Entries in gaming (3)

Friday
Feb282014

Titanfall Hyperstrike

 

With EA's newest venture into the FPS world Titanfall set to release in two weeks, this calm before the storm is the perfect time to reflect on its recent beta. I wanted to wait a little while before pushing this out in order to collect my thoughts and make sure I didn't let the Titanfall frenzy get to me. The devs at Respawn insist that gamers not feel obligated to buy the game on hype alone and it's easy to see why, the game is great.

 

Created by the guys who are responsible for the FPS empire that is Call of Duty, this is their first game since the split with Activision. This game has pedigree and it shows. Many of the familiar systems made popular by COD are present: custom loadouts, weapon attachments, a leveling system and the tight gunplay the franchise was founded on. The real game changer with Titanfall is the range and fluidity of movement, an innovation sorely needed by a genre that has devolved into annual rehashes. The speed that can be attained by the player and the verticality afforded by the wall running and double jump almost call back to the days of Unreal Tournament and Quake 3.

 

I'm going to call it like it see it, Titanfall is going to be big. Maybe not GTA V big, but it's the console-seller that the Xbox One needs and the PS4 wishes they had. While I must admit I don't find piloting the titans as enjoyable as being on the ground, the mechs play an important role in zone control similar to more conventional vehicles seen in Battlefield while also offering another layer of depth. While it has become somewhat popular to hate on recent editions of COD due to the yearly rehashes, Activision's treatment of Infinity Ward or even the idea of Bobby Kotick trying to steal the money from out of your pockets, Titanfall has the ability to reinvigorate what has become a somewhat stagnant genre.

 

The controls are as tight as ever and Respawn has done with the refining the strong core mechanics that have been iterating on for years. Their choice of using the Source engine as the backbone of the game is especially adept because it allows for good scaling to ensure strong performance on both console and PC. The graphical fidelity is as sharp as any game on the market, and running the game at full blast makes the first time you jump into the cockpit of a titans truly awe inspiring. Now that I have sung the praises of the rebirth of FPS, there are still a few issues that need to be addressed.

 

When the news came out that the max player count was 6v6, there was public outcry fearing the worst. I abstained until I was able to test it out during the Beta, and I have to say the fear is partly justified. Towards the end of the beta, people developed a strategy in which the best way to win was to use the smart pistol and farm the minions as quickly as possible. While minions are worth only a fraction of a player kill, the speed at which you can farm them, both with and without the smart pistol, often lead to the highest scores owned by players with 50+ minion kills. I feel like the player limit needs to be upped to at least 8v8 and the number of minions reduced to combat this strategy because it devalues actual player vs player combat. This is less important in other game modes like Last Titan Standing, but since Attrition is their Team Deathmatch substitute and will almost certainly by the most popular game mode, this is one of the most pressing issues.

 

The smart pistol itself is a dangerous weapon. It allows a wielder to keep any enemy in a huge reticule (see above) for just a few seconds and then guaranteeing multiple hits on players or instant kills on minions. I relatively sure there will be a huge cry of people calling it a noob weapon when used against them, and can sort of see why because when combined with the cloaking ability can often leave limited room for counterplay, especially at the casual level. To be clear, I'm not saying the gun is overpowered, but I believe it needs carefully monitoring after the game is released and I wouldn't be surprised to see the lock-on time be increased or otherwise nerfed slightly in some manner.

 

Another common criticism is that there is little to no recoil for most of weapons, but I think that is a necessity balanced out by the speed of the players. With added recoil it would be extremely difficult to hit agile players, and was seen in the beta by the incredibly small amount of people using sniper rifles. While there are certain long distances that afford a sniper great visibility, the speed at which enemies can close on you and the increased exposure makes sniping a generally bad proposition.

 

Finally for PC users, it is a shame to see the lack of dedicated servers and the menus seem to be hamstrung by the desire to make sure everyone works most efficiently on the console. This is even less appealing since they have ceased their efforts to implement cross platform matchmaking.

 

I haven't enjoyed a FPS game as much as this since Quake 3 with an honorable mention for Modern Warfare 2 and the early days of Team Fortress 2. This revelation was a shock in and of itself and combined with the release of Destiny this year, I more excited about shooters than I have been in over five years. Maybe it is the new IP or just a cyclic occurance due to the current rise of MOBA's and despite being pushed back from the Xbox One release window, Titanfall will be entirely worth the wait. I'm not going to bother with a number or score, but if you like shooters even a little but have been waiting to get back in the game, Titanfall deserves your time and consideration.

Tuesday
Jan072014

AGDQ 2014

 

It's that time of year again to highlight one of the best speedrun events of the year with Awesome Games Done Quick 2014. The event started on January 5th and runs all the way until the 11th. The best runners from Speed Demos Archive will be blasting through some of the best games of all time and raising money for the Prevent Cancer Foundation at the same time.

 

At the time of writing they have already surpassed $185,000 on the way to a hopeful goal of over half a million dollars. Tune in to see your favorite childhood games bent and broken all for a great causes. Donations also make you eligible for prizes such as figurines, plushies and more. 

 

Who says games are a waste of time? Check them out at gamesdonequick.com

 

Update: Markus Persson aka Notch and creator of Mincraft just tossed in his yearly support for AGDQ with a $10,000 donation.

Friday
Jul192013

Review: Razer DeathStalker

For a long time I’ve been thinking about replacing my desktop keyboard and mouse combo. While it has served my purposes, I was never really satisfied with my Razer Arctosa. On the other hand, my Logitech MX Revolution has been one of my favorite mice ever, but it's beginning to show its wear after 5 or so years of abuse. I decided to replace my keyboard first since it is the main culprit of my dissatisfaction. At this point you are probably thinking the foremost issue is to decide which color cherry switches I want and then move on from there. Not so fast. While I can’t deny the sweet precision of a quality mechanical switch, years of traveling and typing on chiclet style keyboard has made me more comfortable and more accurate with them.

 

 

Low profile keys, short travel distance, and keys are a larger surface area are features that has caused me to prefer chiclet style keyboards over traditional keyboards, but unfortunately  they seem to be relegated almost entirely to the laptop segment. If someday someone makes a chiclet style keyboard with mechanical switches or high quality scissor switches I will be the first to jump aboard that train, but until then we are almost entirely with membrane dome options for chiclet style keyboards. I was a huge fan of the Logitech Dinovo Edge, but that quite was not quite true chiclet style, and has issues of its own like lack of a numpad and awkward recharging situations due to its rechargable nature before you even get to the $200+ price point.

 

(picitured wth iphone 4 for thickness comparison)

This brings me to the crux of my problem, the market for quality chiclet keyboard is pretty slim. Many people throughout the years have been turned off by the membrane dome switches found on a lot of early low-profile and laptop keyboards to the point where they've been kind of written off as cheap products. This leaves consumers looking for a quality chiclet style desktop keyboard pretty high and dry. Microsoft doesn’t sell any, Logitech has 2, one of which is a solar powered option and the other is wireless, and not full-sized. High-end boutique keyboard makers like Das, or WASD don’t carry anything not mechanical, aka not chiclet style. Apple makes a pretty competent model, and they even have a version with a numpad, but as a PC user it just doesn’t  feel right. There are a few models on Newegg, mostly around $15 but none with a lot of positive feedback.

 

My only requirements are a full-size chiclet keyboard with backlighting, it really shouldn’t be this difficult to find. Then I remembered seeing a promotional keyboard from Razer tied to Star Wars: The Old Republic. Despite my previous experience with a Razer keyboard I felt like I was grasping grasp at straws, so I decided to give it a closer look. The original Old Republic keyboard had everything I was looking for except for one thing, the numpad had been switched out for a small touch screen, a feature that boosted the price up over $200. Thankfully they later made a similar version called the DeathStalker, including a variant that reverted the touch screen back into a traditional numpad. For the reasonable price of $79.99 and overriding my hesitance to buy another Razer keyboard, I figured I would give it a shot.

 

My intial reaction: This is pretty much the exact keyboard I’ve been looking for. It’s not perfect, there is a little more side to side wiggle on the kyes than I would like, and key height is slightly taller that I had expected but overall the DeathStalker has been a pleasant surprise.

Every new keyboard takes a little getting used to, but the  getting-to-know-you phase was quite speedy and requited very little adjustment from my normal typing habits. The sense of bottoming out on a keystroke is something that many mechanical keyboard fans may not like, but it’s something that has never bothered me. If you get really picky there is also a tiny deadzone at the lowest key depression that all membrane dome keyboards succumb to.

 

The keyboard features a sleek almost minimalist design; the only adornments are the Razer logo on the palm rest and markings under the indicator lights above the numpad. The flat keys are somewhat shiny and set themselves apart from the matte finish of the rest of the keyboard. Each key is individually backlit and the color can be changed using the included Synapse software. One important feature is that there is minimal separation between the number row and the F-keys allowing a more accessible reach for people with smaller hands. The palm rest became one of my favorite features of the keyboard, it features a faint hexagonal design but more importantly has a very faint tacky texture that gives your hand a very firm footing, if that’s that kind of thing you’re into. When typing normally my wrists tend to float above the palm rest, but it was during gaming sessions that I really appreciated the palm rest, especially during more frenetic keyboard mashing. The palm rest is not removable, so that might be a deal breaker for people looking for a narrower keyboard.

 

The bottom is pretty standard and has traditional risers for those who like a more elevated typing surface. One note is that unlike many other Razer keyboards, and despite the technical specifications on Razer’s website, this keyboard only has one USB connection and does not have the pass through USB and audio ports that are found on the BlackWidow and Arctosa.

 

I can’t finish up this review without touching on the Synapse software included with the keyboard. It let’s you customize the backlighting colors and set some macros and adjust some of the gaming settings. It also features controls for the touch screen on the more expensive version, but I as this version comes without I wasn’t able to play with them. One critique I have is that you must use the internet to upload and retrieve your settings if you were to switch computers, a minor annoyance compared to other manufactures that provide onboard memory for setting storage. Even so, the keyboard will still function as a plug and play USB device if you choose to forgo the Synapse software.

 

Conclusion

 

This keyboard is a solid product for users looking for an alternative to the mechanical keyboards that dominate the $75 dollar and up market. Its low-key styling allows it to it hide in the background compared to other gaming keyboards, some might even call it minimalist. It responds well in normal touch typing as well as gaming situations with its well spaced chiclet keys. This is a straightforward  keyboard that will please users who do a little, or even a lot of both.

My grade for the Razer Deathstalker is a B.