This blog is basically just my gaming journal at this point but that serves an important purpose for me: capturing what I felt about a game at a particular time. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve thought about a game many years after I’ve played it, figured I had kept the same opinion about it only to then go back to the blog post I wrote to see how differently I actually felt. This has taught me an important lesson about a lot of things, chief among them is that time brings with it new experiences, opinions and it tends to colour our past with its own brush.
I tell you this as with DOOM Eternal, as it has been with many games and genres of late, I felt that I had drifted away from the intense action that I seemingly loved in the original DOOM in 2016. Talking to my mates about it they were all loving it, whilst I was struggling to really find something to enjoy. That changed over the course of my playthrough but even after finishing the game I feel like something fundamental has shifted in my tastes over the past few years and I don’t find myself agreeing with my opinions of the past.
DOOM Eternal takes place 8 months after the original and Earth has been overrun by demonic forces, wiping out two thirds of the planet’s population. What remains of humanity has either fled Earth or have banded together as part of ARC, a resistance movement formed to stop the invasion, but they have all gone into hiding after suffering heavy losses. The Doom Slayer, having previously been betrayed and teleported away by Dr. Samuel Hayden, returns with a satellite fortress controlled by the AI VEGA to quell the demonic invasion by killing the Hell Priests. These priests serve an angelic being known as the Khan Maykr who seeks to sacrifice mankind in order to save her own world from destruction. So continues the saga of a man too angry to die, hellbent on saving humanity no matter the cost.
This DOOM, like many before it, brings with it an update to the id Tech engine, taking it up to version 7. The list of improvements in brings in are mostly focused on the backend for the most part although it does claim to bring with it 10 times more geometric detail and higher texture fidelity than when compared to the previous engine’s iteration. Comparing some of my screenshots against each other the differences are pretty hard to spot, save for things that honestly could just be down to aesthetic choice. The addition of “destructible demons” is definitely noticeable although it’s honestly a bit of a gimmick considering you’re not going to be spending long looking at them. To id’s credit the game runs perfectly well on my now aging hardware, something I didn’t really expect without having to make a few tweaks to it. I’m sure there’d be a more stark contrast between the games if I’d upgraded my rig in the interim. All this being said DOOM Eternal is still a very good looking game, especially some of the later levels like Urdak.
At a fundamental level DOOM Eternal is very similar to its predecessor, copying and pasting all the core elements that made the original as good as it was. The progression system has been revamped significantly though, breaking up various elements into their own systems most of which can be progressed through simply playing the game and doing the usual hunt for secrets. There’s definitely been an investment in quality of life improvements to take the edge of the original’s more frustrating elements, making overall progression a bit more predictable. All this being said that if you liked the original then you’re probably going to like this one as well, that is unless you’re like me.
Fundamentally I think keeping the same combat loop was probably a good thing as it shook up the established formula enough to make things interesting and that hasn’t really changed in the interim. I couldn’t tell you of any other games that have tried to emulate DOOM’s style with most corridor shooters instead keeping true to their namesake. So DOOM Eternal then still feels like a fresh perspective even though it isn’t given that everyone else has stuck true to their roots. However for me I think there’s one key element that made the first 30% or so of my playthrough not as enjoyable as I would’ve liked it to be.
That would be the game’s unrelenting intensity.
I remarked in my review of DOOM 2016 that I couldn’t really play for more than one level at a time due to how exhausting it was to play and nothing has changed in that regard. My first few hours with DOOM Eternal were split between multiple sittings because I was mentally exhausted at the end of them and I didn’t really feel like putting myself through another level until I’d had some time doing other, less intense activities. Perhaps it’s an artefact of the times we’re living in now as it’s far more common for me to be mentally exhausted at the end of the day, what with all the video conferences and calls I have to be on given that we’re now all working remotely. Whatever it was this meant that I struggled to a) spend time with the game which meant that b) I just couldn’t find much about it to like.
This steadily changed as I was able to progress a little more and gain a few more upgrades, things that didn’t make the game that much easier but did make me feel like I had more options available to make up for any mistakes I might make. This got me through the middle third of the game pretty easily and for a good while I figured it was just that I wasn’t used to the real challenge that DOOM Eternal was throwing up when compared to other FPS titles of recent memory. However after a while the addition of certain enemy types (like the Marauder and Doom hunter) and the extended fights which were just more waves of the same enemies made the game a right chore to churn through. The final boss is probably the best example of this, effectively making you repeat the same bullet sponge fight twice over.
This was made all the worse by the fact that the various progression mechanics don’t feel as effective towards the game’s latter points. Half of the suit upgrades are effectively just quality of life improvements and once you’ve settled on a decent rune combo you likely won’t be changing it at all for the rest of the game. The weapon mastery upgrades are also pretty lacklustre, the initial upgrade points necessary to offset the downsides of the particular mod and the mastery usually just making things a little more convenient to use. At a base level there’s really no way to increase a gun’s overall effectiveness, meaning that every enemy is basically as challenging from the first time you meet it until the last. I get why that’s done from a game design and challenge perspective, but it would’ve been nice to be able to more easily deal with trash monsters rather than them being an continuing annoyance throughout the game.
There were no noticeable bugs or glitches in my playthrough, even in the few times where I was trying to deliberately break things in order to cheese my way through a section. I do have some qualms with some design decisions made about certain interactions (like not being able to dash past certain enemies or terrain of a particular height) but those are obviously intentional so I don’t really count them as a bug. The id Tech 7’s focus on simplifying the codebase seems to be paying off in spades here as I remember the original DOOM needing a little more polish than Eternal does.
Now the story is, to be blunt, completely opaque should you not spend an untold number of hours reading through all the in-game lore pickups. To start off with it’s not made clear at all how you ended up hovering over earth in a spaceship that’s built like a castle and it’s even less clear as to why (or how) the demons are invading earth. To be sure your character’s motivations are made clear enough but there’s no reference I can recall to the 8 month gap between the end of DOOM and the start of Eternal. Towards the end of the game they do a better job of revealing the game’s plot elements without resorting to walls of text but it’s honestly too little too late. Of course you don’t need to understand the story to enjoy the game but it certainly doesn’t help if the game’s narrative is actually detracting from what’s happening on screen.
This puts me in a bit of an odd spot with DOOM Eternal. On the one hand there’s dozens of improvements made to the original DOOM that I think are for the better and the core elements that made it great are still there. On the other though I really struggled to enjoy a good chunk of this game which made those improvements feel less innovative than they really are. Even looking at reviews things are mixed with no real agreeance as to whether or not DOOM Eternal is as good, better or worse than its original. For me I’m definitely in the worse camp, but the things that made that experience worse for me are the same things that I thought were great all those years ago. So honestly I don’t know and all I can really say is that those who enjoyed the original seem enjoy this one too. Objectively I think it has all the hallmarks of a great title, I just didn’t enjoy it as much as the review score might indicate.
DOOM Eternal is available on PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch right now for $99.95. Game was played on the PC with around 10 hours of total play time.
It’s been just under a year since I last spun up The Division 2 as whilst I thoroughly enjoyed the numerous hours I dropped into it that initial wall I hit with the raid meant I ended my time with it shortly after the review. The various drops of content between now and then didn’t really pop up on my radar. Indeed I was beginning to get worried that we’d seen the end of expansions or other meaty DLC drops given other games like Destiny have switched to the more regular drip feed of tiny updates, none of which are ever enough to bring me back into the fold. Imagine my surprise when I started to see The Division 2 subreddit lighting up with excitement about the impending launch of Warlords of New York for The Division 2, promising a return back to the place where the original took place and even the return of the main antagonist. Given I’d spent the last couple weeks playing casual-ish games I was ready to get into something a little more engrossing and boy was it ever.
You receive a distress call from Faye Lau who’s still the lead agent in charge back in New York. Agent Keener has unleashed a new and instantly lethal version of the original Green Poison bioweapon which has been called Eclipse. Upon arrival you’re informed that Agent Keener’s current whereabouts are unknown however they’ve identified 4 of his lieutenants and with their SHD watches they should be able to triangulate him. So with little more than that to go on you’re sent out into lower Manhattan to start the brutal search for the rogue agent once again, hoping to find him before he’s able to strike again and put an end to him once and for all.
As you’d expect from an expansion there’s no real changes graphically apart from the differences in the setting of DC vs New York. It’s definitely a major shift in the feel of the game as I distinctly remember DC feeling a bit more flat and open, whereas New York retains its usual high skyscrapers and dense urban environment. The change from winter to summer is interesting too as that, combined with the dynamic weather systems, means that this feels very different to the New York I remember from the original Division.
There’s been a few tweaks to The Division 2’s core game loop since I’ve been away and a few changes which I believe are unique to this particular expansion, although I couldn’t tell you which is which. For starters loot now drops less frequently, with the idea that there should be less trash and hopefully more useful pieces of gear. On the surface that doesn’t really ring true however the inclusion of the new re-roll system, which allows you to extract a single stat roll from a piece of gear and save it for use forever, suddenly means that trash drops with god rolls are no longer trash. The skill power system has also been reworked, now being fixed to “tiers” which each piece of armour can provide 1 of. There’s also now an infinite progression system in the form of your SHD Watch which is basically The Division’s form of the paragon levels from Diablo III. There’s a bunch of stuff I don’t even remember coming across listed here so if you want the full story I’d say head over there and get it directly from the horse itself.
The core fighting mechanics feels identical, save for the fact that skills appear to regenerate a lot quicker but are also a lot weaker as a result. My chem launcher no longer instantly heals me up to full, instead taking quite some time to get me even to halfway health. On the flip side my artillery turret, which use to feel like it was always on cooldown no matter what, was seemingly up every 30 seconds which seemed ridiculously broken given how good it is at clearing out large groups or slow moving elites. That seemed to be counterbalanced by the specialist weapon now feeling downright useless, especially considering my turret seemed to do the same thing and could manage more than 2 shots every 30 seconds. I’m not sure how all of this plays out at higher gear levels though as I haven’t put in the requisite grind hours to get there. Looking at some of the absolutely silly builds I’ve seen online though it seems like there’s a lot of fun to be had mixing things up, which is a good thing my opinion.
I did however run out of puff with Warlords of New York once I got past the missions and started on the end game grind proper. Part of this was a lack of direction for what the grind would be for as in the original game it was clear what I needed the upgraded gear for. With Warlords of New York, even though it’s now got one of the best progression systems I’ve seen in any looter shooter to date, it’s not so clear what I should be gearing up for. The raid? But technically I was already gear for that when I left the game last time, I just couldn’t be arsed manually looking for a group to do it. I did a quick search around to figure out what exactly I should be aiming for but it seems like it might just be the gear for gear’s sake at this point. Well that and the Dark Zone but I’ve never been one to solo in there.
The expansion’s story is what we’ve all come to expect from The Division: linear, predictable and chock full of action. I think my friend said it best when he mentioned that Massive and Ubisoft are known for creating great worlds, but not amazing characters or narratives within it. To prove his point he then asked us to name one NPC in the game and it was honestly embarrassing how long it took to come up with someone (even the main antagonist, this was during the original campaign). Still it’s enjoyable, following the not-so-subtle plot threads through to their conclusion. The expansion does setup the core game for some shenanigans down the line so I’m hopeful for another juicy story expansion in the not too distant future.
So for those of us who enjoyed The Division 2 and have been back since Warlords of New York is definitely a great time to come back. Much like the original release it’s familiar yet different enough to be engaging and all the changes seem for the better. The lack of a clear endgame goal (and a squad of mates also) meant that the end-game grind doesn’t seem like it’ll be for me this time around but I might find myself back in here again should any of my mates pick it up soon. There’s also the 3 episodes to catch up on (which I haven’t) so if Warlords doesn’t satiate you then there’s still enough drip content left to chew on. Overall I very much enjoyed my time with the expansion and hope for another one like it in the near future.
Tom Clancy’s The Division 2: Warlords of New York is available on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 right now for $29.99. Game was played on the PC with a total of 11 hours played, bringing the total time in The Division 2 to 53 hours.
Oh my word would you look at that, it’s another RPG from our good friends over at Spiders. If you are unfamiliar with them (although how could you having read every single one of my reviews!) they are a small developer who has aspirations of being the next Bioware but not where near the prestige nor funding to achieve it. Their previous run of games, which are all startlingly similar in their construction, have all been firmly in the B-grade category; having many of the trappings of its AAA brethren but nowhere near the same level of polish, finesse or integration of mechanics that would make it seem somewhat similar. Over the years then I’ve grown to love seeing Spiders releasing things because it means that they’re somehow still making money despite peddling some of the most mediocre titles for years on end. However, and I feel strange for saying this, their latest game Greedfall actually manages to be a half decent game, even if the spectres of its past are still very much visible. So this may be the first time ever that I say I’m actually looking forward to seeing what Spiders comes up with next.
You are De Sardet, legate of the Congregation of Merchants and you’ve been tapped on the shoulder to accompany your cousin to a newly discovered island called Teer Fradee. He’s to be the governor there and it’s your job to assist him in ensuring that the will of the Congregation is executed over there. At the same time you’ve been tasked with trying to find a cure for the terrible sickness that has been plaguing everyone on the content, a disease that has been named the Malichor. Your journey is not simply one of bashing heads and saving those in distress; no instead you’re there to ensure political stability on the island, including finding a way for those of the continent to get along with the natives of the island. That’s going to be something of a challenge considering the number of different factions, all of whom have their own ideas of what this new island should be used for.
The graphics of Greedfall are brought to us by Spiders’ own game engine called Silk which itself was based off the free Sony engine called PhyreEngine. The graphics it delivers though are more akin to the best we’d seen out of the previous generation, although when compared to previous Spiders titles it’s definitely a major step up. Whilst there’s a healthy dose of asset reuse the environments are still more detailed than they ever have been before. They will start to blend into each other after a while as all the forests look pretty much the same as do the towns save for the few custom designed areas that each of them has. Heck even the various governor houses are basically identical save for the texture jobs. There’s also some noticeable differences in the game’s framerate and the physics engine’s rate which is probably most notable in your cape which stutters along rather than flowing like you’d expect. Credit where it’s due though this is a pretty big step up for Spiders and I’m not one to chide someone for making progress.
It seems that after making ostensibly the same game 4 times over Spiders has finally managed to streamline it to the point where they’ve actually managed to make most of the systems work properly. You’re still going to have to choose to main one of three character classes, each of which largely fits into the regular RPG tropes. The multiple different attribute and talent systems make a return although at least this time around there’s a respec facility that gives you the ability to tweak things if you happen to make a wrong decision early on. You’ll still be saddled with AI companions that you have zero control over however and their AI hasn’t really improved much in the years since the Technomancer. Crafting once again makes a return although it suffers from the same problems at it always has. Overall whilst the theme of “put everything in that the AAA guys do” is still very much prevalent in Greedfall at least this time it’s a lot better done making for a game that’s actually kind of fun to play.
Combat is still a very simplistic affair, being mostly focus on you whacking at enemies and dodging their more obvious telegraphed attacks whilst waiting for your abilities to come off cooldown. The game asks you what archetype you want to be at the start and, for a change, I decided to see what being a spellcaster would be like. To their credit this was actually quite a viable build although, unfortunately, it still meant that I’d spend about half of most combat encounters meleeing things as I waited for my mana to regen. However there were also times that I could completely wipe out an entire group with 2 spells, something which I sorely needed to do later in the game when I was over everything and just wanted to complete the story. I still have the feeling that going for the warrior tree might’ve been the smarter move overall as it seems all the good weapons and armor require you to invest in points that that tree makes use of. Having to split my points a bit between things to support my spellcasting whilst also wearing armour that wasn’t total shit was a bit of a pain, although it wasn’t too much of a drag for the last 5 or so hours of my playthrough.
Like most things in Greedfall though the combat gets extremely repetitve after not too long. The enemy variety is very low and doesn’t really change much throughout the game. This unfortunately means that the increased challenge usually comes from the game throwing more of those enemies at you or simply giving them a truckload more health and armour. This turns most fights into drawn out slugfests and with an unfortunate late of variety in spells and skills there’s not much to really keep you interested. To be sure I could’ve easily respecced between any of the 3 trees anytime I wanted to (you’ll pick up more than enough items to cover them all off) but I shouldn’t have to completely up-end my build just to keep things interesting. The games that Greedfall aspires to be (Dragonfall: Origins should I take a wild guess) managed to keep me interested without the need for me to change things up so I definitely feel like it’s a lack of time and/or resources on Spiders’ part here.
Pro-tip: there’s basically no reason to invest any points in crafting as there’s NPCs who can craft everything for you. Not only that but all crafting recipes are available to you right from the get-go so there’s really nothing else for you to do but to go and find the required mats. This is made incredibly easy by the fact that every time you travel you have to camp, which also brings with it a vendor who always has every crafting item in stock. It’s probably still worth picking up various mats along the way as you’ll sometimes need to craft something or use them to complete a quest but other than that you’re going to end up with a bunch of materials that you’re not going to have any use for. Thankfully they don’t weigh particularly much so you can still indulge in your packrat ways if you so wish. Once I’d found a good set of unique armour and an associated weapon I maxed out crafting to upgrade everything to the fullest and then respecced into something more useful right away. I think I ended up using that setup for over half the game.
Progression is a muddled affair as you’ll get skill points every level (and can even find “skill shrines” that give you additional points) but will only get attribute and talent points every so often. This means that if you find a sweet piece of armour that needs endurance 2 it’s not going to be 2 levels to use it, no more like 5+. Whilst this does mean that the early game is a bit of a balancing act to get the most out of the loot you have it ends up being a pretty big source of frustration later in the game. This is most apparent when all the good loot requires the higher tiers of attributes unlocked or not having a particular skill (like say vigor) levelled up enough means taking the very long way around something. Of course I totally get the idea that this is meant to make you specialise in something but given the loot isn’t particularly diverse it kind of means that non-warrior builds are less viable than their melee focused counter-parts. This is honestly par for the course with Spiders games though so I really shouldn’t be surprised.
There have been some major quality of life improvements over previous Spiders games like, finally, a fast travel system. Unfortunately this is tied up with a completely unnecessary (but mandatory) “camp” intermediate level which basically means you’ll always see 2 load screens unless you’re travelling within a current map. It would be so, so much better if you had the choice of camping or not as later in the game there’s really not a lot of reason to spend any time at camp. Other improvements include item comparison, so you can see if what you’re looking at is an upgrade, a useable map and a UI that isn’t complete garbage. It’s still probably about 5+ years behind what I’d call AAA but at the very least we’re streets ahead of what I’ve come to expect from this developer.
Of course the game is still riddled with issues, some of which may be due to their continued use of the Silk engine or perhaps just straight up lack of polish. Pathing is a major issue and you’ll routinely get cornered or stuck by NPCs or your companions alike although they’ll usually figure out you’re trying to get past them after a 30 seconds or so. There are missions in the game that are obviously related to each other but haven’t had alternative voice lines recorded from them so you’ll often have your character experiencing weird bouts of amnesia about things that they really should know about. Whilst the level of the jank in the combat is certainly decreased the same issues in Spiders’ previous games still exist, like spells or melee hits just straight up not connecting for no reason at all and enemies straight up ignoring terrain to get at you. A lot of these things can be patched out though and hopefully Spiders does invest some time between this game and the next on improving the overall experience.
The story is passable as it’s rather predictable but at least many of the characters are given time to develop and there appears to be a much richer world behind everything than previous Spiders’ games had. Even with that said though there were a good number of characters I was just straight up not interested in talking to, including 2 of the companions that are introduced much later in the game and as such feel like strangers in your tightly knit crew. I will admit that I played for much, much longer than I would have otherwise just because I wanted to see how everything panned out but even that became quite the chore towards the end. Overall it’s a vast improvement but there’s still a lot of room to grow here.
After 7 years of not really improving at all it’s heartening to see signs of life from the Spiders team. Whilst Greedfall is certainly still in B-grade territory it’s very, achingly close to tipping over to into A. There’s still tons of room for improvement here and a “less is more” approach could still help immensely in focusing more on what matters to the core game rather than trying to emulate what others deliver in the same kind of experience. Still I hope that the success that Spiders has found with Greedfall either gives them bigger budgets or allows them to attract more top tier talent as it’s clear there’s something going on there, they just need the right guidance and resources to make something truly AAA worthy.
Greedfall is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and XboxOne right now for $69.95. Game was played on the PC with a total of 22 hours play time and 51% of the achievements unlocked.
Ever since I started keeping a list of games I’d like to review (some 6 years now) it’s become clear to me just how many I don’t get around to playing. Still I try to make time for the ones that everyone seems to enjoy or have seen wide critical acclaim. Which is why I went back to play Control as it has managed to snag many Game of the Year awards and nominations from many of the top game reviews websites. My opinion differs significantly to those as whilst I think Control is a very competent and novel game it’s far from game of the year material. Perhaps the most grievous sin it commits is to follow in the footsteps of the many Assassin’s Creed and Ubisoft open world titles that came before it, introducing the concept of grind into a single player game. Combine that with a game that’s still needing some polish 5+ months after its release and I really have to wonder why so many think Control is a better game than the numerous other contenders for the 2019 release year.
You are Jesse Faden and have arrived at the headquarters of the Federal Bureau of Control, a place called the Oldest House. However upon your arrival you find it practically deserted the only person around being an old man called Ahti who appears to be to be bureau’s janitor. He then points you towards the director’s office for your interview, commenting that he could really use a new assistant to help him out. Upon arriving in the directors office you find his body, apparently dead from suicide. As you grab his weapon from the table you’re transported to another realm where it becomes clear that there’s much more to the bureau, and the world at large, than you first thought.
Control uses Remedy’s proprietary engine called Northlight which was first used with Quantum Break back in 2016. Back then I commented on how good the game looked but it seems like Control hasn’t really improved much on the visuals that the engine is able to offer. I think a large part of this is the fact that the vast majority of Control takes place in smaller spaces, making the lack of detail in some areas a lot more apparent than they otherwise would be in a more open setting. There also isn’t a great amount of variance in the environments either which makes the blandness stand out even more. This isn’t to say Control is a terrible looking game, more that it’s a half step or so behind what I’d consider to be the norm for a AAA title. No doubt part of it is also my now 5 year old rig which seemed to struggle in some places, even at 1080p, but given I had similar troubles 3 years ago with Quantum Break I have my suspicions that the engine could use a few more optimisations.
Control is a third person shooter/RPG hybrid with a healthy dash of open world elements thrown in for whatever reason. Whilst there’s a main campaign mission to follow there’s dozens of side quests, tasks and other errands for you to run that’ll reward you with varying amounts of resources, crafting materials and, if you’re really lucky a skill point or two. You don’t technically find new weapons instead you craft new forms of the “Service Weapon”, most of which fall into the typical archetypes we’re familiar with (pistol, machine gun, shotgun, etc.). Progression comes in 3 different ways: skill points, weapon mods and personal mods. The former is granted on completion of some, not all missions, and feels like it’s mostly tied to the main missions and a few of the longer side missions. Mods can drop from basically anywhere and are randomly generated, meaning it’s quite possible to pick up a mod with a god like roll that won’t get replaced for some time. This is where the game starts to tend towards endless grind territory as you attempt to seek out the best mods to tweak your preferred build. There’s even endgame level activities if you’re so interested although honestly I can’t really see why you’d bother.
Combat is typically medium paced as pretty much every encounter will have a couple waves of enemies and whilst your ammo and powers are unlimited they’ll need recharging pretty often, slowing down how many bad guys you can dispatch in any one go. After the first couple hours you will have seen basically every enemy archetype there is though and so after then it just becomes a matter of numbers and how many waves get thrown at you for any particular combat encounter. For the most part if you take your time there’s not much in the game that can kill you, especially considering that most encounters you can simply just walk away from and leash the enemies, giving you time for round 2. This makes for an overall combat experience that’s OK but somewhat boring after a while as you’re literally just doing the same fights over and over again.
It probably doesn’t help that the progression in the game is kinda meh for the most part. All of the upgrades you get, apart from the 3 or so new abilities and new weapon forms granted to you over the course of the game, are percentage based stat increases and so don’t feel particularly impactful to how you play the game. To be sure there’s a couple skill upgrades which make can change things a little, but even then not by much. Really the only one I got any kind of use out of was the levitating enemies when their health was low perk and even that was only useful because the enemy bodies were usually bigger than the other bits of crap I could hurl around.
If I was able to stack a ludicrous amount of mods then I could see myself having a lot of fun with some really stupid builds but unfortunately you’re limited to 3 weapon mods (per weapon type) and 3 personal mods. Whilst that makes for a large amount of build variety I don’t feel many of them are particularly viable as you’re going to want a health upgrade and, by consequence, the upgrade that makes the little health thingies that the enemies drop more effective. Either that or waste your valuable skill points on the same things which would limit you to the vanilla base skills. Really I feel like Control could’ve been a lot more fun if they just let you go hog wild with these things and become a complete wrecking ball like many other RPGs do.
Control also suffers from a few issues which at this late juncture I would’ve expected to have been ironed out by now. Switching from the menu to the game triggers a good 3 seconds of single digit frame rates which is a real pain in the ass when you have switch in and out of it all the time to read the various files strewn about the place just so you understand at least the basics of the plot. Since a good chunk of the game is physics based you’ve got the usual emergent behaviour issues that goes along with it, something that becomes readily apparent when you say, walk through a room with stuff strewn everywhere and Jesse seemingly forgets how to walk around or over things. In the grand scheme of things these are minor issues but given this is a AAA title, from a big name house and it’s been out for a while now I figured it should be basically issue free.
The story is interesting enough, being a kind of X-files meets the Twilight Zone kind of deal. The game does go out of its way to be especially obtuse with the various plot elements it introduces you to directly, forcing you to sniff around all the various files to find context and detail that you’ll so desperately need to have any clue about what’s going on. The main character’s inner dialogue also started to grate on me after a while as I didn’t feel like it added much and almost felt like a remnant of a choice system that was implemented and then scrapped halfway through the game’s development. If anything it’s reflective of the game as a whole: well built but just lacking that hook to really get me to buy in to the whole thing.
Control is a well constructed game that’ll tick a lot of boxes for many people but seems to lack that certain something to bind everything together to make the concept really sing. Indeed all of the individual elements are good to begin with but fail to evolve or improve over time. So the experience you get at the start feels largely the same as the one you have at the end which, for 10 hours invested, does make you question why you’d bother in the first place. I’m sure there’s some out there with dozens more hours invested in the game’s various end game and open world activities but, for me, I just couldn’t get invested enough to want to keep playing. Just goes to show that what makes something game of the year material will be different for everyone and, for me, it seems that I simply can’t find what others see in Control.
Control is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One right now for $59.99. Game was played on the PC with a total of 10 hours play time.
Thinking about my journey as a gamer it’s interesting to note how I’ve ebbed and flowed between being focused on single player experience and those enjoyed with others. To be sure part of this was due to the way I came to games in the first place, sharing the family PC with my brother and later moving onto the first generation NES console which we’d waste endless hours on. Later on, when I was blessed with my own personal PC, that I started to find an interest in gaming by myself. That was upended when I got into the LAN scene and continued in strength as the world of online gaming was unlocked when I was graced with the wonderful gift of broadband. The last decade has been a good mix of the two although I’ll admit that most of my gaming time is more on the single player side than otherwise.
Suffice to say I don’t often go looking for co-operative experiences these days, especially if they don’t come with a single player option. However Degrees of Separation caught my eye early last year and it had long been in my review queue to play with my wife when we got the time. Well, once again thanks to the bushfires that continue to rage on, we managed to sit down and make our way through it. Whilst it’s core mechanic is somewhat novel it is a rather run of the mill puzzle platformer. That being said it can be a good bit of fun when you’re playing with another, especially if they aren’t exactly experienced with this kind of game.
Ember and Rime are from two different sides of the same world: hers a warm one of endless sunshine blessed with boundless heat and his, a world of frozen beauty. They are separated by an enigmatic force, unable to reach each other nor visit each other’s world. It’s clear however that their world has suffered some great tragedy at the hands of despotic ruler and they set out together to uncover the mystery of their shared world. Working together is the only way that they’ll be able to uncover the mystery of what happened and why they both are separated from one another.
Degrees of Separation is crafted in the style of Flash games of yesteryear with its flat 2D environments, simplistic animations and limited use of modern effects. There’s an unfortunate amount of asset reuse which makes a lot of the areas feel very samey, even though they’re supposed to be completely different environments. That being said it’s not like it’s an ugly game, more that it’s just very simplistic in its implementation. I can hazard a guess that’s likely due to the developers needing to create 2 of everything: one for Ember’s world and one for Rime’s. Combine that with the various interactions that needed to be coded in and I can see why they wanted to keep things simple from a visuals perspective.
The game’s claim to fame is the two worlds of the main characters: one world is hot and the other is cold. Initially that’s all there is to it and solving most puzzles is just figuring out the order in which things need to be done with the various worlds so you can progress forward. The later worlds start to play on the divide a lot more, bringing in mechanics that make use of it in some way. However all of these new mechanics are contained within the level that they’re granted in, so this isn’t some kind of metroidvania style game where you’ll be unlocking different parts of past levels with new skills. The only metroidvania style thing in here is the main overworld which is non-linear, but realistically you’re going to have to complete a number of levels in order due to the number of unlocks required to open them.
The puzzles are almost all self-contained and we only came across one that required us to bring something in from another puzzle in order to solve it. I personally prefer it this way for a co-op setting as otherwise you end up second guessing each other’s ideas endlessly, spending countless hours trying to drag things from other puzzles around in order to try and solve them. It also means that you’ll need to be aware of the developer’s logic as you progress through the levels as if you lose sight of that then there’s going to be puzzles that you won’t be able to solve. Thankfully those seem to be few and far between as I can only remember skipping maybe 3 or so in our full playthrough.
The puzzles are also predominantly physics based with a good chunk of them requiring precise platforming and/or timing in order to complete them. Given the game’s less than stellar control implementation this can make some puzzles a little more frustrating than they need to be as objects might not react the way you expect them to or you’ll find yourself having to repeat sections over and over again because you mistimed a jump. Even I, the seasoned puzzle platform gamer that I am, struggled at times much to the delight of my wife. This could also partly be due to us playing it on console as, I’ll admit, I don’t usually do most of my platforming with a controller.
All this being said the puzzles are, for the most part, pretty straightforward and most of them should be doable for even novice gamers. Thankfully not every puzzle must be solved as you’ll only need a certain amount of scarves (the game’s collectible) to progress to another level. The only improvements I’d seek to make would be the inclusion of a map and a reworked checkpoint system as it’s something of a pain to get back to where you were after you’ve put the game down for the night.
The story is told via a voiceover that’s triggered on every new puzzle screen, which is nice, but the story itself is pretty forgettable. I think this is partly because it’s told in the third person and the characters themselves rarely interact on the screen so it’s hard to really empathise with them at all. To be sure I prefer having the story told to me as I’m playing it rather than being presented with walls of text every so often, but having the entire thing told in the third person just seemed to take a lot of the emotional investment out of it.
Degrees of Separation is a solid co-op platformer with a novel take on the genre’s mechanics. Whilst its visual style and story err on the side of simplistic the puzzle/platform mechanics are on point, requiring some real lateral thinking and cooperation to solve. Its casual nature will make it attractive to those who are looking for something to play together but can only do so in short bursts. Other than that there’s not a terrible amount to say amount Degrees of Separation and hopefully, if you’ve read this far, you know if it’s for you.
Degrees of Separation is available on PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch right now for $28.95. Game was played on the PlayStation 4 with a total of approximately 4 hours playtime and 38% of the achievements unlocked.
My wife was absolutely enamored with Until Dawn. After I completed my initial playthrough I did another with her as she’s a massive fan of the horror genre, especially the cheesier, B-grade ones that Until Dawn emulated. After that playthrough she was hooked and spent a good long time replaying the game multiple times over, trying to see every variation that she could. So when I saw that Supermassive games was releasing a series of shorter titles called The Dark Pictures Anthology I was intrigued and, given that we were housebound due to the bushfires blanketing Canberra with smoke, I thought it’d be a good time for us to play through the first instalment: Man of Medan. Unfortunately this particular title doesn’t feel up to the same level as Until Dawn, feeling decidedly middle of the road.
There were rumours of a downed WWII airplane that hadn’t yet been catalogued out in the South Pacific Ocean. Keen to explore a wreck that hadn’t yet been seen by other humans a group of 4 young explorers, along with the captain of the rented vessel, set out to find it based on some information from one of their friends. However whilst they’re out at sea they catch the ire of some local ne’er do wells and quickly find themselves at their mercy. Soon after that happens they get hit by a storm and find themselves butting up against a ghost ship which, for some inexplicable reason, the pirates decide to take shelter in. So begins their journey into this lost vessel and the horrors that lie within.
Man of Medan retains much of the cinematic level quality that Until Dawn had although now, compared to 3 years ago, the graphics aren’t as cutting edge as they once were. This game’s aesthetic is much, much darker than its predecessor as well so a good lot of the detail is hidden from view most of the time. Thankfully though the performance issues have been addressed so even chumps like me using an original PS4 won’t be left suffering with low frame rates. Given that this game is on Unreal unlike the previous one (which was on Decima) there’s definitely room for improvement here and who knows, maybe the whole thing looks amazing on PC.
This is still very much an interactive fiction game with it’s mostly linear levels, countless items strewn around for you to interact with and the action scenes peppered with quick time events. At the basic level not much has changed with Man of Medan as most of the mechanics have been renamed rather than reworked. The biggest change comes in the form of the Curator, a fourth-wall breaking character who speaks to you about the story that’s unfolding and the choices that you’re making within it. He will also offer you clues from time to time, although whether or not they help or hinder you is something that’s up for debate. He’ll be a recurring character in the series as he’s apparently some sort of collector of these kinds of stories, wanting to observe those who experience them. Given the shorter intended length of these stories most of the mechanics I’ve described above have been streamlined somewhat so there’s a lot less depth to them than what I remember being in Until Dawn.
As with all interactive fiction exploration is the name of the game here although, if I’m honest, Man of Medan doesn’t provide a particularly rewarding experience in this respect. Sure, there’s a lot of stuff for you to find, but most of the time it’s just flavour text for the story of the ship. That’d be great if it wasn’t for the fact that you have most of the story for it already, thanks to the opening tutorial taking place in the past. So the rest of the stuff you read is really just fluff for the most part. Worse still it doesn’t seem like exploration, especially in places that are meant to be hard to find, rewards you in any way at all. In these kinds of games that kind of exploration, I feel, should be rewarded with things that help you in some way when it comes to the game’s critical moments. None of the items I found exploring the ship with my wife helped in any way and indeed, I think most of them actually made things worse. Sure, I can see that could have been intentional, but getting punished for doing the hard thing in a game feels like a swift kick in the pants.
Probably the worst part of Man of Medan though is the lack of connection between your actions and their outcomes. Now our playthrough probably wasn’t the greatest, we managed to kill 3 out of the 5 characters, but one of them didn’t feel connected to previous events at all and the last two were single QTE fails, neither of which gave any indication that that was our last chance to get the character out alive. The premonitions were also total trash as well, the options that they showed you seemingly having zero influence on the situation at hand. Worse still, with losing a character around halfway through the game, it was obvious that there were holes in the story that that character was meant to fill and from then on many interactions felt half baked as the scenes didn’t seem to be rewritten enough to cope for said loss. Honestly I never felt this way in Until Dawn, even when I watched my wife’s playthrough where she killed nearly every character.
Of course I’d probably be able to ignore most of these issues if the story wasn’t so uninspired and predictable. It was pretty clear from the onset what was going to happen and the unfolding of events really didn’t add much to the overall narrative. Combine that with the use of tired jump scares and run of the mill horror tropes and you had a recipe for a story that was forgettable, boring and lacking the drive to push the game forward. Even my wife, who loves this kind of horror, wasn’t really enjoying the story for the most part.
Putting this all together you’ve got a decidedly disappointing experience in Man of Medan, one that really isn’t up the standard that Supermassive set with Until Dawn. I do like the concept though, a mysterious man who takes you through stories of the past and catalogues your decisions, but the first instalment in this anthology doesn’t give me high hopes for future ones. Perhaps with a more engaging story I can look past some of the more egregious missteps as it was that, combined with the distinct lack of agency my wife and I felt whilst playing, that really tore the experience down for us. Maybe the next story, Little Hope, will prove to be a little better.
The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan is available on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 right now for $49.95. Game was played on the PlayStation 4 with approximately 4 hours total play time and 11% of the achievements unlocked.
My history with the Trine series is long, stretching all the way back to 2011. However it could have never happened at all as I missed the game when it first came out, it not really registering as a blip on my radar back then. It was on the recommendation of a friend, one who had noticed the uptick in my gaming consumption, who recommended that I give it a shout. What’s bloomed from that is a love of the quirky series that I’ve seen go through ups and downs over the decade of its existence; from it’s awkward beginnings as a quirky physics based platformer all the way through to its latest incarnation which, I’m happy to say, is the best one in the series to date.
This time our intrepid trio of heroes isn’t summoned to adventure by the Trine, instead the request comes from the Astral Academy. Prince Sellius, one of their “students”, suffers from intense nightmares. This would be one thing but he’s also gifted with potent magic abilities and those nightmares are starting to invade the waking world. So the call goes out once again to the Wizard, the Thief and the Warrior to help save the kingdom from this threat and, hopefully, save the prince in the process.
Trine has always had amazing visuals and the latest instalment is no different. The trademark dreamlike quality is retained, coming to us through the liberal use of bloom and bright lighting effects. The 3D backgrounds and set pieces have become even more elaborate, becoming bigger and more detailed than they ever have before. The game still runs on the in-house proprietary engine and it appears that Frozenbyte has done a great job in improving its capabilities and optimising the implementation as the whole game runs very smoothly, even on old hardware. Suffice to say that Trine continues to be one of the most visually impressive platformers in the market and I’m glad the developers keep pushing themselves to improve upon what they’ve delivered before.
As anyone who played Trine 3 could predict the game has returned to its 2D platformer roots, removing the 3rd dimension and going back to what they know. For fans of the series this is a great thing as whilst the 3D version of Trine was indeed a step up the fact that they could only deliver a third of the game they wanted to with 3 times the budget of Trine 2 says a lot about the effort required to make it work. So in that respect Trine 4 is much more of an evolution of what Trine 2 was rather than a rework of 3 and the mechanics are all back to their roots. There have been some changes to make all characters more equally a part of the overall experience however, notably with the Wizard now having substantial combat capability and the Warrior being a key piece of numerous puzzle mechanics. Progression is now split into 2 tiers: one from combat and one from finding experience jars. The former is effectively the unlock for new puzzle mechanics whilst the latter unlocks augments to those abilities, effectively being quality of life improvements. Frozenbyte describes this as the “most complete Trine” experience they’ve ever created and, I’m glad to say, I wholeheartedly agree with them on that.
Combat is, as it always was, something of an also ran in the Trine experience. To be sure, there’s a more comprehensive combat experience to be had there than there ever has been, but pretty much all the engagements play out in the same way. The addition of more combat abilities to the Wizard, in the form of abilities that allow you to slam objects and levitate enemies, does make for a more varied experience but in all honesty most of them will get done with a lot of hack and slashing. The resurrection mechanic is also very, very forgiving ensuring that you’re unlikely to actually die and need to go back to a checkpoint at any time. To be fair this kind of combat fits into the whole overall zeitgeist of what Trine aims to be: a casual puzzle platformer that could be enjoyed by anyone. In that respect I don’t ever envision the combat aspects getting much more complicated than they already are.
The puzzles have gone back to their roots with physics based problems being the name of the game. The wizard still has the ability to conjure boxes and platforms, the thief grappling hook things and now the warrior’s shield forms a core part of the experience with its reflecting ability. There are numerous augmentations to all of these abilities which bring with them a wide variety of challenges for you to solve. For the most part though the majority of puzzles are going to be heavily focused on the last mechanic you unlocked with only a couple other abilities required to solve them, at least for the main puzzles. The secret ones do ramp up the challenge somewhat although they, like pretty much every puzzle that’s ever been created in Trine, is subject to the whims and whiles of the emergent gameplay that the series is well known for.
Initially you’re pretty limited in the shenanigans that you can get up to as your abilities are significantly limited. However once you’re able to summon 2 items things start to get pretty interesting and only start to rocket up from there. Indeed the combination of multiple boxes plus the fairy rope means you’re able to make platforms of arbitrary height that you can grapple onto, meaning that no matter what the height of something is you’ll be able to get to it. Combine that with the fact that the developers have still not solved the likely unsolvable issue of the Wizard levitating things he’s standing on in some capacity (this time you can grapple 2 boxes together and then levitate one of them, which can fling you basically anywhere) and you’ve got a recipe for some rather whacky solutions to the puzzles at hand. Additionally, and I don’t remember noticing this in Trine 2, but the co-op aspects have obviously played a bit into the level design as there are some puzzles that have multiple solutions, most only requiring one character. So for those it’s usually very easy to get past them with all 3 abilities at your disposal.
Despite all of that though the game is very well polished, not really suffering from any major game breaking issues or glitches. I mean sure, there were times where something happened that I wasn’t exactly expecting but I was deliberately trying to find ways to break the game’s physics engine in order to solve a puzzle in an easier way than intended. Perhaps my most enjoyable moments was when I was trying to grappling hook 2 boxes together, one of which was directly on top of the other. Doing that is fine however the second you start to levitate them things go wildly out of control as they start to clip and bounce off each other. I’m sure there’s easy fixes for edge cases like that but honestly, I think the game is better off with them in.
The story is perhaps the most well fleshed out of the Trine series but it’s not like that was a high bar to get over. The focus of Trine has always been on the visual and puzzle experience, notsomuch the characters or the world that they reside in. To be sure this does expand the world of Trine a little but it’s a pretty standard affair with a rather predictable outcome. Thankfully the story doesn’t get in the way of the game at all, mostly playing as background to what’s happening on screen.
Trine 4 is a return to form for the series, taking the essence of what made it great originally and building that up significantly. The more varied and deeper puzzle mechanics make for some truly interesting game play, especially with the trademark exploitable physics engine that allows you to do all sorts of things that the developers never intended you to do. The visuals are once again of AAA quality, retaining the same stylings that have become a trademark of the game. The usual not-so-great features are still present in this instalment with the middling combat experience and a run-of-the-mill story that you’re likely to forget shortly after playing. Still what makes a Trine game great is here in spades and for fans of the series this is a definite must-play.
Trine 4 is available now on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch right now for $42.95. Game was played on the PC with a total of 9 hours playtime and 53% of the achievements unlocked.
Going into games with little to no expectations makes for some…surprising moments. Most of the time I know what kind of experience I’m in for but there are times when I haven’t looked into the game beyond a cinematic trailer or two before I consider myself sold on playing it. Such is the case with Jedi: Fallen Order as I’m something of a Star Wars and Respawn Entertainment fan so I figured it was a done deal that I’d enjoy whatever happened when the two were combined. Imagine my surprise when I find myself in the middle of a Star Wars soulslike experience, far from the traditional RPG or third person shooter style games that this IP has been known for. Coming into this game somewhat late in the piece means I missed most of the extreme jank that plagued early reviews but still, as an overall experience, I think Fallen Order could do with some more work in a few key areas.
Five years after the execution of Order 66 and the beginning of the Great Jedi Purge, former Jedi Padawan Cal Kestis is in hiding from the newly risen Galactic Empire. On the planet Bracca, where he works as a scrapper salvaging ships from the Clone Wars. After he uses the force to save one of his friends from certain doom he becomes a target for the Inquisitors, an elite squadron of force users trained by Darth Vader himself. Luckily Cal is able to escape with the help of a former Jedi Knight named Cere Junda and her partner pilot Greez Dritus. Cere then tells you of her plan to rebuild the Jedi order using a holocron that contains the names of numerous force sensitive children scattered throughout the universe.
Fallen Order’s visuals excel in the wide open spaces that it puts you in, the wide vistas in the background providing some great screenshot bait. Up close however it’s clear that the visuals have been tuned a little bit more towards the performance end, wanting to ensure that the framerate remains more consistent during heavy action sequences. Part of that could also be due to my older rig not being capable of rendering more detail as I know that the PlayStation 4 version has a “performance” graphics setting which is recommended for non-pro users which looks quite similar to the results I’m seeing here. Even with all of that taken into consideration Fallen Order is still a fine looking game.
Fallen Order doesn’t make too many changes to the souslike core game loop, staying pretty true to the original formula. You have bonfires (meditation points), estus flask (stims), maps that twist and turn on themselves to reveal shortcuts that will make repeated trips through them quicker and a progression system that punishes death in the usual way. Fallen Order is a little more generous with its various mechanics however, making it one of the more tame soulslike experiences I’ve played to date. The only real changes to the formula are the much more contained levels with each world being its own distinct area to explore and the combat tending towards Bloodborne a little more than a traditional souls game. If you’ve been shying away from this genre for a while now I’d say that Fallen Order would be a good place to start, especially if you’re a fan of the IP it comes from.
Following the Bloodborne style for combat means that the game’s pace is a lot faster than your traditional souls game, being a little more hack ‘n’ slash rather than a strategic stamina management battle. Parrying is very much the name of the game here as you’ll have a much easier time if you’re able to hit the required timings rather than trying to dodge your way through everything. That’s partly due to the parry timing being somewhat generous and the dodging feeling a little buggy as it rarely works as you’d expect it to. Indeed the whole integration of the physics engine with the combat mechanics doesn’t feel 100%, even after the patches that took out the most egregious errors that plagued the game’s release.
That, coupled with the game’s rather basic approach to increasing the challenge for you (mostly by just throwing more enemies at you and/or the time between save points) makes for a combat experience that’s a little below par. To be sure there’s some great fights in there and I quite enjoyed a lot of the boss battles as they really did capture that same feeling I got when facing down bosses in other souls games. However much of the later challenge was really just frustration, forcing me to replay through sections over and over again just because I encountered something that I couldn’t have planned for. There was a lot of scope for Respawn to make every world have its own unique set of challenges with different enemies and mechanics but, in the end, they opted for most of them to be basically the same with only slight variations in the trash mobs. That could have been done a lot better.
Progression comes pretty steadily as you gain XP by defeating enemies, finding collectibles and unlocking secrets. Early on you’re likely going to unlock all of the skills available before you get the next tier unlocked and, even towards the end of the game, you’re likely going to be wondering what you really want to spend your points on. For the most part though the skills and upgrades are minor improvements and there’s no one build that’s going to be a lot better than others. To be sure there’s a few skills which will likely make some encounters a little easier than others but you won’t be able to say, build around a particular boss in order to cheese them.
Exploration feels somewhat rewarding however looking for all the crates isn’t something you’re going to need to do. Pretty much all the items contained in them are just cosmetics with no impact to your character’s stats at all. There are upgrades to your health and force scattered around the place but they barely feel worth seeking out as the talent tree does a good enough job of bolstering those up for you.
Whilst I never had any issues with the game freezing or crashing there was still a good helping of physics and hitbox related issues during my playthrough. I couldn’t tell you how many times I jumped at a rope, tried to wall run or jump onto a small rail only to have Cal fall to his death. That only got more frustrating during the more challenging platforming sections as I’d often fail at the last point, requiring me to replay the whole section again. This physics and hitbox jankiness pervades throughout all of the game’s various elements making for a rather annoying and inconsistent experience at times. It’s certainly no where near as bad now as some of the early videos show but there’s still a lot of room for improvement here.
Fallen Order’s story goes through peaks and troughs; sometimes reeling you in with some heartfelt moments whilst at others falling utterly flat. Usually this comes down to bad pacing however Fallen Order does manage to get that right, delivering story items at a consistent rate to keep you engaged enough. I think it partly comes down to a lot of false crescendos as the story appears to be leading to a pivotal point only to shoot off in a completely arbitrary direction, making you feel like you really haven’t gotten as far as you think. The one thing I will credit them for is not relying heavily on main Star Wars characters to drive everything, a sin many Star Wars games commit all too frequently.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is a competent soulslike experience that suffers from some fundamental technical issues that make it a good, but not great experience. There are glimmers of excellence all over the place, from the expansive visual set pieces to the steady pace of progression and some key story moments that really hit home. But those are buried under the janky physics and hitbox issues that pervade the rest of the experience making things like combat, exploration and solving puzzles a frustrating experience. This is something that will, hopefully, get better over time but as it stands today, even after a couple patches, Jedi: Fallen Order is a game that’s probably best picked up when it’s on sale a few months from now.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One right now for $89.95. Game was played on the PC with a total of 17 hours play time and 46% of the achievements unlocked.
Death Stranding’s genesis is perhaps one of the most well known controversies in recent memory. Hideo Kojima, ousted from his position at Konami, reformed his company Kojima Productions with the assistance of Sony. Their first order of business was to begin working on a new franchise and, some 3 years ago now, he unveiled the first trailer of Death Stranding. For someone who’d never really gotten into the Metal Gear series of games I knew little of Kojima’s work directly, but I knew of the large following his games had developed thanks to their heavy story focus and inventive mechanics. However the trailer alone was enough to sell me on the idea of the game, giving us precious little details about what the title would actually be but teasing a few concepts that had me intrigued. Suffice to say I don’t think anyone back then expected the game we have today but, after spending the last 3 weeks playing my way through it, I can say that it’s likely 2019’s best game in almost all respects. Truly this is a product of an industry veteran who knows how develop unique, inventive concepts but also have the drive to see them through to reality.
The game’s namesake is an event that occurred some time ago, ravaging the world and blurring the line that separates the world of the dead from the living. Now Beached Things (invisible creatures originating from the “Beach”, a land said to be the link to the world of the dead) roam the earth seeking to drag anyone they come across to the underworld. You are Sam Porter, a member of the Bridges corporation, who’s ultimate goal is to reunite the now shattered United States into a new order called the United Cities of America. It’s your job to deliver goods from one place to another, navigating the ravaged world and avoiding all the horrors that now lie within it. However it’s clear that there’s some history between you and the new leader of the free world and you soon find yourself reluctantly agreeing to work with Bridges to unite all of the fractured cities together.
Death Stranding comes to us via the Decima Engine which has brought us other such gorgeous titles like Horizon Zero Dawn. As you’d expect from a late-in-the-generation game Death Stranding makes full use of the PlayStation 4 hardware, delivering amazing visuals in all respects. The environments are not immutable either, with dynamic weather systems, interactions from other players in the shared world and even your own actions. All of this is wrapped up in amazing game direction with many aspects of the game expertly crafted to have maximum impact on you as a player. Finally the game’s soundtrack and foley work is second to none, rounding out the experience completely. This high level of craftsmanship makes for an extremely immersive experience, beyond that of any title in recent memory. I guess I should’ve expected no less from someone who’s been a leader in this industry for over 2 decades.
Mechanically Death Stranding is a mix of various different standard game tropes with a core game loop that’s really unlike anything else out there. At a basic level you’re a delivery guy, tasked with taking cargo from point A to point B whereupon you’ll be rated by various metrics like how damaged the cargo is, how long it took you to get there and whether or not you helped out others along the way. In all honesty I wouldn’t blame you if your eyes were rolling back into your head at this point but past a certain point, once a few of the more interesting mechanics have been unlocked, the game loop really starts coming together. That’s when the challenge starts to ramp up as well and some other core mechanics, like the third person shooter part, come into play. You’re also part of a shared world with other players, enabling you to utilise structures and items that have either been placed or even lost by other players. I could go on for some time about the various different mechanics that the game throws at you as it never really feels like you’ve unlocked everything, even when you’re right at the game’s conclusion. Suffice to say Death Stranding is an experience that evolves significantly over its play time, giving you a good reason to keep plugging onwards.
One piece advice I read about early on was to get to Chapter 3 as quickly as you possibly can and that advice is sound. The early game is a slow, plodding experience as you don’t have access to some of the core tools which make the game a lot less frustrating to play. Additionally areas after the initial one have far more structures thanks to many players in the community contributing resources to things like roads or strategically placing all manner of buildings to make your life easier. Indeed if you’re playing this game after reading this review there’s a good chance your world will likely have highways that stretch to most of the game’s most important points, charging stations at various points to ensure you never run out of juice for your vehicles and signposts everywhere that do many things from warning you of upcoming danger to even giving your vehicles a boost. Honestly I felt a little spoiled in the mid-game because of this but I see that this is actually a part of the overall experience and it encourages you to pay it forward.
It was for that reason I spent quite a bit of time farming materials to complete 2 sections of road and built numerous structures along routes I took when I noticed that say, the charge on my vehicle was running low or there was 2 zip lines that, for some reason, didn’t have an interconnecting middle section, rendering both of them useless. Of course part of this is motivated by likes, which are basically just an in-game metric of how much you’ve contributed to other’s experience of the game, as there’s nothing quite like see a roll of names go by indicating that you’ve actually done something that’s impacted another player’s game. I’ve had inclinations to go back now that I’ve finished the game and help out with getting the roads fully completed but, after some 35 hours in game, I figured it was time to let the experience breathe for a little bit.
Stealth is a not-so-small part of Death Stranding’s experience although it comes in two flavours: avoiding BTs and sneaking up on the human enemies (MULEs and Terrorists). Initially the BT avoiding sections are a bit of a pain in the ass as it’s not made entirely clear how they actually track you. For the most part it doesn’t seem to matter how much noise you make (although I didn’t test firing a gun next to them…hmmmm) and it seems to be mostly related to how close you are and whether or not you’re holding your breath. I found the most successful way to navigate your way through a BT field was to get close enough so that the Odradek is spinning and still blue and then walk in such a way that you’re gradually putting distance between you and them. Then, if you accidentally get a bit too close, hold your breath and leg it past them and then take a breath once you’re back in spinny blue territory. That likely makes zero sense if you haven’t actually played Death Stranding but if you’re going to play it keep that in the back of your mind.
Stealthing around human enemies works in mostly the same way although, if I’m honest, you really don’t need to bother. Sure it’s kinda fun to hog tie up an entire encampment but it takes so long to do it’s just not worth it. Instead you’re probably best served by sneaking up on the first few and then whipping out your weapon of choice and going to town. Indeed I can’t even think of a part of the game that required you to go full stealth as even some of the final encounters, which were ostensibly built around that, can be cheesed somewhat by leveraging other mechanics. If I’m honest though I quite like that as it means you’re always able to use the playstyle that suits you the best.
The third person shooter parts are probably the weakest part of the Death Stranding experience as the aiming feels a little wonky. Granted this may be because it’s been some time since I’ve played a shooter on the console and there’s usually long breaks between shooter encounters, limiting the amount of practice you can get in. Still, there’s a variety of weapons at your disposal and if you put enough effort in the right places you can get some upgraded versions that are much, much better than their lower tier counterparts. I have no doubts that a few sections were made a lot easier for me since I had the Level 3 Non-Lethal Assault rifle almost immediately after getting the Level 2 version, meaning I could carry a single one and still have enough stopping power to get me through nearly all of the game’s encounters. I still kept a bola gun most of the time as that, if used correctly, is effectively a one shot kill for human enemies and with a 14 round magazine I could sometimes take out an entire MULE camp with it.
The core game mechanic of delivering cargo starts off being extremely tedious as you have to walk everywhere and you don’t have any kit to help you move faster or carry more cargo. As you unlock more things like vehicles, powered skeletons and higher tier boots though things start to get a lot easier, at least for the run of the mill deliveries. Of course with more tools the game is able to present you with greater challenges and you’ll quickly start coming across delivery missions that require some planning in order to get them done. For most of the mid game you’ll likely be well served by the standard reverse trike as that can go pretty much anywhere Sam can, even through dense fields of BTs if you manage to play your cards right. Once you’re in the mountains though vehicle use starts to become quite tricky, only really getting you about 20% of the way before it becomes more trouble than it’s worth. If I’m honest the mountain section of the game was probably my least favourite time as it was both challenging and bereft of solid story progress, making it a bit of a chore. Hopefully there’s more zip lines available when you’re playing through this section!
Progression comes at a pretty steady pace although, if I’m honest, it does give the game a kind of perpetual tutorial feel as you can never be quite sure you’re seeing everything the game has to offer. The various ratings shown after each delivery will increase the various stats you have although, if I’m honest, I saw much bigger differences from the various upgrades than I ever saw from the various rank ups I got. Thankfully the game doesn’t punish you for not doing lots of side missions either and, if you’re a player like me, you can basically go through the whole game without doing a single side mission if you want. You’ll likely end up doing a few though just because there’s no reason not to and contributing to the shared world does feel rewarding.
There are a few small issues in Death Standing, some of which can go either way depending on your situation and others that would just be quality of life improvements. The physics engine is a little…generous with its interpretation of how things should work and this can mean you can get yourself into places that really shouldn’t be accessible. At the same time should you do something that the physics engine doesn’t quite understand your likely to find yourself (and your cargo) thrown unceremoniously in a random direction. Now I didn’t get this too often, but there were times when I’d say, try to exit a car only for the game to instantly think I was falling down a steep slope which then ended up with me smashing into the side of the car. Some of the other issues I was going to mention (like not being able to see the Odradek sometimes) are going to be fixed in an upcoming patch, so it’s very likely that your experience will be much smoother from that perspective. Other than that the game runs perfectly well.
What really got me hooked though was the story and the consistent pace at which it was delivered. Completing every main mission was usually accompanied by a cutscene that delivered additional detail which helped immensely with keeping me engaged through the game’s long play time. All of the characters are well thought out, given ample time for their backstories to develop and, perhaps most importantly, are expertly delivered by their respective actors. It speaks volumes when not one, but two of the actors were nominated for Best Performance at The Game Awards for their roles in Death Stranding and one of them (Mads Mikkelsen) took home the award. There’s a few issues with the story that I won’t go into detail about, lest I ruin what it for some, but suffice to say the fact that I’m still thinking about it and processing it some time after finishing it means it’s had quite the impact on me.
Death Stranding is a masterpiece, showing what can happen when high concept thinking meets the dedication to deliver. All aspects of the game are expertly crafted: from the visuals which come from a highly revved up Decima engine, to the game’s audio experience and, perhaps most importantly, the actors that bring the game’s characters to life. To be sure it’s not a game for everyone as the core game loop and the first 8 hours or so are likely to turn quite a few people off it. However sticking through that initial part opens up a world that’s ever changing, growing in response to the collective effort that all players invest in it. I’m glad to have played my part in helping build out that world and for the experience that Death Stranding has given me. It is truly a game for those who seek a deeply immersive experience, one that resonate with you for years to come.
Death Stranding is available on PlayStation 4 right now (coming to PC in late 2020) for $89.95. Total play time was 35 hours with 57% of the achievements unlocked.
Despite its initial shortcomings I did end up spending quite a bit of time in Black Ops 4, the gun play being good enough to keep me interested for far longer than I had originally anticipated. I was even playing over the christmas break, reveling in the time when all the new players came on board and I could have my fill of lobbies overflowing with people who weren’t running builds as highly optimised as mine. Of course over time it got reduced back to the stable player base, the one that is typically far more skilled and, as a consequence, much more challenging to play against. Honestly though that’s COD and I’m fine with it as by the time that happens there’s usually another title coming along I want to dig into.
I never actually played the original Modern Warfare, only coming into the series when the sequel came out. I figured if it followed the formulas of the latter, mixed in with a little bit of the nostalgia for the characters and the story, then we’d likely have the makings of a solid COD entry. Whilst that’s mostly true for the campaign I can’t say that there’s any aspect of the multi-player that’s really grabbed me and I really don’t have much motivation to find out if I ever will.
In 2019, during a covert operation to recover shipments of dangerous chemical gas headed for Urzikstan, CIA SAC officer “Alex” is intercepted by unknown hostiles who kill the Marine Raiders accompanying him, and escape with the gas. Alex’s handler, Station Chief Kate Laswell , requests the assistance of SAS Captain John Price in recovering the chemicals and de-escalating the situation with Russia. Twenty-four hours later, a group of suicide bombers, affiliated with the terrorist organization Al-Qatala, attack Piccadilly Circus in London. SAS Sergeant Kyle Garrick is dispatched to contain the situation with the assistance of Price and local police forces.Afterwards, Alex is sent to Urzikstan to meet up with rebel leader Farah Karim, who agrees to join forces in tracking down the chemicals, in exchange for his aid in overthrowing Russian forces led by General Roman Barkov.
COD is always this rather odd mix of cinema level visuals in their cut-scenes which is then strongly contrasted by the not-quite-cutting-edge visuals of the game itself. This is a design decision of course, done in order to keep the game running smoothly so that your fast-paced action adventure doesn’t ever turn into a slide show. It’s also interesting to note that this Modern Warfare also brings with it a new engine as the previous one had been powering COD games since 2005. Apart from it being the engine for COD going forwards there’s scant details about what it actually improves, apart from 4K support.
Some of the levels are quite well done, although most of them are unfortunately shown at night so you don’t get a real chance to appreciate them. The game still suffers from the usual visual confusion that goes on with these kinds of games with enemies blurring into the scenery and background objects. Over time you do get used to it somewhat but after getting hit for the thousandth time from something you can’t see it does start to get a little old. Other than that there’s not much to say about Modern Warfare’s visuals, they’re just fine.
Modern Warfare follows the standard corridor shooter tropes pretty closely with only a few little different bits here or there to show off a new mechanic the game has or to have you play through what’s effectively an interactive cutscene. The single player campaign is straightforward, offering you no influence over how the story progresses and continuing at a rapid pace throughout. There’s been a ton of work in the multiplayer with the revamped Ground Warfare mode (which used to be just larger teams for the standard game modes) feeling an awful lot like Battlefield’s conquest mode. Really there’s not much more to it than that and so if you were a fan of the original then it’s a pretty good assumption to make that you’ll like this one too.
Combat is the same as it always was, fast paced with a hail of bullets always coming your way. There are times when the combat just flows and you’ll find yourself stomping your way through a level without much being able to stop you. Then there are the times when you’ll get nailed time after time by something until you figure out the exact sequence of events you need to do in order to get through. It can be a little jarring at times when it feels like the game is pushing you to rush but doing so quickly ends up with you dying. Of course the game is running completely at your pace and does a lot to baby you through sections. Indeed it got so bad that at one point I started seeing just how far the limits were on certain things like walking into trip mines when they ask you to defuse them (protip: that doesn’t work). Still I don’t play COD games to be respected and challenged as a player, I play them so I can shooty shooty hurr durr gooooooooood.
When it comes to COD games I’m a rusher. A dumb, low skill build rusher. I play that way because COD is one of the few multiplayer shooters that enables people like me to play in this way with the tiny maps, near instant respawns and certain guns that just shred people up close. This time around though it seems like they wanted to expand the map sizes a bit more and downplay the rushing angle considerably, making my kind of playstyle not particularly viable. That’s also due to the current meta which is focused on 2 guns, the M4A1 and the 725 shotgun, both of which shut down rushers pretty damn hard. I tried my hand at Ground Warfare and I honestly just found it too frustrating to play, the large maps with numerous sniper nest spots making it a game mode that just held zero interest for me. Now given I never really got into COD multiplayer much back in the day this might be a return to form for the series, I don’t know, but one thing I do know is that this isn’t the kind of COD I like to play.
The story is fine, yet another grab bag of various war stereotypes thrown in together to give you a bit of motivation for killing the bad guy of the day. I won’t comment on the politics of the story as that’s already been done to death by multiple different authors who are far more qualified than I to comment on it. Really it’s par for the course for COD games: pretty predictable with some memorable characters and it sets up for a sequel in the most obvious fashion it could. Suffice to say I’ll be interested in comparing and contrasting COD: MW2 to its decade old predecessor.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is exactly what you’d expect from the series today. Everything follows the pattern that’s been well trodden before with the changes coming in the multiplayer, most of which are for the worse in my opinion. However I might not be the kind of COD player that this instalment was catering to as I’m very much a fanboy for Treyarch more than I am for Infinity Ward. So really there’s nothing particular wrong with this instalment in the franchise, it’s just that the changes they’ve made to formula aren’t to my taste this time around. Who knows, maybe next time they will be, and it’s not like I’ll have to wait long to find out.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is available now on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC right now for $99.95. Game was played on the PC with a total of 8 hours play time.