This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Halo Wars and Unskippable guest reviews X-Blades. See Yahtzee's crossover appearance in Unskippable: Star Ocean.
(Guest reviewed by Graham Stark. Yahtzee in turn made a crossover appearance in Unskippable: Star Ocean)
Okay, I got this. No problem. Ahem.
What makes any game cooler and more likely to appeal to the youth? The letter X. Slap it on anywhere, as in this game, X-Blades, or Why You Don't Outsource Anime To America. Shat out by "developer" (sarcastic air quotes) SouthPeak, makers of the phenomenally mediocre Two Worlds, but not content with merely making a shitty rip-off of Oblivion, they set their sights on making a shitty rip-off of God of War, and they succeeded.
Let's do the rundown. Main character is of an inhuman pallor with one word names, wearing a square foot of fabric, and boasting chests like two melons nailed to a brick shithouse and an egg noodle, respectively. Both carry two blades, which can be leveled up with various skills and purchased by collecting souls from your downed enemies, and, being mindful that a female God of War has already been tried, they stole her hair that acts like a bunch of snakes having fucking seizures and tacked that on too. But, unlike God of War, X-Blades sucks harder than Ayumi would have to do to get this job were she a real person. And she would, the dumb slut. To say X-Blades is the first game to use its female main character as a selling point would be so laughably inaccurate, it would make the world's most humorless man crap his pants with guffaws, but never has it been more blatant or in your face. While most games focus on their girl's gigantic, Earth-shaking boobage, this game prefers to hang out by the back door, because it's all about the ass! Boxart, promotional pictures, even the in-game camera does everything it can to draw the eye to the thong with strings so thin I'm not entirely sure she doesn't just have white pubes.
Put this all together by a dev-team from the Clearly-Missed-The-Point-Of-Fun School and you get a main character that's as dumb as a post and half as likable; a skill system stolen from God of War that might have worked if the programmers had actually been talking to the level designers; levels crammed with so many cannon fodder enemies, they feel more like battles of fucking attrition than tests of any relevant skill; controls that make you want to rent out a high rise apartment just so the controller will fall further when you chuck it out the cunting windows; and a soundtrack that...that...
Yahtzee: I can't take this anymore!
Yahtzee: Sorry about that. Ummmmm, yes. Halo Wars.
The story so far: I am embarking upon an occasional quest to play games belonging to genres I've never really gotten into - a campaign I thoroughly expect to whole-heartedly regret the next time a big JRPG comes out - mostly due to my excremental boredom with the procession of identical powered armor space marines that clog up mainstream action gaming like so much hyper-masculine mildew.
As part of this venture, I have been playing Halo Wars, which may come across as a curious choice because it's a game about identical powered armor space marines - GYAAAARGH!
The crucial difference though, is that all the power-armored fucknuggets are all down there waiting for me to tell them where to go to get killed, while I get to sit here in a spaceship with my feet up eating all the packed lunches. Yes, it's real time strategy, a genre, which, as the whinier of my correspondents have repeatedly made me VERY much aware, I have completely neglected up to now. I've never gotten into them for a number of reasons: firstly I'm a man's man, a courageous man who's not afraid to be out in the field looking my enemy square in the eye through the scope of a high-powered sniper rifle from the next town over.
I can understand the appeal of being in the position of an aloof sky god pursuing their agenda by flinging conscripts at tanks until the shredded limbs clog up the treads, but I suspect I'm just the wrong sort of person for strategy games; I lack the patience to micromanage every unit. I'm also good-looking, and successful, and socially competent. But still, Halo Wars by every account - also I'm not a virgin - but still Halo Wars by every account is dumbed down enough to be accessible to the legions of twitching, inadequate dog-fuckers that are Halo’s fan base, so if it truly is "baby's first RTS," it would a logical introduction to the genre. My other hope was that since I'd spend most of my time staring down at all the characters as I would little tiny cockroaches at the bottom of a jug then they wouldn't try to make me give a shit about them with half-baked story elements. No such luck, I'm afraid. The action of the campaign mode comes as the filling for a great big pre-rendered cinematic sandwich with too much Thousand Island.
The plot is your standard Halo affair: humans rule, aliens suck. They're conquering ancient planets and plundering them for magic superweapons, and we'd rather they didn't. There's the hypermasculine hero, who probably wouldn't even take his power armor off to attend a parent-teacher conference, and he has sexually tense arguments with the spunky love interest, who in that curious tendency of female characters in the Halo universe looks like she just got back from a high school gymnastics club. Also, the aliens kidnap her at one point. I didn't play far enough to see the resolution to that, but presumably they pulled all her arms and legs off.
At the most basic level, real time strategy gameplay has most in common with RPGs. They both involve starting out piss poor and building up to the point that you can take on the next big challenge. Also, they're both most frequently played by losers - NO, END SENTENCE, BEGIN ANEW. The crucial difference is that your status is reset at the start of every mission and you have the option of splitting up your power to embark upon a strategic attack from various fronts. I say “option”, because all I ever seem to do is build enough tanks to embarrass General Patton and steamroll from one side of the map to the other, hoping that the objective will be one of the things that dies along the way. Sometimes I'll try to be a bit cleverer with it and roll out with the short-range weapons in front and the ground-to-air in the back, but before long it all comes down to selecting all units and pointing at whichever enemy looks at me funny. There doesn’t seem to be much reason to develop troops; vehicles don’t move any slower,only take slightly longer to build, and, well, they’re fucking tanks!
The only downside I found is that the Earth armies apparently omit three point turns and parallel parking from the driving test, and when you're trying to maneuver a large group of vehicles through tight passes it turns into herding a particularly dim flock of sheep during an earthquake, which can get really annoying when enemy are defending and your big guns are all at the back, eating grass and fucking each other. The business of selecting units is also a right arse and that may sound like a small complaint, but small things lead to big problems, like a tiny piece of broken glass lodged in the urinary tract.
Games that evolved in PC waters have trouble adapting to non-mouse-controlled environment and RTS is no exception. Lacking click-and-drag, all you can do is select one prick, select one prick and all his prick friends standing within a fixed diameter, select all the pricks on the current screen, or call a great big all-map prick hoedown. So if you just want to, say, select all your flying pricks for a strategic insertion then you’re going to have a bit of prick trouble beyond the might of any soothing cream. The inability to click on the minimap and zoom straight to trouble spots is ineptly countered with the ability to press a button and zoom to your next group of units, although how exactly the game decides that one group is more "next" than another is left as an exercise for the viewer.
I have a horrible feeling that this statement will read like an engraved invitation for all the RTS fans to burst out from under rocks and belch their favorite titles at me, but Halo Wars has not sold me on the genre. Maybe RTS controls are just inherently incompatible with consoles. I hear Stormrise uses an innovative new control method that could potentially fill the missing pieces, but frankly, I stopped caring about ten missions into Halo Wars’ campaign.
You see, I was given a time limit to take down three enemy placements in order to rescue a bunch of trapped units. After several arduous battles I’d ruined the enemy’s shit, found the final group and sent them off to base via a path I’d completely cleared on the way there. But at a point when the base could almost certainly see them without a telescope I ran out of time and the unit disappeared. "We lost contact!" went a character.
Bull. Fucking. Shit! All possible threats were dead! We didn’t lose contact – I was looking at them! They were right fucking there! We were close enough to communicate by waggling our eyebrows at each other! What the fuck happens when the stupid arbitrary time limit runs out? Do their Battle Royale collars explode? They all lose honour and disembowel themselves? What? And just to put the cherry on it, you know who they were? Absolutely bloody no-one! Generic faceless pricks of the sort I’d vat-grown about fifty of that day alone. But we didn’t make it in time so they were gonna make me do the whole fucking mission again. As the exasperated Chinese zookeeper said to the last male panda in the world: Fuck that!
- Fooling no-one but himself: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- People confused about Graham Stark's appearance at the start of this video obviously don't watch Unskippable and for that I pity them
- Happy birthday Yug
[An imp pokes his head up from behind Yahtzee's desk and looks around]
[A crudely drawn Zero Punctuation title card appears reading "Pedigree Chum" as several imps vocalize the ZP theme]
[The imp, now wearing Yahtzee's hat, mumbles for several seconds before Yahtzee, most of his body just offscreen, points a gun at the imp. The screen goes black as a gunshot is heard]