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Even More Bits of Nifty Game Design in 2016 [Part 1]

[NOTE: While the majority of titles on this list are focused on non-spoiler-y game design, I believe that what I’ll be describing with Titanfall 2 could be considered a “LEVEL SPOILER.” By that I mean what design qualities I describe there could deflate some of the genuine surprise should you read about it here beforehand. You’ve been warned.]

Back again! I hope everyone had a great gift-givin’, egg-nog-swillin’ holiday season. For those of you not familiar with this year-long series, I’ve been cataloguing 2016 games I’ve encountered that have some nifty game design (1) (2) (3) (4); though this list emphasizes interesting mechanical nuances it’s not exactly the only quality necessary to be listed below. There could be some visual theme, storytelling implementation via design, and/or aesthetic idea that could be considered as well. The rules: the game, port, expansion, update, etc. must have released between October 1st and December 31st. This series is about examining some nifty bit—be it level, gameplay mechanic, DLC expansion, or whatever else detailed—found within certain games. While not all are of unparalleled quality, these games do often range from either an unflinching (*Certified FresH*) or more reserved (*FresH*) recommendation from me; however, for one exception—which I’ll detail when appropriate—there could be ones I don’t recommend for most gamers (*RotteN* badge) but still wish to examine. Keep this all in mind.

1. Operations Mode—Battlefield 1

I’ll be honest: the Banalfield franchise has burned me since Bad Company 2: Vietnam. Ditching a more comical cast of characters in enjoyable, if flawed, single-player campaigns to chase the COD dollar was a terrible idea. I still consider Battlefield 3 one of my most hated FPS campaigns of all time. A tonally and mechanically depressing state of affairs that captures none of the chaos the series’ multiplayer is known so well for giving. BF 3 and 4’s disastrous launches also lost DICE a lot of goodwill from long-time fans. Fast forward to Visceral cobbling together the first Battlefield exclusively for the 8th generation: Hardline. Another sub-par performance on the campaign front but a…decent effort in respect to multiplayer.

After nearly a decade in waiting (5), DICE finally got the opportunity to prove themselves again by taking warfare back to the early 20th century. As to be expected with DICE’s best multiplayer efforts, the maps are huge and jaw-dropping, vehicular combat plays an integral role in victory, and good team tactics can make the difference between winning and losing. Nowhere is this greater emphasized than in Operations Mode. A hybrid between Conquest Assault and Rush modes of olde, Operations pits Defenders against three battalions of Attackers.

Traditional expectations of a TDM variant are eschewed for hour-long marathons focusing on territorial domination across two different and distinct maps. The connective tissue which truly encapsulates this mode’s greatness is the context and continuity surrounding it. Voiceover narrations from both an impersonal perspective of this battle’s importance to The Great War and of a solider preparing to fight prepare you for something that feels grander in scale once the attack whistle blows. A bit too melodramatic? Absolutely. But I say it’s earned when DICE is shown considering every facet with which to honor such a tragic undertaking as World War I, even when taking certain artistic liberties.

2. Operation Red Crow—Rainbow Six: Siege

Seems I can’t go more than a few months without talking about this game, eh? This latest R6: Siege update came out in early December and it’s quite a doozy—both positive and negative. The more unfortunate news comes back to the shadow that’s continuously hovered over it: the monetary policy. While it’s great to see just how healthy the game’s become with the promise of future operators, a second season pass is a bit annoying. Beyond just changing headgear, uniforms have been unlocked for players to purchase with either R6 Credits or Renown. There’s also Elite Uniforms for select characters which can only be unlocked with R6 Credits. The amount of digital goodies kept behind a paywall can be especially frustrating; unfortunately, it’s also been effective on me. The worms are getting in my brain!

With that out of the way, let’s focus on the new characters and various gameplay tweaks. The biggest emphasis from the Red Crow update outside characters and maps was the caliber-based destruction. No longer are all calibers considered equal when it comes to shooting holes through wood. Different caliber handguns, assault rifes, SMG’s, Glaz’s sniper rifle, etc. are all subject to making smaller or bigger holes based on this new algorithmic consideration. Subtle at first, this tweak adds different strategic considerations that I’ve already put to advantage. Punching even smaller holes through wood walls make it easier to blend in for enemies not to notice.

New technology aside, both new characters add dimension to the Attackers and Defenders. The new S.A.T. Attacker, Hibana, finally gives the attacking team a supplementary Thermite. It had always been a nuisance in pre-Red Crow days to make Thermite so necessary. His value in being the only one capable of breaching reinforced walls and hatches demanded slower breaching, always ensuring someone was essentially babysitting him. Now, there’s a fallback plan. The fundamental difference between these two is Hibana’s X-KAIROS launcher shoots six small thermite pellets (carrying 18 total) at a time. So there’s an interesting give-and-take between both operators: go for the one who obliterates a wall entirely or one who can make more surgical openings through reinforced walls.

The Defender side this time around doesn’t fundamentally alter the meta to such a degree. Echo’s Yokai drone operates in a similar fashion to Attacker drones when on the ground: scurries along and is easily spotted from a distance. But rather than a mere jump upon hitting the A button, the Yokai STICKS to the ceiling, cloaks itself, and arms its sonic artillery. A successful hit to an Attacker results in them being dazed for several seconds—varying depending on whether they remain standing or go prone, leaving them vulnerable for a quick counter attack. Consecutive hits results in attackers taking a bit of damage too. Downsides to the device is it can only be used and viewed by Echo; plus, he only carries one of them. Still, it’s an exceptional tool in locking down objectives whilst the rest of your team is elsewhere.

There’s also been tweaks to several existing characters:

Fuze: now comes with an extra cluster charge and damage range has been increased.
Lord Tachanka: gets a durable (500 HP) shield on top of his turret. There’s a bit more kick to the turret when firing.
Smoke: gas grenades are thrown like regular grenades rather than pitiful Nitro Cell tosses.
Glaz: sniper rifle recoil has been lessened
Blackbeard/Nerfbeard: swappable gun shields have been weakened and extended ADS time (general aim time and from sprinting)

While I think Blackbeard’s litany of nerfs were a bit too much, he’s down to a level I’d rather have when considering the type of playstyle Ubisoft was trying to emphasize with him. What’s great about these general tweaks and new characters is all of the new puzzle pieces and value character choices inherently bring. IQ has once again become a tremendous value to the team b/c detecting and destroying the Yokai drone could mean the difference. What happens if Attackers flank in such a way that awards them Tachanka’s turret now? Should we only poke a few tiny holes with Hibana’s X-KAIROS pellets and flank elsewhere in the meantime? There’s a plethora of new complexities added to this system I’m ecstatic over.

I really need to review the full game in the future.

3. Effect and Cause—Titanfall 2

[LEVEL SPOILER coming up. You’ve been warned…again!]

One of the best surprises of 2016 was Titanfall 2’s single-player campaign. I’ll be quick to admit I’m snacking on a little bit of crow from my ‘campaign or bust’ blog a few months back (6), but in this case I’m more than happy to be shown up by Respawn Entertainment and have my worries eased. Overall, TF2’s campaign meets in this strange middle ground between Portal, Super Meat Boy (when on tougher difficulties), and Call of Duty. The brevity, the feedback loop of success coming from continuous death, mixed with the AAA polish and structure made for something that seemed to rarely slow down.

Rather than harping on about the overall structure—which is tough to do because I think it’s fantastic, there’s one gimmick that’s shined the brightest according to many fans: time travel. After acquiring this device from a downed commander, Jack Cooper’s tasked with infiltrating some type of factory. It’s in shambles and inactive during the present day but bustling with guards and well-kept during the past. So already it’s easy to imagine the logistical strenuousness for the developers: having to consider enemy balancing, seamless transitioning, etc. between what’s essentially two unique levels. There’s traps and guards to consider in the past while there’s four-legged beasts to remember in the present, all by yourself too because Cooper’s Titan can’t assist. Respawn pulls all of these considerations off with great finesse.

I can be a sucker for evolving technology, especially when used to enhance gameplay versus just adding more polygons on a screen. With Effect and Cause, my mind couldn’t help but wonder how they were able to maintain two different levels, which were quite detailed too, running at once with the ability to transition so quickly with the simple movement of Cooper’s hand. Now remember that all of this is happening within the context of Titanfall’s mechanics, meaning this gimmick is being incorporated into a wall-running Pilot capable of bouncing all over the place. The tension in staying on your toes, careful positioning, and timeline transitions simply make it one of the most iconic levels in recent FPS history.

While not the most verbose way of putting it, I can’t forget to stress just how cool it felt the first time through. My mind kept wandering to that trailer for Looper:

“Time travel hasn’t been invented yet.
*Short pause*
But it will be.
*gun fires*”

Sorry about that. That just always goes through my head when thinking about this level now.

[Continued in Part 2: ]


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Septic633d ago

Effect and Cause is brilliant. Respawn's level designers are genius to make that level

coolbeans633d ago

Indeed. Almost every level felt like it brought its own unique idea to the table.