Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Game of the Year 2008

Well 2008 is well and truly gone and we're now in 2009, so it's time to reflect on the last year and award a Game of the Year award. For 2008, the best scoring game here at Choicest games was:



Left 4 Dead

With a whopping 80%, Left 4 Dead, the zombie co-op FPS published by Valve, was just too good overall and it shows. Be sure to check out the review on Left 4 Dead when you get a chance.



Our runners up prize goes to:



Mass Effect

For filling in the void which is the PC Sci-Fi RPG scene, Mass Effect proved to us that Bioware has still got what it takes when making RPGs and that fantasy wasn't the only realm that they were willing to delve in (well, there was KotoR, but Star Wars is more a mix of fantasy and sci-fi :)).






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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Red Alert 3 Review

Being a long-time fan of the C&C series in particular Red Alert, I couldn't resist getting the latest game, Red Alert 3. This game has adopted the same formula applied in previous Red Alerts in the retaining of FMV to help immerse the player in the game's storyline, however it bears more resemblance to the silliness of Red Alert 2 than it does to Red Alert 1 (which was more serious). As mentioned in an earlier review, the game's soundtrack is excellent but now let's see if the game itself holds up.


Red Alert 3 Campaign Gameplay Video

Sound (4/5)
The sound effects and voice acting can't really be faltered in this. EA once again didn't hold back in getting a lot of celebrities and professional actors into the game, with the likes of Tim Curry (The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Muppet Treasure Island and Monty Python's Spam-a-lot) George Takei (Star Trek) and Jonathan Pryce (Pirates of the Carribean and Tommorow Never Dies) to name a few. Sound effects are truly well done for all the units and weapons in the game with hilarious comments by the Soviet grunts and even modulation of the pitch for unit voices when they are shrunk by a Cryocopter. The only criticism I could place (which is very minor) is that some of the voice acting by the Soviets, mainly Peter Stormare who plays a Soviet scientist, seems forced and doesn't actually sound like a Russian at all.

Music (5/5)
As mentioned in my earlier soundtrack review, the music is excellent, and is another area where EA didn't hold back. EA hired no less than three composers to score the music for Red Alert 3, even managing to get the legendary Frank Klepacki to score a few tracks, including the main theme, "Hell March 3". What is even more thrilling is that for the first time in a Red Alert game, they've actually incorporated the "Hell March" theme into incidental tracks in-game. Not only that, but an excerpt from "Hell March 3" is used as the Soviet Victory music. It all helps in further differentiating the music styles between the three sides: the Soviets is a mixture of nationalistic Soviet-era music and heavy metal, the Allies have a mixture of WWII-era nationalistic music and American rock 'n' roll, and the Japanese have a mixture of traditional Japanese music and funky, futuristic rock. There's an eclectic assortment of music here and most of them are very good.

A short mention should also go to the effort the composers made in assembling a dynamic music system which basically changes the music depending on how you are doing in battle. Do well, and you'll be hearing victorious music. Do poorly, and you'll be hearing sombre more reserved music. Even though other genres may contain this kind of system I think it's the first time ever I've seen it in an RTS (and if it isn't, it still must be pretty rare).

Graphics (4/5)
The graphics in Red Alert 3 are quite excellent with superb water effects and so they should be, considering naval warfare is a key aspect of the Red Alert series. Colours are also bright and the units almost appear cartoony which in my opinion suits the silliness of the game although some may be put off by the new art direction.

Plot (3/5)
Even though a lot of effort was made into bringing the Red Alert 3 world to life and granted it's meant to be all a bit silly, sometimes it seems that too much effort was made into other facets of the game besides the story itself. For one, the endings for each of the sides (besides maybe the Japanese ending) will make you cringe. The Soviet one is too short and poorly scripted and the Allied one too sexed-up and corny - in fact, it seems like the whole game is pretty much like that and while it might please the 13-15 year-old boys demographic, the older veteran fans of the Red Alert series are going to be cringing all the time (especially with curious girlfriends peeking over our shoulders).

Gameplay(3/5)
There are several new (or perhaps, not so new) interesting features that are added to the RTS genre. Firstly, Red Alert 3 introduces a most excellent co-op feature which allows you to play with a mate or a random player online in completing the single-player campaign together. In fact, each mission is built to have a co-commander in mind. If you don't have a human to help you out, the computer takes over. Unfortunately, the computer can never truly replace a (competent) human player since its AI is quite lacking - even if it is able to micromanage better than a human can!

Another plus are the wacky units you get on each side from Soviet APCs with a circus man-cannon approach to para-dropping troops, to giant, eye-laser-firing, Japanese robots. Classic units make a return to like the Allied dolphins and Soviet Apocalypse Tanks. What is great about these units too is that all of them have a secondary ability that can be easily accessed by hitting the "F" key on the keyboard. Using the dolphins for example, hitting "F" causes them to jump into the air which is useful in avoiding torpedoes or electric shocks. This adds an extra depth to the gameplay and the use of secondary abilities is almost necessary for the Japanese side since some of their units transform from anti-air, anti-ground and anti-sea modes.

A final nice touch I've noticed is how each of the three sides roughly corresponds to the different domains of land, sea and air combat. The Soviets are definitely the masters of ground attacks, with the strongest tank in the game (the Apocalypse tank) and superpowers that bolster ground troops. The Allies are the masters of the sky with many powerful and versatile air units, especially the Century Bomber - not to mention bonuses they can pick which add extra armour to their aircraft. Finally the Japanese are masters of the sea with one of their best units being the Shogun Battleship and bonuses that bolster the strength of its navy.

However, even with all these nice new additions, at its heart, Red Alert 3 is still an RTS, and after only a short period online, the hardcore players have already sussed out the ins and outs of the game and already know the best strategies to rush newbies. If rushing is the reason you hate RTSes then sadly not much has changed in this department, yet it's unlikely it *will* ever change in this genre, unless the game has a mechanic to not allow attacking for several minutes or not allow really harmful units until much later in the game.


Red Alert 3 Skirmish Gameplay Video

Replayability (2/5)
Red Alert 3 has the standard amount of replayability when compared to any other RTS. You can play through the single-player campaign at other difficulties, try your hand at skirmish mode or go online and play with/against human opponents. The co-op feature does help to make playing through the single-player campaign again more appealing since you're helping out mates, but it's mired by a clunky player search feature which requires you to wander around lobbies online in the attempt of finding friends, adding them to your friends list and then starting up a game. In my opinion, if they added the good old World Domination mode they had in Red Alert 2, it'd help immensely in making the game more replayable.

Polish(3/5)
The game does annoyingly have SecuROM on it - but then again, it seems all games nowadays have some form of SecuROM, although this is EA's restrictive 5-installs-and-no-more-game-for-you style of SecuROM. However, the game overall has relatively little bugs and it runs smoothly on my machine, even on highest settings. The comprehensive tutorial mode that was included with the game is also a plus that helps newbies and veterans get used to the concepts introduced in this most recent iteration of the Red Alert series. The only real criticism I have is that the unit pathfinding algorithms seems to be a bit poor since sometimes your units can get stuck in traffic jams while on their way to a certain destination which can result in disastrous consequences.

Overall - 71%
Red Alert 3 is a solid and fun RTS in a similar vein to its predecessor, Red Alert 2. However, if you're looking for something new in terms of RTSes, RA3 isn't it. Only sex-craving young teenage males and veteran Red Alert fans should apply.