This is a funny time of year. Certain titles come out that you think would have done better against less competition, but the fact is that sales go up on everything
this time of year, so everybody wants to take their shot. I can appreciate that. From my perspective, though, I've played FEAR, Quake 4, Civilization 4, and a little Age of Empires just in the past week. So when something comes along that's not quite in that caliber, it might not do so hot. And this has nothing to do with the arbitrarily judged quality of a given developer. I'm sure Pivotal has made some fine stuff. And we've had a couple great game come in from lesser-known houses, like Guitar Hero, Darwinia, and Guild Wars. No, what hurts Conflict: Global Storm isn't any of the potentially bad risks that the new breed of game makers tackles.
The production values are fairly good, though, with plenty of well-animated, pre-rendered cutscenes, solid voice acting, and some surprising technical details that run against the expectations outlined by predictable plotting and overcooked hipness. For example, your team members will call out when they're changing mags, throwing grenades, spotting enemies and armor, and taking fire, which is great for situational awareness. Using thermal vision opens a more nuanced level of art design than I can remember seeing before, with bullet holes, blood, bodies, weaponry, and even footprints taken into account. All the weapons have distinct behavior and fire modes, and each team member has different levels of proficiency in all of it, including explosives and medical kits.
The environments are quite serviceable in terms of visuals, and they're fairly varied, with urban environments, jungles, jungle fortresses, and snowy wildernesses among the types. Squad control should be pretty intuitive to anyone who's played the Hidden and Dangerous games (although you can't pause the game and go to a tactical map). However, C:GT has some of the same problems we've encountered with H&D, from team members laying too much on the trigger and wasting ammunition to having to manually tell the party to follow the member you've switched to. Party follow isn't as big of an issue, though, and many actually prefer not having the group follow the leader automatically.
But when the AI is as bad as it is in C:GT, you want to keep your people close by so that you can basically move and park the whole group while you control one person. There will be someone who's good with sniping, another who's good with machine guns, and someone else who's good with explosives, and you'll want to keep them alive for those key moments. And after the testosterone overload of Quake 4, it's nice to see some women in the game, right there alongside you, popping bad guys and blowing crap up. But team members don't do particularly well on their own. Besides spraying a lot, they don't react quickly to a flank or being shot at. And this happens unbelievably often, because you'll be swarm with enemies seemingly all the time. Sadly, Pivotal appears to have chosen quantity over quality, so you'll be barraged with enemies running straight at you and standing out in the open, with the occasional duck behind cover before going kamikaze like everyone else. Sometimes they'll hide effectively, but it's pretty rare and inconsistent. They also don't animate particularly well, a problem made that more noticeable by the sheer amount you'll encounter from one end to the other (although team member animation is much better). On the one hand, it seems more realistic for a "heavily guarded" location to actually be heavily guarded, but the appeal of this is undercut when you realize that most of what you'll be doing is firing at the enemy and pulling back while they come at you light moths to a flame. They'll throw a grenade at you every once in a great while, and it's too bad they don't do that more, because it's about the only thing that will disturb my simple but effective strategy.
Difficulty is also reduced by the prevalence of medical kits and the fact that these packs heal a person to full even if they've been completely incapacitated. So ironically, you'll find yourself waiting for team members to die, so you can maximize health pack usage, because the mission doesn't fail unless everyone is incapacitated. Tank shell to the face? No problem. Stepped on a pile of Claymores? No biggie. You're back up to full health in a jiffy. There's also the seemingly bottomless supply of ammunition. Not just what you'll find while you play, but the depth of your actual pockets. I had a submachine gun and twelve hundred rounds of ammo for it, in addition to a sidearm, rifle, grenades, health packs, and a few miscellaneous items. John Rambo, eat your heart out.
Still, you'll find times when you want to save your game. Since the enemy has a habit of bursting through doors guns blazing, from all directions, it's still possible for everyone to get wiped out, or to have a key member killed in a spot that's difficult to safely get to. Light levels appear to have zero effect on your visibility, making the low-light goggles something that merely evens the odds in your favor, rather than granting you a little leeway to surprise the enemy. And on the default difficulty, you'll get four saves. For a guy who's used to reflexively hitting the quicksave key, particularly to reduce downtime when reviewing a game on deadline, this is a little aggravating. Even if you're not budgeting your time, it's difficult to know where the right place is to save. You can judge roughly by how far across the map you are, but there are section of random enemy clusters and sections of swarm waves, without much indication of which will be which before you head into battle. So you have to kind of wing it. No matter what perspective you're coming from, I prefer my tactical decisions to be determined by combat parameters, not overall design philosophies. In other words, I would prefer deciding for myself how I want to save my game, while leaving the game itself up to them.
If you do happen to be a fan of how Conflict plays, there are plenty of modes to keep you busy. The game supports four player cooperative play on a split screen or though a system link. In addition, you can bring your skills onto Xbox Live and play a variety of missions in MIA or Survival modes. This, however, will only be good news to someone who enjoys the core gameplay.
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