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    Feb 9th, 2008 at 12:05:46     -    Company of Heroes (PC)

    Gameplay 2:

    I have yet to try multiplayer, but from what I've seen I bet it will be amazing. I'm looking forward to playing against my friends, although the learning curve might prove to lead to several un-fun games (at least for them!) While the tutorials quickly and efficiently cover the RTS basics of camera movement, unit movement, resources, and base construction, as well as game specifics like putting your units behind cover and effectively fighting tank battles. I found, even as an experienced RTS player, that Skirmish mode was difficult until I had completed the campaign.

    This may be because Company of Heroes is such a unique game (see design section.) It features many things that are rare in other RTSs. Firstly, a pet peeve of mine in other RTS games, which are usually played from an isometric perspective, which Company of Heroes is by default, but features a fully interactive and 3D camera with zoom, pan, and pivot capabilities, is that even though they supposedly take place during the day, the fact that you can not see the sky gives everything sort of a creepy, night timey feel, that the fog of war (the absence of sight on a map, usually denoted by a greyed out area where you have been and a blacked out area where you haven't) doesn't really help. In Company of Heroes you can actually see the sky when you move the camera, which I found very refreshing. Furthermore, the game has a very developed micro-mangement system, as you can put your units behind cover, hit units in different areas, and of course the RTS staple: combine units in different was to be most effective against your enemies, IE: rock-paper-scissors. However unlike other RTSs, which essentially are sophisticated games of having your rock in the right place at the right time to beat your opponents scissors, etc, Company of Heroes plays more like a game of Rock-Paper-Scissors-Stapler-Pencil-Eraser-Computer Mouse-Mug-Pen-Tape Despenser-Leaf-Stick-Paper Shredder. It features many many matchups, some of which are not immediately obvious. And in Company of Heroes even Paper can beat Scissors if the commander of Paper micro-manages it properly.

    Design:

    The first thing I noticed when playing Company of Heroes is that it is not your typical strategy game. In my opinion, real time strategy games can be divided into two categories: macroscopic and microscopic. Macroscopic RTSs tend to focus on resource gathering, base construction, and territory expansion. The best examples I can think of here are Rise of Nations, Age of Empires, etc, and Starcraft, Warcraft, etc. Microscopic games tend to be based around unit micro-management, with little to no emphasis on building, or resource management. Games like this include the Myth series, by Halo creator Bungie, where the player uses points to purchase units at the beginning of the game, and then does combat entirely based around micromanagement, formations, flanking maneuvers, holding, high-ground, and other combat strategies, rather than focusing on the larger picture. Another example of this is Full Spectrum Warrior, where the player takes command of two fireteams, and uses them to execute various maneuvers, in order to move through the game's levels. Company of Heroes breaks free of both these molds, combining elements of both, to create a unique and amazing game experience. It does have base construction, and is focused around capturing territories, sort of like the way the player extends their territory line in Rise of Nations, although closer to the Conquest style of gameplay that has been made popular in first-person-shooter games by the Battlefield franchise, and also features resources, although they are not gathered, but rather obtained based on how many territories you control. However, macroscopic points aside, where the game really shines is on the microscopic level, featuring all kinds of unit micromanagement. For example: infantry units are able to utilize heavy and light cover, hole up in buildings, and engage in various other maneuvers, although formations (a staple of micromanagement in other real time strategy games) are conspicuously absent, probably because they were not used much in combat in WWII. Another example of micromanagement comes in Tank combat, where you try to move your ungainly vehicles to get firing solutions on the rear armor of enemy tanks, where their armor is weakest. All in all, the game combines micromanagement and macroscopic game elements to create a unique and exciting experience, which is enhanced by the excellent unit-balance, amazing graphics and effects, and the plethora of possible strategies. I've noticed from playing that in order to be truly successful in Company of Heroes, players must master both the micro and macro management aspects: winning both individual engagements through superior micromanagement, while still keeping track of and managing the larger battle as a whole, through the more RTS player familiar macro-management.

    It also features a unique Commander Ability tree, with three different options each with their own tree for each side. This allows you to call in support options like air strikes, paratroopers, and more powerful tanks, depending on which option you picked. It also gives your troops additional abilities. Unlike similar games where these abilities might cost resources to unlock, the Commander abilities are earned through points you win from engaging in combat, and then the abilities cost resources to use. Since resources are earned from capturing points, this keeps the gameplay based around combat, and not sitting back and building defenses.

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    Feb 9th, 2008 at 12:05:31     -    Company of Heroes (PC)

    Summary:
    Company of Heroes is a real-time-strategy game, set in Europe, during and after D-Day in World War II. The player takes command of a variety of different units, with the ability to construct new ones, and try to take back Europe from the Nazis. The game also features multiplayer and vs AI skirmish mode, where Axis and Allies go head-to-head.

    Gameplay 1:

    World War II games have been done to death, but Company of Heroes is the first one to bring something unique to both World War II games and Real Time Strategy games in a long time, and is incredibly enjoyable. The graphics are excellent, and it even features in-engine cinematics, with talking characters, a testament to the power of the game engine (as most RTSs don't have nearly enough detail on the units to accomplish something like that.) It has an excellent depth of gameplay, lots of units, and is incredibly entertaining.

    It only features two sides, Axis and Allies, and you have to play as one of them in multiplayer (no free-for-all battles either,) and there is only an Allies Campaign. The campaign was enjoyable, and long enough I'd say, but it would have been nice if there had also been an Axis Campaign as well. The missions were all relatively unique, featuring different kinds of gameplay, sometimes built around only unit deployment and combat, sometimes built around base management, and some with elements of both (IE, Paratroopers drop in, clear out enemies, establish a base, and then move in and clear out the rest of the levels with reinforcements.) The campaign managed to introduce new gameplay elements at a reasonable rate, and basically acted as a proving ground for a new player; it allowed me to work my way up and eventually be able to beat the AI on difficulties higher than easy in the skirmish mode (the AI is very difficult because a large part of Company of Heroes is micro-management of units, while at the same time tracking a larger battle, see Design section, and the AI is just better at tracking its assets than is a human, but the human edge comes from how you use them and how you learn.)
    Skirmish mode is enjoyable enough to likely be a staple at LAN parties and be a nice thing to just sit down and game with for a few hours, but the Campaign didn't seem very re-playable to me, probably because of the lack of any really epic or memorable moments. Also, the Campaign's final level was anticlimactic, focusing simply on securing several key bridges to stop convoys and then a panzer counter attack, not exactly more exciting or epic than anything else in the game up till then. Furthermore, one of the later levels, a battle against a Panzer Division and its lead Ace Tiger Tank (read: boss battle) felt contrived, and wasn't exactly in the spirit of the rest of the game.

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    Jan 26th, 2008 at 17:48:39     -    Katamari Damacy (PS2)

    Gameplay 2:

    I tried multiplayer, and found it throughly enjoyable, and also easily accessible for new players, as I played against someone with no video game experience and she even beat me, who had been playing the game for awhile now, a few times (although it was both of our first times playing multiplayer.) The multiplayer takes place in a small, enclosed arena, filled with various objects that move around. It is much faster paced than the core game, and is very entertaining, although I think co-op play (which I know is in the sequels) where you get to use the normal, large and interesting game levels, would be a massive improvement, even adversarial play in that setting would be fun.

    As I play, the game seems to have become much easier, as I have a better understanding of different objects and how they interact with each other and my Katamari. While the control scheme was simple to learn, and easy to use, I have finally mastered it and am able to play quite effectively. I used to take several attempts for even earlier levels and am now able to pass most levels on my first attempt, even as they grow more difficult.

    I love the feeling of power I get as my Katamari grows from something that gets kicked around by the humans, and is regarded as a tiny nuisance, into a giant, unstoppable force of nature that swallows their entire towns whole as they flee in panic...all within the span of 10-20 minutes. It is so satisfying to go back and find the kid that beat you with a stick when you were 20 cm across, and devour him, or to absorb the bus that severely damaged your Katamari earlier in the level. The game is so fun to play, its quirky, exciting, and addictive.

    Design:

    The game gets throughly more entertaining as you grow to larger and larger sizes, sucking up entire cities and towns very quickly. I found that I liked this much better than being tiny, but the fact that on each level you start out small and get larger, thus being rewarded with being large and able to suck up larger things, keeps you playing through the levels.

    There is a clear distinction from when you are small to when you are large, and the style of gameplay changes. At smaller sizes the player finds himself avoiding hostile creatures, sucking up increasingly larger things, and trying to access new areas. By the time you get larger you are more worried about just destroying everything that is in your path to get your Katamari to the appropriate size to beat the level. There is also a clear visual distinction between the different sizes. At smaller sizes, the game uses a narrow depth of field, where everything further away (and also much larger than you) is blurry, and things that are up close and smaller are in focus. At larger sizes this goes away, and at large sizes on a smaller level, such as the town instead of the world, the camera will eventually zoom far enough out and you view things through a sort of curtain of fog, showing how large your Katamari is.

    The game does have some flaws, at least in my mind, but I recognize how subjective these flaws are. Firstly, I don't like the lack of realism in object placement. I don't find it believable that there would be 100 bananas lying randomly on the streets of a city. This gets better as you get larger, as the game designers have to place fewer random objects because you are able to suck up things that would normally be around the world: guardrails, fences, people, cars, poles, gas pumps, etc. Also, I don't like how periodically you will be able to see your Katamari poking through all the objects it has absorbed, the idea being that they eventually get integrated with it and make it grow larger. I understand the reasoning for this being the technological limitations of the PS2, but I'd think it could be better executed so that once your starting Katamari sphereoid is completely covered, you never see it again, and it appears as though you're just rolling up things by the snowball effect.

    The levels are limited to a few static environments that don't really change, however the positioning and kinds of objects in them, and where you are able to go, does change from level to level, enough to keep the game incredibly interesting. The game is incredibly addictive and it is ultimately its cutesey style, its amazing gameplay, and its clever humor that keep the player coming back for more and more.

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    Jan 26th, 2008 at 02:00:27     -    Katamari Damacy (PS2)

    Game Log Entry 1: Katamari Damacy

    Katamari Damacy is a very unique game. The player controls a tiny prince character, who in turn pushes, and thus controls, a Katamari, an incredibly adhesive, spheroid object, which rolls around the game world, sticking to anything it touches, and growing larger and larger. The Katamari can start the very small, picking up pushpins and the like, and eventually grow large enough to quickly devour cities and towns.

    Gameplay:

    I began playing Katamari Damacy and was immediately turned off by the horrible, repetitive, and annoying music, nearly non-english text, trippy cinematics, and awful, awful, "dialog" sounds. The low poly models, cheesy graphics, and odd control scheme didn't help either. However, I played on, and by the end of my first session, had come to love all of these things which so horrified me when first I powered on the Playstation 2. The sheer outlandishness of the game's look and sounds, are matched only by its feel, and the totally ridiculousness of the gameplay.

    The annoying music was perfectly suited for the visuals of a miniscule, yet eventually massive, alien-guided, sticky ball, moving through the game world, sticking to everything smaller than it. The control scheme, which I at first thought of as awkward, suddenly made perfect sense, as I realized that the two joysticks the game was played with were actually used to control the little alien guy pushing the Katamari, rather than the Katamari itself. This made the scheme much more intuitive.

    I throughly enjoyed running things over and watching my Katamari grow to an ever increasing size. I noticed how profound the gameplay shift was from when you have a small Katamari to when you have a larger Katamari: when you're tiny you have to avoid enemies and make sure you gather up every little item. You also have to be careful how far you go because it takes a long time for your Katamari to cover even short distances. As you grow larger, the game transitions into a mad dash to suck everything up, which is very, very fun, especially given that at larger sizes, you grow exponentially faster than at smaller sizes because you can absorb such large objects, so even though you grow at about the same rate relative to the size of your Katamari, the real world numbers (expressed in metric, which should be useful for teaching kids the metric system, which I've always loved) get higher much faster and the game is much more satisfying.

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