Tank combat goes online! - Review By Vash T. Stampede - Page 1/2
Sega and Namco have always had an intense arcade rivalry. When one company comes out with a new game or genre, the other is sure to follow with its own iteration of the same theme. On the Sega side, Virtua Fighter spawned Tekken, and Virtua Cop led to Time Crisis. For Namco, Sega has followed their lead with in skiing games and flight-sim-style shooters. So, it isn't really a big surprise that Namco's Tokyo Wars, a networked tank game that came out in arcades a couple of years ago finds its long-lost twin in Sega's new Alien Front Online. AFO puts a player in the role of either an alien invader or a human tank commander, battling it out at various human cities, military bases, and alien constructs..
There are a number of different gameplay modes. Offline, players can practice their skills with the Arcade Mode, which is similar to an offline version of a death match, or Tactics Mode, which allows players to participate in a branching story, following either the alien invaders or the human defenders through a variety of objective-based missions. Online, there are a number of different styles of play, including a variation of Capture the Flag where each team tries to hold the (single) flag for a certain amount of time, an assault-style game that casts one team as base defenders and the other as attackers, trying to defend or overrun a base within a certain amount of time, and, of course, the ever-popular death match mode. Before starting play in any mode, each player chooses from a lightly armored, fast moving vehicle, a balanced vehicle, or a heavily armored, but slow moving vehicle for either side. All three of the human vehicles are various types of tanks, while the aliens have a more varied range of different assault vehicles.
Interestingly, the game comes with a microphone (the same one that shipped with Seaman), and the game allows for real-time voice chat during online games.
This snow level is beautiful.
AFO's graphics are very solid, and all the vehicles are well modeled. The aliens get the edge when it comes to variety of design, with two- and four-legged walkers as well as a hovering vehicle. The army gets tanks, tanks and more tanks. Sound and music are both good, although there is occasional skipping in both musical tracks and real-time voice communication from time to time. The music skipping only happens during loading, never during a game, but it's still annoying. Voices may skip at just about any point during an online game.
The in-game text is very well done. Each mission in the Tactical Mode opens with a briefing regarding the objectives for that mission. On the human side, the briefings are stoic and terse, while on the alien side they tend to be gloating and often very funny. There is a limited amount of voice over, all of which serves to continue the same themes as the briefings. The only complaint one might have about the aliens is that they sound "too human," both in the style and substance of their language. Of course, no one is picking up the game to hear a plausible alien dialogue. Everyone came for the destruction. As such, destruction abounds in Alien Front Online!
One of the most entertaining aspects of the game is the extent to which the environment can be destroyed. Each of the environments in the game is chock full of buildings, rock formations, or other elements that can be brought crashing down. Some small buildings, flagpoles, and other smaller pieces of the landscape can be destroyed entirely. Larger buildings have facades that fall away, sometime revealing new paths and hiding places for clever players to plan their ambushes. Many of the environments have really interesting little touches that help bring them to life. A train runs periodically through downtown Tokyo in one stage, and numerous familiar landmarks dot the Washington DC landscape.
AFO features some really nice visual efects such as this cracked cockpit glass.
One excellent bonus that players may discover is that the game supports the steering wheel peripheral. Although it is not listed on the jewel case or box, Sega has included a control scheme specifically tailored to the steering wheel, and it works beautifully. After playing AFO with a wheel, most players will be loath to go back to a standard controller. Playing with the wheel recreates the arcade experience much more completely, and is actually much easier and more intuitive as well.
Offline play is pretty amusing, especially the Tactics Mode, which offers some very challenging assignments for players who don't feel like going online. Both the Army and Alien storylines in Tactics Mode begin with three tutorial levels, followed by branching stories that take the player all over the world. Training is well laid out and offers a good difficulty curve to bring new players up to speed on how the game works. One complaint, however, is that the final level of training for both the Aliens and Army is very frustrating. The level comprises a race against time to destroy a certain number of very weak enemies. Although the enemies are weak, completing this last training level is actually very hard because other computer-controlled team members keep snagging kills. Some players may find themselves losing because their "teammates" have killed too many of the limited supply of enemies!
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