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.
Universal praise for a game is always something that will draw skepticism from me as it’s rare that a game will please everyone that plays it. Indeed this is the reason why I try to avoid the hype for any game now as I’ve had far too many receive wide critical acclaim (Bayonetta being the greatest example of this) only to find out that they just didn’t merit the high scores that were granted to them. Universal derision on the other hand is far more reliable with games that get hit with bad review after bad review usually being quite deserving of the title. Thus when I read about so many people taking Ride to Hell: Retribution to task I couldn’t help but witness this trainwreck for myself.
The year is 1969 and Jake Conway is a Vietnam veteran, returning home for the first time. He’s part of a biker gang, one that still has a lot of rivals, but he’s not interested in that, he just wants to live a quiet life with his brother. Past rivalries quickly catch up with him however and his brother is brutally murdered in front of him and Jake is mortally wounded. He survives, somehow, and swears revenge upon those who did this to him. So begins your ride to retribution, one that’s filled with poor game design choices and ludicrously bad implementation.
If Ride to Hell was an iOS/Android game I’d give it a pass for graphics as they’re at the level I’ve come to expect from a mobile platform. However this game saw a release on both major consoles and PC which means they knew they had a decent amount of grunt to work with and simply didn’t make use of it. Now this is usually done for a reason, like when you’re expecting a lot of action on screen and don’t want the FPS to drop, but Ride to Hell has none of that and so the only conclusion you can come up with is that either the developers ran out of time or they were simply not capable of producing something that was better. I’m tending towards the former however as the rest of the game smacks of something that was rushed to release.
For starters the models and animations are either weird or just plain terrible. For starters look at the hands above, for Jake on the left they look normal-ish but on his brother they’re freakishly oversized. Not only that his jacket is fully rigid, hovering a good half a foot off his back at all times. It gets worse when every character flaps their mouth in a wide gape every time they talk which just draws attention to the stiff animation of nearly everything else within Ride to Hell. Indeed you get the feeling that some of this stuff was just placeholder animations whilst they worked on getting better ones in but they just never got the time to do so.
This rushed feeling permeates throughout Ride to Hell as nearly every aspect of the game feels like there was so much more planned for it but it never saw the light of day. Even in it’s decidedly half-assed state the game still takes up a whopping 10GB worth of space which, when compared to something like Tomb Raider which is about the same size, shows that their ambitions far exceeded their grasp. All this is likely a product of its tumultuous origin story which has seen this turd of a game be in development for 5 years prior to its release.
The port to PC hasn’t done it any favours either as they’ve literally just made sure it works on the platform and then done nothing to improve the experience. Like many gamers I have a native resolution for my monitor and if I don’t play games at that res then they tend to look like crap. Well Ride to Hell doesn’t even have an option to change the resolution nor any other graphics options that have been standard for years. Worse still all the menus and interfaces show their console first nature with the mouse being unusuable in any of them. They also break several gaming conventions for typical bindings for command keys, a sin few can get away with.
Combat in Ride to Hell is a mixture of third person cover based shooting and “freeflow” beat ‘em up combat. It’s obvious that different sections of the game were designed for different types of combat however you’re free to choose whatever method you see fit. So this means if the developers wanted you to melee the next section and you whip our your gun it’s quite likely you can take out the whole room as they run blindly at you. Similarly if an enemy was programmed to use his guns then you going in fists first usually means they won’t block at all and you can take them out rather quickly.
The AIs also seem to have no idea about line of sight as there were many time s I could hear gun shots but not see any bullets flying nor the enemy that was shooting them. Eventually I’d find one of them hiding behind a pillar or something similar, randomly firing rounds in my direction but hitting the giant obstacle in their way. You could also do the old hide just around the corner trick where they can see you, but not hit you, and then just line up the perfect head shot to take them out in one go. Even the melee guys, who in most games will charge directly at you in order to get you to engage, just stand there doing nothing if you’re around a corner. Needless to say the AI needs a lot of work if it even wants to match 2008 standards.
It’s obvious that Ride to Hell: Retribution was designed to be some kind of open world game, ala Grand Theft Auto. The first indication I got of this was a lot of the dialogue made reference to locations with directions, as if you were going to be taking yourself there. Indeed the amount of assets used between sections for the various races/quick time event combat encounters would lead you to believe that it’s one big continuous world. It’s pretty much confirmed when you get given your home base which allows you to choose missions, buy upgrades and customize your ride which are all features you’d expect in a sandbox style game.
The amount of effort put into these side features shows that the ambitions of this game were much higher than what they managed to achieve. The bike customization for instance is pretty detailed with nearly every part of the bike customizable. However the second you get to it 90% of the parts are unlocked with only a few requiring you to do something to be able to use them. Not only does this remove much of the incentive to keep on playing it also signals that they likely had many more collectibles/achievements planned that would unlock additional bike customizations.
The skill/weapon upgrade system is incredibly basic, to the point where it looks like it was slapped on at the last minute to give the player some sense of progression. However since all the weapons are available to you it doesn’t make sense to buy anything but the best in its category and after the first mission you have enough cash to buy the best one from at least one of the weapon classes. The melee combat skills are simply not worth your time as they don’t fundamentally change the way combat flows nor do they make it particularly easier.
Ride to Hell: Retribution is terrible, suffering from development woes that should have seen it dead and buried, not released to the public in it’s god awful state. Every aspect of it is unfinished and the band aids put on top to try and it up only make it worse, highlighting every undeveloped aspect. There’s really nothing redeemable about Ride to Hell at all except for maybe it serving as yet another text book case of why some games should just be allowed to die rather than be released to the public. I honestly feel for the devs as it looks like this game was meant for so much more but its development story has instead resulted in this turd that’s only appeal is how terrible it is.
Ride to Hell: Retribution is available on PC, Xbox360 and PlayStation3 right now for $14, $68 and $68 respectively. Game was played on the PC with around 2 hours of total play time and 21% of the achievements unlocked.
I’m in something of a love/hate relationship with online co-op games. On the one hand I think they’re amazing as some of the best times I’ve had in gaming have come from the times when a bunch of us have got together and just smashed out a couple hours on a game. Notable examples of this include Dead Island, Borderlands and Left 4 Dead. At the same time however it can be pretty difficult to get everyone online at the same time or, worse still, if you have more people who want to play than there are spots in the game it inevitably means it’ll never get played. Thankfully developers have noticed this and designed systems to alleviate at least the former of those issues. Payday 2 is one such game that lives and dies by its co-op experience but thankfully it’s a rather seamless experience, even if you can’t find any friends to play with.
You’re a career criminal who’s been on the lamb for a while. Your old friend Bain has got into contact with you as he’s in need of your skills again. He’s set you up with a safe house, some cash and a cache of weapons to get you started. From there he leaves the rest up to you, allowing you to pick and choose through various heists, purchase additional weaponry and develop your skills in whichever way you see fit. You’re not the only criminal out there however and more often than not you’ll be working side by side with many others, some who might not share your view of how these things ought to go down.
Everything about Payday 2 is optimized for fast paced action and that includes the graphics. Whilst they’re not exactly bad it’s clear that they’ve been done with FPS in mind first and since it’s a multiplatform release the limitations from the consolization are quite apparent. I had every setting set to maximum (with v-sync on) and never once saw any slow down, even in the most heavy action scenes. I don’t expect Crysis level graphics from everyone but if you’re playing Payday 2 on a PC the limitations are going to be quite apparent, but they are there for a reason.
Payday 2 plays out through various different “heists” which are essentially short, usually no longer than 30mins long but can be as short as 1 min, missions which have varying degrees of risk and reward associated with them. You have little control over all these parameters however, instead you’re given an interface where you can choose from a multitude of available heists with various properties. The more white dots something has the bigger the reward for completing it is and the yellow dots denote additional risk (which appears to translate into a tougher mission, although not always). There are also Pro Jobs which have to be comepleted in one attempt otherwise you’re sent back to crime.net to search for another one.
The jobs will be different each time you play them as pathways will be opened/closed, resources required to complete them in different areas and, if its a multi-day heist, the outcome of the previous days will determine what options are available to you. It usually comes down to a choice between maximising your profit or shortening the amount of time you need to spend on that particular mission. One of the most popular heists, the Ukrainian Job, can be done in 30 seconds although you can loot the jewelry store for extra cash which, potentially, can make you miss the early escape that’s available.
There’s 4 different character classes in Payday 2 and which one you choose will drastically alter the potential ways you have to finish a heist. Early on there isn’t much choice as the game changing skills don’t come until much later however the different equipment available to each class can be the make or break for those early level heists. I had initially chose the Enforcer class, which is essentially a soldier who deals out and soaks up damage, since all the heists I was in never worked out when we attempted to do stealth. I’ve since changed to the Technician almost exclusively for the shaped charge equipment (which allows you to blow open most things that would otherwise take ages to drill) but even then I’m still eyeing off the sentry gun tree as something that could be quite viable.
The leveling system is made up of 3 different components. The first is straight up experience, granted to you on the completion of every day of a heist, and every level grants you a skill point (and ever 10 levels gets you 2 bonus points). The higher up the skill tree the more points a particular skill costs so those top tier abilities require quite a heavy level of investment. The second is cash which is used to purchase skills, weapons and also to customize your mask. Past a certain point cash usually isn’t much of an issue, you’re never more than a mission or two away from buying anything you want, however the 3rd part of the leveling system, the unlocks, severely limits how far a large cash reserve can go.
You see whilst you’re able to buy every weapon once you reach the right levels the modifications to those weapons come as part of the “payday” you get at the end of every heist. Essentially it’s a random chance to get a drop which can be anything from mask components to weapon mods or even just additional cash. Problem with this is that it means once you get to say level 45 or so you’ll have the best weapon you can get and the only way to progress further is to get more unlocks. This is why you’ll see people preferring the single day heists that can be completed quickly and honestly its at this point that the replay value of Payday 2 diminishes rapidly as grinding out those unlocks just isn’t fun.
Payday 2 is also has quite a few quirks, one of which is pictured above. Other player characters don’t walk particularly smoothly on screen, usually twitching between walk cycles randomly. There’s also a lot of jitter on player models, almost as if the physics engine is buffering them around, which is most notable on the lobby screen before you commence a job. The hit detecting also seems to be a little weird as there were times I could nail people with a shotgun from 100m away only to have that same weapon miss when they were at point blank range. They’re not exactly game breaking issues but they are things that can cause additional frustration, something which can tip you over the edge if the heist isn’t going particularly well.
Payday 2 feels like one of those classic LAN games, one where you can just pick it up and bash it out with a couple friends for however long you feel like. The fast paced action and rudimentary level strategy is enough to make Payday 2 interesting whilst not overly complicated, significantly reducing the barrier to entry for those who want to play it. It’s not without its quirks however although I have to say that it’s probably one of the most polished games I’ve played that’s cost me less than $30. So if you’re a fan of cooperative styled games then Payday 2 has quite a lot to offer, especially if you have a few friends who have it already.
Payday 2 is available on PC and Xbox360 right now for $29.99 and $39.99 respectively. Game was played on the PC with around 10 hours played and 33% of the achievements unlocked.
There were a lot of games I wanted to check out after doing several tours of the indie area at PAX. Unfortunately most of them aren’t available yet, at least the ones I wanted to play anyway, and so after I got home I did the usual scroll through Steam looking for something that caught my interest for this week’s review. Thankfully the Steam Summer Sale was in full effect and many titles that I had passed over (mostly due to price) were on sale and so I quickly filled my library with several games I had been meaning to play. Dust: An Elysian Tale was one of these titles and I wasn’t really sure what to expect from it but I have to say I was pleasantly surprised.
You, playing as Dust, awaken in a meadow in the middle of a forest. You’re then approached by a strange floating sword who calls itself Ahrah, followed closely by a small flying creature called Fidget who claims to be the sword’s guardian. Whilst they don’t provide you any clue as to who you are or how you got to here they direct you to the local town of Aurora in the search for answers. The town is overrun with monsters however and after dealing with them the town’s mayor asks that you track down their leader in order to get the attacks to stop. This begins your journey to find out who you are and what your real purpose is.
The art style of Dust is quite spectacular as it manages to feel like you’re playing inside an epic Disney animated movie. I’ll admit that it was a little off-putting at first, mostly because I felt like it was going to be skewed towards being a kids game, however I found myself becoming more and more impressed with it as I progressed through the game. Mostly this was due to the added environmental effects like snowstorms on high peaks but there were also very atmospheric set pieces like the haunted mansions. Overall though being able to capture that Disney like feeling, both in terms of visual style and storytelling, is something the developer behind Dust should be commended for.
Dust is a 2D hack ‘n’ slash platformer where you’ll be put up against massive hordes of enemies which you’ll be able to dispatch readily. I’m not usually a fan of these kinds of games, I usually get bored with them as the combat starts to feel repetitive, but Dust manages to keep things fresh by gradually introducing new abilities to you as the game progresses. There’s also some rudimentary RPG elements included as you’ll gain experience and levels by defeating enemies and completing quests. There’s also an inventory system, which thankfully needs no management whatsoever, and a crafting system that will allow you to create some of the most powerful gear in the game. All of these elements bind together quite well providing a game experience that’s very different from anything else I’ve played in recent times.
The combat frustrated me at first since the tools I had at my disposal were quite limited. However after the introduction of the Dust Storm ability, essentially projectile based attacks that your companion Fidget shoots which you then amplify, made it far more enjoyable. At the same time though it felt like it trivialized the encounters somewhat, even playing on the Tough difficulty level, although this is countered by the fact that anything can drop your health to almost zero (but not zero if you’re above say 40HP, giving you a chance to heal). In fact you can play Dust as a button masher for the majority of the game, it’s only later when enemies start requiring certain abilities, like parrying or using special abilities to kill them, that some form of strategy starts to enter in the equation.
Although this seems to go to the extreme towards the end of the game where (seemingly) every enemy gets the ability to parry you making continuing combos and using your special abilities (which has an energy bar) very frustrating. Indeed it gets even worse when I started to notice that they could parry whilst seemingly incapacitated and, randomly, my attacks would simply fail to connect with them for no reason in particular. It’s a drastic uptick in challenge, I’ll give them that, however it feels more like a hacked in solution to ramping up the difficulty than anything else. Perhaps utilizing some of the non-combat platforming abilities as augments to the combat would’ve been a better way to do it as there are several of those introduced after you get all your combat abilities.
The platforming is relatively easy as all the jumps you’ll be required to make can be done without the use of your Dust Storm (which allows you to move a little further in the air than you would be able to otherwise) and the use of randomly moving/disappearing platforms is kept at a minimum until towards the end. It’s to your advantage to explore everywhere you possibly can as well since there’s treasure chests and keys scattered everywhere which usually contain a bunch of gold and health items. You’ll be struggling for keys initially as they’re just as hard to find as the chests themselves but I found that towards the end I had more than enough to open every chest I came across, even without purchasing them.
One thing that did irritate me about the platforming in Dust was the fact that early on you’ll be shown areas that look like there’s a route to get to them but you have no way of getting to them. Of course later on in the game you’ll unlock the required ability to traverse the obstacle and, should you want to return to that area, you’ll be able to make your way through there. I really don’t like it when games do this as I’m not someone who likes going back to retrace their steps every time I get a new ability. It just doesn’t feel like progress to me and instead makes me feel like I’m missing out on something whenever I see an obstacle I can’t yet tackle. It might increase the play time for some but, honestly, I don’t believe that most gamers are judging games by the number of hours it takes to complete anymore.
The RPG elements serve their purpose, giving you that lovely thrill of leveling up every so often that brings with it new levels of power. Since you only have control over 4 of your stats, and can only level up one of them at a time, the progress granted to you through levels doesn’t feel anywhere near as impactful as the upgrades you get from gear. I can remember getting a really good piece of armor before I was probably supposed to have it which made me near invincible against the enemies I was facing but up until that point I still felt like a glass cannon in battle. In fact the only upgrades that feel like they’re making any difference are the ones to defense. Even the 2x attack ring I got towards the end seemed to make little difference to the time it took ti dispatch enemies which was a little disappointing.
The crafting however feels rather well done as instead of forcing you to constantly reload sections to farm up the required materials you can instead sell one of them to a vendor who will then proceed to sell them back to you and restock them periodically. This means its advantageous to sell one of your materials to them whenever you pick it up as the vendor will stock up on it over time so when you need it, to craft that amazing item blueprint you just picked up, it’ll be there for you. This was my primary source of items as whilst I got a couple good drops most of them came from crafting and whilst I didn’t manage to catalog all the materials (some of the earlier ones just didn’t drop for me at all) I had more than enough to craft most of the things I wanted to.
I was honestly surprised by the story of Dust as whilst it’s rated at E (Everyone 10+) and starts off with some rather shaky premises the characters undergo some serious development, to the point where you really start to care for them. Dust also pulls no punches when it comes to dealing with real topics like death and betrayal, something that I did not expect given its very Disney like qualities. Dust does lose a little sheen by doing the cliched screaming for a sequel at the end but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to another installment of this game and the stories it contains.
Dust: An Elysian Tale goes down as one of the bigger surprises for me of this year, seamlessly combining beautifully evocative artwork with a hack ‘n; slash 2D RPG. It has its flaws, although they’re surprisingly few for a first time game developer, and could deal with difficulty ramping better. That being said however the issues melt into the background as you blast your way through hordes of enemies and revel in the deep story line. I’d highly recommend a playthrough, especially for those who love the Disney art style.
Dust: An Elysian Tale is available on Xbox and PC right now for $15. Game was played on the PC on the Tough difficulty with 8.6 hours played and 50% of the achievements unlocked.
Since my review of the original The Walking Dead from Telltale games I’ve found myself far more involved in the IP. I’ve watched all the TV episodes and whilst it isn’t my favorite show out there it still ranks up there as one of those shows that I’d say is recommended watching. Of course I understand that while they share the same source material the games are far more true to the originals and whilst I haven’t had the chance to read through them I can definitely attest to the incredible amount of character development that happens in The Walking Dead series. 400 Days is an episodic DLC for The Walking Dead, serving as an introduction for the story that will come with season 2. Now I’m not usually one for DLC but The Walking Dead stands out as one of the best episodic, story focused games out there which made this hard to pass up.
400 Days gives you a brief introduction into 5 different story lines that all within a short time frame of each other. They serve as the character’s origin stories, ostensibly the ones that will be used as a basis for season 2, and since you’re playing through them you have a certain amount of control over how their characters develop. All of them come with baggage, both from before the outbreak and after, and how you deal with that will determine how they play out in the future. This rings true to the rest of the series which was highly reactive the choices you made, even the ones you thought were of no consequence at the time.
Considering this is just a DLC it comes as no surprise that there’s been no dramatic changes to the art style or general game mechanics. It still feels very much like you’re playing a game that’s taking place in a comic book as style that works incredibly well, seemingly taking the idea of authenticity to its utmost conclusion. The voice acting has remained top notch as well with all the lines delivered with the expected emotion and gravity befitting the situation happening on screen. It shouldn’t be surprising really as this is essentially the 5th time they’ve done this and every time Telltale games have shown they can deliver.
Unlike the previous installments which followed Lee and Clementine’s quest to stay alive in a hostile world 400 days instead gives you the option of picking which story arc you’d like to investigate. Whilst I’m sure that many will do pretty much as I did, going from left to right, there’s no right or wrong way to play through them. They do intertwine however which means that it’s up to you to form part of the narrative through deducing the links, however they’re not exactly subtle so I don’t think anyone would miss them. Each of the stories are unique and provide you the opportunity to shape their character in some way and with a few cases you can (I suspect) radically change their behavior.
Mechanically it plays essentially the same as The Walking Dead did with the addition of a couple more mechanics that feel like they are there to test the waters for the next season. You’ve got your usual adventure game mechanics of clickable items which you can then interact with however since this is essentially just a bit of background story for each of the characters there’s really no puzzles to speak of. There’s a few challenges but the NPCs tell you exactly what to do so unless you deviate from that then there’s really nothing to threaten you. You could almost consider the mechanics unnecessary as they are as basic as you can get however I do appreciate them as they help to break up what would otherwise be a monotonous experience.
Thankfully it looks like Telltale has taken some of the lessons learned with previous releases and applied them to this one as my experience with 400 days was completely bug free. The worst thing that can happen in story focused games like this is game issues breaking immersion and The Walking Dead had enough of them that I had a couple occasions where I just stopped playing because of it. Hopefully this trouble free experience translates well onto season 2 as that was probably the only negative thing I can remember about The Walking Dead.
Of course that’s all second to the incredibly confronting stories that 400 Days manages to tell in its short play time. Every single one of the story lines will force you to make a hard decision, some a choice between two that neither of which you can completely agree with. Some of the things you’ll do thinking they were the right thing to do, or were simply the only way you could react given the situation, will put you on a path that you don’t agree with. How you deal with that will impact on how the character reacts later down the track and, if the foreboding is anything to go by, how the story of season 2 shapes itself.
400 days fits right in with the rest of The Walking Dead series, providing a little taste of what’s to come in season 2 and giving you the opportunity to shape the story before it starts. If you enjoyed the previous series then you’re sure to like 400 days as the same game play and story telling is there, it’s just the people you’ll be following is different. If you haven’t played any of them then I’d strongly recommend you do as they’re one of the stand out story first titles in recent memory and if 400 days is anything to go by season 2 will continue on with that tradition.
The Walking Dead: 400 days is available on PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox360 and iOS right now for $4.99 on all platforms. Total game time was 2.5 hours with 88% of the achievements unlocked.