I enjoy a good surprise now and then. It’s especially nice when the surprise involves getting something I didn’t expect, and getting it for free.
It all started a year ago when I sat down to play with a new VR-based Mech warrior game called Archangel. Back then, VR was brand new to me and I would play literally anything that supported my brand new Rift. I’m not kidding; I would have eagerly booted up VR Vacuum Cleaner. I would have spent five hours watching simulated grass grow, as long as it was in VR. Archangel wasn’t like that - I liked it because it was fun! Still, it was only a single player game, and at the end of the day it was a rail shooter, but that didn’t really make it any less enjoyable to play. There were AI teammates to help out when things got too frantic, and while I do like to choose my own path now and then, the movement down the rails was paced well enough that I often forgot that I was really just a passenger along for the ride. In actuality, I was so engrossed with managing the weapons and trying not to die that I probably wouldn’t have done a very good job of driving the mech anyway.
As time went by, I acquired more VR games and the novelty of a new VR game became somewhat diluted. At some point, I forgot all about Archangel. Until…. out of the blue, my Archangel got updated by Steam. That’s not exactly unique, or course - it happens all the time. This time was different, however. This time I got a lot more than I expected, and it was enough for me to revisit Archangel. More specifically, this time there was an entire new flavor of Archangel added to the package, and it was called Archangel: Hellfire.
What a nice surprise!
Archangel: Hellfire provides the online multiplayer aspect that I had thought would be so beneficial to the single-player campaign, but not in the way I expected. Hellfire eschews the rail-based campaign and breaks the multiplayer into a standalone arena. As you might expect, players are offered a couple of flavors of Player vs. Player and a couple for cooperative play. There is a free-to-play version of Hellfire available on Steam. The retail version still includes the single-player campaign along with the full version of Hellfire.
The free version only supports PvP. To be honest, I really don’t enjoy PvP (and yes, that IS because I lose, lose, lose whenever I try it), but I recognize that I am very likely to be in the minority on this and that PvP is probably a huge draw. Even more so when it’s free, one would think. Either way, it’s a mighty generous gift that I wasn’t all that interested in.
When given the choice, I strongly prefer co-op play. While I would have preferred that online co-op been retrofitted into the original Archangel campaign, I was certainly willing to give an arena-based co-op a try. But! Even when it comes to co-op play, I am still a little picky about who I play with. In my opinion, co-op play against/with total strangers is not a whole lot different than playing against/with AI. AI is fine, as far as it goes, but I much prefer to play with people I know whenever I get the chance. For purposes of playing Hellfire, I enlisted my son-in-law.
That naturally created its own set of concerns. For example, he’s half my age so will generally have a number of advantages over me, even in an ostensibly cooperative environment. Quicker reaction times and thousands of hours of experience with these kinds of games were bound to lead to higher scores than my slow hands and thousands of hours in flight and racing sims would. And make no mistake: even in co-op play, the score is being kept. There are just as many bragging rights in “I killed two dozen, you were lucky to get three” as there are in direct fights against each other. There’s just slightly less “pwn” factor. Either way, my n00b-itude is going to come up as a topic of convo in November when we all gather around the table to ingest copious amounts of turkey.
Have you ever heard the expression “older, but wiser?” Sure you have. So have I. With that in mind, I hatched a plan. I thought maybe I could get a leg up using that strategy. I figured I would get into the co-op arena alone for a couple of days ahead of our scheduled session in order to get in some illicit practice. After all, it has been a year since I went through the campaign, so a refresher would surely give me an edge.
What it gave me was a headache.
I don’t know why I thought a co-op arena designed for four players was going to be anywhere near complacent enough for a single player, much less an old fossil that breaks a sweat putting a black nine on a red ten. I went about three rounds with the swarms before accepting that I really wasn’t learning much more than how to die without bursting into tears. That ain’t nuthin’, mind you - after all, there’s losing, and then there’s LOSING. I hoped to go with the lowercase loss so I’d maintain just enough dignity to still be ordained as the family turkey-slicer.
There’s no crying in Mech warfare. Or baseball.
So, after my ineffective attempts at gaining an advantage, we arrived at the arena. The process for setting up a private server was straightforward. I selected a private server, and then co-op arena mode. I was rewarded with a four-character entry code that I texted over to the SiL. He eventually showed up on the roster and we proceeded as a twosome.
It didn’t go too badly. During my shadowy practice sessions, I had developed the cowardly strategy of boosting my mech up onto a small plateau where I could put my back against a shear stone cliff and not have to worry about the other 180 degrees of danger. As an aside, I was using the biggest and slowest mech of the three available, primarily because it was the most resistant to attack. If you can’t play to your strengths, at least find a way to minimize your weaknesses, right? The jump up to the plateau wasn’t easy - the boost mechanism is kind up a one-shot thing. They call it ‘jumping’ because it’s not the type of booster that stays on until you release the trigger. Rather, when you hit the button you just get a short shot from the booster, so you reach a certain height before dropping back down. There was benefit to the simplicity of that once the swarms started their attacks. Having made it to my semi-protected balcony, I was relatively safe and I could just stand there and strafe targets. I even hit a few of them. I had absolutely no idea where my SiL was. All I could do was keep trying to shoot down enemy fighters and swear out loud with an amalgam of fear, frustration, and impatience during the reload periods. I think that might not be the precise recipe for “panic,” but it was pretty close. It’s not that the AI were any better or I was any worse than the practice sessions, it’s that this time around…. there was a witness. Makes all the difference.
Note: this type of behavior is not what they mean when they say “teamwork.” It really wasn’t all that cooperative, but it kept me alive long enough to eventually calm down and take a look around to see how the son-in-law was playing. It’s hard to put into words. Well, it’s easy to put into words, it’s just hard to say them: he was playing well enough that he survived me by a pretty goodly number of kills.
Both of us got better as we went; he a lot, me a little. It got to be something of a routine: I died. He played a while longer, then he died too. We were enjoying it, but….
Restarting was a pain. Rather than just hitting a “We want to go again” button, which does not exist, I had to go all the way out to the main menu and come back in by creating a new server session. This entailed getting a new pass key. Unfortunately, once the game session was over we lost voice comms. That meant every restart meant removing the Rift headset, finding my glasses, memorizing the code, and texting it to him. It wasn’t a gigantic burden, but it did feel socially awkward. Much easier and friendlier would be a game that assumes the group enjoyed themselves so very much that they would like to use the same group of players in another round. Kind of a private lobby, if you will - just something that preserves the server session. This, by the way, was our only criticism of the game. It’s a pretty big one, though. With just the two of us, this problem was coming up every five or six minutes. Trying to communicate new codes to three players after every round would be frustrating.
Other than that one awkward event, Mrs. Lincoln really did enjoy the play. Hellfire gave us the awe-inspiring sense of scale that comes with operating a battle machine that dwarfs the size of its driver, the action was well-paced, and there was definitely room to grow into being a more effective combatant with enough practice. While I stuck with the default machine gun on each of my mech’s arms, I could have switched over to some alternate weapons just as easily. I also could have managed how my limited power was apportioned to various systems. I left all of that alone, mostly because I was far too distracted with all of the ground- and air-based enemy activity to mess with it. Had I been able to think more tactically while in the arena, I could have directed more power to my shields when I was under heavy attack, then switched the majority of it over to the weapons when I was making a counterattack. More practice is warranted.
Archangel: Hellfire makes a fine add-on to the single-player Archangel campaign. A very compelling world was built in support of the campaign along with a set of mechs that are great fun to play with. Utilizing the same world design and mechs to add an entirely new style of gameplay was a brilliant decision. With regards to the PvP version, it’s free to play, so why wouldn’t you? The combination package that includes the full campaign and an only slightly flawed co-op mode is also worth looking into, if only to use the campaign as a master’s degree in mech driving - you really don’t want to dive into either of the multiplayer versions without having fairly decent skills already.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
I've been fascinated with video games and computers for as long as I can remember. It was always a treat to get dragged to the mall with my parents because I'd get to play for a few minutes on the Atari 2600. I partially blame Asteroids, the crack cocaine of arcade games, for my low GPA in college which eventually led me to temporarily ditch academics and join the USAF to "see the world." The rest of the blame goes to my passion for all things aviation, and the opportunity to work on work on the truly awesome SR-71 Blackbird sealed the deal.
My first computer was a TRS-80 Model 1 that I bought in 1977 when they first came out. At that time you had to order them through a Radio Shack store - Tandy didn't think they'd sell enough to justify stocking them in the retail stores. My favorite game then was the SubLogic Flight Simulator, which was the great Grandaddy of the Microsoft flight sims.
While I was in the military, I bought a Commodore 64. From there I moved on up through the PC line, always buying just enough machine to support the latest version of the flight sims. I never really paid much attention to consoles until the Dreamcast came out. I now have an Xbox for my console games, and a 1ghz Celeron with a GeForce4 for graphics. Being married and having a very expensive toy (my airplane) means I don't get to spend a lot of money on the lastest/greatest PC and console hardware.
My interests these days are primarily auto racing and flying sims on the PC. I'm too old and slow to do well at the FPS twitchers or fighting games, but I do enjoy online Rainbow 6 or the like now and then, although I had to give up Americas Army due to my complete inability to discern friend from foe. I have the Xbox mostly to play games with my daughter and for the sports games.