I will preface this review with one simple statement; I like Joint Operations in the same way a fat kid likes cake. That is, I like Joint Operations a lot. Keep that in mind.
LetÃ‚'s get the obvious out of the way first; Escalation is nothing more or less than an expansion pack to Joint Operations. There are no drastic graphical or audio improvements. The game play is essentially the same: try to take enough PSPÃ‚'s to win the game, pray to the Lord God Above that SwampAir actually gets you where you need to be alive and in one piece, or even, unfortunately, bemoan the horrible close range collision detection. So, those of you hoping for an engine upgrade are out of luck. Perhaps in Joint Operations 2 weÃ‚'ll see some real improvements on the net code side of things.
The good news is, Joint Operations: Escalation is a blast to play! It takes every thing Joint Operations did right, but adds some tasty new morsels to the stew. I am speaking primarily about the parachute as a selectable item. IÃ‚'m sure a few of you may be surprised to hear that IÃ‚'m more excited about the parachutes than I am, oh say, the tanks but IÃ‚'ve always enjoyed JO for the infantry warfare. While tanks are certainly lethal, anyone whoÃ‚'s played the beta test for Escalation or the retail version know that the second an MBT peaks over a hill, itÃ‚'s going to get about eight Javelins come screaming down on it. Tanks are flat-out dangerous, but thatÃ‚'s nothing compared to when youÃ‚'ve got around eight players performing a low altitude jump over an enemy held PSP. ThatÃ‚'s got devastation written all over it. If that squad has a good mix of medics, rifleman, and engineers there isnÃ‚'t a group around that wonÃ‚'t be seriously hurt, if not defeated, by the squad. Plus, itÃ‚'s just really freaking cool to see eight of your squad mates dropping flashbangs, smoke, and frags into an enemy PSP and the defenders spraying rounds frantically into the air trying to kill somebody.
Putting right that which once went wrongÃ‚"…
I spoke earlier of the Javelin. For those of you not in the know, itÃ‚'s an extremely lethal anti-vehicular missile. ItÃ‚'s a good balancing item, and thatÃ‚'s what this expansion is all about, balance. Many of the existing classes have gotten overhauls in the name of balancing. Riflemen are no longer the be-all end-all of classes. TheyÃ‚'ve had their rockets replaced with satchel charges. A big reduction in general purpose firepower, to be sure, but theyÃ‚'ve gained the G3 rifle. ItÃ‚'s basically a sniper rifle without a scope. While not overpowering, I inwardly groan every time I hear one being shot at me. The engineer has become a defensive powerhouse. He picked up the AT-4/RPG, received the Javelin, lost the satchels, and still maintains the Stinger and mortars. The gunner, whoÃ‚'s only claim to fame is being the least used class in JO, sadly, hasnÃ‚'t fared any better under the expansion. While the M60 gunner can still be effective, the rest are all simply waiting to be shot, shanked, fragged, rocketed, or main gunned by the myriad battlefield threats that show up in this game. Nova apparently improved the accuracy of all the machine guns but IÃ‚'ll be damned if IÃ‚'ve noticed any difference. I still canÃ‚'t hit anything beyond fifty meters with any of the machine guns. But I know people that can. I call them, Ã‚"˜Aimbotters.Ã‚'
Finally, I come to the sniper. The sniper has received many changes, nerfs as some call them, to make the class more balanced. Perhaps the most contentious of changes was the decision by Nova to lock the sniper scopes out to their maximum zoom. The outcry on the Nova forums was as rabid as it was insane. IÃ‚'ve beta tested a few games in my time and it still never fails to amaze me the amount of pure hate and vitriol, fueled by the anonymity of the internet that can be unleashed on people simply trying to make a game better.
IÃ‚'ve heard one, exactly one, good reason to keep at least even a semi-scalable zoom and that was put out by our own TG Luna. Her reason was that, when you change from the binoculars or target designator (items with a zooming view) to your sniper rifle, your point-of-aim changes. This can make it very difficult to reacquire your target at 16x zoom. I sympathize with this argument more than any other but thatÃ‚'s probably because most of the other arguments simply call in to question NovaÃ‚'s sexual orientation.
Many of us who play regularly know that the sniper, as he exists on the majority of servers, is simply an unskilled spawn camper who usually stands while firing his M82 caliber fifty sniping rifle. And unfortunately, thereÃ‚'s typically forty of him on any given team. So, for many of us, being cut down in the mostly inaccurate hail of large caliber gun fire grew old, very quickly. Couple that with the fact that most servers are, Ã‚"˜elite hardcoreÃ‚' that donÃ‚'t use the tracers and wedges, itÃ‚'s hard to know who exactly is shooting other than that his name is probably, Ã‚"˜joMamablosmiÃ‚' and he will most likely quit after you find and shank him. And if he doesnÃ‚'t, when you go to attack the PSP he just spawned in, heÃ‚'d be running around with his scope at 2x zoom, firing frantically at close range. This can lead to a frustrating game experience. So, Nova took the course of action they felt was most prudent. I personally would have preferred to see a class limit by number of players but thatÃ‚'s just me. They added little things like a scope sway and a large puff of smoke but neither of those things has really seemed to effect the amount of snipers as much as the scope zoom change.
I really like the feel of the classes now, except the gunner. While it would be more realistic to have an M240 machine gun that is extremely accurate to 800m, it isnÃ‚'t fun to have that. So, I guess I see NovaÃ‚'s problem there. And pretty much all of these classes are very balanced in how a given class approaches the topic of enemy destruction. Take vehicles, for example. Medics? Revive your engineers. Engineers? Hell, pick anything! Rifleman? Grab your satchels, hop on a bike, and send Ã‚"˜em to hell! Snipers? Hope that M1 isnÃ‚'t looking for you. Gunners? UhÃ‚"… change class?
Things I wish were but sadly are notÃ‚"…
I had four hopes for this expansion:
1. The tanks not to suck. Check.
2. The parachutes to really kick ass. Check.
3. To have the G-36. Check.
4. To have more selectable skins. No Check!
Number four was obviously at the bottom of my list but I know many people had hoped for it to receive top priority by Nova. For instanceÃ‚"… why in the hell doesnÃ‚'t the Rebel side have the ghillie suit? What are the JO the only group in the world that can glue together some burlap and rags? Many international players wanted to see their country get a little love. Why is there no Canadian JTF2? ThereÃ‚'s plenty of Canadian military representation abroad now-a-days and itÃ‚'s not inconceivable that they would hop over to the Indonesian conflict as well. How about some of the Ã‚"newÃ‚" Marine Corp and US Army digital camouflage uniforms? I mean, the Corp has been using their digital pattern for like four years now! Many of their in-game character selections only have a single skin, such as the US Green Beret or Russian Spetsnaz. ThatÃ‚'s a little ridiculous given that I know theyÃ‚'re more in the game. Simply play the training missions to see the wide variety of skins there are. ItÃ‚'s not a huge game play issue but it still would have been nice and I donÃ‚'t believe it would have taken a huge effort on NovaÃ‚'s part.
And speaking of the new training missions, thereÃ‚'s no mission for the attack helicopters. What the hell is that all about? Almost all of the new features got their own training mission but the attack helicopter gets shorted?
The attack helicopter is the second most nuanced item of the newest features. For instance, in the gunnerÃ‚'s seat, youÃ‚'ll default to the 30mm cannon. But when you right click your mouse youÃ‚'ll switch to 60mm rockets. YouÃ‚'ll still keep your cannon reticule but now the regular Ã‚"˜IÃ‚' bracket will appear but youÃ‚'ll only see it if youÃ‚'re looking over the forward arc of the aircraft! So, you may think youÃ‚'re good to go with the rocket fisting but youÃ‚'ll actually be spraying rockets harmlessly straight forward. Also, as a pilot, you no longer have access to the flares. YouÃ‚'ll need a co-pilot to launch them! Those are some pretty significant features to be sure, so why no training mission? And as big as these helicopter issues are, theyÃ‚'re peanuts compared to the new body armor, round selection issue.
Listen, this is the deal. YouÃ‚'ve got three basic types of rounds: Full Metal Jacket, Armor Piercing, and Soft Point. Armor Piercing is self explanatory and soft point does great damage against unarmored targets but low damage against armored targets. Full Metal Jacket does average damage against all types of targets. Easy, right? WRONG. There are two large problems with this. One is caliber size and the other is that you have absolutely no clue whether a person is wearing armor or not! The only way you can visually ascertain is to see if they are using heavy weapons or sniper rifles. If you see Joe Anybody running around with an AK, you may wish to think twice before you unload your Glock 9mm SP on him. HeÃ‚'ll probably turn around, literally undamaged, and shoot you right in your face. IÃ‚'ve seen players in the retail version of the game take the FN P-90, a SMG, and annihilate people at close range. I donÃ‚'t know if the player using the P-90 had FMJ, AP, or SP against armored or unarmored targets. Plus, IÃ‚'m still not sure if the 5.7mm round does super damage up close, irregardless.
ItÃ‚'s a very multi-faceted problem when you factor in that the large calibers (7.62 NATO and up) do wicked damage to any target regardless of round type. ItÃ‚'s a problem I donÃ‚'t care to waste time thinking about. I honestly feel that most servers should be set with round selection off. Leave it at FMJ and donÃ‚'t give it anymore thought. If Nova had included a graphic for people wearing body armor, then maybe I would be cool with the round selection but the last thing I want to be thinking about as I hit an armory is what type of bullet I should be loading in to my Mk. 23 sidearm!
Ironically, these are the two most important features of the expansion and neither receives a training mission to explain them! In a community like GWJ this wonÃ‚'t be a big deal because weÃ‚'ll just spread the word but there will be a few newbies who wonÃ‚'t be able to figure out why they canÃ‚'t kill some people and others they can drop in a single hit. Co-op missions are essentially the same but with the new toys. Some of the new maps are fantastic and are honestly worth the price of admission. My biggest complaint in the early beta was that some of the new maps didnÃ‚'t feel like Joint Ops but theyÃ‚'ve included a new co-op map that entirely takes place in a river canyon with huge banyan trees. The enemy AI still has laser like aim and will often shoot at you from behind hills but it doesnÃ‚'t really matter. With the new toys, dispatching them is all too easy. Besides, they seem to have trouble dealing with the shank!
Finally, on the topic of bugs, the expansion is relatively bug-free versus, say, JO. I know NovaÃ‚'s latest patch prior to JO:EÃ‚'s release was a bug-riddled nightmare but the only bug IÃ‚'ve been able to find in the expansion is that sometimes the Javelin will initially fail to fire. Usually changing stances will allow you to fire the weapon after you reacquire your target. ThatÃ‚'s about it, however.
Sweet treats for the tactically mindedÃ‚"…
IÃ‚'ve brought up some of the troubles of JO:E but donÃ‚'t let them overshadow the real draw of the game! The new toys and the play styles theyÃ‚'ll bring! The tank finally adds what I, as a tanker in real life, felt was overlooked in the original. Every one seemed to get so excited when a BTR would show up at a PSP. I never did. To me, a BTR or any light armor vehicle is merely a tank commanderÃ‚'s weapon engagement. Maybe it will get a HEAT round if IÃ‚'m really pissed off. But I also saw that perhaps tanks would disrupt the game play the way Nova had envisioned it. But to that, I also thought, Ã‚"˜Huh. They should just add the Javelin.Ã‚' Which they did. And really, if youÃ‚'re one of the people that were worried about tanks changing the feel of the game and taking the focus off of the infantry, donÃ‚'t fret! JO:E simply makes the infantry more versatile. The parachutes make them more mobile, the Javelins make them more deadly, and the G-36 makes them far sexier!
The class changes bring some needed balance to the game and the new maps highlight this all! When I think of airborne helo insertions over the new Spaceport map, I get goose bumps! Escalation adds great flexibility to your individual play style, whoever you are. I firmly believe that. You want my proof? Simply find your favorite server running the expansion and see for yourself. Escalation more than ever brings teamwork to the forefront of this game and rewards the team players with victory. If you like Joint Operations, I would suggest that you at least consider purchasing the game. Hold off until you find it for a good deal, perhaps, but definitely consider purchasing the game. If you love Joint Operations the way I love Joint Operations, then Escalation rates as a, Ã‚"˜Must Own!Ã‚'
- Steven "Reaper" Bjelland