For someone who’s stated repeatedly that open world games are not my thing I sure have played a lot of them this year, from 38 Studio’s swan song in Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning to Prototype 2 and Sleeping Dogs. I’ve come to appreciate the genre more since then as I really did enjoy Sleeping Dogs even if I avoided many of the repetitive side missions in favor of the more engrossing story missions. I had been planning to do a review of Far Cry 3 for a while now on the recommendation of several friends who have dozens of hours invested in it and, if I’m honest I wasn’t looking forward to it. I remember the original boring me rather quickly and the second was just such a mess I didn’t make it past the first hour. However this latest installment is a vast step up from either of its predecessors and I’d even go so far as to say it was rather enjoyable.
Far Cry 3 goes back to the original’s roots, putting you on the fictional Rook Island located somewhere between the Indian and Pacific oceans. You play as Jason Brody who, with a group of close friends including a couple of children of 1 percenters, have been enjoying a tropical vacation. The group decides to go skydiving together but they all land on different sections of an island which is controlled by the pirate lord Vaas. They’re then taken hostage and ransomed for their return but your brother is having none of that and breaks you both out. The ensuing escape goes terribly awry with your brother being gunned down by your captors and you falling unconscious in a river. You are rescued by the Rakyat, a group native warriors, and then swear vengeance against Vaas and his entire operation.
Whilst Far Cry might never have been the PC destroyer that Crysis was it did have a reputation for being on the upper end of the graphics scale and Far Cry 3 certainly doesn’t disappoint in this area. On first glance I was convinced that it was one of the Crytek engines but as it turns out it’s Ubisoft’s own in house engine called Dunia, made by a former Crytek employee. It features all the things we’ve come to expect from high end games like motion blur and depth of field but it also includes other impressive features like day/night cycles, dynamic weather and realistic fire simulation (which makes starting huge fires rather fun). One minor complaint I have about it is that enabling v-sync (I hate tearing) seems to make any system struggle. Taking it off and cranking up the anti-aliasing worked well to combat tearing however so its more of a FYI than a complaint.
Unlike the majority of open world games Far Cry 3’s core game play is good old fashioned First Person Shooting with an arsenal of weapons at your disposal. The whole combat system has a lot of polish to it with all the main weapons behaving how you’d expect them to and none of them glitching out in strange ways. There are a few quirks like the knife swings having a queue so if you mash the key a couple times he’ll keep on swinging that knife when you’re not pressing it. The aiming can also be a bit weird as like in say Call of Duty aiming down the sights guarantees the bullet will hit where the sites are targeted but that doesn’t appear to be the case in Far Cry 3. Everything else seems to work well though, especially the take down system.
Far Cry 3 includes a rudimentary stealth system that works on line of sight, distance and the amount of time you’re visible to an enemy. For its intended purpose it works well, allowing you to sneak up on people and take them out silently with your knife. However there are also silencer attachments for your guns that supposedly allow you to take people down without alerting others but I never found that to be the case as anyone who was shot down immediately triggered every guard to go into a panic. Realistically I get the feeling that it was primarily designed for the take downs with the weapons being something of an afterthought. This could possibly be due to my preferred weapons being assault rifles and SMGs as I didn’t really bother with sniper rifles at all.
Like most games these days there’s a talent/specialization system that allows you to craft Jason into the kind of character you want to play. There’s 3 different styles ranging from complete stealth to all out combat and many of the talents are synergistic across trees. Initially the points you choose will make a big difference to all your encounters as some of them will make certain situations a breeze whilst without them you’ll find yourself struggling to accomplish certain tasks. However as the game goes on you’ll find that most of them are more convenience factors than anything else, either allowing you to do things slightly faster or simply blunder your way through without having to think about the risks you’re taking.
The reason I say this is that whilst you can’t unlock all the talents from the get go (you can’t simply ignore the main story line and get everything) the pace at which next tiers are unlocked seems a bit off as I always found myself with extra points spare before the talents I wanted were available. Now this isn’t because I’m some kind of crazy quest nut, far from it, I in fact ignored many of the side quests in favor of the story line, only stopping to get radio towers and the occasional safe house so I didn’t have to drive so far. Still by doing that I was able to max out one tree (shown above) and was only 6 or so levels away from maxing all the others.
I guess where I’m going with this is that in Far Cry 3, like with nearly all the open world games I’ve played, the bevy of additional side missions and activities available are simply not required. Whilst some of them might be a fun distraction from the main plot line they are, for want of a better word, fluff that doesn’t really need to be in the game. Now I know that this is part of the appeal for a lot of people, being able to wander around to do whatever you want and I admit that not being on rails is quite refreshing but I’ve yet to see a game where these side missions aren’t repetitive wastes of time that don’t bestow any real benefit for the player. This is especially true in Far Cry 3 when you can make all the weapons free in a rather short space of time and upgrade all your other stuff through crafting.
That’s one thing that Far Cry 3 does do rather well actually as the upgrades really are completely optional but taking the, admittedly small amount of, time to go and find the right animals, skin them and then craft your upgrades is pretty cool. It does start to get a little ridiculous if you’ve got the fervent RPGer mindset though as there’s animals and herbs everywhere and your loot sack is only so big, usually meaning you end up with a lot of left overs. There is a quick sell button for the trash loot but it unfortunately doesn’t extend to skins that you have no use for anymore which can sometimes leave you with a surplus that you don’t need but don’t have an easy way of knowing that. This is only made worse if you get the double harvest talents so some inventory management is required.
Far Cry 3 also loses points for this kind of bullshit that Ubisoft has been renowned for: highly connected games that shit themselves whenever your Internet connection drops or the Ubisoft servers have a conniption. This particular error was coming from their end however as I was able to Google search and Steam chat with all my friends whilst it was deciding what to do and then when it timed out it said I could keep playing anyway. Now I’m not a professional coder but I definitely know that if you have a mechanism for allowing players to keep playing offline you can certainly do that check in the background without putting this prompt up in front of them. This is on top of the fact that even the Steam copies of the game come bundled with Ubisofts Uplay social gaming network thing which is just as bad as any game that bundles Games for Windows Live in the same fashion. Seriously just stop doing it guys, the “rewards” you offer us for playing your games aren’t worth the precious seconds we have to waste clicking past your crappy social networks.
Far Cry 3’s story is somewhat confused in its execution, starting off strong with Jason being a bewildered upper-middle class boy stuck in a woeful situation to this kind of fever dream sequence where its hard to understand whats real and what’s not. It’s not in a good way either as there are many sections where these dream sequences seem to happen only as a way to gloss over how things actually happened in that situation (the final knife fight being a great example of this). I’ll admit that one interpretation of this could very well be some kind of Fight Club-esque idea but in reality it seems more like there were many great disparate ideas that are linked together in really tenuous ways and just ends up feeling like a jumbled mess. At least the ending didn’t scream sequel, which would’ve had this review being a lot more ALL CAPS ragey.
Far Cry 3 is a beautiful game that pays homage to its roots, making up for the mistakes of the sequel in spades. Open world games aren’t usually my forte but I definitely enjoyed the majority of my time with it and this soared to new heights once my character achieved that broken state where I felt like I was invincible. There are still some niggling issues however with the pointless side quests, half baked stealth system and a story that does more to confuse than anything else. All that being said however it’s still a pretty good game, one that deserves much of the praise that’s been leveled at it and for those who love titles like Grand Theft Auto et. al. I’m sure there’s a lot for you to love in Far Cry 3.
Far Cry 3 is available on PC, Xbox360 and PS3 right now for $69.99, $68 and $68 respectively. Game was played on the PC on the Survivalist difficulty setting with 14 hours total play time and 60% of the achievements unlocked.
I’m not exactly known for going against the main stream view of a game but for what its worth my opinion is (mostly) formed based on the merits of the game itself rather than the popular opinion of the time. This became painfully apparent after my Dear Esther review and despite my assurances that I was able to put game play aside for a good story (like I’ve done several times before) I feel that many people who read that review don’t believe I’m capable of identifying a good story. Then I came across Journey, yet another game that tentatively pushed at the boundaries of the “game” definition and I thought this could be my redeeming grace. Of course Journey is nothing like Dear Esther as there’s no question as to its status as a game and what a game it is.
Journey opens up with you, a nameless and near faceless individual, standing in front of a vast desert. Apart from some vague imagery of what appears to be a star falling to the ground there’s not much more of an introduction. You’re then given control and shown the basics of movement using the PS3’s motion controls as well as the tried and true dual joysticks. Journey then leverages off your past game experience to drive you to the next goal (a close by hill) upon which the ultimate goal is shown, a giant mountain from which a pillar of light is emanating. You will spend the rest of the game attempting to reach that point.
The art direction of Journey had me first thinking that most of it was cell shaded but it is in fact just heavily stylized. Whilst the characters and scenery are usually quite simple the environment which you play through is quite vibrant and dynamic, especially for a place like a vast desert. At the same time the foley and sound direction is magnificent as they compliment the visuals quite aptly. Indeed one of the best aspects of Journey is the seemingly perfect combination of visuals and sounds, timed perfectly to evoke your emotions in a certain way at specific times.
Whilst the game play of Journey is undeniably there, thus firmly separating it from other experimental titles, it’s quite simplistic yet thoroughly satisfying. If I’m honest I went into this expecting Dear Esther levels of game play: I.E. nothing much more than exploration. You’ll spend a great deal of time in Journey exploring the areas but that’s far from the main game play mechanic which centres heavily around the idea that you main character can fly, albeit for a limited time.
The little tassel on the back of your character is your flight timer. You can jump and then fly to great heights but as you do the symbols on your tail start to burn away. When they’re depleted you’ll fall back to the ground and you’ll have to look for places to recharge it. Thankfully these are plentiful, either taking the the form of stationary points or animated cloth animals that will follow you around, recharging you as you go. You can also increase the length of your flight time by finding glowing orbs that are scattered around the place and the end of each level will let you know how many of the potential orbs you collected before carrying on.
Where Journey really starts to shine however is when other people start accompanying you on your journey. I remember my first encounter clearly: after finishing a level and proceeding to walk through a long hallway to the next I spotted movement off in the distance. I was going to back track to look for more orbs but the way the figure moved seemed… different to everything else. Excited I followed after them and when I got to them it was clear that there was another person behind that controller. Where it really got interesting though was when we tried to communicate to each other, being limited to only short bursts of sound. This meant that cooperating had to be somewhat instinctive, but you’d be surprised how much you can say with only a simple means of communication at your hands.
The multiplayer aspect, whilst not an essential part of the game play, does lend itself to some awesome emergent game play. When your characters are close to each other you slowly recharge each other’s flight time and you can recover it fully with single communication ability you have. This means your flight time can be extended indefinitely if you and your partner work together allowing you to gather many of the glowing orbs thus increasing your flight time again. Towards the end I had an extremely long tassel that allowed me and my partner to reach unfathomably large heights with relative ease. This made many parts of the game much easier and also served as something of a bragging right when I was joined by someone with a shorter tassel.
Journey has not a single line of dialogue, instead relying on cut scenes that tell a story through a series of brilliantly done hieroglyphics. They didn’t make a terrible amount of sense for me at the start but as you progress a grand story of a society that rose from the desert only to fall down again. The pictures start off in retrospective, highlighting things that had happened in the past that lead up to the world as it exists today. About half way through the hieroglyphs start turning prophetic, telling a story that seems to be eerily close to yours as it is happening right now.
Ultimately the story that’s told without a whiff of dialogue or text is amazingly satisfying. Whilst its not a gripping emotional conclusion that I’ve felt for similar story based games in the past it’s definitely fulfilling and thankfully steered clear from any notion that there might be a Journey 2 (and however they’d follow up Journey is an exercise I’ll leave to the reader). Showing you the names of people you shared your journey with along the way is a really nice touch and I was devastated when I found out that my video capture software had crapped out halfway through and those names were lost to the ages.
Realistically the only fault I can level at Journey is the price as at $20 on a game that I can’t share with my friends that only lasts 2 hours seems a tad steep. I’m sure it will eventually come down a bit in price and there’ll be something of a renaissance of people playing Journey again but until then I wonder how many are willing to take the rather steep plunge to play through it.
There’s few games that have made me smile the way Journey did, both at the beginning with a child like wonder at the amazing world that was presented before me to the ultimate conclusion that was a beautiful metaphor for the grand cycle of life and death. Everything about Journey just seems to meld together so well, from the art to the music to the game play. I could go on but realistically Journey is something that you need to experience for yourself.
Journey is available on PS3 exclusively right now for $20. Total play time was approximately 2 hours.
It’s not often that you see games stay as platform exclusives, especially successful ones. Since many publishers look to maximise their profit on any set of intellectual property a cross platform release, usually across the big 3 (PC, PS3, Xbox360), is inevitable especially if the franchise is successful. The Uncharted series from Naughty Dog is something quite special as whilst it has enjoyed success similar to that of say Mass Effect it has remained a platform exclusive for every release . The third instalment in this series, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, is no different and picks up sometime after the events that took place in Uncharted 2.
As in all Uncharted games you play as Nathan Drake, a rough and tumble treasure hunter with an eye for hunting down treasures hidden by one of his ancestors Sir Francis Drake. This time around Drake is investigating why it took his ancestor so long to sail across the east indies when he could have done it in a fraction of the time. This leads him on several quests to find the various items required to retrace Drake’s path and hopefully discover the treasure that remains hidden there. People from his past come back to haunt him in this adventure though and much of the back story between Drake and Sulley which hadn’t been explored up until now.
The Uncharted series has a reputation for being on the pretty side and Uncharted 3 is no exception. Whilst there doesn’t seem to be a vast improvement from that on previous titles there’s still some noticeable differences when you compare them side by side. It’s mostly in the small things like Drake’s face having a lot more detail to it. Since this is their 3rd release on the platform it follows that they’re probably pushing right up against the PS3’s limits, especially when the game ran as well as it did (I never noticed any slow down). Naughty Dog also get points for getting the lip syncing and motion capture spot on, something that too many games get horribly wrong.
Uncharted 3 retains the winning, Tomb Raider-esque game play style that has made it such a hit with its fans. Nearly every part of the game is filled with platforming sections, elaborate puzzle sequences, cover-based combat and a few quick time events thrown in there for good measure. Indeed at this point I’m willing to say that Uncharted is quite formulaic in its approach as the parallels you can draw between this latest instalment and its two predecessors is quite startling. This isn’t to say that there’s anything wrong with it, Uncharted is successful for a reason, but this means its in the same category as games like Call of Duty. For some that will be off putting and I can understand where they’re coming from.
Now I’m not sure whether this has anything to do with me getting better at the Uncharted games or not but this time around I rarely struggled with any of the platforming or puzzle sections. The platforming sections really are just an organic progression blocker as Drake has very obvious queues about whether or not he can make it to the next ledge or not. It also seems that the developers, whilst keeping in the old hint system to help you get past a section should you get stuck, have made the NPCs that accompany you far more chatty when it comes to solving problems. Again it could just be me picking up on it more but it really did seem like the game’s overall difficulty had been taken down a notch or two.
Combat in Uncharted 3 is fast paced and action packed but felt like it suffered due to the inherent inaccuracy of doing a shooter on a console system. Now this could just be because I prefer the mouse and keyboard (and I could just shut up and buy the right peripherals) but most games like this compensate for that by helping you out a little, usually by locking onto the target once you get your sight in right the first time. Still there are times when I’d do a section and lay waste to an entire horde of baddies without breaking a sweat but it was just as common for me to struggle with bad aiming and misplaced grenades (is there a way to cancel a grenade throw? I couldn’t figure it out).
The quick time events also felt well placed for the most part, enabling Uncharted 3 to retain that movie level feeling whilst still letting you feel like you were in control of the action. There were a couple that dragged on for far too long however; long enough for my wife (who loves watching me play games like this) to leave the room and say “Call me back when this section is over”. It’s what my friends have come to call Epicness Fatigue when something is just so epic for so long that you get bored with it and just want it to be over. The game definitely didn’t need to be padded out at all, I mean its a relatively short game but still almost double the length of any recent FPS, so the few drawn out action sequences don’t do Uncharted 3 any favours.
The development of Drake and Sulley’s backstories was quite refreshing as it was something that was overlooked in the previous two releases. Up until this game I had just assumed that they were business partners of a few years and nothing much more than that. The story of Uncharted 3 reveals that they’ve been together for much longer than that which, if you retcon that back into the prequels to this, makes some of the decisions made by those characters seem very unusual. Still the backstory is tied in very well with the main plot so it works out anyway.
Overall the story is quite good, well above what you’d find in other games of similar calibre. Whilst I didn’t feel the same level of emotion as I have for other games I did genuinely care for the characters and hoped that certain events would unfold in the way that I wanted them. True to its Hollywood styling there’s an ending that’ll make everyone happy and thankfully doesn’t loudly declare that you should wait for the next one to come out. Undoubtedly there will be another, I believe Uncharted is to the PS3 as Xbox is to Halo, but a game always gets bonus points from me when they can wrap up the main story line like that.
Uncharted 3 might just be another instalment in a series that’s found its success formula and is sticking to it but that doesn’t detract from the fact that it’s just a damn fun game to play. Whilst none of the individual components stand out on their own as something revolutionary the seamless combination of all them comes together that makes something that’s greater than the sum of its parts. If you’re wondering why some people buy a PS3 over another console Uncharted 3 is definitely something I can point to as an example of what gaming on the platform can be like and indeed the Uncharted series is a great benchmark with which to compare other titles on the PS3.
Uncharted: Drake’s Deception is available on PS3 right now for $78. Game was played entirely on the medium difficulty setting with around 12 hours of game time and approximately 30% of the achievements unlocked.
I love me some Sony products but I’m under no delusion that their user experience can be, how can I put this, fantastically crap sometimes. For the most part their products are technologically brilliant (both the PS3 and the DSC-HX5V that I have fit that category) but the user experience outside that usually leaves something to be desired. This isn’t for a lack of trying however as Sony has shown that they’re listening to their customers, albeit only after they’ve nagged about it for years before hand. After spinning up my PS3 again for the first time in a couple months to start chipping away at the backlog of console games that I have I feel like Sony needs another round of nagging in order to improve the current user experience.
The contrast between Sony’s and Microsoft’s way of doing consoles couldn’t be more stark. Microsoft focused heavily on the online component of the Xbox and whilst there might be a cost barrier associated with accessing it Xbox Live still remains as the most active online gaming networks to date. Sony on the other hand left the access free to all to begin with and has only recently begun experimenting with paid access (the jury is still out on how successful that’s been). One of the most notable differences though is the updating process, major source of tension for PS3 owners worldwide.
As I sat down to play my copy of Uncharted 3: Drake’s Fortune I first greeted with the “A system update is required” message in the top right hand corner of my TV. Since I wasn’t really planning to go online with this one just yet I figured I could ignore that and just get to playing the game. Not so unfortunately as it has been so long since I last updated that Uncharted 3 required an update to be applied before I could play it. Fair enough I thought and 15 mins later I was all updated and ready to go. Unfortunately the game itself also had an update, pushing back my game time by another 5 minutes or so. This might not seem like a lot of time (and I know, #firstworldproblems) but the time taken was almost enough for me not to bother at all, and this isn’t the first time it has happened either.
Nearly every time I go to play my PS3 there is yet another update that needs to be downloaded either for me to get online or to play the game that I’m interested in playing. My Xbox on the other hand rarely has updates, indeed I believe there’s been a grand total of 1 since the last time I used it. Both of these approaches have their advantages and disadvantages but Sony’s way of doing it seems to be directly at odds with the primary use case for their device, something which doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. In fact I think there’s a really easy way to reduce that time-to-play lag to zero and it’s nothing radical at all.
Do the updates while the PS3 is turned off or not in use.
Right now the downloading of updates is a manual process, requiring you to go in and agree to the terms and conditions before it will start the downloads. Now I can understand why some people wouldn’t want automatic updating (and that’s perfectly valid) so there will have to be an option to turn it off. Otherwise it should be relatively simple to periodically boot the system into a low power mode and download the latest patches for both system and games that have been played on it. If such a low power mode isn’t possible then scheduling a full system boot at a certain time to perform the same actions would be sufficient. Then you can either have the user choose to automatically install them or keep the process as is from there on, significantly reducing the time-to-play lag.
I have no doubt that this is a common complaint amongst many PS3 users, especially since it’s become the target of Internet satire. Implementing a change like this would go a long way to making the PS3 user base a lot happier, especially for those of us who don’t use it regularly. There’s also a myriad of other things Sony could do as well but considering how long it took them to implement XMB access in games I figure it’s best to work on the most common issue first before we get caught up in issue paralysis. I doubt this blog post will inspire Sony to make the change but I’m hopeful that if enough people start asking for it then one day we might see it done.
Growing up as a gamer my gaming intake consisted predominately of platformers. The reasoning behind this is simple, the hardware at the time wasn’t capable of doing much more, and thus most games developers went the platformer route in order to make the most of their chosen platform. As the power of PCs and consoles started to increase and things like real 3D were possible the platformer started to take a back seat to other genres that had, up until then, played second fiddle to the platformers. The genre has experienced something of a resurgence in recent times with the independent developers rebooting the platformer genre for modern times. Limbo is one such title, and one that I feel I should have played earlier.
Without any hint of explanation of who you are, what your motivations might be or even what the controls are you are placed in control of what appears to be a small boy. His only defining features being the glowing eyes that pierce through dark world that he exists in. You then being your journey to nowhere, navigating your way through numerous obstacles many of them designed with a single purpose in mind: killing you in the most gruesome ways possible. Indeed the dark world that this boy finds himself in seems to be some kind of semi-futuristic place that’s hell bent on ensuring that the kid never makes it to his final destination, wherever that might be.
For a game with such simple graphics and limited colour palette the atmosphere that Limbo generates is nothing short of staggering. There’s little music or sounds to speak of, leaving the only constant sound being the soft wind and your footsteps. It’s strangely engaging, not exactly something I expected but taking a step back I can see a similar style in games like Silent Hill. The elements that are included then are done so deliberately and elegantly, giving you the feeling that the game’s creators spent an incredible amount of time on the all the little things that make up the Limbo world.
Whether intentional or the game play of Limbo has a sense of dark comedy about it. Whilst you’ll try your best to make sure that the little bugger makes it through each section safely it is inevitable that you’ll end up killing him in some of the most hilarious ways possible without even thinking about it. For me the first time was simply cratering him when I misjudged the distance to the floor below, his limbs flying off in opposing directions and the little glowing orbs blinking out. As the game progresses the ways in which you can die become more and more ludicrous, to the point where you’ll meet your end at the hands of fantastical futuristic contraptions.
On the flip side though I can see people playing Limbo as something of a survival horror rather than the dark comedy that I played it as. There are some moments that, if played with the lights off and late at night, would definitely give you a bit of a scare. Granted its nothing like the original Resident Evil series, something which gave me nightmares for a week after playing it through in one sitting, but the atmosphere alone is enough to set some people on edge. Maybe my view of Limbo as a dark comedy is just a coping mechanism I developed so as not to get attached to the little guy…
The core game play of Limbo is that of a classic platformer mashed up with modern day physics puzzles. Neither of these aspects are terribly complex with the platformer sections being relatively forgiving and the physics resembling all other games that utilize the Box2D physics engine. Still many of the challenges will having you engaging in a good helping of trial and error to see which solution works best. There are also many ancillary challenges available for those achievement junkies that will test your problem solving skills more rigorously should the core of the game not prove challenging enough.
Thinking back on my play through of the game it’s interesting to remember how the environments changed from the dark, foreboding forest at the beginning to some kind of futuristic factory belonging to a mad scientist. As far as a plot goes that’s about all you’ll be able to get out of Limbo (save for a couple moments in the game and at the end) and what it means is left as an exercise to the reader but looking at the title you can probably guess what the changing scenery is a commentary on.
Limbo is one of those games that just simply begs to be played at least once and all in one sitting. It’s a short game, something that can be easily knocked over in an afternoon, but for a game of this type that short length works well in its favour. Whilst there’s little plot to speak of the story telling that Limbo achieves without a single line of written or spoken dialogue is quite an achievement and is one of the reasons why it has received such critical acclaim. Limbo then is a game that I believe anyone who calls themselves a gamer should play, just because it’s such an unique experience. One that is unlikely to be repeated at any time in the near future.
Limbo is available on PC, PS3 and Xbox360 right now for $9.99, $15 and 1200 Microsoft Points respectively. Game was played entirely on the PC with 3.3 hours played and 23% of the achievements unlocked.
So long time readers of this blog will know that I’m somewhat of a fan of the Call of Duty series of games but I’ve only recently begun to appreciate the multiplayer in it. If I’m honest I was intimidated by the multiplayer scene because I thought it would be swamped with ex-Counter Strike pros who would eat a relative noob like myself for breakfast making the game boring and unsatisfying. I was proved wrong however and as of writing I’ve sunk a good 22+ hours into just the multiplayer, 3 times of that of the single player campaign. I’ll admit that what got me hooked was the levelling system but I also found myself rapidly improving as I progressed through the levels, always wanting to unlock that next bit of kit.
You can then imagine my surprise when Activision contacted me out of the blue and asked if I’d like to come up to Sydney for the day to play a beta of their upcoming release Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. Of course I said yes and I dragged myself out of bed yesterday morning at the ungodly time of 5:45AM so I could catch my flight up and arrive there before the event started. 4 hours later I found myself sitting in the Parkview room of Doltone House here in Sydney, the same place that houses the Australian branch of the mighty search engine Google.
The room we were in was quite intimate and there were numerous other writers, web masters and clan members filling out the ranks. The man in the picture is none other than Robert Bowling of Infinity Ward, creative strategist and all round nice guy. After showing us a promotional video showcasing many of the games new features he then opened up the floor to some Q & A, and boy was it ever telling about their current market.
To put it in perspective out of the ~16 or so people that were there on the day (and the day previous I was told) I was the only one who’s preferred platform was the PC and 95% of the questions asked related to the Xbox or PS3 version of Modern Warfare 3. Thankfully though it looks like PC players won’t be second class citizens in any regards as we’ll still be getting dedicated servers in addition to the matching system that the console platforms have. Bowling wasn’t able to confirm if the PC would be getting a hardened edition however as he said it was something that the where still looking into (it’s not currently available for pre-order anywhere either).
Modern Warfare 3 has been designed from the ground up to be more appealing to a wider audience of gamers with a reworking of many core multi-player mechanics. For instance they have removed all multi-player achievements with the only ones available being in the single player game. They’ve also reworked the kill streak system into what’s now called the Strike Package system which varies depending on your choice from three options:
There’s also the return of death streak perks which give you some interesting abilities should you get your ass handed to you round after round. Guns now also have their own ranking system allowing you to specialize in a particular weapon, making it far more effective. This includes unlocking things like attachments, reticules, camos and Weapon Proficiencies (new attributes, some unique to particular weapon classes).
Prestige mode has also seen some reworking with a new Prestige Shop that allows you to buy rewards for your prestige levels. The currency of this shop is the Prestige Point which you get upon prestiging or you can also acquire through challenges in both single and multiplayer. Additionally you can now take one weapon along with you when you prestige which is great since sometimes your weapon of choice might be far down the level tree, far enough that prestiging feels like a grind.
Modern Warfare 3 brings with it 2 new game modes as well: Kill confirmed and Team Defender. Kill confirmed is much like team deathmatch except that when you kill an opponent they’ll drop a dog tag which anyone can collect. If you collect it you gain points for your team, however the opposition can also collect them, denying you those points. Team Defender is like capture the flag except that there’s no capture point, instead you must defend your flag carrier as long as you can to gain points.
Bowling also mentioned that he’d been working closely with the crew at Major League Gaming in order to cater to the local tournament and greater eSports communities.
With all that in mind they let us loose on the 16 Xbox consoles they had set up there with some gorgeous LED TV sets. After setting up a custom class we played through a couple matches of Kill Confirmed. Whilst I struggled to get my bearings initially (FPS’s without a mouse or keyboard is inane IMHO) I did manage to find my stride towards the end. I was playing the support strike package as I knew I wouldn’t be able to get a kill streak any other way and found it to be quite enjoyable, especially as it meant I could get some decent streak rewards without having to play conservatively. The maps we played on were also quite good with many different paths and choke points available ensuring that camping wasn’t a viable tactic.
Graphically the game is definitely a step up from both its predecessor and Black Ops, even when viewed on the Xbox360. Even in the most heavy action scenes I didn’t notice any slowdown so Modern Warfare 3 appears to be heavily optimized. Bowling also mentioned that every platform was given the same amount of development time so that the experience should be nearly identical across platforms. With that in mind I’m sure it will look amazing on my PC, whether it will be Battfield 3 level of amazing though remains to be seen.
Overall though I feel like Modern Warfare 3 has all the same traits that got me addicted to Black Ops in the first place, with enough new material to keep the game interesting for both long time fans and new comers a like. With both Battlefield 3 and Modern Warfare 3 releasing at very similar times it’s going to be interesting to see how this showdown plays off as they both have their strengths and weaknesses. Needless to say I’m looking forward to playing both of them but I can only say for sure now that Modern Warfare 3 definitely hits the mark on the multiplayer aspect. The rest will have to wait until release day.
Try as I might to avoid the hype for games I haven’t yet played I still can’t help but notice when a game keeps repeatedly popping up in my feed reader. The first of these such games, which I had little idea about before I bought it, was Bayonetta. It seemed I couldn’t go 2 days without hearing something else about this new IP from the creator of the Devil May Cry series and after I heard it got a perfect 40/40 score from Famitsu I decided it was probably worth a play through. Of course I got all of 2 hours out of it before I couldn’t bear anymore so you can imagine my skepticism of when a game comes to me via a similar route. Still Bulletstorm managed to get the tick of approval from my friends (even the harshest amongst them) so I threw down the cash for a copy on steam and gave it a good old fashioned thrashing over the past week.
What got me first was just how rich and beautiful the environments were. Many times I caught myself just taking a couple seconds to stop and gawk at the scenery, something you didn’t get a whole lot of time for sometimes. Surprisingly enough too the game ran perfectly fine at maximum settings (apart from AA) on my 3 year old rig, even when the action on screen got particularly hectic. This is of course mostly due to the consolisation of the games industry which has both advantages and disadvantages. Being able to squeeze multiple years of life out of old hardware is one of these but there are a few things that suffer because of it.
Since the console market is by far the largest part of the current gaming market, approximately 95%, most games are optimized for the experience on the console first. Bulletstorm is no exception to this (although it is one of the better cross platform releases I’ve played) and there are some hangovers from its consolisation. Probably the most noticeable of this is the inclusion of Games for Windows Live client which has to be installed, even if you purchased the game through Steam. This extends to the menus throughout the game which don’t even let you use the mouse to select the items in them. Additionally many advanced configuration options are hidden in encrypted config files requiring quite a bit of wrangling to get at should you want to tweak the settings a bit. Individually these are all minor gripes but when summed up altogether they do serve to take away from the game experience on the PC, the platform I most often choose for my FPS binges.
You play as Grayson Hunt, a former black-ops agent who worked for the Confederation of Planets. You’ve since gone rogue after finding out that your commander, General Sarrano, was using you to suppress dissidents, telling you they were murderers and drug runners. You see the chance for revenge when your ship crosses paths with his and after a brief bout both you and your former commander end up ship wrecked on the planet Stygia. The rest of the game is dedicated to finding a way off planet, getting revenge on sarrano and dealing with the various creatures that inhabit this strange world who get in the way of your ultimate goal.
Whilst Bulletstorm takes many queues from current first and third person shooters (extensive use of cover and regenerative health) there are a couple novel mechanics thrown in to spice up an otherwise ordinary FPS. The first is the energy leash which looks like a serpentine bolt of lightning that enables you to pull enemies, items and bits of the environment towards you. The leash can also be upgraded to have a “thumper” ability allowing you to throw multiple enemies into the air at once which you can then pick off at your leisure. It comes in place of the usual melee weapon, like the crowbar in Half Life, allowing you to dispatch enemies even if you’re running low on ammo. Indeed the game encourages you to use the environment to your advantage as is shown by the next novel feature included in Bulletstorm.
Duty Calls, the “demo” for Bulletstorm, ridiculed the Call of Duty style games for their leveling systems in order to get upgrades. Instead Bulletstorm gives you a list of skillshots to acomplish awarding points each time you complete one of them. You can do them multiple times over (although they give more on the first attempt) and these points are then used to purchase upgrades and ammunition at the various drop boxes that have been scattered across Stygia. Each weapon has a unique upgrade that requires its own special ammunition that you can only buy at these drop boxes but is always quite powerful, usually one shotting even the most tough of enemies. The system works quite well as you learn how to maximize your return on each encounter and some of the skill shots are just plain fun to do.
The gameplay itself is very fast paced, action filled and smothered in gobs of low brow humor to keep your entertained along the way. Many of the scenes have you running your way through massive environments to make it to the next save point and nearly every one of them ends with you either destroying something huge or crash landing in some way. Whilst I didn’t find it as gripping as say Modern Warfare 2 it was still enough to keep me in my seat for the final 3 hours. The dialog is, to put it bluntly, crude and squarely aimed at the frat boy crowd that this game targets. It might sound snobbish of me since I’m a big fan of the expansive dialog trees Bioware is known for spoiling us with but the low brow humor fits Bulletstorm’s characters well, even if I found it a little tiresome towards the end.
Bulletstorm’s plot follows a similar vein, being enough to give the characters the proper motivations and an excuse for the ridiculous action but not serving much past that. The false end and subsequent last sequence that basically yells at you “Yes there’s going to be a sequel!” serves to cheapen what little depth it might have had. It’s similar to the false end in Red Dead Redemption, albeit without the emotional heart ache that plagued me for days afterwards.
Does that mean I think the game isn’t worth playing? Hell no! Whilst I was apprehensive shelling out the requisite dollars on a game that came to me in the same way as Bayonetta I still throughly enjoyed the Bulletstorm experience. There was nothing more satisfying than lining up hordes of burn-outs and laying waste to them with a single shotgun charge. Some of the skillshots take real skill to pull off and having the right weapon at the right time can mean the difference between breezing through and a gritty struggle for survival. Sure the plot might not be as deep and engrossing as other titles but I still enjoyed every moment of it.
Bulletstorm is one of the two low brow shooters (the other being the fabled vaporware title, Duke Nukem Forever) that delivers on its promises of over-the-top action, thrills and dirty language. Whilst the experience was somewhat hampered by the current trend of consolisation it still manages to deliver a great PC experience that I’m sure will be a favorite at LANs for a long time to come. If you’re amongst the teaming droves of those waiting anxiously for the release of Duke Nukem Forever you won’t go wrong by biding your time with Bulletstorm and even if you’re not it’s a satisfying game based on its single player alone.
Bulletstorm is available right now on PC, Xbox 360 and PS3 for $69.99, $108 and $108 respectively. Game was played on Hard setting to completion on the single player campaign with approximately 8 hours of total game time.
Take any piece of modern hardware and guaranteed its locked down in one way or another to make sure it’s not used in a way that the vendor didn’t intend, expect or desire. Take Apple for example, they strictly control what can and can’t be run on their entire range of hardware products to make sure that their brand name isn’t tarnished (and they fight fervently when there’s even the slight hint that it might). Such restrictions give rise to the hacker community dedicated to unlocking the full potential of the hardware. To them it’s not so much the potential of having unrestricted access, more it is about the challenge that is presented with these restrictions and finding that loophole that lets them circumvent it.
To date nearly every major console and handled game device had been hacked into in at least some form. A couple days ago however the king of the unhackable hill, the Playstation 3, has apparently fallen from its perch:
I have read/write access to the entire system memory, and HV level access to the processor. In other words, I have hacked the PS3. The rest is just software. And reversing. I have a lot of reversing ahead of me, as I now have dumps of LV0 and LV1. I’ve also dumped the NAND without removing it or a modchip.
3 years, 2 months, 11 days…thats a pretty secure system
Took 5 weeks, 3 in Boston, 2 here, very simple hardware cleverly applied, and some not so simple software.
As noted in the quote above its been quite a long time coming for such a hack to appear. So long in fact that I doubted that it was legitimate considering that the site itself is extremely new (well under a month) and was proclaiming something that had been tried before and failed spectacularly. My mind was changed when I checked out who the hacker was, George Hotz, who’s claim to fame before his PS3 shenanigans was unlocking the iPhone. So his street cred checks out.
I put off posting about this for a couple days so I could glean a little bit more info about the whole thing before posting about it. The hack itself doesn’t appear to be too complicated however what is going to be complicated is making anything of it. Whilst the original “phat” PS3s were quite capable of running Linux (albeit quite horribly, I don’t even bother with my install anymore) many of the higher level functions, like access to the full set of GPU instructions and the SPEs, was disabled. This meant that anything running on the PS3 that wasn’t sanctioned by Sony was inherently crippled. Getting access to these extra bits of functionality would make allow people to create games without forking over for Sony’s developer kit ($10,000 FYI). You can see why they tried so hard to keep people from doing such a thing.
There’s also the darker side to this hack appearing: piracy. Sure there are legitimate reasons for blowing open access to a console like this but for the most part any successful cracking of a game console has ultimately lead to a rampant piracy scene. Whilst it would be difficult to judge the actual financial damage to Sony and the publishers who have games on the PS3 it would still be there, and you can bet your bottom dollar that it would be cited as a reason for any bad financial quarters. GeoHot’s hack is a far cry from this however, so there’s still a long time before any real piracy scene appears for the PS3.
Still I can’t help but wonder, will anyone really bother? A typical game on the PS3 can be anywhere from 10GB to 25GB something which, especially in Australia, would be rather hard to swallow when your download cap is a mere 75GB such as mine. Additionally with many games appearing cross platform you’re really only going to be pirating the exclusives and if you bought a PS3 its not really worth your trouble just to pirate those. Would you really spend the cash for a blu-ray burner, discs and bandwidth in order to play a few games a year? I’m guessing not.
So whilst I was initially excited at the prospect of some intrepid hacker finally cracking the PS3 code it wore off pretty quickly. With my secret addiction to collector’s editions that have things you can’t pirate still running rampant I have no inclination to pirate games on my PS3, nor do I have a need for yet another computer in my house (there’s 5 in the same room as the PS3, I’ll be damned if I need the PS3 to do their jobs). With this hack taking so long to come out I can’t help but feel that the majority of PS3 owners are in the same boat, happily residing themselves to never thinking about home brew or piracy on the PS3.
Still I’ve been wrong before so I’ll be watching the developments pretty closely. It certaintly has made for interesting reading at the very least 🙂