We Come In Peace...You Little @$%!
Despite millions of years of evolution, humans still seem to have a hard time getting along with one another. We are split across color lines, beliefs, politics, and the list goes on. What will it possibly take to end the hate?
Well, at least that's what Independence Day and comic books have taught me. What else could make us unite besides the struggle against a greater foe? Maybe we could actually stop fighting amongst ourselves if Alf and E.T. were to hook up and declare war. Though I guess you could make an argument that Alf declared war just by being on television that long.
But until Alf finally gets off his duff and into another Sega game, the only aliens that Dreamcast owners can unite against will have to be the Triclops of Alien Front Online.
AFO is an arcade tank game best served by its online play and its revolutionary use of the Sega microphone. It has all the trappings of a first-person shooter, except the controls have been gutted and replaced with a more tank-like interface. Does it succeed? Well, sort of.
The line has been drawn in the sand, and you must ally yourself with either the good humans or the dirty alien Triclops. Both sides have a choice of three different aliens/tanks varying in speed and power. I hope mankind won't hate me for noting how much cooler the alien vehicles and weapons are. Hovering and multi-legged aliens, gravitational rays and invisibility beat the plain ol' tanks, nukes and machine guns hands down. But human tanks have radar to balance things out.
The different arenas will take you from alien hideaways to worldly locales like Washington DC and Japan. However, Sega's version of Japan looks more like Sega took over the country instead of the aliens, what with all the Sega ads. Cute, real cute. The level designs are fine, but a little short on the quantity.
The graphics are nicely done, marked by plenty of attention to detail in the environments and tank/alien animations. The "interactivity" of the environments equates to blowing things up and practically everything can be damaged.
The two single player modes in AFO are Tactics and Arcade. Tactics takes you on a blast-happy but ultimately repetitive series of levels with varying goals. Arcade mode just sends you off on deathmatches against computer controlled bots, over and over again. If single player was all there was to AFO, the game would find itself not too far from the despicable World Destruction League: Thunder Tanks.
But AFO is all about online play. The game can host up to 8 players at a time, divided evenly between Humans and Aliens. Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and Fortress (essentially King of the Hill) modes offer gamers a decent choice.
Unlike most other online Dreamcast games, AFO lacks a pre-game chat room via the keyboard. Going online pretty much means scrolling through the list of servers and picking one with a funny name. Not the best interface.
Originally, AFO was supposed to offer home console versus arcade play. Players at home could fight against peeps at the neighbor arcade. Neat idea, but dead in the water. For that matter, the game doesn't support broadband. Ouch.
Instead, what you do get is the ballyhooed Voice Chat. By using the little mic packaged with the game (or left over from Seaman), you can chat with your comrades. But it's not very clear. Pretty much everything sounds like "Bleah, blah grah, mrph!"
Sadly, the only words I was able to consistently make out were of the four-letter variety. Where's the love, people? If you actually want to hear what people are saying, you have to alter the sound options and turn everything but the voice chat way down. Using a server with a limit of 4 helps out as well.
I must warn you - this is hardly the real-time chatting boasted on the box. The chatting is not constant, but comes in 5-second packets. First you have to choose whether to send your message to just your team or everyone. The message is recorded and compressed, then sent out to the masses.
More or less, chatting is mainly used to shout a post-frag expletive (not that there's anything wrong with that). But in order to strategize? No way.
However, one time I stepped away from my Dreamcast to talk with my neighbor. My tank started getting attacked, so my teammate defended me by saying, "Stop shooting him. He's on the crapper." Hehe, thanks man.
If you've got the online connection, there's fun to be had with AFO. Sure, the online server could have been better geared for game matching and keyboard support on top of the voice chat wouldn't have hurt, but the simple action and smooth gameplay make for a decent game.