Whether you’re a fan or not, I know I’m not alone in continually looking for a legitimate Call of Duty experience on XBLIG. The nature of the service (small or one-man teams) is prohibitive to that type of scope, but there’s been a few contenders that nevertheless press on and accept the challenge. Some have even done a decent job.
I voted absent for the first Avatar Laser Wars, which was released almost two years ago and well before my reviewing tenure, but a quick sampling of the trial indicates I didn’t miss out on much. The third person camera is tossed in favor of fully becoming an FPS for the sequel, which to me feels like the right step. The graphics and player progression also look much improved. With about three hours of gametime under my belt, I’m confident enough to say that Avatar Laser Wars 2 (80) has taken over as the high-water mark for indie first-person shooters.
Just like the original from DigitalDNA Games (yeah, the CastleMiner guys), the game ships with only one map. Alpha Three, in the case of ALW2. This isn’t a slight against the game either, as its large layout (with plenty of offshoots and levels) works comfortably for most match sizes (a 4-8 player average in my games, with 16 simultaneous players possible). You’ll find most of the action takes place in the ‘reactor’, a central column with three levels that’s excellent for ambushes or sniping. Depending on the number of players present, the game switches on the fly from Free-for-All to Team Deathmatch, and back again.
Its controls are modeled on the standard FPS mold; acclimation should be swift. It can play a bit loose to start (like a Doom or Quake), but that passes, and the sensitivity can be adjusted. With the exception of an odd / limited run speed that never worked when I needed it to, I had no complaints with its general feel.
You level up with XP earned via ‘tags’ (PC term for ‘kills’), with partial scores for hits, headshots, and assists. In true FPS fashion, each level you reach rewards you with something from a cavalcade of unlockable perks, weapons, and killstreaks.
These should be instantly familiar to COD players, with mainstay perks like ‘Sleight of Hand’ and ‘Quick Draw’. The killstreaks in ALW2 (which are completely customizable) tend to be more support-minded than offensive. ‘Recon’, ‘Teleport’, and ‘Optic Camo’, for instance, or, taking a page from the recent MOH, streaks beneficial to others in a Team Deathmatch format (ammo refills or armor for all).
It has minor faults. I’d like to see a stats screen, K/D ratio (there’s currently one for awards (challenges) and high scores) for starters, maybe a new map (or remixed version), and the balancing for unlocks favors higher level players. There are some online issues too, such as players popping in and out, stutters and false starts, dropped matches (the game froze a few times while attempting to connect), which is to be expected given the unstable hoops that multiplayer XBLIG’s have to jump through. Nothing that’ll keep you out of the fight for long, as overall, it’s a solid, attractive option for anyone seeking a $1 FPS.
Just as the Call of Dutys, Battlefields and Medal of Honors of the world don’t look to be losing any wind in their respective sails, it’s doubtful Avatar Laser Wars 2 will have a problem finding a lasting audience. And when it handles and plays close to its AAA brethren, I can’t argue or find a reason it shouldn’t.
Interested in how a game like this comes together, artistically? Read this.