Category Archives: PC

Games I Didn’t Review in 2016: Quantum Break

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Quantum Break is a pretty interesting third-person shooter that was released essentially to showcase the graphical powers of the then-newer Xbox One and to potentially create a new supreme IP for Microsoft as well. Although it is fairly linear in scope despite offering an array of seemingly choice-driven narrative lines and the ability to warp and change time, it is still a thoroughly amusing adventure and also boasts some of the most prolific acting talent in a game I’ve played to date. Not only does it use the animated likeness of several well-known actors and actresses from such shows as HBO’s hit The Wire, but it also features many of their voice acting chops as well.

Besides star-power and an interesting time-related gimmick along the lines of something out of 2010’s Singularity, Quantum Break is interesting in other ways as well. For one, it is both a live-action television show and a video game, each part intermingled with the other in an intricate yet optional playable and watchable experience. This is really where the acting credits come in handy and where the story and lore progress deeper than they could in the base third-person action-shooter game itself. The story itself as well as the fluidity of gameplay mechanics are certainly the highlights and have been praised by other critics as such, however some of the other mechanics such as platforming and general locomotion are a bit messier.

Although it is intrinsically a shooter game and these typically don’t have much to offer in the way of a story, Quantum Break’s plot is fairly refreshing and interesting, not just for the genre but for gaming as a whole.  It does admittedly share similarities to some other time traveling adventures but then that exists only because many of the same issues that have always been theorized regarding time travel exist in this incarnation as well of course. One unique mechanic the game features is the built-in ability to essentially decide how the protagonist and antagonist will act and how that will shape the course of the plot itself. The game does a good job of representing Aidan Gillan’s (of course) chaotic character as neither good nor bad and sets him up as a definitely complicated antagonist that largely acts according to how protagonist Jack Joyce (Shawn Ashmore) reacts to…well it’s all really spoiler-ish and confusing so I’ll stop there.

When all things are said and done, Quantum Break should be and is an interesting new direction for Microsoft because it presents an original playing field with many talented actors and an intriguing yet potentially well-written and already closed script as well. Although I could see how the game could become a series, it also offers a thoroughly satisfying experience and conclusion which means it could be one of those highly praised cult-classic one-off games some day soon. There’s room for improvement and also some room for upgrading the story to be a little less linear and yet with all the background details and lore and episodic live-action pieces included it really is a pretty complete bundle. I’d like to not only hear or see more about the universe- not even in video games but perhaps through other mediums such as comics or novels, but also just see how similar elements that worked well in this game could be implemented into others successfully as well.

Remedy Entertainment is well known and well-praised for their work on some unique cult-classics and projects such as all things Alan Wake. Although many people would like to see Alan Wake 2 (in earnest) or see them take the helm on other ambitious and interesting projects, I also think working on Quantum Break was the right call and that they really nailed the tone and pacing they were aiming for. Sam Lake (who you may also know for producing stories in relation to Max Payne 1 and 2 as well as Alan Wake and a credit in Gravity) couldn’t have been a better fit for directing the effort and for managing the elements that would eventually come together to form a brave new live-action meets interactive adventure and game trope. Honestly, I’m a little disappointed that nobody else has started to implement the themes yet into their own development projects quite yet.

For me, Quantum Break exists somewhere in the 8-9 range in terms of assigning an actual number to it, if that were even possible. It does so many things well despite what could’ve ultimately ended up as an otherwise generic shooter like so many others out there. The story is both original and actually engaging, with memorable characters and talented actors truly bringing it to life and making me actually feel invested in the moment to moment action. Whether it was actually taking the time to watch each lengthy episode or play through the intermingled game portions, the entire package as a whole is a unique and lovable experience. I’ve been truly interested in some of the theories and lore ever since and would definitely love to see the brand used elsewhere even if it never comes back to gaming- it’s too much of an interesting tale to not take advantage of.

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Nier: Automata Review

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Totally dependent upon how you view it, I’ve either spent an impressive amount of time with this game- which released roughly a month ago, or I’ve dedicated far too much to an oddly compelling yet confusing adventure. Nier: Automata is stylized as a successor/sequel to 2010’s Nier, which was just as oddly compelling and yet quite confusing from a convoluted plot standpoint- something which did not impact the cult following it has obviously procured. Without spoiling too much in terms of either games’ story and pacing- whereas the first title takes a humanistic approach to things, Automata drives things the other way and focuses not only on non-human playable characters but the failure of humanity and threat of extinction as a whole.

Or at least that’s somewhat the simple gist of it, if it’s even remotely possible to boil down the extensive and surprisingly in-depth lore of the series thus far and of the expansion this game represents as well. I’ll admit, a lot of the coverage and footage I saw for and of the game didn’t exactly blow me away- I was never really impressed by the expansive yet empty world that I saw or the often repetitive encounters with too-similar enemies. While some of these issues remain to a degree, Automata also provides enough base content that it never made me feel that any one element was too overdone or too much of the focus. To a certain degree this means Automata is quite the jack of all trades and genres, however it also fails ultimately to master any one segment because of this.

There is certainly a predilection towards combat- as Nier is at its base a hack and slash adventure game with role-playing elements and other unique gimmicks littered somewhere in between. However I was actually blown away by the fact that certain parts of the game which I would not have immediately expected to be as important or to have such an impact drew me in more so than the solid combat mechanics and exciting locomotion maneuvers themselves. Whereas I thought the environments looked lifeless and bare upon first glance, I completely understand how this ties into the plot and lore and why that’s actually the exact direction the game should’ve and could’ve gone. Couple this desolation and loneliness with an equally melancholy musical score and you have a truly moving work of art.

A lot of this expansiveness adds to the ability for players to take time to think alongside their android character, reflecting on the calamities leading to the ultimate destruction of the human race and life on earth. Although every character you will encounter is in some way machine-related, not all of them will be killer robots or robot clowns and quite a few emulate historical context and interesting caricatures in ways that would put even Fallout’s founding father bots to shame. Such pensive moments as I experienced within many of the quests and plot lines of Automata were a complete contrast to my expectations and honestly raised the bar that much higher for me when it came to the bleak story being told. Somehow, against all odds I became that much more invested in the characters and the universe that I’d previously seen as two-dimensional on paper.

To delve into other aspects of the game and push off from the story and some of the periphery of the game and its moments, as this is a Platinum Games title it boasts an impressive array of combat features and upgrades. There are definite ties to the first Nier title to be found if you know where to look, yet this game serves as an easy stepping on point for newcomers looking for a thrilling and contemplative adventure as well. Combat is kept simple and precise and yet still offers the complexity of some other flashy Platinum Games titles as well- affording players the opportunity to utilize several classes of weaponry suited best to their style of play, while also keeping upgrades and additional unlocks to a minimum so as to keep things comprehensible. There are light role-playing elements here and there, but I’d say they’re few and far between.

One of the most intriguing aspects of gameplay at least stylistically stems from the change in perspective that litters some portions of the game. Typically you play in an over-the-shoulder third-person format, yet on occasion the game shifts to on the rails and top down perspectives for intense firefights utilizing your full android arsenal and party. While ultimately even the bullet-hell segments of the game boil down to eliminating your enemies and clearing the area in search of any interesting lore or story progression, I still found combat and the nice pace of breaking things up a suitable way to keep the monotony of most hack and slash titles to a minimum. The combat is solid enough that there honestly doesn’t need to be too much done with it that is flashy or gaudy and the enemy encounters and boss fights are memorable enough and frenetic and entertaining as is.

The few complaints that I would have do touch a bit on what repetition there is actually present within the game and that comes largely as a narrative and strategic thing. Your character will be afforded the opportunity to deck themselves out in the occasional rare bonus here and there, plugging in a special upgrade chip that boosts stats in certain areas and are hard to come by. Ultimately this adds some strategy to the game, however there isn’t much diversity outside of a health or damage boost and so it isn’t as interesting as it could be in terms of use. Another case I would like to make is that Automata falls heavily into the Dragon Age II camp of adventure titles- meaning there is plenty of lore and content there and it isn’t a bad game at all, however you’re likely to retread many of the same or all-too similar areas for the duration of the campaign and throughout your quests. Although encounters will be varied and narrative progression unhindered, it’s a sort of lazy game design flaw that bugs any and everyone.

The world and lore is entirely too intriguing for it to be limited in some of the ways it is- perhaps not literally as it is quite expansive, but in terms of scope and use as a character in and of itself. All things considered, if you played the previous installment then you’ll probably agree that Automata is certainly a leg up on the original in nearly every single way possible. The combat encounters are fun if not always diverse, the lore is handled quite well and manages to promote some intriguing plot lines, and the gameplay mechanics are quite solid and rarely offer any hiccups to halt the fluidity of the game. If you’re looking for an experience that has the ability to be a comprehensive one but doesn’t force you to explore it as deeply as you could, then Nier: Automata is for you.

Concept: Guide your android comrades in the eternal war against the machines. Quite literally, rage against the machine.

Graphics: While you will see ultimately a lot of the same, what is there is rendered quite well and there aren’t too many muddy textures involved.

Sound: The melancholy mood that permeates the soundtrack and the narrative itself lends to the experience overall and is a strong selling point.

Playability: While it has some quirky features and abrupt changes in perspective at times, the gameplay handles excellently and fluidly throughout your adventure.

Entertainment: There are often hidden depths to be found but the main draw lies in the fact that the experience is totally what you make of it and there are many interesting facets to the characters and the world and conflict themselves.

Replay Value: Moderate.

Overall Score: 8.5

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Games I Didn’t Review in 2016: The Division

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I’ll admit it outright- I was more than hyped for the release of Tom Clancy’s The Division in more ways than I can possible explain. The basic premise of an unforgiving romp through a devastated New York City struck chords favorable to Crysis 2 within me and that was fine by my standards. Add to that the fact that it was the first Tom Clancy game I’d been thoroughly excited for since Rainbow Six Vegas 2 and Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 and you’ve got yourself quite the hype train rumbling down the tracks.

What transpired is something altogether different than I’d initially imagined and envisioned, although that’s not to say it was terrible or that it hasn’t evolved over time to become a closer image to what I expected. As with any MMO/RPG, The Division fell into many of the same traps that Destiny did in the year or so before. The saving grace for these games is that the developers can take this into account and slowly update it enough with each new patch or content release and bring the game closer in line with what players expected or asked for. The disappointing part is that this takes time and not everyone has the patience to wait for a game to become what it should’ve been from the onset.

Once you eliminate some of the ironically farfetched aspects of the game and its gameplay and factor in the realism and attention to detail, The Division is quite the grandiose picture of a devastated NYC after all. The environments are certainly one of the stronger aspects both in aesthetic pleasure and tense action forced upon you by harrowing conflict in close quarters with an adaptable enemy. The cover system is quite progressive and you’ll certainly need to utilize the variety of environmental protection as you take the fight to rioters, looters, and heavily armed militia forces attempting to make the most of a bad situation. The enemies you’ll face are some of the smartest in terms of functioning thought processes, even if they’ll often open themselves to easy dispatching as well.

When I think of the Tom Clancy brand of games I often immediately think of action-packed tactical outings such as Splinter Cell or Ghost Recon. Truthfully, in the last few years the TC games we have seen have either been a disappointment or fallen somewhere outside of this traditional category. We have had wonderful additions to the Splinter Cell family, but the newest Ghost Recon titles have been far from great in terms of following the tactical baseline. I’m all for trying new things out and The Division is a testament to that for the TC label and surely an influence ultimately for Ghost Recon: Wildlands as well, seeing as it shares the same genre type. What I mean to say is The Division has broken some new ground for better or worse- it does what it states and no more or less, considering the fact that it sticks to tactics and ultra-realistic firefights.

While I recognize that even now it still has its flaws, if I had to recommend whether or not to purchase the game I would definitely say to go for it if you can secure the complete package- DLC and deluxe items or whatever else may be available to you. Microsoft, Steam, and Play Station Network all often offer deals on titles that have been out for some time and packages as well so it shouldn’t be too difficult to find on any main platform. Whereas Rainbow Six: Siege is a great game bogged down by paid content and premium status packs and an initial barebones game in terms of content, The Division only really offers three major expansions and the rest of its paid content is mostly cosmetic. I’m glad that Ubisoft has foregone some of its typical shenanigans concerning paid and premium content and followed more along the lines of Bungie and Destiny.

Ultimately if I were to assign the game a score it would have to be somewhere in the 7.0-8.0 range, even as of now. I’d certainly lean towards the 80% mark rather than anything lower than 75% however, but I cannot say the game doesn’t still have its fair share of glitches, bugs, and design flaws at times. What is there is approachable and definitely enjoyable, it’s just a matter of persistence and patience as well. I definitely enjoy the frantic feel of combat both against computer generated enemies and player controlled foes in the PvP/PvE Dark Zone. The Division is certainly an interesting take on hybrid shooters, that much is certain.

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Games I Didn’t Review in 2016: Obduction

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Silly old me thought for the longest time that the title of the semi-spiritual successor to Myst/Riven/All-That-Good-Stuff point and click adventure was a mere typo or perhaps creative indifference to the spelling of abduction. As it stands, I think it rather ironically would encapsulate the narrative in either its present spelling or that alternative. Obduction instead refers in no small part to something along the lines of opposite subduction, or rather oceanic lithosphere forcing itself over continental counterparts.

All that scientific banter aside, Obduction really is a fitting title for this game and since I’m seeking to avoid spoiling the majority of the narrative, I’ll say little more than that. At first glance it seems like just another adventure seeking to cash in on this newfangled idea of nuevo-retro. What I mean by this is that it takes an old gaming concept and places it into a new gaming era and melds the best of both worlds, or in this case multiple realms. The narrative and lore behind Obduction is certainly one of its strongest points and like the Myst saga, I really enjoyed how it was fleshed out and how things are rarely as they initially seem.

Even with Cyan Worlds having developed the game with the thought in mind for it to be a spiritual successor to Myst/Riven, the only ways in which it is truly similar stem from the gameplay and some of the ideas of travel and various worlds and time displacements and similarly intriguing alien technology. If you know anything about the Myst series- whether it be lore or gameplay or overall narrative, then you may find this particular title engaging as well. The most interesting of all the narrative elements and potential in Obduction is definitely the meshing of several worlds and several time periods. For example, there is an advanced alien subculture lying dormant right alongside a displaced wild western town straight out of the late eighteen hundreds.

Perhaps another of the unintended and yet awesomely interesting elements of the game is the ambiguity surrounding narrative and character choice. Certainly, some things will undoubtedly seem and in fact be very linear throughout the adventure. However there are also particular points littered throughout the story where your character’s journey or the concurrent adventures of the few other beings you encounter may come to an abrupt and even brutally twisted end. I won’t say much more for fear of ruining some of the finer endgame moments, but suffice it to say few things are as they seem.

Obduction, if it aspires to be anything else or anything other, is certainly a game revolving around unintended consequences and brilliance of simple design. I think that is probably one of its other admirable traits, and it is definitely something we don’t see as much nowadays or perhaps ever. I thoroughly enjoyed the adventure itself for the feelings it elicited, the narrative tropes it trod, and the lore it hid slightly beneath the surface. It is always invigorating to experience something along the lines of a thrill ride in such a seemingly archaic and simple adventure game revolving around core mechanics such as light puzzle solving and information gathering. Yes, it can inevitably have its boring or even low points, but if you stick by it then the payoff is totally worth it.

For what it’s worth, I have only good things to say about this particular title as a whole and I would probably give it somewhere between an 8.0 and 8.5 out of ten. That’s high praise coming from me and something I believe it is entirely deserving of as well. I implore you to give it a whirl if you’re into old school adventures, an interesting story, or simply want to branch out into a new genre of gaming.

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The Ebb and Flow of Tides

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Planescape: Torment was and is one of my favorite games and also happens to feature one of my favorite universes. I’ve read the novelized version of the companion to the game and it is as much a fun and darkly intriguing mystery as the game itself was and is. Therefore, Torment: Tides of Numenera has been on my radar for quite some time and is truly something that I know I can and will enjoy playing through. This particular blog post is my first for the month (and first in a little while after my short hiatus) as well as a preface to what will soon be my review and report for the game, seeing as it just released.

So far I just want to share some of my thoughts going into the game, as well as a few tidbits from what little I’ve personally played thus far. Mind you, I don’t want to spoil any key elements to the plot or anything so for the most part I’ll be doing my best to avoid that here and in the future. I’ve played literally less than an hour in-game and therefore I’m assuming I’ve yet to even brush the surface of any grand scheme in terms of plot within the Planescape universe this time around as well. For the most part this is just going to be my thoughts prior to booting the game up and my reaction to the fan service that actually led to this title being developed in the first place.

Lately my time has consisted of a few measly things- living and laughing with my loved ones, working, studying important and intricate information on occasion, binge-watching Luther for the sheer heck of it, and salivating over Tides of Numenera and the promise it brings with it. I have greatly enjoyed the sudden influx of semi-traditional role-playing games in the last few years, from Pillars of Eternity to Torment. While I do love the action-RPGs that we see littering the desolate gaming landscape nowadays as well, I can’t help but always miss the “good old days” of classical role-playing as well. And as such, I constantly return to titles like Fallout 2 and Planescape. Whether you’re a fan of the old vibes of the 1990’s or the Baldur’s Gate II vibes from the early 00’s, the last few years have been kind to you if you like tradition meets neo-RPG style adventures.

Although the story of Tides of Numenera seems to largely be a microcosm built within the expansive universe of Planescape lore, it boasts some familiar elements for those of you who’ve played the first game or even read the book(s). When you place a society a billion years into the future truly anything can happen and that is no more apparent then the moment you begin this game. I really enjoyed watching the trailers for the game in the build up to its release and one thing that struck me as the most impressive but also the most obvious was the duality of choice. Choices can have any number of outcomes and as gamers we know this better than most people. Seeing the branching topical storylines in the trailer for Numenera was as awe-inspiring as seeing some of the new and interesting zones I’ll surely be able to travel to later in my own adventure.

I understand that some people greatly prefer the action-RPG archetype to that of the wordy, text-loving Zork II-style classical role-playing genre, and I hardly blame you. Games like The Elder Scrolls (series) and Fallout 3 (or New Vegas and Fallout 4) have plenty of lore and extra side content to discover completely at your own behest. And yet the original titles such as Fallout and Baldur’s Gate and Planescape that offer oftentimes lengthy conversations that rival or surpass Mass Effect in their depth and design are so much better still. I love tense action and leveling up my characters, but something I surprisingly miss a lot in newer games is that break from the action and the ability to truly revel in revelations and deep pondering of philosophical and interesting content. Sure, games like Deus Ex: Mankind Divided handle some extremely relevant and important topics such as technological advancement versus mankind itself, and yet that game is still more a shooter than it will ever be a story.

The best elements of every story at some point must stem from the sheer fact that it is a story in the first place. And that is largely why Tides of Numenera strikes me as a much needed breath of fresh air. Ironically so, to some degree. It is very much old school in some ways but then again why fix what was never broken in the first place? Just because it features plenty of text and character driven choices in its own “craft your own adventure” style of set-up, Torment is no less exciting than the action-fueled adventures of Commander Shepard and the Normandy in its own ways. It is a realm and world-spanning adventure and a worthy continuation of the series as far as I can tell.I’m definitely looking forward to playing it more and more, even if it will be splitting time with my trilogy runthrough of Mass Effect in anticipation for Andromeda’s release.

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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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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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