This is the first in a series of articles about combat in EVE Online. In this instalment we're going to look at the basic principles of killing people, which are rather unlike those of most other MMOs. Then we'll look at more advanced combat, faction warfare, and the philosophy and politics of conflict in EVE; and, finally, we'll examine the ambitions and tactics of EVE's huge military alliances. While the economic and industrial side of EVE is huge, player-versus-player war is the absolute core reason to play EVE, and understanding it will decide whether this game is for you.
The "flying-around-shooting-stuff" game type, of which StarFox and Crimson Skies seem to be the only memorable examples, turns up every few months without much fanfare or acclaim. There are some excellent examples of this genre, but they seldom receive great awards, nor surprise us with their innovation. We fly around, shoot stuff, and then generally fail to include them on our "games of all time" lists at the end of year. Air Rivals probably isn't going to get on those lists either, but it's nevertheless trying quite hard, and has two excellent features in its favour: it's free, and it's an MMO.
The latest update to the EVE universe has arrived in a blaze of in-game fiction and an ensuing bout of carnage that put the player-versus-player realms of other games to shame. The big change for this expansion is the faction warfare, which creates zones of conflicts between the four main non-player races, and allows players to fight across the border regions via new "militia" missions.
We've just entered a two-week voting period in EVE Online, in which every subscriber is being given an opportunity to vote for their choice of representatives from the player-base. This democratic process allows players to decide which of the 31 candidates gets to represent them in the regular Reykjavik summits between developers CCP and the inaugural Council of Stellar Management (CSM). Nine councillors must be chosen.
The Trinity upgrade for EVE came at exactly the right moment - a moment at which thousands of gamers had started to realise that the seemingly perpetually beautiful space game was looking a bit more like something made out of cardboard. Now, on the other side of a massive visual overhaul, it is once again the most beautiful vision of bleak interstellar warfare that the world has ever seen. Sure, it doesn't quite run so smoothly on all our clunky old PCs, but you can always flick it back to the "classic" visual theme if you're having problems.
There are plenty of reasons not to get involved in EVEOnline. The ludicrous length of time required to make the most of the game, combined with the general trickiness and hostility of the universe don't really help out. Of all the games likely to trip you over and then steal your shopping, it's EVE Online. And yet there's something in this game that can be found nowhere else. It is, as a number of people have claimed, essentially incomparable with other MMOs. It might seem incredibly daunting as you start out, but I want you to keep your eye on the big picture, and to tell you what it's possible to achieve in the EVE universe.
Soulstorm is an "expandalone" in the splendidly bloody science-fiction strategy series, Dawn of War. That basically means that Dawn of War is getting a little pricey if you want to keep playing the same game, but with the extra races. They're not a bad idea if you fancy a dabble: there's no need to have the original game, and there's some new stuff bolted into a proven and familiar game. Nevertheless there's a sense of vacuity. Nothing much is being achieved by this game, and there's really nothing new to focus your attention on.
We've covered this terrain before, but in case you weren't paying attention: Age Of Conan is the MMO based on the original Robert E Howard fantasy novels, rather than the Arnie remix of later years. That means the Funcom fantasy expedition is neck-deep in the mire of Howards' ancient cultures and composted evil. As Game director Gaute Godager puts it: "Hyboria is a vicious cake, covered in layers of dark culture."
Let's get this straight: of all the hackandslash games of recent years it's been the Devil May Cry games that have best held my attention. I like their ambivalent tone and their over-designed world: the baroque-modern towns with magic swords and buses. It's a grand contemporary fantasy, and it doesn't falter. It's also a mechanically pleasingly fighting game. Guns and swords: it's all about how the fighting looks, and you have to respect that in a game. Devil May Cry 4 certainly doesn't get shy on that front: savaging multiple enemies with a giant, blazing sword and a gigantic, ammo-free pistol is once again the central beat of the game. The frenzied demon-killing doesn't seem to have lost its touch.
Yesterday we began our series of IGF previews with a little look at the excellent World of Goo; today we're examining its fellow Seumas McNally Grand Prize nominee Audiosurf.
The marketing motto for Unreal Tournament III seems to have been something like "simplify and improve", at least if you listen to Epic's bossmen speak their brains. They've told us that they wanted to take the best features from all the previous games and make it faster, tighter and (presumably) more macho. Or maybe that's just fallout from the enormous success of Gears Of War...
It was about two hours into Crysis when I began to realise just how good it might be. The first couple of hours had been fairly unremarkable - there were some predictable first-person cut-scenes, a linear intro level, some spooky goings-on, US military deployment, you know the sort of thing. I had watched the sun come up across the island and seen the kind of tropical Far-Cry-revisited scenes that we'd all been expecting. I had even barrelled through the first of the villages and used some of the suit-powers (which your buffed up future marine has at his disposal from the start) to kill off some enemies. But it wasn't until a little later that I sat back and actually looked at it.
The last time I tangled with Guild Wars I was reprimanded (rightly so) for calling Nightfall an expansion pack. As it happens all three of previous Guild Wars games are essentially stand-alone games, each one allowing players to access a quite different area of the Guild Wars universe. Eye Of The North meanwhile really is an expansion pack. It caters only for people who have bought either Prophecies, Factions or Nightfall, and is accessible only when you have a level twenty character.
You there, PC strategy gamer, I bet you're thinking "where's my MMORTS?" No? Well you should be. All these other genres are poncing about getting their own fancy persistent world variants, MMORPG, MMOFPS, MMOFFS, but what do you get? A poke in the eye, most likely. But fret not, because Silverlode and Wahoo Studios are making game that will attempt to fill that awkwardly acronym'd niche like some kind of plug in an Intel socket. And, even more radically, they're going to do it for free.
The thing that most people are going to talk about - so I'll get it over right at the start - is the nuclear bomb going off. Yes, World In Conflict is the real-time strategy that has a mini nuke to set off on the battlefield. It actually only devastates a few hundred metres, rather than the several kilometres that would probably get baked in the real world, but the effect is nevertheless jaw-dropping. Blinding bright light, soaring mushroom cloud, probable victory. Between this, Defcon and the Russian Federal government, it seems like thermonuclear weapons really are back in vogue this year. (And yes, I'm just reading in the news that Cold War is back on. Is this another case of life imitating games? And should I really be joking about nuclear war? I just don't know/care).
The music in Halo 2 is bad. I recently mentioned this to someone and he was incredulous: Really? Wasn't the Halo music excellent throughout? Yes, the music in Halo was superb, but listen again to the music of its sequel. Halo 2 rapidly enters rock opera territory, with some of the most awesome ponce-metal orchestral posing I've ever heard. It's embarrassingly crappy, and a clear lapse in judgement.
Oblivion had more than its fair share of extra baubles and adventures tacked on over the past year, but this is the big one: a full-blown expansion. Not just another quest arc, but a full-blown extra plane of Oblivion, complete with hordes of new monsters, NPCs and items. Although not as enormous as the landmass of the original game The Shivering Isles are an entirely new geography in which to take up quests, wander aimlessly, club wrong-doers, and rummage around in mushrooms.
I feel like I should warn people off Stalker. It's a grim beast, with rough animation and that laggy, about-to-explode feeling you get from some less polished PC games. It's really hard in places, and half the text is gibberish. Worse still, it's going to run like a tired old alcoholic on lower-spec PCs... and yet in spite of all this I simply cannot stop talking about it. All day long I've been opening MSN windows to annoyed friends and trying to explain the really awesome thing that just happened in Stalker. More importantly, perhaps, I've been trying to explain to them just what Stalker is. It's like X meets Y meets Z meets oh I wish you were playing it too.
Onwards with the killing of mythic beasts! We're heading back into ancient mythology with more of the same thump and grunting that made the original Titan Quest so repetitious and yet so mesmerising.
There's something weirdly laborious about PSP conversions of big-screen games. To review D-Day with any sense of perspective I'd have to be on the move, taking the coach to St Ives or bastardising my biorhythms on a flight to Kuala Lumpur. Instead I'm hunched in an armchair, two metres from the PC where I first played the original game. I'm craning my neck, thumbing my tiny comrades through familiar sequences of suppressing fire and Nazi-flanking without travelling a step. It's not right: it feels like tiny, fiddly hard work - and handheld consoles need to roam free.
Empire At War might not have stunned us with its mild innovation and even milder Star Wars battles, but it was nevertheless an engaging and time-gobbling RTS-with-tactical-campaign-map-management-stuff. For the rabid few, however, it was a godsend: a Star Wars RTS that wasn't rubbish. Imagine that!
Do not test proverbs. As soon as you start mouthing off saying 'a Englishman's home is his castle' someone ends up having a backyard ballistae and bang goes the kitchen. Turns out that terraced houses aren't castles at all. You want to try fighting fire with fire too, you'll regret that one, I can tell you. Yes, proverbs, like castles, are best left to the experts - epigrammaticians and stonemasons respectively. In fact the Medieval military base was really best left to complete fiction, since castles were always a bit of troublesome affair, even for blokes who knew what they were doing. They always look better on paper, or at Disneyland... All of which introductory contrivance leads us to the premise of Stronghold: Legends. It's the same old Sim Castle, only this time it's populated with the fictional castle-owners of yore. These boys sure knew how to run a fantasy citadel (or would have done, had they existed). Stronghold has gone a bit Age Of Mythology.
Iceland is aptly named. But I wasn't there simply to freeze to death in the November storms, I was there to drink pricey booze and, incidentally, attend the 2006 Eve Fanfest. This third annual celebration of getting over-involved in the all-encompassing space-MMO was held in the capital city of Reykjavik and hosted five hundred gamers and at least half a dozen bored-looking girlfriends in a splendid Eve-draped convention centre. The three-day event revealed who were the best PvP players in Iceland that weekend, as well as what the future will be for CCP, the Icelandic company that set the virtual stars in motion.
Guild Wars is the MMO that doesn't require a subscription. What it does require is that you buy its regular standalone offerings, like Nightfall, if you want to enjoy fresh GW adventures. That ongoing experience is one of numerous instanced missions that you can play through with a handful of friends, or on your own as part of an NPC party. Opening up new regions and introducing its own new features, Nightfall ushers in another swathe of cleverly-instanced quests for Guild Wars' online adventures. This time the story-driven action takes place on a new continent, which is tinged with African folklore and populated by a lavish cast of African and Arabian characters. The new lands are, once again, exquisitely beautiful, with large, open areas and inspired African architecture. This is a large and impressive single-player expansion for Guild Wars, and it really concentrates on delivering an interesting story just as much as the last pack, Factions, concentrated on making changes to PvP.
Or Railroad Tycoon 4, as it's definitely not going to be called. Yes, it's that train network management time again, complete with industrious-sounding theme music and lots of options to click as you watch your virtual wallet grow satisfyingly fat, or despairingly thin. The huffing steam engines and whirring diesels are almost inconsequential to the overall puzzle-tweak-challenge of connecting supply with demand and making the world go round. It's management at its most genial: connect A with B in the most efficient manner possible and personal satisfaction arrives in droves. Or at least that's the idea.
Stories: like sequences of events strung into some kind of structure. Joint Task Force has a story, and it's a story of redemption. (Square jaw, thousand-yard stare into smoky sunset...) And it's about fighting.
Eve Online recently hit 130,000 subscribers, which is about 1 percent of the total MMO market. Even as a regular space-pilot I find it a bit difficult to reconcile the obscure and anti-populist game model with its ever-increasing success. People really do seem to want something beautiful but unforgiving. Eve originally evinced such groans of disgust and disbelief from my gaming peers that I expected it to fail utterly... It didn't. It has simply become more popular and more versatile. Eve grows bigger, stronger, more terrifying, and routinely pales even the mightiest of MMOs with its creative achievements. It is a game that does not seem to have made any concessions to tradition, and somehow that tenacity has paid off.
Bored? Skint? Adventurous? Then you've come to the right place. Fire up your download-manager and have fun working your way through 20 of the best freeware games available for the PC.
Ah, Ancient Greek; shorthand for cleverness since 443 BC. If you want some more credibility for your discourse, whatever that may be, it's worth booting it in the direction of the Classics. Compare something profound with the Iliad, or be humorous about Hippocrates. If the click 'n' slash genre needs something to replace orcs and hobgoblins, what better option is there than a few Satyrs and the odd Cyclops?
The simplest games are sometimes the hardest to review. Taken at face value there's very little to Shadowgrounds and it does almost nothing that has not been done better elsewhere. Run around, shoot stuff, have half-arsed plot about aliens on Ganymede explained to you via uninspiring cut-scenes. It's not even a new idea - everything here has been around a good ten years. That kind of summary could land almost any game with a crappy score and a textual kicking, but nevertheless I found myself rattling through Shadowgrounds' birds-eye-view shooter levels with a smile. I expected to dismiss it as a waste of time, but instead I've been zapped by a retro ray and landed somewhere between fond memories of the 16-bit era and love of things that go bang in 2006.