In My House #1

By Scott Parrino 08 Jan 2005 0

Neat Site

Welcome to my house. The Wargamer has offered me a chance to write a unique and fun column. Not a collection of random thoughts, a rant on trends within the industry, or a game review, In My House gives me the opportunity to talk about what I?ve been playing, what I like about it, and what I don?t. Most of the time I?ll write about video games, most of the time war and strategy, but don?t be surprised to find bits on role-playing, action, PC, or even board and miniatures games. After all, there?s only one requirement; it must be a game In My House.

Unfortunately Ubisoft?s Ghost Recon 2 has occupied a place in my house, and on my XBox, since its release. I say unfortunately not because Ghost Recon 2 is a bad game, but rather because it could have been a much better game. This iteration of the famed series is grounded in the mostly mountainous of North Korea circa 2011. The Ghosts have been enlisted to fight in the second Korean War, and have arrived in country, armed to the teeth with some fancy new weaponry that includes the M29 ? an assault rifle that allows players to shoot around building corners. Didn?t the Germans have something like that 60 years ago? Anyhow, it?s new in Ghost Recon 2.

Also new in this iteration of the series is the third-person, over-the-shoulder view. For those who like it, the view is impressive, doing a fine job of displaying the verdant scenery, fluid character animations, and hand signals sent to the remainder of the player?s squad. For those who don?t like it, the traditional, first-person outlook is only a couple of game pad presses away.

In game is similar to the aboriginal title, yet distinctly different. The player takes command as squad leader Scott Mitchell, and in a new twist to the game if Scott dies the mission is done. There?s no jumping from body to body until the final squadie takes a bullet to the brain. The player controls Scott and his three man fireteam through a fifteen mission campaign, which includes not only the usual, Sneaky Pete Ghost Recon fare, but also occasional straight-up, big-time firefights, and some sole, Scot Mitchell only, missions. 

So far, so good, however, the Ghost Recon series? Achilles Heel continues to be the squad control. Although the series attempts to be more than a Medal of Honor-esque first-person shooter, cumbersome squad controls seriously limit tactical options. It takes a minimum of two game pad mashings to order simple actions like moving to a specified location, or laying down covering fire. After a bout with Full Spectrum Warrior?s streamlined interface, Ghost Recon 2 seems downright prehistoric. To add insult to injury, Ubisoft?s other Clancy titles, Splinter Cell and Rainbow Six 3, boast outstanding game user interfaces. If a player wants to move his buddies down the hall in Rainbow Six 3 he need only point to the desired destination and press the action button. How about clear a room? Same thing, point at the door and squeeze the action button. It?s simple, intuitive, and allows the gamer to game, not fight the controller. 

Of course all of this doesn?t mean Ghost Recon 2 is a bad game. Some of the missions are quite clever, the Xbox Live multiplayer is a blast (once a player learns to control his fireteam), and the game is a big improvement over its predecessors. It?s just a shame Ubisoft didn?t step back, take a fresh look at the game, and completely revamp an aging control scheme.

The Ghost Recon series may be aging on the Xbox, but Microsoft Games? Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders is not. Developed by Phantagram, the game, despite its title, has nothing to do with ejecting Muslims from the Holy Land. The crusades depicted in Kingdom Under Fire are a continuation of both the developer?s earlier Kingdom Under Fire real-time strategy game for PC and the ongoing battle between the forces of good and evil. Billed as an action-RPG, the game is strongly reminiscent of the Dynasty Warrior series, but with a heaping helping of real-time strategy thrown in for good measure.

Gamers may choose to play the human alliance or the Dark Legion, which consists of an assorted conglomeration of evil doers, including orcs, ogres, dark elves and some tasty looking half-vampires. There are four campaigns stuffed on the ROM: two good and two bad, arranged in order of increasing difficulty. But enough with the statistics; this game isn?t about statistics, this game is about fun. Here?s how it goes.

The player controls a commander and his army. At first the ?army? is a single unit, but as the campaign progresses the army grows. The story will throw the player into battle after battle against foes, and in each encounter the player maneuvers his troops, either from a 3-D ?on field? perspective or utilizing a two dimensional mini-map. The player must consider how to position troops, the troop types, and throwing smoke to conceal movement. In short, all the things we love in tactical games are important. When the commander?s unit enters the fray the camera will zoom in on the leader, and the player controls him or her as they slash and dash their way through enemies, making a significant impact on the outcome of the battle. It?s just like a scene out of The Last Samurai but with scantily clad half-vampires and dark elves thrown in.

Experience and gold gained on the battlefield may be used to learn new skills and purchase new weapons for the commander or even the sub-commanders, which adds an RPG-lite feel to a game that is already crammed with exciting choices. Speaking of sub-commanders, their skills affect how their units perform, and the units themselves may morph into more powerful formations. Hence, garden variety infantry can fight hard, gain experience, and change into awe-inspiring knights. Very cool.

In fact, the whole daggone game is very cool. Kingdom under Fire: The Crusaders mixes sweet visuals, hand-tingling action, role-playing progression, and deep strategy into one of the best games of 2004. Make no mistake; it is a game that will always be welcome In My House. Outta here.

About the Author

Mark Walker is a longtime electronic entertainment journalist who has written numerous books about gaming, including the recent Video Games Alamanac and Games That Sell! In addition to his time working as a writer, Walker has also designed his own games, including the recent Lock 'n Load from Shrapnel Games, and served as a U.S. Naval Officer for 17 years.

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