Tag Archives: ps4

Hitman: Season One Review

[As Read on GIO.]

Many of us were somewhat skeptical when IO Interactive announced that the next iteration of the Hitman saga would be an episodic release and span almost a year’s worth of time per season. I do have to say, all things taken into account, it went a lot better than it truly could’ve gone. On their own each episode is relatively weak as they offer scant content and measly gameplay. However, as a complete package the deal is sweetened a little bit even if it still has yet to approach even Absolution’s level of narrative or length. Hitman: Season One offers players six episodes and two “summer bonus” missions. One upfront bonus to the episodic release format is that it allows tweaks to be made along the way that can substantially change the experience for the better by the time the season finale rolls around and the entire package gets pushed out.

Now, I reviewed Hitman: Episode One way back in March of 2016 and that specific review can be easily accessed here. As a review, the majority of the gripes I had with the game at the time focused less on the overall quality and more on the available content which was scarce as was to probably be expected. The launch itself was pretty messy, the content was barely enough to sate players’ appetites for an entire month and a half or so that each episode was supposed to tide us over for prior to the next episode’s release, and the plot was at times incomprehensible. I’ve only sense been able to understand more of the threadbare plot through reading up on it thanks to the Hitman Wiki. A lot of the “Intro Pack” offering was bland and had the feel of a tutorial or demo for the most part. The highlight of the entire deal is probably just the graphics and the quality of controls as the game handles excellently and also looks gorgeous to boot. The replayability takes a substantial hit until you factor in more episodes but the expanded sandbox also adds some more flavor and maneuvering to the mix.

Before I dive into my “Complete Package” review, let’s just cover the basics of what it actually offers you as well. So far, Hitman: Season One has been comprised of six episodes and two bonus missions offered in the so-called “Summer Bonus Episode.” We’ve been to Paris, Sapienza, Marrakesh, Bangkok, Colorado, and Hokkaido. Most of these plays have been colorful and bustling with life, which is always key in such a sandbox experience as Hitman. The Summer Bonus Mission also takes place respectively in Sapienza and Marrakesh and is an alternate timeline of sorts to the season’s initial narrative adventure. I definitely suggest that you read both the wiki page and the summer missions blurb on the Hitman website for more information, but be aware of potential spoilers as well. Overall, in short I will save you from reading the entirety of this lengthy review by saying that this is not Agent 47’s greatest adventure and far from the best story, but it is a solid experience and fundamentally improved when viewed as an entire package and not one episode.

On paper the narrative sounds very engaging and cinematic and should please all conspiracy buffs and franchise fans. In execution however it is a different beast entirely. It is not bad, merely sparse and lacking. There is somewhat of a lack of replayability at times in the sandboxes but rest easy if you missed the narrative the first time around because you won’t discover any enlightening details on the second or third trips either- it simply isn’t there to be found. I will say, fans of the series will get more out of the story than newcomers but only marginally so. This lies more in the semi-revelation of who and what has been masterminding your assassination bids for the majority of the game, as well as some of the hints dropped throughout as to where your next adventures may take place. Do take note also, that if you are a PS4 player there is an entire alternate mission timeline available to you from the getgo entitled the “Sarajevo Six” missions. Essentially, this takes you through each of the locations detailed in the normal timeline with the added benefit of offering a secondary story. While the majority of the quality remains the same, this story is in many ways more straightforward and more entertaining.

Speaking of locations and locales, each sandbox is extraordinarily large in comparison to Agent 47’s previous adventures. Whereas Absolution offered a few large areas such as Chinatown, every single mission that this particular game offers is large and expansive. While this is entertaining at times, it also leads to some frustration as one minuscule detail can undermine an entire operation and lead you to simply run and gun your way through an assassination instead of taking the eight hour route through an infested area. Instead of memorizing entirely too complicated guard patterns in even larger areas, finding that one special item in a sea of similar items, or switching disguises an obscene amount of times, many people will more than likely settle for the easy kill rather than the obscure “accident.” It saves time and sanity. The series has taken upon itself to add and interesting feature that tracks “opportunities” for special kills, however this severely hurts the discovery factor that Hitman is known for while at the same time leveling the playing field and taking away some of the frustration.

One of the most unforgiving aspects of the game is the unbelievable sight-lines that certain enemies have as well as responses and lack of truly required skill when compared to trial and error guesswork required to progress meaningfully in levels. When you expand the size of each sandbox, there comes with that a certain expectation that enemies won’t be able to see you coming before you’ve even seen them. Instead, many of the guards and enemies operate like snipers in Battlefield and can apparently sense you from miles away before you’ve even come remotely close to contact with them. This is a cheap way to add built-in difficulty and feels forced particularly in the second half of the season when the environments and locations become more hazardous to Agent 47’s health anyways. The game often does a poor job of making it clear what disguises will and won’t work in certain situations, meaning sometimes the same disguise will work one time and won’t another. With these added frustrations, replaying levels becomes a necessity and also a curse.

Besides the initial missions or the PS4 exclusive content, there are also added online contracts and “escalation” missions. While these mostly focus on assassinating NPCs in a variety of ways or using increasingly more obscure methods of assassination, they don’t maintain some of the freshness that even the mundane normal missions do. The replayability takes a hit particularly with “Escalation” missions as you must repeatedly take out the same characters in a multitude of ways. Contracts have been updated as the season has progressed and have become not only easier to navigate but more fun to play through as a result, however that does not diminish the fact that you are virtually required to have a firm online connection in order to even consider playing Hitman. If you do not have a stable connection you can and will lose everything from progress and secondary objectives to unlocks and stats.

In summary, Hitman: Season One is an interesting side note in the series’ saga but is not the next stop on anyone’s list of destinations for where the series should go. Season Two will hopefully bring with it a host of needed changes and tweaks while maintaining the fundamentals of what makes this one still marginally a success for the standards of the series. Expand the voice acting so that it goes beyond the small-minded trash that the majority of this adventure’s work was. Alleviate some of the more frustrating aspects of the game while maintaining the sense of urgency and cautious trial and error that Blood Money and Absolution elicited so well in players. And if you’re going to continue with the episodic approach then definitely add more content between releases to alleviate boredom and to usher in more reasons for replaying singular missions.

Concept: Play as Agent 47, a hitman with a penchant for the elaborate and over the top, obscure kills that we’ve come to love and appreciate over the years.

Graphics: The game looks beautiful but sometimes the frames drop due to so many characters jammed into each mission’s expansive environments.

Sound: NPC dialogue is a real waste and the team behind the dialogue is mostly comprised of apparently the same core people because you can easily differentiate persons one through six from each other in each setting. Get more voice actors in there.

Playability: Despite frustrating segments throughout, the controls never falter and for the most part are the saving grace of the experience.

Entertainment: Each mission offers a plethora of exploration but at the same time each brings with it different frustrations and can make replaying them more of a chore and bore than truly entertaining.

Replay Value: Moderately High.

Overall Score: 7.5

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Battlefield 1 Review

[As Originally Read on GIO.]

I’ll admit, I’ve been a great fan of the direction shooters have been going in lately even if it means ALL shooters have been racing for space and science fiction narratives it seems. That having been said, it is a refreshing change of pace to see something take a step back in terms of setting but not in terms of quality or gameplay. Call of Duty heads into both the future and space this year with Infinite which we will soon see whether or not that gambit pays off. Titanfall 2 heads back to the frontier and space and wild worlds galore. And pretty much every major shooter franchise still kicking has in some way embraced the future. But thanks to DICE we’ve got something more along the lines of Battlefield 1942 and 1943 again and the experience couldn’t be more enjoyable.

Welcome to the Great War. Or rather, DICE’s thoroughly realistic take on trench warfare and all-out beachhead assaults, romps through chemically and biologically decimated wastelands, and gritty, gory setpiece moments. Rid yourself of any modern perspectives or ideas you may have because going from Battlefield 3, 4, and even Hardline to Battlefield 1 is going to be a traumatizing experience otherwise. Tanks are just as deadly as before but this time for the sole reason that they are the most incredible and terrible weapon on the battlefield. Planes should still only be piloted by the most skilled of pilots, not necessarily because they are difficult to grasp conceptually but instead because they can be cut through like butter with a hot knife by even the smallest of arms. Horses are quick and surprisingly powerful and sometimes turn the tide of battle with swift and deadly cavalry charges. And let us not forget the power of biological warfare- gone from today’s world in most cases but still a devastating factor even now in some areas of the globe.

Like, I suspect the Great War itself was, combat is often up-close and very, very personal (and bloody) in Battlefield 1. Combat has evolved and been refined by Battlefield 4’s globe-spanning conflicts but it was nowhere near in World War I. I’d always been surprised how much more gore most Call of Duty games typically had when compared with the much more destructive Battlefield series, however Battlefield 1 balances the scales with its gory melee finishers and thrilling (albeit horrible and terrifying) death animations thanks to flamethrowers, mortar shells, and more. If you ever needed more of a reminder that millions died during a conflict that largely amounted to merely resetting the status quo of the world, look no further. In keeping with the concept of destruction being rained down around the world, Battlefield 1 features what is quite possibly the highest caliber of destructibility to date in a Battlefield game, if not in ANY game.

Tanks can truly change the tide of battle as well as the landscape of the battlefield itself- their shells will virtually annihilate anything that stands in their way, guaranteeing nothing is left standing by the end of battle. Even grenades alone have devastatingly destructive potential against vehicles, enemy cover and emplacements, and enemy soldiers. Think Call of Duty: World at War when you think of the gore and death here. To keep you on your toes, DICE has also injected Battlefield 1 with realistic weather patterns and changes across matches and missions as well. You just gassed an enemy outpost? Better watch out if the wind shifts and carries that deadly poison back to your own fortified position. Such things happened all the time during the Great War and they may happen here as well. The fog and lighting and weather effects are all magnificent and a welcome addition I’d love to see from here on out.

Perhaps one of the coolest additions yet is the added destructibility granted by monstrous weapons and machines such as the zeppelin, battleship, and armored train. Typically a team is granted such beasts when they’re falling behind in a match, and while they can be a gamechanger they aren’t so overpowered that they blot out the other team’s existence entirely thanks to fair balancing. However, that’s not to discount or discredit the immense impact that intense mortar barrages and sheer strength can have on matches. Nothing beats taking down a zeppelin or riding your horse alongside a speeding iron giant during a sandstorm. Such things truly are “only in Battlefield.”

I know one of the most important things people are eager to hear about is the multiplayer offering and how it stands when compared to previous entries. Well, you should take heart if you’ve been a longtime fan because many modes return and there are even some new ones to be found as well as the promise of additional post-launch updates. Conquest returns, a new Operations mode melds the best elements of Conquest and Rush as well as injecting Capture the Flag elements and all-out frontline assaults. Other typical longterm Battlefield modes return and there are also that seem like they are going to be added with either future multiplayer packs or perhaps through free multiplayer updates as well. Currently there are about ten multiplayer maps if  recall correctly and while they mimic moments from the singleplayer campaign as usual, each is diverse and different and entertaining enough that it feels fresh.

The second-tier gameplay modes such as Domination, Rush, and Deathmatch are virtually unchanged and still there, ready to cater towards the fans who enjoy smaller scale warfare as opposed to the total warfare of Conquest and now Operations. My recommendation is, whether or not you like one particular mode, try them all but bear in mind that Conquest is pretty much the epitome of what Battlefield should be as it is the truest to the integrated squad dynamics and always has been. Operations is a new, close second, but Conquest is still king. If you want the truest Battlefield experience then you’ve got to go down that road and not rely so much upon the smaller scale modes that are often done better or so similarly in other shooters such as Halo or Call of Duty.

Let’s switch gears a little bit here and talk about multiplayer in terms of glitchiness and bugs, as well as lack of options or other issues. Customizing loadouts is a little bit different than it has been on the past and slows down gameplay dramatically for whatever reason, whether intentionally or not. The game at least as of right now will often lag if thirty of sixty-four players are all swarming one specific objective, which isn’t surprising but is still a letdown. As with previous entries expect some random crashes for no real reason here and there as well. Spawns in gamemodes without dedicated spawnpoints are finicky as always, which has been an issue since who even remembers how long. There are some random bugs with clipping and bodies and weapons flying through the air in both multiplayer and singleplayer at times which is a new one.

Speaking of singleplayer, let’s briefly discuss that while we’re here. First things first, it’s not the worst to grace a Battlefield game. I’d also say it’s not the best when you take into account that the Bad Company duology is also a part of the series. But it definitely trumps Battlefield 3 and 4 as well as Hardline’s hit or miss cops and robbers tale. I was somewhat of a fan of Hardline’s episodic sort of feel and so crafting singleplayer as multiple vignettes in Battlefield 1 also appealed to me. The story is largely narrative but also features plenty of action-packed moments in a diverse array of settings. The one drawback to me was that is essentially is only there to serve as a tutorial mode for multiplayer, but even that isn’t a terrible idea since it guarantees players will know the controls of vehicles and the ins and outs of gameplay before entering multiplayer should they choose to try the story mode first.

The most annoying and glaring flaw to me about the singleplayer is that, unlike the crowded multiplayer matches that are full of mayhem, the singleplayer is a little dull and empty even in its most challenging and grueling moments. For example, if you stealthily enter a desert village with roaming Nazi forces hunting you, there’s a grand total of maybe ten enemies in one large map (before they call for reinforcements) and virtually none of them will ever be inside of the sprawling buildings which, oh by the way, are all open to entry. So on one hand I like the ability to enter every fully detailed and realized environment, however on the other I wish the story felt as lifelike as the multiplayer does.

Concept: Enter the Great War and the world of total warfare within the confines of World War I including Battlefield’s classic destructibility and over the top arsenal.

Graphics: There are moments when it falters, however the lighting, environments, and weather effects are some of the best in gaming and certainly the best I’ve yet to see in any shooter save for possibly Uncharted 4.

Sound: The soundtrack is a perfect mix of battlefield sounds, the cries of your wounded compatriots and enemies alike, whistling of mortar shells overhead, hiss of mustard gas, and orchestral takes on the classic Battlefield themes.

Playability: The controls are much the same as they’re likely to ever be and that’s not a bad thing considering they are very intuitive and react accordingly.

Entertainment: I’ll admit, I thought it might slow things down a bit to be behind the wheel of a dusty old war machine, however this iron giant moves at virtually the same pace as any modern shooter and is doubly entertaining it seems.

Replay Value: Very High.

Overall Score: 8.5

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Opinion: Resident Evil 7 Could Go Either Way

[As Read on GIO.]

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This isn’t the first time that the Resident Evil series has sought out a new direction or sought to go in a completely different one. We first experienced that with the surprise success of Resident Evil 4 which buoyed the series for several more years even off of the return to semi-stagnation in terms of creativity that came subsequently with main series entries such as RE5 and RE6. However, I will admit that I’ve been somewhat worried by what I’ve seen thus far. Not because it seems such a far cry from classic Resident Evil at times, but because it just doesn’t seem like the first-person survival horror vibe is going to hold up at the moment.

The main reason for my title is that I’m equally torn between thinking this game could be something new and great (or new and terrifying, yet still in a good way) or it could fall flat like I think most people thought Resident Evil 6 did for all it accomplished as well. One thing is certain- it will not just be “more of the same” as it seems to ditch a lot of what fans have grown accustomed to and not just in terms of HUD and point of view. If done properly I really think it could channel somewhat of an Outlast vibe and that’s what I’ve seen thus far in terms of potential from gameplay and trailers and creepy demos.

Now, with Outlast 2 on the horizon that is truly an interesting possibility to entertain as well. So far this title reminds me of the creepy madness that plagued players across Resident Evil 4, and to some extent with the increasingly manic majini in Resident Evil 5. While RE6 took us back to the zombie apocalypse in earnest (sort of I guess), things have largely gotten stale with the golden exception of a few handheld and console spinoffs (Revelations 1 and 2). I don’t think you need traditional zombies in order to make the Resident Evil formula work and I applaud the developers for the titles they’ve attempted to create without the series staple. That being said, I really want to see how this game works- from a gameplay perspective as well as a story perspective.

The weaker elements of the previous two titles have been story by far, as the gameplay has often been acceptable to good even if it is borderline ludicrous or repetitive at times. I want a “less is more” approach right now but I also want to see it done properly. Spend less time focusing on multiplayer modes and extra outfits and ultimately useless downloadable content packs and craft an interesting, creepy, and horrific story for players to enjoy the atmosphere and illusion of. Those are what got our heads wrapped around the franchise in the first place and I think those elements are what we keep hoping to see again and again as well.

Ultimately, I think Resident Evil 7 DOES have the potential to be a memorable experience and even a good one, however my main concern is that the simple changes to gameplay will have an adverse effect rather than a beneficial one. So many times in franchises, change can be a breath of fresh air and a good thing however by the same token in other instances it can ruin the overall experience. I sincerely hope that is not the case for this game but as is I’m not setting my standards too high lest my expectations go up in flames.

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A Rising Tide: Destiny and the Rise of Iron

[As Read on GIO.]

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Destiny’s latest expansion released nearly a month ago and now I’ve finally had a good enough taste of what it offers in order to give some of my own thoughts. This is a review of sorts but more importantly it is a discussion. Destiny has been and will undoubtedly continue to be a good game. The first two expansions were welcome if smaller additions, The Taken King was a very welcome and game-changing and much larger addition, and Rise of Iron falls in a happy medium between those two.

Rise of Iron changes a few things up, adds a few others, but for the most part tweaks the core experience you’ve come to recognize and enjoy. The fundamentals are unchanged however they have been given a facelift in terms of menu layout and inventory for example. You now have the ability to explore a whole new section of the Cosmodrone labeled as the ominous Plaguelands. While for the most part it is a nuclear winter reskin of the original areas, it offers some interesting new places to explore and missions delving into a cult-like mechanized and bioengineered Fallen guild.

Another much anticipated new addition to the gameplay is Felwinter Peak, Destiny’s newest social space and the second on Earth proper. Like any good update, Rise of Iron has its fair share of secrets, only a few of which I’m sure have actually even been discovered yet. If you’re a fan of Game of Thrones’ House Stark, then you’ll enjoy Felwinter Peak’s plethora of scenic snowy vistas, wolves, and twisty trees a la a weirwood forest.

There is a main questline but also a pretty good number of side quests including exotic hunts and strike missions (as well as a game changing raid that I won’t spoil at all here with details). However the updates aren’t limited to the solo and fireteam aspect of things, as multiplayer has also been changed both in terms of being updated and in terms of adding accessibility and functionality. There is a new dedicated offline/online sort of private match building potential, several new game modes including (for comparison) a sort of Kill Confirmed (for CoD fans) crest stealing mode. Maps have been updated, added to, rotated about, and even new additions have been added.

This is only a small description of what the complete package has to offer but rest assured it is worth shelling out the extra money for if you are a Destiny fan. If you have yet to play the game but are interested, I encourage you to seek out Bungie’s complete edition as it includes every single expansion and is the same price as a normal retail game. Between The Taken King and Rise of Iron alone there is plenty of new content to explore as you seek to rid the galaxy of the Darkness and raise your light level to the new cap of 385. My one grievance of sorts is that they don’t seem to want to increase the actual level capacity to say 50, probably due to balancing purposes.

All in all, you really should heed the call. It may not be the call to duty, but it’s a call to go on a galaxy-spanning adventure of a lifetime and to combat ancient and evil threats along the way.

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Opinion: Battlefield 1 Will Not Be “Number 1”

[As Written on GIO.]

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There’s no denying that DICE’s latest foray into war is looking much better than the hellish world it is portraying. We’ve been to World War II, we’ve seen Vietnam, we’ve experienced modern combat- now it’s time for the first war that changed it all. I’ll admit, I’ve been pumped to see the moving trailers and the interesting storylines being presented for EA’s next series shooter, however I still haven’t let that change the one thought ever-present in the back of my mind: Battlefield 1 will not be the best Battlefield game yet.

No, instead I expect it to appeal its case somewhere between Battlefield 3 and 4, even potentially moving into Hardline territory. Basically, it seems to be a beast of its own and hard to pin into any other category short of tossing it in with like-minded 1942 and 1943 based on general time period alone. I have no doubt that it will sell well and be rated accordingly, however some things still worry me a bit. And I have no doubt that Infinite Warfare and by token Modern Warfare Remastered will easily outpace it.

Battlefield 3 was at one point in time the pinnacle of Battlefield game besides the spinoff Bad Company 2. They’ve all had their share of glitches and bugs and sadly that’s come to be expected, but 3 rose above all else. Then came Battlefield 4 which was a continuation of the same old same old but injected some new things and brought a whole host of new glitches. Bigger wasn’t necessarily better, but it wasn’t worse. And then came Hardline which was a different breed entirely and not great but not terrible.

Battlefield has struggled with its narrative component for the last however many entries, but ironically that’s something Hardline didn’t do too poorly with. It toyed with some new ideas and opened things up more significantly than the largely linear exploits of 3 and 4. So that is why I say Battlefield 1 look to draw some inspiring elements from the much faster paced Hardline. I’m not sure whether or not this new approach to a solo campaign will pay off or not, as it sounds Call of Duty-esque in its attempt to jump from character point of view to character POV.

However, the multiplayer is looking as solid as ever even with its own host of sure to be there bugs. Many modes are returning and feel fresher than ever thanks to the new timeframe and new global perspective. But Battlefield 1 looks to be more than just a fresh coat of paint- it looks to be an entirely new and vivid experience in its own right. Whereas 4 was virtually an extended update on 3, Hardline was a breath of fresh air even if it changed the formula to the point that it was nearly unrecognizable. Battlefield 1 looks to not only return the series to its warzone roots but to catapult it higher as well.

I do not think Battlefield 1 will be as polarized as Hardline was with the fanbase, nor do I think it’ll be the best Battlefield game yet, but I do think it will bring the series’ name back where it belongs and I do think it’ll fare well enough in reviews. Unsurprisingly Infinite Warfare will outcompete, but that may be as much for its solid ideas as for the Remastered MW1. So without comparing the two juggernaut series, I think Battlefield 1 has a chance at quickly becoming one of the most popular games of 2016 regardless.

Battlefield 1 releases 10.21.16 for PC, Xbox One, and PS4.

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Hitman: Episode One Review

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It has always been my belief, both in fundamentals and through what I’ve witnessed, that hitmen should be clean and not make a mess. I am of course referencing other Hitman titles, as I have not in fact been up close and personal with real-life hitmen. 2012’s Hitman: Absolution was a well-received game and sequel, even if it did change some of the established formula around. 2016’s Hitman is attempting to do so again, melding some sort of combination of Blood Money and the original title to Absolution’s gameplay, in addition to some other elements. Needless to say, this Hitman did not entirely stick his landing. I’m not so concerned with the quality of the game itself, rather the presentation here.

First you have the fundamental problem of cleanliness- we searched far and wide for details to be found on the title prior to its delayed release and were often in the dark. What a mess of a launch it initially had. Delays only add to already skeptical thoughts regarding episodic projects, particularly one promising a constant stream of content for players so that the experience does not grow stale. How do you take an open world and cram it into an episodic format? Hitman looks to answer that question, and we shall see how it fares each month with the dawn of a new episode, as well as week to week content availability. Scratch what you think you already know about Hitman’s Agent 47, this title is a prequel and not a continuation from Absolution’s hit storyline. In fact, 2016’s Hitman could almost be set in its own narrative entirely as it all but scraps the story in favor of returning to the roots of what Agent 47 does best: dealing death in creative ways.

The real question remaining is, how does this first episode fare? How much content is it able to provide players who have to make do for a month before new content becomes available in April? Honestly, Hitman was not created to be episodic whatsoever, so the narrative is already in the hole here. In fact, besides a few cutscenes you can bypass the story altogether- that is, if you haven’t already been doing that for the past decade in these sort of games. To say the content is enough is a stretch but I do think that the talented folks over at IO Interactive have crafted enough detail and content worthy of one episode, even if just barely so. As it is, in some ways this tutorial episode feels more like an evasion of the need to produce fully realized content, or perhaps a demo of a larger game. If they needed to have one more delay in order to release a larger product with a better story-oriented sandbox experience, I wouldn’t have been terribly disappointed. As it is, some things are too bland right now.

The feeling that this is in fact some elaborate demo or tutorial bundle is ever present in Hitman, most likely for the simple reason that the majority of the gameplay currently available to us is tutorial-based. Assuming we’re lucky and get a year’s worth of content from the developers, that means Hitman will have taken about four times longer than Absolution to develop roughly the same number of chapters (episodes in this case). Granted, the levels here are much larger in scale than many of Absolution’s more intricate and detailed ones, but still. That’s insane. You start off playing through (surprise!) tutorial segments in order to acclimate yourself to the control scheme, which is very tight as should be expected for fans. I’d go so far as to say this and the level of detail in the environment coupled with kill opportunities are the three greatest, stand-out selling points to be found in the game so far.

After a couple of tutorial missions that make sure you grasp the basics, Agent 47 is unleashed upon the rest of the unsuspecting world. It’s a bit disappointing that the tutorials take place in a pretty confined training ground rather than serving as an introductory mission perhaps in a varied locale. Thankfully however, besides the major Paris map available to players, there is also a map on par with the majority of past Hitman titles including Absolution in terms of size. The military base mission is just as interesting as the Paris fashion show one, allowing for a plethora of kill opportunities as well as candid exploration for potential player contracts to craft and dole out as you deem fit. So while in the grand scheme of things the game may be a bit barebones at the moment, I have hope for the future and that IO can come through with their promises to constantly add content and update and tweak things.

Here I was thinking Absolution looked gorgeous, but Hitman actually steps things up a tad thanks to the visual performance of the current generation of consoles. Paris is beautifully rendered and seems a lot more lifelike than some of Absolution’s locales which seemed desolate at worst and faked or forced at best at times. Take Absolution’s Chinatown and magnify that by about seven and you’ve maybe got a sense of how crowded and expansive this particular Parisian venue is. Surprisingly, even the size of the map adds to the challenge of formulating a plan to assassinate high value targets, as it makes simple memorization of patrol patterns and routes all the more difficult as well. Figuring out where special opportunities reside is exhilarating as usual, and utilizing disguises and weapons in order to make your assassination look accidental among a crowded venue is nerve wracking at times too.

With this expanded space comes understandable complications in the already trial and error methodology of assassination prevalent in the Hitman series. Thankfully this is also managed by the inclusion of “opportunities” which highlight specific details in the environment that may benefit players- such as costumes, weapons, and convoluted kills. Maneuvering plays a much bigger role than simply tracking your target’s repetitive movement pattern in this installment, however the gameplay is largely unaffected and basically the same as previous entries, which doesn’t have to be a bad thing at all. Don’t expect to achieve the best possible outcome in your assassinations without some prior planning and a little extra legwork in accomplishing some secondary tasks throughout the missions. Getting the signature kill is still a feat only the worthy can successfully pull off.

Hitman has always been about replayability, but now with only a select amount of content available to play, you have no choice but to keep playing the same things over and over. The first dozen times this will probably be perfectly acceptable, however even larger maps can only offer so much of a challenge before they become boring and players get burnt out. There is the potential promise of a so-called ‘Escalation’ mode however it basically features the same mission parameters with slight deviations and still expects you to carry out repetitive assassinations in order to progress. Meaning even more replay time, in case you somehow missed something the other forty times you played through. Thankfully user creation and contracts factor into the mix, adding somewhat of a less quality-driven but higher replay value mission generator. I must say however, even the contract options here were a step down from those offered in Absolution, which is a disappointment.

Needless to say, the few highlights of this title so far mostly revolve around playability- considering the fact that the controls are thankfully one of the few things that seem perfectly balanced and can be relied upon. The story is mundane and bound to be forgotten by the time the next episode releases, meaning you’ll just have to play the damn thing another time! The environments look great but the animation and voice work diminish an otherwise spectacular experience with their terribleness and at times unexpected glitched encounters. Basically, I’d say you’re much better off waiting for the actual finished product to ship in one piece than to pick up the game in its current form. If all of the content were in one place and available, maybe I could more readily judge it based on the full package rather than episode by episode in its forgettable and incomplete form. What’s here isn’t bad, it just isn’t much.

Concept: More Hitman, less of a hit.

Graphics: The graphics constantly blew me away. They looked even better than those present in last generation’s impressive Absolution and they didn’t seem particularly bothered much no matter how much action was on screen at any given time. Animation work could’ve been handled much better conversely.

Sound: The voice work was often so terrible as to not even be laughably bad. The music was equally nonexistent at times.

Playability: It’s the controls that save this package in my mind. If they had been anything less than stellar, it would’ve doomed the entire project.

Entertainment: What’s here is a lot of fun to experiment with and dabble in, however it feels more like a demo of the full game than a release of anything meaningful in its own right. I hope IO can come through with their promise of constant content production, but even still a month is a bit too long to wait to play the next step in the journey.

Replay Value: Moderate.

Overall Score: 7.0/10.0

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Firewatch Review

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Campo Santo has done something special with Firewatch. The first and obvious comparisons will be to games like Gone Home which are in the first person but feature little to no interactivity in terms of action. These games are more so aesthetically and narrative driven, a very coloring or storybook genre, akin to the more action-packed and decision based Telltale episodic games. The main difference between Firewatch and Gone Home however lies in the amount of leeway players are given, or given the illusion of having. Both experiences are very much linear ones, do not make the mistake of thinking Firewatch is set in a lush sandbox by any means just because it looks that way. Surrounded though you are by woods on all sides, it is not only a linear experience but one that has minimal action as well. The main draw lies in the narrative.

Campo Santo’s first adventure gives the illusion that there is both an open world surrounding you and that some of the gameplay is action oriented. Now, these “action-packed” moments are little more than scripted occurrences, but they still get the blood pumping and progressive the narrative at the same time as they keep a hand to the pulse of the gameplay to keep things from growing stale or going cold. It’s the moments like this and the simple trappings of nature that surround you when you pause for a moment and just gaze around that bring this game to life, not to mention the mysterious circumstances that slowly build throughout the fateful summertime exploits of Henry the fire watcher.

Just like Gone Home, Henry’s backstory is an important detail in Firewatch and does not disappoint or lack attention to detail in its simplicity. He’s escaping a marriage quickly stagnating and taking up residence in the backwoods of Wyoming, serving as a fire watcher for the driest part of the year. Although the better part of the game’s narrative progression is sparked by walkie talkie conversations between Henry and his supervisor Delilah as well as through notes and papers scattered about, there is still a rich story to be found if you pay close attention to the environments and interactions both up close and from afar.

The whole game seems like it should be something of a mundane, potentially even boring experience, but I can assure you though it lacks action it is anything but. It is far from perfect and it may not even be superb or great, but for its eerie and mysterious moments I can only give fairly deserved praise. There are simple moments where you can just look around and observe, and then there are tense moments where you’re trying to figure out just what is going on, whether there’s some sort of conspiracy to uncover, a disappearance, or some other foul behavior or characters of ill repute on the prowl. Firewatch does a good job of keeping players guessing, and I must say it unravels rather like an onion- layer by layer, not eagerly showing its full hand and even leaving some questions at the end.

Ironically, Henry is looking for some measure of peace in his duties as a fire watcher and I’m sure he’s very disappointed to learn that this is not in fact what he stumbles upon. Instead, he experiences fear, paranoia, and constant scrutiny for the duration of the game and throughout specific events that will test his resolve and wits. It’s not as cerebral an experience as Gone Home is known to be, rather more of a deceptive at times and downright eerie one at others. Firewatch seems to be about relationships more than anything else- how they can be built up or torn down. Not just between Henry and Delilah or others the player will interact with through some form or another, but between other characters you learn about as well.

A curious little thing called interactive dialogue keeps the game exciting when it needs to be and even adds a little player choice to the concoction, meaning it isn’t just a point, click, and discover adventure like Gone Home largely was. I guess this will also in some ways add to the replayability of the title, but not in any large way. Most situations are going to play out entirely the same regardless of the way the conversation leads up to them. While that may sound disappointing, don’t be too down because what is there is already pretty enjoyable. Delilah is a welcome source of both narrative exposition over the radio and knowledge about local lore and the surroundings themselves. Feel free to radio her at pretty much any moment throughout the game for interesting conversations and observations.

Not only is Firewatch set in the wilds of Wyoming, but it is also set thirty years or so in the past in an age of Reaganomics and nationalism. The backdrops already seem somewhat surreal in the way they blend and blur the lines between realistic natural settings and graphically designed and moisturized postmarks. The setting itself adds to the narrative in subtler ways than most games that take place in the past, but it is well-handled and a welcome change of pace from other titles that overuse famous figures and landmarks. Exploring around the national forest will occasionally open up new and intriguing finds for collection or documentation, of which players should take note in terms of how it will subtly craft and mold the story over time.

The scripted sequences that progress the narrative and the interactions through relationship building and dialogue are the finer points of the game and make the experience one that I would say is entirely worth it even though the second and third acts gradually slack off and leave a sour taste in the mouth. What starts as a mystery I would love to uncover gradually morphs into something that even X-Files would shudder at in terms of just how much it seems to retcon earlier information and make liberal use of “video game logic.” What is at first an entirely believable and enjoyably realistic experience seems to hoodwink even the player themselves and end with a less than stellar thought.

Concept: Explore the wilderness and a potential cover up and other intriguing events in the backwoods of Wyoming over the course of a summer with your fellow fire watchers.

Graphics: It certainly has its own unique look and reminds me more of graphics or posters sometimes than a realistic or cartoon style of visuals in games.

Sound: Although characters never meet face to face per se, the voice work is well done and showcases an incredible level of detail and emotion in the way it conveys the words from script to realization.

Playability: It is quite literally a stroll through the woods and an enjoyable experience lacking difficulty but not lacking for substance.

Entertainment: Games in this genre are slow going but if you can get into the story then you’ll be right at home for at least seventy percent of the game or so.

Replay Value: Low.

Overall Score: 7.0

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The Witness Review

original

I just first want to congratulate Jonathan Blow and the magical minds behind this particular project on yet another success. Since Braid, I’ve been eagerly anticipating projects that cater not only to my sense of curiosity and wonder, but also provide a solid experience and aesthetic pleasure to go along with mind-bending and detail-oriented gameplay and stories and clues galore. The Witness definitely accomplishes this and pushes the buck a little bit further along, daring others to attempt to do the same or (so I blasphemously must say) surpass it altogether. Within this game, puzzles, environment, and story- what can be gleaned from your actions and from the mysterious picture you must slowly build around you, are top tier and top notch.

For those of you interested in some of the design process or perhaps just in the creators’ intent and thoughts surrounding this project or other ones, feel free to visit the semi-official website for The Witness here as well. As for my own opinions about the game, I suggest you continue reading in order to find out just how well I have received it. Without further ado, let’s get to the meat of this review. As usual, apologies for any ill-made mistakes, typos, or edits that may or may not be found within the base text of this review.

I appreciate the fact that games often come around once or twice in a console generation that challenge players to think differently or to otherwise revise their stance on how exactly games themselves are supposed to work. Oftentimes puzzle games fill this role, but sometimes it’s a much simpler archetype such as the shooter revolution that came first with Halo: Combat Evolved, and later with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Last console generation we had the (arguably) strongest part of Valve’s Orange Box- Portal, and for the current console generation there could be a strong argument that The Witness fills these same or similar shoes in opening players’ eyes to new concepts. It may be too early to tell, but it is never too early to recognize a wonderful game for the concepts it leaves us constantly thinking of.

All great games and all great puzzle games start with a simple concept or two and then build upon that. Where most games that end up being sub-par make their mistakes or fall down is when they try to be something they aren’t or when they try to become too complex too early on. You can have as steep of a skill curve as you want in a game, however it has to be fun and genius at its core for that to work. Dark Souls takes your life in its hands and repeatedly crushes it, often alongside your hopes and dreams, but at its core the relentless punishment and extremely brutal bosses and challenging gameplay is fun because the experience is made entirely worthwhile by a plethora of other concepts and ideas along the way. Puzzle games such as The Witness should be treated no differently.

You awake on an island that has numerous nooks and crannies, ruins and hovels, scenic spots and shadowy hollows, mechanical and electronic devices galore. Your only real focus, other than figuring out just what is going on, is to connect monitors and grids like a circuit board essentially. For one inhabitant, the world of The Witness is easily one of the most impressive things about the game. The environment is gorgeously rendered and the way it in and of itself connects gameplay and concepts is also ingenious, proving that neither aesthetic pleasure nor pure gameplay need take from one or the other in order to craft a veritable masterpiece.

Think of Tron’s “grid” if you will, while thinking of an explanation for the bulk of gameplay elements in The Witness. Although you have some amount of freedom in exploration, you can’t break away from the grid for long in terms of puzzle solving or connecting start points with end points. Pathways that you create serve a purpose and are quite important. Each grid sports a different symbol- maybe its a polygonal shape or a character of sorts, but you must form that from start to end in order to solve a little piece of the bigger puzzle. Trust me when I say even the littlest of details make a difference in your surroundings, so if something seems off it is almost assuredly so on purpose or to hint at something else. Don’t expect to use the same trick or see the same clues every time however as the complexity and subsequently the difficulty and uniqueness of each grid area or puzzle increases over time. Just about the time you start to catch on, the game shifts perspectives and throws something else at you.

I’m going to make yet another reference to Portal here, and I hope you’ll excuse me if I continue to do so, but the action is appropriate in this instance. The Witness share some similar ideas, not necessarily in terms of puzzle ideas or mounting difficulty, rather in how it goes about presenting each puzzle or grid area. The majority of puzzles in specific areas, akin to the test chambers in the not-so open world of Portal, all fall into a similar or same category. For instance in Portal 2 there were a few chambers in a row focusing mainly on light bridges and goop. In The Witness, as with most puzzle games, you should expect to see newer elements slowly introduced and further ingrained into gameplay and built upon. It only makes sense to do as more and more opportunities and actions open up to players.

Although there are a plethora of puzzles to be solved in The Witness, I suppose you could say that they all fall into specific groups, or perhaps “focuses” as well. For instance, the island itself could definitely be broken down by the way the grid itself splits things up into specific areas of gameplay, each with its own focus in terms of puzzles and concepts. You could solve anywhere from say six to eight smaller puzzles in one longer “sequence” of sorts before you start to run into gradually larger and more complicated puzzles in one specific area of the island. If you think scratching your head over one small concept is giving you fits, imagine when that concept blows the doors wide open and hits you with a sucker punch in the face when you run into a larger, more complex and intense situation.

Don’t think that the game will be a cakewalk for fans of puzzle games or entirely too difficult for newcomers to the genre. In reality, I think The Witness performs excellently in terms of moderation- meaning it knows when to teach but it also knows when to assume players generally understand the tools and concepts they’ve been given and just what to do with a little brain power, elbow grease, and general spirit. Don’t mistake my comment as assurance that you will in fact be able to complete the game however. You may get stuck and find yourself forced to shut your brain off and come back to the game a week later, hoping that you’ll have a fresher perspective and be able to make more progress in the matter. By no means is The Witness impossible, but it’s also by no means easy. Definitely take notes and don’t assume you’ll remember everything you see or come across. It may take trial and error sometimes, but I’d prefer to associate that with experimentation rather than hoping you’ll get lucky and flick the right pattern or switch into place.

Unlike the largely linear experience presented in most puzzle games, The Witness actually allows you to freely leave a puzzle in progress in order to go solve other ones around the island. You also don’t even have to feel pressured to complete every single puzzle in the game in order to complete it, although I’d imagine that should probably be your goal if at all possible. In terms of storytelling, this jumping around isn’t prone to mess with much as the story is more of what you make it than really anything so established as a specific plot. Everything is all mysterious and nothing is ever quite fully confirmed, which definitely leaves things up to the player’s imagination which I thoroughly appreciated. You’re presented with the cold hard facts as they are- what will work and what won’t, and that’s simply that.

Now, there is some loose basis of a slight hint of a plot to be found, and that is through select recordings scattered about the island in sometimes devious, sometimes easy-to-access areas. These won’t do much to quell the questions, but they may sate some of your burning desire to get to the bottom of things, if only a little bit before the game’s ending. None of this should really detract from the experience however as at its core, The Witness is a test of logic. There are frustrating moments, but nothing beats the thrill of successfully completing a puzzle or a series of puzzles and discovering something new about the world you’ve been presented. Instead of questioning the purpose of things or asking the horrid “why” question, start exploring and figuring out how things work and what affects what. It’s all almost brilliantly philosophical in some ways.

Concept: Exploration and puzzle solving presented in a rich environment where no stone should be left unturned and no detail, however minimal ignored.

Graphics: The art-style is uniquely rendered and attention to detail beautiful to behold. Some may consider it basic or simple, but then things don’t need to be unnecessarily complicated to be gorgeous.

Sound: There’s more of an argument to be made for the ambiance than there is to be made for a soundtrack or voice work, but what there is of everything here is more than adequate and only adds to the sense that you’re isolated and surrounded by mystery.

Playability: Complicated puzzles can sometimes make games an exercise in frustration, but you should never be angered by difficulty even when you are stumped as the game is precise and easy to grasp once you get the hang of things.

Entertainment: It’s puzzle-solving at its finest or close enough thereto. Puzzle after puzzle will challenge how you think and what you know. Don’t stop to question motive or intent, but soak up the rich scenery and equally rich gameplay elements.

Replay Value: High.

Overall Score: 9.0

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Watch Dogs Review

[As Read on GIO.]

Ubisoft has tried their hand at crafting their fair share of open-world romps within the past few years- most recently Far Cry 3 among them, and has performed fairly well. As you’ll soon gather from my review here, Watch Dogs isn’t the greatest game out there to do it, nor the best looking next-gen title, however it more than adequately gets the job done. We’ve seen more than our fair share of demo videos for the game since two E3s ago, and the final product lives up to some promises and falls down on others, a result often found in today’s industry as developers find themselves pressured more and more to get more done than they originally intended, and end up either axing content or crafting sub-par content in specific areas here and there. On the whole, Watch Dogs is a fairly impressive new IP as well as a potential future money-maker for Ubisoft should they get their act more together and craft a truly quality sequel worth of this new generation and the hardware it offers up. The delay of the game’s initial release- postponed until May 27th of this year, did not add or detract much from the game’s final product and ultimately skeptics may have been the more correct of the two areas of thought in the format of the released product, it being slightly worse for wear than what was initially showed off.

It should come as no surprise that players take up the trench coat, phone carrying cowl of hacker and disgruntled wayfarer Aiden Pearce in this particular Ubisoft revenge tale. In fact, despite the vast differences, there could be many parallels drawn between Watch Dogs’ and Assassin’s Creed II’s revenge stories. Utilizing the citywide operating system that Chicago now runs on, Pearce is able to systematically hijack and take down many digital systems in order to rid himself of pursuers, kill foes in innovative new ways, and generally cause mayhem in his quest for vengeance and retribution for his deceased niece. Of course, when all else fails, he’s more than able to pick up a gun and use that to his advantage as well, even in combination with his hacking expertise. The story itself may seem like something out of one of those movie cliches, as it deals with an obviously corrupt corporation with far-reaching powers and influence. Pearce is pitted against said company which apparently had his niece murdered, and after many twists and turns throughout the decent story, he finally comes out on top…well sort of I guess, but that’s for another day. Also, let’s talk for a minute about who thought it was a good idea to put the entire city on one operating system- that’s pretty outlandish, but of course completely created for the purpose of this particular story, as otherwise it would’ve been a lot harder for Pearce to accomplish all he does. That’s beside the point however.

Watch Dogs is a pretty well designed open-world romp, even if it doesn’t feature the best of stories or specific gameplay elements. It is very strong in some areas and particularly weak in others, but its too late to really avoid that right now of course. Your time is split locomotion wise pretty evenly between traversing the environment on foot and in the variety of vehicles available for hijacking- including cars, boats, and motorcycles. As Watch Dogs isn’t a racing game, the vehicle controls could be much better, but they are far from terrible. I particularly enjoy the cars in Rockstar titles such as GTA and LA Noire, but Watch Dogs’ work as well for what you’re given. The other good thing about the way that the vehicles do handle is the fact that you can smash through just about any breakable environmental object and not have to deal with getting thrown out of or off of whatever it is you’re driving- like in GTA (the infamous no-enter poles and beams) or other open-world titles such as Mercenaries. In this respect, one could easily compare the level of possible environmental destruction to something out of a car crushing game such as Burnout or Full Auto or something of a similar sort, which is never a bad thing in my book. Of course, bear in mind that your foes have similarly god-like abilities in vehicles and will definitely use this to their advantage. Also, unlike GTA, you cannot equip weapons whilst driving- you can however hack environmental objects to cause mayhem, which may be even more fun.

Now, if you choose to approach things from an on-foot perspective, which is completely viable in most instances, you’re privy to quite a few more enjoyable hacking features than you may encounter the use or need for in vehicular segments. Hacking, being an integral part of the game of course, is also integral in combat and general locomotion and encounters. You can watch foes on camera in order to get the drop on them or give them the slip. You can use your hacking abilities to activate environmental traps and cause mayhem and you can also change the environment as well- much like you can in vehicular chases, by raising or lowering items and performing other helpful tasks. Watch Dogs is by no means an FPS or TPS but the shooting mechanics shine when they are employed as well, although to anybody playing I would heartily recommend a more cautious, stealthy approach to combat if it can’t be avoided, as it feels much more meaningful and is more fun that way. Sort of like something out of FEAR, but not to that particular extent (but think BulletTime), you can temporarily slow time and use it to either avoid bad guys, hide, or line up the perfect shot and take out a few foes. Thus, combat feels satisfying and is quite effective both in all-out shootouts and stealth approaches in the game, making for a fun open-world experience as well as a down-to-earth shooter when the occasion calls.

Talking more about the matter of hacking in-game, there are plenty of opportunities to do so, as well as to implement the new hacking abilities and upgrades you are constantly learning as you advance through the game. The classic approaches as shown in the tutorial and demo videos are always viable and versatile options- from overloading steam pipes to raising guard posts, however there are also several other abilities to be learned such as changing traffic signals, hacking into characters’ phones, and causing citywide sirens and alarms to distract essential personnel and cause general chaos to cover an escape or infiltration. The city is your weapon, here more literally than in any other game that has promised it. Hacking during car chases works well, but it is much more limited than on-foot hacking in that you must actually pass the hackable objects and you must begin the hack as the game prompts you to, otherwise you’re liable to have to circle around and start over again. Also, as you must level up your hacks and learn new ways to hack into systems, not all of these objects will initially be open to you. This can be frustrating, however it also translates well into adding to the feeling of steady progression of skills throughout the game, and pays off well later.

I’ve given you a glimpse at some of the general gameplay of the title- focusing of course of hacking and hijacking systems and vehicles, but lets go to a broader, graphical glimpse of the game and see how it shapes up as well. Depending largely on what system you get it on, Watch Dogs can look pretty good or pretty average. Obviously it looks the best on the new-generation consoles, specifically the Play Station 4. However, it doesn’t look too terribly different on PC or the previous console generation. This having been said, don’t expect the visual hype at least to live up to the grand expectations presented several E3s ago, as the game looks good, but no better than a lot of titles we’ve already seen before. It has its moments and doesn’t look bad, but particular textures can be muddied and torn at times which is never a good sign. For this reason, it is easily noticeable that Watch Dogs is indeed a cross-generation title and not a truly next-generation one alone, because it was built to conform to current standards and not so much to utilize the entirety of the potential tech available on new platforms. On the bright side however, Chicago is represented as an excellent open-world hub, the interactions with the environment and new areas that you travel to are seamless about ninety-five percent of the time, and on the whole- despite some degrading moments, the game looks and feels great and flows well.

For the most part, Ubisoft does a great job of making interesting campaign missions and side activities, giving characters a variety of ways to complete tasks and to broaden their play styles as well. As with any open-world title, there are plenty of repetitive aspects to be found in Watch Dogs’ content, however there are also several unconventional missions and encounters that will stick with you- from busting up your enemies’ “parties” to guiding NPCs that actually, surprisingly take orders well and don’t completely screw things up every chance they get. All of these encounters come off as fast-paced and fresh thanks in most part also to your skills as a hacker, and not necessarily because of your shooting prowess, although that doesn’t hurt either. Don’t think you’ll blow through the game in one sitting however, because despite some of the repetitive action, there is plenty to be found in the way of collectibles and experienced a la side content similar to that of Grand Theft Auto V. Heck, Ubisoft even managed to incorporate some interesting multiplayer elements into the main game itself, as other players can spawn in-game and hack you, chase you around and terrorize you, or even sort of assist you from the shadows. Of course, it’s even more fun to turn the table on an unsuspecting victim of yours as well, and it certainly beats preying on the completely oblivious AI as well, so going after truly human targets is much more of a challenge and thrill ride.

I’ve talked (mostly) about what Watch Dogs does well or at least marginally well at, so now it is only fair that I talk some more about the areas that the game could realize use some work on- for one reason or another. As previously mentioned, repetitive mission structure is a large issue, and many times missions that start off interestingly boil down to the same chase scenes and hacking tutorials, which can really put a damper on the overall experience. There are several cheap opportunities to extend the gameplay so to speak which Ubisoft also takes, opting to produce foes with an insane amount of padding to make fights more drawn out, as well as scripted tailing and pursuing missions that generally just aren’t fun at all in most cases. Ubisoft also bounces around the board as far as a story goes and doesn’t really convey it as meaningfully as they could or should have, leaving me not really caring about many of the characters and simply wanting to enjoy the sandbox open-world moments presented- which is fine, thankfully in a game such as this. Aiden Pearce’s character doesn’t have the greatest set-up, but it works, as you’re able to really make what you want out of him and craft the experience as you wish- one of the finer points of the title, despite the general failings in the character department elsewhere. Talking more about the story, the vast majority of it- while not necessarily forgettable, is often stupid, sardonic, and crass to say the least. I get that other games like GTA do this as well, but at least they can pull it off and the tone fits- here, it just didn’t click quite as well as I would’ve liked.

Now, despite its numerous failings in both story and at times graphics and overall visuals, as well as its failure to deliver on several early promises, Watch Dogs is far from a bad game. It is a really enjoyable and replayable experience, even if it is a highly flawed one as well. As with many similarly flawed titles of its genre and caliber, the main attraction and the main thing that works the most in Watch Dogs is in fact its open-world setting and the relative freedom players are allowed in deciding what they want to do or where they want to go, as well as when and why or why not. Choice and hacking capabilities alone make this a worthwhile title to play, even if it isn’t quite the hit they were looking for. I for one certainly enjoyed my time with this game, as well as the fact that it retained similarities to their other recent titles- such as Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry, without going overboard into those territories at all. If there’s one thing that can be said about it, it’s that Watch Dogs is certainly one of a kind- even if it isn’t because it’s sailed into uncharted territory, and is only because there hasn’t really yet been a game quite like it in conceptual terms. If they do choose to make it a series, which seems viable considering it sold pretty well, I’d be interested to see the hopefully improved sequel and to compare its rights and wrongs to those of this title as well.

Concept: Explore open-world Chicago as the revenge-seeking, trenchcoat and ballcap clad hacker Aiden Pearce. Enjoy some cheap thrills and spills, laugh at the mostly overdone story moments, and torment the people of the city with environmental chaos and hijacking of the citywide OS employed by a corrupt corporation.

Graphics: The game looks good on most consoles and devices, however there are times when it is visually muddied, and it doesn’t like up to the frame rate or overall graphical awareness originally promised as well.

Sound: There are several tunes in-game that work and several that don’t. The accompanying score works in most instances where the licensed content doesn’t.

Playability: With the exception of the odder than not vehicle controls, the other mechanics handle fantastically. Naturally, because of the vehicle controls, pretty much any of these mechanics being used during chases are more frustrating than not.

Entertainment: It’s in its own class and genre thanks to the exceptional hacking abilities afforded to your character, and overall it’s quite an enjoyable experience. Also, there are some doge jokes to be made about and in the game. I kid you not. Seriously.

Replay Value: High.

Overall Score: 8.0

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The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Review

[As Read on GIO.]

Gasping for Air, Yet Again…

In my mind, Spider-Man 2 for the original Xbox and for Game Cube will always be the best portrayal of the friendly neighborhood spider vigilante. Since then, we’ve had one good game (Shattered Dimensions) and several poor portrayals of the webslinger. Of these various incarnations however, the only good reviews for one that is truly open world have come from- wait for it… Spider-Man 2 (by Treyarch, by the way). Shattered Dimensions, Beenox’s first major excursion on their own with the creepy crawly in 2010 turned out to be quite an interesting game in terms of both story and gameplay, even if it traded open world cityscape for smaller more confined segments and levels. GI gave Dimensions an 8.5 out of 10, and I personally rated it 8/10- so it’s a pretty decent game and certainly better than Spider-Man 3 (both the movie and game combined, essentially) which at most deserves a 6.25 or so.

Then came 2011’s Spider-Man sequel, Edge of Time- an adventure now narrowed down to only two spider-men (2099’s Miguel Herrera and normal day Petey Pie). This particular game used mostly the same compartmentalized formulas as Dimensions, although a few noticeable changes were made- none of which sadly came away as improvements, as the game was ultimately worse than the former title. GI gave it a 6.5 out of 10 and I myself a 6.0 out of 10. Finally, Beenox decided to return to the more open-world genre with the first Amazing Spider-Man title, adding in new elements, familiar foes, and a new plot-line as well. This sort of worked, but they faced many of the issues they had encountered with Edge of Time, and the game’s story was abominable if it even existed, and on top of that it wasn’t really a true open-world title with likewise open mechanics- things were still compartmentalized even if the scope was larger.

For a moment however, before I get into more detail about the previous not-so Amazing Spider-Man title, let’s think back to 2009’s interesting but ultimately ill-fated Web of Shadows. Okay, now flash forward to 2012’s Amazing Spider-Man. Seeing the comparison? Yes, they both did poorly, both were pretty crappy overall, and both received similar scores from both GI and myself. GI’s Reeves gave Amazing Spider-Man a 6.75 out of 10 whereas I, the always pessimistic reviewer (well, sometimes you’d think so in comparison) gave it a 6.5 out of 10. By the way, Web of Shadows got a 6.5 from GI, but honestly I think it’s a better game- not graphically of course, but plot and mechanics wise totally. Now, with that extensive recap of Spidey’s horrible recent history, you may be wondering just what point I’m trying to get at here… if you said that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 blows then *ding ding ding we’ve got a winner!

By now you’ve more than likely read Reeves’ latest review concerning the game, yeah the one where he gave it a generous 5.5 out of 10. Why do I say generous? Because I know that’s more points than some people would give it. Including myself actually, as I am giving it a whopping 50%, 5 out of 10, and 50 out of 100 as scores go. Now, generally I review mostly decent games and the lowest you’ll see my scores dip are the occasional 6 or maybe a 4 or 5 (Colonial Marines). Today however is a sad day, as I had hoped this particular sequel would be better than the previous ‘Amazing’ and yet as I should’ve probably expected, even with such already low expectations, I was let down once again. It didn’t seem possible, but things got even worse for New York City.

Let’s start off with the fact that essentially every aspect of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 comes from other games and honestly what is ‘new” and “unique” to this title alone shouldn’t be associated with it, as it’s mostly the rubbish elements of it. The open world setting has been done numerous times already, and better before- well, with the exception of the first Amazing Spider-Man and Web of Shadows since they weren’t handled very well either. Hell, Spider-Man 3 did a better job of it! This version of New York City, like its predecessor, is bland and unimaginative, and makes me cringe honestly for the people of New York now associated with it and this game’s ‘failure to launch.’ Elements that should coincide hand in hand with open world themes- side missions and extras to collect and commiserate over, are there but at this point I’d rather they not be since they are equally as unimaginative and poorly designed as the main plot and settings are. With the exception of a few faces not as commonly seen in the video game iterations of the series (lately anyway, and basically Carnage), pretty much every enemy has been recycled repeatedly since 2004’s Spider-Man 2. Yes, this means you get a little bit of Kraven for the umpteenth time.

I’d tell you more about the story specifically, but I don’t even remember the key plot points! And trust me, that isn’t just because I wasn’t paying attention or went into some drug-induced daze because of how poorly constructed the game was- it is literally so forgettable that you may as well ignore the story and just swing around the city. At least that mechanic sort of works better in this sequel than it did previously with all the web to surface junk and no true free-swinging. What I do recall didn’t really impress me all that much, and I’m also pretty sure had essentially nothing whatsoever to do with the movie’s plot- in fact I’m pretty sure several major character were missing entirely from this game, except for villains of course (they squeezed in as many as possible, gah). Something about some bs excuse for getting what is essentially the Sinister Six together, hunting Spider-Man (shocker!), and Green Goblin being a jerk- not that I’d have it any other way of course. Thankfully, no Mary Jane thrill rides like Spider-Man 3…unless that’s a secret unlock.

What really threw me for a loop however was the fact that any of the characters that are actually in the movie don’t look like or sound remotely like their actors. So…um…this is still a movie tie-in game? Hmm…we need some more sacred cow barbecues to light- you could probably do one just for the last ten years worth of Spidey games honestly. Also, if you’ve noticed the trend of me pretty much spouting off all the bad things this game incorporates and how poorly executed it has been, expect for that to continue- as much of a review as this is, if you’d read it without knowing that you very well could mistake it for a full-on roast session. Harkening once more back to the ever-greater Spider-Man 2, Spidey gains experience and can use it to unlock new upgrades, combos, and suits- the only cool element of which is the suit selection, since Beenox at least prides themselves on having cool looking comic tie-ins and timeline references. As for the combos and general web and combat upgrades, you could virtually do without any of them- they’re so nonessential in the mediocre, borderline QTE (you can basically dodge-counter the entire time), combat that it is just horribly disappointing.

Once more, like Spider-Man 2, these upgrades include swing speeds- how fast Spidey can loop de loop and scurry around the city essentially, and also random aerial and ground attacks that are very pale (Edward Cullen pale) in comparison to Spidey 2’s good ol’ Pile Driver and Lampost Webbing- good times those two… *sniff Some of the upgrades will induce even more general loathing, as they are essentially upgrades for mundane tasks any ordinary human being can perform, much less a super human with super strength, agility, and reflexes- and yes, I am referring to requiring an upgrade to pick up objects (I kid you not) and toss them halfheartedly at your foes. Sorry if I was mistaken in believing that Spider-Man was supposed to not only be amazing but a superhero, not some slacker superzero.

As with many superhero related games of recent notoriety (not necessarily the good kind), The Amazing Spider-Man 2 wants to defy all Marvel logic and be Batman- or rather utilize many combat mechanics made popular by the excellent Arkham brawler series. However, the action in Not-So Amazing Spidey 2 is so ridiculously insipid and easy that this isn’t even required, much less integrated well anyways. Beenox tries to throw in the whole sort of ‘strategic’ gameplay element of “remove this armor before attacking” and “stun this guy” but it comes too little too late in the game for it to be of any real challenge or consequence. Plus, if you have gotten any upgrades whatsoever, you’re probably so much of a tank anyway that you can web blast everyone to Oblivion and back. Basically however, you can easily get away with dodging and counter-attacking any enemies regardless of size, which you can of course in Arkham as well in most circumstances. It just happens to be more cumbersome in this case and more boring as that goes. I swear, even the boss fights weren’t tense or exciting- unless of course the game glitched and unexpected things and mayhem ensured, that’s always interesting in borderline broken and crappy games!

Essentially, there is one interesting gimmick that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has going for it: the hero or menace variable meter. Pretty much as it sounds, if you causes chaos and are a jerk towards most citizens- interpreted in game as not stopping enough crimes, you’re dubbed a menace in typical J. Jonah Jameson fashion. However, if you’re an angelic guardian and bust some criminal heads together, you’re a hero. Yay! Well, that’s basically that… Oh, and needless to say the side missions are even less imaginative than the main plot, and pretty much as bad and boring as those of Spider-Man 3 (which means pretty poorly thought out and thrown in numerous amounts of times). I hope you like rescuing people clinging to the side of buildings for whatever reason and stopping car hijackings, because you’ll be doing that dozens of times!

As my final piece of review point here, I want to talk a little bit about console generations and the varying versions of this game. As uninspiring as I’ve made the game sound, you’d think it would at least look decent graphically. Well, I guess decent is a broad term, so maybe it qualifies as that still… Needless to say, it looks virtually indistinguishable between consoles, with the usual exception of the expected ones looking slightly worse for wear and the “new gen” ones having slightly better framerates as well. So yeah, if you do for some reason decide to waste your money on this game, you may as well get it on whatever console you want, as they all look essentially the same and play the same as well- poorly.

Concept: Try to do everything that Spider-Man 2 did ten years ago, do it worse, shoe-in a bunch of extra villains for no real reason, say you’re a movie tie-in game, and call yourself Amazing. You’ve done it already probably as well.

Graphics: The textures are oftentimes muddy and bland, the city looks pretty barren and dull most of the time, and enemy types aren’t always that varied. Also, it looks about the same between generations.

Sound: The sound work is as uninspired and unimaginative as the rest of the game- poor voice acting or at best generic, none of the actual movie actors seem to make appearances, and there isn’t really a soundtrack unless you count Spidey’s insanely annoying one-liners (of such poor quality that Deadpool should take note).

Playability: The one “shining” part of the game- combat and action are easy to pick up and handle, but ultimately so repetitive that you’ll be bored to tears halfway through the game probably. May the odds be ever in your favor.

Entertainment: Haha- no really.

Replay Value: Low.

Overall Score: 5.0

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