Reviewed: The Outer Worlds

Reviewed

Few games can capture both the familiar and the uncommon the way that The Outer Worlds did. Obsidian Entertainment crafted an experience that feels both comfortable and new to RPG fans and new-comers alike. Does the game fit too well into other, similar experiences or does Obsidian carve out its own experience that, at least in the Triple-A scene, has been all but dominated in recent years by Bethesda with Elder Scrolls and Fallout? There is a strong sense of familiarity with The Outer Worlds, which is understandable, given that Fallout: New Vegas came from the same developers. This comparison’s not hard to make, but what looks very similar on the face of it shifts pretty drastically once players get into The Outer Worlds. There’s an undeniable style to both of these games that feeds from one and into the other. Despite this connection, The Outer Worlds doesn’t feel like a Fallout game. Despite the similar mechanics, the scope of The Outer Worlds is far broader in scope. There’s also more depth to the world and characters than we’ve seen from Bethesda.  

The Outer Worlds is absolutely a First-Person RPG experience; Obsidian Entertainment made no effort to hide or limit that; in fact, it has become one of the strongest selling points for the game. The Outer Worlds excels at giving players choices. There are options for just about everything you want to do, and with few exceptions, Obsidian’s managed to make even the “weak” points of a character into strengths. You can play just about any role you want. The concept of flexibility The Outer Worlds establishes is apparent as early as the character creation screen, where you can place extra attribute points or even move some from one attribute to another. If you want to play an idiot? You can certainly do that, and the developers not only found a way to make this fun but rewarding. While this choice will affect your character, players may be surprised to find that it’s rarely a negative impact. Instead of locking a character out of specific roles, players who choose to limit attributes will can open up options for the player to explore. Continuing with the Intelligence example, if a player decides to make their character dim enough, they will be considered “Dumb.” This personality flaw will open up dialogue options for the player. Something that The Outer Worlds does differently, too, is that skills are managed quite independently from Attributes.

Playing the good-natured and robust idiot who also can fix a space ship’s engine is a perfectly reasonable option. To further push these inherent, yet only loosely connected design choice, players are rewarded for playing to their character’s weaknesses. Obsidian has managed to mitigate the feeling of being punished for not meticulously rounding out a character’s skills and attributes. Obsidian’s separated the skills in such a way that players can be an idiot savant who may not be able to add or subtract, but can fix that malfunctioning robot in two shakes of a Canid’s feathered tail. What sounds like a minor distinction in games like this ends up creating a wildly different experience in how players interact with the wold. There’s a feeling of being rewarded for trying different skill combinations that would typically be risky in games like The Outer Worlds. Rather than focus on optimum ways to complete a mission, the players are left to their own devices and given the leeway to experience each quest the way they think their characters would approach it. Obsidian chose to support player choice and creativity within skills and Dialogue options in a way that adds to the experience rather than limiting it. One player can sneak through one mission while their friend decides to turn the immediate area into a scorched hell hole with a plasma cannon that calls in every guard in the immediate area. In many cases, these options are interchangeable, the likelihood of a player being able to do one or the other at any given time is almost available to the player and whatever mood they happen to be in at the time.  
 
Now, as progression continues and skill specializations grow, there is a path that they will have to choose. Each Skill option has a maximum of 100 points, but the first 50 points modify related skills as well. The Outer Worlds focuses on characters being more of a generalist rather than a specialist to start. If a player chooses to increase their character’s sneaking skill, they put a few points into the overarching skill set called “stealth.” Placing a point in “stealth” will not only increase the value of the sneak skill but will improve your character’s hack and lock-pick abilities as well. It’s not until these attributes hit rank 50, that players are required to put points into a specific skill. The added flexibility of skill-sets creates a feeling of specialization without giving players the impression that they’re missing out on other choices. If you choose to, of course, players can min-max their characters, but the balance makes this far more of a conscious decision on the player’s part, rather than an unintended consequence of wanting to be great at a particular skill.  

There’s a unique kind of charm to The Outer Worlds experience. The world’s a dark one, where corporations run almost everything, and the things that they don’t are worse for the wear because of it. Corperations view people as assets to they own. This fact is a truth that most individuals willingly accept. Despite this depressing, dystopian corporate existence, there’s a lot of light-hearted moments and sarcasm around this reality. Some characters will always feed you the corporate line. They’ll deliever the tried and true corporate line even at the at risk of bleeding to death first. Then there are the types of characters who are only doing the bare minimum to squeak by, despite the consequences. You’re continually bounding from NPC-to-NPC that either take things far too seriously or are seemingly in on the joke that is the corporate structure. The result feels like an extended, tongue in cheek joke, which delivers a variety of different punchlines that flow to the same ends. Despite all the death, corporate branded fascism, and near-starvation, it’s tough to take seriously.  

The NPCs of The Outer Worlds feel fleshed out and well-defined, with deep backstories that are mostly tragic, there’s a humor to them. They can’t be taken seriously, and the harder the NPC tries to be serious, the more ridiculous it all feels. This choice in tone by Obsidian helps to define the experience and set it apart from many of the grim dystopian futures we see from similar games. Even when terrible things may be happening to characters in the world, it tends to bring a smile to the player’s face and a chuckle along with it. The companions’ players pick up through the game are superb. Some quests you do for them are epic; others are mundane, but there is always a sense of reward and knowledge that comes with them. If you’re a player that chooses to skip the companion quests in The Outer Worlds, well, then all I can say to you is that’s a terribly misguided choice. You’ll help with everything from tracking down the bodies of fallen comrades to coaching someone through new feelings or romance and attraction. There’s a lot to experience, and all of it felt rewarding and worthwhile. 


The Quest system is designed to stay out of the player’s way as much as possible. Obsidian’s goal was not to push players through the experience and seemed to heavily focus on allowing players to move at whatever pace makes them the most comfortable. Once players complete the opening missions to become a ship captain, the world opens up, and even within the first location, a player has plenty of flexibility to explore. Players can certainly avoid the main quest almost entirely until they’re ready to complete the game, and The Outer Worlds does very little to force players onto that track. Secondary quests have a layer of complexity that is refreshing to play through. Most of them have multiple sub-tasks that add to the story and the lore of the area as players progress through them. You’re not going to find too many quests that send you out to deliver some commonly found item to an NPC simply to be turned around and head back to town. The characters in the game also have enough personality to affect how players may handle the missions they’ve chosen to complete. One particular side quest that comes to mind is one where a woman is upset that her workers went on strike. She’s a prickly sort of jerk that would be easy to walk away from if you worked for her. You can either choose to investigate further or take her at her word and get the people on strike working again. It’s totally up to the player in how they would like to approach this mission. Obsidian’s done a great job at using characters to try to affect the outcome of a task. The temptation to screw her over is there, but the reward she offers also is decent. It doesn’t feel like you’re just checking a box to complete a mission, and this is due in no small part in how Obsidian has chosen to present quests in the world. The carefully crafted dialogue options and multi-step requirements to complete a quest has a focus on personal investment for each mission and decision. There always seems to be more to the story with each journey you choose to go on.  


Visually, The Outer Worlds looks alright. It’s not the most striking thing you’ve played this year. I wouldn’t expect The Outer Worlds to win any awards for visual presentation, but it’s also not a hideous textural CHUD either. Most of the textures look flat. While there is plenty of details in them, they lack definition in a lot of places. The same can be said weapons, monsters, and character models. Admittedly, this is a bit disappointing, considering Obsidian used the Unreal Engine, and we know how beautiful textures and models can look. Despite the limits of the presentation, the world is still fascinating. Sky-boxes are intricate, with plenty of detail, especially when looking out at other planets from whatever bit of space rock you’re floating around on. From bubbling sulfur pits to hefty corn cob-looking plants that sway in the breeze, there is quite a lot of small details to enjoy that help bring each location to life. Each planet has its own feel and even the barren moons that you’ll visit seem to have plenty to offer in unexpected nooks and crannies. There, however, were some issues with frame rates that dropped below 60 FPS, for reasons that I couldn’t quite put my finger on either. It may be due to background processes, weather effects, or an abundance of NPCs in the area. It could also have been just plain old poor optimization in certain spots. Whatever the cause, the frame drops were very noticeable when they occurred. Luckily, these FPS drops weren’t too drastic, a majority of these drops landed somewhere in mid-to-high ’50s. It’s not enough to ruin the experience, but when the game is cruising along at 80/90 plus FPS, sudden sink in the frames is quite apparent and distracting. Thankfully, the rest of the experience makes up for any visual shortcomings that players find within The Outer Worlds.  
 


Character animation and movements seemed perfectly acceptable. I’ve not come across any animation bugs or issues with how the characters move and interact within the world, but a lot of it is bland. Humans seemed to be the best examples to look at for character animation, with some excellent motions and facial expressions, while some of the wildlife seemed to be pretty stiff in their movements, which generally appears to be the weakest examples of what the game has to offer in this respect. The Mantiqueen, which is pretty much a big-ass space Matis, doesn’t seem to articulate it’s movement well at all. They look incredibly cool, but the monster’s animation doesn’t telegraph their actions well and they look plain rigid while moving. Another creature that didn’t come together well at all was the Primal. The Primal looks like a troll and gorilla had a forbidden love child that was exhiled to the furthest reaches of space in hopes that it would reproduce to be the biggest asshole in the solar system. For the most part, they were serviceable, however, and this is a big “however,” they have one special attack where they burrow underground and emerge much closer to their target. The animation for this attack looks like complete and utter shit, and that’s the most polite way to put it. The visual queue for this attack is just a bunch of dirt and rock being stirred up from the ground and flung into the air. The Primal then disappears into the planet’s crust, only to emerge right in front of you with the exact same animation. The thing is, players, don’t see the monster crawl into the ground and burrow around. Instead, this gigantic creature’s model disappears! These animations were particularly frustrating early in the game when the monster’s behavior is unknown. It was incredibly easy to be sneak attacked by multiple Primals disappearing at once, only for them to re-appear a few feet away from you.    

The audio queues in the game are wonderful. The music’s good, the voice acting holds up, and the banter that’s thrown around the settlements really helps to bring each location to life. The player will interrupt conversions, hear jokes between patrons in bars, and even the occasional argument between two NPC characters about everything from money owed to heated debates about competing sports teams. The same can kind of quiality is found in combat audio; your enemies will yell out hellish screeches at you when you’ve damaged them. The Outlaws and Marauders will insult and threaten you when it comes to their untimely demise, and companions chime in to recommend swapping weapons if you’re not doing much damage. 
 
If you enjoy games like Fallout and The Elder Scrolls, you’ll find yourself right at home. The Outer Worlds also seems to carve out its own little niche in the game genre and offers up some creative styles that you won’t necessarily find in abundance in similar experiences. The extra flexibility of character development, dialogue, and just general personality that The Outer Worlds has to offer is something that the genre of First Person Role Playing Games has been missing. 

Reviewed – Monster Hunter: World for PC

Editorials, Reviewed

Monster Hunter: World finally made its way to the PC after an eight-month wait. The franchise as a whole has had quite a dedicated following in both the East and West that has generated quite a few sequels and spin-offs to the series on consoles, handhelds, and even mobile platforms. The delay in release was meant to give developers some more time to make sure their port to PC was a successful one because it is the first game to make its way to that platform. Capcom finally decided to take the plunge, which seems to be the right move, since the game’s already sold over two million copies on PC since it’s subsequent release. It looks like PC gamers are finally getting a Monster Hunter experience that PlayStation and Nintendo fans have had for years, but does the port stand up to its console predecessor and how well does the Monster Hunter experience transfer over to the PC? For many gamers, this will be their first steps into the shoes of an expert Monster Hunter, so let’s see if it’s a good one.

The premise of Monster Hunter: World, (MHW) is relatively straightforward. Players create their character and are dropped into the role of a world-class monster hunter who’s just journeyed across the ocean, to hunt monsters naturally. The character creation system is something player with find familiar. Here you’ll find all your standard sliders, collections of the nose, lips, eye shapes and menacing looking scars to choose in customizing your look. There’s nothing particularly exciting or unique about the creation system, but it fills its niche just fine. Players will create some attractive looking, or in my case, goofy-looking characters. One small and pleasant feature is the developers have allowed for spaces to be used in a character’s name, which is something I wish we would see more of in new titles across any genre. When you’re all done customizing yourself, you’ll have the opportunity to customize your Felyne friend, who is a cat-like companion that hangs around and helps you throughout your adventures. The creation tool for your Felyne is a simplified version of your own character creation tool, so there are some options for it, but nothing too deep. Don’t be surprised if you see your cat-friend running out there with a different hunter and another name attached to it.

Once you’ve arrived at the new continent, there is plenty of new biomes to explore. These separate regions in the game have a collection of different wildlife, plants and of course, monsters to hunt. You’ll see everything from lush oceanside jungle to barren deserts, and much more as your character explores the new continent to unlock even more stunning; and in some cases, absurd looking regions. These areas are full of little hidden corners and nooks that will usually have new items, rare creatures, and even characters that can give you a leg up. Players that enjoy freely wandering and exploring in games should love these multitiered, complex regions of the map. Character advancement is tied to their gear, so if you want to do more damage, or be resistant to particular elemental effect, players will have to change or upgrade their armor, weapons, and accessories to keep up with their quarry. Advancing through the game and becoming a higher ranked hunter means you’ll unlock more weapon and equipment choices. The better a character does, the more gear becomes available. Each of the weapons has their individual upgrade tree that can be explored, too. A character also isn’t married to a single weapon-type and Players can choose to swap a weapon in between missions. Each weapon comes with a different move-set to help take down enemies. As a result, weapons will have different tactics that a player or group can employ to maximize damage to a Monster. The Sword and Shield for instances provide a character with improved defense and faster attack speed, while a weapon like the Gun Lance grants a character the ability to shoot at a monster from range. If you pick a weapon that doesn’t work for you, no worries you can always craft another one out another one. With the number of weapon-types available and upgrades for each of them, players shouldn’t find themselves feeling bored with the combat for a while.

Monster Hunter’s constant focus on preparation will often have your character eating a meal to boost stats like health, stamina and even damage. Players that don’t eat before going on a hunt will undoubtedly be at a disadvantage compared to any other hunters they are playing with, but most certainly the Monsters themselves. This portion of the game is quite pretty and full of activity. The delicious looking food that may actually look good enough to make you hungry when you see it. The downside to the Canteen portion of the game is that you’ll see a lot of the same actions and the same food over and over. There’s also no way to skip these sequences, and after a few hours, you will likely find yourself feeling pretty bored of them. There are also upgrades to the Canteen itself, which will add some variety to the time spent there, but honestly, you’ll likely get sick of those as well, since it just upgrades the food you see and these upgrades just replace the previous food and animations. There’s also a variety of items that the player can pop throughout their time in the field which keeps their character feeling as fresh and perky as a spring morning. These items grant health, stamina boosts and even attack damage or speed. Some of these items are an absolute must if you want to be a successful hunter as well. The whetstone is an item that keeps your weapon sharp. Sharpness is a stat degrades over time as the hunter fights beasts. If a weapon becomes too dull, it can no longer penetrate a monster’s thick hide. As a result, a minimal amount of damage is dealt, and our hunter’s combo is broken, leaving them open to attacks, especially from tails, seriously, watch out for those tails. The items and buffs require time and in themselves can be a dangerous decision while fighting A monster. It’s easy to try and step away to drink a potion, sharpen your blade or grab a mid-combat snack of nuts only to take a spiked head, tail or load of vile poisonous spit to the back. Since these character animations take time to execute, it adds a nice bit of tension to the combat experience and again focuses on strategy and foresight. Mechanically, most of these features will be familiar to people who have played pretty much any action game or RPG in the last ten or so years. While not fresh, it does allow players to focus more on just playing rather than learning how to play.

Like the weapons, armor, and items, questing will be something most players recognize as well. Everything’s posted on bounty boards or are given to you by your handler. A bright-eyed and bushy-tailed young woman who’s more than willing to provide you with advice. She’s also, as you may expect, a walking, talking anime trope. Occasionally she’s sending you off to speak with other characters, or you’ll see exclamation points scattered about the map. These characters will usually have a quest to give you. The weird thing about this is, those characters aren’t giving you a mission, not really. They are just there to inform you that it’s available and that’s about it. It’s easy to forget or assume that once you’ve spoken with someone who has a golden exclamation point floating about your head, that you’ll likely get a quest. Not so, no, once the NPC and player have made one another’s acquaintance, the player will need to go back to the handler or the bounty board to accept the quest. The way questing is managed seemed a bit strange to start with but was easy enough to adjust after playing for a little while. You can check the board for whatever you might need, and you won’t get stuck in long, drawn-out conversations to progress the game’s story. The board is also where you can join other player sessions or respond to calls for help, called “SOS missions.“ These are calls for help that other players in the world request by shooting a flare. In standard RPG fashion, there are, of course, a slew of side-quests to do for the good folks of Astera. Early quests in the game won’t punish you too badly for having a loadout that’s not quite right for the battle, but later on, some monsters get pretty nasty, and it can ramp up kind of quickly. The early game monsters feel a little bit too easy and don’t seem to really do the job of preparing players for the colossal, flying motherfuckers that come a bit later in the game. Experienced Monster Hunter players may be bored with the first four or five hours of the game, while after six to ten hours, a new player suddenly finds themselves fighting much more complicated and dangerous monsters. Players can always call for aid from another player so there’s a chance to take down something that’s may a little too big for a single player. There also might be some unexpected assistance from other monsters on the map as well. Monsters have some interesting interactions in each area that aren’t immediately apparent. The largest of the beasts usually controls the area and will fight or sometimes eat other monsters they meet while moving through their territory. An interesting interaction is that if you’ve severely wounded a monster, others creatures in the area may pick up on this and attack the bully that’s been pushing them around all this time. It’s best to find a bush to camp out in and watch the majesty that is Mother Nature unfold, as two or more horrific beasts rip into each other like the bloodthirsty monsters they are. When the fighting’s all over just collect your loot from those gullible, dead monsters.

The port from consoles to PC, especially for a first-time was a pretty decent try; it is however not without its problems. There have been many complaints about crashing and stability issues with recent driver releases, that were supposed to improve the experience, but instead, seem to have caused problems for some. Another problem seems to be with textures displaying at higher graphics settings. Armor, clothing, and weapons, as an example, look muddy or fuzzy and is much more noticeable at high resolutions. The low-quality textures aren’t problems the console counter-part has experienced. So, for now, at least, the console version of the game currently has higher resolution texturing than the PC port, making it a better visual experience. This is likely a bug that hopefully, Capcom will fix in the very near future. Monster Hunter also seems to have some difficulty in maintaining 1080×1024 resolution, with a steady 60 frames per second. Even with GTX 1070 and the 1080 family of cards, people seem to be struggling to get their rigs to pull over 60 fps. It is, however, hit or miss for people and is likely another bug that needs to Capcom will have to address. I was lucky enough not too experience many issues with fps on a GTX 1080Ti and maintained an average of about 85 fps. That being said, high-end graphics cards should be performing better. For how good Monster Hunter looks, there shouldn’t be such poor, and unsteady frame performance. There are a few settings that can be tweaked or turned off entirely that will probably give players back some frames, but some of those settings also run the risk of making the game look quite a bit different. In the Advances Graphic settings, there’s an option called “Volumetric Lighting.” This setting is mostly responsible for the clouded or misty look in the area. This same setting also seems to be responsible for heavy frame loss when it’s raining. Disabling this setting will give players quick a decent frame boost, but there is a bit of a loss of ambiance and aesthetic to the experience. This setting is also left entirely up to personal taste, as disabling it doesn’t affect how the game plays and may get a player a much-needed boost in fps by turning it off. These graphical hitches and bugs, unfortunately, shine a glaring light onto the fact that Monster Hunter: World is a console port. This fact also becomes evident if you’re playing with a keyboard and mouse. After an hour or two it’s just not a comfortable experience. The best way to play this game without a doubt is a controller. Since it was a console game first, using the scheme it was initially intended for is going to yield the best results and probably the least amount of frustration. MHW also seems to be plagued with disconnect and failure to join errors in multiplayer, which for some, has affected their experience, and understandably so. Sessions appear to be unavailable to join for no apparent reason and groups that have already joined up may find their group disbanded after a generic error code tells players they are no longer able to play online. The only fixes for this I’ve found were to cancel the current session and set up a new one or if that does not work, then to quit the game and relaunch it. Sometimes Monster Hunter: World fails to find a host altogether from launch and the player is forced to play in offline mode. While texture issues and stability problems are undoubtedly annoying, those will likely be fixed. If Capcom cannot keep players connected through a hunt, then that’s going to be a much bigger problem down the line for the game. People can deal with muddy, low-definition looking textures, but not being able to play online consistently for a game that’s meant to be played with friends will kill the game if the issue is not resolved.

The Monster Hunter experience has taken a first, good step into a new platform. There are a few rough edges though that need to be worked out, and hopefully, Capcom will be receptive to folks that are experiencing performance issues. The idea that the textures technically look better in a console environment than on the PC is an issue that developers should address quickly. This new game has improved on what we’ve come to expect from the Monster Hunter formula, and if you’re a gamer who enjoys a bit of a grind and a more methodical action experience that most RPG’s don’t have. MHW is at its best when players team up and rip into some gigantic beasts they’ve got no business hunting alone, but can knock out as a group. MHW offers both a great multiplayer and single player experience that is hard to come by, and it’s about time the PC gamers finally got a taste of the experience that console gamers have had for a while. Even with its issues, I still have to recommend this game. Monster Hunter: World is fun, the environments are detailed and slaying gigantic monsters is a thrill. Monster Hunter: World is a unique journey and a fresh addition to the PC platform that I hope we’ll see more of in the future.

Reviewed: Far Cry 5

Reviewed

Far Cry has become somewhat of a yearly expectation; a franchise favorite that always seems to sell well, despite players knowing what they’re going to get for the most part. Maybe it’s this consistency that keeps us coming back or maybe it’s the slight tweaks and improvements from title-to-title that makes this nearly yearly release worth it. Far Cry 5 aims to continue the growth and make its mark with the “larger than life” villains that have made Far Cry such a compelling franchise to watch year in and year out. There was somewhat of a break between Far Cry 4 and 5, however with primal landing in between the two mainstays, Ubisoft had a promote the latest title a little bit differently than the previous titles. The concept is a bit more extreme, the location a bit more close to home for some, and the concept a bit more on the nose than usual. Does Far Cry 5 deliver on quintessential Far Cry experience and still expand on the original premise, or is it just a game where you’re killing some simple Montana folk?

Far Cry 5 starts out pretty similarly to what we’ve come to expect from the series, the silent protagonist who find themselves in an isolated area, forced to fight for not only their lives but the lives of loved ones. There is a bit more player customization this time around, with the option to pick basic cosmetic options like sex, skin tone, hair and clothing the players are given a bit more control. Character customization doesn’t have much of an impact. The customization choices don’t seem to play any role in the single-player portions of the game and are just options to help players stand out a bit more in multiplayer.

The campaign for Far Cry 5 is presented a bit differently this time around. Ubisoft certainly put in the effort to decentralize their quest systems and relied much more heavily on exploration and communicating with the NPCs scattered rather densely around rural Montana. To make the gaming experience feel a bit more natural, Ubisoft has removed the requirement to climb towers as we saw in Far Cry 3 and 4 and eventually became a very repetitive experience. In a somewhat ironic turn, however, the game still feels like it’s following the “Ubisoft recipe,” the exploration didn’t necessarily feel like a Far Cry game at the start, but it did do a great job at reminding me of another recent Ubisoft title, Assassin’s Creed Origin. Both games seemed to want to crack the exploration mold a bit, and they ended up doing so in a way that’s very familiar to one another.

Questing in Far Cry 5 does feel more natural as the players expand. There’s also a refreshing collection of things to do that aren’t connected to the primary quest lines. Clutch Nixon, a local Dare Devil, has set various stunts records and timed races for players to get through that are both satisfying as well as frustrating as all holy shit. The fishing mini-game is also a lovely way to unwind and relax with the game or just a calming filler in between missions. It’s a well-executed change of pace that adds a nice flow to the game that isn’t in another Far Cry game. While fishing is a mini-game, there’s quite a bit to do with it, and it can easily keep a player occupied for hours on and off during a play-through. It’s possible to fight a massive fish for 8 to 10 minutes, reeling them in, only to nearly snap your line and have to give it some slack, which allows the fish to put some distance between the two of you. Sometimes the only way you’re going to catch the fish is to tire them out. Similarly, there are also hunting quests that the player is sent out.  While fishing, death-defying stunts, and a carefully executing hunting excursion are a welcome break to capturing outposts and playing missions, not all of them seem to hit their mark. A lot of side quests don’t seem to fit, not really; for the lack of a better term. The story of a cult leader running amuck in Montana is a fairly serious topic, yet a lot of the side quests seem to do their best to detract from this. Hurk senior for instance, is a mouthy hillbilly who is running for local political office and uses the player to, let’s say pack the ballot box.  These missions don’t add much lore to the world and other than giving you access to our old friend, Hurk Jr. there’s not much to offer. Not all of the side quests feel out of place, but you’re likely to find a couple throughout the game that doesn’t feel like they fit the experience that Ubisoft tried to craft. While this was likely a conscious decision during development, these kinds of quests that feel like they’re trying to break the tension just don’t hit the mark and has a tendency to feel forced and in some cases, insulting.

The main quest is quite engaging, the villains the player has to deal with are all charismatic in their ways. The Father, Joseph Seed is a fascinating character who sets himself apart from the stand-out cast of villains like Vaas and Pagan Minh from previous entries in the series, where these characters have a menacing presence to them. Father Seed, however, has a twisted warmth to him that we’ve not seen in a Far Cry game before, as a character he very quickly identifies as a fatherly figure, both in a literal and more figurative, religious sense of the word. Joseph Seed very much plays the role of the disapproving father for our protagonist. There’s a lot of mystery that seems to surround the man and his family that’s kept vague. Unfortunately, a lot of the mysteries surrounding Father Seed are just not addressed beyond the character’s flowery speech and biblical flare. Other characters, like Faith, are interesting, but ultimately her segments feel pretty disjointed from the rest of the experience. By itself, her portion of the game is perfectly fine. It’s beautiful and serene in its experience, but when it’s connected with the rest of the game, it feels like a weaker experience compared to the rest of the game. Some of the quests and mechanics in this these parts of Far Cry 5 feel a bit nonsensical at times. Bears will randomly turn into wolverines or cults into deer, as an example. It’s meant to expand on the hallucinogenic and vision quests of the previous titles in the series, but it all seems like it’s been laid on pretty thick this time around.

At first glance, the weapons selection looks deep. Players will open the weapons menu for the first time and see a plethora of weapons to choose. What won’t take long to recognize however is that lot of these weapons are the same with different skins applied to them. It feels like one of the more shallow weapons experiences in the Far Cry series, which is a particularly odd feeling since Montana being a very second amendment friendly state would have a ridiculously robust collection of firearms, everything from the useful to the utterly ridiculous. It’s a small point of American culture that Ubisoft seems to have entirely missed. Not only do gamers love a wide selection of hardware. The people Ubisoft is portraying seem to have skipped the fact that small-town America enjoys their options when it comes to guns. There are only two AR-15 style weapons in the game. One is a marksman rifle, and the other is automatic. There are different skin options and even a couple of “unique” weapons, the problem? They are all the same firearm with a different paint job. With the number of options and hardware available for the AR platform, it seems a bit ridiculous that these supposed preppers are all going to have the same firearms uniformly across the county. It’s a small, but noticeable problem with the game that I just couldn’t get beyond. All the cultists use the same weapons as the local militia factions and the AK-style rifle no one seems actually to carry regularly, and you’ll likely have to buy before you can even try it. There’s a lot of enjoyment to be had with the bow and the slingshot, but it’s a novelty that wears thin after a few hours. I continually changed my load-out to keep things fresh, but halfway through the game, I’d already used all the weapons I’d unlocked. There are custom boss weapons and the re-skinned, “improved” weapons that cost significantly more money, but share all the same stats as the previous hardware that’s unlocked, there just isn’t much to look forward to after the mid-point of the game where weapons are concerned.

Far Cry 5’s progression system’s a pretty standard affair for a Ubisoft title, which if you’ve played the latest Assassin’s Creed, then you’ll be right at home with the basic premise. Players collect points and accomplish goals to gain yet more points so you can add or improve skills that your character has already. Most of them are pretty useful; some aren’t at all. An example of this would be an early upgrade that allows the player to hold their breath longer while swimming. It seems useful, but you’re likely not spending too much time swimming, what with boats being available all the time and the ability to navigate around these bodies of water entirely. There are a few quests that require the player to swim, of these missions I did, the upgrades weren’t necessary to be successful. While it’s an excellent option to have, it’s a bit of a waste of a skill-point early on, when it can be used to unlock something better, like a health upgrade, parachute or wing-suit that helps the player get around the world, or save themselves from a clumsy death.

The audio and soundtracks for the game are phenomenal, a lot of the music was made especially for it, which added a tailor fit experience. The music that plays when players enter the menu system is a beautiful track that is surprisingly relaxing for a shooter like this. I found myself just hanging around an area to finish the song or cruising around in a stolen cultist pickup, just listening to tunes and run over deer, enemies and the occasional pedestrian that had the misfortune to run out in front of me while I was at top speed. It’s a secondary aspect of the game but adds a believable soundtrack to the experience that fits the location well. Sound effects were also made with care, audio queues from locals and cultists alike are interesting to eavesdrop on, and the sounds of combat echoed through the valleys and the hills throughout the game that adds a feeling of distance and scope to the title. While it’s pretty similar to previous Far Cry titles, especially Far Cry 4, it seems like there was a little more care taken this time around in using audio queues to top the experience off, granting it some unexpected depth.

While Far Cry 5 is fun and pretty immersive experience, it’s not all gravy. The game’s got some pretty peculiar hangups, quite literally. The collision system in the game can get pretty wonky at times. The effect can be as hilarious as it is frustrating at times. For some reason, hopping out of a vehicle will sometimes cause it to rocket forward at top speed as if it were ass-ended by a big rig going full speed. Other times, a loose fence post or sign that’s on the road will cause a vehicle to flip end-over-end, half the time exploding and killing the occupants. Funny when it happens to enemies chasing you, but maddening when you’re the one sitting in the middle of a fiery wreck. As a general rule, it’s recommended that if your vehicle starts taking impacts from absolutely nothing, put some distance between yourself and the vehicle, then just watch it for a few seconds. It’s likely to go careening wildly off into the forest, lake or even launched into the sky like some redneck version of a Space X rocket. Other than these laughable collision problems, the game doesn’t seem to experience any wide-spread bugs. There is one particularly filthy little bug that has to do with the parachute and interacting with uneven terrain. When a player pulls the chute around the time, they would have hit the ground, cliff, hill or what have you, instead of dying the player falls through the map and takes a very slow descent into foggy, white oblivion. It’s stable, and after nearly 40 hours of play, I’ve not experienced a single crash on the PC, which is excellent compared with some of the earlier Far Cry titles.

Ultimately, Far Cry 5 doesn’t break the mold, it barely even flexes it most of the time. Fans of the previous Far Cry games would likely enjoy this game quite a bit, if you haven’t played one for a while, it may be something you’re interested in picking up. Gamers that are a bit bored with this brand of open-world shooter may want to skip this installment for now. While it does switch some basic game mechanics up, it’s nothing wildly experimental and does not deviate too far from the what we’ve come to know as the Far Cry franchise. While it’s not going to add much to the experience that players haven’t seen in a Ubisoft title before, it does an excellent job at refining and honing some of the more repetitive aspects of the game. There are however some shortcomings with the latest installment that may have some players attention span waning after 20 hours of playtime. As a long time fan of the Far Cry series, I think this game’s worth the investment, but if you’re bored with the standard brand of “Ubisoft” open world experiences, this one’s likely going to be a pass for you.

Reviewed: Rise of the Tomb Raider

Reviewed

In an effort to be as open as I can about my experience with this game, it did start out somewhat rocky. I received a review code from Square Enix a few days before its release, but was under an embargo, which was moved up by a day. As a result Nvidia had not released the drivers for the game and as a result, my first few hours were plagued with random crashes, terrible frame drops and just general instabilities. Once Nvidia released the correct drivers my experience drastically changed. All things cataloged below are in reference to my experiences with the game after the Nvidia driver updates as well as a release update for Rise of the Tomb Raider itself about 24 hours before the game went live on Steam. The hardware that this game was reviewed on will be listed at the bottom of this piece.

Last week PC gamers finally got their hands on copies of “Rise of the Tomb Raider.” The game was originally a timed exclusive for the Xbox One, much to 2016-01-25_00082the disappointment of many. While the Xbox only has a few short months of early access to it, it was enough to have a few gamers chomping at the bit and with good reason. Crystal Dynamics did some really good work with this latest rendition of Lara Croft. Nixxes, the company that was charged with bringing the wonderful and intricately designed “Rise of The Tomb Raider” to the PC certainly had their work cut out for them. Gamers who had the chance to play Rise of the Tomb Raider already know what to expect, but does the PC port meet requirements for a Tomb Raider game and does it meet the strict expectations that PC gamers have for ported content?

The game’s story is par for the course for a Tomb Raider, it’s an adventure game so the story arc isn’t likely to be delivering any mind-bending twists or surprises. Rise of the Tomb Raider does deliver on what is promised though, an exciting, if not somewhat predictable experience. The game is paced wonderfully, with moments of action and suspense and just good old satisfaction throughout most parts of the game. Lara takes it upon herself to pick up where her father left off and find an ancient artifact that can supposedly save countless millions. Of course a shady, extremist, shadow organization wants the same artifact and they find themselves in the cross-hairs of Lara’s vengeance. What does make this game feel special is the the level design, landing somewhere between a free roaming explorer and an on-the-rails, narrative driven action adventure game. There is plenty of freedom as well as incentive to complete the story in Rise of the Tomb Raider that keeps things fresh throughout the experience. 

Exploration is the key to getting the full enjoyment from Rise of the Tomb Raider. 2016-01-27_00040There’s hidden items that are needed for crafting things like ammo and bandages as well as components to upgrade or outright making new weapons that Lara can’t get otherwise. The compartmentalized zones coupled with a convenient fast-travel system makes it easy to get around, without stifling the need for continued exploration. The game’s challenge tombs that are scattered about the world make for a nice change of pace and allow you to just explore, as the Lara finds rewards hidden in the caves and ruins dotting them map. While they are completely optional, I feel like skipping them would be missing out on a fairly major part of the experience. You are in fact the “Tomb Raider,” so why not play the part? These hidden sections also give Ms. Croft the opportunity to add new skills the player would miss out on, there is quite a lot of incentive to simply take a few minutes to look around. Many of these abilities are pretty useful as well. Having the ability to see traps or zero in on an enemy’s heart isn’t necessary, but these skills do add quite a bit of depth to the game.

So, is “Rise of the Tomb Raider” a good port? The short answer is ‘yes,’ the longer answer is a bit more complicated, but still favorable. First of all, the game is absolutely stunning. Everything from the textures, modeling and lighting come together to craft an experience that’s greater than the sum of it’s parts. All of these major components coupled with a healthy dose of subtlety in design helps the latest Tomb Raider stand out. Motion capture for Lara and many other characters are precise and fluid. 2016-01-25_00036Facial expressions and body language is done with a very careful attention to detail that is frankly impressive. As an example, when Lara’s cold, she shivers and wraps her arms around herself, rubbing herself furiously in a bid to hold onto some of her body’s warmth. Croft’s lip quivers and in some instances players may even hear her teeth chatter uncontrollably. Lara’s expressions are bright-eyed, full of excitement and wonder as she begins her journey. Most of these details are revealed in the game’s cut-scenes that are a treat to watch. While there is a lot of features throughout the game, players have the opportunity to take it all in an appreciate the things that may be missed while they’re running for they lives, or fighting a vicious cave bear. It’s possible for players to choose to skip these scenes, but in most cases you’ll probably want to kick back and watch. Crystal Dynamics definitely did a wonderful job at bringing our younger Ms. Croft to life, and Nixxes did a stellar job in porting this game so well. Rise of the Tomb Raider is absolutely brimming with details both large and small that makes the experience something worthy of playing.

Graphics options in Rise of the Tomb Raider are pretty robust, especially for a console port. All the standard things are there, Texture, Shadow and level detail are present and ready for gamers to tweak and play around with. There is also a healthy selection of Anti-Aliasing options as well, with FXAA, SMAA, SSAA 2x, and 4x. Anisotropic Filtering has quite a few available settings, starting with Trilinear, 2x all the way up to 16x so you can clean up some of the textures and make it look even better; as long as you’ve got the horsepower for it, that is. The game still looks very good on it’s lowest settings, but you’ll miss out on some of the weather, shadows and light effects if you don’t have a good enough graphics card to run the game at some of it’s highest settings. Gamers that have an Nvidia Titan or 980 card will run like a top and shouldn’t expect to run into too many problems at ‘very high’ settings, even with all the bells and whistles enabled. Unfortunately for many of us, lesser hardware will have to trim back some of those settings, in some cases quite drastically. Once a gamer steps outside of the settings that work for their rig, they’ll see the effects almost immediately. 2016-01-25_00032Lara is a hungry woman with expensive tastes and the only thing that will satisfy her is more of your computer’s precious hardware. If you’ve got settings that are too high players will more than likely start being greeted by system memory warnings and crashes to the desktop without even so much as an error. In some cases these crashes are bad enough to warrant a restart. I experienced a few cases where my video drivers did not automatically recover after a crash, upon investigating a bit further I discovered that my cards were reporting an an error code 43 in the Windows Event Viewer. A restart solved the problem, thankfully. Tuning to the proper settings for your hardware may wind up being one of the more frustrating moments if all you’re looking to do is to hop in and get right to the action, however you will definitely want to take the time to do some tuning. Tweaking graphics options will pay off in the long run and save you a lot of headaches while gaming that could otherwise give you a negative experience.

Rise of the Tomb Raider’s controls are done well. For the most part it’s responsive and well-organized. Remapping keys definitely isn’t something that is a necessity, but nonetheless is easily done on the fly. In some cases, it feels like the controls may be a bit too sensitive. Aiming at something from long distances got a bit shaky at times. This seemed to especially be an issue when zoomed in, but in a world where ports are often second-rate hack jobs and things where control design and functionality is often an afterthought, Nixxes did a solid job here as well. In my experience, controller support was great and as long as Windows detects the controller that’s plugged in, you’re pretty much good to go.

2016-01-25_00040Audio in Rise of the Tomb Raider is pretty alright. The sounds of nature, the birds, running water and other wild animals are done very well and all of this background audio mixes together nicely to add to the game’s atmosphere. The dialogue is full of emotion and delivered with clarity, which helps to sell the experience. Unfortunately a lot of the combat audio is lacking. Weapons fire in particular sounds more like hollow pop-guns, especially with the automatic weapons. For some reason pistols bark loudly as if Lara were standing out on a large, flat plain. The crack is heard as if it were fading out in the distance, which just doesn’t match the usual closed off environments and snow covered mountain tops that would insulate such a reverberation or cause it to echo more closely to the wielder. The audio queues stood out as being one of the weaker points of the game to me, but even that can be taken lightly, since it’s passable and is something that most players may miss altogether. It hardly breaks the illusion that’s been presented and at most is only a minor inconsistency in the games veneer-like finish.

For as good as the game is however, there are a few minor missteps that Nixxes took. SLI support is pretty messed up and is basically just not there in any meaningful sense. There aren’t any options in-game for it and currently gamers like myself are reporting problems getting to working at all. It is worth noting that some people have found some tweaks for this to get it working better, but it’s still not fully supported.2016-01-25_00077 At this point, the best graphics options available are limited to those who have dropped at least $650.00 on a video card. while the game does look great, the design effectively blocks those with multiple lower-end cards from getting the most out of their available hardware. Another issue which is probably a bit more impactful for the player is an apparent lack of optimization. While it looks polished, it sometimes doesn’t run so polished. As is the case with having a high-end video card, if you don’t have the bleeding edge of GPU technology you’ll most likely see some problems. Rise of the Tomb Raider suffers from seemingly random frame rate plunges, especially when a player moved from an area with a short to far sight line. It was not uncommon to see my frames drop from 60 right down to about 40, at times even less. Much of the time the game won’t get a solid 60 frames, but will hover somewhere between 50 and 60 fps. While the game is certainly playable, it does take away from the experience when there is stuttering and frame hiccups that show up randomly throughout play. Hopefully these optimization problems will be something we can expect to be smoothed over as the game matures a bit on the new platform. It’s not uncommon for console ports to have a few small bumps in the road after release and is typically only a real problem when they go unaddressed.

All and all, I really can’t help but give this game a glowing recommendation. It’s a  representation of an stellar action adventure game and is a superb addition to the Tomb Raider series. It’s good to see a young, vibrant Lara trudge out into a frozen mountainous tundra and kick total ass the entire way. The game is a fun ride that gives us what we want in an action adventure title. As a port, the game works wonderfully and is something that will stick in my mind for quite some time as a textbook example for how a port should be done. While it’s certainly got a few problems, they are minor and will hopefully be fixed. Even if they aren’t and the game is completely finished, never to be updated or touched again by Nixxes, I would still have no problems recommending this game to anyone who has a taste for adventure.

System Specs:

Motherboard: Asus Maximus VII Formula
Processor: Intel Core i7 -4790k: Devil’s Canyon Quad-Core 4.0 GHz
Video Card: SLI EVGA GeForce GTX 970 FTW
Hard Drive: Samsung 850 EVO 500GB SATA III
Memory: Corsair Vengence Pro 32gb (4 x 8GB)
Cooling: Enermax LiqTech ELC-LT 120

 

Darkest Dungeon: On The Eve of Release

Reviewed

SS 01I sit writing this on the eve of Darkest Dungeon’s release. For the uninitiated, Darkest Dungeon bills itself as a hardcore dungeon crawler rogue-like in which you must restore your ancestral manor to its past glory.  Your party of heroes will face brigands, cultists, and twisted monsters that are intent on destroying their bodies as well as their minds.  You will struggle to maintain not just their physical health, but also their mental health as they accumulate stress and a variety of quirks and phobias that affect their performance.  It is a cool premise that reveals itself through somber and regretful narration that is well acted and leans heavily on the recent bubbling enthusiasm for all things Lovecraftian.  I say this somewhat dismissively, as I feel that many of those capitalizing on this trend have missed the mark by a wide margin.  Most of what we’ve seen recently has oversimplified cosmic horror by conflating it with schlocky oceanic tentacled monsters and the cults that worship them, but that’s a discussion for another day.  Darkest Dungeon deserves at least a little praise, as the idea of returning to your ancestral home to find that some unimaginable evil has taken hold is distinctly Lovecraftian, even if driving that evil out with the edge of your sword isn’t.

The theme of the game is carried quite well not just by the aforementioned narration, but also by some incredible hand-drawn art.  Your party of adventurers look like they’ve seen some shit, and the locales through which they will travel are blighted, ruined breeding grounds for bandits, cultists, and monsters that all look like they all belong to this twisted world.  Character models are detailed and well animated, and although there is only one unique copy of each character and enemy, they all have very memorable designs.  It would have been nice to see some more character models, especially for your party members, but at the very least the game gives you the option of doing some palette swaps.  Skillful use of camera pans and zooms give the action a dramatic flair, combining with crunchy sound effects that really make you tense up on every hit for that split second before you register the damage numbers popping off above characters’ heads.  It’s a nice looking game.

Where things start to come apart a little, is at the actual game. As I write this, Steam reports that I’ve played about 23.2 hours of Darkest Dungeon, which for me is on the high end for a single-player game that’s not a JRPG.  In that time I have raised a few heroes 2/3 of the way through the entire level progression and have seen the majority of the low-level bosses. There is actually quite a lot that I haven’t done in the game yet but I’m starting to question whether or not I even want to see that stuff after my experience thus far, especially because most of it appears to be just higher level versions of the same low-level content.

SS 04I should reiterate, before I continue, that my experience hasn’t been bad. The turn-based combat is sound.  The character classes are mostly interesting, and the sheer variety of classes and abilities mean that you can spend a lot of time just trying shit out and seeing what works.  The first couple of times I used a Jester, for example, I didn’t think he would be a great member of the team.  Get him in a boss battle and have him spam a party wide buff that stacks, and suddenly the Jester is looking like he has a place in my roster.  Discovering the use-case for each class in the game is a lot of fun, and raising a squad of hapless level zero nobodies into an efficient team is a blast.  It’s enough to keep you busy for about 15-20 hours, after which I think you will have seen all the game has to offer from a mechanical perspective, at which point your attention might start lingering on some of the games less refined aspects.

The first apparent problem with Darkest Dungeon, is that it’s not exactly what it claims to be. This is not a hardcore game.  It is difficult, but only because there is difficulty built into the dice rolls that manage the combat.  You can make good decisions to try and minimize the effect of the dice, but once in a while they will screw you regardless of how careful you are.  I don’t even have a problem with that. In fact, that’s one of the things this game gets right.  Often times the game feels unfair, and you have to take the shit hand it has dealt you and try to make the best of it.  Occasionally taking control away from the player by having a game system that promotes non-deterministic outcomes is one of the things that this game gets right.

Where it fails miserably and falls flat on its face is by not having any sense of consequence or urgency.  The dungeon isn’t doing anything to thwart your efforts aside from just existing.  In fact, you start to wonder why you’re even there at all. It’s not like the world is going to end if you don’t beat all the bosses by a certain calendar date, there’s always next week.  The game lacks tension because there is no time limit or drive to push your characters harder than you should.  If they need to take a week off in town to reduce stress of get rid of a disease or mental illness, no-problem, just take the B-team into an easy dungeon while your A-team recovers.  On top of that, every week (basically the time it takes to go into the dungeon once), a fresh wagon of recruits shows up that you can press-gang into helping your cause at no cost, so even if you do lose someone all you have lost is your own time.

I wish this was some veiled indictment of how meaningless the time we spend playing games can feel sometimes, or how pressure to be accessible and reach a wide audience can make even indie kickstarter games feel like checkbox ticking simulators (the literal progression in this game), but I know that it’s not and that just compounds my disappointment.  Once you realize that losing characters in the dungeon has no consequence aside from the time you invested, you see that the game is just a grind with level-checks built in.

SS 17Everything you do is in service of making numbers go up or down, but the content governed by those numbers remains very much the same.  It has been bedazzled so that you’re gathering heirlooms from the dungeon to upgrade your town and heroes, but very little of it has a meaningful qualitative impact on the mechanics of the game.  It is made all the worse because the game exposes all of these numbers to you constantly and faithfully, so you know that upgrading your blacksmith with heirlooms will get you a 10% discount on weapon upgrades, the end result of which for me today was paying 1600g instead of 1800g to upgrade some weapons and armor.  You know that upgrading the plague doctor’s bomb attack will increase the chance to cause blight by 10%, and the blight damage by 1/round.  YIPEE!  The same is true of every single element in the game’s progression.

I feel like Darkest Dungeon would be a better if it took 30 minutes to play to completion and you never progressed beyond level 0.  You would enter a dungeon full of mystery with a party of heroes that would be drastically changed (or dead) by the end of your adventure, and along the way you might see 25% of the content that exists in the current game.  Instead, I’ve played it for 20+ hours and feel like I’ve seen it all over and over again to the point of fatigue.  It should, as I end here, be noted that the full release will have some additional content and even NG+ which supposedly includes the sorely lacking fail-state, and I’ll update this review as I see that stuff.  If there is a fail-state in NG+, it is a shame that you will have to finish the game once over to see it.  As it is, the game is flawed, but I’d still recommend it to someone who likes turn-based dungeon crawlers or any of its thematic elements.  If you’re on the fence, maybe just pass on this one or wait to see if it gets a meaningful update.

The full version of Darkest Dungeon is available on Steam  starting January 19, 2016.  This review is based on the latest version of the game in early access.

 

Reviewed: Just Cause 3

Reviewed

Avalanche Studios and Square Enix are back to continue their destructive love affair. The high-flying and explosive continuation of a franchise, ‘Just Cause 3’ is the post-child for mayhem and chaos looks to up the ante with the latest release. Players can look forward to strapping the boots of Rico Rodriguez again, as they run and gun their way through Rico’s home, Medici. We’ll be taking a look at some of the additions to the game, how it plays, looks and how it stacks up to it’s predecessor in varying ways. Just Cause 3 has had quite a few PC gamers waiting patiently for it, but does it stack up to what we saw before and does it stay true to the ‘Just Cause’ franchise?

2016-01-09_00015One of the first noticeable improvements to the ‘Just Cause’ series is the voice acting in the latest game. Without really mincing any words, Just Cause 2 was terrible in this regard. It was so bad in fact, that it could be distracting and in a weird way was one of the reasons to actually play it. There is one rebel in particular from the second game that comes to mind. Her name, ‘Bolo Santosi.’ This infamous character’s accent landed somewhere between South American and African in varying degrees. The voice actress also seemed to deliver the emphasis of every sentence on just about all of the totally wrong words. Suddenly, the overly serious nature of the game is comical. The dialogue of JC2 was funny in a way that a bad movie ends up being rifted on, like Mystery Science Theatre 3000. Thankfully that’s something we don’t have worry about in Just Cause 3. Yes the voice acting is much better, but the game also hits the mark well. JC3 strikes a happy medium between serious and comic dialogue, balancing a relatively serious plot direction of a violent civil war and just outright ridiculous action and devastation on a scale that would send your average populous running for the boarders.

Avalanche Studios has embraced all of the ridiculousness that embodies a game like this. The supporting characters, like Mario, Rico’s best friend is always cracking jokes.2016-01-09_00017 There is an odd juvenile machismo between the two that actually comes across as quite endearing. While you shouldn’t expect a classic, heart-warming tale told from these two, it is nonetheless refreshing, especially when compared with JC2. There is plenty of banter that bounces between Rico and his NPC friends throughout the game that just feels natural. With plenty of other little touches during cutscenes that add to the game’s’ almost cartoon-like approach to mass-murder and destruction, this is a definite improvement from previous titles in the franchise. Somewhat surprisingly, JC3 is an incredibly lighthearted and playful game which does wonders for it’s pacing. These interactions between characters slows the game down down, which isn’t a bad thing with the almost non-stop action. The more easy going, fun-loving Rico is a nice touch to the high-stress, deadly serious ‘Scorpio’ from JC2.

For the most part, core game mechanics in JC3 are largely unchanged from the previous title in the series. There are a few added options, like a wingsuit and some new mines to play with that make for a nice addition. It’s always good to have a few more options right? The biggest addition to JC3 is the ability to tether targets and objects together with Rico’s grappling hook. This flexible new tool adds the most function in the game and is frankly a blast to just play around with. Instead of simply using it as a way to get around an area quickly, now it’s an offensive weapon that can be used to tear down target objectives, pull helicopters from the sky and even turn an unwitting enemy soldier into a human rocket by attaching him to a tank of flammable gas. The newly updated grappling-hook system coupled with the wingsuit adds to Rico’s mobility as well. Most of us will remember pulling ourselves around with the parachute deployed, while grappling to the ground for leverage. The same thing can be done in JC3, except now players can use the wingsuit and can now is a snappy way to get around. I’ve found it to be my preferred form of transportation so far.

2016-01-09_00007Unfortunately driving hasn’t really had too much an improvement from JC2 to the latest game. Most vehicles feel incredibly stiff and difficult to maneuver, especially if you happen to be using a keyboard to play rather than the controller. Vehicles feel somewhat unresponsive when trying to turn and stop, resulting in plenty of accidents and possibly even comedic deaths for Rico. You would expect High-end sports cars to have tight, precise fell, however they tend to feel more like rocket propelled piece of lumber with wheels attached to them. While the driving controls did seem a little better with a controller, comparing this to other open-world games like “GTA” or even “Watch Dogs” that have a similar amount of driving, there is quite a lot to be desired in JC3 that just doesn’t seem to be there.

Just like JC2 however, JC3 shines with all of the destruction and havoc that can be unleashed on just about every corner of this small island nation. Weapons are introduced almost immediately to the player that allows them to unleash a healthy amount of destruction on both Rico‘s enemies as well as his surroundings. There’s bound to be collateral damage, but unlike most games that make players feel like they’ve done something wrong, this game just goes with it. Cars, people, bus stops or just random shit on the side of the road. All of it is fair game and just adds to the feeling of being able to raze just about everything you see. In a somewhat fashion however, just about all buildings can take a punishing blast from heavy weapons or tanks without even so much as a scratch. While the level of destruction is indeed vast, it does have its limits.2016-01-09_00003

The game’s stunning location with a mixture of bright and colorful surrounds really makes JC3’s visuals something to enjoy. The mountains and rolling hills on the islands are broken up by small towns, villas and of course strategically placed military bases. No matter where you end up with Rico, it feel like you’re never too far away from something the players can interact with or simply look at and admire. The game has fields full of red flowers that have a nice, serene look to them, that fits right in. These stunning sections of the game also help tp balance the constant intensity of the game. There’s also sprawling fields of sunflowers that are just as nice to  look at. Players have the added bonus of being able to drive through the fields full-bore, cutting a haphazard path to whatever exits they choose to make. The Mediterranean beaches and ocean water look amazing, with waves gently washing up over the nearly golden sand. It’s really a pleasure to be tearing through this surreal location and even with all the havoc players release on this game’s setting, it never stops looking beautiful. Just about every spot seems to make for some great screenshot opportunity whether you’re standing calmly, looking out over the ocean or blasting a military base to smithereens.

Just Cause 3 is not all roses and sunflowers though. The elephant in the room that is Just Cause 3 is its repetition. The same thing that makes the game enjoyable in the short term may be something gamers tire of quickly. You may find yourself blasting the everloving shit out of an enemy compound only to unlock a “frenzy” mission where you have to use a specific weapon to blow the shit out of it all over again. It’s not too bad the first few times, but after awhile it does start to get a pretty old.2016-01-09_00010

A lot of the non-story driven missions have players jumping through hoops, literally. If you’re not gliding through the air on your wingsuit, your driving or piloting something through the very same hoops. Not only does this get boring quickly, it feels like the game’s environments go wildly underutilized. While the main story missions are pretty well developed, all the extras that would keep players coming back tend to just drag on. There are only so many circles you can fly through and fortresses you can blow up multiple times before the repetition becomes wearing. The fast-paced combat and all the pretty explosions can’t mask this problem of ad nauseum that Just Cause 3 suffers from. This is unfortunately the biggest problem with the game, it’s same strengths are focused on so heavily that it’s hard to keep up for long without it losing at least some of its appeal. While I can’t say that it goes far enough to get completely boring, it does lose a lot of its satisfaction as the game goes on. With such a wide area to cover, it’s really too bad since most players will start noticing these repetitive tasks before they’re even off the first island. There are a few side missions that are pretty entertaining, but they don’t come up too terribly often. It may be why these sparse mission-types so fun to being with. Without having a wider variety of missions available it may be difficult for some gamers with less time or shorter attention spans to commit to JC3 for any extended period of time.

2016-01-08_00011JC3 really isn’t going to turn many heads with new features, but it’s a good addition to the Just Cause family. The game does more than a few things right, and Avalanche Studios has made quite a few subtle improvements that have a positive effect on the game and it’s playability. Unfortunately in some cases it may not be quite enough for someone who is looking for an open-world game that does things differently. With games like Metal Gear Solid 5 and Grand Theft Auto 5 that are available on the PC, there is some stiff competition for gamers who may not have made their way through these other games yet. JC3’s focus also makes it the title’s weakness in the long term and at some point players may be asking themselves if it’s really worth continuing. If you’re someone who has any reservations about a game like this, get distracted easily or are short on that cold hard cash, then I’d wait on the latest Just Cause. If you’re one of the many gamers that don’t find repetitive tasks too troublesome and you’re looking for a reason to blow some cash while blowing up half of a small, fictitious country then look no further. Otherwise, wait patiently. The game is worth playing, but maybe not at it’s $60.00 price-point for now. It is a beautiful game, but ultimately the world does feel woefully under-utilized and that’s hard to look passed.

 

Fallout 4: Extended Review

Reviewed

2015-12-15_00011Gamers have had more than a bit of time to digest Bethesda’s latest title, Fallout 4. While it’s a new game in a new location, the game does seem to try to cut a new path for itself, while still keeping the previous titles well within its view. This works in somewhat limiting effects that may have dilute the experiences for gamers that are expecting something either familiar or altogether different. The fourth edition of the series is a bit of a mixed bag of old and new mechanics, at least within the greater Bethesda realm of design. Fallout 4 delivers deeply into some aspects most of us find familiar, while simultaneously leaving many gamers wanting in other ways that should have been explored a bit more deeply. The game itself feels like it’s caught somewhere between the Fallout 3 experience and it’s more serious and dark counterpart, Fallout: New Vegas. Fallout 4 never quite reaches the depths of depravity that we saw in New Vegas, but managing to stay out of the almost slapstick brand of cartoon violence that Fallout 3 had at some moments. The latest Fallout is an interesting beast that tries to deviate somewhat drastically from its predecessors in some respects while still maintaining that classic, “Fallout” feel that many of us are accustomed to ever since the re-introduction to the Fallout franchise with of Fallout 3 in 2008.

Fallout 4 introduced something we’ve never seen in a Bethesda game before. Players are now able to construct buildings and manage settlements in the post-apocalyptic setting. A great addition in many respects, as it gives players a feeling of control while attempting to shape the Commonwealth into something more habitable for settlers and traders. There’s quite a bit that goes into building a successful and happy settlement for the folks that is not readily apparent or explained in-depth. Players must think of everything from food and shelter to defense and even a clean water supply. Simple aspects that most may not things about immediately, like whether or not there are enough beds and the amount of power available all has an effect on the Settlement and the happiness of those who dwell within it. After a few hours with these new mechanics chances are you’ll have a pretty good handle of them and it’s really not a bad addition to the game, even if constructing a series of towns doesn’t quite appeal to you. It does help the player feel like they are making at least a minor difference in reshaping a world that’s be blown to shit.

This construction system does have somewhat of a “tacked-on,” feel to it however and has a fair share of woes. Building will seem incredibly janky at first, walls won’t “Snap” into place 2015-11-12_00002when trying to attach it to an adjoining wall. That is until you seemingly tilt it or move your character just right, then suddenly it fits. In some cases flooring panels just won’t allow the players to lay them down on perfectly flat ground. For players expecting a more consistent and easy-to-use building system in the vein of games like Minecraft or Terraria, will find themselves quite disappointed and downright frustrated at moments. The settlement system is also unfortunately plagued with more than its fair share of bugs. Common annoyances players may come across are cases where a settlement registers as having no “defense,” despite players littering the place with defensive turrets and structures. This will negatively affect that settlement’s happiness until is is corrected. This can usually be fixed by simply moving a turret or placing a new one. Sometimes, something as simple as cutting down to one and then reconnecting it seems to right whatever went wrong.

If really fun, engaging and sometimes, downright silly side quests are your thing, Fallout 4 does a pretty good job of delivering on that. Players will find themselves wandering irradiated lands looking for elusive and eccentric scientists or targeting a precision nuclear strike. (No, not Megaton!) Every time I think I’ve found the last interesting side-story in an area I stumble across someone willing to give me a new job that is a bit more than simply walking into a building and killing raiders or Super Mutants. Quests seem to be positively littered across the Commonwealth, hidden behind seedy, burned out buildings and in dingy, radroach filled tunnels. There seems to be no shortage of things to do and find in the blown out, decaying corpse that is the greater Boston area. Some of these quests are so well hidden though, players may miss them all together if they aren’t willing to comb through every square foot of ruins. In this case, Fallout 4’s greatest strength is also one of its weaknesses. It’s incredibly easy to get wrapped up with the endless stream of generic quests that the Minutemen, Brotherhood of Steel and other factions are more than willing to just pile on top of you every chance they get. While it’s a very good way to make a couple of caps quickly, most players will find that it gets old fast.

2015-12-15_00019This randomly generated quest system is ripped straight from Skyrim’s faction quests. In Skyrim these quests would continually be given to the player as a long as they made the effort to speak to the NPC that’s charged with dishing them out. They were, in no manner required to do. This is also the case with Fallout 4’s quest system. Factions will just give them to you as long as you want them. There is one distinct difference with the way this randomized quest system is managed, however. Certain members in certain factions will just give you quests as long as you’re in earshot. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, whether you’re just there to sell some junk, picking up a new companion or whether you’re there for another quest entirely. Simply being near certain characters will give you “new” quests. This little bit of frustrating bullshit will most likely cause you to avoid certain settlements. You will especially avoiding characters that may just decide it’s a good time to give you a quest. (fuck off, Preston. I see you, you stay away!)

In some cases you can ignore these quests, in others you’ll find that you are not so lucky. Quests that require the player to rescue a kidnapped settler or pay their ransom may actually be the shittiest quests to be included in a Bethesda game to-date. It doesn’t take much time to rescue them to start with, but there are cases where you save someone, only to have that exact same settler get kidnapped again, almost immediately! Now, you might think that you can just leave these quests alone, just sitting in your journal. As long as you don’t act on the quest it’s just waiting for you to complete it like all the others. That’s what I thought and I ended up being dead wrong. A kidnapped NPC has a shelf-life of about three in-game days. After that, their captors kill them of course. These kidnappings also seem to happen no matter how well-defended a settlement is. It is because of this endless quest system that just force-feeds you bullshit that the game can quickly become boring, repetitive and just generally unsatisfying. Why Bethesda wanted such an aggressive quest system that amounts to busy work is beyond me. This is an especially confusing design choice when gamers discover that there’s so many excellent story and side missions available.2015-12-15_00024

Beasts of the Commonwealth are still pretty great. While Raiders, Super Mutants and Ghouls are what will be found out in the wild the most, there are some nice additions within these enemies. Ghouls are quite standard, every now and again you’ll find a “Glowing One” who will douse you in a more than healthy dose of radiation if they get too close. They also have the added advantage of taking quite a bit more punishment then their undead-looking, squishy brethren. The ghouls just feel a bit more threatening this time around too. Most are fast and they have a tendency to crawl out of the woodwork when you least expect it, in most cases quite literally. They are fast and often attack in large packs. While they really aren’t that threatening later in the game, the presentation is great. A great addition to the Super Mutant enemy type is the Suicide Mutant. These crazy bastards arm a mini-nuke, carry it like a football and run at you. If they get close enough they just explode. Killing them before they get to you, if you can successfully avoid shooting their carrying arm grants you a nice little surprise as well. Of course the iconic, mutated, giant Mole Rat is back. It wouldn’t be a Fallout game without it. This time however, you’ll be excited and also maybe a little bit horrified to know that a few of these special little buggers have frag mines stuck to their backs. That was a real surprise the first time I found that out.

2015-12-15_00002Bethesda has made some great improvements with the weapons and their customization in Fallout 4. Gone is that annoying degradation system for your weapons and jams are now thankfully, a thing of the past. Just about every weapon can be customized or torn down to get raw components and even other mods. This allows a player to take their very favorite gun and carry it along with them through the game, throwing upgrades on it as they level so it keeps pace with them as the progress. The selection of weapons is certainly nothing to shake a stick at either. While the player will start out seeing nothing more than homemade pipe guns, they soon give way to a myriad of firepower that has miraculously survived the end of the world, and then some. Many players may even find it hard to give up the odd-looking, yet surprisingly effective pipe guns as well. What first seems like a low level poor excuse for a real firearm  turns out to be a useful, yet ugly looking choice of weapon. Special weapons can be found scattered about the Commonwealth or being touted around by legendary enemies. These legendary guns have a variety of special effects on them that may coordinate well with the kind of character you’re playing. Best of all, just about all of these legendary weapons can be modified as well.

Just as with weapons, the selection of armor and it’s effects are quite deep. Armor adds not only damage reduction, but protection for radiation and energy damage as well. Just like the legendary weapons, there is legendary armor pieces. As if that’s not enough, players will also have more than a few opportunities to equip power armor throughout the game. This adds significant boosts to the player’s carrying capacity, damage reduction and just general “coolness.” Like the weapons, you can modify and upgrade your armor to scale or just give you some extra durability. The downside to power armor is that if you begin exploring early on or just have a keen eye while scanning your surroundings, you’re bound to find a suit of usable power armor very early. There is even a mainline quest that drops you into a beefed up suit early on, to throw down on something you’ve really got no business fighting to begin with. While the advantages are great and throwing on a suit of power armor definitely makes you feel like a badass, it just feels like it’s all a bit too soon. With the number of suits littered around the map along with the fusion core power supplies to run them, the feeling of this kind of hardware being a rare armor-type just isn’t there. It doesn’t quite feel rare at all. In fact power armor is awfully common. While I am sure glad I got the suits, I didn’t bother wearing any of them until I was almost level 30. They just make the game far too easy for the quest lines that you’ll find yourself doing early on in the game. This is also the case later on, with a character over level 50 and power armor it feels like I am running around with God-Mode enabled.

Fallout 4 is definitely a Bethesda game, for both the good and the bad reasons. It’s  what we’ve come to expect from the developer at this point. The game’s got no shortage of bugs in it. 2015-11-14_00002From hilarious little glitches that send an enemy flying into the stratosphere after you’ve delivered a devastating punch, to seemingly game-breaking bugs that lock the player in the VATS system or Pip-Boy. Other bugs that seem to plague most players, like disappearing gun models haven’t been patched out yet, while elusive and hard to pin-down bugs crop up randomly. A current favorite of mine is seemingly caused by looking down the sights of a scoped weapon. For some reason this action will cause the character to warp in some direction. Sometimes it’s only a couple of feet, while other times I’ve warped hundreds of meters in a direction I wasn’t even looking in. This bug is thankfully rare and hasn’t caused any real problems, but nonetheless is something that seems to show up on extended play sessions.

As strange as it sounds to say, it’s become somewhat of a hallmark of a Bethesda title. While certainly these bugs are not a good thing to experience, we’ve seen it so often from Bethesda that it would be almost weird to have a polished experience. Like a good B-movie, it tries desperately to hide what’s going on behind the scenes, but somehow manages to slip up enough and show us what’s really going on. These bugs, both big and small affect how we view the game and while it would be better if Bethesda actually took the time to squash more of them, they also don’t completely ruin the experience in most cases. In some instances they add a bit of humor to a setting that is otherwise depressing.

If you’re a fan of the Fallout franchise, or just Bethesda as a whole then I can recommend this game for you. While it does diverge a bit from the other Fallout titles, with a bit more shallow role-playing and has more emphasis on the first person combat aspects of the game, it does play to it’s strengths and powers forward despite the setbacks of bugs and just generally curious design choices. If you’re a gamer who gets hung up on things that aren’t as polished as they should be then I’d wait a bit on this Fallout 4. Either until the game gets more patches, has a wider library of mods, which already seems to be growing daily, or until it’s on sale so you don’t feel like you just ate $60.00+ on something that may have more than it’s fair share of pain-points. It’s a good game that will hopefully turn out to be better as it matures.

Spinning Tires

Editorials, Reviewed

I’ve been somewhat enamored by a fun little driving simulator called “Spintires.” If you’re still unfamiliar with the title, it’s a driving game that is based off of a pretty unique concept. Players are put in charge of a group of vehicles to complete objectives, like stocking a garage, filling up a fuel trailer to transporting lumber to a location for shipping, it sounds pretty easy right? Well, it’s not. In fact, it’s arguably the most challenging driving game I’ve ever experienced.2015-07-06_00014

The game charges players with crossing terrain meant to reflect the Siberian forests of Russia. It’s a driving game that requires a significant amount of thought. Everything from the obvious choices of which routes to take right down to the more subtle options of vehicle attachments a trucks weight and capabilities and even the distance versus fuel consumption.  The longer you play the more you learn how to take advantage of vehicle features like the differential lock and all wheel drive options that most vehicles have. Never has simply driving from point A to point B ever been so rewarding.

There is literally nothing else to the game, there is no getting out and walking around, there are no enemies to kill, no other truckers to race. It’s all between you, your truck and Mother Nature. The concept itself doesn’t sound exactly riveting, that is until you sit down and try to play it. Soon reality sets in and you realize you’re stuck and not just a little stuck, you’ve managed to dig yourself into a deep rut with your truck sitting on uneven ground. Backing out isn’t an option and when you try and wiggle to the right or the left all you do is dig in more. You enable your vehicles winch and attach it to the nearest tree in an attempt to hoist your burly Russian vehicle out of a pit of your own design.

The vehicle heaves and lurches forward at first. The tree you’ve latched onto groans under the stress. Suddenly your truck jerks to the right and is up on two wheels, you try correcting for the tilt while still attempting to winch yourself free and that’s when it h2015-07-06_00003appens; you reach the point of no return, your truck begins it’s slow, and unstoppable roll to the right. The body and frame sink deeply into the mud and your engine stalls. At this point you’ve got very few options available to you and they’re all require more driving across this unsure terrain.

The pacing of Spintires is a unique mix of calm enjoyment with bouts of blinding rage that bubbles to the surface for a few minutes, only to be replaced by a firm sense of accomplishment. The games lighting is superb, right around the times of dusk and dawn especially. That serene feeling is only broken by getting bogged down into a mud pit and the uncontrollable urge to yell out things like “c’mon you devilish bastard, you can do it!”

When you’re not slogging across rivers or attempting to rip your vehicle loose from the thick, pulpy mud, the game is very relaxing. Knowing that the objective is simply to get there rather than beat everyone else or at least a timer, the only thing you need to worry about is your fuel gauge, which often isn’t a problem. Any time you make any significant progress in single player, the map is saved for you. There is a multiplayer option too, which I’ve spent quite a good amount of time with. This game flourishes when teamwork is present. Players can assist one another with various objectives and even get the other player out of what would otherwise be nearly impossible to resolve by themselves. They can repair your truck, fuel you up and pull you out if necessary. It also makes for some great, tandem 2015-07-19_00002screenshot opportunities.

Graphically the game is beautiful, the water and mud physics add a lot of depth to a game that  would at first appear to be nothing more than a fun little tech demo amounting to nothing more than a romp through nature. Water flows up out of trenches and rivers, exhibiting great properties of displacement. Mud clings to tires and spatter the sides of your vehicle as the wheels desperately spin in an attempt to gain traction. The slop is also pushed out of the way or displaced when a vehicle with a large load drives through or stops on it. What may appear to be solid ground may actually cause player vehicles to sink deeply in and may take some real work to get out of.

The approach that Spintires takes to driving is a refreshing experience. A slow and methodical approach that actually requires a level of strategy and planning that just about no other driving game has is really an experience that fans of driving and racing sims should take the time to check out. It’s a very different driving experience that requires a lot of thought once players have gotten the hang of it, the game becomes very addictive.

 

 

 

 

Dying Light: Techland’s Shining Star

Editorials, Reviewed

Zombies are all the rage these days. It seems like we can’t throw a stone without hitting some form of zombified media. Techland is one of the many developers that’s caught an affinity for the undead genre. As you probably know the company released a game, “Dead Island,” a few years back. Dead Island took players to a beautiful vacation spot devastated by an undead plague.Dying Light_20150223211013 The game received some mixed reviews. Some loved it, others hated it. Personally, I found myself in the latter group. While the premise of Dying Light excited me, the previous experiences with Techland’s made me a bit apprehensive. The Zombie genre is pretty saturated these days and Techland’s last foray into it left quite a bit to be desired when all was said and done.

Dying Light is a vast improvement to what was a similar concept used for Dead Island. While the games’ structure is very simple, amounting little more than scavenge, run, fight and survive. These basic concepts come together to make quite a fun and in-depth experience. Dying Light’s atmosphere plays a big part in the games’ morbid charm as well. Often not going for the quick and easy “jump” scare, but painting the entire scenario to feel like nowhere is safe and survivors must always be on their toes. The audio portion of the game adds quite a bit to the atmosphere as well, going from almost silent to deafening screams in a moment. Music ramps up during intense sequences and is practically non-existent in moments of serene calm where players are free to take in the view and enjoy the beauty of the chaos and wreckage.

The City of Harran is littered with the undead and living alike. Harran has a very “lived in” feeling, giving players the feeling that things are constantly happening whether they are there to witness it or not. Techland did a great job with level design and layout. Different sections of the game has a variety of architecture, building sizes and terrain that adds for a nice change of pace. The city looks like everything came to a violent, grinding halt. From the abandon cars scattered across the landscape to the half closed up homes and businesses. There is a feeling that many people left their entire lives in the streets, whether they escaped or died where they stood. This environment brings a foreboding weight with it; a sense that Harran is living on borrowed time from the moment our protagonist, Kyle Crane arrives in the doomed city.

The entire atmosphere of the city will put players on edge or make them feel outright terrified at times. The undertones of players not being safe anywhere is seemingly a constant theme in the game. Even in safe zones where the undead will sometimes literally wait outside for players to leave. Many safe zones that have yet to be unlocked are full of the undead, giving the feeling that one slip up could cause a haven to become a penned-in nightmare. Thankfully this doesn’t happen and is only used for affect when unlocking safe areas. Once players take a zone it remains safe for the rest of the game. The fact that it wasn’t safe when players found it. With the undead often only feet away makes for a very uncomfortable and claustrophobic environment.

Players can do quite a bit to improve their situation throughout the game. Like scavenging for new weapons, crafting upgrades and modifications to weapons to deal with the undead threat. These opportunities come with an inherent risk to them however. These risks can range from from an almost unlikely chance Crane will be snagged by a zombie, to almost certain death. Gathering the weapons and crafting items the players need take time and it’s very easy for a zombie (or ten) to wander over while players are distracted. It’s easy for the player’s attention to change when picking locks or scavenging an area, forgetting to check the radar or to glance away from a task every once in awhile can lead to disaster. While one zombie is unlikely to drag a player down, a group can make quick work of even a high level player. There are very few occasions where players will feel more vulnerable then when they’re trying to crack a lock. The risk vs. reward scenarios give the game a great balance and delivers a feeling of accomplishment for cracking into the back of a police van or opening a chest in an area that players have had to painstakingly clear out.Dying Light_20150227220634

Dying Light’s combat system is a simple but effective design choice. The closest comparisons that comes to mind would be “Zombiu” on the Wii-U. There is however a much more calculated feeling to it. Combat requires players to try and plan out their attacks, engaging when it suits them and singling out enemies from one another. Hopping into a group of zombies and swinging wildly is a terrible plan. Even at higher levels characters are vulnerable to groups of slow, “regular” zombies. Combat is grueling, but in a good way. Killing zombies is no simple task and players may be both horrified and amazed at the amount of punishment one zombie can take. Not much is left up to the imagination in combat either. Limbs, heads an chunks of torsos being severed or crushed in is a common sight, there is some real weight to the combat. The sense that you’re cutting into another human body is very real and as fun as it is disgusting.  Players will eventually find guns too, however these come with their own problems. All the zombies have an acute response to noise. If players aren’t careful they can make a bad situation worse by popping off a few shots or lobbing a grenade into a crowd of walkers. The option of whether to stand and fight or hightail it to the nearest roof is a question players will find themselves asking at every corner. While Crane has some excellent mobility, he does get tired and needs to take a breather from time-to-time. What players decide to do heavily weighs on what time of day it is.

As the sun dips lower there are reminders that players will need to contest with some much more frightening and aggressive creatures. The reality is you simply do not want to get caught out at night alone for a very long time. Even at higher levels players don’t stand a chance against Nightmares of even a group of determined Volatiles. Once the sun is down the best option available is to book it to the closest safe house. Dying Light certainly rewards players handsomely with experience for surviving the night. Crane can earn a massive amount of experience for any of the three upgradable skill tiers, which revolve around Agility, Survival and Combat, often the nights you venture out of the safety of the camp can heavily affect Crane’s equipment. It’s easy to burn through medkits, wDying Light_20150302202404eapons and explosives while dealing with the seemingly endless hordes that shamble out of the darkness.

As fun as it is to play alone, Dying Light really stands out when with a group. The game thrives on teamwork and cooperation with one another. Venturing out at night is a feasible option with a good companion and the way two players can assist one another in combat is not only affective, but incredibly entertaining. There are many laughable moments where a friend comes flying in from the boundaries of your screen only to dropkick a zombie off a roof, plunging to its (re)death. Certain zombie-types also get much easier to fight and deal with if you’ve got a friend. There can be a maximum of four characters in one game at a time, which really ramps up the action and can help to bring the monsters out of the woodwork. It can be as helpful as it is a hindrance though. Players will most likely want to pick their companions carefully as a bad team member can drastically and negatively affect the experience. This is however the case with many cooperative games, but just something to keep in mind while looking for someone to play with.

Dying Light isn’t perfect, but I was hard-pressed to find bugs that drastically and negatively affected the game. There are a few odd clipping bugs where a zombie will appear inside of the building, when really it’s scaling the building from the outside. Some other bugs that have cropped up are weapons that cannot be repaired until the player switches to one, then switches back. Zombies will also sometimes get stuck in between objects littering the street, though usually not for long. If anything a lot of these bugs are a welcome chuckle in a game with such a heavy atmosphere and setting. Nothing stands out as a glaringly obvious failure and overall Dying Light feels very polished.

The story itself isn’t bad, a bit of a classic zombie “standard” we’re used to seeing in gaming, but it’s a good one. Some of the characters you interact with in the game are pretty drab though. Crane forms bonds with these people that players may find themselves feeling pretty neutral about. You don’t hate them, you don’t love them and sometimes they just feel like they’re there to progress the story. They do the job, but you may wish they did more than the bare minimum. Some of these characters aren’t without their charms though. Rais, the games’ antagonist is a fun guy to deal with that reminds me a bit of Vaas from Far Cry 3 and totally off-the-wall drug lords like Pablo Escobar. The worst that can really be said is, “Hey, sometimes you’re just not going to connect with these characters all that well.” The rest of the games’ strengths more than make up for any of its short comings. In a game about bashing in the heads of zombies, players may not even really put much stock in the relationships Crane forms with other characters.

Dying Light is a great adventure across a dying city full of people who are already dead. Techland knocked this zombie head out of the part as far as I am concerned and delivers a game with the right balance of difficulty, flexibility, fun and fright. If you were a fan of Dead Island you’ll most likely enjoy this free-running action horror game. Even if you weren’t a fan of Dead Island this game is worth checking out. There is plenty of content to keep a player busy for hours and for many is well worth the money. Dying Light is what Dead Island should have been and more in all the right ways.

Far Cry 4: Reviewed

Reviewed

The Far Cry series has had quite an interesting life so far. What started out as a narrative-driven FPS revolving around a Jungle island and weird, aggressive monkey-like super mutants turned into a much more down to earth franchise about various protagonists fighting to save countries in the throes of revolution.  This has been the theme of the Far Cry series since Far Cry 2 and Far Cry 4 has continued this direction and scope of game play pretty well. Far Cry 4 certainly stays true to what has become of the Far Cry series, but does it add anything new to the series that is worth hanging onto and does it improve on the ground work laid by it’s predecessor?

The first thing players will most likely notice in Far Cry 4 is the location. To put it simply, it’s gorgeous. Kyrat, a small fictitious country in the Himalayan Mountains is a land covered in lush green forests, snowy hill-tops and colorful open fields. Visually this is the most strikingly dynamic, as a well as beautifully designed landscape in the Far Cry series to date. Far Cry® 4_20141227234719The landscape varies from location-to-location and is quite diverse even within those individual sections. The Mountainous regions are impressive, covered in blindingly white snow the blows through chasms and gullies that one may expect to see at the top of the world. The less mountainous regions are covered in everything from old tall trees and fields full of violet poppy flowers to old stone ruins littering the countryside. While the land is stunning, below lies an unruly populous and a vicious monarch. Kyrat as a country feels like it has a long and storied history and you’re simply the most recent chapter of it. There is even a feeling that there will be much more to come after you. The way characters speak of the future of Kyrat as well as the past that’s shaped it helps to bring a kind of weight and morality to your actions. While this kind of sentiment is definitely found in Far Cry 3, it’s not to this amount. There are even more exotic locations in the game that really display the depth of it’s beauty that shouldn’t even been mention, lest it give too much of the story away. Most everything is great to look at and while some aspects of it’s design could have used some added work, they are largely insignificant and players won’t be dwelling on it unless they suffer from some extreme rock-related form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Pagan Min, the self-appointed “King” of Kyrat is voiced by the talented Troy Baker. He does a good job at a follow-up villain in Far Cry 4. Pagan Min as a character had a tough act to follow after Far Cry 3’s strong antagonist, Vaas. While not nearly as crazy, Min certainly brought a smooth, cunning and charismatic aspect to characters that seemed to be somewhat lacking in the other Far Cry games. Min has a uniquely calm and evil aspect to him that leaves the player wondering what he is going to do next. He is easily the type of character that is likely to shake your hand as he is to put a bullet through your head. Many players may find themselves in a odd “love/hate” relationship with the character, as he brings quite a bit to the table and is a great addition to the villains in the Far Cry franchise. Ajay Ghale, our fearless protagonist isn’t much more than a generic centerpiece. Far Cry® 4_20141227014228Ubisoft does just enough to get you investing in who he is to carry the player through the story. He’s full of great one-liners though and his family’s history is compelling enough to keep the player wondering in Ajay’s past. While he’s not brilliant, Ajay is definitely the most impactful protagonist in the series to date. Ajay’s allies and the leaders of the Golden Path are frankly are difficult to relate to. Both Amita and Sabal come across as uncompromisingly strict assholes in many scenarios. Neither of these characters are straight with you, despite being the most important person in their revolution. Unfortunately players may be found struggling to make a decision on who to side with. This is not because they both offer something important that players may want or feel aligned with, but because they come across as incredibly untrustworthy and manipulative characters. Ironically enough, the villains are much more relatable. They make no attempt at hiding their true nature and what their goals are with Ajay. The enemies are simply more trust worthy because they do exactly as they say and in many cases come across as being much more human than the characters that claim to be on your side. Characters like Paul De Pleur are compelling and interesting. They seem to have many different sides to them with unseen motivations that affect their actions. While these do not necessarily impact the story it certainly adds to it’s development. The problem here is that none of the friendly characters have any of these in depths qualities which ultimately hurts their motives. There are a few characters that manage to be completely off the wall, untrustworthy and yet fun as well. Keep a close eye on Yogi and Reggie.

Far Cry® 4_20141226203110The lesser NPCs in the game are pretty generic. They look good with quite a bit of detail in their design, body language and even their audio queues. These characters really help to fill to the world with “living” people. There is a lot of repeating actions and dialogue that is difficult to ignore however. If the player isn’t looking too hard it’s something that won’t bother them, however if they happen to be the type of gamer that’s looking for an in-depth, comprehensive world that has new things to offer from every NPC at every turn, it may be something that bothers them. That said there is a whole lot of detail in each model. Min’s soldiers range from the young to the old, with clean shaven baby faces, to grizzled and scarred complexions and facial hair. Whether friend of foe though, they all seem to be somewhat worried about the wildlife in the area and with very good reason.

Almost all of the animals that exist in Kyrat are aggressive in one way or another. Some much more than others, but if the player pushes their luck with them they may find themselves on the wrong end of a horn, claw or talon. These animal models are absolutely stunning! Whoever did the design and modeling for these beasts deserves a pay raise. The wild cats especially stand out. Tigers and Snow Leopards had some real love put into their designs. After killing one (because that’s the only way in hell you will get close to them.) the fur looks fluffy, thick and as if each individual hair stands on it’s own to make a fine, shiny coat for the animal. It’s fun to watch a tiger stalk it’s prey through the tall grass, or a Black Eagle plunging down to pick up a wild boar and carry it off.  Other animals like the Rhino and Elephant are designed with equal amounts of care put into them. Their movements are fluid and the signs that they are about to become aggressive are hard to miss. Players may find themselves making the mistake of getting too close to watch them while they lumber about and get attacked, but it’s well worth it just to see them moving around and watch their mannerisms. These animals help to create the illusion of a stable and beautiful ecosystem that most other games can’t compete with.

The game’s audio is pretty solid. The music is a good mixture of modern electronic and historically Asian influenced music mixed together. It’s enough to fill in some of the down time while the player is driving to a mission or is quietly scouting an outpost looking for a good point to attack without intruding on their concentration. Enemies will yell some pretty entertaining and unique things at you while they are looking for Ajay or even actively shooting at him. The weapons audio is great as well and melee combat has a satisfying “Thud” or “Shink” sound to it that lets the player know their attacks have hit the intended target.

Quite a few of the weapons are pulled right from Far Cry 3. This isn’t exactly a bad thing since that game had some really great guns. Some of these are nice to see again, but it would have been nice to have a few more new guns, if you’ve played Far Cry 3 then you pretty much know what to expect for the weapons and upgrade system that is available in Far Cry 4. It seems to work really well and there’s not reason to fix what ain’t broke, but a few more additions would have been nice. Players may find that they become comfortable with their “favorites” too. While this is fine, to get the most out of the game and play around with different tactics players should really look at trying different weapons regularly. They may find themselves pleasantly surprised when using something new. Far Cry 4 does a great job at giving players options, especially where tactics and weapons are concerned. It’s really difficult to get bored of the combat too with so many options. You can go in as a quiet assassin, knifing anyone you come across, or a ranged ghost filling your targets full of arrows like the Kyrati hunters of old. Players can run into an area full of enemies, loudly gunning them all down, throwing led and their aim out the window as they plaster Pagan’s guard with bullets. In some cases players can even use the wildlife itself as a weapon. There is no shortage of available weapons or tactics however and that should keep most players easily entertained.Far Cry® 4_20141227202612

The ability to traverse the world has certainly improved as well. Players may remember unlocking the “Wing-Suit” in Far Cry 3 and it’s reappeared in the latest game, giving players a bit more maneuverability and a way to avoid simply plunging to their deaths so easily. Far Cry 4 has also introduced a grappling hook. This allows players to climb a steep cliff faces and swing from ledge to ledge without too much of a risk of death. This grappling hook is a nice addition to the game that gives a player very specifically added mobility. While it’s not usable in many situations, it is certainly indispensable when the player wants it. The hook also helps to give them game some vertical scale since players can now explore some of the cliff faces for items or even use them as a vector of attack. While it’s not necessarily a game changer, players have certainly gotten creative when using the grappling hook to their advantage and it’s a nice addition to the Far Cry series.

Unfortunately the game does have more than it’s fair share of bugs. Players may run into the occasional clipping glitch that causes them to get stuck in a wall or firmly lodged between two objects in the world. The game also appears to suffer from diminished “polish” as players progress. While it may have been a coincidence, a vast majority of bugs I ran into were in the last 20 percent of the game. These bugs include odd graphical problems that seemed to cause a blue lighting effect filter over the entire game while outside that could only be fixed by restarting. A more noticeable as well as annoying bug that caused me to be unable to steady my sniper rifles by holding by breathe also came up quite a few times. While the option was available to use it simply did not work when I pressed the key to activate it. I attempted to correct this by changing scopes, rifles and even reloading my previous checkpoint however I could not resolve this problem until I restarted the game all together. All of these bugs I experienced in the last section of the game which seemed to be strange. It simply could be poor timing, however there were noticeably more problems for me as a neared the end of the game.Far Cry® 4_20141225205113

All-in-all Far Cry 4 is a decent game. If you love exploration and a good FPS that gives players choice and flexibility in how to tackle an objective then you’ll most likely enjoy Ubisoft’s lately installment in the Far Cry series. There are however a few issues that made the game frustrating. The glitches seem to be a symptom of nothing more than a lack of consistency and a rush job that could have easily been avoided had the game be delayed for even an extra month or two. While the content that is there is good, it does repeat itself a lot and it does limit the game to some degree. With all that said though, the combat is satisfying and there are some wonderfully well represented characters in the game that should stick in your mind for a long time to come. The environments are breathtaking, expansive and are rewarding to explore. For me, the experience was overwhelmingly positive and despite it’s flaws I had trouble pulling myself away. As long as you’re not expecting Far Cry 4 to reinvent the First Person genre or even the Far Cry franchise then you’ll most likely be very pleased with the time spent in Kyrat.