Monday, 16 February 2009

Dead In Seconds 3: Second World War Games

This is part of my irregular series of complaints about computer games for PCs. Playing computer games especially historically set ones is a major hobby for me. However, I get frustrated when many of them seem, particularly on the 'Easy' level to be impossible to progress without relying on cheats. Usually this seems to stem from the fact that there has been insufficent play testing so the user is eliminated in an arbitrary way or gets stuck in a situation in which you can only switch off the machine and either abandon the game or start again. Sometimes these flaws come from bugs. I was a big fan of 'Hidden and Dangerous' (1999) a game in which you had a squad of four commandos who had to carry out various missions in the Second World War. The storylines were interesting and the background authentic, but unfortunately filled with bugs so your brave men would die if they got on a boat as they fell into an engine or they got stuck in a look-out tower as there was insufficient room for them to stand up and they were also unable to crouch. I also liked 'Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines' (2004) which had an excellent back story of vampire clans in California, but needed 23 downloaded patches for it to work and then put you up against so powerful enemies with minimal weaponry and armour that you very quickly became stuck.

Now, as I have noted on this blog, since having my computer rebuilt following that fake anti-virus virus which hit me and presumably thousands of people across the world last month, I have been re-installing different games to what I had before, working my way through the pile of games that I have bought over the years and never played. I found that another couple of games like 'Hidden and Dangerous', 'Commandos 2: Beyond the Call of Duty' (2001) and 'Commandos 3: Destination Berlin' simply would not install on my computer. As noted before I did manage to get 'Faces of War' (2006) and 'Codename Panzers: Phase One' (2004) installed and have been playing them. In both games you control a small unit of soldiers in the Second World War and in both you can plan campaigns as the Germans, the Allies or the Soviets/Russians. It is interesting how these companies separate what were called the Allies into the Americans and British (and sometimes the French Resistance) and the Soviets, though from the moment the Germans invaded the USSR in June 1941, on Churchill's principle that 'my enemy's enemy is my friend' if nothing stronger, they were all in it together. Officially China was also part of the Allies.

Anyway, I outlined how in 'Faces of War' I found it tough as your small unit was generally faced by whole regiments often far more heavily armed, but that as the Germans I completed the first mission to blow the Nijmegen Bridge, so preventing the war ending in January 1945. I then moved on to Bastogne in the Battle of the Bulge and found my covert team, especially the snipers, not content to work cautiously, they simply ran up to the American front line and stood there while they were shot even if I kept calling them back. Meanwhile Rambo-like US soldiers in their shirtsleeves (despite the bitter 1944 winter) simply charged up escaping harm. I gave up on this scenarion but had plans to come back, thinking I could restrain my sniper and then if I eliminated the bulk of the troops on the US frontline, might stand a chance. Only, this time after Nijmegen I was sent back for tank training which I had already done. I did it again only to be sent back to Nijmegen, I was stuck in a loop not even with the chance of the suicidal Bastogne mission. I tried playing as the Soviets but had to go through all the basic training once again even though by now I knew all the controls perfectly and the Soviet troops were little different to how the German ones had been except they had worse American accents. This could have been a good game, but macho American stylings, plus flaws in the progression system rendered it pointless.

Now 'Codename Panzers: Phase One', though criticised for looking pretty old fashioned for a game produced in 2004 seemed to play much better. It reminded me of Talonsoft's 'West Front' (1998) with the same bird's eye view, though with greater detail. I quite like being able to role a clutch of tanks down some high street. You follow one character who has wistful diary entries before each scenario. I managed to get through as German Oberleutnant Hans von Groebel up to rank of Oberst and heavily decorated before being invalided out in late 1942 presumably so you did not have be on the defensive for the rest of the game.

I am now playing as Leutenant Aleksander Vladimiriov and got an appendicitis after the Germans were turned back from Kursk in 1943 and then only brought back to service in February 1945 for the assault on Budapest. I suppose this was to reduce the number of maps they need to create, but it seems a shame to have missed out such a chunk. Now, it comes to the problems of the gameplay. In Budapest I keep being blown apart by German forces I cannot see. Even if I run infantry in the building overlooking where the artillery piece or the concealed tank is, it remains invisible and I cannot fire at it. In contrast my soldiers and tanks who may be many streets away are hit precisely on the first shot by artillery, mortar and tank fire eliminating me immediately. You can go round clearing out every soldier from every building and yet you are still precisely targeted. Perhaps that all the staff at Stormregion who developed this are Hungarian and their quality checkers are German we have got this situation you get with US-produced games, in that you cannot really beat the Americans.

Perhaps the Hungarians cannot tolerate seeing Budapest fall to the Soviets (as it did in reality) though it does seem simply some flaw. I can accept 'fog of war' but nothing infuriates me more than people who are invisible to me, but can see right through building after building to hit me dead on. I do not mind games being tough, I just want them to be fair. It seems pointless in having the game with all the wonderfully drawn buildings and well-researched vehicles, if no matter what my skill, my strategy, my tactics, my planning, I am still going to be eliminated. Game makers do not seem to understand how disheartening it is and how unlikely we are to buy anything more from them. Though in this case as I got 'Codename Panzers: Phase Two' (2005) with it (primarily so I could play as a Yugoslav partisan), I cannot hold that particular sanction until I see something else of theirs.

To some degree I am pleased that the release of 'Empires Total War' has been delayed because if it lets them eliminate some of the flaws of earlier games (laser-guided medieval rockets, galleons equipped with radar and bullet-proof Mongol warriors) then I will be far happier especially, as atypically for me, I am going to buy it new.

No comments: