Tag Archives: Competitive

Chivalry II Review

Wow. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a game from Torn Banner Studios. Their first major release; Chivalry: Medieval Warfare was a fantastic, if buggy game that blended the Push mode gameplay of a Battlefield game with an innovative swinging mechanic unseen up to that point. And it had just enough janky animations to give us some unintentional comedy along with the depth of the combat.

PROS: Expanded mechanics. Cross-Platform play. Large scale maps. Upgraded visuals.

CONS: A bit light on launch content. Unlockable things involve a huge time sink. Bugs.

EPIC: Exclusivity will turn off a substantial amount of potential PC players.

Torn Banner followed that up with a fun expansion pack based off of the Deadliest Warrior TV show, which gave fans some combat tweaks, and deathmatches. Sadly, it didn’t have the Objective mode that made the base game famous. Most recently they tried their hands at making something newer with Mirage: Arcane Warfare. That game used Chivalry’s sword fighting combined with some light RPG elements and magic spells in a competitive team game. It was a really good game that didn’t sell well and was quickly abandoned. Something many buyers still haven’t forgotten. This, and the fact that the publisher of Chivalry II, Tripwire Interactive did a timed exclusivity deal with the Epic Games Store will undoubtedly mean some people will have some trepidation here.

Fortunately, Chivalry II seems like it has already done infinitely better so far than Torn Banner Studios’ last game. So it doesn’t look like it’s going to suffer the same fate. Be that as it may, there are still going to be a lot of people who may decide to wait for the game to show up on Steam or GOG in a year or get the game on their PlayStation or Xbox console of choice instead.

If you do decide to nab this one, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with the gameplay though. Chivalry II is fantastic. Especially if you were a fan of the original release. For starters, almost everything you would have loved in the first game is here. You get the swing manipulation that made the original game famous. Chivalry II again has three primary attacks. A horizontal swing, a vertical overhead swing, and a stabbing motion. But unlike most games, you don’t simply end it at pressing an input. On PC, you’ll use the left button on the mouse to do a horizontal attack and the mouse wheel does the other two attacks. Rolling up stabs, and rolling down does your overhead. But it doesn’t end there. Immediately upon doing one of these attacks you’ll, be able to “steer” them by moving the mouse (or thumbstick on a controller). This opens up a ton of possibilities by letting you turn an overhead into a diagonal slash. Or a horizontal swing into someone’s leg. The right mouse button can be used to parry or block attacks. In the old game you needed to equip a shield to block. But in this new entry anyone can block by holding the button down. This makes handicap situations where it’s you up against 3 opponents a little bit easier though, you’ll still likely die until you get in a lot of experience.

Parries are done by pressing the right mouse button just as the enemy weapon is about to hit you, and you also have to “steer” the parries as if it were a weapon. If you do it, you’ll open up other combat options like ripostes where you can get a free hit, or a window for something evasive. Some other changes are to the class system. Now every character can do a dodge. In the original this was reserved for a Man-At-Arms class. This along with the blocking addition gives everyone more options and allow you to get within the side view or even behind an opponent if you’re good enough.

Both of these options use a lot of stamina though, so you’ll have to do so wisely. If you over do either of these you can expect people to easily figure out ways to make you exhaust yourself, and get yourself into a situation of helplessness. You can become disarmed both figuratively and literally. Another mechanic they’ve added is the inclusion of shield damage. In the original game, you could equip all sorts of shields and it was cool. You could use them to protect yourself from arrows, and incoming strikes. This is still true in Chivalry II. However, now shields can take damage which means you can’t completely hide behind them. Eventually, they will start to degrade, losing pieces as you continue to use them. That isn’t to say they’re like glassware or paper though. They can take a lot of punishment, and even in disrepair they can still be effective. But the days of crouching in a corner behind a tower shield barely taking damage are over. Eventually the shield will break to the point of uselessness.

But, the game has a few other mechanics that have been added or retooled. Two of the ones that jumped out at me were the charge ability and the throw ability. You can hold down the attack inputs to trade off a long windup with a more potent swing. That means that although you will be more vulnerable, the swing will do more damage. You’ll still need to play mind games though. If you ONLY go for these high powered swings you’ll be easily cut down as people can see it coming and either stab you before it comes out or evade it then attack you. The best of the best will parry you or interrupt you. Throwing weapons and other items is another cool new feature. You can throw your sword into an archer before they can line up a shot, or you can throw a disembodied head at opponents as a message.

And with so many objects you can pick up on the battlefield the possible projectiles become endless. Flaming chickens, branding irons, wagon wheels, cabbages, and more await your baseball arm. And in the case of foods you can eat them for health replenishment. Everyone also starts with a bandage too, so if you come out of a skirmish near death you can use it and replenish yourself faster than trying to find cover and wait. Another health update in the game is the inclusion of being downed. If you’re a big Fortnite fan, you’ll already know how it works. For the rest of you it’s a second chance mechanic. If you are defeated on the battlefield you won’t always die in the fight. Sometimes you’ll eat a hatchet and end up 99.7% damaged. In this state you can’t fight and have to crawl to a teammate to help you. In most cases you’re going to be finished off though. Unless you know you have 10 or more people directly behind you to pick you up, opponents will stab you as you try to escape. It’s not uncommon to see some players intentionally seek out those on their hands and knees to get some quick scavenger kills.

Beyond all of that, you’ll still be able to do feints, a quick cancelling of a move input at the beginning of its animation. This will fake out a lot of opponents who will try to counter or parry early and allow you a free hit. You can still combine moves together by swinging at just the right time during a previous movement. But sometimes you’re going to find opponents who know what you’re going for. So there are also now interrupt moves where you can get in a cheap punch to flinch them and allow you a minor chance at a comeback.

They’ve done a great job with all of this. And it continues into the game’s different modes. As of now the game has its classic Free-For-All Deathmatch and Team Deathmatches which are a nice way to practice the combat. And within that realm you can also find Duel servers, where you’re going to get into one on one fights. Again, another great way to get a handle on the melee combat. But the biggest reason to play this game is the returning Team Objective mode. This essentially works like it did in the original. It’s a Push mode where the attacking team tries to push back the defending team to different points on the map until they get to the final one and hopefully win the day. Unlike something like Battlefield or Call Of Duty though, players usually aren’t going to sit at a flashing letter for 60 seconds and then move to the next flashing letter. Each of the points is a tangible objective the attackers need to accomplish. Sometimes it involves razing a farm to the ground. Sometimes it involves stealing the Kingdom’s riches. Other times it involves using siege weaponry to gain passage into a castle. Things like towers, and battering rams. Often when attackers do push their way to the final point the game assigns a defender the role of a major character the attackers must assassinate and thus the defending team has to coalesce around them to wind down the remaining minutes for a last second win.

It’s really engaging stuff, and you’ll likely be really addicted to the gameplay on offer. Feeding into that is the revised class system. In the old game there were four: Archer, Knight, Man-At-Arms, and Vanguard. In Chivalry II there are four base classes, and then within each of those four are another three you’ll unlock over time as you play.

This is where some of the game’s shortcomings start to come into play. There’s a big focus on customization here, and so you’ll have to unlock things by playing. The grind to do so is pretty real though. You won’t take long to get the subclasses unlocked, but the weapons, and cosmetics are a much different story. You’ll have to put in an obscene amount of time to get a certain texture for your outfit unlocked. The weapons aren’t as bad in this regard. But it’s still a grind. Of course, like a lot of modern games there’s a pretend currency you can buy with real money to buy the cosmetic items early. But even if you do, you still have to be a certain level before you can equip it. So you probably won’t ever want to do this.

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To it’s credit, there are a fair amount of things you can alter here on your different characters. Multiple faces, costume accents, and other skins. And you can also tweak the look of your classes between your time spent on the Agatha Knights, as well as the rounds where you’re assigned to the Mason Order. Plus you can do a set of characters with no affiliation for the FFA rounds you find yourself in.

Going back to the classes a moment, one thing I also didn’t get to mention is that in combat each of these has a special move that they can use to help their team. Think of these like the ones in Nintendo’s Splatoon games. Over time, frags, and objectives you pull off you’ll fill a meter. When the meter is full you can perform the move. Some classes like the archer class can build braziers so your team can set projectiles on fire before shooting them. Others like the knights can blow a horn that heals the team. Or place a banner for an area of effect healing circle.

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In addition to that, Chivalry II has a host of new abilities for each of the classes that add more depth to the combat. Some of them can do a shoulder tackle, causing an opponent to get knocked over and rolled around a second or two before being able to get up. The Vanguard’s charge attack returns, leading up to a powerful leaping strike. In the massive crowds of opponents these can be quite the spectacle. And while I personally find it more complicated, you can play this game in third-person by pressing P on the keyboard. Some of you may prefer it in third-person as you can see more of the combatants, and those prone to motion sickness may also prefer this viewpoint. For me, first-person just felt more natural.

Now, Chivalry II is going to draw some obvious comparison with a competing game: Mordhau. And some of you may be wondering which is better. But it isn’t a cut and dry, or open and shut case. Both games do similar things, but do them differently in ways that aren’t always a better or worse scenario. Some things in Chivalry II are better in my opinion. Chivalry II has better servers. And this is a BIG edge because it means you will have far better online matches. There are more of them, and they (as of this writing) seem to have far more stable connections. I’ve had more rubber banding, ghost swings, and slowly degraded performance experiences in Mordhau. Now that said, Triternion has recently upgraded their servers, and promised more updates to fix this. But as of this writing, Chivalry II has (in my experience) better performance.

In terms of content, Mordhau does have a few things Chivalry II either doesn’t have or has less of. Off the bat, Mordhau has horseback riding. And on the large scale battlefields in Chivalry II, horses would make things far easier to navigate. And while horses in Mordhau can feel a bit overpowering at times, their existence is something that is still welcome. Torn Banner Studios has talked about adding them in future updates. But as of now this is a point for Triternion. Triternion also gets a point for having far more customization options in its create-a-character feature. You can reshape faces, do a lot of individual part swapping in the costume designer, and overall it just does more.

But Chivalry II has generally better performance, and the animation seems smoother in my opinion. If you haven’t played either, this is instantly noticeable and will catch your eye far faster. Models are a little bit more detailed, and the overall look is just a little bit more refined. Chivalry II also has a lot of performance options throughout the menus. You have a multitude of different lighting effects, texture quality settings, supported resolutions and more. On my system (AMD Ryzen 3900X, 32GB RAM, RTX 2060 SUPER, Seagate FireCuda 1TB M2 and a T-Force 1TB SSD) I’m able to run the game maxed out around 1080p with a high frame rate. There are MANY settings you can tinker with though, and the game still looks good on the lower settings. If you haven’t been able to upgrade a CPU, RAM, or a graphics card (which is completely understandable at the time of this writing as chip shortages have driven prices through the roof.) the game should still be a fun time for you on the computer with lowered fidelity. Of course, if you’re near the minimum requirements ( Intel I3 4370, GeForce GTX 660, 8GB RAM) you may want to wait or go with the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One version. I didn’t have a machine that old to test the game on, but I suspect using a nearly 10 year old card will involve tweaking files beyond the scope of the in-game options. Your mileage may vary at that level.

But there’s nothing like the feeling you get when you survive a fight and throw someone’s disembodied head into an opponent’s face. Chivalry II also gets up to 64 players in a game at the same time! But when it comes to the gameplay, both games are fantastic at giving you a melee system that will take you plenty of time to master. Mordhau’s chambering system gives it a different feel than Chivalry II’s despite being similar on a surface level.

Both games have great dismemberment effects. Both games have situations where you’ll be able to fight on a few seconds longer upon losing an arm until you bleed out. Both games have great archery mechanics. In Mordhau, holding the bows back too long will make you sway wildly. In Chivalry II holding the bows back too long will drain your stamina and result in an almost recoil sort of effect. But in both cases finding that perfect blend of distance, and hold time results in a satisfying hit or kill on an opponent. In both games you need to lead opponents. Now some of you will find you like one more than the other, or one deeper than the other, but at the end of the day they’re both excellent in their own way.

Chivalry II is an absolute blast to play, and the only thing keeping it from perfection are some nagging issues that are going to annoy people. Most of these are the result of bugs. Chivalry II features other cool features I didn’t mention yet like cross-platform play. If you’re on a computer or a console, you’re going to run into players on either of the formats. Which is really cool. What isn’t cool is when you try to pair up with friends to find that the party system doesn’t place you on the same team! And while they’re FAR less common (at least in my experience) than they were in Chivalry 1, models still can be found jittering around after you die in rare collision bugs. There are also some occasions where your character doesn’t charge into battle with everyone else at the start of a match, and you have to choose your character again to get into the game. Things like this along with the microtransactions creating a grind hold back an otherwise fantastic game.

Chivalry II is a lot of fun, and it’s one I can highly recommend checking out. The objective based maps are some of the most fun I’ve had in a new multiplayer game in a while. The added lore here even benefits things as you can understand the motivations of both the Agatha Knights as well as the Mason Order in the game’s storyline. It’s told in some menu texts, as well as a couple of really well made videos. But then the game does a great job of referencing it throughout its environments and world building. And as in the first game, neither of the armies come out smelling entirely like roses. Both do some really nefarious things in the various missions, but for the sake of simplicity the Agatha Knights are sold to us as the Heroic Warriors and the Mason Order are the Evil Warriors.

The basic gist is that 20 years have passed since the original game and things are leading to an uprising. In the original Chivalry, the kingdom of Agatha was thrown into upheaval when King Argon led a crusade mission in which their mightiest warriors were defeated. With the King dead, his right hand General, Malric Terrorwin grew enraged as he believed they were put on a fool’s errand. After the defeat, Malric would form The Mason Order with those who agreed with his view. And before heading back to Agatha, would betray the remaining knights along with his group. But the Agathians had a fill in leader in interim King Feydrid Kearn. The events of that game led to a war for the crown between Malric Terrorwin’s Mason Order, and Feydrid Kearn’s remaining Agatha Knights.

By the events of Chivalry II, Malric has won that war, the Mason Order has become the de facto leadership, and Malric is now its despotic King. Killing people for questioning him as he sees his rule as absolute. However, Argon’s offspring Argon II emerges with a claim to his father’s throne. The Civil War between the Agatha Knights and Mason Order is reignited as the Agatha Knights hope to overthrow Malric and restore the kingdom to its former glory.

In the end, whether you end up fighting for the Agatha Knights or the Mason Order, you’re going to feel really invested in the world and its large scale 64 player battles. Torn Banner Studios did put out a roadmap which claims they’ll be supporting this game for years with fixes and content. Hopefully they can live up to those promises because Chivalry II is an excellent game. It’s just a shame it came out of the proverbial oven just a little bit too early. If you can look past the more egregious issues like the glitched party system, the microtransaction grind, and the limited number of maps at launch, you’ll find one of the most fun multiplayer games of recent years.

Final Score: 8 out of 10.

SENNHEISER GSP 500 Headset Review

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So it’s happened. Your gaming headset has finally worn out, or it’s gotten so much use it’s begun to fall apart. Perhaps you’ve always had a subpar set, and now you’re finally ready to invest in something that should last you a long time. Maybe you’re a big proponent of having the best audio quality you can afford for listening to music on your device. But you also want something you can use to communicate with your teammates.

PROS: Insane audio quality. Comfortable cups. Replacable cabling.

CONS: The absolutely most finicky people may need an accessory.

NICE TOUCH: The headset hanger that clamps onto any desk or entertainment center.

I was pretty much in that exact boat. I’ve had a number of headsets over the years. Of varying quality. Of course on the absolutely lowest end, I was pleasantly surprised by the YouUSE headset from Five Below.  A great option for those on a shoestring budget. But this is in the complete opposite end of the scale. My trusty Turtle Beach EarForce X12’s were finally falling apart. Quite literally. The material around the headband began flaking up, and the cabling began getting jumbled up. The microphone also began getting a lot of echo and feedback issues. I think it had a break in the wire somewhere. But for a long time, they were my flagship set, and even used USB power to give it some bass boost.

In any case, I had to start researching replacements. And when I began looking at the higher end of the scale, one company consistently seemed to get more praise than a lot of the more well known audio brand names. Sennheiser has been around since 1945, but here in the USA they’re not as well known except in enthusiast circles. You’re more prone to seeing the Beats ads on TV or the Turtle Beach range of products in a store. And of course, you will find PC Part vendors and peripheral makers’ names on stuff.

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Based out of Germany, Sennheiser has a storied history of highly regarded audio equipment. They make everything from microphones and speakers to industry equipment broadcasters, recording companies, and movie studios use. And since audio is their core business they put a great emphasis on getting it just so. Suffice to say, it isn’t cheap. But it is high-quality stuff you’re going to get for the price they’re asking.

I was fortunate in that while researching what I wanted, my family had done the same and chipped in at Christmas to get me today’s pair of headphones. Which are actually a tier above the set I was going to eventually purchase. The Sennheiser GSP 500 is a fantastic headset in the realm of boutique level options. You’ll find the level of presentation begins once you open the box. The inner packaging is molded to fit the headset nicely, keeping things from jostling around during shipping. Upon inspection, you’ll notice that there are no cables coming from the headset despite being billed as a wired connection.

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Well upon closer inspection you’ll see a hole near the left speaker cup. The cable on this headset is modular. And there are two cables included. The first is a Y cable for 3.5mm jacks. Basically, this is the one to use when you’re using the headset with your computer. One plug for the speaker jack on your computer, and one for the microphone. The other cable is for console setups like the Sony PlayStation 4.

The microphone is a broadcast-quality microphone. It sounds clean, it reduces background noise and in the time I’ve used it I find it rarely echoes unless I have the software settings on my computer really cranked. When playing online with other people I have yet to have anyone tell me they can’t hear me, or that the audio is too fuzzy or that I sound like I’m underwater. This has been a massive improvement over my faltering X12 set. Streaming also seems to have seen an improvement. People have yet to really complain about issues hearing my voice or not hearing my voice.

 

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On the audio front, I can’t complain about a single thing really. The first thing I noticed upon using them is just how many small details I was hearing that I seemed to miss with the other headsets I’ve owned. For example, when streaming Splatoon 2 a few days ago I could hear clanging steel beams in the distance of Sturgeon Shipyard Something that I never picked up on my X12s. During the gameplay, I even heard enemy players slowly swimming in their ink much more noticeably than I had in the past. On other headsets, I had to really try to focus my listening to find that small detail. With the GSP 500’s I didn’t really have to put that kind of effort in. The sound was clear. It was still lower than the music and weapons fire. But it was fairly obvious when people were trying to swim by slowly. That bubbling noise was much more easy to hear.

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When using the headphones for non-gaming media, the same praises can be thrown the GSP 500’s way. When watching videos, shows, and films the spatial sound quality was fantastic. The separation between characters and audio effects was very impressive, and listening to music was even better. And while this set doesn’t have anything powered or boosted by a USB cable, it doesn’t need to. The bass, treble, highs, lows come through with flying colors. It doesn’t matter what kind of music you’re into, it’s highly unlikely you’ll find anything to complain about here. In fact, it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever want to go back to the last set you’ve used.

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I also love the fact that Sennheiser had the foresight to put a volume knob on the headset itself. One of the annoyances I’ve had with other headsets I’ve owned is the placement of a volume dial on the cord. This has often resulted in the dial hitting the desk or getting stuck on the desk when I’ve moved, or have gone to get up from my chair for whatever reason. Another nice touch is that the microphone mute button is enabled when you fold up the microphone. If you need to mute yourself during a game, lift the mic back up, and you’re quiet. No flimsy switch to deal with. It’s nice and intuitive.

Of course, if you’re like me you may spend hours at the computer. If you’re using a headset instead of a set of speakers and a microphone comfort is going to be a concern. The GSP 500’s have an easily adjustable headband with a nice amount of padding. If you put them on very tightly I could see that resulting in some minor annoyances. But I’ve had no issues with comfort. These things feel great. The padding on the speaker cups is soft and very comfortable. The headset feels like a warm, inviting pair of the best earmuffs you’ve ever owned. Moreover, they’re removable. So if you plan on using them for many, years and you worry about them getting messed up and worn out from years of dirt or sweat you can replace them without having to replace the entire headset.

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My set also came with a nice plastic headset holder which nicely fits onto any desk or entertainment center. It’s a solid plastic build too. It doesn’t feel cheap, flimsy, or brittle in any way whatsoever. In fact, the headset has that same feel. None of the plastic parts feel subpar at all. The underlying construct of the hinges is a solid metal too so unless you’re just really rough on your equipment you can expect it to hold up fairly well.

The other bonus that came with mine was a desk mat sized mousepad. Not a major feature but it is a nice little inclusion that feels like a “Thank you for buying our peripheral.”. It isn’t the highest grade mousepad you’ll ever own. But it does save you from having to go buy another one down the line when the one you’re using gets too worn out to bother with anymore.

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In short; this is the best headset I’ve ever owned. As much as I loved my Turtle Beach set, this blows it out of the water. I can hear little details in games, films, shows, and songs that my last set barely picked up. The spatial qualities make everything sound much more immersive. The microphone quality is a massive jump over my previous one. The modular cables make worrying about tripping over something less anxious. (Not that you want to trip over a cable anyway.) The placement of the volume knob is a small thing, and yet something I wonder why isn’t far more commonplace.

If I wanted to really get nitpicky, I could complain, and whine about wanting even more spatial sound awareness or bass. If you buy these and find that you do in fact want more amplification Sennheiser does sell the GSX 1000 audio amplifier which is advertised in the documentation for the GSP 500. It’s a device that can better simulate a true 7.1 surround set up. But seeing how I don’t have one, I can’t tell you how much better your experience will be if you invest in one. As it stands, the GSP 500 is a winner on its own and I highly doubt you’ll have a complaint about the sound quality upon putting them on. Sennheiser also warranties the headset for two years so you can have them repaired if something does go awry at that time.

If you’re looking to invest in a high-end audio solution the GSP 500 is one of the best sounding and versatile headset options out there. I can easily recommend this one.

Final Score: 10 out of 10

The trouble with tier lists

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Any game with a competitive setting in mind will have a host of tools for players to choose from. Okay, well most competitive games anyway. You really don’t get to select from a variety of paddles in PONG. But throughout the history of video games, many games have given the players who’ve enjoyed them some variety. By the time the Commodore 64 rolled around we had games like Mail Order Monsters where we were choosing which giant twisted creatures we were going to command and level against one another.

Of course, by the mid-1990s we had reached a point where games didn’t have to give both competitors carbon copies of one another. This was also the period when fighting games would truly evolve beyond the usual martial arts competition games we’d seen before. Data East had given us Karate Champ, Epyx had given us World Karate Championship (a.k.a. International Karate), but Capcom’s Street Fighter would move the needle a bit. It had the same approach as Nintendo’s Punch-Out!! in the sense that you were going to essentially be playing a boss rush. To a lesser extent, one could point to Konami’s Yie Ar Kung Fu.

But Street Fighter would spawn Street Fighter II and SNK’s Fatal Fury. and before long the genre would see a slew of contenders. This is the point where fighting games gave players several characters to choose from. Mortal Kombat, Virtua Fighter, Killer Instinct, Tekken, and a host of other contenders would also enter the fray. All of them would put their own spins and tweaks on the fighting game formula.

While this was going on in arcades, in the PC Gaming side of things another major genre we love today was coming up: First-Person-Shooters. Obviously, we think of games like Wolfenstein 3D and DOOM for wowing everyone by putting us in the head of a hero. But DOOM, Rise Of The Triad, Duke Nukem 3D, and Quake brought us the Deathmatch. And while most of these games gave us all the same character, they all had different weapons strewn throughout their maps. Before long, the FPS would be bringing us multiplayer-focused experiences like Quake III Arena and Unreal Tournament. 

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But these genres’ options in characters and weapons both led to something. Something called the tier list.

Tier lists are most referenced in fighting games but they also show up in First-Person Shooters due to the possible weapon matchups that can occur at any given time. Within a few weeks of release, you’ll begin to see them pop up in their respective game communities. Showing off brackets that group the combatants or the weapons into different levels or “Tiers” of effectiveness in battle.

These lists change continually over the lifespan of their respective games. As new strategies are discovered, new content is added via DLC, and when patches are created by the developers to fix bugs or rebalance the game they’re redone. Who makes these lists? Usually, it’s the absolute best players of any given competitive game. The top 1% of the top 10% of tournament level players. Here, they lay their opinions down at the feet of everyone in the community. And to be honest, at that level of play it makes some sense. It gives the absolute best players a good idea of which matchups are going to be the most difficult, or most balanced among two players of equal skill.

The problem is that these lists are not gospel. Even among the top bracket, there will be a lot of debate because one player might intricately know a supposedly lower-tier character or weapon has a technique or talent that isn’t being given enough credit by the author. And sometimes these debates may change the writer’s mind.

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Be that as it may, the unfortunate trend in recent years has been that average people have been taking these lists as concrete law. Leading to a swath of people entering into a game like Street Fighter V, going on Eventhubs to find Karin on the top of the list and immediately choosing to use them. Because they want to win, and in their minds being number 1 on their list means they should always win.

It doesn’t take anything else into account. Why did the authors think Karin was the best character in the game? What does the character have over the other characters? How complicated are these advantages to learn? Are they really *that* much better? Because if one pays any attention they’ll notice that some matchups are nearly even, and there are even a couple of characters that give them some trouble.

And whether you decide to believe a list or not, these were generally made by people who have tens of thousands upon tens of thousands of hours in experience in it. Those who have mastered most of the fighters in a game or weapons in a game as well as arenas and maps. What they’re talking about pertains to a very small portion of the audience playing the game regularly. Although with things like Tiermaker, pretty much anyone can make one about anything. I made a joke list for a private group below.

 

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The reality is that if you take any of the best players in a given game, and force them to use the tools they haven’t written a lot of fondness for they’ll still likely win even if they think they’re using inferior tools. Because they have enough of a handle on the ins and outs of that weapon. They know exactly where the best sniper locations are, and they’ll still take you out with the pea shooter. They know when you’re going to try to use that awesome super and they’re going to make you whiff it. And when you do they will absolutely punish you.

Until you get to that kind of a level of talent in your favorite competitive game, pay no mind to these kinds of lists. Instead, find that character you like, or that weapon you feel comfortable with and try to go as far as you can with them. Along the way, you may just discover things even some of those who are objectively better than you haven’t yet. Then use those things to your advantage. To truly get better at any competitive game you’ll have to get used to losing and analyzing those losses. Eventually, you’ll start finding those holes in your plans and patching them. You’ll change strategies. Something far more effective than looking at a list and changing a character or a weapon.

Splatoon 2’s competitive scene map debate.

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Recently, one of the top European Splatoon 2 players did a couple of video episodes on their thoughts about how they felt they could grow the community. Ways to help not only the top players keep their knowledge of the game ever-growing, but to welcome more people who are new to the multiplayer aspect of the game into playing more competitively. One of the major thoughts he had about this was to have the tournament scene agree on reducing the number of maps to use.

ThatSrb2DUDE argues that due to the fact that there are four major modes in the game (five if you find the odd tournament that includes the base Turf War mode) there are north of 100 maps in the game when you consider that there are small changes to each map for each mode. For example, if you fire up Shellendorf Institute on Splat Zones, you’ll notice some slight alterations to the basic Turf War version of the map. And that this added complexity could potentially turn off some people from getting into the competitive side of the game because of it. Instead of knowing 23 basic maps they have to know the 23 basic maps plus the four variations of each. So in a way, yes that’s 92 if you count variations. 115 if you’re also counting the basic Turf War mode as well. As he points out, most of the tournaments don’t play Turf War, but a handful of tournaments do play them so it’s worth noting.

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I want to start out by saying I do see where this movement comes from. If you’ve never played the game or you’ve only played a little of it and then decide you’d like to see what competitive gaming is like,  that is a lot of nuances to get by. Many of the changes to the maps between are true, minor, but they can greatly change the methods of which you traverse your way to the goals.

Be that as it may, I think I have a unique perspective on this, as from 2002-2009 I played a lot of competitive Unreal Tournament games. Now while I was never anywhere near a top dog in terms of getting out to scores of tournaments and racking up wins, I was in a clan and we had a lot of scrimmages. UT, UT 2k3/2k4. and UT3  all featured a scene with far more maps than Splatoon 2. That’s because not only were there whichever maps came with the game but also multiple modes and the community created thousands of maps and mods. Many of these also were played in tournaments.

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He brings up the point in the video that some may cite a lack of variety if some map/mode combinations were ignored but that all 23 base maps would have at least one of their variants played so there would still be variety. And that is true. But from my time in UT, the map variety could be endless depending on the given tournament you were in. But many would point out and rightfully so, that in UT most of the maps were made for specific modes. Facing Worlds was made for CTF for example.

Still, it was possible for the community to alter maps for other modes or even invent entirely new ones. I know my clan had a hell of a time playing 2k4 Freeze Tag, a fun take on Team Deathmatch where everyone was frozen in place when killed, and a teammate would have to revive you. The round would end when one side was entirely frozen. It’s the vast kind of variety that I became accustomed to. If my memory serves me right a number of contests implemented some of this community content. Modes, maps, bright skins, the list goes on. But of course, some of these events had their own specific rules. It wasn’t just one wholesale ruleset across the board. On our server, we kept a large swath of maps going in the UT2k4 rotation. Ask most veterans of the game, and they’ll tell you as great as a map as it was, playing only Rankin could get old quick. (It was the lone map on many of the demo servers that let you try the game out.) That isn’t to say there weren’t favorites. Every UT had a variant of Deck. The original version had Conveyor, the iconic Facing Worlds and the beloved low gravity map Morpheus. UT2k4 gave us the aforementioned Rankin, Citadel, Albatross, and many more. UT3 had a few memorable ones too like Shangrila, Tolan, and Rising Sun. And it wasn’t long before each game would see ports of each other’s maps showing up in addition to the slew of community content.

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And I think that’s where my opinion would lie. I think every tournament should be able to decide on their own which maps and mode combinations are permissible. The exception being a Nintendo backed tournament, where Nintendo would probably decide that. But since they generally do their own World Championships I don’t think that would be an issue. This way one show might allow for say Clam Blitz on Walleye Warehouse when another show might not.

I think within those organizations though they should hear all opinions because not everything the top players want is going to be appreciated by the lower-ranked players until they get to that level. At the same time, sometimes someone who is starting out can bring a perspective the more skilled players hadn’t considered before, and the organizers can try to find a ruleset that they feel best fits the needs of the different player levels.

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Having said all of that, I know the current professional players have a much different perspective than I do being on a different (ie: higher) level. They’re going to know things about the game that I don’t. They’re going to have a larger range of experience and knowledge seeing they have played thousands of hours more than someone at my level. Against the best players in the world, I should add. They are going to have information that is invaluable. So that isn’t to say I’m completely dismissing the idea of a mode reduction should all of the shows adopt it. And if I were to enter a tournament with three friends I don’t think any of us would suddenly not play because Arowana Mall‘s Tower Control variant wasn’t included.

But opinions were called for across the spectrum. And because I religiously played a game that called for an insane number of variations at the time,  I have no problem personally, with the maps in Splatoon 2. Or their variants. Although I will concede that ThatSrb2DUDE’s point about clams spawning near goals in Clam Blitz could be seen as cheap. If you have someone stocked up on Ninja perks, and speed perks, they could conceivably sneak into enemy territory, and rack up a bunch of free points before getting noticed with little effort. Maybe that’s something Nintendo could look into with a future patch.

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In closing, I will say one thing I absolutely do not want to see happen is barriers being placed in between skill levels. Let me explain what I mean, using a game I loved playing as an example. Near the end of its peak, Chivalry: Medieval Warfare had a lot of beginners pick it up during deep discounted Steam Summer Sales. And they weren’t being retained due to the high skill ceiling. Now part of the turnoff obviously were some of the indifferent or even sometimes cold veterans whose attitudes were “Git Gud” rather than ask “What are you needing help with?” But worse than that, the developer didn’t address their concerns either. Instead of helping to cultivate a better environment they created “Beginner” servers where only low-skill number players could play together. In doing this it didn’t enable any of them to learn any nuance or meta-strategy. So when they got too high a level to play on the beginner servers they were just thrown to the wolves and slaughtered where many just stopped playing altogether. As wonderful as that game was, It was a huge problem that ended the life of that game far sooner than it should have. I don’t see that happening in Splatoon 2, at least on Nintendo’s end. They’ve always been good about trying to make games interesting for dabblers and enthusiasts alike.

But I don’t want to see that happen in circles of the community. You don’t want to have a system that coddles new players. They’ll never grow without challenges to overcome. But you also don’t want to inadvertently create a gatekeeping scenario where only people already way into the game will want to get invested. It is a video game after all, and most of us, even the competitive ones want to have fun. More importantly, we want people to play against, and those people are only sticking around if there’s some fun to be had in doing so. So if you do see someone new playing the game on stream or at a convention or your house, be welcoming to people. One thing I’ll never forget about Unreal Tournament III was a loading screen tip that rings true. “Practice good sportsmanship. You were an n00b once too.”

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Again I’m not a top dog in Splatoon 2 by any means. I’m just a big fan of the game trying to grind his way to X rank if it’s possible. I’m not in a clan and I’m probably one of the older fans as I have the salt and pepper on my chin as I crack open my can of IPA. Still, I think for a geezer in the “A” ranks, I hold my own most of the time. And no I don’t think the game should be UT, I very much enjoy it for what it is. It’s an excellent and unique take on one of my favorite genres. But I see parallels at times. Having a wide range of modes and maps is one such example.

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Anyway, if you play any Splatoon 2 or even if you don’t, what do you think? ThatSrb2DUDE posted a link to a survey, that I’ll put below! It runs to 11/8/19 so you have a few days to look it over and make your voice heard. And hey, again, I am not a top-level player by any means so don’t take my opinions as facts here. But if you do happen to be at the top of the mountain reaching for the brass ring, I hope something I’ve talked about is at least useful to some degree. Either way, it’s definitely an interesting topic to weigh in on whether you’re a top-level player, a fan like me who plays regularly, or even an occasional dabbler.

Competitive Splatoon Survey.

Competitive Awareness

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Recently, professional tournament player ThatSrb2DUDE made a video commentary about growing a community. In this case the competitive side of Splatoon 2. As someone who used to play in an Unreal Tournament clan back in the days of that franchise, I had a few thoughts about his points. As well as some things of my own that I couldn’t possibly reply on in a mere tweet on Twitter.

In the commentary, he brings up the fact that as Splatoon 2 is nearing the last run of updates, and will soon be in the final version of the game going forward. Because of that, some competitive players fear the competitive side of the game may go away. He goes on to tell people that rather than go around dooming the game, they should create awareness of the game. Make videos discussing aspects of what they love or don’t. Making debates about strategies, or any other number of topics about the game. And he very passionately talks about that content potentially getting people interested or even keeping people interested in the game.

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The potential for a bigger competitive scene in Splatoon 2 is absolutely there. The game has sold over 8 million copies and people are still buying it. There’s a lot of people playing it, and there’s no shortage of competitors when I’ve ventured into the game’s Ranked modes. Even if I never seem to get beyond the B ranks. But I digress.

He is right though. If you love a game and want people to look into it, you’ll have to bring it up. And it’s no secret that I’ve really liked playing the Splatoon series. The original and current entry have both been quite phenomenal. Still, while I’ve talked about the game a lot, I don’t cover this game exclusively here. But his video did make me think about some larger points. Some things I remember from my Unreal Tournament days are applicable to this topic, and even some things from other genres. Maybe you’ll agree with some of this. Maybe disagree. But I’m going to lay it out there anyway.

I’ll also preface this by saying while I was in a pretty good clan, we were by no means the top players in the world. Much like Splatoon did, Unreal Tournament really grabbed me. It had fantastic weapons. It had a wonderful aesthetic, and it had something no other FPS at the time did: A focus on movement. To become good at Unreal Tournament you couldn’t just simply master knowing the maps, or what gun was best for what situation. You had a dodge system. Mastering dodges was the best way to avoid projectiles and even get around maps faster. You could diagonally short hop down halls. Roll out of the way of missiles, and more.

The sequels 2003, and 2004 were more fantastical and added newer modes. But they also made the movement even more important. Adding greater distances, dodge jumps, and crazy animations that made characters harder to hit. Somewhere along the line, I decided that I just wanted to be good at the game. So I practiced and practiced. But I found simply doing this wasn’t helping. So I decided to take baby steps. I decided to get proficient with one weapon and give myself a small number of frags every deathmatch.

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I chose a weapon nobody seemed to use. The Bio Rifle. It shot little blobs of goo. If you held the secondary button though, it would charge a giant blob using all of its ammo. Often times this would kill people in one hit. Thing is, it was slow, and you had to have a great ability to lead opponents. It took time, but I would eventually consistently be in the upper half of the scoreboard.

By around 2005, I had played a lot on a server called The Super Witch server, where a lot of regulars noticed me. Again, I wasn’t great, but they were intrigued by how well I did with the Bio Rifle, before long, I was in the mXc Maximum Carnage clan. We played late night scrims with other clans. We were all really invested in the game, and by 2007 when the sequel came out things petered out. The new game changed some mechanics many in the community didn’t like. It changed the aesthetics to mimic Gears Of War more too. It was still an amazing game, but it didn’t have the staying power the old games had.

Be that as it may, I can see some parallels. Getting new people to embrace the game is going to be the first major goal. This is true of any game. Again, the potential for Splatoon 2 is definitely there in the sales numbers alone. One factor in this is what ThatSrb2DUDE talks about when he mentions content. Sadly, most console games don’t have mods. But that is one of the ways we kept the UT games going as fans. Sure, internet video would have been a Godsend back then, but mods did the same thing. If you were playing UT, and a friend came by you could load up custom levels. In fact, the second game came with the Unreal Engine utility if you bought a certain version. I actually got invested enough in the game to attempt making my own maps for Maximum Carnage. I went to Borders, (I miss that bookstore) bought a 900-page textbook on it, and tried to learn the basics. I figured out enough to make very blocky, poorly textured maps. But you know, other players who knew what they were doing liked my layouts. So a few of our members took them and polished them up. Lighting effects, some terrain, some modeling, and they ended up on map rotation.

Thing is if you love Splatoon 2 or any game you don’t have to be a master to contribute to the fandom around it. And growing that fandom can increase the number of people who want to play more seriously. Back in the day, there were a lot of Unreal Tournament fans making wallpapers, icons, maps, and mutators. You might not be able to mod Splatoon 2 but people have done the former. Over the last few years, a lot of talented people have done extensive animation. Even small bands have covered songs from the two games’ soundtracks.

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Where am I going with all of this? The point is you don’t have to be a professional gamer to potentially bring in a player who may want to play at a professional level. Like Unreal Tournament, that kind of stuff can get people to at least look at the title. To see what all of the fuss is about. Another thing you can do is simply play the game with friends or relatives. Bring the Switch over to their house and let them try it out. Talk about the basics with them. If they find it fun, they might go pick it up for themselves. Sure, you can stream the game, but people will generally keep coming back to see you more than a game. If they like it, they may recommend it to people they know. Keep in mind that doesn’t guarantee they’ll love it as much as you do. But somebody else they know may.

Of course people already hopelessly devoted can talk endlessly about tricks, strategies, and metagame topics. But a lot of that is going to appeal to people who have already decided they want to put in the extra time to master the game. This again is where someone who doesn’t mind talking about the beginning paces can be key. Potential newcomers to any game can find even dipping their toe into competitive environments daunting. The perceived complexity can bring a bit of apprehension or frustration to someone coming into a new game green. Especially if that game has been out for a while. This is why veterans should be mindful of new players. That doesn’t mean going easy on them or letting a newcomer win. That sort of thing doesn’t make it fun for the long-time fan plus, it can even feel condescending to the person who just started the game.

But it does mean letting go of some of the pride. We’ve all run into that player in our favorite game that has to let everyone know they’re top dog. That person who has forgotten that at one point they too were once a beginner. That person who will deride anybody who may suggest something that may potentially help someone just getting into the game at their detriment.

But those newcomers looking to become a competitive player need to also remember that it isn’t going to come easy. Splatoon 2 may look family friendly, and cute. But it is just as cutthroat as any other team-focused shooter. You have to have some self-confidence going into those ranked modes. But you also have to have humility. You’re probably going to lose an awful lot of matchups before you fully grasp the nuances. “How did I get shot by 20 missiles already?” The other side filled up their specials at the same time. “I shot that guy point blank! How is he not dead?” Did you see what perks they have equipped? This is where you’re also going to have to analyze your own habits, find where you messed up, and try to come up with contingency plans or ways to avoid the same situation.

And you shouldn’t give up. When things get rough remember that while you’re trying to be the best, it is still a game. Unless you’re in the midst of a tournament because you got to the professional level, and have big money riding on a win, a loss means nothing. But each loss can give you valuable data that you can learn from. Going again, back to my days in UT, (specifically UT2k4) It took me months of playing on Deck 16, to come up with the best possible path through the map. Memorizing the four main choke points, and how to shoot down the redeemer with a glob of slime. Did that mean I was always going to be at the top of the scoreboard? No. In fact, everyone who spent a lot of time in the Unreal Tournament games had a very good idea of how to move in that map as it was one of the most popular maps. But I did learn what rooms to avoid, or how to use trick jumps to escape a certain situation. If I had thrown up my arms, and pressed CTRL+ALT+DEL I would have never gotten as far as I had. That isn’t to say I never got angry. But I didn’t leave mid-match. I finished a grueling round.

Rage Quitting is also something you should never do. It doesn’t look good on you, and it drives away anybody who might have tried to help. Splatoon 2, in particular, is also a game that can turn on a dime. If you watch some of the Championship matches you’ll see matches that seemed like decisive victories for one team, completely change in the last twenty seconds. Even if you’re not having the best day, you at your worst is still better helping to the other three players, than not having a fourth at all.

This is applicable to all kinds of games. One of the bigger names on YouTube, Maximillian_DOOD talked about this a long time ago. But it’s still applicable here. Just as it was applicable to me back in my Unreal Tournament days. I can tell you, I can be a sore loser. Nobody likes to lose. But it is so much better to finish the round, then go calm down, than to take the ball and go home mid-match.

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But if you can roll with the punches in a game you really enjoy, over time you will improve. It’s like anything else. If you play regularly, eventually you’ll get better. A competitive environment isn’t easy, but it isn’t supposed to be. Don’t go in expecting to win or lose, go in doing everything you can to win but making small, reasonable goals that are more important. “I’m going to get five splats.” “I’m going to learn the side path in Walleye Warehouse better.” “I’m going to get better at finding, and destroying enemy beacons.” You might not get the win, but they’ll get you one step closer. Making the first time you do get that win to feel even more satisfying.

Anyway, I realize I’ve been rambling, not all of it may seem related, and I don’t know how much this helps. But if you love a certain competitive game like Splatoon 2, and want to grow a competitive community talk about the game with anyone who will listen. Be welcoming to newcomers, while helping them realize it takes a little bit of time, and practice to become better than average. If you have a skill apply some of that to the fandom. It’s part of the reason why fighting games made a resurgence, and even why arena FPS attempts have come out of the indie space. I have no doubt there will be another Splatoon, as both the original Wii U game and the Switch sequel have done so well for a relatively new I.P. But ThatSrb2DUDE raises a great point. If you like a game, don’t cast a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom on it. Celebrate it. Have fun with it. Share it with as many fellow players, and collectors as possible. Also, if you are competitively minded and Splatoon 2 intrigues you check out his channel.

Until next time…

STAAAAY FRESH!

Splatoon 2 tips from a merely average player.

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It’s no secret that I’ve really enjoyed the Splatoon series a lot. I’ve reviewed the original game, the current game, and its downloadable expansion pack already. But I’ve been playing the game regularly since getting my Nintendo Switch. And the fun I’ve had with it over that time has led me to wanting to write a little something more about it. True, there are full-fledged guides you can find out there from the Prima guide that launched alongside the game to Nintendo’s *Splat*-egy guide. A guide they include if you’re fortunate enough to find either the Starter Edition or the Starter Pack version of the retail release. (The former also includes stickers.).

With this in mind, one might wonder why I’d even bother attempting to write my own article when these in-depth books are out there. Especially considering that I am not a professional level player who has been on a competitive team winning tournaments, and getting paid to do so. While this is also true, I have been in a competitively minded group in the past. I was in the Maximum Carnage clan in the heyday of Unreal Tournament 2004. While Splatoon, and Unreal Tournament are quite different competitive shooters, there are some parallels. Both are fast paced, and frantic. Both offer multiple modes, and both require a mastery of their respective weapon line up. And with Nintendo’s recent free demo push, some newcomers may just stumble upon this.

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For the purpose of brevity I’ll be keeping the focus of this article on the competitive multiplayer. So there won’t be a walk through of the campaign, the expansion pack campaign or the Salmon Run cooperative horde mode. I will say however that completing the campaigns are even beneficial to those whom prefer the multiplayer. Clearing the campaigns unlocks aesthetically alternate gear you might want to flash around. If you’ved purchased, and cleared the DLC even via the simplest means you can choose to play online as a Octoling. The mainline campaign also has tickets hidden throughout itself. Find these, and you can use them for temporary buffs at Crusty Sean’s (The food truck in the plaza.). Clearing the campaign also means The Squid Sisters can prattle off multiplayer stats to you.

The plaza is also going to be very important as it has all of the shops you’ll need to visit to unlock weapons, and gear. It also has the Street Urchin named Murch whom you’ll need to visit from time to time. When you first start playing online you won’t have access to these right away. You’ll be armed with a Splattershot Jr., a Splat Bomb, and you’ll have your Ink Armor special.

The weapons in Splatoon 2 are broken up into a few categories. Each of which come as a *kit*. You’ll have the primary weapon which is the general gun you’ve selected. Then a sub weapon which is usually an explosive, though sometimes it will be a utility like a water sprinkler or a radar dish. Each kit also gives you a special weapon. These are powerful weapons, moves, or perks you can employ after filling a meter by painting floors, and killing opponents. Some of these are moves like the Splashdown, where you can jump up like WWE Superstar Roman Reigns, and punch the ground. Which will cause a massive blast of ink to appear, killing enemies in its wake. Or the Ink Strike, a weapon that can target enemies, and fire a wave of ink based missiles after them.

Weapon categories consist of a few main groups. First are Blasters. Blasters are the game’s equivalent to rifles, and machine guns. These can give decent coverage while inking, and a respectable dose of damage. There are a couple of them that are exceptions, but by, and large they’re going to be for those comfortable with faster firing weapons.

Sloshers are the first of two categories that kind of feel like shotgun equivalents. They’re basically buckets, or variants of the bucket. A few of them like the Explosher, and Sloshing Machine are based off of the look of a washing machine. Most of these weapons perform insanely well at close range, with a few being ideal at medium range. The Explosher can actually be used long-range, and can almost be compared with a grenade launcher as it can lob a blob of ink a great distance. No matter the case, these also give you a fairly wide coverage when inking floors, and so they can serve a great purpose in either painting or combat.

Rollers are a popular choice as they can be very instrumental in quickly claiming territory. They’re also a high damage line of weapons. You can run right into enemies, and take them out. Fans of stealth kills will want to go with one. Alternatively there are also brushes which can be used the same way. Brushes are also fairly great melee range options as they can dole out high damage when standing toe to toe with an opponent. The brushes don’t have the same fast coverage as the rollers generally. But they do allow for some fast path creation.

Chargers are a great option for those who enjoy the Sniper class in other shooters. These are long range weapons that lie down a fairly long line of coverage on the way to a target. They have a slow rate of fire though, and many of them have laser scopes. So you have to be able to lead targets properly. You’ll also want to master some movement techniques in the event you’re the last one in the group, and you’re spotted. You can repeatedly fire them for some short-range action too, but they lose a bit of power. Still, these can be a beneficial choice in a tight-knit squad. Especially during ranked modes.

Splattlings are basically the chain guns of the game. They have rotating barrels, and fire copious amounts of ink in a wide-spread in a short amount of time. They also tend to run low on ink quickly, so there is a bit of a trade-off. That said, they’re an excellent way for players to give cover while teammates go for the goal. They’re also a great choice for defensive players who like to cover choke points, or their own bases. They do a high rate of damage too, making them formidable in the hands of a skilled opponent.

Splatoon 2 also introduced the Dualies class of weapons. These work like automatic pistols like Uzis in military themed shooters. They have a high rate of fire, and allow the player to do a roll dodge while using them. This combination makes anybody who uses them much harder to hit. They might not be as potent as the Blasters, but they are as dangerous as the stick, and move approach allows them to hit, and run effectively.

Finally, there are the Umbrellas which are the other Shotgun weapons. At point-blank range they are very powerful, and they have the added benefit of shielding you from enemy fire by opening them. These aren’t permanent shields mind you. After taking so many hits they’ll be temporarily disabled. That said, they can be a great front line choice, as you can withstand a couple of shots, and give cover to a teammate who may follow behind. And they’re very useful in close range combat situations.

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Each of these weapon classes has an entry that can be placed in one of three play style categories. Attacking, Support, or Defense. I can’t go over every single weapon in the game in this article as it would take far too long. But the gist of it is that some weapons are geared more toward attacking opponents, and taking them out. Other weapons are suited more toward backing up the rest of the team so that other members can get to the objective. Then there are the ones geared toward hanging back, and providing cover while also defending their position. Depending on the map, and mode being played you may be the type to change your load out, and style.

Your Sub Weapon is also important. There are a few categories. The first are the bombs. These are more or less the water grenades of the game.  Bombs cover fairly large areas in ink, and they also dole out massive damage. Some of them like the Suction Bomb can be stuck to walls. Others like the Auto Bomb follow people around for a while before exploding. Others like the Ink Mine are obfuscated until a moment before they go off.

There are also gadgets. The Sprinkler can lay down ink continuously until it is destroyed, or you throw one down in a new spot, or until you die. One cool thing about that is you can try to hide one in a hard to reach place so that you can be laying down ink while taking care of an opponent, or trying to claim an objective.  Others like the Squid Beacon will give your teammates a place to jump to. Really handy when you need to get them closer to the goal at hand quickly. Point Sensors are a great utility to tag enemies, and have their locations temporarily shown on the map.

Again, each of these kits tries to give you a versatile combination of items that complement each other. How do you get these kits? The same way you get your gear, and that’s through the shops. There are four of them. A shirt shop, a footwear shop, a headwear shop, and the weapon store.

The shops are opened up to you once you reach level 4. You raise your level by playing in the game’s online modes. There are really only two major level moments you need to hit, and that’s so you can experience everything. The first of course is level 4. Getting to level 4 allows you to go into the shops where you can spend the points you earn winning, and losing battles online. The second is level 10. If you want to play the ranked modes you’ll need to play online regularly until you reach that number. After that? Your level really won’t mean anything other than you’ve played a lot. Getting to level 30 will get you a Sea Snail every level upgrade from that point on. But beyond that it’s meaningless. So when you start out, don’t feel intimidated by seeing 35’s or 50’s in your matchups. It isn’t an indication of skill. In fact, it isn’t uncommon to see highly skilled players in the teens.

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Of the shops, the one you’ll probably want to go to first is Ammo Knights. Here the fast talking Sheldon, will prattle on about the guns you can buy. It’s also the place where you can test your weapons out on dummies, and rafters. It’s nice because you can come here to see results of buffs or nerfs to weapons when Nintendo releases a new patch. You can also get a feel for a weapon before you decide to go ahead, and unlock it with hard-earned points. When I started playing I just went for every weapon I could afford after playing matches for hours at a time. And when any update brought along new weapons I was sure to buy those once I hit the appropriate level to use it. My reasoning was that I would have the option to use anything available, and I could worry about the other stuff later.

However, that might not necessarily be the best way to go about the shops because the clothing options do more than look cool. Each of the clothing options come with perks called Abilities. There are a wide variety of these, and can greatly help you in online matches. Not only do they have a perk on the clothing item, but there are an additional one, two, or three slots on the apparel for more.

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As you play online, the clothing will level up at the end of each round. The amount will change depending on whether your team won or lost, as well as your performance during the round. When you fill the meter up you’ll randomly get another perk. There are two main types of Abilities: Unique, and Regular. Unique ones are only on specific types of clothing. These can not go into the additional perk slots which limits them to one slot on only a handful of possible clothing options. This is likely for balance.

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Regular chunks however can be used in the sub perk slots, as well as appear in the main perk slot. Moreover, some of the fictional clothing brands have a better chance of randomly generating certain types of Regular chunks. It is possible to have pieces of apparel with the same ability in every slot on it as a result. And it isn’t uncommon to see players online with them. Be that as it may, it can take a long time to get perks on each slot, and some clothing items may only have one slot on them. You may ask yourself how it is that someone managed to get three slots, with the same ability in all three of them.

Enter Murch

Murch is the short Urchin I mentioned earlier, and he is key if you don’t want to leave what perks you end up with to chance. He can do a number of things for you, for a price. For starters, if you have any Sea Snails you can give one to him to re-roll your Abilities. You can also have him use a Sea Snail to add a perk slot to a clothing item that might have only one or two by default. The easiest way to gain Sea Snails are to take part in Splatfest events when they occur. These are 24 hour events where players pick a side (ie: Ketchup Vs. Mustard), and compete in Turf War matches. These matches take place in Normal or Pro varieties. Normal being a bit better for those whom want to play with friends (assuming you’ve chosen the same side) as it has the option to do so. Pro being the better way to go if you want to gain a higher individual score, and get a chance to be entered in random 10x or 100x matches with more potential rewards. At the end of the Splatfest you’re given a number of Sea Snails based on whether your side won or lost, and what Splatfest rank you hit (from Fanboy or Fangirl to King or Queen).

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Another thing Murch can do is scrub the Abilities from an article of clothing for 20,000 points. When you do this, the chunks that were on the item go into a sub menu where they can be used later if you have enough of them. During Splatfests you’re given a T-Shirt. Often times the game will announce the Splatfest a week before it takes place. If you choose a side immediately you can begin filling, and scrubbing slots all week-long, farming chunks. Murch will scrub Splatfest T-Shirts for only 2,000 points. So you can get a head start on saving up those chunks.

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Here’s where it gets really interesting though because once you have 10 of any given ability chunk you can assign it to a perk slot on a clothing item. So you can then begin to choose what perks you want, and base them around your kit of choice. If you want the same ability across three slots, it can also be done however, stacking an ability costs more. You’ll have to have 10 for the first slot, 20 for the second, and 30 for the third. If the main ability on the clothing item is a regular one, that is up to four of the same perk across the item. This is where taking part in Splatfests can help you immensely.  Of course it should be noted each one you stack is a bit less potent than the last, so on some level there are diminishing returns. Still, having a hat with four run speeds, a shirt with four run speeds, and a pair of shoes with four run speeds will net a noticeable run speed difference.

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You can also pay Murch to order a competitor’s gear by choosing to when looking at their layout in the plaza. It costs more than finding it in one of the shops, and takes 24 hours per order though you can order up to three at once. But if it’s one of the rarer items that never seems to show up when you go into a shop it might help. Do note, that the perks on the clothes aren’t guaranteed to come along with it though. And while I’m not covering it here, do know that playing the cooperative Salmon Run mode (When it cycles on) can gain you some costume options, and perks as well.

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The main mode of the game of course is Turf War. As you likely know by now the goal is to paint a map your team’s color while the other team attempts to do the same. You’ll run into skirmishes almost instantly, killing each other so that you can gain ground while opponents are spawning. While it’s generally considered the game’s casual mode, it can still be rather cutthroat. This is a mode you’ll actually want to play a lot of to practice the mechanics, as well as see which of the game’s massive selection of weapons best suits your play style. You can also join up with friends, though if they’re in a full game you’ll be waiting for it to end until it lets you do so.

The game cycles its maps, and ranked modes every couple of hours. While it can be annoying to be on the same two maps for a while, it does negate the voting fights that break out in other games that, ironically, often end up going between one or two fan favorites. So this solution forces everyone to play every map eventually.

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Anyway, Turf War is a great means for both casual, and competitive players. If you’re not particularly great at fragging opponents like an Unreal Tournament fiend, you can focus on painting. Pressing the X button pulls up the map at any time, and is a great tool in every mode. Pressing it again, will make it disappear. While it is up, you can see where your three teammates are at any time, and then jump to them if it looks like they’ll need backup. It also lets you see any Beacons a team member may have placed, as well as any enemies that may have been spotted. The obvious sight will be what ink is splattered where. You can see areas that haven’t been painted yet. You can see lone splashes of enemy ink surrounded by yours. This might give an indication that an enemy is planning an ambush.

Along the top you can also see what weapons enemies have. As you play more over time you’ll get used to seeing how these function. Knowing an enemy is wielding a Splatbrella means you’ll be better suited trying to find a place to flank from the side. This way they can’t just shield themselves. Likewise you can see what your teammates are using, and try to modify your tactics around their strengths to help win. Maybe you notice you’ve chosen a sniper class weapon, but the random teammates all have Dualies. Try finding a point where you can cover them from the left, right, and behind as they rush to the center of the map to paint.

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A lot of skills, and techniques from other games can help you in Splatoon 2 as well. Map control is a universal skill. If you know a map like the back of your hand you can better anticipate where enemies will show up, because you’ll know the most common routes. You’ll know what spot gives the best advantages, and know to help your team hold it. Also, it’s easy to forget you have a sub weapon, and a special move or weapon. Remember as you get frags, and ink turf, you’ll fill your meter. Many of the specials have a variety of uses. You can use the bubble blower to shield your teammates, or you can just blow up your bubbles to take lives or turf.  The same can be said of the sub weapons. Going back to controlling a map, as I said earlier you may want to hide a sprinkler on a ceiling  or sneak a Beacon deep in enemy territory.

While Turf War may only count painted floors toward your score, don’t discount inking a wall to get to higher ground. You can swim up walls, and you can even use that fact for some stealthy maneuvers. Keep in mind too, that if you swim quickly you’ll leave ripples that an astute enemy may spot. But if you move very slowly, barely pushing that control stick you won’t. You’ll also barely make a sound. If you’re wearing clothes with the Ninja Squid ability on them, you won’t make a sound making surprise attacks, and escaping some assaults a little more manageable. Don’t discount the saying “Run away, and live to fight another day.”. Sometimes you’ll find yourself in 3 on 1 firefights, you simply will not win. Pulling up the map, and jumping back to spawn can allow you to regroup with your team mates as they spawn so you can try to regain composure.

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When you reach Rank 10 you’ll be able to play the Ranked modes. These focus far less on inking the map, but keep in mind it’s still beneficial. You can move faster in your own ink, so always keep that in mind. There are four Ranked modes. Splat Zones, Tower Control, Rainmaker, and Clam Blitz.

Splat Zones is a microcosm of Turf War. Instead of trying to make the entire map your color, your team must control one or two tiny areas of the map until your counter hits zero. If the other team takes that control, a cool down timer gets placed on your team that has to count down before the main timer continues when you take it back. It’s a lot more important to work together here because these spots will be a non-stop hot spot the entire game. At least two of you should be on or next to the area at all times. But this is easier said than done. If you’re wiped out, the four of you are going to be at a massive disadvantage when trying to take it back. There are a variety of strategies a team can take. Do you all hold the line? This may work best if the enemy team rushes you, but they can also try to flank you. Do you have one person distract the enemy by running toward their end of the map so the others can take it? They may not take the bait.  Paying attention to what people have chosen can really help you plan accordingly.

Tower Control is a push cart mode where both sides run to the center to take control of the tower. Once upon the tower it will move into enemy territory, and if unopposed will eventually land near the enemy spawn for a win. Someone on the team has to be on the tower for it to move. Over the months I’ve seen several impressive strategies from random teammates, as well as enemy teams. Often they’ve involved creative exploitations of sub weapons. Putting shower curtains on the tower as a shield. Booby trapping the tower with an ink mine. Putting Beacons on or near the tower for team mates to take it. Some teams have had their entire squad on or next to the tower, attempting to bum rush the opposing side. Others have sent one lone combatant out on the tower while lying in wait to ambush the enemy if they killed them, and claimed it for themselves. Again, knowing the map will help you plan strategies immensely.

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Rainmaker is also a push cart mode except that instead of a tower, one person on one team can take control of the fabled Rainmaker. Which is kind of like the BFG of Splatoon. It can deal massive damage, as the wielder can shoot powerful ranged attacks. Of course there’s also a big target on their back, as opening the map reveals their location. So its imperative the cohorts of whomever holds it, gives them ample cover. If they die, they’ll drop it, and both sides will fight over the gun again. It’s important to have an attacker who can scout ahead of whomever is going to hold the weapon, and have defenders who can protect them from incoming flanks or surprises from behind. Again, knowing the map layout is key, and constantly checking the map for signs of reprisal is going to be important.

Clam Blitz is a weird hybrid of a football game, and a base attack/defense game. Each side has a net protected by a shield. The goal is to fill the enemy net with clams. In order to see the net, you have to destroy the shield with a football. You get the football by collecting enough clams or by having one spawn eventually. You can’t throw the football very far, so you have to get really close to the shield with it, and the football shows up on the map so resistance will be fierce. If you do break the defenses, your teammates will also be able to throw clams they’ve found into the net. You have to be fast because eventually the net will become shielded again.

Some strategies I’ve had luck with have been throwing clams to a teammate who has a lot of clams to spawn a football. But you want to wait until you’ve managed to infiltrate enemy territory, and you’re close enough to the shield. Otherwise you’re easily seen coming.  Another is getting my own football while another player has one, causing confusion, and either going for the shield while they’re busy with them. Or by distracting them long enough for the teammate to break the shield with his.

Other times I’ve hung back, and tried to just defend our net with surprise flanks while my team tries to push into the enemy camp. You’d be amazed at how often both teams can have footballs going simultaneously. You can also try to throw the football from below or above the shield when the enemy team is standing guard in front of it. This isn’t always easy to pull off, especially on some maps like Camp Triggerfish where one can often see that strategy coming from a mile away. On the other hand you can often combine this strategy with others.

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While I am by no means a professional grade Splatoon 2 player, I hope if you’re a newcomer, or a lapsed player some of this stuff can help you get up to speed. It’s a great game, with a growing community. There are over 8 million players so there are a ton of opportunities to improve. You can even play all of the modes privately with friends which makes for a great way to practice. As well as bring in other newcomers without intimidating them with veteran strangers. You should also strongly consider mastering the game’s motion controls. For some of you it might seem cumbersome, especially if you’re accustomed to twin stick shooting. The game lets you shut them off, and use a traditional twin stick scheme. But hear me out. Motion controls can be far more effective. Aiming is far smoother, especially when going after higher or lower targets. Even with them enabled you can still do snaps to the left or right with the right control stick. I generally use the joycons in a grip when playing. Some swear by the Nintendo Pro Controller, or an equivalent like the ones by third-party Power-A. It’s not quite as seamless as a high dpi mouse being used on a PC FPS game. But it’s far more responsive over a thumb stick in my experience.

I also recommend watching some tournament level players on Twitch or YouTube if you want to pick up pointers. ThatSrb2Dude, and Wadsm are two such players whose content has been a wealth of help in my own quest to do better. Some of the things I’ve talked about here, I’ve learned by watching them. So be sure to check out some of their content, and live streams if you get the chance. And of course, simply playing regularly will help you improve. Whether you’re looking to become a competitor, or you’re like me, and just simply want to be a better all around player. Hopefully something I’ve listed in all of this rambling has been of some value to you. Have fun inking, and until next time….. STAY FRESH!

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

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