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.
Long time readers will know that I’m not much of a fan of DLC as those little extra tid bits of gameplay are rarely worth the price of admission, usually only adding small amount of extra game time and little more to the overall story. Still there are some that capture my attention like the Missing Link DLC for Deus Ex and the Knife of Dunwall DLC for Dishonored is another. This can wholly be attributed to the single image they used to market it, showing a view from a rooftop showing the main character of Dishonored in the pivotal opening scene. Since that whole side of the plot remains something of a mystery to you during the main game the possibility of playing the other side was just too good to resist and I snapped it up on release.
But there’s a reason why I’m only getting around to reviewing it today.
The events of Knife of Dunwall take place alongside those of Dishonored, telling the story of Daud the master assassin who is responsible for killing the Queen and stealing her daughter away. The DLC starts just after that pivotal scene where it’s revealed that Daud is one of the Outsider’s chosen, just like Corvo, except that his powers differ slightly from that of protagonist from the main game. The Outsider also reveals that Daud’s life will soon come to a close but before that will happen he is given a clue, a single word “Delilah”.
Now I’ll be completely honest here, when I first saw the screenshot that announced the Knife of Dunwall DLC I figured that it would centre around the events that lead up to the Queen’s death, letting you plan out your route and ultimately deal the final deadly blow. Instead you’re dumped in right after those events, with the introduction being one of a myriad of comic book panel styled cut scenes that depicts your role in Dishonored’s key moment. I will admit that this disappointed me greatly as whilst it’s cool to see part of the story that you didn’t really have an insight into I really wanted to play that particular scene from the other side, as I’m sure anyone who played Dishonored would.
Like most DLCs Knife of Dunwall doesn’t deviate too much from its parent game, keeping the vast majority of key mechanics whilst introducing some new powers and reworking other elements to fit Daud’s story. All of the core abilities are still there, like blink and most of the mechanical arsenal you had, but there’s also the addition of new skills and weapons that can change the gameplay significantly. Again you can make the choice of playing it as a guns blazing ruthless killer or a hide in the shadows humanist who doesn’t kill anyone. If I’m honest Knife of Dunwall seemed to urge you to be more of a killer than anything else, but that could just be due to my frustration with some of the other elements.
Since there’s no hometown for Daud like there is for Corvo in Dishonored you’re instead presented with an upgrades screen before every mission. This means you’re essentially picking your play style before you start which is probably a good thing considering how short the DLC is and forcing you to do the same level of work in order to get the same upgrades as you had in Dishonored would just be tedious. You also have the option of purchasing favours which will make certain sections of the missions easier or provide you with upgrades. They’re usually worth it too, save for one in the last mission that didn’t seem to help at all.
Knife of Dunwall plays somewhat similarly to Dishonored with the core mission structure and numerous possible paths to get to it being par for the course. As I mentioned before, and somewhat similarly to Dishonored itself, whilst you can do the entire thing without killing anyone (apart from a few at key points) Knife of Dunwall seems to try its darndest to get you to use lethal force most of the time. There are many sections where you’ll be confronted with a couple enemies that don’t move and you’ll be forced to either sleep dart both of them (something which you can only do a limited number of times) or go rambo and just mow them all down. Whilst I tried my best to be sneaky I got fed up with it after a while and just started going to town on everyone and I have to admit it was pretty fun.
The additional insight you gain into Daud’s motives and origins is nice however the plot is a little lackluster, possibly due to the heavy amount of foreshadowing that the Outsider gives you. It’s certainly not terrible and the voice acting is above games of similar calibre which helps it tremendously as even the best plot can be ruined by flat delivery. It’s quite possible that my impression is heavily tainted by my expectations of what the Knife of Dunwall would and wouldn’t include however.
For a DLC Knife of Dunwall provides a decent extension to Dishonored, providing multiple hours of gameplay that’s different enough from the core game so that you don’t feel like you’re retreading the same ground again. Whilst I may have fallen prey to the hype machine of my own head I still can’t refute that it’s a solid addition to Dishonored, expanding on the idea and giving some insight into the main plot. It probably wasn’t worth the price I paid for it and whilst $10 is semi reasonable I’d probably recommend holding off until its on sale unless you’re desperate for more Dishonored action.
Dishonored: Knife of Dunwall is available on PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox360 right now for $9.99 or an equivalent amount of points. Total game time was approximately 3 hours.
As long time readers will know I’m a big fan of Crytek’s flagship series Crysis as it’s one of the few no-holds-barred PC games when it comes to ratcheting up the graphics to insane levels. It harks back to the golden era of PC gaming where every new title attempted to do exactly that, pushing the boundaries of the hardware so hard that yearly upgrade cycles were not only desirable, they were almost required. The consolization of PC games took a heavy bat to this idea and strangely enough even Crysis 2 fell prey to it somewhat with my rather mediocre PC at the time being able to run it perfectly (and admittedly it was still quite good for its time). When Crytek announced that Crysis 3 would be a returning to its roots with insane levels of graphics I was incredibly excited and I’m glad to say that they didn’t disappoint.
Crysis 3 takes place 24 years after the incidents in Crysis 2. Prophet, in reality the amalgam of Alcatraz and the remaining memories of the original Prophet that the NanoSuit stored, has been in stasis for the past 2 decades since CELL captured captured him. You’re broken out of your prison by Psycho, one of your former suit buddies who’s been stripped of his NanoSuit. You find out that CELL has been using some Ceph technology to generate unlimited amounts of energy and has used that to enslave most of the world in crippling amounts of debt. Psycho, saved by people in the resistance, needs your help in order to take them down. As you start to dig into CELL’s activities however the real plan becomes apparent and it becomes clear that only you are able to stop them.
The technology under the hood of Crysis 3 is the same as Crysis 2 so you can imagine I was a little sceptical as to how much of an improvement they could make in the 2 years since their last release. Figuring that my still semi-new upgrade would be up to the task I cranked everything up to its highest, leaving only the anti-aliasing at a tame 2x. What resulted afterwards can only be described as slide show, a very pretty one but it ran so slow that many of the models glitched out and it was essentially unplayable. Dialling back the settings to their recommended levels turned that slideshow into a much more playable game and what a game it is.
Every screenshot you’ll see in this review was taken in game with most of the settings at 1~2 notches below the maximum possible. The level of detail is simply amazing with all models being of the level I’ve come to expect from most game’s cutscenes rather than their in game representations. Crysis 3 makes use of the entire DirectX 11 feature set and does regular things like motion blur, specular highlights and bump mapping better than any other game I’ve played recently. Whilst the framerate wasn’t the greatest in large outdoor areas it was absolutely butter in small to medium sized zones and it was so good that I almost feel like upgrading my PC again just to how Crysis 3 would fair if had room to stretch its legs.
Suffice to say that Crytek has really returned to form with Crysis 3′s graphics.
For those who’ve played Crysis 2 the game play will be very familiar to you with the NanoSuit design staying basically the same as it did in the previous game. You have 3 modes available to you: regular, armoured and cloaked which you can switch between at will. Armoured mode drains energy when you get hit by various things and cloaked mode slowly drains away energy whilst your standing still and even more when you move around. These two active modes are essentially the two ways of completing any obstacle that you might face in Crysis 3: either by stealth or by raw fire power.
Whilst there might be a choice available to you it does seem like Crysis 3 would prefer you to go with one over the other. Right at the beginning you’re given what amounts to the biggest change between Crysis 2 and 3′s combat: the compound bow. Essentially it functions like a backup weapon as it doesn’t count towards one of your 2 regular weapons but like them its customizable with different ammo types and scopes. The key difference between the bow and other weapons however is the fact that upon using it you will still stay cloaked, allowing you to take out enemies with ease and drastically increasing the amount of time you can remained cloaked. Couple this with the fact that the primary type of arrows you can use (impact) can be picked up after you use them you essentially a weapon that’s got unlimited ammunition, kills in one hit and allows you to stealth around everywhere without getting caught. Running and gunning seems rather moronic by comparison.
This is only amplified by the upgrade system which allows you to beef up aspects of the NanoSuit to fit your play style. Whilst its entirely possible to make yourself nigh on indestructible the upgrades for stealth users simply magnifying the already over powered combo of cloak plus bow. Indeed for quite a while I was running around with just the stealth upgrades and multitudes of points available to me. I ended up spending them just before a particular boss fight that required me to go toe to toe with it but I actually found that using stealth was a viable option once I had worked out the fight a little more. This may be due to the difficulty level I was playing on however and I’m sure at easier levels run and gunning would be more viable.
Crysis 3, whilst still technically being an on-rails shooter, does retain the non-linear variations for each section that help to keep it from being yet another corridor shooter. When you’re moving between sections there’s definitely only one path that you can progress through however in those sections there’s usually additional objectives that you can go for which will assist you in getting to the primary objective. For instance there’s one section where two giant walkers are blocking your path. Now on the ground nearby there’s a ton of RPGs scattered about so with a little bit of legwork you could probably take them down. However there’s also a nearby mortar team that’s in need of assistance and should you help them out they’ll let you tag targets which they can then take out for you.
The vehicle sections feel tacked on, almost as if they’re only there to serve as an introduction into what will be available in multi-player. Whilst I applaud their use of larger-than-life maps they only seem to be there to facilitate the inclusion of the speedy Half Life 2-esque dune buggy. I will admit that the optional tank section was pretty fun but it was cut brutally short, right before a time where it would have been a hell of a lot of fun to blast a whole bunch of Ceph out of the skies. This was followed shortly after by an on-rails vehicle section putting you as the gunner which was frankly suicidal as all the Ceph aircraft targeted you instantly and your mounted gun was highly ineffective against them. I’d prefer that these sections stayed in and were revamped rather than them being removed however but they really do feel out of place with the rest of Crysis 3.
There’s also few bugs and glitches to speak of although it pains me to say that at least one of the issues that plagued Crysis 2 are still present in 3. Some guns, for example, will simply not be able to be picked up which can be pretty devastating should you not be able to swap a weapon out for a particular section. The graphics glitches appear to only happen if you’re stressing your hardware too much and disappear the second you revert them to more sane settings. The vehicles are mostly fine except for one part when my tank slowly started turning itself over and then eventually capsized for no apparent reason. Getting out of the vehicle seemed to let it right itself however but the behaviour was still very odd.
I was all ready to pan the story as for the first couple hours there’s really no tension, character development or anything that made me feel for the characters. This all changes later on as the voice acting seems to improve a lot, especially towards the end when certain reveals ramp up the tension between the characters. It’s not an emotional roller coaster like other, more story focused games but it was unexpectedly good for an on rails shooter. They also thankfully avoided the extremely obvious “INCOMING SEQUEL” stuff which plagued Crysis 2, but the current story wraps up well with enough leeway that a sequel is possible without it being obnoxious.
Crysis 3 is simply stunning; a visual masterpiece coupled with highly refined game play that we’ve come to expect from the people at Crytek. There’s no doubt that the graphics are what makes this game so impressive as Crysis 3 is probably the only game that demonstrates the full capability of DirectX 11 on the PC platform today. It’d all be for naught however if the rest of the game didn’t stand on its own however and I’m glad that it does otherwise it’d just be another tech demo ala ID’s Rage. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Crysis 3 and I’d encourage anyone who’s still a dedicated PC gamer to spend some time with it, if only to see how capable your rig really is.
Crysis 3 is available on PC, Xbox360 and PlayStation 3 right now for $69.99, $98 and $98 respectively. Game was played entirely on the PC on the second hardest difficultly with a total of 7 hours played.
The simplicity of 2D platformer games must be really liberating for developers, especially small time independent ones. I say this because it seems that I’ve played a lot of games this year that fit into that genre and the amount of innovative game ideas that I’ve seen has really surprised me. These were the titles I grew up on and they were, for the most part, usually a small variation on the original Duke Nukem idea. One thing I didn’t expect was the introduction of stealth based game play something which has traditionally been contained to 3D games. Mark of the Ninja blends stealth along with puzzle solving and platforming to form a pretty unique game experience, one that doesn’t really have anything that I can directly compare it to.
Unlike most ninja games which take place in feudal Japan Mark of the Ninja is set during present day. You, an unnamed ninja, were receiving your first tattoo which would grant you special powers when you passed out. A short while later a fellow ninja, named Ora, wakes you up as the ninja stronghold is under attack by a security agency headed by a man named Karajan. After rescuing your fellow ninjas as well as your master, Azai, you’re then sent on a mission of vengeance against Karajan for the atrocities that he committed against your clan.
Mark of the Ninja has a style to it that’s reminiscent of all those flash animations of yesteryear but there’s a level of refinement about it that many of those lacked. The cut scenes for example feel like they came straight out of a professional animation house and wouldn’t be out of place in any cartoon you’d see on a Saturday morning. There’s also incredible amounts of detail everywhere from the interactive area which is littered with all sorts of things to the backgrounds which are done exceptionally well. This blends exceptionally well with the music and foley which provides a very detailed soundscape to compliment the impressive art work.
Mark of the Ninja is primarily a stealth game and its implementation in the 2D, platformer world is quite an interesting one. For starters unlike most 2D games Mark of the Ninja includes a line of sight mechanic which forms a big part of any stealth game. This means that you’ll spend the vast majority of your time walking between shadows, dodging guards where you can, so you can either sneak up behind guards and dispatch them quickly or just move on leaving them none-the-wiser. If it so pleases you though you can go toe to toe with every guard you meet however and there are some sections which will be far easier (and quicker) should you choose to do that.
Initially you start off with only a few tools at your disposal, namely your sword and bamboo darts that can be used to take out lights and other fixtures. As the game progresses you unlock additional abilities and equipment that allow for a much wider range of actions, enabling you do things like terrify your enemies by laying spike traps or dangling corpses from the room for all to see. All these options will mean that your play through is almost guaranteed to not be the same as anyone else’s as there just so many ways to go about doing the same thing.
Indeed that seems to be the whole point of Mark of the Ninja. Whilst it is primarily a 2D stealth platformer it also has many elements of a puzzler/exploration game as there are many rewards to be found by simply taking the least obvious path. I can’t tell you how many times I found artefacts/scrolls by going in the wrong direction or moving blocks in random ways. If you’re persistent enough too the most laborious of challenges can usually be circumvented by finding a path that leads around it or simply puts you behind the guards that were blocking your path. Mark of the Ninja then is a game that rewards the player for being curious but thankfully forgoes punishing you severely if you don’t.
The upgrade system bears mentioning as how many upgrades you can afford depends directly on: how many challenges you complete, your overall score and how many of the hidden scrolls you uncover. For each of these there are a potential 3 tokens up for grabs giving you a total of nine for each level. These can then be spent on various upgrades that either give you new abilities/equipment or upgrades to the ones you currently have. Depending on what you get this can completely change the way you play the game, especially if you combine these upgrades with one of the costumes which will grant you several benefits (usually at the cost of one particular trait).
This is usually the point where I mention any bugs or glitches that detracted from my game play experience but I’m pleased to report that there doesn’t seem to be any. Sure there were times when my character acted in a way I didn’t expect but its hard for me to blame the game for that as I get the feeling it was more me fat fingering the keys rather than the game engine wigging out on me. I did have some rather awkward checkpoint moments where it’d place me into locations that I hadn’t yet explored when reloading (which was actually great sometimes) putting me in rather precarious situations but it was nothing I couldn’t handle.
The story of Mark of the Ninja is also quite well done, especially considering it forgoes the usual ninja setting and instead brings the whole ninja idea into modern day. Whilst I didn’t really feel the levels of emotions like I did for things like To The Moon it certainly didn’t suffer from issues like poor voice acting, irrational characters or glaring plot holes like plagued other titles I’ve played recently. I will admit that I’m yet to finish it (I believe I’m on the second last mission) so I’m not sure about the ultimate conclusion but from what I’ve heard from my other friends they weren’t disappointed with it, so it has that going for it at least.
Mark of the Ninja effortlessly combines all the best aspects of 2D platformers with stealth game play to form a game that makes you feel like the ultimate ninja whilst still providing an incredibly satisfying challenge. The graphics are superbly done, the sound track excellent and above all the core game play is immensely satisfying. I could go on but really for a game that’s asking price is so low compared to its quality I’d rather just recommend you go out and play it since it’s really worth a play through.
Mark of the Ninja is available on PC and Xbox360 right now for $14.99 and an equivalent amount of Xbox points. Game was played on the PC with around 6 hours of total game time and 43% of the achievements unlocked.
There are few games where I feel confident in saying that the stealth aspect was done well. For recent titles it has often felt like something tacked on at the end after everything else had been done; a mini-game that serves to break up the monotony. It’s a real shame as many of the games that I played during my formative gaming years like Deus Ex, Thief and the like, had stealth sections that were superbly done. It seemed as if the game developers who were behind those titles just simply up and vanished, leaving behind those with only a modicum of understand of how to make stealth games enjoyable. Dishonored isn’t one of these titles and it makes me incredibly happy to put it in the same category as those seminal stealth titles.
Dishonored takes place in the Neo-Victorian steampunk world of Dunwall, a city that’s been ravaged by a plague of unknown origins turning many of the city’s districts into wastelands infest with rats and those on the brink of a gruesome death. You, as Korvo Attano, serve as the high empress’ body guard who was sent on a mission to get aid for the suffering town. However upon return the empress is murdered in front of you and her daughter taken away, leaving just you to take the fall for that horrendous deed. Dishonored then follows your story after your fall from grace as you fight to recover the empress’ daughter and clear your name.
To be completely honest I have to say that I was somewhat disappointed with the graphics of Dishonored. Whilst I had abstained from watching any gameplay videos so as to not taint my first impressions of it from the announcement videos I remember watching my expectations were built up around the idea that it would be a pretty modern looking title. This is not to say that they’re terrible graphics, far from it as you’ll see in many of the screenshots that follows, there were a few things that were so jarring that my immersion was broken completely. Talking to the NPCs comes to mind, although that could be from the camera locking to their face Oblivion style and having them death stare you down whilst you talk to them.
As I alluded to in the opening paragraph Dishonored is one of the games that does stealth right. Realistically there’s actually 2 completely different games to be played here (maybe 3, even): the first is your typical hide in the shadows and make your way to the objective and the second is a RPG/FPS hybrid where you can run and gun your way through it (the third type would be a varying mix between the two). Both of these play styles are completely viable too and in fact it would seem that you’d actually have a much easier time playing as the run and gun style rather than taking the stealthier route. That being said I found the stealth to be far more rewarding than hacking my way through everyone, but at no time did I feel forced into taking one option over the other.
Stealthing around is quite fun as whilst you’re not given a completely open world to explore like in Thief the sections you’re let loose in are quite detailed with multiple pathways to goals and endless places to explore for additional treasure. The magical abilities you can unlock as well (by searching out runes scattered across the levels) can enable you to do some really amazing things like taking possession of rats and then using them to get into places that would be otherwise inaccessible. It’s also quite thrilling to be hiding just inches away from enemies, watching their movements, moving in to strike and then later hear their allies remarking about where they might have gone.
Going toe-to-toe with every enemy you meet is surprisingly viable, something I didn’t really expect from a game that marketed itself primarily as a stealth based action game. The primary means of dealing out damage is a good old fashioned sword that comes hand in hand with the awkwardness that always plagues FPS games that try to include them. However you’re also given a great selection of other weapons to use such as a gun, crossbow, grenades and things that are essentially proximity mines that fling shrapnel everywhere. Considering the ridiculously plentiful ammunition that’s available everywhere you could very well play this entire game without having to bother with stealth at all and one of the achievements, Mostly Flesh and Steel (complete the game without any additional supernatural powers), seems to encourage this. There is the fact though that the more people you kill the more devastated the city becomes (and the darker the ending will be) so playing run and gun will have some consequences, but it does give Dishonored a decent amount of replayability.
There’s a 2 sided upgrade system that functions as Dishonored’s levelling system and up until a point it works quite well. The primarily upgrade system are runes which allow you to unlock and upgrade supernatural powers. Most of them are incredibly useful and primarily geared towards the players who prefer stealth over brawn. The second upgrade system is the mechanical one enabling you to improve all your non-magical powers as well as doing things like reducing the amount of noise your steps make. In the early game these upgrades can be the difference between finishing a mission and struggling with it endlessly but past a point there’s not much return on investment in tracking more runes or gold down.
For instance since I was playing as a stealth character nearly all the mechanical upgrades were pointless to me and since they use gold instead of runes I ended up having a pretty big surplus for most of the game. This is not because I tracked down all the gold I could find, far from it, its just that once you know what play style you’re going you can min/max your upgrades to make you perfectly fit for such objectives. For me this happened about half way through but a determined player could craft the ideal character after the first 3 missions or so. Sure I still invested in upgrades after that but they didn’t make a huge difference in how the game played for me and I could have just as easily left the runes and gold unspent.
Which brings me to another point. When I was first doing research on Dishonored (mostly looking for average play times) I found an article that said a direct run through would clock in at about 12~14 hours but also that players looking to explore would probably double that as there’d be a lot to find. Whilst the play time is incredibly inaccurate there is some truth to the exploration aspect as you can find many unique encounters if you’re willing to run, blink and jump all over the place. However most of the time the reward isn’t particularly worth it, usually being potions or ammo, and after a while I just stopped seeking them out as I was always maxed out on nearly everything and the only thing I couldn’t find I could buy in unlimited supply anyway. I’m sure there are many people who will get heaps of enjoyment out of seeking all these things out but for me it just didn’t feel worth it after about halfway through Dishonored.
The story of Dishonored is better than most games of similar calibre even if it’s something of a rehash of the typical falsely accused man who’s out to clear his name and make everything right. You at least have some form of agency in that your choice of actions influences both the world around you and how certain characters react to you which is what puts it above other games in the same genre. That being said I didn’t really feel anything for the characters or have a deep emotional involvement in the plot and I think that’s because of one simple thing: the terrible voice acting.
Nearly all of the lines delivered are flat, read in an almost emotionless monotone. It’s rather confusing as the written passages and notes scattered everywhere are quite good, so the writing itself isn’t bad, just the delivery. This is made worse by the canned questions and responses that are obviously heuristically lined up (“Shall we meet for whiskey and cigars tonight?” “Indeed, I believe it is so.”) but never seem to work quite right. There are some stand outs like Lady Boyle’s playful banter and the final soliloquy by the captain but apart from that everyone else could just as easily be a text to speech generator given their delivery. I’m not asking for L.A. Noire levels of emotional craziness but a little more emotion in the lines might’ve made me a bit more involved in the story than I was.
I was asked my opinion of the game several times over the course of playing it and it was interesting to see how it changed over the course of my play through. Initially I was disappointed, I had gotten swept up in the hype again and the initial impressions didn’t match up to my expectations. However as the game went on I found myself enjoying it more and really got into the stealth aspect of Dishonored. It’s probably not game of the year material as many of the major review sites would have you believe but it is an incredibly strong title and in a world where new IP is the hardest thing to market it’s really refreshing to see something like this come to market. For those of us who yearned for the return of the Thief era stealth games Dishonored pays excellent homage to them and is well worth the price of admission.
Dishonored is available on PC, Xbox360 and PS3 right now for $79.99, $78 and $78 respectively. Game was played entirely on the PC on the second hardest difficulty with around 8 hours played and 40% of the achievements unlocked giving the Low Chaos ending.
As a child that grew up in the late 80s/early 90s it should come as no surprise that I have a bit of a thing for the transformers franchise. I spent countless hours watching nearly all forms of the animated series and my parents would loathe to tell you just how much of their money I spent on the action figures. I can tell you now that whilst I didn’t mind the first of the recent movie adaptations I wasn’t as impressed with the instalments, only seeing them after they were released on DVD. You can then understand why I was somewhat tentative about the release of games within the Transformers franchise as whilst they’re not based directly on the movie they were almost certainly done in order to capitalize on their existence. Still there were many good reviews floating around and even my highly sceptical gamer friends were saying positive things about them so they couldn’t be half bad.
Transformers: Fall of Cybertron takes place long before the movies and starts with you, playing as Bumblebee, aboard the Autobot’s ark departing Cybertron after the last war ravaged the planet causing it to shut down. Fall of Cybertron then takes place through a series of flashbacks to the week leading up until the events at the start, showing the final battles upon Cybertron. You’ll play as both Autbots and Decepticons, giving you a feel for both side’s motivations. Eventually you’ll come full circle back to where the game originally started you at for a final epic battle between the two leaders of the Transformer armies.
Fall of Cybertron is a visually intensive game that has scenes ranging from wide open battlefields that seem to stretch on forever to claustrophobic corridors that you’ll barely be able to navigate around. The graphics aren’t exactly cutting edge, most likely due to this game being primarily designed for consoles, but it does quite well within those limitations. This is usually achieved through things like motion blur and extensive use of dynamic lighting, something which is extremely costly to do on a console but easily worked in for a PC port. Fall of Cybertron’s visual style is also a testament to the idea that bright colours help keep a game visually interesting for extended periods of time as I didn’t once feel like I was trudging through a repetitive environment.
Right off the bat I got the feeling that Fall of Cybertron was very similar play style to another action/shooter game, namely Warhammer 40K: Space Marine. They feel quite similar in the way they play as they’re both action oriented shooters that are broken up by sections with distinctive game play. That line though is somewhat blurry in Fall of Cybertron as once you’ve been given the ability to transform you’re pretty much free to do it whenever you want to which makes the delineation of sections somewhat moot. It can also be the different between breezing through a certain section and struggling with it for a long time as some areas are much easier in vehicle form despite them having been designed for robot form.
That being said though the combat of both forms is really enjoyable. Initially it’s pretty much just full time run and gun as you can just blast your way through everything with caring too much about strategy. As the game goes on however that kind of strategy starts to falter and you’ll find yourself having to plan your moves carefully lest you get torn apart by the hordes of other transformers waiting in the wings. Since you’re never playing the same transformer for longer than a chapter you’ll also have an unique ability each time that you’ll have to make use of which helps to keep Fall of Cybertron from feeling too repetitive.
It bears mentioning however that there really is a huge difference in the difficulty levels in Transformers: Fall of Cybertron. Now as I’m something of a power gamer I chose to go for the hardest difficulty right off the bat and for quite a while I found the challenge to be right up my alley. However there came one section (the first time when Optimus Prime sees Starscream butchering his fellow Autobots) where there really was no strategy that could get me past there. From what I could gather this was because the ramp up in difficulty level was, in essence, giving the enemies more damage and a faster reload. When confronted with 2 shotgun troopers in a confined space this meant I couldn’t take more than a single hit before keeling over and I had to reduce to the difficulty setting to pass. With this in mind I don’t feel like there’s anything to be gained from playing the game on its hardest difficulty setting as there’s not much more enjoyment to be gleaned from upping it.
Fall of Cybertron also includes an upgrade system that allows you to improve yourself and the myriad of weapons you’ll come across whilst venturing through Cybertron. Most of them are pretty bog standard things: improved reload time, upgraded damage and better accurary but once you’ve unlocked all the upgrades the last one is usually something quite unique to the weapon in question. The Riot Cannon, for example, has a last upgrade that makes every last shot in the clip do 500% damage which can be incredibly devastating if used at the right time. I’ll have to admit though that I barely touched the consumables and the other upgrades as I didn’t really feel like I needed them and I certainly didn’t struggle to complete Fall of Cybertron without them.
There’s also a couple of stealth sections where you’ll have to sneak around and avoid detection in order to move on. If I’m honest I’d have to say that these sections were my least favourite aspect of Fall of Cybertron as whilst the cloak mechanic is done well the sections built off it are less so. For instance the stealth detecting transformers will switch into a heavy armoured mode upon detecting you meaning you’ve really only got a short window to do damage to them. It would take about 3 or 4 attack cycles for me to be able to bring one down and there are sections where there are upwards of 5 or more. Sure I can understand that I probably wasn’t meant to engage them at that point but when alerting 1 alerts all of them within the area you really don’t have a lot of choice at some points.
The stealth sections also seem to run somewhat counter to the rest of the game which was very much run and gun. So every time I had to try and stealth past something, usually spending minutes waiting for them all to move out of the way so I had a clean run through, felt like hours compared to the intense action in other parts. This could be remedied by giving the stealthers some form of one shot kill to use against those detector things as then you’d have a viable strategy to take them all out. Still since these stealth sections were in the minority I won’t fault Fall of Cybertron too much for this, although there are some things I feel I have to comment on.
Fall of Cybertron has a few very noticeable glitches, at least in the PC version that I played. The screenshot above is from one of my less than favourite stealth sections where I managed to get outside the level box and ended up driving around on top of the level before falling endlessly and restarting from a checkpoint. I got there by aggroing the stealth detector bots then hiding in one of the tunnels which was quite small. Their attacks can bounce you up a little bit and it seems that in doing so this turns clip off briefly which pushed me through the level. Try as I might to get back in there was no way to do it apart from reloading which was rather frustrating.
Enemies also appear to suffer from clipping issues as well as I had several of the Jumper bots get stuck on ledges or partially in walls after they’d try to attack me. For those times I didn’t have to reload (although the one stuck in the wall with his back almost fully covered by said wall was close) but it did signal to me that there were some systematic issues at play here that could do with fixing. I don’t believe they’d be a hard fix either but since they’re not game breaking I don’t expect that we’ll see a fix to them any time soon.
The story of Fall of Cybertron is also pretty true to the Transformer’s canon and as a long time fan of the franchise this makes me quite happy. There’s not a lot of substance to it of course, thanks to its origins as a kids show and being a primarily action focused game, but all the key characters are there ensuring that fans of the Transformers will likely get to meet and/or play their favourites. Whether they’ll continue to develop the Transformers game franchise from this point on though will be interesting as I’ve heard hints that they be going off canon for the next instalment and I’m not sure how well that would work out.
Transforms: Fall of Cybertron is probably the best Transformers game I’ve played and I think that’s due to it being untied to a movie and was allowed to explore the canon in its own way. The game play, for the most part, was really enjoyable and the minor glitches and so-so stealth sections were long forgotten by the end. The praise heaped on these Transformers titles is well deserved as they’re pretty well polished experiences that are well versed in the Transformer’s universe making it an awesome experience for the fans.
Transformers: Fall of Cybertron is available on PC, PS3 and Xbox360 for $49.99, $78 and $78 respectively. Game was played entirely on the PC with 7.2 hours of total playtime and 36% of the achievements unlocked.
When I started out with this idea of doing 1 review a week it was mostly because I always seemed to find myself with a backlog of big name titles to play through. There aren’t however enough titles like that to sustain that kind of pace throughout the year and for the first 3 months of this year most of the titles I was reviewing were actually things released last year that I hadn’t got around to playing. Consequently I’ve found myself playing a lot of games that I wouldn’t have otherwise given a second thought to and Warp, the action-puzzle-stealth hybrid from Trapdoor, is one of those titles that I wouldn’t have considered playing.
Warp has you playing as an oddly shaped alien who’s named Zero (something I don’t think was made clear in the game, I certainly can’t remember anyone saying his name) waking up in an undersea laboratory. You’re surrounded by scientists who begin to perform surgery on you to remove a disk shaped object from you which turns out to be your internal power source. After a short obstacle course, which serves as the tutorial for the basics of the game, you are then reunited with your power supply and regain your ability to teleport short distances. Warp flows on from there, following Zero’s quest to escape the confines of the laboratory.
On first appearances Warp isn’t too much to look at, mostly due to its roots as a Xbox Arcade game. For the actual game play the graphics are fine with Warp making heavy use of lighting effects to cover up their less-than-stellar models but the cut scenes unfortunately didn’t appear to get any extra treatment to make them any better. Thus the artwork, graphics and sound work are all around the level I had come to expect from say around 5 years ago when I had friends tinkering with 3D models. Sure I can understand that there are limitations thanks to the target platform but when you don’t even bother to try and do rudimentary lip syncing for dialog scenes I get the feeling that a lot of this was done due to budgetary constraints rather than a lack of technical ability.
The core game play of Warp revolves around Zero’s ability to teleport short distances and also hide inside objects and people. At first it starts off with rudimentary things like finding non-obvious was to get around your environment but as the game progresses the challenges start to scale up dramatically. Zero also gains additional abilities as you complete levels augmenting himself with things like producing a controllable decoy (so you can get guards to kill each other), using said decoy to swap places with other objects and being able to launch objects a great distance. The combination of all these abilities makes for some rather interesting puzzles, some that are actually quite challenging to figure out.
Also thanks to the integration of a half decent physics engine there’s actually the opportunity for a lot of emergent game play which makes it a whole lot more interesting than your rudimentary puzzle game. Since every object can be moved and flung around quite easily there’s a lot of opportunity to break the intended solution by bringing objects along with you that the game doesn’t expect you to. There are also times when it goes horribly wrong like the travelator towards the end that you can change the direction of, try destroying both power supplies. The animation stops but you’ll still move if you stand on it. Still problems with the physics based game play are thankfully few, although Warp is far from free of issues.
Scattered throughout the game are challenges like the one above that push your use of certain skills to the limit in order to get extra “grubs” that are used to upgrade your abilities. These are usually timed affairs and in the words of someone I can’t remember “You know how to make something not fun in a game? Slap a timer on it.” and that’s exactly how all these challenges feel: not fun. I probably spent about a fifth of my in game time trying to get better than bronze on these challenges and I managed to get a few of them but at no time did I have fun doing it. It was kind of like Super Meat Boy all over again where the replay value is derived from it’s rather frustratingly hard difficulty. Not all of them were like this but the initial ones definitely were and it’s likely that it’s me being retarded, but there is another reason why I think its not.
The game is a very obvious port from Xbox360 to PC and that brings with it all the issues that are usually associated with them. For starters whilst the mouse is available in the initial start up screens it doesn’t work in the actual game for anything, not even the upgrade menus. Instead of redesigning the control paradigm around the mouse and the keyboard all the interface controls are simply remapped to the keyboard. This means that sometimes the game engine expects input in a certain way and doesn’t get it which can lead to all sorts of unintentional behavior. It’s not game breaking once you get used to it but it does smack of lazy porting just to grab another market.
The upgrade system is interesting at first glance, being able to augment your abilities in ways that change the game play significantly. As you can see above I chose to invest my grubs in certain keys skills, namely the ones that form the basis of the core game play (teleporting and moving faster). These definitely made the game somewhat easier as there were many times I could fudge my way through or get out of a situation that I wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise but looking over the other skills I couldn’t be sure why anyone would get them or how’d they make the game easier.
In fact I played the majority of the game sans these two skill upgrades mostly because I didn’t bother with the challenges nor religiously tracking down grubs in order to get said upgrades. This isn’t a problem with Warp per se, more the with the idea of combining a puzzle game with an upgrade system. For all the main challenges you’re going to have to give the player the required skills anyway and all the upgrades then can really only be making the player’s life easier. Deus Ex: Human Revolution did the upgrades that unlock other potential pathways/secrets bit quite well but they still had to accommodate for the possibility that the player didn’t choose a specific upgrade, at least for story critical sections. All of Warps sections appear to be story critical though, rendering the upgrade system kind of moot.
All that being said however I still found Warp extremely fun to play. I’m not sure how I’d describe it but the combination of puzzle solving, the over the top reactions from NPCs when they spotted you and the decidedly dark enjoyment you get from making people explode from the inside out made my time with Warp very enjoyable. This is in spite of the story that’s so thin on the ground that it might as well not even exist in the first place, something which indie games like this don’t usually forgo. Considering this game can be had for $20 as part of a 5 pack of games I think it’s incredibly great value for the time I spent with it and would recommend giving it a shot.
Warp is available on PC, PS3 and Xbox360 right now for $9.99 or equivalent on all platforms. Game was played entirely on the PC with around 5 hours of total play time and about 2/3rds of the grubs found.
Arkham Asylum was one of the sleeper hits of 2009. It definitely wasn’t your traditional AAA title combining elements of several different genres of games into one well thought out experience. I have to admit I was sceptical of it at first, games based off comic or movie IP are traditionally quite bad, but it pleasantly surprised me. I was then quite excited when I heard about the sequel Arkham City which apparently had been hinted at in Arkham Asylum. Unfortunately I was torn between getting the collector’s edition on console or playing it on the PC, a decision that took me far too long to make. In the end I decided to play it on PC again and I’m glad I did.
Arkham City starts out with you as Bruce Wayne who’s campaigning for Arkham City, in essence a prison camp, to be shut down. Things take a turn for the worse when Hugo Strange’s mercenaries show up and throw him into city where Strange reveals that he knows that Bruce is Batman and should he try to stop his “Protocol 10″ solution he will reveal that to the world. After a short altercation with the Penguin and some of his goons Bruce calls in a drop for his bat suit and begins his journey to stop Strange’s plan.
Both the visuals and the art direction of Arkham City are vastly improved from its predecessor. To Rocksteady’s credit they’ve done a pretty good job with the optimization too as even at the highest settings I was still able to run the game at high frame rates. Still there were occasions where it would slow down inexplicably as it wasn’t consistent with being inside/outside nor with heavy action. Still the graphics are great, the interactions between characters are no longer stilted affairs and the overall ambition for Arkham City is much greater than it was for Arkham Asylum and they’ve managed to achieve it well.
The core mechanics of Arkham City haven’t changed that much from Arkham Asylum but there have been some notable additions. Due to the sheer scale of Arkham city the glide mechanic has been reworked considerably now enabling batman to, in essence, fly around the entire city almost unaided. This mechanic is made good use of as well by many of the quests and mini-games with things like flying to a certain point with limited time or giving you augmented reality challenges that unlock additional equipment and upgrades. Flying around like this was probably one of my favourite things to do in Arkham City considering you couldn’t do anything like this in its predecessor.
Combat has stayed relatively the same with most of the kinks that I complained about in Arkham Asylum being worked out. There are numerous additional gadgets available, different enemy types and new take down manoeuvres that serve to make the combat experience much more varied but at its heart its still very much the same as its predecessor. This isn’t a bad thing though as the combat in Arkham Asylum was done very well and the added variation in Arkham City keeps it faithful whilst making it stand on its own.
Whilst the combat is good it does tend to get a little samey as the game progresses but this is thankfully broken up well by the unique boss encounters. Each of them will make use of Batman’s array of gadgets in a particular way, forcing you of the regular hack ‘n’ slashy combat and into a real tactical challenge. Don’t get me wrong its’ a pretty awesome feeling when you pull of a 70+ hit combo on legions of foes but nothing got my adrenaline going as much as the boss fights did. None of them felt like a complete cock block either, something which can be hard if you’re trying to hit that fine line between satisfying challenge and impassable obstacle.
The Riddler puzzles were usually interesting but I didn’t really feel the compulsion to seek them out. Whilst its pretty easy to come across them as you’re flying around Arkham City I only ever really went after one if my health was low. Talking this over with my brother he said that the challenges felt somewhat dumbed down from the predecessor and this is probably why most people (outside those hunting for achievements) don’t really want to bother with them. I can’t for the life of me remember what the challenges were like back in Arkham Asylum but the vast majority of the puzzles in Arkham City did feel quite easy.
Just like Arkham Asylum Arkham City sets out an environment where almost the entire back catalogue of Batman super villains can make an appearance without having to having to have a back story to explain why they hell they’re there. It’s a kind of cheap way of getting them all together in the same area but it works well as it leads you to have many unique encounters based around those particular villain’s modus operandi. The screenshot above from the Mad Hatter encounter was a great example of this, putting you in a surreal world in which you have to fight your way through to get back to reality. I liken it to the Scarecrow encounters of Arkham Asylum, unique encounters that break away from the main game in order to mix things up a bit.
The way in which you come across these kinds of unique encounters though is one of the more common complaints I’ve heard about Arkham City. Indeed Arkham Asylum was far more linear in its game play owing to its comparatively closed environment. Arkham City on the other hand is a true sandbox style game, pushing you to follow the main plot line whilst also throwing up dozens of side quests that can be done at your leisure. Truthfully this can get a little overwhelming at times as you can’t go too far without triggering one of these quests and after you’ve done a few of them you don’t feel the compulsion to seek them out as often. It is definitely is one of the weaker aspects of Arkham City.
The sections where you play as Catwoman are interesting although I must admin they weren’t my favourite part of Arkham City. The different Riddler trophies for example seem to be a cheap way to reuse the same assets, forcing you to go back to somewhere you’ve already explored in order to collect them. Since the differences between Catwoman and Batman is limited to the lack of gadgets, lack of detective mode and no glide ability it’s not different enough to make for a break from the core Batman play. I like that Rocksteady are experimenting with things like this, it shows they have confidence in their abilities to make AAA titles like Arkham City, but they’d need to work on differentiating the playable characters a bit more ion order for them to really shine.
Overall Arkham City improves greatly on its predecessor in technical terms with the graphics being improved, the glitches being ironed out and amping up the ambition of the game significantly. It’s not without its faults however owing to the transition to true sandbox style play and some compromises made to appeal to a wider audience. Still unlike many sequels Arkham City stands very well on its own as an unique game that draws well on its rich IP heritage. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this to both fans and new comers to the Arkham series.
Batman: Arkham City is available on PC, Xbox360 and PlayStation 3 right now for $89.99, $78 and $78 respectively. Game was played on the PC on Normal difficulty with 11 hours of total play time and 33% of the achievements unlocked.