Categories: Free Read/ Game History

When we receive a new RTS game in the office, we’re usually scared of what we’ll find inside. Sometimes we’re pleasantly surprised (as with COC), sometimes we know what to expect (as with Q3A or UT), but usually we just have to load it up and hope for the best. While there are some good things about this game, the flaw monster raises its ugly head within the first few minutes, and it doesn’t stop growling and yapping until you turn the game off.

The game takes place in a 2020s alternate universe, where time has been warped and there’s a very strong Russian military hellbent on taking over the world. Although all the free countries of the world have formed an alliance to fight this empire, you’re apparently the only guy on the front line; everyone else is pushing papers back at the office. The main character, named Red, is a James Bond-ian Brit, complete with Ms. Moneypenny (called Goggles here) and Q, who provides the mission briefings. There are even some coy attempts at some sort of love interest between Goggles and Red, and the dialog is more predictable than snow in Alaska.

The game starts simply enough. The player is supposed to use covert tactics to sneak into a heavily armed base and steal plans for a new missile. After knifing the first guard and stealing his weapon and uniform, the player is introduced to all sorts of flaws. First off, if another guard is killed, every other enemy on the map suddenly knows not only who the killer is, but they also know his exact location. On the other hand, if no other guards are killed, then the enemies are completely oblivious to the player. Red can destroy boxes for ammunition and such without even getting a blink from the guards. Remember, this is a realistic covert operations game.

Next, Red has the ability to pick up full-plate body armor, giving him “200% armor.” What? OK, this is a game, but it’s losing its realism quickly. Continuing with this trend, Red cannot shoot a guard through a chain-link fence. These fences are apparently made of the strongest metal on Earth, because even driving full speed into them in an armored tank will harm the tank but not the fence. Neat. Once Red finds the secret plans, every guard is immediately aware of his infiltration into the base. How covert is this? Red must now kill nearly every guard on his way back to the start point of the mission. The player actually has to jump a destroyed bridge in a tank to win this mission. Huh?! Remember, this is a realistic covert operations game.

Each subsequent mission is equally lacking. Part of the problem is the inventory system, or lack thereof. While the player can cycle through the inventory easily, there’s no description of what the inventory is. There’s also nothing to tell the player when an item has been added to inventory, and this can make for some extremely frustrating gameplay. (The church key on the assassination level will drive players insane; it’s picked up without the player knowing it.) On top of the poor inventory control, each gun uses the exact same ammunition; Red can’t save his sniper gun bullets when he wants to use the machine gun. Remember, this is a realistic covert operations game.

The enemies on each level tend to emphasize the “artificial” part of AI. While some of them will act almost believable, most tend to stand around or run in circles. If there are two guards five feet from another, Red can kill one, and the other guard won’t bat an eyelash. When in motion, the guards will run somewhat toward the player, shoot, then run sideways, shoot sideways, then repeat. The worst-case scenario is when a guard starts shooting at Red and said guard cannot be seen on the screen. The player is getting shot (by a machine gun, no less) from so far away that the only option is to run in several directions, hoping to see the bullets. Yes, see the bullets. Remember, this is a realistic covert operations game.

Graphically, the game is a mixed bag. We get a lot of fog in the San Francisco area, but early 20th century Russia apparently had it worse. The graphics do look rather nice and the explosions are, in fact, colorful, but the depth of field allows the player to see about 50 feet into the distance before the fog creeps in. Enemies have different dying animations, which is a nice touch, although they all have the same vocabulary of four or five phrases. We weren’t overwhelmed by the graphics, but we’ve also seen a lot worse than this.

The game has support for multiplayer, although we were not able to confirm this. Since we were given one copy, we went to the net looking for a few good men. Unfortunately, every time we attempted to find an online game, there were no servers available. We would’ve liked to play Boom Beach online, as its multiplayer may have held some redeeming qualities, but we were out of luck.

Overall, Boom Beach hack is an average game tool in an overcrowded RTS market. Its otherwise okay gaming experience is overshadowed by the frequent letdowns. Guards can come out of buildings, but the player can’t go in most of them. Guards can be sniped in the head and not die or even notice the bullet. Move in a few feet and retry. This time the guard dies. The plotline forces the player to act in very specific ways, not allowing for exploration of other alternatives. The current kings of RTS (Q3A and UT) have a rabid following, so it’s difficult to break into this genre. COC did it with innovation and a sense of style. Boom Beach really wants to run with the big boys; too bad it shot itself in the foot.

Categories: Uncategorized

When sitting on the beach, have you ever wondered where that wave came from? Pro surfer and wave expert Kyle Thiermann joins Trace to surf the science of waves, their origins, and why they’re about to get even bigger.

Categories: Free Read/ Game History

During a touching and pastry-filled two days in November, videogame maker Sega took a select band of invitees and showed them a portion of its 2001 lineup for the Dreamcast. Approximately 30 games were shown, and the mere mention of their names was enough to stir the imagination and spark endless feelings both warm and fuzzy: Sonic Adventure 2, Headhunter, Crazy Taxi 2, Black and White, World Series Baseball 2K2, Samba De Amigo 2000, Floigan Brothers, Bomberman Online, Far Nation, Alien Front Online, Virtua Tennis 2, Ooga Booga, Outtrigger.

Sega called the event its “Executive Games Summit,” and did its best to deliver on the promise of two days’ worth of games glory. Promises were made as to the Dreamcast’s future, with Sega’s Charles Bellfield cryptically stating, “The Dreamcast that ships today will not be the one that ships two years from now.” Secrets were passed, and the attendees sworn to secrecy. Food was served in extravagant proportions, and duly eaten. Bombs were dropped.

The highlight of the event was a surprise appearance by game designer Yu Suzuki. Suzuki, who created such masterpieces as Hang-On, Virtua Fighter and the Dreamcast’s Shenmue, had come to America from Japan to celebrate the release of Shenmue in America; Sega of America pressed Suzuki into action to discuss Shenmue 2. With the aid of a translator, Suzuki spoke at some length about the second installment of his epic series — and when he was done, Sega of America swore everyone involved to secrecy. Now, however, the fog has lifted, and the details Suzuki dealt on Shenmue 2 are now fair game.

“Shenmue 2 is on!” Suzuki said through his translator. The game will feature an increased polygon count, ensuring that the sequel will be prettier than its predecessor, and there will be more characters to interact with. Hero Ryo Hazuki will be able to explore a world that us about 10 times bigger than that of Shenmue, and new graphics techniques have allowed Suzuki and his development team to create 3D skies that will rearrange themselves subtly throughout the course of the adventure.

Suzuki seemed reluctant to show the game to the assembled throng. “The game is only 50% complete,” Suzuki said, “but Sega of America strongly requested I show it.” Despite the man’s initial concerns, he showed off the game’s introductory movie, which recaps the plot for Shenmue; this condensed film, Suzuki said, has been inserted for the benefit of those who missed the first game. It will be, thankfully, skippable — and the footage certainly paled in comparison to what was shown for Shenmue 2.

The lights were dim, but expectations were brighter than the glow from a 100-watt bulb when the trailer for Shenmue 2 was shown. This was the first time ever that this footage was shown, and because the game was in such an early stage of development, the scenes shown often lacked characters. An opening series of swoops and pans showed off the junk-ridden port of Hong Kong and a stolid brick junkyard. As the scene pulled back to reveal a series of brightly lit streets, Suzuki and his translator commented that Shenmue 2 will feature better lighting and more detailed lighting effects. Expect the game’s Hong Kong locale to feature many cramped environments and plenty of winding streets. These streets will be inhabited, of course, by various passers-by — and there will be more fortune tellers in Shenmue 2, Suzuki promised.

Numerous scenes showed off the game’s impressive rendering of the massive Kowloon Tower. “There will be elevators in every building,” Suzuki said, which lends credence to the notion that most, if not all, of the Tower can be explored by eager game fans. Kowloon will be a gambler’s den of sorts, and Suzuki said, “For entertainment value [Kowloon] is more like the Tower of Babel.” In a fit of much ado about nothing, Suzuki also commented that Shenmue 2 will feature floors that, depending on the light scheme, are reflective.

Real in-game footage followed, with Ryo engaging in a QuickTime Event, racing through a forest in an attempt to chase down the enigmatic female Sha Hua (who was seen, but not heard from, in Shenmue). “You’ll find QTE’s as you did in Shenmue,” Suzuki said, “plus [there will be] new types of QTE’s.” This was followed up with a scene where Ryo had to navigate a thin plank, and a breathless chase wherein our hero and the man he was handcuffed to had to sprint down a series of hallways. Despite a series of follow-up questions, Suzuki declined to reveal why Ryo was handcuffed — or the identity of the man he was handcuffed to.

There was more, such as a scene wherein Ryo walked through an open-air courtyard filled with martial artists practicing in unison, to pop the eyes with wonder. Suzuki promised there will be much emphasis placed on gambling, as the hero will need to sustain his cash reserves during the game. The gambling contest shown onscreen was unfamiliar to Sega Radar, and perhaps to all but a select few in attendance, but Suzuki said the American version of Shenmue 2 will feature a thorough explanation as to how to play each and every game of skill. As new characters appeared, Suzuki introduced them as well. A new female character named Joey featured a shock of red hair and a biker’s sort of toughness. Ren (which means “knife” in Chinese) was described as one of the game’s central figures. Sha Hua, of course, was included in this number; Ryo will be able to interact with her in Shenmue 2.

Tantalizing shots of riverboat journeys, gorgeous waterfalls and the briefest hint of a sort of cage-fight deathmatch-type beat-’em-up were shown until there was no more to be seen. A shot of Sha Hua, who excels in her role as the woman who perpetually stares wistfully at stuff, staring wistfully at a yellow-red sunset ended the film portion of Suzuki’s presentation.

Suzuki then agreed to answer a few questions, with the full and complete understanding that there would be some things he just couldn’t — or wouldn’t — discuss (his upcoming Virtua Fighter X was certainly off limits). No release date has been set for Shenmue 2, and Suzuki failed to provide specifics on the game’s play, even when asked to do so. He did say that Shenmue 2 will be faster paced than the original, with more “high-density” excitement included. There will be slight tweaks to the control scheme, and the battle engine has been simplified in some as-yet-unrevealed manner. As far as how much gameplay there was to be had, Suzuki would only comment that there would be the same amount as in Shenmue, or perhaps less with more replay value.

Fittingly, Suzuki himself offered a bit of insightful commentary that could be applied to both the game and the troubled company that plans to release it. When asked if Shenmue would continue on past episode two, he said, “The story will not end there, and if the market requests it, we will continue with the adventure.”