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Ashes of the Singularity benchmark unites AMD and Nvidia under DX12—sort of

Ashes of the Singularity Review

From the Ashes

It plays like many of its peers: you build out a base, collect resources, and engage in combat. It’s a basic framework that underpins everything from Starcraft to Rise of Nations. The core problem is there is little to appreciate beyond how busy Ashes of the Singularity’s battles become. When it comes to forming a strategy, there are few opportunities to develop nuanced tactics.

You have three main resources to manage–metal, radiactives, and turinium. The first two are for constructing ships, but if you collect enough turinium you win the game. Because turinium is necessary for victory, Ashes of the Singularity encourages hapless and aggressive rushing. Your starting area will only have a couple resource nodes, and you can’t stockpile resources as you can in most other strategy games. So, playing cautiously isn’t an option. You have to expand–and fast.

  This exacerbates some of Ashes of the Singularity’s other problems. As I churned out endless streams of robotic warriors, I noticed that they all looked similar, especially when I pulled the camera all the way out and the battlefield melted together in the mélange of war machines. Pressing to gain more and more ground kept me from developing any familiarity with my units, which is unfortunate given you only have about a dozen unique types to work with. Each frigate looks indistinguishable from the last, making it hard to keep track of which units you have and which ones you still need.

With the exception of modest changes in elevation, there aren’t many features that lend themselves to strategic use.

Maps are consistently dry and lack character. With the exception of modest changes in elevation, there aren’t many features that lend themselves to strategic use. There are no towering mountains to hide your forces during an ambush, no rare or unique resources to exploit, nor any obstacles to slow down foes. Every unit and building works the same regardless of placement on the map, and as you build out a network of resource nodes, you’ll see the same desolate brown textures again and again.

Ashes of the Singularity does a great job of communicating the massive scale of its conflicts.
The early game doesn’t have a lot for you to do or manage.

You have the ability to organize your legions into “armies,” which are supposed to be super-charged control groups. And this works, but only to a point. Forming armies reduced the need to constantly micromanage units, allowing me to focus on the larger plan: pinching off enemy supplies, flanking with the brutality of my dreadnoughts, and dropping strategic weapons of mass destruction. But Ashes of the Singularity still left me with scant few options to conduct my campaign.

It’s hard not to draw comparisons to earlier massive-scope strategy games, namely Supreme Commander. The parallels between the two run deep and cover everything from their approach to resource collection to their emphasis on massive battles. But, despite being a decade old, Supreme Commander still wears the crown. Rather than rest on the spectacle of massive battles alone, it crucially wove finer pieces into its formula to make those bouts interesting.

There is one-note to this song, and, while beautiful in its own right, Ashes of the singularity is ultimately shallow.

Ashes of the Singularity doesn’t have these flourishes; what you see is what you get. There is one-note to this song, and, while beautiful in its own right, is ultimately shallow. It’s a wonder to see in action, but tedious to play. Scale should be a canvas for battles, not a replacement for a deep set of tools. Instead of providing an intricate network of systems to work with, Ashes of the Singularity cuts itself down, leaving only the most basic elements of the genre intact. You have a handful of units, three resources, and a basic goal. At no point can you leverage anything beyond those basic pieces in a meaningful way. Without more resources, nuanced mechanics, or a charming aesthetic to help carry the experience, Ashes of the Singularity struggles to hold your attention.

As it stands, Ashes of the Singularity feels like little more than a tech demo of Stardock’s new Oxide engine. At best, it demonstrates the power of multicore optimization and DirectX 12, being the latest game to push the limits of computing to render a massive number of moving parts in a burgeoning war machine. Even so, the game comes off as half-finished. There is a decent foundation, but Ashes fails to build on it in a satisfying way.

Battlefield 1 Official Reveal Trailer

Battlefield 4 Community Operations and Fall Update roll out on Tuesday 27th Oct

 

Community Operations is free DLC for Battlefield 4 releasing tomorrow, which includes the Operation Outbreak map created with input from the Battlefield community. My expectations for this one are perhaps a little low—too many cooks and all that—but the cinematic trailer released last week is actually pretty spectacular.

This would be a good time for a gentle reminder that “cinematic” is code for “the game isn’t actually like this when you play it,” but that doesn’t mean that stuff like this isn’t fun to watch. And since Operation Outbreak is free, what’s to lose? Worst-case scenario, it turns out to be a half-baked effort and you go back to getting your online dude-shooting giggles somewhere else.

EA said on the Battlelog that both Community Operations and the Battlefield 4 Fall Update will launch on the same day—October 27, remember, which at this moment is tomorrow—but will be separate downloads. What the Fall Update will include still hasn’t been announced, but DICE LA Producer David Sirland said on Twitter earlier this month that the patch notes will eat up around 28 pages. In other words, it’s a biggie.

A hardcore FPS player’s perspective on Rainbow Six Siege

The Rainbow Six Siege beta is going live tomorrow, but I had a chance to play it late last week at an event hosted by Ubisoft. I took this opportunity to evaluate Siege as a competitive game (a topic we’re writing about a lot lately) based on the time I spent with it. It’s great to see a big publisher take a less-is-more approach to multiplayer FPS—Siege is a single-life game with a short timer and free of many of the frills of other multiplayer shooters. But the devil is in the details of how Ubisoft’s vision is implemented, as fans of games like CS:GO know all too well. Watch the video above to hear my take on Siege so far.

Act of Aggression Review

Set during a near-future war, Act of Aggression is, nonetheless, a throwback—to Act of War, the mid-noughties RTS series that it succeeds, and to old-school base-building strategy games in general. Three factions—the UN-sponsored Chimera, the US Army, and a coalition of PMCs called the Cartel—battle over large maps to secure resources and assert military dominance. If you’ve missed heavy tanks and noodly electric guitar soundtracks—welcome home.

Command & Conquer: Generals is the obvious reference point, here, but Act of Aggression is very much its own game. Resources are distributed randomly across notably expansive maps, adding a speculative scouting phase to the start of every match that shapes your overall strategy. During this phase you construct refineries and set up supply lines, with each faction offering a slightly different set of parameters for handling conveyance, base expansion, power generation, and so on. It’s a lot to take in, but if you’ve lamented the absence of this kind of RTS over the last few years then it’s a difficulty curve you’ll enjoy surmounting.

What follows is the drama of the match proper. An infantry battle might break out between garrisoned buildings for control of a bank which generates resources over time for the side that holds it. You might send a platoon of soldiers to capture downed enemy combatants for a bounty, or engage in a daring medivac mission to prevent the same from happening to your own troops. Tank columns roll through the countryside, helicopters clash in the air, jets soar in from off-map as each player approaches the point where they can deploy match-ending superweapons like nukes and long-range artillery. If you’ve played these types of games before you’ll have an immediate sense of what units to expect and how they feel in combat: Act of Aggression doesn’t offer anything particularly new in that regard, but there’s pleasure in familiarity.

The campaign is a limp introduction to all of this, however. There are two sets of missions—one for Chimera, another for the Cartel—set in a homebrew Clancyverse that offers nothing you haven’t seen in dozens of other modern warfare games. The writing and acting is poor and the game uses photography, news-report style visual effects and stock footage in place of cutscenes. Plot isn’t very important to a game like this, but there’s no C&C-style FMV scenery-chewing to motivate you, either.

The missions themselves follow an old, well-worn pattern. You start out ordering a gaggle of troops along a linear set of waypoints to learn the basics. The amount of freedom you’re given increases with every mission until you start to approach full control. The issue is that, like in many older RTSes, your most dangerous foes are the scripted moments planned to occur as you hit checkpoints along the way. If you don’t have the right force composition at these moments, you’ll probably fail. This creates a frustrating trial-and-error dynamic where your first attempt is disproportionately hard (because you don’t know what’s coming) and your second is disproportionately easy (because you do.)

The game is at its best when every player adheres to the same set of rules and all of its systems are in play at once. For this reason I found skirmish matches to be a more entertaining way to learn Act of Aggression than the campaign. There are plenty of maps, varied options for AI difficulty and team composition, and lots of potential value in discovering all of these over time.

After several hours of one-on-one skirmishes, I thought I’d try something more challenging—a four player free-for-all. I wanted to see how the large maps and random placement of resources affected a more dynamic style of game. The match was interesting from the start: my initial location had lots of oil but little aluminium, so I opted for a low-tech build. Pushing out with large amounts of US infantry, I was able to cap a run of banks and fortify them with cheap MG emplacements. I waited for the moment when I’d run into resistance, fearing the high-tech arms that my missing aluminium supply might provide an enemy.

It wasn’t to be. Eventually, I pushed out far enough to bump into my first enemy base. Three basic buildings were surrounded by a clump of infantry and light tanks, and that was it. As I was wiping them out, I realised that they hadn’t built any resource extraction buildings. Then, as I encountered the other two factions, I discovered that they hadn’t either. All of my early preparation was a complete waste of time, as none of the AI factions had done anything at all after their initial resources had run out. I like Act of Aggression and I’d be inclined to recommend it on the strength of skirmishes alone, but bugs like this mean I can’t. I tried another FFA match without encountering the issue again, but the fact that it can happen at all is a disappointment.

The heart and future of the game will ultimately lie in multiplayer, which provides all of the options you remember: you can play against the AI, against each other, configure teams as you like and there’s a ranked ladder if you’d like to take things more seriously. There’s no LAN support, however, as all multiplayer is handled through online lobbies. Playing prior to the game’s official release, it’s tough to get a sense of how the scene will shake out—I had matches that came down to cheesy minute-zero building rushes (disappointing) and matches that played out over a full forty minutes with plenty of dramatic moments. As with any competitive game, I fully expect these experiences to shift as I become more experienced: these initial impressions represent the bottom of a long and often-unforgiving climb.

In order to get the most out of Act of Aggression you need to be able to put up with the campaign and the sometimes-severe rough edges. This isn’t the complete package in the way that the old Westwood games were, or the way Blizzard’s strategy games are. But moment to moment, in the little things that matter, it’s a worthy successor to the games that inspired it.