Author Topic: War in Heaven, part 1: a review  (Read 1103 times)

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Offline Scotty

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War in Heaven, part 1: a review
I have now finished the campaign.  Review is as follows:

Firstly, generalities.

I was immensely impressed at the quality of the campaign at the end of Act I.  By the end of the campaign, I was absolutely blown away by the depth and quality presented.  I could feel a connection with the character as she plunged into the horrors of war, watched treasured friends die around her, struggling with the morality of an ever shifting conflict that shakes her to her soul and back again.  I could fairly taste the desperation as the UEF suffered blow after blow after blow, and feel the burning fury of pilots who had lost everything but themselves, and sometimes even that.  

Beyond the emotional connection to the protagonists, the combat sequences were masterfully executed, exhibiting wonderful, if challenging, balance, believable chatter, unique objectives, and enough recurring characters and vessels to lend a sense of solidity to the gameplay and overarching storyline.

The vast new and improved aresenal of both the UEF and GT(V)A leads to a varied and interesting combat dynamic, not altogether unlike an amazingly beautiful game of rock/paper/scissors carried out instead by kilotons of nuclear fury, shattering reports and impacts of ballistic cannons, and the harshly concentrated death and destruction of high-yield energy weapons.  Space superiority fighters are exactly what it says on the tin, Interceptors shoot down bombers, bombers kill capships, and capships kill everything smaller than them, up to and including other capships.  The way the player moves from flying the Uhlan SSF to the Interceptor fighter to the gunship is carried out in a believable way, much more so than the retail Freespace 2 campaign, where pilots are seemingly transferred between squadrons and combat roles at the tip of a hat.  There are only very few nearly useless weapons, while nearly everything else finds a decent use in different situations.  Granted, there are some stupidly good weapons, but those are used little enough, or are frequently unsuited the objective at hand, making their exceptional quality as weapons slightly less noticeable.

There were scant few bugs, and only one thing dampened my enjoyment of the game as a whole: the Karuna.  I am fully aware that the BP team is already trying to fix that, but everytime a Karuna enters the field, it pulls the rug out from under the framerate, making escort missions hellaciously irritating in practice, if not in theory.  Perhaps being forced to use a control scheme I am unfamiliar with exacerbated the problem, but it exists nonetheless.  

The music used was completely appropriate, a wonderful mix of hopeful, hopeless, triumphant, exhilarated, furious, and mournful.  Music can make or break a campaign, and, as in the vein of Age of Aquarius, the music for this campaign doesn't merely not break, or even make the campaign; it elevates the campaign on a gilded pedestal of awesomeness.

The only thing, set-up wise, that confused me.  You guys clearly went out of your way to depict both sides as having good reasons for this, that neither of them are necessarily better than the other.  Then you have your main character vehemently decry the GTVA, and come as close to hating them as she can.  Why?  For all intents and purposes, the player IS Noemi.  The dissonance between the portrayal by the setting and the main character felt.... jarring.

Now, to the specifics.  Spoiler'd for anyone who hasn't completed the campaign.  This will be presented in as close to campaign order as I can manage, so read this at your own risk.

The intro cutscene was absolutely amazing.  I would have enjoyed it significantly more if the Karunas were anything but hopelessly laggy, but the concept and execution are still excellent, technical difficulties aside.

Noemi's thoughts on killing Tev pilots were well thought out, and lent greatly to the atmosphere of the first mission, without which would have been a fairly standard and, dare I say it, mostly boring mission, although seeing the distrust between the two factions of the UEF present in mission does much to abate that.  On a second playthrough, it fairly drags, and it has very little replay potential.  The four wings of damaged fighters and bombers that jump in at the end of the mission feel somewhat contrived, no matter how well justified they may be.  It comes across as a "there hasn't been a fighter lately, so we'll fix that with RANDOM BADGUYS." 9/10 (first run) 6/10 (second run)

The next mission was well executed, combining intercept and defense well with such a short-handed group.  Unfortunately, the mission is plagued by "frustratingly almost possible" syndrome.  Don't get me wrong, it's necessary to illustrate several points of the story, but it's still fairly frustrating when you lose a ship that looks like you can save it, even if you can't.  See: the Trinity.  The presence of the Karuna killed my framerate, so perhaps my feelings are colored a little by that.  *Shrug*  Superior FREDing, irritating mission result.  8/10

I have no real criticisms on the Meridian mission.  It was well FREDed and very interesting to play.  I couldn't find faults with it, but I wasn't looking very hard either.  It combines a definite objective with clever tactics, even with the jump in mistake on the part of the cruiser.  The end mission banter really made the pilots and situation come alive, as well as providing a small amount of comic releif.  9.5/10

Psych eval flight.  Holy ****.  This mission, even if no combat occurs, is easily my favorite for all the undertones and plot threads that are revealed and expanded upon in a masterwork weave of psychological suspense and manipulation.  The diagnostic tool, if it was actually real, was a crystal clear look into the mindset and feelings of Noemi.  This was where I was first able to really connect to the character, because most of the time the meter was peaking out on anxiety, I was silently mouthing "what the **** is this?" in semi-awestruck wonder.  I'll be straight up and say that Ken really scared me, almost as much as the Loki popping out of nowhere to deliver a psuedo-ultimatum to Noemi.  The transfer to the nebula was a wake up call, as if the player even needed one.  The cargo containers were a stroke of genius, and I could go on for hours about them and their cargo, launching fanspec from fanspec in an endless loop of excitement, building up ever more elaborate and complex speculations on what exactly happened.  The comm node through me for a while, but I think I mostly got the significance of that.  11/10

The mission to secure the Nauticus blew me away for one reason and one reason only:  The interactive conversation with the GEF bandits.  I could probably come up with a crude workaround in FRED that is absolutely nowhere near as elegant as the way the BP team did it, but the seemingly effortless execution and natural feeling (as much as could be) to the conversation had me wishing there was more to say, more options to run through.  I'm going to be replaying that mission six or seven times, seeing what happens each time I do something different.  The bomb in the transport had me on edge the whole time too.  Should I stay near the transport to keep it safe from GEF fighters, or should I be burning the hell off into the distance so the explosion couldn't get me?  Decisions, decisions.  High replay factor and interactive conversations carry an otherwise fairly mundane "Protect transport from bad guys" mission into an awesome spectacle of FREDing and playability.  10/10

Darkest Hour was carried out exactly the way a major raid-defense mission should be: no time to mess around, and if you **** this up, you lose the war in all but name.  I was impressed at how well that feeling came through in the writing.  It just feels absolutely necessary to protect everything you can, no matter the cost.  Is it better to spend your fellow pilots' lives to try and save as much materiel as physically possible, or to hoard your rookie pilots, keeping the horror of war from claiming a squadron of newbies before they have a chance to accomplish anything?  Is the Vatican more important than your pilots?  The player makes the decision.  That, combined with the immense weight and pressure of the horror already unfolding before you makes this mission very impactful.  However, other than that, there's not much to recommend it.  8/10 for solid FREDing (as if there were another kind present) and good structure.

Oh my God!  Xinny!  Zero!  NOOOOOOO!!!  Why did it have to be them?  **** YOU TEVS!  **** YOU FEDS!  :( I almost paused my game and cried at this point.  One of the most emotional and riveting points of the whole story.  It brings to mind the humanity present on both sides of the war, away from the machinations of the higher-ups, and straight to a personal level.  Pilot to pilot, ship to ship.  Death to death, and life to life.  I don't think I've ever encountered a more emotional point in a game I've yet played.  ****ing wonderful work, guys.  11/10

The Intervention.  Wow.  Wonderful use of interactive conversations.  Once again, high replay value.  I really want to see what happens with some of the other conversation options.  Not much spectacular, FRED-wise, except for that subspace portal mid-mission.  That surprised me, for sure.  So did those Nyxs that came out of nowhere.  I was still riding high on emotion from the last mission, and a little bit from the conversation that I almost pissed myself when they WOULDN'T DIE.  The main purpose of this mission is exposition, so I can't really hold the lack of action against it.  8/10

Capturing the Agincourt has to be one of the better examples of "Capture X" that I've ever seen.  It's also one of the VERY few missions where every enemy capital ship is actually destroyed, and doesn't just jump out.  I admit I was kinda confused for a second at the end of the mission when I kept trying to enter the Agincourt's fighterbays and NOTHING HAPPENED.  Then I read the directive.  Standard mission, by the book, everything went according to plan.  Nothing special FRED-wise or story-wise, but an interesting play all the same.  7/10

The next mission is one of my favorites for FRED genius.  The reinforcement COMM menu is a stroke of genius.  So genius, in fact, that it went right over my head for twenty seconds and a checkpoint restart to know what I was doing.  Once I did, I'm awed at just how awesome and intensive this campaign, and this mission specifically, would have taken from a FRED viewpoint.  Hats off to you, gentlemen, for having the perseverence to do what few could.  We're back to the "ships jump out most of the time instead of die," and it feels right, like FS2 was a bad dream of a campaign.  9/10 for an intense capship fight with REAL TACTICS!  OMG!

Next, the GVL Pej... Peset... Pse.... The GVL Prettyhardtospellword.  This was the next most emotional moment in the campaign, and I.... I couldn't pull the trigger after it all started again.  I sat there and I watched, because I knew these people now.  It was horrific.  I... have no more words for this mission.  Bravo team.  10/10

One Perfect Moment.  I'll review this and the next mission at the same time.  It starts off all banter.  Whole mission part I (I can't think of these as two missions).  Then, Right after I sit by and watch as the Tevs get a spotlight of sympathy, and I can't make myself pull the trigger, they have to go and PISS ME OFF!  I mean, you're feeling kinda sick, or maybe you've still got some of the fuzzies from last mission, and then they kill the ****ing Elder!  DAMN THEM ALL TO HELL!</Planet of the Apes>  It pushes you in front of the car of mood whiplash.  That said, this was probably the most explosively evocative mission I've played in a good long while.  The one thing I had trouble with was the Vasudan admiral being a flaming idiot.  Then I thought about it from his angle.  I'm on my way to conduct negotiations with the UEF.  Admiral Steele, whom I have no reason to distrust, warns me they may try to pull a fast one.  I jump in to see them squawking that the Tevs, that I just had a nice talk to, killed their Elder, with possibly doctored evidence.  I have absolutely no reason to trust them.  Then, GEFs jump in and transmit (conveniently non-privately) that they're to disable the destroyer I'm on for 'Buntu capture teams.'  What else am I going to think?  It doesn't piss me off any less, but it's understandable.  8/10-9/10 (part I and II, respectively)

Pawns on a Board of Bone.  This was easily my favorite mission, tactically.  An elegant plan, playing exactly into the weaknessess of the enemy commander.  Everything goes flawlessly.  I disable the Deimos, then I disable the Aeolus, and the game is afoot.  Check, the king must move.  I was almost right under the Carthage when it jumped it, so I had an amazing shot at her engines with my Paveways.  Then, six of them did absolutely nothing.  Irked me a bit, but it's necessary to the plot.  A solid FRED job and a treat to watch unfold. 9/10

Delenda Est.  The magnum opus of War in Heaven part 1.  The stunning beauty of the skybox, with an entire battlegroup silhoutted against the brilliant rings of Saturn was a sight to behold.  I will admit to almost ragequitting this mission until I managed to nail the correct strategy to beat it.  However, after that, I fell in love with the thrill of the obvious final battle of the act.  Everything was perfect!  The Tevs were being hammered, ships peeling away left and right, spewing debris and bodies into the harsh stellar void, fighters evaporating in seconds to massed flak and missile fire.  Glorious!  And then.... checkmate.  The Imperiouse shatters all hope in a wicked maneuver of a caliber of brilliance I never expected from either side of the fight.  The frantic break off and rush to flee the engagement lent to a powerful sense of near-despair, tinged with white hot burning rage.  I wanted them to PAY at the same time I could feel that hope was unraveling before my very eyes.  11/10

Sunglare.  One of the best cutscenes I have ever seen.  This one actually ran decently because I had my detail on "Low" from the prior mission, so I was able to enjoy it at the speed it should have been.  A magnificent cliffhanger, just bursting with fanspec galore, and a point of singular frustration that that's it.  That's the end of the campaign, and now I have to wait MONTHS to get to the end of it!  The Bei conversation at the end was... intimidating, in a way.  If Bei was picked out by the Vishnans for being extra-sensitive, and he's surprised almost to the point of fear at Noemi.... *shudders*  Excellent.  10/10

Guys, it has been an honor and a priviledge to play this campaign.  I have no doubt that you can live up to, and indeed exceed this masterpiece of storytelling for part 2, which I await with bated breath.  Bravo, master campaignwrights, bravo.
« Last Edit: August 08, 2010, 11:23:46 pm by Scotty »