Posts Tagged‘plot’

Diablo 3: Truly A Game For The Fans.

16 years, that’s how long its been since the first release of Diablo yet I can still remember some of the moments with it fondly. I can remember the first time I wandered down to that level and physically leaping out of my seat when the butcher first growled “Aaaahhhhh fresh meat!” when I dared enter his lair. I spent many hours attempting to get further and further into the dungeons and only after pairing up with people I had never met before online was I able to progress further and ultimately defeat Diablo. My time with its sequel released 4 years later was a much more social affair with many LANs dedicated to pushing our characters through the 99 levels that it offered to us. Today I find myself back in that same world again, playing through a world that’s been with me almost all of my gamer life. One that I’ve become very fond of.

Diablo 3 takes place 20 years after the events of Diablo 2. Deckard Cain and his niece, Leah, are investigating an old prophecy that’s foreboding a great conflict between man and the terrors of hell. During his investigation a star falls from the sky towards Deckard and his niece and destroys much of the cathedral leaving only a hole into which Deckard falls. You, known only as The Nephalem, have come to investigate the falling star and arrive at the town of New Tristram to find it under siege from the undead. So begins your long journey, one that draws many parallels to the past releases.

There’s something to be said about Blizzard’s approach to the visual and auditory nature of all of their games. They’re never on the cutting edge of graphics (which I was very thankful for as half of my time with the game was spent on an almost 2 year old MacBook Pro) but they never feel as dated as other games who attempt the same style do. Their heavy use of stylization, clever lighting effects and heavy use of perspective makes the low poly graphics feel like they’re a lot more detailed than they actually are. This also means that in heavy battle situations even those with modest computers won’t be playing through a slideshow, something that has always worked in Blizzard’s favor.

Like all their games the accompanying music, foley and cinematic cut scenes help to elevate the Diablo experience further. Blizzard really are no slouch when it comes to making cut scenes that are tear-inducingly beautiful and the ones in Diablo are no exception to this rule. Russell Brower, the man behind nearly all of the music in Blizzard games of the past decade, has done a fantastic job with Diablo 3’s music which aptly sets the mood for the entire game (bar one level, but I’ll get to that later). The voice acting is also done well although I felt the dialogue was a bit of a let down in some parts but that’s no fault of the voice actors.

Combat takes wild swings from being a breeze where you feel like an unstoppable killing machine to the disastrous lows where you spend 10 minutes and many deaths trying to beat a single enemy or elite pack. Granted for the vast majority of the game (everything up to Act III/IV hell for me) you probably won’t struggle bar getting a pack/elite with a rather nasty combination. Even then it’s usually a quick change of skills and a repair away from being a walk in the park again. Failing that all you’ll need to do is take a quick trip to the auction house to be able to elevate yourself out of the current rut you’re in, so long as you’ve got the requisite cash of course.

The itemization in Diablo 3 seems to work well in the beginning with upgrades dropping left, right and center. However as you progress through the levels you’ll notice that upgrades start to come further in between, leaving you wondering what the deal is. For the most part its because up until Inferno difficulty most items that drop will be below your level and thus won’t be much of an upgrade. The auction house goes a long way to mitigate this, as does the fact that there are no soulbound items, but that also means you’re somewhat reliant on it should you want to progress at a reasonable rate. Granted this isn’t that bad since semi-decent upgrades can be had for a pittance if you’re willing to search and wait but it is starkly different to the way it was in the previous installments in the Diablo series.

The gem system is back but instead of relying on the Horadric cube to do all your combining and upgrading of gems you instead have your very own artisan that can do the upgrades for you (for a fee, of course). To get better gems you have to pay to train him and as you progress further you’ll need to seek out additional items in order to upgrade him and the gems he creates for you. Gems are also infinitely resusable which is a welcome change as now you can spend quite a lot on crafting good gems and not have to ditch them when you get a gear upgrade (or delay that upgrade because of the gems). This also means that the secondary market for gems is somewhat non-existent as all you need is a friend who’s run Inferno once or twice to come into your game and shower you gems they don’t need but are godly to you.

The crafting system starts off as being a wonderful alternative gear path allowing you to convert unwanted items into crafting materials that can then be used to craft items. All of the items are random however meaning that there’s a very high chance that you’ll create a piece of equipment that you’ll have no use for (which can then be turned back into mats again, if you so desire). Since the investment cost at the lower levels is, funnily enough, low you can quite easily create multiple items and usually get a hit that’s an upgrade. Additionally you can also train the blacksmith to create items that are a higher level than what you can current use, giving you something to look forward to as you level. I did exactly this all the way up to level 30 or so, and that’s when crafting started to fall apart.

The investment cost at higher levels starts to consume all of your available gold should you chose to keep pursuing it. Additionally the material requirements start to ramp up as well meaning that you can craft fewer and fewer items the further you progress. This means that chance starts to play a much bigger factor in whether crafting is worth it or not and in my experience it stats to lose its luster very quickly after level 30 or so. The base idea of the crafting system is sound what it needs is some finessing to make it less prone to rolls of the dice when the investment required for crafting each item is so high. If you’re an action house wunderkid this might not be so much of a problem, but not everyone who plays this game is.

The talent system has been streamlined extensively, taking heavy cues from the improvements that had been made in the upcoming World Of Warcraft Mists of Panderia expansion. Instead of the typical talent tree with 3 different play styles segmented neatly by the different tabs they dwell on Diablo 3 instead goes for an ability based system, allowing you to pick and choose the abilities you want to use and then augment them in specific ways. This streamlined approach appears at first glance appears to be a vast simplification of the traditional RPG system, one that had the potential to remove a lot of the diversity from the game. The actual result is far from that with Blizzard reporting that the most common build is only used by approximately 0.7% of players. Even with my extensive amount of play time in this game I’m still finding myself experimenting with different skills to see if they’ll give me an edge in damage or survivability, something that I had only thought would be possible with traditional talent systems.

Many of the set pieces feel like they are done either for the fans or in spite of them. Much of the game feels a lot like its predecessor with the progression through levels (town/rural -> desert -> keep -> heaven/hell) being eerily similar. Thankfully the environments feel fresh and distinct from their counterparts in Diablo 2 so it doesn’t feel like they’re just 3D renderings of the former 2D sprite based environments. The rainbow unicorn level (I.E. the not “cow level”) is one that was obviously done in reaction to fan’s bellyaching around Diablo 3 being too colourful when compared to its predecessor. This is the one place where the music is just plain wrong but that’s just part of the whole experience of this particular level.

The story of Diablo 3 is definitely above the level I’ve come to expect from most AAA games that only have it as a side note to the main game of multiplayer but somewhat lacking in what I’ve come to expect from Blizzard. The Diablo world, and its current incarnation, is not short of lore and back story for nearly every main character and NPC that you come across. However, and this may be because of the character class I played or not, I never really felt any empathy for the characters apart from Deckard Cain (the only one who I can remember being in past Diablo games). I also never really felt any driving motivation for my character either, mostly because of the way he interacted with the main protagonists.

Whilst a lot of the NPCs would show fear and doubt my character never showed a lick of hesitation when it came to talking down to prime evils or even supposed members of high society. After a while it started to sound more like bravado than anything else which was only compounded by the fact that many of the other characters acted somewhat irrationally towards him (like Azmodan saying at every turn that I would fail, even after I had completely decimated his army). The other classes might have been better but this combined with the lack of empathy for any of the characters meant that I didn’t really care that much for the story. I don’t hate it, I’m just indifferent to it.

So it’s at this point in the review where I look back at the game and ask myself “well, was it fun?”. The beginning stages of Diablo are very enjoyable especially as you get your first rare drop or you completely kit yourself out in blues for the first time. It gets a whole lot better with friends too as the multiplayer experience has been streamlined and integrated perfectly. Still I couldn’t help that feeling I had in the back of my mind, one that I used to get when I was playing World of Warcraft at max level. Sometimes I feel compelled just to do things for the sake of doing them and towards the end as I was approaching 60 I started to wonder why I was doing it. Granted this was at the end of a probable 20 hour binge over the course of the last 4 days, so I was probably just burnt out on playing.

Diablo 3 feels like a game that was made for the fans. The settings and the gameplay instantly dredge up that nostalgia feeling whilst keeping the experience fresh and exciting. Whilst I don’t believe there’s nothing in this game for those who haven’t played before their experience won’t be the same as that of long time fans of the series. I’m not sure if I’ll roll another character but I’ll definitely be joining my friends when we set out to conquer Inferno mode.

Rating: 9.25/10

Diablo 3 is available on PC right now for $89.99. Game was played through the Normal, Nightmare and Hell difficulties with the Monk class reaching level 60 with around 32 hours of total play time.

Mass Effect 3: A Dichotomy of Love and Hate.

Ah Mass Effect, a game that inspired so much fanboyism and geek lust within me that I’ve gladly parted with embarrassingly large sums of money in order to play it. My relationship with it started with an excited friend of mine breathlessly singing its praises before sending me a short video clip of it. The second the clip finished I knew this game had to be mine, no matter what the cost. This was the only reason why a Xbox360 graced my home in the first place and was so again when I upgraded to one of the new slim models to play through the final instalment. Today I will review the last chapter in Mass Effect trilogy; a review that’s been 5 years in the making.

Mass Effect 3 puts you right back into control of Commander Shepard of the Normandy. Returning back to the Alliance Navy after the events of Mass Effect 2 Shepard is placed under house arrest due to his work with Cerberus. His warnings of an impending Reaper attack have gone unnoticed and it’s not until a full Reaper invasion starts that they look back to him for help. Earth succumbs to the Reaper invasion rapidly but Shepard reluctantly escapes, only leaving so he can gather support to retake Earth back from the Reapers and hopefully drive them back for good.

First impressions of Mass Effect 3 were quite good. For Xbox360 players you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the graphics updates as there’s a noticeable improvement over Mass Effect 2. Whilst it’s not up to the same level as say Deus Ex: Humand Revolution or Skyrim they’re still quite impressive, especially if you’re playing the game on a massive TV like I was. PS3 owners won’t notice much of a difference however as Mass Effect 3 on the PS3 uses the same engine as 2 on that plaform. PC players will also be somewhat disappointed as the code for the Xbox360 version is basically the same and is unable to take advantage of any additional grunt your PC might have. It’s clear that Bioware’s target platform for this game was definitely the Xbox360 first above all others which is great for people like me, but I can understand the frustration levelled at Mass Effect 3 by gamers on other platforms.

The combat of Mass Effect 3 is just as exciting, fluid and challenging as it was back in Mass Effect 2. I was very tempted to try out yet another class as my switch from Soldier to Vanguard in Mass Effect 2 made the game that much more interesting but discussing it with my friends showed that the Vanguard was probably the most fun class out of the lot of them. With the new weapon/upgrade system the Vanguard could easily be made into an incredible weapon of destruction, one that didn’t actually need to carry any guns with him if you played your cards right.

So unlike its predecessors Mass Effect 3 gives you the choice of what weapons to equip, allowing you to carry around up to 5 different weapons. The downside is that the more weapons you carry the slower your powers will regenerate. So for weapons based classes like the Soldier you’ll probably still walk around armed with every single weapon you can carry but my Vanguard spent most of his time with only 2 weapons (later I carried 3 once I had the right upgrades), favouring the 200% buff to power recharges instead. This meant that past a certain point I was basically invulnerable as no enemy could wear down my shields before I could charge again, recharging them back to full.

Still though there were several fights that I found challenging to the point of frustration. Now I’m willing to blame this on the fact that I’m not a console gamer, the PC is my usual platform, and the many deaths I experienced early on where a combination of me not being able to aim properly and a bad talent build. However for most of the really difficult fights there was usually a heavy weapon hidden somewhere which I wouldn’t find until my 4th or 5th time attempting that particular combat scene which made the fight trivial. There are also some particular enemies that will 1 shot you from full health and shields with no way to get out of it (even with upgraded health that left me with 1 bar afterwards, I’d still die). It’s a real shame as apart from these 2 faux pas the combat is really quite enjoyable (the latter making the last couple hours annoyingly torturous).

The talent tree system received a massive revamp since Mass Effect 2 and the improvements are quite nice. Whilst it still retains the base idea of adding points into a certain ability to make it better once you get past the first 3 stages you’re then presented with choices as to how to improve the ability. In doing so you’re able to craft your character along very specific lines, much more so than you were in the previous 2 games. With a little bit of looking around its very possible to create a character that is nigh on unstoppable, but it’s the improvements that Bioware made around the talent system that are most welcome.

The inclusion of a respec system in Mass Effect 3 is probably the most welcome addition. When you start off many of your talent points are allocated for you. Whilst this is a great way to introduce you to the character class it does mean that your character might not play the way you want it to. Thankfully the first respec is free and that will allow you to craft your character in the way you want. Additionally you’re able to choose 1 ability from your companions to include in your talent tree for a small sum. Yet again this allows you to augment away any of your character’s weaknesses or push them further into unstoppable territory.

The Galaxy Map remains basically unchanged from Mass Effect 2, keeping the same navigation elements whilst changing up the mini-game aspect of it significantly. Instead of going to every planet and scanning them for 5 minutes just to find the resources contained within there you instead scan around the current solar system, looking for little pockets of treasure. If one of the assets happens to be on a planet you then do the familiar scanning mini-game again but at least now it has a pointer to where it is, saving you countless pointless minutes scanning around. There’s also an indicator as to how many assets you’ve recovered so you don’t waste time looking for that one last thing.

You can’t scan around indefinitely though as scanning alerts the Reapers to your presence there. It’s supposed to make you scan smartly around, using the minimum number in order to recover all the assets. If you do alert the Reapers they’ll invade the system and try to hunt you down but they can’t really catch you unless you stay still for more than a couple seconds. Realistically you can just scan to your hearts content then exit/enter the system repeatedly to get the assets, which is what I ended up doing after alerting the Reapers for the 20th time.

WARNING: Mild plot spoilers follow. (There’s a second warning about the MASSIVE ones if you want to keep reading).

Of course where Mass Effect 3 really shines is the grand story that they’ve crafted over the past 5 years. Ever since the first Mass Effect there’s been a terrible sense of foreboding about the coming Reaper invasion and whilst there are some major plot holes (why did the Council ignore Shepards warnings after a GODDAMN REAPER ATTACKED THEM is beyond me) they’ve managed to keep the story moving through 3 games, even with the wild amount of control that the player has over the plot elements.

As always I decided to play Shepard as a Paragorn and whilst I’d agree with the way he acted about 90% of the time there were some definite moments when he’d go off the rails completely. This is mostly due to the paraphrasing that’s done in order to make the dialog wheel work, making it hard to accurately judge what he’s going say, but when the tough-as-nails by-the-book Shepard I spent the last 5 years crafting started acting out of character it really dumped me out of the game. Thankfully those moments were few and far between, but happened often enough to cause me frustration.

Now I don’t know if this was due to the choices that I had made in the previous games or not but the romantic relationships in Mass Effect 3 felt kind of…weird. In Mass Effect 1 I romanced Ashley who makes no appearance in 2 at all. In 2 I romanced Miranda and when I came face to face with both of them again I set my eyes on Ashley, her being Shepard’s first love. What got me however was the fact that Ashley seemed wholly unresponsive to my advances even though, as far as I was aware, there was no way of her knowing what I got up to during Mass Effect 2. Indeed she never confronted me on the fact, instead just giving me the cold shoulder. Miranda on the other hand was extremely responsive to the point where I basically fell into the romance scene which was a total cop out (when did Mass Effect become PG?). I mean I did feel something for Miranda but it felt kind of odd that Ashley would shut Shepard out like that, especially after the first few deep conversations.

It gets even more interesting as the token gay NPC, Steve Cortez (who’s done brilliantly by the way), ended up in a rather deep relationship with Shepard without me really trying. It could just be because it wasn’t possible to have that kind of relationship before Mass Effect 3, thus having to accelerate the emotional attachment, but it still made me think that Ashley’s behaviour was odd in comparison to everyone else. Not odd as in “Why doesn’t she like me”, more like there was something either unfinished or broken in the story line that I was playing through. I could’ve just stuffed up a critical dialogue option and not realised it, but I’m usually pretty good at noticing those kinds of things.

The rest of my relationships with the crew were just as good as the one with Cortez. Whilst towards the end there are many scenes that are pretty much “This is the last time you’ll get to see them here, better make the most of it” kinds of deals they do feel genuine. I personally found the scenes with Liara, Garrus and Legion to be especially touching, giving me the feeling of a true bond between comrades who had been through heaven and hell together.

WARNING: I’m going to spoil the ending here like crazy. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

I’m not going to pretend that this review exists in a vacuum but I did my absolute best to avoid all the articles about Mass Effect 3’s ending prior to finishing the game for myself. All I knew before going into this is that there were people who weren’t happy with it and thanks to my information black out I figured it was just a minority. However after playing through to the ending myself, being able to get the good (read: Green) ending and choosing the Synthesis option I can unequivocally say that Bioware completely and utterly bollocks the ending up, and not just for the reasons that many others have cited already.

For starters whilst the story introduced the deus ex machina ending early on that doesn’t detract from the fact that it is a deus ex machina. Granted there are few ways that such an epic story could come to an ending without resorting to this kind of plot device but it’s obvious that the entire plot wasn’t created back when Mass Effect was originally created. Indeed accounts from Bioware employees corroborate this meaning the true ending wasn’t created until just recently. This then feeds into the larger problem, the actual ending itself.

The whole idea of the Star Child, the devices to control/destroy the Reapers and the requirement of Shepard to sacrifice himself are things that don’t line up with the Mass Effect world or the characters within them. Shepard is not a tragic hero and indeed should you have been a tragic hero in Mass Effect 2 (where not enough of your team members survive) you in fact can not import that game into Mass Effect 3 as Bioware has deemed that ending non-canon. The idea then of Shepard making the ultimate sacrifice for the rest of the universe is completely out of character, as well as being completely non-sensical in terms of the Star Child’s solution. Indeed, whilst the Star Child is ostensibly of synthetic origins and thus can be assumed to be completely rational it acts in ridiculously irrational ways. I would go on but many people have dissected it better than I ever could and my sentiments echo theirs closely.

Now I wrestled with the ending for a couple days before talking to my friends about it but the conclusion I came to was always the same. I really do hate the ending of Mass Effect 3, not because it’s the ending or because its tragic (indeed I hated the ending of Red Dead Redemption, but it was good because I was grieving for the loss) but because it just doesn’t fit with the rest of the Mass Effect universe. Instead of the ending being driven heavily by your choices made throughout the game you’re instead treated to different coloured explosions with 1 of 3 endings based on your choice right at the end. For a universe that managed to incorporate so many of your choices into every aspect of the game this ending feels like it was done absent any thought for the rest of the universe and it really shows.

SPOILERS OVER

As a game Mass Effect 3 was almost everything I had come to expect from the series. The combat was fun and engaging with just enough challenge to make sure that I wasn’t powering through the game. The characters were (apart from one) believable and relatable and I felt a real connection with them. Right up until the final couple hours the plot and pacing of Mass Effect 3 was magnificent and it makes me very ashamed to say that the ending just simply didn’t stack up with the rest of the game, and the rest of the series for that matter. Still I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Mass Effect 3, even if the ending left a sour taste in my mouth.

Rating: 9.0/10

Mass Effect 3 is available on Xbox360, PlayStation 3 and PC right now for $78. $78 and $99 respectively. Game was played entirely on the Xbox360 on the Hard difficulty with around 24 hours of total play time and 80% of the achievements unlocked.

 

To The Moon: I Told Myself I Wouldn’t Cry.

The renaissance that pixel-art styled games are undergoing currently, mostly thanks to the indie development scene, has produced some pretty spectacular works. Just last year I was introduced to Gemini Rue, a game that captured my primarily because of the nostalgia aspect. Of course the game stood alone in terms of game play and story, enough so that playing it didn’t feel like I was simply taking a trip down memory lane. It seems Wadjet Eye has a thing for pixel art styled games and late last year I was sent an email with a trailer for an upcoming game, To The Moon, from one of their partner developers Freebird Games. I’ll be honest when I first saw it I wasn’t particularly interested in playing it but after a strong recommendation from a friend (and watching the trailer) I thought it was worth a shot, even if it was just for the review.

You play as Dr. Eva Rosalene and Dr. Neil Watts, two employees from a company simply called “The Agency” that specializes in memory altering technologies. This technology can be used to change events that happened in a person’s past which then allows them to alter the course of history within the patients mind. Due to the way this works it can only be performed on patients who a near death with the idea that they could have their memories altered to what they wanted and, upon awaking for the last time, enjoy that moment of fulfilment they longed for in life. Shortly after they would pass away. To The Moon follows a story of one patient named Johnny and his wish to journey to the moon.

To The Moon features some gorgeous pixel art scenes paying homage to the many games that used a similar style decades ago. Like Gemini Rue before it each of the scenes does an amazing job at evoking a certain atmosphere, something that plays a critical role in developing the characters. This goes hand in hand with the original sound track that was composed specifically for To The Moon and the combination elevates this simple pixel art adventure well above its expected station.

Like many games of its era To The Moon is primarily driven through character interactions that take place in the form of bite sized chunks of text that appear on screen. Initially the story works in reverse chronological order as you step back through Johnny’s memories in order to unlock his past and plant the idea of him going to the moon. It’s not a new plot mechanic but it was definitely an effective one, since all the characters can allude to the upcoming back story without it being hacky or cumbersome. Indeed the storytelling of To The Moon is what makes this game so compelling and every thing else in it is just ancillary to this purpose.

The game play of To The Moon is very simplistic, verging on the edge of being non-existent. This isn’t a bad thing, especially considering how good next-to-nothing game play games like Heavy Rain have been, just that if you’re the kind of person that enjoys the game play more than the story then To The Moon doesn’t have a lot to offer you. Indeed going into this I was worried that it was going to be another “combine this item with that item and use it there” kind of games, where most of the play time comes from constant iteration instead of enjoyable game play, but thankfully it’s nothing like that.

Between the dialogue scenes you’ll be put into control of one of the two doctors and it’s then your job to find a way back to another memory. This is done by finding a memento in the scene that links the current memory to one in the past. Once you’ve found that you then need to find memory links in order to unlock it. These usually take familiar forms, something which Dr. Watts remarks on during one of the scenes, but it’s basically a game of find the item on the screen. There are some puzzles that mix this up a little bit by throwing in dialogue options and asking you to type things but there’s not many of them, so the core game mechanic is pretty consistent throughout To The Moon.

After unlocking the memento you’ll have to prepare it in order to be able to jump back to another memory. This takes the form of a flip puzzle that you see above. If there’s anything of a game score to compare with your friends this is the only place you’ll find it as each puzzle has an “ideal” number of moves to solve it and there’s a running total of how you went at the bottom. Again these aren’t particularly hard with the most complicated puzzle still only requiring a single digits worth of moves so they’re more there to be a break from the motonity of the dialogue and the find the clue core game mechanics.

At the start I found it somewhat difficult to get into the story of To The Moon. The main characters, the two doctors, function as both the main protagonists in the story as well as being the comic relief. The comic relief sections felt boring and uninspired to me and at the start that’s what constitutes most of the story. After the first couple hours though its easy to put them aside in favour of the main story and on my second session I was instantly hooked back in. After a while though the story started to peter out a bit, with there being no solid plot developments for an hour or more. It was at this point that I got really worried and I got that horrible feeling in the back of my head that I was only playing this game all the way to the end for the review.

Indeed if there is one criticism I’ll level at To The Moon it is the disjointed pacing . There are some scenes that progress the story as much as 4 other scenes do which is what lead to me almost losing all interest in the game from about the half way to three quarters through mark. Whilst I don’t believe there are any excess scenes, indeed the story’s multiple plot lines do wrap up well, tying together some of the more dull scenes instead of having to go through the whole find the clues, unlocking the memento, do the puzzle routine could go a long way to ensure the balance between plot progression and player engagement is kept.

Having said that though it speaks volumes for a game that can turn from a boring slog to a heart arching drama almost at the drop of the hat. I can vividly remember sitting there, verging on the edge of giving up on the game when a couple key plot points were revealed to me. It was at that point that something happened to me that hadn’t happened with a game for a long time: I started crying. Not your typical single tear man cry, I lost it completely. I can’t say what it was that did it (to do so would ruin it and also render me an emotional wreck for the next hour, seriously) but suffice to say that once I had completed it I felt compelled to go and be manly for the next couple hours in order to recover. Working out the tears seemed to do the trick.

And that’s the reason why To The Moon is such an incredible story. Sure the game mechanics are simplistic and the pacing is troublesome but anything that can make me care about the characters deeply enough to bring me to tears at the end of it deserves every accolade that has been heaped on it. It shows that games as a story telling medium, no matter their game play or graphics, are joining the ranks of the traditional mediums. To The Moon is just another great example of a story transcending its medium, one that is a must play for anyone seeking a deep and engrossing drama.

Rating: 9.0/10

To The Moon is available on PC right now for $12. Game was completed with around 5 hours total play time.

Deus Ex Human Revolution: Words Fail Me.

Like many gamers of my age I’m a big fan of the Deus Ex series, but my experience with it is somewhat backwards to the norm. You see I missed the release of the original Deus Ex, due to me not being involved in the games community very much at the time, but instead my first experience with Deus Ex came from its sequel Invisible War. Now while the sequel was recieved well critically it didn’t fair so well with the rest of the community. Personally I loved it, giving it 2 solid play throughs tackling it a different way each time. I was so hooked by the story that I went ahead and played through the original, clocking up a good 50 hours on it and finally understood what everyone was talking about. I knew a third had been in the works for a while but I hadn’t heard much about it until the start of this year when I first heard about Human Revolution and I pre-ordered my copy as soon as I was able.

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Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a prequel to the original game, set 25 years prior to it in the year 2027. You play as Adam Jensen, the head of the security for an augmentation company called Sarif Industries. The initial mission sets the scene as you’re walked slowly through the scientist’s labs, show casing all the technology they’ve been able to create in order to enhance the human race. Megan Reed, one of the lead scientists and former love interest, tells you about her latest discovery that could allow artificially controlled evolution. Not long after the building is attacked by an unknown group of assailants and with Jensen mortally wounded he is forced to be augmented extensively to save his life. The game then revolves around finding out who was responsible for the attacks and what their motives are.

The Deus Ex series has been known to push the limits of the technology of the time and Human Revolution is no exception. The entire game is just simply gorgeous with the colour palate that gives the whole world a kind of neon-noir feeling about it. It’s a very cyberpunk setting with technology infiltrating every corner of the world and yet still it feels like some post-apocalyptic world, especially when you take a detour off the beaten track and see that not everywhere is as rosy as it could be.

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The initial impression I felt when playing Human Revolution is just how much it felt like the original Deus Ex. Invisible War was definitely not in the same league as either which I feel can be blamed wholly on its heavy ties to the consoles which it was designed for. The others have a certain feel about them, something in the way the game is played that triggered the same feelings for both of them. I’m probably not doing a great job of describing just what that feeling is, but I know a lot of others are experiencing the same thing.

One feeling that I can easily describe is the engrossing cinematic feeling that Human Revolution manages to capture. From the levels in game to the in game clips to the full motion videos everything has an extremely high quality production feel about it. Take for instance the city of Hengsha pictured below, this scene literally sent shivers down my spine at not just how amazing it looked but the sheer concept as well. My inner cyberpunk fan that had laid dormant all those years since finishing Neuromancer back in college was woken up, and boy was he delighted with what he saw.

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The game play in Human Revolution is very fluid and nuanced enough that everyone’s initial play through will have some unique aspects to it. I played the majority of the game as a non-lethal stealth operative, favouring the old fashioned air duct escapades that the original Deus Ex was so famous for and taking down my enemies swiftly and silently. However there were several points I find myself bristling with weapons and ammunition so I would instead take the easy way out and blast my way through to the end. Both ways were equally challenging and rewarding when completed and I never once felt shoe horned into a certain way of playing.

Like its predecessors Human Revolution makes heavy use of dialogue between characters in order to move the plot forward. Whilst not all interactions are as deep as they are in say Mass Effect there are several key times when you’ll be deep in conversation with other characters which can alter the course of the game dramatically. In fact if I’m entirely honest the first couple hours of Human Revolution failed to grab me like its predecessors did, right up until the first conversation I had with one of my former colleagues at the police station. The level of emotion in that conversation hooked me immediately and I revelled in the fact that I could talk my way through a situation (for the record I never got the social aug).

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The hacking mini-game is an interesting one and is definitely a step up from the old days of progress bar watching or other simple mini-games. Now whilst you will be able to complete the game without spending a single point in hacking (all the story blocking terminals are level 1) it would seem like a good chunk of the game would be unavailable to you. Also apart from the stealth hacking aug, the ability to control turrets/robots and levelling up the terminals you can hack all the other augs seem rather pointless in comparison. The number of attempts left seems rather pointless as well since any long time player will be quick saving like a madman and will simply reload if they can’t hack a specific terminal in the given number of tries. Still it was an interesting distraction, especially when you came up against the terminals littered with rewards.

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Combat in Human Revolution is an interesting beast as with the seemingly endless number of options available to you each combat encounter can be tackled in numerous ways. For starters there’s the easy way out by simply finding the nearest vent and high tailing it out of there. Depending on what augs you have this will sometimes be your only option as some enemies are darned near impossible to go toe to toe with and their pathing never quite leads them to a place where you can silently take them down without being spotted by one of their friends.

There’s also a heavy distinction between lethal and non-lethal take downs which and Human Revolution is heavily biased (as in, double the XP) towards taking them down via non-lethal means. At the start this seems like a strange distinction to make since it’s just as easy to take them out either way but as the game progresses the skill required to take down someone non-lethally starts to increase quite dramatically, especially if you’re trying to stay undetected. Still there are times when taking down an enemy lethally is quite difficult and the less than half XP reward feels a little cheap. There might have been lethal kill bonuses and I just never saw them thanks to my “sniper in the trees” style of play however.

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It seems that Eidos Montreal has a good sense of humour about them too with the game not always being completely serious. Hacking into computers leads to find little gems like people playing office pranks on each other, 419 scams and good old fashioned spam for various pharmaceuticals. The radio show that plays in the background in various locations is also quite a lark with my favourite line being “that would be like getting the pope to ride a float in the gay pride parade”. There are also some quintessential bits of geek humour in there like this monitor bridge in Frank Pritchard’s room (which begs the question, who still has CRTs in 2027?).

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For the most part game play is smooth and bug free, but there are some notable exceptions to this case. I found myself at one point stuck at the other end of a very long hallway with a guard standing at the other end who was refusing to patrol anywhere. Try as I might to find another way around him I couldn’t find one and was thus either doomed to alert him (and possibly trigger an alarm) or find a more creative solution. Thinking I’d be able to skirt around this by some clever line of sighting I picked up a nearby container and walked it up to him. That didn’t work initially but I found that if I instead pushed the crate to him rather than picking it up he didn’t twig that this giant container was screeching its way over to him. In fact he only reacted when I pushed the container into him, but quickly reloading I was able to skirt around the side and promptly take him out.

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There are also some combinations of mods/weapons and/or decisions in the game that can make certain encounters completely trivial or damned near impossible. This is not a bug per say, more an aspect of the Human Revolution’s openness. Just like hacking might make your life easier in some aspects the game developers had to put in an out for those who didn’t want to hack everything in sight, so technically the points spent in hacking are a waste from that point of view (negating the massive amount of XP that’s available doing it). There’s also many parts of the game that are only available to those with certain augs (jump height, breaking through walls, etc.) which isn’t a bad thing either, just that Human Revolution really demands multiple play throughs, even if you think you’ve done the majority of it already.

Like all Deus Ex stories the plot of Human Revolution is a deeply engrossing narrative that is the main driver for playing the game, rather than being an aside to the action. Whilst not all the voice actors are as good as the main plot characters are (all Hengsha natives that speak English are bordering on being racist stereotypes) the interactions between Jensen and everyone else feels genuine and there’s all his emotions come across extremely well. It’s extremely satisfying to be deep in conversation with some of the characters and you can see their expression change as you talk to them. Whilst its not on the level of L.A. Noire it’s still enough to know if you’re going down the right path, usually unlocking something valuable at the other end of the conversation.

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The ending is a strange beast which Yahtzee Crowshaw summing it up perfectly. Don’t get me wrong the essence of Deus Ex is that you can have a real impact on the world with the choices that you make throughout the game. However, whilst there is a choice as to how Human Revolution wraps that is completely under your control, the choice seems rather arbitrary as the ending is just another version of the same thing. It’s entirely possible that a future sequel will use your choice in this game to influence events (or even possibly the upcoming Missing Link DLC) but that hasn’t been announced anywhere so the ending, whilst a decent way to wrap up the story of Human Revolution, is somewhat confusing in its execution.

However all these quibbles pale in comparison to the magnificence that is Deus Ex Human Revolution. It’s so awesome to see a community that was so burned by the sequel coming back to the sequel with a vengeance and I’m happy that I can count myself amongst them. Still even for people who haven’t played any of the other games in the Deus Ex series Human Revolution still has a lot to offer in the ways of a freeform FPS RPG with gorgeous graphics and a gripping storyline. I really can’t recommend this game enough.

Rating: 9.8/10

Deus Ex: Human Revolution is available on PC, PS3 and Xbox360 right now for $89.99, $98 and $98 respectively. Game was played on the PC with the difficulty set to “Give Me Deus Ex” (hardest) with around 22 hours of total game time and 67% of the total achievements unlocked.

I’m a Sucker for Alternate Reality Games.

I believe I’m not alone when I think I’m mostly immune to the effects of marketing. For the most part my purchasing decisions are based off research and my own personal requirements, not so much by seeing marketing materials. Of course I realise that I’m not totally immune to the effects of marketing as there have been several times when I’ve found myself purchasing one product over another simply because “I saw it advertised somewhere”, although I’m never happy admitting that. There is one type of marketing that I’ve found myself getting hopelessly influenced by and that’s alternate reality games (ARG).

ARGs aren’t exactly a new phenomenon being able to trace their roots back almost 14 years. Up until the last couple years however I was mostly unaware of the concept having never really participated in any of them. However back in early 2010 I got wind of an ARG that was starting up for one of the games that I was intensely excited about, Heavy Rain. It started off as just a curiosity, with a couple YouTube videos and a flash game to give you a bit of insight into the background of Heavy Rain’s story. Of course not all of it was revealed on the first day and I found myself coming back just to find out what the latest was. The ARG took on a whole new level when they set up a Twitter account and started tweeting responses out to people’s questions from a character in the game. Suddenly I found myself staying up until the wee hours just to find out any information that I could.

I knew I was hooked.

Soon after Valve released an update to Portal that added in some new achievements. Of course the community thought it was rather odd that Valve would update a game so long after its release. As it turns out the achievements were just the lure into an incredibly in depth ARG that had fans working through the details for weeks after the initial update. Whilst I lacked the capability to help push the ARG forward in any way I did follow the events unfold very closely, loving every theory that people would develop and revelling in the excitement when someone made a new discovery. Both of these ARGs drew me into the games immensely and subsequently my time with the final products was much more memorable.

You can then imagine my excitement when I came across the following trailer for the upcoming game Deus Ex: Human Revolution:

Like the main corporation of the previous games (UNATCO) Sarif Industries has their own, rather flashy site. Upon entering it you’ll find everything is normal for a while until eventually it appears to be taken over by the rebels mentioned the trailer above. After fooling around for a while you’ll find yourself in the midst of a small hacking game which upon finishing gives you some insight into the upcoming game. I lost a good hour or two fooling around on the site and with the hacking games and if I hadn’t already pre-ordered the game I would’ve done so immediately afterwards.

ARGs are probably the only bit of marketing that doesn’t break my rule of avoiding the hype for unreleased games. Since the majority of an ARG is back story and doesn’t contain spoilers or over the top marketing speak it adds to the experience rather than detracting from it. I’ve all too often found critical pieces of games ruined by online commentary since, even without knowing it, reveal key pieces of information that sculpt my game play in a certain way. ARGs, since they have to operate as stand alone narratives in their own right, avoid doing this quite well although there is still the possibility to go too far.

I think the reason I get so hooked on these ARGs is that they increase my level of immersion with the end game significantly. Instead of going into the game without any background I’ve already got a decent investment in the story and you get a much better feeling for the characters and their motivations. Since my level of immersion plays a very big part in how much I will enjoy a game then it follows that ones marketed with an ARG aspect are far more likely for me to find enjoyable. Indeed my reviews of games with ARG marketing are above average and I definitely remember them more clearly than the multitude of other games that I have played.

 

Sex in Video Games.

While the world at large seems to cast a blind eye to violence these days (with some rare exceptions) nothing seems to get the world’s collective panties in a knot quicker than people getting nude and possibly getting it on. Video games have been one of the hardest hit with this social taboo as any game that dared use nudity or copulation as an expressive medium relegated to the ranks of pornographic material. Recently though the world of video games has begun experimenting once again with the world of nakedness and fornication.

Many years ago I remember the first game I played that involved doing the nasty, Leisure Suite Larry. In all its pixelated glory you swaggered your way through the town in an attempt to get lucky. Considering the technology at the time I’m not surprised that it didn’t include any full frontal scenes but there was many scenes with dialogue strongly implying that your character and their virtual partner had been playing hide the sausage. This was the trend for most games of the time which used saucy dialogue and vague references leaving the viewer to make up their own mind on what happened. One of the funniest memories of such dancing around the bush (as it were) was in the game Superhero League of Hoboken, where you could send your characters to a brothel. All that would happen is they would come back saying “Whoa! That was an experience!” and then gain some experience points.

Really back in those days the idea of using sex as part of the game play expression was more comedic than anything else as the games industry and its consumers weren’t mature enough at the time to handle a game that dealt with sexuality in a serious way. Budgets and technology also played a part in this to since to effectively use sex for something other than titillation is extremely difficult. Plus trying to get budgetary approval for a game that uses something that is still controversial makes it hard for all but the biggest players to experiment with immersing their players in their character’s sexuality.

Fast forward a couple years and I came across the game Farenheit, one of my trove of guilty pleasure games I like to call playable movies. I had been recommended it by a friend after I extolled the beauty of Dreamfall: The Longest Journey to him, a game we’d actually played at the same time after spending 40 hours playing its prequel. As a game its nothing special: the graphics were dated, the controls simplistic and many of the main scenes were just gussied up quick time events. That didn’t matter though as the story drew me in with its deep character development. I found myself getting caught up so blindly with them that I followed each character until the plot could advance with them no further. I had to know what happened to them, and changing characters felt like I was going to lose them.

After I finished the game I decided to read up on some people’s reactions to the game, to see what they thought. After a very brief search I found that there was a hidden sex scene in the game which I had missed. Being the curious lad I was I fired the game up again and burled over to it.

(Spoiler alert here, if you’re planning to play the game I suggest you skip ahead.)

The point in question is when Lucas and Tiffany are reunited for the first time in the game. It’s an awkward scene as the characters have recently broken up and Tiffany has become worried about him. After talking for a while (and playing some guitar) you get the option to kiss her. Feeling my own memories of such moments well up I couldn’t stand the pain of seeing him try to rekindle the romance, so I didn’t. After trying that scene again and choosing to do so you’re quickly lead into the bedroom, and the awkward quick-time-event-sex starts. The dialogue after reflects on how difficult the situation is for them both, and still saddens me to this day.

The second scene was the one with Carla towards the end, although there was no interactivity. It felt a lot more apocalyptic in the sense that they were heading towards what they believed would be the end of them, and the only comfort to be found was in each other’s arms.

(Spoiler alert over)

Both of these are intrinsically human moments, one where we realise that no matter how strong we think we’ve become or what boundaries we put up they can all come crumbling down in an instant. The other reminding us of how fragile we are and that sometimes the only thing we have is each other. Fahrenheit opened my eyes to world of sex and nudity as an expressive medium when used in the world of games and it seems I’m not alone.

Bioware seems to be getting a name for itself for putting the naughty stuff in most of its famed RPG games. I remember the reviews of Mass Effect extolling that yes there was in fact sex in the game. Had I not known about it beforehand (and thusly chosen my target in Ashley, bow chicka) it would’ve been much more immersive when it happened. Although to be honest it didn’t add any emotion to the game that it didn’t already have as the scene was mostly ignored post-coitus, and the relationship of commander and subordinate continues as usual. I did manage to stumble across another one when doing some missions for the Consort and expressed my disinterest in a reward. It seems that this was the trigger word for the horizontal mambo and was again largely ignored as a plot point later on. Dragon Age: Origins also has a bit of the naughty through it, although I’m yet to see if it’s a defining plot point or merely a distraction.

I think it says a lot about the medium of gaming as a story telling device when they can experiment with taboo topics to convey such powerful messages. Sure a little T&A will definitely help sell a few more copies of the game to people who want to see something naughty but its use in games like Fahrenheit show how it can be used to draw us into the characters and feel a real connection with them. With the stories of games containing sex become passe we’ll soon be able to see it used more freely and hopefully to greater effect in more games.