I had a chance to check out the demos for both Civ:Revolutions and Battlefield:Bad Company this week. Neither of which really blew my skirt up. I’ll start with Civ since it’s franchise is near and dear to my heart. Not to say that Battlefield isn’t, but the most recent incarnations of that franchise have repeatedly left a bad taste in my mouth. Post-coffee-acidic almost.
Sometimes, it would be good, even after years of hard work, for someone in these development studios to speak up and say “Yeah, this just isn’t working”. That’s how I feel about the new Civilization port to the 360. That somewhere along the line, even those who were developing it, had to actually play it on the 360 to test it out. At that point you’d think they’d realize that sometimes a genre/style of game simply doesn’t work on a console. Turn based strategy games are a good example. It’s watered down, stripped of all it’s juicy bits, glossed up for a more mass market and lacks all the depth that comes with the PC versions. It would be like taking a weeks worth of History Channel specials and creating a 30 minute Saturday morning cartoon with them. Yeah, the basic idea is still there, but it’s become comical in it’s presentation. This is both metaphoric and actual when we’re talking about this game. Although Civ 4 for the PC had a slight stylized edge to it, it was really only present when talking to your advisors or other leaders. They looked, well, computer generated, and for good reason, they are. Civ:R takes this literally to the cartoon realm. They are talking cartoons and it’s ridiculous. What’s worse is that for every major decision, and every minor encounter (random roaming barbarians for example) they pop up on scream and yell at you in gibberish (ala The Sims) about something the like/don’t like and refuse to shut up or go away. I looked into the options and I didn’t see any way to turn them off. All I could do is turn their volumes down but that leaves them jumping around on the screen like retarded mute mimes. They’ve also reduced/streamlined features for the console version, again, because the scope of the original was too big to squeeze it all in. Did you like building roads, having workers, managing the happiness of your cities, building outposts on specific resources and so forth? Cause I did, and NONE of that is in the console version. Roads aren’t built where you want them, you merely choose two cities (that you control) and it builds a strait line between the two. I don’t know about anyone else, but when I was about to attack another country, I would build roads right up to the edge of their land, that way my legions of troops could march right in in fewer turns. That ability is gone. Workers? Automated, and you can’t assign them specific tasks, like growing food, gathering resources, working the special resource nearby, or building said roads. Nope. All automated, and not in the way that would be helpful. I guess that’s ok because they’ve taken away the NEED for food and happiness, and anything else that made the city management part of Civ fun. Now the only benefit to building Wonders are paltry tech boost that you probably are about to get anyway. “Oooh, if I build the Colossus for 50 turns, I get Navigation, sweet!” Too bad you can research Navigation in 5 turns.
So, when you consider buying Civ:Revolution in the near future, remember that while it is a Civ game, and it does have the basics required to call itself that, it is in fact the Saturday morning cartoon version of it’s older, wiser and more in-depth brother. If you’re ok with spending $60 on what, visually, looks like a XBLA game you’d spend $4 on, then by all means, knock yourself out.
That brings us to Battlefield: Bad Company. This one is a little tougher to crack because there were elements that I honestly enjoyed. Then I tried to play it. Let me start at the beginning. BF:BC is primarily a single player storyline set in this larger “battlefield sandbox” style environment. Ok, not bad so far. It’s also supposed to be comical, which surprisingly it does an ok job with. The visual aspects are stunning. The combination of the Battlefield gameplay engine with the Frostbite visual and physics engine and full Dolby 7.1 is truly awesome. Thing like fog, smoke and “grit” feel real and look impressive and the sound is off the friggin hook. When you’re under fire, the game turns down the ambient sound and blurs your focus slightly to give you a real feel for the moment. You can hear yourself breath, see the incoming fire, and you respond accordingly. Think the opening beach scene from Saving Private Ryan when Tom Hanks is just kind of looking around wondering what to do next. It has that feel to it. And that’s an impressive compliment, especially coming from me. So, if it’s funny, nicely executed and beautifully done visually, what’s wrong with it? It plays like crap. The controls are clunky, the weapons are weak and unresponsive, the vehicles don’t handle at all, and most of all it just don’t “feel right”. Any gamer knows what I mean by that. It’s what separates a good game from a great game. Doom 3 was a breakthrough visually, but it just didn’t play properly. It wasn’t fun to play. Battlefield 2142, same problem. It’s like comparing Call of Duty 4 and Army of Two. Both are combat/action games, both have nice environments, physics, concepts, and art. Ao2 is just painful to play for more than 20 minutes. Things simply don’t feel right. That’s why it’s on the shelf and CoD is still in the tray after 6 months. I digress. Compounding the problems with BF:BC is the franchises long history of strictly multiplayer games and the fact that, if anything, having a great multiplayer component should have been a given. There’s no reason and more importantly, no excuse for them making a mediocre multiplayer experience. It played worse than the single player, mostly because the impressive visuals were turned off to make the multiplayer smoother. Everything about the multiplayer was disappointing. This makes me wonder where the quality multiplayer development team went. Apparently they didn’t go to Kaos Studios while they were developing Frontlines, and they sure as hell aren’t still at Dice. How a developer with nothing but multiplayer experience can screw up a multiplayer experience is truly mind boggling.
If you’re thinking about getting BF:BC for it’s multiplayer, don’t even bother. If you’re looking for what might be a fun, yet possibly game mechanically speaking, frustrating single player game, then you might enjoy it.