Games

State of the Game: 07/11/2016 to 13/11/2016

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Civilization VI: I Had a Life, Once.

The Civilization series is one of the most popular games to ever grace Steam. It consistently holds a spot in the top concurrent player list, beaten only by giants of the platform like DOTA 2 and Counter-Strike. The series has a long history with this year marking some 25 years since the original Civilization was released. Over those decades the core game has evolved considerably, culminating in the latest release: Civilization VI. With this being the Civilization game with the longest development cycle to date, a total of 6 years, anticipation was high but it seems that this iteration has fallen a little short of the bar that was set with Civilization IV.

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The story of Civilization VI is, as always, what you make it. The historic figures representing nations are back with their traits and behaviours heavily influenced by their real world counterparts. You’ll take control of one of them, setting out on a quest to achieve victory by one of several means. What path you choose will have a dramatic effect both on how your civilization develops as well as how others percieve you. You’ll need to employ careful strategy to ensure that your path to victory is achievable whilst your opponents is not, a balancing act that unfolds over multiple hours of game time. Indeed the narratives that build out of civilization games are as interesting as the core game itself, giving you war stories to share with your fellow Civilization brethren.

Compared to its closest predecessor (Beyond Earth) Civilization VI has improved both in terms of overall graphical quality and aesthetics. The maps are much more detailed with the various landscapes, structures and units lavished with additional polygons and higher detailed textures. The bright colour palette is a welcome change as Beyond Earth would feel a bit dreary after a long session. The models for the other leaders are a bit incongruous with the rest of the game, sitting in that weird spot between too realistic and not realistic enough. It’s clear that they’re meant to be caricatures but they’re just not stylised enough, sitting firmly in the uncanny valley. The UI has also been overhauled once again making things slightly more discoverable although you’ll still need an hour or so of clicking to figure it out.

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The base game remains largely the same as it always has in Civilization games with the noted addition of a few more mechanics and a reworking of some others. Instead of all your improvements being built in the city centre you’ll now build districts for things like military, science and culture. These districts house their own improvements and have their own adjacency bonuses, making their placement a little more strategic. Units are now able to be stacked in a limited fashion, making it a little easier to handle larger armies. Tech advances can now be boosted by completing certain activities, reducing their research time by half. Culture victories are now a viable route to victory with their own tech tree called Civics, opening up a set of advantages that aren’t available elsewhere. Other than that the core game will be familiar to those who’ve played the series before, ensuring that one more turn always turns into more.

If you’re like me and only¹ play Civilization or similar games every so often then you’ll likely be as overwhelmed as ever when you start out. Thankfully it’s pretty easy to get going with Civilization presenting you with a quick start game right off the bat. However even selecting “I’m not familiar with the Civilization series” in the tutorial options still leaves a lot to be explained, requiring several trips to the Googles to help out. It’s probably best to learn by doing and failing as attempting to theorycraft your way to victory can be a torturous exercise, especially when you don’t know the right questions to ask. I think it took me about 4 failed attempts before I settled on a game which looked winnable and maybe 12 hours of total game time. For someone who hasn’t played a civilization game in 2 years I don’t think that’s too bad!

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Once you’ve set your sights on a particular victory condition it becomes easy to figure out what you should be prioritising. Like all strategy games running for the victory condition as hard as possible will likely see you fail as the other empires can outplay you quickly if you’re only focused on a single tactic. Thus the early game usually revolves around striking a balance between your preferred victory condition and ensuring the others don’t get ahead of you. This means you’ll usually have a smattering of various different victory paths going at the start before you can really dig your heels in and charge for the goal. I had (predictably) set my sights on the science victory and spent the entirety of my 20 hours in the game figuring out how best to achieve it.

Whilst this particular victory condition does give you a few notable advantages (like better units and buildings long before your opponents) it is incredibly vulnerable to things like spies and religious attacks. It’s also probably the one that takes the longest to achieve overall as you not only have to research all the required tech but also construct it. Each of the components takes around 20 turns to complete, more if you don’t have a great person to boost your output or a heavily upgraded industrial zone. In the end I think I won at turn 450, just shy of the game’s time limit of 500. Had that time come I would have still won just on points, but that would’ve felt hollow compared to achieving an actual victory.

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As I mentioned before some of the mechanics of Civilization VI are a little esoteric, requiring a bit of searching to understand them completely. Amenities, which is the replacement for happiness, is influenced by numerous things that aren’t made readily apparent. Early game it can be quite frustrating as there aren’t many ways to get them, especially if the AI isn’t extremely friendly with you (a near impossible feat it seems). Veterans of the series will likely have an easier time understanding what’s going on here than I did but for new comers it can be a little off putting. If you’re lucky enough to have dual monitors (like myself) then it might be a non-issue, just make sure you’ve always got a blank tab ready to go.

During my play through there were numerous design choices which drastically reduced player quality of life when playing. Spies had to be constantly set to guard whatever resource you wanted to protect, meaning every 6 turns would be spent sending them back to where you came. The AI is as illogical as ever with long time allies suddenly declaring war on you for no good reason. Worse still the AI will constantly denounce you for anything you do to them but has no qualms about doing the same back to you. Strangely, and I’ve not found out if this is a bug or not, cities that had been ceded to me would often result in the other empire denouncing me as a warmonger (even if it was from a war they started). This wouldn’t be an issue if it happened once or twice but it’d usually happen every 6 turns or so.

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Civilization VI is another great instalment in the series, even if it doesn’t live up to the high expectations that it’s predecessor set all those years ago. The updated visuals are great, ensuring that the long hours spent staring at units and buildings don’t get stale as quickly as they used to. The core mechanics revitalise the core game play ensuring that Civilization VI isn’t just a new coat of paint on an old engine. There’s a few rough edges, some of which I’ve heard have recently been patched out, but the overall quality of the game is still high. For long time fans of the series Civilization 6 is sure to keep you coming back for turn after turn, the hours ticking away as you build out your empire once again. Newcomers will also find a lot to like, if they can make it past the wall of bewildering choices early on. Overall Civlization 6 is a solid title in this series and that will likely be reflected in its continued popularity long after release.

Rating: 8.5/10

Civilization VI is available right now on PC for $69.95. Total play time was 20 hours with 16% of the achievements unlocked.

¹ I initially wrote “old” here (accidentally!) instead of only but I think the sentence works either way 😉

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Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare: Attack of the Space Terrorists.

The yearly Call of Duty release belies the fact that there are 3 developers behind the franchise: Infinity Ward, Treyarch and Sledgehammer. The last game we saw from the original developer was all the way back in 2013 when they debuted Call of Duty: Ghosts, an uncharacteristic stumble for them. By comparison both Sledgehammer and Treyarch’s entries were both superior, signalling that Infinity Ward was no longer the king of the franchise it created. Infinite Warfare was then their chance to prove that they knew how to do Call of Duty best but, unfortunately, they’ve missed the mark once again.

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Infinite Warfare is set in the distant future, one where humanity has expanded its presence throughout the solar system. However over time tensions between the United Nations Space Alliance and the denziens of Mars have led to the formation of the Settlement Defense Front; a ruthless militaristic organisation hell bent on Mars becoming the one and only super power in the solar system. You are Nick Reyes, a captain of the Special Combat Air Recon force who commands a fleet of futuristic warplanes, charged with the defense of Earth and all UNSA protected territories. With news of a specialist strike team being taken out by the SDF during a tenuous cease fire agreement tensions are running high and a system wide war is a very real possibility.

Infinite Warfare is the first Call of Duty to be release only for current generation platforms, leaving the PlayStation 3 and Box 360 behind. The improvement in graphical fidelity from Black Ops III is slight but noticeable, the inclusion of more modern effects like physically-based rendering evident the more realistic lighting effects. The automatic graphics selection does a good job although it priortises frame rate over better visuals. With a few tweaks however it’s quite easy to knock up the detail a few notches without any noticeable drops in framerates. Like all other fast-paced shooters the environments are mostly designed to look good as you’re rushing past as up close the lack of detail becomes rather evident. Overall it’s a solid improvement over its predecessors.

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Infinite Warfare follows the tried and true Call of Duty formula, pitting you agains the enemy of the day with an array of weapons and abilities to combat them with. The missions are your standard corridor shooter affair with some rudimentary stealth sections thrown in here or there. New to the series is the ability to choose between a variety of different missions, a good chunk of which take place wholly in your futuristic warplane/ship. The missions also give you upgrades to both your ship and your player character, slowly building you up into the war machine every player imagines themselves to be. Other than that there’s not too much difference between Infinite Warfare and the numerous futuristic shooters that have preceded it.

Combat is, as always, fast paced and polished to the nth degree. Whilst you’ll still suffer from the enemy AI that’s able to snipe you with a pistol from across the map (especially at higher difficulties) you’ll still be able to run and gun your way through the majority of the game. One particular letdown here is the weapon variety as a lot of them feel very similar and thus you don’t feel as compelled to experiment as you would have in previous Call of Duty titles. There are some truly inventive ideas though, like the shotgun that has a lock-on sight, something which even made it into the multi-player version. The various grenades and gadgets provide a decent amount of combat variation although once you’ve used them all once it becomes clear that the shock grenades and the shield are probably the only ones you want to keep on you.

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The non-campaign single player missions are unfortunately quite bland, especially the SCAR ones which are all basically the same, just played out in different locations. Thankfully they can be ground out pretty quickly, enabling you to blase through the campaign without a smattering of side quests constantly begging for your attention. In all honesty it probably would’ve served Infinite Warfare better to not have the overworld and instead focus on the core missions, feeding you upgrades through optional objectives or something similar. If a space nut like myself gets bored with flying around space in a futuristic warship then you know something is terribly wrong.

The story is typical Call of Duty: heavy on action and light on the details. Infinity Ward tried halfheartedly to avoid the typical America vs The Evil Foreigners trope but with all the key good characters being Americans and the bad ones foreign sounding it fails the sniff test instantly. There’s also too little development given to the numerous characters thrown at you so when the inevitable happens the emotional impact is essentially nothing. The fact that I’m struggling to come up with any memorable moments in the game should tell you just how little of an impact the story had on me.

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The multiplayer experience was unfortunately marred by several launch issues, most notably a horrendously broken matchmaking system. After finishing the campaign I immediately dove into the multiplayer only to be met with no games to play. I tried all the options in the hopes it was just one game mode that was broken to no avail. After sitting there for 15 minutes I figured I’d try out Titanfall 2 just to see if I could still get a game and, lo and behold, I was playing not 30 seconds later. This has been fixed for the most part but I still can’t get a game of Domination to save my life. It’s sad really as I had such a good time with Black Ops III’s multi I was really excited to get back into the scene. It seems this time around it’s simply not to be.

One thing that bears mentioning is the new weapon crafting system which, unfortunately, has some of the troubling features of a pay to win system. You see you can craft variants of guns which have perks, all of which stack with their attachment counterpart. These weapons require salvage, a good deal of it for the higher end variants, something which comes in drips and drabs if you play normally. However, and this is the key, rare supply drops come with salvage, something which you can buy with actual money. I was ok with the new weapons in Black Ops III being locked behind supply drops since they were on par with the regular weapons but these ones are by definition more powerful. It’s a pity because I think the system is great otherwise.

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Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare is an unfortunate continuation of Treyarch’s previous stumbles, failing to live up to the standard that the other developers of the series are setting. For the most part it’s still your tried and true Call of Duty game however there are several issues which mar the overall experience. The repetitive single player missions distract from the much higher quality campaign missions and the effort developing them would have been better spent elsewhere. The multiplayer had some uncharacteristic teething issues, something which I’m sure turned thousands of players away for good. Finally the inclusion of a system that allows players to pay to get ahead of others isn’t something that should be encouraged, even if the underlying system was novel. Overall whilst Infinite Warfare keeps the core aspects of the Call of Duty franchise in tact it’s additions do nothing but distract from what makes these games good. I hope Infinity Ward takes the lessons learned from this second stumble and turns their next title into something worthy of their pedigree.

Rating: 7.5/10

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare is available on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 right now for $89.95, $99.995 and $99.95 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 14 hours of total play time and 64% of the achievements unlocked.

State of the Game: 31/10/2016 to 06/11/2016

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Titanfall 2: Welcome to the Resistance, Pilot.

Titanfall was well received when it was first released, garnering numerous awards and praise from both the industry and players alike. It was also something of a redemption story for the studios founders, proving that their decision to leave Activision was the right one. For me personally, someone who enjoys traditional FPS games and lost many an hour to the Mechwarrior series as a teenager, Titanfall was a perfect blend of FPS and mech based combat. However the lack of variety in the multiplayer did mean that I left the game shortly after reviewing it, racking up another 6 hours before I finally gave it up. With the success it garnered however I was hopeful that Respawn’s next title, whether it was Titanfall or not, would be a much more well rounded. Thankfully that hope was not misplaced.

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Titanfall 2 takes place shortly after the events of its predecessor with the Militia now on the offensive after their success in segregating the IMC’s fleet at the Battle of Demeter (if you don’t quite remember which map that is, like I did, here’s a good summary). You take the role of Jack Cooper, a rifleman in the Militia who’s undertaking pilot training at the hands of veteran pilot Captain Lastimosa. When you’re sent to attack the IMC held world of Typhoon Lastimosa is struck down but with his final breath he transfers his titan, a vanguard class called BT-7274, to you. It’s now up to you and your new titan to complete the mission.

The heavily modified Source engine that was used in the original is back in Titanfall 2 with a few improvements to bring it into line with more modern engines. The engine improvements bring things like physically based rendering, a new texture system, HDR, bloom and DOF. This means that whilst the models and environments all feel about the same when you get up close to them it definitely feels like a more modern game overall. The trade offs here are most certainly in aid of ensuring a smooth, consistent framerate even in high action scenes, something which happens quite often in both the single player and multiplayer experience. If I’m honest I probably expected a bit more of a step up from Respawn graphics wise, but I can definitely understand the reasons for not going for Crysis levels of fidelity.

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The core of Titanfall 2 hasn’t changed much from its predecessor, retaining all of what made it good whilst adding in more variety in both the single player and multiplayer components. There’s now double the number of mechs to choose from, numerous weapons for your pilot, a multitude of modes in the multiplayer and a fully fleshed out single player campaign. You’ll still be alternating between playing as a pilot on the ground, jumping and wall riding to your heart’s content, and the venerable titan mech. The single player campaign functions as an extended tutorial to the main game, giving you a view of all the weapons and titans so that once you jump into multi you’ll be instantly familiar with the arsenal at your disposal. However like all good multi player games these days most of the weapons are hidden behind a persistant levelling system, something you’ll have to grind out to get your weapon of choice. Overall Titanfall 2 feels like a fuller, more rounded game than its predecessor was; one that could potentially have the longevity its creators hope for.

Combat is well executed, maintaining the same levels of polish that the original Titanfall brought with it. Considering Respawn’s pedigree this is no surprise but it’s good to see them not messing with things that weren’t broken. The weapon roster has been expanded considerably although the controversial smart pistol (which honestly was my favourite) relegated to being a boost rather than a primary weapon you can choose. You’ve also got a wider choice of various augments for your weapons and pilot allowing you to really specialize in your preferred method of combat. Thankfully even though most of these things are locked behind levels (or in-game currency, which I don’t think is available for purchase) the base weapons are still highly competitve.

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One of the major complaints many had for the original was that the multiplayer campaign was somewhat confusing and underdone. Indeed whilst I didn’t mind it myself, I do recognise that it was far below the standard set for your typical FPS campaign. Respawn have taken this feedback to heart and Titanfall 2’s campaign is true to its name, giving you an extensive single player experience. As I mentioned before it serves well as an introduction to Titanfall’s mechanics and weaponry, giving you a taste of what’s to come in the multiplayer experience. The highlight of it is definitely the exploration of the relationship between Titan and Pilot, something which I don’t think was really elaborated on much in the original. It might not be the deepest story around, following your typical one man army action trope, but it’s definitely more than enough to keep you motivated and pushing forward through the campaign.

The multiplayer follows the current FPS norms pretty closely with your profile, guns and titan all having separate levels attached to them. This does mean that players who’ve played for longer have an advantage over you, something that can be a little frustrating when you first start out. However the levels come with a relatively reliable pace so you shouldn’t be without a particular upgrade for too long. The in-game currency, which comes in at a slow but reliable pace, is one avenue to short circuit the levelling system and buy a particular thing that you’re after. One improvement for this system would be the use of a trial of a certain upgrade (even just a one time trial would be useful) as the cash I’ve spent has, honestly, been completely wasted. That’s on me though really, I should’ve probably looked into them a bit more before laying out my cold hard in-game currency.

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Again I preferred to stick to my anti-titan build for both my pilot and titan, although the delineation between specs of titans is somewhat murky in Titanfall 2. The reasoning for this is pretty simple: titan damage and take downs charge your abilities way faster than pilot or AI kills do. Of course this means early game is a bit hit and miss, especially if the other pilots are heavily anti-pilot geared, but afterwards it usually means that I’m rarely without my titan. Of all the titans I tried the Tone seems to be the overall best, having great all round capabilities and not as many drawbacks as the rest of them seem to have. It does require you have a bit better aim than some of the others but honestly the hit boxes are so generous in Titanfall that I don’t think many would struggle with it.

Whilst the overall experience in Titanfall 2 is bug and crash free there is one irritating aspect of it that has caught me out multiple times. If you’re inside a room and you call your titan it appears that whatever determines the fall location doesn’t clip with certain walls. This means that, if you position cursor in the wrong place, you can end up spawning your titan all the way on the other side of the map. This can sometimes be the difference between getting your titan instantly and losing it to the enemy team since it’ll become active and start ploughing head first into them with the usual AI tactics. I’d much prefer a “titanfall out of range” error or something similar as it has happened often enough to be something of an issue.

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Titanfall 2 is a most worthy successor, building on all the great core aspects of its predecessor whilst addressing many of the issues that the community raised. You now have a full single player campaign, one that you can actually get engrossed in rather than distracted by. The expanded multiplayer experience is much welcome and the promise to provide free DLC packs in the future will go a long way to ensuring the game doesn’t become a graveyard. Titanfall 2 is definitely one of those rare sequels that manages to markedly improve on its predecessor, no small feat given the high bar the original set. It will be very interesting to see how this game tracks in the coming months given its rather interesting release date that was smack bang between two other heavy hitting AAA titles.

Rating: 9.25/10

Titanfall 2 is available on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 right now for $79 on all platforms. Game was played on the PC with 13 hours of total play time and 68% of the achievements unlocked.

State of the Game: 24/10/2016 to 31/10/2016

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Battlefield 1: Through Mud and Blood.

The last decade was saturated with FPS games that revisited the two World Wars, so much so that I was soured on the Battlefield and Call of Duty series for quite some time. This decade saw a turn towards modern day warfare, with the Call of Duty series then pushing even further forward into the world of fictional, future based combat. It was something of a surprise then to see DICE return to their old haunts, pulling themselves back from modern day to explore World War I. If I’m honest I was sceptical, the World Wars have been visited so many times that a fresh take on them seemed all but impossible. Surprisingly though DICE has managed to bring a fresh perspective to this well trodden field whilst retaining much of what made some of their previous Battlefield titles great.

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Battlefield 1 visits many of the large scale battles of the first World War, picking out 6 different stories that you can play through. These include such events as the Battle of Cambrai during the Hundred Days Offensive, a fantastical air battle between zeppelins and the first fighter craft and even a show from the ANZACs as part of the Gallipoli campaign. There’s no story tying all of these different stories together, instead they each serve as little vignettes that give us a glimpse into the horrors of war from different perspectives. If there’s one thing that Battlefield 1 does well is impress upon us the true costs of war rather than glorifying the combat and sacrifice that the millions of troops made in this war.

The Frostbite 3 engine returns once again to the Battlefield series and brings with it the exceptionally high level of graphics that we’ve come to expect from this series of games. As all of these in-game screenshots will attest to Battlefield 1 is an absolutely stunning game, making good use of any amount of graphical firepower it has at its disposal. The environments are gigantic, brimming with detail and surprisingly destructible (if you have the right weaponry, of course). This will mean that you’ll probably need to spend a little bit of time tweaking settings here or there as the defaults seem to be geared more towards beautiful, 30fps gaming rather than slightly less stunning but buttery smooth game play. Of course such prettiness is really only appreciated in the single player campaign, rarely do you have a moment to think when you’re in the middle of a multiplayer match.

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Battlefield 1 sticks to its roots in terms of game play with the equipment layout being instantly familiar to fans of the series. You’ll have 2 guns at your disposal (with numerous ones littering the map so you’re never wanting for something new to try out), a couple gadgets that line up with the traditional Battlefield classes and your trusty melee weapon. The war stories follow the typical FPS mission style with Battlefield’s trade mark open environments, allowing you multiple avenues to approach your intended goal. The multiplayer modes will be familiar, however there’s one new mode called Operations which are probably the best aspect of Battlefield 1. Other than that Battlefield 1 is pretty much what we’ve come to expect from DICE with the exception that everything is set almost 100 years in the past.

Combat feels much the same as it always has in the Battlefield series. You’re a small cog in a very large machine, both in the single player campaigns as well as the multi. Slow, considered approaches to the battlefield are rewarded whilst rushed, less thought out strategies are likely to get you killed. It’s the line in the sand that Battlefield and Call of Duty have drawn between each other, one favouring small scale, chaotic engagements whilst the other favouring large, more strategic battles. Whilst I tend to prefer the former I can see the appeal in the latter, especially when you’ve got a group of 5 or more mates to play with and can actually get some objectives done. However it can be an exercise in frustration sometimes, especially when you walk out of your spawn location only to be nailed by a sniper who you had no chance of seeing.

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The Operations game mode, the stand out feature of Battlefield 1, takes its inspiration from Star Wars Battlefront’s Supremacy mode. Each map is divided into sections with points that need to be captured. Once each point is captured the enemy then retreats to the next section to start the battle all over again. The attacking team has limited lives however and should they run out the defenders win that round. When the attackers lose a round however they get reinforced by a giant weapon of war, potentially a zepplin or destroyer warship, which helps them turn the tides in their favour. This back and forth can happen a grand total of 3 times before the game is over. What makes this game mode so great is that it can feel like both sides are making progress at one point or another, preventing one side from completely dominating. Of course that’s not always the case but at the very least it feels little more fair than say Conquest when a really good squad can make the other team’s life a living hell.

The class system is the same as it always was with the only real change being the weaponry, all of which are from the World War I era. You have your medics which can heal and res, the support who will ensure you’ve got an endless supply of bullets, the scouts which will make sure that you can’t get anywhere without a couple shots coming your way and the assault class which is capable of dishing out endless amounts of hurt. Battlefield 1 also brings with it the hero class idea from Battlefronts, allowing a single player to become far more powerful than everyone else for a short period of time. You also have classes for the various vehicles including the calvary which can be both fun and a complete waste of time depending on good your enemy’s aim is. Indeed many of the ideas which were so-so in Battlefront have been refined significantly for their inclusion in Battlefield 1 and, hopefully, that means Battlefront 2 has a chance at being a lot better than its predecessor was.

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Battlefield 1, like all games in this series, brings with it a certain level of jank that pervades both the single and multi experiences. I can’t tell you how many times the physics engine has completely bugged out on me with ungodly winds tearing flags and people’s capes in all manner of weird directions or tanks moving in ways that just weren’t possible. It’s certainly a lot better than it was in the beta, if the videos on YouTube are anything to go by, but the trademark weirdness that all Battlefield games built on the Frostbite engine have is ever present in the latest instalment. It’ll likely get better over time, as it always does, but you’d think that DICE would’ve figured out all the kinks by this point in the engine’s life.

The war stories were, for me, not particularly engaging. Whilst I’ll praise DICE for their depiction of the true horrors of war the experience was, for me, not the most enjoyable thing. That might be the point (and indeed I’ll applaud them if that’s the case) however it meant that after playing 3 out of the 6 campaigns available I simply didn’t feel the urge to play the rest of them. It’s a shame really as I’ve always enjoyed the various campaigns in the Battlefield series but this time around I just didn’t feel compelled to go back and play through them. This could also be a testament to how good the Operations mode was in comparison as I definitely drawn back to that, time and time again.

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Battlefield 1 is an excellent return to form after the disaster that was Battlefield Hardline. The graphics return to their trademark industry leading standard, bringing us glorious battlefield filled with detail that few other games are able to deliver. The game play is familiar yet fresh, integrating the best ideas of the Battlefield and Battlefront series into a cohesive experience. The single player campaigns, whilst undoubtedly well crafted, failed to grab my attention like the previous ones have. Battlefield 1 also suffers from the few teething issues that seem to plague all of DICE’s releases of late; things that will no doubt be fixed but definitely sour the launch day experience. For fans of the Battlefield series the latest instalment is very much worth your time to play.

Rating: 9.0/10

Battlefield 1 is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One right now for $89.95, $99.95 and $99.95 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 11 hours of total play time and 26% of the achievements unlocked.

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Shadow Warrior 2: You Mess With the Bull, You Get the Wang.

Flying Wild Hog’s successful reboot of Shadow Warrior three years ago was a boon for the fledgling development studio. Their initial title, Hard Reset, was a good but not great release, one that failed to attract mainstream attention but was successful enough to ensure the studio could carry on. Shadow Warrior did a good job of revitalising the IP for a new generation, capturing that same 90s feel whilst bringing some fresh ideas and experiences to the franchise. Shadow Warrior 2 looks to expand upon this idea, again retaining that 90s shooter feel whilst mixing in even more mechanics. The resulting game is far more varied but unfortuantely the veins of nostalgia only run so deep and I think they were bled dry with the last title.

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It’s been 5 years since your failed attempts at protecting the world from the Shadow Realm resulted in it colliding with outs. Now humans and demons live side by side, for better and for worse. Lo Wang, after the betrayal of his employer, has escaped to the woodlands far away from the cybernetic metropolis that Zilla has created. To make ends meet he’s been doing jobs for the local Yakuza, using his skills and charm to get by. However when a regular job goes wrong he quickly finds himself caught in a battle between a mad scientist, the demons from the Shadow Realm and a new drug called Shade.

Shadow Warrior 2 uses Flying Wild Hog’s own Roadhog Engine which has seen significant development work between titles. It’s still a step or two behind what I’ve come to expect from the current generation but with the game’s focus on fast paced action the sacrifice is understandable. The environments of Shadow Warrior 2 are far more expansive than its predecessor, often with many more areas to explore and much more detailed environments. The colour palette is also much more varied, the mostly red/orange tones of the predecessor replaced with neon cities, dark jungles and tormented hellscapes. Like it’s predecessor Shadow Warrior 2 isn’t a game that’s meant to be gawked at, you’re meant to use it as a canvas upon which to reap your destruction.

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At a core game level Shadow Warrior 2 doesn’t change much from its predecessor. The focus is still on fast paced, gore filled combat with an arsenal of weapons that will fit any occaison. The difference comes from the progression mechanics which are more geared towards an open world, Borderlands-esque system. Now enemies will drop varies bits of loot including weapons, augments and even new skills for Lo Wang to use. You’ll still level up your character by killing enemies and earning karma but now you also have the option of earning skill points through doing missions. The missions come to you via a board which allows you to pick and choose what you do, even allowing you to free roam areas to find secrets, defeat boss for loot or just grind karma to level up. There’s also a crafting system that enables you to improve your upgrades by combining 3 lesser ones together, although that system is a little more hit and miss than I’d like. Overall in terms of scope Shadow Warrior 2 is a much grander game than its predecessor was, one that will certainly appeal to the completionists out there.

Combat retains much of what made the original great: fast paced action, waves of enemies to dispatch and numerous skills with which to deal unending hurt on them. The various weapons and upgrades feel a bit more balanced this time around with the swords no longer being the one and only weapon you should use. Part of this comes from the crafting/upgrade system which limits certain augments to certain kinds of weapons, making some vastly superior for some fights. Shadow Warrior 2 also brings with it an elemental combat system with some (initially, eventually it’s all of them) having elemental resistances and weaknesses. This means you’ll have to swtich between weapons if you want to get anywhere. Other than that though most of the enemies are pretty generic with the good old fashioned circle strafe making short work of them. Not that I was expecting much more from a hack ‘n’ slash game, though.

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You’ll progress at an unrelenting pace in Shadow Warrior 2 with all the skill, item and weapon upgrades that get thrown at you. On the one hand it’s great as even a short session means you’ll come away feeling like you’ve accomplished something. On the other though it can be a little overwhelming when you’ve got a massive inventory of upgrades to choose from and you’re trying to figure out which one you should use. Overall I like it and I definitely spent longer playing than I otherwsie would because of it. It could definitely use a little tuning to make it a little more approachable however, given the fact that not all players are obssessive min/maxers like myself. That being said it’d be hard to go really wrong with selecting upgrades and skills and, even if you did, it wouldn’t take long to realise it and rework your build in response.

The crafting system could use a little more polish as whilst it’s a good way to progress (especially when other avenues run dry) it’s far too random for my liking. For instance putting 3 of the same elemental upgrades together typically results in you getting the same element out, but usually with completely different stats than what you put in. Putting in different elements means you’ll randomly get one of the ones you put in and again with random stats. It’d also be good to be able to re-roll one aspect of an upgrade (by paying the requesite cash or whatever) so you could turn your trash high end upgrades into something useable, especially those ones with heavy negative bonuses. I think Flying Wild Hog is on the right track here, it just needs a little more polish before it can become what I think they want it to be.

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For the most part Shadow Warrior 2 runs well however there’s one technical and one design issue that I think bears pointing out. Enemies have a terrible habit of leashing and teleporting around, feeling like you’re playing on a laggy server (even though you’re playing locally). This can be quite frustrating when an enemy decides to teleport inside a wall or behind you and then ruins you before you can react. This behaviour was particularly noticeable in the larger environments with multiple levels, something that seemed to confuse the AI to no end. Additionally the game’s difficult goes up in fits and starts, meaning that you can go from feeling like the game is far too easy to punishingly hard in the space of a single mission. This is something of a solved problem these days and, whilst I get that might be part of the appeal of 90s nostalgia titles like this, it doesn’t make for the greatest experience these days.

The story is, as expected, light on with the plot and heavy with the wang jokes. It’s a little more heavy handed than its predecessor was, lacking some of the seriousness and reflection of its predecessor to contrast Wang’s irreverant humour. Not that you’d be playing this for the plot, mind, but the previous instalment did a better job of striking a balance between the two aspects. Indeed the best comedic titles are the one that aren’t all comedy all the time, something which a few developers have forgotten of late (I’m looking at you Gearbox).

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Shadow Warrior 2 brings with it the 90s nostalgia that many of us enjoy with numerous modern mechanics that ensure this is much more than a simple re-release. It’s much more broader than its predecessor was, taking on many characteristics of open world titles but on a smaller, more manageable scale. The introduction of multiple progression systems can be a little overwhelming at first but it does mean that you won’t be wanting for skill points or upgrades for long. Combat retains that 90s feel, favouring fast action over realistic encounters. The grander scale brings with it a few issues, both in technical and design terms, but none of these are beyond fixing. Overall, whilst I think Shadow Warrior 2 isn’t as great of a game as its predecessor was, it’s still worth playing.

Rating: 8.0/10

Shadow Warrior 2 is available on PC right now (with PlayStation 4 and Xbox One coming in Q1 2017) for $39.99. Total play time was 12 hours with 54% of the achievements unlocked.

State of the Game: 17/10/2016 to 23/10/2016

State of the Game: 10/10/2016 to 16/10/2016