Tag Archives: $1 Call of Duty

REVIEW: Avatar Warfare

Avatar Warfare (80 MSP) is DigitalDNA Games latest FPS to hit the service, and it’s once again adapting Call of Duty’s gameplay and progression system to fit the avatar crowd, to very good effect.

This installment ditches the neon-drenched hallways of a space station (Avatar Laser Wars 2) and tries for a more serene, grounded setting. It’s certainly pretty to look at (check out the reflection effects on the stream that runs through the level), and the game’s ‘Lost Subdivision’ map (if you’ve played Black Ops, think of it as vaguely ‘Nuketown’-ish) gives you plenty of natural cover and houses to hide behind / strike from.

Most games start off as Free-For-All matches, transitioning into a Team Deathmatch once enough players have joined. In fact, it handles and plays practically identical to the aforementioned Avatar Laser Wars 2, which is a good thing (I ranked the game 10th on my leaderboard). That same familiarity can also lead to some stagnant matches, as the differences (meaing ‘lack thereof’) between the two games becomes more apparent, kind of like how gamers take issue with the annual COD installments. Only having access to a single map, too, tends to stale during longer sessions.

Still, most of the impetus for playing first-person shooters comes in ranking up and unlocking new weapons / perks, and Avatar Warfare offers a plethora of tiered rewards. Much like its spiritual predecessor, you earn experience for hitmarkers and ‘tags’ (i.e. kills), which level up your avatar and give you access to the bigger / better versions of the starting guns (assault rifles, SMGs, rifles, shotguns), and perks that enhance your own latent abilities. Tagstreaks (standing in for ’killstreaks’) make their return as well, giving you the chance to one-up your competition with short-lived boosts and effects, like radar and the still-frustrating shield, or an RPG to wreak havoc with. Earning a set number of tags in a row, with higher rewards requiring higher risk / longer killstreaks, remains a just prize for skilled players and an ample challenge for newcomers.

Avatar Warfare - Screen

Water so pretty!

Feelings of familiarity aside, the usual frustrations with online XBLIGs will apply, including laggy connections and players suddenly dropping out. This is particularly troublesome in the Team Deathmatch mode, juggling six players or more, with others constantly joining in / leaving. It’s never to the point of being unplayable (for long, anyway), though you’ll no doubt encounter numerous situations where you’ll die or miss your shots due to the connection. Individual results may vary, as they say.

Overall, Avatar Warfare is another solid FPS on the service courtesy of DigitalDNA, though those expecting a brand new experience will be slightly let down. While the same fun and pick-up-play components that fuel competitive multiplayer games are present in Avatar Warfare, it feels more like an evolution of previous games. Should still scratch that Call of Duty itch for a dollar.

REVIEW: Paintball War

Despite having just done this a month ago, I can’t be mad. It’s actually a good sign to see the indie first-person shooters on Xbox getting better at mimicking the feel of the larger retail games. They still have a ways to go in content and accessibility, but the gap is closing as of late. Paintball War (80 MSP) is another competent entry to add to the list, and it’s not the only FPS to fall back on paint or nerf guns as a means to an end. I guess developers feel that paintballs provide a non-violent solution to a violent concept, or maybe they’re just fans of Sherwin Williams’ very eco-unfriendly advertising.

By now you know the drill; assuming the persona of your avatar, you (and up to 15 others) battle it out over Live in a usually bright and multi-leveled arena map. In Paintball War, that map is called Avatar Town, and features the standard open spaces, back alleys, dead-ends, and rooftop vistas you’d expect in a shooter.

Using the formula popularized by those retail games we shall not mention, you level up, eventually gaining access to better guns (you start with a single-fire, unlimited ammo gun, but improve to an assault rifle or SMG early on, both of which will need quick refills after use), weapon skins and attachments, and special taunts. Achieving a certain amount of kills in a row grants you perks (killstreaks) that include recon, dual-wield, invisibility, and a ‘paint strike’ (think ‘mortars’), either dropped on your position or guided to a location. These ‘perks’ are also found in-level, in the form of cards that respawn on a timer after being picked up.

The biggest difference and advantage that Paintball War holds over something like Avatar Laser Wars 2 (compared here because of their release proximity)is its ability for you to host an offline match against bots (ALW2 allows you to explore the stage, but there are currently no bots or plans to add them that I’m aware of). Granted the A.I. bots that are here are idiots (they run at walls or get stuck on stairs often), but it does allow you to level up at a steady clip (I reached level 15 in just over seven matches), pick up the cadence of the action, and learn the map’s layout and item drops before taking your talents online. Thankfully, offline unlock progress does not carry over, meaning you’ll have to earn your camos and attachments. No boosting, fellas.

Games like this are made for online play, naturally, and here, too, is where the existence of ALW2 tops Paintball War slightly. There’s certainly a subset of players that appreciate the chaotic, run-and-gun types like Doom and Unreal Tournament, and may be happy to see that in play in PW. The game tries to accommodate that style, and does so surprisingly well, but the controls aren’t as immediately responsive. The limited ammo before refills and short lifebars, too, don’t lend themselves to that fast-and-loose feel. That makes its mixture an acquired taste. (EDIT: A recent patch has tweaked the controls and adjusted ‘killstreak’ card spawns. The ammo in each clip has been increased, and you can now equip a shotgun.)

The online portion itself, though, runs pretty smoothly. I didn’t notice much lag at all (granted the most players I ever encountered at once were 7, and mostly at night), even with people joining in and dropping out, nor did I experience any freezing or dropped games over ten+ matches. This is a definite plus, and may mean more to you than content.

In the end, Strange Games Studios Paintball War isn’t a bad game at all, especially for a dollar, but with what’s come before it, it’s late to the party and isn’t bringing any side dishes you haven’t tasted before. It’s absolutely worth a look if you can’t get enough FPS in your life, but with the spotty available matches and random-feeling, run-and-gun nature, you’re really better off with ALW2, which does everything here (minus the bots), and just a little bit better.

REVIEW: Avatar Laser Wars 2

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.

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Interested in how a game like this comes together, artistically? Read this.