The Battlefield series has, for the most part, stuck to its roots of giant war-based combat which has served it well over the past 13 years that it has existed. This put it in direct competition with Call of Duty although they favoured a longer development and release cycle with their games usually having a 2+ year cycle with various expansions and DLCs peppered in between. For many it served as the more refined version of Call of Duty, favouring tactics and skill rather than fast action and twitch reflexes. Battlefield Hardline marks DICE’s first departure from the Battlefield formula and whilst parts of what made the series great can be seen in here the game unfortunately leaves a lot to be desired.
Miami has gone to hell, the streets flooded with drugs and gang warfare escalating to all new heights. You are Nicholas Mendoza, newly minted detective in the Miami PD who’s looking to clean up Miami through good, honest police work. However it doesn’t take long for things to start going awry with your first bust turning into a bloodbath and questions to start arising around your methods. Indeed the more you try stop the plague that’s spreading through Miami the more you seem to be drawn into it, with your fellow cops being the ones dragging you in.
Unlike it’s predecessors that used the Frostbite 3 engine Battlefield Hardline doesn’t feel like a massive step up graphically, indeed it actually feels like it’s gone backwards in some respects. Whilst we still have the wide open environments that are a signature of the Battlefield franchise they just don’t feel as visually impressive as they used to, even with the enormous amount of grunt that my new rig can provide. Looking over my screenshots from previous reviews confirms this, showing that the engine is capable of quite a bit more than what Hardline seems to make use of. It makes even less sense when you find out that this isn’t Visceral’s first experience with the Frostbite engine either so I can only assume that the reduction in fidelity was done for optimization reasons.
Hardline plays much like Battlefield 4 did before it, retaining many of the core mechanics whilst adding in a few new tricks that tie into the police theme. You’ll still be running and gunning quite often, although in slightly smaller environments than you’d be used to, and the stealth mechanic that appeared in Battlefield 4 makes a return in Hardline. However now instead of getting points to level up your character by killing people you instead only level up by taking people down non-lethally or arresting them, something you can accomplish by telling them to “freeze” and then tackling them to the ground. There’s also bonus objectives like warrant suspects (who give quadruple score for arrests), cases for you to investigate by finding evidence and completing additional objectives. The multiplayer introduces a bunch of new modes which are mostly variants of the standard game styles we all know and love although it seems everyone is really still only interested in the big, 32 on 32 conquest maps.
The FPS combat in hardline feels a little unpolished as all the guns in their own categories feel pretty much the same as one another. Indeed once you get a few levels under your belt and unlock a couple guns there’s really no need to switch to anything else and the game rarely pits you against enemies with new and interesting guns, meaning you’ll have to level up or complete case missions in order to add in some variety. Couple this with the absolutely dumb as rocks AI and you’ve got a FPS experience that’s highly forgettable, even in the scenes which feel like they’re supposed to be action packed but just end up feeling bland.
This is only exacerbated by the repetition that’s introduced by the arrest mechanic which you’re required to use if you want to level up your character. Sure it’s pretty fun to work out the best way to approach a section so you can arrest everyone in it, but after you’ve done that a dozen times it starts to lose its luster. Thankfully you don’t have to do that for long as I was able to reach max rank somewhere around episode 7 or so but even the freedom granted by being able to run and gun everything past then didn’t add any life back into Hardline’s combat. This is what made it incredibly easy to put the game down at the end of each “episode” as playing more than one in a night was a recipe for frustration and boredom.
The story is somewhat serviceable in comparison to the rest of the game, with most of the characters being given enough screentime and background to be believable even if the situations you find them in are wholly unbelievable. I couldn’t find myself empathizing with any of the characters though, even the main protagonist, as they didn’t really feel relatable until right near the end. Even then it felt like too little too late, even if I had enough information to understand the decisions they were making. The ending might not scream sequel but it’s definitely hinting at it, raising its eyebrows suggestively and giving you a sly wink as you walk out the door.
I’ve only spent a brief few hours with the multiplayer (for issues I’ll dig into below) but the horror that is Battelog has made yet another return for Hardline and the issues surrounding it still remain. For the most part it seems like the community has little interest in the new game modes as servers that cater towards them are barren wastelands, devoid of players wanting to play them. Instead the vast majority have huddled around the safe place of Battlefield’s large scale warfare maps, something that feels quite at odds with the game’s more intimate setting and direction. Suffice to say it pretty much plays how you’d expect it to with the key difference coming from you being able to generate cash to buy new weapons and perks, rather than having to unlock them by levelling a class. It takes the edge of the levelling curve but doesn’t do much else.
The icing on this rather unappealing cake comes in the form of bugs, glitches and good old fashioned crashes that seem to be a mainstay of all Battlefield releases. I had the single player crash on me multiple times, often when I wasn’t doing anything particular of note at all. Battlelog simply refused to recognise that I had Origin installed until I reinstalled it, something I seem to have to do with every Battlefield release. Then when I did try to play some multi games the game would often just up and exit without any notification of what happened, sometimes in the middle of the game and others when I was spending the mandatory 5 minute wait while the game reloaded itself again. I honestly cannot understand why, after 2 previous releases that suffered the exact same issues, that DICE and Visceral couldn’t work out these issues before release and it’s not something I’d expect from a veteran AAA developer.
Battlefield Hardline is an unfortunate fall from grace for the series, trashing the things that made them great and failing to add in anything that could justify taking such a huge risk. The gameplay is bland and uninteresting, failing to capture the player’s attention even for the short duration of the episodes in the single player game. The changes to the multiplayer are completely out of line with what the community wants, as shown by the fact that the only playable servers are those that emulate the previous title’s play style. Topping it all off is the instability and lack of polish on the core game itself, with crashes and bugs plaguing the already beleaguered experience. I honestly can’t recommend this game even for the die hard fans of the series as it just falls so short of the standard that its predecessors set.
Battlefield Hardline is available on PC, Xbox360, XboxOne, PlayStation3 and PlayStation4 right now for $59.95, $89.95, $109.95, $89.95 and $109.95 respectively. Game was played on the PC with approximately 9 hours of total play time.
Ever since we (sort of) won the battle for a R18+ rating for games us adult gamers have been hoping that the games, which are clearly not for children, would make their way to us under that banner. However we’ve quickly run up against the classification definition several times already with many titles receiving the dreaded NC rating, preventing them from being sold within our borders. Whilst there’s healthy debate to be had on a case by case basis any gamer will tell you that they were expecting the NC rating to never be seen again and all titles would be available to us. Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is the latest victim to get the dreaded NC rating although I was able to snag a copy anyway, even though the developer had told us Australians to just pirate it.
Hotline Miami 2 follows several different story lines, each of which crisscrosses through one another at various points. You start off as a member of the masked vigilante group who spend their nights finding scumbags and other lowlifes to make examples of. Then you’ll be whirled back to Vietnam, thrown in deep behind enemy lines and left to die, unless you can gun your way out of there. You’ll even spend time as the son of a gang lord, looking to re-establish his father’s reputation and drive those filthy Colombians out of your territory. Holding this all together is an unnamed author trying to piece it all together, searching for the single thread that connects all these events. There is only one thing they share however: the brutality of the violence committed.
This much anticipated sequel retains the original’s Grand Theft Auto style although with a lot more fidelity than its predecessors had. Hotline Miami felt like it was made alongside the game it imitated however Hotline Miami 2 feels more like the modern pixelart titles we’ve come to love, embracing the styling but putting a layer of modern polish on it. This can be most readily seen in the intermission sections, where there’s obviously been a lot more care taken to developing the rolling backgrounds and effects that are layered on top. This also comes hand in hand with an amazing soundtrack, which includes many of my favourite synthwave/retro pop bands like Mitch Murder, that goes along perfectly with the bloody action on screen.
In terms of core game play not much has changed in the sequel retaining the top down, beat ’em up style that made the original so intriguing. Gone is the linear progression system where you’d unlock new masks that you can use with any mission, instead now you unlock masks for certain “fans” and weapons for others. The variety now comes from the different characters you’ll be playing which either have a choice of 3 different things or simply have some abilities natively. Whilst I’m sure this was done to encourage players to branch out a little bit (I have to admit to stick to “lethal doors” for pretty much all of the original game) it does feel a whole bunch more restrictive, especially when some of the characters are a lot more fun to play than others.
The combat is a mix of brutal, twitch based game play that requires you to think and act fast and more methodical, pragmatic approaches that require you to sit back and learn the level before charging in head first. The driving music and incredibly satisfying noises you get when hoeing through a whole level of enemies pushes you towards the reckless end of the spectrum constantly which makes the more slow and methodical sections feel a little out of place. Indeed those levels are by far the most difficult as it typically takes several perfectly placed manurers in order to get to the next section. Then, if you weren’t paying attention, you can make that next section incredibly difficult for yourself, as I managed to do several times over.
Still there’s very much a sense of most (I’ll come back to this in a second) of your mistakes being your fault rather than the game punishing you so there’s a certain sense of satisfaction in figuring out how to best approach something. Over the course of the game you’ll start to figure out how long certain enemies wait before shooting, how far away they’ll hear gunshots and why your bullets don’t seem to hit someone when you first open the door (hint: you’re shooting the door). Unfortunately however there are numerous aspects of the game that simply can’t be overcome by skill and this can lead to some rather frustrating experiences.
To start off with most enemies can shoot you before you can see them, even if you’re using the “look” thing. This goes both ways, allowing you to shoot some enemies before you can see them, however it means that sometimes when you’re walking down a hallway you haven’t been to yet you’ll die to stray gunshots you won’t know were coming. There’s also numerous enemies which either don’t react consistently or are essentially coin tosses as to whether you die to them or not which can make an otherwise perfect run fall completely on its face. Indeed whilst I’m happy to admit that a lot of my failures were due to me simply doing retarded things there were more than a handful where I’d get most of the way through a level before getting rail roaded by something I felt I had no control over.
However the biggest flaw in Hotline Miami’s second coming is by far the level lengths which have increased dramatically in most cases. For most games this would be a good thing, allowing you to really immerse yourself in the game world and soak in all the detail. With a game like Hotline Miami 2 however it just becomes exhausting as you have to slog through stage after stage in order to get to the end. Indeed this style of game which seems to hinge on being frantic, by-the-second style action suffers tremendously when its drawn out over a 30+ minute period, something which will routinely happen to anyone who’s not godlike with twitch based games like this.
The story remains one of Hotline Miami’s strong points and, whilst I enjoyed it, it’s hard for me to say whether or not I fully understood it on my single play through. In fact the most easily understood sections, for me at least, were the psychedelic episodes that a few of the characters endured whilst the broader plot points seemed to have eluded me. There’s ties back to the original (or at least I think there are as some of the faces look awfully familiar) which I would say much the same about. I guess where I’m going with this is Hotline Miami 2 has a story that requires multiple sittings to fully understand but is more than passable on a single play through.
Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number brings back the brutal top down beat ’em up that became an instant classic 2 years ago and does so with renewed vigour. The art and sound has been ramped up significantly with the pixelart looking oh-so-good and the list of artists on the soundtrack swelling significantly. The combat has remained largely the same with a few tweaks here and there to encourage players to branch out of their comfort zones. However it’s marred by some mechanics that feel unduly fair and significantly increased level length that, rather than feel engrossing, just end up being exhausting slogs. Overall Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is still great at what it does and if you were a fan of the original you’ll be right at home with its sequel.
Hotline Miami 2 is available on PC, PlayStation3, PlayStation4 and Vita right now for $14.99 on all platforms. Total play time was 7 hours with 31% of the achievements unlocked.
Far Cry releases have been like clockwork for the first 3 instalments, coming out every 4 years at roughly the same time. That made it something of an oddity in recent times as nearly every other game that had its level of success transitioned quickly to the yearly release model and most suffered for it. The most recent release of Far Cry however came just 2 years after its predecessor, signalling that either the developers had found a way to cut 2 years from their dev cycle (not likely) or the pressure to release more often had finally got to Ubisoft. Whilst I tend to think the latter is more possible (especially given Ubisofts penchant for frequent releases) Far Cry 4 doesn’t seem to have suffered much due to the shortened development cycle and even manages to improve on its predecessor considerably.
You play as Ajay Ghale, a native of the land of Kyrat (most likely Nepal) who has returned to his birth land to fulfill the last dying wish of his mother: to scatter her ashes in Lakshmana. This is not as easy as it sounds as Kyrat has been in the grip of a brutal civil war for decades, ruled over by a dictator who has crowned himself king of all things. Upon trying to sneak into Kyrat you’re stopped at a military checkpoint and it doesn’t take long before things start going south. Then, for some unknown reason, the dictator himself shows up and takes you away to his palace high in the mountains of Kyrat. It is there you find out why he is so interested in you and why it is you who must free Kyrat.
Even though Far Cry 4 shares an engine with its predecessor I have to say that the graphics do feel like a big step up. Part of this might be the difference in scenery which now contains numerous sweeping vistas rather than the dense jungles of Far Cry 3. My rig also struggled with the default settings (something which I don’t recall happening previously) which is partly due to its age but also speaks to the higher graphical fidelity that Far Cry 4 has. Some of the issues I experienced previously did come across again (like they extremely noticeable tearing) however they were solvable and so they didn’t impact my game experience too much. If anything Far Cry 4 highlighted the fact that the new PC I’ve been fantasizing over would be a worthy investment, especially if I could run a game as pretty as this on max settings.
Ubisoft appears to have settled on the formula for the Far Cry series with the vast majority of this instalments mechanics being taken directly from its predecessor. You’ll be running around a large map, taking over radio towers, liberating outposts and doing all sorts of odds and ends type missions that will get in your way when you’re trying to travel between two points. There’s dozens of weapons available at your disposal, some of which you will only be able to access after completing certain missions or objectives. The talent system makes a comeback with a slightly tweaked progression mechanism which makes it slightly more relevant than it was in Far Cry 3. There are also some notable quality of life improvements made that vastly improved my enjoyment of Far Cry 4, some of which I think should make their way into other open world games.
Combat feels roughly the same as its predecessor with the aiming down sights still not feeling as accurate as it should be but overall retaining a highly polished feel. Whilst stealth is always an option (more on that in a bit) you’ll often find yourself in the midst of an out and out gun fight, tearing your way through wave after wave of enemies before you can move forward. For the most part these encounters are laid out well, giving you various routes to victory. Some approaches are far better than others of course but it wasn’t often that I found myself without the requisite firepower to make it through a section. In-vehicle combat, whilst improved, still feels a little janky although I can see it being passable in a co-op scenario.
The stealth mechanics are, again, largely similar to Far Cry 3 with a meter filling up until you’re detected and all hell breaks loose. On first pass the stealth doesn’t work as expected as there are numerous times where you can’t see an enemy but they can easily see you. From what I can tell this is because leaves and bushes don’t block their line of sight, necessitating you to hide behind something more “solid” in order to block it. However once you’ve worked out the boundaries of their detection it becomes quite easy to pick off everyone in an outpost with the crossbow with the few heavies easily taken care of with a suppressed sniper rifle. Overall it felt like an improvement even if it did require me to adjust my playstyle a bit for it to be useful.
The talent system is the main way you’ll progress your character, spending your talent points on various skills and enhancements. The levels come fast enough that you usually won’t be waiting long to unlock that skill you want but at the same time none of the skills are exactly game breaking. The unlocking of additional skills being tied to campaign missions and side quests is a good way to encourage players to do things that they might not otherwise do and does provide a more organic approach to progression than Far Cry 3 did. The crafting system is pretty much identical to its predecessor, providing an ancillary progression system that’s still more of an also-ran than anything else.
However there are 2 standout features of Far Cry 4 that made my experience with it so much better: autodrive and the home base. I can’t tell you how tedious it is to have to drive everywhere in these open world games, especially ones like Far Cry where you’ll likely encounter have a dozen events along the way (most of which attempt to kill you). Autodrive allows you to just set it and forget it, taking a ton of tedium out of the game whilst still allowing it to retain that large open world feel. The customizable home base is a godsend once you upgrade it to have a helicopter there permanently, ensuring that you’ve always got the best means of transport at your disposal. These two things together were enough to see me come back far more often than I otherwise would have as they removed nearly all the tedium from the game.
The story however suffers from the almost trademark confused execution that plagues the Far Cry franchise. Whilst it thankfully retains a consistent antagonist throughout (unlike Far Cry 3 which lost all of its impact halfway through) it seems to be caught between not taking itself seriously and taking itself far too seriously to do the underlying story justice. I think the main problem is that your character isn’t given the requisite build up before he’s thrust into the action, unlike in Far Cry 3 where your initial escapades are fuelled by luck and naivety. It’s a shame because there are some really brilliant scenes dotted throughout the main story (the opium factory raid and the Shangri-La missions stand out with this) but there’s just that missing element that binds everything together into a cohesive whole.
Far Cry 4 is an evolutionary step forward for the franchise, improving on nearly all aspects of its predecessor which results in a far better title overall. The decreased development time between Far Cry 4 and its predecessor shows that Ubisoft has settled on a formula for the franchise one which, in my mind, seems to be working quite well for them. There are still some rough edges however, ones that I’m sure can be smoothed out with further polish, and hopefully the next instalment in the series can get the story right which would greatly elevate the franchises station within the open world genre. All that being said Far Cry 4 is still a solid game, even for people like me who typically aren’t fans of the genre.
Far Cry 4 is available on PC, PlayStation3, PlayStation4, Xbox360 and XboxOne right now for $79.95, $89.95, $99.95 $89.95 and $99.95 respectively. Game was played on the PC with a total play time of 17 hours.
The one review per week deadline I’ve set myself is both a blessing and a curse. I have certainly broadened my gaming horizons considerably since I first started doing it having played many titles I would’ve otherwise let slip by the wayside. Unfortunately it also means that I usually pass on titles that require a heavy time investment as I simply can’t do them justice. However there are exceptions and Dragon Age: Inquisition, a game who’s predecessors I’ve played (and loved) in the past, is one I certainly couldn’t pass up. So, after shirking off all my other responsibilities for the past week I’ve managed to work my way through Bioware’s latest RPG, and I’m incredibly glad I did.
It has been one year since the events of Dragon Age 2 and the world, still reeling from the last blight and the turmoil in Kirkwall, is set to face another threat. The sky has been rendered asunder in a massive explosion that destroyed the Chantry’s most sacred of temples with you, bearing and strange green mark on your hand, being the only one to survive it. Whilst many want you to be put to the axe immediately Seeker Cassandra steadies their hands in the hopes that you will be able to close the breach between this world and the fade. To do this she invokes the right of the Inquisition, severing ties from the Templars and Chantry to form a new order to close the breach and seek its cause.
At first I thought Inquisition was running on some kind of supercharged Unreal engine, due to the way it used specularity, however it turns out that it’s powered by none other than the Frostbite 3 engine, the same one that’s behind the beautiful graphics of the Battlefield series. Compared to its predecessors Inquisition is definitely a major step forward with everything taking on a new sense of scale and detail. Surprisingly this doesn’t come with it’s usual associated cost of stuttering frame rates, something I was quite impressed with. It may not be Skyrim-modded-to-the-nines beautiful but it’s definitely a game that would be best played on a current generation hardware.
The sheer breadth of Inquisition is something that’s hard to understate, something which is wholly a product of the previous instalment in this series being panned for its limited nature. The core of the game still remains the same, it’s a Bioware RPG that has a heavy focus on the story and your role within it, but surrounding that are numerous quests, challenges and other activities that I’m sure adds up to well over 100 hours worth of play time. Layered on top of all of this is the War Room, a birds eye view map of Orlais and Ferelden that allows you to send your advisors on missions to gain influence, rewards or to unlock further missions for you to pursue. It shows that Bioware has listened to the feedback regarding how narrow Dragon Age 2 felt in comparison to its other RPG titles, even if they may have overcompensated to the point of impacting other things (more on that later).
Combat feels like an evolutionary improvement of what was done in Dragon Age 2, keeping the same action-RPG focus whilst attempting to add in other mechanics to make the traditional RPG style more accessible. Instead of the traditional pause mode Inquisition instead gives you a Tactical Camera which allows you to look around the entire combat field and assign actions to your party. It’s not a requirement to use it however as the behaviour system for your companions is back in and, thankfully, is coupled with a much more competent AI that’s able to recognize its new abilities and when it should and shouldn’t use them. Probably the most notable change is though is that the healing system has been completely revamped with no character class having a native healing ability and the number of healing potions given to your party fixed at a certain amount. What this all adds up to is a combat system that’s far more streamlined, lending the focus more to the action than the minutia.
This also means that the strategies you’ll use in Inquisition are going to be far different than any other RPG out there. Instead of ensuring you have the holy trinity set up you’re far more focused on controlling combat, setting up combos and making sure you use other survivability options so you don’t churn through your potion stash too quickly. My party make up usually consisted of a 2H warrior (me), dual wield rogue (Sera), control mage (Dorian) and a frontline tank (Blackwall). The combinations of control from the mage and tank warrior meant that both Sera and I were able to set up extremely devastating combos, some that could drop an entire group of enemies in just a couple hits. There were a couple issues with survivability, especially with mechanics that would drop half your health bar in one hit (not giving them a chance to us a potion) but for the most part once I got past the first 5 hours or so I felt essentially untouchable.
Indeed those first 5 or so hours are probably the most difficult and probably worst paced of the game. Now some of the issues I encountered with not being at the right level might have had something to do with my “go for the story missions first” play style, however once I was over that initial hump whenever I needed to level myself up I didn’t feel like I was struggling to find missions to fill the gap. I think this is probably due to the differences between say, level 3 and 6, being far more drastic than the differences between later levels as I certainly didn’t feel that the later levels made as much of an impact as the first 10 or so did. What was a bit of a chore sometimes was the grind to get power so I could unlock the next set of missions but again this was probably due to me attempting to smash out the storyline rather than meander about.
The crafting system has been shaken up considerably allowing you to create all sorts of highly customized armour and weapons to suit your needs. There’s 3 top level categories of materials (cloth, leather and metal) which have dozens of different types and levels beneath them. This is what allows you to craft armour and weapons with varying characteristics although you’ll likely find you don’t have enough of a particular type to craft the perfect item, even if you’re the stereotypical RPG kleptomaniac. This will then lead you on a hunting expedition for the resources you require something which doesn’t take too long but can feel a little bit grindy if you’re going for the premium materials. However the result can be well worth the grind as I carried my first craft sword through numerous levels.
The war table is an interesting addition, taking its cues from other non-player mission systems like those found in say Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. Most of the benefits you’ll gain from sending your advisors on missions aren’t exactly game breaking but every so often you’ll stumble onto something that can make a decent difference in how your game plays out. There does come a time when you’ll run out of the long duration missions however, which puts you in the rather unenviable position of either travelling back to the war room every 15 minutes or simply letting them slide until you next return. Overall I think it’s a good way to keep the story going whilst adding in another avenue to build back story for the world but I probably wouldn’t miss it if it was gone.
This massive amount of content within the game, whilst impressive, has come with an unfortunate cost. As it stands right now the game is riddled with numerous bugs, some of the innocuous and fun, others game breaking or terribly annoying. Many people, myself included, experience random crashes to desktop with no discernible pattern. Others experience weird things like their characters voice changing from male to female or, and this one is particularly frustrating for someone like me who invests an inordinate amount of time recreating himself within the game, change from one voice type to the other. My originally deep voiced character changed to the higher pitched British actor half way through the game, a bug that currently has no fix in sight. This frustration is only compounded by the interface often forgetting that I had a mouse, refusing to respond to any input from it until I ALT + TAB out and back in again.
Whilst I initially wrote this off as a typical Bioware RPG, which have a reputation for doing this, it became hard to make excuses for them the further I got into Inquisition. Sure, it’s clear that they took the feedback about Dragon Age 2 to heart, however at the same time it’s obvious that they sacrificed on polish in order to jam as much content in as they could. Whilst I understand that patching issues, especially the number which are evident within Inquisition, takes time we’re now a week past launch and there’s no patch in sight to fix some of the more glaring issues with the game. Inquisition is still a fantastic game, it’s just held back from where it should be because of these problems.
The incredible scale of Inquisition extends to its story with nearly every aspect of the world getting the full Bioware backstory treatment. Most if it is unfortunately hidden behind giant walls of text that you’ll have to wade through, however for your companions and major story NPCs they will gladly regale you with troves of information about the world and their place within it. At the same time there’s not an incredible amount of reliance on the previous titles to provide context on the events that are occurring, something which I think many of us will be grateful for given the fact that it’s been over 3 years since we last ventured into the Dragon Age world. Truly Inquisition is one of the shining examples of a game that puts a great emphasis on its story and the world which it exists in.
As to the tale of the Inquisition itself there are numerous moments I could point to (which I won’t, since they’re spoilerific) where the story really shines. It’s a classic hero’s journey, building you up from someone who was in the wrong place and the right time to a leader who inspires all those around him to achieve great things. There are a few moments which stick out in my mind brilliantly where I felt part of something much larger than myself, a notable achievement that few games have managed to replicate. The over-arching story does a great job of making you feel like you’re building towards something greater however the final pay off felt a little anti-climatic. I think this is probably because other games make the penultimate fight feel like you’re going up against insurmountable odds whereas in Inquisition I had cornered my prey and was simply there to deal the final blow. That’s just my impression however, something that may be tied into the fact that I was literally unstoppable at the end.
Dragon Age: Inquisition is a rare example of a sequel surpassing its predecessors, bring a sense of scale and depth that’s rare to see in any game. All the elements that made the original Dragon Age great are there, from the combat to the story to the ancillary elements around them, and the summation of those parts is so much greater than they would be individually. This greatness is however dulled by the numerous issues that plague the game, ranging from the annoying to the down right game breaking. However, despite that, it’s a hard game to put down as everything else about it draws you back in, taunting you to play just one more mission or to follow the end of that quest chain. Suffice to say I think Dragon Age: Inquisition is by far the strongest instalment in the series and it will only get better once Bioware starts patching it.
Dragon Age: Inquisition is available on PC, PlayStation3, PlayStation4, Xbox360 and XboxOne right now for $89.95, $99.95, $109.95, $99.95 and $109.95 respectively. Game was played on the PC with a total of 29 hours of play time and 48% of the achievements unlocked.
The Call of Duty franchise is strangely polarizing among gamers. For some it’s one of the most abhorrent examples of what the current games industry is, with yearly product cycles and numerous DLCs coupled with lowest common denominator game play. For others they’re something else, an equivalent to the popcorn titles that grace the cinemas, to be enjoyed for the spectacle that they provide and nothing more. I most certainly fall into the latter camp as I enjoy the titles for what they are and am usually done with them before the first DLC drops. The latest instalment, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, ramps up the ludicrous by taking us to the near future where technology is so advanced it begins to look like magic.
The year is 2054 and you are Private Jack Mitchell of the United States Marine Corps. Your first mission is to support South Korea as their brothers from the North have finally decided to make good on their endless tirade of threats. During the fighting however one of your brothers in arms is struck down and a piece of flying debris severs your arm. Several days later at his funeral you’re approached by his father, Jonathan Irons, CEO of Atlas Corporation, the worlds most powerful military contractor. He offers you a second chance, to get back into action and to right all the wrongs that led to the deaths of people like his son. Equipped with the latest military grade prosthetic arm you follow his lead into battle but it soon becomes clear that Irons’ goals are far more ambitious than you could have known.
In it’s default state Advanced Warfare, to put it bluntly, looks like absolute garbage. I’m not exactly sure why but it seemed to assume I was running it on the computing equivalent of a dry potato and dialled the graphics all the way down to its barest minimums. Now my machine is by no means cutting edge but it’s been able to handle every other Call of Duty title at near maximum settings without hassle. Tweaking everything upwards however brought back the level of graphics I had come to expect from such high budget titles without the performance hit I was dreading based on the initial settings it had chosen for me. Whilst there were fewer stop and gawk moments than previous titles (mostly due to the insane amount of action going on) it’s still a rather good looking game, a big achievement considering how many platforms it was released on.
Advanced Warfare’s plays pretty much how you’d expect it to, given its Call of Duty lineage, however it’s the first in a long time to introduce a core mechanic that shakes up their traditional corridor shooter game play. For the most part you’ll still be running through tight urban environments, laying waste to the enemy du jour, however now you’re equipped with an Exosuit that bestows upon you certain abilities like being able to double jump or regenerate health. The near future setting has also allowed first time Call of Duty developer Sledgehammer Games a great deal of freedom in designing the weapons, some of which are pure science fiction goodness. All this, combined with a couple new interesting mechanics, makes Advanced Warfare a far more varied and interesting game to play than its Call of Duty moniker might first lead you to think.
Combat is, as always, smooth, refined and incredibly fast paced. It’s great to see that Sledgehammer Games was able to replicate the essence of what keeps people coming back to the Call of Duty franchise with their first title as it could’ve easily gone the other way. For the most part combat is challenging enough, punishing you for mistakes whilst rewarding you for good play, however some of the larger battle scenes suffer from an overzealous AI who will pin you, and only you, from every angle. This can lead to some frustrating sections where you have to carefully plod your way through, even though the scene seemingly wants you to run out guns blazing. This may be a function of me playing on the second hardest difficulty but still, sniper accurate AIs using SMGs at long range doesn’t make sense no matter what way you slice it.
The exosuit is by far the stand out mechanic for Advanced Warfare as it’s almost a free license for the developers to give you any kind of power for a specific situation. This includes the rudimentary things like slowing down time and regenerating health to more ludicrous items like cloaking and an unlimited grappling hook. These abilities also allow for many of the maps to be more open than they have been in other Call of Duty titles, allowing you some more control over how combat plays out. Unfortunately you’re never given control over how your exosuit is configured which is a bit of a shame since there are some abilities I’d favour more over others. There is a rudimentary upgrade system for the single player campaign which can turn you into a rather broken super solider if you invest your points well.
I didn’t get much of a chance to sit down with the multiplayer side however it does appear that Advance Warfare makes a return to the smaller, tighter maps that were favoured in previous Call of Duty titles.This means that the spammy, rushy game style that I like to play is viable once again and even with the default classes I found myself being pretty effective, something which usually isn’t the case. However the handful of games I played often suffered from lag, spikes and rubber banding which made it far more frustrating to play than what it should have been. I’m not sure if this is a function of the number of players or just some incredible bad luck but it seemed if there was one laggy person we’d all end up suffering.
Advanced Warfare, whilst being a highly polished game in most respects, still has a few rough edges that I hope will be smoothed over in Sledgehammer Games’ next release in the franchise. I had numerous occasions where enemies were able to shoot through walls, a frustrating thing to happen when you get behind cover only to die to a hail of gunfire that shouldn’t be able to hit you. The sound engine also seems to struggle when you change between headphones and speakers, even when you change it from within the game. Whilst these are issues you can work around they still add a layer of frustration that shouldn’t be in a big budget title like this but I’ll give Sledgehammer Games a pass since this is technically their 1.0 release.
The story of Advanced Warfare is your pretty typical Call of Duty shtick, light on the details and back story but makes up for it in spades with action and explosions. After the first hour it’s pretty easy to figure out where everything is going but with high calibre talent like Kevin Spacey on board it’s hard not to get drawn into it regardless. So whilst you might not have the emotional investment in the characters to warrant the kind of reaction the writers were going for it’s still enough to drive the game forward.
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare was a gamble that has paid off for both the franchise and Sledgehammer games, demonstrating that they’re able to replicate all the things that make this series great. The combat is fluid, fast paced and satisfying, expanding on the traditional corridor shooter with additional mechanics that are pure, and awesome, science fiction. It may be let down somewhat by its story and rough edges but overall it slots beautifully into the franchise. This should hopefully then flow on to the rest of the Call of Duty titles as they’ll now have an extended development time frame, something which can only lead to bigger and better things. For lovers of fast paced corridor shooters you really can’t go past the Call of Duty series and Advanced Warfare, I’m glad to say, is another great instalment.
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is available on PC, PlayStation3, PlayStation4, Xbox360 and XboxOne for $89.95, $99.95, $109.95, $99.95 and$109.95 respectively. Game was played on the PC with a total of 8 hours played and 49% of the achievements unlocked.
There are few games that manage to mix elements of different genres together well enough to produce a playable game but the Borderlands series stands out as one of the best examples. There’s the right amount of RPG style elements, with all the loot, levels and specializations you could ever want, combined with the fast pace of a modern shooter. That, along with it’s never-takes-itself-seriously style, makes Borderlands games an incredible amount of fun to play even years after they’ve been released. The latest instalment, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, continues along the established tradition bringing the same experience that Borderlands fans have come to expect.
Long before Jack became the handsome bastard that he was in Borderlands 2 he was just a simple Hyperion programmer based on the Helios satellite orbiting Pandora. Still he aspired to be something greater and that’s where you come in vault hunter as Jack wants to find the vault and plunder its secrets for himself. However as you’re making your way to meet him on Helios you’re ambushed by the Lost Legion, a group of fanatical soldiers led by the fearless Colonel Zarpedon, who then take over Helios. Now it’s up to you to fight your way through them in order to retake Helios and, hopefully, find your way down to Pandora to find the coveted vault.
The Pre-Sequel retains the same visual style of its predecessors, bringing along with it some noticeable improvements to the visual effects such as the lighting, physics and particle systems. It still uses the same engine as Borderlands 2, which is the main reason you won’t see it on previous generation consoles, so the overall feel of the game remains largely the same. It’s at this point where my rig was starting to show its age as after tweaking with a few settings the game rapidly descended into unplayable territory, something I had never experienced with the previous Borderlands title. Once I figured out what I was doing wrong (cranking up PhysX without an NVIDIA card was probably bad idea) the game was buttery smooth throughout.
The gameplay of The Pre-Sequel remains largely the same as its predecessors, giving you the same hybrid RPG/FPS experience with all the Borderlands style trimmings. There are 4 character classes to choose from, each of which is roughly equivalent to the same kinds of character classes from the previous 2 titles. They are unique in their own right however and the skill trees further differentiate them from anything that’s come before. You’ll be collecting dozens of guns again, however this time around you might not be leaving all those greens on the ground thanks to the newly introduced grinder mechanic. Apart from that The Pre-Sequel will play pretty much the same as both of its predecessors, for better or for worse.
Combat flows between you being an unstoppable killing machine, able to lay waste to dozens of enemies without breaking a sweat, to feeling like you’re banging your head against a brick wall. Part of this is due to the game’s slightly off pacing as I often found myself several levels ahead of many of the side quests by the time I got around to them which made me not want to do them. There’s a real dearth around the level 20~24 bracket which I got around by fishing out a couple quests and grinding the enemies, something which put me off playing for extended periods of time. Past that point though it started to feel a lot more balanced with my mistakes rightly punished but careful strategy was rewarded properly.
I chose to play as the Enforcer which seemed to match my desired play style pretty well. His action skill summons 2 drones, one that continually heals you and the other who hunts down enemies for you. It felt like probably the best “OH SHIT” action skill out of the lot since I could summon them just before I died and I’d usually end up getting a kill before the second wind timer expired. I did however opt for the more character focused skill tree which made certain gun types absolutely ridiculous at dishing out damage, especially if my shields dropped and I had just offed another enemy. Towards the end I became completely unstoppable however as I, somehow, got my shield recharge rate down to almost instant, allowing me to tank pretty much any enemy face on.
Loot will come at you thick and fast in The Pre-Sequel, much like it did in the previous 2 games. However The Pre-Sequel introduces the Grinder, a machine which allows you to combine 3 items of the same quality into one, hopefully netting you a better item. If you’ve got a hole in your gun selection and nothing good seems to be dropping then this can be a great way to fill it. However it does have an upper ceiling as you can’t combine 3 epic items into a single legendary (you can only create legendaries by combining 2 legendaries with an epic). I can somewhat understand the reasoning behind this, it’s for those end game gun raiders who are looking for the best gun possible, but it was a little annoying to find that out after I had saved up 3 epic pistols hoping to get myself a shiny orange.
Probably the biggest issue I have with The Pre-Sequel is that it’s just too similar to Borderlands 2. Its predecessor introduced a whole host of new mechanics that made the game fresh and gave the end game players something to progress. The Pre-Sequel on the other hand feels pretty much like an expansion pack to Borderlands 2 as nearly everything is the same, just with new character classes and an additional loot generation mechanic. I’m sure Borderlands purists will love this aspect of the game but for those of us who like to see franchises grow and expand past their roots it’s a little painful to see something spin its wheels, even if the game itself is pretty enjoyable. This is most certainly reflective in my total playtime which is a stunning 9 hours less than in the previous title.
The Pre-Sequel’s story definitely has some moments of brilliance in it, especially with the Australian humour weaved into it. Of particular note is Jack’s transformation from a run-of-the-mill Hyperion employee to the insane psychopath you crossed paths with back in Borderlands 2, even if some of the events that happen feel a little forced. The rest of the characters are pretty much throwaways with enough backstory for you to know why they’re there but nothing to make you care for them in the slightest. It’s pretty much par for the course in the Borderlands series, much like the rest of the game.
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is sure to delight long time fans of the franchise as it brings the same hybrid FPS/RPG experience that keeps many of them coming back for years after initial release. However that’s also what makes the game somewhat weak in comparison to its predecessors; it fails to innovate past the benchmark that Borderlands 2 set all those years ago. Suffice to say I still think it’s worth playing however it’s longevity, at least for me, was drastically cut short due to the high levels of similarity.
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is available on PC, PlayStation3 and Xbox360 right now for $89.99, $79.95 and $79.95 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 16 hours of total play time and 38% of the achievements unlocked.
We seem to be going through a revolutionary period in gaming where IP from other mediums is suddenly finding its feet, becoming on par with (and even surpassing) experiences that were born within the gaming genre. Many will agree that this started 5 years ago when Rocksteady Studios released their seminal title: Batman Arkham Asylum. Since then many other titles have followed in its wake, staying true to the original IP whilst creating an experience that you simply could not get in any other medium. The latest addition to this style of games is Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, set between J.R.R Tolkien’s novels The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, which takes the source material and turns it into an experience that is among the best I’ve played this year.
You are Tailon, ranger captain stationed at the Black Gate in Mordor, sworn to keep watch over Mt Doom and all the horrors that dwell within it. The dark lord that dwelled within those lands had not been idle however, growing his vast army of grotesque orcs and uruk quietly, leaving the world of man to think they were safe once more. One fateful day he unleashed them upon the Black Gate, killing everyone within it. But your life wasn’t to be taken, instead you were bound to an unknown wraith spirit in a horrific blood sacrifice, unable to die and bound to the mortal plane. Now, with your new found wraith powers, you look for vengeance and the means with which to end this existence so you can be with your family once again.
Shadow of Mordor is quite the pretty game with scenes ranging from sprawling vistas to cramped caves and busy garrisons. The graphics still have that last-gen feel to them, mostly attributable to the choice of colour palette, however they’re certainly not bad on the eye. It’s also probably due to the choice of engine as well as Shadow of Mordor uses the LithTech Engine which hasn’t seen a game on it in the past 2 years. Still it manages a good level of graphical fidelity given its open world nature which manages to run smoothly even on my now aging rig. I’ll admit that I might be giving it a bit of an easy pass in this regard since I’m coming fresh off the horror that was Dead Rising 3 as by comparison Shadow of Mordor is liquid smooth.
In terms of game play Shadow of Mordor feels like it’s a cross between several different titles, taking aspects from each whilst integrating a new mechanic that binds and elevates the whole experience. At its core Shadow of Mordor is an open world game,. giving you dozens of missions to do any of which will help progress your character, the story or will help you get all those collectibles which so many people seem to lust after. The combat takes after the Arkham series of games in the classic beat ’em up fashion. Then there’s the RPG elements in the character levels and talents alongside the gear upgrade path which takes the form of runes and a kind of currency that you’ll need to spend to unlock more slots. However the best part of the game is the Nemesis system, whereby members of enemy faction grow stronger, fight with each other for power and provide you with challenges to avenge your friends who’ve been cut down by them. Shadow of Mordor really does pack a lot of game into it’s (non-Australian taxed) asking price and I’m sure there’s double the amount of game play in it for dedicated fans.
Whilst the game wasn’t developed by either Rocksteady or Warner Brothers Studios the combat feels like they lifted the entire system right out of one of their Arkham series titles. As anyone who’s played those games can attest combat systems such as those are incredibly enjoyable to play, offering the right balance of challenge and reward, at least at the start anyway. You’ll start out struggling to deal with large crowds of orcs but you’ll soon morph yourself into an unstoppable killing machine, nigh on impervious to any attack the game might throw at you. It can get a little repetitive though as the ultimate abilities are simply unlimited versions of regular abilities but most of the time you’ll still feel like the ultimate badass when you come out on top of the two dozen orcs you happened across.
The upgrade system is well thought out in most respects, giving you the feeling of progression often enough that you won’t find yourself feeling like you’ve gone hours without the game rewarding you. There’s 2 stages of progression for your character namely your ability points and power level. The ability points are gained in the regular way, getting XP via missions and killing things, however power is only gained when you resolve power struggles, kill captains/warchiefs or do any of the other assorted red missions. It really doesn’t take long to unlock all tiers of abilities, enough so that I had access to the final tier about halfway through the game. If you’d prefer to keep the challenge up then all you need do is avoid the red missions however if you want to become ridiculously overpowered you’re no more than an hour or two away from doing so.
The loot and gear upgrades feels a little less polished as you’ll get runes from defeating captains but what you get is a little random. You can ensure a drop of a certain type by exploiting weaknesses and fears but unless you’ve deliberately died to a captain several times over you’re not likely to get a good drop from them. You can break down the runes into the currency to fuel the other upgrades however I feel like it would’ve been better to have a rudimentary crafting system in there to upgrade them. I usually had several runes of a type that I really liked but they weren’t powerful enough to use on their own. If I could combine say, three into one, to get an upgrade I feel like that would’ve been a lot better than praying to RNGesus every time I killed a captain or warchief.
I couldn’t publish this review without mention just how awesome the nemesis system is as it provides this kind of player driven narrative on top of the core story of Shadow of Mordor that’s just incredible. Essentially the uruks fight each other in order to gain power and you fight them to gain power as well. Should you die to one they’ll grow in power and, potentially, move up the ranks and get followers. If you’re so inclined you can even influence them to move up ranks, get them to usurp their own captains or turn on each other. Couple that with the wide variety of responses that the uruks have upon seeing you (knowing you’re using someone to betray them, how many times they’ve killed you and so on) and even facing the same enemy again doesn’t lose its lustre. It’s an incredibly deep system and one that’s sure to provide enjoyment to both story players like myself and those that just revel in open world games.
Whilst the story probably isn’t the strongest part of Shadow of Mordor it is most definitely above the average dreck that I’ve been making my way through this year. The main premise probably needed a bit more development in order to make that initial emotional moment a bit more impactful, and thus make me empathise with the main character a little more, but it didn’t take me long to get into it. Since this is drawing on the wider Tolkien IP it does manage to get away with not explaining a lot of things that would otherwise need some rigorous explaining which does aid the story quite a bit. I’ll also have to admit that the ending was so-so, missing that final climclimactictle that I was so looking forward to with my incredibly overpowered character at the ready. So overall I think it’s ok, although on the proviso that you’re already familiar with The Lord of The Rings IP.
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor is a game where the sum of its parts is much greater than its whole. The combat is fast paced and satisfying, the progression well paced and the overall look and feel just feels a level above other similar games of recent memory. The nemesis system is really what pulls the whole game together, adding another layer on top of the game that really ramps up how engaged you’ll be with Shadow of Mordor. It’s not a perfect experience by any stretch of the imagine, with the middling story being the biggest mark against it, but the whole package helps to patch over the various minor faults. In all honesty I think most gamers will find something to like in Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor as its wide variety of mechanics and styles ensures that it caters to an incredibly wide audience.
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor is available on PC, PlayStation3, PlayStation4, Xbox360 and XboxOne right now for $39.95, $99.95, $89.95, $89.95 and $99.95 respectively. Game was played on PC with 13 hours of total playtime with 61% of the achievements unlocked.
A game based around any of the world wars is usually an instant turn off for me. The number of games that have been based around those events are so numerous that there really doesn’t feel like there can be any more angles to tackle it from as pretty much every story from it has been done to death. The alternate reality and fantasy versions of it, like those in Wolfenstein, get away with it since they’re not wholly dependent on war stories for inspiration but they’ll still need a little something extra to pique my interest. Valiant Hearts, which comes to us care of Ubisoft Montpellier, has been receiving wide praise for it’s touching story. As someone who’s just come off 2 rather lacklustre story based titles I wasn’t hoping for miracles but Valiant Hearts managed to surprise me, bringing this writer to tears as its conclusion.
The year is 1914 and the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand caused Germany to declare war on Russia. France, anticipating that this war will escalate far beyond those two countries, deports all of its German citizens back to their home country. Karl is one of those citizens, torn away from his wife and young son he is sent to the frontlines of the war to fight for his home country. Not long after his wife’s father, Emile, is called to duty as well and sent to fight for the French army. What follows is a tale of how the war drives families apart and the never ending quest for them to be reunited once again.
Valiant Hearts reminds me of the flash games of yesteryear, albeit with production values far exceeding that of any of its predecessors. It was developed on the same framework that powered Ubisoft’s recent release Child of Light and it’s easy to see just how heavily the choice of that platform influenced the art work. In contrast to Child of Light however Valiant Heart’s art style is far more dark and monotone with infinite shades of brown and grey being the primary colour palette. This does mean that when colour is used it’s quite striking and the art team does a fantastic job of using it to great effect. This also extends to the beautiful soundtrack that accompanies the game, ebbing and flowing at all the right moments.
In terms of actual game play Valiant Hearts is much like other story-first games in the sense that it usually takes a back seat to progressing the story. For the most part you’ll be doing elaborate fetch quest missions that require you to find one item in order to progress through the next session. Sometimes you’ll have to make your way through various different people in order to get to the final objective and try as you might there’s no clever way to bypass certain things. There’s also a bevy of quicktime-esque events that will require you to either guess correctly or simply memorize the sequence in which events happen in order to move on to the next part of the story.
Thankfully Valiant Hearts didn’t fall into the trap of putting far too much game play in between sections of the story like both the recent titles I played through did. In all honesty I didn’t think it was a major hurdle for games of this nature to get past as many of them are done by indie developers and so ancillary mechanics are usually on the bottom of their to do list. However with 2 games falling prey to the same problems I have to commend Valiant Hearts for getting the pacing right which helps immensely with keeping the player interested in the story. There were some sections that could use some tuning but compared to my recent experiences it was heaven.
Most of the puzzles are fairly intuitive as your inventory space is limited to a single item, limiting the amount of complexity that the game can throw at you significantly. There’s a pretty good variety of puzzle mechanics so you won’t be redoing the same thing over and over again but most of them shouldn’t take you more than 10 minutes or so to figure out. A couple of them will require you to think laterally about what you’re doing as some of them lack obvious cues as to what might interact with what. This did lead to a couple confusing moments when I wasn’t quite sure if I was doing the right thing but most of the time you’ll get there through trial and error.
One issue I did find with Valiant Hearts was that since there’s not a lot of visual differentiation between different parts of the environment it can be sometimes hard to find a path you’re meant to go down or what elements are interactive. This meant that in some of the more visually busy sections I was wondering just where exactly I was meant to go as I couldn’t find the particular path to go down. I also had some deaths that felt like they were more due to visual confusion more than anything else. This might just be a fault of the writer however but it’s still an issue that should be pointed out.
Of course what really makes Valiant Hearts worth playing is the story. Overall it’s a pretty typical story of a family torn apart by war, almost Romeo and Juliet like in the star crossed lovers from different houses idea, and the story of them trying to reunite with each other. The main characters all receive the background and development they deserve, which helps immensely when it comes to scenes that rely on engaging your sense of empathy with them. Some of the elements of it are a little on the fantasy side, which can be a tad distracting from the overall message that the game tries to put forth, however they’re only there as aides to the plot so they’re easily pushed aside.
I’ll have to admit that for probably the first half or so of Valiant Hearts I wasn’t too emotionally invested with the characters or story. Whilst the opening was gripping enough to draw me into playing the game further there’s a bit of dearth in the early game as the characters are seemingly just going through the motions. However as each of their back stories is developed in detail you find yourself becoming attached to them and each tragedy that befalls them starts to cut into you. The final climatic scene is by far one of the most bittersweet endings I have endured in recent memory and whilst it might lean on the cheesy/predictable side that didn’t stop me from bursting into tears, overcome with a sense of grief.
Valiant Hearts is a beautiful story masterfully told through the medium of video games. The art style and music direction are some of the best I’ve experienced in their category, taking the traditional flash styled game and ramping it up to the next level. The game mechanics are simple, enjoyable and thankfully stay out of the way of the story, leaving the player to enjoy Valiant Hearts for what it truly is. Finally the story is by far one of the best examples I’ve come across this year with all the characters receiving the right amount of screen time and development required for it’s ultimate emotional climax. If you, like me, have been feeling let down by the offerings of story based games of late then I can wholeheartedly recommend Valiant Hearts as the cure to what ails you.
Valiant Hearts is available on PC, PlayStation3, PlayStation4, Xbox360 and XboxOne right now for $14.99, $22.95, $22.95, $19.95 and $19.95 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 5 hours of total play time.
Ever since I had my first taste of a story first game all those years ago I’ve been hooked on finding that same experience again in modern titles. Whilst Quantic Dream has always managed to deliver a solid experience in this regard newcomers to this field are very hit or miss, often not achieving what they set out to do. The struggle between just how much game makes it into the final product is what usually trips up most first time developers with the story suffering because of it (or vice versa). Murdered: Soul Suspect treads carefully enough to avoid some of these potential pitfalls whilst unfortunately falling prey to many others.
In the sleepy town of Salem, Massachusetts a murderer walks in the shadows. The killings seemingly have no relation to one another except for the victims always being young girls. The case has become something of an obsession for one of the local officers, Ronan O’Connor, a reformed criminal looking to make up for his questionable past. When he gets word of the Bell killer’s location he disregards all calls to wait for backup and pursues the criminal himself. However things don’t go as planned and in an instant things take a dark turn with Ronan thrown out a window and his life unceremoniously ended by his own weapon. Now, as he lies trapped between this world and the next, Ronan is compelled to find out who his killer is.
Visually Murdered: Soul Suspect is a dark and dreary place with the whole game taking place during the course of a single night. The graphics are about average when you compare it to similar titles of its time, a lot of the style still rooted in the previous generation’s console limitations. This might also be partly due to the use of the Unreal 3 engine which always seems to have a similar visual feel no matter the art styling. The styling of the UI elements seems to be of much poorer quality than the rest of the game, to the point of being quite distracting. I understand that at least some of this was done to enhance the “supernatural” feel of the game but since it’s not consistent throughout the various elements it just ends up sticking out more than anything.
Murdered: Soul Suspect is a puzzle game, one that requires you to gather up all the clues you can find and then use them in order to piece together what happened at a particular scene. Typically the clues are just things lying around the room, waiting for you to interact with them, although some will require a little more detective work in order to unlock them. Whilst the world isn’t particularly big you are free to explore pretty much all of it at your leisure although some places will be unavailable to you until you’ve unlocked some of your ghost abilities further down the line. There’s also numerous side quests and collectible missions which unlock various other stories that aren’t related to the main campaign, something which bolsters Murdered: Soul Suspects otherwise drastically short play time.
The puzzles that you’ll solve really aren’t that difficult at all considering that you’re told what area you need to look in to find them (moving out of an area where a clue might be removes the clue counter, indicating you’ve wandered too far) and that relevant clues typically come with a “memory flash” of what happened. These flashes sometimes come with another word puzzle element which has you choosing a few words to describe the picture you’re seeing. The hardest part then comes from selecting the right clues to complete the investigation or figuring out how to influence someone in order to get the clue you need. Indeed the only time I struggled to finish investigations was when the game decided not to spawn the required objects for me to interact with, something I’ll touch on later.
There are open world aspects to Murdered: Soul Suspect as well, allowing you to run around Salem looking for collectibles and helping out other ghosts that find themselves trapped in this realm. You can also posses people and read their minds, which sounds fun to begin with, however after a while you start to find that many NPCs are reused throughout the game and, despite their different circumstances in which you find them, they always have the same few lines to say. I feel like there’s something of a missed opportunity here as it would’ve added a little something more to the world to be able to influence the random people on the street or if there was another story you could unlock by reading enough minds. Sadly there isn’t and so after the first hour or so you’ll likely find yourself skipping all non-essential ghost power use.
Murdered: Soul Suspect is also rather glitchy as the screenshot above will attest to. There are numerous times when NPCs just won’t spawn or will spawn but won’t be visible or in the location where the game wants them to be. You can often resolve this issue by restart from a checkpoint but other times, like during an investigation, you’ll be left wandering around in circles wondering where the last clue is or clicking on clues you’ve already discovered hoping they’ll trigger something else. For a game that struggles with pacing at the best of times this isn’t a great glitch to have and it definitely had a negative impact on my experience.
However Murdered: Soul Suspect’s greatest failing is that the story just fails to captivate you in any way. On the surface the concept sounds pretty amazing, you’re a ghost detective solving your own murder, however I simply failed to empathize with the majority of the characters. There was massive potential here to give the characters incredible depth using the mind reading mechanic which unfortunately seems to be used to pad the game time out. Worst still the characters that were seemingly given the most attention, in terms of backstory development, are the ones with the least amount of presence in the actual game, being constrained to journal entries. Honestly my hopes weren’t that high for an emotional rollercoaster but I have to say that the overall story felt very lacklustre which is only amplified by the sub-par mechanics.
It’s a real shame because the side stories, typically the ones you unlock from collecting a bunch of artifacts in a particular area, are actually quite good. This was probably the only reason I pursued most of them down as they are the shining moments in Murdered: Soul Suspect, both in terms of their stories as well as the voice acting behind them. Again it feels like another one of the game’s missed opportunities as these stories are a part of the history of this game’s world and yet they’re limited to 5 minute reading sessions that are only unlocked through a tedious collecting mechanic. I don’t have a good idea as to how they could be worked in but suffice to say that Airtight Games would do well to replicate what they did in those stories in the main campaign.
Murdered: Soul Suspect unfortunately fails to achieve the goals it set out to do, delivering a mediocre story behind trivial puzzle mechanics whilst hiding its best aspects in a tedious treasure quest. I won’t deny that I had my hand in this as when I heard about the concept I immediately started drawing comparisons to Heavy Rain in my head and there are few games, in my mind, that come close. Still even taking that into consideration Murdered: Soul Suspect feels like a decidedly average game, failing to evoke the kind of emotional investment required by a game of this nature.
Murdered: Soul Suspect is available on PC, PlayStation3, PlayStation4, Xbox360 and XboxOne right now for $49.99, $79.95, $99.95, $79.95 and $99.95 respectively. Game was played entirely on the PC with 7 hours of total play time and 83% of the achievements unlocked.
The evolution of open world style games has been pretty interesting to watch. The gold standard has (and likely will be for a long time) the Grand Theft Auto series which grew from a humble 2D car stealing simulator to the vibrant organised crime simulator today. Indeed this is how most open world games progress, starting out with a core idea that then has a bigger and better world built around it as the successive titles roll on. Watch_Dogs is no exception to this, with its core idea focusing heavily on hacking, enabling your character almost superpower like qualities. Whilst the execution of this idea has drawn ire from those who bought heavily into the hype Watch_Dogs is one of the better first entries into the open world genre, something which should be expected from the veteran open world developer Ubisoft Montreal.
Aiden Pearce is a man tormented by his past, the guilt of his niece losing her life instead of his in a botched assassination attempt has weighed heavily and he’s spent every one of his waking moments since then looking for answers. He’s not beyond reproach however as the guilt has clouded his sense of right and wrong, instead dealing out his own brand of justice wherever, and to whomever, he deems fit. Inevitably this comes back around to him and he is forced into doing things lest more harm befall those he cares about. The tale of his journey from here on out is one of obsession fueled by a passion to right what’s wrong with the world with no regard to the cost to himself.
If you’ve read anything about Watch_Dogs recently there’s been numerous complaints about how the graphics don’t seem to be up to the same standard as they were in the E3 demo. As someone who’s playing on a 3 year old PC I felt the graphics were around the same standard as what I’ve come to expect from most open world games which is to say that, compared to the video, mine certainly don’t look as good. However I feel we should most likely temper our expectations since that was shown as a demo and was likely running on a hardware system that few would have running. That follows on to why it probably looks sub-par on consoles as whilst they’re powerful machines for the money you’ll spend they just can’t match a PC for raw grunt. That being said my console playing brother said it looked great on the XboxOne and had no graphical issues at all so it seems your mileage may vary considerably.
True to its open world genre Watch_Dogs has a lot of things packed into it, from mechanics to skills to the numerous side missions, mini-games and unlockable content. The star mechanic of Watch_Dogs is, of course, the hacking which is best described as a real world superpower that allows you to do all manner of things that regular people simply can’t. The hacking also extends to your car, something you’ll be making heavy use of since you won’t be able to use your guns whilst driving. The combat is your typical 3rd person shooter affair with your arsenal of weapons being extremely varied and including hacking inspired augments that can give you the edge when you’re grossly outnumbered. Should you find yourself bored with the campaign you can take part in the numerous NPC side missions or, if you’re so inclined, invade another player’s game and battle against them for notoriety points. There’s also dozens of unlockable cars, weapons and even songs for you to listen to in your car, enough that even the most venerable achievement hunter will likely give up before they get them all.
One of the biggest aspects in open world games is how the world feels as early versions of Grand Theft Auto had a very lonely vibe to them, almost post-apocalyptic like given the lack of people and cars that were around. For me Watch_Dogs felt about as alive as Grand Theft Auto did although I’ve heard many say that it feels no where near the same. Whilst the city does have a lot of detail in it the variance of the people is a little on the low side as I can’t tell you how many times I ran into the same group of beatboxers throughout the city. On the flip side the little profile descriptions you get for everyone are extremely varied which is a nice little touch. Indeed I think the lack of detail in some areas is due to the wide variety of detail in others which is a classic symptom of time constraints, something Watch_Dogs was unfortunately plagued with.
You’ll be doing a lot of driving in Watch_Dogs which is a little bit unfortunate as it’s probably one of the lesser aspects of the game. The initial cars you get access to all feel like boats, being incredibly sluggish to respond and even less so when there’s several police cars ramming into the back of you. Thankfully the later cars go a long way to improve this but then it becomes a choice of driving a flimsy, well handling car and something that can take a beating which retains that god awful boat like feeling. In all honesty I’m not that surprised that the driving is sub-par, it’s an incredibly hard thing to get right, however if you’re going to rely on that to be your player’s main way of getting from point A to point B you’d better make sure it’s enjoyable. I’m sure subsequent sequels of Watch_Dogs will improve on this dramatically as this is Ubisoft Montreal’s first game to prominently feature driving as a mechanic.
Combat feels much like any other 3rd person shooter with your typical infinitely regenerating health and aiming systems I’m sure need some assistance when used on a console. Most encounters are done in 2 phases: the first being the part where you stealth around, take out as many enemies as you please and generally cause havoc. Most of the time this will result in you getting detected and a firefight will break out although if you’re careful there are numerous times when that can be avoided altogether. To Ubisoft Montreal’s credit the stealth system is well thought out and the majority of the times I was detected were due to me not being careful enough, rather than the NPCs having eyes where they shouldn’t. For the most part it’s challenging and satisfying, with the short reload times ensuring that you’re not left waiting long to fix your mistakes.
The “hacking” mechanic is essentially a power that your character has, enabling you to do certain things to the city due to it all being interconnected via a giant system called ctOS. Your powers are rather limited to begin with, being able to hack cameras and traffic lights, but as you level up all manner of crazy powers will be bestowed upon you. Some of them are plausible, like the ability to raise/lower road blockers, whilst others, like blowing up steam pipes, are almost enough to be called magic. The hacking mini games are just an elaborate puzzle sequence, one which can usually be figured out rather easily through trial and error. All in all it’s a solid idea to base the game around however having one button to execute everything makes the powers feel a little too easy to use. Maybe a short quicktime event (I can’t believe I’m writing this) would be sufficient to make the powers feel a little more impactful as right now they make you feel like a script kiddie rather than an elite hacker.
The levelling and progression system strikes the right balance of progression and choice, giving you enough points to get something in everything very quickly and then forcing you to make hard decisions about which way you want to build your character. The unlockable system also feels rather well done as should you want to unlock the new abilities typically it will be the first or second one you’ll get, meaning you don’t have to spend an inordinate amount of time grinding missions to unlock them. Achievement hunters on the other hand will have a lot of work ahead of them as the myriad of guns and cars available to unlock will likely have them clearing out whole city sections before finishing off a chapter in the campaign.
Like most open world games there’s a bunch of emergent behaviour in Watch_Dogs, some of it good and some of it bad. There’s always the hilarious situations you can cause by changing traffic lights (even when you’re not being chased by the police) and the AI sometimes reacts in the strangest ways to your presence, like random NPC cars running each other off the road should you come a little bit too close to one of them. At the same time I’ve had several missions that I had to restart at a checkpoint due to things like destructible terrain blocking my path, my character’s ragdoll physics glitching out causing him to get stuck on the ground or things not spawning (or the wrong things spawning) preventing me from going on. It probably happened about half a dozen times throughout my playthrough so it’s nothing major but I’ve heard the issues are magnified somewhat on older consoles.
The story of Watch_Dogs deals with a lot of very mature themes however some aspects of it do feel like they ring hollow. Thinking back on it there were a lot of characters that the story seemed to assume that I’d have some kind of empathy for but, and I’m not sure if this is a function of me playing mostly campaign missions, I feel like they didn’t have sufficient screentime to justify it. There are some shining moments though with Aiden embracing his anti-hero qualities with gusto however they seem to get undone almost instantly in the scenes that follow. The lack of player choice and influence on the story will also annoy some but that’s not something I’ll fault Watch_Dogs for. All being said it’s passable, especially for a first entry into a new IP and genre for the developer, and hopefully future instalments can build on this in order to make the story much more engrossing.
Watch_Dogs is a great first entry into a new open world IP, building around a solid core mechanic and adding in all the things that we’ve come to expect from games in this genre. The combat, progression systems and hacking mechanics are all well done, providing dozens of hours of challenge and rewards for even the most seasoned achievement hunter. The driving leaves something to be desired and will likely be the biggest let down for open world fans who are still coming down from their GTA high. The story reaches a little far beyond its grasp, lacking the appropriate amount of buildup to elicit the emotional conclusion they were looking for, however it should serve as a decent base for the subsequent releases. All in all Watch_Dogs is a great first entry into this new series, one I feel that’s only going to get stronger as time goes on.
Watch_Dogs is available on PC, PlayStation3, PlayStation4, Xbox360 and XboxOne right now for $89.95, $89.95, $99.95, $89.95 and $99.95 respectively. Game was played on PC with approximately 16 hours of total play time with 44% of the achievements unlocked.