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Time to Bring Back cncnation.net?

Time to Bring Back cncnation.net?

The title of this post is a very obscure reference, one that maybe only a small handful of people will get. It’s well deserved though, as EA have sent the internet crazy by talking about Command and Conquer again, but this time, in the context of a PC release, not that inane Rivals mobile game they revealed earlier this year. Onwards!

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Battlefield V – V Open Beta Thoughts

Battlefield V – V Open Beta Thoughts

EA are back at it gain, subverting expectations with their naming conventions when it comes to their premier franchises. After Battlefield 1, what is the obvious next step? Why, Battlefield V of course! It’s a strange way of doing business, so the important thing to know: Battlefield V brings the series back to its roots, setting events during World War Two, first visited in the first game, that, confusingly, was called Battlefield 1942. Oh for some continuity. This is my opportunity to share some thoughts from the recent Open Beta, so please, hit the break.

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Madden NFL 19, and Why I Got Origin Access Premier

Madden NFL 19, and Why I Got Origin Access Premier

It either escaped my attention, or I entirely forgot about it, but EA had announced at E3 that Madden NFL 19 was going to be bestowed with the honour of being released on the PC, along with the two powerhouses from Sony and Microsoft. It was only the other week, when I saw PCGamesN reporting on the release of the game, that I signed into Origin for the first time in months, and saw Madden ready to be purchased. What did I do? Hit the break to find out.

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Battlefield 1 – The (multiplayer) Verdict

Battlefield 1 – The (multiplayer) Verdict

I’ve played every Battlefield game apart from the first Bad Company and Hardline. I’ve tried every game online apart from 1942 and Vietnam and I think Battlefield 1 might have the best online action of the series since Battlefield 2, a game which I still rate as one of the best (though flawed) online shooters. What I like about Battlefield 1 is that it has stripped away some of the excess fat that had grown around series over the years, while also improving in some key aspects.

After playing the open beta and goings hands on at EGX, I wasn’t convinced that the game would succeed in multiplayer. Having played it online on live servers, I can say that it works. It isn’t perfect, no Battlefield game would be complete without its fair share of bugs (though I haven’t experienced any game breakers so far), and complaints about balancing.

Bug wise, I’ve experienced a few niggles with the squad system. In one round I couldn’t join any open squads, or even create my own. There is also the trouble of people locking squads when joining a game as a party. For a series that had a great squad system in Battlefield 2, it is frustrating that problems are still arising.

Small things, but the new spawn screen is gorgeous.
Small things, but the new spawn screen is gorgeous.

The balancing concerns lie around the Behemoths that can come to dominate a map, but despite inflicting heavy casualties, they won’t always turn the tide of battle back in the losers’ favour. A team with any modicum of sense will quickly set out to destroy the Behemoth and in most maps, there are plentiful ways of doing so. Planes are plentiful on maps where an Airship can appear, while a combination of fast attack boats and planes can quickly take down a Dreadnought.

I’m not convinced that the Armoured Train is suitable in all circumstances though. In one fight through the Argonne Forest (one of the finest infantry maps), one of these beasts appeared towards the very end of the round. It didn’t appear early enough to swing the tide of battle, but on a map without any other vehicles, it could prove to play too decisive a role in the action.

While I’m not over the moon about the Behemoths, I am suitably impressed by planes, something I haven’t been for many a year. Not since Battlefield 2 (and only during some patches) have I felt that planes complement the battle waging on the ground without being a depressing tank-busting sight or feeling that they live in an entirely different game with maps too small to handle their speed.

Operations are new, and a must play. Offering historical context along with great action.
Operations are new, and a must play. Offering historical context along with great action.

This is where the setting of Battlefield 1 shines (as much as that makes me cringe to write considering it is set during The Great War) as their slow speed means even amateur pilots like myself can keep them in the air for more than twenty seconds, and their fragile airframes remove the need for dedicated anti-air tanks or equipment. Gang together with some friends and you will soon do enough damage to a fighter to take it down, while working with pilots, you can help rid the battle of pesky lone snipers.

Another neat trick that applies to both planes and armour, is that you can only spawn into one from the spawn screen (where you can select the type of plane or tank you want). Gone are the dark days of Battlefield 2 where hordes of fly-boys and tankers would hang around at the main base waiting for their desired weapon of destruction, oblivious to the wider battle. With the spawn timings of the vehicles seemingly random, you are doing your team a disservice by waiting at the spawn screen for one to appear.

The ground action itself it thoroughly enjoyable, as it often is in Battlefield games. But the change in weaponry from modern automatics to bolt action and early semi-automatic rifles and ratty-tatty light machine guns is welcome. The changes just slightly alter the pace of the action, bringing it down just a touch. You don’t feel like you are playing a different game, but it’s enough to bring things back to the days of Battlefield 1942, a game I played for hours on end against the bots.

That doesn't look too good....
That doesn’t look too good….

The action is of course aided with some very fine maps. During the open beta, I wasn’t convinced by the Sinai Desert map in Conquest mode, but close it down for a game of War Pigeons or Rush, and it feels just right. The Argonne Forest is a formidable infantry grinder full of bunkers, trenches and dense foliage to hide in. Monte Grappa is full of Alpine charm and offer a brilliant mix of air, ground and armoured warfare. Clambering around the rocks and knifing an unsuspecting sniper is delicious. Amiens offers a city environment waiting to be blown to smithereens while Ballroom Blitz is a majestic tour around French grandeur. Until the bullets fly.

What is perhaps best is the way the maps alter depending on the game mode you are playing. Playing War Pigeons (effectively a capture the flag without home bases) in the Sinai Desert focuses the action on the town, while Rush (with telegraph stations replacing M-COM stations) sees you advance from the desert outside town offering a mix of everything you want if you progress as an attacking force.

The heart of multiplayer though are Operations, a game mode complete with narration during loading to set the historical context and adaptable instructions from generals depending on how the course of battle plays out. They best described as a mix of Conquest and Rush and each Operation is spread over two or three maps, depending which one you choose.

Not being able to aim down the sights adds to the claustrophobic feeling of the gas masks.
Not being able to aim down the sights adds to the claustrophobic feeling of the gas masks.

The attackers have three attempts to conquer the four or five sectors on each map with each death ticking away at their ticket count. If they can’t conquer the map in their three attempts, they done for. The defenders have unlimited tickets, and must prevent the attackers capturing the flags at strategic points in each sector. Lose control of the sector, and the battle moves onto the next part of the map.

Operations are a great blend of all the elements that make Battlefield great, and are the one game mode where a Behemoth feels like it justifies its place in the action. Team work is required to capture and hold the control points in each sector, and medics are essential for the attackers to prevent their tickets bleeding away. As the front-line changes through the action, you get to experience every aspect of the majestic maps that DICE have crafted. Ballroom Blitz takes you from the trenches outside the Château, to the outer courtyards then the middle of house itself. Finally, you end up attacking the gardens at the rear to complete a truly astonishing battle.

One of the more understated changes that DICE have made with Battlefield 1 has come with the changes to the progression and unlock system. You still receive stupidly large amounts of points for every interaction (bring back the 2 points for a kill from the early games please), but you can now target different medals to achieve through the week with a medal rewarding you with a hefty bit of bonus XP. Medals have various stages to complete, with a stage being as simple as getting 10 kills in a round or more specific such as reviving 20 squad members. The medals rotate on a weekly basis, each with different requirements, and they will surely have the long-term aim of promoting team and squad cooperation, along with class diversity.

Mortars require some skill, but can be powerful tools.
Mortars require some skill, but can be powerful tools.

Classes have been pared back to Assault (with anti-armour tools), Medic (to revive and heal comrades), Support (heavy weapons and ammo supply) and Scout (snipers) along with Pilot or Driver kits for spawning in planes or vehicles. A simple, and clear, mix of roles and responsibilities that players will become more accustomed to over time.

As you progress through the ranks, you will also progress through Class ranks, both of which will unlock different weapons for purchase with War Bonds (earned with promotions). Some weapons are Class specific, while others can be used across the classes. And unlike previous games in the series, there are a sensible number of weapons to unlock (many are simply variations on a Factory weapon model) with a limited number of attachments for each.

I’m all for cutting down on the number of unlocks and customisation options, in recent years across the FPS genre the number of different weapon configurations has become something of joke. We will never go back to the straightforward days of 1942 or Vietnam, but we have a fine balance here.

I'm flying!
I’m flying!

I have no doubts that Battlefield 1 won’t be for everyone. Some will miss the modern weapons and vehicles, others will find the slight change in pace of the combat frustrating. On the whole though, DICE have done a stupendous job with Battlefield 1s multiplayer component. There are some stunning maps to behold with the game modes offering a pleasing variety to the action. Weapons and vehicles (especially the planes) are generally, well balanced, and I for one haven’t experienced any game breaking bugs. It’s disappointing that the French and Russian armies aren’t present yet, and I’m holding out hope they will appear along with some singleplayer, but overall? This is a great game.

The Verdict – Red Mist

Platforms Available – PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

Platform Reviewed – PC

Review based on code supplied by PR. Head here for more on our scoring policy.

Correcting my Game of the Year

Correcting my Game of the Year

When we wrote our Games of the Year pieces back last year, I wrote openly and honestly about the games that I had loved from last year. However, as is to be expected, I didn’t play every game, or even every AAA title, that was released last year. Since then though, I’ve had the chance to revisit a title which would have appeared at the top of my list – Dragon Age: Inquisition.

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The Sims 4 – The Verdict

The Sims 4 – The Verdict

Ahh The Sims, a game that came back into my life when it launched a few weeks ago. It is a magical game full of character creation, home building and life living. My girlfriend loves it, me…I’m not so sure. It hasn’t pulled me in as much as The Sims 3 did.

That isn’t to say this is a bad game, just that I haven’t yet seen what makes this new edition stand out from The Sims 3. What is strange to say though is that I enjoyed the game most when watching others play it.

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Battlefield 4 – The Verdict

Battlefield 4 – The Verdict

Battlefield is and should be about team based gameplay whether that be single player with AI or multiplayer with a team of friends. With that in mind it’s strange that the campaign of Battlefield 4 does such a terrible job of making you feel like part of a team. Instead you are a mostly silent bystander who opens a lot of doors and watches as everyone else engages in conversation with their backs to you. Sometimes they push you and trap you in corners as the in game scenes unfold. Sometimes they order you, the leader of the team to help move an object, get to a position or open yet another door and that’s about the extent of the interactions. I wish I could tell you that was the worst of what’s wrong with Battlefield 4‘s campaign, but unfortunately I’m only getting started.

Frostbite 3 is an engine well known for it’s ability to produce amazing graphics, DICE have obviously made the most of this and for the most part Battlefield 4 has some of the best graphics I’ve seen on the Xbox 360. Visual effects seem to be the only thing they have focussed on however, as the gameplay in the campaign suffers from the age old problem of being all style and no substance.

A big example of this is during one of the games set pieces, as a building you’re standing on collapses around you. You fall helplessly through floors and past enemies, all the time not being able to do a single thing about it and it sucks. Sure, the set piece moments look amazing but my guess is that because so many people complained about the QT events in BF3, the developers removed the majority of these and we now have the watch-as-cool-stuff-happens-around-you-and-you-cant-to-jack-about-it events, which are much worse. Would you still buy a game knowing you can’t play the best parts of it?

Hey it's... thingy and... the other one.... what were we doing again?!
Hey it’s… thingy and… the other one…. what were we doing again?!

Thankfully Battlefield 4‘s multiplayer is an entirely different beast. A beast that has just been let out its cage and is hungry for fast paced action, destruction and the slumped bodies of soldiers recently crushed by falling skyscrapers. Thanks to the pre-release beta, the Siege of Shanghai map might well be the best known for anyone who doesn’t yet own the game. You might be surprised to hear there are actually ten maps in total and two new game modes in the base game, along with new vehicles and three playable factions. This news alone is enough to get me interested in the idea of playing battlefield multiplayer again and the new games modes really do fit in well to the roster.

The first of the new game modes, Obliteration sees both teams with high value targets that need defending from the enemy. A bomb will randomly spawn on the map and it’s your task to transport that bomb to the opposing teams high value targets whilst simultaneously defending yours in case of a counter attack. This game mode calls for high amounts of team co-operation and usually works best when everyone travels together across the map, aiding the bomb carrier until he reaches one of the targets. When planted the bomb has to be defended for a short amount of time until it detonates, so it’s not simply a case of making it to the target.

For those who are veterans of Battlefield, Defuse the second game type added to BF4, is a rather different kettle of fish. For starters you only get one life per round, once you die you can either quit or watch over your team mates shoulders as they continue with the game and respawn as the next round begins. Secondly, Defuse focuses on infantry only gameplay in small maps much like you would see in team deathmatch. The aim of the game is for one team to defend a point on the map, whilst the other carries a bomb to that point and attempts to detonate it. The game will be over if the attacking team detonates their bomb or if all players on one side die, unless the bomb has been planted with only one defender still alive, in which case they would still need to defuse the bomb before it detonates in order to win the round.

I would be quite happy if EA/DICE focussed solely on multiplayer for the next Battlefield release.
I would be quite happy if EA/DICE focused solely on multiplayer for the next Battlefield release.

This game type produced mixed reactions from me at first as I wasn’t sure it fitted into the Battlefield style of play, but after a few games the hardcore feel to this game type really affected me. I found myself being more cautious, aiming faster and more accurately and sticking with team members more often. This could in turn transfer to the other games and improve your play style overall. The only problem is if this is the game you favour above all, unlocking new weapons and levelling up would take forever as you gain little XP from playing it.

If I was considering Battlefield 4 simply as a multiplayer game, this review would certainly score much higher praise. But as things are it seems like a brilliant multiplayer game has had a single player campaign tacked onto it in order to justify another full priced retail release. Did DICE/EA really need to release a new game for what is essentially the same experience with some new game modes and vehicles? Certainly not and it shows, almost as if the campaign was one big afterthought. Poor AI, buggy checkpoints, forgettable characters, ghastly textures in startlingly obvious places like the sky, and an unusual system of unlocking guns in a single player campaign simply don’t work and drag down the fine work that has been moulded and improved upon in the multiplayer portion of the game.

Verdict – Headshot

Platforms Available – PC, PS3, Xbox 360, PS4, XO
Platform Reviewed – Xbox 360

Review based on a purchased copy.

Please check this post for more on our scoring policy.

E3 From the UK – A Quick Look at EA and Ubisoft Presentations

E3 From the UK – A Quick Look at EA and Ubisoft Presentations

I didn’t watch the conferences from EA or Ubisoft live, I followed them on Twitter while watching Game of Thrones and Banshee. However much I love games, I do sometimes wonder whether they will ever quite match the story-telling and action found in shows from studios like HBO. Certainly nothing I’ve seen from E3 so far leads me to think we are entering a truly new generation of games, more that the consoles are finally catching up with the power found on PCs for a few years now. Despite this negative view, a few bits grabbed my attention from the EA and Ubisoft events.

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