The 1.0 version of The Division was a pretty great experience although its end game content was somewhat lacking. Indeed at the time of writing the review I was some 37 hours in and I only racked up another 8 before calling it quits altogether. Soon afterwards the incursion patch released but, frankly, there wasn’t enough in it to bring me back. Ever since then I’ve heard rumblings of the changes they’ve made, the content that’s been added and how all of that has resulted in a very well rounded game. With a couple of my friends recommending that I come back to give it a go I figured it’d be worth a shot and, honestly, if Massive Entertainment released this back in 2016 they would’ve been staring down the barrel of several game of the year awards.
The numerous patches since then haven’t expanded the story directly per se, however with the addition of new areas, encounters and whatnot the narrative world of The Division has expanded significantly. There’s a small amount of story explaining the background of the new additions to the game but you’ll likely miss most of it if you’re not paying attention. Like before a lot of the greater world building is done through the various kinds of collectibles you can find around the place, most of which will just build out the backstory of the main campaign a little more. It’d be nice to see some story focused DLC as I really did enjoy the campaign back on initial release but honestly with the rest of the changes that have come through I can see why it was probably left on the todo list.
The Division has retained its dedication to filling the world with incredible amounts of detail, something I had completely forgotten about in the near 2 years since I last played. Indeed that detail extends beyond just throwing random stuff everywhere as the level design itself is incredibly complex as well. I couldn’t tell you how many times me and my crew managed to get ourselves lost (in areas that we must have been through dozens of times before no less) when we’re on the hunt for an objective or similar. I’d usually chalk this up as a negative but it’s actually helped keep those same areas feeling fresh for much longer than you’d otherwise expect. Unfortunately I haven’t upgraded my machine since I last played (that’s probably coming next year) so I couldn’t really bump up any of the settings from their previous defaults. Maybe next time.
The amount of different activities that have been added, as well as the ones that have been revamped, are so numerous that returning players are likely to feel pretty overwhelmed. The good news is there’s really no required activity that you have to do, nor will you find yourself struggling to progress thanks to the tweaks to how enemies (and the loot they drop) scales. Essentially you have the ability to set the overall world’s difficulty as well as the challenge of the encounter itself. The first sets the level of the loot you’ll get and the latter the amount. This is great for gearing up as you can tweak the settings to get the most out of pretty much any encounter you’ll be doing. Loot drops aren’t restricted to any particular location either, meaning no matter what you end up doing you have a chance of getting the best gear. Of course the harder, higher end activities have better guaranteed loot to entice you to take on the challenge rather than just mindlessly farming.
Like all good loot treadmills the gear which allowed me to steamroll basically any encounter was made completely redundant upon logging in. My mix of high end and purple gear nowhere near the maximum attainable power level and so the loot grind began again in earnest. All in all though it only took me about 10 hours to get to the 270 range and from there it’s all about finding the gear with the right rolls to fill out whatever build you may be going for. Of course everything is about the sets and their bonuses now and whatever bonus takes your fancy will dictate the rest of your build. For now I’m still running with the best of what I have for the most part (I was lucky enough to get a Ninjabike bag which has made things easier) but am hoping to complete a full Predator’s Mark set in the not too distant future.
Thankfully not everything is left to just pure RNG and there are various ways in order to get the gear you want or, and this is definitely something I think all RNG loot games need, a way to optimise a drop to its ultimate potential. The Division isn’t shy with lavishing you with loot however it only does so because getting the right combination of stats and talents is infinitesimally rare. The recalibration station allows you to reroll a single talent on guns and a single stat on armour which sometimes can be enough to turn it from useable into a must-have. However the optimisation station means that a perfect set of stats with bad rolls can be brought up to the top tier rolls with enough farming. Sure, you don’t want to have to do this for every item, but for that one item which amps up your build significantly it’ll be worth the price of admission. Sadly I only realised that Ninjabike didn’t work for classified sets otherwise I wouldn’t have wasted my Division Tech on it.
However even with a rag tag bunch of armour pieces and weapons you’ll likely find that pretty much everything in The Division is available to you. Whilst my friend and I have been playing for a duo for the most part we only started to really hit the challenge wall past the 10 hour mark. At that point most of the higher end activities don’t appear to scale with group size and so are balanced for full teams of 4. Unfortunately it seems matchmaking at the moment isn’t all it’s cracked up to be as we’ve often gone through whole missions with it active before someone eventually joins. Still we’ve managed to farm in other areas without too much hassle so it’s not like we’re cut off from getting those shiny teal and red items.
The Dark Zone, which used to be this weird PVE but kind of PVP area, has now found its feet with the new changes to the zone. Previously it was pretty much just a high end gear farming place, one where someone going rogue was considered rude rather than part of the game. Now rogue agents are a real threat, one you have to be cautious of if you want to plunder the sweet loot in the area. I had many great encounters in the DZ, most of which ended with me and my team dead on the floor. However nothing is sweeter than the revenge you can take on them when they try to extract out with your loot. It might not be the most efficient way to farm items, especially if you’re actively looking for trouble, but it is one of the more enjoyable ones, especially with all the stories you’ll tell afterwards.
Some things haven’t received much love in the last 2 years though, namely the UI. Whilst I still love the aesthetic and simplicity of the UI when you’re run and gunning inventory management is something of a nightmare. Scrolling through dozens of items and trying to compare them to what you have is a real chore and the gear score really only tells half the story. If you’re min-maxing a particular build it’s easy to figure out what you need but even then you’re still likely to be carrying around a bunch of other items “just in case” you want to try a different one. There’s also other parts of the inventory that aren’t well described in-game (I have 6 different types of grenades? What do I need water for?) and honestly I can’t remember if they were even explained during the campaign. This doesn’t affect the overall enjoyment of the game too much but, given the amount of polish the rest of the game received, these parts do stick out more than they otherwise would.
The Division as it stands today isn’t the game I stopped playing all those years ago. The amount of diversity in terms of items, builds and activities is an order of magnitude above the game I remember. The core game play, which I quite enjoyed, remains mostly the same with the variety coming from the numerous gear sets which change the way the game plays out dramatically. Loot is plentiful but still a pain to manage, something I had hoped would have been improved over the years. All in all though it seems the rumours surrounding The Division being a game worth playing now are well justified and if you, like me, left it long ago now is definitely the time to jump back in.
The Division is available on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 right now for $89.95, $99.95 and $99.95 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 60 hours of total playtime (15 in patch 1.8).
The links between games and other forms of media have always been…cumbersome. Movie tie-ins are that first that come to mind and are often derided as being low-quality cash grabs. Similarly games that included full motion video (like the Crusader series) were met with criticism, often for their relatively low budget and quality of acting. However those perceptions haven’t stopped those kinds of games from being developed and indeed many games, like Defiance, sought to expand on the idea further. In similar vein Quantum Break, from Remedy Entertainment, attempts to integrate an episodic TV show with a player-controlled narrative. Whilst the mix-media approach has definitely come a long way there are numerous unfortunate decisions which marred the overall experience that Quantum Break was aiming to provide.
You are Jack Joyce (Shawn Ashmore) brother of renowned physicist William Joyce (Dominic Monaghan) and long time friend of Paul Serene (Aidan Gillen) a prominent businessman. You haven’t spoken to either of them in years however as you’ve been travelling the world, getting yourself into all sorts of trouble. Then out of the blue Paul contacts you and arranges for a first class flight back home. He needs your help but he won’t tell you what for. The events that unfold from that pivotal moment when you arrive back home will change the course of time as we know it, with you at the centre.
There’s no denying that Quantum Break is an extremely pretty game, making use of every inch of computing power you can throw at it. Unfortunately the film grain effect can’t be switched off meaning that no matter how high you crank the graphics there will always be a little fuzz everywhere. Additionally, due to the fact that it’s a Universal App (only available on the Windows store, which I’ll get into more later) there’s a few graphics options that will either not work or cause major issues. G-SYNC appears to cause it to use software rendering only as my graphics card reported a mere 7% usage when it was on. Disabling it however allowed Quantum Break to flex its muscles a little more although I did have to tone down a few settings in order to get it to run properly. This is even after the massive patch that was released so there’s still some work left for Remedy to do to make Quantum Break run a lot smoother.
From a core mechanic perspective Quantum Break is a 3rd person, cover-based shooter that integrates a whole host of abilities centred around time. You’ll be able to freeze enemies in place, blow them up and zip your way around the battlefield. You can carry a maximum of 3 guns, one of each type (pistol, regular and heavy). There’s also a few time based puzzles that will need solving although they only use a few of the half dozen abilities you’ll be imbued with. You’ll also have a decent amount of sway over how the story progresses which, interestingly, have a direct impact on events in the show. Most of these come in the form of major decisions made at critical points however there are collectibles around the world which will change the show in small and sometimes incredibly amusing ways. So at its roots Quantum Break might be exactly revolutionary but it does manage to do many things well that others have done badly in the past.
Seasoned shooter players will likely find little challenge in Quantum Break’s combat as the treasure trove of abilities, especially when they’re upgraded, make you almost invincible. After about halfway through the game the only way the game challenges you is by throwing more of the same kinds of enemies at you which doesn’t really ramp up the challenge significantly. The only real challenge is ensuring you have enough ammo for the gun you like as the amount you can carry for most guns is ludicrously low. If you’re so inclined you can mix things up a bit by using the various environmental traps however it’s usually easier to just take out enemies directly. Suffice to say that Quantum Break doesn’t really trend much new ground with its core mechanics but I get the feeling that was largely intentional.
If you’ve been reading much of the news around Quantum Break you’ve likely heard about how broken the release is and, unfortunately, my experience was no different. Buying the game in the Windows Store was a true pain as the download would seemingly stop and start randomly. As it turns out it was pre-allocating the disk space, something it couldn’t do at the same time it was downloading it (Steam has managed to solve this problem, however). The aforementioned G-SYNC issue was the cause of much frustration as was the various issues induced by the games varied performance, even with the frame rate cap on. Whilst other games have shown that being a Universal App doesn’t have to be a bad thing it certainly hasn’t helped Quantum Break. Whilst there has been a commitment to iron out most of these issues in future updates in July that does little to help the problems happening now. That and the fact that everyone will still want everything on Steam anyway.
The mixed media approach of Quantum Break is done quite well with big name actors gracing both the in-game and television series world. Whilst the story is little more than your usual sci-fi doomsday scenario guff having a little influence over what happens in the show is a nice touch. The little collectibles, like the audio book you can play over the radio (which then happens in the series), are a real nice touch too. I have to take points off for the ending screaming “HEY SEQUEL” so loudly that it hurt my ears however, as that’s the one unforgivable sin that any story teller can make. Overall I think Quantum Break shows that game/movie/tv series hybrids can work, they just need the same level of investment and polish on both sides to make the whole experience work well together.
Quantum Break evokes a time long gone past, when full motion videos in games were a novelty and production budgets were low. Instead here we have a game that’s staffed by big name actors and large production budgets. The game is nothing new, mixing together power ups and cover based shooting to give us an experience that we’ve likely all seen before. The TV show, and its integration with the events in the game, are done well enough that I feel that Quantum Break largely achieved the goals it set for itself. However the overall experience is marred by technical issues, some of which stem from the fact that it’s on Microsoft’s new Universal App platform. Overall it’s a good but not great experience, one that’s worth a look in if you’ve got a craving for the mixed-media experiences of years gone by.
Quantum Break is available on XboxOne and PC right now for $79 and $59.99 respectively (Only on Windows Store for PC). Game was played on the PC with approximately 9.5 hours of total play time and 93% game completion.
There’s a small trend developing which I like to call MMORPG-Light. Essentially developers are looking to craft the big, epic experience of a MMORPG but are concerned about the way to sustain it. Whilst Free to Play is the way many attempt to go you’re competing against so many in the same space it’s hard to stand out. The traditional subscription model is a much harder sell with only a few lumbering giants still maintaining that model going forward. Thus they choose somewhere in the middle, often in the form of regular paid expansions or season passes. We saw it first with Destiny and now with The Division, the latest game in the Tom Clancy universe.
On Black Friday a terrible disease sweeps through New York City. Known only as the Green Poison it devastates Manhattan and causes widespread chaos, requiring the city to be put into quarantine. You are an agent of The Division, an elite unit with sleeper units embedded everywhere around the world, tasked with dealing with situations like this. You are part of the Second Wave of agents, tasked with retaking Manhattan and tracking down the source of the epidemic. It won’t be easy however as the lawlessness has given rise to gangs of looters, crazed workers and paramilitary corporations looking to exploit the chaos. You will do battle with them all agent as there is no one else left who can.
The Division comes to us via a new engine called Snowdrop, developed by Massive for use on next-generation consoles (except the WiiU) and PCs. Unlike other MMORPG styled games The Division is a visual assault of detail, down the most interesting levels. For instance shooting out glass works almost exactly how you’d expect it to, with pieces breaking off and shattering much like it would in real life. Things like that, coupled with the incredible attention given to all of the environments, makes for a very immersive experience. This is what makes the relatively small world seem so impressive as there’s just so much to explore when compared to your more traditional MMORPG affair. It’s also worth mention that the sound design of The Division is well above any other game I’ve played which helps to sell you on the world even further.
The comparisons to Destiny, which would appear to be its closest relative, are somewhat apt however The Division leans much more heavily towards a more traditional MMORPG experience. There’s no classes to speak of but you can choose from an array of skills that can be unlocked through gathering supplies for various parts of your base. There’s talents and perks to choose from that allow you to further customize your character to your play style. There’s quests to be done and dungeons to plunder, all in the name of the ultimate goal of any RPG game: the quest for sweet loot. However the end game of The Division is unlike that of any other game out there, being a hybrid model of PVP and PVE. It’s a game that definitely has the potential to capture you for a long period of time, however due to its end game design it feels like there’s an expiration date for nearly all who play it.
Combat comes in the form of your standard cover-based shooter, augmented by the RPG elements of skills and talents. You’ll spend most of your time running between cover, taking shots and enemies doing much the same. Often you’ll have to strategize to make sure that certain enemies are downed quickly before others, lest they wipe your entire group. You have semi-infinite health regeneration in the form 3 bars which will regenerate over time but not into the next bar. You’re also limited by the amount of ammunition you carry although until the end game you’re never likely to run out. The variety of different kinds of weapons means that there’s something to suit almost any playstyle, although you’ll be quick to learn that close combat is as much a fool’s errand here as it is everywhere else. Overall the combat is enjoyable even if it isn’t particularly inventive.
Progression is comparatively fast paced with max level (30) reached in around 20 hours or so. Each main quest will easily give you a full level and the side quests/events giving you anywhere from 10%~20%. You’ll also be receiving lavishings of gear, talents and perks as you level up and complete quests, meaning you’re never too far off feeling like you’re getting somewhere. This can be a good or bad thing depending on who you ask as it’s far too easy to lose long stretches of time, especially when it comes to the longer, more in depth missions. For a seasoned MMORPGer like myself I liked the reduced amount of effort required to max out my character, although beyond that point things start to get a little murky.
Like with any MMORPG the end game is all about the loot and crafting your character to be the best they possibly can be. In The Division this comes through three main avenues: the Dark Zone, Challenge Modes and Phoenix credits. The Dark Zone is the open slather PVP arena that’s peppered with numerous NPCs who drop end game gear. However you can’t simply pick it up and walk out with it, instead you need to go to an extraction point to lift it out. At any point between when you pick up the loot and when you extract it another agent can kill you and take it. This leads to some rather tense situations where you’re all sitting around an extraction point, hoping no one gets any bright ideas. The Challenge Modes are simply harder versions of the regular missions which give better rewards at the end. Both of these activities give you the end game currency of Phoenix Credits which can then be redeemed for high end gear. So no matter your preferred play style you’ll be able to get end game loot but how long you keep at that is anyone’s guess.
You see once you get that gear there’s really not much more to do. My current character is already sporting half high end gear and half purples and there’s really no more content that’s beyond me. Sure, my team still struggles to do challenge modes perfectly on the first go but we can still do them in a reasonable time frame. With other MMORPGs there’d be some kind of raid or equivalent for us to try our mettle against but, in its current state, The Division lacks any further high end content. This means that for hard/casual-core players we’re likely to tap ourselves out in the coming week or so with no new content in sight for some time. Granted this is something on the order of 60+ hours worth of game play, but that’s minuscule when compared to other MMORPGs. It’s an interesting issue that Massive will need to tackle if they want to keep everyone interested between content drops.
The Division is also anything but a perfect experience, marred by weird behaviour, glitches and the ever present threat of server lag. Quite often you’ll find skills not working how they’re supposed to, physics bugs trapping you in certain places or things straight up not working at all. The server lag issue remained throughout my play time, even after the initial burst of players settled down somewhat. This usually manifests itself as damage occurring in chunks and NPCs moving in fits and bursts. Thankfully I only had one crash to speak of but I did have numerous other times where I or another party member was dumped to menu or sent back to my last safe house. Overall though the experience was good when compared to other MMORPGs, even if it was frustrating at times.
The story of The Division is interesting, having a modicum of depth to it thanks to it’s roots in Tom Clancy’s writings. It’s an interesting twist on the post-apocalyptic scene that’s all the rage currently, giving a good explanation to the “everyone is the hero” problem that many similar games face. The various enemy factions you face are given decent development, making them more than just faceless masses you need to wade through in the quest for purples. Since this is a game that’s going to evolve substantially over the coming year though it feels like the current conclusion is just a stop gap until they can get the content engine turning. Suffice to say that most people aren’t going to be play this for the plot but it provides a serviceable narrative none the less.
The Division is an excellent MMORPG-Light experience, finding a solid balance between more traditional mechanics and a more modern, streamlined approach. The world is exceptionally well crafted with everything from the detailed environments to the sound design to even the UI blending together to create an incredibly immersive experience. The core mechanics are solid, providing a good challenge and well paced progression. The experience isn’t seamless, although given this is Massive’s first attempt at such a game its commendable how polished the final product is. The narrative is bolstered by the Tom Clancy name and writings, even if it’s somewhat secondary to what most players will be looking for in this game. Overall The Division is an excellent game that’s been deserving of much of the hype it received before release but the true test, in how long it can continue to captivate players, is still ahead of it.
The Division is available on PC, XboxOne and PlayStation4 right now for $89.95, $99.95 and $99.95 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 37 hours of total playtime, reaching max level and completing all missions.
Tomb Raider’s reboot of 3 years ago was a successful one, reinvigorating a franchise that had been sidelined by newer IPs in the same genre. Indeed it was the first Tomb Raider game I had played in many years as the bug ridden Underworld was simply unplayable. The reboot was enough to spark my interest in the IP again and since the sequel was announced about a year later I’ve been eagerly awaiting the next instalment. The (thankfully short) timed exclusivity to the XboxOne was a little annoying, since I had to dodge more reviews and articles than I usually do, but finally last week I spent a good chunk of time playing through the latest Tomb Raider.
Rise of the Tomb Raider begins about a year after the events in the preceding instalment. Lara, after witnessing many supernatural occurrences on the island of Yamatai, seeks out answers in her father’s research notes. There she finds his white whale: the lost city of Kitezh which supposedly holds the key to immortality. Her quest sends her to Syria where she seeks out the lost tomb of an ancient prophet linked to the legend of Kitezh. It’s there however that she comes face to face with an organisation called Trinity: an ancient order dedicated to seeking out the supernatural and taking it for themselves. Lara is undeterred however and travels to Siberia where she believes the lost city of Kitezh resides.
The production values of Rise of the Tomb Raider are exceptionally high with every aspect of the game above the standard I’ve come to expect for AAA titles. Visually it is incredibly impressive with the environments being rich and detailed, ranging from wide open valleys to deep cave systems. There’s no one thing I can point to that really makes it so well crafted, more it’s the numerous small details like the trails you leave in snow or the way Lara’s gait changes after she’s had a fall. Unlike the previous instalment (which suffered from inflated expectations due to it following Crysis 3) Rise of the Tomb Raider felt impressive from the very start, a rare achievement in today’s torrent of AAA titles.
Rise of the Tomb Raider retains the same core game play that its predecessor did, being a combination of 3D platformer, 3rd person shooter and semi-open world exploration. The platforming functions pretty much the same as the last one did, giving you the same leeway when it comes to grabbing ledges or landing that jump perfectly. The 3rd person shooter mechanic functions largely the same although the upgrade system allows you to unlock some rather cool abilities that can change it dramatically. The semi-open world stylings mean that there’s much more to the world than just the campaign missions and, should you go exploring, you’re quite likely to be rewarded for your efforts. Overall it’s not a massive change from the previous Tomb Raider game and honestly, with the extra layer of polish this game has, I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all.
The puzzles and platforming sections are frequent but are, for the most part, easy enough to understand and complete without being too frustrating. In the beginning, with a limited number of mechanics at your disposal, it’s pretty easy to see how things need to be done. The difficulty starts to ramp up when you’ve got several other potential mechanics at hand, some of which aren’t explained as well as they could be. Still there was only one time when I find myself reaching for a walkthrough guide as all the other puzzles could be solved in a manageable amount of time. The platforming was a little less satisfying however as, whilst you have some leeway, it can be a little finicky about when it will pull you right or just let you fall to your death. Once you’ve worked out the quirks though (like not hitting jump if Lara is still shimmying across something) you can make up for those little quirks.
Combat, again, feels largely the same with the game favouring head shots and thus any weapon that allows you to make them rapidly. The bow once again is the stand out weapon especially once you get the skill which does automatic head shots on up to 3 targets at once. Similar to its predecessor though there comes a time when the enemies start wearing helmets and you’ll have to land several consecutive head shots to take them down. This time around however it doesn’t feel as cheap as it did before as the increased number of stealth options provides much more opportunity to take out the heavy hitters before dealing with the rest of them. Overall the combat feels a little more streamlined with a little bit more variety on the side, should you wish to make use of it.
The skills, upgrades and crafting system is back with a few improvements to keep the pace of the game up. You can now craft arrows, other special ammo and healing on the fly if you have the required materials to do so. The mechanic of finding parts for major upgrades is still around and if you want those weapons you really will need to go exploring to complete them. The skills are interesting as early on I went for the additional XP traits something which meant that I was levelling up maybe every 20 minutes or so. Probably about halfway through the game I had all the skills I could ever want and so from there I was just unlocking things that were mildly interesting. It certainly helped to keep driving me forward as there was always a sense of progression but it did seem like I was maybe completing things a little faster than was probably intended.
Like its predecessor there are few rough edges on Rise of the Tomb Raider although none of them are particularly game breaking. You can quite easily glitch yourself through terrain if you roll, jump or sprint near say a set of stairs or similar. I had more than one occasion where I found myself stuck in between trees or falling forever when I jumped into a particularly cramped area. There’s also the aforementioned finicky-ness of the platforming system but once you know its limitations it’s a little easier to work around. Thankfully though many of the combat related issues are long gone although some of the enemies do seem to do wildly different amounts of damage during the same encounter.
Rise of the Tomb raider brings a much more developed and polished plot, one that dives further into the backstory of Lara and the Croft family. Thankfully the torture porn has been dialled back somewhat, instead focusing more on the trials and tribulations of Lara trying to come to grips with her father’s past and the impact it’s having on her current situation. The introduction of a big bad “thing” in the form of Trinity is a not-so-subtle hint there’s going to be several sequels to come but they at least function decently as an antagonist. Indeed they’ll likely be the focus point of the next instalment as they go after the next supernatural artefact that they’ll use to take over the world. The supernatural themes are better done this time around be less wrought and more subtly woven in the larger narrative. Indeed it seems that the writers behind this instalment in the Tomb Raider franchise have matured significantly since they wrote the last plot.
Rise of the Tomb raider accomplishes what many sequels don’t: improving on their predecessor whilst still retaining the core aspects which made it great. The production value is extremely high with attention paid to every little detail. The game play is as solid as ever with several streamlining changes that keep the pace of the game up for its entire duration. It might not be the picture of perfection with a few rough edges still poking through but overall the experience is so well polished that it’s easy to write off those few moments. For both fans of the Tomb Raider IP and those who just love a good action game Rise of the Tomb Raider is well worth the asking price.
Rise of the Tomb Raider is available on PC, XboxOne, Xbox360 and PlayStation4 right now for $59.99, $99.95, $79.95 and $79.95 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 12 hours of total play time and 22% of the achievements unlocked.
It’s a great time to be a Star Wars fan, as this writer is. Whilst the IP has never really been left alone it’s seen new life breathed into it with the latest movie and the hubbub that has surrounded it. Released just before the movies the revived Star Wars Battlefront game had promised to bring the big screen action to your home PC or console, putting you on the ground in some of the key battles that defined the franchise. However the controversy surrounding the game’s release has been strong with many long time fans (and the game’s original incarnation) simply straight up boycotting the game. I’ve finally managed to get some time with the title and, in all honesty, I can’t disagree with many of the issues that have been raised, some of which are made even worse by some horrendous design choices.
Battlefront takes place on the various iconic sets that defined the Star Wars triologies. You’ll be down on the ground during the battle of Hoth, fending off imperial AT-AT walkers from the base’s power supplies. Next you’ll find yourself on the forest moon of endor, dodging and weaving through the trees to do battle with the opposing force. There’s even numerous maps on the new desert planet of Jakku where the ruins of an imperial fleet play host to numerous skirmishes and large 40 v 40 battles. There are a few single player challenges for you to try your hand at but they mostly function as a way to introduce you to some of the mechanics and to give you credits to spend on in-game unlocks. Suffice to say in terms of settings EA got a lot right, focusing on the things that fans of both the franchise and the original game wanted to see.
Battlefront stands out as the pinnacle of graphics in 2015 with the expansive environments filled with incredible amounts of detail having no rival. This should come as no surprise given its pedigree with the developer, DICE, being responsible for previous graphical marvels in the Battlefield franchise. This no doubt helps with the larger than life feeling that the game strives to create as no environment feels more alive than the ones that DICE created for this version of Battlefront. Of course if you’re wanting to see this game at its peak you’ll need to pay admission price, something which even my recently upgraded rig struggled to achieve at some points.
Mechanically Battlefront is your typical multi-player shooter set in the Star Wars universe and many of the mechanics take their inspiration from it. There’s a variety of weapons at your disposal, the choice of which largely determine by your play style. The star card system, which allows you to pick 3 different power ups, allows you to customize your character further. The unlock system feels like the original Black Ops online mode with credits being awarded at the end of each match which you can spend to unlock gear (most of which requires a certain rank to attain). There are handful of different game modes most of which will be instantly familiar with a number of them that make use of Battlefront’s more unique mechanics like the hero powerups. Suffice to say Battlefront has all the trappings of a decent multiplayer only shooter however that’s only half the battle and, unfortunately, it’s that other half which it loses hard.
The FPS combat mechanics are a little odd, tending more towards the current console shooter trends more than its PC roots would have you believe. There’s a 3rd person mode which strangely imposes no penalties (which means you should be using it, no question) and the ADS system doesn’t provide an accuracy bonus. As someone who’s played far too many hours of Call of Duty recently this took a little getting used to but it’s serviceable once you get settled. Battlefront, like the Battlefield games before it, is one that rewards players with more powerful weapons and powerups the longer you play. This means that you’ll often come up against opponents that have far better gear than you. Whilst skill can overcome that gap in most situations it does mean for latecomers like myself you feel at a significant disadvantage for a decent period of time. This is somewhat made up for by the relatively fast levelling system, however that’d only work if the matchmaking of Battlefront wasn’t so horribly broken.
Among the various questionable choices made (I won’t touch the DLC debacle, that’s already been done to death) Battlefront’s matchmaking does away with dedicated servers in favour of its own matchmaking service. On PC though this system simply doesn’t work 90% of the time, failing to find games or putting you in an empty lobby which never gets past half full. It’s not limited to the big game modes either as every time I’ve opened up Battlefront I’ve tried every single mode at least once to see if I can find a game. Should Battlefront have the option to queue for a full game (like its Battlefield predecessors did) this wouldn’t be an issue but alas there isn’t one. Worst still is the fact that the teams aren’t balanced or randomized after every game, meaning that should one team completely destroy the other that will likely continue indefinitely. Sure you can try and leave and rejoin, but you’ll likely get stuck trying to find another game for 30+ minutes again.
It’s a real shame because it’s these kinds of frustrations that up and kill most of my motivation to play Battlefront. The game itself is a great bit of fun, even if it’s not balanced well like other shooters are, but when it’s locked behind so much waiting I find myself drifting back to my old haunts. Sure some of these problems are due to the relatively small PC player base (some 10% of the XboxOne or PlayStation4) but even 10,000 players should be enough to ensure near instant queues for games. Unfortunately it seems like a solution to this problem won’t be forthcoming any time soon and will likely be hidden behind the dreaded season pass paywall.
Battlefront has all the makings of a great Star Wars game, one that faithfully pays homage to the original IP, but unfortunately falls short of attaining it. The graphics are simply marvellous, easily the best of any game that was released in 2015. The game play, whilst feeling a little unpolished when compared to other similar titles, does have a certain charm to it even when you’re facing off against foes who are far beyond your own level. The matchmaking brings the whole show down, ensuring that half your play time will be spent waiting for a game which will inevitably end up being an unbalanced horror show, either in or your favour or against. Whilst I’ll likely return for a bash every so often I can’t see myself forking over the extra cash for the privilege of doing so, at least not until EA and DICE get off their collective asses to fix it.
Star Wars Battlefront is available on PC, XboxOne and PlayStation4 right now for $59 on all platforms. Game was played on the PC with approximately 8 hours of total play time.
The time has long since past when it was taboo for a game to not take itself seriously or take a hammer to the fourth wall. Indeed many titles have made their fame and fortune on just such a premise like the Saints Row and Just Cause series. The latter series longevity can almost wholly be attributed to the modding community that sprung up around it, allowing you to engage in rampant carnage with your friends at your side (along with other fun things). Expectations were then high for the sequel to include many of these improvements into the core game. Whilst not all of them made it in you can definitely see the influence the modding community has had on Just Cause 3, even if those improvements can’t cover some of the more lacklustre aspects of this latest instalment in the series.
6 years after the events of Just Case 2 Rico Rodriguez makes his triumphant return home to Medici. His island has fallen under the iron fist of General Sebastiano Di Ravello, a not-so-benevolent dictator. His return home sees Rico pairing up with his childhood friends and some familiar faces from previous games all in the hopes of overthrowing Di Ravello. Of course his plan of attack is a simple one: cause as much chaos and destruction as possible, weakening the infrastructure upon which Di Ravello relies. It’s no small task but Rico is not one to shy away from a challenge like this.
Compared to nearly any other current generation game Just Cause 3 feels behind the times graphically. Indeed this contrast is no more stark than when compared to another recent release from Avalanche studios, Mad Max, which makes use of the same engine. After some initial tweaking I got it to look a little better however there’s really no hiding the fact that the graphics were simply not a priority. They’re serviceable, and to some extent expected given the level of chaos that can be on screen at times, but Just Cause 3 feels like it has more in common with the B-grade titles I’ve played rather than the rest of the AAAs it was released with.
Staying true to its roots Just Cause is an open world game where there’s little difference between running missions and simply blowing up stuff at random for the fun of it. You’ve got a long campaign to follow if you so wish, but if you’d prefer to just have a bit of fun there’s more than enough to keep you interested. There’s various challenges which unlock mods for your gear, towns to liberate and an endless supply of collectibles and novelty items for you to scrounge up. Realistically though we all know what people are buying this game for: destroying anything and everything they set their eyes on, something which the game wholeheartedly enables and encourages. Everything else that’s contained herein is just icing on the destruction sandwich.
Combat is like any other 3rd person shooter with an incredibly generous infinite health mechanic. You can literally run and gun your way through entire army bases without having a care in the world, only needing to grapple away for a second or two when things go really south. It’s initially limited to aim-assisted console style shooting, which feels a little weird on the PC, but unlocks later change that up if you so wish. However killing enemies is really only a distraction from setting things on fire, blowing things up or making things fall on other things. This can be incredibly satisfying when you manage to pull off massive chain reaction, unleashing explosion after explosion as you sit back and watch the carnage. Other times it can be an exercise in frustration, searching for that one last thing you need to blow up in order to move to the next mission or objective.
This is certainly fun for a little while however once you’ve liberated the 30th town things really do start to feel incredibly repetitive. There’s literally no variety to be found at all as once you’ve done a couple towns the rest are simply a different mix of the objectives you’ve seen. Worse still most of them feel visually identical, just the buildings rearranged slightly. Sure you can tackle the challenge in different ways but there’s only so many times you can drive a tank through the middle of a town and still be entertained. In all honesty I had thought that I had conditioned myself to be able to tolerate this for the sake of the main storyline. For Just Cause 3 though I was honestly so bored by the end that I just couldn’t be bothered to open the game up any more.
One thing that did keep me playing for longer than usual were the little challenges that popped up in the right hand side. Shown above is my failed attempt to beat one of my friend’s long standing wing suiting records, only to miss out by a mere 7 seconds right at the end. Whilst many of them are easy to game if you go on YouTube it can be quite a bit of fun to figure out how to maximise a certain thing in order to get to the top of the list. Less useful was the “X beat you 1 hour ago” pop ups which mentioned dozens of random players who I don’t know as I really couldn’t care if they beat my record or not. Still it’s a good mechanic, even if it isn’t the first game to use it.
Of course no review of Just Cause 3 would be complete without mentioning the numerous glitches, bugs and annoyances that are permeated throughout the entire game. You’ll likely get stuck more than once trying to grapple to something, either resulting in your instant death or necessitating a reload. Wingsuiting anywhere close to terrain can result in your untimely death as well, often without any obstacle near you. Probably the worst thing though is the insanely long loading times which are especially frustrating when you’re trying to max out a challenge or going through a rough patch of crashes or glitches. Suffice to say I, whilst my expectations weren’t exactly high for Just Cause 3, I certainly wasn’t expecting the Bethesda levels of jank in Avalanche’s latest title.
Similarly Just Cause has never really been known as a game with high aspirations for the story and Just Cause 3 is no exception. The plot is paper thin at best with all of the characters being thoroughly 2 dimensional. Most of them are outrageous stereotypes that border on being racist with none of them being even remotely believable. This time around I couldn’t even be bothered to look for a mod to get me past the main missions so I could finish the main campaign, it was really that uninteresting. The one thing it has going for it is that it fits the whole B-grade feeling the game has, although I’m not quite sure that counts as a positive.
Just Cause 3 is pretty much what you’d expect it to be: a destruction sandbox and little else. The combat and destructible world, whilst not exactly inspired, does the job it was set to do. The world is large and expansive however it starts to feel repetitive very quickly given the lack of variety. It is unfortunately a bug and glitch ridden affair, something that is only made worse by the lacklustre story. Had Just Cause 3 come with multiplayer by default I may have been more forgiving as with all things B-grade they’re far better when enjoyed with a few beers with your mates. However Avalanche have left that task up to the modders once again, forgoing an opportunity to capitalize on the frenzy that they had created. Just Cause 3 might be worth the asking price for some, but for others it might be worth waiting until it goes on sale.
Just Cause 3 is available on PC, XboxOne and PlayStation4 right now for $59.99, $78 and $78 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 8 hours of total play time with 32% of the achievements unlocked.
Few games have been talked about as much as The Order 1886 has been recently and fewer still with as much derision. For some this game seems to embody everything that’s wrong with AAA development, focusing on all the wrong areas and failing to deliver the game experience that they were expecting. Others saw the potential the title had and, whilst still not heaping praise on the overall experience, had high hopes for what Ready at Dawn could do with this IP. After avoiding much of this discussion before playing The Order 1886 I’ve since dived head first into all the discussion and, frankly, don’t disagree with the more nuanced arguments out there. Still this game has its merits and trashing everything about it, like many seem keen to do, doesn’t seem fair.
You are Sir Galahad, member of the Order of the Knights of the Round Table and devout servant to your country. You are sworn to fight the half-breed blight who seeks to destroy humanity and do so with the aid of the Holy Grail which heals all wounds and greatly extends your life. Thus the order has existed for numerous centuries with many of the knights living for just as long and those who fall in battle passing on their name and title to those who follow them. However not everything is as it first seems as turmoil within London sparks an unusual reaction from your leader, prompting you to investigate further.
If there’s one game out there that should serve as the current reference point for graphics on the PlayStation4 it has to be The Order 1886. The world is lavishly detailed in every aspect, from the environments to the weapons to the character models which have some of the best animations I’ve seen to date. The seamless transitions between cut scenes and game play sections is, I’ll admit, jarring at first but after a while they beautifully melt sections together. Best of all this is done without a hint of performance degradation even in the most action heavy scenes, something which most graphical envelope pushing games fail to achieve consistently. Suffice to say that The Order 1886 is PlayStation4’s Crysis and the effort that Ready at Dawn invested in their RAD 4 engine was not wasted.
The Order 1886 tiptoes between the cinematic story and 3rd person corridor shooter genres. The bulk of the game is spent either in cut-scene or wandering around an environment which is then inter-dispersed with sections of cover-based shooting. There are numerous mini-games as well like the unique lock-picking and the transformer overload puzzle. There are a few sections which require you to solve a puzzle in order to progress to the next section but not enough that I could say that The Order 1886 is much of a puzzler. Lastly the fabled quick time event makes numerous appearances throughout the game, sometimes blended into the 3rd person shooting sections and later as the main boss fight mechanic. If this is sounding like a jumble of mechanics without a coherent thread to tie them all together then you’re right, it is and this is why I don’t disagree with the bulk of the criticism levelled at The Order 1886.
Whilst I’m not a huge console FPS/3rd person shooter player I have played an unhealthy amount of Destiny and so I have a feel for when janky mechanics are blame rather than my lack of skill with a controller. With that in mind the combat of The Order 1886 feels decidedly half-baked as I would often line up clear head shots only to have them inexplicably miss. This is somewhat made up for by the inclusion of a bullet-time shooting mechanic but it doesn’t help when the ability is on cooldown and all your bullets seem to miss. The more innovative weapons, like the lightning gun and the thermite rifle, are a blast to use and feel far more effective than any of the other very generic weapons but they’re unfortunately highly limited. With the lack of variety of enemies this means that most encounters are largely the same, just in different locations. Had I not invested so many hours in Destiny I might’ve written this off as just me being derpy with the controller but, unfortunately for Ready at Dawn, I feel that most of the problems stem from the decidedly below average combat mechanics.
I did enjoy the mini-games which were thankfully used sparingly throughout the game, rather than being peppered everywhere like some games tend to do. They don’t take a lot of skill honestly and once you’ve done them once it’s pretty easy to finish them without even thinking about it. Unfortunately even the best of mini-games can’t make up for the faults that the larger game has as whilst they’re fun distractions that’s all they amount to, nothing more. Perhaps some of the time dedicated to these small parts of the game could have been better spent addressing some of the more pressing issues that the game faces like the lack of coherency around what it was trying to achieve.
It’s obvious that the primary goal of The Order 1886 was to make it a kind of cinematic experience, one where there’s a little less focus on game mechanics and a little more on the story and cinematography. The problem I see with this, at least in The Order 1886’s case, is that typically such cinematic games focus on player agency (or at least the illusion there of) something which it doesn’t lack. That means that it’s more apt to compare it to all the corridor shooters which, unfortunately, it can’t hold a candle to as the various combat mechanics are incredibly weak when compared to say Call of Duty titles. So The Order 1886 straddles the boundaries of these two genres, doing neither of them well and unfortunately falling in a screaming heap.
Which is a right shame because there’s a ton of potential in all the jumbled pieces that make up The Order 1886. Each of the individual pieces feel like they’d be right at home in an open world game and there’s numerous other aspects that would translate directly without too much effort. I understand that this is a non-trivial exercise however it’s clear where most of the effort was spent and it wasn’t in making sure the game was a cohesive experience. What The Order 1886 shows us is that you can’t just have a bunch of great elements all thrown together in a pile and expect the resulting game to be great, careful attention needs to be applied in the integration so the sum of the parts exceeds the whole.
The Order 1886’s story, whilst it has strong roots, fails to develop and is utterly predictable which means it doesn’t make up for the range of mistakes that the large game makes. The story follows the well trodden trope of a righteous soldier finding out he’s on the wrong side of the fight which isn’t bad on its own however The Order 1886’s telling of it is just so predictable. I called out nearly every single one of the twists long before it occurred, something which I’m not particularly good at usually. It got to the point where I was browsing Reddit most of the time cut scenes were happening since I didn’t feel the need to hear every bit of dialogue to understand the story. Again, like most of the game, there are elements in here that have tons of potential, like the setting and back stories, but they’re just not developed or cohesive enough to formulate into a solid game experience.
The Order 1886 is a victim of its own ambition, seeking to create a truly cinematic experience but ultimately falls short, failing to even deliver a coherent experience. Without a doubt its crowning achievement is its graphics, something that Ready at Dawn should be proud of, however everything built on top of that fails to achieve the same level of excellence. The combat is repetitive and clumsy, the story predictable and uninteresting and the various other bits and pieces just don’t seem to fit well into the game’s larger picture. It’s a right shame as the different parts wouldn’t be amiss in a more coherent title it’s just that The Order 1886 lacks that one thing to bind everything together. It’s worth at least spending some time with The Order 1886 just to see what the PlayStation 4 platform is capable of, maybe later when you can grab it on special.
The Order 1886 is available on PlayStation 4 exclusively right now for $78. Total play time was approximately 6.5 hours.
The evolution of open world style games has been pretty interesting to watch. The gold standard has (and likely will be for a long time) the Grand Theft Auto series which grew from a humble 2D car stealing simulator to the vibrant organised crime simulator today. Indeed this is how most open world games progress, starting out with a core idea that then has a bigger and better world built around it as the successive titles roll on. Watch_Dogs is no exception to this, with its core idea focusing heavily on hacking, enabling your character almost superpower like qualities. Whilst the execution of this idea has drawn ire from those who bought heavily into the hype Watch_Dogs is one of the better first entries into the open world genre, something which should be expected from the veteran open world developer Ubisoft Montreal.
Aiden Pearce is a man tormented by his past, the guilt of his niece losing her life instead of his in a botched assassination attempt has weighed heavily and he’s spent every one of his waking moments since then looking for answers. He’s not beyond reproach however as the guilt has clouded his sense of right and wrong, instead dealing out his own brand of justice wherever, and to whomever, he deems fit. Inevitably this comes back around to him and he is forced into doing things lest more harm befall those he cares about. The tale of his journey from here on out is one of obsession fueled by a passion to right what’s wrong with the world with no regard to the cost to himself.
If you’ve read anything about Watch_Dogs recently there’s been numerous complaints about how the graphics don’t seem to be up to the same standard as they were in the E3 demo. As someone who’s playing on a 3 year old PC I felt the graphics were around the same standard as what I’ve come to expect from most open world games which is to say that, compared to the video, mine certainly don’t look as good. However I feel we should most likely temper our expectations since that was shown as a demo and was likely running on a hardware system that few would have running. That follows on to why it probably looks sub-par on consoles as whilst they’re powerful machines for the money you’ll spend they just can’t match a PC for raw grunt. That being said my console playing brother said it looked great on the XboxOne and had no graphical issues at all so it seems your mileage may vary considerably.
True to its open world genre Watch_Dogs has a lot of things packed into it, from mechanics to skills to the numerous side missions, mini-games and unlockable content. The star mechanic of Watch_Dogs is, of course, the hacking which is best described as a real world superpower that allows you to do all manner of things that regular people simply can’t. The hacking also extends to your car, something you’ll be making heavy use of since you won’t be able to use your guns whilst driving. The combat is your typical 3rd person shooter affair with your arsenal of weapons being extremely varied and including hacking inspired augments that can give you the edge when you’re grossly outnumbered. Should you find yourself bored with the campaign you can take part in the numerous NPC side missions or, if you’re so inclined, invade another player’s game and battle against them for notoriety points. There’s also dozens of unlockable cars, weapons and even songs for you to listen to in your car, enough that even the most venerable achievement hunter will likely give up before they get them all.
One of the biggest aspects in open world games is how the world feels as early versions of Grand Theft Auto had a very lonely vibe to them, almost post-apocalyptic like given the lack of people and cars that were around. For me Watch_Dogs felt about as alive as Grand Theft Auto did although I’ve heard many say that it feels no where near the same. Whilst the city does have a lot of detail in it the variance of the people is a little on the low side as I can’t tell you how many times I ran into the same group of beatboxers throughout the city. On the flip side the little profile descriptions you get for everyone are extremely varied which is a nice little touch. Indeed I think the lack of detail in some areas is due to the wide variety of detail in others which is a classic symptom of time constraints, something Watch_Dogs was unfortunately plagued with.
You’ll be doing a lot of driving in Watch_Dogs which is a little bit unfortunate as it’s probably one of the lesser aspects of the game. The initial cars you get access to all feel like boats, being incredibly sluggish to respond and even less so when there’s several police cars ramming into the back of you. Thankfully the later cars go a long way to improve this but then it becomes a choice of driving a flimsy, well handling car and something that can take a beating which retains that god awful boat like feeling. In all honesty I’m not that surprised that the driving is sub-par, it’s an incredibly hard thing to get right, however if you’re going to rely on that to be your player’s main way of getting from point A to point B you’d better make sure it’s enjoyable. I’m sure subsequent sequels of Watch_Dogs will improve on this dramatically as this is Ubisoft Montreal’s first game to prominently feature driving as a mechanic.
Combat feels much like any other 3rd person shooter with your typical infinitely regenerating health and aiming systems I’m sure need some assistance when used on a console. Most encounters are done in 2 phases: the first being the part where you stealth around, take out as many enemies as you please and generally cause havoc. Most of the time this will result in you getting detected and a firefight will break out although if you’re careful there are numerous times when that can be avoided altogether. To Ubisoft Montreal’s credit the stealth system is well thought out and the majority of the times I was detected were due to me not being careful enough, rather than the NPCs having eyes where they shouldn’t. For the most part it’s challenging and satisfying, with the short reload times ensuring that you’re not left waiting long to fix your mistakes.
The “hacking” mechanic is essentially a power that your character has, enabling you to do certain things to the city due to it all being interconnected via a giant system called ctOS. Your powers are rather limited to begin with, being able to hack cameras and traffic lights, but as you level up all manner of crazy powers will be bestowed upon you. Some of them are plausible, like the ability to raise/lower road blockers, whilst others, like blowing up steam pipes, are almost enough to be called magic. The hacking mini games are just an elaborate puzzle sequence, one which can usually be figured out rather easily through trial and error. All in all it’s a solid idea to base the game around however having one button to execute everything makes the powers feel a little too easy to use. Maybe a short quicktime event (I can’t believe I’m writing this) would be sufficient to make the powers feel a little more impactful as right now they make you feel like a script kiddie rather than an elite hacker.
The levelling and progression system strikes the right balance of progression and choice, giving you enough points to get something in everything very quickly and then forcing you to make hard decisions about which way you want to build your character. The unlockable system also feels rather well done as should you want to unlock the new abilities typically it will be the first or second one you’ll get, meaning you don’t have to spend an inordinate amount of time grinding missions to unlock them. Achievement hunters on the other hand will have a lot of work ahead of them as the myriad of guns and cars available to unlock will likely have them clearing out whole city sections before finishing off a chapter in the campaign.
Like most open world games there’s a bunch of emergent behaviour in Watch_Dogs, some of it good and some of it bad. There’s always the hilarious situations you can cause by changing traffic lights (even when you’re not being chased by the police) and the AI sometimes reacts in the strangest ways to your presence, like random NPC cars running each other off the road should you come a little bit too close to one of them. At the same time I’ve had several missions that I had to restart at a checkpoint due to things like destructible terrain blocking my path, my character’s ragdoll physics glitching out causing him to get stuck on the ground or things not spawning (or the wrong things spawning) preventing me from going on. It probably happened about half a dozen times throughout my playthrough so it’s nothing major but I’ve heard the issues are magnified somewhat on older consoles.
The story of Watch_Dogs deals with a lot of very mature themes however some aspects of it do feel like they ring hollow. Thinking back on it there were a lot of characters that the story seemed to assume that I’d have some kind of empathy for but, and I’m not sure if this is a function of me playing mostly campaign missions, I feel like they didn’t have sufficient screentime to justify it. There are some shining moments though with Aiden embracing his anti-hero qualities with gusto however they seem to get undone almost instantly in the scenes that follow. The lack of player choice and influence on the story will also annoy some but that’s not something I’ll fault Watch_Dogs for. All being said it’s passable, especially for a first entry into a new IP and genre for the developer, and hopefully future instalments can build on this in order to make the story much more engrossing.
Watch_Dogs is a great first entry into a new open world IP, building around a solid core mechanic and adding in all the things that we’ve come to expect from games in this genre. The combat, progression systems and hacking mechanics are all well done, providing dozens of hours of challenge and rewards for even the most seasoned achievement hunter. The driving leaves something to be desired and will likely be the biggest let down for open world fans who are still coming down from their GTA high. The story reaches a little far beyond its grasp, lacking the appropriate amount of buildup to elicit the emotional conclusion they were looking for, however it should serve as a decent base for the subsequent releases. All in all Watch_Dogs is a great first entry into this new series, one I feel that’s only going to get stronger as time goes on.
Watch_Dogs is available on PC, PlayStation3, PlayStation4, Xbox360 and XboxOne right now for $89.95, $89.95, $99.95, $89.95 and $99.95 respectively. Game was played on PC with approximately 16 hours of total play time with 44% of the achievements unlocked.
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.
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.