RPG-s, shooters or sci-fi. The plot isn't exactly a masterpiece, but the interesting gameplay makes up for it.

8/10 Flogs