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Games I Didn’t Review In 2016: Infinite Warfare

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My history with the Call of Duty series is an interesting one: I’m one of the few people who actually plays the series for its story as well as the frenetic multiplayer mayhem. I do enjoy a good if cliched tale from time to time and the Call of Duty series provides that as well as over the top thrills about one in every three titles or so. Although the series trend of pushing into the future is coming to at least a temporary halt with Sledgehammer Games’ turning back of the clock to World War II, I for one enjoyed the campaigns of both Advanced Warfare and Infinite Warfare immensely as well as the multiplayer of Black Ops III.

While the series has been largely hit or miss in terms of quality since 2011’s Modern Warfare 3- a game I immensely enjoyed yet recognized its handy amount of faults, it’s still a series I enjoy even if it has largely done the majority of things all shooters nowadays do. Black Ops II had a thrilling story and admittedly good multiplayer. Ghosts was a mess through and through and likely the lowest we’ve seen the series come thus far. Advanced Warfare was a brave and bold and satisfying push into the future. Black Ops III was a mess in terms of story but brought the fun factor back. And here we are, set to talk about Infinite Warfare- a game that received near standing ovations when the initial trailer was shown, only to be dissed and booed unceremoniously once it was revealed to be the next Call of Duty.

The fanbase constantly ceases to amaze or to let down whenever news is shown about upcoming games- often deriding the game all the way until release and then purchasing the title anyway. Despite my confusion over the antics of a fanbase largely comprised of prepubescent teens and then of shooter fans everywhere of every age, I can understand the mixed feeling over the most recent Call of Duty release. Infinite Warfare is the furthest from the series initial start that we’ve come and that we’re likely to see anytime soon but that’s not a bad thing at all. In fact, I’d say that the game is best when it tries the least to be like any Call of Duty title we’ve yet experienced. The single player campaign is challenging and fantastic in its authorial intent- at its best when showcasing the horrors even of a future war, at its most sluggish when attempting to needlessly tie in old concepts or series staple gimmicks. The free-form-ish exploration and level design is in the vein of Black Ops III and some of the broadest and most open we’ve yet to see.

I cannot express my satisfaction for the single player campaign any more than I already have but the downsides to the game come in the other modes. While I will say that it is a fair assessment of Infinite Warfare to call it perhaps one of the most complete Call of Duty titles to date- offering Zombies, classic multiplayer, and a unique story mode, that does not say anything about the quality of each game mode. The multiplayer is largely what you would expect from the series with the added aspects largely present to some degree in this particular universe and story. It frustratingly places an emphasis on speed and mobility while restraining your movement and mobility at the same time, settling somewhere between Ghosts/Advanced Warfare and Black Ops III on the spectrum of such abilities. Infinity Ward obviously took notes from previous games in the aftermath of Ghosts and yet they still failed to hit the mark and honestly for one reason or another this has been the least satisfying multiplayer component outside of Ghosts to date.

On the subject of Zombies it’s much of the same story but things work a tad bit better than in the rest of the online component. The age old formula remains largely unchanged and the graphics and gimmicks are all well and good however the gameplay just falls a little flat at times and I never felt quite as into it as I have in the first two Black Ops titles. Over the past few titles (essentially since Advanced Warfare) I’ve found myself increasingly dissatisfied with the Zombies offering for one reason or another and I think I’ve finally pinned down as to why that is: I simply don’t enjoy future zombies or overused ideas anymore than I particularly enjoyed facing the Flood or The Library in Halo.

If I had to justify my commentary with a score of some sort and apply that to the game then I may sound harsher than the actual numerical value I’m likely to assign the title. In my mind even despite its flaws, Infinite Warfare should be no less than an eighty percent or 8/10 and no more than a ninety percent or 9/10. Anywhere in between there could be arguably applicable depending largely on what aspects you’re likely to focus on. The campaign, while replayable for sure is still possible to complete on higher difficulties at one hundred percent and then never be returned to. It’s more rewarding and more challenging than in the past which in turn makes it much more worthwhile and engaging however in its messages and character building. As for the rest of the package, there are some solid foundations and ideas but it’s been done much better before in the series and as such isn’t the most compelling example of Call of Duty heritage.

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Discussing TWD: A New Frontier

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It’s only been five years since gamers everywhere were first introduced to Lee Everett and Clementine. Since then we’ve been rocked by revelation after revelation and brutal death after brutal death in first Lee’s and since Clementine’s journey through the world of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead. Of course by now you’ve no doubt heard of Telltale Games’ episodic properties as they’ve exploded in popularity since The Walking Dead in particular. You might’ve even played a few episodes or perhaps entire series such as Tales from the Borderlands or The Wolf Among Us or Game of Thrones. While some of the more popular properties have already garnered sequel seasons others have yet to see the light of day despite their popularity and success.

I was initially going to do a group review of the newest season of The Walking Dead and the next semi-segment of Clementine’s adventure, as I’ve done in the past with both the first season and bits and pieces of the second season. However I think it would be best to instead simply discuss the merits of the entire season as a whole and hopefully not spoil too much for those of you who have yet to play it for yourself or perhaps even to play through and experience the adventure series at all yet. So this is your last warning- once you go past this there’s no going back in terms of potential spoilers and discussion about all things The Walking Dead (in terms of the shared universe as well as Telltale’s slice of the pie).

To date we have seen several episodic incarnations of The Walking Dead universe- Season One, 400 Days, Season Two, Michonne, and A New Frontier. A New Frontier is something a little different than we’ve come to expect as it fully features two interactive characters- even more so than Season One did with the interesting parent/child dynamic between Lee and Clementine. Now we actually play the majority of the time as Javier (Javi) instead of our young femme fatale herself, who is an integral part in the story but who only influences events and helps build a larger picture as opposed to outright commandeering the story. Once more, Telltale has proven that at any given time they can shift the point of view from even the most beloved of their characters and still keep the plot exciting and fresh and worthwhile. That’s some potent stuff. It also scares me because that means Clementine might not be the Rick Grimes we are looking for- meaning her stay in the universe may not last forever.

Daunting notions and fears aside, A New Frontier is a thrilling adventure and although at times it falls into many of the same pitfalls as previous episodes and seasons, it is the first time since Season One that I’ve truly enjoyed myself completely and been satisfied if a bit horrified by both my actions and their consequences. Although it wouldn’t be The Walking Dead without meaningful and meaningless deaths and destruction at times, I actually found myself quite satisfied by the ending I received upon completion of the season’s story- even though it cost Javi a brother and nearly an adopted son. I must really be a piece of work if I’m okay with being family first one moment but then screw over my admittedly unlikable brother and take his wife and surviving family members. But hey, it’s Telltale and we can’t always be as roguish and likable as Tales from the Borderlands or Batman.

Telltale’s biggest critique in terms of this whole episodic content delivery thing has always been the degree to which your choices matter in each episode and particularly season to season. I’ve enjoyed the little ways in which they bridge the gaps season to season and the ways in which they retrospectively go back to things that happened in the first season as opposed to simply the last episode, however I still see the glaring problem on hand. Admittedly, A New Frontier has some fan service available for those of you who still remember each and every gritty choice you made in the last two seasons of The Walking Dead as well as in some of the other downloaded segments and bonuses. However that’s not to say that there aren’t still plot points that I’d love to see addressed or be more visibly memorable to Clem and her companions than seem to be at least on the surface. A New Frontier does a wonderful job of mixing in meaningful flashbacks so what if in future seasons we could even go so far a to flash back to previously made and saved decisions at integral plot moments? Instead of a little cog and a ‘[blank] will remember that’ actually show us that moment when Clem shoots Lee or Kenny or Jane or something like that as she battles herself internally over what to do.

A New Frontier is very much the story of Javi and Javi’s family, however once you go beyond the themes of companionship and blood being thicker than water you’ll also find that it’s very much an important part of Clementine’s tale as well. A New Frontier shouldn’t so much be considered a full fledged season three as it should be essentially season two point five. It makes strides in terms of believable conversation and emotion and narrative pacing, but it also falls prey to some of the same mistakes that the first two seasons did in retrospect despite being a much smoother and more aesthetically pleasing experience. What I’m perhaps most excited about is the way in which the ending itself showcases Clementine’s development and how that is going to play into what will more than likely be her own adventure and own outing again in the next offering or next expansion or season or whatever. Through her shared experiences with Javier you get to see Clem grow into an even more adult and sure-footed version of herself and strengthen her beliefs as well as double down on her values. In a world about survival that’s something pleasant to see.

Season One holds a lot of nostalgic memories of characters and moments for me but Season Two didn’t always click and I rightfully never became too attached to characters outside of perhaps Kenny (again) and Luke. Everyone had even more visible and glaring flaws in that season than they even did in the first one but it seemed more forced and by the end of it I didn’t particularly care who lost as every decision felt like a bad one or a forced situation. Thankfully even in its darkest moments A New Frontier lightens up a little bit and provides the tensest situations with some redeemable learning points or even the no-win situations with a potentially less harsh and even less fatal factor. Yes, some of your favorite characters will develop ugly flaws or mean untimely ends but then such is the way of Kirkman’s world as is the way of many fictional worlds (I see you George R.R. Martin).

Whereas Season Two left me out in the cold quite literally, A New Frontier genuinely pleased me and I enjoyed the experience even if Javi’s family found it a hard one throughout and Clementine left with an uncertain road ahead. Despite losing David to the horde of walkers he foolishly drove into, I managed to save Gabe and Kate. I managed to rescue the majority of Richmond’s population despite angrily putting a bullet into Joan’s conniving head and ushering in a huge herd of walkers unwittingly. I managed to forge a lasting relationship with people when I needed to most, earning the respect of Jesus and the trust of Clementine and my fellow comrades in arms. Above all else, I paid for the sins of the father, mother, and brother throughout my adventure. A New Frontier pushes past the first few weeks and year of the zombie outbreak and into territory familiar to those up to date and current with the comic series. I really like the way we’ve seen little cameos from characters such as Glenn before he discovered Rick Grimes in Atlanta and Jesus as he’s out and about checking the status of his people away from the Saviors and Whisperers and other dangers.

It’ll be most intriguing to me now to see if we ever get an appearance from Clementine or other beloved and popular characters in the comics or show or vice versa. I know it’s a foolhardy dream perhaps to have and yet it’s one that would wow me anyway so long as it be faithfully done. Those are just some of my thoughts on The Walking Dead and A New Frontier in general but seeing as I am a huge fan of the property (comics in particular), I’ll always be willing to discuss details and other crazy theories and spoilers with anybody interested. Cheers.

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Outlast II Review

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I was a fan of the first Outlast game because it was an indie developed gem that gave players some genuinely frightening thrills and showcased gruesome brutality and a defenseless protagonist thrown into a thoroughly haunting narrative. The sequel lives up to the original’s premise in many of the same ways and boasts incredible graphics as far as technical advancements go, but alas it doesn’t do much else differently. I’m not saying I’m tired of the agenda that the first game pushed however going through virtually the same gruesome experience with the only differences being a slightly less obviously linear setting and better visuals obscured by the prevalent darkness that envelops the Arizona countryside isn’t going to garner much more kudos from me.

The previous Outlast title pushed the boundaries of what is allowed by the mature rating beyond a doubt, featuring genuine anguish and suffering on screen as well as more gruesome fatalities than Mortal Kombat has in its entire roster. The experience was haunting and memorable and for that reason alone many people have undoubtedly tried Outlast II in the last few weeks. If you’ve already played the first game or if you’re starting with this sequel it makes virtually no difference as the stories bear little connection (save for some obscure references) and you’re essentially playing the same game anyway as all the mechanics are there.

What Outlast II does get right is horror- visceral gripping horror like the bogeyman stalking you through the night and psychological intravenous horror like the blood rushing through a dreamy corridor. You’ll ultimately meet your maker more than a few dozen times by the end of Outlast II because you were either jumped by the seemingly endless horde of bogeymen waiting in the shadows or gutted like a fish by a witch-like woman or you simply tried to take in the beautiful scenery through the film grain of your night vision camera and didn’t see the horribly scarred monstrosity before it was too late. The story is very much rooted in horror both physical and mental or spiritual and yet for all intents and purpose the environment and the encounters themselves tell a more intriguing story than the convoluted cultist conspiracy that Outlast II is at times.

That’s not to say I wasn’t thoroughly interested enough or invested enough to forego searching for notes and clues along the way or to read plenty of theories online with regard to the calamitous ending that wasn’t nearly as clear as Outlast’s Wahlrider ripping things apart. And while things are truly interesting because you’ll be questioning your sanity and surroundings as much as you did in Eternal Darkness or The Evil Within, they’re still inevitably confusing and ambiguous as can be which will prove frustrating for many gamers (or anybody who played Alan Wake). What is easy to grasp however is the vicious cycle of murder, rape, incest, greed, gluttony, suicide, and general sinfulness that the story follows and touches upon- whether through cultists in the present or the backstory of your camera-wielding protagonist.

While the first Outlast game offered many of the same opportunities for hiding and discovery as the sequel does, one of the most annoying aspects of the game is the fact that despite being in a much larger environment you’re somehow always running into enemies. And when you encounter an enemy this virtually means death unless you can run around in circles or luck out and manage to hide underwater without being found. Outlast II is both at its most annoying and most harrowing when you’re evading death by the skin of your teeth and that’s a real shame because it felt so much better in the original when you were confined to a lunatic asylum. Ironic that players had more freedom there than they seem to in this sequel.

One of the most intriguing advances in Red Barrels’ gameplay formula this time around is the ability to actually record footage with your camera which is not just a gimmick but doubles as your checkpoint feature and a way to commemorate portions of your deadly adventure. Of course you’re not likely to take part in some Blair Witch activities such as readily videoing a man being vivisected by cultists but then you never know what may be required when the time comes. The microphone on your camera will also tell you when enemies are nearby but considering the fact they almost always are and it’s pretty much never guaranteed whether or not they’ll sense your presence, don’t leave your hidey hole as soon as it says the coast is clear.

Some people accused The Walking Dead’s most recent television season of being veritable torture porn whenever Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Negan came on screen but if there’s anything that’s legitimately torture to watch it’s the sequences when you’re caught by cultists or other foes. I’ve witnessed many gruesome deaths in games such as Mortal Kombat and Dead Space before but the death animations and sometimes even the gruesome encounters that you actually survive are virtually scarring. Impaled, pick-axe to the scrotum, fingers chewed off, face mauled, head caved in- the list goes on. While the chases get your heart pumping and the consequences make it all the more important for you to escape your heartless and frenzied enemies it’s quite literally hard to stomach watching the same gruesome scene over and over again because some dumb AI can sniff you out no matter how long you run for.

The game has a lot to offer and expands the potential of the previous title and yet it never fully cashes in on any of what it has to offer- ultimately it falls down in the third act in terms of story and repetitive gameplay. What was once fresh and exciting becomes overdone and less tense or terrifying and more annoying and anticlimactic. It is one of the most visceral and intriguing glances into the mind and mental issues in gaming as well as the effects of torture and trauma on human beings yet the overall experience ends up being shallower despite the oozing ambition and potential. Outlast 1 was great because it was developed on a small budget and we weren’t exactly sure what to expect. Outlast II could’ve been great but it delivered too much of the same experience and doesn’t push the envelope enough to make the deep dive into uncharted horror territory. Instead you’re just a timid man with questionable mental issues and a puny camcorder, facing off against the dark.

Concept: You’re a journalist (again) making his way through a cultist infested Arizona landscape and trying to escape the nightmarish hallucinations and equally horrible reality.

Graphics: A step up from the original but it’s a real shame that you won’t be able to appreciate the majority of it due to the fact that the game is cloaked in shadow.

Sound: The sound quality and design make the experience a horrifying one as everything from the light tread of lurking footsteps to the shouting of cultists approaching rapidly adds to the tension.

Playability: The controls are minimal and handle smoothly enough but all you’ll have to worry about is handling your camera, reading notes, flipping switches, and running for your life.

Entertainment: Whereas horror was the reality in the first game, horror is more the mentality in this sequel. The game offers what seems to be a promising story only to yank it away at the end and leave you dumbfounded but not in a remotely good way. The gameplay is as tense and horrifying as before but it grows stale after awhile.

Replay Value: Moderate.

Overall Score: 7.0

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Pre-Review: The Surge and Injustice 2

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I’m going to do something I’m not normally wont to do today because I’m feeling overly tired but also overly excited about sharing my experience with both The Surge and Injustice 2 with other people. I’m going to talk about some of the non-spoiler yet intriguing elements of both recently released titles with you all and give you a taste of what I’ve experienced thus far, having had the games for thirty-six hours and played each for roughly twelve. Yes, I’ve had a rough and time consuming time of it and yet somehow I’ve survived to tell the tale.

I’ll start with The Surge, which has strangely enough been one of my most anticipated titles of 2017 ever since I heard about Deck13’s newest project. I was a fan of Lords of the Fallen in all of its Dark Souls glory and although Deck13 has been around for sometime that was probably their most successful and most quality-driven title to date. I mean, if you’ve played it then you can agree Venetica hardly takes the cake so prior to The Surge there weren’t really any real contenders anyway.

The Surge is everything you’ve heard it to be including a science fiction, exo-suit wearing, machine fighting Souls-style role-playing game. It sports some truly gorgeous visuals that fit right in with the rest of the realistic visuals depicting a dystopian industrial setting in a video game in the year 2017. But where it stands heads and shoulders above the competition in the Souls-game lookalike market is the combat system which is intuitive and fresh although still bears a resemblance to Lords of the Fallen.

In fact, for Deck13’s next project they could very well do something akin to Lords of the Fallen 2 if they wished and I’m sure it would be incredibly well received and also well done now that they have two triple-A caliber titles under their belt.

The combat system is dynamic and fluid in its ability to shift focus from each individual enemy limb and even different targets on the fly. It focuses on many of the same elements that Lords of the Fallen did but it also introduces a new and already critically appreciated dismemberment system like some role-playing version of Dead Space come alive again. Not only can you strategically maim foes and slice and dice your way through their exo-suits but you can also keep choice equipment and gear that you hack off if you time your strikes right.

It’s far more than a gimmick as this is pretty much the main way to grind and progress your way through the game and also it keeps the combat perpetually entertaining as you perform finisher after finisher like nothing we’ve seen since Darksiders II. Things can get a little repetitive at times but the combat keeps the otherwise same encounters fresh and constantly interesting throughout the experience when you aren’t exploring the deadly industrial setting. In some ways The Surge’s world reminds me of a smaller version of the expansive canvas that is Nier Automata. Both certainly have a lot of the same decaying urban vibe going as well as the whole mechanized foes shindig down.

So far my biggest takeaways for The Surge are that it looks and handles smoothly and beautifully, the combat is brutal and effective and entertaining, and the sheer amount of loot and cosmetic upgrades is astonishing. If any of that sounds intriguing to you and you don’t mind a little grind as you play through what will probably be at least a 40 hour experience that is already highly replayable, then I think The Surge may be a game for you to consider.

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As much as I miss some of the cast of the original Injustice: Gods Among Us who don’t return in the sequel for reasons ranging from death (in the story mode) to irrelevance in this particular universe, the updated roster is better than ever. We may have traded Ares and additions like Lobo and Scorpion but now we have Ragey Rage Monster (Atrocitus) and Swamp Thing for example.

If you couldn’t tell, I’ve moved on from The Surge to Injustice 2 and I do hope you’ll stick around if you’re only reading this particular post for one of the two games mentioned. I’ve taken the liberty of playing through and also watching (courtesy of YouTube) every ending and cutscene in the story mode in order to be sure that I’ve missed absolutely nothing in terms of narrative prior to playing multiverse and multiplayer modes. As such, I can now officially call myself an even bigger DC nerd and Injustice fan- Injustice 2 not only builds upon the structure of the previous game but it adds in more depth than really seen outside of the Mortal Kombat series (also currently held by Ed Boon and NetherRealm).

Side note: Both Deck13 and NetherRealm Studios have some of the classiest and coolest studio logos among developers, I mean let’s just take a look here. Obviously NetherRealm wins but hey points for simplicity as well.

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“Classics never die…”

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“Alert Captain Kenway immediately!”

Returning to the matter at hand and continuing my already hazy stream of consciousness (or ramble or whatever) here… Injustice 2 does everything correctly in terms of following in the footsteps of its predecessor and it also adds carefully to the cultivated mix of gameplay and story in decisive fashion. Some of the new character models look a bit strange but that’s easily remedied by unlocking new skins and animations. The setting for each stage and the rich roster more than make up for any minuscule beef I may have over character designs such as the Joker or Superman.

Injustice 1 offered a high level of replayability and it’s easy to see that Injustice 2 also offers that in the newly minted multiverse gameplay mode as well as the variety of online offerings and challenges. The mobile app seems to even be better integrated this time around and although quality wise it is a lot lesser than its peers it is still an interesting use of a mobile app for once in gaming history aside from shameless marketing plugs and Smart Glass actions.

I won’t spill the beans on the best moments although you’re welcome to watch the nearly three hours of story cutscenes and endings. However, I will say that you should definitely play the narrative if only to serve as a good tutorial for what’s to come in other modes and an introduction to the world of Injustice if you’re unused to it. You may think you know DC characters but this is an entirely different ballgame and it’s a lot more difficult to discern friends from foes. Things are significantly less confusing concerning alternate universes this time around but that’s still a thing too.

Oh and in case you wanted to know, there are some sweet cameos and moments where characters that aren’t currently on the available roster make appearances within the story mode or otherwise are referenced. So be on the lookout for the slew of interesting DLC content to surely follow as well. And thanks you NetherRealm for making me not absolutely abhor Barry Allen anymore (as much).

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Prey (2017) Review

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Arkane recently released their 1.02 Patch for Prey and with that decisive patch I’ve deemed it appropriate to finally present my review of the game in earnest. Prior to the patch the PC build of the game was virtually unplayable which was integral to my review considering I typically play through games on at least two of the three or four platforms they’re typically offered on so as to make sure there aren’t incredible differences in performance between one or another.

You’ve undoubtedly enthusiastically witnessed Prey’s opening several times by now and regardless of if you played the 2006 title of the same name and with a semi-similar setting, you’ll immediately notice that not everything is as it seems. Despite some of the similarities between both 2006 and 2017’s Prey iterations they are indeed two completely separate and intriguing games with intricate plots and fine-tuned combat mechanics. Prey (from here on out 2017) starts off slowly but gradually picks up speed and administers the steady drip drop of difficulty and balancing as you progress. In its infant stages the game is likely harder than it will ever seem due to a lack of available powerups (neuromods), so if you can make it through the first four hours or so then chances are you’ll enjoy the game.

Many of the initial revelations have been spoiled for most fans or enthusiasts I am sure however let it be known that there are at least two major revelations within Prey’s plot and I enjoyed both of them immensely. One comes only a few hours into the game and the other not until the very end of the experience. Although the ending could best be described as lukewarm at best regardless of the choices you’ve made- which, yes, are integral to the ending you receive in minuscule ways, it does do a good job of setting up the potential for a sequel assuming Bethesda signs off on that. Given the sales figures thus far however that may not be in the picture no matter how well-done Arkane has done of late with each title they’ve labored over.

Perhaps the most intriguing choice in design and gameplay is the ability to fully define who Morgan Yu (You, the player) is and just how that effectively ties into the plot as well. Throughout the game you not only determine Morgan’s gender and acquirable skills but also the moral code that he or she adheres to through choice and consequence, not through measly dialogue options or barebones plot development. This aspect of showing and not telling is ever-present throughout the game and I enjoyed the approach a lot more than inserting a bunch of useless and wasted dialogue into an otherwise perfectly ambiguous experience that is open in every sense of the word.

The set-up, if you don’t already know it, is quite straightforward from the onset: an alien lifeform known as Typhon has taken over the Talos-1 space station and you are its only hope. Whether or not you choose to destroy the Typhon, Talos-1, or even the few remaining humans on board is entirely up to you. I won’t ruin the numerous choices that you must make or abstain from making along the way but let it be known that for each and every action there is an opposite and not always expected reaction. In its opening moments Prey is less concerned with the eradication of the Typhon and more so with the survival of Morgan Yu and discovery of Talos-1 itself. Although it establishes itself as a survival horror shooter of sorts, these elements will largely fall by the wayside as Prey delves deeper into upgrades and it becomes less focused on survival and more on combat- albeit ammo and weapons still being quite scant.

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If you’ve played the PC version then you’ve undoubtedly grasped the scope and breadth of Talos-1 a little bit more than anyone else thanks to the handy function of ‘noclips’ commands. The space station seems and is rightfully represented as gigantic and titanic. Outside of cheating your way around borders and through walls the only way you can ever properly comprehend the scale of this open ended setting is by venturing outside the airlocks and floating through the cold vacuum of space in order to fast travel from certain points around the station. Talos-1 is both expansive and deep- it’s quite easy to become as invested in the architecture as it is in the characters you encounter along your journey. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the story is that it really feels like a human versus alien struggle.

Some of the horror aspects are also maintained by the enemies themselves with specific regard to their grotesque appearance and the nightmarish ability to undergo some sort of metamorphosis as well. Mimics will lead you to never trust a weapon or medical pack out in the open ever again for each time they leap out at your poor unsuspecting character, leading to a shout and a quick bash over the head with a wrench. The musical score itself will lead you into a frenzied sea of paranoid bashing of everyday objects as you hunt for that final remaining Mimic in the area so as to assuage the tension. More fearsome foes such as the Phantoms and horrendous Nightmares will easily soak up your bullets and spit them back out before devouring you.

Combat is where Prey both lives and dies by its sword so to speak. In the early moments of the game it is equally tense and devastating, yet due to the fact that stealth is oddly never quite flushed out you’re virtually forced into combat rather than trying to sneakily make your way across the station. There are certain benefits and drawbacks to the neuromod upgrades you receive over time however the absence of them until later on forces you to attempt to tackle the experience in a much more difficult and meaningful manner. As terrifying as enemies are perhaps even more scary is the ever-present health bar hovering over their heads that barely ticks down with each wasted bullet or wrench smack. Nightmares can especially soak up an extreme amount of damage from even the game’s strongest weapons and as such as foes to be avoided at all costs.

Only when the game balances a little more in your favor does combat become both meaningful and enjoyable in earnest. After the opening few hours and after acquiring a few mods or upgrades you can feel more at ease in openly wandering the halls of Talos-1 and engaging larger foes than Mimics in close quarters. Using mods to unlock Typhon-related powers is perhaps the most enjoyable Dishonored-like aspect of the game however it also carries an unexpected narrative risk as well. If you spend too much time unlocking these intuitive and useful powers then the automated turrets which once distinguished you from foes will fail to support you and eventually open fire on your Typhon-imbued DNA as well. Of course by that point you’re more than likely unstoppable as is.

Prey is every bit the sandbox experience that it has been marketed as and you’re free to choose how your character develops and progresses just as much as you are to choose how you play through the game as a whole. Using these alien powers such as transmutation of your physical form and telekinesis (now a staple in any game its seems) is both empowering and entertaining. I’d be lying if I said combat wasn’t saved by the abilities you’re able to spend your mods on and would otherwise bog the game down way too much with its repetitive nature instead.

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Prey offers an abundance of detail and choice and I am very appreciative of that despite the fact that it sometimes falls flat and the narrative dips into uncertain waters. The experience can take you anywhere from fifteen to thirty hours dependent largely upon how invested you choose to get in the missions and side missions, as well as whether or not you search out the available mods and upgrades along the way or backtrack through previously explored sections as you gain new methods of traversal and unlock new paths. The narrative itself was intriguing to me and couldn’t be ruined by the heavyhanded ending despite leaving me a little disappointed in the final moments of the game.

The majority of the kinks that initially needed to be worked out have been patched however there are still some baseline issues to be found with the game such as design choices made along the way that we’ll just have to live with. Enemies have been and will continue to be incredible bullet sponges and only grow easier to combat once you’re virtually overpowered and unencumbered by the shackles of survival horror tropes. For all of its tense moments- zero gravity sequences and every encounter with a Mimic, there will also be hiccups such as AI reaction and patrolling and the ability to literally walk around a corner and confuse the Nightmare that has been stalking you to the point where you can take potshots at it and disappear again to avoid its rage.

The highlight of the combat experience is ironically the two most useful gadgets outside of combat- the Gloo Gun and crossbow. Whoever came up with the near-troll of an idea to have what is essentially a nerf bolt shooting crossbow in the game deserves a medal because it is just loud enough to alert enemies and knock objects off of counters and just stealthy enough to be used in a variety of ways. As for the Gloo Gun, you’ve undoubtedly seen footage of people using it to hold larger enemies down or traverse to previously unreachable paths and areas as well. All I can say is use your ammo sparingly- especially in terms of the Gloo Gun and powerful shotgun. The silenced pistol isn’t too shabby for needing a quick weapon with an abundance of ammo, albeit not packing much of a punch.

Prey isn’t without its own series of flaws at times and yet for the most part it is a thoroughly enjoyable and unique experience. One can only hope that we get to experience more of its lore and setting in the future as well as a continuation of the choice driven narrative that was mostly well played. I’m happy that Arkane continues to be one of Bethesda’s brightest studios and has encountered success with two phenomenal Dishonored titles as well as the newly released Prey’s brand of science fiction.

Concept: Stopping an alien infestation from reaching Earth is nothing new and yet Prey offers such an interesting twist on the cliche that it can’t help but be enjoyed.

Graphics: The art style mimics something of Arkane’s previous works but the architecture of Talos-1 is varied and intriguing as are the enemy models and designs. The few humans that do appear all look mostly similar however.

Sound: Both the musical score and voice work are incredibly detailed and well-done. The soundtrack perfectly captures every scare and situation and the voice work is handily delivered throughout the experience when needed.

Playability: Although it can be complicated to grasp at times the game only proceeds to open up as the space station itself opens to you and you gradually progress deeper and deeper into the experience.

Entertainment: It’s at its finest in terms of horror in the opening hours however it is still immense fun when exploring later on and combating the vicious Typhon in close proximity with an array of intriguing powers and an arsenal of diverse weaponry.

Replay Value: Moderately High.

Overall Score: 8.0

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Thought Blog: Call of Duty WWII

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Sledgehammer Games has dealt in Call of Duty stock prior to the upcoming entry in the multi-entry series. They not only worked with Infinity Ward and other subservient developers on Modern Warfare 3, but they also developed the solid Advanced Warfare as their first main addition to the Call of Duty chronology. In a series that now spans at least five confirmed timelines things can sometimes seem cluttered and jumbled, mixed up here and there year to year but otherwise a veritable mess.

In a bid to discover some of the personal glory that Battlefield 1 and DICE did with their look at total warfare in an older era, Activision and Call of Duty itself are returning to the previously overdone and oversaturated WWII market in order to rekindle some of the initial magic. As a note, Call of Duty hasn’t been to the second Great War since 2008’s World at War although some elements of 2010’s Black Ops did feature segments in and around the WWII era.

Previously Treyarch and Infinity Ward were the heavy hitters in the series however as of late and at least as of the previous three titles, Sledgehammer has picked up the slack where the other titans have fallen. Infinite Warfare was interesting and a pretty comprehensive package catering to all sorts of players and yet for many it was deemed a dud and not received as well as previous titles have been. Black Ops 3 was likewise seen as a cluttered mess that couldn’t make sense of what it wanted to be despite some interesting new features and a truly crazy single player campaign featuring the usual star studded cast.

As it stands, Advanced Warfare may be the last entry to really net a lot of praise- both for Kevin Spacey in his role within the single player campaign and for it being Sledgehammer’s first solo outing and a successful one at that. Prior to 2014’s Advanced Warfare, Call of Duty Ghosts (Infinity Ward) was deemed one of the least stellar entries in the franchise and 2012’s Black Ops II was an excellent multiplayer addition with some spectacular choice-making single player elements but otherwise started the series’ shift towards science fiction and what many consider a downward trend.

Returning to WWII is a somewhat expected approach and yet it is nonetheless a bold one as well, even if only as a direct response to Battlefield 1’s WWI setting. The critic in me cringes at the terrible naming convention that deemed it necessary to call this game ‘Call of Duty: WWII’ and yet you cannot fault it for simply encapsulating what they plan to offer: the full breadth of the total war experience across the European theater. From the start they could’ve easily used this as an opportunity to somewhat reboot the series and simply called it ‘Call of Duty’ and still made the exact same game they are making despite it being in yet another timeline and yet another setting.

As overdone as the setting was for so many years in the early 2000s, I cannot help but notice how graphically impressive the game is looking already and that it already seems to have Sledgehammer’s trademark narrative focus instead of the monumental attention to every single set-piece moment that Infinity Ward likes to push. Sure it will inevitably live up to the majority of WWII cliches- the gung-ho sergeant that wants to “kill the Nazi scum,” the calm and collected leader that wants to make it through alive and without subjecting his men to the cruelest horrors of war, and the grizzled war veteran side by side with green recruits. But I think the experience itself seems already promising enough.

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Aside from the obvious focus on some of the lesser trod battles of the European theater, the single player campaign looks to focus on the moral repercussions of war as well as the visceral nature of the fighting. I’m eager to see how a return to such ‘Medal of Honor’ gameplay as requested healing in comparison to immediate super-human healing from injuries over time works as well. The game is making it clear that although this will be a similar experience to the previous ones, it is going about things in both a more traditional and entirely different way. For that reason and surely others, WWII looks like it’ll be more than just a visually updated version of events we’ve already played through.

Focusing on single-player would hardly be fair to those of us who also enjoy the other gameplay offerings of the Call of Duty saga and so it’s also praise worthy than once again Sledgehammer Games is offering both Zombies and multiplayer components. Exo-Suit Zombies was an interesting take on the classic formula in Advanced Warfare and yet something tells me once more seeing Nazi zombies will curdle our blood and elevate our pulse in the most appropriate fashion. As for the multiplayer component itself, despite offering some of the expected PvP content it also sounds like Activision is really going after DICE and some of the Battlefield cake- large objective based battles and completely unique character class ‘divisions’ for one.

I applaud Sledgehammer for going the traditional route while still managing to find ways to inject new life into both the series and subsequently the game. It’s commendable that rather than create the same overdone science fiction super trooper tale we’ve seen for the previous few incarnations, they’re opting to return to the literal roots of Call of Duty while still producing new ideas in that older setting. Of all of the developers lately, Sledgehammer seems the most likely to take risks and reap the potential rewards of those design decisions as well. Treyarch used to be the one to do that and Infinity Ward has always stuck to a pretty similar model outside of last year’s Infinite Warfare.

I personally appreciate pretty much every Call of Duty game for the experience that they offer but even I can see the franchise fatigue constantly on the border of gamers’ hazy vision and lurking, waiting for the opportune moment to pounce and render a particular series iteration irrelevant and disdained. Black Ops 3 narrowly dodged that bullet and Infinite Warfare caught the brunt of the blast of criticism despite doing so many things differently and being quite literally out of the world to the degree where people argued as to whether or not it even deserved to be tagged as a Call of Duty game. As much as people buy the games, it’s constantly astounding to see the flak each one gets for literally no reason at times- fans complain about getting the same thing over and over again yet complain when they receive something new and different as well.

I could go on and on about my thoughts with regard to the series and this upcoming release and yet I think now is as appropriate a time as any to end it as well. What are your thoughts about the upcoming game? I personally have no doubt that Sledgehammer will do their best to give the community the most authentic and quality driven experience that they can and although I foresee some criticism in regard to the setting I do think they will fare better than both Black Ops 3 and Infinite Warfare have. Thoughts, comments or concerns? Feel free to comment and give voice to them here.

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Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 Review

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Sniper: Ghost Warrior has been an interesting if flawed series thus far with three entries to its name. While the first game was beyond mediocre and the second improved upon the formula in many ways but still didn’t offer much in the way of quality, the third time may actually be the charm for City Interactive. It’s by no means a perfect game but it is well on its way to being a decently good one and presumably once the upcoming patches hit and hopefully fix some of the glaring issues, we may finally see a competent modern day stealth-sniper title to rival the WWII and Cold War settings of Sniper Elite.

Game Informer gave the original game a 4.75 and the sequel a 5.0 however the review for the third game, which released on April 25th has yet to hit the web so all I can base general criticism on is that of the other sources I’ve read- averaging about a 5.5 or so typically. I personally gave Sniper Elite 2 a 6.5 out of 10 way back when if you care to read the somewhat broken review here (pictures and whatnot have disappeared). The one thing that can be said about the CI team is that they do put a lot of thought into fixing the series with each entry and in many ways although they didn’t nail things with the first or second games, they’ve made some vast improvements since then.

It has been a few years since we last saw the series (approximately 2013) and yet despite the graphical update some of its ideas are still rooted in the past, which isn’t so much the previous console generation but rather the stealth genre tropes as a whole. It trades in a lot of the linear mission structure for a faux open world which still essentially keeps the main missions linear but offers something along the lines of Horizon: Zero Dawn’s experience- being linear as far as story but offering a plethora of side content. So in that aspect, Ghost Warrior 3 is an interesting look at a stealth genre still dominated by Metal Gear Solid even today.

There is nothing wrong with the typical fundamentals of Ghost Warrior 3’s mechanics- they’re actually pretty standard or at least entertaining and interesting for what they seek to accomplish. Yes, there’s something to be said about originality or the lack thereof, considering the majority of its ideas can pretty much be found in other series such as Far Cry or Ghost Recon, however that’s not to say they don’t still work in this particular environment. What is fundamentally wrong with Ghost Warrior 3 and has always been a sticking point for the series is purely technical in origin. The graphics look okay for the modern brand of consoles yet they periodically crap out and muddy textures and slow animations and cause any number of experience-breaking hiccups. There is also a whole host of glitches waiting to derail your otherwise competent experience.

If it weren’t for the slew of technical problems within the game’s current build it could actually be a potential competitor with Sniper Elite in terms of recently released sniper and stealth titles. However, as it stands right now the only games that Ghost Warrior 3 trounces in that category are the first two in the enjoyable yet extremely flawed (and sometimes broken) series. All the self-same mechanics pretty much from Sniper Elite are here as well- slow motion kill cams, holding your breath and adjusting your aim, and so on.

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If it didn’t feature the prominent technical glitches that it does at times, Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 would go up in stock by at least another whole point in my mind because what it does offer is some tightly controlled action and stealth despite the lack of creativity at times. It is an exciting adventure even though the story can and should be virtually ignored as it is irrelevant in the long run. The game’s best asset is the variety of main story missions that it offers- side content aside, the main missions are varied and different to the point that you never feel like you’re spending too much time doing one of something rather than a slew of tactically challenging and engaging quests.

You’re offered just enough main content to appeal to any of the three main approaches you can choose to take in the game- dubbed so creatively as ‘Sniper,’ ‘Ghost,’ and ‘Warrior’ skill trees respectively and covering long range combat and gadgets, stealth mechanics, and all-out assault tactics. Although you could take the main missions and map them out as linear chapters like any other first-person shooter typically would, they’re still spread across the open hub world which also features the occasional other activities we’ve come to expect such as outpost clearing and bounties. There are over twenty-five main missions and these are all well-executed and thought out in comparison to the slew of side content that seems an added thing just for the sake of giving reason to the creation of an open world for an otherwise linear experience.

One good concept that the game employs is the ability to carry out pretty much any mission at any time without having to unlock a certain segment or progress through other side content first- something Far Cry and other games have been guilty of in the past in attempts to get players more invested in side activities. If you really want to just tackle the fifteen hour campaign essentially then you’re free to do so without having to collect the collectibles and take out ‘Most Wanted’ bounties. However, if you are going to be doing a lot of traveling around the decently sized map please be aware that fast travel points will always be infinitely more pleasure than utilizing the horrid driving mechanics that feel stilted and look graphically incompetent compared to the rest of the content.

For largely the same reason that Sniper Elite is an engrossing experience and one that I’ve enjoyed from V2 through Italia, Ghost Warrior 3’s base combat and gameplay are the highlights of the experience easily. This iteration in the series does a much better job of actually making all-out assault a viable combat option and not limiting you to previously sub-par stealth and typical sniping elements present throughout the game. Although the skill trees are relatively limited and not as fleshed out as you would come to expect in an open world title, each of the three different trees does offer some basic improvements upon the experience and makes this the most sound entry in the series as far as gameplay goes for certain.

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Stealth seems to have definitely improved this time around which is a good thing considering it can be the most useful weapon or ability in your arsenal in most instances. The AI has been overhauled in comparison to the eagle-eyed soldiers and crappy AI of the past, however there are still some technical glitches here and there where their attempts to flush you out of cover result in them laughably positioning themselves perfectly in your line of sight for easy takedowns. Despite the mild AI bug encounters, for the most part gameplay has improved in nearly every sense over even the previous iteration.

I feel like ironically Ghost Warrior 3 could’ve used a little more development time despite being delayed here and there, if only to actually live up to its full potential rather than fail to capitalize on some of the aspects it dares to offer. You’re fairly limited in what vehicles you can drive or operate and also in what particular objects and outposts you can interact with which kind of diminishes the point of making the game a living open world and definitely mainlines the experience a lot in a more linear fashion. You are afforded a surprisingly large arsenal of weapons and technical gadgets however I feel like a lot of what is on offer is underutilized and nonessential in the long run as you can easily get by with just your guns and wits.

In terms of upgrades I’ve already established that the upgrade paths themselves are fairly basic and could’ve used some additional work, however the actual upgrades to weapons and equipment are also fairly limited in scope. This isn’t so much a terrible thing since what is offered is fairly decent, however it seems like a missed note and something that could’ve only improved the experience overall as well- a recurring theme throughout this game. Although it was initially supposed to feature a multiplayer system of some sort as well, the game has thus far failed to implement that and as such is largely not as replayable as it could’ve been with more time put into ideal content and additional upgrades and elements.

The graphics are one of the lower selling points as they come in and out of focus as I’ve mentioned and can attribute to some frustrating environmental glitches along the way as well. The two most annoying and egregious technical hiccups are the lengthy load times and prominent crashes in-game. I could deal with Skyrim taking three minutes to load because that was last generation and Bethsoft’s world was truly gigantic and still is even by today’s standards, but I cannot understand why anything in Ghost Warrior 3 should take five to seven minutes to load at any given time. As far as crashing goes, you’d better hope you’re not in the middle of anything important because as far as I can tell the game will crash at any given time and lead to some very frustrating sessions (at least until they presumably patch that glaring flaw).

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When all things have been said and done, Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 surpasses it predecessors with ease but still doesn’t feel like it’s quite lived up to its potential or what it means to be a current generation game. It’s a competent and interesting experience and hardly a bad one, however it is remarkably hindered by a lot of technical issues and by the inability to capitalize one what could’ve been excellent additions in both depth and replayability. The main experience is well-done but the side content offers little in the way of recompense for a lack of reason to return once you’ve finished the linear mission structure.

Concept: City Interactive crafts their third entry in the Sniper: Ghost Warrior series and brings the series into both the current generation as well as the thoroughly over-saturated open world shooter market.

Graphics: Although it utilizes a version of Crytek’s CryEngine, Ghost Warrior 3 features some prominent graphical hiccups despite having really realistic and well-done visuals whereas weather and some environmental aspects are concerned at times.

Sound: For a game about stealth, sound plays an integral role in the experience at least in terms of gameplay. Outside of that however, there isn’t much to be said for the soundtrack itself although it does ratchet up the tension at some appropriate times. The sound design isn’t the best as far as voice acting goes but the sounds of bullets dropping and weapons and gadgets clicking isn’t too shabby.

Playability: It’s fairly simple to grasp the fundamentals for a basic runthrough of the game. As far as the controls themselves go, the game handles surprisingly smoothly and fluidly despite technical hiccups breaking up the pacing here and there at any given time.

Entertainment: Despite its flaws, Ghost Warrior 3 is as entertaining as games like Far Cry and Sniper Elite have proven to be for many of the same reasons. It’s not altogether original in what it seeks to accomplish and yet it seems to have aped the correct gimmicks and elements of those respective games enough to present a varied and entertaining main campaign.

Replay Value: Moderate.

Overall Score: 7.0

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Milly Schmidt

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