Sunday, January 27, 2008

Rising Eagle: Futuristic Infantry Warfare Review

Rising Eagle: Futuristic Infantry Warfare, developed and published by Invasion Interactive.
The Good: Focus on squad play through distinct classes, futuristic without being implausible, hacking turrets is inventive and appropriately challenging, online stat tracking, low price
The Not So Good: No AI bots, some minor issues
What say you? This online shooter has a number of noteworthy innovative features: 6/8

Online first person shooters is an especially strong genre on the PC, and I have certainly been known to really enjoy them. Smaller developers have been able to use Internet distribution to dramatically cut costs; this also allows games to reach a global audience without ever appearing in stores. Myopic review sites ignore this growing aspect of the PC gaming market, focusing their attention only on games from big publishers that bring advertising dollars. But not so here! I’ll gladly review Rising Eagle: Futuristic Infantry Warfare from Israel’s Invasion Interactive and see if it’s worth your time in the land of big budget shooters.

Rising Eagle is very visually similar to War Rock, meaning it’s a bit behind the curve in today’s shooter market. This is to be expected, I think, as the game comes from a smaller developer. The game obviously lacks the visual splendor of Call of Duty 4, but as long as the game is playable (which it is) then I’m fine with the graphics. The environments of the game are generally bland with occasional detail (like cement trucks in construction zones) and feel like a game level than an actual location. The weapon models are slight alterations of existing firearms, since the game takes place in the near future. Rising Eagle just simply doesn’t feature the exacting detail and crispness that other games present. There are some nice aspects to the graphics: the bullet holes that appear on objects when impacted and deploying spider mines comes with a good animation. One thing Rising Eagle does feature is destructible buildings: you can take out windows, fences, and even walls if you shoot at it enough. The strategic implications of this are interesting and this air of realism is much preferred over the static environments of most online shooters. The audio in Rising Eagle is pretty standard fare: weapons are convincing and the background music fits the game well. Overall, the graphics and sound of Rising Eagle are exactly what I would expect coming from a independent source, and hopefully the general public won’t be turned away simply because it doesn’t look as good as other shooters.

Rising Eagle: Futuristic Infantry Warfare is an online-only first person shooter, which means you’ll have to use a Gamespy account in order to play. This also means the game lacks AI bots, something which is a concern considering the low populations seen on the servers (most players are from Europe and Israel). The game involves clashing American, European, and Chinese forces (strongly reminiscent of the recent Battlefield games); I would have thought a game from Israel would feature a more Israeli-focused game, which would have been more interesting if only from a purely superficial standpoint of changed character models and weapons. Rising Eagle keeps track of your progress online, handing out qualifications if you’ve earned a kill with a class and your team wins, an expertise in your favorite class, ranks, and medals. Higher ranks don’t unlock additional weapons so stat tracking is just nice to see but does not impact the gameplay. Skills points can be earned through kills, wins, hacking, obeying commands, and capturing a flag. It is easy to find online matches (Rising Eagle uses an in-game Gamespy browser), and games consist of classic team deathmatch (called search and destroy) and flag-capturing conquest modes.

Rising Eagle features a structured order of battle: players can choose a position at the start of the game as a member (or leader) of three squads, similar to America’s Army. Offering fixed squad positions cuts down on spamming of a single, powerful class (the engineer). Classes include the basic riflemen, sniper, battle hacker, and armored battle engineer. The battle hacker can access turrets, turning them on and off, syncing their aim with your gun (cool), or hacking enemy emplacements. The hacking mini-game is really neat and also realistic: you must set a series of inputs in a computer logic sequence (using and, not, or, and xor) to make the output “true.” This makes a whole lot more sense than a pipe rotation game or equally arbitrary task. Unfortunately, the turrets are not common enough to make the battle hacker class that worthwhile. The armored battle engineer is given a suit that can carry machine guns, rocket launchers, and other heavy weaponry. Thankfully, the class restrictions limit one of these per map, as they get a real firepower advantage. You can take an ABE out with headshots, however, or a well-placed air strike; they sure are fun to pilot. Squad or platoon leaders get a set of command tools similar to the commander mode in recent Battlefield games; you can call down air strikes, EMPs, smoke, or scans to help your team’s cause. The demolitions man is great for defending, as spider charges can surprise many foes. An oddity is the inability to change classes or teams during the game; you will need to disconnect from the server and join back up. Rounds are usually pretty short (around ten minutes) and you can change after the completion of a game, but this makes experimenting with different classes almost impossible.

The HUD of Rising Eagle is typical for a first person shooter: friendly units are indicated on-screen, which is a good thing since friendly fire is on. Everyone in the game is extremely well-armed: most people are given twenty clips (!!!) of ammunition, and the only player who will ever run out of bullets before dying is the ABE. Typical classes will be given a primary weapon, a sidearm, grenades, a sledge hammer, and the ability to kick and punch opponents. Primary weapons are dependent on the class you have selected and can include the typical assault rifle, grenade launcher, machine gun, sniper rifle, anti-material rifle (like an anti-tank gun), and anti-personnel guided missile. The ABE gets a wide assortment of scary weapons: heavy machine guns, automatic cannons, automatic grenade launchers, anti-personnel guided missiles, precise guided missiles, short range rockets, and a demolition hammer. ABE units can carry four of those weapons at a time, and missile ammunition is quite limited. All weapons are given a zoom function, though when zoomed in you can’t move your sight as fast. There seem to be some minor bugs in dealing with weapons: I was using the machine gun and was shooting an enemy (even getting the “hit” indicator) but they never died; this is the only gun I have experienced this with.

Rising Eagle takes a more tactical approach to the genre, although there are some futuristic enhancements to spice up the gameplay. Units can sprint very fast and jump very high, making the vertical nature of the game’s levels come into play. Typically inaccessible areas like rooftops are now in play, and the result is that you’re going to be shot at from multiple directions you wouldn’t normally be shot at from. Overall, Rising Eagle plays like a more methodical version of (dare I say it?) Call of Duty 4. Health is a bit high for a tactical shooter (people are more healthy in the future) so you need to unload a lot of bullets in order to kill someone, but in general the game is balanced well and there are plenty of hiding spaces scattered around the destroyed cities that make up a majority of the maps. It’s hard to tell how the game would play with a full compliment of players since servers have been decidedly empty in the afternoon (Eastern U.S. time); in fact, I had to download and play the demo in order to find some competition. But you can tell the potential is clearly there for a slightly unique experience, and that’s all we need in today’s over-saturated online shooter market.

Rising Eagle: Futuristic Infantry Warfare adds just enough new features to make it stand out. The game is futuristic without being outlandish: higher jumps are fun and weapons are better without being overpowering. The game is designed to be played with full squads receiving orders from their commanders and killing stuff; the set class structure means all squads will be balanced and you won’t be stuck with three other demolition soldiers. Joining a game is easy and Rising Eagle keeps track of your stats online. Each of the game’s classes are fun to play and offer a slew of weapons you can use to blow up walls and destroy the malleable environments. I enjoy the style of gameplay and the small enhancements playing in the future presents. Is the game worth $20? Certainly. Hopefully the servers will become more populated after both of my regular readers peruse this review. Most of the issues I have with the game are very minor, so fans of the genre looking for a somewhat distinctive game should check out Rising Eagle.