There are some rules of thumb in game development that can help ensure a studio is successful. The first is once you’ve discovered a successful formula, whether that’s an original title or say a deal with a publisher to make a certain type of game, stick with it and iterate on it. Another is to never build your own engine, lest you spend the majority of your budget developing it and not the game itself. Finally if you’ve got a publisher it’s likely best to stick with them, especially if you’ve had success with them previously. So for Asobo Studios to ignore all those rules in developing A Plague Tale: Innocence many would’ve thought them down right crazy, given the line of successful (albeit not exactly groundbreaking) titles they’d released in the past. The gamble has paid off in spades however as this game stands out as one of the more unique experiences of 2019; bringing together a beautiful world and great storytelling.
Set in 1349 France A Plague Tale: Innocence puts you in control of Amicia de Rune, a young noble in the rural province of Aquitaine. The plague grips the country but has thankfully yet to make its way to your lands. Things take a dark turn when the English Inquisition invades, taking your father hostage and demanding that you hand over your brother. When he refuses the Inquisition brutally murders him and anyone who stands in their way as they search the property for your brother. Your mother urges you to escape and seek out Laurentius, a doctor friend who has been treating your brother for a mysterious illness that has long plagued him. This begins your long and tortuous journey to find out why the Inquisition is after your brother and what they intend to do with him.
Asobo Studio developed their own in-house engine to power A Plague Tale: Innocence and I have to say the results are absolutely stellar. Building an engine capable of graphics like this from the ground up couldn’t have been easy, especially considering that this is also a cross platform release. Suffice to say the screenshots in this review speak for themselves, all of them taken from directly in game. Performance is also rock solid to, even when you have what appears to be thousands of rats on screen at once. The game does demand a bit of your hard disk though, enough that I moved it onto my SSD in order to play it. Still all things considered I’ve seen many more well funded development houses attempt to build engines and get nowhere near as good as what Asobo has put out here so hats off to them.
From a core gameplay perspective A Plague Tale: Innocence is a kind of stealth action game, starting off initially as a kind of stealth walking simulator before graduating more into a typical action-oriented game with largely optional stealth elements. Unlike other games which reward you more for taking the harder option (I.E. stealth) this game doesn’t really seem to mind if you go all out against every enemy, save for a few choice voice lines. Indeed the game’s progression system, whilst having a myriad of different options, heavily favours enhancing your combat abilities rather than your stealth. That being said whilst there’s a couple different routes to be taken for each level they are, for the most part, linear experiences that have a distinct right and wrong way of completing them. There are times when you can create some emergent gameplay opportunities but they’re rare and usually ill-advised. Overall it’s not a mechanically deep game but it doesn’t really need to be, the focus much more on the story and its telling.
Combat revolves around Amicia and her sling which is unfathomably accurate and ludicrously deadly. Once your combat abilities are unlocked you can one shot any unhelmeted guard which makes the stealth aspects so much easier. There’s a host of different types of ammunition you’ll be able to craft later on that unlocks the ability to get guards to take off their helmets, sick rats on them and all sorts of other abilities which have both combat and puzzle functions. About two thirds of the way through the game you’ll have all the required ammunition types and enough of them crafted to be able to take out all enemies in a level and, honestly, there’s no reason you shouldn’t. Most games would punish you severely for doing this so it’s pretty refreshing to play a game that has an obvious bent towards stealth but doesn’t really mind if you go on a murderous rampage. I’m not sure if that fits with the theme of the whole game but hey, it was fun.
Upgrades come through crafting, driven by finding various different kinds of materials around the world. Most of the upgrades rely on “blue” materials which aren’t particularly common and are shared with some of the more high end consumables. The game does try to play this off as some kind of a trade off, I.E. if you want to have that consumable (which usually gives you a second life, effectively) you might not have enough for that upgrade you’re lusting after. In my experience though you’re better off not crafting those consumables at all as all the times when you’d end up using them are encounters where you shouldn’t be needing them anyway. Hunting for these materials feels a little hit and miss as quite often most of the upgrade materials are clustered near the workbenches. There are some hidden elsewhere in the world but they’re mostly stuff you’ll already have max of anyway. I don’t think there’s enough materials in the game to upgrade everything but there’s certainly enough to get all the upgrades that matter.
It’s through these upgrades that the game slowly transitions from a game that requires stealth to one where it’s completely optional. Initially you have to be pretty tactical about who you take out and how with your limited ammo supply and the long time it takes to wind up the sling. However after a few choice upgrades you’re basically unstoppable as there’s more than enough ammunition and crafting materials around to keep you fully stocked pretty much all the time. I had figured that there might be some consequence to just taking out everyone I saw but as far as I can tell there wasn’t one. Perhaps it was the Dishonored-esque setting and gameplay setting that was making me feel that way.
A Plague Tale: Innocence is largely bug free and didn’t have any performance issues once I got past the incredibly long load times due to my RAID 10 array playing up. As I mentioned before there are some instances where you can do what appears to be something that wasn’t intended by the developers although most of the time that leads to breaking the encounter completely. The game also doesn’t do a great job of letting you know when you’re attempting something that is 100% impossible, leading to a few instances where you can think you’re doing the right thing and just failing at it when, in actual fact, you’re breaking the encounter completely. Thankfully there aren’t too many of these but there could be a few more dialogue cues or other things that would indicate when you were barking up the wrong tree completely.
The story is one of the stand out features of A Plague Tale: Innocence as it’s all fully voiced (save for a few bits of flavour text here and there) by some great voice actors. It’s somewhat confusing to begin with as the game doesn’t reveal much to you early on, leading to some slow pacing to begin with. However in the last half or so things really start to pick up and it became quite enjoyable to play through. I’m not typically one for period pieces like this but the story gave all the characters enough air time to build them up enough for me to care about them. I might not have come to like Hugo as much as other reviewers did, but I can at least see where they’re coming from.
A Plague Tale: Innocence was a nice surprise, coming out of left field in the middle of a deluge of AAA titles and standing out among them as one of the more well crafted experiences of this year. The graphics are phenomenal, brought to us by an in-house engine that I hope Asobo continues to make use of for future titles. The gameplay is an eclectic and evolving beast, one that transitions from a kind of stealth walking simulator to an almost full action RPG by the end. The story brings everything together, starting off slow but building up to a great ending that wraps everything up without committing the cardinal sin of teasing a sequel. There’s a few rough edges but nothing that’s beyond patching. So if you’re looking for a narrative focused game that doesn’t ask too much from you then A Plague Tale: Innocence could be right up your alley.
A Plague Tale: Innocence is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One right now for $59.95. Game was played on the PC with a total of 9 hours play time and 57% of the achievements unlocked.
I couldn’t tell you why I never got into the Hitman series. It’s not something I’ve deliberately avoided, no I think it’s more that I’ve always had something else to play at the time it was released and, by the time I’d finished whatever I was playing, it was on to the next biggest and best title. However I have one particular friend who is…quite fond of the series and has been relentless in his pursuit to get me to try it out. So, with January not providing any much in the way of new games to play, I figured it was finally time to give the series a go, starting with Hitman 2.
This seems to have been a pretty good place to start because the story of Hitman 2 (which for the purposes of this review also includes Hitman since I played through all of those missions as well) fleshes out a lot of the background of the characters. You are Agent 47, a world renown assassin who works for the ICA: a shadowy contract killer organisation who works at the behest of the board. You and your handler Diana Burnwood are tasked with eliminating targets who pose a threat to your clients in one way or another. However as you complete your missions a pattern starts to emerge and it seems that your assassinations may be playing part in a larger game.
There really is no other game that can compare to the extraordinary amount of detail that’s crammed into each and every level of Hitman. Not only is every place bustling with numerous NPCs, many of which have their own dialogue and action sequences, the environments themselves will likely require multiple playthroughs in order for you to explore them completely. It really is quite incredible to just simply wander around the map to figure out all the different avenues that you have available to you, including the ones that may not have been intended by the game designers. On a purely visual basis the graphics aren’t exactly top tier however that’s made up for in spades with the attention that’s paid to every detail. Performance is also quite good, the game never missing a beat even on my now 4 year old PC.
Putting Hitman into a genre is a bit of a challenge as it borrows elements from many. The core mechanics are essential stealth, challenging you to find ways into various areas without being detected. Whilst I never really tried it there also seems to be a rather well developed third person shooter in there as well, at least that’s the only reason I can think of for the developers to include so many varied weapons in it. There’s also a puzzler element as well as whilst you can likely conclude most missions by simply shooting your target in the head there are many more nuanced ways to eliminate them but doing so will likely require a little digging and out of the box thinking in order to accomplish. There’s also a bunch of different modes in the game that I never tried either so there’s likely other mechanics as well that I personally haven’t experienced. Suffice to say there’s a lot to unpack in Hitman and I can see why it’s one of the few games that’s managed to do well with the episodic model: there’s just so much damn content in each mission.
The stealth is done exceptionally well, even if it is comically unrealistic with some things. NPCs will generally react negatively to behaviour that’s out of character for your current disguise, whether that be walking into places you shouldn’t be in or performing an action that wouldn’t be expected of you. There’s the typical awareness meter which functions as you’d expect it to: enemies further away taking longer to recognise you and those close up being able to recognise you instantly. There’s also the usual mix of stealth mechanics mixed in (hiding in bushes, distracting them with items, etc.) which all work well. Your main challenge is usually hiding the bodies of people whose clothes you’ve stolen which is easy enough, if you can find a place to hide them. Of course you’re very likely to stuff these things up so saving and reloading constantly quickly becomes the name of the game, that is if you’re chasing a high score of course.
Most of the time the system seems fair however it’s not immune to glitching out and behaving in strange and unpredictable ways. Certain actions can seemingly be traced back directly to you even if there’s no witnesses. One mission in particular I hid out of view and shot some gas canisters to eliminate my target. Apparently everyone of the guards nearby was able to trace where those shots came from instantly, altering everyone. There’s also times when NPCs will walk into areas that they’ve never pathed into before, all for the purpose of finding that body that you didn’t hide in a dumpster or closet. Some actions also count as murdering someone when they probably shouldn’t, like dragging someone through a small puddle or pushing them over a small railing. Of course once you know about these nuances of the stealth system you can work around them but it can be rather frustrating to have a Silent Assassin run ruined by some behaviour that you couldn’t predict and can’t fix since you didn’t save before you committed a certain action.
I predominantly played the mission stories and I have to say, whilst there’s probably a lot more to discover in replaying it without them, I had a great time just following them along. To be sure it can make some of the supposedly most difficult missions trivial but they provide a good introduction to the mechanics of the level, it’s layout and how you might go about certain things. Of course not all of them are completely straightforward and you can often find yourself in the middle of completing one without even realising it. There was one level (the Swedish banker one) where I stumbled onto the cameraman mission story without the game telling me I was on it. So what ensued was my own take on it which, honestly, was just as much fun as the other directed ones. I didn’t go back and replay any of the missions though, nor have I done any of the elusive targets, as there was more than enough content for me in just a single play through alone.
The stealth system isn’t the only thing to glitch out unfortunately as there are numerous other things that can go belly up if certain conditions are met. NPCs routines can get messed up for any number of reasons, which can sometimes mean locking you out of a particular mission objective. I had one of my targets get stuck in a loop pathing up and down a set of stairs constantly and no amount of reloads could bring him around. I have to assume that this was because I’d set up for one mission whilst attempting to complete another one which sent the AI spare. I eventually worked around it by luring him out with a trail of coins and guns, but even after that he didn’t resume his original routine. I was still able to complete the mission, just not in the way I wanted to. It’s somewhat understandable given each level’s size but it can still be frustrating to have your run ruined by glitchy mechanics.
Even though this is my first Hitman game I quite liked the story and the developers did a great job of providing background for all the characters. To be sure there are bits I’m likely missing (although my friend did give me a little insight into some of the earlier games) but even coming in at this late juncture I didn’t feel the need to reach for Wikipedia articles or plot summaries in order to understand everyone’s motivations. I was a little disappointed that they didn’t have the budget for cutscenes in between the Hitman 2 missions, instead opting for animated still shots, but they at least kept the same amount of dialogue and character development in them meaning the story could still progress. It’s a slightly cliche plotline but it’s still quite enjoyable, heck it’s likely because it’s cliche that it’s so much fun.
Hitman was a series I’d left on the shelf for a long time but I don’t think I will be any longer. The game’s flagship feature is its incredibly well crafted levels, brimming with detail at every corner. This goes hand in hand with well designed stealth mechanics, ensuring that not two playthroughs of the same level are likely to be the same. The mission stories are great for people like me, ones that tend towards wanting a guided experience but also love to experiment every now and then. The cliche story is thoroughly enjoyable, even to someone like myself who has no history with the franchise. Overall I have to say I wasn’t expecting to enjoy playing Hitman as much as I had enjoyed watching people play it on YouTube but I very much welcome the surprise.
Hitman 2 is available on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 right now for $84.95. Game was played on the PC with a total of 15 hours playtime and 20% of the achievements unlocked.
Kickstarter, Early Access and all the other tools that enable developers to get an idea in front of players before it’s fully formed are both a blessing and a curse. They’ve brought a lot of ideas to reality that otherwise wouldn’t have happened otherwise, bringing us unique game experiences that have helped shape the medium for the better. On the other hand they have also seen many great ideas fall prey to the tyranny of the crowd or the popular idea of the day. That is the fate that has befallen We Happy Few, a game I Kickstarted back in 2015 as it is not the game I remember backing all those years ago. The mechanics that drew me to the it initially, taking a new approach to how stealth games could function, and the intriguing narrative they sought to craft were usurped by a procedurally generated survival sim. That’s not what I, nor I think a lot of their original backers, were seeking to support.
You are Arthur Hastings, a redactor working for the Wellington Wells’ Department of Archives, Printing, and Recycling whos job is to censor and approve old news articles to make sure that only good news makes it to the good citizens of your town. In completing your job though you come across an old news article of you and your brother and suddenly it dawns on you: the whole town did a Very Bad Thing a long time ago. You refuse to take your joy and quickly discover that the town of Wellington Wells isn’t all it appears to be. Not long after skipping your prescribed medication you’re chased out of the town and find yourself among the downers, the ones who can’t or won’t take their joy. You resolve yourself to find your brother by any means necessary, even if it means remembering what that Very Bad Thing was.
We Happy Few’s graphics are heavily stylized, taking a lot of inspiration from other retrofuture games like Bioshock. The game’s visuals are at their best in the city when you’re on Joy, the vibrant and oversaturated colours really selling the idea that none of this could possibly be real and it’s all a drug induced fever dream. Unfortunately the first few hours of the game have you out in the more drab areas which are nowhere near as interesting visually. The graphics are also more inline with previous generation games, something which isn’t completely unexpected given how long it has been in Early Access. It’d probably be a little less noticeable if the procedural generation was a little more varied with the supposedly “random” bits usually consisting of the same building blocks and NPCs repeatedly. All this being said it does run particularly well, even with a lot of things on screen, so it’s got that going for it at least.
From a gameplay perspective it’s neither a true survival game nor a traditional single player RPG as it takes cues from both. You have your usual survival mechanics like food and water but they’re not critical to keep up, you’ll just have a few negative buffs applied to you if they run out. Progression comes in the form of a very traditional XP and talent system with weapon and gear upgrades coming from crafting. The world you’ll be running around in is mostly procedurally generated with certain fixed areas for story missions and the like. There’s a small smattering of open world things around as well with random encounters and side missions scattered around the map. All in all whilst it’s a pretty comprehensive game there’s a noticeable schism between the handcrafted parts and the world that the procedural engine generates. Honestly there’s large chunks of the game I think that could be wholly abandoned which would make for a much tighter experience but unfortunately I don’t think that’s ever going to happen.
Combat takes the form of the typical first person melee style, along with all the issues that come along with that. All your weapons have durability as well, meaning that you’ll need to carry an array of different implements to ensure you can whack your way out any situation you find yourself in. The game is most certainly designed with stealth in mind so it’s somewhat understandable that the combat didn’t get as much love as it should’ve. It does make for an unfortunately frustrating experience when you don’t have much choice in whether you can fight or not. On the plus side though you can walk/run faster than anyone else in the game so realistically there’s not much stopping you from simply legging it to a safe spot if you ever find yourself in a pickle.
The stealth system is much better than other comparable games although given it was meant to be the game’s flagship feature it is a bit of a let down. The traditional stealth mechanics all work as you’d expect like hiding in tall grass, getting out of line of sight and NPCs being able to be distracted by thrown objects. The social stealth system however is the real disappointment as it was originally billed as a balancing game of using Joy in order to blend in appropriately. The long and short of it is that you don’t really need to take Joy at all unless there’s a specific progression blocker for it. You can freely walk around the towns off your joy and no one will say anything and the cameras that detect you can be easily run past without causing too much of a fuss. I had hoped that once I got back into the town proper the game would start to pick up a bit with the additional mechanics at play but unfortunately it didn’t.
Progression comes in random bursts, typically at the end of story missions. Doing anything in the open world doesn’t seem to reward you with much as I never appeared to level up when I was traipsing around so in the end I just gave up on it. Crafting is also a bit of a crapshoot too as whilst you can carry a lot there’s not a lot of useful things for you to make. There’s blueprints for you to track down but honestly I never found anything worthwhile in them. That, combined with the utter lack of accessible stashes, means that you’re often carrying around a ton of useless stuff that you feel like you need to hold on to “just in case”. I toyed with the idea of tracking down a mod for the game to lift the inventory limit but frankly at that point I was already done with what We Happy Few had to offer.
The story was probably the standout part of We Happy Few which is a shame that it wasn’t given a better vehicle to shine. You see with all the running about between missions through repetitive procedurally generated terrain the pacing of the story gets completely lost. There are numerous memorable scenes, even in the game’s opening moments, but they’re then lost when it takes you half an hour of wandering about to get to the next small tidbit. The voice actors should be commended for the incredible job they did with making the characters come alive as it was during those moments that I really started to feel like there was something to like in We Happy Few. Maybe I should’ve just watched a stream of the game instead.
We Happy Few is a game that started out with a great concept that unfortunately failed in its execution. The grab bag of mechanics coupled with the procedurally generated open world meant that there was no real single driving force that pushed me to keep playing more. Instead I felt like there was just too much time between the games stand out moments, taking a bat to the story’s pacing and, most unfortunately, my enjoyment of it. I really do hope that some of the remaining games I’ve Kickstarted don’t go down a similar path as I’m beginning to lose faith in my ability to pick good ideas when they’re at such a nascent stage of their development. Hopefully I’ll be proven wrong soon.
We Happy Few is available on PC, Xbox One and Playstation 4 right now for $84.95. Game was played on the PC with 3 hours of total playtime and 8% of the achievements unlocked.
Now is the time for the independent games to take center stage as the AAA developers rest, scheduling their big releases for later in the year. For me this time of year always presents a challenge, forcing me to look afar from what I might typically play. In some respects Ghost of a Tale isn’t too different from what I usually play, adventure/rpgs are one of my mainstays, but I honestly hadn’t heard about it until I went looking. The promise of great graphics and a good story were enough to intrigue me but unfortunately, after playing it for 3 hours, I’ve decided it’s simply not for me.
You play as Tilo, a minstrel mouse who’s been caught up in a perilous adventure. Separated from your wife you’ve been thrown into prison to await your sentence and, quite unfortunately, the possibility of the hangman’s noose. So you take it upon yourself to break free of the prison and begin the search for your wife. The prison is full of unlikely allies however including a few of your former captors. You’ll need every bit of help you can get as breaking out of the rat infested prison will be no small feat, even for a small mouse like yourself who can fit into some incredibly small spaces.
On the surface you’d think that Ghost of a Tale was running on the Unreal engine given its overall look but it is in-fact a Unity based game, something I honestly did not expect. The aesthetic then is not born out of the engine defaults or limitations but instead is an active choice by the one and only developer behind the game. The environments aren’t particularly large but they are brimming with detail, a lot of which is unfortunately hidden away quite often due to the dark areas you’ll be exploring. Whilst many reviewers laud the visuals they’re honestly not that great, but the fact that they come from a single person is quite impressive. It has taken them over 5 years to get to this point though.
Ghost of a Tale is an adventure game in the truest sense, giving you an environment to explore and a set of puzzles to solve in order to progress. There are a few RPG elements thrown in for good measure, like a rudimentary level and perk system, which helps with giving you a small sense of progression (outside of unlocking new areas). It’s a stealth based game without a true combat system, instead giving you some options to cope with situations when you’re discovered like hiding or knocking them out. The adventure game elements are well developed as well, going as far to incorporate things like what you’re wearing into how NPCs react and what dialogue options will (or won’t) be available to you. Overall Ghost of a Tale is a surprisingly complete game and is certainly the product of someone passionate about bringing it to life.
The stealth mechanics are done well, giving you the usual “awareness meter” that will fill up as your enemies become aware of where you are. If you’re discovered you’ll have to break line of sight and then hide somewhere for a time until your pursuer gives up the chase. This can get a little buggy at times as the rats can get stuck on corners and other places which, for some reason, prevents them from entering their non-alarmed state. You can also throw bottles at them to knock them out which is sometimes necessary in order to steal a key from them or to get through an area quicker. Running drains stamina but the rats don’t move faster than you do at your normal pace so really all you need to do to avoid getting hit by them is run past once then trundle along until you can find a hiding spot. Once you get the hang of it navigating the map becomes a lot quicker as you can judge when you can quickly dart through or when you need to take your time. This well done stealth is what kept me playing for the first hour or so but after then things started to drag on a bit.
Pretty much all of the missions are fetch quests, sending you around the map looking for different things that you’ll need to bring back to someone in order to progress the story. If you loot anything and everything in sight (which there’s no penalty for doing, by the way) you can sometimes preempt some of these but most often you’ll be sent to find a bunch of things that you couldn’t collect beforehand. Given how much of a maze the map is this quickly became tiring as I’d often forget where I was or where I’d looked already and then have to spend the next 5 minutes staring at the map to figure it out. Whilst I’ll admit that this is probably what a lot of people enjoy about the game for me it was simply frustrating. If at all possible I’d love an option to guide me in the right direction for my current quest, even if it was just to the general area. That’d certainly have kept me playing for much longer.
Those who played the game will now likely point out that the game has a kind of in-built walkthrough in the form of florens and the blacksmith. Basically you can find some currency in the game and spend it on hints which I honestly quite like. However there’s not a lot of them around and I feel like I’d probably run out of them before the game was half over. Sure I could also consult a walkthrough guide but I just wasn’t that interested in what the game had to show me.
A lot of that is probably due to the fact that the story wasn’t exactly resonating with me. I’ll wholeheartedly admit I’ve been spoiled by many games that were fully voiced and so my tolerance for wall of text based games has dropped considerably. That, coupled with the fact that it didn’t feel like Ghost of a Tale’s story wasn’t going anywhere fast, meant I didn’t have anything driving me to play it beyond the few hours that I did. It’s a shame as based on the wildly positive reviews I’ve seen for it on Steam and elsewhere I had good expectations for it but, unfortunately, it just didn’t deliver for me.
Ghost of a Tale is one of those few games where I seem to find myself on the opposite end of public opinion. There’s no doubting the amount of love and effort that’s gone into this game, something that’s especially commendable given it was all done by a single person. However if The Witness taught me anything great craftsmanship only goes so far if the result isn’t fun to play. There’s perhaps a few small changes and additions that could bring someone like me into the fold but, honestly, it feels like that might be antithetical to what Ghost of a Tale wants to achieve. So whilst I might not have enjoyed this game that certainly doesn’t mean you won’t and the review score below is simply reflective of my experience, not necessarily the quality of the game itself.
Ghost of a Tale is available on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 right now for $24.99. Game was played on the PC with a total of 3 hours playtime and 15% of the achievements unlocked.
I have to give it to those behind the Dishonored series as it really doesn’t take much from them to bring me back. I played the Knife of Dunwall expansion based on a single screenshot, the sequel simply because it’d been too long between drinks and, most recently, because of the name of the next instalment. For those familiar with the series the title “Death of the Outsider’ is an incredibly provocative one, almost begging to be played just so you can see if that title is justified. Whilst the game doesn’t bring anything particularly revolutionary or unique to the series or stealth games in general it is, for this writer at least, the best experience to be had in the Dishonored series.
Taking place shortly after the events of Dishonored 2 Death of the Outsider puts you in control of Bille “Lurk”, the right hand of The Knife of Dunwall: Daud. You awake aboard the Dreadful Wale, moored just outside of Karnaca, armed with the information that your former master is being held captive by a cult called the Eyeless. After you free him you learn that he is not long for this world and he has one last task for you: put an end to the outsider and the chaotic influence he has on the world. The plan is simple: find the knife that created him all those years ago and use it to end him. Of course things like this aren’t always as simple as they sound.
As you’d expect from a game released not a year after Dishonored 2 Death of the Outsider doesn’t bring with it massive improvements in the graphics department. The game’s big vistas and open environments are definitely its strongest point but the sheen wears off when you start to get up close and personal. This is also when the asset reuse starts to become painfully apparent with everyone have the same kind of cabinet, the same bathroom layout and a myriad of other things that are repeated ad-nauseam everywhere. Typically this wouldn’t be much of an issue as you’d be switching up scenes every mission but the majority of Death of the Outsider takes place in the same location. This issue isn’t unique to this instalment however so there won’t be much to be disappointed here for long time Dishonored fans.
Whilst Death of the Outsider retains most of the core game play aspects of the Dishonored franchise pretty much all of them have been streamlined considerably. No longer do you have the choice of what powers you get or upgrade; you get 3 and that’s it for the game. You no longer need to manage your mana closely as it regenerates back to full over time. Bone charms are still around but you can’t craft them until late in the game and the various “mechanical” upgrades are still available through the black market. Side missions are now contracts which you’ll gather off a sign outside the black market as well. There’s a grand total of 5 missions, each of which will probably take you around 2 hours (give or take) which puts it as the shortest of the stand alone Dishonored titles by a small margin.
As you’d expect everything about Death of the Outsider will familiar to those who’ve played any of the previous Dishonored titles although it is closest to Dishonored 2. Whilst you don’t have an extreme amount of flexibility in how you build your character your bone charms will dictate whether you’re a fighter or a stealth based player. I, of course, chose the stealth route for the most part although there was one contract which required me to literally kill every hostile in the level which put my stealth-first build to the test. Since there’s no levelling or chaos system to speak of the stealth/guns blazing kill/no-kill choice is largely symbolic however (save for a few achievements). The new powers aren’t different enough to set the game apart from its predecessors but, for me at least, that wasn’t really an issue.
Stealth and exploration is as good as ever, if a bit more involved than I would have liked. Instead of having a heart to squeeze and follow around (you still have one, it just lets you listen to rats instead) one of your powers is dedicated to marking things whilst your in a stopped time ghost form. No matter the mission there’s several ways to approach it, both from a physical and logistical perspective. A lot of these choices are lot more involved than I first expected too, sometimes finding what was the shortest route to finish a section only to backtrack “just to check” only to find what was essentially an entire other level. Interestingly I never found a route that required violence, instead all of them allowing a full stealth approach. Sure some of them would’ve been easier had I started killing right off the bat but I would’ve thought at least a few options would’ve forced my hand.
Some of the side missions are a bit buggy, two of which come to mind immediately. The first was one where you’re supposed to kidnap a bar tender then put him in a box somewhere. After spending far too long knocking out everyone in the bar I took my leave of it, bartender slung over my shoulder. However when I got to the area to drop him off a cutscene began playing and, I’m guessing here, in the interim I dropped him off the roof to his doom. No problem I can just load up my last save, except the game saved immediately after, obliterating my chances at a retry (without investing another hour at least). The second was the mime suicide one where, for some reason, it’d fail the mission randomly. I still had his unconscious body but it was simply not registered as the NPC I needed and the contract was failed. These are both minor glitches which can be circumvented with good old save scumming but it can be a rather frustrating thing to have to deal with multiple times over.
Maybe I’m getting older or more lenient on the Dishonored franchise as a whole but I felt that both the story and its delivery were the strongest yet. Dishonored’s voice actors typically delivered their lines flat and the story’s predictable nature didn’t help. This time around however the voice acting feels a lot better and the story, whilst still being somewhat predictable, was a lot more engrossing than I remember its predecessor’s being. Seeing as this might be the last instalment in the franchise, at least in this timeline with these characters anyway, it does feel like a fitting send off.
Should Dishonored: Death of the Outsider be the last we see of this series in its current state it will be a grand farewell, being the series’ best instalment to date. It’s not a perfect game by any stretch of the imagination, still retaining some of the issues that have plagued the series from day 1. However the streamlined game play, better story telling and overall tighter implementation (bar a few issues with some of the side missions) means that it’s much more easier to gloss over those rough edges than it ever was. Even if you haven’t played a Dishonored game before Death of the Outsider could be a great introduction into the franchise. Although if you do that know that it’s only downhill from here.
Dishonored: Death of the Outsider is available on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 right now for $29.99. Game was played on the PC with a total of 10 hours playtime and 50% of the achievements unlocked.
There are two distinct types of stealth games. The first are the ones built around the mechanic, designed in such a way that stealth permeates throughout the game. The second, and sadly much more common, is where stealth is added on as a mechanic at a later point. The difference between these two types of stealth games couldn’t be more stark, with the latter feeling out of place. The former however usually results in a much better experience as stealth is an incredibly hard mechanic to get right, if your game isn’t built around it. Aragami thankfully falls into the former camp, nailing the stealth mechanics beautifully.
You are an Aragami, a spirit of vengeance summoned by Yamiko, a young girl who has been imprisoned by the Kaiho. Her captors are adepts of the light, able to control it with deadly effects. Yamiko tells you that the Kaiho are oppressors of her people and have imprisoned her Shadow Princess along with her. It is then up to you Aragami to free her and take down the Kaiho army to free the shadow realm from oppression. How you go about this however is your choice, although sticking to the shadows is likely a wise choice.
At first glance you’d be forgiven for thinking that Aragami was coming from Telltale as its visual style is very similar. It’s based on the Unity engine however (not Telltale’s aging game engine) and the look is generated by good old fashioned cel shading. Overall the visuals are simple and clean, with little extraneous detail thrown about. Performance on my current rig was perfect, as you’d expect, however I think it’d run perfectly fine on current generation smart phones with little change. The only complaint I’d have is that it starts to get a bit repetitive after chapter 7 or so. It does get better towards the end though as the environments get a little more varied, however.
Aragami, as I mentioned before, is a stealth game. You’re put in an area, given a goal to reach and are left up to get to the other end. Combat is non-existent as one hit from any threat will instantly kill you however you are able to dispose of your enemies, if you deem it necessary. Whilst you’ll initially have to rely on your wits to get through each level you’ll find scrolls that grant you talent points along the way. These will give you a smattering of different abilities to deal with the various situations that the game presents you with. The puzzles are pretty basic however, varying little beyond disabling barriers. Mechanically it’s a simple game but the difficulty comes in how you choose to play it.
Like most stealth veterans I immediately chose the no-kill, complete stealth route. Surprisingly though this is probably the easiest (or second easiest, possibly) route to choose as all you have to contend with there is making it through in one piece. So for the next chapter I attempted to kill everyone which proved to be a much more challenging task. Not only do you have to avoid being spotted you also have to ensure no one finds the corpses you leave behind. I eventually gave up doing it as it always seemed like someone would stumble across the bodies, no matter how well I thought I had cleared out a particular area.
Of course doing that becomes a lot easier if you invest a few points in the right talents, one of which allows you to completely remove bodies. There’s enough scrolls about the place that you could easily max out most of the useful talents in a single play through. Of course there’s a few quality of life ones you probably want to go for first, like the one that reveals where all the scrolls are. Others like the invisibility one are quite useful for just blazing through otherwise laborious sections, something that becomes a life saver later on in the game. There’s definitely a good amount of replayability in Aragami because of these talent choices, something which I’m sure the completist crowd will enjoy.
Aragami is mostly mechanically sound, however there are a few quirks which can trip you up if you’re not careful. It’s clear there’s certain places you’re not supposed to be able to shadow step to, but you can if you get the angles right. Things like tree branches, leaves or other semi-odd geometry provide ample places for getting yourself stuck or completely bypassing an otherwise mandatory challenge. Additionally the invisibility power, with its upgrade to make you apparently completely silent, doesn’t seem to work that way 100% of the time. There were a couple times I ran past someone only to have them alert the entire place I was there. Whilst I can understand that happening if I ran directly into them I can remember not even being near them when it happened on more than one occasion. Overall these issues aren’t massive, but are annoying when they happen.
The lack of variety in the layouts and mechanics does start to wear on you after a while. Around the halfway point I found I could really only play a chapter or two before getting bored. Towards the end things started to get a little more interesting but the first 3 hours or so felt like they dragged on quite a bit. Since the game announces to you just how many things you’re going to have to do (get 5 talismans! yay!) it instantly makes you feel like you’re on an extended fetch quest. Couple that with trying to find the scrolls and you’re probably not going to enjoying yourself that much. Indeed I think the middle couple hours could’ve probably been removed without much impact to the game or narrative.
The story is, unfortunately, quite mediocre. It’s clear pretty early on what the twist is going to be which is only made worse by the weirdly out of place dialogue. The writing wouldn’t be out of place in say, a modern anime or something similar, but Aragami seems to want to be taken seriously. However that’s just not possible with the way the main characters interact with each other. Towards the end things start to work out a little better but since there’s really no build up it’s all quite hollow. It also appears that there must’ve been a big rewrite of the story at some point as the final lines, which allude to the game’s previous name Twin Souls: The Path of Shadows, reveal information that had not been spoken of or alluded to at all. Considering this is Lince Works’ first game I’ll give them a pass, for now.
Aragami is a competent stealth platformer with beautiful cel shaded graphics and a great backing soundtrack. Taking the notion that the no-kill, full stealth route is the hardest and turning it on its head is a great twist on the regular stealth idea. Aragami is however let down by its repetitiveness and lacklustre story, a mistake many first time indie game developers make. Still for those of us who enjoy a good stealth-first game there are few titles like Aragami and fewer still from indie developers. If you’re looking for something to bridge the gap between the next bout of AAA releases and need a stealth fix then Aragami might just be for you.
Aragami is available on PC and PlayStation 4 right now for $19.99. Game was played on the PC with 5 hours of total play time and 67% of the achievements unlocked.
Dishonored was a breath of fresh air for many. Stealth games of the time were anything but; their stealth mechanics nothing but tacked on features that weren’t given the love they so desperately needed. Whilst it had its faults Dishonored was a pivotal release for Arkane Studios, catapaulting them into the limelight. It’s been 4 years since the release of the original Dishonored and expectations were high that Arkane would be able to deliver yet another solid stealth based title. Dishonored 2 brings with it all of the things that made the original great but also many of the shortcommings. Indeed whilst some of the design choices are commendable it begs the question of whether or not the effort would have been better spent elsewhere, possibly addressing some of the mistakes of the past.
Dishonored 2 takes place 15 years after the events of the original with Emily Kaldwin taking her place on the throne, succeeding her late mother. The city of Dunwall is no longer the rotten town it once was, prospering greatly under Emily’s rule. However a serial murderer, dubbed The Crown Killer, has been dispatching Emily’s opposition, leading many to conclude that Corvo is responsible for it. During a ceremony in remembrance of her mother’s assassination, Delilah Copperspoon, who claims to be Jessamine’s older half-sister and the true heir to the throne, assaults Emily in her throne room. The story from here is determined by who you choose to play as: either Emily or Corvo.
Under the hood Dishonored 2 is powered the new Void engine, developed in-house by Arkane. The engine is based on id’s Tech 6 platform and brings with it many improvements. However like its predecessor Dishonored 2 is probably about half a step behind current generation titles in terms of graphics, something that is painfully obvious when you’re up close to NPCs or bits of the environment. The world does feel a lot more full than it used to though, with more characters on screen and much more detailed environments. The initial release was unfortunately plagued by horrendous performance issues on PC, indicating that the engine hadn’t gotten enough optimization love. This was fixed rather quickly and by the time I got around to play it I didn’t see any issues at all. This couldn’t come soon enough though and is likely responsible for the game’s mixed review status on Steam.
Dishonored 2 stays true to the original’s ethos, providing you with mutliple avenues to complete a mission that can make use of any number of powers, abilities or gadgets. What’s available to you depends on whether you choose Corvo or Emily although there’s a core set of non-power abilities availble to both. If you choose Corvo the abilities will be instantly familiar to you with Emilies being completely different in all aspects. The upgrade systems are largely the same, you’ll still hunt down runes and charms to upgrade your powers, however there’s also the opportunity to improve your character further through crafting runes of your own. There’s still a multitude of things to discover in any one level with numerous side missions and hidden items for you to seek out. If you were a fan of the original there’ll be a lot for you to love in Dishonored 2, perhaps even more so if you’re an achievement hunter.
Combat is largely the same as it’s predecessor however the choices you make in building your character have a much bigger impact in Dishonored 2. Unlike previously where I could stealth or shoot my way through a level Dishonored 2, where I primarily built my character as stealth, I couldn’t take on more than one enemy at a time. Personally I liked this aspect as it meant that my choices had a real impact, no longer could I be both the stealth master and combat warrior. This did mean that the mechanical upgrade system went largely unused through my play through but it did make the rune and bone charms that much more valuable. Indeed I spent much, much more time exploring to make sure I got every power upgrade I could, lest I find myself wanting.
The stealth system works as you’d expect it to although I have to admit I think the detection rate of NPCs is a little too fast for my liking. Indeed if you don’t notice the meter immediately, like if it’s at the bottom of your screen, you will likely be detected. Some of the power upgrades help you get around this, like the stop time part of blink, but it still leaves you very little time to react. It does feel a bit more realistic in that sense, you can’t hover around in front of enemies and have them not detect you, but it does detract from the enjoyment a bit at times.
The crafting system, whilst basic, was probably one of the more rewarding aspects of Dishonored 2. With the right combination of talents and a lot of farming for the right runes you can craft yourself a set of incredibly powerful boosts. In the end I was rocking around 8 quad bone charms (the other 2 taken by specific power upgrades) that amplified my power abilities significantly, like being able to essentially sprint in stealth mode if I was crouched and my weapons sheathed. Of course I save-scummed my way to perfect bone charms without any negative traits on them but hey, even if I didn’t do that I think a grand total of 2 of them would’ve been cursed. One point of note, which I wished I had known earlier, is that not all runes are simply somewhere in the world. For some missions a certain NPC will hold 2 of them, something which can make your life a little difficult if you want to get them all. Thankfully those ones aren’t usually ones you can break down for crafting anyway, but they’re still worth seeking out.
Overall Dishonored 2 is well polished (bar the initial teething issues) however it makes one horrendous design misstep that I’ll never forgive any game for doing. There’s one level that, if you’ve chosent to take powers, you’ll have them stripped away from you. For those, like me, who’ve invested heavily, in their powers this strips you of all the tools you had available. The resulting mission is a tedious mess, the time-switching mechanic that it was designed around becoming a nusiance more than anything else. The hour or so I spent on that level was the most frustrating section of the game by far and completing it was a relief more than a reward. I can understand the rationale behind it, wanting to challenge the player in a new and inventive way (like many of the other levels do) but taking away their investments is a cheap trick that does nothing to endear the player to the game.
The story, and its delivery, suffer the same issues as its predecessor. Whilst you have control over how the narrative develops, both through direct choices and how you actually play the game, it’s still predictable and not particularly rewarding. The voice acting again falls flat, a complaint that was levelled at its predecessor which I had hoped would be addressed in the sequel. Again there are a few standouts like The Outsider and the manick mechanical creator Jindosh, but they aren’t enough to carry everything forward by themselves. Honestly I was hoping that I’d feel differently this time around, I really was.
Dishonored 2 is a solid follow up to the original, retaining everything that made it great (and some things that didn’t). The stealth and combat is well done, the choices of how you build your character now more impactful (for better and for worse) than they were before. Crafting is a welcome addition, one that helps you craft your character further down your desired path. Unfortunately some poor level design choices and the continued flat delivery of Dishonored 2’s script means that the game doesn’t reach beyond its predecessor in terms of overall quality. Still I did enjoy my time with Dishonored 2, the stealth game play unparalleled in today’s market. Hopefully future instalments in this IP will address these core issues which would elevate Dishonored 2 to the same level as the games that inspired it.
Dishonored 2 is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One right now for $59.99, $77 and $77 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 16 hours of total play time with 36% of the achievements unlocked.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution was met with much trepidation when it was first released. Whilst many (like myself) enjoyed Invisible War the wider gaming community didn’t, wanting to banish it from their collective memories. The fear was that another game in the series wouldn’t be able to capture the essence of what made it good and, should it bomb, that would be it for the series forever. Thankfully that wasn’t the case and Human Revolution brought both new fans to the series and old fans back from their remastered versions of the original Deus Ex. So expectations are somewhat high for Mankind Divided, putting Eidos Montreal in the unenviable position of having to yet again improve on the Deus Ex formula whilst keeping the game fresh and interesting. Mankind Divided also comes in the midst of a small bit of controversy around it’s micro transactions and tie-ins to other parts of the franchise. Although, if I’m honest, I’m struggling to think of any AAA title that hasn’t been embroiled in some kind of online fracas.
Spoilers ahead for Human Revolution.
Mankind Divided takes place two years after the events of Human Revolution. The world has been ravaged by the Aug Incident whereby all augmented humans flew into a rage and viciously attacked anyone at random. This has set the stage for a kind of mechanical apartheid, augmented humans now being segregated away from naturals for fear of what they might do. You’re back in control of Adam Jensen, one of the few people in the world to know the truth behind the incident. With Sarif Industries no more you’re now under the employ of Interpol as part of an elite team that responds to a myriad of different threats. You are also the only member of your team who is augmented, something which comes up far more often than you’d like. Working for Interpol isn’t just a job however, it’s your in to find out more about the Illuminati as part of the Juggernaut Collective, a group of hacktivists who are hunting down those invisible men who would dare to try and control the world. Your base of operations is in Prague however your journey will take you all over the world.
The iconic visual style of Human Revolution makes a return in Mankind Divided, albeit with the yellow hues toned down to a more realistic levels. The graphics come to us via the Dawn engine, a proprietary technology stack developed by Eidos Montreal that was based on the Glacier 2 engine which was used in Hitman: Absolution. It’s a significant step up in terms of graphical fidelity as the screenshots in my reviews will attest. The automatic graphics settings err a little cautiously so you’ll likely be able to bump up a few settings without a huge impact to your frame rate. Whilst the overall aesthetic is largely the same Mankind Divided makes far better use of secondary colours than its predecessor did, the yellow hues still present but not washing everything out. This coupled with the better lighting effects, soft shadows and all the other current generation trimmings makes Mankind Divided one of the best looking games of this year.
Mechanically Mankind Divided is very similar to its predecessor, retaining nearly all of the original augs, combat mechanics and progression systems. The first mission gives you a taste of all the base augs, allowing you a bit of a trial run of everything before they get taken away from you and you have to decide which ones you want to keep. In true Deus Ex fashion you have a choice between stealth/guns blazing and lethal/non-lethal combat. I personally favoured the stealth, hacker and non-lethal approach which seems to be the key in finding most of the secrets in any Deus Ex game. Your weapons are also upgradeable and modifiable although the variety of firearms at your disposal feels somewhat limited. Levelling comes via the tried and true XP/levels system however it can be sped up significantly by finding or buying praxis kits, many of which are hidden in various parts of each level you’ll traverse through. The main differences between Human Revolution and Mankind Divided though are in the form of the experimental augs, both of which open up a myriad of new possibilities when it comes to sneaking around or destroying numerous enemies in one fell swoop.
Mankind Divided does a good job of making your talent choices mean something, both in terms of feeling like you’re more effective at what you’ve chosen to do and being utterly useless as what you haven’t. As someone who invested a lot of points into hacking, stealth and abilities to help me find secrets in levels I had basically no points in health, armour or any kind of survivability. This meant that, unlike Human Revolution, when I went in guns blazing I’d get shredded almost instantly. Honestly I liked that as it forced me to be far more considered in my approach than I otherwise would have been. Indeed I think that by comparison that made Human Revolution a bit too easy, giving me an out when I simply didn’t want to figure out the best stealth approach. This does mean however that my experience of run and gun combat was extremely limited, usually reserved for the last enemy standing when I couldn’t find an easy, or simple, way to take them out.
Stealth is done exceptionally well, as we have all come to expect from the Deus Ex franchise. You’ll have numerous different ways to approach problems with nearly all areas having some kind of vent system that you can crawl through to get the drop on your quarry. The detection system works well although there are times when enemies will sometimes inexplicably become aware of your presence. Usually this is due to some kind of trigger event which the game could do a better job of warning you about before it happens. There’s also no clarity given over what constitutes an alarm or detection (for the Ghost achievement and XP) as you can be seen by a guard and take him out before he alerts others. The system seems relatively lax in that requirement though as I seemed to have gotten it more often than not. The additional tools you have at your disposal, like the tesla upgrade, make stealth a much more varied experience than it has been in previous games. Overall the likely default mode of play is well catered for in Mankind Divided which I’m sure is to the delight of all the fans.
Hacking has seen a small revamp although it retains the same node capture mechanics as its predecessor. Now you can run afoul of firewalls when attempting to capture a node, both delaying your hack attempt by one second and alerting the subroutine to your presence. You also have a bunch more tools at your disposal though so the hacking mini-game is far more involved than it used to be. Admittedly it does get a little tedious after you’ve done it 20+ times which, thankfully, the game designers have taken into account. You see in Mankind Divided you’ll actually get more XP for finding a way to open doors or login to terminals without hacking them. Whilst this often means you’ll have to hack something else in order to do so it does mean you don’t feel like you’re missing out if you don’t hack something.
Mankind Divided retains the same mission layout as its predecessor, putting you in a large overworld that has lots of missions for you to do and places to explore. Interestingly whilst running around and talking to everyone who will listen is a good way to get side quests it won’t get you all of them. Instead some of them are found through exploration. For instance I found the Neon quest chain by accidentally stumbling on the impromptu rave in one of the back alleys. I didn’t follow up on it much but walking through the sewers I eventually came across the end part of the quest and, not even knowing much beyond the rudimentary parts of the story that I’d picked up from conversations I’d overheard, managed to finish the mission then and there. Indeed it seems there are many missions which are found in a similar way as I had barely anything to do with the cult of the machine god or Divali, but it was obvious there were missions with them when I went through their areas later on in the game.
Now since I’d avoided much of the conversation around Mankind Divided until just before release I wasn’t aware that it’d contain microtransactions or links to other games in the universe like Deus Ex: Go. The fear that many had was that you wouldn’t be able to build your character the way you wanted to without spending real money. Having played through the entire game I can say unequivocally that is not the case as my nearly end game screenshot of my character can attest to. Sure you can’t max out every skill but that’s honestly not the point; your talent choices should be meaningful and tailored to how you want to play the game. If you’re someone who doesn’t want to seek out the secrets and wants to be a wrecking ball from the very start of the game sure, go ahead and spend the requisite cash, it doesn’t affect the way I play the game at all. If it really burns you that much then feel free to not pay and use something like CheatEngine to edit your praxis to max.
Mankind Divided, whilst a very polished and highly refined experience, isn’t free of game breaking issues. I was one of the unfortunate souls who couldn’t play for about 3 days due to a bug which would crash when I used the subway during my third visit back to Prague. The only fix available at the time was to restart at a previous save point and not do a particular mission, something I didn’t really want to do. Thankfully Eidos was very responsive to it and managed to get a fix out in short order, allowing me to finish off my play through shortly after. There were also a few niggling little issues, many of which are detailed in the Steam community forum, which for the most part have been fixed. Suffice to say that if you’re playing Mankind Divided now rather than at launch your experience is likely to be far smoother than mine was.
I’m in two minds about Mankind Divided’s story. To be sure the world they’ve created is expansive and there’s numerous avenues of intrigue that you’re able explore fully within the confines of this game. However there’s also tons of world building they’ve done for things that are obviously going to be explored in DLCs which makes a lot of Mankind Divided feel really hollow. Indeed this is the first game I’ve played in a long time where I felt it was far too short, even at some 21 hours of play time for my first run. If the previous DLCs for Human Revolution are anything to go by there’s at least another 10 hours to come and that will, hopefully, fully explore the various story threads that are left dangling at the end of the main campaign. The story that is explored and completed within Mankind Divided is engaging and well thought out however, it’s just a shame that it’s not fully fleshed out in the retail release.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided retains the high standards that was set in Human Revolution. Yet again it stands out as a graphical marvel, the same iconic visual style making a comeback with all the trimmings we’ve come to expect of current generation games.The mechanics that made the franchise great are retained with the addition of new mechanics enough to keep the game play fresh and engaging. The controversy around microtransactions seems to be no more than a storm in a tea cup, not being required to fully explore the game. Its initial release into the world was plagued by some game breaking issues but Eidos was quick to respond, ensuring that we weren’t without our Deus Ex fix for long. Where Mankind Divided stumbles is in its length and exploration of its main story lines with much of it being left to the two planned DLCs which are slated for release over the coming months. To be sure Mankind Divided is still worth playing today in its current form but its definitely going to be one of those games where the director’s cut will likely surpass the original in terms of an overall experience.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One right now for $59.99, $69 and $69 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 21 hours of total play time and 36% of the achievements unlocked.
Even though I’ve been reviewing games for fun for the better part of 6 years now there are few series that I’ve been able to catalogue my experiences of completely. Many of the big AAA games have been going on since long before I started blogging and there are many new IPs since then that have failed to see further instalments. However one of the stand out series I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing has been the Batman: Arkham games which have set the standard to which many others are compared. The last title in this series, Arkham Knight, sees a return of Rocksteady Studios as the developer and with them the hopes that this game will bring a return to form for the IP. Indeed, at least for this review, that’s very much the case however you’d have to be living under a rock to not know about the turmoil that this title endure during its first weeks on the shelves.
Although his nemesis might be gone Batman has continued his work in Gotham City, becoming an ally of the GCPD rather than its adversary. In the year since the events of Arkham City Gotham has become a place of peace with crime rates tumbling and the populace feeling safe in their home town. However Batman’s continued spoiling of everyone’s nefarious plans has not gone unnoticed and they have all banded together with the one singular goal: to kill the batman. At the helm is Scarecrow who threatens the entire city and causes a mass evacuation, leaving the streets to be filled with criminals, looters and a sense of fear. It is up to you now, dear Batman, to rid Gotham of this disease once again but the journey may leave you losing much more than you’d ever had hoped to.
Arkham Knight is an absolutely stunning game with the graphics easily surpassing any of the previous titles in the series. This is made all the more impressive by the fact that it’s running on the Unreal 3 engine which, as of writing, was released almost 11 years ago. The trademark Gothic style is back once again with everything in Gotham having this certain retro-futuristic chic about it. Climbing to the top of any building is rewarded with a gorgeous landscape that’s just brimming with detail which only gets better upon closer inspection. There are some pretty great innovations in here too, like how rain falls on surfaces and slicks down or how the turbulent waters of Gotham’s harbours churn and crash against the walls. Going back and looking at my previous screenshots from other Batman titles Arkham Knight really is a generation ahead of its predecessors, an incredible feat considering the last title was released less than 2 years ago.
For those who’ve played any of the previous Arkham titles the core game play will be familiar, taking much the same approach as Arkham City did. You’re plopped down into a vast open world with numerous objectives, all of which are centred on one of the characters from the Batman franchise. You’re free to pick and choose from any of the objectives all of which will grant you upgrade points which you can spend to upgrade Batman’s skills, gadgets and combat moves. You will also be treated to the wonder that is the Batmobile, a nimble tank that’s got a staggering array of weaponry at its disposal, which you’ll need to make good use of if you’re to get anywhere in this game. The traditional beat ’em up combat remains intact with only a few new options added into the mix to differentiate it from its predecessors. In terms of scale it’s the biggest Batman game ever released, one that will keep even the most dedicated achievement hunter busy for a very long time.
The melee combat remains largely the same as it did in previous Arkham games with the addition of a few new gadgets and enemy types. If I’m honest it actually feels slightly weaker than previous titles as the new gadgets fail to make up for the lack of new combos or takedowns. Pulling off massive combos doesn’t seem to have the same spectacular pay off that it used which was a big driver, at least for me, to get better at landing them. There’s the inclusion of the fear takedown, which basically works as an opener to take out the most dangerous enemies first, which is cool but does take away a fair chunk of the skill required to take down massive groups of varied enemies. This, coupled with the lack of any big melee boss fights, means that whilst the essence of the combat is still there it just doesn’t have the same attraction it once did.
This is made up for entirely by the inclusion of the Batmobile, the single most fun thing that Rocksteady included in Arkham Knight. From the second you first get your hands on it the Batmobile is a cacophony of destruction, metallic car noises and oodles of weaponry that border on being ludicrously excessive. Driving around Gotham is just plain fun as you smash and crash your way through pretty much everything that gets in your way. The vehicle combat makes up for the less than stellar melee combat although after the 30th drone battle over a mine it does start to lose its lustre somewhat. However the integration of the Batmobile into almost every aspect of the game is done so well you start to wonder how they managed to build a Batman game without it. I’m not sure how canon this form of the Batmobile is however as it’s pretty much a killing machine on wheels, something which isn’t strictly in alignment with the Batman ethos. Not that that really matters, though.
The stealth sections are back again this time with even more ways for the enemies to locate you and ruin your Not Seen and Not Shot bonuses. The mechanics will be instantly familiar, finding vantage points and sneaking through grates, however for each new hazard you’re given a new way to deal with it. Much like the melee combat though it feels a little weaker than previous games, possibly because it is so similar or maybe because other elements (like the Batmobile) are just that much better. Suffice to say most of my stealth sections usually ended in me unceremoniously taking out everyone after they spotted me once and more than a few angered restarts because of that.
Due to the outrage over how unplayable Arkham Knight was I decided to hold off until the first patch was released and I’m glad I did. I experienced no performance issues at all with Arkham Knight being buttery smooth the entire time. It was not, however, a completely glitch free experience as there were numerous times where things didn’t work as expected. Chasing Firefly in the Batmobile would often result in it not being able to drive forward for some reason, requiring me to jump out and back in again (sometimes allowing him to escape). On more than one occasion the indicators that I should counter something during a cutscene simply didn’t pop up, leading to a few frustrating moments where I simply could not figure out how to get to the next section. However none of these issues are what I’d consider game breaking as I would not have invested so much time into Arkham Knight if it was as broken as everyone was making it out to be. As of writing Arkham Knight is still not for sale on Steam, something which I honestly don’t agree with after playing through it this past week.
The story serves as the conclusion to the Arkham series and, I’m glad to say, rounds out the various stories of all the main characters quite well. For those of us who’ve stuck with the Arkham series since Asylum it’s been quite a ride and to have it end so well, when so many games have done endings like this poorly, is a most welcome change. This does not mean that the Batman IP has run its course yet, indeed the upcoming Batgirl DLC is a testament to this, however the story ark of Batman and Joker is done and dusted. I’ll be interested to see if Rocksteady or another development studio will look to replicate the success of this series with other characters within the same franchise as, whilst I’m glad this chapter has come to a close, I’d very much like to explore more of this world from a different perspective.
Batman: Arkham Knight is a fitting finale to this venerable series, capturing everything that made the series great whilst amping it up to the next level with a solid story and, of course, the Batmobile. The combat and stealth retain the essence of what made the previous games great although fail to innovate much beyond that. The Batmobile makes up for this in spades, delivering gloriously dumb action as you tear through the streets of Gotham. The story finishes the major Batman and Joker arc beautifully, leaving you with a sense of closure whilst also wanting to see more of this world that Rocksteady has built up over the past 5 years. Even if you haven’t been following the series since day dot you won’t be disappointed in the experience that Batman: Arkham Knight brings as it is truly a stellar game, even in its own right.
Batman: Arkham Knight is available on PC, XboxOne and PlayStation4 right now for $59.99, $99.95 and $99.95 respectively. Game was played on the PC with a total of 16 hours playtime and 42% of the achievements unlocked.
The number of games that were mobile exclusives that make the transition to another platform, whether that’s PC or consoles, is vanishingly small. It’s obvious to see why this is as many of the concepts used in mobile gaming like, touch input and interface design, simply don’t translate readily between those platforms. Platform transition issues have always been a problem for developers, as was shown with the consolization of PC games, but the problem space has been well mapped out over the course of the past decade. Mobile games still struggle with this unfortunately and whilst I really wanted to like Deus Ex: The Fall it was a glaring example of the struggles that developers face when doing mobile to PC transitions.,
You are Ben Saxon, an ex-military agent who served with the Belltower corporation during the Australian civil war. Your career with them was ultimately cut short when bad intel sent you straight into the middle of war zone, your entire team lost when your transport was shot down. However in the midst of all the chaos you managed to meet with someone, Jarron Namir, who recruits you into his special operations team called The Tyrants. With your new augs and all the resources you could ever want at your disposal the future looks good, that is until you uncover the truth about why you were sent into Australia.
Deus Ex: The Fall is a game based on the Unity engine and in that regard it’s actually quite impressive. The graphics are comparable to Deus Ex: Invisible War with a few lighting and rendering tricks helping it to feel a little more modern. Compared to Human Revolution though, a game that was released 3 years ago, it looks like a bad rip off. On a smaller screen, say a tablet or your phone, they’d look a little bit more impressive but on a PC it just feels streets behind everything else. This would mean that if you were craving a taste of the new Deus Ex universe and couldn’t run Human Revolution, for some reason, then it’d be a good place to start.
The Fall essentially a cut down version of Human Revolution in almost every sense, from the skill trees to the weapons to the environments that you’ll be playing in. It’s very clear that everything about The Fall was designed with the mobile market in mind with most of the levels and missions broken down into chunks that can be completed in 5 to 15 minutes. The core game mechanics are still there with the stealth functioning largely the same and the gun combat comparable but, again, modified for the mobile interface. Whilst there’s definitely been a non-zero amount of work done on the transition from mobile to PC the unfortunate reality is that The Fall still contains numerous glitches, bugs and weird quirks on game play mechanics that heavily mar the overall experience.
Human Revolution really got the stealth mechanic nailed down tight and it was nice to see that the majority of mechanics had made their way into The Fall. Most of the levels have numerous different pathways snaking through them allowing you to sneak up on nearly every enemy and take them out silently. However there’s a discrepancy between what you can see in first person mode and what the NPCs can “see”, allowing them to sometimes detect you through walls when, from your point of view, there’s nothing that can be seen. Once you’re aware of this it’s not too hard to work around however it’s a glaring reminder of the limitations of mobile as a gaming platform as I’ve never had this kind of issue with other stealth games on PC.
Combat is extremely clunky which, when coupled with the extremely rudimentary AI, makes it unchallenging and ultimately not satisfying. The recoil mechanic functions by zooming your view in and moving it up slightly, something which is horrifically jarring and doesn’t really add any challenge. Now I played Human Revolution as a primary stealth character and I played The Fall in much the same way however the times when I felt like it’d be fun to run and gun instead were stopped dead in the tracks because of how bad the mechanics are. It’s for that reason that I never really ventured into the buy screen as I could get past every section without using a single weapon.
The talent trees contain familiar upgrades including all the hacking and stealth upgrades from Human Revolution. They pretty much all function pretty much the same as they did previously with the main difference being just how quickly you’ll be able to unlock most of them. Much Human Revolution The Fall seems to be optimized for hacker/stealth players as the majority of things are hidden behind hackable panels and in long air ducts.I have no doubt that if you took the time to thoroughly investigate all of the levels you’d be able to unlock every ability without too much trouble as I managed to get ~60% of them before I got bored and just bypassed everything.
As I alluded to earlier The Fall suffers from many issues due to its transition from the mobile version of Unity to the PC. The first issue I noticed was that sounds just refused to play which also meant the subtitles didn’t stay up either. I traced this back to my headphones (a pair of Logitech G35s) as once I unplugged them everything seemed to work fine. It wasn’t limited to that either as the hacking screen would simply refuse to be moved around which was something of a necessity considering how limited the zoom was. I’m pretty sure this is due to the way you’d handle input on mobile (with DragStart and DragEnd events) which doesn’t directly translate to how PCs with mice work (MouseClick even and then track pointer movement). There were also some rendering issues apparent in a couple levels which wasn’t game breaking but was rather annoying.
The story was semi-interesting although it was so simplistic that it was hard to get into it. There are some familiar faces that appear in the previous games which I thought would be a cool way to give some more backstory on them. However they’re really only there to show their faces before the real meat of the game continues so it just feels like a tease to those who enjoyed the story of Human Revolution. Probably the worst part about it is the huge, glaring TO BE CONTINUED at the end which means seems to indicate that this is going to be an episodic adventure although we’re fast approaching a year since its initial release with no more content in sight.
Deus Ex: The Fall is yet another unfortunate example of how mobile-first games simply don’t translate well into the PC world. It feels like the same amount of time and effort could have been dedicated to implement this as a DLC for Human Revolution, something which I think would’ve seen this story done a lot more justice than what it was on the mobile platform. I may be singing a different tune if I had played this through on my phone but the fact is this was made available through Steam as a game for the PC. In that regard it’s hard to not call it as it is, a bad port that needed a lot more work to even be mediocre.
Deus Ex: The Fall is available on Android, iOS and PC right now for $10.49, $7.49 and $9.99 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 4 hours of total play time with 57% of the achievements unlocked including the pacifist one even though I killed multiple people.