I have something of a soft spot for the Call of Duty series, a trait which I think is highly evident given the fact that I’ve been reviewing their games for the past 4 years. This primarily extends from their highly cinematic single player experiences where the actual game play borders on being more like an action movie rather than a traditional FPS. However I also found myself inexplicably drawn to the multiplayer, finding myself being one of “those people” who just couldn’t get enough of the fast paced, super spammy Nuketown map. I also have to admit that I did feel pretty special to be invited to come and preview their games way back when (something I’ve been unfortunately unable to repeat lately) and the fact that they sent me copies to review was a kind of validation that I hadn’t got before. Whilst that trend didn’t continue this year I’m still a fan of the series in general and have spent the better part of 2 weeks gorging myself on everything Call of Duty: Ghosts has to offer.
Call of Duty: Ghosts takes place in the not too distant future in an alternate timeline to the rest of the Call of Duty series. You primarily play as Logan, the son of a lifetime military man Elias who regales you with the story of an elite unit who faced down overwhelming odds and came out the other side. They called themselves the Ghosts, known for never giving up until their mission was completed and always ensuring that all their men got out, dead or alive. The story is unfortunately cut short as it quickly becomes apparent that the USA is under attack however the origin of the bombardments isn’t quite clear. What is for certain however is that the new world superpower, The Federation, are behind it and they need to be stopped.
Ghosts is one of the first titles to make it onto the next console generation (although its still available on current gen) and the improvements to the graphics that they enable are quite impressive. Whilst the difference between Black Ops II and Ghosts is as great as you’d expect to be, especially with this being the first next gen Call of Duty title, there’s still been a dramatic improvement since the last Infinity Ward game. All of the screenshots were taken in game and I think they speak volumes to the amount of effort put in to the set pieces that Infinity has created. It’s also probably the reason why the game comes in at 28GBs, by far one of the largest downloads I’ve ever had for a single player game (the multi is a separate 4GB download of its own).
The game play is your standard corridor shooter with you being guided from point A to point B by one or more NPCs with different kinds of objectives along the way. Saying that for most games would be a jab at their originality or banality but the Call of Duty series does it so well that it’s hard for me to criticize them for it. Still if you were looking for something innovative or different about the single player campaign you’re going to be disappointed as it really is just a scenic tour through a whole bunch of impressive artwork with action movie style combat thrown in so you don’t get bored walking everywhere. That being said it is quite the ride with you rarely being given more than a couple moments to catch your breath before the next unbelievably epic moment occurs.
The combat is, as always, polished and refined to the point where it’s smooth as glass. The only variation from previous games is the weapons and equipment that will be made available to you and for the most part the differences are largely cosmetic as they’re all guns that shoot bullets. There is a little variety in the way the guns act in different environments, like when you’re in space or under water, but the standard assault rifle will be your mainstay for the majority of the game. If there’s one thing I’ll criticize Ghosts for it’s the use of sniper accurate enemies who seem to be able to hit you from almost any angle, leading to long periods where you have to peek your head out, get hit, figure out where they are and then try to pick them off before they or their friends do the same to you. This is made somewhat more annoying by the unpredictable nature of the NPCs who sometimes charge ahead or seem to get stuck in one position until you do the charging, but then again I’ve yet to find a game where I’ve felt the NPCs were truly useful additions.
Considering the amount of hype and focus the dog got prior to Ghosts’ release I’d be remiss if I didn’t give my perspective on it. Riley (that’s his name) is essentially another mechanic for them to throw at you with his main function being that of a kind of single target grenade that you can point at anyone and have him take them down. There are also some more weird sci-fi sections where you’re able to control him directly, making him sneak behind enemy lines and even take down people from a remote console. It fits in with the overall game, although why such a big deal was made of it I’ll never quite understand, and there’s a particular heart wrenching moment when he gets shot and you have to carry him through the battlefield. Conveniently they also provide you with an insane machine gun at that point, allowing you to go full rambo on the assholes who shot your dog which was probably one of my favourite parts of Ghosts.
I’m somewhat thankful that Ghosts took a new route as the previous storyline was starting to get a little long in the tooth, especially with all the various sub-plots that I just couldn’t seem to keep track over between instalments. They’ve taken a break from the traditional clandestine unit saving the USA from imminent attack, instead putting you in a world that’s been devastated by the newest superpower. It’s best not to think about it too deeply though as it tend towards more being an action movie than a psychological thriller, hoping that you won’t think and instead enjoy the ride. If you do that the story is passable and is more than enough to keep you motivated from one objective to the next.
The multiplayer breaks away from Infinity Ward’s traditional way of doing things (where most things are locked until you level up enough to get them) and instead adopts a Squad Point system for upgrading your character. Unlike the the cash system that the original Black Ops had Squad Points aren’t earned in troves by simply playing. Whilst you will get points for levelling up the system is obviously more geared towards you completing challenges, both grand ones that require multiple games to accomplish as well as field orders which grant you a bonus during the game. Because of this all the guns in the game are available to you from level 1 and all that’s required is that you grind out a few points to unlock them.
The perks, however, are hard locked to your level with the more powerful ones being reserved for the later stages. This does mean that particular play styles are just simply not feasible until you get to that stage as you won’t be able to have your pick of the perks until you hit level 60. For someone like me who’d developed a distinctive play strategy (I’m a rusher style player) it meant that I had to change the way I played in order to get anywhere in the game. It doesn’t take too long to adjust as you can still do the traditional assault rifle style play but I did feel a little miffed that I couldn’t engage in the insane runabout shenanigans that I did in previous games.
Indeed it seems that Infinity Ward is trying to encourage a slightly different style of play with Ghosts as there are now many more open maps that are more conducive to sniping than there was in the previous games. You can imagine how annoying this is to a rusher like me where my style of combat relies on getting in people’s faces, but it means that you just have to adapt or die. There are still a few crazy small maps however it seems that they’re no where near as popular as the Nuketown of old as there’s rarely more than 100 players in the Ghost Moshpit game type with most staying on Team Deathmatch or Domination. This is probably not so much of a problem on the consoles however as there’s an order of magnitude more players around at any given time.
For what its worth I feel that the multiplayer of Ghosts is weaker than previous instalments as it just doesn’t seem to have that same pulling power on me that it used to. I’ve still racked up about 7 hours on it after taking about 2 to find my feet again but I just don’t have that same sense of compulsion pulling me back. Maybe its the lack of Nuketown, maybe it’s the lack of my spammy akimbo style of game play but whatever it is it just isn’t the same as it used to be. Activision said that they were expecting lower sales this time around due to the console switch over and that seems to be reflected in the multiplayer. Hopefully the next instalment won’t suffer because of it.
Call of Duty: Ghosts is another highly polished instalment in the franchise, showing that Infinity Ward is capable of delivering a highly cinematic experience that’s thoroughly enjoyable to play through. Whilst the stories and setting are always different the core game play remains the same and it’s commendable that they can still make it enjoyable this many years on. However the multiplayer experience is definitely a step down from previous games, lacking the same addictive power that compelled me to become a fan of the series all those years ago. Overall it’s still a solid game experience but they’re going to have to aim higher next time around if they want to recapture their original glory.
Call of Duty: Ghosts is available on PlayStation3, PlayStation4, Xbox360, XboxOne, WiiU and PC right now for $78, $78, $78, $78 , $99.95 and $89.99 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 5.4 hours in the single player campaign and 7.1 hours in multiplayer.
I’m in something of a love/hate relationship with online co-op games. On the one hand I think they’re amazing as some of the best times I’ve had in gaming have come from the times when a bunch of us have got together and just smashed out a couple hours on a game. Notable examples of this include Dead Island, Borderlands and Left 4 Dead. At the same time however it can be pretty difficult to get everyone online at the same time or, worse still, if you have more people who want to play than there are spots in the game it inevitably means it’ll never get played. Thankfully developers have noticed this and designed systems to alleviate at least the former of those issues. Payday 2 is one such game that lives and dies by its co-op experience but thankfully it’s a rather seamless experience, even if you can’t find any friends to play with.
You’re a career criminal who’s been on the lamb for a while. Your old friend Bain has got into contact with you as he’s in need of your skills again. He’s set you up with a safe house, some cash and a cache of weapons to get you started. From there he leaves the rest up to you, allowing you to pick and choose through various heists, purchase additional weaponry and develop your skills in whichever way you see fit. You’re not the only criminal out there however and more often than not you’ll be working side by side with many others, some who might not share your view of how these things ought to go down.
Everything about Payday 2 is optimized for fast paced action and that includes the graphics. Whilst they’re not exactly bad it’s clear that they’ve been done with FPS in mind first and since it’s a multiplatform release the limitations from the consolization are quite apparent. I had every setting set to maximum (with v-sync on) and never once saw any slow down, even in the most heavy action scenes. I don’t expect Crysis level graphics from everyone but if you’re playing Payday 2 on a PC the limitations are going to be quite apparent, but they are there for a reason.
Payday 2 plays out through various different “heists” which are essentially short, usually no longer than 30mins long but can be as short as 1 min, missions which have varying degrees of risk and reward associated with them. You have little control over all these parameters however, instead you’re given an interface where you can choose from a multitude of available heists with various properties. The more white dots something has the bigger the reward for completing it is and the yellow dots denote additional risk (which appears to translate into a tougher mission, although not always). There are also Pro Jobs which have to be comepleted in one attempt otherwise you’re sent back to crime.net to search for another one.
The jobs will be different each time you play them as pathways will be opened/closed, resources required to complete them in different areas and, if its a multi-day heist, the outcome of the previous days will determine what options are available to you. It usually comes down to a choice between maximising your profit or shortening the amount of time you need to spend on that particular mission. One of the most popular heists, the Ukrainian Job, can be done in 30 seconds although you can loot the jewelry store for extra cash which, potentially, can make you miss the early escape that’s available.
There’s 4 different character classes in Payday 2 and which one you choose will drastically alter the potential ways you have to finish a heist. Early on there isn’t much choice as the game changing skills don’t come until much later however the different equipment available to each class can be the make or break for those early level heists. I had initially chose the Enforcer class, which is essentially a soldier who deals out and soaks up damage, since all the heists I was in never worked out when we attempted to do stealth. I’ve since changed to the Technician almost exclusively for the shaped charge equipment (which allows you to blow open most things that would otherwise take ages to drill) but even then I’m still eyeing off the sentry gun tree as something that could be quite viable.
The leveling system is made up of 3 different components. The first is straight up experience, granted to you on the completion of every day of a heist, and every level grants you a skill point (and ever 10 levels gets you 2 bonus points). The higher up the skill tree the more points a particular skill costs so those top tier abilities require quite a heavy level of investment. The second is cash which is used to purchase skills, weapons and also to customize your mask. Past a certain point cash usually isn’t much of an issue, you’re never more than a mission or two away from buying anything you want, however the 3rd part of the leveling system, the unlocks, severely limits how far a large cash reserve can go.
You see whilst you’re able to buy every weapon once you reach the right levels the modifications to those weapons come as part of the “payday” you get at the end of every heist. Essentially it’s a random chance to get a drop which can be anything from mask components to weapon mods or even just additional cash. Problem with this is that it means once you get to say level 45 or so you’ll have the best weapon you can get and the only way to progress further is to get more unlocks. This is why you’ll see people preferring the single day heists that can be completed quickly and honestly its at this point that the replay value of Payday 2 diminishes rapidly as grinding out those unlocks just isn’t fun.
Payday 2 is also has quite a few quirks, one of which is pictured above. Other player characters don’t walk particularly smoothly on screen, usually twitching between walk cycles randomly. There’s also a lot of jitter on player models, almost as if the physics engine is buffering them around, which is most notable on the lobby screen before you commence a job. The hit detecting also seems to be a little weird as there were times I could nail people with a shotgun from 100m away only to have that same weapon miss when they were at point blank range. They’re not exactly game breaking issues but they are things that can cause additional frustration, something which can tip you over the edge if the heist isn’t going particularly well.
Payday 2 feels like one of those classic LAN games, one where you can just pick it up and bash it out with a couple friends for however long you feel like. The fast paced action and rudimentary level strategy is enough to make Payday 2 interesting whilst not overly complicated, significantly reducing the barrier to entry for those who want to play it. It’s not without its quirks however although I have to say that it’s probably one of the most polished games I’ve played that’s cost me less than $30. So if you’re a fan of cooperative styled games then Payday 2 has quite a lot to offer, especially if you have a few friends who have it already.
Payday 2 is available on PC and Xbox360 right now for $29.99 and $39.99 respectively. Game was played on the PC with around 10 hours played and 33% of the achievements unlocked.
Among the older gamer generation (which I count myself in) there’s a rather perverse train of thought that seems to permeate the gaming zeitgeist. Typically it centers around how the games of old were done so much better than the games of today. Not in terms of graphics of course, no one can win that argument, more around the game play mechanics that managed to do more with less and the big focus on the story and the single player experience. You only need to look at the bevy of retro games that have made their way onto the scene in the last couple years to see proof of this as it shows that much of the gaming populace, now with an average age approaching 40, yearns for titles from that time. Rise of the Triad was one such title that made quite the impression on the gamers from its time and I, being one of them, was very interested to see what direction they’d take this revamp in.
You’re part of a special unit called H.U.N.T (High-risk United Nations Task force) called in to investigate cult activity on the San Nicholas island. As your team descends on the island you discover that they’re operating from an old monastery. However before you can get much closer you’re spotted by the cult, who strangely look a lot like Nazis, and your boat, your only way of getting off the island, is destroyed in the resulting conflict. You’re left with only one choice then: stop the cult before it can achieve its plans of destroying Los Angeles using any means necessary.
Graphically ROTT does a pretty good job of evoking the feeling that it’s from the past as it looks quite dated when you compare it to any other titles. Indeed thinking about it more it reminds me a lot of Duke Nukem Forever which I said looked dated as well, 2 years ago. Now I’m sure there are those who will argue that this is part of its schtick, and I’m willing to let them have that point, but it doesn’t detract from the fact that it feels like its been released 5 years late. This does mean that it’ll probably run well on anything, my 2 year old machine could run it with everything turned up to ludicrous, which would seem to be a requirement as the game hinges on fast paced action.
You’re given the choice between 5 different characters each with their own unique set of attributes. Thing is the variation between them only extends to movement speed, accuracy and total damage they can take. This was pretty cool back in 1995 but when we’ve been given numerous games that provided unique game experiences with each different character class it feels kind of pointless to choose between them. You can then guess that I went for the average stat guy as it felt like anything else would just end up putting more of a limitation on me more than anything else.
The game itself is styled as a classic FPS, essentially being a direct port of the original ROTT into modern times. You start off with a single pistol with unlimited ammunition and are then sent off to make your way from one end of the level to the other. Along the way there will be various weapons, health packs and power ups scattered everywhere and it will be up to you to decide whether it will best to use them at that point in time or not. Of course in true old school FPS fashion there are also secret areas hidden everywhere with bonuses ranging from the mundane to the insane and at the end of it all you’ll be given a star rating so you can compare your scores with everyone else. It was this style of game that gave rise to the FPS of today so just how does it stack up against them?
Well for starters it definitely replicates that retro feeling by being quite buggy and suffering from several bad design decisions that can end up ruining your experience. The screenshot above is from one of the earlier sections where the level designers had obviously intended for you to throw a switch, which is outside this room, prior to be able to get into it. Now since this game encourages you to try and get into places that don’t seem accessible I, of course, found my way into it without throwing said switch. Thus the elevator pads you can see just below my gun weren’t active meaning there was no way for me to get out apart from restarting from the checkpoint. At the same time it’s obvious that much of this entire encounter was based off that switch and not throwing it actually made the whole thing a lot easier so I just did that and avoided falling in the pits.
Now I’m all for games that encourage exploration, indeed I quite enjoy most of them, however should you encourage this behavior you also have to expect where the player might end up. This particular one I felt was pretty obvious as it was literally 2 jumps to get to it and I’d discovered previous secret areas by doing almost exactly the same thing. However it’s clear that this one was unintended and I’m sure if I’d bothered to spend longer with the game I could find more examples of it.
This screenshot demonstrates yet another great bug that can only be fixed by reloading as when you get the god mode buff the game gets a little glitchy when it comes to clipping. So these spike pounder things, which kill you instantly if you don’t have god mode, will trap you inside them. Now it might look like you can get out through that crack but believe me, you can’t and since the god mode hand replaces your weapon you can’t even kill yourself afterwards. Considering how I couldn’t figure out how it happened the first couple times (since I was spamming god mode projectiles) it became rather frustrating to the point where I just stopped playing it.
There are some positives to ROTT as it really is a modern version of the classic style of FPS games so the fast paced action and ludicrous weaponry are quite fun when everything is going smoothly. The boss fight, the only one I could force myself to get to at least, was pretty interesting although it does lose points for using 1 hit kill mechanics which then punt you back to the beginning. Strangely enough the most effective weapon against him is your machine gun which is able to bring him down a lot faster than any of the other weapons hidden about the place. That’s about as far as it goes unfortunately as for every positive point I can come up with about ROTT I can think of many more negative ones that just ruined the whole experience.
ROTT really is a tribute to the old style of FPS games which unfortunately brings all the issues they suffered from along with it. Whilst the fast paced action and ludicrous combat might be enjoyable for some it won’t be long before they encounter a game breaking glitch or poor level design that necessitates reloading the last checkpoint. This is not to mention the larger game issues of it crashing and corrupting my save game at one point, a sure fire way to end up on my never-play-again list. It’s quite possible that these teething issues will be fixed in future patches but in its current state I really can’t recommend ROTT at all unless you really thought the game style of yore was truly better. Hopefully this could serve as your wake up call as the FPS genre has come a long way in the past 20 years and ROTT ignoring it all hasn’t resulted in a game experience I’d call good.
Rise of the Triad is available on PC right now for $14.99. Total game time was approximately 3 hours with 15% of the achievements unlocked.
Working from an established, non-game IP is usually a risky move for a game developer. If you’re working on a game that’s based directly off a movie chances are that you’ll barely get a look in with most gamers and your development time will be constrained by the movie’s release date which usually ends up with a lackluster product. Things like comics and novels are a little safer (and have produced far more hits than movie tie ins) however you still run the risk of alienating fans of the original material. Metro: Last Light is the sequel to Metro 2033 which was based on a novel of the same name. However this title apparently bears little resemblance to the story of Metro 2034 and instead continues the story of Artyom, the main character from the previous game.
Metro: Last Light is set 20 years into the future after Moscow had been turned into a radioactive wasteland by an undisclosed enemy. Those who survived were driven underground by the radiation, finding shelter in the city’s vast metro system and, over time, making it their new home. Several factions have arisen to claim parts of the Metro for their own purposes and have been locked in conflict ever since. You play as Artyom, one of the Rangers who have sworn to protect all life in the Metro and the one who was responsible for destroying the Dark Ones, a strange humanoid race that appeared not long after the bombings ended. However one of them still remains and you’ve been sent to reclaim him by any means possible.
Visually Metro: Last Light can be quite impressive when it wants to be (as the below screenshot will attest) but unfortunately you’ll spend the majority of your time in the many assorted tunnels of the metro. I can’t fault the game for this, since that’s what it’s all about, but it does mean that much of the visual aspect of the game is lost to the small environments. Cranking everything up to max brought my PC to its knees but it was extremely playable after minor tweaks to a few settings as the auto-detection system seems to get most things bang on.
The game play of Metro: Last Light is a curious blend of stealth and first person shooter with both options being equally viable. The stealth parts are quite Thief like in nature with a visibility indicator that let’s you know when enemies can see you which is based primarily on how illuminated you are. From a first person shooter perspective it’s pretty run of the mill, with all the weapons functioning pretty much as you’d expect them to, but there’s a few variations which can be quite helpful in certain situations, especially if you’re preferring stealth over out and out combat.
Indeed after the spectacular fail that was Mars: War Logs’ stealth system it was refreshing to play one that, whilst not having the depth of other stealth first games like Dishonored, added some additional depth to your typical run and gun FPS. The mechanics of it are fairly rudimentary, if you’re standing in direct light enemies can see you and if not you’re essentially invisible, but there’s a definite amount of strategy involved if you’re trying to avoid combat. This usually involves taking out strategic lights so you can maneuver around guards to take them out or, as I accidentally found out, causing a ruckus in one area then slinking off into the shadows. You’re also given the choice between knocking out or killing people when they’re unaware of you but as far as I could tell this choice has 0 effect on anything.
Whilst the stealth is good the regular shooting combat is a little lackluster, owing mostly to the encounter design. You see there are many sections where you simply can’t stealth, usually when you’re facing mutants rather than other humans, and in order for them to provide some challenge they usually just throw wave after wave of them at you. This is the same problem that Dragon Age 2 suffered from as you can’t really formulate a strategy before you start the encounter. This usually leads to you running around in circles whilst reloading, hoping that another enemy doesn’t spawn which will usually lead to your untimely death.
The upgrade/currency system is also somewhat moot as whilst it does give you some sense of progression you’re much better off not spending any of your money on new weapons or upgrades as you’ll find guns with them scattered everywhere. I remember picking up the air rifle early on and found it was great for shooting out lights at a distance and so I spent quite a lot of rounds on upgrading it for just that purpose. However not an hour later did I find another one with all the upgrades on it and from then on I simply didn’t bother buying the upgrades, I just waited until I found a weapon with them on it. It’s probably better to do it this way since you’re limited to 3 guns and sometimes you’ll be out of ammo for your weapon of choice, so you’re better off ditching one in favour of another which you have a full pack of ammo for.
The level of polish in Metro: Last Light is commendable with the only bug I encountered during my playthrough being some texture/terrain glitches that did little more than to distract me for a couple seconds. I will gripe about the interface though as whilst I can appreciate the “realism” of some parts of it having to press and hold M to bring up your objective pad which then can’t be put back down by hitting M again feels a little cumbersome. Also, whilst I lamented to the use of C for crouch initially, most FPS games now use this as default whilst Metro: Last Light uses it for throwing your secondary weapon (CTRL is crouch, like in the old days). These are minor gripes, things that you overcome after a couple hours of game play, but it certainly didn’t endear Metro: Last Light to me early on.
The story of Metro: Last Light has been a major selling point for it with it being touted as a “story first FPS”. This is quite true, almost to the point of frustration, as there can be very long sequences where Artyom and his comrades talk endlessly about plot points which you can’t skip past (I’m sure I’m not alone in being able to read the subtitles faster than people can talk). It does help to give you an insight into the character’s motivations, something which sequels like this usually miss out on due to their reliance on the previous title. Metro: Last Light does a fantastic job for people like me who haven’t played the original and whilst the story can drag at times when you’re just chomping at the bit to get into the action it’s well above par for what I’ve come to expect from a modern day FPS.
Whilst Metro: Last Light has been billed as a story first game I feel that it’s more of a balanced experience with the gameplay and story complementing each other quite well. There’s no one particular feature of Metro: Last Light that makes it worth playing, no it’s more the combination of several, above average elements that meld together well to produce an experience that very much greater than the sum of its parts. It might not be game of the year material but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a great game experience by itself, something which sequels usually struggle to accomplish without relying heavily on their predecessors.
Metro: Last Light is available on Xbox360, PlayStation 3 (and apparently the PS4 when it comes out) and PC right now for $88, $88 and $69.99 respectively. Game was played on the PC on normal mode, hard difficulty with 8 hours total play time and 31% of the achievements unlocked.
Long time readers will know that I’m not much of a fan of DLC as those little extra tid bits of gameplay are rarely worth the price of admission, usually only adding small amount of extra game time and little more to the overall story. Still there are some that capture my attention like the Missing Link DLC for Deus Ex and the Knife of Dunwall DLC for Dishonored is another. This can wholly be attributed to the single image they used to market it, showing a view from a rooftop showing the main character of Dishonored in the pivotal opening scene. Since that whole side of the plot remains something of a mystery to you during the main game the possibility of playing the other side was just too good to resist and I snapped it up on release.
But there’s a reason why I’m only getting around to reviewing it today.
The events of Knife of Dunwall take place alongside those of Dishonored, telling the story of Daud the master assassin who is responsible for killing the Queen and stealing her daughter away. The DLC starts just after that pivotal scene where it’s revealed that Daud is one of the Outsider’s chosen, just like Corvo, except that his powers differ slightly from that of protagonist from the main game. The Outsider also reveals that Daud’s life will soon come to a close but before that will happen he is given a clue, a single word “Delilah”.
Now I’ll be completely honest here, when I first saw the screenshot that announced the Knife of Dunwall DLC I figured that it would centre around the events that lead up to the Queen’s death, letting you plan out your route and ultimately deal the final deadly blow. Instead you’re dumped in right after those events, with the introduction being one of a myriad of comic book panel styled cut scenes that depicts your role in Dishonored’s key moment. I will admit that this disappointed me greatly as whilst it’s cool to see part of the story that you didn’t really have an insight into I really wanted to play that particular scene from the other side, as I’m sure anyone who played Dishonored would.
Like most DLCs Knife of Dunwall doesn’t deviate too much from its parent game, keeping the vast majority of key mechanics whilst introducing some new powers and reworking other elements to fit Daud’s story. All of the core abilities are still there, like blink and most of the mechanical arsenal you had, but there’s also the addition of new skills and weapons that can change the gameplay significantly. Again you can make the choice of playing it as a guns blazing ruthless killer or a hide in the shadows humanist who doesn’t kill anyone. If I’m honest Knife of Dunwall seemed to urge you to be more of a killer than anything else, but that could just be due to my frustration with some of the other elements.
Since there’s no hometown for Daud like there is for Corvo in Dishonored you’re instead presented with an upgrades screen before every mission. This means you’re essentially picking your play style before you start which is probably a good thing considering how short the DLC is and forcing you to do the same level of work in order to get the same upgrades as you had in Dishonored would just be tedious. You also have the option of purchasing favours which will make certain sections of the missions easier or provide you with upgrades. They’re usually worth it too, save for one in the last mission that didn’t seem to help at all.
Knife of Dunwall plays somewhat similarly to Dishonored with the core mission structure and numerous possible paths to get to it being par for the course. As I mentioned before, and somewhat similarly to Dishonored itself, whilst you can do the entire thing without killing anyone (apart from a few at key points) Knife of Dunwall seems to try its darndest to get you to use lethal force most of the time. There are many sections where you’ll be confronted with a couple enemies that don’t move and you’ll be forced to either sleep dart both of them (something which you can only do a limited number of times) or go rambo and just mow them all down. Whilst I tried my best to be sneaky I got fed up with it after a while and just started going to town on everyone and I have to admit it was pretty fun.
The additional insight you gain into Daud’s motives and origins is nice however the plot is a little lackluster, possibly due to the heavy amount of foreshadowing that the Outsider gives you. It’s certainly not terrible and the voice acting is above games of similar calibre which helps it tremendously as even the best plot can be ruined by flat delivery. It’s quite possible that my impression is heavily tainted by my expectations of what the Knife of Dunwall would and wouldn’t include however.
For a DLC Knife of Dunwall provides a decent extension to Dishonored, providing multiple hours of gameplay that’s different enough from the core game so that you don’t feel like you’re retreading the same ground again. Whilst I may have fallen prey to the hype machine of my own head I still can’t refute that it’s a solid addition to Dishonored, expanding on the idea and giving some insight into the main plot. It probably wasn’t worth the price I paid for it and whilst $10 is semi reasonable I’d probably recommend holding off until its on sale unless you’re desperate for more Dishonored action.
Dishonored: Knife of Dunwall is available on PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox360 right now for $9.99 or an equivalent amount of points. Total game time was approximately 3 hours.
As long time readers will know I’m a big fan of Crytek’s flagship series Crysis as it’s one of the few no-holds-barred PC games when it comes to ratcheting up the graphics to insane levels. It harks back to the golden era of PC gaming where every new title attempted to do exactly that, pushing the boundaries of the hardware so hard that yearly upgrade cycles were not only desirable, they were almost required. The consolization of PC games took a heavy bat to this idea and strangely enough even Crysis 2 fell prey to it somewhat with my rather mediocre PC at the time being able to run it perfectly (and admittedly it was still quite good for its time). When Crytek announced that Crysis 3 would be a returning to its roots with insane levels of graphics I was incredibly excited and I’m glad to say that they didn’t disappoint.
Crysis 3 takes place 24 years after the incidents in Crysis 2. Prophet, in reality the amalgam of Alcatraz and the remaining memories of the original Prophet that the NanoSuit stored, has been in stasis for the past 2 decades since CELL captured captured him. You’re broken out of your prison by Psycho, one of your former suit buddies who’s been stripped of his NanoSuit. You find out that CELL has been using some Ceph technology to generate unlimited amounts of energy and has used that to enslave most of the world in crippling amounts of debt. Psycho, saved by people in the resistance, needs your help in order to take them down. As you start to dig into CELL’s activities however the real plan becomes apparent and it becomes clear that only you are able to stop them.
The technology under the hood of Crysis 3 is the same as Crysis 2 so you can imagine I was a little sceptical as to how much of an improvement they could make in the 2 years since their last release. Figuring that my still semi-new upgrade would be up to the task I cranked everything up to its highest, leaving only the anti-aliasing at a tame 2x. What resulted afterwards can only be described as slide show, a very pretty one but it ran so slow that many of the models glitched out and it was essentially unplayable. Dialling back the settings to their recommended levels turned that slideshow into a much more playable game and what a game it is.
Every screenshot you’ll see in this review was taken in game with most of the settings at 1~2 notches below the maximum possible. The level of detail is simply amazing with all models being of the level I’ve come to expect from most game’s cutscenes rather than their in game representations. Crysis 3 makes use of the entire DirectX 11 feature set and does regular things like motion blur, specular highlights and bump mapping better than any other game I’ve played recently. Whilst the framerate wasn’t the greatest in large outdoor areas it was absolutely butter in small to medium sized zones and it was so good that I almost feel like upgrading my PC again just to how Crysis 3 would fair if had room to stretch its legs.
Suffice to say that Crytek has really returned to form with Crysis 3′s graphics.
For those who’ve played Crysis 2 the game play will be very familiar to you with the NanoSuit design staying basically the same as it did in the previous game. You have 3 modes available to you: regular, armoured and cloaked which you can switch between at will. Armoured mode drains energy when you get hit by various things and cloaked mode slowly drains away energy whilst your standing still and even more when you move around. These two active modes are essentially the two ways of completing any obstacle that you might face in Crysis 3: either by stealth or by raw fire power.
Whilst there might be a choice available to you it does seem like Crysis 3 would prefer you to go with one over the other. Right at the beginning you’re given what amounts to the biggest change between Crysis 2 and 3′s combat: the compound bow. Essentially it functions like a backup weapon as it doesn’t count towards one of your 2 regular weapons but like them its customizable with different ammo types and scopes. The key difference between the bow and other weapons however is the fact that upon using it you will still stay cloaked, allowing you to take out enemies with ease and drastically increasing the amount of time you can remained cloaked. Couple this with the fact that the primary type of arrows you can use (impact) can be picked up after you use them you essentially a weapon that’s got unlimited ammunition, kills in one hit and allows you to stealth around everywhere without getting caught. Running and gunning seems rather moronic by comparison.
This is only amplified by the upgrade system which allows you to beef up aspects of the NanoSuit to fit your play style. Whilst its entirely possible to make yourself nigh on indestructible the upgrades for stealth users simply magnifying the already over powered combo of cloak plus bow. Indeed for quite a while I was running around with just the stealth upgrades and multitudes of points available to me. I ended up spending them just before a particular boss fight that required me to go toe to toe with it but I actually found that using stealth was a viable option once I had worked out the fight a little more. This may be due to the difficulty level I was playing on however and I’m sure at easier levels run and gunning would be more viable.
Crysis 3, whilst still technically being an on-rails shooter, does retain the non-linear variations for each section that help to keep it from being yet another corridor shooter. When you’re moving between sections there’s definitely only one path that you can progress through however in those sections there’s usually additional objectives that you can go for which will assist you in getting to the primary objective. For instance there’s one section where two giant walkers are blocking your path. Now on the ground nearby there’s a ton of RPGs scattered about so with a little bit of legwork you could probably take them down. However there’s also a nearby mortar team that’s in need of assistance and should you help them out they’ll let you tag targets which they can then take out for you.
The vehicle sections feel tacked on, almost as if they’re only there to serve as an introduction into what will be available in multi-player. Whilst I applaud their use of larger-than-life maps they only seem to be there to facilitate the inclusion of the speedy Half Life 2-esque dune buggy. I will admit that the optional tank section was pretty fun but it was cut brutally short, right before a time where it would have been a hell of a lot of fun to blast a whole bunch of Ceph out of the skies. This was followed shortly after by an on-rails vehicle section putting you as the gunner which was frankly suicidal as all the Ceph aircraft targeted you instantly and your mounted gun was highly ineffective against them. I’d prefer that these sections stayed in and were revamped rather than them being removed however but they really do feel out of place with the rest of Crysis 3.
There’s also few bugs and glitches to speak of although it pains me to say that at least one of the issues that plagued Crysis 2 are still present in 3. Some guns, for example, will simply not be able to be picked up which can be pretty devastating should you not be able to swap a weapon out for a particular section. The graphics glitches appear to only happen if you’re stressing your hardware too much and disappear the second you revert them to more sane settings. The vehicles are mostly fine except for one part when my tank slowly started turning itself over and then eventually capsized for no apparent reason. Getting out of the vehicle seemed to let it right itself however but the behaviour was still very odd.
I was all ready to pan the story as for the first couple hours there’s really no tension, character development or anything that made me feel for the characters. This all changes later on as the voice acting seems to improve a lot, especially towards the end when certain reveals ramp up the tension between the characters. It’s not an emotional roller coaster like other, more story focused games but it was unexpectedly good for an on rails shooter. They also thankfully avoided the extremely obvious “INCOMING SEQUEL” stuff which plagued Crysis 2, but the current story wraps up well with enough leeway that a sequel is possible without it being obnoxious.
Crysis 3 is simply stunning; a visual masterpiece coupled with highly refined game play that we’ve come to expect from the people at Crytek. There’s no doubt that the graphics are what makes this game so impressive as Crysis 3 is probably the only game that demonstrates the full capability of DirectX 11 on the PC platform today. It’d all be for naught however if the rest of the game didn’t stand on its own however and I’m glad that it does otherwise it’d just be another tech demo ala ID’s Rage. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Crysis 3 and I’d encourage anyone who’s still a dedicated PC gamer to spend some time with it, if only to see how capable your rig really is.
Crysis 3 is available on PC, Xbox360 and PlayStation 3 right now for $69.99, $98 and $98 respectively. Game was played entirely on the PC on the second hardest difficultly with a total of 7 hours played.
One of the things I really like about reviewing games is going back over my reviews when a sequel or another instalment in a franchise comes out. The Call of Duty series takes the top prize for being my most reviewed franchise with not 1, not 2 but 3 previous reviews which I can draw on directly for comparisons. For someone who used to avoid any game that was based around one war or another it’s interesting to see how quickly I came around once I started playing the Call of Duty series, being hooked after a single game. Call of Duty: Black Ops II is the latest instalment in the franchise from Treyarch and I must say that they’ve really outdone themselves this time, firmly placing themselves on the same level as Infinity Ward.
Call of Duty: Black Ops II takes place in the not too distant future of the USA in 2025. The story centres around David Mason, son of Alex Mason the main protagonist from the original Black Ops, who’s tracking down a known terrorist called Raul Menendez. Much of the story is recounted in flashbacks from an ageing Frank Woods who David Mason consult with to try and find out where Menedez is and what he might be up to. It’s through these flash backs that you start to make sense of some of the events of your past and understand why things certain things have happened and why you’re still alive to see them.
For a primarily console game I wasn’t expecting a major update in graphics from any of its predecessors as I believe they were tapping out the capabilities of the Xbox360 some time ago. Compared to Modern Warfare 3 this seems to be largely true with them both having similar levels of graphical detail. However if you compare it to Treyarch’s previous release there’s most definitely a step up which they’re to be commended for. If I’m honest whilst the graphics aren’t a massive improvement over Modern Warfare 3 they are a hell of a lot more smooth, especially when there’s a lot of action going on. For a game that is almost entirely fast paced action this is a very welcome improvement, especially when it comes to multiplayer (which I’ll touch on later).
If you’ve played any of the Call of Duty series you’ll know the basic breakdown of the game play that I’m about to give you. It’s a First Person Shooter and so you’ll spend the vast majority of your time running around, letting bullets loose at varying arrays of enemies and utilizing your additional equipment (like grenades, flash bangs and remote C4) to tip the scales in your favour. Thanks to the ability to customize your load out before starting a mission you can also tailor your experience somewhat by say favouring sniper rifles over close range spray ‘n’ pray type weapons. For what its worth I usually played with assault rifles and SMGs, preferring to run carelessly into battle while unleashing torrents of bullets at my foes.
Black Ops II, like nearly all other titles in the Call of Duty franchise, has their trademark FPS experience that’s so well polished that it just flows with an effortless grace. All the actions (running, jumping, shooting) just plain work like you expect them to. Whilst many other FPS type games will draw my ire for one core game play issue or another I really do find it hard to find fault with the fundamentals of any Call of Duty game. Arguably this is due to the ongoing success of the series which has been allowed to refine every element over the course of so many games but it still doesn’t fail to impress me, even after seeing it for the 4th time in as many years.
Treyarch has recognized that simply running from point A to point B and shooting everything along the way does get a little boring after a while and has included many different distractions along the way to break up the repetition. Shown above is just one of the many little set pieces they include (this one was actually fairly early on in the game) which was an extremely fun way to start the mission off. They have also included a second mission type called Strike Force which is very different from the usual missions and is more akin to a game like Natural Selection, blending RTS elements with FPS game play.
The Strike Force missions put you in control of a squad of marines, robots and flying drones that you will use to accomplish a mission. They’re all different, ranging from a defend the objective to rescuing and escorting someone out, and whilst you can treat it like a regular mission by taking control of one of the units directly you’ll need to issue orders to the other AIs constantly if you want to finish it successfully. If I’m honest I didn’t enjoy them that much at the start but after a while I really started to get into them, employing varying tactics and just loving being able to play with reckless abandon.
After all this praise I feel its appropriate to mention the few minor issues with Black Ops II that can lead to you having a bad time. Like nearly all FPS games that lump you with AI friends to help you out they are, for the most part, completely useless and will likely cause your death more often than they’ll save it. For instance I’ve seen my AI buddies run around corner and proceeded to think it was completely safe however since most of the other AIs won’t target them, only you, this can often mean that there’s someone hiding around the corner but they won’t trigger until you run into their line of sight. This is in addition to them getting in your way every so often which can cause your death when you’re trying to take cover or, more comically, fail a mission when they put their head in front of your sniper rifle (“Friendly fire will not be tolerated!” apparently).
I also had an issue with some of the triggers not going off, causing the game to get stuck at a particular point. The one I can remember clearly was when I was in the bunker just before the Celerium device. I walked in and reprogrammed an ASD to fight for me but after doing so my crew just sort of stood around, not doing anything. Try as I might to get them to move I simply couldn’t and since there’s no “restart from last checkpoint” option in the menu I opted for the tried and true jump on my own grenade to get back to my last checkpoint. After that everything worked as expected but it wasn’t an isolated incident and its something that’s been present in previous Call of Duty titles.
In a very surprising change to the Call of Duty formula you actually have quite a bit of agency in Black Ops II with the game playing out very differently should you make different choices at different times. They are, for the most part, unfortunately binary but there are other softer choices like completing the Strike Missions which will have an influence on how the last hours of the game plays out. The Black Ops II wiki page (SPOILER WARNING on that link) informs me that there’s no less than 5 separate endings available to you which is far more than you average FPS. That, combined with the fact that they’re not presented to you in Endotron 3000 style means that Black Ops II is quite a step up in terms of story.
The story in and of itself is quite enthralling too, even if the beginning confused me somewhat (although that’s somewhat typical for me in Call of Duty games, if I’m honest). I was nicely surprised by how progressive it seemed as well with many characters being female, including the President, and subtle references to current social ideals like the 99% vs the 1% and so on. After my good mate’s take down of the last Call of Duty’s story and lack of agency I had a much more critical eye on Black Ops II’s story than I have for any other game in the series and it makes me very happy to say that they’ve stepped up their game and my expectations were more than met.
The multi-player is pretty much what I’ve come to expect from Call of Duty games bringing back all the classic match up modes along side the newer ideas like Kill Confirmed. Unlike the original Black Ops which allowed you to choose a server Black Ops II instead uses the same match making system that Modern Warfare 3 did. Usually I’d make a note here about how this sucks (and there are still reasons why it does) but since it works and can usually find me a game in under a minute it’s hard to complain about it. Treyarch has also brought back the much loved Nuketown map which has been revamped for the modern era. They also took it away which led to quite the uproar from the community (many of whom preordered just to get said map) but they’ve since brought it back so kudos to them for listening.
There’s really not a lot that’s new or inventive about the multi-player in Black Ops II that I’ve seen yet with the experience system, upgrades and challenges all being very reminiscent of both Modern Warfare 3 and the original Black Ops. It’s kind of hard to improve on that formula since it works so well but those who are looking for a wholly new multiplayer experience ala Battlefield 3 will find themselves disappointed. However for those like me who love the fast paced, spammy action that maps like Nuketown bring you it’s more the same thing we’ve come to love and I still can’t get enough of it.
Call of Duty: Black Ops II catapults Teryarch up from the doldrums of being Infinity Ward’s poor cousin and firmly places them right at their side, showing that they’re quite capable of delivering a game that’s every bit as epic and enjoyable. The graphics are a great step up, the game play smooth and polished and the story is very fulfilling, a rarity in the FPS genre. The multiplayer might not be much different from its predecessors but it works well and is just as addictive as its predecessors which will see me spending many more hours on it. I thoroughly enjoyed my time both in the single and multi player parts of this game and should you be in the market for some top notch, AAA FPS action then you really can’t go past Black Ops II.
Call of Duty: Black Ops II is available on PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox360 right now for $89.99, $78 and $78 respectively. Game was played entirely on the PC on Veteran difficulty with 7.3 hours in single player unlocking 71% of the achievements and 2 hours in multiplayer. A review copy of the game was provided to The Refined Geek from Activision for the purposes of reviewing.
There are few games where I feel confident in saying that the stealth aspect was done well. For recent titles it has often felt like something tacked on at the end after everything else had been done; a mini-game that serves to break up the monotony. It’s a real shame as many of the games that I played during my formative gaming years like Deus Ex, Thief and the like, had stealth sections that were superbly done. It seemed as if the game developers who were behind those titles just simply up and vanished, leaving behind those with only a modicum of understand of how to make stealth games enjoyable. Dishonored isn’t one of these titles and it makes me incredibly happy to put it in the same category as those seminal stealth titles.
Dishonored takes place in the Neo-Victorian steampunk world of Dunwall, a city that’s been ravaged by a plague of unknown origins turning many of the city’s districts into wastelands infest with rats and those on the brink of a gruesome death. You, as Korvo Attano, serve as the high empress’ body guard who was sent on a mission to get aid for the suffering town. However upon return the empress is murdered in front of you and her daughter taken away, leaving just you to take the fall for that horrendous deed. Dishonored then follows your story after your fall from grace as you fight to recover the empress’ daughter and clear your name.
To be completely honest I have to say that I was somewhat disappointed with the graphics of Dishonored. Whilst I had abstained from watching any gameplay videos so as to not taint my first impressions of it from the announcement videos I remember watching my expectations were built up around the idea that it would be a pretty modern looking title. This is not to say that they’re terrible graphics, far from it as you’ll see in many of the screenshots that follows, there were a few things that were so jarring that my immersion was broken completely. Talking to the NPCs comes to mind, although that could be from the camera locking to their face Oblivion style and having them death stare you down whilst you talk to them.
As I alluded to in the opening paragraph Dishonored is one of the games that does stealth right. Realistically there’s actually 2 completely different games to be played here (maybe 3, even): the first is your typical hide in the shadows and make your way to the objective and the second is a RPG/FPS hybrid where you can run and gun your way through it (the third type would be a varying mix between the two). Both of these play styles are completely viable too and in fact it would seem that you’d actually have a much easier time playing as the run and gun style rather than taking the stealthier route. That being said I found the stealth to be far more rewarding than hacking my way through everyone, but at no time did I feel forced into taking one option over the other.
Stealthing around is quite fun as whilst you’re not given a completely open world to explore like in Thief the sections you’re let loose in are quite detailed with multiple pathways to goals and endless places to explore for additional treasure. The magical abilities you can unlock as well (by searching out runes scattered across the levels) can enable you to do some really amazing things like taking possession of rats and then using them to get into places that would be otherwise inaccessible. It’s also quite thrilling to be hiding just inches away from enemies, watching their movements, moving in to strike and then later hear their allies remarking about where they might have gone.
Going toe-to-toe with every enemy you meet is surprisingly viable, something I didn’t really expect from a game that marketed itself primarily as a stealth based action game. The primary means of dealing out damage is a good old fashioned sword that comes hand in hand with the awkwardness that always plagues FPS games that try to include them. However you’re also given a great selection of other weapons to use such as a gun, crossbow, grenades and things that are essentially proximity mines that fling shrapnel everywhere. Considering the ridiculously plentiful ammunition that’s available everywhere you could very well play this entire game without having to bother with stealth at all and one of the achievements, Mostly Flesh and Steel (complete the game without any additional supernatural powers), seems to encourage this. There is the fact though that the more people you kill the more devastated the city becomes (and the darker the ending will be) so playing run and gun will have some consequences, but it does give Dishonored a decent amount of replayability.
There’s a 2 sided upgrade system that functions as Dishonored’s levelling system and up until a point it works quite well. The primarily upgrade system are runes which allow you to unlock and upgrade supernatural powers. Most of them are incredibly useful and primarily geared towards the players who prefer stealth over brawn. The second upgrade system is the mechanical one enabling you to improve all your non-magical powers as well as doing things like reducing the amount of noise your steps make. In the early game these upgrades can be the difference between finishing a mission and struggling with it endlessly but past a point there’s not much return on investment in tracking more runes or gold down.
For instance since I was playing as a stealth character nearly all the mechanical upgrades were pointless to me and since they use gold instead of runes I ended up having a pretty big surplus for most of the game. This is not because I tracked down all the gold I could find, far from it, its just that once you know what play style you’re going you can min/max your upgrades to make you perfectly fit for such objectives. For me this happened about half way through but a determined player could craft the ideal character after the first 3 missions or so. Sure I still invested in upgrades after that but they didn’t make a huge difference in how the game played for me and I could have just as easily left the runes and gold unspent.
Which brings me to another point. When I was first doing research on Dishonored (mostly looking for average play times) I found an article that said a direct run through would clock in at about 12~14 hours but also that players looking to explore would probably double that as there’d be a lot to find. Whilst the play time is incredibly inaccurate there is some truth to the exploration aspect as you can find many unique encounters if you’re willing to run, blink and jump all over the place. However most of the time the reward isn’t particularly worth it, usually being potions or ammo, and after a while I just stopped seeking them out as I was always maxed out on nearly everything and the only thing I couldn’t find I could buy in unlimited supply anyway. I’m sure there are many people who will get heaps of enjoyment out of seeking all these things out but for me it just didn’t feel worth it after about halfway through Dishonored.
The story of Dishonored is better than most games of similar calibre even if it’s something of a rehash of the typical falsely accused man who’s out to clear his name and make everything right. You at least have some form of agency in that your choice of actions influences both the world around you and how certain characters react to you which is what puts it above other games in the same genre. That being said I didn’t really feel anything for the characters or have a deep emotional involvement in the plot and I think that’s because of one simple thing: the terrible voice acting.
Nearly all of the lines delivered are flat, read in an almost emotionless monotone. It’s rather confusing as the written passages and notes scattered everywhere are quite good, so the writing itself isn’t bad, just the delivery. This is made worse by the canned questions and responses that are obviously heuristically lined up (“Shall we meet for whiskey and cigars tonight?” “Indeed, I believe it is so.”) but never seem to work quite right. There are some stand outs like Lady Boyle’s playful banter and the final soliloquy by the captain but apart from that everyone else could just as easily be a text to speech generator given their delivery. I’m not asking for L.A. Noire levels of emotional craziness but a little more emotion in the lines might’ve made me a bit more involved in the story than I was.
I was asked my opinion of the game several times over the course of playing it and it was interesting to see how it changed over the course of my play through. Initially I was disappointed, I had gotten swept up in the hype again and the initial impressions didn’t match up to my expectations. However as the game went on I found myself enjoying it more and really got into the stealth aspect of Dishonored. It’s probably not game of the year material as many of the major review sites would have you believe but it is an incredibly strong title and in a world where new IP is the hardest thing to market it’s really refreshing to see something like this come to market. For those of us who yearned for the return of the Thief era stealth games Dishonored pays excellent homage to them and is well worth the price of admission.
Dishonored is available on PC, Xbox360 and PS3 right now for $79.99, $78 and $78 respectively. Game was played entirely on the PC on the second hardest difficulty with around 8 hours played and 40% of the achievements unlocked giving the Low Chaos ending.
An old friend of mine wrote a post not too long ago saying that the FPS genre had almost run its course and was in either need of a reboot or a bullet. I agreed with him although countered with a single game that was, technically, a first person shooter but flipped the idea of what constituted a traditional FPS and got it all mixed up with some heavy RPG elements. Whilst I didn’t mention it at the time (mostly because the question was centred around player agency) Borderlands was another title in the FPS genre that felt like a breath of fresh air when compared to all the other generic shooters that have graced our gaming platforms over the past few years. Its sequel, released a couple weeks ago, stays true to the original’s FPS/RPG hybrid styling whilst provided some much needed polish in the areas that needed it.
Borderlands 2 takes place 5 years after the events in the original and with the vault opened and the monstrosity contained within it defeated a new valuable resource, a purple metal called Eridium, has sprung up all over Pandora. Handsome Jack, a member of the Hyperion corporation, notices this and secures the resource for himself allowing him to take over Hyperion. Jack now uses his power, as well as a giant orbital satellite in the form of a H which can be clearly seen from the ground, to control the inhabitants of Pandora. However rumours have been spreading of another vault contained on Pandora and a new set of vault hunters have come seeking its contents.
Just like the original Borderlands 2 sticks to cel shading for its graphics style and 3 years down the track its not looking any worse for wear. Whilst many have praised Borderlands 2 for being a graphical step up from its predecessor (and it is, in many ways) if you were like me and dived into the configuration files you would have been able to get similar levels of detail. That being said not having to do that now thanks to a menu that reveals all those options to you is a much better alternative and speaks volumes to the lengths that Gearbox has gone to in order to not make the PC version a bastard child of a port. Seeing as that was one of my main gripes with the original I’m glad to see this was addressed as I wasn’t looking forward to panning them again for it.
As I mentioned previously Borderlands 2 is a hybrid FPS/RPG with core elements of both combining together to form the core of the game play. The FPS portion, at its most basic level, is your typical run and gun affair with regenerating health (in the form of a shield) and chest high boxes littering the landscape to provide you with cover. The RPG elements aren’t as deep as full on RPG titles like say Skyrim but you’ve still got 4 distinct character classes each with a talent tree that contains 3 different paths in it giving you quite a bit of freedom in how your character ends up playing out.
Now whilst the basic aspects of the FPS part of Borderlands might not be too different from any other generic shooter the way in which combat actually plays out is nothing like it. Just like in the original each of the character classes has a unique action skill that can drastically change the way a fight goes. Since I choose the Commando I had myself a sentry turret that provided both added damage but also a distraction for some of the tougher enemies so that I could run up behind them and unleash hell in relative safety. Talking it over with my friends the Sentry gun is one of the most useful but apparently Zero’s ability (being able to turn invisible whilst leaving a decoy behind) is by far the most fun.
Of course there’s even more variation in the FPS aspects thanks to the near infinite amount of guns, grenades and other inventory items that can drastically change the way you engage hostile targets. Whilst there’s a couple simple mechanics like different types of elemental damage that are more/less effective depending on the type of enemy you’re facing there are many guns with ludicrous abilities that can transform a meagre character into an unbridled tool of destruction. Indeed finding such weapons are usually key to progressing past certain points and you’re pretty much guaranteed to find a couple a long your way.
For me it was a rocket launcher called the Partisan Mongol which upon firing launched a barrage of rockets that did several orders of magnitude more damage than I was capable of unloading with any of my other weapons. This weapon became a key part of my arsenal as it meant that should I get into a jam and need to kill something quickly to get second wind all I needed to do was whip out my launcher and lay waste to whatever was in front of me. Sure it wasn’t fool proof and the amount of ammo it consumed meant it wasn’t particularly sustainable but considering I carried that weapon with me from level 20 something right up until the end just shows you how valuable weapons like that can be.
Your talent trees will also have a major impact on how you progress through the game. I played as a Survival Commando mostly because the initial talents went a long way to reducing the amount of down time I had to endure. As I went up in levels however the skills made me almost unstoppable as I was able to take massive amounts of pounding without breaking a sweat. Couple this with a couple other items like say an amp shield that imbues your weapons with extra damage at full charge and a build that was primarily defensive in nature suddenly becomes wildly offensive. In the end I settled on a build that reduced the cooldown of my turret skill by half and enabled me to have two turrets out at a time that both had shields on them, giving me both amazing survival power and an incredible damage output.
There’s also another levelling system on top of the regular one and its called, eerily enough (considering the title of my last Borderlands review), Badass Ranks. In essence they’re like a sub-achievement system, they’re only tracked in game, but you get ranks for completing things like setting a certain number of enemies on fire, using certain item abilities and performing all sorts of weird and wonderful acts. Once you rank up you’re then given a token that you can spend on a percentage based perk that can be things like increasing your shield regen rate. According to what Gearbox tells you these perks are unlimited and thus function as a levelling system that will continue long on after you’ve hit the 50 level cap. Unlimited is a bit of a misleading term though as its clear that as you level up the same perks you start to hit diminishing returns on them and I get the feeling that the upper bounds for many of them are in the realms of 10% or so.
In terms of overall polish Borderlands 2 is certainly leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessor. Gone is the GameSpy account requirement and the need to open up a rather excessively number of ports on your router in order for it to work. The menus are also not painfully console specific reacting much better to the additional input options offered by the mouse and keyboard of the PC platform. I did encounter some interesting and quirky bugs along the way and there was only one that actually broke the game in a serious way.
Minor plot spoilers follow:
For the BNK-3R boss fight I spent most of my first try of it running around looking for ammo drops to replenish my stash. Now I’m not sure if it was due to me being in a strange position or not but once it was past a certain percentage of health and Roland said something like “Now that’s a big gun” it jammed itself on the corner of the platform and then started violently shuddering whilst not getting anywhere. I figured it was just stuck and hopefully wearing its health down would trigger it to teleport out or get unstuck but unfortunately after wearing it all the way down to 0 health it just sat there. After jumping to my death (and eating the respawn cost) it regenerated all its health but was still stuck in the same position. The only way to get it unstuck is to reload and then hope it doesn’t happen again. Thankfully for me it didn’t but there are many people on the forums reporting the same issue so hopefully it gets fixed soon.
The writers have also out done themselves as the comedic tones that are interwoven in through a semi-serious plot make for a story that’s engaging, entertaining and completely hilarious at times. All of the characters have their own unique brand of humour and whilst I didn’t find all of them laugh out loud funny they all had their moments. Handsome Jack, your nemesis for the entire game, is also an extremely hateable character and they did a great job of making him a real douche bag. Needless to say that I spent the majority of the game just waiting for a moment when I could put a bullet between his eyes.
The story itself was good too and whilst I didn’t feel a deep emotional attachment for many of the characters (apart from Mordecai as I played him in the original) I did genuinely care about how the ending panned out. If pushed I’d say it was the game play that made it for me rather than the story but overall I’d rate it far above other titles in the FPS genre which usually only use a paper thin storyline in order to keep you going.
Borderlands 2 is an amazing game having taken all the ideals of the original and polishing them up to a glorious hue. All the complaints that I had about the original are gone and save for a few bugs the experience is seamless. Even for those who didn’t play the original Borderlands 2 offers a great FPS/RPG experience that is only matched by other greats in this hybrid genre like Deus Ex: Human Revolution. If you’re one of the many who enjoy games with a long shelf life then Borderlands 2 is definitely a title for you as my play time is probably only a quarter of what’s possible.
Borderlands 2 is available on PC, PS3 and Xbox360 right now for $49.99, $69 and $69 respectively. Game was played entirely on the PC with around 25 hours of total play time, 58% of the achievements unlocked and reaching level 31.
In the interests of full disclosure (and those who are new to the blog) it needs to be known that I’m a pretty big fan of Deus Ex: Human Revolution. So much so it managed to take out my nomination for Game of the Year for 2011, a pretty amazing feat considering the competition it was up against. Still even though my fan boy-ness might be at levels to rival that of my other passions I still couldn’t bring myself to spend the $15 on the Missing Link DLC that was available shortly after. No it would take a heavy discount to $5 in a recent Steam sale to bring me over to the DLC bandwagon but suffice to say, I’m glad I did.
The Missing Link takes place during part of the game where the main character, Adam Jensen, goes off the grid for 3 days. During Human Revolution Pritchard’s enquiries into what happened in the intervening 3 days are brushed off by Jensen and it was very easy to miss this gap in the original game. Indeed the experience would seem to be something he’d want to forget after being taken captive, having all of his augmentations reset to nothing and then having to fight his way out again. It’s a good premise for DLC as the experience plays like a short episode in the bigger Deus Ex world without having to rely too heavily on the original game.
As to be expected all the core aspects of the game: the graphics, gameplay and so on are identical between Human Revolution and The Missing Link. This works well for The Missing Link as all of these things were done extremely well in the original leaving little much room for improvement. That being said that also means the few quirks of the game like the ones I mentioned in the original review are still there. None of them are game breaking but you still need to be aware of them either to avoid getting trapped by them or to use them to make your life easier.
The Missing Link starts you off as a fairly advanced character except that all your mod points are unspent (except for the default ones). What this means is that you can craft your character anew, avoiding some mistakes you might have made. I’m on the fence about this as whilst it makes sense in the story I remember my character being a lot further ahead than the one in The Missing Link was. The choices you then make heavily impact what your experience of The Missing Link will be like (I.E. if you want to hack everything you’re going to have to spend most of your initial points to do that). With the total number of additional praxis points being relatively low you’ve got to make your choices wisely as every single aug can be used within The Missing Link’s short play time.
However The Missing Link heavily encourages you to play a certain way: mostly stealth. Now for most Deus Ex players this will be second nature as it’s pretty much the default play style and indeed Human Revolution heavily favoured this way of playing as well so it really should come as no surprise. It’s slightly disappointing as I attempted to make a run and gun character but ended up having to stealth most sections anyway, rendering those points I spent useless. It’s not a terribly huge deal, but I feel like my time with it would have been a lot better had I opted to spend my points differently.
I need to point out here that The Missing Link’s level design seems to be somewhat lazy compared to that of Human Revolution. Whilst I can understand that the setting doesn’t lend itself well to a large sprawling environment the running back and forward between sections, with the seemingly way too long scanner sections depicted in the screenshot above, doesn’t make for great game play. Indeed you’ll spend much of your time clearing sections you had already cleared previously. It’s a dreadful form of asset reuse and not something I had come to expect from the guys who had made Human Revolution.
Thankfully though the story (and the developer’s humour, as you can see above) is what makes The Missing Link worth playing. Whilst I can’t go too deep into it without spoiling everything for you suffice to say that in the short time you’ll spend with The Missing Link you’ll still be gripped by the story, one that has all the trademark elements that we’ve come to expect from a Deus Ex plot. One criticism I’ll level at it though is the incorporation of what is seemingly an arbitrary decision at one point that only seems to affect some dialogue between Jensen and another character. Had The Missing Link been integrated into the main Human Revolution game this could have been alleviated somewhat, but I can see why this didn’t happen.
For someone who usually avoids DLC like the plague Human Revolution stands out as one that I’ll heartily recommend to anyone who’s played through Deus Ex: Human Revolution and wants to dive back into it. Whilst it may not stand up to the high standards that Human Revolution set for it The Missing Link is still a great story accompanied by intricate and nuanced game play, aspects that many games struggle to pull off individually. Thinking back on it now I still stand by decision to wait though as whilst $15 is fair value (going on a $/hour of game play perspective) I’d still probably hold off on this until there’s another sale just because The Missing Link isn’t exactly required playing unless you’re a completionist.
Deus Ex:Human Revolution The Missing Link DLC is available right now on PC, Xbox360 and PlayStation 3 right now for $15 (or equivalent points). Game was played entirely on the PC on hard difficult with around 5 hbours played and 30% of the achievements unlocked.