Live impressions up first, in spoiler tags:
I started my playthrough in techroom intelligence. I really appreciate the effort put into cleaning up the ship and weapon entries and offering some background on the setting - I really like the themes of control and systemic inefficiency that crop up here. The intel entries could've used an editing pass, but it's nothing major, and they're very readable.
The techroom art does a great job of setting a hard-SF mood which jives nicely with the setting.
Very effective intro - atmospheric, cinematic, lays out the sociopolitical background that I was afraid would be left in the techroom. It's a little longer and a little wordier than it needs to be - just a bit - but it's excellent at setting up a fundamental conflict and a cool hook. The Oligarchs are a really exciting idea for a video game player, because they concentrate the interesting bits of a society down to just a few individuals, which makes for easier, uh, antagonism.
There was a peculiarity here where the ship in the first shot stopped moving well before the shot ended.Mission 1
Love the in media res beginning. I like the decision to go with a voiced protagonist/narrator - he's personable and sympathetic. And I enjoy the effort put into the presentation here, the guard grunting as he's tackled, the camera pan simulating movement down the length of the ship.
I think this is an interesting, and challenging, stylistic decision -- instead of bypassing the components of storytelling where FreeSpace is weak (action outside the cockpit), you've tackled them head on.Mission 2
well that's certainly a fair bit of firepower
The AI companion reminds me a bit of Defense Grid.
The gameplay's a lot of fun - I like the slow-acceleration afterburner and the area-of-effect attacks, and the upgrades are cool.
I actually really enjoyed the final fight in this mission. The ship's capabilities bring particular depth to ETS - unlike in regular FreeSpace, you can get pretty tactical with your allocation, going full on engines to blow through a group and get some breathing room, then full to shields to charge up.
That was a really well-engineered boss fight - and close! Got out with 6%.
I like the hint dropped at the end here that there's something more going on than 'you stole a fighter, lucky you'. Edward has some objectives in mind.Mission 3
Smart of these guys to realize they can't just zerg me and win.
Hooooooooly **** that was fun, I got out with like 4%. I love the capship artillery and those anti-fighter torpedoes are hilarious - they're so big and persistent and when I'm on afterburner they like to trail along like 10 feet behind like we're in a Looney Tunes skit. I never shot any of them down because I didn't want to abandon my mad rush for the gate.
I wonder if I should've stopped and fought any of those people!Mission 4
OH GOD BUGS
thank **** for vicias
I like the Homeworld-esque overall narrative you've got going here - not in the sense of 'go home', but in the sense of 'break through the defensive layers of an entrenched enemy'.
A MORAL DECISION cool
**** that I'm gonna leave that broadcast center broadcastin.
Oh, damn, I guess I don't get any choice.
Thank **** you made a new missionMission 5
Very cool fight. I was surprised to see Sapphire didn't react when I brought down a wingmate. When she dies I got a message from Command which probably was meant to come from one of the surviving wingmen.
Damn, Edward's starting to sound a little...megalomaniacal. Maybe I'M the evil guys, did we ever think of thatMission 6
Your music doesn't seem to like to loop, you should add some loops to your play-sound-from-file SEXPs.
This mission was a lot of fun, I ran around taking out inhibitors one by one. Then I realized I had to kill everyone else too. That didn't turn out so well.
Was still fun on replay, though.Mission 7
i am going to kill your dick oligarch
Hahah I killed his dick
I bet Edward is one of the Oligarchs and he's making a power play on all the others. I'm so smartMission 8
uhguhuguhghuguhg this is so ****ing coolMission 9
Ahaha it's that dick Ozmund again. I am going to kill his dick
AGH IT CRASHED i don't care i'm going to kill him anyway
hahaha suck my ion dickMission 10
This is ****ing epic
(I really like how you introduce new mechanics, teach them with simple scenarios, then ramp them up into boss fights. That's classically excellent game design.)
SUCK MY SUBSPACE DICK CORNELIUS
Okay I'm getting ready for a big plot twist here, SK-1 seems like it's gonna stand for STAHH CRACKER
oh christ, I need to think about this for a while
Okay. What I know about the Oligarchy tells me that it's a dictatorship run by mustache-twirling villains who keep the populace in line through chemical coercion. This doesn't seem to be a government worthy of support.
The Oligarchy seems to be doing its job. Humanity is expanding and preparing itself to meet potential alien threats, better than its predecessor did. Technological development is clearly a priority. I'm not sure I can justify destroying a government that's --
But. Wait a second. In the case of the one individual we're aware of who escaped Oligarchy control - me - we know that his immediate reaction was revulsion, disgust, and a fateful decision to avoid falling back under chemical thrall.
That suggests to me that, given the chance to consent, most individuals would not favor Oligarchy rule. And that makes it a government that, no matter how effective, I'm not sure I can support.
fire the starcrackerMission 11
OH **** **** DAMN
I...think I made the wrong call.
The Antagonist Review
This is one of the finest mods ever made, and one of the cleanest, most flow-inducing experiences I've encountered in gaming over the past few years. It'd be a fine XBLA title or indie PC release. It surprised me more than anything I've played since Windmills, and I would rank it alongside Wings of Dawn as one of the most important new milestones in recent modding.
I'm going to drop some spoilers in here, so please stop reading if you haven't played the campaign: just trust me, go get it.
Plot and Metaplot
Let's talk story, atmosphere, and presentation. A good game story isn't a good book story or a good RPG story. It eschews sprawling background material and excess scripted narrative; instead, it strives to bury elements of its world and themes in the gameplay, where the player will uptake them and - hopefully - assimilate them as part of play. Where there are characters, they must serve dual functions both in the narrative and gameplay.
Edward's role in The Antagonist is functionally similar to Cortana in Halo or the raspberry AI from Defense Grid, but narratively, he's a bit more complex - a GLaDoS figure whose goals locally parallel the player's, but, it's hinted, may ultimately diverge. One of the absolutely strongest pieces of writing in the Antagonist is in the way Edward seduces both the player character and the player himself. I can't indicate strongly enough how well this is played. Here's why:
When we meet Edward, the player character has a need: get the **** out of this situation, get oriented, figure out a goal. And the player
has a need: get a plot. Get a reason to keep playing. Edward is a catalyst who converts the player character's
need into an answer to the player's
need. 'I need a mission', he says. 'Don't you want to complete the mission? You want to bring down the Oligarchy? Great. Let's do it.'
Gameplay, plot, and player psychology work together here: the player character supplies a hook to Edward, who supplies a hook to the player. That's going to be a theme in this review. And, of course, there's a metatextual through-line here: ultimately, the hook that the player character gives to Edward will come back around in the final confrontation, which brings the player character into conflict with Edward, and the player into conflict with the narrative arc. This is a really beautiful piece of game writing.
Let's talk setting and setting writing. Again: fantastic use of setting to empower gameplay. The player steals, and is stolen by, a special ship: the player has special powers and an advantageous position in the gameplay space. Alpha 1 syndrome is justified. The Oligarchy consists of a few specific, powerful, unique individuals supported by hordes of mindless drones - and so the minion/boss structure of gameplay is justified.
There are criticisms to be leveled here: the writing on the line by line level is nothing special and the voice acting is, well, you know. But they get the job done.
The plot moves forward in a way that enables new and interesting gameplay. Edward's movement towards the center of Oligarchy space creates a logical escalation of enemy types and threat levels. And we get important progress on the metaplot: we learn to trust and work with Edward. He is our friend. At only one point are we put in conflict with Edward, when he demands the destruction of a comm station. And -- get this --
You cannot refuse.
That struck me, at first, as a flaw - I don't want
to kill civilians. But because Edward is the connection between player and plot, the plot cannot proceed without Edward's approval. This sets the player up to trust Edward's judgment even in morally conflicted situations, and it also contributes to the clever foreshadowing that Edward is not truly human; he is a mission-driven organism, consumed by his goals. (Is he not, in a sense, a twisted reflection of the player, who works only to complete the task, to annihilate and destroy?) Because we can do nothing but destroy the com station, we learn that listening to Edward keeps us moving forward towards our goal.
Only at the end of the narrative, of course, do we finally reach the apex of the metacrisis, the struggle between player agency and plot agency, Edward's agency. We are given the chance to complete our mission, but we must consider the cost. For the first time, player and player character can choose to break from Edward, Edward who has guided and saved us -- to realize that he kidnapped us as much as we stole him, and that we have not been in control, any more than the player controls the narrative they are railroaded down.
This is the scope of the final choice: to choose between the player accepting
the tyranny of narrative control, as Call of Duty, as any number of scripted triple-A titles, and accepting slavery to Edward in an unending mission to destroy without purpose. Or to reject narrative control, to break free, to go wherever the player pleases -- and, in doing so, to end the game, because, after all, the game cannot support such freedom.
And, of course, there's a plot crisis to go along with the metaplot crisis: the tension between destroying the Oligarchy, at great personal and humanitarian cost, or allowing the Oligarchy to endure, and securing personal freedom. This was a really tough decision, and one I wavered on several times. The Oligarchy is clearly totalitarian and dehumanizing; yet it is also efficacious and useful; yet there are no threats that seem to demand its extreme measures; yet such threats may well arise; yet - in the end - everyone who we have ever seen who has escaped Oligarchy control desperately wants to avoid returning, even if death is the alternative. It seemed worthy of destruction. That, too, is a really strong conflict.
Again: very little here except praise. The grenade was pretty bad in all but a few specific situations, but all the other weapons had their uses and were a lot of fun, though I usually just spammed the cluster missile.
The gameplay allowed some really interesting decisions not present in core FreeSpace. Evasion and recharge is a much more viable option, making ETS play - favoring afterburner-heavy breakaways followed by a lot of shield love - much more viable. The ability to attack in all directions eliminated the frustration of the circle fight against multiple adversaries. I don't think there was a single enemy attack that felt like bull**** to me.
Really, I'm struck by how smooth and confident the design was. New mechanics - subspace/realspace shifting, for example - were introduced in simple scenarios (kill one Arbalest), escalated to multiple foes, complicated with other elements, and then ramped up into boss fights. This is sterling game design and I can't praise it enough.
The enemy types offered a lot of fun variety, though I never really got a sense for what a lot of the basic enemy fighter types did. I loved your take on capships as artillery and irritating-missile platforms - really fit the setting and the arcadey style. It struck me again and again that these were gameplay elements that simply wouldn't work in a FreeSpace setting, and you made the most of that creative freedom.
Inducing flow states is, I think, the best thing a game can do for the player. It needs to be challenging, with death a constant but never-quite-overwhelming risk, attention demanded but not exceeded. Playing on medium, The Antagonist did that for me better than almost anything else I've played. Even in a relaxed mod like JAD 2.21, bull**** beam kills can lead to frustration and 'done for the night' syndrome, but the quick mission structure in Antagonist made death mostly just inconvenient, and the player has plenty of tools to stay alive.
I really can't praise this mod enough. I think I'm going to do a post in the near future on my big concern: why aren't more people playing it?