After a long break, tempted by unexpected news of a free expansion, I have played some more E.Y.E.: Divine Cybermancy over the last few days. I still have things to do with it and it’s still provoking some thought, but that can wait. For today I finally gave in and tried the expansion, Blood Games. It’s (ugh) multiplayer. And… wow.
As feared, Streum’s decision to focus their efforts on this was a really terrible one. Anything but the most off the wall, original multiplayer system couldn’t hope to build on what made the single player game so unique, and while the game modes introduced by Blood Games aren’t bad, they are utterly ordinary.
I’ve only tried the basic all vs. all deathmatch mode, not least as there was only one server with more than four people playing, and it’s fun, but very badly thought out, extremely unfair on new players, cuts out almost everything that made EYE interesting to begin with, and the playerbase, while not unpleasant, was barely into double figures throughout the whole evening.
Players spawn with a random weapon and armour, which goes a little way toward helping new players, except when it just makes it even harder. You only get one clip of ammunition, so with a couple of exceptions, using the weapon cleverly is key rather than simply brute forcing it, and almost every round will turn into a swordfight before long. Still, there are at least some fun tactical options in choosing how and when (or whether) to use the weapon you’re given, as well as any you might collect from fallen foes.
But while you might start with the minigun (and therefore have about a 70% chance of wiping everyone out), you might also start with the terrible sawn off shotgun (which is even worse in multiplayer because it only comes with two shots, and its one microscopic advantage of small size doesn’t apply, as there are no inventory restrictions)…. or the medkit.
You might start armed with only a medkit. In front of a hostile interceptor armed with rockets. For several levels have environmental hazards, which aren’t explained, and for a while seem to just be the game randomly killing you off (and deducting points for the “suicide” of being unavoidably killed by a random, off-map mortar). And finally, players can take their single player characters in, who can jump forty feet to your three, hit harder and faster, and while your dedicated hacker (or simply lower level character) struggles to fire more than two accurate shots from a kneeling position, they’re shooting with 100% full auto accuracy from the hip while sprinting and flying through the air. If you want to catch up – just to break even, you’ll have to grind the singleplayer side missions for approximately ten thousand years. Added to all this is the frustration and tedium of the Counterstrike model of deathmatch, wherein players get one life per round and must sit the rest of it out before they can play again. This is bad design in a game with random unavoidable death, and it’s particularly baffling given that the single player had an in-story system of “lives” that saw the player resurrected on the spot every time he died. Here it just seems unreasonably cruel.
The one potentially great thing about it is the melee system. Parrying with your sword will block any incoming shot from the front, be it from a pistol, minigun, or a sniper round to the face. It drains your energy though (and note that higher level players commonly have more energy), so you can sometimes overwhelm a defence (ie: prey on weakened enemies, or just use the minigun), or you could time your shots so that you hit them in between them dropping their guard and stabbing you. Or you could run and regroup, or get them in the back, or, more likely, get your own sword(s) out and have a duel. They’re quite fun, and four or five people fighting it out can be a good laugh, but it’s far too arbitrary to be truly satisfying. Hit detection, range, speed of swings, and even basic things like the number of contacts a swing can hit are a complete crapshoot – you’re as likely to hit two enemies with one shot where in the same position five seconds ago you hit nothing, and instead exploded as someone seven feet away apparently killed you by stabbing your shadow. Some melee weapons occasionally fail to swing at all.
So it falls far short of its potential simply because it relies on the wonky melee combat from the single player, only you can’t tear into the mooks here because they’re like you, and can parry your attacks all day until someone’s wild flailing happen to please the random number gods, who choose to strike down the other player.
You can’t use augs. You can’t hack (well you can, but it’s totally worthless, as everyone’s defences are beefed up to absurd levels, so even if you could somehow hide without getting attacked, you’d likely run out of time before you hacked one target). You can’t use psi. If you haven’t built your character to be a shooting, stabbing whirlwind of bullets and blades, you’re at a huge disadvantage. Oh, and there are little niggles too, like the number keys still not consistently delivering the right weapons, no indication is given of how many other weapons you have, and the chat messages disappear within nanoseconds, are unreadable while you’re typing, and for some reason dead players’ messages are visible to those still in the game. This would have been a design flaw at the turn of the millennium. In 2013 it just seems embarassing.
I’ve not played the team mode yet. I’m told you can use psi powers and augs in it, and that it’s class based. Maybe team mode redeems it, but I wouldn’t know, because there were never enough players on to find out. In four hours there were at most about ten, maybe twelve people playing on one server, with a handful scattered about elsewhere.
I don’t enjoy saying any of this, because I like EYE and want its clearly deranged developers to do well. But this is not going to win anyone over, and I can’t see it offering more than a few nights’ worth of play for existing fans.
If you already have E.Y.E., I do suggest you give it a try. It’ll be a laugh for a few hours, and the maps, while not spectacular, are rather interesting and well-realised. Everyone else though, well, my previous thoughts stand.