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. 

Re: Genesis

Genesis, Writings and Ramblings

He started with a feeling, an immaterial, unquantifiable, and nebulous awareness. Without any warning, the blackness peeled back. It was a Blackness not even he was aware of, yet seemed to have loomed there forever. He awoke from a dreamless sleep to something of a material world, a place he had no memory and seemed to be of the same nothing he emerged from as well. There was a notion of familiarity in this world, but it waved along with his awareness. The vague idea that had begun to creep into him felt far off and disconnected from his mind like they were two long lost friends turned strangers, and now were nothing more than silhouettes that waved to one another across a vast distance. Space was timeless for him, and the idea of his existence was hard to contain, the sense of himself wavered between the void and clarity he slipped in and out of the black nothingness. Awareness crashed against the inside of his eyelids, thrust forward by his mind like angry winds that blew relentlessly at an old door. Moments of clarity pulled back out like water on the sands of a beach. At times he can see a face, a smile, a frown of disapproval frozen for a time, then faded, and the features slipped away with the phantom that was his consciousness. The idea formed much later that the face he saw could have been his own.  

Awareness of himself climbed back into his mind and what started as a trickle had become torrent which raged through him. The surge started with a rhythmic and well-time thump in sequence, then the sensation of cool, damp air as it moved down his windpipe and into his lungs. The first breaths brought a rasp with it, and the air seemed to grate against his trachea. His lungs expanded a bit, his breathes were shallow and weak at first, but his chest rose and fell in a slow determination all the same. His lungs and chest felt tight, resistant to the sudden and new movement like he had held an endless breath that could finally be released. The first, real and conscious thought came once he’d begun to breathe with some normality. The idea was primal, and ill-formed, but could only be described as elation, a gitty feeling rose and sent a tingle through his body, that let him know he was there, and whole. Behind his joy, the terror of slipping back into nothingness loomed. The void threatened to even pull his happiness back into the blackness with him. Still the waves of awareness came and went, though each time the concept of self-realization seemed to last a little longer. The sea of his mind had begun to flow. He was free in these times, and his thoughts swelled. He wondered why he could feel, but could not move and why he could breathe but not speak, why he could hear, yet could not see?  

His thoughts crashed and swirled together like a vortex and filled the void with his mind. Muscles started to twitch, spasm, and cramp with painful, yet welcomed life through his renewed frame. The discomfort and pain were even a pleasure to feel anything was a joy. When his state of awareness was available long enough, he felt as though he had just woken, the concept was still primitive and the meaning lost on a mind that that lacked the faculties to grasp his existence all at once. Nevertheless, the idea began to take root anyway. The waves of consciousness began to nurture a tree in his mind, even when the waves had retreated for a time, he could still see it, the roots had taken hold in the black nothingness of his memories, even if just barely. The tree grew fast and started as not much more than a sprouted seedling, but then only after a short time seemed to thrust into the boundless, black sky. The waves, not tiny by comparison, crashed harmlessly against the trunk as they soaked into roots. The tightness of his chest from his breathes had vanished, the muscle cramps almost entirely disappeared and left a dull ache in their place. He climbed the tree that had taken root from his mind and was now in this vast, black space. He Started from the base of the tree. By now even the smallest roots of the tree had grown to be larger than a house. He scaled the trunk that an ignorant person could have mistaken for the side of a cliff face. He hoisted himself up, step by step. At points, he paused to look at his hands and arms, the muscles burned, his skin felt thin and chaffed, yet he had no limbs he could see. He couldn’t explain the lack of his concern over his phantom limbs, but things seemed to be in order and with no memories of his past, maybe he’d always been like this, and subconsciously he had already accepted this fact. Still, he continued the ascension upwards and towards the massive canopy that appeared as if it could house a limitless metropolis. The fact that he had no limbs he could see or interact with didn’t seem like much of a concern to him as he hauled himself up the massive trunk. As he scaled the gargantuan trunk, he found a notch in the tree, an open chamber that had been hardly visible from the roots, it was so small from the ground, it was barely noticeable until he’d begun the climb. The portal was nothing more than a dark spot he assumed was an oddly cast shadow from the large canopy. On the face of the tree was a massive cavity that grew with the tree. He hoisted himself into the hollowed opening and peered the dimly lit cave after a long, arduous climb. The inside of this chamber was smooth all around, domed inside with a perfectly smooth and flat floor. He was amazed at how perfect the inside of the cavity looked Despite the rapid, gnarled growth of the tree. The center of the room had a straight wooden spire that shot up from the floor to the ceiling. He circled the impossibly hardened wooden post that stood in the middle of the tree. Each available inch of the obelisk had symbols carved all around it, seemingly small nonsensical images that meant nothing to him, though the appreciation of the intricate work was something he couldn’t deny; whomever it was that carved it.  

A mixture of hieroglyphs, single, unrecognizable words out of context and petroglyphs had been laid out as they spiraled up every available centimeter of the hardwood pole. He walked around the pole, examined the symbols, and when he reached out to touch them, he could feel the hard, cool grooves carved into the wood. He traced each curve and dimple in the timber with his invisible digits that moved with a gentle decision over the intricate carvings in hopes that the sensation would be a more familiar one but to no avail. The awareness that he was able to feel things he’d touched in this space did at least satiate some of his desire, but ultimately posed more questions than it answered. As the waves receded and his mind slipped back into obscure darkness, the last thing he remembered was the look of the wood, polished, varnished and clean, as if someone had maintained the core of this tree the whole time, even before it took root in the empty cavern of his mind. The tree had only just grown, yet with its phenomenal size seemed to try to tell a story, one that’s tied to the very being of the tree itself. The waves dispersed and with it came the calm, blank void that slipped over his mind like a veil. When awareness returned with tides, he found himself back at the bottom of the tree. Once again, he scaled the awesome wooden creature, and once again climbed into the massive opening he’d found. It was much easier this time, the nebulous aches and pains had left his frame without any impression that lasted. This time shadows of people surrounded the base of the wooden spire. Unnatural voices and tones bound around the inside of the hollowed dome and echoed through him. The voices warbled in and out of pitch, the sounds combined in one moment then dispursed the very next. He focused, trying to hear what they were saying, but the concentration seemed to have made everything even harder to understand. If he tried to focus on the spritely figures, they faded. He sat down in the structure inside the tree; he watched and listened to the specters as they moved around him. When a silhouette got close, he could feel a slight breeze as they passed by him and in one case, a shadow with a long trail behind it a blanket of fog that moved close enough for him to touch. He reached out with his invisible hand and felt the soft silken fabric of clothing as it moved beyond his reach. His heart jumped at the unexpected sensation of the cloth against him. The shock caused him to lose concentration, and the waves of his ever-expanding mind had begun to recede once again. A moment later, he slipped back behind the veil.  

In an instant, his awareness rushed back to him like a tsunami of sudden existence. He looked around him and realized there was no need to climb the tree once. Much to his immediate surprise, he found himself in the hallowed chamber of the tree, crouched next to the carved pole. The emblazoned wooden mast that rose to the ceiling and disappeared into the rest of the tree pulsated with light, the various glyphs and images were a rainbow of vibrant colors that faded in and out. Colors shifted with each strobe that gently dimmed them brightened as the light moved up through the core of the tree. Gusts of chilled winds ripped in through the massive hole in the face of the tree and the realization that he felt the wind on his skin finally became apparent to him. At first, the fresh and cool breeze felt nice. He had a sudden cascade of goosebumps across his invisible flesh that made the hairs on his arms and legs stand at attention in response as the air blew over his exposed flesh. Soon though, that same breeze had begun to cut into him. The chill was as precise as it was ice-filled. The wind burrowed deep into his skin, dug under his muscles and bit into bones. He ran toward the portal in the tree as the wind’s off-pitch howl wavered with menacing inconsistence shifts in this tone and bitch as the intensity waned and bolstered itself.  He moved his hand forward, in a futile effort to block the wind as it cut into his face and eyes, but it just blew through his phantom appendage as if it weren’t there at all. Tears ran down his cheeks in warm little dots that streaked down his face and left a frigid path where the wind kissed the liquid trails that evaporated an instant later, carried off by the chill bluster. The wind had become so intense as he approached the opening, he had to fight his way through the wall of air as it tried to push him back into the chamber. He struggled to the hole in the dome and was finally able to poke his head out from the great rift in the tree and peered down the long trunk. He poked his head out from the giant port and used his free arm to brace himself at the edge.  The calm waves of water that had previously rushed over the roots like a gentle brush made of water were now a torrent that raged over the base of the tree that covered the roots in an agitated, white foam, a flood of water slammed against the trunk with a fury that just seemed to become more savage as he watched.  

He turned to look around the room and saw the silhouetted figures in the tree would appear then vanish with each strobe of the intricate carvings. They were all frozen in place when the light was bright enough to see them against the shadowed background of the inner dome. All the shadows stood as still as statues with each flicker of the luminous pole, all except for one. In between the drastic shift in the brightness of light, he spotted one of the sprites as it moved toward him. This shadow froze too, but, with each burst of light, it moved closer to him. The shadow covered vast distances within the chamber in the blink of an eye. It only took a few seconds before the figure was practically on top of him.  Now that they were close, he could tell it was the shadow of a woman, was it the same woman he’d touched not that long ago, was it her silken dress he felt? He could almost make out the features in her face, the sunken eyes, delicate bridge of the nose and the smell of lilac in the air, even as the gusts whipped around the tree he could smell it; a new yet altogether familiar scent that his half-conscious mind would not let him place, nor would he have the time to set it where it belonged.   

The figure moved to face him and through the wind and sound of the waves as they crashed below, everything fell silent for a just a passing second. He heard a hushed whisper; a sound that should have been too quiet hear, yet there it was, almost as if it bypassed his ears and were projected directly into his mind. “Do not fear the swells it is you who is the tide.” The sunken, empty sockets of the shadow’s face peered into his eyes, a face he’d not seen yet the woman seemed to see him as clear as day, then the shadowed stepped forward. He felt two firm palms on his chest; these were no hands from a specter. The scent of lilac overwhelmed him; then, just like that, a fierce shove sent him out the hole within the tree. He toppled downward towards the waves below. End-over-end he spiraled down towards the torrent of water that battered the roots of the great tree below. His guts flipped and twisted along with his invisible frame, and we tumbled through the empty sky. As his body pitched forward, he was sure that at any moment he was going to smash hard into one of the exposed roots surrounded by a deluge of water, yet he didn’t seem to fall all that fast. The initial terror passed like a breath of air that escaped, and a few moments later, he stretched out his arms and legs and produced enough drag to stop him from at least tumbling end-over-end. The wind tore at his periphery as he fell, he could feel the bite of the air between his fingers and on his nose like frigid teeth from a jagged ice-filled mouth. The air roared across his ears at a deafening speed. His eyes felt as if they would freeze solid and even though he squinted his lids down to nothing but a paper-thin, blurred view. There was so much distance still left to cover before he reached the water below that it felt as though like he was suspended in space. Despite the fact he knew he was moving ant at an incredible speed downward, the thought he might never reach the bottom flashed through his mind. An eternity of a fall in perpetuity was not something that appealed to him.  

He plunged ever downward and found himself thinking of the impossible tree, the shadows, the glyph laden pillar and of course shade woman during his descent. She seemed to have known him, and not only that, it felt like he knew her. Her scent, voice, and even her touch felt familiar somehow, yet he was unable to place her. His memories were lost, and all he could recollect was this odd space that defied everything, whatever this “everything” actually was. She was a piece in a puzzle that belonged, but somehow the shaded woman did not fit anywhere within his puzzle. An unexpected crash broke his concentration as he hurled towards the white caps below, and he saw one of the immense roots of the tree heave upward hundreds or even a thousand feet into the dark air. Water poured down the giant root with such volume that waterfalls appeared as the mass of water rushed back downward. He couldn’t help but question for just a moment if the flood of water would ever end.  

While he was still so far away from the surface of the deep blue water, the upturned root was now much closer to him. He craned his neck back against the wind and peered behind towards the tree. He saw that the impressive tree had begun to tilt away from him; from this distance, he could see leaves and branches crack loose and fall from the tree. As the angle of the tree changed, he could see the hole and the faint, yet unmistakable waves of light from the inner spire that flickered in rapid concession from the hollowed mouth of the tree. No longer was it rhythmic and gentle like before, but strobed with violent bright bursts that varied from moment-to-moment. A deep red replaced the serene hues that now burst out of the inner chamber and spasmed like a heart amid an attack. He strained to see the shadows, to see if any of them were moving to see if anything escaped the hollowed tree, he hoped the woman who pushed him free was able to get away; an odd thought considering he assumed he would fall to his death or whatever happened to pass for that here. Just then he felt a massive and sudden impact to his chest and as if there were tons of weight loaded on his chest and back in an instant. His speed slowed to a near halt in a single second, then rolled off the side of the hardened, jagged object. He felt himself slip and realized his eyelids had locked shut since the moment of impact. His faculties came back to him immediately, and he realized he’d slammed headlong into the massive, exposed tree root that the waves heaved from the base of the tree. While he fell away from the root, he was able to fully appreciate the sheer size of a single anchor for the great tree. The gnarled wooden tower that was meant to keep the tree grounded was so massive it alone could have been an incredible tree. The pain from his impact faded away before he’d even slipped off the massive root, but it had jarred him nevertheless, he patted around his invisible frame as he fell to check and see if any injury or pain lingered beyond the moment of impact. He had to check himself to be sure it wasn’t just the shock, and that his body hadn’t actually burst into pieces from the force. He was indeed still together, or as whole as a shaded body could be. He shook his head back and forth to reorient himself with his enforced direction of travel downward and realized that now he was so close to the water he could feel the mists from the waves as cascaded back and forth against the tree. The force was enough to carry the water high into the air and form a thin, clouded layer that was suspended just above the base of the tree. The clouds felt fresh and moist against his skin; an unexpected moment of stillness and peace that seemed to muffle the roar of air and thunderous crash of the waves.   

Before he knew it, he burst from the layer of mist and could see the base of the tree trunk. Water eroded the tree trunk, and all the bark was stripped free by the waves that continually barreled into the tree that floated aimlessly atop of the waves in dark brown splotches. Only the bare wood remained and was being punished mercilessly by the crests of water that continued to crash. The red-hued wood had cracked and swelled from the sea that raged around it. Fissures formed within the great tree’s body, water worked its way in and pushed it apart from itself in massive, barbed chunks that splintered off in long, irregular pikes that fell to the waters below. The tree continued to splinter and crack with each wall of water that pummeled the trunk. A massive wave loomed up as if it reached from the water that threatened to pull him into the midnight blue with it as the wave crashed. 

The tsunami was so close to him he squinted and held his breath with the full expectation that this would be the wave that smashed him into the tree until the waters receded and dragged his corpse back into frozen depths. As he approached the apex of the tide, however, it subsided with a sharp loss of momentum and hammered into the tree. The massive tree lurched back in response with abrupt, violent movement that tore more of the great tree’s roots free from the darkness that it had secured itself. The water had done its work, and by now was nothing but a question of weight and time. The waves that followed were nowhere near the size of the previous ones, but the damage rout by the sea was more than enough. The great tree continued to tip further backward. Even though the great tree would fall on its own, the waves continued, each burst from the sea below helped the process along as sure as the tree’s own size. It was not long before the tree too was in free fall. The impossible tree brought itself down under its sheer mass. Another massive wave rose out of the blackness and carried with it a white-crested face, a water-born demon maw with its mouth spread wide and hungry. The gigantic, finned beast from the depths of all the vast oceans of the world rose from the blackened waters. There was no way to avoid this monstrous swell now. He tried to in sucked in one last deep breath but pulled in nothing but water. The wave had hit him before he could prepare himself. The cold, tasteless liquid ran through his mouth, down his throat and filled his lungs with a chill that could only come with death. He panicked to expel the liquid as his lungs convulsed in spastic contractions in the senseless effort to get oxygen. He found nothing but more frigid water instead to fill the void in his lungs, instead. He sunk deeper, lost in the burst of water that engulfed him. The wave pulled him down into blackness as deep as a starless night sky. For a moment, he thought he might have gone blind, but glanced upward towards the surface, and he could see the faint white-caps from the waves above that continued to bound over the tree as it collapsed. He’d not even thought about what to do if he emerged on the surface of the torrent that would be certain to pummel him against the tree until the water had pulverized whatever every bit of him.  No matter how hard he struggled to swim to the waves that crashed above, though, he sank like his flesh was iron. He dropped further and further into the chilled inky deep despite his attempts to swim upward. His lungs spasmed hard again and ejected the water that filled them only to sucked down more, colder water as a replacement. Immersed in the sea and filled with it, the fire that fueled the fight in him slipped away, extinguished by the cold that crept in. Despite being filled with a terror borne from the will to survive, the frigid water had immobilized him. His arms and legs went numb with a vague tingle and refused to respond to his commands. He thought for a moment, his mind would slip into the nothingness where it came, but he remained. The pitch-black liquid stole his eyesight, and the cold burned and slashed at his eyes as he sunk. Left with what he figured was going to be the last thoughts he’d ever have, he couldn’t help but be amazed at how cold it was, how the ice burrowed through from all around him, it would not yield to any form of heat or desire. The cold was absolute, and it encompassed all of him as he floated deeper still. The frigid black was a force of suppression meant to steal him away. 

As he slipped into what must surely have been brain death, an unexpected sensation had begun to flow through him. This feeling linked him to his body and refused to allow his consciousness to slip back into the black, wet void from where it had broken free. A glow started at his feet then crept up through his legs, into his torso and finally into his neck and head. Warmth had begun to crawl back into his form, that radiated deep like the sun on a frost-covered seed in spring. It must be spastic neurons that fired in the throughs of death. What else could it be? 

Something New

Writings and Ramblings

I am going to try something new with this space, instead of focusing on writing for gaming specifically, I will start to use WriteClickZoom for a catalog of my writing. I’ll probably still be doing reviews and thoughts on games, but I plan producing some fiction for people to read.

It is my hope that this work will be noticed and enjoyed by as many people that wish to read it. Some of this work will be linked to an over-arching universe I’ve been working on and will serve to explore ideas that I think are worth writing and sharing.

A Fresh Bit of Nostalgia with Resident Evil 2

Editorials

It’s not often that we get to relive bits and pieces of our childhood, that feeling of nostalgia that grips us usually only lasts a moment or two. The nostalgic sense is also particularly elusive, too, because it’s something different for every one of us and can be tough to explain why someone has such a strong affinity to a particular experience, and only tends to last a few moments. We all remember the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, for instance, but we each had our favorite mutant amphibian, our favorite villain and of course our favorite episode; that one thing that encompassed what a show meant to you as a viewer. It always feels good to find a person who shares a vivid memory of the same characters, the same dialogue and the same action. Nostalgia is also a double-edged sword. Most, if not all of us know the feeling of seeing something years later that we loved as a kid, just to discover that it doesn’t hold up like it used to. A loss of that fond memory and the feeling that it gave you thinking back on it becomes replaced with the realization that it had its time and place, but now it’s gone, a memory you sacrificed ignorantly without having the understanding that it should have stayed a fond memory. The real travesty comes from knowing only too late that, that is in fact where the experience belonged, in your memory. With movies being remade or “reimagined,” it is inevitable that something comes along to tarnish what we had put on a pedestal. This same experience seems to have caught on in gaming, too. First with the upscaled textures and high-resolution upgrades of original games, with very little change, but now we appear to be seeing a new brand of re-releases. Resident Evil 2 was recently released, again and with it brought a completely different experience.

Resident Evil 2’s release showed Capcom that there’s a market for some of their older games that they can bank on from long-time fans, but has also attracted gamers who never played the original, or in some instances, may not have even been alive for the original release. There’s the expected familiarity in the remake of RE2. Leon, Claire, Ada. They’re all here, and when they first show up on screen, players versed in the RE series instantly know who they are. The game hits players with that excitement, dread, and nostalgia of being chased from room-to-room by the Tyrant, or having the hell scared out of them by their first run-in with a Licker with their long, proboscis-like tongue, flicking through the air as it peeks out through the sharpened teeth that drip with thick saliva. Players could still have this very same experience with the older game, but chances are they’re also going to feel the sting of dated game mechanics. The scares and B- rated horror movie dialogue doesn’t seem to land like it all used to, not only because the player’s experienced them all before but because the dated mechanics of the game just won’t hit home like it used to.

Let’s take a look at the very opening of the game. The gas station sequence, when Leon (or Claire) has the player getting out of their car to have a look around. The original station is closed off, claustrophobic and there’s not a whole lot to explore. It’s a sequence that’s really meant to simply introduce the players and their chosen characters to their first zombies. It worked fine for the time. Now when we look at the gas station though, it’s still all of those things, it’s claustrophobic, dark and foreboding. What’s different here is now you’ve got room to explore and really take in the scenery. The atmosphere isn’t passively working on the player and making paranoid, well, it is, but that’s a foregone conclusion at this point. Now, the player’s given room to actually help the game exploit their fears and anxiety. The details, the slow, methodical pace of the character moving through the tight shelves and debris in the way. Players can stop and look at their surroundings right up until they run into their first zombie and only then is it time to make a quick escape back to your car. The presentation is also much more organic, the way Leon and Claire meet and are almost immediately separated, the additional dialogue that hooks the player much more quickly. All of this was built from the very same premise but expanded to give players something entirely new that we weren’t expecting.

Players will also see the gruesome detail that Capcom took the time to add. The damage that players can dish out to the face, chest, and neck of a zombie or other horrifically mutated creature is incredible. Instead of merely seeing a half rotten or eaten zombie that indicates being shot by swaying slightly off balance and faint mists of blood with each bullet impact, players are now given an incredible and frankly unexpected visceral looking bullet wound to act as a violent accessory to an already hideous looking corpse. If the zombie’s wearing a hat, the player can shoot it off their head. If a zombie gets too close, players can plunge a knife into the enemy. It will buy them time but at the expense of losing a melee weapon. The shuffling corpse will still have the blade firmly lodged in it as well, and if the player can successfully kill it, the blade can be retrieved. All these little things expand on the original experience, stacking the updated combat and atmosphere on top of classic puzzles that gamers don’t see a lot of in games anymore.

Further improvements can be seen in the character models, not of just the zombies, but the player characters themselves. There are alert and nervous qualities of Leon and his design. His eyes dart around, he’s often in a defensive stance, seemingly ready to bolt at any moment and just the overall body language of him as a character is something we would never have seen in the original Resident Evil 2. The technology just wasn’t there at the time. While this advance in technology is very pleasing to the eye, it delivers far more than a simple, visual enhancement. Leon’s body language helps tell the story; it helps sell the suspense and nervous energy that later games in the series are known. The exciting thing about this is the persona changes from character to character. When it’s time for the player to take over Ada Wong, for instance, she has an entirely different body language to her. She has a confident, almost cocky presentation to her. The movements seem more deliberate, and sure of herself than her counterpart, Leon. She is more familiar with the virus, she understands what it can do, and she’s more prepared for it. This confidence shows up in the character’s movement, which passively helps tell the story, much better than the original experience and this same presentation that also helps to illustrate the missteps of the character as she moves through her portion of the story.

Gamers have grown and experienced other, more modern horror and more suspenseful action as gaming has progressed — plenty of which within the Resident Evil franchise. As players grew, so did their expectations and this what has made the Resident Evil 2 remake something special. It takes the familiar and does more than update the graphics it improves the whole experience. It’s a game packed with nostalgia, yet feels entirely new. The RE2 remake has all the trappings of the original while giving players something new. The experience carries with it the familiarity that players want from a remake while being able to deliver on something that the technology of the time of the original could not produce. Remakes like RE2, show that there are ideas still worth exploring outside the game’s initial release.

Cynics would call this a nostalgia cash-in, but that seems like an over-simplification of Capcom has managed to accomplish. Yes, I am sure Capcom was well aware of the money they were going to make on this release. Considering how popular the franchise is worldwide as both Resident Evil and the Biohazard names in the West and Asian, remaking this game with an approach to quality and actually including new content was sure to sell well. Resident Evil 2 is still considered a hallmark of the Survival Horror genre and had helped to put a lot of other great horror games on the right path it also helped to define what needed to change in the series. From Capcom’s response about how well the remake has sold, they didn’t seem to realize that they’d managed to touch on the type of a remake that people have always wanted, but have not had yet. Not just the retelling of a story, but a chance to explore what is now a classic survival horror setting, in a modern gaming world, and at least for this particular remake, seems to have struck very particular chords with gamers. Capcom even went as far as to release a demo for the game to entice players to give them a taste of things to come, something that we don’t see all that much of these days. It seems that even the marketing team was thinking of classic ways to promote the new experience because we sure don’t see too many game demos these days.

Resident Evil 2 has shown that not only are there large markets for remakes with a significant facelift, but there are also improvements to be made from the original experience. Even for gamers who have already enjoyed the original titles, there’s something to be said about re-visiting an adventure like RE2, especially after it’s had a chance to mature and grow. In the case of RE2, the game went from a fun, but clunky control experience, with a decent, but noticeable cheese-factor, to an experience that’s much more cinematic and manages to add suspense and expand on the characters we’ve already grown to love. There’s still a market for older games, people are willing to go back and play things that they played years earlier, which will keep a company like Capcom in the good graces of gamers for years to come, but the company’s also shown that there’s a demand for old games with a fresh face. With rumblings of a Final Fantasy VII remake coming from Square Enix, we may have a resurgence of classic games that have been remade from the ground up to give us a recognizable, but the fresh take on something that we thought had long since come and gone.

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.

Previewed: Hitman

Previewed

2016-02-21_00001I recently had the opportunity to spend some time with the recent “Hitman” beta. The quick peek at this latest installment in the Hitman series is a prequel to the events that will happen in the upcoming game. I was obviously not the only person with access to the game, since the previous weekend was a open beta. Just about anyone with any interest in the Hitman series had the option to dive into Agent 47’s new game from recently for an open weekend. Well “Dive in,” may be a bit too strong a phrase to use in this case, but at least players had the opportunity to dip a toe in to test the waters. I’ve done my best to avoid a lot of information regarding the newest member of the Hitman family. I want to have an opinion regarding this preview that’s not going to be colored by previous knowledge of this title’s development process. While I have heard a few comments regarding the release structure of the game, I’ll be doing my best to keep an open mind regarding this preview of the Hitman public beta.

Graphically Hitman looks pretty good. It’s definitely not going to be the game that draws the most visual praise in 2016, but it’s also not going to get a bunch of shit for being a game that lacks visual polish. Lighting and shadows look good, the character models have a nice amount of detail to them, especially for the number of characters that are in any once instance. Some of our character’s animations like throwing and running seem a bit unnatural with sort of a stiff look and feel to the motions, but nothing that seems to terribly detract from the game. Hitman’s visual presentation most likely isn’t going to win any awards, but it is a nice enough looking game. While the game comes across as being a bit generic looking, it’s this sort of detached, pleasant-looking, yet totally forgettable design fits an assassin whose job it is to blend in while he works.

While there’s not a whole lot of content to keep players going unless you’re the type of player that likes to replay the same missions, there was definitely enough content to show the players what to expect from the newest Hitman and is probably what you’d mostly expect for a continuation of the series. All the pieces seem to be there and are for the most part functional sound, there are a few oddities and bugs that crept up, but for the limited time I played on the PC I had few gripes. What does worry me is that much of the infiltration options felt incredibly similar as I worked through the scenarios. Get a disguise, grab this wrench (or hammer), hit this guy, change disguise, find target, kill target, repeat. It got to feeling very formulaic towards my experiences. Much of the enjoyment is the anticipation and planning of Agent 47’s plans.

The A.I. seemed to be full of blind-spots while playing through the two missions that were available. On more than one occasion, I had Agent 47 commit to actions that should have gotten him noticed by people, but he wasn’t. As an example, I choked out a security guard in an attempt to take him down silently. Another one of the guards noticed. He came over to investigate, pulled his gun and then he just stopped looking for me, despite the fact that I was directly in front of him, standing over a security officer. He was staring right at me as I stripped his poor friend down to his skivvies and swapped clothes in front of him. The only conclusion I could come up with was that he either really liked or hated that security guard. I had where situations like this throughout my time testing, where I could “evade” a character who had become suspicious of me by stepping behind a beam, or just standing at the edge of a crowd. It may have just been because it’s an earlier portion in the game and as a result, the enemy characters may be less observant, but most of their paths were predictable and guards were pretty easy to avoid. I wasn’t met with any odd crashes, bugs or unsavory troubleshooting that some recent games have had me doing.

Some beta testers had made some complaints about various bugs and physics problems, especially while moving bodies or interacting with objects in tight spaces. I don’t know if it was because of the platform that these players were using, or if I was just lucky. For the time I put into Hitman I didn’t have too many notable technical problems at all. From a stability perspective I didn’t seem to have too many issues with the game. Hitman ran fairly smoothly, and at about 60 FPS or more without too many hiccups, or noticeable frame lag. I enjoyed some of the audio. Not so much the limited sound track that was a part of the game, but a lot of the dialogue. Even things said by minor NPCs were good to listen in on, even if it was useless information. The sound effects were solid and there was just a good immersive feel about moving through crowds that is in no small part thanks to the audio effects.

Like many others, I am admittedly skeptical about the whole episodic release structure that Square Enix and IO have planned.  If you’re a long time fan of the franchise and are hoping to sit down for a marathon Hitman run on release, well you’re just not going to get that unless you feel like playing the same missions over, trying different tactics. There may be a lot of momentum that’s lost from chapter-to-chapter. IO and Square do have a tight release schedule, which is good to have that approach, but it is also tough making sure each one of those chapters gets out the door on time. Delays and missed opportunities seem to be common this kind of extended release.

I would say it’s a solid preview up to this point. The beta had all the telltale signs of a Hitman title, so it’s definitely got that going for it. With that said, the time I had with the Hitman public beta test last weekend was pretty good. If you’re a long-time Hitman fan, there should be something in here for you. If you’re new the the series, there’s most likely a few things you’ll find that in the title that make for a rewarding experience. As mentioned though, I am not at all keen on the episodic idea. As it stands, if you’re interested in playing, but you’re not foaming at the mouth to get your hands on the first chapter, then wait a bit and see how things pan out. IO Interactive and Square Enix certainly do have some lofty plans for their newest game. If they pull it off then we may see a great episodic AAA game when the dust settles. . As with many things though, “May the buyer beware,” is a phrase that comes to mind with these kinds releases.

 

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