Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Low on Macro, Large on Fun, Supreme Commander 2

Assuming you’re not a genius of some sort, imagine the difficulty of trying to solve a Rubik’s cube in one sitting. That’s still not quite enough for the sake of this comparison; so at the same time, try cooking a three course meal, knitting and playing the piano all while still trying to solve that Rubik’s cube. I think that about accurately describes the macro and micro required to effectively play the original Supreme Commander. So, and giving that my logic is on occasion correct, it’s not unreasonable to assume that when ‘Gas Powered Games’ release a sequel. We can be expected to have to employ much of the same insane management skills as before. However, and quite predictably, ‘Supreme Commander 2’ is a little bit different. This happens because somewhere along the line and in the midst of all the young and strapping (new age) multi-genre games. The RTS genre, being relatively old in the world of gaming has decided it appropriate to have a midlife crisis, buy a sports car and get a new hair style. I say predictably because this ‘RTS evolution’ has been happening since as early as Warcraft 3, but more recently Dawn of War 2 and even Command and Conquer 4 has followed suit. As an intrepid nerd I respect the idea of gaming innovation and evolution. It’s when it comes to the implementation of this idea upon an already popular franchise that I feel the need to be critical. This being particularly true when it involves the adaptation (or possible mutilation) of an already working and well received formula. Happily, Supreme Commander 2 got the haircut but hasn’t bought the sports car; and so has maintained a balance of old and new with much of its RTS character remaining intact.

Gas Powered Games, having obviously been influenced by their project partners (and RPG gurus) Square Enix; have taken a more tactical and ever so slight RPG’ish approach to Supreme Commander 2. The original game implemented a tier unit and construction system to which higher tiered units were vastly more powerful than their lower tiered brethren; meaning any relatively experienced player who was able to climb the tiers fast enough would absolutely crush all opposition. To alleviate this, the developers swapped the tier system for a more docile research tech tree; whereby the player is tasked with collecting and using research points to upgrade their armies on the fly. This means that should any player find themselves backed into a strategic corner; they’d have the opportunity to research their way out. Unfortunately as a side-effect of this system, some strategic depth has been lost. The tech tree system also seems to encourage research point amassing and uber turtling, not that that’s any less fun for most
gamers. Another (welcome) change comes from that of the experimental units. In Supreme Commander 1, experimental units were potential game ending units that possessed nothing less that grandiose fire power; but took monumental resources, time and effort in order to construct and invoke their mighty wrath. Supreme Commander 2 has become a race to build the most, now much cheaper and just as pleasurable, sexperimental (I mean experimental) units as possible before your opponent does so first.

Supreme Commander 2 seems to favour the casual rather than the alienating them as the original did. The more elite RTS fan will unfortunately most likely find it lacking in depth. Whether you agree with this new take on the franchise or not it is a solid game; and what it now lacks in depth it most certainly makes up for in fun. The campaign although repetitive in places was enjoyable and serves as a great introduction to the multiplayer side of the game, the real meat and potatoes. Multiplayer is as awesome as many will have expected. The balance and variety of unit make for both expected and unexpected strategies. Even when it comes down to experimental rushes, a good experimental strategy and mix will always overcome a straight attack.

Supreme Commander 2 is entertaining and could easily replace the hole Command and Conquer 4 has left behind; well at least until Star Craft 2 is (if ever) released. The graphics engine provides brilliant detail with a negligible cost on performance. I’m also happy to report there are comparatively few bugs. As a consequence of Supreme Commander 2’s midlife crisis, fanboys of the original and its epic RTS style will most likely be found frothing at the mouth when Supreme Commander 2 is brought up in conversation. For everyone else and despite its need for a rather large patch if you want to play online, it really is an enjoyable RTS that any fan of the genre can enjoy.

Experimentals FTW! green_FIEND

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Prince of Persia The Sands of Time: An adaptation not full of fail

Few game to film adaptations are successful and capable of earning a box office success, but the question is does Prince of Persia Sands of Time fare well? In recent years the rise of comic book movie adaptations has been popularised and every hero from the ‘goddamn’ Batman to the mighty (and drunk) Ironman have fallen prey to the Hollywood treatment. So, when the Prince of Persia franchise (beloved by hardcore gamers who would murder any director who bastardised their ‘baby’) was to be made into a film, heads turned and I found myself wondering the outcome of this whole fiasco. There have been many attempts at videogame adaptations with the Uwe Bol ‘classic’ Silent Hill (with only the badass-ness of Pyramid Head offering mild entertainment) to the Super Mario Bros. live action movie (with Dennis Hopper might I add) that flopped at the box office.        
 The Prince of Persia cast is spearheaded by well known actor, Jake Gyllenhaal looking the part for most of the high budget flick. Most fanboys would be raging at the Prince played by Gyllenhaal citing some minute difference between him and his videogame counterpart. The reality is that the videogames and film will differ as games execute story differently to films. Subsequently certain videogame elements may not bode well on film (this depends on the focus of a videogame) and in the case of Prince of Persia plenty of storyline exists. The central premise of a prince setting out to save a kingdom in dire need is carried well by Gyllenhaal, this juxtaposed against an entertaining performance by Ben Kingsley (a veteran of villains) provides a dynamic contrast between the pretty boy prince and vengeful uncle played by Kingsley. The result is a film that balances adventure, action and the occasional comedic moment to break the tension of the good versus evil narrative that drives much of the film. The added novelty of the Prince’s ability to rewind time(with the aid of a magical dagger) is intriguing, and wasn’t exploited fully in my opinion. The plot itself is one which has been overdone a million times in other countless adaptations of comics or videogames, and doesn’t mean the film loses out. The simplicity of a prince trying to save his kingdom and fighting off evil is a welcome effort and for me provided a great way to relax and not have to worry about complicated plot devices.          
 With the storyline of the videogame franchise so strong a foundation exists for director Mike Newell (director of Donnie Brasco, Mona Lise Smile and Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fire) to create a film that is faithful to the videogame trilogy and can peek the interest of moviegoers. The film merges elements from all three games revealing a Prince with depth and darkness as played by Gyllenhaal. The film prince can be comparable to other heroes harbouring self doubt such as Spiderman (played by Toby Maguire) with added awesome of Captain Jack Sparrow (played by Johnny Depp). ‘Awesome’ meaning the character holds an inexplicable charm, which I feel Gyllenhaal’s prince does more so than Toby Maguire’s Spiderman ever did. In all truth the Prince of Persia is a much better film than Spiderman 3 ever will be. The director Newell is not new to moviemaking and has an interesting body of work behind him making him a good choice for the director’s chair.    The film is an enjoyable ride with some standout performances by the supporting cast. 
 There were some memorable performances from the supporting cast with Alfred Molina as Sheik Amar utterly lulzworthy in his portrayal of an ostrich racing organiser, who conducts business in the desert to evade tax. However, Prince of Persia is still a Disney film and lacks any blood and gore due to a PG-13 rating. The film otherwise is faithful to the source material. It’s not a straight ‘by the book’ adaptation by any account yet it stays fresh using elements from the trilogy of games. The action sequences and camera work are on par with other Disney blockbusters, Pirates of the Caribbean most notably. It’s easy to see Disney hopes to create a new cash cow, which is highly unlikely. At the end of the day Prince of Persia works well as a mediocre action movie and a good night out at the movies. But, you wouldn’t be adding the Prince of Persia to your DVD or Bluray collection any time soon I reckon.