Tag Archives: FPS

REVIEW: Null Battles

Null Battles (80 MSP) is not what I expected. Not that I really had any idea what to expect, what with all the colors and the block people and the shapes, the screenshots I used here that don’t really present the game as it is. And that is a minimalist FPS that kicks gravity and fixed perspectives to the curb, sort of like recent XBLA title Hybrid, allowing you to boost all over the map and attach to different platforms and surfaces, but with more freedom of movement once you land.

Counting off into two teams or four (it’s always Team Deathmatch time in Null Battles) with differing amounts of players / bots and time limits, the team with the highest score wins. Rinse and repeat. Your ‘block guy’, for lack of a more literal term, carries a long-range laser, good from any distance, and a wider (but shorter) beam shot for up close and personal encounters; a melee-equivalent move, if you will. The fighting is disorienting at first, especially if you like to quickly move from platform to platform to avoid death, but it feels second nature after a short time.

As far as pre-match options and arena settings go, Null Battles gives you a ridiculously-thorough assortment. Change your team name (I don’t like to brag, but ‘theXBLIGs’ kicked ass every time out), team color, and reticle. Change room size, shape, and all the platform shapes within it, including density and appearance. Hell, if a new, procedurally-generated arena for each match doesn’t scratch your itch, use the included level editor to make it exactly how you want it.

That same ‘kitchen sink’ mentality, sadly doesn’t extend to the battles once you’re in-game. Nor will you entirely mind. It’s straightforward, no-frills shooting, but the shifting views and constant firefights don’t give you time to critique. Rocketing across the map and exploding an enemy blockhead in mid-flight simply does not get old. The absence of any other weapons or powerups bothered me at first, but that the game kept me involved and playing with its limited arsenal speaks well enough on its worth. Still would have liked to have seen rocket launchers.

Seems like a Daft Punk music video. Is not.

In addition to the local split-screen and system link options, there’s an online mode that may or may not have a decent network code capable of supporting the listed 16-player rooms. I wouldn’t know, you see, as I couldn’t find a single online match to test it out on. Day or night. Ever. It’s typical of the scene, so I can’t say I’m surprised. It is a continual shame, not just for developers that put in the time and work on building any multiplayer game, but for the unique and deserving titles (ahem, this one) to get the cold shoulder treatment.

As such, Null Battles is a solid, albeit basic building blocks (pun intended), zero-gravity take on the FPS that sadly doesn’t have any chance of building an online community. Offline, the AI bots are surprisingly adept and competitive, and that fun is no doubt quadrupled if you can pull off the 4-player local. It may lack refinement and the variety and weapon options needed to thrive, but it’s definitely worthy of your dollar if you’re trying for something different in your shooters.

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.


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