The good, the same, and the downright ugly
Originally published in January 2000.
It’s that time of year, but I’m not talking about winter. I’m, of course, referring to inventory clearance time! Just like your friendly neighborhood computer game dealer, I have excess game inventory to get off my shelves. In particular, I have several games to review: Nocturne, Half-Life Opposing Force, and Panzer General 3D Assault. Rather than string out these reviews over the next 3 months, I have decided to offer a 3-for-1 fire sale and give you the quick review of each. This will give everyone a fresh start on Year 2000. (Assuming the Y2K bug has not ravished civilization, etc.)
Basically, the reviews of these games can be summed up as: the same but different, but still good; more of the same, which is good; and flashy but not so good. You’ll have to read ahead to figure out which is which.
Panzer General 3D Assault
I have played Panzer General I, II and all the variations sold over the years based on that game engine. I find the Panzer General series to be generally enjoyable, and probably most importantly for the series, very accessible to both novice and hard-core gamers. The new 3D version is no exception to this general rule. Panzer General 3D carries on the “beer and pretzels” tradition of its predecessors and gives players and enjoyable leisure strategy game.
Gone is the top-down view of the battlefield so popular in previous releases of this series. That view, reminiscent of board games, the genre’s ultimate ancestry, has been replaced with a full 3D interface. Players can swing 360 degrees and get a view of the battle from all sides. The power and benefits of this battlefield view take some adjustment, especially for long-time 2D strategy gamers like me, but after the player learns its subtle intricacies, the interface works very well. I hope to see 3D interfaces used in strategy games more often.
If you have played games in this series before, this 3D version will offer no surprises in gameplay except for the 3D environment. This is where Panzer General 3D Assault falters somewhat. The battles of World War II are too similar and the objectives of each mission are too familiar. The feeling of déjà vu is deep and prolonged. However, if you have never played games in the Panzer General series, this game is an excellent introduction, most likely selling at a bargain price after Christmas.
I haven’t anticipated the release of game like I anticipated this one since Half-Life last year. Every review I read said this game was destined to be a classic, a “best-of-year” candidate. Boy, did I get sucked in by the hype. I absolutely hated every aspect of this game. I hated it so much, I stopped playing in the middle of it and removed it from my hard disk. I don’t know what the other reviewers were smoking, but they saw something in this game I didn’t.
The setup for Nocturne is that you are “Stranger,” a member of a secret government organization that fights the evil manifested by vampires, werewolves, zombies and ghouls, among other things. You fight this evil with an array of weapons in a third-person perspective environment. There are four missions, each taking place in a unique, although obligatory dark, setting.
Sure, the graphics look good, but so what? The game play in Nocturne is pathetically inadequate. Stranger enters rooms and the third-person camera angle prevents the player from seeing the monsters attacking. How can you fight what you can’t see? Here’s how. Simply turn on the auto aim function. If you enter a room with a bad guy, Stranger will point to it, even if you can’t see it, and you fire until Stranger returns to normal position, which means the attacking monster is dead. This is supposed to be fun?
I really wanted to like this game, but it offers nothing for me to recommend it to anyone. It is supposed to be frightening, but the poor game play distracts from any possible tension. The game engine itself is impressive but Nocturne just doesn’t do it justice. Stay far away from this game even when it reaches the bargain bin.
Half-Life Opposing Force
Half-Life was just about every trade publication’s Game of the Year award winner last year. And this was with good reason, as it remains one of the most engrossing first-person-shooter (FPS) games available. Now, comes an expansion pack for this popular game. Half Life: Opposing Force gives players the opportunity to play for the other team, so to speak. In Opposing Force, you play a marine corporal in a squad sent to the Black Mesa Research Facility to find Gordon Freeman (the hero in Half-Life). Unfortunately, or fortunately for those playing the game, your mission quickly changes to one of survival.
While the environment of Black Mesa is familiar, the developers did a fairly good job of avoiding repetition from Half-Life proper, except where necessary. The mission levels are generally challenging and there are several new and nasty aliens to contend with. Of course, there are also an array of wonderfully new and destructive weapons for dispatching your enemies.
Although Half-Life: Opposing Force does not traverse any new ground from the original Half-Life, it does extend the play of last year’s Game of the Year. Lovers of Half-Life will enjoy Opposing Force for that reason alone. In order to play Opposing Force you have to own Half-Life. So if you have been in cryogenic freeze for the past year and don’t yet have Half-Life, get it now and get Opposing Force later. Both games should be available at bargain prices, so maybe you should get both.
The Last Word
So to sum up, we have two games that play well but break no new ground and one game that should be buried in the ground. All of these games should be readily available at your favorite computer game store at significant discounts to their suggested retail prices. Happy gaming.