The 1.0 version of The Division was a pretty great experience although its end game content was somewhat lacking. Indeed at the time of writing the review I was some 37 hours in and I only racked up another 8 before calling it quits altogether. Soon afterwards the incursion patch released but, frankly, there wasn’t enough in it to bring me back. Ever since then I’ve heard rumblings of the changes they’ve made, the content that’s been added and how all of that has resulted in a very well rounded game. With a couple of my friends recommending that I come back to give it a go I figured it’d be worth a shot and, honestly, if Massive Entertainment released this back in 2016 they would’ve been staring down the barrel of several game of the year awards.
The numerous patches since then haven’t expanded the story directly per se, however with the addition of new areas, encounters and whatnot the narrative world of The Division has expanded significantly. There’s a small amount of story explaining the background of the new additions to the game but you’ll likely miss most of it if you’re not paying attention. Like before a lot of the greater world building is done through the various kinds of collectibles you can find around the place, most of which will just build out the backstory of the main campaign a little more. It’d be nice to see some story focused DLC as I really did enjoy the campaign back on initial release but honestly with the rest of the changes that have come through I can see why it was probably left on the todo list.
The Division has retained its dedication to filling the world with incredible amounts of detail, something I had completely forgotten about in the near 2 years since I last played. Indeed that detail extends beyond just throwing random stuff everywhere as the level design itself is incredibly complex as well. I couldn’t tell you how many times me and my crew managed to get ourselves lost (in areas that we must have been through dozens of times before no less) when we’re on the hunt for an objective or similar. I’d usually chalk this up as a negative but it’s actually helped keep those same areas feeling fresh for much longer than you’d otherwise expect. Unfortunately I haven’t upgraded my machine since I last played (that’s probably coming next year) so I couldn’t really bump up any of the settings from their previous defaults. Maybe next time.
The amount of different activities that have been added, as well as the ones that have been revamped, are so numerous that returning players are likely to feel pretty overwhelmed. The good news is there’s really no required activity that you have to do, nor will you find yourself struggling to progress thanks to the tweaks to how enemies (and the loot they drop) scales. Essentially you have the ability to set the overall world’s difficulty as well as the challenge of the encounter itself. The first sets the level of the loot you’ll get and the latter the amount. This is great for gearing up as you can tweak the settings to get the most out of pretty much any encounter you’ll be doing. Loot drops aren’t restricted to any particular location either, meaning no matter what you end up doing you have a chance of getting the best gear. Of course the harder, higher end activities have better guaranteed loot to entice you to take on the challenge rather than just mindlessly farming.
Like all good loot treadmills the gear which allowed me to steamroll basically any encounter was made completely redundant upon logging in. My mix of high end and purple gear nowhere near the maximum attainable power level and so the loot grind began again in earnest. All in all though it only took me about 10 hours to get to the 270 range and from there it’s all about finding the gear with the right rolls to fill out whatever build you may be going for. Of course everything is about the sets and their bonuses now and whatever bonus takes your fancy will dictate the rest of your build. For now I’m still running with the best of what I have for the most part (I was lucky enough to get a Ninjabike bag which has made things easier) but am hoping to complete a full Predator’s Mark set in the not too distant future.
Thankfully not everything is left to just pure RNG and there are various ways in order to get the gear you want or, and this is definitely something I think all RNG loot games need, a way to optimise a drop to its ultimate potential. The Division isn’t shy with lavishing you with loot however it only does so because getting the right combination of stats and talents is infinitesimally rare. The recalibration station allows you to reroll a single talent on guns and a single stat on armour which sometimes can be enough to turn it from useable into a must-have. However the optimisation station means that a perfect set of stats with bad rolls can be brought up to the top tier rolls with enough farming. Sure, you don’t want to have to do this for every item, but for that one item which amps up your build significantly it’ll be worth the price of admission. Sadly I only realised that Ninjabike didn’t work for classified sets otherwise I wouldn’t have wasted my Division Tech on it.
However even with a rag tag bunch of armour pieces and weapons you’ll likely find that pretty much everything in The Division is available to you. Whilst my friend and I have been playing for a duo for the most part we only started to really hit the challenge wall past the 10 hour mark. At that point most of the higher end activities don’t appear to scale with group size and so are balanced for full teams of 4. Unfortunately it seems matchmaking at the moment isn’t all it’s cracked up to be as we’ve often gone through whole missions with it active before someone eventually joins. Still we’ve managed to farm in other areas without too much hassle so it’s not like we’re cut off from getting those shiny teal and red items.
The Dark Zone, which used to be this weird PVE but kind of PVP area, has now found its feet with the new changes to the zone. Previously it was pretty much just a high end gear farming place, one where someone going rogue was considered rude rather than part of the game. Now rogue agents are a real threat, one you have to be cautious of if you want to plunder the sweet loot in the area. I had many great encounters in the DZ, most of which ended with me and my team dead on the floor. However nothing is sweeter than the revenge you can take on them when they try to extract out with your loot. It might not be the most efficient way to farm items, especially if you’re actively looking for trouble, but it is one of the more enjoyable ones, especially with all the stories you’ll tell afterwards.
Some things haven’t received much love in the last 2 years though, namely the UI. Whilst I still love the aesthetic and simplicity of the UI when you’re run and gunning inventory management is something of a nightmare. Scrolling through dozens of items and trying to compare them to what you have is a real chore and the gear score really only tells half the story. If you’re min-maxing a particular build it’s easy to figure out what you need but even then you’re still likely to be carrying around a bunch of other items “just in case” you want to try a different one. There’s also other parts of the inventory that aren’t well described in-game (I have 6 different types of grenades? What do I need water for?) and honestly I can’t remember if they were even explained during the campaign. This doesn’t affect the overall enjoyment of the game too much but, given the amount of polish the rest of the game received, these parts do stick out more than they otherwise would.
The Division as it stands today isn’t the game I stopped playing all those years ago. The amount of diversity in terms of items, builds and activities is an order of magnitude above the game I remember. The core game play, which I quite enjoyed, remains mostly the same with the variety coming from the numerous gear sets which change the way the game plays out dramatically. Loot is plentiful but still a pain to manage, something I had hoped would have been improved over the years. All in all though it seems the rumours surrounding The Division being a game worth playing now are well justified and if you, like me, left it long ago now is definitely the time to jump back in.
The Division is available on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 right now for $89.95, $99.95 and $99.95 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 60 hours of total playtime (15 in patch 1.8).
If you’ve ever played GTA V online you’ll know that one of its standout features is the heists. A good group of mates and I have run through them numerous times, usually late at night with each of us cradling a wine glass in the other hand. So when we starting hearing that Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands was basically just the heists part of GTA Online we decided that we’d give it a shot. Whilst it’s not exactly as we expected there are aspects that heisters from GTA will adore, especially if you’re after a game that you’ll be playing for dozens of hours.
The year is 2019 and Bolivia has fallen victim to the ruthless drug cartel, Santa Blanca. Now a narco state, producing the lion’s share of the world’s cocaine, it has caught the attention of the United States government. However it took the bombing of their embassy, and the death of one of their DEA agents, before they felt compelled to intervene. Not wanting to be seen interfering in a sovereign state’s affairs they have decided to send in you: a member of the elite unit called the Ghosts. It will be up to you to see the completion of operation Kingslayer, with its ultimate target being the leader of the cartel.
Wildlands uses the AnvilNext engine which has brought us other stunning titles such as For Honor and Steep. The environments of Wildlands are massive, spanning dozens of in-game kilometers. It makes the usual open-world trade offs, sacrificing scale for detail. The result is a game that’s exceptionally pretty when you’re flying over or driving through it but up close the repetitive assets and lack of detail start to become apparent. Performance is good overall, striking a good balance between pretty visuals and consistent frame rates. Overall it feels like a step up from similar open world titles and aptly demonstrates the versatility that the AnvilNext engine is capable of.
The core game of Wildlands is your typical open world game, throwing you into a big wide space that’s filled with missions, collectibles and random encounters that you can partake in at your leisure. Progression is a two part mechanic: the first is skill points that are gained through completing missions which can then be spent on skills but only if you have the requisite resources, collected from just about anywhere. Weapons and their various upgrades are scattered around the map, requiring a bit of leg work to craft the perfect gun for your play style. The game is always played with 4 total people in your team, whether they be friends you’ve brought in or AIs if you’re playing alone. If you’re playing on anything but the hardest difficulty the game could easily just be a run of the mill third person shooter but at the peak difficulty it’s necessary to take a far more tactical approach.
In general a mission will usually go through a few phases. The first will be recon, where you’ll utilize a drone to scout the area and tag as many of the enemy as you can. You’ll then attempt to take out as many of them as you can without alerting the rest of them which you’ll sometimes be able to do without incident. However, 9 times out of 10 I’d say, you’ll end up making a mistake that alerts everyone to your position and from there it’s a no-holds barred shoot out until one of you is dead. If you’ve got the patience though you can retreat and reset for another stealth attempt, although it’ll likely be a lot harder the second time around. After that there’s usually some objective to complete which often sends through another wave of enemies for you to take care of. Overall it’s not the most inventive game in terms of mechanics but they do blend together quite well.
Progression is pretty steady throughout the game, so long as you take the time to tag enough supplies to ensure you can level up your skills. In between levels and runs for supplies you’ll typically stumble across a weapon or mod blueprint which you can then use straight away if you get to a load out point. It’s slow enough that you don’t feel overwhelmed with options but also fast enough that you’re never wanting for the next step up. If the open world genre appeals to you then it’s likely to keep drawing you in for multiple hours. For me however things started to wear thin rather quickly.
Like all co-op games Wildlands is better with friends but even then it becomes quickly apparent just how same-y everything is. Most missions play out roughly the same, although they do get more interesting as you unlock some of the more ridiculous upgrades. Most weapons in the same class aren’t different enough to make them feel satisfying when you acquire them and you’ll often get lots of upgrades for weapons you don’t currently have. It has the same feel as a MMORPG grind but without the payoff of showing off your gear in the armory. It’s a criticism I’ve leveled at other open world games before so it’ll be a red letter day when one game manages to address it successfully.
Another notable misstep is the vehicle physics which, whilst slightly improved from the open beta, are still janky and weird when compared to other similar titles. Helicopters have a weird flight model which appears to function purely based on momentum, usually whichever vector has the highest value at any point in time. Ground vehicles are neigh on impossible to keep flipped over which leads to a whole bunch of weird and wonderful interactions. It might sound like a minor gripe but when you spend so much of the game going from point A to point B small things like this are unfortunately very noticeable. It’s not beyond fixing however, but the last patch or two didn’t make any noticeable improvements.
The story is average, not terrible but not particularly noteworthy. There are some nice touches, like the various bits of banter the team has between missions which helps flesh out the main characters. The main story line though isn’t particularly interesting as, thanks to the open world construction, there’s no real impetus driving you forward to any one objective. Indeed even the over-arching goal that the game sets out early on seems to be a million miles away all the time. Perhaps it gets better with more time invested but if a story can’t grab me in the first 4 hours then it’s not likely to do it in the next 20.
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands is a decent open world/RPG hybrid, one that I’m sure a certain type of player will find a lot to love in it. The visuals are definitely a step above its current peers, made even more impressive by the fact that the engine isn’t specifically designed for this type of game. The combat is challenging and rewarding, even if it starts to feel a little bit repetitive after a while. It suffers from the same spread of issues that plague all open world games, something I hope one day to see solved. The vehicle mechanics could be improved on significantly, something which would make a good bulk of the experience just that much better. Finally the story is nothing to write home about but, considering I couldn’t push myself to put more time into it, there’s every chance it gets more engrossing with a few more hours chucked in. Overall I think Tom Clancy’s Wildland’s is a competent game, just not one I think I’ll be playing without friends or sober, if I can manage it.
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands is available on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 right now for $49 on all platforms. Game was played in both the open beta and full release with approximately 8 hours spent equally across both.
Spurred on by the success of Far Cry 3 Ubisoft seems intent on transforming the series from its once long development cycle into a yearly release event. Whilst fans of the series are likely to relish this in the short term it does make one wonder just how long it can be sustained before it becomes as derided as other yearly franchises are. For now though it seems like Ubisoft haven’t yet run out of ideas to work into the Far Cry mold with the latest being Far Cry Primal. Whilst it retains much of the IP’s stylings Primal does manage to stand on its own, even if it’s still troubled by the same issues that come with all of Ubisoft Montreal’s open world titles.
You are Takkar, member of the Wenja tribe who has been travelling for many suns to reach the promised land of Oros. It has not been an easy journey, with your brother falling to a sabre-toothed tiger mere days before reaching your final destination. Upon arrival you learn that Wenja of Oros have been scattered to the wind, terrorized by another tribe who seeks to cannibalize the Wenja. It is up to you Takkar to unite the Wenja together and protect them against the Udam.
The Duna Engine 2 is as capable as ever, bringing with it the impressive visuals that are becoming a trademark for the Far Cry franchise. The graphics are at their most impressive when you’re up high, surveying the surrounding landscape and taking in the expansive views. The wide and varied environments, whilst being completely unrealistic (seriously you can walk between a temperature tropic environment to snow capped mountains in under a day), are great a keeping the visual variety up even after hours of game play. The experience loses its sheen somewhat when you’re up close but that’s part for the course in these large open world sandbox games. It might not be a huge upgrade over its predecessor, even with my new beast rig powering it, but at least this time I was able to enjoy it in high frame rate G-Sync-ed goodness.
Far Cry Primal follows the series’ formula for the most part whilst brining in some new mechanics to make it stand out. You’ll still be assaulting outposts (stealthily if you have the patience), crafting using materials you gather along your journey and unlocking skills using the tried and true levelling system. On the flip side you now have a village to take care of, one that will provide you with numerous benefits as the population grows. You’ll also be quickly empowered with the ability to tame many of the animals you’ll stumble across, many of which will provide you with some additional benefit. These changes, coupled with the new setting and the limitations that come along with it, make Far Cry Primal feel familiar to those who’ve played the series before but different enough to keep you interested.
Combat keeps the same basic mechanics from the previous Far Cry titles however it’s limited by the array of weaponry you have at your disposal. Previous games usually threw dozens of weapons at you to use, allowing you to pick the perfect gun for any encounter. Primal, by contrast, is limited to a few types of weapons with each of them having 1 or 2 variants for you to unlock. This means that, for the most part, combat encounters will play out along a very similar line depending on which weapon you choose. Sure you can switch up at will but you’re either arrowing people from afar, jabbing at them with a spear or swinging your club wildly in the middle of a group of enemies. This limitation is born out of the setting, for the most part, and its admirable that Ubisoft stuck to it by not letting you build a crossbow or something equally out of place.
The taming mechanic is definitely Far Cry Primal’s stand out feature, allowing you to have a predator by your side to take down enemies and provide a number of other benefits. It’s quite satisfying to find a rare animal, track it down, tempt it with bait and then claim it as your own. The master beast hunts, of which there are 3, are also quite enjoyable and provide you with a companion that feels completely overpowered. Indeed soon after I unlocked them I went straight for the sabre-toothed tiger quest which had the highest stats of all of them and, as a side benefit, is also rideable with the appropriate talents. Suffice to say most of the other beasts I tamed past that point didn’t really get much of a look in as the tiger is simply too good at what it does. This might be because it ties into the way I found myself playing (running in, bow blazing) so I’m sure the other beasts have their uses. Still it’s an idea that I’m sure Ubisoft could expand on, either in the Primal world or in other future Far Cry instalments.
The level and talent systems are well designed with talent points coming at you thick and fast. This means you’re never wanting for progression, ensuring that if you want to unlock a particular skill you shouldn’t be far off getting it. I favoured crafting/gathering skills mostly as that seemed to be the main roadblock but you could just as easily focus on other ones that improved your quality of life in other aspects. The better talents will require far more points than the lesser ones, something which does slow down progression a little towards the end. Still though there’s enough missions, encounters and random events around the place that it’s just a question of how much time you want to put in before you get bored.
Like all sandbox games though Far Cry Primal starts to get repetitive after a while. The encounters, non-campaign missions and even the outposts all play out very similarly. The enemies naturally progress up in toughness in the way you’d expect them to: gaining one-shot headshot protection, more armour, ability to call reinforcements, etc. Gathering becomes a chore when you have to track down rare animals or ingredients, something which the game does not really help you with at all (the map and scent trails rarely lead you to what you actually need). The one thing that Primal does have going for it though is that it’s a much more succint experience, clocking in at a couple hours shorter than most titles if you play it like I do, focusing on the campaign.
The main campaign is unfortunately a little confused, lacking the overall cohesiveness that previous titles had with the single arch-nemesis plot line that ran throughout the entire campaign. Instead it’s split into 3 different enemy tribes that threaten the Wenjas. There’s a semblance of continuity between them however upon beating what appears to be the “final” boss you’re simply sent back to your village to continue on. It was honestly very confusing as all the other titles, whilst having similar mini-bosses along the way, was always building up to a big final battle. Primal lacks that and unfortunately feels worse off for it. The individual stories are still interesting, it’s just that there’s nothing to combine them all together into one whole that’s larger than the sum of its parts.
Far Cry Primal shows that yearly franchise releases can be done whilst still bringing fresh ideas to the table. The base game elements will be instantly familiar to long time fans of the Far Cry series with enough new elements to keep you coming back for hours on end. The taming mechanic is the best feature, adding in a new layer of game play that none of the other instalments have had. However it’s still not able to break away from the issues that plague sand box style games, which is only made worse by the lack of cohesion in the main story and campaign missions. It was a fun 12 hours though but definitely not a game I’d want to invest enough time into to 100% (which, by my rough calculations, would take about 36 hours). Far Cry Primal is definitely worth a look in however, both for Far Cry fans and general gamers alike.
Far Cry Primal is available on PC, XboxOne and PlayStation4 right now for $59.99, $77 and $77 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 12 hours of total play time and 37% completion.
There’s a small trend developing which I like to call MMORPG-Light. Essentially developers are looking to craft the big, epic experience of a MMORPG but are concerned about the way to sustain it. Whilst Free to Play is the way many attempt to go you’re competing against so many in the same space it’s hard to stand out. The traditional subscription model is a much harder sell with only a few lumbering giants still maintaining that model going forward. Thus they choose somewhere in the middle, often in the form of regular paid expansions or season passes. We saw it first with Destiny and now with The Division, the latest game in the Tom Clancy universe.
On Black Friday a terrible disease sweeps through New York City. Known only as the Green Poison it devastates Manhattan and causes widespread chaos, requiring the city to be put into quarantine. You are an agent of The Division, an elite unit with sleeper units embedded everywhere around the world, tasked with dealing with situations like this. You are part of the Second Wave of agents, tasked with retaking Manhattan and tracking down the source of the epidemic. It won’t be easy however as the lawlessness has given rise to gangs of looters, crazed workers and paramilitary corporations looking to exploit the chaos. You will do battle with them all agent as there is no one else left who can.
The Division comes to us via a new engine called Snowdrop, developed by Massive for use on next-generation consoles (except the WiiU) and PCs. Unlike other MMORPG styled games The Division is a visual assault of detail, down the most interesting levels. For instance shooting out glass works almost exactly how you’d expect it to, with pieces breaking off and shattering much like it would in real life. Things like that, coupled with the incredible attention given to all of the environments, makes for a very immersive experience. This is what makes the relatively small world seem so impressive as there’s just so much to explore when compared to your more traditional MMORPG affair. It’s also worth mention that the sound design of The Division is well above any other game I’ve played which helps to sell you on the world even further.
The comparisons to Destiny, which would appear to be its closest relative, are somewhat apt however The Division leans much more heavily towards a more traditional MMORPG experience. There’s no classes to speak of but you can choose from an array of skills that can be unlocked through gathering supplies for various parts of your base. There’s talents and perks to choose from that allow you to further customize your character to your play style. There’s quests to be done and dungeons to plunder, all in the name of the ultimate goal of any RPG game: the quest for sweet loot. However the end game of The Division is unlike that of any other game out there, being a hybrid model of PVP and PVE. It’s a game that definitely has the potential to capture you for a long period of time, however due to its end game design it feels like there’s an expiration date for nearly all who play it.
Combat comes in the form of your standard cover-based shooter, augmented by the RPG elements of skills and talents. You’ll spend most of your time running between cover, taking shots and enemies doing much the same. Often you’ll have to strategize to make sure that certain enemies are downed quickly before others, lest they wipe your entire group. You have semi-infinite health regeneration in the form 3 bars which will regenerate over time but not into the next bar. You’re also limited by the amount of ammunition you carry although until the end game you’re never likely to run out. The variety of different kinds of weapons means that there’s something to suit almost any playstyle, although you’ll be quick to learn that close combat is as much a fool’s errand here as it is everywhere else. Overall the combat is enjoyable even if it isn’t particularly inventive.
Progression is comparatively fast paced with max level (30) reached in around 20 hours or so. Each main quest will easily give you a full level and the side quests/events giving you anywhere from 10%~20%. You’ll also be receiving lavishings of gear, talents and perks as you level up and complete quests, meaning you’re never too far off feeling like you’re getting somewhere. This can be a good or bad thing depending on who you ask as it’s far too easy to lose long stretches of time, especially when it comes to the longer, more in depth missions. For a seasoned MMORPGer like myself I liked the reduced amount of effort required to max out my character, although beyond that point things start to get a little murky.
Like with any MMORPG the end game is all about the loot and crafting your character to be the best they possibly can be. In The Division this comes through three main avenues: the Dark Zone, Challenge Modes and Phoenix credits. The Dark Zone is the open slather PVP arena that’s peppered with numerous NPCs who drop end game gear. However you can’t simply pick it up and walk out with it, instead you need to go to an extraction point to lift it out. At any point between when you pick up the loot and when you extract it another agent can kill you and take it. This leads to some rather tense situations where you’re all sitting around an extraction point, hoping no one gets any bright ideas. The Challenge Modes are simply harder versions of the regular missions which give better rewards at the end. Both of these activities give you the end game currency of Phoenix Credits which can then be redeemed for high end gear. So no matter your preferred play style you’ll be able to get end game loot but how long you keep at that is anyone’s guess.
You see once you get that gear there’s really not much more to do. My current character is already sporting half high end gear and half purples and there’s really no more content that’s beyond me. Sure, my team still struggles to do challenge modes perfectly on the first go but we can still do them in a reasonable time frame. With other MMORPGs there’d be some kind of raid or equivalent for us to try our mettle against but, in its current state, The Division lacks any further high end content. This means that for hard/casual-core players we’re likely to tap ourselves out in the coming week or so with no new content in sight for some time. Granted this is something on the order of 60+ hours worth of game play, but that’s minuscule when compared to other MMORPGs. It’s an interesting issue that Massive will need to tackle if they want to keep everyone interested between content drops.
The Division is also anything but a perfect experience, marred by weird behaviour, glitches and the ever present threat of server lag. Quite often you’ll find skills not working how they’re supposed to, physics bugs trapping you in certain places or things straight up not working at all. The server lag issue remained throughout my play time, even after the initial burst of players settled down somewhat. This usually manifests itself as damage occurring in chunks and NPCs moving in fits and bursts. Thankfully I only had one crash to speak of but I did have numerous other times where I or another party member was dumped to menu or sent back to my last safe house. Overall though the experience was good when compared to other MMORPGs, even if it was frustrating at times.
The story of The Division is interesting, having a modicum of depth to it thanks to it’s roots in Tom Clancy’s writings. It’s an interesting twist on the post-apocalyptic scene that’s all the rage currently, giving a good explanation to the “everyone is the hero” problem that many similar games face. The various enemy factions you face are given decent development, making them more than just faceless masses you need to wade through in the quest for purples. Since this is a game that’s going to evolve substantially over the coming year though it feels like the current conclusion is just a stop gap until they can get the content engine turning. Suffice to say that most people aren’t going to be play this for the plot but it provides a serviceable narrative none the less.
The Division is an excellent MMORPG-Light experience, finding a solid balance between more traditional mechanics and a more modern, streamlined approach. The world is exceptionally well crafted with everything from the detailed environments to the sound design to even the UI blending together to create an incredibly immersive experience. The core mechanics are solid, providing a good challenge and well paced progression. The experience isn’t seamless, although given this is Massive’s first attempt at such a game its commendable how polished the final product is. The narrative is bolstered by the Tom Clancy name and writings, even if it’s somewhat secondary to what most players will be looking for in this game. Overall The Division is an excellent game that’s been deserving of much of the hype it received before release but the true test, in how long it can continue to captivate players, is still ahead of it.
The Division is available on PC, XboxOne and PlayStation4 right now for $89.95, $99.95 and $99.95 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 37 hours of total playtime, reaching max level and completing all missions.
Puzzlers are something of a mainstay of the indie community thanks to their relative simplicity and large amount of creative freedom they offer the developer. That being said it means that the same generic mechanics tend to crop up quite often and unique puzzle mechanics are few and far between. There is a lot of innovation in the indie scene however and every so often it manages to create a gem of a puzzle game that provides a fresh take on the genre. Grow Home is one such game, taking the more traditional 3D puzzler and shaking it up with some interesting game mechanics and a certain sense of charm that makes it a delightfully fun game to play.
You are BUD, the Botanical Utility Droid, who’s been sent on a quest to harvest star seeds from the elusive star plant found on some planets. Your ever watchful parent ship MOM has located one of these plants and has sent you down to the surface to cultivate the plant. Now it’s up to you to grow the star plant up to its optimal height, 2 kilometres tall in fact, so that it will blossom and produce those wonderful seeds that you’re looking for. MOM has sent down some resources for you in preparation for your journey and you’re going to need every single one of them if you are to grow this plant to any height.
Grow Home is a styled in a beautifully minimalistic way, using extremely low poly count models and, if I’m not mistaken, eschewing any kind of textures in favour of just solid colour polygons. It is lavished by a lot of other effects though, like distance hazing and night/day cycles, so the minimal polygons end up looking a lot better than you first expect them to. The game touts the main character as being “procedurally animated” which means that it attempts to move in a certain way based on the inputs which, for the most part, works and adds to the whole bumbling charm of BUD although it sometimes wigs out and causes all sorts of mischief. This is most certainly intentional though, as is most of the emergent behaviour you’re able to invoke in this world.
Your task is very simple: grow the star plant to the requisite 2000m height and then gather a star seed from the flower on the top. To do this you’ll need to guide the little stems on the star plant to energy rocks which give the plant a burst of energy allowing it to climb to greater heights. However to get to all these energy rocks you’ll need to climb the plant, inching ever higher in order to get to the next rock. This means, of course, that the higher you go the more you have to lose should you fall as one misstep can send you tumbling back down to earth with only a few things to stop you from making BUD jam on the ground below. There’s also other objectives for you to complete which tempt you to take even greater risks but should you get them it could be well worth the effort.
Grow Home tells you at the start that it’s better played with a controller and whilst I’m usually a stickler for keyboard and mouse I’m inclined to agree with the devs here. You see in order to climb you have to press and hold the mouse buttons, something that’s a little fatiguing after a while. A controller by comparison, especially the current gen designs, are much easier to deal with in that regard. That being said I didn’t have many climbing related incidents due to finger fatigue but it would’ve likely made the whole experience a little better. Once you get the hang of making sure that you have at least one hand connected to a surface the rest of the climbing flows pretty well, save for some times when the procedural animation engine tries to reach beyond BUD’s grasp and just leaves him reaching for a goal he can never get.
The few other mechanics are great little quality of life additions, with the flower and the leaf ensuring that one misstep doesn’t cost you the last 10 minutes progress. The crystal upgrades are also well worth it, making the whole climbing process a lot easier and quicker. I only got up to 30 something crystals before I finished the game but those improvements were certainly worth the effort. If you’re so inclined you can bring stuff to the teleporters and have MOM scan them for some rather comical data bank entries for you to read although since I’m not usually a “collect all the things” kind of player I left it to one side, only bringing things in that were nearby. Suffice to say that there’s a lot of stuff to keep you entertained in here should that sort of thing appeal to you.
Grow Home runs smoothly thanks to its low polygon use however the Unity engine its running on, for some reason, really doesn’t like being alt-tabbed out of. This highlighted another rather annoying issue with the game’s save mechanism as it doesn’t save anything unless you hit the save and quit button in the menu. I lost the first 30 minutes of my initial game because I alt-tabbed to check something and then couldn’t get back in, putting me right back at the start. There’s no option to run in fullscreen windowed either, something which would render my frustrations moot.
Grow Home is a delightful platform puzzler with gorgeous minimalistic graphics and a fresh set of puzzle mechanics that make it a joy to play. If you’re like me and play games to completion then the asking price might be a bit rich for the 2ish hours of game play it delivers but there’s certainly a lot more to Grow Home than just getting your hands on the star seed. That being said I still really enjoyed my time with Grow Home as it’s so far away from everything else I’ve played recently. If you enjoy a good puzzle game then you can’t go past Grow Home.
Grow Home is available on PC right now for $9.95. Total play time was approximately 2 hours with 15% of the achievements unlocked.
Far Cry releases have been like clockwork for the first 3 instalments, coming out every 4 years at roughly the same time. That made it something of an oddity in recent times as nearly every other game that had its level of success transitioned quickly to the yearly release model and most suffered for it. The most recent release of Far Cry however came just 2 years after its predecessor, signalling that either the developers had found a way to cut 2 years from their dev cycle (not likely) or the pressure to release more often had finally got to Ubisoft. Whilst I tend to think the latter is more possible (especially given Ubisofts penchant for frequent releases) Far Cry 4 doesn’t seem to have suffered much due to the shortened development cycle and even manages to improve on its predecessor considerably.
You play as Ajay Ghale, a native of the land of Kyrat (most likely Nepal) who has returned to his birth land to fulfill the last dying wish of his mother: to scatter her ashes in Lakshmana. This is not as easy as it sounds as Kyrat has been in the grip of a brutal civil war for decades, ruled over by a dictator who has crowned himself king of all things. Upon trying to sneak into Kyrat you’re stopped at a military checkpoint and it doesn’t take long before things start going south. Then, for some unknown reason, the dictator himself shows up and takes you away to his palace high in the mountains of Kyrat. It is there you find out why he is so interested in you and why it is you who must free Kyrat.
Even though Far Cry 4 shares an engine with its predecessor I have to say that the graphics do feel like a big step up. Part of this might be the difference in scenery which now contains numerous sweeping vistas rather than the dense jungles of Far Cry 3. My rig also struggled with the default settings (something which I don’t recall happening previously) which is partly due to its age but also speaks to the higher graphical fidelity that Far Cry 4 has. Some of the issues I experienced previously did come across again (like they extremely noticeable tearing) however they were solvable and so they didn’t impact my game experience too much. If anything Far Cry 4 highlighted the fact that the new PC I’ve been fantasizing over would be a worthy investment, especially if I could run a game as pretty as this on max settings.
Ubisoft appears to have settled on the formula for the Far Cry series with the vast majority of this instalments mechanics being taken directly from its predecessor. You’ll be running around a large map, taking over radio towers, liberating outposts and doing all sorts of odds and ends type missions that will get in your way when you’re trying to travel between two points. There’s dozens of weapons available at your disposal, some of which you will only be able to access after completing certain missions or objectives. The talent system makes a comeback with a slightly tweaked progression mechanism which makes it slightly more relevant than it was in Far Cry 3. There are also some notable quality of life improvements made that vastly improved my enjoyment of Far Cry 4, some of which I think should make their way into other open world games.
Combat feels roughly the same as its predecessor with the aiming down sights still not feeling as accurate as it should be but overall retaining a highly polished feel. Whilst stealth is always an option (more on that in a bit) you’ll often find yourself in the midst of an out and out gun fight, tearing your way through wave after wave of enemies before you can move forward. For the most part these encounters are laid out well, giving you various routes to victory. Some approaches are far better than others of course but it wasn’t often that I found myself without the requisite firepower to make it through a section. In-vehicle combat, whilst improved, still feels a little janky although I can see it being passable in a co-op scenario.
The stealth mechanics are, again, largely similar to Far Cry 3 with a meter filling up until you’re detected and all hell breaks loose. On first pass the stealth doesn’t work as expected as there are numerous times where you can’t see an enemy but they can easily see you. From what I can tell this is because leaves and bushes don’t block their line of sight, necessitating you to hide behind something more “solid” in order to block it. However once you’ve worked out the boundaries of their detection it becomes quite easy to pick off everyone in an outpost with the crossbow with the few heavies easily taken care of with a suppressed sniper rifle. Overall it felt like an improvement even if it did require me to adjust my playstyle a bit for it to be useful.
The talent system is the main way you’ll progress your character, spending your talent points on various skills and enhancements. The levels come fast enough that you usually won’t be waiting long to unlock that skill you want but at the same time none of the skills are exactly game breaking. The unlocking of additional skills being tied to campaign missions and side quests is a good way to encourage players to do things that they might not otherwise do and does provide a more organic approach to progression than Far Cry 3 did. The crafting system is pretty much identical to its predecessor, providing an ancillary progression system that’s still more of an also-ran than anything else.
However there are 2 standout features of Far Cry 4 that made my experience with it so much better: autodrive and the home base. I can’t tell you how tedious it is to have to drive everywhere in these open world games, especially ones like Far Cry where you’ll likely encounter have a dozen events along the way (most of which attempt to kill you). Autodrive allows you to just set it and forget it, taking a ton of tedium out of the game whilst still allowing it to retain that large open world feel. The customizable home base is a godsend once you upgrade it to have a helicopter there permanently, ensuring that you’ve always got the best means of transport at your disposal. These two things together were enough to see me come back far more often than I otherwise would have as they removed nearly all the tedium from the game.
The story however suffers from the almost trademark confused execution that plagues the Far Cry franchise. Whilst it thankfully retains a consistent antagonist throughout (unlike Far Cry 3 which lost all of its impact halfway through) it seems to be caught between not taking itself seriously and taking itself far too seriously to do the underlying story justice. I think the main problem is that your character isn’t given the requisite build up before he’s thrust into the action, unlike in Far Cry 3 where your initial escapades are fuelled by luck and naivety. It’s a shame because there are some really brilliant scenes dotted throughout the main story (the opium factory raid and the Shangri-La missions stand out with this) but there’s just that missing element that binds everything together into a cohesive whole.
Far Cry 4 is an evolutionary step forward for the franchise, improving on nearly all aspects of its predecessor which results in a far better title overall. The decreased development time between Far Cry 4 and its predecessor shows that Ubisoft has settled on a formula for the franchise one which, in my mind, seems to be working quite well for them. There are still some rough edges however, ones that I’m sure can be smoothed out with further polish, and hopefully the next instalment in the series can get the story right which would greatly elevate the franchises station within the open world genre. All that being said Far Cry 4 is still a solid game, even for people like me who typically aren’t fans of the genre.
Far Cry 4 is available on PC, PlayStation3, PlayStation4, Xbox360 and XboxOne right now for $79.95, $89.95, $99.95 $89.95 and $99.95 respectively. Game was played on the PC with a total play time of 17 hours.
In my recent review of Ubisoft Montreal’s latest game, Watch_Dogs, I gave the developers the benefit of the doubt when it came to the graphics issues that many people had raised. Demos are often scripted and sculpted in such a way as to show a game in the best light possible and so the delivered product most often doesn’t line up with people’s expectations. So since Watch_Dogs wasn’t an unplayable monstrosity I chalked it up to the hype leading us all astray and Ubisoft pulling the typical demo shenanigans. As it turns out though there’s a way to make Watch_Dogs look as good as it did in the demos and all that’s required is adding 2 files to a directory.
This mod came to everyone’s attention yesterday with dozens of screenshots plastering all the major games news outlets. A modder called TheWorse on Guru3D became obsessed with diving into the Watch_Dog code and eventually managed to unpack many of the game’s core files. After that he managed to enable many of the effects that had been present in the original E3 demo of Watch_Dogs, along with tweaking a number of other settings to great effect. The result speaks for itself (as my before and after screenshots above can attest to) with the game looking quite a lot better than it did on my first play through. The thing with this mod is that unlike other graphical enhancements like ENB, which gives us all those pretty Skyrim screenshots, this mod isn’t adding anything to the rendering pipeline, it’s just enabling functionality that’s already there. Indeed this is most strongly indicated by the mod’s size, a paltry 45KB in size.
So first things first: I was wrong. Whilst the demo at E3 was likely running on a machine far better than many PC gamers have access to this mod shows that Watch_Dogs is capable of looking a lot better than it currently is. My current PC is approaching some 3 years old now, almost ancient in gaming PC years, and it was able to run the mod with ultra graphics settings, something I wasn’t able to do previously. It could probably use a little tweaking to get the framerate a bit higher but honestly that’s just my preference for higher frame rates more than anything. So with this in mind the question then turns to why Watch_Dogs shipped on PC in the state it did and who was ultimately responsible for removing the features that had so many in love with the E3 demo.
The conspiracy theorist in me wants to join the chorus of people saying that Watch_Dogs was intentionally crippled on PC in order to make it look more comparable to its console brethren. Whilst I can’t deny that it’s a possibility I simply have no evidence apart from the features being in the game files themselves. This is where Ubisoft’s response to the controversy would shed some light on the issue as whilst they’re not likely to say “Yep, we did it because Watch_Dogs looks horrendous on consoles when compared to PC” they might at least give us some insight into why these particular features were disabled. Unfortunately they’re still keeping their lips sealed on this one so unfortunately all we have to go on now is rampant speculation, something I’m not entirely comfortable with engaging in.
Regardless of the reasons though it does feel a bit disingenuous to be shown one product and then be sold another. Most of the traditional reasons for disabled features, like performance or stability issues, just don’t seem to be present with this mod, which lends credence to the idea that they were disabled on purpose after they were fully developed. Until Ubisoft starts talking about this though we don’t have much more to go on and since this can be enabled so easily I don’t think many gamers are going to care too much what they have to say anyway. Still I’d very much like to know the story behind it as looks a lot more like a political/financial issue rather than a purely technical one.
The evolution of open world style games has been pretty interesting to watch. The gold standard has (and likely will be for a long time) the Grand Theft Auto series which grew from a humble 2D car stealing simulator to the vibrant organised crime simulator today. Indeed this is how most open world games progress, starting out with a core idea that then has a bigger and better world built around it as the successive titles roll on. Watch_Dogs is no exception to this, with its core idea focusing heavily on hacking, enabling your character almost superpower like qualities. Whilst the execution of this idea has drawn ire from those who bought heavily into the hype Watch_Dogs is one of the better first entries into the open world genre, something which should be expected from the veteran open world developer Ubisoft Montreal.
Aiden Pearce is a man tormented by his past, the guilt of his niece losing her life instead of his in a botched assassination attempt has weighed heavily and he’s spent every one of his waking moments since then looking for answers. He’s not beyond reproach however as the guilt has clouded his sense of right and wrong, instead dealing out his own brand of justice wherever, and to whomever, he deems fit. Inevitably this comes back around to him and he is forced into doing things lest more harm befall those he cares about. The tale of his journey from here on out is one of obsession fueled by a passion to right what’s wrong with the world with no regard to the cost to himself.
If you’ve read anything about Watch_Dogs recently there’s been numerous complaints about how the graphics don’t seem to be up to the same standard as they were in the E3 demo. As someone who’s playing on a 3 year old PC I felt the graphics were around the same standard as what I’ve come to expect from most open world games which is to say that, compared to the video, mine certainly don’t look as good. However I feel we should most likely temper our expectations since that was shown as a demo and was likely running on a hardware system that few would have running. That follows on to why it probably looks sub-par on consoles as whilst they’re powerful machines for the money you’ll spend they just can’t match a PC for raw grunt. That being said my console playing brother said it looked great on the XboxOne and had no graphical issues at all so it seems your mileage may vary considerably.
True to its open world genre Watch_Dogs has a lot of things packed into it, from mechanics to skills to the numerous side missions, mini-games and unlockable content. The star mechanic of Watch_Dogs is, of course, the hacking which is best described as a real world superpower that allows you to do all manner of things that regular people simply can’t. The hacking also extends to your car, something you’ll be making heavy use of since you won’t be able to use your guns whilst driving. The combat is your typical 3rd person shooter affair with your arsenal of weapons being extremely varied and including hacking inspired augments that can give you the edge when you’re grossly outnumbered. Should you find yourself bored with the campaign you can take part in the numerous NPC side missions or, if you’re so inclined, invade another player’s game and battle against them for notoriety points. There’s also dozens of unlockable cars, weapons and even songs for you to listen to in your car, enough that even the most venerable achievement hunter will likely give up before they get them all.
One of the biggest aspects in open world games is how the world feels as early versions of Grand Theft Auto had a very lonely vibe to them, almost post-apocalyptic like given the lack of people and cars that were around. For me Watch_Dogs felt about as alive as Grand Theft Auto did although I’ve heard many say that it feels no where near the same. Whilst the city does have a lot of detail in it the variance of the people is a little on the low side as I can’t tell you how many times I ran into the same group of beatboxers throughout the city. On the flip side the little profile descriptions you get for everyone are extremely varied which is a nice little touch. Indeed I think the lack of detail in some areas is due to the wide variety of detail in others which is a classic symptom of time constraints, something Watch_Dogs was unfortunately plagued with.
You’ll be doing a lot of driving in Watch_Dogs which is a little bit unfortunate as it’s probably one of the lesser aspects of the game. The initial cars you get access to all feel like boats, being incredibly sluggish to respond and even less so when there’s several police cars ramming into the back of you. Thankfully the later cars go a long way to improve this but then it becomes a choice of driving a flimsy, well handling car and something that can take a beating which retains that god awful boat like feeling. In all honesty I’m not that surprised that the driving is sub-par, it’s an incredibly hard thing to get right, however if you’re going to rely on that to be your player’s main way of getting from point A to point B you’d better make sure it’s enjoyable. I’m sure subsequent sequels of Watch_Dogs will improve on this dramatically as this is Ubisoft Montreal’s first game to prominently feature driving as a mechanic.
Combat feels much like any other 3rd person shooter with your typical infinitely regenerating health and aiming systems I’m sure need some assistance when used on a console. Most encounters are done in 2 phases: the first being the part where you stealth around, take out as many enemies as you please and generally cause havoc. Most of the time this will result in you getting detected and a firefight will break out although if you’re careful there are numerous times when that can be avoided altogether. To Ubisoft Montreal’s credit the stealth system is well thought out and the majority of the times I was detected were due to me not being careful enough, rather than the NPCs having eyes where they shouldn’t. For the most part it’s challenging and satisfying, with the short reload times ensuring that you’re not left waiting long to fix your mistakes.
The “hacking” mechanic is essentially a power that your character has, enabling you to do certain things to the city due to it all being interconnected via a giant system called ctOS. Your powers are rather limited to begin with, being able to hack cameras and traffic lights, but as you level up all manner of crazy powers will be bestowed upon you. Some of them are plausible, like the ability to raise/lower road blockers, whilst others, like blowing up steam pipes, are almost enough to be called magic. The hacking mini games are just an elaborate puzzle sequence, one which can usually be figured out rather easily through trial and error. All in all it’s a solid idea to base the game around however having one button to execute everything makes the powers feel a little too easy to use. Maybe a short quicktime event (I can’t believe I’m writing this) would be sufficient to make the powers feel a little more impactful as right now they make you feel like a script kiddie rather than an elite hacker.
The levelling and progression system strikes the right balance of progression and choice, giving you enough points to get something in everything very quickly and then forcing you to make hard decisions about which way you want to build your character. The unlockable system also feels rather well done as should you want to unlock the new abilities typically it will be the first or second one you’ll get, meaning you don’t have to spend an inordinate amount of time grinding missions to unlock them. Achievement hunters on the other hand will have a lot of work ahead of them as the myriad of guns and cars available to unlock will likely have them clearing out whole city sections before finishing off a chapter in the campaign.
Like most open world games there’s a bunch of emergent behaviour in Watch_Dogs, some of it good and some of it bad. There’s always the hilarious situations you can cause by changing traffic lights (even when you’re not being chased by the police) and the AI sometimes reacts in the strangest ways to your presence, like random NPC cars running each other off the road should you come a little bit too close to one of them. At the same time I’ve had several missions that I had to restart at a checkpoint due to things like destructible terrain blocking my path, my character’s ragdoll physics glitching out causing him to get stuck on the ground or things not spawning (or the wrong things spawning) preventing me from going on. It probably happened about half a dozen times throughout my playthrough so it’s nothing major but I’ve heard the issues are magnified somewhat on older consoles.
The story of Watch_Dogs deals with a lot of very mature themes however some aspects of it do feel like they ring hollow. Thinking back on it there were a lot of characters that the story seemed to assume that I’d have some kind of empathy for but, and I’m not sure if this is a function of me playing mostly campaign missions, I feel like they didn’t have sufficient screentime to justify it. There are some shining moments though with Aiden embracing his anti-hero qualities with gusto however they seem to get undone almost instantly in the scenes that follow. The lack of player choice and influence on the story will also annoy some but that’s not something I’ll fault Watch_Dogs for. All being said it’s passable, especially for a first entry into a new IP and genre for the developer, and hopefully future instalments can build on this in order to make the story much more engrossing.
Watch_Dogs is a great first entry into a new open world IP, building around a solid core mechanic and adding in all the things that we’ve come to expect from games in this genre. The combat, progression systems and hacking mechanics are all well done, providing dozens of hours of challenge and rewards for even the most seasoned achievement hunter. The driving leaves something to be desired and will likely be the biggest let down for open world fans who are still coming down from their GTA high. The story reaches a little far beyond its grasp, lacking the appropriate amount of buildup to elicit the emotional conclusion they were looking for, however it should serve as a decent base for the subsequent releases. All in all Watch_Dogs is a great first entry into this new series, one I feel that’s only going to get stronger as time goes on.
Watch_Dogs is available on PC, PlayStation3, PlayStation4, Xbox360 and XboxOne right now for $89.95, $89.95, $99.95, $89.95 and $99.95 respectively. Game was played on PC with approximately 16 hours of total play time with 44% of the achievements unlocked.
It’s been a while since a good stealth game has crossed my path with many of the games that I’ve played recently including stealth as a tacked on aspect that doesn’t add much to the game play at all. Indeed stealth mechanics are notoriously difficult to get just right as it’s quite easy to make it completely ineffective or, by virtue of making the stealth so powerful, nullify other aspects of the game. The Splinter Cell series of games might never have been considered the pinnacle of stealth game play (I think Deus Ex and Thief take the cake there) but they were most assuredly one of the few games that got stealth mechanics right and Blacklist is no exception.
Splinter Cell: Blacklist puts you back in the shoes of Sam Fischer, long time black ops agent who’s regularly tasked with missions that require the utmost discretion. On what seems to be a routine trip out of Andersen Air Base quickly turns south as an unknown assailant lays siege to the entire base, taking down the chopper that Sam and his old friend, Victor Coste, were in. It’s soon revealed that the people behind the attack are calling themselves The Engineers and their goal is nothing short of the USA pulling all their troops out of every foreign country. Should the USA not comply they’ll have 7 days before the next attack will occur, that is unless Fischer can stop them.
Right off the bat Blacklist impresses with its top class visuals, easily surpassing many titles of the same generation. Whilst you’ll be predominately spending most of your time in the dark (should you choose to play that way) there are numerous times when you’ll find yourself gawking at the lush scenery or the incredible amounts of detail in the environments. This plays heavily into the fact that the environment is as much of a weapon against your enemies as your large arsenal is as these detail environments will provide you with dozens of paths and opportunities to complete sections as you see fit. This is only made better by the solid voice acting by all of the characters, adding another level of depth that I honestly wasn’t expecting from Blacklist.
Whilst Blacklist is primarily designed as a stealth action game its essentially 3 different games in one, all of which are available depending on how you want to play it out. Blacklist does encourage you to take the hardest road (fully stealth, don’t kill anyone) by making that the most rewarding path however if you’d prefer to play it a bit quicker by switching to lethal take downs that path is also quite viable. Then, should your inner Call of Duty fan be rattling his cage, you can then switch to full out run and gun mode leaving a trail of destruction in your wake. This path comes with the least rewards however but you’d rarely find yourself wanting should you decide to play it this way.
As a fan of the stealth genre I tried my best to stick to the fully undetected, non-lethal take down approach which is by far the most challenging way to play the game. It takes a little while to get used to the way enemies react to you, figuring out how long you can stay in their line of sight before you’ll be detected, but once you’ve got a feel for it the system provides enough challenge without making it feel like you’re against a race of super soldiers with heightened senses.However you’re more likely to make the game far more challenging if you’re trying to stick to a couple goals (no kill, completely undetected) as one mistake can lead to you needing to use tactics that will go counter to your plan.
Although your job does become a lot easier as you start to unlock better gear, especially when it comes to the tactical goggles on your head. They start off just being your run of the mill night vision goggles but after a couple upgrades they give you see-through-the-wall capability which turns you into a super hero like agent. It’s balanced by the fact that they don’t ping out when you’re moving, so you can get yourself into tight situations if you don’t take the time to stop and look around, but if your aim is to go full stealth then you’re best bet is to drop as much cash as you can into the goggles early and look to upgrading other things later.
If you’re going to take the Panther approach (stealth killing rather than stealth knock outs) then you’re probably better off investing in some of the more powerful weapons so that you can take out enemies more efficiently. It’s in this aspect that you’re somewhat spoiled for choice as there are literally dozens of alternatives for the 2 primary slots which will be candy to those achievement hunters who love to unlock everything. Personally since I was going for the min-max approach there was really only a couple weapons that would suit me and by far the best ones are the prototype weapons that are unlocked by upgrading the weapons lab. Some of the others might be better for other situations but considering how powerful the prototype assault rifle was you’d be hard pressed to find anything better, honestly.
I’ll admit that I skipped all but the story missions as they seemed to be the most interesting out of the lot. There’s a bunch of co-op and multiplayer missions that you can do for extra cash and gear unlocks however the gear I had as part of the game bundle I bought meant I didn’t find myself wanting for a lot of it. This is probably my main criticism I’ll level at Blacklist as the fact that I spent a couple extra bucks on the game meant I was able to skip a lot of content because I didn’t feel compelled to pursue any of the additional unlocks. I understand this won’t be the case for everyone however it does bring into the question of single player balance and the use of potentially game breaking rewards for those who elect to pay a company a few dollars extra.
The story of Blacklist isn’t going to win any awards but I did feel that it had a depth to it that many comparable FPS or stealth games lacked. Instead of simply being sent on a mission to take out person X or stop terrorist attack Y from happening all the missions have a wealth of background behind them, with many of the characters being acutely aware of the impact their actions could have on the wider geopolitical landscape. It’s probably even better for those who’ve played the previous Splinter Cell titles (I can only vaguely remember playing one, Pandora Tomorrow I think) as many of the characters were featured previously.
Splinter Cell: Blacklist is an excellent example of a modern day stealth title, giving the player a great degree of freedom in playing the game out how they see fit. The stealth is done exceptionally well with every level having dozens of alternative paths so that you can craft your own way through. Even the sections where you’re forced into run and gun combat feel great which leads me to believe that even if you played Blacklist as a traditional FPS it’d still rate up there as a great game. Blacklist then is a title I can help but recommend especially if you’re a fan of the stealth genre.
Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Blacklist is available on PC, Xbox360, PlayStation3 and WiiU right now for $59.99, $78, $78 and $78 respectively. Game was played on the PC on Normal difficulty with 10.7 hours of total play time.
For someone who’s stated repeatedly that open world games are not my thing I sure have played a lot of them this year, from 38 Studio’s swan song in Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning to Prototype 2 and Sleeping Dogs. I’ve come to appreciate the genre more since then as I really did enjoy Sleeping Dogs even if I avoided many of the repetitive side missions in favor of the more engrossing story missions. I had been planning to do a review of Far Cry 3 for a while now on the recommendation of several friends who have dozens of hours invested in it and, if I’m honest I wasn’t looking forward to it. I remember the original boring me rather quickly and the second was just such a mess I didn’t make it past the first hour. However this latest installment is a vast step up from either of its predecessors and I’d even go so far as to say it was rather enjoyable.
Far Cry 3 goes back to the original’s roots, putting you on the fictional Rook Island located somewhere between the Indian and Pacific oceans. You play as Jason Brody who, with a group of close friends including a couple of children of 1 percenters, have been enjoying a tropical vacation. The group decides to go skydiving together but they all land on different sections of an island which is controlled by the pirate lord Vaas. They’re then taken hostage and ransomed for their return but your brother is having none of that and breaks you both out. The ensuing escape goes terribly awry with your brother being gunned down by your captors and you falling unconscious in a river. You are rescued by the Rakyat, a group native warriors, and then swear vengeance against Vaas and his entire operation.
Whilst Far Cry might never have been the PC destroyer that Crysis was it did have a reputation for being on the upper end of the graphics scale and Far Cry 3 certainly doesn’t disappoint in this area. On first glance I was convinced that it was one of the Crytek engines but as it turns out it’s Ubisoft’s own in house engine called Dunia, made by a former Crytek employee. It features all the things we’ve come to expect from high end games like motion blur and depth of field but it also includes other impressive features like day/night cycles, dynamic weather and realistic fire simulation (which makes starting huge fires rather fun). One minor complaint I have about it is that enabling v-sync (I hate tearing) seems to make any system struggle. Taking it off and cranking up the anti-aliasing worked well to combat tearing however so its more of a FYI than a complaint.
Unlike the majority of open world games Far Cry 3’s core game play is good old fashioned First Person Shooting with an arsenal of weapons at your disposal. The whole combat system has a lot of polish to it with all the main weapons behaving how you’d expect them to and none of them glitching out in strange ways. There are a few quirks like the knife swings having a queue so if you mash the key a couple times he’ll keep on swinging that knife when you’re not pressing it. The aiming can also be a bit weird as like in say Call of Duty aiming down the sights guarantees the bullet will hit where the sites are targeted but that doesn’t appear to be the case in Far Cry 3. Everything else seems to work well though, especially the take down system.
Far Cry 3 includes a rudimentary stealth system that works on line of sight, distance and the amount of time you’re visible to an enemy. For its intended purpose it works well, allowing you to sneak up on people and take them out silently with your knife. However there are also silencer attachments for your guns that supposedly allow you to take people down without alerting others but I never found that to be the case as anyone who was shot down immediately triggered every guard to go into a panic. Realistically I get the feeling that it was primarily designed for the take downs with the weapons being something of an afterthought. This could possibly be due to my preferred weapons being assault rifles and SMGs as I didn’t really bother with sniper rifles at all.
Like most games these days there’s a talent/specialization system that allows you to craft Jason into the kind of character you want to play. There’s 3 different styles ranging from complete stealth to all out combat and many of the talents are synergistic across trees. Initially the points you choose will make a big difference to all your encounters as some of them will make certain situations a breeze whilst without them you’ll find yourself struggling to accomplish certain tasks. However as the game goes on you’ll find that most of them are more convenience factors than anything else, either allowing you to do things slightly faster or simply blunder your way through without having to think about the risks you’re taking.
The reason I say this is that whilst you can’t unlock all the talents from the get go (you can’t simply ignore the main story line and get everything) the pace at which next tiers are unlocked seems a bit off as I always found myself with extra points spare before the talents I wanted were available. Now this isn’t because I’m some kind of crazy quest nut, far from it, I in fact ignored many of the side quests in favor of the story line, only stopping to get radio towers and the occasional safe house so I didn’t have to drive so far. Still by doing that I was able to max out one tree (shown above) and was only 6 or so levels away from maxing all the others.
I guess where I’m going with this is that in Far Cry 3, like with nearly all the open world games I’ve played, the bevy of additional side missions and activities available are simply not required. Whilst some of them might be a fun distraction from the main plot line they are, for want of a better word, fluff that doesn’t really need to be in the game. Now I know that this is part of the appeal for a lot of people, being able to wander around to do whatever you want and I admit that not being on rails is quite refreshing but I’ve yet to see a game where these side missions aren’t repetitive wastes of time that don’t bestow any real benefit for the player. This is especially true in Far Cry 3 when you can make all the weapons free in a rather short space of time and upgrade all your other stuff through crafting.
That’s one thing that Far Cry 3 does do rather well actually as the upgrades really are completely optional but taking the, admittedly small amount of, time to go and find the right animals, skin them and then craft your upgrades is pretty cool. It does start to get a little ridiculous if you’ve got the fervent RPGer mindset though as there’s animals and herbs everywhere and your loot sack is only so big, usually meaning you end up with a lot of left overs. There is a quick sell button for the trash loot but it unfortunately doesn’t extend to skins that you have no use for anymore which can sometimes leave you with a surplus that you don’t need but don’t have an easy way of knowing that. This is only made worse if you get the double harvest talents so some inventory management is required.
Far Cry 3 also loses points for this kind of bullshit that Ubisoft has been renowned for: highly connected games that shit themselves whenever your Internet connection drops or the Ubisoft servers have a conniption. This particular error was coming from their end however as I was able to Google search and Steam chat with all my friends whilst it was deciding what to do and then when it timed out it said I could keep playing anyway. Now I’m not a professional coder but I definitely know that if you have a mechanism for allowing players to keep playing offline you can certainly do that check in the background without putting this prompt up in front of them. This is on top of the fact that even the Steam copies of the game come bundled with Ubisofts Uplay social gaming network thing which is just as bad as any game that bundles Games for Windows Live in the same fashion. Seriously just stop doing it guys, the “rewards” you offer us for playing your games aren’t worth the precious seconds we have to waste clicking past your crappy social networks.
Far Cry 3’s story is somewhat confused in its execution, starting off strong with Jason being a bewildered upper-middle class boy stuck in a woeful situation to this kind of fever dream sequence where its hard to understand whats real and what’s not. It’s not in a good way either as there are many sections where these dream sequences seem to happen only as a way to gloss over how things actually happened in that situation (the final knife fight being a great example of this). I’ll admit that one interpretation of this could very well be some kind of Fight Club-esque idea but in reality it seems more like there were many great disparate ideas that are linked together in really tenuous ways and just ends up feeling like a jumbled mess. At least the ending didn’t scream sequel, which would’ve had this review being a lot more ALL CAPS ragey.
Far Cry 3 is a beautiful game that pays homage to its roots, making up for the mistakes of the sequel in spades. Open world games aren’t usually my forte but I definitely enjoyed the majority of my time with it and this soared to new heights once my character achieved that broken state where I felt like I was invincible. There are still some niggling issues however with the pointless side quests, half baked stealth system and a story that does more to confuse than anything else. All that being said however it’s still a pretty good game, one that deserves much of the praise that’s been leveled at it and for those who love titles like Grand Theft Auto et. al. I’m sure there’s a lot for you to love in Far Cry 3.
Far Cry 3 is available on PC, Xbox360 and PS3 right now for $69.99, $68 and $68 respectively. Game was played on the PC on the Survivalist difficulty setting with 14 hours total play time and 60% of the achievements unlocked.