Sunday, June 29, 2014

Gettysburg: Armored Warfare - 2/20 hours

Playing this game has caused me to ponder the purpose of this blog. What, exactly, am I doing with these games? Am I reviewing them? Critiquing them? Showcasing them? All three? Or am I doing something else?

I guess this blog is a kind of diary. A chronicle of my emotional experiences and speculative thoughts as I work my through my Steam Library and reader challenges. It's not really meant to be anything more than personal (although if people find it informative and entertaining, that would please me greatly).

I say this, because I'm kind of baffled at how to approach writing about Gettysburg: Armored Warfare.

After two hours with the game, I see the shape of its ambition. This is a game that was released in an incomplete shape, and it shows. Metacritic rates it at 22/100, and if we're strictly talking about it as a game qua game, that rating is pretty fair, but that rating doesn't tell the whole story. This is less of a 2.2 game, and more a 7.5 game that was cut off at the knees.

Make no mistake, Gettysburg: Armored Warfare is rough. The camera needs work, and the levels are rudimentary at best, but even with its obvious lack of polish, I don't hate it.

At first, I really didn't enjoy myself. There is no tutorial, and no helpful tooltips, so I had to rely entirely on prior gaming experience and the control customization menu to figure out how to play. This resulted in me floundering for my first hour or so, because this game is not like your typical RTS.

I must have skimmed over the Steam description, because I didn't realize when I first started up that it had a heavy emphasis on its 3rd person shooter elements. In fact, in deathmatch mode, you can't give units orders at all. You have to double-click on a unit to take control of it, and then use some fairly standard shooter controls to navigate around the battlefield.

I am probably less of a shooter player than I am an RTS player, and my first couple of matches, I was utterly ineffectual. A large part of the reason for this is because I didn't know what the hell was going on. I'd hop into a guy, get killed, and then hop into someone else, and after about 15 minutes, the match would end, and I would have had no noticeable effect one way or the other on the outcome. There were some counters at the top of the screen that gradually diminished over the course of the battle, and the first team to 0 lost, but I didn't know how or why they changed, or what I was supposed to be doing to get them to do so.

So, after about an hour, I was ready to give in to despair, when the dev popped in to the thread I started on the Steam forum and gave me a link to the game's manual. This really turned things around for me. Once I knew the factors that were going in to victory (basically, there are certain waypoints that if your team occupies them, the opposing side will lose points - also, both teams lose points when their troops are killed), I could at least follow what was going on in the battle.

That basic information has made the game playable. It's not especially good, primarily because both the shooter and the RTS mechanics are extremely shallow, but the underlying architecture of the game is solid. Jump into a soldier, shoot confederates, repeat. Do this at strategically important locations to whittle down your opponent's score, and win the game. With a bit of polish and a few quality of life improvements to the interface (namely a more informative minimap, though I would personally also want controller support and aim assist - any shooter purists in the audience are free to hate me), this could be a perfectly serviceable "beer-and-pretzels" type game. With a large enough group online, even as it stands, it could be a lot of fun (this game apparently supports up to 64 players in an online deathmatch, though I seriously doubt I'm going to see many people playing in the middle of the night when I'm available for gaming).

My main worry, going forward, is that there are not 20 hours worth of game here. Not solo, at least. On the other hand, the best thing about this game is a result of its unfinished state - the 1860s artillery does not have anyone operating it, so if you jump into the unit to take control, it will roll around the battlefield like some sort of demented proto-Herbie, and honestly, I could probably trundle around a battlefield as a driverless Gatling gun, blasting Confederates for at least another 6 hours before it stopped amusing me.

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