The Frag Limit


Battlefield: Bad Company 2 – The Importance of Sound
July 31, 2012, 11:18 am
Filed under: Side Strafe | Tags: , , , ,

Perhaps more than any other game Battlefield: Bad Company 2 requires gamers to pay special attention to sound and the aural environment.  This is particularly true when playing the “hardcore” squad deathmatch gamemode.  In hardcore SQDM, players must use their listening abilities to do a range of a number of different things – from finding enemies to developing offensive tactics to simply staying alive.  The sound is so important in this gamemode because there are no objectives required other than to simply kill the enemy squad members.  Players must focus on things like locating, surprising, routing out and ultimately attacking the enemy instead of doing such things as planting a bomb or capturing an objective.  This shift in gameplay coupled with a game environment that relies heavily on the absence of almost all HUD elements gives gamers a perfect arena to hunt, track and slay enemy opponents.

The use of sound in this multiplayer FPS is quite unique.  Not only is it one of the first games to really focus on delivering a cinematic, high-definition aural experience, but it is also one of the first games to promote the importance of sound as a tool for winning online battles.  Sure other games in the past have had decent sound (like the Call of Duty series) and sure other games have used sound as a gameplay device, but no other game has done it this well and to this extent.  The sound quality in Battlefield: Bad Company 2 is by far the best for any multiplayer FPS to date and the use of sound as a tool is also seminal.  Indeed, some of the greatest multiplayer FPS experiences this blogger has had to date has come from playing Battlefield: Bad Company 2’s hardcore squad deathmatch.

While the more popular Conquest and Rush gamemodes in Bad Company 2 are fun and engaging, nothing comes quite as close to the immediate and extremely personal experience of hardcore squad deathmatch.  In this gamemode everything is real.  The space you occupy is no longer virtual.  Instead, you are “in the game” and the incredibly detailed maps with their lush, sun-lit landscapes consume you.  The sound of a firefight off in the distance piques your interest and gives you a beacon to seek through the fog of war.  The clap of a sniper rifle signals the presence of a recon in the building next to you – hadn’t it been so loud you would have never known how dangerously close he really was.  In another instance, you are in a forest and standing still for a moment you can hear some bushes rustling up ahead – the enemy has just revealed their position.  Little scenarios like these pepper the hardcore squad deathmatch gamemode in Bad Company 2 and give the whole experience something vastly more than the sum of its parts.

This gamemode is a totally different game altogether from the more popular parts of the Battlefield series.  This gamemode isn’t about strength or firepower or even strategy so much.  Instead, this gamemode is about tactics.  And these tactics are all about what you can see and, more importantly, what you can hear in the world immediately in front of you.  It’s not a world for the faint of heart and most players end up dismissing the gamemode as “too difficult” shortly after first playing it.  But for those who stick around, and except the brave new world of multiplayer gaming, it can be quite an amazing experience and not like one that gamers have ever experienced before.

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Return to Castle Wolfenstein – Review
July 27, 2012, 1:23 pm
Filed under: Limbo Screen | Tags: , , , ,

Review Score:   96 / 100

Review Stats:

  • Gameplay – 10
  • Fun Factor – 9
  • Competition Value – 10
  • Replay Value – 10
  • Intangibles – 9
  • Total Score – 48 (x2) = 96

Game Information:

  • Platform(s) – PC, Steam
  • Release Date – November 19, 2001
  • Game Modes – DM, CTF, Stopwatch

The Nitty Gritty:

Return to Castle Wolfenstein, released in 2001, was a greatly influential title that has largely been overlooked in recent years as being, for the most part, irrelevant.  This is quite unfortunate given the great popularity and importance of this game in its prime.  When RTCW came out in 2001, id software was the undisputed reigning champion of the first-person shooter genre having spawned the genre a decade earlier and having released hit after hit in the subsequent years following.  Anyone who played PC games at RTCW’s release was quite familiar with the mighty id software and their great lineage of critically acclaimed games.  Therefore, upon its debut, the game was in a perfect position to offer another great FPS experience for PC gamers.

And it delivered!  Return to Castle Wolfenstein was on of the first games in the burgeoning FPS market that offered a uniquely team-based, competitive environment for clans and/or competitive-minded gamers.  While id software’s previous games were primarily focused on solo player combat, RTCW, on the other hand, was specifically designed for team-based action.  In RTCW players had to play as a team to win.  Team coordination was extremely crucial as the player classes where specifically designed to fit specific roles.  The four classes (medic, lieutenant, engineer and soldier) all had specific functions necessary for the success of the team in the battlefield.  For instance, the medic had to keep his team’s health up by delivering health packs and by reviving comrades if they fell.  Lieutenants had to supply ammo and call in airstrikes.  Engineers where necessary for clearing defences and completing objectives.  And soldiers where primarily responsible assisting the team in killing enemies.

This class structure may seem simple and primitive by today’s standards as there typically are multiple roles and functions for each of the many different classes in modern games, but it worked.  And, it worked beautifully.  The simplicity of the class structure allowed players to focus on excelling in each role and in improving overall team play.  Additionally, players were also less focused on themselves and instead more focused on their contributions to the end result; which was to achieve the objective and obtain victory for their team.

The simplicity of the game design fostered a wide and rabid following upon the game’s release.  And would also help make it go down as one of the greatest multiplayer FPS experiences on the PC.

Gameplay:

The gameplay in Return to Castle Wolfenstein was second to none.  The quality of the gameplay primarily came from the simplicity of the overall product.  In addition to the simple class structure, there were also just a simple and rather small selection of weapons in the game.  This small weapon pool – which is now all to un-common in modern gaming – naturally led to an excellent balance in the gameplay.  Each weapon had a specific purpose and fulfilled it’s role very well.  There was only one main gun for three of the four classes (a Thompson for Allies and a MP-40 for Axis) and the soldier class had a wider selection of armaments, though it was still quite limited (there was a sniper rifle, a venom “mini-gun”, a flamethrower and the ever-popular Panzerfaust).  In any given battle, the two warring teams would have to use the minimal options available to achieve victory (by mainly using the Thompson, mp-40 and the Panzerfaust).

Another important aspect of the gameplay was the small selection of gamemodes.  There was simply DM, CTF and Stopwatch.  Deathmatch and Capture the Flag were hardly ever played, so this left really only one type of gamemode for all the players to enjoy; Stopwatch.  Stopwatch was basically a time-trial for the opposing teams.  In the beginning of the match, one team would first have to set the timer by achieving victory by completing all of the objectives for each given map.  Then, in the next phase, the teams would switch sides and then the opposing team had to try to “beat the timer” set by the other team.  If the second team could finish the objectives quicker than the first team, then that team won the entire match.  This simple and ingenuous gamemode was revolutionary at the time for two reasons: first, it introduced objective and team-based gameplay to the masses and second, it was so simple.  Everyone loved stopwatch and it proved to be immensely popular for both casual pubbers and hardcore competitive players alike.  Most of all, this gamemode promoted balanced gameplay and, ultimately, an environment where shear gaming skill and teamwork was more important than anything else.

Fun Factor:

Return to Castle Wolfenstein was simply a blast to play and with out a doubt is this reviewer’s most favourite game of all time.  Return to Castle Wolfenstein did so many things right its difficult to find a place to start.  Probably the most important thing about the game is that it was so well balanced.  Closely following that is the fact that there was a very thin line between the casual public gaming and the more competitive world of clan-based warfare.  From the very start of the game it was difficult, if not impossible, to tell where pubbing ended and where competitive gaming started.  This fact makes all the difference in the world when judging how “fun” the game was from a competitive point of view.  To a competitive player, the public servers where just the training grounds for potential new recruits.  And the vast amount of players who played on public servers had perfect visibility to the competitive scene as well.

So it went like this; if you were new to multiplayer gaming, it wasn’t too difficult at all to see that there was more to the game than just what you found on the public servers.  Clans often recruited players on these servers and getting picked up by a team wasn’t difficult for most everyone.  Therefore, if you bought the game thinking that you were just getting a simple singlepayer shooter, not only were you surprised that there was a great multiplayer aspect as well, but that this multiplayer aspect was incredibly deep, exciting and challenging – depending on how far you wanted to take it.  This sequence of events – of revelations – made the game incredibly fun, fresh and exciting for months on end.  And, of course, being a part of the thriving and widely-popular competitive scene was exhilarating as well.

Competition Value:

If the point hasn’t been driven home by now as to the competition value of this game… let me just say that it was great!  At one point in time (probably around mid-2002), Return to Castle Wolfenstein had an incredible number of clans actively playing and competing for internet glory and cash prizes.  Both Teamwarfare league (still around) and the Cyber-athletic Amateur League (now defunct) had a thriving and incredibly popular scene for RTCW players.  As I recall, probably about 200+ teams were signed up at both TWL and CAL and were actively playing in ladders, leagues and tournaments.  The most popular way to play, of course, was the leagues – which were divided by season and by location (East, West and Central).  Both TWL and CAL had separate divisions dividing clans according to skill and overall performance for each location.  If you were a new clan, you started off in the “Open” bracket and had to prove your worthiness by winning some matches.  If you had success in the Open bracket you could graduate to the “Main” bracket were more challenging matches awaited.  For the best of the best, there was the “Invite” bracket for those teams who proved to be the most lethal in the clan-game.  And finally, for those teams that were the top of the “Invite” bracket, live tournaments were scattered throughout North America and Europe where select teams could fight it out for cash prizes.

Replay Value:

The desire to replay this game over and over again is very high.  This desire comes from comes from a of couple things.  First of all, upon Return to Castle Wolfenstein’s release, it was one of the first team-based games that became that became very popular and well-known.  Of course, other games that featured such things as deathmatch had been around for a few years but none of those games prior to RTCW’s release truly focused all of their attention on team-based gameplay.  The feeling of playing a multiplayer game in a totally new and interesting way was a great way to lure people back time and again.  People wanted to learn as much as they could about this new way of playing as a team.  Being dependant on one another and requiring one another for one’s own success in the game was truly compelling.

The other big factor for replayability came from the strong competitive angle of the game.  As noted in the previous section, Return to Castle Wolfenstein was a game that was very involved with competitive gameplay.  This gameplay enticed many, many players to become better by honing their individual skills and team-based communication/actions.  Casual players who once would have just played the game for several weeks now had a whole new world of opportunities open up to them in the form of clan ladders, leagues and tournaments.   Many found the potential glory of internet fame to be too much to resist and they set out on a course to become as good as they could possibly be.

Intangibles:

The intangibles of Return to Castle Wolfenstein primarily come from its unique positioning upon its release.  Having been one of the first popular games to feature team-based multiplayer FPS action, this game opened up a whole new world of experiences for gamers.  No longer did gamers have to just be satisfied with shallow deathmatch experiences or simple free-for-all matches, instead gamers now had to work cooperatively together in order to achieve victory on the battlefield.  This team and objective-based gameplay proved to be overwhelming compelling as gamers sought the next stage in the evolution of online team-based multiplayer gaming; clan warfare.

As noted above, the world of clanning made Return to Castle Wolfenstein great.  The game revolved around clans.  It didn’t necessarily matter how great a player you were on your own, but instead it matter on how great the clan was that you belonged to.  The status quo for gaming glory shifted from the individual to the clan.  And one’s name was no longer as important as it once was, but instead the clan tag was the almighty indicator of prestige and glory.  This “meta-game” of clan warfare and striving to become the best clan player you could be and joining the best clan you could find elevated the entire experience of RTCW to a whole new level.  Indeed, Return to Castle Wolfenstein was elevated to that special place where only a few other games in the genre could compete; the master class.



Battlefield 3 – Review
July 1, 2012, 5:15 pm
Filed under: Hit Scan

Review Score:   84 / 100

Review Stats:

  • Gameplay – 8
  • Fun Factor – 9
  • Competition Value – 6
  • Replay Value – 10
  • Intangibles – 9
  • Total Score – 42 (x2) = 84

Game Information:

  • Platform(s) – PC, 360, Ps3
  • Release Date – October 25, 2011
  • Game Modes – Conquest, Rush, Squad Rush, Squad DM, TDM

The Nitty Gritty:

Hello everyone.  Today we are going to be taking a look at Battlefield 3 – Dice’s new heavy-duty modern-day, miltary shooter.

Dice spared no expense in the development of this game and it shows.  From the lush, crisp graphics to the loud, enrapturing sound to the tight, gritty battles, Battlefield 3 is a game that is meant to impress.  And it does.  Just like all the other games in the Battlefield legacy, Battlefield 3 has everything that one could expect from the franchise.  The big sprawling maps are back, as are the many different playable vechicles and the real-time destructable environments.   Additionally, the great host of weapons and personal araments introduced in Bad Company 2 also make a return (though this time the collection is even more comprehensive) and player/soldier customization again plays a huge role in compelling and enticing players to keep on playing time and again (often times for many, many hours in total).

In addition to all this epic goodness is a fairly extensive singleplayer campaign as well as a thorough Co-op experience.  In sum, the game is rather huge when considering all of its different parts and it gives players a lot of content to play with for a good, worthwhile period of time.  For our purposes here, however, we will not be considering the “total package” of Battlefield 3, but rather just focus on the multiplayer componant specifically.  And at any rate, the multiplayer componant will give us more than enough to discuss and critique for this review.  So let’s get started!

Gameplay:

Multiplayer is all about gameplay.  And with Battlefield 3 we have sort of a conundrum.  On one hand, bf3 offers a deep, challenging and fun gameplay environment which will keep gamers engaged and coming back for more for a long, long time.  On the other hand, bf3 dissappoints when considering gameplay balance and how well the game operates as a platform for competition.  To parse out these differences, I will be discussing the former aspect of “gameplay” here in this section.  And in the upcoming section called “Competition Value”, I will be discussing the latter aspect.  Hopefully, by seperating these two distinct areas of interest a clearer picture can be drawn about what Battlefield 3 really offers – both in a positive way and in a negative way.

So how does the gameplay in Battlefield 3 offer a deep, challenging and fun gameplay experience?  It does so primarily in two distinct ways.  The first way is through its offering of a huge sprawling world of options, customizations and player specializations.  In the world of Battlefield 3, there are over 55 different guns alone (9 assault rifles, 6 carbines, 7 light machine guns, 8 sniper rifles, 6 sub machine guns, 5 shotguns, 6 rocket launchers and 8 pistols to be specific – along with several faction variations).  There are also a whole host of weapon ”modifications” which allow players to tweak their weapon setups with scopes,  barrels, grips, lights, laser-guides and suppressors – among other things.  Additionally, there is also helping handful of grenades, mines, mortars and c4 explosives which add to the mix.  This gun-crazed and “armed to the teeth” environment makes the gameplay incredibly deep and challenging (challenging in that it can sometimes be quite difficult to fight, or contend with, a better armed or better equiped oppanant – or even just a smarter opponant who uses his resources well).  It can also be challenging for any given player to find a decent gun which he can feel comfortable with.  All of this nuiance and detail created by this sprawling world of weapons and armaments makes the game a real treat to play as one inevitably starts at the bottom of the food chain and has to work their way up through determination, skill and hard work (and a little luck).

The other way the gameplay succeeds is through the “Battlefield Experience” itself.  As we all know, the Battlefield series is known for its wild, intense and completely unrehersed “action-movie” type game scenarios.  And in Battlefield 3 we are heartily dealt more blockbuster, “wow that was cool – did that just really happen” moments that we can shake the proverbial stick at.  It is in these epic, winning moments that game really comes to life and it is in these moments that players want to play relentlessly, night and day, and non-stop, in the name and persuit of Fun and excitement.

Fun Factor:

Well, as I just noted, Battlefield 3 can be a real blast to play.  And the overwhelming majority of this “fun-ness” comes from the well-known and much-apprecitated “Battlefield Experience”.  No other franchise has yet offered any sort of competition, or clone, to this winning gameplay combination (which is a real puzzle) and the Battlefield games remain the sole providers of the chaotic, but controlled, and the random, but intentioned, pre-eminant “sandbox shooter” gameplay offering of the digital warfare arena.

So what exactly is this experience all about?  This experience is about a number of different things and it can be represent through a number of different actions or action sequences.  You may find yourself base-jumping from an impossibly high ledge one moment, shooting a plane out of the sky with a tank round the next moment and then spraying the enemy down with a mini-gun on a helicopter that your buddy is piloting after that.  The combinations available for these crazy action moments are incalculable as there are simply so many different ways to do something that is both really cool and also feels like it came directly out of an action movie.  Indeed, this is what the Battlefield 3 games have always been about: Creating an open world where one action will positively affect another action should the timing and the psychics of those actions be in conjunction with one another.  If you shoot a sniper round while lying prone in small shrubs on top of a distant mountain at a helicopter coming toward you, you might just kill the pilot with a head shot if your aim, trajectory, and accucracy are true.  The ballistics and in-game mechanics will not prevent this from happening, but instead, they will allow it (and promote it) and this is what this makes this game so darned fun to play.

Competition Value:

Let’s now get back to the other aspect of the “gameplay” that was mentioned above in the Gameplay section.  In that section I mentioned that Battlefield 3 suffers on the level of competition by failing to provide an adequate platform for competitive play. Battlefield 3, while damn impressive in many areas, does not really offer an even playing field for the benefit of tournament or league play.  Its sheer size and depth are exciting and compelling, but that really has no bearing on how great the actual competitive multiplayer experience really is.

Essentially, what prevents Battlefield 3 from being really great, is also what makes it “epic”.  The scale and immensity of the game are exactly what end up bogging down and imbalancing the general competitive gameplay experience on a broad and unforgivable level.  This problem underminds most everything that the game is trying to accomplish – at least for hardcore gamers.  For the console players and for the casual players, perhaps there are no issues and everything is hunky-dory, but for us hardcore PC players, who have been fragging for some time, these issues of gameplay imbalance cannot be forgiven.  The incredible arsenal of weapons, gadgets, customizations and specializations are fun and exciting, but unfortunately there are too many inherent advantages and exploitations in such an arsenal which can be used to skew the general competitive “setting” of the game.  If there were about a quarter as many weapons and customizations then perhaps this issue would be irrelevant.  But as it stands now, there is just too much lee-way in the technical functionality of the game itself to be considered a serious contender for competitive gamers.

Replay Value:

As already mentioned, Battlefield 3 offers a wide range of gameplay options through it’s vast and comprehensive weapon’s offering.  This offering gives players a lot of content to chew on – maybe more than necessary – and will keep gamers busy for many hours.  This aspect of the game is one of the strongest aspects – if not the strongest aspect – of the game in general.  Players can easily become addicted to the formula and wish to level up and unlock everything possible.  And this will take awhile.

Intagibles:

Battlefield 3 gets a solid rating in the area of intangibles because it just offers so much excellent content across the board.  From the stat-focused Battlelog.net program to the awesomeness of the near-chaos gameplay to the all-round fun factor, this game is just a blasst to play.  The game is greater than the sum of its parts – and being that it has a lot of parts, the sum total is quite great.  Even priced on the high-end of a modern day, triple-AAA title, this game still provides hours of worthwhile entertainment – despite its lack in the area of competitive gaming.