Tag Archives: Competitive

Insurgency Sandstorm Review

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Wow, two reviews this week? I really had to crunch to get this one done. It’s worth it though because like DUSK, this is a new FPS release that really ought to be on your radar. Insurgency Sandstorm, like its predecessor is here to give you a blend of arcade run speed, with late 90’s tactical subgenre features. But does it reach the lofty goals set forth by the original?

PROS: It’s an Insurgency sequel on a much newer engine!

CONS: Not every promised feature is here (yet.) Minor issues.

GIBS: A common 90’s FPS feature returns.

The original Insurgency set that bar rather high. What had started out as a mod became a full-fledged game that pushed Valve’s Source engine to its limit. It bridged the gap between Tactical FPS games like Rainbow Six 3: Raven Shield, and large-scale objective Military Team FPS games like Battlefield. In doing so, it offered a great alternative to some of the titles in the AAA space. While it didn’t run on the latest tech, it did give players a unique experience. Insurgency did well for itself, cutting out a nice niche for itself, and becoming one of the most beloved competitive games on Steam for some time.

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So what does this newer version bring to the table? Does it improve on the foundation set by the original? Should you play this over something else in the subgenre? All of these are questions you might have going into this one, and they’re all valid ones to ask. When the game was announced it was touting a robust single-player campaign in addition to the multiplayer goodness fans of the first game came for. It showed off some vehicle play, and all in a vast uptick in visual fidelity.

Well let’s get the one major point of contention some will have out-of-the-way. There is no one-player campaign. At least not yet. Now to be fair, those who followed the news around this game during its development, or played it while it was in Early Access were told it wasn’t going to make it in by launch. So a big chunk of the potential audience who were excited upon seeing it during E3 2017 already know this. But if you were one of those interested who saw the early trailers, put it on your “Look forward to seeing it when it comes out” list, and are just now looking at it? You’re going to be disappointed.

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But this is also not an “All is lost” moment, the studio has said it should be coming later, and that it should be included along with the other DLC. And that’s where the barometer may swing from disappointed to optimistic. Because the folks at New World Interactive will not be charging for DLC, nor implementing micro transactions or loot boxes. So everything that comes out for this game in the future will cost you nothing extra. New maps will be included. New weapons they decide to add will be included. Any new modes they cook up will also be included. So the lack of the campaign might sting, but they haven’t outright cancelled it either. If you only come to your army shooters for a campaign, and touch nothing else, you may want to wait. Or not, because there are things here you might still enjoy.

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Of course Insurgency, became a cult hit for a number of reasons. Its various modes. Its unique blend of styles. And that it pushed an aging technology pretty far in the process of delivering its fun. It didn’t look as good as the games EA, and Activision were putting out, but it stood in the same league when it came to game play. And that trend does indeed continue in Insurgency Sandstorm.

Think of Insurgency Sandstorm as an experiment in combining the best elements of various military themed shooters you’ve played over the years. All while implementing its own ideas into the monster before releasing it upon the world. What does it borrow? Well it gives you the vast conquest maps Battlefield fans would love. It also uses point capture as the primary goal of its competitive modes. Insurgency Sandstorm has three of them. (Though like the campaign, more may follow.)

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PUSH: This is the mode most like the Rush mode in the Battlefield games. It places one army as defenders, and one army as attackers. Attackers have a miniscule number of lives spread across its combatants. While Defenders have a much larger pool. However, if the attackers manage to take the first point on the map, they will gain more lives. They will also force the defensive team to fall back to their next point. This continues until either the defenders are made to fight their last stand, with no remaining lives to defend a cache. If the attackers blow it up, the defenders are defeated. The defenders will also be defeated if all of their lives are lost.

What makes this mode compelling is that there are a number of ways each side can approach their situation. When playing defense, you can do what I like to do. You can literally lie down on the objective (represented by a room with a giant flashing letter.), and attempt to kill any intruders. If enough of your team follows suit, it becomes nearly impossible to take the point. However, I said “nearly”. That’s because there are any number of ways a skilled attacking team can crack this. They can employ explosives to spook people to leave the point or die. They can send in their best stealth players to get inside. They can try to flank spawning defenders rushing to get back to the point. These are just some of the strategies you’ll see employed.

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FIREFIGHT: Is the next mode, and here all of the points on the map are preset with both armies having to take an attack position. One point is predetermined to be for one side. The second for the other side, and the third being unclaimed. The first team to capture all three of these wins. However, it isn’t easy because each player has only one life. The only way you get to come back into the battle is if your team captures a point while you’re dead. What people love about this mode is that there’s a tug of war going on with it. If you’ve got two points, but not the third, you’ll have to send people to take the third. But that means the opposing team will find less resistance, at one of your two points. If they take one, you’re at a disadvantage, and have to figure out which of their now two points is easier to take.

SKIRMISH: Takes the game play of Firefight, and adds the caches from the Push mode which gives each team multiple lives. So you’ll be going along in your back, and forth. But the twist comes when one of the caches is destroyed. Without a cache, your team will fall back to the stock Firefight rules, which makes it easier to become overrun. So you have to decide as a team whether you want to go all out, and take points. Or do you designate a few of your combatants to defend the cache while others go for points? Insurgency Sandstorm involves its own strategies into proven concepts.

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This is where the implementation of other ideas, along with NWI’s modern twists, and original features really begins to take shape. Insurgency Sandstorm may use some ideas you’ve seen elsewhere, but it isn’t a knock off. It isn’t just reskinning a popular game, and shouting “Ta-da!”. It’s transformative. It retools these ideas to work in ways that weren’t expected before. It again, also has original ideas too. That’s what made the first game so great, and that continues here in the combat system.

 

Like the original, it takes a page from the original Rainbow Six games, and goes for far more realistic damage. If you play Rainbow Six Siege, as fun as it is, you can still survive firefights if you get shot. Even if you go down a friend can revive you. But if you go way back, and play Rainbow Six 1,2, or 3, that is rarely the case. In those games a single hit was usually lethal. If you were hit in a limb, maybe you could take a second bullet to go down. Insurgency Sandstorm is tough like that. If you get shot, you’re probably dead. If you’re hit in the arm, perhaps you’ll find some cover to survive a little bit longer. But another hit, and you’re toast. Because while your vision comes back, your health does not.

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But Insurgency Sandstorm goes further. Because it eschews plenty of other ideas its competitors love. For instance, there is no mini map. There are no little lights on a square in the corner telling you where to go. You’ll see a flashing letter in the distance. But that’s it. Insurgency Sandstorm has no kill cam. You may be able to have the run speed of a soldier (provided you have no body armor) of a Call Of Duty entry. But when you get sniped running onto the point, and die you will not be watching the person who killed you as you wait to spawn. You can see your teammates, and communicate with them if you see a threat near them. But that is it.

Insurgency Sandstorm also adds a bit of realism in its movement. When you sprint you may not tire. However, you also can not shoot. You have to think about that when going about. If you think you can blast a nest of enemies while charging into a room, think again. At best you can kick doors down while running, and if it hits an enemy in the process you can kill them with the door. But you’ll also be wide open when the other campers see it. On the flip side, if you’re trying to snipe, and you’re too close to the banister, your arm will simply bend back toward you, as you struggle to find a spot where your gun isn’t going to go up against an object. It’s a small thing, but it adds a lot to the environment.

 

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Insurgency Sandstorm borrows an element from Arena shooters of yesteryear too: Gibs. In this game, getting hit in key parts of the body will cause limbs to fly off, heads to explode, and bodies to disintegrate. Since this game is going for a little bit more realism it doesn’t come off like it would in The Expendables. It comes off a little bit more like Glory. Rather it tries to. It doesn’t quite make that emotional transition, but it doesn’t elicit that same joyous surprise as it did back in DOOM, Duke 3D, or QUAKE. At least not for me. The point is, there is an element of its use in a contemporary setting that might remind some players of how horrific wars can be. Whether or not this is intentional is solely up to the artists to decide. They may have been going for the action movie vibe more so than the dramatic movie vibe. In which case I think it fell somewhere in between. But they do come off as impressive. The first time you see it, you really won’t be expecting it, and it honestly might just shock you even knowing about it going in.

The move to Unreal Engine 4 also means a big uptick in visual fidelity, and a jump in system requirements. However, New World Interactive deserves some praise in just how much they’ve done to ensure those like me, with aging video cards can still play their game with great performance. If you do happen to have the hardware that can run this at or near maximum settings, you’ll be pretty pleased with the end result. There are some very impressive lighting effects, Anti-Aliasing effects, Bump mapping effects, among others that UE4 can support. However, if you have a machine that’s five years old, you’re probably not going to be playing any game maxed out. The scalability this game provides is great, as are its customization options.

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All of the shots you’re seeing in this review were taken at the lowest settings. These can hang with a lot of other games despite the reduced image quality. Granted, you can’t expect miracles either. If you’ve got a ten-year old computer with barely any RAM to speak of by today’s standards,  you probably cannot run it. But If you have at least a fourth generation Intel i5 or AMD FX 6330 (around 5 years old now), a NVIDIA GTX 760 or AMD Radeon 7970 in there (also around 5 years old as of this writing), and a good 16GB of RAM in your system you likely can. And at better performance than you might expect. At the lowest settings, I’ve been able to play between 70, and 90 frames per second resulting in a relatively smooth, and responsive experience.

And with the game slated to hit the Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 next year, it does give those who prefer a console experience something to look forward to. As for the artistic side of the visuals, they’ve really gone out of their way here as well. Textures on buildings, look sharp, the costumes of the characters all fit the motif the game tries to present. Even on the lowest details, the backgrounds all still look great with some nice lights, and shadow effects going on.

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As in the original game, one side of the roster is composed of security forces. So when playing  as a security force member you’ll have a military themed character. The other side is composed of insurgents where you’re basically playing as a terrorist group of villains. One thing this game introduces over its predecessor is a cosmetic customization option. As you play the game you’ll earn in game currency. Much like Nintendo’s Splatoon series, you cannot buy this currency. These are points you use exclusively for this feature. Unlike Splatoon, these clothing options do nothing else. It’s strictly just to personalize your characters when playing online. No perk slots, no RPG elements, that is it. That being said, a lot of the costume selections are quite good, and go for something grounded. You won’t be running around on the security side wearing only pants, and bandoliers or rocking a Cobra Commander costume on the insurgent forces.

As in the first game, there are no unlockable weapons. When you start the game every one of your classes is given a certain number of points. Which you can use on your load out. So you have to use tactics even when deciding what to go onto the front lines in. You may not have to grind your way to that powerful machine gun you want to use. But if it costs a lot of points that doesn’t leave you a lot left over for attachments, or defensive items or a secondary item. Similarly, you can choose to go for a lot of body armor, and items. But this will actually affect your run speed by making you slower. You might be able to take a third or fourth bullet before dying though. So you need to approach every class situation differently.

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Also new to this game are new Commander, and Observer classes. These classes have to work together, and stay within a certain proximity to one another. Because these classes can work to call in air support. They can call in helicopters, or mortar storms to help them push when attacking, or to defend their position when being pressured. Every one of the classes is viable though, and if you couldn’t already tell, the best way to play is with friends who communicate. Insurgency Sandstorm is very much designed around teamwork. It has built-in chat, so you can easily talk to your team on the fly. For those who don’t have a headset, or a microphone, you can still type to your team members.

On the other hand, when playing with random strangers, there is always going to be a troll or two. It’s just the reality of online gaming. Fortunately this time around you can mute everybody wholesale if you have the misfortune of dropping to a match where everyone annoys you. Still, when playing with friends, the voice chat can be an accommodating feature. Especially for those with friends who don’t know how to set up their own chat alternatives like Discord.

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And if all of the heated PvP stuff sounds too tough for you, the cooperative mode included is something you may gravitate toward. Similar to the Terrorist Hunt mode of the Rainbow Six series, Insurgency Sandstorm’s cooperative experience pits you, and others up against a team of NPC bots. With frequently changing objectives. It basically blends some of its competitive elements into the mode. So at first you, and the other humans may be taking points. But then the game will decide you have to defend the one you just claimed against an onslaught, or destroy a cache. But all of it is done in, a fun, and entertaining way.  You’ll get a variety of enemy bot skill levels. Some will be pretty good at movement, others will be marksmen. But you’ll occasionally get that idiotic bot that just stands there after missing. Still, they employ some tactics one might not expect, making for some surprises. And of course for those who only want to go up against the best, Insurgency Sandstorm features a competitive option where you’ll be placed with other people on ranked servers, and modes to keep up your street cred.

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For those who absolutely must have something here for playing alone, there are a couple of minor options though. There are a couple of short tutorials that get you used to the game’s mechanics, and modes. These aren’t really necessary for those who have played FPS titles for years, though it can catch you up on the nuances here. The aforementioned cooperative mode is here however again as a single player option. Sadly this just isn’t going to be as fun as the cooperative experience. That’s because you’re paired with bots who aren’t as adept as the bots you’ll go up against, and you’re only given one life per objective. So if you die trying to get the first objective, the round ends, and you’ll move onto the next. This makes the one player option a lot more challenging too because without some competent bots, you’re basically going up against an entire army alone. Still you get five attempts, and winning alone is doable.

But there are also a load of options for you to tinker with. Not just the aforementioned graphics settings, and performance settings. Not just the look of your hero or villain. You can even tweak some of the marker settings, like changing the colors of the letter markers,  and names to something clearer to you than the default. You can also put on displays to show you the current frame rate, and ping. Things that have been in Unreal Engine games for years, but are often closed off in newer releases. It’s nice to see it here so that you can see the math when turning something on or off.

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There are a few problems I do have to point out though. While I imagine most people will get pretty good performance out of this game, there are a number of small visual glitches I’ve stumbled upon. In one game I noticed somebody’s weapon just flickering in the sky before the round began. Another round I noticed player models that hadn’t completely loaded in. So they were shooting at me, but the weapon they were using couldn’t be seen. These are rare occurrences. But the common issue I run into is texture pop in. Again, it loads in fast enough. It doesn’t affect the game play. But the 2 seconds between seeing a blue wall, and seeing a blue wall, with dents in it, and other details can sometimes distract from the experience. I suspect it could be an issue with older cards, that will eventually be fixed with patches, and drivers. But it is a minor problem.

When playing the cooperative mode, alone or with other players, there are a few minor nitpicks. Mainly with the inconsistent A.I. as I mentioned earlier, the bots you face can have a fair amount of variety in skill which is nice. But when you have to rely on them in your team, and a few decide to be idiots, you almost wish they weren’t there. The enemy bot spawns could have been obfuscated a little bit better too, as there were a couple of times in the single player cooperative I could go out a door of a point I had to defend, and see the game drop them in.

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In the grand scheme of things these issues don’t really amount to much of anything. The A.I. is still better than in many of the bots in other titles. The game rarely looks anything less than great aside from the 2-4 seconds of pop in you may experience. Leaving the bot spawn issues, which really breaks the immersion more than anything else. Back on the pvp end of things, there is far less to pick apart. The net code is generally very good. Unless you’re connecting to a server half the world away, you don’t see a lot of rubber banding, or players warping around like Mr. Game & Watch.

All of the online modes are generally quite fun. The studio kept them to the best maintained modes of the first game to ensure that you can always find someone to play against, and this strategy has worked. Yes, you can get into situations where there are people trying to spawn camp, or situations where you’ll have people on your team who refuse to run to the giant flashing “A” along with everyone else. But these aren’t issues with the game, these are the same issues you’ll run into with certain individuals in any multiplayer game. Fortunately, the game does offer the ability for you to mute individual people, or even everyone wholesale.

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The gun play is fantastic. Every weapon has a nice heft to it, and there are options here for every type of player. If you prefer to cover your team, there are many sniping options. If you want to go stealth, there are a slew of close range rifles, shotguns, SMGs, and other options, and attachments. The sounds of gunfire, and explosions are phenomenal too, which adds to that feeling of weight. You also have to hold your breath to steady your aim. Not only with the long-range weapons, but every weapon. Hip firing will just go wherever the gun is aimed. So panic shooting is going to be a crap shoot. These are all seemingly tiny things. But they add so much depth to the combat.

The maps are also mostly really good. Save for an exception or two, just about every map is built around each mode, and objectives are set that put either an attacker or defender into a tough situation at any given time. There are choke points defenders can use to their advantage. There are multiple paths attackers can take at any given time. The inclusion of vehicles in the Push mode also adds a new dynamic. I would have liked to have seen more of them. But between the drivable trucks with mounted guns, and the air strikes the two new classes can call in, there are new strategies that have to be employed to deal with them. And some maps actually make using these things harder. On the refinery stage enemies can just go inside buildings to escape the wrath of a Blackhawk helicopter. Similarly someone can put out roadside bombs in key locations that might deter someone from racing to the point in a pickup.

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In spite of its faults, Insurgency Sandstorm is a phenomenal game. It offers a real alternative to those who have felt disenfranchised with Electronic Arts’, and Activision’s annualized offerings. While it might not have quite the same level of visual fidelity of Battlefield or Call Of Duty, it also doesn’t require the purchase of season passes or micro transactions to have access to everything included in it down the line. The game play in it is also unique thanks to reintroducing an audience to hardcore simulation elements while retaining the run speed of something more twitchy. Absolute simulation purists may still want to go to the excellent ARMA games. And while this game may not be as recognized by the wider audience, the potential is there for that to change.  Especially if the game’s smaller issues are cleared, and the promised campaign shows up before it sees a port to consoles next year.

Whether you loved the original Insurgency, and poured hundreds of hours into it, or you’re a military FPS veteran looking for something new, this is pretty much a game you’ll enjoy diving into. This is also an excellent option for those who want something competitive to play, but without the pressure to spend more money. It’s also a great game for the casual military FPS fan who doesn’t have thousands of hours to devote to unlocking things. Insurgency was also supported for many years after it came out, and there’s no indication New World Interactive won’t do the same for the sequel. People who were interested solely in a campaign story mode will want to wait for its arrival. But for anyone looking for a unique take on the modern military multiplayer shooter? Insurgency Sandstorm should be on their wish list.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

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Pop the game in, and live to win.

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With all of the Splatoon 2 I’ve played as of late (It’s a great game, if you’ve got a Nintendo Switch you ought to check it out.) I got to thinking about previous multiplayer shooters I’ve gone back to again, and again, and again. I’ve reviewed a number of them on this blog, and in some previous ones I’ve had over the years. Obviously I talked a lot about the features, modes, how they work, and how these make for a good game.

But over my life growing up with games, I’ve found I get very competitive. More so with myself than opponents. Though I’ll put my best attempt at winning forward, I know, at least in the realm of video games, I can’t claim to be the top guy. If I were, I could be like the great Chris Jericho cutting amazing promos, and winning e-sports championships. (Seriously, Chris Jericho is one of the greatest wrestlers of all time. That’s one of my favorite of his promos. It’s great. That feud gave 2012 one of the best WrestleMania shows ever.)

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Where was I? Oh right. Competitive gaming. More particularly why do I find it so compelling? It’s hard to describe really. Depending on the game there could be one or many goals. You may have to fill a role on a team, and work well with everyone else while focusing on your task. But you have to be well-rounded enough to pick up the slack if someone else falls. In another game it could be a free-for-all where you only have to focus on your own performance, hopefully being a cut above everyone else in the match. It could be a one on one game like a fighting game, where you have to not only continually hone your own skills, but be aware of both your own weaknesses, and your opponent’s weaknesses.

Then you have the cerebral aspect of strategy. In an actual strategy game it might be about managing resources, properly placing units, and making contingency plans in case your current plan of action doesn’t pan out. But there are different layers of strategy in any game. In a turf war round in Splatoon 2, you may decide to paint your side thoroughly, and slowly push ahead with a defensive focus. Or you could decide to just rush ahead, and get early claim at the middle ground. Then hope you can hold it, while touching up all you’ve skipped at the start. Or you could send two people ahead, and leave two behind. What load outs does everyone have? You could create a plan of action around your armaments. There is a lot more to think about than you might realize.

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I remember way back in 2004, when I first got Unreal Tournament 2004. I had played the first game (commonly referred to as UT99) to death working at a OEM at the time. I loved it so much, I was excited to pick up the 2003 edition, and of course the 2004 version was lauded for ironing out some balance issues, adding new modes, and options. Though some weren’t fans of its omission of a few features in the process. But I digress. I had decided I wanted to get better at the game. Not to be a professional player (which wasn’t as common as it is today. There was no Twitch. There were a handful of major tournaments, and a number of smaller, regional ones. The major competitor back then was Johnathan “Fatal1ty” Wendel, and chances were I was never going to go up against him on TV. Obviously, I never have.) but just to be able to get a win online occasionally. To not always be at the bottom of the scoreboard. Also to beat my coworkers.

Anyway, I decided that I was going to improve by focusing on one weapon in the game, and becoming proficient with it. That weapon was the Bio-Rifle. It was probably the least popular weapon in the original game, and so in the world of 2003/2004 not much more. People were enamored with stalwarts like the Flak Cannon, or the Mini-gun or the Shock Rifle (Those shock combos are known to clear rooms.). But I found the weapon to be pretty cool once I started getting a handle on it. In the Unreal Tournament games, every weapon has two firing modes. The Flak Cannon shoots shrapnel, or a bomb. The Shock Rifle shoots a laser, or an orb. You can shoot the orb with the laser to make an explosion. In the case of the Bio-Rifle you can shoot slime on the ground, walls, ceilings, etc. If people touch it, they get injured. But, you can hold the secondary fire, you can charge a single glob of slime. When you let go of the button, it shoots it off in an arc. If that glob touches someone, more often than not they’ll die, or be on their last 5% of health.

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Each version of Unreal Tournament has a different design, and physics for the weapon, so you can’t expect to be a whiz overnight going from UT to UT2004 or from UT2004 to UT3. But the point is it became my de facto weapon in the series. And I honestly became pretty good with it. I was no Fatal1ty by any means, but I started finding myself in the top 5 in a full death match game of 20 people more often than not. At least on public games. Well imagine my surprise when a couple of other players noticed this, and asked me to be on their team. I ended up not only improving my own skills for my own personal goals. But I impressed players who were even better than I was. As someone who has always had self-confidence issues, low self-esteem, and other problems this was a pleasant surprise to me. Anyway, for a good four years or more we frequently played against other teams in scrim, and had fun trying to master the game together. Improving trick jumping skills, getting better at other modes, and mods. At one point our head player rented server space where we had our own public server, where we hosted our own maps. They weren’t the best maps. But they were our own!

We disbanded after the UT series went dormant where others moved onto other games. Though from time to time I may see them online playing something else. But the bigger point is that competitive games can really drive you to want to keep playing them when their formulas gel with you. Some of the early Battlefield games were like that for me. Chivalry: Medieval Warfare was like that for me. It may have had some issues that kept it from perfection, but it was a blast to play, and the melee combat was, and still is quite novel. Not too many games make swinging a sword deeper than a left mouse button click. Toxikk was probably one of the better attempts to bring back the movement focused arena shooting that the Quake, and Unreal games gave us.

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But even long before these games I’ve found competitive games compelling. As a teenager, and young adult I gorged on Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, World Heroes, Tekken, Soul Calibur, Virtua Fighter, and other fighting games. I loved Doom, Duke Nukem 3D, and Rise Of The Triad campaigns. I loved calling my friend via a modem, and 1v1 deathmatching even more. I’m not the biggest sports fan out there, as a casual fan. But NBA Jam, NFL Blitz, NHL Hitz, and Sega Soccer Slam gave some of the most intense gaming moments ever when they were new.

Even when I was growing up, there were a plethora of great competitive games I played with my younger brother. And I’ll admit, I often hated it when he’d beat me. Here I was, putting in time to try to master stealth, and ricochet tactics in tank mode on Combat. He somehow just knew where I was on the screen. To this day, I cannot defeat him in Warlords, one of my favorite Atari 2600 games of all time. And this is a man who rarely gets the game time I do, due to the fact that he owns, and operates a small business. Sometimes you just end up with a sibling who picks a game up like it’s second nature.

Be that as it may, whether you’re going for a high score in Kaboom!, trying to place first on Rainbow Road, or blow up the enemy cache in Insurgency, there’s something enthralling about competing against friends or strangers. There’s the joyous feeling of riding high when you’re victorious. There’s the humbling nature of a soul-crushing defeat. There’s a stressful, yet entertaining feeling you get when it’s neck, and neck, and that last second, or last frag, or last goal is about to transpire.

Obviously, not all of us handle a loss like a civilized person. I would argue that at one time or another we’ve all been guilty of this. Flipping the chess board. Screaming like a petulant five-year old. But there’s no place for the awful stuff some spew over a chat microphone. You never know who is on the other end of a headset, so one really needs to behave as if they were walking through a crowded mall. Not be a nuisance who is going to regret saying the wrong thing to the wrong person. Fortunately, in most cases you can mute all of the instigators. But in the end sometimes it pays to remind oneself to take the loss like a grown up. Set down the controller afterward, and go do something else for an hour or two. Competition should feel exciting, and even cutthroat at times. But it should also come with a feeling of enjoyment. If it stops feeling fun, it’s time to take a breather.

Of course, there are going to be those who get a rise out of getting others upset in any given game. And it ruins the experience. But this falls in line a bit with sore losing too. In the sense that after the round ends, stop playing, do something else. Don’t rage quit, and further worsen things for other people. Don’t flip out, and give the bullies what they want. You have to be the bigger person. Which is admittedly easier said than done sometimes. That’s what made this classic Family Guy moment so funny.

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In spite of these circumstances, I still find myself constantly going back to competitive games. It doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy solitary experiences. I like a single-player experience as much as the next player. And in some cases one could argue, you can even get competitive with yourself. Can you speed run a game faster than before? Can you get the best possible ending? Can you find every last item? Can you complete every side quest? Can you get a kill screen going for a high score? Can you speed run a kill screen?

But the point is competition is one of the highlights of gaming. Sure, not every game needs to cram a death match or tower defense mode into it. Especially in games where a story driven experience is the focal point. But competition can be its own reward. Giving players a drive to improve, little by little with every match. Learning more about the mechanics, or building a strategy with each setback. Getting that feeling of accomplishment waving over them with their first big win.

And you don’t have to be a professional player to get that kind of experience. You can find it in your inner circle of friends, and relatives on game night. Or on a holiday gathering. Or when you all get out of work at 9pm. Competitive games are also something anyone can enjoy. You don’t always have the time to devote to a 60 hour RPG, or a 10 hour campaign. But most of us can squeeze in an hour of ten minute matches into an otherwise busy week with friends.

But I’ve done enough long-winded rambling. Hopefully I’ve opened up a point of conversation, or have given someone something to think about. What about you? Do you have the drive to pop more balloons in Circus Atari than your siblings? Get more frags than your friends in Quake? Shut down your Aunt in Mario Kart? Sound off below.

Beach Head II: The Dictator Strikes Back Review

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These days, there are all kinds of wonderful death match experiences. From Rise Of The Triad onward, First-person shooters have given players hours of competitive multiplayer. But back in the golden age, not as many games did this. Oh sure, there was the quest for the high score. However, many games had you on the same side, or alternating turns while competing for points. But when Beach Head came out it had a novel idea. Combining several games resulting in a really fun campaign. The sequel took that idea on step further.

PROS: Well crafted. As fun today, as it was when it came out years ago.

CONS: Last stage can go on too long between two great players.

MEDIC: The voice samples are some of the most memorable quips in a video game.

Beach Head II is one of the best competitive multiplayer games ever made. Released two years after the original game, it made one little change to its formula. This completely changed the dynamics of the game in this sequel. Instead of alternating turns, this game casts one player as the heroic army, and the other player as the dictator’s evil forces. The core concept is intact. There are a set number of scenes, each acting as its own arcade style game. Once that game is played, things move onto the next game, and so on. This tapestry of games, makes for an overall campaign, and storyline. Beach Head takes place during World War II. But the setting in this sequel is more contemporary.

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The first stage is an invasion. Player one air drops a squadron onto the shore, and from here they have to storm the Bastille. Player two has to do everything in their power to keep the heroes from getting inside, by using a giant turret. As the second player fires down upon the walls, the first player has to move combatants one by one, to the entrance. They can scale walls, or run down toward the next set. If they get to the bottom, they’ll succeed.  The more combatants they can get down to the bottom the better prepared for the following stage. This is also the moment you’ll see something else that makes the game memorable. This is one of the earliest computer games that implemented voice samples.

When one of the allied combatants get shot, it plays one of four samples. These are looped so the deaths will vocalize the same pattern of phrases. Even still, these are pretty great for the time, and are still pretty memorable. There are other samples that play in later stages too. Now one may think the odds are against the allied forces, and they are. But the heroes can throw grenades at the dictator’s turret. A successful throw will destroy it for big points, and the soldier will make it in, as a replacement turret spawns in.

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Stage two sees the allies taking control of the turret, and firing into the dictator’s military installation. Here the object is to provide prisoners cover as they try to shuffle along, and escape. The person playing dictator, can summon tanks, combat jeeps, a bomb expert to set traps, and even a guy on a roof dropping rocks onto the prisoner. Points are awarded to the allies for every successful rescue, while the dictator gets points for successfully murdering prisoners.

The third stage is a helicopter escape mission. The allied player loads the chopper with liberated soldiers, and attempts to get away. It’s a shmup level, but the dictator can control the many vehicles in an attempt to shoot down the chopper. If they’re successful the round starts again, with the allies trying to shuttle out any remaining prisoners. Obviously the allies get huge bonus points if they can successfully dodge all of the dictator’s assaults.

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The final stage sees the leader of the allies facing off against the dictator himself. Each on a pier facing each other. They throw knives at each other. After landing a few hits the victor will see their opponent fall into the sea. This battle goes on for ten matches. This is where the game’s one major flaw comes into play. The final battle can go on far too long. Once you have two evenly matched players, they can easily duck out, sidestep, and otherwise dodge dagger throws. A 30 minute match up of fun, can quickly become a several hour affair due to the last battle. In hindsight Access Software should have made this a two out of three falls match.

Be that as it may, the final battle is still a lot of fun thanks in part to the nice animation, and splendid sound samples. Hearing the dictator exclaim “YOU CAN’T HURT ME!” is a pretty rewarding experience. Once all of the modes are done, the final score is tallied letting you know which army was victorious.

Aside from the voice samples, the sound effects are really good. Explosions, gun fire, and other sounds are all a cut above most other games of the time. There is also a really nice chip tune of the US Marines theme song. Visually the game still holds up pretty nicely. The sprites all have a great use of shading techniques to portray details. And while not every thing is graphically impressive, it does an awful lot, with a little.

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Now in addition to the full on campaign, you can play the individual stages instead. This is nice if you really enjoy a specific level more than the other ones. But for most who go back, and play this one, going through the campaign together is really what makes things fun. One can also play through the game on their own as the allies. There are three difficulty levels, and the higher you go the more punishing it is. The highest difficulty is notoriously difficult, as the computer will rarely make a mistake. If you have nobody to play it with, it’s a fun ride. But the real entertainment comes from competing with a friend. I spent many Saturdays, and afternoons playing this with my brother, and friends from school back in the 80’s. It was one of the most fun multiplayer experiences on the Commodore 64.

But Beach Head II was also published on other computers of the time. If you collect for the Apple II or Atari 400/800 line, you can also find this game for those platforms. If you happen to live in Europe, you can also find versions for the Amstrad CPC, and the ZX Spectrum. No matter how you play it though, this is one awesome head to head game worth picking up if you have the chance.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Toxikk Review

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The arena  first-person shooter. It’s been awhile since the subgenre has been anywhere near the public eye. Oh sure, some people will tell you that Overwatch, and Team Fortress 2 are arena first-person shooters. Mainly because they have some zippy movement, and outlandish characters. But they’re not arena first-person shooters in the classic sense. When many people wish for an arena shooter they mean the very late nineties, and early two thousands. Shooters like Quake 3 Arena, The Unreal Tournament series, and even a dab of Tribes.

PROS: UT2k4-esque movement. Great weapons. Great map design.  Wonderful tutorial.

CONS: Skill Class system could use minor tweaking. Needs a bit more identity.

FATALITY: This game takes a cue from UT99, and adds environmental fatalities.

For full disclosure, I bought the Early Access pass on Steam last year. I know it makes me a bit hypocritical as I never buy EA passes normally. There’s no guarantee a game will get finished, and so I generally wait. But in this case, I caught wind of it, remembered my days in the Maximum Carnage UT2k4 clan, and was wistful. I liked what I saw at the time, but never really talked about it much because there wasn’t much content. You can’t really review something that isn’t complete.

Now that the game is done, and I’ve thoroughly played the final release, I can. The final version, is really, really good. It does everything it advertises, bringing players a game that hearkens back to the old days. Which weren’t that old, as the last UT game came out in 2007. Still, nine years is a long time in video games. There were other attempts like Nexius, but they fell flat even if they weren’t bad for a variety of reasons. They didn’t have an interesting enough look, or they weren’t talked about enough to give them a look. Or they didn’t connect with the players for other reasons.

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But with Toxikk, Reakktor, the game’s developer, seems to be trying to avoid some of those problems. For starters, there’s a demo. That gives you access to all of the game content. I’m serious. You can go download it, play to your heart’s content, and see if it’s something you’ll enjoy. But if you buy it outright you’ll get a lot of features you’re going to need if you plan on playing it with friends for a substantial amount of time.

But before I get into that, let me tell you what the game is all about. I’m sure there are some of you moaning “It’s an Arena FPS! We know!” But I’m sure there are also a number of people out there who have never played one of them. Toxikk is an arena first-person shooter. There is no single player here. The entire game is meant to be an arcade experience where you play against friends or strangers. The core game mode is a Death match mode. Basically it’s a free for all mode, where the person with the most kills wins when the time runs out, or whoever hits the score limit first.

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But what makes the game a bit more challenging is that it uses a similar movement system to Unreal Tournament 2004’s. So instead of simply running around, and shooting people, you can make yourself harder to hit. You can double jumps. You can do massive long jumps. You can do short dodges. You can do cartwheels off of walls. This means enemies have to step up their aiming game. Likewise they can do the same thing. The maps are all designed with the movement system in mind. So you may need to use an elevator jump to get to a certain room. Or there may be a huge gap between rooftops you can’t simply jump over. But using the advanced tricks you do a dodge jump toward the left, then wall jump off of that surface to make the rest of the jump. This system makes travelling through the stages faster, and worth the time to master.

The movement system is paired with a pretty cool selection of weapons. You’ll start with a pistol, but you can run through the maps to find shotguns, sniper rifles, flame throwers, rocket launchers, plasma rifles, and even a nuclear rocket launcher. These weapons all have influences from Quake 3 Arena, and Unreal Tournament. The great thing is, they all have secondary fire modes. So you’ll have to master when to use a primary or a secondary mode. There are also health boxes, ammo boxes for each of the game’s weapons, along with armor pieces to pick up. You’ll also find some stages have a jetpack, health that takes your meter up to 200, and armor that does the same. In most cases you’ll need to know the movement system well enough to get to them though. They’re also in places where you’re a prime target. So there is a nice mix of risk, and reward. The key to victory in a Death match is to keep everyone else from getting the power ups, and good stuff. Even more than your goal of killing everyone. Because it makes them have to fight an uphill battle. All of these elements add layers of depth to what may seem simple on the surface.

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But you aren’t only getting a Death match mode to play. There’s a Team Death match, called Squad Assault where one team goes after the other.  A point capture mode, where the game puts three points on the map for your team to hold. You walk over them, turn the spots into your side’s, and try to keep it. The challenge here is that if you have enough players for the map you’ll have three endless skirmishes. You’ll want to keep some team mates on each point to ensure the other side can’t simply walk up, and take it. Whichever side took points more times wins. So if you can hang onto them longer you’ll keep the odds leaning in your favor.

There is also a Capture the flag mode called Cell Capture. Basically one side tries to steal the other’s cell, then bring it back to their base. The other side is trying the same thing simultaneously. So across the different modes you have a variety of old-school game types. But it gets better for people who love the CTF, and Point Capture modes because some of the maps feature vehicles. Just as UT2k4, and UT3 had them, so does Toxikk. In this game you get a ship that operates a bit like a helicopter, a hover craft, a jeep, and a FREAKING GUNDAM. Each of them is a blast to use, and can add a lot of tension in the battles. The ships can shoot missiles from above, cut people down with a chain gun. The Gundam can step on people, take out several people at once. The hover craft can steam roll people. The jeep can have a rider take control of a giant gun on the back of it while they drive to get the cell.

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But if all of the vehicles sound like they add insurmountable odds, they surprisingly don’t. For one, vehicles all have fairly low health. Even the Gundam. If you’re good enough at maneuvering with dodges, jumps, and the other movement tricks, you can avoid a lot of the firepower. Most of the vehicles will go down from a handful of missiles. If you’re inside a vehicle when it blows up, the other team is also getting a frag. In Cell Capture, you also can’t drive or pilot a vehicle if you’ve picked up the enemy cell. You have to make it back either on foot, or on your hover bike. And if you choose to use the hover bike, you can’t shoot any of your weapons. So you’re pretty crippled, and really have to hope your team can cover you when you’re bringing back a cell.

If the movement system sounds rather daunting to you, Toxikk does have a pretty well thought out tutorial. The very first lesson is just the movement system, and basic weapon handling. From there each lesson gives you a handle on, more, and more. I would recommend every player to at least try the tutorial before going online. Because it can at the very least give you  a handle on the basics. It will also force you to acknowledge when someone is honestly that good. Seeing someone clear a rooftop jump, while shooting down three enemies, and landing unscathed can feel intimidating.

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But that intimidation is why Toxikk has a Skill Class system. As you play the game it measures what you’re doing, and will give you a rating between 1, and 12. This is always in flux. So you can have a ranking of 8, play ten really bad rounds, and find yourself a 7. Likewise, when you improve you’ll go up. This was put in place because the developers realize a lot of people won’t have fun if they’re constantly getting crushed by 12’s with no hope of learning everything. When you go on the server browser in the full game (more on that later) you’ll see servers allow some ranks, but not others. One server may be ranked 1-4, another may be 8-12, with others in between. You have to be within those ranks to join them.

That said, there are servers that don’t utilize the system. So if you would rather learn by playing against the heavyweights than training against  a cruiserweight division, you do have that as an option. Unranked servers are also great for groups of friends because you don’t have to shut out that friend who is too green, or that other friend who is a seasoned veteran.

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Separate from the Skill Class, is point system is an MXP experience point system, and this isn’t really all too important. But if you enjoy the game, and play fairly enough, over time you can increase this number for some cosmetic armor options for your character. There’s an assortment of different heads, torso options, and camouflage options you can use to customize your look. Everyone can change the color of their combatant. But people who like the game can add a few more tweaks over time. The coolest being a fearsome skull mask. This is one of the few grievances I have though because nothing about the core game requires any grinding. Perhaps it was put in for fans of that sort of thing, without effecting the game play. But it just seems odd. Since everything is open anyway, why make costume pieces on a ladder?

It doesn’t matter too much though because everything gives you boatloads of MXP. Fragging someone. Completing a tutorial. Utilizing trick jumps in a match. Piloting a vehicle. Virtually everything aside from dying gives you some points. You even get MXP in team modes for assists. Hell, if you’re bad at the game, but just really want a cosmetic item bad enough you can play against bots on the lowest possible difficulty.

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Now people who just want to play the core game can use the free demo. It isn’t timed. You aren’t blocked from any of the levels or weapons or movement. It’s all there. But if you enjoy it, or have friends you want to play it with, it’s well worth picking up the e-tail version. Buying the game means you’ll get a server browser. So you can actually find a server you, and your friends can all join without having to worry about an outlier not being able to get in because it was a certain rank limit. Paying customers also get the ability to host their own server, be it dedicated or by playing peer-to-peer through a router. You can set up private games over the internet too.  There are other perks for buying the full game too. You get to use the character customization I talked about, as well as the game’s SDK.

What does that mean? Well you can make your own content. New stages, modes, characters, whatever you want. If you’re proficient enough in using Unreal Engine 3, the sky is the limit. Because of this, even if you don’t plan on designing mods, or stages you benefit. Buying the game means that you can also download, and install mods other players make through the Steam workshop. So there is a wealth of potential stuff you have access to if you buy the game outright.

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Unreal Tournament games were played for years after release due to the prevalence of new maps, modes, skins, characters, weapons, and other content made by fans. The same could be said for the Doom, and Quake games. So hopefully, Reakktor Studios’ insistence on taking the path set by Epic, and id many years ago will have a similar payoff.

It all hinges on a player base sticking around. At launch some of those fears were quelled as a lot of people seem to have discovered the demo, and seem to be liking it. Toxikk is a fun game I think everyone should at least try. It’s a beautiful game too. Reakktor has pushed this iteration of UE3 about as far as it can probably go. There are a lot of cool visual tricks, and filters they’ve utilized to make it keep pace with even some of the newer games on bigger budget engines coming out. The environments are gorgeous. Great textures, wonderful designs, the entire world looks like it takes place in the same universe. Even the homage levels Dekk, and Cube feel like they belong here even though their layouts are taken straight from Unreal Tournament (Deck was in all of the games), and Doom 2 (Dead Simple).

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There are a wealth of menu options too. You can tweak all kinds of graphics settings, turning off some of the visual fidelity, lighting effects, bloom, and motion blur if you’re on fairly modest hardware. You can even turn off the frame rate limiter which starts on 60. But for a game of this nature you should really push it as high as it will go. It’s a much more responsive experience, and worth dealing with some tearing if you have a standard 60hz monitor.

You can also customize your entire HUD. The colors of the weapons on your selection bar. The crosshairs on your weapons, you can  even turn off your HUD entirely if you want. The hit markers when shooting someone, the size of them, the sound it makes. All of it. That’s besides the fact you can set whatever key binds you wish, weapon priority order, and a whole lot more. Toxikk is not giving you a shortage of performance or personal style options here.

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The audio is one of the weaker points in Toxikk. The sound effects are actually really good. But the soundtrack  could stand to be markedly better. The game tries to accent everything with a score of thumping techno, and electronica. But nothing really stands out. There aren’t any catchy loops, or hooks the way its inspiration possessed. UT, and its sequels had great songs like Go Down that would be stuck in your head even months after playing. Even people who aren’t fans of electronica can enjoy the UT OST. Toxikk’s soundtrack isn’t bad. But it feels too generic at times. It fits the atmosphere of the game, but doesn’t do much beyond that.

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The only other issue I have with Toxikk  is that while the character designs are really cool, they aren’t anything you haven’t seen in other games. They could use a little bit more personality, and perhaps some fleshed out back story. The most you hear about is that there are two factions; the Drayos, and the Exocom. There isn’t much told about either group, or the world. While I do think it is imperative any multiplayer game, focus on the actual game being fun (which this absolutely does.) it could have given players a little bit more detail on its universe. It may have gotten some players a little bit more invested, by having them care about the world. The UT games did this well with much of the story being put into the world, and in bios for the characters. There was also an intro in them to explain the setting. All without having to make people play through a campaign.

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That said, I still highly recommend Toxikk. If you miss playing old school arena FPS games I think you’re going to like it immensely. If you’ve never played Q3A, or a UT game but love playing competitive shooters in other subgenres you may like it. In the short time it’s been out there are already plenty of new players learning, and adapting. That’s in addition to veterans of the old games who have discovered it. If you’ve wondered where this style of game has been, or you’re someone tiring of modern progression systems Toxikk is definitely worth looking into. If after my long-winded review, you’re still on the fence check out the demo. You have nothing to lose by doing so.

Final Score: 8 out 10

Splatoon Review

Third Person Shooters have become one of the most popular genres since joining their First Person brethren. Nintendo has seen some minor action in these realms before. With Metroid Prime being one of its flagship entries. But that trilogy was more of an adventure game, with light combat elements. Long before that, there were Rare’s Goldeneye, and Perfect Dark. What  did both of these titles have in common? Second Party status. Nintendo’s formerly partially owned studio made these. Nintendo hasn’t had a fully First Party shooter with a competitive focus. Until now.

PROS: Focus on a different target. Family friendly as well as hobbyist friendly. Miiverse. Humor.

CONS: A little light on maps. Customization needs to be unlocked. Campaign may be too hard for young kids.

STEVEN BLUM?: There’s a homeless version of Mugen named Spyke who will steal clothes for you.

A smaller, younger team of Nintendo’s developers played a lot of those Nintendo 64 shooters back in the day. They initially came up with an idea of two blocks splattering ink on a floor. Competing with one another to see who could cover more of it. From that game play idea, the team built Splatoon on top of it. It’s a surprisingly captivating direction to take the genre in. For years we’ve been used to shooting at each other for frags. Even in games with team based objectives, there is an obsession with kills versus deaths. Splatoon has fragging, but the focus on turf really makes kills secondary.

Booting up Splatoon for the first time immediately puts you in a tutorial to get you accustomed to its control scheme. The game uses the Wii U gamepad in a combination of controller, and mouse look controls. If you’ve been accustomed to game pads over the last 20 years, it may take you a few minutes to get used to. But it’s actually pretty intuitive. The left stick moves your character, while the right stick just swerves the camera left, and right. You actually use the Gamepad’s gyroscopic feature as a mouse. This makes aiming much closer to a PC game. Things are fairly smooth, and easy when tracking down an enemy. The left, and right turn speed is a little slower though, so you may go back, and forth between using the stick, and moving the pad. For those who absolutely refuse to use mouse look, you can turn it off in the settings, which makes the right stick aim instead.

Once you’ve completed the tutorial you end up in a hub world. Walking straight ahead takes you into the online battles. You can play turf war against friends, or random players in four on four matches. Every match you play, whether your team wins or loses will give you some in-game currency, and experience points. Of course winning a match will give you more points, than losing. Rounds are two minutes long. In that two minutes your team has to paint as much of the floor with your ink as possible. While your team is doing this, the other team is doing the same thing. Skirmishes then break out, as you kill opponents to buy yourselves enough time to continue painting the level in your turf color. It may not seem like much, but Splatoon’s combat actually becomes pretty deep. Pressing the left shoulder trigger will turn you from a humanoid, into a squid. You can then swim in your own ink, undetected by the enemy. Spraying walls allows you to even swim up them, and onto higher terrain. If you’re running out of ink, turning into a squid, and swimming in your team’s color will reload your weapons. Each weapon comes with two secondary attacks as well. Pressing, and holding the right shoulder button will launch the first secondary. This uses up more ink, but depending on your weapon can have a variety of uses. Ink grenades, landmines, and shower curtains are just some of what you’ll see in Splatoon. Each can be used in a variety of tactical ways. The shower curtain can be placed in narrow hallways, while you paint the other side of it. You use it like a force shield in a sense. There are desperation weapons you can use as well. Filling a meter by painting over enemy ink, will let you launch them by pressing the right stick down as a button. Then you can press the right shoulder button to use it. There are ink tornadoes, Shin Hadokens, among a plethora of other options.

The gamepad touch screen also comes into play during battles. There is a fast travel option you can use. If you look at the pad, during a match you can see where your team mates are, and super jump to their location. You can also see where enemies are, so long as they aren’t swimming in their ink. This can be good, and bad. Good in the sense that you’re able to quickly come to the aid of a comrade. Bad in the sense that the opposing team can use it as an ambush. This could be even more effective had Splatoon offered a voice chat option. Unfortunately it doesn’t. While the reasons are sound when it comes to public matches (Not having to deal with sore sports hurling slurs or curse words in a family friendly game is a good thing.) it takes away communication from friends.(You also have the ability to join your friends in these matches through a friend’s filter.) It isn’t unreasonable to think someone might have 7 friends or acquaintances who might play this together online. Still, with the short match times, it isn’t too much of a detriment. You’ll still have plenty of fun, and if you’re desperate you can always conference call three friends during your games together.

While you’re in the lobby waiting for players to join up, you can also play mini games on the gamepad. These also appear on an arcade cabinet in the plaza, where you can play them at your leisure. The best of these is probably the first one, a tower climbing game, where you jump up platforms as a squid.  After levelling up to a certain ranking, you’ll be allowed to play ranked matches in addition to the standard turf wars. Every so often you should stop playing online, and re-enter the hub stage. There are stores you can enter to buy better weapons, and clothes. Clothes in this game do more than simply make your character look cool. You have to reach a rank of 4 before you can buy anything. But once you do, you’ll find the store clothing items will enhance your online play with perks. A shirt may refill your ink faster. A certain pair of shoes may make your character run faster. At the same time none of this feels really overpowered. if you can aim, and move well enough, anyone can defeat anyone. In addition to abilities, all weapons have some sort of drawback. There is a big emphasis on balance when it comes to maps, and weapons. While there are plenty of weapons to choose from, rivaling even the Call Of Duty series, there aren’t many maps. Nintendo is promising free content updates for this game, so in a few months things may be better on this front. But for now, it is a little bit lacking. Thankfully, the underlying game play is so much fun, that it shouldn’t dissuade you.

This game does a lot of little tiny things that make it feel different enough from other games in the genre to make for a vastly different feel. The atmosphere is right out of a mid nineties Nickelodeon cartoon. The music is filled with late 80’s, and mid 90’s power pop, and pop punk trappings. It’s pleasant to look at, and listen to. While it might look like a children’s game on its surface, it really does hit a vibe that screams “Everyone is welcome.” If you love your modern military shooters, you’ll have fun. If you cut your teeth on Quake, Doom, and Unreal Tournament, you’ll have fun. If you’re a parent who wants to play a shooter with your 10-year-old child, the both of you will have fun.  Very few, if any, developers have been able to implement a genre usually aimed at a 17, and up demographic, into an all ages setting.

The game also does a really great job at implementing Miiverse. Probably one of the best implementations thus far. Going through the hub world, you will find other players’ characters populating Inkopolis, with their forum posts being spouted in a cartoon bubble. Other times you will see Miiverse postings appearing as graffiti on walls. You can also go to a kiosk to post to Miiverse. It’s pretty good, and I hope it’s expanded upon either in updates, or new games. Another thing that happens fairly often are the progression updates. As you get farther in the game the two valley girl news caster characters will warp you to the hub world to watch a news brief. Sometimes this will be upon unlocking a new map, or mode. Other times it pushes along the single player campaign story. That’s right. Splatoon also features a campaign.

If you go to a certain manhole cover in the hub world you will find this old man inkling named Captain Cuttlefish. He’s a conspiracy theorist who is obsessed with proving a race of Octopi are looking to take over the world. Why? Because years ago the people of Inkopolis defeated them in a turf war, and they want revenge for it. Of course the Captain can’t prove it, but he sends you on a 5 hour-long campaign to stop them anyway. While Splatoon is focused almost entirely on the multiplayer aspect of the game, this campaign is not an afterthought. It does a pretty great job of acclimatizing newcomers to the controls of the game, and teaching multiplayer techniques. All while offering a satisfying single player experience. Much like the base game, it starts you out in hub worlds. You have to find secret entrances to each level by uncovering them with ink. When you do, you’ll enter them, and be treated to a TPS meets Super Mario Galaxy level. What I mean by that is that each one of these levels has launch sequences similar to the SMG series. You’ll kill a bunch of Octopi, look for secrets, and then launch Mario style to the next area.  At the end of each of these levels, you’ll free a Zap fish. Think of these like the game’s shines, or stars. After you beat so many stages you’ll have to contend with a boss. And make no mistake, these bosses are difficult. They add in the challenge of Nintendo’s greatest platformers’ boss puzzles, and patterns with third person shooting.

All of the stuff you need to succeed in the multiplayer, also needs to be used in this campaign. So for those who have zero interest in the competitive online combat, the campaign is still going to be compelling. Plus you can use the skills you learn in either mode in the other. The campaign is also worth playing for those who have no interest in single player. Why? Because throughout the campaign are hidden blueprints you can find, that will unlock weapons for the multiplayer mode. So the game is really poised to make you want to try everything. There is also a 1 on 1 multiplayer mode where one player plays on the gamepad, while the other uses a classic controller, and the TV set. This is played offline, and each player tries to shoot target balloons. But they can still frag each other to buy time to pick up a few more targets while the other waits for their next life to spawn.

Splatoon also has support for Amiibo figurines. There are three figures available one based each inkling, and a squid figurine. In the plaza there is a giant Amiibo figurine package. Putting one of these toys on the gamepad will give you a handful of special clothing items, and a list of challenges. The special content really has no bearing on the gameplay. The clothing items don’t give you any better perks over the main game’s. The challenges are really for a personal experience, so you don’t really have to buy any of the toys to enjoy the game. Though two of the mini games can be unlocked by beating the challenges.

Splatoon is an excellent Third Person Shooter. Nintendo has laid the seeds for what could potentially be a major franchise, and has made one of a handful of shooters that can be enjoyed by any age group. Still, it isn’t absolutely perfect. There aren’t any functional problems to speak of. Everything in the game feels great. After bingeing on the game for a couple of days non stop, I can say I rarely ran into a connection problem. I never experienced any notable lag. This game is solid in every respect. But the lack of voice chat in games with friends, and the low number of maps keep it just shy of reaching its full potential. Nintendo has plans for updates, and content. Nobody knows all of the details, but as of now things are light on the map front. It’s also going to disappoint some that you have to unlock the ability to customize your character by levelling up. Fortunately the game play in multiplayer is so good, it will keep you wanting to play in spite of those issues. The game’s single player campaign is also a great ride. It might prove difficult for some of the younger children to get a handle on, and lead to some frustration. But if your kids are pretty good at platformers like Mario, or Donkey Kong, and want to move into fast paced action games Splatoon is easy to recommend. It’s also easy to recommend to any shooter fan. It plays great, and does a number of things to move the genre in a new direction. Whether you’re a hobbyist, or a dabbler Splatoon is something you should look into.

Final Score: 8 out of 10