I have to give it to those behind the Dishonored series as it really doesn’t take much from them to bring me back. I played the Knife of Dunwall expansion based on a single screenshot, the sequel simply because it’d been too long between drinks and, most recently, because of the name of the next instalment. For those familiar with the series the title “Death of the Outsider’ is an incredibly provocative one, almost begging to be played just so you can see if that title is justified. Whilst the game doesn’t bring anything particularly revolutionary or unique to the series or stealth games in general it is, for this writer at least, the best experience to be had in the Dishonored series.
Taking place shortly after the events of Dishonored 2 Death of the Outsider puts you in control of Bille “Lurk”, the right hand of The Knife of Dunwall: Daud. You awake aboard the Dreadful Wale, moored just outside of Karnaca, armed with the information that your former master is being held captive by a cult called the Eyeless. After you free him you learn that he is not long for this world and he has one last task for you: put an end to the outsider and the chaotic influence he has on the world. The plan is simple: find the knife that created him all those years ago and use it to end him. Of course things like this aren’t always as simple as they sound.
As you’d expect from a game released not a year after Dishonored 2 Death of the Outsider doesn’t bring with it massive improvements in the graphics department. The game’s big vistas and open environments are definitely its strongest point but the sheen wears off when you start to get up close and personal. This is also when the asset reuse starts to become painfully apparent with everyone have the same kind of cabinet, the same bathroom layout and a myriad of other things that are repeated ad-nauseam everywhere. Typically this wouldn’t be much of an issue as you’d be switching up scenes every mission but the majority of Death of the Outsider takes place in the same location. This issue isn’t unique to this instalment however so there won’t be much to be disappointed here for long time Dishonored fans.
Whilst Death of the Outsider retains most of the core game play aspects of the Dishonored franchise pretty much all of them have been streamlined considerably. No longer do you have the choice of what powers you get or upgrade; you get 3 and that’s it for the game. You no longer need to manage your mana closely as it regenerates back to full over time. Bone charms are still around but you can’t craft them until late in the game and the various “mechanical” upgrades are still available through the black market. Side missions are now contracts which you’ll gather off a sign outside the black market as well. There’s a grand total of 5 missions, each of which will probably take you around 2 hours (give or take) which puts it as the shortest of the stand alone Dishonored titles by a small margin.
As you’d expect everything about Death of the Outsider will familiar to those who’ve played any of the previous Dishonored titles although it is closest to Dishonored 2. Whilst you don’t have an extreme amount of flexibility in how you build your character your bone charms will dictate whether you’re a fighter or a stealth based player. I, of course, chose the stealth route for the most part although there was one contract which required me to literally kill every hostile in the level which put my stealth-first build to the test. Since there’s no levelling or chaos system to speak of the stealth/guns blazing kill/no-kill choice is largely symbolic however (save for a few achievements). The new powers aren’t different enough to set the game apart from its predecessors but, for me at least, that wasn’t really an issue.
Stealth and exploration is as good as ever, if a bit more involved than I would have liked. Instead of having a heart to squeeze and follow around (you still have one, it just lets you listen to rats instead) one of your powers is dedicated to marking things whilst your in a stopped time ghost form. No matter the mission there’s several ways to approach it, both from a physical and logistical perspective. A lot of these choices are lot more involved than I first expected too, sometimes finding what was the shortest route to finish a section only to backtrack “just to check” only to find what was essentially an entire other level. Interestingly I never found a route that required violence, instead all of them allowing a full stealth approach. Sure some of them would’ve been easier had I started killing right off the bat but I would’ve thought at least a few options would’ve forced my hand.
Some of the side missions are a bit buggy, two of which come to mind immediately. The first was one where you’re supposed to kidnap a bar tender then put him in a box somewhere. After spending far too long knocking out everyone in the bar I took my leave of it, bartender slung over my shoulder. However when I got to the area to drop him off a cutscene began playing and, I’m guessing here, in the interim I dropped him off the roof to his doom. No problem I can just load up my last save, except the game saved immediately after, obliterating my chances at a retry (without investing another hour at least). The second was the mime suicide one where, for some reason, it’d fail the mission randomly. I still had his unconscious body but it was simply not registered as the NPC I needed and the contract was failed. These are both minor glitches which can be circumvented with good old save scumming but it can be a rather frustrating thing to have to deal with multiple times over.
Maybe I’m getting older or more lenient on the Dishonored franchise as a whole but I felt that both the story and its delivery were the strongest yet. Dishonored’s voice actors typically delivered their lines flat and the story’s predictable nature didn’t help. This time around however the voice acting feels a lot better and the story, whilst still being somewhat predictable, was a lot more engrossing than I remember its predecessor’s being. Seeing as this might be the last instalment in the franchise, at least in this timeline with these characters anyway, it does feel like a fitting send off.
Should Dishonored: Death of the Outsider be the last we see of this series in its current state it will be a grand farewell, being the series’ best instalment to date. It’s not a perfect game by any stretch of the imagination, still retaining some of the issues that have plagued the series from day 1. However the streamlined game play, better story telling and overall tighter implementation (bar a few issues with some of the side missions) means that it’s much more easier to gloss over those rough edges than it ever was. Even if you haven’t played a Dishonored game before Death of the Outsider could be a great introduction into the franchise. Although if you do that know that it’s only downhill from here.
Dishonored: Death of the Outsider is available on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 right now for $29.99. Game was played on the PC with a total of 10 hours playtime and 50% of the achievements unlocked.
There are two distinct types of stealth games. The first are the ones built around the mechanic, designed in such a way that stealth permeates throughout the game. The second, and sadly much more common, is where stealth is added on as a mechanic at a later point. The difference between these two types of stealth games couldn’t be more stark, with the latter feeling out of place. The former however usually results in a much better experience as stealth is an incredibly hard mechanic to get right, if your game isn’t built around it. Aragami thankfully falls into the former camp, nailing the stealth mechanics beautifully.
You are an Aragami, a spirit of vengeance summoned by Yamiko, a young girl who has been imprisoned by the Kaiho. Her captors are adepts of the light, able to control it with deadly effects. Yamiko tells you that the Kaiho are oppressors of her people and have imprisoned her Shadow Princess along with her. It is then up to you Aragami to free her and take down the Kaiho army to free the shadow realm from oppression. How you go about this however is your choice, although sticking to the shadows is likely a wise choice.
At first glance you’d be forgiven for thinking that Aragami was coming from Telltale as its visual style is very similar. It’s based on the Unity engine however (not Telltale’s aging game engine) and the look is generated by good old fashioned cel shading. Overall the visuals are simple and clean, with little extraneous detail thrown about. Performance on my current rig was perfect, as you’d expect, however I think it’d run perfectly fine on current generation smart phones with little change. The only complaint I’d have is that it starts to get a bit repetitive after chapter 7 or so. It does get better towards the end though as the environments get a little more varied, however.
Aragami, as I mentioned before, is a stealth game. You’re put in an area, given a goal to reach and are left up to get to the other end. Combat is non-existent as one hit from any threat will instantly kill you however you are able to dispose of your enemies, if you deem it necessary. Whilst you’ll initially have to rely on your wits to get through each level you’ll find scrolls that grant you talent points along the way. These will give you a smattering of different abilities to deal with the various situations that the game presents you with. The puzzles are pretty basic however, varying little beyond disabling barriers. Mechanically it’s a simple game but the difficulty comes in how you choose to play it.
Like most stealth veterans I immediately chose the no-kill, complete stealth route. Surprisingly though this is probably the easiest (or second easiest, possibly) route to choose as all you have to contend with there is making it through in one piece. So for the next chapter I attempted to kill everyone which proved to be a much more challenging task. Not only do you have to avoid being spotted you also have to ensure no one finds the corpses you leave behind. I eventually gave up doing it as it always seemed like someone would stumble across the bodies, no matter how well I thought I had cleared out a particular area.
Of course doing that becomes a lot easier if you invest a few points in the right talents, one of which allows you to completely remove bodies. There’s enough scrolls about the place that you could easily max out most of the useful talents in a single play through. Of course there’s a few quality of life ones you probably want to go for first, like the one that reveals where all the scrolls are. Others like the invisibility one are quite useful for just blazing through otherwise laborious sections, something that becomes a life saver later on in the game. There’s definitely a good amount of replayability in Aragami because of these talent choices, something which I’m sure the completist crowd will enjoy.
Aragami is mostly mechanically sound, however there are a few quirks which can trip you up if you’re not careful. It’s clear there’s certain places you’re not supposed to be able to shadow step to, but you can if you get the angles right. Things like tree branches, leaves or other semi-odd geometry provide ample places for getting yourself stuck or completely bypassing an otherwise mandatory challenge. Additionally the invisibility power, with its upgrade to make you apparently completely silent, doesn’t seem to work that way 100% of the time. There were a couple times I ran past someone only to have them alert the entire place I was there. Whilst I can understand that happening if I ran directly into them I can remember not even being near them when it happened on more than one occasion. Overall these issues aren’t massive, but are annoying when they happen.
The lack of variety in the layouts and mechanics does start to wear on you after a while. Around the halfway point I found I could really only play a chapter or two before getting bored. Towards the end things started to get a little more interesting but the first 3 hours or so felt like they dragged on quite a bit. Since the game announces to you just how many things you’re going to have to do (get 5 talismans! yay!) it instantly makes you feel like you’re on an extended fetch quest. Couple that with trying to find the scrolls and you’re probably not going to enjoying yourself that much. Indeed I think the middle couple hours could’ve probably been removed without much impact to the game or narrative.
The story is, unfortunately, quite mediocre. It’s clear pretty early on what the twist is going to be which is only made worse by the weirdly out of place dialogue. The writing wouldn’t be out of place in say, a modern anime or something similar, but Aragami seems to want to be taken seriously. However that’s just not possible with the way the main characters interact with each other. Towards the end things start to work out a little better but since there’s really no build up it’s all quite hollow. It also appears that there must’ve been a big rewrite of the story at some point as the final lines, which allude to the game’s previous name Twin Souls: The Path of Shadows, reveal information that had not been spoken of or alluded to at all. Considering this is Lince Works’ first game I’ll give them a pass, for now.
Aragami is a competent stealth platformer with beautiful cel shaded graphics and a great backing soundtrack. Taking the notion that the no-kill, full stealth route is the hardest and turning it on its head is a great twist on the regular stealth idea. Aragami is however let down by its repetitiveness and lacklustre story, a mistake many first time indie game developers make. Still for those of us who enjoy a good stealth-first game there are few titles like Aragami and fewer still from indie developers. If you’re looking for something to bridge the gap between the next bout of AAA releases and need a stealth fix then Aragami might just be for you.
Aragami is available on PC and PlayStation 4 right now for $19.99. Game was played on the PC with 5 hours of total play time and 67% of the achievements unlocked.
Dishonored was a breath of fresh air for many. Stealth games of the time were anything but; their stealth mechanics nothing but tacked on features that weren’t given the love they so desperately needed. Whilst it had its faults Dishonored was a pivotal release for Arkane Studios, catapaulting them into the limelight. It’s been 4 years since the release of the original Dishonored and expectations were high that Arkane would be able to deliver yet another solid stealth based title. Dishonored 2 brings with it all of the things that made the original great but also many of the shortcommings. Indeed whilst some of the design choices are commendable it begs the question of whether or not the effort would have been better spent elsewhere, possibly addressing some of the mistakes of the past.
Dishonored 2 takes place 15 years after the events of the original with Emily Kaldwin taking her place on the throne, succeeding her late mother. The city of Dunwall is no longer the rotten town it once was, prospering greatly under Emily’s rule. However a serial murderer, dubbed The Crown Killer, has been dispatching Emily’s opposition, leading many to conclude that Corvo is responsible for it. During a ceremony in remembrance of her mother’s assassination, Delilah Copperspoon, who claims to be Jessamine’s older half-sister and the true heir to the throne, assaults Emily in her throne room. The story from here is determined by who you choose to play as: either Emily or Corvo.
Under the hood Dishonored 2 is powered the new Void engine, developed in-house by Arkane. The engine is based on id’s Tech 6 platform and brings with it many improvements. However like its predecessor Dishonored 2 is probably about half a step behind current generation titles in terms of graphics, something that is painfully obvious when you’re up close to NPCs or bits of the environment. The world does feel a lot more full than it used to though, with more characters on screen and much more detailed environments. The initial release was unfortunately plagued by horrendous performance issues on PC, indicating that the engine hadn’t gotten enough optimization love. This was fixed rather quickly and by the time I got around to play it I didn’t see any issues at all. This couldn’t come soon enough though and is likely responsible for the game’s mixed review status on Steam.
Dishonored 2 stays true to the original’s ethos, providing you with mutliple avenues to complete a mission that can make use of any number of powers, abilities or gadgets. What’s available to you depends on whether you choose Corvo or Emily although there’s a core set of non-power abilities availble to both. If you choose Corvo the abilities will be instantly familiar to you with Emilies being completely different in all aspects. The upgrade systems are largely the same, you’ll still hunt down runes and charms to upgrade your powers, however there’s also the opportunity to improve your character further through crafting runes of your own. There’s still a multitude of things to discover in any one level with numerous side missions and hidden items for you to seek out. If you were a fan of the original there’ll be a lot for you to love in Dishonored 2, perhaps even more so if you’re an achievement hunter.
Combat is largely the same as it’s predecessor however the choices you make in building your character have a much bigger impact in Dishonored 2. Unlike previously where I could stealth or shoot my way through a level Dishonored 2, where I primarily built my character as stealth, I couldn’t take on more than one enemy at a time. Personally I liked this aspect as it meant that my choices had a real impact, no longer could I be both the stealth master and combat warrior. This did mean that the mechanical upgrade system went largely unused through my play through but it did make the rune and bone charms that much more valuable. Indeed I spent much, much more time exploring to make sure I got every power upgrade I could, lest I find myself wanting.
The stealth system works as you’d expect it to although I have to admit I think the detection rate of NPCs is a little too fast for my liking. Indeed if you don’t notice the meter immediately, like if it’s at the bottom of your screen, you will likely be detected. Some of the power upgrades help you get around this, like the stop time part of blink, but it still leaves you very little time to react. It does feel a bit more realistic in that sense, you can’t hover around in front of enemies and have them not detect you, but it does detract from the enjoyment a bit at times.
The crafting system, whilst basic, was probably one of the more rewarding aspects of Dishonored 2. With the right combination of talents and a lot of farming for the right runes you can craft yourself a set of incredibly powerful boosts. In the end I was rocking around 8 quad bone charms (the other 2 taken by specific power upgrades) that amplified my power abilities significantly, like being able to essentially sprint in stealth mode if I was crouched and my weapons sheathed. Of course I save-scummed my way to perfect bone charms without any negative traits on them but hey, even if I didn’t do that I think a grand total of 2 of them would’ve been cursed. One point of note, which I wished I had known earlier, is that not all runes are simply somewhere in the world. For some missions a certain NPC will hold 2 of them, something which can make your life a little difficult if you want to get them all. Thankfully those ones aren’t usually ones you can break down for crafting anyway, but they’re still worth seeking out.
Overall Dishonored 2 is well polished (bar the initial teething issues) however it makes one horrendous design misstep that I’ll never forgive any game for doing. There’s one level that, if you’ve chosent to take powers, you’ll have them stripped away from you. For those, like me, who’ve invested heavily, in their powers this strips you of all the tools you had available. The resulting mission is a tedious mess, the time-switching mechanic that it was designed around becoming a nusiance more than anything else. The hour or so I spent on that level was the most frustrating section of the game by far and completing it was a relief more than a reward. I can understand the rationale behind it, wanting to challenge the player in a new and inventive way (like many of the other levels do) but taking away their investments is a cheap trick that does nothing to endear the player to the game.
The story, and its delivery, suffer the same issues as its predecessor. Whilst you have control over how the narrative develops, both through direct choices and how you actually play the game, it’s still predictable and not particularly rewarding. The voice acting again falls flat, a complaint that was levelled at its predecessor which I had hoped would be addressed in the sequel. Again there are a few standouts like The Outsider and the manick mechanical creator Jindosh, but they aren’t enough to carry everything forward by themselves. Honestly I was hoping that I’d feel differently this time around, I really was.
Dishonored 2 is a solid follow up to the original, retaining everything that made it great (and some things that didn’t). The stealth and combat is well done, the choices of how you build your character now more impactful (for better and for worse) than they were before. Crafting is a welcome addition, one that helps you craft your character further down your desired path. Unfortunately some poor level design choices and the continued flat delivery of Dishonored 2’s script means that the game doesn’t reach beyond its predecessor in terms of overall quality. Still I did enjoy my time with Dishonored 2, the stealth game play unparalleled in today’s market. Hopefully future instalments in this IP will address these core issues which would elevate Dishonored 2 to the same level as the games that inspired it.
Dishonored 2 is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One right now for $59.99, $77 and $77 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 16 hours of total play time with 36% of the achievements unlocked.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution was met with much trepidation when it was first released. Whilst many (like myself) enjoyed Invisible War the wider gaming community didn’t, wanting to banish it from their collective memories. The fear was that another game in the series wouldn’t be able to capture the essence of what made it good and, should it bomb, that would be it for the series forever. Thankfully that wasn’t the case and Human Revolution brought both new fans to the series and old fans back from their remastered versions of the original Deus Ex. So expectations are somewhat high for Mankind Divided, putting Eidos Montreal in the unenviable position of having to yet again improve on the Deus Ex formula whilst keeping the game fresh and interesting. Mankind Divided also comes in the midst of a small bit of controversy around it’s micro transactions and tie-ins to other parts of the franchise. Although, if I’m honest, I’m struggling to think of any AAA title that hasn’t been embroiled in some kind of online fracas.
Spoilers ahead for Human Revolution.
Mankind Divided takes place two years after the events of Human Revolution. The world has been ravaged by the Aug Incident whereby all augmented humans flew into a rage and viciously attacked anyone at random. This has set the stage for a kind of mechanical apartheid, augmented humans now being segregated away from naturals for fear of what they might do. You’re back in control of Adam Jensen, one of the few people in the world to know the truth behind the incident. With Sarif Industries no more you’re now under the employ of Interpol as part of an elite team that responds to a myriad of different threats. You are also the only member of your team who is augmented, something which comes up far more often than you’d like. Working for Interpol isn’t just a job however, it’s your in to find out more about the Illuminati as part of the Juggernaut Collective, a group of hacktivists who are hunting down those invisible men who would dare to try and control the world. Your base of operations is in Prague however your journey will take you all over the world.
The iconic visual style of Human Revolution makes a return in Mankind Divided, albeit with the yellow hues toned down to a more realistic levels. The graphics come to us via the Dawn engine, a proprietary technology stack developed by Eidos Montreal that was based on the Glacier 2 engine which was used in Hitman: Absolution. It’s a significant step up in terms of graphical fidelity as the screenshots in my reviews will attest. The automatic graphics settings err a little cautiously so you’ll likely be able to bump up a few settings without a huge impact to your frame rate. Whilst the overall aesthetic is largely the same Mankind Divided makes far better use of secondary colours than its predecessor did, the yellow hues still present but not washing everything out. This coupled with the better lighting effects, soft shadows and all the other current generation trimmings makes Mankind Divided one of the best looking games of this year.
Mechanically Mankind Divided is very similar to its predecessor, retaining nearly all of the original augs, combat mechanics and progression systems. The first mission gives you a taste of all the base augs, allowing you a bit of a trial run of everything before they get taken away from you and you have to decide which ones you want to keep. In true Deus Ex fashion you have a choice between stealth/guns blazing and lethal/non-lethal combat. I personally favoured the stealth, hacker and non-lethal approach which seems to be the key in finding most of the secrets in any Deus Ex game. Your weapons are also upgradeable and modifiable although the variety of firearms at your disposal feels somewhat limited. Levelling comes via the tried and true XP/levels system however it can be sped up significantly by finding or buying praxis kits, many of which are hidden in various parts of each level you’ll traverse through. The main differences between Human Revolution and Mankind Divided though are in the form of the experimental augs, both of which open up a myriad of new possibilities when it comes to sneaking around or destroying numerous enemies in one fell swoop.
Mankind Divided does a good job of making your talent choices mean something, both in terms of feeling like you’re more effective at what you’ve chosen to do and being utterly useless as what you haven’t. As someone who invested a lot of points into hacking, stealth and abilities to help me find secrets in levels I had basically no points in health, armour or any kind of survivability. This meant that, unlike Human Revolution, when I went in guns blazing I’d get shredded almost instantly. Honestly I liked that as it forced me to be far more considered in my approach than I otherwise would have been. Indeed I think that by comparison that made Human Revolution a bit too easy, giving me an out when I simply didn’t want to figure out the best stealth approach. This does mean however that my experience of run and gun combat was extremely limited, usually reserved for the last enemy standing when I couldn’t find an easy, or simple, way to take them out.
Stealth is done exceptionally well, as we have all come to expect from the Deus Ex franchise. You’ll have numerous different ways to approach problems with nearly all areas having some kind of vent system that you can crawl through to get the drop on your quarry. The detection system works well although there are times when enemies will sometimes inexplicably become aware of your presence. Usually this is due to some kind of trigger event which the game could do a better job of warning you about before it happens. There’s also no clarity given over what constitutes an alarm or detection (for the Ghost achievement and XP) as you can be seen by a guard and take him out before he alerts others. The system seems relatively lax in that requirement though as I seemed to have gotten it more often than not. The additional tools you have at your disposal, like the tesla upgrade, make stealth a much more varied experience than it has been in previous games. Overall the likely default mode of play is well catered for in Mankind Divided which I’m sure is to the delight of all the fans.
Hacking has seen a small revamp although it retains the same node capture mechanics as its predecessor. Now you can run afoul of firewalls when attempting to capture a node, both delaying your hack attempt by one second and alerting the subroutine to your presence. You also have a bunch more tools at your disposal though so the hacking mini-game is far more involved than it used to be. Admittedly it does get a little tedious after you’ve done it 20+ times which, thankfully, the game designers have taken into account. You see in Mankind Divided you’ll actually get more XP for finding a way to open doors or login to terminals without hacking them. Whilst this often means you’ll have to hack something else in order to do so it does mean you don’t feel like you’re missing out if you don’t hack something.
Mankind Divided retains the same mission layout as its predecessor, putting you in a large overworld that has lots of missions for you to do and places to explore. Interestingly whilst running around and talking to everyone who will listen is a good way to get side quests it won’t get you all of them. Instead some of them are found through exploration. For instance I found the Neon quest chain by accidentally stumbling on the impromptu rave in one of the back alleys. I didn’t follow up on it much but walking through the sewers I eventually came across the end part of the quest and, not even knowing much beyond the rudimentary parts of the story that I’d picked up from conversations I’d overheard, managed to finish the mission then and there. Indeed it seems there are many missions which are found in a similar way as I had barely anything to do with the cult of the machine god or Divali, but it was obvious there were missions with them when I went through their areas later on in the game.
Now since I’d avoided much of the conversation around Mankind Divided until just before release I wasn’t aware that it’d contain microtransactions or links to other games in the universe like Deus Ex: Go. The fear that many had was that you wouldn’t be able to build your character the way you wanted to without spending real money. Having played through the entire game I can say unequivocally that is not the case as my nearly end game screenshot of my character can attest to. Sure you can’t max out every skill but that’s honestly not the point; your talent choices should be meaningful and tailored to how you want to play the game. If you’re someone who doesn’t want to seek out the secrets and wants to be a wrecking ball from the very start of the game sure, go ahead and spend the requisite cash, it doesn’t affect the way I play the game at all. If it really burns you that much then feel free to not pay and use something like CheatEngine to edit your praxis to max.
Mankind Divided, whilst a very polished and highly refined experience, isn’t free of game breaking issues. I was one of the unfortunate souls who couldn’t play for about 3 days due to a bug which would crash when I used the subway during my third visit back to Prague. The only fix available at the time was to restart at a previous save point and not do a particular mission, something I didn’t really want to do. Thankfully Eidos was very responsive to it and managed to get a fix out in short order, allowing me to finish off my play through shortly after. There were also a few niggling little issues, many of which are detailed in the Steam community forum, which for the most part have been fixed. Suffice to say that if you’re playing Mankind Divided now rather than at launch your experience is likely to be far smoother than mine was.
I’m in two minds about Mankind Divided’s story. To be sure the world they’ve created is expansive and there’s numerous avenues of intrigue that you’re able explore fully within the confines of this game. However there’s also tons of world building they’ve done for things that are obviously going to be explored in DLCs which makes a lot of Mankind Divided feel really hollow. Indeed this is the first game I’ve played in a long time where I felt it was far too short, even at some 21 hours of play time for my first run. If the previous DLCs for Human Revolution are anything to go by there’s at least another 10 hours to come and that will, hopefully, fully explore the various story threads that are left dangling at the end of the main campaign. The story that is explored and completed within Mankind Divided is engaging and well thought out however, it’s just a shame that it’s not fully fleshed out in the retail release.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided retains the high standards that was set in Human Revolution. Yet again it stands out as a graphical marvel, the same iconic visual style making a comeback with all the trimmings we’ve come to expect of current generation games.The mechanics that made the franchise great are retained with the addition of new mechanics enough to keep the game play fresh and engaging. The controversy around microtransactions seems to be no more than a storm in a tea cup, not being required to fully explore the game. Its initial release into the world was plagued by some game breaking issues but Eidos was quick to respond, ensuring that we weren’t without our Deus Ex fix for long. Where Mankind Divided stumbles is in its length and exploration of its main story lines with much of it being left to the two planned DLCs which are slated for release over the coming months. To be sure Mankind Divided is still worth playing today in its current form but its definitely going to be one of those games where the director’s cut will likely surpass the original in terms of an overall experience.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One right now for $59.99, $69 and $69 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 21 hours of total play time and 36% of the achievements unlocked.
Even though I’ve been reviewing games for fun for the better part of 6 years now there are few series that I’ve been able to catalogue my experiences of completely. Many of the big AAA games have been going on since long before I started blogging and there are many new IPs since then that have failed to see further instalments. However one of the stand out series I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing has been the Batman: Arkham games which have set the standard to which many others are compared. The last title in this series, Arkham Knight, sees a return of Rocksteady Studios as the developer and with them the hopes that this game will bring a return to form for the IP. Indeed, at least for this review, that’s very much the case however you’d have to be living under a rock to not know about the turmoil that this title endure during its first weeks on the shelves.
Although his nemesis might be gone Batman has continued his work in Gotham City, becoming an ally of the GCPD rather than its adversary. In the year since the events of Arkham City Gotham has become a place of peace with crime rates tumbling and the populace feeling safe in their home town. However Batman’s continued spoiling of everyone’s nefarious plans has not gone unnoticed and they have all banded together with the one singular goal: to kill the batman. At the helm is Scarecrow who threatens the entire city and causes a mass evacuation, leaving the streets to be filled with criminals, looters and a sense of fear. It is up to you now, dear Batman, to rid Gotham of this disease once again but the journey may leave you losing much more than you’d ever had hoped to.
Arkham Knight is an absolutely stunning game with the graphics easily surpassing any of the previous titles in the series. This is made all the more impressive by the fact that it’s running on the Unreal 3 engine which, as of writing, was released almost 11 years ago. The trademark Gothic style is back once again with everything in Gotham having this certain retro-futuristic chic about it. Climbing to the top of any building is rewarded with a gorgeous landscape that’s just brimming with detail which only gets better upon closer inspection. There are some pretty great innovations in here too, like how rain falls on surfaces and slicks down or how the turbulent waters of Gotham’s harbours churn and crash against the walls. Going back and looking at my previous screenshots from other Batman titles Arkham Knight really is a generation ahead of its predecessors, an incredible feat considering the last title was released less than 2 years ago.
For those who’ve played any of the previous Arkham titles the core game play will be familiar, taking much the same approach as Arkham City did. You’re plopped down into a vast open world with numerous objectives, all of which are centred on one of the characters from the Batman franchise. You’re free to pick and choose from any of the objectives all of which will grant you upgrade points which you can spend to upgrade Batman’s skills, gadgets and combat moves. You will also be treated to the wonder that is the Batmobile, a nimble tank that’s got a staggering array of weaponry at its disposal, which you’ll need to make good use of if you’re to get anywhere in this game. The traditional beat ’em up combat remains intact with only a few new options added into the mix to differentiate it from its predecessors. In terms of scale it’s the biggest Batman game ever released, one that will keep even the most dedicated achievement hunter busy for a very long time.
The melee combat remains largely the same as it did in previous Arkham games with the addition of a few new gadgets and enemy types. If I’m honest it actually feels slightly weaker than previous titles as the new gadgets fail to make up for the lack of new combos or takedowns. Pulling off massive combos doesn’t seem to have the same spectacular pay off that it used which was a big driver, at least for me, to get better at landing them. There’s the inclusion of the fear takedown, which basically works as an opener to take out the most dangerous enemies first, which is cool but does take away a fair chunk of the skill required to take down massive groups of varied enemies. This, coupled with the lack of any big melee boss fights, means that whilst the essence of the combat is still there it just doesn’t have the same attraction it once did.
This is made up for entirely by the inclusion of the Batmobile, the single most fun thing that Rocksteady included in Arkham Knight. From the second you first get your hands on it the Batmobile is a cacophony of destruction, metallic car noises and oodles of weaponry that border on being ludicrously excessive. Driving around Gotham is just plain fun as you smash and crash your way through pretty much everything that gets in your way. The vehicle combat makes up for the less than stellar melee combat although after the 30th drone battle over a mine it does start to lose its lustre somewhat. However the integration of the Batmobile into almost every aspect of the game is done so well you start to wonder how they managed to build a Batman game without it. I’m not sure how canon this form of the Batmobile is however as it’s pretty much a killing machine on wheels, something which isn’t strictly in alignment with the Batman ethos. Not that that really matters, though.
The stealth sections are back again this time with even more ways for the enemies to locate you and ruin your Not Seen and Not Shot bonuses. The mechanics will be instantly familiar, finding vantage points and sneaking through grates, however for each new hazard you’re given a new way to deal with it. Much like the melee combat though it feels a little weaker than previous games, possibly because it is so similar or maybe because other elements (like the Batmobile) are just that much better. Suffice to say most of my stealth sections usually ended in me unceremoniously taking out everyone after they spotted me once and more than a few angered restarts because of that.
Due to the outrage over how unplayable Arkham Knight was I decided to hold off until the first patch was released and I’m glad I did. I experienced no performance issues at all with Arkham Knight being buttery smooth the entire time. It was not, however, a completely glitch free experience as there were numerous times where things didn’t work as expected. Chasing Firefly in the Batmobile would often result in it not being able to drive forward for some reason, requiring me to jump out and back in again (sometimes allowing him to escape). On more than one occasion the indicators that I should counter something during a cutscene simply didn’t pop up, leading to a few frustrating moments where I simply could not figure out how to get to the next section. However none of these issues are what I’d consider game breaking as I would not have invested so much time into Arkham Knight if it was as broken as everyone was making it out to be. As of writing Arkham Knight is still not for sale on Steam, something which I honestly don’t agree with after playing through it this past week.
The story serves as the conclusion to the Arkham series and, I’m glad to say, rounds out the various stories of all the main characters quite well. For those of us who’ve stuck with the Arkham series since Asylum it’s been quite a ride and to have it end so well, when so many games have done endings like this poorly, is a most welcome change. This does not mean that the Batman IP has run its course yet, indeed the upcoming Batgirl DLC is a testament to this, however the story ark of Batman and Joker is done and dusted. I’ll be interested to see if Rocksteady or another development studio will look to replicate the success of this series with other characters within the same franchise as, whilst I’m glad this chapter has come to a close, I’d very much like to explore more of this world from a different perspective.
Batman: Arkham Knight is a fitting finale to this venerable series, capturing everything that made the series great whilst amping it up to the next level with a solid story and, of course, the Batmobile. The combat and stealth retain the essence of what made the previous games great although fail to innovate much beyond that. The Batmobile makes up for this in spades, delivering gloriously dumb action as you tear through the streets of Gotham. The story finishes the major Batman and Joker arc beautifully, leaving you with a sense of closure whilst also wanting to see more of this world that Rocksteady has built up over the past 5 years. Even if you haven’t been following the series since day dot you won’t be disappointed in the experience that Batman: Arkham Knight brings as it is truly a stellar game, even in its own right.
Batman: Arkham Knight is available on PC, XboxOne and PlayStation4 right now for $59.99, $99.95 and $99.95 respectively. Game was played on the PC with a total of 16 hours playtime and 42% of the achievements unlocked.
The number of games that were mobile exclusives that make the transition to another platform, whether that’s PC or consoles, is vanishingly small. It’s obvious to see why this is as many of the concepts used in mobile gaming like, touch input and interface design, simply don’t translate readily between those platforms. Platform transition issues have always been a problem for developers, as was shown with the consolization of PC games, but the problem space has been well mapped out over the course of the past decade. Mobile games still struggle with this unfortunately and whilst I really wanted to like Deus Ex: The Fall it was a glaring example of the struggles that developers face when doing mobile to PC transitions.,
You are Ben Saxon, an ex-military agent who served with the Belltower corporation during the Australian civil war. Your career with them was ultimately cut short when bad intel sent you straight into the middle of war zone, your entire team lost when your transport was shot down. However in the midst of all the chaos you managed to meet with someone, Jarron Namir, who recruits you into his special operations team called The Tyrants. With your new augs and all the resources you could ever want at your disposal the future looks good, that is until you uncover the truth about why you were sent into Australia.
Deus Ex: The Fall is a game based on the Unity engine and in that regard it’s actually quite impressive. The graphics are comparable to Deus Ex: Invisible War with a few lighting and rendering tricks helping it to feel a little more modern. Compared to Human Revolution though, a game that was released 3 years ago, it looks like a bad rip off. On a smaller screen, say a tablet or your phone, they’d look a little bit more impressive but on a PC it just feels streets behind everything else. This would mean that if you were craving a taste of the new Deus Ex universe and couldn’t run Human Revolution, for some reason, then it’d be a good place to start.
The Fall essentially a cut down version of Human Revolution in almost every sense, from the skill trees to the weapons to the environments that you’ll be playing in. It’s very clear that everything about The Fall was designed with the mobile market in mind with most of the levels and missions broken down into chunks that can be completed in 5 to 15 minutes. The core game mechanics are still there with the stealth functioning largely the same and the gun combat comparable but, again, modified for the mobile interface. Whilst there’s definitely been a non-zero amount of work done on the transition from mobile to PC the unfortunate reality is that The Fall still contains numerous glitches, bugs and weird quirks on game play mechanics that heavily mar the overall experience.
Human Revolution really got the stealth mechanic nailed down tight and it was nice to see that the majority of mechanics had made their way into The Fall. Most of the levels have numerous different pathways snaking through them allowing you to sneak up on nearly every enemy and take them out silently. However there’s a discrepancy between what you can see in first person mode and what the NPCs can “see”, allowing them to sometimes detect you through walls when, from your point of view, there’s nothing that can be seen. Once you’re aware of this it’s not too hard to work around however it’s a glaring reminder of the limitations of mobile as a gaming platform as I’ve never had this kind of issue with other stealth games on PC.
Combat is extremely clunky which, when coupled with the extremely rudimentary AI, makes it unchallenging and ultimately not satisfying. The recoil mechanic functions by zooming your view in and moving it up slightly, something which is horrifically jarring and doesn’t really add any challenge. Now I played Human Revolution as a primary stealth character and I played The Fall in much the same way however the times when I felt like it’d be fun to run and gun instead were stopped dead in the tracks because of how bad the mechanics are. It’s for that reason that I never really ventured into the buy screen as I could get past every section without using a single weapon.
The talent trees contain familiar upgrades including all the hacking and stealth upgrades from Human Revolution. They pretty much all function pretty much the same as they did previously with the main difference being just how quickly you’ll be able to unlock most of them. Much Human Revolution The Fall seems to be optimized for hacker/stealth players as the majority of things are hidden behind hackable panels and in long air ducts.I have no doubt that if you took the time to thoroughly investigate all of the levels you’d be able to unlock every ability without too much trouble as I managed to get ~60% of them before I got bored and just bypassed everything.
As I alluded to earlier The Fall suffers from many issues due to its transition from the mobile version of Unity to the PC. The first issue I noticed was that sounds just refused to play which also meant the subtitles didn’t stay up either. I traced this back to my headphones (a pair of Logitech G35s) as once I unplugged them everything seemed to work fine. It wasn’t limited to that either as the hacking screen would simply refuse to be moved around which was something of a necessity considering how limited the zoom was. I’m pretty sure this is due to the way you’d handle input on mobile (with DragStart and DragEnd events) which doesn’t directly translate to how PCs with mice work (MouseClick even and then track pointer movement). There were also some rendering issues apparent in a couple levels which wasn’t game breaking but was rather annoying.
The story was semi-interesting although it was so simplistic that it was hard to get into it. There are some familiar faces that appear in the previous games which I thought would be a cool way to give some more backstory on them. However they’re really only there to show their faces before the real meat of the game continues so it just feels like a tease to those who enjoyed the story of Human Revolution. Probably the worst part about it is the huge, glaring TO BE CONTINUED at the end which means seems to indicate that this is going to be an episodic adventure although we’re fast approaching a year since its initial release with no more content in sight.
Deus Ex: The Fall is yet another unfortunate example of how mobile-first games simply don’t translate well into the PC world. It feels like the same amount of time and effort could have been dedicated to implement this as a DLC for Human Revolution, something which I think would’ve seen this story done a lot more justice than what it was on the mobile platform. I may be singing a different tune if I had played this through on my phone but the fact is this was made available through Steam as a game for the PC. In that regard it’s hard to not call it as it is, a bad port that needed a lot more work to even be mediocre.
Deus Ex: The Fall is available on Android, iOS and PC right now for $10.49, $7.49 and $9.99 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 4 hours of total play time with 57% of the achievements unlocked including the pacifist one even though I killed multiple people.
The gold standard for stealth game play has, and probably always will be, the original Thief series. It wasn’t that it was one of the first games to get stealth mechanics right, I believe that title belongs to the Metal Gear series (even though I’ve never played any of them), more that the blend of mechanics, cues and emphasis on finesse rather than force made the series stand out amongst its peers. It’s been a very long time between drinks for the series though with the last title, Thief: Deadly Shadows, being released almost a decade ago. The latest instalment, Thief, is an attempt to reboot the series for a modern audience something which may be at odds at the long time fans of the master thief Garret
After taking a job from Basso, Garrett’s only friend and contact for all this nefarious and underworldly, you find yourself atop a glorious manor accompanied by your former apprentice Erin. However something doesn’t feel right about this particular job as you witness something strange, an otherworldly ritual that shakes the very world. You’re just about to pull out when Erin, who was watching the ritual from on top of a glass dome, falls. You try to save her but it’s too late and she falls down right into the middle of the ritual, disappearing from sight. Suddenly it’s a year later and you have no recollection of what has happened.
Thief certainly impresses graphically as all the environments pack in an incredible amount of detail, something which is key to the core game play mechanics. There’s atmospheric and lighting effects everywhere which can turn some of the most dull environments into wonderful screenshot bait. Having said all that I feel like it could’ve been better as whilst they’re definitely on the upper end of the scale there are some sections where it’s obvious that sacrifices had to be made for the large number of platforms that were targeted. This did mean that I rarely had any performance issues but I’m usually happy to sacrifice that for a little more eye candy.
Unsurprisingly Thief is a stealth game, one where the objective of your current quest can be completed in a variety of different ways. The tools you have at your disposal are wide and varied, ranging from tools that will help keep you concealed to weapons of massive destruction. There’s also two different upgrade systems that allow you to tailor Garrett’s abilities to your play style of choice allowing you to become the master of the shadows or a brutal predator that lurks around every corner. Indeed whilst Thief’s pedigree is in stealthy game play either play style seems viable, even a mix of both if either one of them starts to wear on you.
In terms of retaining the trademark feel that all Thief games have this latest instalment does it quite well. Whilst the environments aren’t exactly massive open world sandboxes like Assassin’s Creed there’s enough back alleys, secret pathways and rooms with tantalizingly locked doors to make the maps feel a lot bigger than they actually are. Thief certainly rewards players who take the time to go over everything with a fine tooth comb which I’m sure a lot of players will find rewarding. On the flip side it never feels like this is a necessary part of the game as you’ll find more than enough resources to keep you going if you just meander off the beaten trail once in a while. Whilst this might annoy the purists the inclusion of a custom difficulty mode turns this optional but rewarding task into a necessity, something which should keep them at bay.
The combat in Thief is understandably lacklustre, mostly because it’s obvious that out and out fighting isn’t the game’s preferred way of completing objectives. This is in stark contrast to other similar stealth games of recent memory (most notably Dishonored) where both paths were somewhat viable. You’ve still got the choice of killing or knocking people out to achieve your objective but should you find yourself discovered there’s really no way to get yourself out of that situation without finding a nearby hidey hole. I don’t necessarily count this against Thief as out and out combat is not what the series, nor the genre itself, is usually about. The option is there but its a blunt instrument in comparison to all the other tools you have at your disposal.
The stealth, on the other hand, is quite marvelous. With the highly detailed maps peppered with vents, corridors and passageways it’s guaranteed that every obstacle you encounter has multiple ways to bypass it. Indeed every time I found myself struggling with a particular section it was always because I wasn’t noticing the alternate path that was right before me, opening up options I didn’t know I had previously. There are some situations where trade offs have to be made though which can lead to some frustration but realistically it’s just about making the choice that’s right for your particular playstyle.
The game is well executed for the most part with no major bugs or glitches to report however the control scheme does feel a little bit awkward. Using the lean out ability can be a real exercise in frustration, especially if you wanted to pick something up from a chest or box instead of peeking around it. The same can be said for cancelling things, which can be right click or another key, leading to some heat of the moment confusion. Additionally dropping off a rope can’t be done with space if there’s no nearby ledge and instead must be done with X. It just feels like the interface lacks consistency and makes the more routine parts of the game harder than they need to be. This is somewhat excusable in survival horror games but it’s also one of the reasons that I have a tendency to dislike that genre.
Thief’s story is decidedly middle of the road sharing some similar threads to those of previous instalments in the series (secret society conspiracies laced with bits of magic) but there’s nothing particularly memorable about it. The initial build up in the opening scenes is far too short for us to have any emotional investment in the main characters and seems to rely on our previous experiences with the series to derive most of its impact. It simply doesn’t work as the vast majority of people playing this game haven’t been involved with the Thief series for the better part of a decade and much of the detail is lost to the ages. I’m a firm believer that a good story can make up for nearly any shortcomings that a game might have but unfortunately for Thief that isn’t the case and it’s lucky that it’s so strong mechanically.
F or a series that hasn’t seen a release in 10 years Thief delivers a solid game play experience, modernizing many mechanics without incurring the usual penalty of simplifying them too greatly for mass adoption. Thief doesn’t rely heavily on its pedigree in order to deliver a good experience, being able to create its own distinct identity through it’s well executed game mechanics. Unfortunately the story is the giant black mark on an otherwise highly polished experience, leaving this and many other reviewers wanting. Still it’s hard for me to recommend against playing Thief as it really is a solid game, just don’t play it for the story.
Thief is available right now on PC, Xbox360, XboxOne, PlayStation3 and PlayStation4 right now for $49.99, $79.95, $99.995, $79.95 and $99.95 respectively. Game was played on the PC on the Thief difficulty with 11 hours of total play time and 35% of the achievements unlocked.
It’s been a while since a good stealth game has crossed my path with many of the games that I’ve played recently including stealth as a tacked on aspect that doesn’t add much to the game play at all. Indeed stealth mechanics are notoriously difficult to get just right as it’s quite easy to make it completely ineffective or, by virtue of making the stealth so powerful, nullify other aspects of the game. The Splinter Cell series of games might never have been considered the pinnacle of stealth game play (I think Deus Ex and Thief take the cake there) but they were most assuredly one of the few games that got stealth mechanics right and Blacklist is no exception.
Splinter Cell: Blacklist puts you back in the shoes of Sam Fischer, long time black ops agent who’s regularly tasked with missions that require the utmost discretion. On what seems to be a routine trip out of Andersen Air Base quickly turns south as an unknown assailant lays siege to the entire base, taking down the chopper that Sam and his old friend, Victor Coste, were in. It’s soon revealed that the people behind the attack are calling themselves The Engineers and their goal is nothing short of the USA pulling all their troops out of every foreign country. Should the USA not comply they’ll have 7 days before the next attack will occur, that is unless Fischer can stop them.
Right off the bat Blacklist impresses with its top class visuals, easily surpassing many titles of the same generation. Whilst you’ll be predominately spending most of your time in the dark (should you choose to play that way) there are numerous times when you’ll find yourself gawking at the lush scenery or the incredible amounts of detail in the environments. This plays heavily into the fact that the environment is as much of a weapon against your enemies as your large arsenal is as these detail environments will provide you with dozens of paths and opportunities to complete sections as you see fit. This is only made better by the solid voice acting by all of the characters, adding another level of depth that I honestly wasn’t expecting from Blacklist.
Whilst Blacklist is primarily designed as a stealth action game its essentially 3 different games in one, all of which are available depending on how you want to play it out. Blacklist does encourage you to take the hardest road (fully stealth, don’t kill anyone) by making that the most rewarding path however if you’d prefer to play it a bit quicker by switching to lethal take downs that path is also quite viable. Then, should your inner Call of Duty fan be rattling his cage, you can then switch to full out run and gun mode leaving a trail of destruction in your wake. This path comes with the least rewards however but you’d rarely find yourself wanting should you decide to play it this way.
As a fan of the stealth genre I tried my best to stick to the fully undetected, non-lethal take down approach which is by far the most challenging way to play the game. It takes a little while to get used to the way enemies react to you, figuring out how long you can stay in their line of sight before you’ll be detected, but once you’ve got a feel for it the system provides enough challenge without making it feel like you’re against a race of super soldiers with heightened senses.However you’re more likely to make the game far more challenging if you’re trying to stick to a couple goals (no kill, completely undetected) as one mistake can lead to you needing to use tactics that will go counter to your plan.
Although your job does become a lot easier as you start to unlock better gear, especially when it comes to the tactical goggles on your head. They start off just being your run of the mill night vision goggles but after a couple upgrades they give you see-through-the-wall capability which turns you into a super hero like agent. It’s balanced by the fact that they don’t ping out when you’re moving, so you can get yourself into tight situations if you don’t take the time to stop and look around, but if your aim is to go full stealth then you’re best bet is to drop as much cash as you can into the goggles early and look to upgrading other things later.
If you’re going to take the Panther approach (stealth killing rather than stealth knock outs) then you’re probably better off investing in some of the more powerful weapons so that you can take out enemies more efficiently. It’s in this aspect that you’re somewhat spoiled for choice as there are literally dozens of alternatives for the 2 primary slots which will be candy to those achievement hunters who love to unlock everything. Personally since I was going for the min-max approach there was really only a couple weapons that would suit me and by far the best ones are the prototype weapons that are unlocked by upgrading the weapons lab. Some of the others might be better for other situations but considering how powerful the prototype assault rifle was you’d be hard pressed to find anything better, honestly.
I’ll admit that I skipped all but the story missions as they seemed to be the most interesting out of the lot. There’s a bunch of co-op and multiplayer missions that you can do for extra cash and gear unlocks however the gear I had as part of the game bundle I bought meant I didn’t find myself wanting for a lot of it. This is probably my main criticism I’ll level at Blacklist as the fact that I spent a couple extra bucks on the game meant I was able to skip a lot of content because I didn’t feel compelled to pursue any of the additional unlocks. I understand this won’t be the case for everyone however it does bring into the question of single player balance and the use of potentially game breaking rewards for those who elect to pay a company a few dollars extra.
The story of Blacklist isn’t going to win any awards but I did feel that it had a depth to it that many comparable FPS or stealth games lacked. Instead of simply being sent on a mission to take out person X or stop terrorist attack Y from happening all the missions have a wealth of background behind them, with many of the characters being acutely aware of the impact their actions could have on the wider geopolitical landscape. It’s probably even better for those who’ve played the previous Splinter Cell titles (I can only vaguely remember playing one, Pandora Tomorrow I think) as many of the characters were featured previously.
Splinter Cell: Blacklist is an excellent example of a modern day stealth title, giving the player a great degree of freedom in playing the game out how they see fit. The stealth is done exceptionally well with every level having dozens of alternative paths so that you can craft your own way through. Even the sections where you’re forced into run and gun combat feel great which leads me to believe that even if you played Blacklist as a traditional FPS it’d still rate up there as a great game. Blacklist then is a title I can help but recommend especially if you’re a fan of the stealth genre.
Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Blacklist is available on PC, Xbox360, PlayStation3 and WiiU right now for $59.99, $78, $78 and $78 respectively. Game was played on the PC on Normal difficulty with 10.7 hours of total play time.
Working from an established, non-game IP is usually a risky move for a game developer. If you’re working on a game that’s based directly off a movie chances are that you’ll barely get a look in with most gamers and your development time will be constrained by the movie’s release date which usually ends up with a lackluster product. Things like comics and novels are a little safer (and have produced far more hits than movie tie ins) however you still run the risk of alienating fans of the original material. Metro: Last Light is the sequel to Metro 2033 which was based on a novel of the same name. However this title apparently bears little resemblance to the story of Metro 2034 and instead continues the story of Artyom, the main character from the previous game.
Metro: Last Light is set 20 years into the future after Moscow had been turned into a radioactive wasteland by an undisclosed enemy. Those who survived were driven underground by the radiation, finding shelter in the city’s vast metro system and, over time, making it their new home. Several factions have arisen to claim parts of the Metro for their own purposes and have been locked in conflict ever since. You play as Artyom, one of the Rangers who have sworn to protect all life in the Metro and the one who was responsible for destroying the Dark Ones, a strange humanoid race that appeared not long after the bombings ended. However one of them still remains and you’ve been sent to reclaim him by any means possible.
Visually Metro: Last Light can be quite impressive when it wants to be (as the below screenshot will attest) but unfortunately you’ll spend the majority of your time in the many assorted tunnels of the metro. I can’t fault the game for this, since that’s what it’s all about, but it does mean that much of the visual aspect of the game is lost to the small environments. Cranking everything up to max brought my PC to its knees but it was extremely playable after minor tweaks to a few settings as the auto-detection system seems to get most things bang on.
The game play of Metro: Last Light is a curious blend of stealth and first person shooter with both options being equally viable. The stealth parts are quite Thief like in nature with a visibility indicator that let’s you know when enemies can see you which is based primarily on how illuminated you are. From a first person shooter perspective it’s pretty run of the mill, with all the weapons functioning pretty much as you’d expect them to, but there’s a few variations which can be quite helpful in certain situations, especially if you’re preferring stealth over out and out combat.
Indeed after the spectacular fail that was Mars: War Logs’ stealth system it was refreshing to play one that, whilst not having the depth of other stealth first games like Dishonored, added some additional depth to your typical run and gun FPS. The mechanics of it are fairly rudimentary, if you’re standing in direct light enemies can see you and if not you’re essentially invisible, but there’s a definite amount of strategy involved if you’re trying to avoid combat. This usually involves taking out strategic lights so you can maneuver around guards to take them out or, as I accidentally found out, causing a ruckus in one area then slinking off into the shadows. You’re also given the choice between knocking out or killing people when they’re unaware of you but as far as I could tell this choice has 0 effect on anything.
Whilst the stealth is good the regular shooting combat is a little lackluster, owing mostly to the encounter design. You see there are many sections where you simply can’t stealth, usually when you’re facing mutants rather than other humans, and in order for them to provide some challenge they usually just throw wave after wave of them at you. This is the same problem that Dragon Age 2 suffered from as you can’t really formulate a strategy before you start the encounter. This usually leads to you running around in circles whilst reloading, hoping that another enemy doesn’t spawn which will usually lead to your untimely death.
The upgrade/currency system is also somewhat moot as whilst it does give you some sense of progression you’re much better off not spending any of your money on new weapons or upgrades as you’ll find guns with them scattered everywhere. I remember picking up the air rifle early on and found it was great for shooting out lights at a distance and so I spent quite a lot of rounds on upgrading it for just that purpose. However not an hour later did I find another one with all the upgrades on it and from then on I simply didn’t bother buying the upgrades, I just waited until I found a weapon with them on it. It’s probably better to do it this way since you’re limited to 3 guns and sometimes you’ll be out of ammo for your weapon of choice, so you’re better off ditching one in favour of another which you have a full pack of ammo for.
The level of polish in Metro: Last Light is commendable with the only bug I encountered during my playthrough being some texture/terrain glitches that did little more than to distract me for a couple seconds. I will gripe about the interface though as whilst I can appreciate the “realism” of some parts of it having to press and hold M to bring up your objective pad which then can’t be put back down by hitting M again feels a little cumbersome. Also, whilst I lamented to the use of C for crouch initially, most FPS games now use this as default whilst Metro: Last Light uses it for throwing your secondary weapon (CTRL is crouch, like in the old days). These are minor gripes, things that you overcome after a couple hours of game play, but it certainly didn’t endear Metro: Last Light to me early on.
The story of Metro: Last Light has been a major selling point for it with it being touted as a “story first FPS”. This is quite true, almost to the point of frustration, as there can be very long sequences where Artyom and his comrades talk endlessly about plot points which you can’t skip past (I’m sure I’m not alone in being able to read the subtitles faster than people can talk). It does help to give you an insight into the character’s motivations, something which sequels like this usually miss out on due to their reliance on the previous title. Metro: Last Light does a fantastic job for people like me who haven’t played the original and whilst the story can drag at times when you’re just chomping at the bit to get into the action it’s well above par for what I’ve come to expect from a modern day FPS.
Whilst Metro: Last Light has been billed as a story first game I feel that it’s more of a balanced experience with the gameplay and story complementing each other quite well. There’s no one particular feature of Metro: Last Light that makes it worth playing, no it’s more the combination of several, above average elements that meld together well to produce an experience that very much greater than the sum of its parts. It might not be game of the year material but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a great game experience by itself, something which sequels usually struggle to accomplish without relying heavily on their predecessors.
Metro: Last Light is available on Xbox360, PlayStation 3 (and apparently the PS4 when it comes out) and PC right now for $88, $88 and $69.99 respectively. Game was played on the PC on normal mode, hard difficulty with 8 hours total play time and 31% of the achievements unlocked.
I’ve had a few people ask me how I come across some of the games that I review here and the answer is pretty simple. If I haven’t seen something that’s been on a lot of review sites (I don’t read the reviews, but if a game keeps popping up that’s a sign it might be worth a look in) then they usually come from me trawling through the new releases section on Steam. From there I work my way through the titles, looking for something that can capture my attention with just a few screenshots and possibly a short video. Mars: War Logs was one of these although it was more for the dev story behind it as Spiders isn’t a particularly large studio but they seemed really dedicated to creating a good game.
Mars: War Logs takes place in the distant future where humans have successfully colonized Mars. A hundred years ago however there was a great upheaval which devastated the colonies and lead to the rise of two opposing factions: Aurora and Abundance. Ever since then they’ve been locked in an ongoing battle for control of the world’s water supply, by far the most valuable resource. You play as Roy Temperance, a prisoner of war who’s caught between the two factions, trying to hide from his past that continues to haunt him.
The aesthetic of Mars: War Logs is reminiscent of many current gen third person titles with infinite shades of brown and grey colouring the world. Although this time around it kind of fits thanks to the world that it’s built in even though it has the unfortunate effect of making every place you go feel a little samey. The graphics are good but not great, which becomes quite noticeable when they’re combined with the rudimentary lip synching and low resolution motion capture. Honestly I’ve seen worse from other recently released titles so I won’t be too harsh on it for that but it’s hard not to draw comparisons to the many other, astoundingly better looking games.
Surprisingly though there’s quite a lot under the hood of Mars: War Logs in terms of gameplay, something you don’t usually expect from smaller RPG titles. The combat is mostly whacking other people with metal poles until they fall down with the added strategy element of blocking/dodging incoming attacks. There’s also a stealth system which allows you to sneak up on unsuspecting enemies, although how crouching down counts as stealth is beyond me. They’ve even incorporated a talent tree, crafting system and character perks allowing you a pretty decent amount of customization to how you play Mars: War Logs. This is a lot for a small dev studio to cram into a game and that unfortunately means that there’s a lot of depth lacking from many of these mechanics and some of them are still plagued by bugs that should have been picked up in QA.
For starters the combat, whilst somewhat engaging and enjoyable at certain points, varies wildly between being so easy that its almost pointless to being so hard that you’ll spend the majority of your time rolling around just so can whittle enemies down a couple hits at a time. This is because there’s no dynamic scaling of enemy difficulty and it only increases at certain points, usually at the start of a new section. The pacing of the game then becomes highly disjointed as you can be breezing through the last half of a particular section only to hit a brick wall at the beginning of the next, rather than having a gradual ramp up in the challenge. Some would argue that this is part of the strategy but in all honesty it’s just sloppy design, especially when “challenging” means that you lose the majority of your health in a couple hits.
The stealth system is a complete joke as whilst you can sneak around the benefits of doing so are minimal at best. When you’re first introduced to it stealthing up to an enemy and hitting them doesn’t take them out, it just takes away a good portion of their health. Of course that means that after doing that all the enemies close by will aggro forcing you to go toe to toe with them anyway. Now I didn’t invest any points in the stealth abilities so this could be somewhat improved by that but that tree is also the weakest out of the 3 when you consider that, no matter how well you stealth, you will eventually have to fight everything. I think Spiders would’ve been much better off skipping this feature altogether to focus more on the core of the game as it really adds nothing in its current form.
Although there’s a talent tree with 3 different styles to choose from only 2 of them are available to you from the start, with one of them being the aforementioned weakest of them all stealth one. This means that you’re kind of shoe horned into spending points into one specific tree (melee combat) and thus can’t take full advantage of the third tree (technomancy) until much later in the game. However even if you wanted to I don’t think it’d be very viable as the amount of damage output you need later in the game can really only come from charged melee weapons, unless you want to spend 20 minutes running around waiting for your fluid (mana) levels to regen.
The crafting system is equal parts good and complete crap thanks to the massive overabundance of materials that you’ll find in every area. Essentially you can craft a couple things like health packs and ammunition but the real power of the crafting system comes from upgrading your armor and weapons. Now not all weapons and armor can be upgraded so that really expensive top tier armor might look great but it’s in fact completely inferior to anything that comes with upgrade slots. This has the unfortunate consequence of making the vast majority of items irrelevant as anything that lacks upgrades is most certainly not worth it.
After the first section you’ll almost never be out of materials for crafting things you need, especially if you’re a veteran RPGer and seek out all the free stuff like I did. What this meant was that whenever upgrades became available (usually after having to run the gauntlet at the start where everything is stupid hard again) I was able to purchase them and then instantly upgrade them to their maximum. There are no rare items to be found or obtained from quests so literally the highest damage/armor item you can buy from the vendor is the best item you will ever see. If you’re low on serum there’s a good chance you have a ton of materials that you can pilfer for serum in order to get the upgrade and in fact you’re probably better off doing that then trying to convert resources as typically you’ll get more if you sell said items to the vendor then buy back the ones you need.
Most of this would be forgivable however these are just some of the more obvious structural flaws that Mars: War Logs has. The interface is confused and doesn’t operate as you’d expect with fun quirks like: doors mostly requiring left click but sometimes pressing R, the attack button (left click, again) is also the loot button, pressing quick buttons for things like menus twice doesn’t minimize them and whilst you can assign 0~9 for powers you can only ever see the first 4 unless you go into the power wheel again. This is not to mention the issues with the incredibly stupid AI, both for your companion and the enemy, which routinely gets stuck on all sorts of terrain. Not only that many of their abilities are capable of friendly fire, leading to some incredibly frustrating moments where they inadvertently kill you. I’m hoping that it was intentional otherwise it’s yet another point where Mars: War Logs differs from the norm and not in a good way.
As always I could forgive nearly all of this if the story was worth anything but sadly, it’s not. Most of the lines are delivered completely flat in rapid fire fashion which, combined with the poor lip synching, makes for a jarring experience. It also doesn’t help that the characters have as much depth as a children’s pool with many of them changing their motivations on a whim. My particular love interest, Mary, went from murderous rage to sympathetic follower in less than 4 sentences and the resulting relationship could not have been anymore shallow. Indeed the game’s one attempt at invoking emotion feels incredibly cheap and only serves to anger the player.
Objectively Mars: War Logs is a decidedly B grade game with fundamental flaws riddling the core mechanics which, combined with the many other problems can make for a frustrating experience. There were times I had fun with it, especially when I got my build up to the seriously broken level, but unfortunately that wasn’t enough to make up for the numerous flaws. I commend Spiders for trying, I really do, but it just goes to show that sometimes you need to cut back on your ambitions a bit in order to solidify the core aspects of the game. I totally understand where they wanted to go with this but unfortunately it falls short of that goal, leaving us with a game that feels like it was halfway towards something great.
Mars: War Logs is available on PC, Xbox360 and PlayStation3 right now for $19.99. Game was played on the Hard difficulty setting with 9 hours total play time and 71% of the achievements unlocked.