Author Archives: plainwrek

Games I Didn’t Review in 2016: Titanfall 2

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I have played both Titanfall titles for what probably amounts to a decidedly ridiculous amount of time. I reviewed the first one a long while ago and enjoyed it profusely despite its connectivity issues and other flaws. The second one is very much the Modern Warfare 2 to Infinity Ward’s Modern Warfare 1 in that it steps up the game in almost every single way, adds much more content, increases the replayability tenfold, and then makes other tweaks and adjustments that you never even realized needed to be taken care of but now cannot function without. I guess it’s fitting that Respawn would be the company to produce such a gem, especially with their roots in Call of Duty’s past as well.

Titanfall 2 is without a doubt the greatest first-person shooter title I’ve yet to play on the current generation of consoles. And that’s truly saying something, because there have been some spectacular gems along the way these past few years. My reasons for this lofty accolade are many and yet they all tie in to some of the same facts and opinions as well. For example, one thing that Titanfall 2 does that few other games save for perhaps the Battlefield series have yet to match or come close to, is offer a stunning degree of customization in the multiplayer client. I’m constantly surprised- not just by the amount of camouflage or titan chassis and colors or items offered, but by the entirety of the package provided with the base game devoid of microtransactions in terms of what is already available to players through simple unlocks.

Granted, if you want to pay a dollar or five here and there, you can unlock neat special chassis and camo patterns and packs, but even at the base level without these minimal transactions there is so much available to players. Another thing that is surprisingly done quite well is the leveling and unlocks system. In the first game there didn’t seem to be too much available upon leveling up one of fifty times or making it through another generation and essentially hitting the “prestige” level and restarting. In Titanfall 2 this has been remedied by the addition of golden tickets of sorts that are called merits. Instead of hitting a specific experience cap, you gain x amount of merits per level, per weapon, per perk/feat, per titan, etc etc. All of these combine in your after action review of a match and go towards your overall level and unlocks- of which there are many, many, many things to unlock and discover (whether that be weapons, attachments, camouflages, perks/feats, etc).

Moving away from the multiplayer content for a moment, let’s discuss the equally interesting and exciting single player mode. Yes- this Titanfall title actually offers one and doesn’t skimp by adding in radio bursts of exposition and story to campaign labeled multiplayer matches. I really enjoyed fleshing out some of the characters from the first Titanfall in a standalone story of Titanfall 2’s own creation. The single player does a good job of gradually introducing mechanics and attributes of the multiplayer content through loadouts for titans and weapon pickups for pilots- essentially operating as an interactive and fully immersive tutorial. The story is in some ways cliche for the shooter environment and yet in many others it is truly interesting for all the ways it explores the relationship between man and machine. I won’t ruin any of the spectacular moments the short campaign offers, but I will say it boasts impressive mechanics, some original ideas here and there, and plenty of tight shooting, platforming, and even interesting Singularity/Portal-esque mechanics.

I came into Titanfall 2 wondering how they were going to improve upon the interesting foundation laid by the original title and I came out of my first few hours with the game totally blown away. It’s no mere matter of adding a single player campaign or perhaps adding a few additional titan classes to the mix. Titanfall 2 has completely changed a lot of things around without losing the allure of the original experience or sacrificing anything that couldn’t be built newer or better. The community is thriving so far and the developers are constantly providing reasons for us to play the game- from daily rewards and bonuses to dropping free map packs and additional content every few months like they did with the original game as well. In an industry dominated by microtransactions and paid content, Respawn and Titanfall 2 have made an excellent environment and case for providing what the players want free of major additional charges. Yes, even they aren’t perfect, but it’s much better than $20 a pop for Call of Duty maps and constant barrages of new weapons to pay to win with.

I don’t even think my glowing words can necessarily do the game itself the justice it deserves, but I’ll let the near 90% in average reviews and ratings do the talking for me. If I had to gauge the game appropriately on my own scale, I’d probably give it a 9.5/10 and that’s quite rare for me considering most titles I review typically fall within the 7.5-8.5 range on the spectrum. I’ve honestly enjoyed every single element of the game, even with the few flaws it has, and even considering the fact that most multiplayer game modes operate virtually the same with slight modifications. That’s truly a testament to how exciting and exhilarating the overall experience is.

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Games I Didn’t Review in 2016: Chronos

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Last year was a busy time for me- in fact, this year and every year for the past four or five have been incredibly busy. Therefore, it only makes sense that I approach the veritable heap of a backlog of reviews that I owe the universe. These are titles that I’ve played and already formulated opinions on, and yet for whatever reason I could not find the time to review in full. However, I will write some brief remarks regarding each game that I decide to do this for. Essentially, my goal is to provide ample detail- although avoiding spoilers to some degree, in regards to the overarching plot lines or major details of the games themselves.

Chronos is an intriguing game in many ways. It was one of the headlining titles for the Oculus Rift and has received excellent reviews to date. It sits somewhere around an 80/85 percent out of one hundred. It isn’t your traditional virtual reality experience, and when I say this I mean you can actually see a playable character as with any traditional third-person role-playing game. While there are light role-playing mechanics present within the game, the experience is mostly atmospheric and not necessarily deep enough to rival anything like The Witcher or The Elder Scrolls in terms of questlines or overall narrative prowess.

The story seems to draw on some ancient roots of Greek and Roman mythology and the title may even allude to such as well if you think about it- as well as the passing of time. You take control of a hero on a “lifelong quest” to purge their homeland of an almighty evil and to delve deeper and deeper into a mysterious labyrinth which is central to the plot. Another interesting thing in regard to time and the title itself is that said labyrinth only opens once a year and if you fail to delve deep enough to uncover its secrets you will be cast out until the next time it chooses to open. At its core, Chronos is an adventure game first and foremost and as such it offers plenty of thrills and gorgeous visuals.

Leveling, as with most role-playing games, is an important part of your adventure. However, Chronos approaches this in a way that sort of reminds me of Fable and yet is totally original in its own right as well. Each adventure into the labyrinth ages your hero as they must wait to return another year should they fail in their quest. Obviously, things are not going to be easy enough for you to just run through in your first year- so coming back is completely in the question. As you age you start to lose stamina and agility and gain other attributes like magical prowess. It’s a neat and refreshing give or take system and it definitely changes the way you play as well.

As with many of the Oculus Rift launch games and with virtual reality adventures in general, Chronos isn’t necessarily a very long game. That having been said, it is probably one of the lengthiest and best virtual reality projects I’ve yet to play in my own experience with the consoles with provide VR. Most people should clock in anywhere from twenty to thirty hours on it and could definitely see more than that if they make a goal of finding every single secret and scrap of lore within the adventure. The attention to detail, the solid mechanics, and the overall aesthetic experience have such a level of depth and attention to quality gaming that it really pleasantly surprised me.

Gunfire Games deserves all of the praise they’ve been getting for Chronos and I definitely would recommend it to anyone interested in playing a few VR titles in the future. Once the price for VR headsets and equipment goes down a little bit and there are other quality titles to accompany this one in your collection, you should definitely make a point of at least attempting to play it whether adventure-RPGs are your “thing” or not. In my mind, it’s at least a solid 8 out of 10 and definitely worth the time and effort.

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For Honor Review

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In the week since Ubisoft’s For Honor released, I’ve been either playing the game or reading and watching anything related to it. I’ve read and viewed other people’s reviews, talked to them about their thoughts, and tried to talk myself out of writing my own review as well. That last point is not for lack of positive reinforcement, nor is it for negative reasons in regard to the game itself. However, I feel like everything I am about to say is going to in some ways sound pretty redundant, and that irks me above all else. It’s a good thing in a way- if everyone who plays and reviews a game is largely in agreement, then you’re bound to be getting the best possible feedback on your product or as a gamer.

I played through the beta period with a friend not long before the game became openly available, and some things have changed since that time while others have remained the same for better or worse. For Honor is at its best when you completely ignore the story and focus on the combat itself. I am not saying to ignore story mode in its entirety, as it will definitely help you out where multiplayer is concerned and as far as gaining experience overall goes. However, do not get sucked into the narrative itself as you will only emerge confused as to what the ruckus is really all about and why samurai are fighting knights who are fighting vikings. It’s as bonkers as you’d think and as bonkers as it sounds and even more impressively, it’s probably less believable than the events of Resident Evil 7 and their impact (or lack thereof) on its protagonist.

Like pretty much every other reviewer has said to this point in time, For Honor knows what it does and it does it well. If it were a merchant it would be selling death sticks- yes, that’s a Star Wars reference and joke. To take it one step further, the combat is such a priority and so well played out and played up that if this were Star Wars, For Honor would be the severed arm laying on a cantina floor roundabouts Mos Eisley. Now, reeling our thoughts back in and not straying too far from the source material here… In case you didn’t get the memo, combat is an important and impressive thing within For Honor and it is implemented in a way somewhat similar to that of Nioh’s complex yet fluid mechanics. What I mean by this is combat can be boiled down to simple mechanics and yet the ways these mechanics mingle and interlock become complex to understand on a grander level.

Whether you choose to play as a samurai, knight, or viking- heck, even regardless of what heroic class or caste you choose within those three factions, the combat can be boiled down to virtually the same controls and mechanics. Now, one class and one faction may of course handle differently than another, but mechanically they are both stable and familiar once you’ve got the basics under control. You choose between one of three positions- essentially left, right, and high/up. These positions correspond with greater reactionary time given to defense, offense, and overall speed and agility as a result. Similar to Nioh in some respects and simpler/different in others, all three directional positions can be changed on the fly and at a whim by players, lending to breaking combos, counter attacks, parrying and ripostes, dodging, switching targets, and so much more. Simplicity is sound and beauty and even simple mechanics fluidly combine to form a complex melee mesh.

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In case that wasn’t enough for you, don’t forget that battle-ready warriors must also be strategists who account for stamina expended, area of effect items and attacks, enemy ballistics, the ebb and flow of massive skirmishes, and other visceral and intangible factors. Hopefully you’ve all played enough of the Souls series by now to recognize the importance of stamina and why button mashing doesn’t quite work as well in melee brawlers as it does in traditional fighting games. In terms of overall realism, I hope you aren’t considering that as a factor for purchase because you’ll be sorely disappointed- however, as it stands, For Honor offers a semi-realistic and authentic melee experience that more than competently gauges the experience and challenge as a whole. It’s a very psychological experience and should definitely be different player to player when you consider the immense skill and understanding curve from class to class, person to person, faction to faction.

No matter what modes you take part in the mechanics and game remain largely unchanged- even between single and cooperative play, 1v1, 2v2, and so forth. The gameplay is almost always tense in skirmishes whether it be at the start or the thrilling and blood-soaked conclusion. Rarely will you so incredibly outmatch or outpace an opponent or opposing team unless you managed to exploit mistakes or openings and double or triple team their only remaining player. The whole 1v1v1 kind of setup is truly entertaining and interesting to see played out and it helps that it works remarkably well in execution as well as conceptually. Don’t worry about getting left out to dry by incompetent teammates however, as most modes also account for leveling the odds against multiple attackers by gifting you the power of revenge (mode) and devastating combos.

Like most traditional fighters and even other online hack and slash brawlers, For Honor offers more than a handful of playable characters between its three factions. Unlike most other games however, it is not as simple as you would expect to switch between them. Although every character is virtually the same on a fundamental basis, each faction boasts several classes that are far from the same old class in the other factions’ offerings save for a cosmetic upgrade or change. Each class offers varied range, capabilities, combos, chains, and more. On top of that, you can actually customize this even further to a certain degree whereas finishers and coup de grace are concerned, among other items of interest. While story mode will act as somewhat of a tutorial for certain classes and help you to warm up to gameplay and the variance between factions and methodology whilst fighting, it’s still quite a jarring difference in reality and really forces you to learn not just your own character but your opposition’s as well.

As with many fighting titles, each character is very much a give and take sort of proposition- meaning while one class may offer plenty of strength and attack power, another may have them beat on light attacks and plenty of stamina. You must be tactical and strategic even in your choice of class within your faction, and that’s perhaps the most interesting thing to note about a game that otherwise looks like a simple and repetitive hack and slash multiplayer experience. In many ways, even if the story does not, For Honor digs very, very deep and maintains its focus without sacrificing vision or fluidity of design. Each character has their own potential for earning gear and upgrades to cosmetics, statistics, and prowess as a whole. It’s a pain to slog through match after match in search of hard to come by earnings, so I’d recommend playing through the story mode as well for some slightly easier currency pickups, as well as finding collectibles and performing side tasks. If you’re careful and pay attention to how you pursue certain upgrade paths and characters, you won’t have to suffer through the plethora of microtransactions that plague typical Ubisoft and online-heavy games.

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And now we come to the relatively minimal negative aspects of the game, save for the aforementioned microtransactions which are of course deplorable but thankfully (relatively) avoidable as well. For Honor is a visceral and gripping experience- certainly one of if not the best fighting/hack and slash/brawling game I’ve yet to play. And yet for a game that focuses so much of its real estate on the online infrastructure it is afforded, that online aspect can be such a bear to deal with. I know it has only been a week thus far, and yet I still had higher hopes for the servers and the matchmaking- especially seeing as that’s obviously the main focus of the entire project. Disconnects and network bumps or errors must be addressed in the future, and sooner rather than later. If they are remedied then I have no doubt it’ll improve the experience as a whole.

Concept: Vikings, knights, and samurai fight for a thousand years in a conflict that nobody really cares too much about because we’re all too busy watching this one guy get his head lopped off and his body lifelessly tumble off a bridge and into some beautifully rendered water.

Graphics: The environments are varied and textured to an amazing degree. Characters looks great even though they are all strikingly similar up until you’ve leveled enough of your gear to truly make a name for yourself and stand out from the pack. Every environment also features accompanying dynamic weather changes and patterns which look and feel believable and fantastic.

Sound: Although you’ll mostly hear cries of pain and anguish, metal on metal, and other sounds typically associated with combat or films, the soundtrack is a great, resonant accompaniment as well.

Playability: Like any good fighting game, For Honor is easy to grasp and difficult to truly master. The mechanics are simple and straight forward, the means to defeating all of your enemies are laid out in front of you, and yet the path towards your objective is sometimes blocked by an incredibly agile samurai warrior who claims your life time and time again.

Entertainment: For Honor is a semi-flawed experience in that its fun and atmosphere hinge upon a networking system which boasts many prevalent issues at the current time. However, the experience as a visceral fighting game and realistic depiction of combat and battlefield tactics is unparalleled and often well-realized. It is a fun experience if you can handle connectivity issues for the time being.

Replay Value: High.

Overall Score: 8.0

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Pokemon Go: Gen 2 Update

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Pokemon Go is flawed at best but it is an endearing project that, similar to Bungie’s Destiny, has evolved over time into something much greater and relatively smoother than it initially was when presented. Over the past week (and potentially still going on) Niantic has been slowly but surely releasing new pocket monsters into the wild. Although not all Generation 1 and 2 Pokemon are in the game as of yet- many monsters of the legendary variety have yet to ever show up and be confirmed, this is definitely good for publicity as well as for adding content to the alternate reality simulation.

I was never personally big on Pokemon Go, but I recently started watching the original Indigo League again for old time’s sake- more on that later, as I was considering blogging about it and my impressions as well. Needless to say, this led me to want to scratch my Pokemon itch- something that I haven’t felt in a good long time, and rather than shell out the forty bucks for the newest game(s) I deigned it an appropriate time for the hefty download to my iPhone instead.

It’s only been a couple of days and I’ve played sparingly here and there between work and other responsibilities, but I’m finding that it is easily one of the most accessible titles, if a bit frustrating thanks to several glitches and bugs here and there. The most annoying aspects come from random GPS and server failures as well as the fact that the app takes about six or seven tries to even get started. Besides three moments where my app crashed right when I captured rarer monsters, it’s been fun and games so far. I’m a solid level ten and already have some nice second generation additions with over five or six hundred combat proficiency and power.

My basic impressions are probably pretty close to any and everything else you’ve heard about the game and the update in the past, however I still think some things merit credit or explanation where credit or explanation are due. The most recent update has added some other elements besides simple boosts to the roster and the mechanics. Pokemon now more actively and realistically try to evade capture- often knocking even well-aimed pokeballs away if you’re not careful in your timing. Several new items have been added as well to further expand the lore and the universe of Pokemon Go. All in all, the update itself lays a solid layer upon the shaky foundation of the game and actually makes it a little more balanced and playable even for its flaws.

Sure, it’s annoying as ever that some of the rarer Pokemon, no matter their level, will break free of most any pokeball and virtually ignore your berries and charms- I’m talking to you Togepi and Totodile. But all in all it’s a rich experience and one that, despite being limited to only some three hundred of the total eight hundred plus Pokemon now available in the known universe, is fun and encompasses the feelings I imagine Ash, Brock, and Misty must’ve felt in the original series. I’m interested to see where the app goes from here and hope that it gets the continued support it and fans deserve as well. It’s a worthy goal to want to meld interactive gaming and health benefits, after all.

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Absolving Us of our Sins

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Today’s post has to do with two games that are coming in the as of yet undetermined future, but supposedly within the bounds of 2017. The first title is Absolver- an action oriented role-playing game seeking to meld concepts of RPGs and MMOs in terms of story and open-world gameplay. The second is similar in design but follows a more rogue-like situation as it is none other than Capybara’s Below. While these two games bear similarities in both initial glances and potential expectations, they couldn’t be more different upon looking at the winding paths they’ve taken during their development and overall tenure in creative production.

I’ll start with Absolver, which is being developed by Sloclap- a studio made up of former Ubisoft veterans who have worked on a number of titles in the past including Ghost Recon. It is being handled on the publishing side by Devolver Digital- more widely recognized for their work on the Shadow Warrior reboot and sequel. In terms of technicality, the game is going to be rendered fully in a version of Unreal Engine 4 and therefore should be pretty versatile in what it can handle and how it can evolve throughout the single and multiplayer components of the campaign and story.

The game is set in a fantastical land rife with martial artists and warriors seeking to prove themselves worthy of admission into a class of peacekeepers which derive their names from the title of the game itself- Absolvers. The game seems to want to meld plenty of preexisting attributes from other titles into an original and inventive experience, which is commendable to say the least. Players will find themselves in 3v3 and 1v1 matchups against computer controlled and player controlled opponents throughout the story as they traverse an open-world setting. While at its core it wishes to be a fighting game, movesets will be determined by collected cards and skills- meaning the more gear and bonuses you desire, the more exploration and combat you’ll inevitably face.

As of right now, the game is set to be initially released for PS4 and for PC, which brings me to my smooth jazz transition to Below- set to show up on Xbox One and PC initially. Below has been in development for what seems like a very long time, and has consistently been one of my most anticipated titles of the year. Luckily, it seems like we may have an opportunity to actually witness its arrival in 2017 and alongside a slew of promising content and activities as well. I’ve already mentioned that it shares some single and multiplayer similarities to what Absolver wishes to accomplish, that it is a rogue-like title, and that it too has an evolving and open world. What also catches my attention is the fact that perspective and exploration play an even larger role in Below than combat and evolution seeks to.

It is, at its root, an adventure title seeking to send your tiny player-character into the world and the depths of caverns and crags in an ever-evolving experience and story. You will very definitely be able to write your own experience and your own narrative in the way you explore and the things you discover. The difficulty and overall mechanics sound very close in execution to Salt and Sanctuary- a title that many have enjoyed comparing to an independently developed Dark Souls, essentially for lack of a better comparison. If you think back to Double Fine’s Massive Chalice, which featured randomly generated worlds and stages and an interesting overarching narrative woven into the player-characters’ survival, you’ve probably got a firm handle on what Below seeks to encompass.

While the finer points and details of both titles are inevitably not going to release until closer to said games’ actual release dates as well, I’d like to think I know what to expect but also am open to welcome advancements and surprises. Below has been a long time coming and even Absolver has been in development for several years now, so it’ll be nice to see how they are received and if they live up to the hype and anticipation. I like to think that indie experiences constantly surprise and baffle us more than their triple-A competition, and that they’re more likely to garner praise and receive cult followings than to be belittled like annual releases and large IPs. I know today’s post has been a brief one but I’ll leave you with a gorgeous picture of Capybara’s adventure title as compensation.

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World-Building in Deus Ex

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As it currently stands, there are four main installments within the Deus Ex franchise. That’s not counting the variety of mobile iterations, versions, or other side content and activities. As with any good universe, there’s also a fair share of novels and fiction in regards to the Earth of the dystopian future depicted in each game. Deus Ex (2000), Invisible War (2003), Human Revolution (2011), and Mankind Divided (2016) are the four canonical entries I will be discussing to varying degrees here. I got the idea for this particular post somewhat out of the blue, and yet it is equally fitting due to the fact the series is going to be on somewhat of a hiatus whilst Square Enix decides how best to handle their new Marvel deal.

Without going into great detail and ruining the stories of each of the aforementioned titles in the series, I will say that each shares similar settings and ideas, especially in terms of overall world-building. Whether you refer to the first two titles or the most recent releases, some things have simply evolved rather than changed as the series continues on. Now what do I mean when I refer to world-building exactly?

In my mind, it is interesting to examine how a developer approaches crafting a living and breathing world for their players to exist within and for game-players to explore. This includes all of the lore in a fictional setting, the overarching design of the world and its environments themselves, the characters and how they are affected by or impact the environment, and any other details that fall into one or more of these categories. While this may seem like a complicated and extensive subject to handle, I am going to keep things simple and merely hit a few points here and there that remain largely constant throughout the series.

Deus Ex is so much more than the aesthetically pleasing triangles and grey tones that it seems to be nowadays. Rather it is a much deeper experience and one that oftentimes mirrors machinations and political or corporate ideology in today’s world as well. It is very much about corporations and secret societies influencing the general populace in efforts to exert some form of control over the world or another. And for this reason, as with the show Black Mirror, technology can be a strange and terrible thing- whether posing as an ally or used in corrupt schemes. Deus Ex is about alteration and advancement- as much of the human element as of technology.

There is such a degree of choice offered even from the getgo in the original Deus Ex all the way through Mankind Divided which released last year, that in many ways players can shape the world as much or more than the attributes of it have been altered or provided by the developers themselves. It is very much a living, breathing environment at all times and as with the augmentations that progressively alter the human race itself, the environment can be largely unrecognizable by the end of a game. Although you could boil down much of the chaos and change in each game to the Illuminati or other cabals’ influence, the player and player-character is largely the most influential aspect of all in and on the world.

In order to understand the majority of the worldview and built up infrastructure and integrity of the franchise, one must first get a handle on how each game fits into that structure chronologically. While Deus Ex and Invisible War are the first two titles, they are the last two on the chronological spectrum as it stands currently. Meanwhile, Human Revolution and Mankind Divided fall somewhere earlier on the spectrum. While the exact years are not necessary in order to understand this thought-blog, HR and MD take place in 2027 and 2029 respectively whereas DE and IW take place in 2052 and 2072.

In the world of Deus Ex, augmentation is no new thing. Both chronologically and chronologically in terms of release date, human augmentation has been an existing thing in the universe. It becomes bigger in Human Revolution and Mankind Divided, yet it is also a key component of your character in Deus Ex and Invisible War. It is more of a side-note in the original games, yet it becomes a very ethical and important factor as you progress through both of the most recently released titles. Technology rules the world and whomever owns that technology therefore owns the world- this is definitely a constant theme that Deus Ex seems to push and often goes to extremes to enforce and keep relevant.

In many ways, Deus Ex has some blanket themes that constantly overlap in both lore and actuality within all four titles. HR and MD both hint at much of the coming strife and activities of the original two titles, as would make sense in games that act as essentially a precursor or prequel to the events of the first two. Without spoiling much, there are underlying themes and additional lore to be found around the world that constantly hints at things to come. Whereas the Illuminati has always been a major player in the series, player choice largely depicts whether or not the world is plunged into anarchy and chaos, whether or not technology is heralded or despised, and how plenty of other equally monumental and important player choices pan out.

In terms of aesthetics and mechanics, the series has definitely evolved from the same core elements and still features such aspects as inventory management, gunplay, stealth, and choice-driven gameplay today. And in many ways, this ties into the whole world-development thing as well. There is a larger ability for players to determine not just the outcome but the evolution of the narrative and world today than there was when the series debuted, and yet that’s always been a constant. Whereas the original two titles largely focused players on determining the eventual endgame, Human Revolution and Mankind Divided continually place players in situations that demand determinations to be made on the fly and with unknown consequences potentially hovering down the road. Few things are what they seem and even the best of intentions, as in reality, can lead to dramatically unforeseen consequences.

Deus Ex has always fascinated me in ways that System Shock and Bioshock have managed to as well- largely due to the fact that their worlds are intriguing and believable, even for all the fantastical nonsense they also offer. Deus Ex has perhaps the darkest and most readily believable overtones, especially nearly two decades later as we come closer and closer to potentially seeing the effects of such globalized corporations and hegemonic entities today. And largely for that reason on top of the entertainment value of the series itself, the world, world-views, and choices intrigue me more than ever.

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Sniper Elite 4 VS Sniper Elite 3

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There are two things that I would very much like to stress to begin this particular blog entry: one- this is not a review, and two- many, many, many despotic dictators were hurt in the making of this blog post. Now that we’ve covered that, I think we can truly begin in earnest.

Sniper Elite 4 (Italia) recently released to mostly critical acclaim and I must say, as a fan of the series since its inception and soon-after reboot, I’m a fan as well. There are some aspects of Sniper Elite 4 that make it much more accessible than the previous two major installments, and yet curiously these same aspects sometimes make the game more challenging. Whereas Sniper Elite 3 (Afrika) featured a relocation warning of sorts between sniper shots or loud noises, Sniper Elite 4 does no such thing and immediately (as well as more realistically) expects players to handle this business on their own, free of warning.

As if the series could further refine its base concepts- that being gunplay that is predominately dominated by sniper battles, it somehow succeeds on this front as well. Sniper Elite V2 was received quite well for its mostly realistic portrayal and depiction of sniper mechanics in-game. Sniper Elite 3, though less-acclaimed overall, refined these techniques even further and opened the playing field to a wider variety of takedowns with the addition of sniper versus vehicular enemy type encounters. Needless to say, Sniper Elite 4 ups the ante for the third consecutive time with additional sniper options, more sensible and refined mechanics, and of course added takedowns- featuring more creative ways to kill the Fuhrer (to boot!).

I worry that the series may accidentally stagnate here in the near future if the trend of solely basing its gameplay off of WWII skirmishes and Karl Fairburne continues, however I do have hope that once they’ve thoroughly visited every major theater of war, they can continue into perhaps even modern conflicts with refined mechanics and technological advancements in combat. Sniper Elite’s modern day competition is essentially limited to Sniper: Ghost Warrior and thus far it is a battle Elite easily wins despite the latter series slowly improving itself over time (and the third title dropping later this year). Experiencing the tense action of Sniper Elite and utilizing a visceral setting such as the jungles of Vietnam would be truly awe-inspiring and potentially the best sniping idea since All Ghillied Up.

That having been said, let’s not stray too far from the matter at hand and the topic for discussion- how does Sniper Elite 4 compare to its immediate predecessor?

Despite its truly disappointing qualities and a great many flaws, once I got into Sniper Elite 3 (Afrika) I had a blast. The mechanics were rich to begin with in V2 and yet somehow they took everything from level design to weapon and equipment models so much further with the slight edge in technology over the console gap. What a difference three years can make. And the same can be said for Sniper Elite 4 in comparison with its direct predecessor as of right now as well. Sniper Elite 4 is truly a next generation Sniper Elite, and it is abundantly clear. Whereas Rebellion was still learning the ropes of what was possible with Sniper Elite 3 and as ambitious as it was it fell short at times, Italia is fleshed out a lot more and an overall better experience and more aesthetically and mechanically gripping world.

Granted, the experience by now can only be refined so much here and there, and yet the tweaks and additions that have been made in terms of assists and lack thereof work in perfect cooperation with the preexisting mechanics and ideas. There is a greater array of options when it comes to combat although stealth is still one of the ironically most finicky parts of gameplay in the series. There are more environmental opportunities and the game can be played in an entirely new way even when compared to Sniper Elite 3, much less to V2. All things considered, while each title in the series has had their fair share of minor flaws, Sniper Elite 4 is characteristically the most complete package to date. There is much less of a grind when compared directly to Sniper Elite 3 despite the campaign featuring the same number of stages that take roughly the same length of time to complete. And let’s not even get into the depth of the cooperative offering- it’s potentially expansive to say the least.

All in all, Sniper Elite 4 only does a few new things and even those are mostly aesthetic or minor gameplay and mechanical adjustments. However, the overall presentation is what Sniper Elite 3 could’ve or should’ve been, and therefore it is the clear winner where the two are compared. I’ll not lie when I say this post should and probably will be more helpful to those of you who have at least played a game in the series prior to this one and are deciding whether or not to purchase the latest and potentially greatest iteration. However, bear in mind that this is also by no means a review of the game or anything other than its mechanics in comparison to those of its predecessor. So I make no guarantees as to how it’ll hold up under much closer scrutiny than a day or so can give.

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Resident Evil 7 Review

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I just want to say that, first of all I will do my best to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible. I know that the latest chapter in Capcom’s zombie-fueled saga has only been out for not quite a month, and yet I feel like everywhere I’ve turned I’ve run afoul of spoilers and videos and all kinds of crazy stuff. So I’m going to discuss a lot of things in general terms when it comes to the story and the overall plot and setting, but I’ll be sure to dial it in and hone in on the important factors that should be touched upon in any respectable review as well. It’s been a short few weeks and yet we’ve already been treated to some arcade-style downloadable deals and add-ons, which is far from a bad thing either in this case.

In many ways, Resident Evil 7 is the reinvention that fans longed for and that the series needed, although once the outer layers are peeled away and the gentle facade of the beginning acts fades away you’ll soon come to see that it may be different, but the fundamentals are largely unchanged for better or worse. Resident Evil, for better or worse, has always had its viruses and its villains, and that aspect has not changed at all. You may be tempted to think there’s a lot going on in the Louisiana swamps that cannot be explained away as easily as the delights of Umbrella Corps have been in the past, but even with the twisted logic of the series’ past, these events can be explained in the present as well. Resident Evil 6 was a game that I thought was okay as it stood on its own and for what it offered, but when taken for the sum total of its plot and where it should stand in the larger RE universe it was just plain bonkers and had plenty of holes and lazy writing.

Resident Evil has always fallen victim to plot holes and whether or not players can get rid of their disbelief and just enjoy the games for what they are, so even with this reinvention, few things have changed there. Resident Evil started as a simple concept and its only become more and more convoluted from there on out. The first two main games are probably the most straight forward, but from then on with the successive third, fourth, fifth, and sixth entries things have only gotten grander and worse as far as plot can be concerned. I respect Capcom for largely toning it down with Biohazard and keeping things on a smaller scale, although still hinting that the title is a perfect fit in the semi-reimagined universe all the same. But that doesn’t change the fact that even some simple things such as procedural character damage magically healed and limbs magically reattached and VHS tapes still being used in 2017 and a seemingly omnipresent camera that is never shown onscreen or on characters just don’t ad up.

Like I’ve said- Resident Evil has always been about the experience first, the tense boss fights and survival-horror elements still present in the more action-oriented titles of the series in recent years. Once you’ve dispensed with pleasantries and mostly ignored the wild plots that are typically a mess anyway, you can settle into solid gameplay and fluid mechanics with relative ease. Capcom has done a wonderful job of crafting something seemingly new and yet deceptively archaic in its design and interpretation, making Resident Evil 7 a perfect fit for the series in that it expands into new directions in some ways with the plot and graphics and characters, and yet still retains the same brand name and doesn’t so drastically change the formula as Resident Evil 4 did once upon a time. If your main worry was that a first-person perspective could never work with a series such as Resident Evil, then worry no more because that is perhaps one of the brilliant strokes the game pulls off and never has much of an issue with outside of expected clippings and occasional environmental travesties.

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While I’ve got to give Resident Evil 7 points for originality in some cases, I’d also have to ding it for taking some credit where credit is not due- at least not to Resident Evil 7. Many of the plot elements may be new to Resident Evil, and yet they’ve already been done by other horror titles such as Silent Hill and F.E.A.R as well. In fact, the bulk of the story itself stems from essentially some mix of Silent Hill 2 and F.E.A.R 1 and 2’s own plot mechanics. And while this is totally acceptable even if it is not so original, it’s just a weird thing to notice if you’ve played those other titles and sense a mildly disappointing amount of deja-vu throughout Biohazard’s campaign. Resident Evil 7 treads new ground for the series in many ways and yet it follows the same cliched tropes of horror as a genre in general, and I suppose you have to take what victories you can, but that really rung hollow to me. An every-man searching a supposedly abandoned setting for his wife in what turns out to be a cunning trap and descent into veritable madness- it’s not quite the first time we’ve heard that line.

The largest criticism I have for this game, if you couldn’t tell from the paragraphs I’ve written on it already, is the plot. So now that I’ve pointed out that it’s bonkers and doesn’t ever quite add up, even mechanically in-game, let’s move on to some other critiques and praises. One last tidbit that’s semi-related though is that Ethan Winters as a playable character, while promising in exposition, is perhaps more boring and predictable than even Chris Redfield has become lately. He barely reacts to anything- bashing his missing wife’s face in with an axe, getting limbs severed, seeing a man whose entire body has been lit on fire and subsequently blown apart with a shotgun coming at him with pulsating brain matter showing through his destroyed skull, or even picking up the telephone every fifteen minutes when the omniscient NPC enemies and allies manage to pinpoint his exact location in the house and contact him. Getting over disbelief in a far-fetched plot is one thing, but things just not registering for the main character like they should is another annoyance altogether.

Thankfully, while Ethan is largely forgettable and the small array of side characters who aren’t trying to kill you are actively just as memorable, the antagonists- both actual and perceived, are the larger attraction where characterization is concerned. The Baker family- those crazies you’ve probably seen in the trailers over and over or played with in the few demos released, are the main draw in the beginning of the game especially (although they’re still memorable in the latter portions as well). Each has their own distinct personality, own distinct powers and abilities, and also their own distinct domain on their family lands. In many ways, they are there to herd players towards eventual endgame objectives, and yet the more you encounter them the more you come to wonder about their origins before you finally understand them later in the game. Resident Evil 7 is a lot of smoke and mirrors, but the crazy stuff and tragic details surrounding the Bakers is definitely not just a bunch of smoke blown needlessly your way.

Probably my largest bone to pick with Resident Evil 6 in retrospect is the fact that it so often and so boringly broke up combat and the tenseness of situations by presenting players over and over again with locked doors. To be fair, in many ways that is sort of an age-old Resident Evil thing, and yet Biohazard somehow avoided this mundane searching and backtracking by actually making it bearable. I think it may be largely due to the fact that the game features a much more organic and intriguing environment rather than the linear and forgettable monstrosities of the previous title. It’s not less confined or expansive, and yet suddenly backtracking to collect a key or disarm a booby trap or uncover some new evidence doesn’t seem altogether lackluster or painful. Naturally, expect your fair share of needless jump scares over and over again and expect them to be old after an hour or two- but such is the Capcom way sometimes.

In some ways Resident Evil 7 brings the series back down to earth and back to its roots, and yet in others it is even more fantastical than the last entry. Thankfully, one thing it does well is craft more believable and entertaining boss fights and encounters. Every enemy seems thought out rather than hastily thrown at you like Resident Evil 6 was wont to do. The Bakers and the other more powerful adversaries each come with their own specific methodology to battle, although a much more prepared player can potentially blitz their way through earlier encounters with sheer firepower and determination. Action is still a large part of the game, but it has taken a step towards being more cinematic so that the bulk of the experience can be returned to its horror roots. It makes for a better and overall more enjoyable and tenser experience to be sure. The gunplay and most melee moments are handled quite well although there are some unexpected hiccups here and there specifically where reactionary movement is concerned with special weapons. On the whole however, the first person perspective increases the enjoyability of the well-oiled combat both aesthetically and physically.

All things considered, Resident Evil 7 is the return to form that the series needed even if it ultimately doesn’t change things up quite as much as it probably could or should’ve. It is by no means Resident Evil 4, but then that isn’t necessarily a bad thing either. It stands largely on its own although there are still obvious and subtle connections to the rest of the series, making it a tad clearer than expected as to just how it fits in with the other titles. The expansion of the universe and video game lore is welcome and for a series that constantly retcons its own ideas and even who’s alive and who’s dead, it largely adds onto the Resident Evil fiction without taking anything else away in turn. Given the chance, whether you’re a newcomer to the series or a longstanding fan, you should give the game a chance- it’s as good a jumping on point as any, especially given the lack of need to know information considering past titles.

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Concept: Reinvent the Resident Evil series as we know it, adding a breath of freshness to a series that has otherwise begun to grow stale over the years. Introduce new characters, a new plot, and new gimmicks along the way.

Graphics: Particularly great animation and environmental work adds ambiance and aesthetic thrills to the tense adventure. Add in the fact that limbs are lopped off and gore is always present and you have a graphically sound and impressive piece of work.

Sound: There is often little to no sound and yet that works in a genre such as this. When there is something to be said or done, the voice acting is about on par with most triple-A titles and doesn’t disappoint. The minimalist soundtrack ratchets the tension at all the right times as well.

Playability: Exploration and tense combat are given their equal due and are the largest elements in play throughout the game. It handles well for the entirety of the campaign and is an incredibly well-played experience to boot.

Entertainment: Most of the entertainment can be derived from the expansion of the lore and in-game details strewn about the world. Making subtle and not-so subtle connections to the other games in the series is what Capcom often does best and it works here better than it probably ever has before. In an experience that could’ve been largely standalone, Capcom unites Resident Evil 7 with previous titles in thrilling and interesting ways.

Replay Value: Moderately High.

Overall Score: 8.0

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The Power of Three

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There’s something of a semi-fascination with certain numbers in specific cultures. It’s completely researched and documented as well- take morbid fascination in Chinese culture with the number four due to its closeness in pronunciation with the word for kill/death, as well as the more benign fascination with all things nine thanks to the belief that it brings good luck and good fortune. In the United States, people have a thing for sevens and thirteen for both good and bad luck’s sake. So what exactly is it with the number three, and what sort of mystical powers might it hold?

Books, films, and games so often find themselves caught in a series of trilogies. Even television shows often run for three seasons or series before deciding whether or not to continue the story- Supernatural was almost limited to only three seasons. But more importantly, I’m here to talk about games of course- specifically three titles that have each either peaked or regressed with their third entries depending on which authorities you ask. Two of these series have yet to produce a fourth game and the other has produced several over the years since its third title released, and yet is also currently on a bit of a hiatus while the developer publishes other works.

Many series seem to hit a high note at first that is never fully replicated over the subsequent titles. Still, many others manage that high or even the highest note in the first direct sequel and then can never accomplish such a feat again. And yet a few manage to perform such magic a third time, the first two attempts being good or bad notwithstanding. This blog seeks to discuss the allure, successes, and failures of Resistance 3, Dead Space 3, and Assassin’s Creed 3- three of my favorite titles and three that have been equally panned and praised. However, as a side-note where my first comment about magic striking once, twice, or three times is concerned, I’ve got a few other perfect candidates in mind as well.

Dead Space 1 is perhaps the most well-regarded in the franchise, even with the fact that the second and third games were handled great in their own different ways. However, there is no denying that with each new installment things have gone a tad bit downhill as well in general opinion. As each game became more focused on action and less horror-oriented, some part of the experience aged over time and wasn’t as well received. Dead Space has struck gold more than once, and yet the first title is undeniably the best, beating out even the second and third in small ways.

Another example not directly mentioned otherwise in this blog would be The Empire Strikes Back, if you don’t mind the abrupt shift in storytelling mediums. Perhaps even Aliens would fit in this category, if you’re more a James Cameron than George Lucas fan. The Empire Strikes Back is widely regarded as the best Star Wars film to date, especially where the original trilogy is concerned. Although it could never have been made without the magic that was A New Hope, it flashes lightyears ahead and encapsulates so much more than that first potentially stand-alone film would’ve and could’ve.

And my third and final example of such great things being part of three has to be The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. The first Witcher title was a well-done game to be sure but it has had many more issues than the subsequent titles and is definitely the least impressive of the bunch. Sans the console port that never happened, we are left with Assassins of Kings and Wild Hunt- two phenomenal titles with epic, world spanning stories. As impressive as the direct sequel was, The Witcher 3 is the best game in the series by a longshot. It turns the world into a truly open and exploitable place, introduces yet more locales and lore, brings old and new characters alike together, and features more content than some entire series have.

So those three titles in and of themselves are some of the best of the best for cases to be made about the power of three- in some cases regarding the first, second, and final parts of trilogies or series. Now let’s talk about the main focus of my blog post here as well as three more heavily debated games (with regard to their quality or overall greatness). In the long years since their release- being 2011, 2012, and 2013 respectively, I’ve reviewed all three games and played them in-depth. I must say, I find myself in one of the rare parties that appreciated and thoroughly enjoyed each of the three titles as well. In previous reviews I’ve given both Dead Space 3 and Assassin’s Creed 3 a lofty 9.75/10 and I’ve also given Resistance 3 a commendable  8.5/10. There are probably just as many people who would rather torch these titles and give them somewhere in the 4-7 range as well.

I do not in any way think any title is perfect, even ones that I’ve awarded perfect scores (essentially only Wind Waker at this point) or ones that I’ve given nearly as high a mark. I recognize many of the missteps that these three titles have made and do not disagree that in many ways they are flawed, and yet they are still master-strokes for their respective series and a fluid evolution as such. Were there plenty of flaws in Assassin’s Creed 3? Was the story of Resistance 3 tragically bad just as it was tragically morbid? Was Dead Space 3 too heavily focused on action and transactions rather than the series roots and the success that predecessors found? Yes, yes, and yes. However, instead of raging against the machine and sticking it to the titles with a poor review score heavily influenced by one or two major missteps, I weighed the titles as a whole and decided how much I would allow any flaws to influence my final decisions. Did I still enjoy each of them overall? You bet I did.

Assassin’s Creed’s stories have always been hit or miss and Assassin’s Creed 2 will forever be the best in the series until proven otherwise. While it may seem like we can only hope to attain such highs in these three series as AC2, Resistance 2, and Dead Space 1 had to offer, the third entries are not losses nor do they suffer detrimentally from sins of their fathers. Dead Space 1 and 2 are about even with the exception of the first being the better horror title in the series as aforementioned and the second being the better action-horror title probably of the generation. The third offers the best complete package and well-oiled mechanics however, just as Resistance 3 does even if Fall of Man boasted the best story and Resistance 2 the best multiplayer. Assassin’s Creed 1 was jerky and weird when it began but when the sequel rolled around it was everything the series should strive to be. The third has been one of the most ambitious to date despite setbacks and flaws in the design at times and easily outranks scores of the subtitled adventures except for perhaps Brotherhood in overall scope and design.

I find that I am more readily available to discuss my likes and dislikes of titles across mediums with other people because I am never quick to condemn them (or other people) for their flaws and their opinions respectively. If you could support why you think Katamari Damacy is the best game of all time, then I’d accept that you thought that, my own thoughts notwithstanding. I enjoy reasoned and reasonable arguments and although people often associate debate and argument with negative connotations of such words, to me it is no more than mere discussion and the weighing of pros and cons in well-mannered and well-communicated discourse. For the exact same reasons, I enjoy games that others may criticize heavily to the point of near-ridiculousness, and I do not enjoy some games that have been lauded as the best ever. To each their own.

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Why You Should Watch Jack Taylor

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If you’re into the sort of thing, the online providers of mixed media (predominately television shows and films) such as Amazon, Hulu, Netflix, and HBO typically offer some quality entertainment and interesting specimens. One such series that has recently struck a chord somewhere deep within the dark recesses of my sleep deprived and otherwise addled brain is none other than ‘Jack Taylor.’ Allow me to state some of the selling points for the series to begin with, in all of its Netflix glory (although there are at least three new episodes not yet available on the streaming service).

Iain Glen, better known as ‘That Guy’ from the often sub-par Resident Evil films and even better better known as Jorah the Explorah from Game of Thrones (HBO), is featured as the titular character Jack Taylor. The series is predominately set in and around Galway- Ireland for those of you unfamiliar to the lay of the land. So you’ve got your fair share of drinking, smoking, and unsavory thuggish sorts going toe to toe with J.T. and constantly getting outwitted and beaten soundly (typically in the literal sense as well). The show is similar to the popular BBC Sherlock series in that it typically boasts three film-length episodes per series and is based upon novels revolving around the same titular character (written by Ken Bruen). One interesting additional note is that the episodes typically originate on local Irish television channels as well.

It is very much a dark, cynical, and gritty show- so essentially everything I love besides petting unicorns and smelling daffodils while skipping around meadows. Jokes aside, the show features story arcs and characters from the novels themselves and despite following in the same thematic footsteps and potential cliches, it all still works and is directed with such things in mind. Unsurprisingly, Jorah- er Jack, is easily the highlight of each lengthy film, although Garda Noonan (Nora-Jane Noone/Siobhan O’Kelly) is just as witty and well-portrayed. It won’t often throw you for true twists that you don’t see coming, but it’s far from mere pulp fiction or trashy romantic paperbacks that most people spend their time with. Think of it as something along the lines of Lee Child’s ‘Jack Reacher’ series, although not in terms of being made into a feature-length Tom Cruise film.

The gist of what I’m getting at here, without trying to give everything up and give everything away in order to ruin things for you, is that it’s definitely worth a watch. Perhaps the first few episodes get off to a little bit of a rocky start in terms of cliches and stereotypes typically found in thrillers and novels of that sort. But the characters are what really piqued my interest and got me invested and I’ll bet if the series sounds like it’s up your alley, then they’ll probably interest you as well. Iain Glen has long been a favorite of mine in terms of lesser-known on-screen actors who’ve come from great theatrical and producing backdrops. His film roles may be minimal in terms of the limelight (although Mountains of the Moon is pretty amazing) and he may be predominately known for guest roles or his acting slot on Game of Thrones, but he thoroughly sells the Jack Taylor vibe and has quickly become a favorite in that capacity for me as well.

And here’s a quick fun-fact for you as well. Glen starred alongside such notable names as Orlando Bloom, Eva Green, Jeremy Irons, Liam Neeson, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Edward Norton, Ghassan Massoud, Alexander Siddig, Jon Finch, David Thewlis, Brendan Gleeson, Maton Csokas, and Michael Sheen. If those names themselves don’t all ring a bell, look up some of the films and works they’ve been involved in and you’ll get a better picture. Needless to say the most well-known involved include but are not limited to Star Trek, The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Game of Thrones, Penny Dreadful, and so much more.Iain Glen is good. Jack Taylor is good. Well, the show. Try it out.

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millie schmidt writes... with cats

millie schmidt writes...

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