The indie dev scene seems to go through periods of obsession with different genres. In the past it was with platform puzzlers as it seemed that every other week brought to me several new titles attempting to put their own twist on the tried and true genre. More recently it seems to have shifted to survival horror as many seek to replicate the success of DayZ. So when Contrast, a platforming/puzzler from Compulsion games, I felt a distinct twinge of nostalgia, harking back to the indie renaissance that was built on games such as this. Like many from that time it’s taken the puzzler/platformer genre and placed its own unique style on top of it resulting in a game that’s quite interesting, even if it has its faults.
It’s not quite clear who, or more importantly what, you are when the game starts but all you know is that only a small girl, Didi, can see you. In fact this bond seems to be somewhat mutual as you can’t see anyone else but her and the shadows of others that are in the room with you. You and Didi seem to share a bond however as she’s always getting into mischief, usually with your assistance, much to the chagrin of her mother. Still, Didi’s mother tries hard to support her, hoping to rise to fame as a wonderful singer and actress. Everything starts to change when Didi’s deadbeat father comes back into the picture, promising to make everything right.
The art style of Contrast feels like you’re in the mind of a child with many typical elements, such as houses, having a very whimsical nature to them. It’s all heavily inspired by the art deco movement of the 1930s and 40s with many of the environments having a really distinct BioShock-esque feel to them. They do feel a little dead and empty however which I do believe was done deliberately however it means you feel compelled to not stay in one area for too long, even though the game tries to encourage you to explore. Potentially this could have been solved by adding in more light sources that had shadows walking past it which wouldn’t seem out of place and would make everything feel a little more alive.
As I alluded to earlier Contrast is a platform/puzzler that has an unique mechanic to spice things up a bit. The puzzles are all fairly basic in nature, usually consisting of getting yourself from one place to another or moving an item into another spot that’s not exactly obvious when you first start out. Contrast’s twist however is that when a wall is lit up you can “shift” into it, becoming a 2D shadow on the wall that allows you to move in ways that would be impossible otherwise. This leads to some rather intriguing puzzles where you’re always looking for where the source of light is and how the shadows you can create will help or hinder you in your goal.
There’s also a set of collectables called “Luminaries” which are hidden in various locations throughout the game. They function as an exploration mechanic as well as a kind of in-game currency to progress past certain obstacles. Their presence isn’t fully explained however, although Didi is aware of them for some reason, so the motivation to collect them really only comes about if you’re a natural explorer or you happen to see one that isn’t far out of your reach. Indeed there was only once when I didn’t have the required luminaries on me to immediately continue a puzzle and then it took me less than a couple minutes to find the requisite number.
Unfortunately whilst this mechanic is indeed novel it suffers heavily from glitchy behaviour. True flat surfaces with light projected onto them appear to work quite well however anything with a ridge or a bump in it, like the numerous columns that dot the landscape, have a tendency to shift you back out of the shadow plane. It’s hard to tell if this is expected behaviour or not as you can walk through them, some times, and you can also blast past them again only randomly. The shadow detection itself can also get a bit buggy as Dawn’s hitbox appears to be significantly bigger than the character model, leading to some puzzles either being more complicated than they need to be or being trivialized.
Indeed there were quite a few puzzles where I figured I’d be restarting from the checkpoint again only to find myself standing on air next to the ledge I was trying to jump onto. Whilst I was somewhat appreciative of this at the time it does mean that the game doesn’t function as you’d expect leading to some rather undesirable behaviour. Worst still there are many places where you can find yourself caught in the environment for some inexplicable reason and while I never had to reload to get unstuck it certainly didn’t endear the game to me when it happened.
Contrast’s story, whilst clichéd, does help to smooth over some of the more rough edges of the game. The majority of the voice actors are great with the notable exception of Didi who’s lines seem to be heavily disjointed between sentences. The music is quite good, suiting the art deco environment aptly. Whilst it might not have the depth of other indie titles it certainly has a little bit of charm to it with everyone being able to identify with the idea of giving someone a second chance.
Contrast is a unique concept, filled with brilliant ideas that are unfortunately hindered by a less than ideal execution. The story, music and scenery are all above average, crafting a whimsical art deco world that’s incredibly delightful. However the core game mechanics suffer from inconsistent behaviour and glitchy collision detection turning the otherwise novel idea of moving through shadows into a laborious experience. Lovers of indie puzzlers will find a lot to enjoy in Contrast however I think that’s the limit of its appeal, at least in its current state.
Contrast is available on PC, PlayStation3, PlayStation4 and Xbox360 right now for $14.99, $14.99, $21.49 and $14.99 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 3 hours of total play time and 68% of the achievements unlocked.
The Battlefield series of games has always felt like the more strategic brother of Call of Duty, opting for a slightly slower game pace that favours more careful, considerate play. As someone who only recently found himself enjoying this genre again it took me a while to get accustomed to this as I had gotten used to the high action spam fest, quickly unloading my entire inventory in the vague direction of where the enemy stood. At the same time Battlefield 3 demonstrated what powerful PCs were capable of with Frostbite 2 engine giving us graphics on a level that few other games had yet to achieve. Battlefield 4 feels like the organic progression of the world that its predecessor set up, offering a very similar experience that’s seen many improvements.
Battlefield 4 takes place 6 years after the events of Battlefield 3 and the escalating tensions between Russia and the USA are at an all time high, threatening to turn into an all out war. At the same time Admiral Chang, a high ranking Chinese military commander, is plotting to overthrow the Chinese government in a coup d’etat. You play as Recker, a member of the special forces squad designated Tombstone, who’s attempting to return vital intel that confirms Chang’s plans. Worse still you’ve found out that should Chang succeed he’ll have the full backing of the Russian government, ensuring that large scale will come to America’s shores. Your task is stop Chang’s rise to power and avert a global scale war.
Just like its predecessor Battlefield impresses with its high standard of graphics thanks to the improvements brought by the Frostbite 3 engine.The environments certainly look and feel more alive, especially considering that nearly everything is destructible now. Indeed everything has a very cinematic feel about it as the level of graphics in game surpasses that of many others pre-rendered cut scenes. Surprisingly even though I haven’t upgraded my computer since the last Battlefield I was still able to play at extremely high settings, albeit with anti-aliasing turned off. The only time I got noticeable slow down was in some of the larger conquest maps where a good chunk of the players were all converging on one point. This is likely due to my ATI graphics card which supports the Mantle API which DICE have included support for in this new engine.
Battlefield 4′s campaign is, for the most part, your typical run and gun FPS although unlike most other corridor shooters there are usually several paths for you to take to achieve your objective. It is somewhat more constrained than what I previously remember which I think is partly due to the set pieces DICE chose with many more closed in spaces. Still I can recall multiple moments where I’d see multiple ways of achieving my objective, some guns blazing and others with a much more subtle approach. At the same time there are some paths that look like viable options which simply aren’t but Battlefield 4′s check pointing system is good enough that you don’t feel overly punished for experimenting once in a while.
One of the key differences between Battlefield 3 and 4 is that you now have the option to customize your load out during missions via the use of weapon crates. You don’t have access to all the weapons to begin with however, instead you’ll unlock them by achieving a certain number of points, much like you would during a multi-player game. One thing they didn’t mention, although I will admit I might have missed it, is that you also unlock weapons by picking them up off fallen enemies. This was particularly frustrating for me as since I was favouring a sniper rifle there weren’t any upgrades unlocked through the points system (at least none I can remember) and I only lucked out on an upgrade when I accidentally picked one up. That was when I found out of the 2 different ways of unlocking weapons, something I would’ve liked to have known about a lot earlier.
There’s also a rudimentary stealth system incorporated for some reason and it takes after the Splinter Cell way, showing you a little bar that’s pointing in the direction of the person who can see you. Once it flashes that means they’ve detected you and will alert everyone in that section to your location. Whilst you can get a whole bunch done by taking out enemies stealthily it’s quite obvious that the game doesn’t expect you to do this as you can be right in front of someone and still not break stealth. Additionally there’s no way to reset back to a state where the enemies no longer know where you are, even if you manage to escape without them being able to see you. Honestly it would have probably been better to leave that system out altogether and do the stealth bits via cut scene as it doesn’t really add much to the game overall.
The story of Battlefield 4 is a really mixed experience as there are moments which could have been quite amazing however I just didn’t have the emotional investment in the characters required to make said moments possible. This might also be a function of this genre’s inability to get away from the clichéd plot of America (FUCK YEAH) vs the world as whilst it makes for some intense action and drama it does not make for a deep and engrossing plot. Still I can’t say I was bored during any of it and the length was extended slightly above its predecessors which was honestly just a tad too short. One part where it really fell down however was the ending as I can never give a game props for using the Endotron 3000 to give you multiple different endings.
However the multiplayer retains that larger than life feeling that I only seem to get from Battlefield games. The new large conquest maps are an absolute joy to play and the chaos that ensues from having a 32 on 32 battle is really hard to beat. It can be a little daunting coming into a game like this so many months after it’s been out as everyone has levelled up way past you but once you find the class that fits you best it becomes quite easy to stack on a few levels and unlock some better kit to help you out. There’s enough unlocks and awards in Battlefield 4 to keep even the most adamant achievement hunter busy for months and even after spending a good 4 hours playing through the various maps I still feel like there’s a lot more to discover.
What lets down the entire experience though, and something I was rather annoyed was still present considering how late I came to Battlefield 4, was the number of crashes, bugs and glitches that plague the experience. I had the single player game crash on me numerous times, often several times during a single mission, without any rhyme or reason as to why it was happening. This continued into the multiplayer where doing certain things, actions which I assumed were part of the core game (like jumping off a tall building and parachuting the ground below) would again result in a crash. This persisted for the last 2 weeks as I stumbled my way through multiplayer and whilst it’s been fixed now (at least I didn’t have any crashes in the last couple days) DICE really needs to get their act together when bugs at that level are still persistent almost 3 months after release.
Battlefield 4 is a solid game, improving substantially on its predecessor in many respects whilst being different enough to stand on its own. The campaign is a solid 6 hours of fun, offering you a varying number of challenges that can be accomplished in many different ways. The multiplayer is, as always, larger than life and filled with so many choices that people will be theorycrafting for years as to what the best builds are for various situations. The experience was unfortunately let down by its horrendously buggy nature, something which has only just been recently fixed, but I’m glad to say that people buying the game now are coming in at a stage where it isn’t as bad as it used to be. Battlefield 4 then is well worth the price of admission, especially for long time fans of the series.
Battlefield 4 is available on PC, Xbox360 , PlayStation3, XboxOne and PlayStation 4 for $79.99, $78, $78 , $98 and $98 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 6 hours on the campaign and 4 hours on multiplayer.
The Steam Holiday sale is often a time of buyer’s remorse for someone like me. Since I tend to buy games right after they come out (usually for review on here) by the time a Steam sale rocks around my library is usually already filled with the titles that are now available at under half the price. Still it gives me the opportunity to pick up games that were on my radar but just didn’t quite make the cut at their regular prices and Lost Planet 3 was one of them. I’ve always been tangentially aware of the series, ever since back when one of my house mates showed it to me, but hadn’t given it a go until now.
Lost Planet 3 is a prequel to the previous instalments and you play as Jim Peyton, a rig pilot for hire who specializes in manning giant robots that function in the most hostile environments. Jim has had a rough time finding work so when a contract comes through to travel to a distant planet he has little choice but to accept. Upon arrival however things aren’t exactly as they were first sold to you as many of the long time residents at this colony will tell you. Still Jim tries to keep his head down and just focus on the work, ensuring his family’s survival, until he stumbles upon something which changes his world forever.
The visuals of Lost Planet 3 have their moments, like the screenshot just below, but it’s obvious that the PC version of this game is a port of the Xbox360 one. I think this is party due to the use of the Unreal 3 engine which, like Flash Player, has a tendency to make everything done it have a very similar feel about it. That means the graphics feel pretty dated even when you’ve got everything cranked up to maximum. The flip side of this is that it runs quite smoothly regardless of how much action is on the screen, something which you will be thankful for in some of the more action packed scenes.
The game play of Lost Planet 3 is divided pretty equally between 2 different modes. The first is you standard 3rd person cover based shooter where you’ll run and gun your way through massive troves of insect like aliens all the while making sure you have a place to hide once you’ve taken too much damage. The second is when your in your rig which functions as both your transportation as well as an alternate style of combat. Both of these have their own upgrade systems with your character having several of them, enabling you to upgrade him significantly should you want to put in the effort.
Lost Planet 3 incorporates some RPG aspects as well allowing you to follow the core story mission whenever you want to but also providing you with a bevy of side missions to keep you occupied. For the most part they’re simply there to unlock more upgrades or give you more TE to spend at the default upgrade stores but there are a couple that seem to have no real purpose behind them. The DNA scanning mission for instance doesn’t seem to have any appreciable benefit for you at all. I must have scanned nearly all of the enemies I encountered, some multiple times just to be sure, but still upon returning to the quest giver I found no reward at all. I don’t know if there was a threshold or something else I was missing but the mission said nothing more than “Scan enemies with this special ammo”.
The combat on foot is relatively engaging, mostly towards the beginning where you have to make every shot count lest you be over-run by even just a few Akrid. This starts to peter out gradually as you progress through the game as the absolute power of the enemies doesn’t seem to change that much whilst yours scales ever upwards. It’s even more apparent with the threat of running out of ammunition is taken away from you (your rig has an ammo locker in its feet providing unlimited ammo) allowing you to simply spray and pray your way through those sections. There are some parts where this is used to great effect, during the drilling missions is a good example of this, but it can make it feel like being in your rig is somewhat redundant at points when it’d likely be much easier to just get out and shoot.
Your rig is a cool idea however it’s more of a transportation device and puzzle mechanic more than anything else. Sure you’ll get into combat with it but for the most part it’s dumbed down so much that it barely rates above a quick time event at most points. This is never more clear than when you’re locked inside the cabin when fighting an enemy that you’d previously fought on foot, forcing you to use your rig rather than the already proven method that you’d used previously. I can understand that this was done in part to make the rig upgrades actually worth getting but you could honestly skip all the ones that aren’t given to you as part of the story and still not have an issue.
Indeed apart from a few weapon upgrades the multiple upgrade systems that your character has access to are almost completely redundant. I was playing the game on the hardest difficulty and found that the combination of the prototype pulse rifle alongside the explosive bow was pretty much all I needed for any situation. It doesn’t help that there’s large chunks of the game where you’ll be rolling in TE but not have a place to spend it because you’re locked in that part of the game until you complete it. If you’re someone that likes to find all these collectibles then you might find some value in the multiple upgrade systems Lost Planet 3 has but since you don’t need them there’s little compelling you to seek them out.
Lost Planet 3′s story is told in flashbacks by an old Jim who’s regaling his grand daughter with the story of how he came to be on EDN III before he dies due to a cave in. This has the effect of removing all tension from any part of the game where you think you might be in danger as you know he makes it out in the end. Whilst the whole corporate conspiracy plot was a little obvious it would have probably been quite serviceable should it of not been told in retrospect as some of the more tense moments wouldn’t have had such a predictable outcome.
Lost Planet 3 is a game that had great aspirations but fell short of accomplishing them. I feel this is mostly due to the cramming in of too many other things that detracted from the main story line, leaving most of the features feeling decidedly middle of the road rather than being the polished gems they could be. Lost Planet 3 has its moments but they’re unfortunately lost in the mediocrity of the rest of the game. Fans of the series might get more out of this title than most as it does delve into the past that precedes the previous 2 instalments but for anyone else it’s simply another middle of the road game, one best grabbed at Steam sale time.
Lost Planet 3 is available on PC, Xbox360 and PlayStation3 right now for $49.99, $68 and $68 respectively. Game was played on the PC with around 10 hours of total play time.
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.
Us gamers tend to be hoarders when it comes to our game collections with many of us amassing huge stashes of titles on our platforms of choice. My steam library alone blew past 300 titles some time ago and anyone visiting my house will see the dozens of game boxes littering every corner of the house. There’s something of a sunk cost in all this and it’s why the idea of being able to play them on a current generation system is always attractive to people like me: we like to go back sometimes and play through games of our past. Whilst my platform of choice rarely suffers from this (PCs are the kings of backwards compatibility) my large console collection is in varying states of being able to play my library of titles and, if I’m honest, I don’t think it’s ever going to get better.
For the current kings of the console market the decision to do away with backwards compatibility has been something of a sore spot for many gamers. Whilst the numbers show that most people buy new consoles to play the new games on them¹ there’s a non-zero number who get a lot of enjoyment out of their current gen titles. Indeed I probably would’ve actually used my PlayStation4 for gaming if it had some modicum of backwards compatibility as right now there aren’t any compelling titles for it. This doesn’t seem to have been much of a hinderance to adoption of the now current gen platforms however.
There does seem to be a lot of faith being poured into the idea that backwards compatibility will come eventually through cloud services, of which only Sony has committed to developing. The idea is attractive, mainly because it then enables you to play any time you want from a multitude of devices, however, as I’ve stated in the past, the feasibility of such an idea isn’t great, especially if it relies on server hardware needing to be in many disparate locations around the world to make the service viable. Whilst both Sony and Microsoft have the capital to make this happen (and indeed Sony has a head start on it thanks to the Gaikai acquisition) the issues I previously mentioned are only compounded when it comes to providing a cloud based service with console games.
The easiest way of achieving this is to just run a bunch of the old consoles in a server environment and allow users to connect directly to them. This has the advantage of being cheaper from a capital point of view as I’m sure both Sony and Microsoft have untold hordes of old consoles to take advantage of, however the service would be inherently unscalable and, past a certain point, unmaintable. The better solution is to emulate the console in software which would allow you to run it on whatever hardware you wanted but this brings with it challenges I’m not sure even Microsoft or Sony are capable of solving.
You see whilst the hardware of the past generation consoles is rather long in the tooth emulating it in software is nigh on impossible. Whilst there’s some experimental efforts by the emulation community to do this none of them have produced anything capable of running even the most basic titles. Indeed even with access to the full schematics of the hardware recreating them in software would be a herculean effort, especially for Sony who’s Cell processor is a nightmare architecturally speaking.
There’s also the possibility that Sony has had the Gaikai team working on a Cell to x86 transition library which could make the entire PlayStation3 library available without too much hassle although there would likely be a heavy trade off in performance. In all honesty that’s probably the most feasible solution as it’d allow them to run the titles on commodity hardware but you’d still have the problems of scaling out the service that I’ve touched on in previous posts.
Whatever ends up happening we’re not going to hear much more about it until sometime next year and it’ll be a while after that before we can get our hands on it (my money is on 2016 for Australia). If you’re sitting on a trove of old titles and hoping that the next gen will allow you to play them I wouldn’t hold your breath as its much more likely that it’ll be extremely limited, likely requiring an additional cost on top of your PlayStation Plus membership. That’s even if it works as everyone speculating it will as I can see it easily turning out to be something else entirely.
¹ I can’t seem to find a source for this but back when the PlayStation3 Slim was announced (having that capability removed) I can remember a Sony executive saying something to this effect. It was probably a combination of factors that led up to him saying that though as around that time the PlayStation2 Slim was still being manufactured and was retailing for AUD$100, so it was highly likely that anyone who had the cash to splurge on a PlayStation3 likely owned a PlayStation2.
I have something of a soft spot for the Call of Duty series, a trait which I think is highly evident given the fact that I’ve been reviewing their games for the past 4 years. This primarily extends from their highly cinematic single player experiences where the actual game play borders on being more like an action movie rather than a traditional FPS. However I also found myself inexplicably drawn to the multiplayer, finding myself being one of “those people” who just couldn’t get enough of the fast paced, super spammy Nuketown map. I also have to admit that I did feel pretty special to be invited to come and preview their games way back when (something I’ve been unfortunately unable to repeat lately) and the fact that they sent me copies to review was a kind of validation that I hadn’t got before. Whilst that trend didn’t continue this year I’m still a fan of the series in general and have spent the better part of 2 weeks gorging myself on everything Call of Duty: Ghosts has to offer.
Call of Duty: Ghosts takes place in the not too distant future in an alternate timeline to the rest of the Call of Duty series. You primarily play as Logan, the son of a lifetime military man Elias who regales you with the story of an elite unit who faced down overwhelming odds and came out the other side. They called themselves the Ghosts, known for never giving up until their mission was completed and always ensuring that all their men got out, dead or alive. The story is unfortunately cut short as it quickly becomes apparent that the USA is under attack however the origin of the bombardments isn’t quite clear. What is for certain however is that the new world superpower, The Federation, are behind it and they need to be stopped.
Ghosts is one of the first titles to make it onto the next console generation (although its still available on current gen) and the improvements to the graphics that they enable are quite impressive. Whilst the difference between Black Ops II and Ghosts is as great as you’d expect to be, especially with this being the first next gen Call of Duty title, there’s still been a dramatic improvement since the last Infinity Ward game. All of the screenshots were taken in game and I think they speak volumes to the amount of effort put in to the set pieces that Infinity has created. It’s also probably the reason why the game comes in at 28GBs, by far one of the largest downloads I’ve ever had for a single player game (the multi is a separate 4GB download of its own).
The game play is your standard corridor shooter with you being guided from point A to point B by one or more NPCs with different kinds of objectives along the way. Saying that for most games would be a jab at their originality or banality but the Call of Duty series does it so well that it’s hard for me to criticize them for it. Still if you were looking for something innovative or different about the single player campaign you’re going to be disappointed as it really is just a scenic tour through a whole bunch of impressive artwork with action movie style combat thrown in so you don’t get bored walking everywhere. That being said it is quite the ride with you rarely being given more than a couple moments to catch your breath before the next unbelievably epic moment occurs.
The combat is, as always, polished and refined to the point where it’s smooth as glass. The only variation from previous games is the weapons and equipment that will be made available to you and for the most part the differences are largely cosmetic as they’re all guns that shoot bullets. There is a little variety in the way the guns act in different environments, like when you’re in space or under water, but the standard assault rifle will be your mainstay for the majority of the game. If there’s one thing I’ll criticize Ghosts for it’s the use of sniper accurate enemies who seem to be able to hit you from almost any angle, leading to long periods where you have to peek your head out, get hit, figure out where they are and then try to pick them off before they or their friends do the same to you. This is made somewhat more annoying by the unpredictable nature of the NPCs who sometimes charge ahead or seem to get stuck in one position until you do the charging, but then again I’ve yet to find a game where I’ve felt the NPCs were truly useful additions.
Considering the amount of hype and focus the dog got prior to Ghosts’ release I’d be remiss if I didn’t give my perspective on it. Riley (that’s his name) is essentially another mechanic for them to throw at you with his main function being that of a kind of single target grenade that you can point at anyone and have him take them down. There are also some more weird sci-fi sections where you’re able to control him directly, making him sneak behind enemy lines and even take down people from a remote console. It fits in with the overall game, although why such a big deal was made of it I’ll never quite understand, and there’s a particular heart wrenching moment when he gets shot and you have to carry him through the battlefield. Conveniently they also provide you with an insane machine gun at that point, allowing you to go full rambo on the assholes who shot your dog which was probably one of my favourite parts of Ghosts.
I’m somewhat thankful that Ghosts took a new route as the previous storyline was starting to get a little long in the tooth, especially with all the various sub-plots that I just couldn’t seem to keep track over between instalments. They’ve taken a break from the traditional clandestine unit saving the USA from imminent attack, instead putting you in a world that’s been devastated by the newest superpower. It’s best not to think about it too deeply though as it tend towards more being an action movie than a psychological thriller, hoping that you won’t think and instead enjoy the ride. If you do that the story is passable and is more than enough to keep you motivated from one objective to the next.
The multiplayer breaks away from Infinity Ward’s traditional way of doing things (where most things are locked until you level up enough to get them) and instead adopts a Squad Point system for upgrading your character. Unlike the the cash system that the original Black Ops had Squad Points aren’t earned in troves by simply playing. Whilst you will get points for levelling up the system is obviously more geared towards you completing challenges, both grand ones that require multiple games to accomplish as well as field orders which grant you a bonus during the game. Because of this all the guns in the game are available to you from level 1 and all that’s required is that you grind out a few points to unlock them.
The perks, however, are hard locked to your level with the more powerful ones being reserved for the later stages. This does mean that particular play styles are just simply not feasible until you get to that stage as you won’t be able to have your pick of the perks until you hit level 60. For someone like me who’d developed a distinctive play strategy (I’m a rusher style player) it meant that I had to change the way I played in order to get anywhere in the game. It doesn’t take too long to adjust as you can still do the traditional assault rifle style play but I did feel a little miffed that I couldn’t engage in the insane runabout shenanigans that I did in previous games.
Indeed it seems that Infinity Ward is trying to encourage a slightly different style of play with Ghosts as there are now many more open maps that are more conducive to sniping than there was in the previous games. You can imagine how annoying this is to a rusher like me where my style of combat relies on getting in people’s faces, but it means that you just have to adapt or die. There are still a few crazy small maps however it seems that they’re no where near as popular as the Nuketown of old as there’s rarely more than 100 players in the Ghost Moshpit game type with most staying on Team Deathmatch or Domination. This is probably not so much of a problem on the consoles however as there’s an order of magnitude more players around at any given time.
For what its worth I feel that the multiplayer of Ghosts is weaker than previous instalments as it just doesn’t seem to have that same pulling power on me that it used to. I’ve still racked up about 7 hours on it after taking about 2 to find my feet again but I just don’t have that same sense of compulsion pulling me back. Maybe its the lack of Nuketown, maybe it’s the lack of my spammy akimbo style of game play but whatever it is it just isn’t the same as it used to be. Activision said that they were expecting lower sales this time around due to the console switch over and that seems to be reflected in the multiplayer. Hopefully the next instalment won’t suffer because of it.
Call of Duty: Ghosts is another highly polished instalment in the franchise, showing that Infinity Ward is capable of delivering a highly cinematic experience that’s thoroughly enjoyable to play through. Whilst the stories and setting are always different the core game play remains the same and it’s commendable that they can still make it enjoyable this many years on. However the multiplayer experience is definitely a step down from previous games, lacking the same addictive power that compelled me to become a fan of the series all those years ago. Overall it’s still a solid game experience but they’re going to have to aim higher next time around if they want to recapture their original glory.
Call of Duty: Ghosts is available on PlayStation3, PlayStation4, Xbox360, XboxOne, WiiU and PC right now for $78, $78, $78, $78 , $99.95 and $89.99 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 5.4 hours in the single player campaign and 7.1 hours in multiplayer.
Prior to the release of Batman: Arkham Asylum you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who’d heard of Rocksteady Studios. Primarily this would be because they only had one title to their name before that, Urban Chaos: Riot Response, which wasn’t badly received but at the same time you’d struggle to find anyone who’d played it. Their following two instalments using the Batman IP however catapulted them to fame and their success led to them being acquired by Time-Warner shortly before the release of Arkham City. However the most recent instalment in this series, Batman: Arkham Origins comes to us not from the venerable Rocksteady but instead Warner Bros Games Montreal, a development house that’s familiar with the series (as they worked on the Wii-U port Arkham City). Combine that with the Joker no longer being voiced by Mark Hamill and fans of the series were decidedly nervous as there was no telling how this game would pan out.
Arkham Origins takes place long before the world that was established in the previous two games, going back to the beginnings where Bruce Wayne is just beginning his journey as the caped crusader of Gotham City. He’s been at it long enough to attract the attention of some of the city’s more nefarious criminals and this has resulted in Black Mask, a notorious underworld dealer who’s eluded conviction due to the numerous businesses he runs, putting a bounty on Batman’s head. He has also invited 8 different assassins to go after the bounty including many of Batman’s long time rivals. Of course Bruce can’t sit idly by and potentially let others be put in danger for his sake and so begins a long Christmas eve spent putting the beat down on Gotham’s worst.
Visually Arkham Origins is a small step up from its predecessor with the primary limitation of them progressing any further being the fact that it’s still being released on the current console generation. In all honesty though it still looks fantastic with all of the environments having an incredible amount of detail in them. I’m also somewhat thankful for this as my PC hardware is starting to get a little long in the tooth and whilst Arkham Origins looked great there were times when it began to noticeably slow down. However that wasn’t a frequent occurrence, even in the outdoor scenes where you could see far off into the distance.
Just like the 2 Arkham titles before it Origins keeps the core game play and style the same whilst adding in additional challenges, enemies and tactics to keep it feeling fresh. You’ll still spend most of your time beating the every loving crap out of various different types of enemies, the challenge ratcheting up every so often with the introduction of new types of enemies requiring different techniques to take them down. However you still have the option of being a silent predator at times, swooping through an area and taking out multiple enemies without being seen. Finally the core puzzle mechanics make a come back, albeit with a new mode to make things a little more interesting.
Combat, as always, is fast paced and meaty with every hit you land having a really satisfying feel to it. I always seem to start off feeling rather uncoordinated, getting my combos interrupted all the time by just not noticing the incoming attacks, but it doesn’t take long before I’m hitting huge multipliers and laying waste to everyone. One thing that has always irritated me is the initial lack of a way to take out large groups once you’ve knocked them all down as whilst you can do a ground take down on them all too often that results in you losing your combo string as it seems you can’t counter whilst in the middle of one. Later on of course you’ll unlock some better ways of dealing with them and after that combat starts to feel a lot more fluid.
However one criticism that I’ll level at it, and this has been true of all of the series, is that as you progress through the story the number of different things you can do during combat start to become a little overwhelming. Pretty often you’ll find yourself facing a knife wielder, a guy with a riot shield and probably a tough enemy that needs to be stunned before you can do anything. These require no less than 3 different methods of taking them out and when combined with the dozen or so quick fire gadgets you end up having to remember so many things that you’ll eventually just settle on a couple. They all become somewhat moot however with the introduction of the shock gloves and then all you have to focus on is getting enough charge in them so then you can lay the smack down on everything around you.
The stealth sections feel like they have remained largely unchanged although this could be primarily due to the fact that I didn’t invest many points in that skill tree until very late in the game. They’re still fun and somewhat challenging, especially the ones that have unique mechanics like the Deadshot encounter, but if you were looking for a markedly different or revamped experience you’re not going to find it. There’s also the possibility that I just wasn’t paying attention to some of the prompts and missed some new opportunities but I didn’t really have any problems accomplishing anything (unlike say in the Mr Freeze battle in Arkham City).
The detective mode/puzzles remain largely the same albeit making use of some of the new mechanics granted to you by the various gadgets that weren’t present in the previous titles. There’s also the addition of the crime scene mode which you use to reconstruct crimes to figure out details about how they happened and to track down the people responsible. For the most part it works well however it’s not made entirely clear when you have to move to a new section to continue the investigation, or what the expected behaviour is, so at first it was a little confusing. Still since it’s largely the same mechanic it still functions well even if it doesn’t feel as fresh or different as other aspects of the game are.
However the real problem with Arkham Origins is that whilst it retains the essence of what made the Arkham series so good it’s also marred by numerous bugs and glitches, many of them that are completely game breaking. The screenshot above depicts one of them where upon using certain abilities with knock back you can cement enemies in a wall or other object. They then become unreachable and whilst I was able to dislodge them after trying every gadget I had (I eventually found I needed to get them on an edge and then attempt to stun them so they’d fall backwards out of the box) it was an incredibly frustrating experience. This is not to mention one part in the Penguin’s ship where all the external doors just simply refused to work, making the opening noise but not allowing me through. This broke my trust with all the game mechanics so I spent the vast majority of the game wondering if I had completed a challenge successfully or if I had just encountered another game breaking issue. I’m not alone in thinking this either as my searches into the issue revealed the list of bugs is scarily long and even after it’s been out for this length of time there’s no patch in sight.
This, combined with the fact that Arkham Origins isn’t too much different from City in terms of overall play style, is probably the reason why there’s been such an abysmal reaction to it. I did my best to avoid any reviews prior to playing it however I unwittingly found out that Destructoid gave it 3.5 out of 10 and whilst I don’t agree with that score overall I understand the reasoning that went into it. Whilst I feel that Arkham Origins isn’t a bad game overall it is certainly the weakest of the series, showing very clearly that Warner Bros Montreal has a lot to learn before they can deliver a title that can be considered on par with the rest of the Arkham series. Whether or not they’ll get the chance to do so in light of the current reaction to Arkham Origins though remains to be seen.
As for the story I felt like it was a great introduction into the relationship between Batman and the Joker as whilst their relationship has been explored in depth in other mediums it was great to see how the rivalry began. The bucket list of other characters thrown in as assassins was unfortunately less well done as it just felt like a convenient way to throw them in without needing a coherent reason for them to be there. This was only exacerbated by the fact that they either had long, drawn out encounters (like Enigma) which just weren’t that fun to pursue or they were so short (like Anarchy) that you really didn’t have time for them to develop.
Should we judge Batman: Arkham Origins without the knowledge of the titles that followed it previously it would be easy to heap praise on it. The combat is engaging and satisfying, the exploration into the relationship between the Joker and Batman is intriguing and the world is filled with detail that few games manage to achieve. However it’s lineage set a high bar for it to live up to and the fact that it’s not different enough from Arkham City, combined with the numerous game breaking bugs, means that Arkham Origins is the weakest of all of the titles. I certainly enjoyed my time in it but there’s no mistaking that the developers behind it have their work cut out for them if they want to live up to the Rocksteady brand.
Rating: 7..0 / 10
Batman: Arkham Origins is available on PC, Xbox360, PlayStation 3 and WiiU right now for $59.99, $78, $78 and $78 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 13 hours of play time and 26% of the achievements unlocked.
Telltale Games has a reputation for taking IP that’s either old or from another media and translating it into a new game experience in their very distinctive style. If I’m honest I had avoided many of their titles as whilst it was cool to see things like Sam and Max make a comeback I had long left adventure style games behind, preferring the more fast paced worlds that FPS and RTS offered. Still it was hard to ignore the fervour that surrounded their interpretation of The Walking Dead and my subsequent play through of it showed me that Telltale was able to deliver a deep and compelling story. So when I heard about The Wolf Among Us I was sold on it instantly as the brief taste that 400 Days had given me of the signature Telltale experience had left me wanting for so much more.
The days of the fables living in their own world has long since past and they now attempt to fit into the world of humans through a kind of magic called Glamour. This allows them to take on human form so that they can blend in with the wider world, enabling them to live out their lives in relative obscurity. You play as Big B Wolf (affectionately referred to as Bigby) charged with being the sheriff of the Fabletown community, keeping everyone in line and ensuring the safety of all the fables that have made the transition to the real world. However the magic of glamour doesn’t change past deeds and many old rivalries are still going strong. It was only a matter of time before everything started to take a turn for the worse although you’d never expect Bigby, even with his chequered past, to be at the centre of it.
The Wolf Among Us brings with it Telltale’s trademark style for transitioning comic books to the PC gaming medium, favouring a heavily stylized world that’s light on the graphics but heavy with detail. Every scene feels like a pane pulled straight from a comic book with the only thing missing being giant speech bubbles above all the characters. The art direction has improved quite a bit over The Walking dead with the lighting having an almost oil painting like effect on everything. It’s hard to describe but The Wolf Among Us definitely has a similar feel to other Telltale games but there’s an air of refinement about it that their previous titles lacked.
The main game mechanics remain largely the same from their previous titles with the majority of it taking the form of a point and click adventure that’s peppered with quick time events for the more action oriented scenes. Like the artwork it feels a little more refined than their previous titles with the mechanics having improved UIs that are a lot more responsive. Of course the level of game play in The Wolf Among Us is deliberately simple as the focus is heavily on the story rather than anything else which may frustrate some players. I personally enjoy it, especially after such heavily interactive titles like Shadow Warrior and Grand Theft Auto V, but it’s definitely one of the more valid criticisms that are often levelled at Telltale games.
The dialogue system has seen a small change as now instead of the options being on top of each other they’re laid out as a bunch of squares and no longer begin to fade as the time runs out. The “say nothing” option also seems to be far more prevalent something which you can use to great comedic effect if you feel like doing so. These changes definitely make the options a lot easier to scan and choose between, especially when you don’t have a lot of time to make a decision, and I’m not quite sure how to put it but the flow of dialogue definitely feels different to previous Telltale games. I like it and I’d be interested to see what long time Telltale fans think of the changes.
Whilst I think Telltale are probably the only company to do episodic content right this is the first time I’ve come in at the ground level for one of their IPs and, if I’m honest, it’s actually a little frustrating to start this early. Each episode is a bit sized chunk, on the order of 2 hours each, and whilst they’re quite entertaining in their own right I’m not the kind of person who likes to go back and revisit games for DLC and the like. I most likely will for The Wolf Among Us but it still feels like it’d be somewhat better to wait 5 months until all the episodes are out and then binge on them over a weekend. This can be made up somewhat by the fact that multiple play throughs can be quite a rewarding experience with Telltale titles as the game can play out very differently depending on what seems like minor decisions.
I’m not familiar with the source material behind The Wolf Among Us so I can’t comment to how true to form it is (although I’m told The Walking Dead was essentially like for like) but the story is gripping and thoroughly enjoyable. Of course that’d be all for nothing if the voice acting wasn’t up to scratch but the casting has been done exceptionally well with Bigby’s gravely voice fitting his character perfectly. I really can’t wait to see how it develops over the coming episodes as the first episode was action packed enough and the small teaser they give you at the end is almost cruel in how many questions it raises.
The Wolf Among Us continues Telltale’s success with translating IP material onto the video game medium with skill that few other game developers can match. The current instalment is more than enough to get you hooked into this new world, leaving you clawing at the walls for more that won’t be coming for another month. Whilst the simplistic game style won’t be for everyone the story more than makes up for this, providing an extremely rewarding experience for those who take the small amount of time to experience it. Whilst I’d probably recommend holding off until all the episodes are out it still stands on its own as a great experience, even if its a little short.
The Wolf Among Us is available on PC, Xbox360 and PlayStation 3 for $24.99. Game was played on the PC with around 2 hours of total play time and 16% of the achievements unlocked.
You’d have to be living off the grid to not have heard about the latest instalment in the Grand Theft Auto series. The budget alone made waves when it was announced rocketing it to the number one spot for most expensive video game ever developed. Of course this has since translated into it being one of the biggest selling games of all time selling well over $1 billion worth of copies in its first day and looks like it will be well on its way to being the highest grossing entertainment product of all time. Even though my history with the series isn’t the greatest (Vice City was probably the only one I actually enjoyed) there was no question that I had to play GTA V and stick with it long enough to do it justice.
GTA V, unlike its predecessors, shares its main story between 3 different career criminals. The first you’re introduced to is Michael, a once great mastermind of planning and execution he has now entered retirement. The circumstances surrounding how he got to this point is something of a mystery but its obvious that his retirement isn’t sitting well with him. Franklin, a former gang banger who’s trying to go legit, runs across Michael’s path when he’s tries to repossess a car that belongs to Michael’s son. Seeing his potential Michael takes him under his wing, bringing him along for the first real heist he has done in a decade. This has the unfortunate consequence of alerting one of Michael’s former running mates, Trevor, to the fact that he’s still alive, something which doesn’t sit particularly well with him.
This is likely to be the last big hurrah for the current console generation and true to form the graphics for this title are pretty astounding. Sure I’ve seen a lot better on the PC, indeed there are few things that can hold a candle to Crysis 3 these days, but for a console architecture that’s pushing 8 years old the level of fidelity is very impressive. What really sets GTA V apart from other open world style games is the incredible amount of detail in the world, something which becomes readily apparent when you’re flying over it in your aircraft of choice. This does come at a cost some times as even my less than 1 year old Xbox struggled to keep up at some points but I’ll gladly wear the occasional frame dip if it meant graphics of this calibre everywhere.
That breadth extends into the game world itself as there’s innumerable things for you to do in this world. I personally stuck to the storyline missions as they’re the things that interested me most but, should that not exactly tickle your fancy, you’re pretty much guaranteed to find something to do. Indeed you might not even need to go looking for it as there are randomly generated events that can happen anywhere so its quite likely that even just mindless driving won’t be as uneventful as it sounds. This is then complimented by how alive the GTA V world feels with it teaming with NPCs that aren’t just mindless zombies, they’re active parts of the environment. From what I can remember from GTA IV this is quite a stark contrast as by comparison it felt a lot more…sterile.
From the get go its obvious that Rockstar put a lot of time into getting the driving mechanics of GTA V just right. This doesn’t mean realism, as much of the driving physics are certainly not based in reality, more in the context of the game the driving experience and how it interacts with the larger game feels very solid. Should they have foregone this for some reason I’d probably have a much dimmer view of the game overall as you’ll be spending a great deal of your time driving through Los Santos’ roads. I will admit that towards the end I started taking taxis everywhere as I was getting a little tired of having to drive all the way across the map all the time but at least the developers had the foresight to include such a mechanic, alleviating a lot of potential frustration.
Combat is done through a traditional 3rd person cover based system which thankfully avoids the usual pitfall of only allowing you to have 2 weapons at a time. Instead your entire arsenal is always at your disposal, from night sticks and pistols all the way up to miniguns and rocket launchers, all available through a weapon selection wheel. Whilst some would argue that this could trivialize some of the encounters (and it does, to an extent) I think going for the 2 weapon norm would have taken out much of the fun that comes with the GTA brand. The flip side of this is that, when combined with the aim assist that’s built into the game (which, I admit, I did not turn off) most of the encounters aren’t exactly difficult and are more about positioning and use of cover than they are about weapon choice.
Despite that GTA V does a good job of creating tension during combat by using your ability to switch between characters. You’ll usually start off using one of them and then you’ll need to switch to another in order to keep on progressing forward. Sometimes this will be because they have some kind of tactical advantage, like being on the roof and able to take out snipers, other times it will be so that you can get them out of a jam. To be honest I was sceptical that this would add anything to the game play but the execution of the idea is done well enough that it alleviates much of the repetition. This could also be due to my storyline-first play style which saw me go through many varied environments but even the small fire fights I got into outside of them felt quite varied.
Whilst there’s not explicit levelling or progress counter in GTA V there are aspects of the game that are gradually unlocked or made accessible to you as you progress through the game. As far as I could tell newer weapons were made available to you after a certain set of storyline missions were completed as it wasn’t until late in the game that I was able to get the Advanced Rifle. To be fair though you really only need a shotgun and an assault rifle to get you through pretty much everything and when a mission requires you to have a special kind of firearm its given to you free of charge. Car upgrades also seem to be somewhat moot as whilst I could save the car in my garage I couldn’t seem to figure out how to make it my default car so after one mission it, inexplicably, disappeared along with the $100K I had dumped into it. I’m willing to admit ignorance on that one, however.
For a game of this size GTA V manages to get out of it relatively bug free, especially if you don’t go out of your way to find them. I ran into a few random occurrences however the most notable of which was reloading a quicksave that put a lightpost through the middle of my car. Driving forward then threw it up into the air and, had it been on the other side, would have likely resulted in my character’s death. There were also some rather unusual physics that occurred when driving around, usually when at moderate speeds and I’d clip something that I couldn’t see and then proceed to be sent skywards. None of these detracted from the overall game however and considering just how much content there is within GTA V I’m quite surprised that there are so few; a testament to how much polish Rockstar has put on this title.
Out of everything in GTA V I’d have to say my favourite part would have to be the heists, especially the first one at the jewlery store. Now I’m not sure if this was a failing on my part or not but there seemed to be a indication that more heists would be made available later on but, as far as I could tell, they weren’t. So whilst it was all well and good to say that crew’s skills would get better with repeated heists I never felt like I had the opportunity to take the risk on the cheaper ones in order to skill them up. Indeed it seemed whenever I did take one of the cheap ones they always ended up dead so I really had no choice in the matter. I’ve since read that heists will be a co-operative encounter in the GTA Online experience but since it was only released recently (and has been struggling with the load) I haven’t had a chance to play it.
The story of GTA V is pretty engaging and is probably the only reason why I stuck through it for as long as I did. Whilst I avoided many of the side missions, mostly because the few I did play were total crap (i.e. tow truck with Franklin) they did seem to be a good way to flesh out the 3 main character’s backgrounds, if you were interested in knowing more. The one thing that I will take issue with, and again this might be due to my storyline first play style, is that many of the issues that the characters have (both with each other and the various other NPCs in the world) seem to wrap up rather quickly during the last couple missions, seemingly out of no where. This does make for a rather satisfying ending (I chose the death wish option, if you’re wondering) it did feel a little hacked together.
GTA V is one of those rare examples where a big budget, long development cycle and never ending hype has actually culminated in a game that lives up to all the expectations lumped on it. The world is large and varied, peppered with numerous different things for you to do and distractions to give you a break in-between missions. Nearly every aspect of the game has received the level of polish we’ve come to expect from Rockstar games with many of them exceeding my expectations. It’s not a fault free experience, as much as some fans would like to say otherwise, but it is an incredibly solid game, one that sets the standard for all others in its genre to be compared against. Whilst my typical aversion to open world games means that I probably won’t be racking up many hours on it for years to come it still stands on its own as a solid single player game experience, one that’s definitely worth your time to play.
Grand Theft Auto V is available on PlayStation3 and Xbox360 right now for $78 and $78 respectively. Game was played on the Xbox360 with a total of 24 hours played with approximately 60% completion.
I’ve always been somewhat aware of the Saints Row series of games although I’ll be honest and say that I have, for the most part, ignored them. It’s not that I have anything against them in particular, indeed I played Saints Row 2 a bit when it came out, it’s just that open world games aren’t usually that appealing to me. Still it’s been hard to miss the controversy that surrounds Saints Row IV and by all accounts it’s been well received by the community at large so I had to wonder if I was missing out on something. Whilst my time with Saints Row IV might not have turned me into an open world convert I was amazed at how far Grand Theft Auto’s poor cousin had come since the last time I played it.
Saints Row IV takes place shortly after its predecessor putting you, known only as The Boss, in the middle east to track down Cyrus Temple who’s gone insane and is hellbent on kill all of your crew. Before you can get to him however he launches a nuclear missile at Washington and you, being the charismatic hero that you are, leap onto it and disable it mid flight. This wins you the praise of the American people, catapulting you into the oval office with the Saints as your cabinet. 5 years later however the world is invaded by a ruthless alien race and you’re the only one that can stop them.
It’s clear that Saints Row IV has been engineered towards fast paced game play as even with every setting dialed up to the highest possible setting it still looks and feels like a current generation console game. It’s a world’s away from the horror show that was Ride to Hell: Retribution but it’s still below the level I’ve come to expect from current generation games, even open world titles which usually dial it back a little for playability. This is made up for however by the surprising amount of detail that’s been stuffed into every scene something that becomes quite apparent when you’re driving through the numerous winding streets. The graphics were obviously not their primary focus however as there’s a lot more to the game than just the visual experience.
Like previous Saints Row games you’re given a pretty extensive amount of customization options for your character, many of which go far beyond that of what you’d normally expect. I was just going to go with the default settings however after browsing through the available skin colours and finding the fetching blue hue you see above I couldn’t help myself and set about creating Dr Manhattan. This was probably for the best as my last character, a geriatric white man who’s default look was sheer terror with a voice that certainly didn’t match his appearance, ended up becoming a distraction more than anything else. Dr Manhattan on the other hand seemed to fit in with Saints Row IV’s ludicrous nature.
If there’s one theme that runs through everything in Saints Row IV (and I’m not just talking about the story here) its that nothing should be taken seriously and that there are no limits to what the developers would mess with. Now this presents something of a conundrum for me as much of the longevity I get out of games like this comes from the fact that they take their world seriously and, once I’m bored of that reality, I can set about sowing chaos and destruction. In short Jerk Mode is a key part of my experience for these kinds of games however Saints Row encourages you to be a giant dick to everyone from the get go and indeed that becomes a central part of the overall game.
The vast majority of your game time will be spent inside the “simulation” where your primary goal is to disrupt it as much as possible. There are numerous ways for you to go about this, indeed the first 4 hours of the game are pretty much dedicated to introducing you to these mechanics, and they’re all about breaking the rules and generally running amok. These are all essentially mini-games that you play to gain cash, experience and unlocks that will make your time in Saints Row IV easier and, possibly, much more enjoyable. Unfortunately like all open world games these quickly start to lose their sheen and fast become repetitive tasks which are no where near as fun.
Of course you don’t have to do all these side missions as once you’re past a certain level it’s next to impossible for you to die and the weapons you have at your disposal make all but the hardest enemies evaporate instantly. I made the mistake of trying to clear out my side quests initially which turned out to simply be an easier way to find the various challenges scattered around the place. After that I instead went to focus on the story line but even that just became a way to introduce new types of challenges into the simulation. It was at that point that I started to lose interest in Saints Row IV and is the primary reason why I didn’t finish it.
The combat of Saints Row IV is primarily of the 3rd person shooter variety with hordes of enemies throwing themselves at your vast arsenal that includes both regular guns and ludicrous weapons such as the Dubstep Gun. The AI isn’t particularly smart or innovative, usually standing in the same position and taking pot shots at you, and the challenge usually becomes finding them rather than dispatching them. If you prefer you can also go toe to toe with them either using your fists or one of the few melee weapons available to you however the melee combat system feels really clunky, to the point of being unusable.
The problem stems from the fact that your normal walk speed is heinously slow and while sprinting you can’t use any weapons at all. This means that approaching an enemy involves sprinting right up to them, stopping and then waiting for your character to switch into melee mode. If you rapidly press the fire button while sprinting you’ll perform a super power take down, something which is effective in its own right, however if you’re trying to take out multiple enemies at a time it’s by far the least effective way of doing so. Thus whilst there is a melee combat system it feels decidedly lacklustre and is only made worse when you’re forced to use it in some of the challenges.
There are also large swaths of the game that seem to be completely irrelevant. Like Grand Theft Auto you can steal cars and even upgrade/customize them however once you’ve got a couple levels in sprint there’s not a lot of point in driving them around. Indeed if you’re chasing data clusters, the little things that let you upgrade your super powers, you can’t be in any kind of vehicle in order to pick them up. There was allusions made to the fact that there might be races using them however I never came across one so any money sunk into improving your cars seems like an utterly pointless endeavour.
The story is pretty much as you’d expect although I get the feeling I’d be getting a lot more out of it if I had seriously played some of the preceding Saints Row games. Indeed much of this game relies on past events to drive the current narrative so those of us who are only tangentially familiar with the Saints Row story are likely to be left wondering why certain things are the way they are. The romance options are pretty hilarious though, even if you don’t need to do anything more than press R to activate them.
Saints Row IV starts off strong with its complete disregard for seriousness and emphasis on just having fun. However that quickly wears thin as the game throws repetitive challenges at you making every task feel like just another grind for experience and cache. I’m sure long time Saints Row fans will find much to love in the current title but for someone like me I just couldn’t get into it past a superficial level. I tried to stick it out, honestly I did, but the repetition and lack of any investment in the characters or story just wore me down and I couldn’t continue playing it.
Saints Row IV is available on PC, PlayStation3 and Xbox360 right now for $69.99, $78 and $78 respectively. Game was played on the PC with around 6 hours of total game time and 21% of the achievements unlocked.