Darkest Dungeon: On The Eve of Release

Reviewed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Reviewed: Just Cause 3

Reviewed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Write.Click’s Favorite Games from 2015

Editorials

Better late than never I always say, Here is my collection of games from 2015 that really did something for me. These games seems to bring something special to the table, at least as far as I was concerned and they left a lasting impression as well as a lingering desire to be irresponsible and play them rather than go to work, or clean, or shower and in some cases, even feed myself! Anyway, without further ado here’s my list of favorite games from 2015.

Rocket_LeagueThis game is absolutely addicting in its simplistic yet fantastic idea. This wonderful twist on soccer meets RC racer has a whole lot of charm. The game is full of perfectly timed shots, great blocks and just dumb luck to get ahead. It’s an easy game to pick up and play for a round or two, but often enough many of us find ourselves sinking hours on end into Rocket League. While the basics of the game are incredibly easy to understand, amounting to little more than, “drive that car into this ball.” it takes a surpising amount of play-time to get good at the game. There is quite a bit more that goes into being able to read the bounce and spin on the ball, or positioning yourself just right to stop a hard, direct shot on net. Timing seems to account for a lot as well, just being in the right place at the right time is incredibly satisfying, especially when it’s a complete accident. Whether it’s an assist, goal or defiantly blocking a shot on your net there is a fuck ton of satisfaction to have from this game that can be found in every match played. Rocket League is a great game, especially for the price. With the amount of time and fun I’ve put into it, it’s definitely one of my top picks for the year and even though it was a freebie from PSN a few months back, the $20.00 price tag is worth it. Frankly the developers deserve every penny and probably even more.

6986287-the-witcher-3-logoHow can this not be on my list for one of my favorites this year? A gritty Fantasy world where the best that most could hope for is that they die a quick, relatively painless death. This is however not the fate that enemies of Geralt have the luxury of getting. With good graphics, engaging, fun and sometimes downright ludicrous dialogue options makes the latest Witcher game something special. CD Projekt Red has done a great job and hopefully are as proud as we are entertained with their newest creation. It’s kept me coming back throughout it’s release, when there is a low point or I find myself stuck between releases. It’s just a fun game to sometimes hop on Roche and explore. There’s so much to see. With the time I’ve spent in The Witcher 3, the game was definitely worth the money. If this is what we can expect from CD Projekt Red in the future, then I really cannot wait for Cyberpunk 2077.

1364418937-mgsv-tpp-logo The Phantom Pain was one of my favorite games of the year, but really left me with some strong mixed feelings, both good and bad. The gameplay was great, fun weapons, items. The addition of vehicles and companions added to tactical options and just made “Big Boss,” seem not so isolated. With all that said, MGS:V unfortunately delivered a watered-down story that failed to deliver any real closure with some of the most iconic characters in gaming. It felt pretty hollow when it was compared to other Metal Gear titles. Despite this, the game we did get was still quite amazing. All and all I cannot really be disappointed with it, even with the title’s weak-points being plainly visible. Metal Gear Solid at least ends with some dignity and is still a very entertaining experience. While there will probably be another Metal Gear game at some point, Kojima being involved with any MGS titles for here on out seems pretty unlikely. For many of us, it’s the last true Metal Gear and at leats somewhat of a fitting end to one of our favorite franchises. While it may not have been what we hoped for, it’s the closure we ended up getting, really it’s a pretty good one.

Nuclear_ThroneJesus Christ, this game is a blast and a half. I still haven’t made it to the Nuclear Throne yet, but I’ll be damned if I stop trying any time soon! The game is like the run and gun version of your favorite snack. You just start eating them and can’t stop. Suddenly it’s two hours later, the bag is empty and you’ve got an odd mixture of pride and shame over what you’ve done. Nuclear Throne drags players through punishing 2D levels with the hideous mutant C.H.U.D. of their choice, blasting and bludgeoning their way through every obstacle in the way. Most of which are other freakish mutants, thankfully. It’s hard to put down and I could swear is some kind of devilish time-machine that will just warp you to the end of your night or even the entire weekend in the blink of an eye.

Dying_Light_Full_LogoThis might be the best zombie game I’ve ever played. The zombies are pretty terrifying, modeling, audio and movement all resemble the worst drunken homeless man you could ever imagine and on top of that, they all want to eat your flesh. Dying Light has the unique ability to make the player feel over-confident in their weapons and abilities and suddenly turn the tables on them. It’s easy to find yourself surrounded by a horde of undead, rotting fucks and if you’re not fast enough, you’ll be pulled right down to the ground and turned into lunch. The parkour aspects of the game are fluid, adding a whole lot of options at every turn as well as making a hardy contribution to the game’s pacing. Movement feels responsive and smooth as you transition from wall to roof and street. Even after leveling a character up, the game throws plenty of challenges at players to keep them coming back. The multiplayer experience is definitely something worth diving into. Cooperating with a friend or two adds a nice dynamic to the game and in some cases pushes players to try and tackle things that they may normally avoid alone..It’s one of the more unique gaming experiences that came out of 2015. Even if you’re pretty sure you’re done with zombie games for a while, it may be worth picking up on a sale or grabbing a used copy.

gta-5-official-logoYeah, I know this game didn’t exactly come out this year, but PC gamers finally got their hands on this beauty after having to wait so long. The wait was definitely more than worth it in the end though. Memorable characters like Trevor, Michael and Franklin, make sure GTA 5 a fun ride. Most of us had already played it before it migrated to the PC platform, but there were still some surprises to be had in playing it again on the PC. Being able to play the game from an entirely first person view (minus cut-scenes of course.) Added quite a lot of depth and immersion to the game that quite frankly I was not expecting. It’s always amazing what simple swap of a camera angle can do for a game. Being able to get so close and explore the world like that really shows how much effort and care were taken in creating the right Los Santos. This is a game i’ll certainly be revisiting in 2016 and beyond. GTA: Online, is of course very fun. The heists are intense, while the chases and shootouts with other players are satisfying and full of excitement.

Destiny-LogoThe Taken King, so full-disclosure on this one. I was pretty enamored with Destiny when it was first released. Unfortunately it was a wild, lust-filled game that wasn’t really “love” at all. This flame of gaming passion burned hot and fast. Ultimately my first trip into Destiny left me feeling pretty unfulfilled, but I still had some good times with it. After playing Destiny for about 6 weeks like I needed it to live, I just got bored one day and walked away. Destiny: The Taken King however seems to have fixed that, for me at least. It finally feels like the game we were mostly promised from the start. TTK is the same great combat experience, with some superb new additions. While the game isn’t quite perfect, it’s developed a healthy and supportive community. The lack of Matchmaking does seem to have worked out in a strangely useful way as we move through second year of the game. Destiny finally feels like an online experience that’s matured and improved as it’s gone on, and all because of TTK. The improvements and continued, nearly weekly support from Bungie coupled with the solid gameplay makes TTK a good reason to come back to Destiny, or keep playing it like I have since I picked it up.

1080729092On the PS Vita, this game’s fun as hell. Like it’s older brother, Dynasty Warriors, the player gets to run around crushing, stabbing, slashing and generally pulverizing anything in their way. There is some light, but nice RPG mechanics in the game in between battles that may be simple, but are still appreciated. In the end though, it all comes back to running a Katana through your enemies in a violent and beautiful show of strength, grace and power. The “Warrior” games have always been somewhat of a guilty pleasure of mine. I found that it’s especially satisfying and helps to melt the time away while traveling from coast-to-coast like I seem to be doing so often these days. It’s also a great game to just lay in bed playing, being lazy and comfortable while committing a local genocide on feudal residents of a digital Japanese landscape. SW:C3 has all that you’ve come to expect from a Tecmo Koei game and packs it into a nice little, travel-sized package. It’s not going to blow your fuckin’ mind if you’ve played a Dynasty or Samurai Warrior game before, but damn are they a fun experience to always come back to and a great way to spend some extra cash if you’ve got a Vita.

Galak-Z-PlayStation4Developers, 17-Bit came up with something special when they created Galak-Z The Dimensional. This game is fun in all the right ways, the 2D, top-down roguelike has the feel of a late 70’s Sci Fi anime that just bleeds nostalgia. Galak-Z offers up quite a unique experience as far as roguelikes go too. While the game may not be considered a “hardcore” roguelike, it’s challenging enough and the mixing and matching of leveling and the strategy of progression kept me coming back. Galak-Z originally dropped on PS4 and later made the hop to the PC platform, so anyone who has missed out on it until now really doesn’t have an excuse anymore. The game is full of intense moments and close calls that are hard to match in other games, even in other roguelikes. While the game’s retro-futurist style certainly shines, it’s these breathtaking, action packed sequences and a hair’s width escapes from almost certain destruction that makes the game so hard to put down. I cannot stress how much fun this game is enough. I really hope we see more great games like this from 17-Bit, or dare I say, maybe even a sequel?

headerUndertale has heart, above anything else this game is great at giving players a gut-full of the warm-fuzzies. I was admittedly surprised too by what it delivered too. What appeared on the surface as just another retro-style “wannabe,” ended up delivering one of the most memorable and heart-felt experiences of the year for me. While most games on this list were about action, intensity and even absurd fun, it’s the story and emotion of Undertale that hooked me. While the game is only about 6-7 hours from start to finish, there are 13 different endings that all based on how players decide to play through the game. Undertale has a wonderful soundtrack that fits perfectly wit hthe game’s environment and creatures. It’s also a title that was very clearly crafted with care, which was largely created by a single man named Toby Fox. There’s a lot of unique game mechanics going on here and even fresh takes on old mechanics that any Role-playing fans would enjoy. Undertale is certainly not just another stroll through a dark dungeon. If you’re looking for a slower paced game, that has a few thrilling moments, with strong and endearing emotion then Undertale is a must-play.

Worth a Mention:

KF2Killing Floor 2 is still in early access and very much incomplete. There are quite a few tweaks and fixes that seem to hit Steam on a weekly basis, with some big patches that actually add new content to the game dropping every couple of months. KF2 really cannot make the list for 2015, since it’s got a long ways to go still. While it’s certainly playable I’ll be saving my final judgement until it’s completed. This sequel certainly has some promise though. All the viscera and destruction certainly makes for a satisfying experience. With seven different classes to select from currently, you can destroy hordes of monsters in just about any way that my tickle your fancy. You want to blow ’em up? Sure, that’s covered. You want to maybe barbecue the freaks where they stand? Well you’re in luck. There are various flame-based weapons available satisfy that burning urges. Maybe you want to go medieval slash a creature’s body a part until it’s nothing but a pile of limbs? It’s simple, but oh-so effective. The wave-based combat is always fun and ramping up the difficulty, number of enemies along with all the collateral damage makes for an action-packed horror-fest right up until the boss. Players desperately running for their lives, scavenging for ammo and trying to protect on another against a few different scientific monstrosities. Players can try to make a go at it alone, but this game’s really for those who are more team-oriented. If you’ve got three friends who love exaggerated movie violence, then think about maybe gifting them a copy. Play it forward and massacre some lab-grown super monsters. It’s a surprising good bonding experience. If you’re not the type of gamer who gets into the early release, then just wait patiently until April 2016.

So that’s pretty much all I’ve got. There’s been a lot more games I’ve played that came out this year, but these 10 (11)  just stuck in my mind and are titles I will keep going back to, probably well into; if not well after 2016 is over.

Fallout 4: Extended Review

Reviewed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spinning Tires

Editorials, Reviewed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Dying Light: Techland’s Shining Star

Editorials, Reviewed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leave it in 2014

Editorials

2014 wasn’t a bad year. We had some ups and downs just like we do every year. With any luck and a small amount of vigilance hopefully we can recognize the good and bring it with us into the coming year, while exiling the bad and leave it where it belongs. 2015 is a fresh start and we should really use it like that. While we as gamers should remember our mistakes, lest we be doomed to repeat them, we need to be able to address them before we can improve. This little list will include a few things from 2014 that we as a community can most certainly do without in the coming year and beyond.

Freemium Fever: This one really has to take a back seat in gaming, it’s even become such an apparent money trap that South Park decided to do an episode dedicated to “freemium” games. Now I am 100 percent certain that free-to-play games on mobile devices are going to be just as big in 2015 as they were in 2014, if not even bigger. There is a simple truth that many people need to acknowledge about these types of “games.” Most of them really aren’t that fun. I’ve given these kinds of games more than one chance and they’ve always gotten uninstalled a few days after trying them. The majority of them are mind-numbingly boring and terribly designed in my experience. On top of that, these games are developed to get people’s money, that is plainly obvious to most of us by this point, I would hope. The games are designed just well enough to produce some odd, addictive behavior so people can’t stop playing them while leaving them unsatisfied so they have to keep pouring money and time into them. They’re little more then heavily monetized Facebook games.Morrigan_HoDA

These mobile games are basically gambling, except without the small possibility of actually being re-reimbursed for all the time, energy and real-world money people have dumped into these things. If you look at it from this point-of-view they’re actually worse than going to a casino, which is also throwing away your money! I am not against the idea free-to-play models all together, what I am against is how most companies implement them. They are simply designed to milk money from the consumer with virtually no new game mechanics, ideas or entertaining hooks. There is no storyline, there is no “end” of the game and there is no benefit to actually playing money to play it because you never truly “win.” EA has been particularly abusive with this kind of gaming. Games like “Heroes of Dragon Age,” have players dumping real-world money into the game to compete in tournaments to win things that aren’t worth anything. There are even players who’ve been known to dump thousands of dollars into this game only to have those investments be ultimately worthless. EA updates the game so that players need to basically start from square one every once in awhile. We can’t forget that EA will also removed or make items obsolete in these updates as well, meaning there is a pool of wasted money for users.

Most of these freemium games don’t appeal to hardcore gamers as it is, but that doesn’t seem to matter much. Freemium titles are the “future of gaming” according to EA so we can all put a sock in it apparently.  Calling these things “Video Game,” really seems to be a bit of a stretch in many cases. When freemium games are compared to other PC, console and handheld games there is a clear difference between them in quality, scope and design. They are thinly veiled attempts to separate people from their money through addictive and repetitive behavior. So while we certainly can’t stop companies from making them, we can sure as hell stop playing them, or at least spending real money on them. Freemium simply isn’t worth the money people have spent on it. If you’re going to game save up all those micro-transactions for something that’s actually worth investing your time and hard earned cash into.

Yearly Franchise Releases: I’m looking at you, Ubisoft! Stop all the damned madness, it’s not working! Gamers are still buying these releases for some reason, but then most of them end up on the internet bitching about the product immediately after playing it. Assassin’s Creed Unity was a train wreck that could have easily been avoided had developers spent just a wee bit more time on it. Not only that but you launched another AC title at the same time which is just ridiculous. It’s fine if you want to invest in these franchises and release them relatively frequently, but a small gap in these launches may be in order here. Gamers would rather play a great game every once in awhile rather than a mediocre title regularly.

Assassin’s Creed Unity could have been a much better game had you waiting. Far Cry 4, while a good game could have been great had the developers spend just a little bit more time on it. The game was full of bugs and lacked a lot of story depth in a game that has the potential to be brimming with it. The community is taking notice to the bullshit embargoes that are being put on Ubisoft titles as well. Sure it could be so a game doesn’t get content leaked or so a review isn’t unfairly released that skips the content only available online. The reality is most of this  content in itself is supplemental and reviewers will still manage to get a solid core experience. Many professional known reviewers have done a wonderful job at informing and compensating for those facts in the past and I see no reason as to why this would suddenly change now. This development cycle is clearly and noticeably hurting these money-making franchises; franchises that many gamers really love(d) and we’re being taken advantage of because of it. Ubisoft has some of the best franchises that consumers are really starting to criticize regularly and with good reason. Their tactics have even got gamers worried about titles like “The Division” that won’t be out for easily another year or more.Monochrome_Institutional_Black_CMYK

Other developers are also guilty of this kind of development cycle and gamers are catching onto that too. Activision’s latest addition to the Call of Duty franchise has sold significantly less copies than it’s predecessors. This is actually somewhat ironic since Advanced Warfare attempted to add some new mechanics to the franchise for the first time in quite awhile. The popular EA Sports games are plagued with problems upon release that drive gamers crazy. Many FIFA and NFL fans can’t help but trash the releases as they come out. As far as the Madden series goes, there are quite a few sports gaming fans who wish more than anything that another developer could make an game using the NFL trade mark and it’s teams. Don’t even get me started on the NHL games either from EA. These things have been terrible for years and only seem to be getting worse as years go by. At least EA Sports has somewhat of a good excuse in saying they are trying to keep up with new rules, players and changes that actually happen in real life with these sports. Granted just about all of these things can be patched into a game after it’s been released, but there’s a half-assed excuse for it. Ubisoft isn’t the only one to pull this kind of shitty predatory development on the gaming community, but they’ve certainly been the worst in 2014.

Graphical Manipulation: To put it bluntly Ubisoft has had a horribly track-record in 2014 and they’ve done a superb job at earning it. This is another great reason why the community finds the company to be untrustworthy recently. Watch Dogs was a highly anticipated game and for good reason. It boasted being the first real next-gen open world sandbox game that brought a slew of new mechanics, ideas and of course gorgeous graphics. The problem was that these “amazing graphics” were nothing more than a “bait and switch” marketing technique that tech savvy gamers caught onto very quickly.

Watch Dogs was meant to be a PS4 launch title, but got delayed only weeks before the release of the new console. The game resurfaced a few months later with a new trailer, which people in the community seemed to be more than willing to pick apart, especially after it’s questionable delay. Most gamers immediately noticed that the graphics were very scaled down. Ubisoft denied this ferociously, despite there being plenty of gamers and websites who published screenshots and videos of the original trailers comparing it to the newly released videos. These bits of media had shown a discrepancy in the game’s graphical quality moving forward in it’s development. Well Watch Dogs was released and wouldn’t we know it? It didn’t look as good as was originally advertised. Ubisoft still denied that they made any real changes to the quality of graphics in the game… That is until someone spent a lot of time looking at the installation directory of the PC version of the game. They uncovered the original files that made the game look like it had during it’s initial preview and announcement. Now that they’d been caught red handed their story changed a bit. Suddenly it wasn’t them saying they made no drastic changes to the graphics, it was that they had to change it due to stability issues within the game. After much testing and re-testing of these “modified” graphics people re-instated, most of them discovered that Ubisoft was at least partially telling the truth. The problem was that most gamers experienced the same level of instability from the original graphic settings compared to the modified versions. TotalBiscuit did a wonderful job and illustrating the bait and switch tactic that Ubisoft pulled with this game and if you haven’t seen it, I’d strongly recommend giving it a look. It may be old news at this point, but it’s something that consumers should be on the lookout for in the future. This is especially important because Ubisoft pretty much got away with this kind of deceitful marking scot-free.

These kinds of tactics shouldn’t be getting used to sell a game.index Any game, let alone a triple-A title should be able to make it on it’s own and without having to be drastically doctored from test footage to release. It preys on the consumer’s inherent desire for the next thing in gaming, while delivering a shoddy and second-rate product. It rewards a company for underhanded marketing tactics and ultimately leaves gamers with a inferior product that could have easily been avoided had the company been honest. Sure, it’s entirely possibly that the developers found an instability that may have caused problems for gamers when it was released, however it’s something they could have been honest about. Watch Dogs would have still sold a boat load of copies and most likely Ubisoft would have still turned a profit from it. The fact that they tried to hide it is the biggest problem that I see with this, especially once they had been caught in their own lie. The company essentially stuck their fingers into it’s ears and repeated the same lines over and over despite the facts that were uncovered. Hopefully this experience with Ubisoft and their deceit will stay firmly embedded in gamers minds for years to come and each of us look at all up and coming titles through a more critical lens.

#GamerGate: Jesus Christ where does one start with this total fucking explosion of stupidity, self-entitlement and blatant across-the-board hypocrisy? At this point if you’re a gamer then you know about #GamerGate. If you have thought critically about it, then you also probably know how utterly fucking stupid and pointless it all is. What started as a few people being dickheads to a female developer for a game they didn’t like then judging her based on the choices she made in her private life leads right into some less restrained writers who felt they held enough of moral high ground to lecture the gaming community. These writers basically came to the laughably illogical conclusion that the entire gaming community was responsible for what a small subset of Chud did.

As if it weren’t enough of a mess already people started boycotting writers, entire websites and leaking emails that showed a somewhat orchestrated opinion from the gaming media regarding what has now been know as “#GamerGate,” since sometime in August. To take it a step further Social Justice Idiots and ill-intending morons began doxing people from both sides of this “movement”. If you were publicly in support of or against #GamerGate and you had a relatively large following there was at least a small chance you were a target of doxing. If you’re not aware of what “doxing” is, it basically means someone releases a bunch of your private information to the web for people to do whatever the fuck they want with it.

#Gamergate has done nothing good for gaming any way you slice it. It has consumers distrusting more Gaming Journalists than they trust these days as well as made gamers look like some woman-hating hobby where the cavemen come together to collective bash women. #GamerGate is the digital equivalent of two unruly mobs with different opinions meeting in the streets and fighting to the last man. If you approached the topic with any sort of rational middle-ground you were automatically marginalized by everyone. It is nothing more than a movement of extremism from both sides about something that honestly doesn’t matter at all, here’s why.

At the end of the day people are going to play and support the games they are interested in. As long as those games are making money developers are going to continue making them. People are still going to criticize many games because they find it “offensive” or “wrong” in some way and they’re going to be loud about it. It’s happened with books, music, movies, TV and you’re damned sure it is going to continue to happen in gaming. Try to remember that people have every right in the world to say they don’t like something. This doesn’t give them any real direct power to change it. They are simply complaining about something that they find offensive, which for the most part is a largely subjective experience. What one of us finds offensive others may not. What someone else finds totally acceptable may be the reincarnation of Hitler to another. As long as it’s not infringing on someone’s personal freedoms then there isn’t anything wrong with the content we choose to expose ourselves to. I support peoples’ right to contact developers of all forms of media that someone finds to be distasteful and be given a chance to plead their case. I also support the developer’s right to choose not to change their own creation. It is their ultimate right and final say what happens to content they are making and paying for the development of. When it’s all said and done that’s really all there is to it. Consumers are left with a choice to buy the games or not. If it doesn’t sell well, it won’t continue to be made moving forward. In capitalism the most effective way to vote is with your wallet.

This same concept goes for sites and writers whose consumers find the content to be done poorly or have an obvious bias. These people also have the right to contact their advertisers to request them to pull media. Those advertisers also have every right in the world to tell those people to take a hike. Everyone has different views, different values and different “triggers.” These same people can easily go somewhere else to get the same information. Large websites don’t hold a monopoly on information. It’s not rational or acceptable for the entire world to walk around on eggshells, worrying they could offend anyone or everyone with facts or even a simple opinion. The world doesn’t work like that and it never will. If it does one day, God forbid; we’ll lose all true artistic freedom as well as technological vision and social advancement. Can we just leave this embarrassing, self-entitled bullshit known as “#GamerGate” in the past where it belongs. I along with most other gamers are sick of seeing it and most of us are well passed the point of actually giving a shit.

I am sure I missed things that people would also love to leave in 2014. I just figured I would cover the big ones for myself. Things that stuck out to me as either trashy, poorly implemented or just downright embarrassing for either companies or the community itself. Feel free to chime in with something I may have missed, since most likely there is a lot out there we’d be better off not carrying into the new year. I am sure that 2015 will unfortunately have no shortage of sad moments in our favorite hobby, but lets hope for the best and move forward.

 

 

 

Far Cry 4: Reviewed

Reviewed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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