There are few games that manage to mix elements of different genres together well enough to produce a playable game but the Borderlands series stands out as one of the best examples. There’s the right amount of RPG style elements, with all the loot, levels and specializations you could ever want, combined with the fast pace of a modern shooter. That, along with it’s never-takes-itself-seriously style, makes Borderlands games an incredible amount of fun to play even years after they’ve been released. The latest instalment, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, continues along the established tradition bringing the same experience that Borderlands fans have come to expect.
Long before Jack became the handsome bastard that he was in Borderlands 2 he was just a simple Hyperion programmer based on the Helios satellite orbiting Pandora. Still he aspired to be something greater and that’s where you come in vault hunter as Jack wants to find the vault and plunder its secrets for himself. However as you’re making your way to meet him on Helios you’re ambushed by the Lost Legion, a group of fanatical soldiers led by the fearless Colonel Zarpedon, who then take over Helios. Now it’s up to you to fight your way through them in order to retake Helios and, hopefully, find your way down to Pandora to find the coveted vault.
The Pre-Sequel retains the same visual style of its predecessors, bringing along with it some noticeable improvements to the visual effects such as the lighting, physics and particle systems. It still uses the same engine as Borderlands 2, which is the main reason you won’t see it on previous generation consoles, so the overall feel of the game remains largely the same. It’s at this point where my rig was starting to show its age as after tweaking with a few settings the game rapidly descended into unplayable territory, something I had never experienced with the previous Borderlands title. Once I figured out what I was doing wrong (cranking up PhysX without an NVIDIA card was probably bad idea) the game was buttery smooth throughout.
The gameplay of The Pre-Sequel remains largely the same as its predecessors, giving you the same hybrid RPG/FPS experience with all the Borderlands style trimmings. There are 4 character classes to choose from, each of which is roughly equivalent to the same kinds of character classes from the previous 2 titles. They are unique in their own right however and the skill trees further differentiate them from anything that’s come before. You’ll be collecting dozens of guns again, however this time around you might not be leaving all those greens on the ground thanks to the newly introduced grinder mechanic. Apart from that The Pre-Sequel will play pretty much the same as both of its predecessors, for better or for worse.
Combat flows between you being an unstoppable killing machine, able to lay waste to dozens of enemies without breaking a sweat, to feeling like you’re banging your head against a brick wall. Part of this is due to the game’s slightly off pacing as I often found myself several levels ahead of many of the side quests by the time I got around to them which made me not want to do them. There’s a real dearth around the level 20~24 bracket which I got around by fishing out a couple quests and grinding the enemies, something which put me off playing for extended periods of time. Past that point though it started to feel a lot more balanced with my mistakes rightly punished but careful strategy was rewarded properly.
I chose to play as the Enforcer which seemed to match my desired play style pretty well. His action skill summons 2 drones, one that continually heals you and the other who hunts down enemies for you. It felt like probably the best “OH SHIT” action skill out of the lot since I could summon them just before I died and I’d usually end up getting a kill before the second wind timer expired. I did however opt for the more character focused skill tree which made certain gun types absolutely ridiculous at dishing out damage, especially if my shields dropped and I had just offed another enemy. Towards the end I became completely unstoppable however as I, somehow, got my shield recharge rate down to almost instant, allowing me to tank pretty much any enemy face on.
Loot will come at you thick and fast in The Pre-Sequel, much like it did in the previous 2 games. However The Pre-Sequel introduces the Grinder, a machine which allows you to combine 3 items of the same quality into one, hopefully netting you a better item. If you’ve got a hole in your gun selection and nothing good seems to be dropping then this can be a great way to fill it. However it does have an upper ceiling as you can’t combine 3 epic items into a single legendary (you can only create legendaries by combining 2 legendaries with an epic). I can somewhat understand the reasoning behind this, it’s for those end game gun raiders who are looking for the best gun possible, but it was a little annoying to find that out after I had saved up 3 epic pistols hoping to get myself a shiny orange.
Probably the biggest issue I have with The Pre-Sequel is that it’s just too similar to Borderlands 2. Its predecessor introduced a whole host of new mechanics that made the game fresh and gave the end game players something to progress. The Pre-Sequel on the other hand feels pretty much like an expansion pack to Borderlands 2 as nearly everything is the same, just with new character classes and an additional loot generation mechanic. I’m sure Borderlands purists will love this aspect of the game but for those of us who like to see franchises grow and expand past their roots it’s a little painful to see something spin its wheels, even if the game itself is pretty enjoyable. This is most certainly reflective in my total playtime which is a stunning 9 hours less than in the previous title.
The Pre-Sequel’s story definitely has some moments of brilliance in it, especially with the Australian humour weaved into it. Of particular note is Jack’s transformation from a run-of-the-mill Hyperion employee to the insane psychopath you crossed paths with back in Borderlands 2, even if some of the events that happen feel a little forced. The rest of the characters are pretty much throwaways with enough backstory for you to know why they’re there but nothing to make you care for them in the slightest. It’s pretty much par for the course in the Borderlands series, much like the rest of the game.
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is sure to delight long time fans of the franchise as it brings the same hybrid FPS/RPG experience that keeps many of them coming back for years after initial release. However that’s also what makes the game somewhat weak in comparison to its predecessors; it fails to innovate past the benchmark that Borderlands 2 set all those years ago. Suffice to say I still think it’s worth playing however it’s longevity, at least for me, was drastically cut short due to the high levels of similarity.
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is available on PC, PlayStation3 and Xbox360 right now for $89.99, $79.95 and $79.95 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 16 hours of total play time and 38% of the achievements unlocked.
If you’re a long time PC gamer chances are that you’ve considered getting yourself a gaming laptop at one point or another. The main attraction from such a device is portability, especially back in the heydays of LANs where steel cases and giant CRTs were a right pain to lug around. However they always came at a cost, both financially and opportunity as once you bought yourself a gaming laptop you were locked into those specs until you bought yourself another one. Alienware, a longtime manufacturer of gaming laptops, has cottoned onto this issue and has developed what they’re calling the Graphics Amplifier in order to bring desktop level grunt and upgradeability to their line of laptops.
On the surface it looks like a giant external hard drive but inside it are all the components required to run any PCIe graphics card. It contains a small circuit board with a PCIe x16 slot, a 450W power supply and a host of other connections because why not. There’s no fans or anything else to speak of however so you’re going to want to get a card with a blower style fan system on it, something which you’ll only see on reference cards these days. This then connects back to an Alienware laptop through a proprietary connection (unfortunately) which then allows the graphics card to act as if it’s installed in the system. The enclosure retails for about $300 without the graphics card included in it which means you’re up for about $600+ if you’re going to buy one for it. That’s certainly not out of reach for those who are already investing $1800+ in the requisite laptop but it’s certainly enough to make you reconsider the laptop purchase in the first place.
You see whilst this external case does appear to work as advertised (judging by the various articles that have popped up with it) it essentially removes the most attractive thing about having a gaming capable laptop: the portability. Sure this is probably more portable than a mini tower and a monitor but at the same time this case is likely to weigh more than the laptop itself and won’t fit into your laptop carry bag. The argument could be made that you wouldn’t need to take this with you, this is only for home use or something, but even then I’d argue you’d likely be better off with a gaming desktop and some slim, far more portable laptop to take with you (both of which could be had for the combined cost of this and the laptop).
Honestly though the days have long since passed when it was necessary to upgrade your hardware on a near yearly basis in order to be able to play the latest games. My current rig is well over 3 years old now and is still quite capable of playing all current releases, even if I have to dial back a setting or two on occasion. With that in mind you’d be better off spending the extra cash that you’d sink into this device plus the graphics card into the actual laptop itself which would likely net you the same overall performance. Then, when the laptop finally starts to show its age, you’ll likely be in the market for a replacement anyway.
I’m sure there’ll be a few people out there who’ll find some value in a device like this but honestly I just can’t see it. Sure it’s a cool piece of technology, a complete product where there’s only been DIY solutions in the past, but it’s uses are extremely limited and not likely to appeal to those who it’ll be marketed too. Indeed it feels much like Razer’s modular PC project, a cool idea that just simply won’t have a market to sell its product to. It’ll be interesting to see if this catches on though but since Alienware are the first (and only) company to be doing this I don’t have a high hopes.
I’m fucking fed up.
I’m fed up with the fact that I can’t go a week without a female gaming icon getting harassed to the point where she has to leave her house. I’m pissed off that rational discourse broke down so quickly that all anyone talks about now is the hate. I hate the fact that I, as your stereotypical male gamer, feel like I’m responsible for all this shit despite the fact that I treat every female gamer like any other gamer. I’m fucking tired of feeling like all I can do is stay silent and try to be a good member of the community so I can lead by example, just like the countless others I play games with on a daily basis. So fuck it, I’ll paint a target on my back by calling out both sides of the argument for the shit they’ve flung in the wrong directions and hopefully I’ll convince someone that everything about this whole controversy needs to die a fucking swift death.
The one thing I’m going to abstain from doing is going over what sparked this (every recount of what happened to get us to this point is so charged with bullshit swinging one way or the other) and if you’re reading this you likely have your own idea of what the fuck is going on. So instead of getting off on the wrong foot here, although I’ve already likely done that with the first paragraph, I’ll just dive into the meat of what I think needs to happen here and then you can all feel free to flame/dox/death threat me in the comments.
If you’re one of the cadre who backs the idea that Gamergate is about ethics in games journalism then there’s really one thing, and only one thing, you need to do: stop fucking using the Gamergate term. No matter how good you think you are at dodging all the hate, bullshit and utterly atrocious actions of a minority of people you’re never going to rise above the rabble that they’ve managed to generate. There’s a larger debate in there that could have some wide reaching ramifications for how games sites handle their relationships with publishers and developers and it’s one I think still needs to be had. However should you go charging in brandishing the Gamergate tag as your source of inspiration all you’re doing is giving credance to those assholes who use the same platform as a place to spread their hate.
In fact I have no fucking idea why anyone who’s actually interested in having a rational debate about these matters even hold onto the tag at this point. I mean it’s not like we can’t create a new one #fuckingEthics or something like that and use it instead, what’s the point of holding onto a term that only gets press when it runs someone from their home? We may not be responsible for the people who are peddling this bullshit but fuck me, we can decry the label as one that’s been mutilated in only perpetrating hate and continue the conversation that needs to be had somewhere else.
The anti-Gamergate crew isn’t entirely blameless in this whole shitpile though as they’ve often lumped the wider gaming community in with hatemongers. Look a minority of people causing a shitstorm in the larger group is nothing new to the world and it is not fair to anyone in that group if you tar them all with the same brush. If we’re going to ascribe that kind of thinking to everything we might as well just assume all Muslims are terrorists and start treating them all as if they were. The hard and fast fact here is that whilst yes, the hate peddlers of Gamergate identify themselves as gamers, they are not representative of the whole and it does us all a great injustice to think that.
I know anecdotes don’t mean much in the larger scale of things but I’ve always tried to be inclusive of women in the games I play with them along with supporting titles that feature strong female characters as leads. I had a look through my reviews of this year and whilst, yes, they’re primarily filled with lead male protagonists a good half of them allowed you to choose your gender with half a dozen or so featuring what I’d consider a well written female lead. However if you formed your opinion of me based on the fact that I’m an (almost) 30 year old white male who spends an inordinate amount of time playing games and all you had was the Gamergate controversy to go on you’d figure I’m just another fucking misogynist hellbent on ensuring the female race stays out of my games.
Just…fucking no, that’s not me at all.
I want to do my part to stop this kind of shit from happening but there are some larger conversations I want to continue in spite of the hate. Hell I don’t think it’s too much to ask, I consulted with my journo friends when I first started getting offered game copies for reviewing and got great lessons on full disclosure, but it seems like maybe now isn’t the right time. What needs to happen now is for everyone to put a bullet in the Gamergate tag and then anyone who brandishes afterwards can be rightly labelled the peddler of hate that they are. Then, once it’s dead and buried, we can resurrect the conversation about journalistic ethics without the bullshit. I have no fucking idea if that will work or not, it probably won’t, but one thing is clear, everything about Gamergate needs to die right fucking now.
My phone is a pretty boring place, filled with productivity applications that are more focused on work than pleasure. It wasn’t always this way, indeed I used to find all sorts of weird and wonderful titles to play on my phone mostly because I had the time to play through them during the hours I’d spend in transit to work every day. However I simply haven’t had that time to myself any more and so the world of mobile games has passed me by, with likely many good titles falling by the wayside. Today I finally make the return back to the platform and if there are many more titles like Monument Valley I believe I’ll need to make an effort to stay.
You are Ida, princess of a realm long forgotten. The world you inhabit is beautiful but barren, bereft of almost any signs of life yet filled with the signs that many have been here before you. Somehow though you can’t help but feel responsible for this and the quest for forgiveness is what keeps pressing you forward. So many questions lay before you, who built this place, where are they now and what led to their apparent downfall?
Monument Valley is a fantastic example of minilmalism, combining solid colours, soft gradients and simple lighting effects to great effect. Every puzzle screen has its own unique style to it which means that the game never gets visually boring or confusing. This is complimented by the use of Escher-esque style drawings with impossible structures and non-Euclidean geometry which, whilst also being amazing samples of this style of work, also function as the game’s main puzzle mechanic. Overall Monument Valley makes a great visual impression, one I’m sure many other games will draw inspiration from.
The core game play of Monument Valley is in the style of other non-Euclidean based games like Anitchamber or The Bridge (although it’s much closer to the latter) where you’re required to figure out how the rules of the geometry in your world work. The things start off relatively simple, only requiring you figure out that your perspective is the key, however you’re quickly thrown into the deep end where the world never behaves as you’d initially expect it to. The puzzles are very well laid out however as you’ll often be introduced to the prime mechanic in its most simple form at the start of the puzzle before you’re introduced to a use case that will require some lateral thinking on your part. There’s also a lot of visual red herrings to ensure that the puzzles aren’t too obvious but they’re uncommon enough as to not be overly frustrating.
This all culminates in a game that’s an absolute joy to play. The beautiful visual elements combined with the inherently non-intuitive puzzle elements just gave me this feeling of exuberance that few games have. There were so many times I’d be stuck on a puzzle for a few minutes before figuring out the solution which would give me a grin that wouldn’t go away for a long time. Probably by far my favourite puzzle out of the lot was the box as the way it was designed evoked this child like excitement in me every time I opened it in a different way. It speaks volumes to the developer’s ability to create an experience that is as fun as what they’ve created.
Monument Valley does suffer from a few usability issues, at least on my Xperia Z. A lot of the touch controls felt like they were either far too sensitive, making me spin the puzzle pieces wildly with little input, or not sensitive enough, leaving me to think that certain pieces couldn’t be moved. I’m willing to admit that this might be a hardware issue rather than something wrong with the game itself however it did make some sections more frustrating than they needed to be. Since I’m on Android though your mileage may vary as I’m sure some more mainstream handsets will function better than my now aging Sony.
The story elements are pretty light on in Monument Valley, told only in the snippets before each puzzle and when you find the old lady hiding wherever she is, but it’s enough to elevate the game above other pure puzzlers. Given Monument Valley’s rather short length it’d be unfair for the story to develop much more than it did but I definitely feel there’s potential for this world to be expanded upon more, possibly with additional puzzles. Needless to say I’d love to see Monument Valley get the full release treatment as I believe the concept still has a lot of legs in it.
Monument Valley is a testament to what the mobile platform is capable of creating, combining gorgeous minimalistic graphics with great game mechanics to create an experience that’s up there with many high budget titles. Whilst it falls short in a couple categories, namely it’s overall play time and so-so controls, it makes up for it in spades in almost every other regard. It’s not a game I’d recommend for everyone, indeed any minimalist title is exclusionary by nature, however for lovers of good puzzle games you really can’t go past Monument Valley.
Monument Valley is available on Android and iOS right now for $4.99 and $4.99 respectively. Game was played on a Sony Xperia Z with about an hour of total play time.
I was never much of a fan of adventure style games as a kid which is why I find it oddly surprising that I’ve grown to love them as an adult. Sure the pixelart style brings with it that warm blanket of nostalgia but I really can’t say I enjoyed these types of games back in their original heyday. The renaissance that these types of games are going through has helped me make up for lost time somewhat, especially considering the number of games I churn through in a year. A Golden Wake, developed by Grundislav Games and published by Wadjet Eye Games, is the latest installment in the pixelart adventure genre, sporting craftsmanship that’s well above it’s 1 man studio station.
Alife Banks had everything going for him, a great job in the best city in the world and the respect and admiration of his peers. At least that’s what he thought as his namesake bred jealousy among his peers and one fateful day he was framed for something he didn’t commit. Undeterred however Alfie set out for the wild lands of Miami where a new real estate development, called Coral Gables, was underway. It was here that he’d restore the family name to the glory that it once had, all while making him rich and famous in the process.
I’ve come to notice that there’s 2 distinct kinds of pixelart games: those that use the medium for it’s minimalistic nature (often imbuing their own artistic style into it) and those who seek to recreate the style that was present during the golden age of gaming. A Golden Wake is very much the latter, lovingly recreating the arts style that was made popular by the numerous titles released under the LucasArts brand. It’s not exactly what you’d call a pretty game but the style is most certainly deliberate, an attempt at capturing the essence of what the 1920s would have been like.
A Golden Wake plays like your traditional adventure game although, like many of its modern brethren, it manages to avoid many of the pitfalls that plagued such titles of decades past. You’ve got a small inventory which holds all the items you’ll find on your adventures (of which you’ll ever only have a handful of) and a number of puzzles that you’ll have to solve before you can move the story forward. Some of these puzzles are pretty rudimentary, like having to speak to certain people, whilst others will force you to look around the environment searching for that clue which will allow you to progress forward. If you’re a long time fan of the adventure genre you’ll definitely feel at home in A Golden Wake but even newcomers to the genre should find it easy enough to pick up.
For the most part the game plays pretty well as the puzzles are logical, sequential and can often be solved within the space you’ll find them in. There are a few puzzles which had me stumped for a good while however, mostly because I was following a line of thinking that didn’t match up with the creator’s. It’s hard for me to fault the game for this as once I found the answers it was obvious that I was overthinking the solution. The game also tries to prod you in the right direction by leaving areas open that you still need to visit in order to do something which can be a huge help when you think you were done with a particular area.
There seem to be a few teething issues with the initial release however, seemingly around the Steam overlay and ALT-TABing the game. If I ever answered a chat message from one of my friends within the game it seemed to think one of the keys was stuck down and any dialogue would rapidly flit by. This would be fine if I could, say, reload from a checkpoint to hear it again but unfortunately that relies on you saving constantly. Whilst I don’t think I missed any super critical dialogue because of it (when it happened I’d immediately save and restart the game) it happened often enough to cause me a non-trivial amount of frustration.
Like I’ve said numerous times before I can often forgive even some of the gravest mistakes a game makes if the story is good however for A Golden Wake there’s not much I can overlook, unfortunately. Whilst I can appreciate the effort put into building Alfie’s character up the eventual turn happens far too suddenly and, if you choose certain dialogue choices, makes absolutely 0 sense. The last half is definitely far more engaging than the first which you could potentially attribute to all the setup that happens however it honestly feels like the story just goes no where for a while before finally making up its mind on where it needs to be. Credit is to be given for creating what feels like a realistic depiction of the 1920s however, and not just the romanticised version that many writers would have otherwise created.
A Golden Wake might not seem like an ambitious project on the surface, being yet another pixelart adventure game, however I can’t think of any other game that I could directly compare it to. Sure the adventure game mechanics are familiar and the art style is straight out of the LucasArt playbook but none have tried to create an experience like that found in A Golden Wake. Whilst it’s far from a perfect execution, including a story that goes no where for half the play time and a client that still harbors a few bugs, I do admire the ambition behind it. Still it’s hard for me to recommend it for anyone but die hard fans of the genre as they’re probably the only ones who’ll appreciate the craftsmanship and ambition behind A Golden Wake.
A Golden Wake is available on PC right now for $14.99. Total play time was 4 hours with 22% of the achievements unlocked. A copy of this game was provided to The Refined Geek by Wadjet Eye Games for the purposes of reviewing.
We seem to be going through a revolutionary period in gaming where IP from other mediums is suddenly finding its feet, becoming on par with (and even surpassing) experiences that were born within the gaming genre. Many will agree that this started 5 years ago when Rocksteady Studios released their seminal title: Batman Arkham Asylum. Since then many other titles have followed in its wake, staying true to the original IP whilst creating an experience that you simply could not get in any other medium. The latest addition to this style of games is Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, set between J.R.R Tolkien’s novels The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, which takes the source material and turns it into an experience that is among the best I’ve played this year.
You are Tailon, ranger captain stationed at the Black Gate in Mordor, sworn to keep watch over Mt Doom and all the horrors that dwell within it. The dark lord that dwelled within those lands had not been idle however, growing his vast army of grotesque orcs and uruk quietly, leaving the world of man to think they were safe once more. One fateful day he unleashed them upon the Black Gate, killing everyone within it. But your life wasn’t to be taken, instead you were bound to an unknown wraith spirit in a horrific blood sacrifice, unable to die and bound to the mortal plane. Now, with your new found wraith powers, you look for vengeance and the means with which to end this existence so you can be with your family once again.
Shadow of Mordor is quite the pretty game with scenes ranging from sprawling vistas to cramped caves and busy garrisons. The graphics still have that last-gen feel to them, mostly attributable to the choice of colour palette, however they’re certainly not bad on the eye. It’s also probably due to the choice of engine as well as Shadow of Mordor uses the LithTech Engine which hasn’t seen a game on it in the past 2 years. Still it manages a good level of graphical fidelity given its open world nature which manages to run smoothly even on my now aging rig. I’ll admit that I might be giving it a bit of an easy pass in this regard since I’m coming fresh off the horror that was Dead Rising 3 as by comparison Shadow of Mordor is liquid smooth.
In terms of game play Shadow of Mordor feels like it’s a cross between several different titles, taking aspects from each whilst integrating a new mechanic that binds and elevates the whole experience. At its core Shadow of Mordor is an open world game,. giving you dozens of missions to do any of which will help progress your character, the story or will help you get all those collectibles which so many people seem to lust after. The combat takes after the Arkham series of games in the classic beat ‘em up fashion. Then there’s the RPG elements in the character levels and talents alongside the gear upgrade path which takes the form of runes and a kind of currency that you’ll need to spend to unlock more slots. However the best part of the game is the Nemesis system, whereby members of enemy faction grow stronger, fight with each other for power and provide you with challenges to avenge your friends who’ve been cut down by them. Shadow of Mordor really does pack a lot of game into it’s (non-Australian taxed) asking price and I’m sure there’s double the amount of game play in it for dedicated fans.
Whilst the game wasn’t developed by either Rocksteady or Warner Brothers Studios the combat feels like they lifted the entire system right out of one of their Arkham series titles. As anyone who’s played those games can attest combat systems such as those are incredibly enjoyable to play, offering the right balance of challenge and reward, at least at the start anyway. You’ll start out struggling to deal with large crowds of orcs but you’ll soon morph yourself into an unstoppable killing machine, nigh on impervious to any attack the game might throw at you. It can get a little repetitive though as the ultimate abilities are simply unlimited versions of regular abilities but most of the time you’ll still feel like the ultimate badass when you come out on top of the two dozen orcs you happened across.
The upgrade system is well thought out in most respects, giving you the feeling of progression often enough that you won’t find yourself feeling like you’ve gone hours without the game rewarding you. There’s 2 stages of progression for your character namely your ability points and power level. The ability points are gained in the regular way, getting XP via missions and killing things, however power is only gained when you resolve power struggles, kill captains/warchiefs or do any of the other assorted red missions. It really doesn’t take long to unlock all tiers of abilities, enough so that I had access to the final tier about halfway through the game. If you’d prefer to keep the challenge up then all you need do is avoid the red missions however if you want to become ridiculously overpowered you’re no more than an hour or two away from doing so.
The loot and gear upgrades feels a little less polished as you’ll get runes from defeating captains but what you get is a little random. You can ensure a drop of a certain type by exploiting weaknesses and fears but unless you’ve deliberately died to a captain several times over you’re not likely to get a good drop from them. You can break down the runes into the currency to fuel the other upgrades however I feel like it would’ve been better to have a rudimentary crafting system in there to upgrade them. I usually had several runes of a type that I really liked but they weren’t powerful enough to use on their own. If I could combine say, three into one, to get an upgrade I feel like that would’ve been a lot better than praying to RNGesus every time I killed a captain or warchief.
I couldn’t publish this review without mention just how awesome the nemesis system is as it provides this kind of player driven narrative on top of the core story of Shadow of Mordor that’s just incredible. Essentially the uruks fight each other in order to gain power and you fight them to gain power as well. Should you die to one they’ll grow in power and, potentially, move up the ranks and get followers. If you’re so inclined you can even influence them to move up ranks, get them to usurp their own captains or turn on each other. Couple that with the wide variety of responses that the uruks have upon seeing you (knowing you’re using someone to betray them, how many times they’ve killed you and so on) and even facing the same enemy again doesn’t lose its lustre. It’s an incredibly deep system and one that’s sure to provide enjoyment to both story players like myself and those that just revel in open world games.
Whilst the story probably isn’t the strongest part of Shadow of Mordor it is most definitely above the average dreck that I’ve been making my way through this year. The main premise probably needed a bit more development in order to make that initial emotional moment a bit more impactful, and thus make me empathise with the main character a little more, but it didn’t take me long to get into it. Since this is drawing on the wider Tolkien IP it does manage to get away with not explaining a lot of things that would otherwise need some rigorous explaining which does aid the story quite a bit. I’ll also have to admit that the ending was so-so, missing that final climclimactictle that I was so looking forward to with my incredibly overpowered character at the ready. So overall I think it’s ok, although on the proviso that you’re already familiar with The Lord of The Rings IP.
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor is a game where the sum of its parts is much greater than its whole. The combat is fast paced and satisfying, the progression well paced and the overall look and feel just feels a level above other similar games of recent memory. The nemesis system is really what pulls the whole game together, adding another layer on top of the game that really ramps up how engaged you’ll be with Shadow of Mordor. It’s not a perfect experience by any stretch of the imagine, with the middling story being the biggest mark against it, but the whole package helps to patch over the various minor faults. In all honesty I think most gamers will find something to like in Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor as its wide variety of mechanics and styles ensures that it caters to an incredibly wide audience.
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor is available on PC, PlayStation3, PlayStation4, Xbox360 and XboxOne right now for $39.95, $99.95, $89.95, $89.95 and $99.95 respectively. Game was played on PC with 13 hours of total playtime with 61% of the achievements unlocked.
The original Dead Rising was one of those games that every owner of a Xbox360 had on their shelves. It was just the right combination of not taking itself seriously and solid zombie killing action, long before the dearth of zombie based titles we have today. There was enough variety that pretty much any player could find something to like in it although the constantly ticking down clock ensured that you’d never get everything you wanted done in a single play through. The latest instalment, Dead Rising 3, continues along the series’ tried and true lines, although the experienced is marred by both performance and design level issues.
It’s been 10 years since the last outbreak when suddenly Los Perdidos finds itself in the grip of another zombie apocalypse. You are Nick Ramos, a young mechanic in this city who’s trying to find a way to get himself and his crew out of there. After a routine search for supplies you find out that the army is going to fire bomb Los Perdidos in order to contain the outbreak, giving you just 6 days to get yourself out of there. However as you ready your escape it becomes clear that there’s far more to this outbreak than would appear and it’s up to you to stop it.
Considering that Dead Rising 3 is a next-gen only title you’d expect the graphics to be a bit of a step up from its predecessor however it looks largely the same as many of its previous generation counterparts. This is partly due to the fact that the scale of the game has been ramped up significantly, going from an apocalypse inside a mall up to an entire city being taken over. That increase in scale also means an order of magnitude of zombies on screen, something which is at odds with high end visuals. I’ll touch on the performance later however suffice to say that Dead Rising 3’s graphics are pretty average, even when you take into account the scale that it’s operating at.
Dead Rising 3’s game play follows the same formula as its predecessors, putting you in charge of a single character who has to make his way through untold hordes of zombies using anything he can find. As you massacre your way through you’ll be rewarded with levels and points which you can spend on improving various aspects of your character. The crafting system also makes a return however this time you’re also able to craft vehicles as well, something you’ll be doing a lot of if you want to get across town in any sort of reasonable time. You can now also bring survivors along with you, equipping them with weapons so they won’t just be zombie attractors who will die shortly after you rescue them. This, combined with the usual affair of achievements and collectables, means there’s dozens of hours of play time within Dead Rising 3, more than enough to keep even the most keen achievement hunters busy.
The combat feels largely the same as its predecessors, retaining the same 3rd person beat ‘em up style that the Dead Rising franchise is known for. The variety of weapons ensures that you’re always finding news ways to dispatch large numbers of zombies quickly however it doesn’t take long to find the really overpowered combos that you’ll want to exploit. This is counterbalanced by the fact that some apparently powerful looking combos are pretty lacklustre although thankfully you won’t be spending a lot of time tracking down components in order to make them. The grim reaper, for example, trivializes much of the game and the store you originally find it in has enough to make 2 of them, enough to kill 1000 zombies.
The inclusion of vehicles in Dead Rising 3 is a necessity, given the scale, however the vehicle crafting adds a little entertainment to what would otherwise be one of the game’s more annoying aspects. Again there are certain combos which are just insane, like the turret rig, but their limited life means you likely won’t have access to one every time you need it. One more annoying aspect of the vehicles is that you’ll need to find one with enough seats for your crew if you’re going to use one otherwise you’ll simply leave them behind, never to be found again. Whilst this isn’t an issue if you’re near a garage often you’ll find yourself in the middle of no where needing some form of transportation and the 2 seater varieties seem to be far more common than their larger counterparts.
Which brings me to my next point: the survivors in your possie are usually a liability more than anything else which is frustrating considering there doesn’t seem to be a way to tell them to stay at a safe house. Their AI is incredibly basic, often getting stuck in wide open spaces, unable to figure out how to proceed until you knock them over and they redo their pathing. This is only made worse by the fact that they don’t seem to understand how to use their weapons properly as they’ll either do nothing until you do the same motion (I.E. they won’t melee unless you do) or they’ll wait until they’re swamped before attempting to do something. The only time they become useful is during boss fights but apart from that you’re better off just letting them meet their end.
As many other PC reviewers have noted Dead Rising 3 suffers from some major performance issues right off the bat, often struggling to render a single frame for seconds at a time. It’s largely tied to when you first see a large group of zombies for the first time however there are also random times when it occurs, often leaving the sound playing which ends up with the characters being wildly out of sync. Creating a user.ini file to unlock the framerate (it’s capped at 30 fps natively) and knocking down the graphics a couple notches pulls it into the realms of playable but it still manages to peg all aspects of my system, even when there isn’t much going on. This is even after a couple patches which you’d presume would’ve made the experience better but, honestly, in its default form Dead Rising 3 is an unplayable mess.
This is only made worse by the lacklustre story which attempts to err more towards the serious side of things rather than the more comedic style of its predecessors. Sure, the essence of the not-so-serious nature of Dead Rising games is still there (like your costume appearing in cut scenes or the cartoony boss fights) but overall it feels like they’re trying too hard to make the story serious. Whilst I admit you’d never play a Dead Rising game for its deep story content it still feels like a good chunk of what made Dead Rising games so fun was lost in the latest instalment which is a real disappointment.
Dead Rising 3 is another solid instalment in the series, one which is unfortunately marred by performance problems and lacklustre story elements. The essence of what made this franchise good is still there, like the ridiculous combat and comedic game elements, however it just falls short of the “must have” status that the original had. It’s still a blast to play, especially when you unlock some of the more overpowered combos, however there’s probably not enough in there to keep me coming back for untold hours at a time. I’m sure long time fans of the series will find a lot to like in Dead Rising 3 but don’t be fooled into thinking it’s flawless.
Dead Rising 3 is available on PC and XboxOne right now for $49.99 and $57 respectively. Game was played on the PC with a total of 7 hours play time and 25% of the achievements unlocked.
I never spent much time with the Halo series. It’s not that I had anything against it per se, just that by the time I had an Xbox the series was already well under way and I didn’t really feel inclined to go back and play through all of them. Still I was well aware of how much of a following Bungie had and so was somewhat intrigued by what their first post-Halo title would be like. To be honest though I was going to wait for it to come out on PC (controllers and FPS don’t mix) however an endless barrage of requests from a mate of mine saw me begrudgingly pick it up. Now that I’ve lost almost a full day’s worth of my life to this game I’m glad he berated me into buying it as Destiny stands out as an exceptional title.
Centuries ago mankind was beholden to an event unparalleled in its entire history. Out of no where it arrived, a white sphere larger than any city, and with it came a time of endless prosperity. Human life spans tripled and they reached out across their solar system, colonizing all the planets. However The Traveller, as the white sphere had became known, had a dark enemy that sought nothing more than its demise. This led to the collapse of human society as it was known, pushing humanity back to a single safe haven under the Traveller’s protection. The darkness still encroaches, slowly killing The Traveller and threatening to wipe out all of humanity for good, It is up to you, one of many empowered by The Traveller to wield it’s light, to save it and humanity from the darkness that threatens to consume everything.
As this was my first PlayStation4 title it was great to see Destiny making use of the extra grunt under the hood. The gritty styling that was common across previous generation titles has finally passed and has been replaced with a much more visually diverse environment. Indeed there were numerous times I had to stop and stare out at the vast environments Bungie created as the breadth of scale they gave the game was just phenomenal. This extends out to all the other elements in the game, like the system map and various UI pieces, which just have this level of polish to them that you don’t see often, even in other AA titles. It’s not exactly Crysis levels of eye candy however, but the fact that it can run smoothly (albeit at 30fps) at 1080p says a lot of the capabilities of the system and the titles developers can create for it.
Destiny is most readily compared to games like Borderlands, comprising the same key elements whilst including some MMORPG style mechanics to keep you glued to your controller. You have your choice of 3 different races (which have no impact apart from cosmetic) and 3 different classes, each of which have their own unique abilities and play styles. Whilst you’ll have a traditional levelling system the gear you find will also level up with you, providing an additional path for progressing your character. There’s also the bevy of skills you’ll unlock as you play through the game (which occurs independently of your main levels) and should you max all of that out you have another sub-class you can level up which will completely change you play the game again. This is not to mention the dungeons, raids and PVP that you can also engage in. Suffice to say there’s a ton to do in Destiny and even with the inordinate amount of time I’ve spent on it I still feel like I’m only part way through it.
The combat in Destiny is mostly your typical fast paced, run and gun style shooter however there are elements of strategy that you’ll need to understand should you want to complete certain objectives. You still have unlimited life in the form of of the tried and true “take cover and regenerate” mechanic, which does allow you to blast your way to victory in the early stages of the game, however it doesn’t regenerate to full immediately. So whilst you might get yourself out of trouble initially you might find yourself in trouble once again should you take a stray bullet before the second round of regeneration kicks in. Since the typical encounter is wave after wave of enemies this can sometimes lead to your untimely demise when enemies spawn behind you however the death and respawn mechanic is generous enough that you don’t feel overly punished for when that happens.
If that was all Destiny was it would probably be in the same class as Call of Duty however the addition of class skills and abilities helps to make the combat more fun and varied. I played as a Titan which roughly translates to your front line, heavy hitter style of class who also has several delightful augments to your melee attack. Whilst it’s not advisable to punch everything in sight I have to admit it’s a lot of fun to try. Combine this with your super ability (you charge up over time and eventually become “supercharged) which allows you to decimate large hordes of enemies in a single blow and you have a recipe for combat that’s fun, varied and ultimately thrilling when you pull off a large combo.
However the combat gets a little bit repetitive when it comes to the boss fights as they’re typically just larger versions of smaller enemies you’ve faced before and with a bucket load more health (and endless swarms of minions around them). You can usually figure out how to avoid most of the damage from them but you’ll usually be there for a good 10 to 15 minutes unloading clip after clip into them, hoping you’re chipping away at that ginormous bar of health they have. Sure I can understand why it’s in there however it can be down right frustrating when you’ve spent a good chunk of time whittling a boss down only to get unlucky with a bunch of spawns that wipes your party, forcing you to redo the whole thing again. It’s for this reason I usually couldn’t do more than a couple dungeons a night as they start to wear you down after a while.
The levelling system, both in terms of your character’s levels and unlocking upgrades for your gear, both seem to happen often enough that you never feel like you’ve gone ages without progressing something. This is most certainly what kept me coming back through the first few hours of the game as you rapidly go from being a complete and utter noob to someone who feels at least partly effective when doing things with your team. The progression does start to taper off as you approach level 20 and you’ll quickly find yourself lusting after an upgrade for a piece of armour or that weapon you’ve been hanging on to for far too long.
Indeed this is where Destiny most closely resembles MMORPGs as whilst you can find decent loot from drops you’ll need to engage in the good old dungeon and reputation grind in order to get the premium tier of gear. Even the beloved Murder Cave (which Bungie has now shut down) wouldn’t yield much in the way of upgrades over the course of hours of farming. No if you want to progress you’re going to have to pay your dues and grind out that faction rep. I can’t exactly fault Bungie for this, time invested in MMORPGs is what separates the hardcore from the filthy casuals, however if that’s not the kind of thing you like to do then I’d recommend enjoying the story and then pretending the rest of the game doesn’t exist.
The world that Bungie has created in Destiny is definitely one of grand scale and one I’m sure that they’ll be looking to expand upon in the future. Whilst I’m not complaining about the length of the storyline it definitely felt like a lot of the supporting elements weren’t given enough time to shine. The various races that you encounter are usually given a rough background as to where they’re from and why they’d want to kill you but apart from that you’ve got no idea what their greater motivations are. The Vex are probably the most fleshed out however they still feel like a faceless enemy. I’m sure this is something Bungie will look to expand upon in further instalments in this series but for now much of the world feels underdone.
The story itself is pretty enjoyable, not straying too far from the hero’s journey paradigm, however it’s marred by the surprisingly lacklustre performance by the main driver of the story: your ghost (voiced by Peter Dinklage). So many of the lines are delivered lacking emotion or an understanding of the context in which they’re said, making the character feel disconnected from pretty much everything that’s going on. This is in stark contrast to nearly every other big name actor that has a voice acting role (apart from the Crucible announcer) who do a fantastic job in portraying their characters. Since it’s his first major game voice over I’ll give him some slack but I hope he improves for future releases.
Destiny is an amazing title, combining elements from FPS, RPG and MMO genres into a single experience that is well above many of its peers. As an introduction to what the now current generation of consoles are now capable of producing Destiny is very impressive, showcasing just how capable they are. The combat is challenging and fulfilling, pushing you hard enough to make you feel like the ultimate soldier when you manage to dispatch massive hordes of enemies in a single swoop. The loot, levelling and dungeons are sure to keep you coming back long after the story has run its course. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Destiny and for fans of Bungie, or just good games in general, I’d be very surprised if you were disappointed with the experience it provides.
Destiny is available on PlayStation3, PlayStation4, XboxOne and Xbox360 for $79, $79, $79 and $79 respectively. Game was played on the PlayStation4 with 22 hours of total play time, reaching level 22.
Total Annihilation was probably one of my favourite games when it was first released 17 years ago. It wasn’t the massive swarms of units, or the epic scale of the battles, no I loved building up the superpower units that could decimate an entire army in one fell swoop. I’d spend hours crafting the perfect base, one that no one could break through so I could sit there crafting my doomsday weapon. I even downloaded TAUIP to give me even more units and a better AI, sending me further down the TA rabbit hole. It’s spiritual successor, Supreme Commander, was also one of my favourites, even if the sequel fell short. You can then imagine my excitement when I saw the Planetary Annihilation Kickstarter which I couldn’t back fast enough. Here we are, 2 years later, and Planetary Annihilation has finally launched and I’ve spent the last week playing through it.
Humanity has long since left this universe. You are a relic of a war that has long since past, a machine built with a single purpose in mind: to annihilate everything that stands in your path. You will travel to the far reaches of space, seeking out new technology that you’ll incorporate into your unrelenting war. However your foes have the same goal and they will stop at nothing to ensure that you are wiped off the face of this universe permanently. Do you have the strength and skills to beat them before they get the better of you? Or will you fall to the same unrelenting fervour that you are a slave to?
Visually Planetary Annihilation is definitely a step up from its predecessor (for the sake of argument I’m going to say that’s Supreme Commander 2) although the art direction now tends towards the stylized/cartoony. Considering the purpose of Planetary Annihilation this isn’t much of a surprise as one of the long running problems with any of the Annihilation series was that performance often suffered the longer the game went on. Suffice to say that even with the slight improvements it still manages to remain quite smooth over the course of longer games. The interface is also much more streamlined, making it far easier to get acquainted with everything than it was in previous titles.
Like previous installations in the Annihilation series Planetary Annihilation puts you in charge of a single unit, the Commander, to start off with and then lets you loose upon a world to build an army to destroy your foes. However you’re now no longer constrained to just a single planet, escalating the potential warfare to planetary levels. This introduces a whole host of new mechanics like orbital units, teleporters and whole planets which can be used as weapons. Notably absent from the game however is the inclusion of a single player story campaign which has been replaced by a procedurally generated series of AI skirmishes called Galactic War. Finally there’s multiplayer to be had which is likely where most people will be spending their time, although it’s done in the older style of “find a lobby to join” rather than the newer style matchmaking.
Long time fans of the Annihilation series will be instantly familiar with the core gameplay of Planetary Annihilation as all the units are essentially the same with your standard air/vehicle/bot/naval choices immediately available from your commander. The tech trees have been reduced from 3 tiers to 2 which significantly reduces the number of units you’ll have at your disposal. However this is made up for by the inclusion of the new types of units and was probably done because you’ll likely be splitting your concentration across multiple planets with multiple warfronts. The same mechanics are at play, you’ll need metal and energy in order to be able build things, however they have also been streamlined with only 2 types of energy generators and metal extractors. So overall the gameplay is largely similar but streamlined with a few mechanics thrown in to elevate the combat to a planetary scale.
However unlike previous Annihilation titles there’s no factions to speak of so all the units are exactly the same for every player. For me this was one of the defining features of the Annihilation series as it meant that each race had it’s own strengths and weaknesses and different strategies were needed to cope with each different race. In Planetary Annihilation that’s not the case however and all you really need to do is figure out what kind of units your opponent is building and make the counter to them. This, especially when competing against the AI, means that the game favours those who rush their opponents with swarms of a certain mix of units early, even more so when you’re on the same planet. Indeed there are very few opportunities to craft super units that can devastate armies, a trademark of the Annihilation series, thus eliminating much of the strategy that I came to love about these games.
In fact I think this is reflected in one key metric: the length of each game. Games in Total Annihilation and Supreme Commander could easily go on for hours as everyone tried various tactics against each other, all the while hoping to build that one unit or structure that would give them the upper hand. In Planetary Annihilation most games will go for 20 to 30 minutes before it’s obvious who’s going to win. Again this was something that I loved about the Annihilation series as it always felt more strategic rather than tactical and was the primary reason many disliked Supreme Commander 2. The planetary scope had a lot of potential to recapture that feeling that so many previous Annihilation titles had but it unfortunately fell way short of the mark.
This is only exacerbated by the incredibly lackluster single player campaign. Whilst the idea behind Galactic War sounded good on paper in practice it’s not much more than one AI skirmish after another, ones that are either easily won within the first 10 minutes or others which are an uphill battle due to the fact that the AI is given a head start over you. It’s made worse by the fact that you can get shoehorned by the technology that you collect during the various missions, sometimes putting you in a spot that’s nigh on impossible to bypass. Like, for instance, if you’ve got all naval and air tech but the enemy starts on another planet you’re likely sweet out of luck as you won’t be able to use the teleporter to get them across. Instead you’ll have to rely on shooting nukes over there and hope that they haven’t got more anti-nuke facilities than you have missiles.
There’s also some niggling issues around the game itself. If you start an AI skirmish or Galactic War there’s no way to restart a battle if it isn’t going your way so you’ll have to quit and restart Planetary Annihilation in order to start over again. I can somewhat understand that not being in the Galactic War (if it’s meant to be a Roguelike experience, although I have no idea if that’s the case) but for AI skirmishes it seems like a really glaring omission. Things like that are supposed to be about testing builds or trying out units that you haven’t seen before and so restarting the battle quickly and easily is key to that. Having to boot the game over every time you want to do that is a right pain in the ass and not something I expected from veteran developers like Uber Entertainment.
Planetary Annihilation feels like a game that’s still in beta mode, lacking the polish of it’s spiritual predecessors and ultimately failing to deliver on the tried and true Annihilation franchise experience. The core aspects of the series are there, the massive units, larger than life scale, etc. but the game itself just doesn’t play like the titles of yore. This isn’t a case of the game not living up to the hype, after backing the game I ignored pretty much everything to do with it until I heard of the official release, more that too many things of what made the previous Annihilation titles good have been left out and what remains just isn’t enough. I really wanted to love Planetary Annihilation but it just feels like the official launch came way before it was ready for primetime with a lot more work to be done before I can say that it’s up to the calibre of its predecessors.
Planetary Annihilation is available on PC right now for $29.99. Total play time was 6 hours. The writer backed this game on Kickstarter at the $250 pledge level.
Ever since I bought my PlayStation4 a year ago it’s sat there next to my TV, begging me to play it. The problem is that pretty much every game that I would play on it has also been available on PC and since that’s my platform of choice the PS4 unfortunately falls by the wayside. It also doesn’t help that the one launch title that I wanted to play, The Witness, has since been delayed to “when it’s done” status which means we’re not likely to see it for some time to come. However one of my mates convinced me to go and play Destiny with him and since it won’t be available on PC for sometime I figured this would be a good chance to give the PS4 a burl.
For starters it seems that the PS4 exhibits some rather strange behaviours when it’s not connected to the PSN, usually when it requires an update. I was trying to put the disc in to get everything going but, for some reason, it just wouldn’t grab it. I’m not sure if this is because Sony don’t want you installing games offline or something like that, but it was rather frustrating to see what I had assumed would be default functionality turned off when it couldn’t contact home. A quick Google shows that this particular issue has plagued others as well, although what leads to it happening seems to be somewhat random.
Another gripe I have is the game installation and update process. Whilst the initial installation seems to be relatively painless (it just does it in the background) the update process is rather cumbersome. You’ll automatically get any updates for the game added to your download queue however you don’t apply them from within the game. Instead you have to wait for the download to finish, find the download (a chore in of itself) and then tell it to apply. You can’t simply sit in the game, watch the download and then apply the update from there like you could with the PS3. Honestly it feels like a huge step backward in terms of usability and I’m not hopeful that it will ever get changed if it’s still like this almost a year down the track.
The gaming experience is pretty good, however. It didn’t take long for me to get into a party with my mate and to get voice chat going although the quality of the included mono headset is probably about as mediocre as you can get. I was somewhat sceptical about the new controller design, it looked a little goofy, however it does feel very comfortable in the hands. The stick buttons were a little hard to push down (a little annoying as that’s sprint in Destiny) but that might just be them needing a little breaking in before they become usable. I didn’t get a chance to check out the inbuilt sharing features unfortunately as that’s something I definitely want to see in action.
I’ll probably touch more on the PS4 experience in the greater Destiny review (coming in the next couple weeks) however my first impressions are good, if marred by some issues that really should have been sorted out by this point in time. Whilst I lament the fact that it’s sat there for the better part of a year unused I’m at least somewhat happy that it has managed to provide a good gaming experience once I did find a title for it. I’ll develop a more fully formed opinion of it whilst I bash my way through Destiny and will hopefully be finally able to tell you if it’s worth buying or not.
Better late than never, right?