Stolen Pixels #251: Everyone Else is Wrong

By Shamus
on Apr 15, 2011
Filed under:
Column

splash_homefront.jpg

So, I’ve played a little Homefront.

I really do hate to hold up Half-Life 2 as the Alpha and Omega of shooters. I know not all games need to be Half-Life. In fact, having too many Half-Life knock-offs would be just as bad as too many Call of Duty knock-offs. But Half-Life 2 has so many important lessons that these other games need to learn.

The weapon diversity isn’t. It’s just a bunch of gray assault rifles. (So far. I’ve only played the first hour of the game.) I was bored by them before I ever pulled the trigger. Keep in mind, the premise of Homefront is that the United States has been invaded. One problem you would not have in that scenario would be an overly homogeneous selection of firearms. Revolvers. Pistols. Machine pistols. Automatic weapons. Shotguns. Hunting rifles. The United States is famous for many things, but a shortage of diverse firearms isn’t one of them. This game had every excuse to give us a really eclectic selection of weapons, and instead it’s a bunch of guns that look and feel the same.

(Imagine Half-Life 2 with only the two machine guns. The .357 magnum was a ton of fun to use. The kick was tremendous and the reload was perilously long, but if you were sure you could hit your target, it was an expedient problem-solver. The shotgun, the crossbow, the crowbar, the magnum, the combine assault rifle, the standard machine gun. All different. Each had their place.)

The pacing here is absurd. It’s constant chaos. Game developers: Play Valve’s ‘Lost Coast’ tech demo and listen to the developer commentary. It talks about putting players into “arenas”, those areas of the gameworld where they’re expected to have an encounter. Sometimes the fight begins when they enter. Other times they can explore and get to know the space. These times of exploration give the player a breather so that the intense moments can feel genuinely intense, and not like more of the same.

While you’re listening to that commentary, start up Half-Life 2, Episode 1 and listen to the commentary during the first level or two. The artists at Valve had this figured out years ago: Don’t have your characters harass and pester the player. The player will come to resent it. Let them move at their own pace and think for themselves. They’re trying to have fun. Trust them to know what they want.

The levels are in a straightjacket. (Again, maybe it gets better later, although that’s no excuse for having it be like this for so long.) I never felt like I had any freedom to make tactical decisions. The guys stood over there. My cover was over here. Play peek-a-boo until they all die. I didn’t see opportunities to flank the enemy. You certainly cant rush them with a shotgun in this type of game. When I finished a fight I didn’t see other ways it could have played out, or wonder about other ways of doing things.

The production values in this game are tremendous. I loved the premise. The idea of fighting a battle in a Hooters restaurant is inspired. Putting the player on the side of the guerrillas, fighting against a technologically superior enemy was a great way to give us something different. But the designer ignored the lessons Valve has been giving away for free, and what we end up with feels like a rail shooter with manual steering.

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A Hundred!207There are 127 comments here. I really hope you like reading.

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  1. DanMan says:

    This is another issue of balance that’s really hard. So many shooters get into here is your starting weapon. It sucks. Here is a better weapon. Now you will never need your starting weapon unless you run out of ammo.

    I loved how Half Life not only made a variety of weapons, but the variety made sense in different places. A pistol is not just a rifle that does less damage. A rifle is not just a rocket launcher whose ammo doesn’t explode. Each weapon has a purpose.

    It makes it feel more like collecting tools than collecting pictures.

    • krellen says:

      And the crowbar is never, ever obsolete.

      • James says:

        If you didn’t have the crowbar, the headcrabs would be a lot more trouble. Crowspam was the only real way of killing those little jumpy buggers.

      • Lanthanide says:

        In HL2, apart from the very start of the game when it’s all you have, there is actually very little reason to ever use the crowbar in combat.

        In HL1 it was a staple – it was actually useful against zombies and headcrabs the whole game. In HL2 it is much less effective (Zombies are much faster and headcrabs are harder to hit). So I barely used the crowbar at all, and once you get the gravity gun the crowbar can’t do anything that the gravity gun doesn’t do better.

        • Senji says:

          You just haven’t used the crowbar like you’re supposed to :p
          The crowbar’s great for rushing the enemy and aiming for the head.
          They recoil from the hit you can then take a step back pull out the shotgun and BAM.

          You can even play hit and run with zombies. Not to mention when you just know they’re going to get you if you need to reload just pullout the crowbar shift sprint at them and take your best shot. It works most of the time.

        • Jabor says:

          IMO, the crowbar was still the weapon of choice against headcrabs. Since they’re jumpy buggers, it can actually take quite a bit of ammo to pin them down with a gun, but once you’ve got the timing down it’s pretty straightforward to crowbar them when they jump at you.

          • JPH says:

            I found the shotgun more effective than the crowbar whenever I fought headcrabs.

            I’m with Lanthanide here – in Half-Life 1 it had a lot of uses, but in 2 it pretty much became useless after you had a few other weapons under your belt. Yeah, it could be useful to a degree if you used very careful precision and hit-and-run tactics and all that (like Senji was saying) but it’s very rarely more useful than any of the guns you get.

        • theLameBrain says:

          For me the crowbar has the most use when opening crates. I hate wasting ammo on them.

      • Specktre says:

        I like to imagine that Freeman is swinging the crowbar like a baseball bat whenever Headcrabs jump at him.

      • Freykin says:

        I spent many an hour on HLDM running around with only the crowbar.

        After a while, I was always at the top of the charts on the various servers I played on.

        Crowbar for life.

    • Meredith says:

      And it’s really satisfying to learn how and when to use all the different types of guns and improve your gameplay each time through. Half Life 2 was my first FPS; it definitely spoiled me for others and turned me into a huge Valve fangirl. Finding precious ammo for the .357 was always a celebration moment. Best. Gun. Ever. (excepting the grav and portal guns, obviously :) )

      • Adam says:

        That’s a good example of how level design should complement weapon design. If you keep finding ammo for the “research plasma whatsit” in a dustbin in a dingy back-ally outside a strip club, then it breaks immersion as the player goes “WTF?!?”

    • Decius says:

      It’s hard to keep the pistol relevant without modeling the disadvantages of long arms: difficulty of carrying, maneuvarabilty in tight places, and greater weight/round.

      On a side note, why does every videogame character know how to properly operate every weapon? Clearing a jam on a machinegun is nontrivial, as is getting a proper sight picture on anything. I checked MITs course catalog, and they don’t offer any courses in assault rifles. Then again, Black Mesa apparently does in it’s employee orientation. Even though it doesn’t put everyone’s retina in the database.

      • krellen says:

        Gordon Freeman’s PhD is actually in weaponry, and not particle physics as we’ve always been led to believe.

      • Klay F. says:

        Personally, I never understood why people regard firearms as hard to understand. I learned basically by myself (under supervision). The only thing that really requires an extended period of learning is safety, after which its second nature.

        • Lalaland says:

          The general principles are simple enough, pull that lever, flick the switch, pull trigger, repeat but it’s the fine details like clearing a jam that require specialised instruction. Clearing a stuck cartridge from an M-16 style weapon is a lot more complicated than one based on the AK-47 for example.

          Unfortunately those characteristics along with weight (ammo and rifle), barrel length and cleaning drills all fall into the ‘too boring to deal with’ category of differences. It’s a shame I actually liked the gun breaking mechanic is System Shock 2 as it just felt more real to me and helped sell me on the setting (although I did play it post patch, I hear it was nuts prior to that).

          • Klay F. says:

            I’m just being a pedant now and arguing semantics, but I cleared my first jam on an AR-15 with very limited instruction. The only time you really need extensive knowledge of the weapon is in case of a squib.

            EDIT: I’m not trying to be deliberately contradictory here. All I’m saying is all you really need is a very general sense of how modern firearms work. Whats most important of all, and what takes longer than everything else is proper safety. For me, safety is so ingrained that I find myself using safe firearm practices even in videogames.

    • Jeff says:

      The most popular shooters today (CoD?) don’t do that anymore.

    • Bubble181 says:

      To be fair, I prefer the Duke Nukem 3D approach: plenty of weapons (for the time, of course…I think there were 10?), with a couple of clearly lower-level ones (yes ,the standard pistol)…but the rest are just all cool in different ways. Shrink-ray and stepping on your opponent; expand-ray and blow them up; laser-trip mines; freeze gun and shatter’m…Whenever you get bored, pick another one!

      I admit this may not have been entirely realistic and therefore isn’t easily transferable to all shooters, but it’s still fun :-P

  2. Phoenix says:

    This game has lot in common with Crysis 2. People shouting at you for sure (that should provide immersion?). And strong railroading. Although I liked the resistance thing. It looked more like Terminator than the improbable invasion proposed. It’s surely not an uncomprised work of art :D But it have some nice ideas, although complexively it’s not much of an inspired work. The metascore seems pretty fair to me.

    There are many similar weapons and they aren’t hyped, so you don’t feel much the difference in a certain sense.

    I suppose that I’m not the only one that liked HL more than HL2 anyway.

    • bit says:

      I’ll back you up on that last point, mate; Half Life’s spacial design and combat variety is far better than Half Life 2’s; however, the atmosphere and puzzle design of HL2 is also better in my mind. I love them both for different reasons.

    • Tizzy says:

      I have not played Crysis 2 (or 1 for that matter), but from what I’ve seen, it appears like the arenas are a lot more open-ended than what Valve is comfortable with, and that’s the one thing that would get me excited about the game and help me get past the horrible storytelling.

      What I mean is that you get more than simply different tactical options to face your enemies: when going from A to B, you get whole different routes

      • psivamp says:

        I’ve played through maybe half of Crysis 2, and their tactical options don’t really seem to be that varied. They even attempt to enumerate them any time they want you to try new approaches.
        My problem is that any time two paths diverge, they converge again maybe 20 meters later for some unavoidable confrontation.

  3. Adam says:

    In Homefront’s favor, they did at least release a game. (*cough* Episode 3 *cough*)

  4. From what I’ve heard, making judgements on Homefront’s single player an hour in is okay anyway, as that’s about 1/4th of the way through the game.

    • Vipermagi says:

      I will forever wonder how people can blaze through games that fast. I have Crysis on Steam, and apparently I have been playing for 9 hours. Substract 60-90 minutes for afk and menu navigation. Just barely finished the level after Assault (the unremarkable vehicle section that is better done on foot).

      Completed the game once before, and that one too took way longer than the few hours other people say the game lasts.

      • K says:

        Crysis 2 took me six or seven hours, I believe. But by then, I was sick of the constant nagging the NPCs bothered me with. Sometimes less is more. In addition to that, it wasn’t even a proper game. I’m sure someone will make a speedrun at some point where all you do is run cloaked from scripted scene to scripted scene, not bothering with the enemies at all.

        And please: Don’t give me fancy abilities and then give the only enemy that has a chance of actually doing damage an EMP (which makes all my fancy stuff useless) and force me to fight a boring war of peek a boo, because my health recharges and his does not. The stupidity of that design was mind-boggling.

        • Inyssius says:

          I wouldn’t even mind a war of peekaboo if the large-scale machines in the game didn’t all blatantly cheat all of the time. I AM INVISIBLE. I JUST WALKED THROUGH A HALF-MILE OF SEWER TUNNELS TO COME OUT IN AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT SIDE OF THE MAP. I SHOULD NOT EMERGE TO FIND YOU POSITIONED SIX INCHES IN FRONT OF ME AT THE ONLY POSSIBLE ANGLE THAT DOESN’T EXPOSE ANY OF YOUR WEAK POINTS.

          Graaaaaah. If you’re going to make my invisibility suddenly not do anything, hit me with that damned spore you love so much and TAKE IT AWAY. If you’re going to let a boss telepathically intuit my location no matter where I am in the level, DON’T GIVE ME PLACES TO HIDE. Justify, game. Justify. You can take ALL of my powers away approximately once an hour, for a different reason each time. You’re obviously good at justifying plot-necessary reduction of my various strengths. I know it looks ridiculous to do it not only at the end of every level but during all the minibosses too, but… just having enemies that can inexplicably see through solid steel in all directions at any range and arbitrarily ignore my ability to cloak? Not an improvement.

          • kikito says:

            Maybe your smell gave you up.

            Wait, that sounded really not as I intended.

            I mean, maybe the suit is invisible to humans, but aliens detect the ultraviolet wavelength with their antennae. Or, they have very good noses, or ears.

          • Jarenth says:

            I can’t tell you how often I had to restart the bossfight I think you’re referring to because the following sequence of events happened:

            – I shoot at the boss’ big glowing weak spot.
            – Boss turns around, goes Oh-No-You-Didn’t, starts shooting me.
            – I run into cover, heal up. Activate cloak. Walk out of cover.
            – Boss looks me dead in the eye, makes the robot equivalent of a chuckle, and shoots me to pieces.
            – I yell some profanity at the top of my lungs. Pretty much the stuff you posted up there, ocassionally in different languages.

          • SomeUnregPunk says:

            did that same stretch with the sound suppressor on and no cloak…
            … they never saw me coming.

            your footsteps… hell any noise you make can alert them. Crouch walk doesn’t seem to make much noise… the noise suppressor kills that even more.

            I noticed the midbosses and big bosses can see me if I run while cloaked but if I crouch move or stand still while cloaked… they don’t see me. As long as nothing hits me while cloaked, they can’t see me.

      • Eric says:

        Different people take different lengths of time. I’ve spent something like 6-7 hours on BioShock 2 recently, yet am apparently something like 1/3 through the game, which means I’m playing significantly slower than many other players and reviewers (I’m very thorough in exploring). It’s just as easy to run straight from objective to objective in the span of a few hours, but where’s the fun in that?

  5. Canthros says:

    I found the Homefront single-player experience almost singularly disappointing.

    I was especially annoyed that a gun I was using in the first chapter (an ACR) vanished and was replaced with a different one (an M4, which I was less enthused by) in the next mission. Shortly thereafter, I was given a choice from almost every gun in the game … and had them taken away by the narrative almost immediately.

    Every chapter ends on a fade-out, and the game sets your equipment to something new at the beginning of the next chapter. I did not like Connor, at all, and that was before he spent most of the game preventing me from doing almost everything that mattered.

    As regards verisimilitude, one reason most of the guns behave about the same is that a lot of them are the same gun, or similar enough that there isn’t much of a difference: the ACR, SCAR-L, M16, M4, and PWS Diablo all fire the same ammunition from the same type of magazine, or from a magazine that is directly compatible. The M249 SAW uses the same cartridge in a belt, but can be fed from the same magazines in a pinch. The M16, M4, and PWS Diablo are the same action and receivers with shorter or longer barrels (which affects rate of fire, due to the method of operation). The ACR and SCAR utilize a similar action and have similar barrel lengths, rates of fire, and so on. Which made it really aggravating that none of these weapons share ammunition in the game, unless something’s been changed in a patch. (Some handwaving may be involved with the ACR and SCAR-L, which could be set up for a different cartridge. Nothing in the game supports this particularly, though.)

    I think you’re quite right to call them on weapon variety, though. Although semiauto-only versions of most of those assault rifles are very popular on the civilian market, so are various and sundry other, less military-looking guns. How a story set in Colorado doesn’t stumble on a single rifle with a wooden stock and a blued finish, I do not know. Even if most were only cosmetically different, it would help, though it would do nothing to address the blandness of the gameplay.

    Whoa, that came out longer than expected. In conclusion, I like guns. They are neat.

    • woofty says:

      It’s kind of funny, after reading ole Shamus’ take at link I was thinking that is sounded like Crysis 2. Then Phoenix comes along and says a similar comment. A bit scary.

      More to the point, I think you might have some thing. Even if they didn’t put in they variety of weaponry one can find in the US, the devs could have at least tried to use a little brain power in their weapon design. Maybe they should also play the STALKER games. Not only is their ammo a system I like, but all the weapons handle differently, have maintenance rates, etc. STALKER I feel also has probably the best atmosphere designed into a game. It’s one of my favorite FPS’s, after the Original Crysis+Warhead. I like HL2, but it only currently ranks at #3 with me. Edit Note: Actually the original Overation Flashpoint is my all time favorite.

      As a side note, I will never play the Homefront series. I find its base premise extremely insulting. It irriates me to no end.

      • Canthros says:

        STALKER seems like a completely different sort of game, really. I’m not sure that game design choices that make sense there would necessarily work in Homefront. (I say that having never played STALKER.)

        My aggravation with the the ammo interchange problem is it’s boneheaded. Viewed as a game balance concern, it makes sense, but multiplayer game balance shouldn’t be a driving concern in a single player campaign. (OTOH, the single player campaign doesn’t seem to have been a primary concern for the Homefront guys.) (My other aggravations have to do with how little control the player has over anything in the game. You rarely have more than one route to an objective, and most of the objectives that require interactivity will be accomplished by somebody else.)

        As regards Homefront‘s central narrative assumptions: I think the idea of the Norks conquering all of East Asia and then making a pretty successful job at a land invasion of the United States is silly, but the explanation, though contrived and highly improbable, is consistent enough to let it slide. It’s farfetched, but I watched a movie last December which involved people being physically transported to a world inside a computer, where programs had complex motivations and an information-based lifeforms can exist through spontaneous generation. I can handle probabilistically unlikely historical developments more easily than the fantastically impossible. Of course, I also pretty much assumed that North Korea was used as a stand-in for Red China.

        • woofty says:

          You’re probably right about STALKER’s direction, but I think some of the game mechanics would still hold true, espcecially the weapons. As for it being the way it is because of multiplayer, I’m not sure why they think it would matter. Unless it is to create specific classes, which I really don’t like either. Is there a class that does supplies or some thing? If not, I’m don’t understand the multyplayer imperative then.

          Personally, there is a certain level of, or more accurately category of fiction I tolerate. Out right fantasy I can generally stomach. Things that are more of a, “historical fiction,” I have a lot harder time with. They only way I could make a plausable explanation with NK invading is if the US already lost a war with them. This of certain political climates don’t change I might be able to buy too. But they way it’s presented, I can’t stomach it.

          • Canthros says:

            Coming back to this late, but when I said that I thought ammo interchange might be a ‘game balance concern’ in multiplayer, what I mean is that it keeps any one weapon or group of weapons from having an advantage due to large amounts of ammunition littering the battlefield.

        • Will says:

          You are correct in that assumption. The original design concept called for China to invade, but it was changed to North Korea for political reasons.

      • SomeUnregPunk says:

        I think THQ should look at how Farcry 2 did their weapons.
        Each weapon which can be acquired had it’s own advantages and disadvantages. Each weapon had different ranges and different uses.
        It felt as if the people who made Farcry2’s weapons had learned some lessons from other games that put more thought into their weaponry.

        Bulletstorm is another game that misuses the weapons it has in the game. Instead of building weapons that would be fun to use within the map designs & enemies of the levels they provide us… they created guns that would be fun for people playing a different game like Serious Sam.

        Deadspace shows a good weapon design that matches the maps & enemies AI of the game. I loved the first weapon so much that I used it to beat the game without picking up any other weapon.

        • Klay F. says:

          The reason people like the weapons from Dead Space so much is that they are designed around the games central gimmick (cutting off limbs). I won’t lie about them being fun though.

          If Dead Space had had the usual compliment of pistol, assault rifle A, assault rifle B, bazooka, the game would have gone from tolerable to terrible very quickly.

  6. Scourge says:

    The only thing where homefront is reasonable fun is in mutliplayer, but when you start it you’ll die.. repeatedly.. until you somehow manage to stay alive for some time.

    The game is meant to be played as a team, problem is the internet. Everyone rushes of to do their thing.

    *shrug*

    Also, SP campaign was way to short and I never really knew a lot about the character I played.

    All I know is that I played a pilot, who supposedly could fly planes and other stuff, but I am not sure on that.

  7. rrgg says:

    I haven’t played Homefront and don’t plan to, but I sort of disagree about being able to carry tons of different weapons. I suppose that it is ok in a fantasy game where they are being made up and given each their own checks and balances, but in real life weapons tend to be based around the fact that you can’t easily switch between them and as a result they end up being a big bag of compromises. Why would you take an assault rifle into battle when you can also take a sniper rifle a heavy machine gun and a sub machine gun with you which together can do everything the assault rifle can do but better?
    Further compounding the issue is that the wide verity of weapons in the real world often represent different degrees of compromises, an AK 47 and an M 16 both fulfill the role of assault rifle well yet the M 16 is slightly more accurate and slightly more like a sniper rifle, etc. Yet there is probably no reason you would ever need to carry an AK and an M 16 on you.

    Though I do agree that if you can only carry a limited number of weapons you should be able to solve situations with each of the different combinations.

    • DanMan says:

      I disagree. A heavy machine gun is good for large open-space encounters or smaller space encounters where you don’t care if everything in that small space gets destroyed. A sniper rifle is better for stealth or long range. And a sub machine gun is better in the smaller space encounters when you do care about the stuff in the space.

      However, if you are in a building, going into a garage that leads into a parking lot, you want a little bit of everything without switching. This degrades with replay. If you know it’s small hallway, long open space, open space with lots of people, then you can plan SMG, Sniper, Heavy. If it’s your first playthrough and you’re not sure what to use, the compromise of an assault rifle is a good option.

      Also, I like to see a larger variety than SMG/Assault Rifle/Heavy. I agree that they can kinda be lumped together. I prefer to see small arms (and I reason to use them), Automatic rifle of some sort, Sniper, Explosive. Then, if the game wants to get wild, they can always bust out the gun that shoots lightning shuriken.

      The point is, I want a variety of guns to solve a variety of problems. If every problem can be solved with an M16, the gameplay is going to get stale pretty quickly.

      • woofty says:

        Interesting notes. I once had a Ranger comment that if he had a choice, he’d pick a SAW for room clearing over any thing else.

      • rrgg says:

        Heavy machine guns are generally supposed to be more long-range weapons, you use them to hose down enemies with lead from a distance. Generally they get used in close combat in video games because a. in game bullets often don’t kill in one hit forcing you to get really close to kill someone with an inaccurate machine gun and b. there’s rarely any penalty to swinging around a 23 lb M 60 from the hip (What about if heavier guns were slower to aim, like using F8 mode in Minecraft?).

        There’s a difference between “every problem can be solved with the M16” and “the M16 is the only weapon that can solve every problem”. You can have a game with only one solution to every puzzle; “these guys have to be sniped” “these guys have to be ambushed point blank by sub machine gun” etc. That’s fine and it even might be better if your only goal is to get a challenge out of the game. But personally I find that games are far more replayable and more enjoyable if they offer more freedom and room for far more strategies. If you need to kill a group of enemy soldiers do you snipe them one by one from a hidden position, tear them to pieces with a heavy machinegun, get in close and spray them down with a submachinegun, do you take a combined approach with the assault rifle; snipe some, drive them out of the open with bursts then move in for the kill.

        You can go through the game with a sniper rifle then the next use the sub machine gun and get to play a completely different experience.

        • David Armstrong says:

          And then you have games like Call of Duty where the guns fire like lasers and you can headshot someone a quarter mile away with a pistol while dolphin diving.

          Absurd.

          Or you could try and be “realistic” with Bad Company 2 where shotguns compete with sniper rifles, where the Engineer’s smg kit is literally the best kit in the entire game.

          Everything the assault and medic guns can do, the smg’s can do better because they shoot faster and don’t ping the player on the radar. Near as makes no difference, there’s no drop in accuracy or lethality.

          How many of these fps aficionados have actually fired hand guns or own one?

          • X2-Eliah says:

            We can only hope that it’s as few as possible.

          • Klay F. says:

            I can’t say that I’m a huge FPS fan but having fired a plethora of different guns in my life, I can safely say that hitting anything even REMOTELY man shaped at more than 30 meters is as hard as hell (and thats standing perfectly still).

            I always was a rifle and scope kinda person though. I would like that think I’m good enough to be a Marine Sniper were my health in serviceable condition.

  8. ccesarano says:

    I rated Homefront a “rental”, which is pretty nice considering I liked it and would like to replay it a second time.

    Thing is, you’re assuming KAOS studios glanced at Half-Life 2 at all. Homefront was very clearly drinking from the Call of Duty bowl and only the Call of Duty bowl. To me, it was actually a pretty fun Call of Duty game! A lot better than Black Ops at least. However, it was definitely an experience fit for a $30 budget title.

    And if it had been a $30 budget title I bet you the game would have scored a lot better. It sounds backwards, but if the game is only $30 a lot of reviewers would probably think of it as a pretty polished experience for such a low price.

    I think this was a game, however, where the single player was an after-thought to the multiplayer. Which is odd since it was advertised for its story, and yet it is the multiplayer that people like.

  9. Neil Polenske says:

    “But the designer ignored the lessons Valve has been giving away for free, and what we end up with feels like a rail shooter with manual steering.”

    That’s because they’re using a game design based off Call of Duty, which is in turn based off Medal of Honor, which was originally designed around the limitations of the PS1.

    In essence, Infinity Ward discovered that the rail mechanics of their franchises’ design – originally created to get around the limitations of the hardware they had – allowed them the ability to present full Michael Bay style spectacle to the player and it has carried the games – and games of its ilk – ever since.

    Natural order assumed at some point the stifled gameplay would have eventually come to surface as a weakness, but the timing of online play has delayed that, making the single player experience almost superfluous. Such is the case here, where word is the competitive multiplayer is fully fleshed out as these things go.

    • Lalaland says:

      Medal of Honor started on the PC and was later dumped on the PS1 by EA with another team. The first Medal of Honor team split from EA and at that point formed Infinity Ward and made Call of Duty 1&2 on the PC. The series got various spin offs but the first console Call of Duty game by Infinity Ward themselves was the port of CoD2 to Xbox360. CoD4 Modern Warfare was the first to be ground up consolised by IW and it shows in the more narrow levels and length but it was awesome.

  10. X2-Eliah says:

    I wonder if maybe homefront’s premise would have been better if the player was on the invader’s side.

    • Soylent Dave says:

      I don’t know about that, but I do know that Homefront’s premise is of much less interest to non-Americans (not just me, honest; I’ve seen this come up a few times!)

      Understandably, Shamus enjoyed fighting through terrain that was familiar (“inspired”); but there’s a big audience that this doesn’t resonate with (because we live in countries that don’t look like the US).

      It’s a bit like 28 Days Later – many of the scenes are particularly moving or impressive to a British audience, because we know what those places are meant to look like.

      I think the difference is that Homefront tried to carry itself entirely on its premise – which means it doesn’t really appeal to non-Americans – and 28 Days Later actually has a story with some characters attached to it (it’s not all about the spectacle of a ravaged Britain).

      (on the other hand, I remember enjoying Freedom Fighters, which had a similar premise – and wasn’t exactly a complex or nuanced game either)

      • Klay F. says:

        Heh, and here I thought the premise of the 28 Days/Weeks Later movies was “RUNNING ZOMBIES OMG”.

      • El Quia says:

        The thing is, the same effect could made if they game made an effort to show you the place before it went to hell and made you give a damn about it. Then again, that involves effort on the side of the writers and designers, and some non-shootie prelude, so fat chance of that happening in the modern industry.

        BTW, I haven’t played the game, just making a point in general about games.

  11. Daemian Lucifer says:

    I hate it how people have accepted that 75 means average.I blame the schooling system that enforces 50% as something thats not good enough.

    • X2-Eliah says:

      Wouldn’t the blame rather lie with reviewers who over years have rated all games on a 6-10 scale, though?

      You can’t fault people for accepting 75% as average when all average games actually get ~75 ratings on all review sites.

      • Tizzy says:

        Daemian has a point, independent of what the reviewers do: in the US school system, and so in many reviewers’ world, 75% is in the middle of a C-range, i.e. average. That’s because students should not be challenged and frustrated by their assignment: without trying much (score of C), they should be able to solve 3/4 of the questions…

        Where I grew up, a C would be in the 50% to 70% range. If you could solve 75% of what was asked of you, you actually knew what you were doing, way better than the average bear.

    • PAK says:

      Back when I was less jaded and actually read Gamespot on a regular basis, they published fairly extensive breakdowns of their review criteria and conventions. They intentionally calibrated their scale so that games in the 70s were average (and were not secretive of this fact). And that seems to be the general convention nowadays. These things are totally arbitrary and discretionary; there’s no reason to assume that 50 is average just because it happens to be the arithmetic mean of 100.

      • poiumty says:

        Strongly agree here. Game reviews are usually thought out so that 8 means good, 9 means great and 10 means perfect, leaving 7 with mediocre. The reasoning here is that the overall review score doesn’t only judge the fun factor, rather things like graphics, sound, interactivity, gameplay, story and so forth; therefore, 5 doesn’t mean “medium amounts of fun”, 5 means that the product is only half game. As in, it has graphics and sound and it’s playable but it’s missing any traces of entertainment. I don’t understand why everyone suddenly started seeing review scores as fun-o-meters, especially since fun is subjective and almost impossible to gauge by the experience of a single reviewer.

        • Bobby Archer says:

          Everything’s subjective in a review. Even things like graphics and sound quality are judged through the lens of the reviewer. Epic brown-fests can get good marks on graphics for “realism”. Graphics winds up being a series of trade offs: what’s important: realism, effects, visibility, artistic vision, sheer engine power?

          A review, and by extension, a review score is supposed to be a guide to consumers, so yes, reviews should be viewed as fun-o-meters, or at least metrics for whether the experience is worth the investment.

          • poiumty says:

            You didn’t understand anything I said, did you.

            Yes reviews as a whole are subjective, that doesn’t put graphics at the same level of subjectivity as fun.

            No review scores shouldn’t be viewed as fun-o-meters because THAT’S NOT WHAT THEY ARE. Not the x/10 or x/100 ones anyway. They indicate the overall quality of a game, not just the fun factor. Consumers aren’t only looking for “THE MOST FUN GAME EVER EVER” when making a purchase, otherwise we’d all play games from 20 years ago and never care about graphics. Which obviously doesn’t happen.

            • Bobby Archer says:

              I believe I understood what you were talking about, but I think we have different ideas about what “fun” means. Or at the very least, what reviews are – or maybe should – be offering.

              I don’t think we’d be playing only the same games from 20 years ago if all we cared about was “fun”. I don’t think that graphics and sound and story and other aspects of a game are divorced from the amount of enjoyment a player draws from the overall experience (the fun). They’re the things that are supposed to be making the game fun to play. If they’re not, why are they in there? I’d rather play Goldeneye on the Wii than the N64, because all the attendant advances make the former experience more fun.

              If a game isn’t fun, enjoyable, moving, driving, whatever word you want or fits, then why should anyone play it? If a reviewer can’t picture the target audience enjoying a game (regardless of whether they personally enjoyed it), why give it a good score?

              We’re not talking about reviews for toasters, here. This is an interactive medium and the reviews should be about the quality of the overall experience. Yes, there’s subjectivity in that, but movie reviews and music reviews and book reviews are subjective, too. With a score, the reviewer is judging how the quality of the experience stacks up for the target audience vs the necessary investment.

              Maybe you’re right. Maybe video game review scores are just composites of more quantifiable qualities. Maybe they represent more how closely the reviewed game hews to some ideal well-made game. Maybe I’m looking at them wrong. If so, I think they’re doing the industry more harm than good. They’re rewarding games for having component parts that don’t necessarily fit into the whole.

              But maybe I’m wrong.

              • poiumty says:

                Enjoyment is more than just fun, for me. I enjoy myself when listening to music, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m having fun, unless i’m dancing around or something. Fun is the thing that comes when you PLAY, i.e. when your mind gets stimulated by interaction. In that way, a game can be very pretty and thus entertaining, but not fun. It can be satisfying, but not fun (think of MMOs).

                I used to read a gaming magazine back in the day. They graded all their games based on 5 qualities: graphics, sound, gameplay, story and personal impression. Note that only 2 of these have a lot to do with fun.
                Review scores nowadays attempt to judge the game by its quality as a standalone entertainment product, not a game. Maybe they shouldn’t be doing it, but that is why a 70~ score is considered mediocre.

                • Bobby Archer says:

                  As music is a passive medium, it shouldn’t be rated in the same way as games. The point I was trying to make was not that other media are rated on a fun-meter, but that they are rated as a whole experience, not as component parts. And that that experience is subjectively viewed is a natural drawback of any review process. It can guide, but YMMV.

                  Really, it seems like our main difference of opinion other than the main question of how the review score is or should be tabulated is a definition of fun. You’re viewing it as a separate entity from the component parts of the game and as a measure apart from enjoyment or satisfaction. I look at fun as being directly influenced by such things as graphics, sound, gameplay, story, personal impression, etc., and part of the same scale as entertainment, enjoyment, and satisfaction.

                  Because of this difference, I think that if a game feels “very pretty and thus entertaining” or “satisfying, but not fun” it hasn’t fully succeeded, and is worthy of a more moderate score. You obviously feel differently. I betting each of us could find review sources that back up our ways of thinking.

                  At this point, I doubt either of us are going to convince the other to change their mind, but it has been interesting hearing your point of view. You’ve certainly given me things to consider when I read game reviews in the future.

        • Ben says:

          In my mind this is exactly opposite of how a system should work.

          Consider, below some threshold (60-75 range depending on the person) quality doesn’t really matter. Once a game drops below the not worth my money threshold its relative quality is mostly irrelevant since most people aren’t going to buy it. In other words we’re reserving more then half our total precision for games where the relative quality is mostly irrelevant.

          A far better system would be one where that don’t care threshold would be very low so we could establish much greater granularity in the ranges people are interested in talking about. For example make 60 on the current scale 20 on this new scale with 100 remaining the top. This leaves us some room to quantify how bad a game is and a lot of room to place the game exactly where it should be relative to other games.

          Such a system would play havoc with metacritic unless metacritic remapped the scores onto a system more consistent with other reviews somewhat defeating the purpose of greater precision but it is an interesting thing to think about.

        • El Quia says:

          The thing is, at least in the magazines I used to get my hands on, reviews tended to have a different score for each piece of the game. So, games were graded in the sound, graphics, playability (considered as “fun”) and technical (bugs and how well modeled the game was). Maybe I am missing a category or something, this was long ago. The thign is, that this kind of review told me a lot more about the game than just a “7/10”.

          I think the problem doesn’t have one single cause. I agree that it’s silly that reviewers grade everything in a 6-10 scale, but it’s also silly to use a single value to grade the whole of the game.

    • uberfail says:

      Personally I question why ‘average’ ought to be 50%. I mean if 90% of everything is crap the mean score ought to be well below 50%

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Sure,but not all the crap gets reviewed.For example,have you heard of great qin warriors?Just search it,and youll see it has no reviews at all*,because it is that bad.

        *Actually,it has 5 whole user votes on gamespot,and how it got above 1 is baffling.

        • uberfail says:

          The second part is in jest.

          With regards to schooling. I once heard a Politician complain that 1/4 of math students were in the bottom 25% .

          • El Quia says:

            WEll, depends on what you mean it could made sense. If he were complaining that 1/4 of the students grades bellow the 25% mark, he could be complaining about the crappy education system is failing to teach an acceptable level of math to everyone.

            Now, if he is complaining that 1/4 of the students are in the lowest 25% of the grades received, he is being an idiot :p

  12. Hal says:

    Reading this post, I could only think how applicable this is to tabletop games, too.

    Arenas. Choices. Badgering NPCs. Varied experiences. All of it applies, though in its own way for tabletop games.

    (Why yes, I AM running a game tonight, how could you tell?)

  13. Jjkaybomb says:

    I dont play a lot of shooters, but when I do, it usually is the kind where you can cover for a bit, then run right up to people and shotgun them in the face. Half-Life 2 was one of those games. Sometimes it got me killed, but it didnt mean I was playing the game “wrong”, it meant that I just wasnt quite being skillful enough with my chosen style. A couple more tries, a few experiments, and running up to each and every overwatch to shoot them in the face was a completely viable option.

    Listening to commentary on the big battle at the end of episode 2, Valve really does go out of thier way to allow for any way to approach a problem. You are never, ever doing something wrong, unless you’re blatantly trying to. Always a blast to find games built like that.

  14. Don'tKnowMyName says:

    “This is Metacritic we’re talking about. This is an average of all scores everywhere.”

    Shamus, you appear to have confused Metacritic for Game Rankings.

  15. Raygereio says:

    It’s hilarious to me that Shamus is praising HL2’s weaponry of all things, considering that’s my biggest problem with HL2. :)

    Also:

    THQ Vice President Danny Bilson is essentially arguing with his own audience and telling them they should have liked the game more than they did.

    The exact same thing happened with Dragon Age 2; with Gaider going on his silly “Wah, my awesome writing is just to complex for you to understand”-trip.

    • Klay F. says:

      Although I didn’t witness it personally, I’ve come to understand that Gaider is having something of a meltdown over on the Bioware forums. He had apparently pulled a Uwe Boll and was personally responding to pretty much every critical opinion on DA2.

      Any artist should know, this is something you NEVER stoop to.

      • Raygereio says:

        Well, Gaider certainly isn’t the only one on the DA2 team who is having a meltdown trying to defend DA2. Laidlaw for one certainly isn’t helping things. Though it is funny watching the man desperatly attempting to defend all the things that are wrong with DA2. Funny as in the watching a trainwreck as it happens sort of way.

        But yeah; Gaider is the worst of the bunch. I actually like the fact that the BioWare devs are active on the forums and responding to criticism isn’t bad, listening to your audience is important. After all, you might learn something.
        It’s just that Gaider comes across as an arrogant ass who responds to valid, well thought out criticisms to his work like a petulant 12-year old (Well; with a bigger vocabulary and grammer, that is).

        Mind you, this isn’t anything new. Gaider also had some bad PR moments when he decided to respond to some negative comments about Dragon Age: Origins and – if I recal correctly – even way back about Baldur’s Gate 2.

  16. Tizzy says:

    The Valve dev commentaries are always amazing: I never imagined I would be enthralled by commentaries before, especially based on the few DVDs tracks I’ve listened to. What always amazes me is how much thought and deliberation goes into an experience which is so seamless that you barely get to think about the experience itself when you’re playing it.

    In a way, you wouldn’t want all games to be *this* polished, it would become almost boring. But these guys, they know what they’re after! Why does it seem so rare in that industry?

  17. Mediocre Man says:

    Homefront is just a mess. The single player is confusing: I didn’t know who half the NPCs were until they were dead or when they crawled through a hole in a wall in single order.

    The whole premise of the single player is absurd: The koreans take over our land, not even a large portion of it, since huge areas are left to descend into anarchy… thanks for pulling that one out of a hat, devs, and then they start killing people… just because they’re heartless bastards I guess. There really is no reason to exterminate a population unless you have your own people ready and willing to replace them (and I’m sorry but there aren’t 50 million koreans just standing about waiting for a place to live).

    I don’t even care that they put so much thought into how Korea got so damn powerful, since they didn’t consider what cutting the power to our civilization would do. Take, for example, all the US powerplants that require electricity to prevent meltdowns like what is happening in Japan, I think if every US nuclear plant had a lvl 7 meltdown the Koreans wouldn’t be so ready and willing to come over here and invade…

    Multiplayer is interesting w/ the kill streak/xp earned during the match allowing you to buy vehicles and special abilities for that match. (while outside of the map xp allows you to get weapons and upgrades with the usual ranks/levels stolen from CoD4)

    But yeah it sucks…

    • Tzar says:

      While I agree with you on the whole “N. Korea couldn’t seriously take the US” thing, I just have to point out that even if we did lose all our power plants, we wouldn’t get a situation with with our nuclear power like they have over at Fukushima. Not only are most our reactors designed differently, reactors that do have similar designs have their own backup generators. The problem at Fukushima was that the tsunami got into the generator room, taking out the backups.

      • Mediocre Man says:

        Some US nuclear plants aren’t that different, iirc. Aside from that, used fuel rods aren’t kept inside the actual reactor, but could still melt down if their cooling pool evaporated, and I would counter that in the event of a nation without power, it would be awfully hard to provide any sort of effective response to keep the backups going.

        Again, we’re dealing with a nation-wide EMP, so I doubt that most of the electronics would still be functioning, even in the backups.

        • psivamp says:

          There are actually several operational nuclear plants of the same design and age as the Fukishima Daiichi plants — one up in Vermont just got relicensed for another 20 years by the NRC, and then Vermont refused to renew their environmental licence. Most reactors in the US, though, are pressurized water reactors rather than boiling water reactors. PWR’s are a little safer, but a little less efficient. But, I digress. Even if you end up with a partial meltdown, a la Three Mile Island, you still have to have some kind of physical event to breach containment boundaries. If you have any diesel backup generators that survived you can bleed off steam and inject water periodically to prevent meltdown. Many of our plants are located near large bodies of water and in an emergency can use that water as indirect or direct cooling.

          About the EMP’s, all of our plants were designed and started construction prior to 1979, an EMP works by causing large transient voltages in equipment. Solid-state circuitry is quite vulnerable. Inductors, transformers, generator and motor coils are less affected. Also, systems that aren’t operating are more likely to weather an EMP. So, basically, the backup power systems to the coolant pumps of our nuclear plants is extremely basic and reasonably likely to survive an EMP — and this is assuming that it’s completely unshielded, which isn’t entirely true.

          • mediocreman says:

            Thanks psivamp for clearing some stuff up.

            My main point: that utilities will be hard pressed to remain up in the presence of fuel shortages, social anarchy, and an EMP, and that this is something that the devs never considered in their supposedly far reaching and well researched predictions that could lead to North Korea invading, still applies.

            (there are still cities up and running before the koreans invade, something I find extremely unlikely, all things considered)

            • psivamp says:

              Yeah, sorry, I used to work in a nuclear plant. I should probably play Homefront before I make any more statements about it…
              There’s no arguing that it would be difficult to get power back and in some places I’m pretty sure it just couldn’t happen because fossil fuel plants require alot of fuel and with a fresh delivery, you’re looking at a day or two of fuel on site.

              • MediocreMan says:

                No worries: I’m hardly an expert on the functions of nuclear power plants. I was just using it as a memorable example that people could relate to. You did well to point out the inaccuracies in my statement.

                And wow, you worked at a nuclear plant? that must be pretty stressful dude! :)

    • Irridium says:

      Also, the fact that the rest of the world would just sit back and do nothing as North Korea became a new superpower able to take down the US.

  18. One thing Wing Commander 1 is good for is mission pacing as a plot element.

    The early simple missions are very clear, which is a good training tool for later design where it isn’t obvious.

    Chaotic level design. Sheesh. They should have brought Paul Jaquays in for a seminar with their design staff.

  19. perry says:

    i don’t get all your hate for cod, shamus. i find mw1 and mw2 excellent fpses. they are both orders of magnitude better shooters than hl2. the combat is better, the story is more plausible, the level of detail is breathtaking. hl2 is a nice game, i love playing it, but mw is AWESOME! though it does lack puzzles like hl2 has.

  20. RCN says:

    One hour? Then you’ve played 25% of the game already.

    They say multiplayer is fun though. But it has a lot to do with the fact that in multiplayer you have access to toys you don’t in the single player… so, the opposite of Starcraft 2, basically.

  21. AxiomaticBadger says:

    What I love about valve is that they treat combat as a puzzle. Enter here, exit here, obsticals/enemies here, here and here, here are your tools, work it out.

  22. Nathaniel says:

    Not entirely related at all to this specific article, but I never really “got” the claim that all modern shooters are bland, boring, corridor shoot-outs. I can tell the differences apart perfectly easily, and the supposed lack of variety had never bothered me.

    But when I saw the picture at the top of the article, I could have sworn it was a screenshot from Metal Gear Solid 4. And that made me realize all sorts of other things about modern game design.

    I has a sad, now.

    • Klay F. says:

      Honestly, the differences in modern shooters are in the textures, and thats about it.

      • mediocreman says:

        lol, I call bull**** to that.

        The weapons are essentially the same, the main characters are wearing so much armor they could pass off as space marines, the general “military-speak” they all use is very similar, the game mechanics are based around taking cover (bloody face), the use of the same gametypes, and ultimately the bad guys are waving a bright red flag of some sort…

        how are these differences all in the “textures”???

        • Klay F. says:

          Well sometimes you are fighting in a dystopian future, or and alternate reality dystopian future, or a dystopian present, or sometimes just a regular present, or regular future. You make changes to the textures and meshes accordingly.

          I’m trying to be sarcastic here but I guess its not that obvious.

  23. cctnation says:

    The game’s more like a demo anyway… I just wanted to try it out and BAM, 3 hours or so later it was all over.

    What the hell… And the premise had so much potential, too.

  24. Will Bradley says:

    Speaking of tutorials, the new Stolen Pixels is very funny. You should probably link it to your blog, or something :)

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