The past 2 Call of Duty games weren’t really up to the standard that I’d come to expect from the franchise. Part of this can be attributed to Black Ops 3 being my favourite in the series, the multiplayer keeping me going for a good 150+ hours before I decided to call it quits. So my expectations were probably higher than they’d otherwise be for Black Ops 4, hoping to rekindle that love of the COD multiplayer which I’d lost for the last couple years. Whilst on one hand all the ingredients are there for that to happen again there’s been some glaring omissions and strange launch-day decisions that have marred what could’ve otherwise been yet another solid COD game from Treyarch.
This is typically where I’d give a brief synopsis of the initial plot for the game but since Black Ops 4 lacks a single player campaign I have none to give. Sure they’ve buried some meagre bits and pieces on the specialists training modes, giving you a brief cutscene here or there that speaks to why each of the character classes have their abilities, but that does not a single player campaign make. After it was announced that this was the case Treyarch confirmed unequivocally that they never intended to put a single player campaign in, citing the fact that most players simply jump straight into the multi. I have no reason to doubt that but out of the 3 Call of Duty developers they were always the ones who made the most interesting and engaging stories. Leaving that out seems like a missed opportunity, one that this reviewer certainly laments. Of course it wasn’t taken away for just any old reason as it was replaced with Blackout although whether or not the trade off was worth it will be entirely up to you. For me it certainly wasn’t (more on that later).
The Call of Duty games were never known for their cutting edge visuals, instead favouring higher performance to go along with the game’s rapid pace of combat. This trend continues with Black Ops 4 with the game striving to maintain a smooth, high frame rate experience over providing Crysis-like eye candy. There’s also less opportunity for level and set designers to showcase what the engine is capable of doing due to the game being multiplayer only. All things considered though the game looks perfectly fine for what it wants to be: a fast paced shooter. I will admit though that I figured that for the handful of cutscenes they created they would’ve spent a little more of their ridiculous budget on making them a little more cutting edge.
Black Ops 4 retains its 2 core game modes that most players will know, regular multiplayer and zombies, along with the new Battle Royal mode called Blackout. The base multiplayer games don’t deviate from the COD formula much, retaining the same Pick 10 system alongside a familiar cast of weapons. Some weapons now have the option of an Operator Mod which will significantly change the way the gun operates from simple things like massive rates of fire increases to strobe lights for one of the shotguns. Deviating from the last few titles as well is the lack of loot boxes with the only microtransactions in sight being used for buying different cosmetic skins for the specialists. Perhaps the biggest change though is the lack of automatically regenerating health, instead relegated to a piece of equipment which you’ll have you manually trigger to regenerate health. Most interesting of all is that the stim pack is actually a choice, you can replace it with another piece of gear if you so wish. For those who are really at the top of their game this gives them a very high risk/reward balance to play with, one I’ve seen used to both great and ill effect. Suffice to say the core of Black Ops 4 doesn’t deviate too much from the formula with the exception of Blackout.
To be completely open here I’m not the biggest fan of the Battle Royal format. I’ve played my share of PUBG, both on PC and mobile, and it can be enjoyable with a bunch of mates. However I like my FPS games fast and furious, something which the COD franchise has supported me with for many years. Battle Royal on the other hand is very much a slow and considered game, one that favours being patient and formulating a strategy if you want to win. Sure I could just parachute into a hot zone and likely die in the first couple minutes if I wanted to speed things up a bit but honestly, given that there’s a much more capable TDM and other modes available right there I’m far more likely to want to play that. Still in the interests of seeing everything that Black Ops 4 had to offer I figured I should give Blackout a try and, well, it’s pretty much as you’d expect: PUBG with COD weapons. I’ve heard from many that it’s a pretty great experience (which is likely given that Black Ops 4 has seen incredible sales) but for me, as a rusher type player in these kinds of games, it’s the antithesis of what I want from this kind of game. Your mileage may vary, though.
A good chunk of content for Black Ops 4 comes from 3 so right off the bat you’re going to be back in familiar territory. The same goes for the character classes with half of them being direct copy and pastes of their former selves. At first I was a little miffed at that, wanting a whole new experience, but I got over that relatively quickly as I realised it gave me a headstart on knowing the maps and which character classes I’d fit best into. A lot of the weapons have been changed around and there’s a much more wide variety of mods to choose from, making a great deal of the game’s weapons viable in PVP (so long as you can get the right unlocks done, of course). The starter classes are also well rounded as well, one of them coming with a fully kitted out gun that you won’t be able to get until level 50 or so. I’ve found the most success running with the Spitfire SMG, a bullet hose of a weapon that feels like a long range shotgun when you upgrade it with laser sights 2 and the extended mag. The ARs and shotguns were also somewhat viable depending on the map but SMGs felt like the better all round weapon if I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting into.
The class abilities are a bit of a mixed bag given that they all seem to have rather lengthy cooldowns and can be real hit and miss affairs. The shock drone, radar beacon, assault pack and razor wire ones seem to be the most useful, having a direct impact on your performance in a match. Other ones like the cluster grenade and trip wire feel hit or miss, unlikely to provide a consistent boost to your ability to win matches. For some of the ultimate abilities you’ll be lucky to get 1 off per game (like the vision pulse one) whereas the other, less impactful ones (like Crash’s overheal) you’ll likely be able to get off 2~3 times easily. I’m sure this is going to be a boon for competitive teams as there’s a clear delineation between support and offensive ultimates, allowing them to fine tune team comps quite well. For pub players like me though it’ll just come down to whichever one feels best to you. I’ve standardised on Crash for the most part since that seems to help my team out the most.
I couldn’t do this review without talking about the current state of the multiplayer networking, specifically the 20hz server debacle. To put it simply the Black Ops 4’s server engine runs at 20hz, meaning all in-game events are updated 20 times per second. That sounds plenty fast enough however most modern games run at double or triple that and even Black Ops 4 itself ran at 60hz during its beta phase. The problem with this is that it leads to really inconsistent play with players able to one shot kill each other, seemingly land shots on you when you’re around a corner or, if you’re lucky, seemingly grant you super powers with the ability to kill anyone before they have a chance to react. This issue only seems to be amplify the host advantage problem as well, making some games an absolute nightmare for the opposing team. Treyarch has said that the limit on server tick rate was done to ensure that they could maintain the service during the initial rush and that it would eventually be put back up to 60hz. If they stay true to their word then Black Ops 4 might actually be a great game to pick up around the holiday season but for now, if you’re someone who’s interested in playing competitively, it may be best to give it a miss until 60hz makes a return.
The lack of single player and the 20hz servers might not sound like big issues but for someone like me, who really enjoyed Treyarch’s cerebral plots and glass smooth multi, they’re huge marks against the best Call of Duty game I’ve played in the last 3 years. To be sure I still feel that Treyarch is the one the others should follow but even this instalment feels like the weakest one from the developer to date. Perhaps I’ve begun to outgrow the series or maybe it’s taking a new direction that leads it away from me, I’m not sure, as all I really know is that the near unmitigated fun I found in previous titles has been gone for some time. Black Ops 4 has a potential redemption story ahead of it in the form of better multiplayer servers but I’ll still have that hole in my heart which only a Treyarch COD story can fill.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 retains the trademarks of the Treyarch style that, in my opinion, makes their version of the IP the best. The combat is still great, the various weapon options still a joy to fiddle with and the familiarity of old maps made the transition in that much smoother. Blackout is something that I personally could do without but it’s likely to be a drawcard for the numerous players out there who love the format and have tired of current offerings. The lack of a campaign is certainly disappointing and the inclusion of a token effort felt more insulting than if they had just left it out completely. The 20hz server issue is certainly annoying but I’m hopeful that it will be fixed as the player base declines from its launch highs. For what it’s worth I’m still enjoying the multi and I’ll probably put a few more good hours into it before I call it quits completely. Perhaps the residual hype from Black Ops 3 is what has doomed me here but I can’t help feeling that I wanted just a little bit more from Treyarch this time around.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is available on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 right now for $89.95. Game was played on the PC with a total of 8 hours of play time.
If there’s one genre I’ll go to great lengths to avoid it’s survival horror. This wasn’t always the case though. Back in my youth I spent many a night playing my way through the top titles of the genre like Silent Hill and Resident Evil. However after about Resident Evil 3 I found myself attracted to other genres and left survival horror behind me. Looking back over my reviews the only real game I’ve played in this genre recently would be Dying Light, some 2 years previous. Try as I might to avoid the hype around the latest Resident Evil it seemed like, if I was ever going to dive back into the series, now would be the time. I’m glad I did as whilst I’ve affirmed that survival horror still isn’t my favourite thing in the world it’s hard to deny that Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is a very well crafted game.
In a stark departure from (what I remember of) the Resident Evil series you play as a civilian called Ethan. Your wife, Mia, went missing 3 years ago after taking a job at sea for an undetermined period of time. Out of the blue you received an email from her, saying that she needed help and to come and get her. So you make your way down to a derelict plantation estate in Dulvey, Louisiana to try and find her. What you discover there though is beyond any reasonable explanation and you soon discover the horrors that have kept Mia away from you all that time.
Biohazard is Capcom’s first full game to use the new RE Engine which, if I’m honest, doesn’t seem that impressive on first blush. There are some parts which are definitely impressive, like Mia’s hair and some of the more…lively parts of the environment. However the level of detail is probably a step or two behind what I’ve come to expect in games of this calibre. Since the majority of the game is spent in dark areas this isn’t an issue most of the time. However when you get up and close the lack of detail becomes readily apparent. This is made up for somewhat by the animations which are much better done. Of course you’re not playing a survival horror game for the visuals, you’re playing it to get the pants scared off of you.
Biohazard’s game play feels similar to other successful survival horror games like Outlast and Amnesia. The trademark mechanics of the series are still here, like the inventory management, crafting and obscure puzzles. However with everything taking place in the first person you’re now up close and personal with everything that’s going on (and for those brave enough to try this out on PlayStation VR you can fully immerse yourself in it, joy!). This does make some things easier, like combat, but of course there’s trade offs like not being able to see around corners to see some things before they have chance to induce a pants soiling moment. Indeed Biohazard tends much more towards horror than previous instalments have.
Combat is as you’d expect it to be: frustrating, panic inducing and often at times completely futile. This is, of course, by design as something that had the glass smooth FPS combat mechanics of Call of Duty would not make for great survival horror. Still your FPS skills aren’t completely useless with well placed head shots ensuring that you use less ammo overall, giving you a bit of a buffer to play with. Mastering the block will ensure that you don’t burn through as many healing items but, honestly, you shouldn’t need to use it most of the time if you know how to kite the enemies around properly. One thing (and most survival horror games are guilty of this) that really irritated me is that it’s sometimes impossible to tell when an enemy has actually died save for pumping a few more bullets into them. Again, this is a design decision (done to make ammo even more precious) but it does get annoying when that moulded gets up for the billionth time in a row.
Biohazard isn’t a fan of holding your hand and will only sparingly grant tips upon your death. For the most part this is fine as it encourages you to explore and figure things out for yourself. Sometimes though it’s an exercise in frustration, like when you learn that the first big enemy you face can’t actually be killed (only after wasting several clips on him). After a while though you’ll get familiar enough with the various quirks and things start to get a lot better from then on. There are some parts that are maybe a little too subtle in the way they hint at what you’re supposed to do, leading to a lot of unnecessary back-tracking to try and figure out what you missed. This might just be me though, having not played the Resident Evil series for the better part of 15 years.
The horror aspect is done exceptionally well, making you scared of the smallest bump or scrape that you might here. I can’t tell you how many times I had to step back and forwards over a little patch to make sure it was me making the noise and not something else. The jump scares are used sparingly enough that they really are quite shocking and do their job in putting you on edge for the rest of the game. Moments of panic are used to great effect, ensuring that you’ll blow through a lot more ammo than you’d otherwise would have. Whilst this isn’t the type of game I’d regularly play it’s hard not to admire the way they use the environment to keep you on edge all the time. It does start to run out of puff in the last third of so, which is probably my biggest gripe with Biohazard.
You see in games like this I pride myself on being able to build a massive stockpile in order to take some of the “survival” out of the horror. Now it seems most games have a horrible habit of stripping that horde away from you in aid of an artificial challenge bump. Biohazard does this at a pivotal moment, forcing you to start from the beginning again. The game does provide context for this, and to its credit does give you back everything at the end of that section, but that means that particular part drags on significantly. The last section then just feels unnecessary as you’re packed to the rafters with very little that can challenge you. I’m sure veterans of the series could blast through this in no time flat, and thus the last third be much less of an issue, but 8 hours of being on tenterhooks did tire this old gamer out.
The story is somewhat predictable with the standard “Choose A or B for a different ending” scenario presented to you just before the final third. Ethan seems weirdly at peace with a lot of the crazy stuff that goes on around him (although that changes during cut scenes), something which, if changed, might have added a bit more depth to the experience. There’s also one character which we’re supposed to empathise with but, since your interaction with them is severely limited and they’re given no backstory, it’s pretty hard to care for them. I’ve also checked both endings and, honestly, choosing the non-obvious path seems like a total waste of time. It’s a bit of a shame as previous Resident Evil games had some cool, super secret endings that completely changed how you’d view the entire game. That’s what I remember of playing Nemesis at least, anyway.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is a fantastic horror experience. Whilst the visuals might not win any awards they serve their purpose well, creating a foreboding environment that keeps you suspicious of every shadow. The lean towards horror makes for a high adrenaline experience with every creak, scrape and whine cause to get your gun ready. The game does include my usual gripes about games in this genre, namely the artificial challenge increase through taking away your stash and the lack of a decent story. Still I can recognise quality when I see it and, whilst I personally won’t rate this game as high as some of my peers, it does stand above others that I have played in this genre.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One for $59.99. Game was played on the PC with a total of 8 hours played and 57% of the achievements unlocked.
It’s an unfortunate fact that creating a new IP is always fraught with danger. The wider gaming community is incredibly hard to judge and seemingly minor decisions on certain mechanics can have a huge reaching impact on how they perceive your game. There is a good chunk of this community that hungers for new and innovative content however and should you touch a nerve with them a new IP can quickly turn itself into a dynasty of its own. Dying Light is Techland’s most recent new IP, taking the lessons learned from Dead Island and using them to craft a better experience in a new world. For the most part they pull this off although the key differentiating mechanic is both its greatest and worst asset.
The city of Harran is in chaos. Months ago a mysterious outbreak occurred that turned people in ravenous monsters, feasting upon the flesh of others and spreading the contagion at a rapid pace. The city was quickly walled off however, containing the spread ensuring it wouldn’t cause a worldwide apocalypse. An organization called the Global Relief Effort has been instrumental in ensuring that some semblance of order remains, appointing a man called Kadir Sulaiman to keep the peace. However a tragedy involving his brother has sent him rogue and he is threatening to release a file that could put thousands of lives at risk. It’s up to you, Kyle Crane, to stop him and save not only the people of Harran, but the world at large.
Dying Light is built on Techland’s own Chrome Engine 6 which is exclusively for PC and next gen platforms. There’s a notable step up in graphics, in everything from textures to lighting to the detail of the models, which predictably sent my rig into slideshow mode in the more action heavy sequences. It’s definitely an evolutionary step rather than a revolutionary one as it still retains the same feel that Dead Island had in terms of graphics and effects, something which I noted early on before I found out that it was the same developer. That being said the environments are much bigger and broader in scope with a lot more attention to detail given the exploration heavy nature that the game has now taken on. In a nutshell it’s a solid amount of progress for Techland and it will be very interesting to compare and contrast it against Dead Island 2 when it debuts.
Dying Light is an open world, first person survival horror game that blends in a lot of RPG elements including talent trees and crafting. Those of you who’ve played Dead Island will find many of the mechanics to be very similar however many of them have been streamlined so you spend a lot less time diving through menus. Unlike its predecessor however Dying Light includes a heavy exploration aspect, allowing you to clamber all over everything in the world in good old fashioned parkour styling. This radically changes how the game plays out, giving you a vast array of options in how you tackle each situation. Finally you’ll engage in good old fashioned melee combat using crude tools like pipes and wrenches all the way up to fully automatic weaponry. All in all it’s best summed up as an improved version of Dead Island although some of the improvements aren’t without their drawbacks.
The combat in Dying Light will likely be an unique experience for everyone as there’s a huge number of combinations of weapons, modifications and talent builds that all affect how you hack and slash your way through the game. The melee aspect is the most polished although it still suffers from the trials and tribulations that is first person melee combat. Quite often you’ll find weapons (especially big 2 handed ones) not connecting like you think they should, requiring almost frame perfect timing to get them to land properly. The guns are by far the weakest aspect of the combat as they just don’t feel polished enough, especially when compared to the melee weapons. The parkour aspect allows you to alter the dynamic quite a lot, often allowing you to use the environment to gain a significant advantage.
Indeed, as I alluded to earlier, the parkour/exploration aspect of Dying Light is simultaneously the best and worst aspect of the game. The good of it is that it adds a whole new layer onto the trope that Techland set up in Dead Island, significantly opening up the map to an incredible amount of exploration that is quite rewarding. There’s still a fair chunk of jumping puzzles which only have one proper solution to them but other than that you’re free to find the best angle of attack for your current challenge, something which can make the difference between a mission being a complete breeze and a total nightmare. Once you get the grappling hook upgrade it gets even better, enabling you to travel across the map at inhuman speed and get you out of jams that would’ve otherwise resulted in your death. Suffice to say the good of the parkour is really good but it’s marred by its less than stellar aspects.
There are numerous points in the game where the parkour simply doesn’t flow like you’d expect to. The visual cues to what you can and can’t climb on aren’t terribly consistent and judging whether or not you can make a particular jump is more of an art than a science. Worst of all the hit detection for your character to latch onto things fails way more often than it should, often sending you plummeting to the ground with no indication of why that failed. Worse still when you do get the grappling hook it will likely be disabled with the cop out message “You’re too exhausted to use your grappling hook right now” making the upgrade worthless. These are fixable issues, and undoubtedly something that will get patched in later versions, however it doesn’t detract from the fact that some of the parkour heavy sections can be seriously frustrating.
The talent system is well thought out, splitting out your character’s progression into 3 main categories: survivor, agility and power. The survivor tree is levelled up by completing objectives and gives you access to ancillary skills that will help you survive in Harran. Agility is progressed by simply moving around the world and enables you to move easier around the world. Finally the power tree is all about zombie killing, turning you from a schmuck wielding a pipe to a whirling death machine. With 3 different things to level up progression is consistent and constant, ensuring you’re never too far away from unlocking something to make you just that little bit better. Honestly though apart from the grappling hook most of the upgrades aren’t hugely impactful but after a while the sum of their parts starts to add up to something greater.
The crafting system is very rewarding and retains many of the characteristics from Dead Island. All crafting reagents, bar the base weapons, can be held on your character in unlimited quantities, ensuring that you always have all your materials on you to craft things. Gone is the requirement for using a bench or other things enabling you to craft whatever you need whenever you need it. The only issue I have with the system is that weapon upgrades (not modifications) cannot be crafted and so most of your weapons will likely have their upgrade slots unused. I’m pretty sure this isn’t me missing a key mechanic in the game either as my numerous Google searches on the issue came up blank. Suffice to say whilst I think the crafting system is strong in Dying Light it seems like one aspect was overlooked.
Dying Light was a relatively smooth experience for me, free of any major issues like crashing or game breaking bugs. However there were numerous quirks where things happened that shouldn’t have like the picture above where my safe zone was somehow infested with zombies despite me having just cleared it out. There was also the rather unsettling thing of my character screaming, yelling or saying something random every time I loaded in which often made me think I had been dropped into the middle of combat before realising it was just him making noise for no reason. It kind of feels like a Bethesda release if I’m honest, where the core game is solid but stuff around the periphery is a little wonky and will likely take a couple patch cycles to sort out.
The story feels, at best, mediocre due mostly to its predictability and pacing issues that a present throughout most of the campaign missions. Now I’m willing to admit part of this is likely due to my campaign-first playstyle for these kinds of games (putting me at least than half of total completion by the end) however I’ve played several other games that have managed to get that right without relying on side missions to flesh things out. Combine that with the obvious plot twists and highly predictable emotional climaxes and you end up with a story that’s enough to drive you along but not enough to make you empathize with the characters. Indeed it’s one of the few aspects that doesn’t improve on Dead Island at all, a right shame considering that it was one of the more heavily criticised aspects.
Dying Light is a solid new IP for Techland, taking the essence of what made Dead Island great and translating that into a whole new game which stands well on its own. There’s a lot to love in Dying Light, from the parkour to the visceral combat to the crafting system that allows you to create weapons of untold destructive power. However much of the experience is marred in varying issues ranging from the fixable game play variety to the mediocre story which doesn’t add much overall. Suffice to say I still think it’s worth playing just maybe not by yourself, instead with a bunch of mates and a few beers to take the edge of the more frustating aspects.
Dying Light is available on PC, PlayStation4 and XboxOne right now for $71.99, $78 and $78 respectively. Game was played on the PC with a total of 15 hours played with 46% of the achievements unlocked.
It’s nigh on impossible to miss the hype that’s been surrounding The Last of Us, the latest game to come out of Naughty Dog studios who’s been responsible for other PlayStation 3 exclusive hits like the Uncharted series. I tried my best but it the sentiment among the reviewer crowd was hard to miss: this game was shaping up to be everyone’s game of the year. However the interesting part about it was that it wasn’t something like revolutionary game play or top end graphics that was sending the review scores northward, it was the confronting story. I had been sold on the game since I saw the short gameplay demo that was released last year and had already lined myself up to play it despite it being a survival horror so all that was left was to fire it up and see if my impressions of it lined up with the hype that surrounded it.
You play as Joel, a single father who’s been working hard to provide for his daughter Sarah. Everything seems to be good in your world, heck she even manages to scrounge up enough cash to buy you a watch for your birthday, but soon an epidemic starts to sweep the nation, one that enrages people and turns them into vicious beings that attack anything when sighted. Tragedy befalls Joel, turning him into a bitter person and he then spends the next 20 years in a quarantine camp, finding work as a smuggler who gets things into and out of his camp. His world is shaken up after he seeks revenge against someone who’s wronged him only to find himself tangled up with a rebel group who’s only request is that he smuggle a girl to one of their camps.
Her name is Ellie.
With this current console generation coming to the end of its life the games are taking full advantage of the hardware platform that’s available to them and Naughty Dog’s expertise on the PlayStation 3 shines through in The Last of Us. All the environments you’ll explore are incredibly detailed, showing the world in glorious ruins. It’s a testament to Naughty Dog’s skill that all of this runs without a hitch as well with the game remaining buttery smooth even during intense action scenes. What I did like though was the distinct lack of environment porn, I.E. scenes that were deliberately designed to make you gawk at the rendering engine. Sure there were a lot of impressive moments but I never felt like any of them were created specifically as screenshot bait, they were just emergent based on the great level design and detailed environments.
The Last of Us is a survival horror game where resources are scarce and death almost certain should you not play your cards right. Now traditionally I’m not a big fan of these titles as they tend to do things that violate my rules for being a good (but also challenging game) and The Last of Us is no exception to this. It’s made up for somewhat by the inclusion of other mechanics that allow you to negate some of the more annoying aspects of survival horror game play through the use of skill and simple curiosity but there are still some issues that remain unresolved that I will take the game to task for. However I do understand that this is part of the survival horror schtick and is probably considered a great example of the genre so I’m more just trying to make my biases known so you don’t feel the need to lambast me in the comments.
There’s 3 main mechanics that drive the game play of The Last of Us. The first is good old fashioned 3rd person combat which has been tweaked with a stealth mechanic that you’ll make good use of if you don’t want to be reloading the game every 5 seconds. The second is a form of simplistic puzzler/platformer where you’ll have to solve a puzzle in order to progress to the next stage. Lastly there’s a customized RPG like system of crafting, upgrades and upgrades that allows you to improve your character and create consumables that you’ll undoubtedly being making heavy use of throughout your play through. None of these are particularly unique, and indeed I’d argue that the the gameplay isn’t the strongest characteristic of The Last of Us, but they do make for a challenging game.
You’ll spend the vast majority of your time exploring the environments that you’re in for bits and pieces that you can use to craft items to help you along. You don’t have to do this but the less you do it the harder the game will get for you as, no joke, that piece of rag you picked up 2 hours ago could be the very thing that saves your ass. It can get a little laborious though as pretty much every section you go through has to be inspected with a fine tooth comb to make sure you didn’t miss everything and, once you get past a certain point, you might stop doing it because you’ve managed to max out your inventory. However even if you do manage that there’s still another reason for you to keep searching: for the other upgrades.
There’s 2 ways to upgrade your character with the first being through “supplements” that affect Joel. For the most part they just make the game easier, giving you more health or decreasing the time it takes to heal for instance, but some of them can make the difference between life or death like the ability to save yourself from a clicker attack with a shiv. If I’m honest most of them apart from the Shiv Master one didn’t really impact on the game that much, usually just giving you a little more leeway with which to accomplish the same things. I also found that the supplements were scarce enough that I could just drop them into skills to max them out so the choice is usually based around your play style and what seems to be hampering your progress the most.
There’s also the upgrades to your weapons which can improve things like reload speed, clip size and fire rate. There’s unfortunately no way to upgrade the damage of any particular weapon which means they’re just as effective when you first get them as when you last fire them which, honestly, gave me the shits. The awful aiming coupled with the relative ineffectiveness of shots that hit anywhere but the head means that most of your weapons feel like they’re having no impact whatsoever with the exception of the shotgun and shorty (which are only close range, not so great for things that want to bite you). The upgrades make up for this somewhat by allowing you to fire and reload more rapidly but when you don’t have a lot of ammo (and you can’t carry that much even if you save every bullet) it’s kind of a moot point. Even upgrading the bow, something which is typically super bad ass in any survival game, doesn’t increase its usefulness that much, especially against moving targets.
Which brings me to the combat of The Last of Us which is quite typical of the survival horror genre. There’s 2 modes that you’ll be playing in: stealth and out and out firefights. Now the former is actually quite well done as the environments are strewn with little nooks for you to hide in and wait patiently for your prey to walk by so you can snag them and choke them out silently. You also have the rather awesome ability to “concentrate your hearing” which essentially enables a wall hack that allows you to see where enemies are. They have to be walking or talking for it to work, which becomes something of an issue later on, but it’s enough so that you can get a feeling for where they all are before you strike. Of course one mistake means that your prey will alert everyone else and then you’ve got two choices: run or start shooting.
This is where I feel The Last of Us starts to fall down a bit as the guns don’t feel effective at all unless you get a headshot and lining one of those up while under fire is nigh on impossible. The human AI is smart enough to not run blindly around corners where it knows you’re hiding (and it will try to flank you) so you can’t do the usual rounding up and then gunning them all down sort of thing that’s possible in other 1st/3rd person shooters. With the wonky controls of the PlayStation3 the only effective guns I found were the two I mentioned earlier although they still suffer if not aimed somewhere near the head. Of course the stealth aspect of The Last of Us means that there’s opportunity to flank people out although the AI has a rather terrible habit of suddenly figuring out where you are when you pop your head out to start shooting at them.
The same applies to the infected as the AI behaves very differently when you’re near them, to the point where sometimes they’ll make a beeline straight for you even when they’re not supposed to be aware of your position. There’s ways to counteract this, of course, but I don’t like the feeling that I’m making up for the shortcomings of the AI by bugging it out with other game mechanics. I remember one particular challenge (starting the generator in the basement so you can use the card reader door) where after causing a ruckus I’d run to a dark area to hide so I could then plan my escape. Should I not place a bomb somewhere else that then gets triggered by an infected a bloater would then, inexplicably, find me even though I was nowhere near that particular spot. The bloaters also appear to have eyes despite them apparently not being able to see and don’t get me started on the one-hit-kill nature of the clickers which requires 75 supplements to avoid.
The Last of Us is also not bug free either as I had several times when triggers simply failed to load, locking me in the current section being unable to progress until I reloaded from the checkpoint. Additionally the checkpoint behaviour isn’t reliable as manually restarting it often means restarting from a point faaaaaaaaaar behind your current checkpoint, meaning it’s better to just die rather than try to reload it. There’s also the rather irritating feature of spawning enemies in rooms that you’ve already looked in and cleared, ones that don’t have any entrance path to them (like on the second story of a house). For the most part they’re manageable but when you’re dealing with the 100 other stressful things the game throws at you this can be enough to stop you playing.
But the thing that Last of Us is receiving so much praise for isn’t it’s gameplay it’s the detailed and very confronting story that drives you through it. Credit where it’s due for the voice and motion capture actors for portraying it so well as I’m quite intolerant of bad performances in either aspect but the people behind The Last of Us do a top notch job. Whilst I won’t put a plot analysis here (that’s something for the spoiler section below) suffice to say that the story evokes heavy feelings of empathy, sorrow and strong cognitive dissonance over how your characters play out. The Last of Us is one of the few modern games where you have absolutely no control over how the story plays out, something that I enjoy but may frustrate some players.
MAJOR PLOT SPOILERS FOLLOW
I felt a deep sense of empathy for Joel, despite his obvious character flaw of not wanting to care about anyone (from fear of getting hurt). With that in mind the ending felt like the one that I wanted to happen, because fuck anyone trying to hurt Ellie, however in doing so I had to bear the costs associated with doing that. The final scene between Joel and Ellie was probably one of the most painful things I’ve ever had to watch as it’s clear that Ellie knows Joel is lying, as evidenced by her simple reply that echoes her initial character before it’s developed over the course of the game, but she’s accepted he has his reasons for doing so. Whether he’ll ever reveal them to her is something that’ll be left up for discussion (or possibly a sequel, although bonus points to Naughty Dog for not leaving us dangling) but it’s almost at the point where it doesn’t matter.
Whilst Ellie’s fate was somewhat expected (although I question its validity, it’s not like we can’t do brain surgery without killing people) I had more expected Joel to be the tragic hero, especially considering the origin story of the first couple hours. His survival was somewhat counter to what I expected which I was glad for and ultimately it enabled the hollow hollywood ending which is what The Last of Us is being widely acclaimed for. With that in mind the lack of a choice system, one with a lot of games shoehorn in at the end to give the player some sense of control over the ultimate ending, is a smart move by Naughty Dog and something I commend them for.
PLOT SPOILERS OVER
The Last of Us is an exhausting experience physically, mentally and emotionally. It’s one that will test your limits of what you think is right and wrong, making you question what ideals you would compromise when faced with the same situation. Whilst I might not enjoy some of the gameplay mechanics due to their survival horror roots I can’t deny the gripping story that’s well portrayed by the actors involved. Whilst there are many that would recommend getting a PS3 just to play it I won’t count myself among them however should you already have one it’s certainly one of the exclusives that shouldn’t be missed, no matter what kind of gamer you are.
Rating: 9.5/10 (includes +1.0 reviewer’s bias to counteract for the fact that I routinely rate survival horror badly)
The Last of Us is available right now on PlayStation 3 for $78. Game was played on the Hard difficulty with around 17 hours of total play time and 7% of the achievements unlocked.
I think my angst around survival horror games stems from the many, many hours I lost to the genre back when I younger. There were many nights when my brother and I would sit down in front of the TV, fire up the PlayStation and proceed to play Resident Evil for hours on end. Those familiar with the game will know that much of the tension created in that game comes from the fixed camera angles and not-so-great controls leading to many reloads and undergarments in need of replacing. Long time readers will know that my recent forays into this genre haven’t been great with both of them failing to impress me. Deadlight looked like a fresh take on the survival horror genre and thus I was intrigued to see if the genre could redeem itself to me.
The year is 1986 and the world has been decimated by a virus that reanimates the dead into flesh craving zombies (or Shadows as they’re called in Deadlight). You play as Randall Wayne, one of the few survivors who’s been separated from his family and is searching to find them again. You’ve managed to team up with one of your friends, a police officer and a pair of sisters and were making your way to Safe Point, a rumoured safe zone set up by the military. The opening scenes show one of the sisters badly wounded by the Shadows and you are forced to do the right thing. The gun shot attracts a nearby hoard of shadows to you and in the commotion you get separated from the group. So begins your adventure to find them again and hopefully, your family.
Deadlight is quite visually impressive as when I first looked at some of the screenshots it looked like it had a kind of Trine feel to it with the 2.5D environments. If I’m honest they’re actually done a lot better than Trine as the environments are very detailed and even form part of the game play with things like Shadows lingering in the background shambling over to you. Also unlike most survival horror games which favour noire colouring or muted palettes Deadlight instead favours a more varied set of colours which helps greatly in not making it visually boring. Overall it’s done quite well, much better than what I expected when I first looking into playing Deadlight.
Deadlight is a platformer with the vast majority of the game play consisting of you getting from the left hand side of the screen to the right hand side. Of course it’s never quite that easy with many obstacles blocking your way requiring you to either take a specific path or wade your way through a trough of Shadows in order to make progress. Like many games of today Deadlight also makes heavy use of its physics engine to drive most of its puzzles with many of them requiring you to knock something down or move something in order to give yourself a leg up to the next ledge.
It’s usually at this point in the review of a platform where I’ll gripe about how the jump/grab mechanics are screwy in some particular way but for Deadlight I can’t really say that. Sure there were many moments when I pressed something and didn’t get the result I was expecting but there’s no one point where I couldn’t figure out what I did wrong in order to cause my untimely demise. For a platformer this is a pretty big achievement as pretty much all of them suffer from some kind of issue that makes the platforming sections tedious but in the case of Deadlight all the frustration was born simply out of me fat fingering the keys rather than some glitch in the code.
There’s also combat in the game taking the form of you either swinging an axe at your foes (which is limited by the blue stamina bar in the top left hand corner) or the tried and true zombie killer favourite of a couple different guns, all of which are lethal if aimed at the head. The axe is also quite capable of dispatching enemies however you either have to spend what feels like an eternity wailing on them or knock them down first and then finish them off on the ground. The guns are far more effective however, like any good survival horror, the ammunition is in pretty limited supply (unless you know where to look, of course).
If I’m honest the combat was one of my least favourite parts of Deadlight mostly because of how tedious and unnecessary it felt. The axe is the perfect example of this as it’s not particularly effective when you need it to be (I.E. surrounded by Shadows) and it’s much, much easier to just keep running and knock them down than to even bother attempting to take them out. The guns are pretty much a last resort apart from a couple sections where you’re forced to use them so again their inclusion feels like it was done “just because” rather than some burning need to have it as a core component of the game.
The story is quite compelling at times however I felt that it was let down heavily by the often lacklustre voice acting that backed it up. In the beginning I thought it was quite good however as the story went on it was clear that many of the lines were delivered flat without any emotion behind them. This becomes even more obvious towards the end when there’s some very emotionally charged scenes which lose pretty much all their impact thanks to this which kind of soured me on the story towards the end.
It’s a real shame because objectively the story is pretty good, combining the usual survival horror flair with a psychological thriller that leads you to question the main character’s motives. It’s not the most original plot to be sure but it’s definitely above what I was expecting which is always nice. I felt the ending was unsatisfying, probably due to the way it was presented, however I might have been swayed otherwise had I had a deeper emotional connection with the characters.
Deadlight was a nice surprise considering that I choose it based around the fact that it was short (I’m attempting to work on a couple longer game reviews and I’m constantly running out of time) and needed something for this week. The game plays well with no bugs and the platforming, something that usually brings games down a peg or two, was great. It’s let down by the pointless combat and lack of story delivery with emotion behind the voice acting which is a shame as it’s otherwise a great game. This is probably the first survival horror game that I could recommend playing which has renewed my faith in the survival horror genre.
Deadlight is available on Xbox360 and PC right now for 1200 points and $14.99 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 3.1 hours played and 68% of the achievements unlocked.
Co-op games run a fine line of balancing the game between the single and multi-player experience. You see whilst it’s great to be able to bash out a game with mates (as I often do) I can’t rely on all my friends being available when I want to play. Borderlands suffered somewhat because of this as their support for drop in/drop out co-op left a lot to be desired, leaving many to simply not play the game at all if they couldn’t get their original crew together. Dead Island, a game I picked up on G2Play to play with mates at a recent LAN, is a cross between borderlands style RPG play but in a setting much more like Left 4 Dead and it seems to have gotten this balance between play modes figured out.
You get a choice of 4 different heros: Xian Mei, Sam B, Logan Carter and Purna. The game starts out with you waking up to find the resort you’re staying in being overrun by zombies (from an unknown source) leaving you to fend for yourself. The game then centres around finding pockets of survivors on the island and helping them out, travelling between different locations on the island. Part way through a mysterious voice appears over the radio who starts helping you out in the hopes that you’ll be able to help him save his wife who’s become one of the infected.
Each of the 4 main characters represent a different character class, each with their own distinct set of advantages. I choose Purna, mostly to round out the team of 4 I initially played with, who’s a firearms expert. The character classes all have 3 talent trees that unlock new skills and perks as you level up and they’re each unique to the character in question. Depending on which skills you go for the way in which you play Dead Island can be wildly different to others, which gives the game quite a bit of replayability. I for instance didn’t put any skill points in the “Fury” tree but as a result I was devastating with melee weapons and I buffed my entire party with an aura, making some situations quite a lot easier.
The single/multiplayer balance in Dead Island is done absolutely brilliantly. I joined the game about 30 mins after my mates had started (since I was bashing out a couple StarCraft 2 games with another friend) and I was placed nearby so they could find me. I was worried about many quests showing up saying “This will not be recorded in your profile” but as it turns out side quests aren’t saved during co-op sessions, but main quest progress is. So upon jumping into single player I was greeted with a bevy of side quests to complete should I feel the need. Jumping back into multiplayer synced you up with the person who was the least progressed with the main plot, a godsend compared to Borderlands. Dead Island also takes out some of the more laborious aspects of questing, planting the objectives on the minimap so you don’t spend hours looking for that one last thing to complete that quest.
Dead Island also implements a system whereby you can join up with other people who are in a similar place in the game as you are. This will appear as a message on the right hand side of the monitor and after one key press you’ll be joined up with them. Whilst my experience with this was mixed (quite a few people simply left the game after I tried to join with them) it’s a really nice touch and can make some of the more challenging areas far more easy and enjoyable.
Not all of the quests are that well done however. The escort quests, of which one is pictured above, are extremely tedious as the NPCs don’t follow you. Instead they follow their own path (completely unknown to you) and will often throw themselves right into the middle of a horde of zombies, requiring you to fish them out. They also feel needlessly long at points, trapping you for a good 15 minutes or more in a game of follow the leader. Why this kind of quest was put in Dead Island escapes me as they feel quite out of place compared to the rest of the quests in the game.
Dead Island’s loot and inventory system is a mixed affair of getting some aspects completely right whilst others just utterly wrong. You have limited inventory slots (which can be upgraded, typical RPG affair) but crafting materials don’t take up any space in it. This is fantastic because there’s just so much crafting crap around the world that balancing an inventory around it would be nigh on impossible and ensures that when you find a vendor with that key ingredient you never find you can stock up on it for future use. Crafted items and upgrades are also very useful and, in the case of weapon mods, visibly change the weapon that they’re applied to.
Finding good items however is somewhat of a crap shoot. Early on in the game I read a tip that said “the best items are always in chests” or something to that effect. With that in mind I upgraded my lock picking still to the max so I could open up all those chests. Throughout my entire play through I found only 1 solitary non-white item (an orange level sickle) in the chests. All my other good weapons were either rewards from quests or bought from the vendors and there were maybe 5 or so blue level items that dropped from zombies. I guess what I’m trying to say is that you’re better off not bothering hunting for loot and instead just using quest rewards or vendor items.
Combat in Dead Island is visceral, over the top and thoroughly enjoyable, once you get past the initial hump that is. You see that blue bar in the screenshot above? That’s the stamina bar and it limits how much you can run, jump and attack (except for guns, which have ammo). When that runs out you can’t do anything except for one thing: kick. The kick attack, which every character has, is an unlimited attack that interrupts all attacks and can’t be interrupted itself. For the first 40% of the game or so there’s really no reason not to use this attack and this attack only as you can knock down every zombie and then proceed to pummel them to death on the ground. Playing this at a LAN with all my mates in ear shot made this a rather fun experience, naming our band of heroes the Kick Squad. It was quite hilarious to see one zombie go down and then be repeatedly kicked to death by 4 people, but it made weapons in the game rather redundant for a while.
One thing that Dead Island doesn’t deliver in is the plot. Now the trailer for Dead Island was actually quite well done as it depicted a game that had both thrilling action and also a deep and meaningful plot. Honestly I was sold on buying the game after seeing that trailer, being able to play it with mates at a LAN was just the icing on the cake. However all the characters are completely unrelatable, either through being complete dicks or being horribly voice acted (my wife referred to Purna’s voice as sounding like it was done by someone in Play School). There’s also a few attempts to pull on the heart strings at various points through the use of cut scenes but honestly they don’t fit in with the environment at all. It’s made even worse by the ending, which taken into context makes little sense and is cheapened by a last ditch effort to make the ending feel bitter sweet.
Overall though Dead Island is a solid game that’s enjoyable both as co-op and as a single player experience. It’s not without it’s flaws however and whilst none of them are entirely game breaking they can be enough to make some of the time you spend in Dead Island rather tedious. Still the game looks like it could be a LAN favourite for a while to come as the 4 character classes and 3 skill trees per character gives enough variety to make sure that each play through is unique and enjoyable. If you liked Borderlands and need another fix of zombies in your life then Dead Island won’t disappoint you.
Dead Island is available on PC, Xbox360 and PlayStation 3 right now for $49.99, $89 and $89 respectively. Game was played on the PC with around 15 hours of total play time (8 of those being co-op) and reaching level 38.
Sandbox games and I have a sordid history. Whilst I often enjoy them it’s not usually because of the engrossing story or intriguing game mechanics; more it’s after I’ve finished the mission at hand, saved my game and then promptly engage Jerk Mode and go on whatever kind of rampage the game allows me. Long time readers will remember this being the case in my Just Cause 2 review where I grew tried of having to do everything within the rules of the game and modded my way to Jerk nirvana. Still there have been some notable exceptions, like Red Dead Redemption, where the combination of certain elements came together in just the right way to get me completely draw in an engrossed in the story.
Minecraft, whilst sharing the sandbox title, has almost no elements of a traditional game in this genre. Having more in common with game mods like Gary’s Mod Minecraft throws you into a world where the possibilities really are only limited by your imagination. Over the past few months I have watched the news around it go from a single story to a media storm and I was always fascinated by the way it managed to draw people into it. Up until a couple weeks ago however I hadn’t bothered to try it for myself, not even the free version. However after watching a few videos of some of the more rudimentary aspects of the game I decided to give it a go, and shelled out the requisite $20 for the full (beta) version.
That’s a deep mine…
The premise of the game is extremely simple. You’re thrust into a world where everything is made of blocks and at night time hordes of zombies and other nefarious creatures will emerge from the wilderness, baying for your blood. The tools you have at your disposal are only your blocky hands but the world of blocks around you can be used to your advantage. By cutting down trees you can make wood which can then be converted into a whole range of tools. The race is then on to create some kind of shelter before nightfall comes, so that you might have a place to hide when the horde arrives. As you progress deeper however you’ll begin to discover other rare and wonderful materials that can make even better tools and weapons, leading you to delve even deeper underground in order to find those precious resources.
However whilst the basic idea extends to only surviving through the night there’s the entire meta game of creating almost anything you can think of within the Minecraft world. The world’s resources are pretty much at your disposal and their block like nature means you can build almost anything out of them. This has lead to many people building extremely ornate structures within Minecraft, ranging from simple things like houses right up to the Starship Enterprise. As with any sandbox game I took the opportunity for absurdity as far as I could imagine it at the time building a 1 block wide tall spire high up into the clouds where I mounted my fortress of evil.
All that’s missing is an Eye of Sauron.
The basic game mechanic of Minecraft has a dinstinctly MMORPG feel to it. You start out by cutting down trees for wood so you can make a pick axe to mine cobblestone. You then use the cobblestone to make better tools in order to mine iron. You then use the iron to mine other resources like gold, diamond and redstone. Much like the gear grind that all MMORPGs take you through before you’re able to do the end content Minecraft gets you hooked in quickly with the first few resource levels passing quickly. Afterwards it’s a much longer slog to get the minerals you require to advance, usually requiring you to dig extremely deep to find them. Like any MMORPG though this mechanic is highly addictive, leading me to lose many hours searching for the next mineral vein so that I can craft that next item.
After the first week however I started to grow tired of the endless mining that didn’t seem to be going anywhere. I had dug all the way down to bedrock and had found numerous rare resources but seemed to be lacking the one mineral I needed to harvest them: iron. Googling around for a while lead me to figure out that I was digging far too deep to find much iron and that the best place to find resources was in randomly generated dungeons or caves, basically pre-hollowed out sections of the map that were always teaming with resources (and zombies). After randomly digging for a while I started hearing the distinctive zombie groan and I followed it to the ultimate prize.
Oh yeah, that’s the good stuff!
Exploring this find lead me onto a string of caves all containing the resources I needed to progress further and I was hooked again. Whilst the last few hours I’ve spent with Minecraft have focused more on extending my fortress of evil and the surrounding area I still find myself often taking a trip down into the mines in the hope of coming across another cave or mineral vein as the excitement of finding one is on par with getting some epic loots in a MMORPG. I also set about setting up a Minecraft server so that I could play along with some of my more dedicated Minecraft friends although with a server fan dying I’ve had to put that on hold until I can ensure that it won’t overheat with more than one person playing on it.
Would I recommend this game? Most definitely, especially if you’re the type that enjoys sandbox style games that allow almost unlimited creativity. I was the kind of person who lost hours in Gary’s Mod, making whacky contraptions and using them to unleash untold torment onto hordes of Half Life’s NPCs. The tables are very much turned in Minecraft’s world but it’s just as enjoyable and I have no doubt that anyone can lose a few good hours in it just exploring the retro world that Minecraft generates for you. The game is still technically in beta but for the price they’re asking it’s well worth the price of admission.
Minecraft is available for PC and web browser right now for a free trial or AU$20. Game was played on a local single player instance for the majority of game time with an hour or so spent on a multiplayer server. No rating is being assigned to this game as it’s still in beta.