The Battlefield series of games has always felt like the more strategic brother of Call of Duty, opting for a slightly slower game pace that favours more careful, considerate play. As someone who only recently found himself enjoying this genre again it took me a while to get accustomed to this as I had gotten used to the high action spam fest, quickly unloading my entire inventory in the vague direction of where the enemy stood. At the same time Battlefield 3 demonstrated what powerful PCs were capable of with Frostbite 2 engine giving us graphics on a level that few other games had yet to achieve. Battlefield 4 feels like the organic progression of the world that its predecessor set up, offering a very similar experience that’s seen many improvements.
Battlefield 4 takes place 6 years after the events of Battlefield 3 and the escalating tensions between Russia and the USA are at an all time high, threatening to turn into an all out war. At the same time Admiral Chang, a high ranking Chinese military commander, is plotting to overthrow the Chinese government in a coup d’etat. You play as Recker, a member of the special forces squad designated Tombstone, who’s attempting to return vital intel that confirms Chang’s plans. Worse still you’ve found out that should Chang succeed he’ll have the full backing of the Russian government, ensuring that large scale will come to America’s shores. Your task is stop Chang’s rise to power and avert a global scale war.
Just like its predecessor Battlefield impresses with its high standard of graphics thanks to the improvements brought by the Frostbite 3 engine.The environments certainly look and feel more alive, especially considering that nearly everything is destructible now. Indeed everything has a very cinematic feel about it as the level of graphics in game surpasses that of many others pre-rendered cut scenes. Surprisingly even though I haven’t upgraded my computer since the last Battlefield I was still able to play at extremely high settings, albeit with anti-aliasing turned off. The only time I got noticeable slow down was in some of the larger conquest maps where a good chunk of the players were all converging on one point. This is likely due to my ATI graphics card which supports the Mantle API which DICE have included support for in this new engine.
Battlefield 4′s campaign is, for the most part, your typical run and gun FPS although unlike most other corridor shooters there are usually several paths for you to take to achieve your objective. It is somewhat more constrained than what I previously remember which I think is partly due to the set pieces DICE chose with many more closed in spaces. Still I can recall multiple moments where I’d see multiple ways of achieving my objective, some guns blazing and others with a much more subtle approach. At the same time there are some paths that look like viable options which simply aren’t but Battlefield 4′s check pointing system is good enough that you don’t feel overly punished for experimenting once in a while.
One of the key differences between Battlefield 3 and 4 is that you now have the option to customize your load out during missions via the use of weapon crates. You don’t have access to all the weapons to begin with however, instead you’ll unlock them by achieving a certain number of points, much like you would during a multi-player game. One thing they didn’t mention, although I will admit I might have missed it, is that you also unlock weapons by picking them up off fallen enemies. This was particularly frustrating for me as since I was favouring a sniper rifle there weren’t any upgrades unlocked through the points system (at least none I can remember) and I only lucked out on an upgrade when I accidentally picked one up. That was when I found out of the 2 different ways of unlocking weapons, something I would’ve liked to have known about a lot earlier.
There’s also a rudimentary stealth system incorporated for some reason and it takes after the Splinter Cell way, showing you a little bar that’s pointing in the direction of the person who can see you. Once it flashes that means they’ve detected you and will alert everyone in that section to your location. Whilst you can get a whole bunch done by taking out enemies stealthily it’s quite obvious that the game doesn’t expect you to do this as you can be right in front of someone and still not break stealth. Additionally there’s no way to reset back to a state where the enemies no longer know where you are, even if you manage to escape without them being able to see you. Honestly it would have probably been better to leave that system out altogether and do the stealth bits via cut scene as it doesn’t really add much to the game overall.
The story of Battlefield 4 is a really mixed experience as there are moments which could have been quite amazing however I just didn’t have the emotional investment in the characters required to make said moments possible. This might also be a function of this genre’s inability to get away from the clichéd plot of America (FUCK YEAH) vs the world as whilst it makes for some intense action and drama it does not make for a deep and engrossing plot. Still I can’t say I was bored during any of it and the length was extended slightly above its predecessors which was honestly just a tad too short. One part where it really fell down however was the ending as I can never give a game props for using the Endotron 3000 to give you multiple different endings.
However the multiplayer retains that larger than life feeling that I only seem to get from Battlefield games. The new large conquest maps are an absolute joy to play and the chaos that ensues from having a 32 on 32 battle is really hard to beat. It can be a little daunting coming into a game like this so many months after it’s been out as everyone has levelled up way past you but once you find the class that fits you best it becomes quite easy to stack on a few levels and unlock some better kit to help you out. There’s enough unlocks and awards in Battlefield 4 to keep even the most adamant achievement hunter busy for months and even after spending a good 4 hours playing through the various maps I still feel like there’s a lot more to discover.
What lets down the entire experience though, and something I was rather annoyed was still present considering how late I came to Battlefield 4, was the number of crashes, bugs and glitches that plague the experience. I had the single player game crash on me numerous times, often several times during a single mission, without any rhyme or reason as to why it was happening. This continued into the multiplayer where doing certain things, actions which I assumed were part of the core game (like jumping off a tall building and parachuting the ground below) would again result in a crash. This persisted for the last 2 weeks as I stumbled my way through multiplayer and whilst it’s been fixed now (at least I didn’t have any crashes in the last couple days) DICE really needs to get their act together when bugs at that level are still persistent almost 3 months after release.
Battlefield 4 is a solid game, improving substantially on its predecessor in many respects whilst being different enough to stand on its own. The campaign is a solid 6 hours of fun, offering you a varying number of challenges that can be accomplished in many different ways. The multiplayer is, as always, larger than life and filled with so many choices that people will be theorycrafting for years as to what the best builds are for various situations. The experience was unfortunately let down by its horrendously buggy nature, something which has only just been recently fixed, but I’m glad to say that people buying the game now are coming in at a stage where it isn’t as bad as it used to be. Battlefield 4 then is well worth the price of admission, especially for long time fans of the series.
Battlefield 4 is available on PC, Xbox360 , PlayStation3, XboxOne and PlayStation 4 for $79.99, $78, $78 , $98 and $98 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 6 hours on the campaign and 4 hours on multiplayer.
There are few things I find more enjoyable than putting together a new PC. It starts off with the chase where I determine my budget and then start chasing down the various components that will make up the final system. Then comes the verification where I trawl through dozens upon dozens of reviews to ensure the I’ve selected only the best products for their price bracket. Finally the time comes when I purchase all the components, hopefully from a single vendor with price matching, and then after the components arrive I’ll begin the immensely enjoyable task of assembling my (or someone else’s) new PC. Nothing quite beats the feeling of seeing Windows boot up for the first time on a new bit of hardware you just finished building.
Of course I realise that the vast majority of the world doesn’t enjoy engaging in such activities, especially if all you’re doing with your PC is watching movies or doing the occasional bit of word processing, and this is typically when I’ll send them to any one of a number of PC manufacturers who can give them a solid device with a long warranty. My gamer buddies will typically get me to validate their builds and, if they don’t feel up to the task, get me to build it or simply stick to consoles which provide a pretty good experience for much of their useful life. This is why I think Razer’s Project Christine is trying to target a market that just doesn’t exist as it sits in between already well defined market segments that are both already well serviced.
Project Christine is, as a concept, a pretty interesting idea. All the core components that make up a PC (RAM, storage, graphics card, etc.) have been modularized allowing almost anyone to build up a custom PC of their liking without the requisite PC building experience. The design is somewhat reminiscent of the Thermaltake Level 10 which used the compartmentalization of different parts to improve the cooling as well as to make maintenance easier. Razer’s concept takes this idea to the extreme, effectively commoditizing some of the skills required to build a high end gaming PC whilst still retaining the same issues around configuration, like knowing which components are the best bang for buck at the time.
Razer could potentially head off that second issue by going ahead with their subscription based model for upgraded parts. The idea would be that after you’ve bought whatever model you wanted (this service appears to be targeted to the high end) then you pay a monthly subscription feed to get the latest and greatest parts delivered to you. For the ultimate in hardcore gamers this could be somewhat attractive however it’d likely be an extremely expensive service to opt in to as the latest PC components are rarely among the cheapest or best value. Still if you’ve got a lot of money and not a whole lot of time then it could be of use to you except the fact that you’ve invested so much in a gaming rig typically means you have enough time to make use of it.
This is where I feel Project Christine falls down as the target market is a demographic of people who are interested in configuring their computer right up to the point of physically building it. Whilst I don’t really have any facts to back up this next assertion it has been my experience that people of this nature are either already well serviced by custom build services (which most PC shops provide) or know someone with the capabilities to do it. Sure the modular nature of the Christine is pretty awesome, and it certainly makes a striking impression, however that also means you need to wait for Razer to Christine-ify parts before they’ll be available to you. You might be able to crack them open and do the upgrade yourself but then you’re really only one step away from doing a full PC build anyway.
With consoles and PCs lasting longer and longer as time goes by concepts like Project Christine seem to be rooted in the past idea that a gaming PC needed constant upgrades to remain viable. That simply hasn’t been the case for the better part of a decade and whilst the next generation of consoles might spur an initial burst in PC upgrades it’s doubtful that the constant upgrade cycle will ever return. Project Christine might find itself with a dedicated niche of users but I really don’t believe it will be large enough to be sustainable, even with the Razer name behind it.
The Steam Holiday sale is often a time of buyer’s remorse for someone like me. Since I tend to buy games right after they come out (usually for review on here) by the time a Steam sale rocks around my library is usually already filled with the titles that are now available at under half the price. Still it gives me the opportunity to pick up games that were on my radar but just didn’t quite make the cut at their regular prices and Lost Planet 3 was one of them. I’ve always been tangentially aware of the series, ever since back when one of my house mates showed it to me, but hadn’t given it a go until now.
Lost Planet 3 is a prequel to the previous instalments and you play as Jim Peyton, a rig pilot for hire who specializes in manning giant robots that function in the most hostile environments. Jim has had a rough time finding work so when a contract comes through to travel to a distant planet he has little choice but to accept. Upon arrival however things aren’t exactly as they were first sold to you as many of the long time residents at this colony will tell you. Still Jim tries to keep his head down and just focus on the work, ensuring his family’s survival, until he stumbles upon something which changes his world forever.
The visuals of Lost Planet 3 have their moments, like the screenshot just below, but it’s obvious that the PC version of this game is a port of the Xbox360 one. I think this is party due to the use of the Unreal 3 engine which, like Flash Player, has a tendency to make everything done it have a very similar feel about it. That means the graphics feel pretty dated even when you’ve got everything cranked up to maximum. The flip side of this is that it runs quite smoothly regardless of how much action is on the screen, something which you will be thankful for in some of the more action packed scenes.
The game play of Lost Planet 3 is divided pretty equally between 2 different modes. The first is you standard 3rd person cover based shooter where you’ll run and gun your way through massive troves of insect like aliens all the while making sure you have a place to hide once you’ve taken too much damage. The second is when your in your rig which functions as both your transportation as well as an alternate style of combat. Both of these have their own upgrade systems with your character having several of them, enabling you to upgrade him significantly should you want to put in the effort.
Lost Planet 3 incorporates some RPG aspects as well allowing you to follow the core story mission whenever you want to but also providing you with a bevy of side missions to keep you occupied. For the most part they’re simply there to unlock more upgrades or give you more TE to spend at the default upgrade stores but there are a couple that seem to have no real purpose behind them. The DNA scanning mission for instance doesn’t seem to have any appreciable benefit for you at all. I must have scanned nearly all of the enemies I encountered, some multiple times just to be sure, but still upon returning to the quest giver I found no reward at all. I don’t know if there was a threshold or something else I was missing but the mission said nothing more than “Scan enemies with this special ammo”.
The combat on foot is relatively engaging, mostly towards the beginning where you have to make every shot count lest you be over-run by even just a few Akrid. This starts to peter out gradually as you progress through the game as the absolute power of the enemies doesn’t seem to change that much whilst yours scales ever upwards. It’s even more apparent with the threat of running out of ammunition is taken away from you (your rig has an ammo locker in its feet providing unlimited ammo) allowing you to simply spray and pray your way through those sections. There are some parts where this is used to great effect, during the drilling missions is a good example of this, but it can make it feel like being in your rig is somewhat redundant at points when it’d likely be much easier to just get out and shoot.
Your rig is a cool idea however it’s more of a transportation device and puzzle mechanic more than anything else. Sure you’ll get into combat with it but for the most part it’s dumbed down so much that it barely rates above a quick time event at most points. This is never more clear than when you’re locked inside the cabin when fighting an enemy that you’d previously fought on foot, forcing you to use your rig rather than the already proven method that you’d used previously. I can understand that this was done in part to make the rig upgrades actually worth getting but you could honestly skip all the ones that aren’t given to you as part of the story and still not have an issue.
Indeed apart from a few weapon upgrades the multiple upgrade systems that your character has access to are almost completely redundant. I was playing the game on the hardest difficulty and found that the combination of the prototype pulse rifle alongside the explosive bow was pretty much all I needed for any situation. It doesn’t help that there’s large chunks of the game where you’ll be rolling in TE but not have a place to spend it because you’re locked in that part of the game until you complete it. If you’re someone that likes to find all these collectibles then you might find some value in the multiple upgrade systems Lost Planet 3 has but since you don’t need them there’s little compelling you to seek them out.
Lost Planet 3′s story is told in flashbacks by an old Jim who’s regaling his grand daughter with the story of how he came to be on EDN III before he dies due to a cave in. This has the effect of removing all tension from any part of the game where you think you might be in danger as you know he makes it out in the end. Whilst the whole corporate conspiracy plot was a little obvious it would have probably been quite serviceable should it of not been told in retrospect as some of the more tense moments wouldn’t have had such a predictable outcome.
Lost Planet 3 is a game that had great aspirations but fell short of accomplishing them. I feel this is mostly due to the cramming in of too many other things that detracted from the main story line, leaving most of the features feeling decidedly middle of the road rather than being the polished gems they could be. Lost Planet 3 has its moments but they’re unfortunately lost in the mediocrity of the rest of the game. Fans of the series might get more out of this title than most as it does delve into the past that precedes the previous 2 instalments but for anyone else it’s simply another middle of the road game, one best grabbed at Steam sale time.
Lost Planet 3 is available on PC, Xbox360 and PlayStation3 right now for $49.99, $68 and $68 respectively. Game was played on the PC with around 10 hours of total play time.
Originally my idea for reviewing one game a week was done primarily to avoid writer’s block once a week as they’re by far my easiest posts to write and usually the most enjoyable as well. However sticking to that promise meant that I couldn’t just rely on AAA titles like I had done previously, no in order to be able to keep a steady stream of reviews going I’d need to broaden my gaming horizons significantly and play games that I might not have considered previously. To that end 2013 was filled with a bevy of titles ranging from some of the most unheard indie developers to major publishing houses with pedigrees spanning decades.
Whilst I had initially thought the calibre of games this year to be somewhat lacklustre looking over the list I can see that instead its my standards that have increased as many of these titles have received wide critical acclaim, including my own. Indeed looking back over the scores there are multiple titles that share my highest rating (9.5 this year) indicating that any one of them could potentially be crowned game of the year. Still looking over this list I’m finding myself torn to crown a winner as many of them are deserving of it, especially within their own genre.
Here’s 2013′s list of reviews in chronological order:
The winner of the wooden spoon this year should be pretty obvious as there was no other game that was so widely panned as Ride to Hell: Retribution was. Whilst I can understand a publisher wanting to get something out of their investment Ride to Hell: Retribution was clearly unfinished with the actual functioning bits simply not coming together cohesively. Mind you it probably wouldn’t have been a highly rated game should it have had the time required to fix it, with all bets with it being something like GTA but with bikers, but you have to wonder about the execs who put the stamp of approval on something like that.
I have to give a shout out to Gone Home as it was by far one of the most impressive storytelling games evidenced by the fact that I felt my review could really only be meant for those who had played it already. It starts off slow but you find yourself being pulled in ever so slowly as the story begins to reveal itself to you. Yet again I’ll have to stop myself here as to say any more would feel like I was spoiling the game for you and whilst Gone Home won’t receive my Game of the Year award you can be damn sure it was one of my main contenders.
The final battle for my game of the year comes down to 2 titles, both of which I have been praised for their strong story. The reason I’m conflicted is one of my known bias towards one of the games and the other being in a genre that I typically rate lower. That being said upon taking a step back and thinking about which of those two titles was the better overall game the choice was clear: my game of the year for 2013 is The Last of Us.
Whilst my aversion to survival horror is well known The Last of Us managed to draw me in far more than any other title in its genre has managed to do and that’s pretty much all due to the gripping story that it portrays. At the time I can remember saying that I didn’t think it was game of the year material, especially considering all the hype surrounding it, but upon reflection it is the best game I played last year. Few titles have managed to cement me in my seat for the better part of a day (I think I spent 9 hours straight in my last run to finish it) and fewer still have made such a lasting impression on so many. Naughty Dog is to be commended for taking the risk on a new IP and pulling it off so well.
The runner up is, as you could have guessed, Beyond: Two Souls. Whilst the wider critical reaction to it has been somewhat mixed I was definitely a fan of it, thoroughly enjoying the playable movie that Quantic Dream had created for us. However it’s not as strong of a title as Heavy Rain was which is what made me realise just how solid the Last of Us really is. It’s still a great game though and one that I’d heartily recommend to anyone who’s seeking a great interactive movie experience.
2014 is looking like a great year for games with dozens of AAA and indie titles coming out that I’m already looking forward to. I’ll endeavour to stick to my guns of doing 1 review per week as that seems to strike the right balance between variety and amount of time I need to dedicate to getting them out.
So, dear readers, what was your Game of the Year for 2013?
It’s no secret that my preferred gaming platform is the PC and the platform I run on top of that is Microsoft Windows. Whilst OSX and Linux might be gaining more momentum as of late they’re still quite far behind in terms of support from major titles, with the indie scene being the catalyst that’s driving them forward. With the introduction of SteamOS though Valve signalled that they had lost confidence in the Windows platform to deliver the same gaming experience as it had done for decades previously, predominately due to the changes that came in with Windows 8 and the WinRT platform. This is where I and Gabe Newell start to disagree and if the latest numbers are anything to go by so do a good chunk of his customers.
The Steam Hardware Survey is a monthly data collection that Valve does through Steam to give an overview of the current trends in PC gaming. The results are a great insight into what gamers are using to play their games and is a great source of information for developers and pundits alike. The December 2013 results show a trend that even I didn’t think would be possible: a staggering 20% of Steam’s user base is now on Windows 8 or 8.1 64 bit. Compared to wider PC adoption rates this is even more impressive as it’s less than half of that of Steam users. Whilst I wouldn’t go as far to say that these figures should change Gabe’s mind (and indeed I believe he should stay the course with SteamOS) it does call into question the reasoning behind his recent musings about Windows as a gaming platform.
Another interesting titbit of information buried in the survey is that the fastest growing platform by far is Windows 8.1. Whilst it’s arguable that this is likely due to the improvements made in 8.1 (like the return of the start bar and the straight to desktop mode) I think it’s far more likely because this is the first Windows update that’s been made freely available to end users. Indeed it’s kind of hard to avoid upgrading to it as Windows will nag you every so often about it and since the update is completely non-destructive there’s really no barrier to getting the upgrade past a few hours. Still a raw increase of 2.5% of market share in a month is quite impressive and shows that Microsoft has done something right with its release.
I think it’s clear that Windows is still a very viable platform for gaming, even with Microsoft’s big push for things to start going the WinRT way. I’ve always been of the stance that the traditional desktop isn’t going to go anywhere, even in the face of tablets and other touch devices taking a bigger slice of the market that PCs used to occupy, and it seems a good chunk of the gaming community agrees with that idea. I’m sure Microsoft is also keenly aware of how much revenue the gaming community brings to them and how much of that is due to Steam so it’d be very surprising to see them do anything to push them away from the Windows platform.
You’d think that since I have something of a obsession with competitive style games, ones that often require fast reflexes, would lead to an appreciation for other twitch based games. In general though I don’t find that’s the case as more often than not I find myself feeling drained by the experience, wondering why I’m giving myself RSI just to get to the next level. I am a sucker for unique takes on traditional game mechanics though and Race The Sun, the first PC game from independent studio Flippfly and hot off their Kickstarter campaign, manage to bypass much of the anxiety I felt with other similar styles of games whilst still providing a challenging experience.
You’re a solar powered craft, gliding peacefully across the planet. The problem is though that you have a limited life as you can only move when the sun is shining down of you. This presents something of a problem as the sun is going down…fast. The race is on then for you to catch up with it, extending what short life you have so that you can continue your journey across this spartan world. It’s not that simple of course as the way is covered with obstacles and shiny trinkets, things that can lead to your untimely demise should you break your concentration for a split second.
Race The Sun utilizes incredibly simple graphics with the vast majority of detail in the world being provided by the shadows cast from all the untextured objects. It’s something that you’ll be thankful for as you progress through the game as later levels will be littered with innumerable objects, all of which are capable of putting an end to your short journey. Thus the simple visual style allows you to determine safe paths very far out although being able to stick to them is another matter entirely. Whilst Race The Sun is only available on PC currently I could easily see the game running very well on a wide range of mobile devices something which I’m sure is in the works considering Flippfly’s previous title.
The mechanics of Race The Sun are simple in essence, you simply have to keep going forward and avoiding any obstacles along your way. The further you go the more points you get and you can boost your score even higher by collecting “Tris”, small pyramid structures that dot the landscape. In principle this would make for a pretty straightforward game, very similar to other games like BIT.TRIP Runner, however Race The Sun throws in a bunch of other mechanics to ensure that your journey is never quite the same nor as simple as you might first think.
Initially all you do is avoid obstacles and in doing so you’ll earn yourself points, eventually levelling you up. As you level up you’re granted more and more powers such as being able to collect jump power ups or be able to equip your ship with new powers to make certain aspects easier. These challenges, whilst starting off simple, rapidly turn into the game’s main source of replayability as they encourage you to attempt behaviour that is antithetical to your main goal of moving forward to increase your score. The most memorable one by far was the one where I could only turn left through 2 whole regions, something which proved to be incredibly difficult given the fact that one mistake can lead to your downfall.
The powers also help spice things up a bit as they enable you to do things that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to. The magnet for instance, the first power you get, allows you to collect Tris from further away than normal. It doesn’t seem that noticeable at first but you’ll be able to do things like saddle up next to Tris that are on high platforms to collect them without having to use a ramp or jump power up to do so. Whilst I’ve yet to unlock more than the first 2 powers suffice to say that they can be game changing and I’m sure the ones I haven’t unlocked yet are.
Race The Sun’s world is also regenerated every 24 hours, giving you enough time to become familiar with it but not long enough that you’d be able to write a strategy guide for it before the world shifted again. Due to its procedural nature some of the worlds are more conducive to certain types of play than others so if you’re finding yourself being unable to complete a certain challenge it’s probably worth your time to wait until tomorrow to give it another go. Of course it can also be somewhat frustrating to get a great strategy down only to have it dashed by the world remaking itself but for the most part any tactics you come up with in one world will be transferable to the next.
Race The Sun is a great little distraction, offering up intense twitch based game play coupled with a minimalistic style and intriguing game mechanics. The daily world regeneration and leaderboards will ensure that anyone with a competitive bent will find a lot of enjoyment out of it, attempting to find the best path through Race The Sun’s world in order to maximise their score. It might not have the staying power of similar games in its genre but it’s very enjoyable, offering up a challenge that’s both unique and refreshing.
Race The Sun is available on PC right now for $10. Total game time was approximately 1.5 hours with 24% of the achievements unlocked.
It’s been a while since a good stealth game has crossed my path with many of the games that I’ve played recently including stealth as a tacked on aspect that doesn’t add much to the game play at all. Indeed stealth mechanics are notoriously difficult to get just right as it’s quite easy to make it completely ineffective or, by virtue of making the stealth so powerful, nullify other aspects of the game. The Splinter Cell series of games might never have been considered the pinnacle of stealth game play (I think Deus Ex and Thief take the cake there) but they were most assuredly one of the few games that got stealth mechanics right and Blacklist is no exception.
Splinter Cell: Blacklist puts you back in the shoes of Sam Fischer, long time black ops agent who’s regularly tasked with missions that require the utmost discretion. On what seems to be a routine trip out of Andersen Air Base quickly turns south as an unknown assailant lays siege to the entire base, taking down the chopper that Sam and his old friend, Victor Coste, were in. It’s soon revealed that the people behind the attack are calling themselves The Engineers and their goal is nothing short of the USA pulling all their troops out of every foreign country. Should the USA not comply they’ll have 7 days before the next attack will occur, that is unless Fischer can stop them.
Right off the bat Blacklist impresses with its top class visuals, easily surpassing many titles of the same generation. Whilst you’ll be predominately spending most of your time in the dark (should you choose to play that way) there are numerous times when you’ll find yourself gawking at the lush scenery or the incredible amounts of detail in the environments. This plays heavily into the fact that the environment is as much of a weapon against your enemies as your large arsenal is as these detail environments will provide you with dozens of paths and opportunities to complete sections as you see fit. This is only made better by the solid voice acting by all of the characters, adding another level of depth that I honestly wasn’t expecting from Blacklist.
Whilst Blacklist is primarily designed as a stealth action game its essentially 3 different games in one, all of which are available depending on how you want to play it out. Blacklist does encourage you to take the hardest road (fully stealth, don’t kill anyone) by making that the most rewarding path however if you’d prefer to play it a bit quicker by switching to lethal take downs that path is also quite viable. Then, should your inner Call of Duty fan be rattling his cage, you can then switch to full out run and gun mode leaving a trail of destruction in your wake. This path comes with the least rewards however but you’d rarely find yourself wanting should you decide to play it this way.
As a fan of the stealth genre I tried my best to stick to the fully undetected, non-lethal take down approach which is by far the most challenging way to play the game. It takes a little while to get used to the way enemies react to you, figuring out how long you can stay in their line of sight before you’ll be detected, but once you’ve got a feel for it the system provides enough challenge without making it feel like you’re against a race of super soldiers with heightened senses.However you’re more likely to make the game far more challenging if you’re trying to stick to a couple goals (no kill, completely undetected) as one mistake can lead to you needing to use tactics that will go counter to your plan.
Although your job does become a lot easier as you start to unlock better gear, especially when it comes to the tactical goggles on your head. They start off just being your run of the mill night vision goggles but after a couple upgrades they give you see-through-the-wall capability which turns you into a super hero like agent. It’s balanced by the fact that they don’t ping out when you’re moving, so you can get yourself into tight situations if you don’t take the time to stop and look around, but if your aim is to go full stealth then you’re best bet is to drop as much cash as you can into the goggles early and look to upgrading other things later.
If you’re going to take the Panther approach (stealth killing rather than stealth knock outs) then you’re probably better off investing in some of the more powerful weapons so that you can take out enemies more efficiently. It’s in this aspect that you’re somewhat spoiled for choice as there are literally dozens of alternatives for the 2 primary slots which will be candy to those achievement hunters who love to unlock everything. Personally since I was going for the min-max approach there was really only a couple weapons that would suit me and by far the best ones are the prototype weapons that are unlocked by upgrading the weapons lab. Some of the others might be better for other situations but considering how powerful the prototype assault rifle was you’d be hard pressed to find anything better, honestly.
I’ll admit that I skipped all but the story missions as they seemed to be the most interesting out of the lot. There’s a bunch of co-op and multiplayer missions that you can do for extra cash and gear unlocks however the gear I had as part of the game bundle I bought meant I didn’t find myself wanting for a lot of it. This is probably my main criticism I’ll level at Blacklist as the fact that I spent a couple extra bucks on the game meant I was able to skip a lot of content because I didn’t feel compelled to pursue any of the additional unlocks. I understand this won’t be the case for everyone however it does bring into the question of single player balance and the use of potentially game breaking rewards for those who elect to pay a company a few dollars extra.
The story of Blacklist isn’t going to win any awards but I did feel that it had a depth to it that many comparable FPS or stealth games lacked. Instead of simply being sent on a mission to take out person X or stop terrorist attack Y from happening all the missions have a wealth of background behind them, with many of the characters being acutely aware of the impact their actions could have on the wider geopolitical landscape. It’s probably even better for those who’ve played the previous Splinter Cell titles (I can only vaguely remember playing one, Pandora Tomorrow I think) as many of the characters were featured previously.
Splinter Cell: Blacklist is an excellent example of a modern day stealth title, giving the player a great degree of freedom in playing the game out how they see fit. The stealth is done exceptionally well with every level having dozens of alternative paths so that you can craft your own way through. Even the sections where you’re forced into run and gun combat feel great which leads me to believe that even if you played Blacklist as a traditional FPS it’d still rate up there as a great game. Blacklist then is a title I can help but recommend especially if you’re a fan of the stealth genre.
Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Blacklist is available on PC, Xbox360, PlayStation3 and WiiU right now for $59.99, $78, $78 and $78 respectively. Game was played on the PC on Normal difficulty with 10.7 hours of total play time.
It’s 2006, the clock minutes away from ticking over midnight and I’m sitting near my local games shop waiting for it to open. I’m here because I pre-ordered my PlayStation3 months in advance, even though I knew I was going to be slugged hard by the price, and tonight was the night, I was going to collect my prize. There wasn’t any bedlam to speak of, I think was maybe a total of 50 of us waiting there, and within half an hour I was walking out of the store cradling my latest acquisition. Notably absent from my collection however was any kind of title to play on it, meaning that all I did with it when I got home was create my account and get it ready for when my first game would arrive.
Whilst I didn’t repeat the same midnight launch experience this time around, instead I had the console delivered to my door on launch day, the experience once I powered it up was pretty much identical. My PlayStation4 now sits there, next to its previous generation brethren, however I have not a single title I can play on it. The simple fact behind this, one I’m begrudgingly admitting to because of my previously hard fought stance with a friend, is that there simply aren’t any titles that are worth playing on it right now. Sure there are a lot of good games available for it, and if this was the only platform you had then you’d be well advised to play them, however the majority of the good titles are cross platform with the exclusives just not being that attractive.
I was somewhat tempted to download a title just to test it out although there wasn’t anything free available (unless you used your free month of PlayStation Plus, but the current title is available on PC) and the prices were, to be frank, extortion. The only title I was semi-considering was Killzone: Shadow Fall however it retails for a smidge under $100 in the PlayStation Store when it can be had locally for $79. Anything else didn’t seem like it was worth getting to test the PlayStation4 out as they were all relatively simple games that would have been at home on the previous generation of consoles.
Indeed even the title that I was using as the exception to the shitty launch day titles rule, The Witness, has since been announced that it will be coming to the PC as well even though it was going to be something of a PlayStation4 exclusive. Calling it a launch window title also seems a little bit rich at this point as it’s not slated to be released until early next year, leaving the console without a compelling title for a month or more. This is good news for anyone who still isn’t sure which of the next generation consoles to back but for early adopters like me, people who believe enough in the platform’s potential to plonk down cash sight unseen, it is something of a let down.
Honestly though I only have myself to blame for this, I knew going in that most of the available titles were of little interest to me but I was holding out hope that it wouldn’t be too long after before The Witness was released. It’s much the same experience I had with White Knight Chronicles, foolishly thinking that it was to be made available either on launch or shortly after. I guess I was hoping things would be different this time around, figuring that 7 years of progress would mean that there’d be at least one compelling exclusive available. As we can see there isn’t so my shiny new PlayStation 4 will have to sit there, biding it time until it’s able to shine.
Ever since my rather devastating experience with Super Meat Boy I’ve been pretty adverse to twitch based platformers, mostly because I don’t want to give myself RSI or an aneurysm. Whilst I may have made a brief foray back into the genre with They Bleed Pixels there have been numerous others I’ve left by the wayside because of the sense of dread I get when I play them. However I am a sucker for minimalistic takes on game ideas and 140, spawned by the man who was the gameplay director for Limbo, strips away much of the typical platforming experience and then amplifies it with its own brand of unique mechanics.
You’re a square, but only when you stand still. You’re a circle, but only when you’re moving. You’re a triangle, but only when you’re flying. The only instinct you have is to move from the left side of the screen to the right, backed by an eerie and haunting sound. Things start to change as you pick up these strange little baubles that dot the landscape, reshaping that sound into a pulsating beat which the entire world reacts to in time. This world isn’t completely safe though as there are many things that would seek to stop your journey forward, but even they are slaves to the rhythm that weaves through everything around you.
The art style of 140 is probably the most ferocious example of minimalism that I’ve seen to date. Things that you’d usually expect to see in even minimalistically styled games like gradients, shadows or shading simply don’t exist here with everything being solid colours. This is not to say that it’s a visually dull game however, far from it, more that when something is done to this level of simplicity it’s anything but random, it’s a carefully calculated experience that’s designed to get you focused on the game play. In that respect it does well as you’ll do little more in the short time this game will keep you.
The main game mechanic of 140 is 2D platforming, seeing you leap from section to section and often failing, seeing you transported back to your last checkpoint. However the twist with 140 is that the entire world reacts to the background music which you build up by collecting the little orbs and then bringing them back to a platform. Every time you do this the world around you will change, either wholesale by transporting you to another place or by bringing another part of the environment to life. This opens up new opportunities for you to progress but also ramps up the difficultly level, forcing you to reconsider how you’ve been playing up until that point in order to incorporate this new mechanic.
The enemies and boss fights are also pretty intriguing, taking the same music driven idea and incorporating it into battles that have the signature trademarks of other genres (like bullet hell, for example). They’re a fun distraction from the rudimentary platforming, often forcing you to think radically differently in order to complete them. The final challenge felt like something of a cock block though and whilst I got close to completing the game the somewhat random nature of it (yes I know there’s a pattern but since it doesn’t repeat from the start on death it’s a real pain to figure out) seem to catch me out every time I got close to the final puzzle.
Unfortunately there’s not much more I can say about 140 as it’s an experience that you have to play for yourself to really appreciate. At the beginning it feels a little too simple, lacking pretty much anything to keep you interested, however that quickly changes as the music ramps up and the world starts reacting to it. It’s also a very short experience too, clocking in at just over an hour, which makes it well worth a look in if you’re seeking something radically different from the gaming norm.
140 is available on PC right now for $4.99. Total game time was approximately 1 hour.
Us gamers tend to be hoarders when it comes to our game collections with many of us amassing huge stashes of titles on our platforms of choice. My steam library alone blew past 300 titles some time ago and anyone visiting my house will see the dozens of game boxes littering every corner of the house. There’s something of a sunk cost in all this and it’s why the idea of being able to play them on a current generation system is always attractive to people like me: we like to go back sometimes and play through games of our past. Whilst my platform of choice rarely suffers from this (PCs are the kings of backwards compatibility) my large console collection is in varying states of being able to play my library of titles and, if I’m honest, I don’t think it’s ever going to get better.
For the current kings of the console market the decision to do away with backwards compatibility has been something of a sore spot for many gamers. Whilst the numbers show that most people buy new consoles to play the new games on them¹ there’s a non-zero number who get a lot of enjoyment out of their current gen titles. Indeed I probably would’ve actually used my PlayStation4 for gaming if it had some modicum of backwards compatibility as right now there aren’t any compelling titles for it. This doesn’t seem to have been much of a hinderance to adoption of the now current gen platforms however.
There does seem to be a lot of faith being poured into the idea that backwards compatibility will come eventually through cloud services, of which only Sony has committed to developing. The idea is attractive, mainly because it then enables you to play any time you want from a multitude of devices, however, as I’ve stated in the past, the feasibility of such an idea isn’t great, especially if it relies on server hardware needing to be in many disparate locations around the world to make the service viable. Whilst both Sony and Microsoft have the capital to make this happen (and indeed Sony has a head start on it thanks to the Gaikai acquisition) the issues I previously mentioned are only compounded when it comes to providing a cloud based service with console games.
The easiest way of achieving this is to just run a bunch of the old consoles in a server environment and allow users to connect directly to them. This has the advantage of being cheaper from a capital point of view as I’m sure both Sony and Microsoft have untold hordes of old consoles to take advantage of, however the service would be inherently unscalable and, past a certain point, unmaintable. The better solution is to emulate the console in software which would allow you to run it on whatever hardware you wanted but this brings with it challenges I’m not sure even Microsoft or Sony are capable of solving.
You see whilst the hardware of the past generation consoles is rather long in the tooth emulating it in software is nigh on impossible. Whilst there’s some experimental efforts by the emulation community to do this none of them have produced anything capable of running even the most basic titles. Indeed even with access to the full schematics of the hardware recreating them in software would be a herculean effort, especially for Sony who’s Cell processor is a nightmare architecturally speaking.
There’s also the possibility that Sony has had the Gaikai team working on a Cell to x86 transition library which could make the entire PlayStation3 library available without too much hassle although there would likely be a heavy trade off in performance. In all honesty that’s probably the most feasible solution as it’d allow them to run the titles on commodity hardware but you’d still have the problems of scaling out the service that I’ve touched on in previous posts.
Whatever ends up happening we’re not going to hear much more about it until sometime next year and it’ll be a while after that before we can get our hands on it (my money is on 2016 for Australia). If you’re sitting on a trove of old titles and hoping that the next gen will allow you to play them I wouldn’t hold your breath as its much more likely that it’ll be extremely limited, likely requiring an additional cost on top of your PlayStation Plus membership. That’s even if it works as everyone speculating it will as I can see it easily turning out to be something else entirely.
¹ I can’t seem to find a source for this but back when the PlayStation3 Slim was announced (having that capability removed) I can remember a Sony executive saying something to this effect. It was probably a combination of factors that led up to him saying that though as around that time the PlayStation2 Slim was still being manufactured and was retailing for AUD$100, so it was highly likely that anyone who had the cash to splurge on a PlayStation3 likely owned a PlayStation2.