Games

Watch_Dogs 2: Join the 1337 h4x0r5.

The original Watch_Dogs was in many ways a success for Ubisoft Montreal, ticking all the required boxes for it to meet the standard of a AAA open world title. However the hype that built up around it, specifically from that one E3 video, led many to be disappointed with the final product. To their credit Ubisoft remained committed to the franchise and has spent the following 2 years developing Watch_Dogs sequel. Whilst at a base game level this sequel features many of the mechanics that made the original great the tone and feel of the game is radically different. That combined with improvements in some of the original’s more glaring issues makes Watch_Dogs 2 a notable improvement over its predecessor.

Watch_Dogs 2 takes place in San Francisco, the next city to install the ctOS system which integrates all city subsystems into one giant interconnected grid. You’ll play as Marcus Holloway, a young hacker who’s been targeted by ctOS for a crime he didn’t commit. Because of this he decides to join Dedsec, the hacktivist group responsible for wrecking havoc and exposing corruption. What follows is a story of Dedsec’s crusade against ctOS, the people in power who use it and any of the numerous corporations who would seek to exploit the citizens of San Francisco.

The original Watch_Dogs was criticised for failing to live up to the visuals that were seen in its E3 demo and Watch_Dogs 2 goes a long way to closing that gap. The environments are far more detailed with more cars, people and interactive objects scattered across the San Francisco backdrop. There’s notable improvements to the lighting engine, draw distances and other modern post-processing techniques like motion blur.  Taking into consideration that open world games tend towards the lower end of the graphical spectrum (due to their scale) Watch_Dogs 2 is certainly one of the better looking titles in this genre. It’s still a hair shy of that fated demo, however.

As I mentioned before the core game of Watch_Dogs 2 hasn’t changed much from its predecessor, staying true to the open world norms with the inclusion of their trademark hacking mechanics. The progression mechanics have been reworked to focus around you gaining “followers” to help boost your cause, most of which you’ll gain through Watch_Dog 2’s main and side missions. The online components have been reworked significantly and are far more seamless than they used to be; the transition between offline and online play a much smoother experience. Driving has been improved significantly, no longer feeling like you’re trying to drive a boat through a sea of molasses. The stealth mechanics are also retained however there’s a little less variety in what you can hack, something which is made up for in a few new choice abilities which can cause all sorts of mayhem. Overall Watch_Dogs 2 improves on the original in nearly every respect something which Ubisoft Montreal should take some pride in.

Combat feels largely the same, still following the same two stage formula that its predecessor did. Whilst you can likely complete every mission with just hacking alone it’s very likely you’ll do something to be detected, forcing you into combat. Interestingly there doesn’t seem to be any downside to killing anyone and everyone in your path but there is a very notable downside to taking the non-lethal approach. Enemies downed in that way will eventually get back up and will alert everyone else to your presence when they do. This does add an extra element of challenge if you want to go full non-lethal, stealth based approach but without additional rewards it doesn’t seem like there’s any reason to. Indeed by the end I’d just end up using my vast hacking abilities to simply run past everyone, forgoing any notion of stealth or even non-lethal attacks.

The hacking powers are a little more interesting this time around, especially some of the end-game abilities which allow you to affect everything in the area around you. It didn’t take me long to max out the powers I wanted to get and I spent most of the game with 20 or so research points ready to spend should the need arise. Some are simple quality of life improvements (like the car unlocking one) whilst others don’t have much of a purpose other than causing a bit of mayhem here or there. Probably my favourite out of the lot was the ability to call the police on a target NPC, something which can be used to great effect when you need to get into a restricted area. If I had one complaint it’s that all the higher end powers require you to go and find another item to unlock them which becomes a bit of a chore when you have to do it for the 10th time.

The driving is thankfully much improved over its predecessor, making it actually fun to drive around rather than fast travelling. Watch_Dogs 2 also reduces the number of car chases you’ll find yourself in so you won’t be spending hours trying to escape from the endless supply of police. There also appears to a be a larger number of vehicles to choose from including my favourite: the single person electric car that seems to be as fast as any of the sports cars. The NPC drivers though still seem to suffer from random fits of craziness every so often with cars just randomly running off the road or into each other, even when I hadn’t gone near them. That could very well be intentional, to give the city a more lively feel, but I do wonder if it’s just an errant part of the AI.

The multiplayer aspects are far better done than its predecessor was. I can remember trying to do some of the online activities in the original with most of them failing to even connect to other players. Watch_Dogs 2 by comparison (by default, you can change this) drops you in and out of other player’s games on a whim. It can be pretty awesome when you’re just driving around and a bounty hunter challenge comes up, putting you alongside law enforcement to chase down a rogue enemy player. Some of the other, hacking focused games are a little one sided, being incredibly hard for the hacker to actually successfully hack someone and get away with it (especially if the other player is armed in any way). Still they’re a fun distraction, one that I hope Ubisoft explores even further in future releases.

Watch_Dogs 2 drops the serious tone of its predecessor in favour of a more kitschy, light-hearted take. The characters are stereotypes or satires of particular hacker tropes with the overriding them following the hacktivist ideas that have been popularised by the various real world incarnations of other -sec entities. Weirdly, whilst the game has the usual disclaimer about it being a work of fiction unrelated to the real world, numerous events are carbon copies of their real world counterparts (like Martin Shrekli buying an exclusive Wu Tang album). The pacing and character development is weirdly out of step, seemingly moving at a faster pace than what the missions would imply. This might be because I was mostly doing campaign missions but surely that’s where you want the bulk of your character development to occur. Realistically I don’t think you’re supposed to read much into Watch_Dogs 2’s story but it’s disjointed nature mirror’s some of the mistakes that its predecessor made.

Watch_Dogs 2 is a solid improvement over the original, addressing many of the concerns that players had whilst retaining the core mechanics that made it worth playing. It may not be a revolutionary instalment in the series but the incremental improvements go a long way to making Watch_Dogs 2 the game that many were hoping the original would be. It’s not perfect, with some of the previous issues rearing their ugly heads again, but it definitely feels closer to what the original should have been. For fans of the open world genre there’s a lot to love in Watch_Dogs 2 and is most certainly worth checking out.

Rating: 9.0/10

Watch_Dogs 2 is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One right now for $60.95, $77 and $77 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 18 hours of total play time and 51% of the achievements unlocked.

Planet Coaster: Right in the Nostalgia.

I have many fond memories of the hours I wasted in the Tycoon style games. Most of those hours were spent trying to build my business empire in Transport Tycoon but, every so often, I’d take a break for something more…cathartic. That’s when I (and I’m sure many other gamers) turned to Rollercoaster Tycoon, a game which could satisfy that sadistic need every child has to wreck mayhem on unsuspecting NPCs. In the years since though I hadn’t gone back to the various incarnations in that franchise, my attention drawn elsewhere by shiny AAA titles. However you’d be hard pressed to miss the fervor that has surrounded Planet Coaster the latest incarnation of Rollercoaster Tycoon to come out of Frontier Developments. It’s an impressive game however I think the good ship nostalgia has long since set sail on these types of games, at least for myself.

Planet Coaster is your typical business management game; putting you in charge of the day to day tasks of managing an amusement park. You’ll build attractions, rides and design your own rollercoasters to delight and terrify your park guests. There’s numerous variables to fine tune that ensure your park stays clean, enjoyable and above all profitable. Depending on the mode you select you can either pit yourself against a set of objectives, race the clock or simply set yourself free to do whatever you feel like. As someone who hasn’t played any of the intervening instalments in this franchise since 20 years ago Planet Coaster feels like the modern equivalent of that game I lost so many hours on.

The look and feel of Planet Coaster takes inspiration from The Sims franchise, favouring stylized models, a clean UI and a similarly styled sound track. The level of detail is impressive, especially when you see that all the models are constructued from different parts that are available for you to use. Occaisionally there are performance issues which seem to stem from menus not rendering properly but otherwise everything runs well, even at full speed. Considering Frontier Developments’ pedigree this level of polish should come as little surprise as they’ve been invovlved in Tycoon style games for some 13 years now, having developed expansion packs for RollerCoaster Tycoon 2.

There are 3 main game modes in Planet Coaster: campaign, challenge and sandbox. Campaign sets you against a pre-established park with a number of goals that you need to work with and serves as a decent introduction for Planet Coaster’s main mechanics. Challenge gives you a blank slate and a limited amount of funds in order to establish yourself as a self-sufficient park. Sandbox is, as you can probably guess, the creative mode that allows you to do whatever you wish. Depending on how you like to play these kinds of games one of the modes will likely suit you better than the rest. However I’m sure most people will just head straight for creative so they can start building the death-coaster of their dreams.

I started off playing in campaign mode figuring that it would be the best way to get introduced to the game’s mechanics. If you’ve played these kinds of games before you’ll be able to figure most things out and the pop ups on the left hand side will be able to fill in the blanks. However for new comers it’d probably take some getting used to as there’s no clear direction on how to go about the rudimentary tasks that the game assumes you know how to do. As things start to get a little more complicated, like when you’re trying to figure out your finances, this is where the tutorial system starts to break down and you’ll likely be off to the Steam forums searching for advice. This is not a bad thing per se, however it does show that Planet Coaster is still polishing up some of the rough edges left over from its Early Acess days.

I have to admit though that after playing the campaign for a couple hours I simply lost interest in playing. Back in my younger days I can remember having lots of fun building all sorts of wild and whacky coasters. Now though? The idea of building a coaster just didn’t have the same sense of joy it used to, echoing the feelings I had back when I played Contraption Maker (the spiritual successor to The Incredible Machine). I’ve been told that challenge mode is a far better way to play the game and I’ve been meaning to go back, really I have, but the drive to do so just hasn’t been there. It’s a shame really as Planet Coaster seems like an objectively good game, one that does its heritage justice, but it just didn’t tickle me in the right way.

Looking at the stats of Planet Coaster though I can definitely see that I’m in the minority, with the average play time hovering around 13 hours.

Planet Coaster brings with it all the things that captivated many of us in our younger days: the freedom to build the amusement park of our dreams, the thrill of designing the perfect roller coaster and, of course, unleashing untold destruction on your park’s denizens. For this old gamer though the magic just wasn’t there, the couple hours I spent with the game just not hitting the nostalgia buttons hard enough to make me come back. Planet Coaster is an extremely well built game however, one that is likely to provide many hours of entertainment for those who love games like this. Maybe one day I’ll find the drive to go back and change my mind but, for now, it’s going to be sitting on the shelf.

Rating: 7.0/10

Planet Coaster is available on PC right now for $44.99. Total play time was 2 hours with 13% of the achievements unlocked.

State of the Game: 21/11/2016 to 27/11/2016

Dishonored 2: The Crown Killer.

Dishonored was a breath of fresh air for many. Stealth games of the time were anything but; their stealth mechanics nothing but tacked on features that weren’t given the love they so desperately needed. Whilst it had its faults Dishonored was a pivotal release for Arkane Studios, catapaulting them into the limelight. It’s been 4 years since the release of the original Dishonored and expectations were high that Arkane would be able to deliver yet another solid stealth based title. Dishonored 2 brings with it all of the things that made the original great but also many of the shortcommings. Indeed whilst some of the design choices are commendable it begs the question of whether or not the effort would have been better spent elsewhere, possibly addressing some of the mistakes of the past.

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Dishonored 2 takes place 15 years after the events of the original with Emily Kaldwin taking her place on the throne, succeeding her late mother. The city of Dunwall is no longer the rotten town it once was, prospering greatly under Emily’s rule. However a serial murderer, dubbed The Crown Killer, has been dispatching Emily’s opposition, leading many to conclude that Corvo is responsible for it. During a ceremony in remembrance of her mother’s assassination, Delilah Copperspoon, who claims to be Jessamine’s older half-sister and the true heir to the throne, assaults Emily in her throne room. The story from here is determined by who you choose to play as: either Emily or Corvo.

Under the hood Dishonored 2 is powered the new Void engine, developed in-house by Arkane. The engine is based on id’s Tech 6 platform and brings with it many improvements. However like its predecessor Dishonored 2 is probably about half a step behind current generation titles in terms of graphics, something that is painfully obvious when you’re up close to NPCs or bits of the environment. The world does feel a lot more full than it used to though, with more characters on screen and much more detailed environments. The initial release was unfortunately plagued by horrendous performance issues on PC, indicating that the engine hadn’t gotten enough optimization love. This was fixed rather quickly and by the time I got around to play it I didn’t see any issues at all. This couldn’t come soon enough though and is likely responsible for the game’s mixed review status on Steam.

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Dishonored 2 stays true to the original’s ethos, providing you with mutliple avenues to complete a mission that can make use of any number of powers, abilities or gadgets. What’s available to you depends on whether you choose Corvo or Emily although there’s a core set of non-power abilities availble to both. If you choose Corvo the abilities will be instantly familiar to you with Emilies being completely different in all aspects. The upgrade systems are largely the same, you’ll still hunt down runes and charms to upgrade your powers, however there’s also the opportunity to improve your character further through crafting runes of your own. There’s still a multitude of things to discover in any one level with numerous side missions and hidden items for you to seek out. If you were a fan of the original there’ll be a lot for you to love in Dishonored 2, perhaps even more so if you’re an achievement hunter.

Combat is largely the same as it’s predecessor however the choices you make in building your character have a much bigger impact in Dishonored 2. Unlike previously where I could stealth or shoot my way through a level Dishonored 2, where I primarily built my character as stealth, I couldn’t take on more than one enemy at a time. Personally I liked this aspect as it meant that my choices had a real impact, no longer could I be both the stealth master and combat warrior. This did mean that the mechanical upgrade system went largely unused through my play through but it did make the rune and bone charms that much more valuable. Indeed I spent much, much more time exploring to make sure I got every power upgrade I could, lest I find myself wanting.

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The stealth system works as you’d expect it to although I have to admit I think the detection rate of NPCs is a little too fast for my liking. Indeed if you don’t notice the meter immediately, like if it’s at the bottom of your screen, you will likely be detected.  Some of the power upgrades help you get around this, like the stop time part of blink, but it still leaves you very little time to react. It does feel a bit more realistic in that sense, you can’t hover around in front of enemies and have them not detect you, but it does detract from the enjoyment a bit at times.

The crafting system, whilst basic, was probably one of the more rewarding aspects of Dishonored 2. With the right combination of talents and a lot of farming for the right runes you can craft yourself a set of incredibly powerful boosts. In the end I was rocking around 8 quad bone charms (the other 2 taken by specific power upgrades) that amplified my power abilities significantly, like being able to essentially sprint in stealth mode if I was crouched and my weapons sheathed. Of course I save-scummed my way to perfect bone charms without any negative traits on them but hey, even if I didn’t do that I think a grand total of 2 of them would’ve been cursed. One point of note, which I wished I had known earlier, is that not all runes are simply somewhere in the world. For some missions a certain NPC will hold 2 of them, something which can make your life a little difficult if you want to get them all. Thankfully those ones aren’t usually ones you can break down for crafting anyway, but they’re still worth seeking out.

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Overall Dishonored 2 is well polished (bar the initial teething issues) however it makes one horrendous design misstep that I’ll never forgive any game for doing. There’s one level that, if you’ve chosent to take powers, you’ll have them stripped away from you. For those, like me, who’ve invested heavily, in their powers this strips you of all the tools you had available. The resulting mission is a tedious mess, the time-switching mechanic that it was designed around becoming a nusiance more than anything else. The hour or so I spent on that level was the most frustrating section of the game by far and completing it was a relief more than a reward. I can understand the rationale behind it, wanting to challenge the player in a new and inventive way (like many of the other levels do) but taking away their investments is a cheap trick that does nothing to endear the player to the game.

The story, and its delivery, suffer the same issues as its predecessor. Whilst you have control over how the narrative develops, both through direct choices and how you actually play the game, it’s still predictable and not particularly rewarding. The voice acting again falls flat, a complaint that was levelled at its predecessor which I had hoped would be addressed in the sequel. Again there are a few standouts like The Outsider and the manick mechanical creator Jindosh, but they aren’t enough to carry everything forward by themselves. Honestly I was hoping that I’d feel differently this time around, I really was.

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Dishonored 2 is a solid follow up to the original, retaining everything that made it great (and some things that didn’t). The stealth and combat is well done, the choices of how you build your character now more impactful (for better and for worse) than they were before. Crafting is a welcome addition, one that helps you craft your character further down your desired path. Unfortunately some poor level design choices and the continued flat delivery of Dishonored 2’s script means that the game doesn’t reach beyond its predecessor in terms of overall quality. Still I did enjoy my time with Dishonored 2, the stealth game play unparalleled in today’s market. Hopefully future instalments in this IP will address these core issues which would elevate Dishonored 2 to the same level as the games that inspired it.

Rating: 8.75/10

Dishonored 2 is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One right now for $59.99, $77 and $77 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 16 hours of total play time with 36% of the achievements unlocked.

State of the Game: 14/11/2016 to 20/11/2016

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

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 😉

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

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.