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“Of Orcs and Men Review” or “Of Pleasent Surprises and Sore Disappointments”

October 12, 2012 Leave a comment

My review review is up now on www.HookedGamers.com.

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Categories: Of Orcs and Men, Review

“Of Orcs and Men” or “My Review’s Preview”

October 11, 2012 1 comment

Of Orcs and Men releases today. I finished my advanced copy and submitted my review over to my editor at Hooked Gamers earlier today. Here is a short sneak peak.

EDIT: The review is up now.

Of Orcs and Men is a story about betrayal and redemption, it is a story about desperate times, last stands, and acts of selfless valor. It is a story about two unlikely antiheroes, driven together by equal parts of vengeance, greed and fate. It is a story about facing your inner demons, embracing your flaws, and accepting your limitations. Of Orcs and Men, put simply, is one of the most engrossing RPG stories every told. I just wish they had spent some more time polishing it.

In many ways, it reminds me of the first iteration of Assassin’s Creed. It was repetitive, buggy, and it could have used polish on a lot of levels. However, they improved the formula and the next iterations only got better and better. I love the world they come up with in Of Orcs and Men, and I sincerely hope this review is taken as constructive criticism, that there is a next iteration, and that is significantly improved via all the feedback.

Look for the review on Hooked Gamers sometime later today!

“Se7en Reasons Why I Love Rage” or “What PC Problems?”

October 13, 2011 4 comments

1. Superb Stability

My copy of Rage has had zero issues on my PC. It ran the first time I launched it, it never stuttered, never showed any graphical glitches or screen-tearing, it never crashed. It works like a charm. I know “this game installs and runs” shouldn’t technically be a reason for loving the title, but given the sheer amount of rage over Rage (I had to – sue me) in the Steam forums, I am very grateful for the utter lack of technical difficulties with the title.

2. Breathtakingly Beautiful

Carmack has done it again. The game world is absolutely, incredibly, undeniably gorgeous. From the smallest rocks to the largest cliffs, and from the tiniest settlements to the massive towns, Rage is a beautiful, gorgeous game. Stepping out of the Ark for the first time, I spent the first five minutes just spinning the camera around, looking at the beauty of the world that surrounded me. The shafts of lights from a sun, half-obscured by billowing photo-realistic clouds, water that shimmered and rippled and textures that jumped at you with the sheer amount of detail contained within.

3. Destructive Driving featuring Various Vehicles

Unlike other games that make you work for it, Rage gives you a vehicle pretty much from the very beginning. You can continue to get newer, better, more specialized vehicles, as the game goes on, but you can drive at the very start. You don’t get a shoddy starter vehicle either, this little quad can book it, and it can get you where you need to go because there are significant travel distances between points of interest on the map.

And then there are the races. There are a variety of tracks where you can race your various vehicles in modes ranging from simple racing, to an all-out war zone with machine guns, rocket launchers and road spikes. The racing mythology is well-embedded into the gaming world, and winning several races gets you some recognition with NPCs randomly stopping to admire your success and praise your driving skills. Yet the driving part of Rage feels a little disjointed, as if it was a separate game that was incorporated into the larger game world, and the developer was clever enough to hide the areas where the overlap was soldered together.

4. Walloping Weapons

The weapons in Rage, all the way from the starting Settler Pistol, are meaty and pack a wallop. These are id Software weapons. They are highly detailed, they feel solid and chunky in your hands, and they shoot some serious ordnance. If the several weapons were not enough, each weapon also fires several types of ammunition, like the Fatboys that double the standard round damage for a pistol, or the Fat Mammas, which proclaim that if these don’t kill your target, you better hightail it out of there! Every weapon in rage feels just right. They have an authoritative presence, and it’s satisfying to see them do their dirty work. Add grenades and the much-touted (and rightly so) Wingstick, and you are a one-man mutant-slaughtering bandit-bashing army.

5. Ostensibly Sensible Objectives

Did you ever have to gather 100 pigeons in Grand Theft Auto? What about 100 feathers in Assassin’s Creed? Better yet, have you tried the World of Warcraft achievements? There are several collectible items and objectives peppered through the game world of Rage. However, they aren’t as arbitrary as 100 of who-gives-a-shit. One is 3 field goals. There are field goals, and you have to drive your vehicle hard enough into something to fling yourself from it far enough to fly through said field goal. It sounds like a fluff objective, and it is, but it is fun, and there are only three of them. There are also 18 jumps in the game. Not 100. not 54. Just 18, and hitting each jump doesn’t simply add a +1 counter to your number of jumps, it rewards you with items for each individual jump, if successfully completed.

But perhaps the best of these collectibles are the Rage Collectible cards. Within enemy stronghold, settlements and the open game world, there are a total of 54 game cards for you to find. These aren’t just tokens, but effectively a tabletop game, where your cards have health and damage numbers, and you try to beat opponents to cash out a hefty chunk of change.

This is the kind of obsessive compulsive game completion objective that I can get behind. Objectives that are fun to achieve, and give rewards if you complete, instead of a flat percentage towards your percentage completed score.

6. Characters

The characters in Rage are well fleshed out. The animations look life-like and the voice-acting is absolutely top-notch. Largely, they still suffer from the MMO-esque NPC syndrome: they are only there to dispense missions and collect rewards, but somehow it still works. People can be seen walking about towns, bandits freely roam the desert in deadly vehicles, and there is a natural buzz to life, despite ultimately plastic characterization of their humanity.

7. Raging Rollercoaster

Rage isn’t a sand box by any stretch of the imagination. Sure the game world is huge, and once you get a set of missions, you can choose to complete them in whichever order you see fit, but at the end of the day, the entire game is a linear experience of getting from point A to point Z, hitting B, C, D etc. on the way. And as much as I love open worlds, this is actually a beautifully thing. Rage is a tightly controlled experience. Intense firefights in claustrophobic close quarters, vicious dune buggy races across torn tarmacs, linear gameplay in a (largely) linear world. Rage is the ultimate roller-coaster. Once you get on, you don’t want to get off.

Ignorantly Insignificant

I can’t give away the ending, obviously. Nor can i divulge details on what your ultimate objective is. But I will say this: there will come a point when you will realize you are not the hero of this story. You are simply a small cog in a much larger machine, and you are to do your part the best way you can. This is ultimately what really set Rage apart for me, the realization that no matter how powerful I got or how many enemies I can kill by simply flexing my biceps, I am ultimately insignificant, a mere speck in the unending evolution (and devolution) of the human condition.

Categories: Rage, Review

Played Lately: “Witcher 2: Pros and Cons” or “Witcher 2’s Divergent Chapters”

July 18, 2011 6 comments

With a severe lack of MMOs in my life, I am finding my guilty gaming pleasures in several multiplayer co-op and single-player titles these days. I wait anxiously for the day new-generation MMOs like Guild Wars 2 and The Secret World come out, but until then, I just can’t bring myself to engage in the same old cyclical redundancy that is the bane of the contemporary MMO experience.

My last post detailed the multiplayer co-op games I have been playing of late. This post details the single-player titles that have kept me occupied

Witcher 2: Pros and Cons

The Witcher 2 is simultaneously one of the most amazing and annoying games ever build in the history of computer gaming.

On the positive side, it is a complete RPG experience, rich with lore, dripping with ambiance and executed with style in a lush, beautifully crafted world. The lore is especially well-planned, originally based off of the books of polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, and details a fantastical kingdom with geopolitical tensions, royal assassinations, political espionage, magic, dragons and civil war in the lands. The game world has perhaps the best-looking environments I have seen to date in a video game. Lush foliage, towering castles, painstakingly detailed ruins and winding dungeons seamlessly blend together to create one of the most visually rewarding experiences I have had in a virtual world. The combat system, though initially baffling, can vary dramatically depending on your specialization, and can prove to be incredibly rewarding and challenging.

The game is not without its flaws. The combat starts very tough, with no clear direction as to what you’re supposed to do or how you are supposed to fight. Over the course of the game you actually become powerful enough to decimate anything in your path regardless of size, health, disposition or strength. Read that again. The combat starts really tough, and gets really easy. That’s dumb. The inventory management was a colossal pain in the ass. You only have 300 units of items you can carry. Given that the game throws cloth and leather and creature parts, and swords, and axes and pikes, and war hammers, and random junk, and herbs, and quest items, and beast trophies, and elemental stones and diamond dust and silver ore and iron ore and timber and the kitchen sink (to name maybe 1% of everything there is to pick up in the world), you run out of inventory space quite quickly. And god help you if you run out of space in the middle of a dungeon crawl, because the game will encumber and slow you down to a crawl. Add to this the fact that you will pick up recipes throughout the game and you never know which materials you might need later to craft that epic silver sword, piece or mail or armor kit, it can result in a very frustrating experience. The upcoming patch 1.3 promises to deal with both these issues, which is a great thing, I just wish they had done this when I was going through it myself.

Yup, that's one of the monsters you get to fight in the game.

Witcher 2’s Divergent Chapters

But Witcher 2’s greatest strength isn’t all of the fantastic gameplay elements, graphics, or mechanics that I listed above. In Witcher 2, one of the coolest things, that I only realized after reading up on it online, is that a binary choice in Chapter One completely changes the way the rest of the game plays out.

This isn’t necessarily a spoiler, but read at your own risk. The game will ask you to choose between Roethe or Iorveth during your first showdown with the Assassin of Kings. Either choice is permitted, but the game divides into two completely separate paths after you make this choice. Allow me to explain. The binary choice results in different NPCs dying, different fate of the town of Floatsam, a completely different Chapter Two and Chapter Three, including missions, NPCs, objectives, story, monsters and side-quests. Allow me to rephrase, playing the game after siding with Iroveth is a completely different lore and storyline experience from that moment onwards, than if you sided with Roethe. For example, Iorveth’s side leads you in Chapter Two to the Dwarven town of Vergen, which is preparing for an invasion by King Henselt’s armies. Whereas if you sided with Roethe, you actually play Chapter Two in King Henselt’s camp, as he prepares his advance against Vergen.

That is true choice, where your decisions matter and effectively change the entire direction and disposition of the game.

If you haven’t yet, you must play The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings.

Categories: Lore, Review, Witcher II

“Assassin’s Creed: Awesome” or “Offensive Combat, Deadly Assassins, Same Old Stupid Voice Acting”

December 11, 2010 2 comments

Completionist’s Wetdream

My gaming time these days is being occupied by the excellent Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. It is a completionist’s wet dream. There are flags, feathers, treasures, guild missions, assassinations, blacksmiths/tailors/doctors with their own shop quests, banks, underground tunnels, platforming dungeons, mini-games, clusters, puzzles, war machines, courtesan missions, thief missions… the list goes on and on. Oh and did I mention it also has a kick-ass main storyline? But it is so seamlessly integrated into the fray of everything else that you never know where the generally well-defined outlines of the story end, and the side quests and mini-games begin.

Chained Executions

The combat is drastically improved. The drawback for the first two games was being forced to stand there, perpetually blocking (fingers going numb from endlessly holding that stupid button), waiting for someone to attack you so you could counter-kill them with a cool finishing move. Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood turns this formula on it’s head, and now allows you to engage in combat offensively. I bruteforce kill my first victim, and then chain an execution streak to take out a ridiculous number of guards. In one mission (when the French assault Bartolomew’s home), my execution streak was 78 kills without blocking, disengaging, or running away. This is, without a doubt, one of the two best new features for the series.

Confraternita di Assassini

The second of these two best new features is your trained band of assassins. In any given fight, I can call up to six highly trained assassins who have more health, skill and equipment than the toughest brutes in the game. And they kill with the same efficiency as you do (assuming you don’t suck!). In fact, I have picked up a few things from my own computer-controlled assassins, such as the liberal use of smoke bombs. There is nothing more satisfying than calling them into a group of guards and seeing four of them air assassinate a group and engage in the chaos around you. You can send them on missions even after they reach level 10 (Assassino!), and earn money and unique items that can be sold at shops, or used to complete shop quests to unlock more items.

It is a kick-ass game, one that I have had an incredible amount of fun with. Rome isn’t as conducive to parkour as prior locations in the series, but it continues to be a fun, engaging and at times exhilarating component of the game.

BTW: I have yet to touch the multiplayer component, and I would recommend it highly for the single player portion alone. Buy it. Play it. Tell me all about it.

My only grievance, the terrible “Italian” accents. Ayo it’s a stupid!

I leave you with the game’s literal trailer, courtesy of one Tobuscus, one of the funniest people on YouTube right now.

Review (Single-Player): “Tier 1 vs. Black Ops” or “Shooters and Other Disappointments”

November 15, 2010 2 comments

I finished both Medal of Honor and Call of Duty: Black Ops recently. It didn’t take long for me to accomplish both goals, since each game is only about 5-7 hours. MoH is probably a bit shorter than Call of Duty.

I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy both games. I did, and they had their own strengths and weaknesses, but throughout Medal of Honor I couldn’t keep this one nagging thought at the back of my mind: “This is a very subtle Modern Warfare ripoff.”

Tier 1

Medal of Honor has some very cool, action-packed moments. I particularly liked the siege when the team is in a house next to a mountain with droves of Taliban pouring in from all sides and no hope for help or rescue. That was an intense setting. I normally play FPS games on the “Nightmare” setting, so that mission turned out to be especially brutal. But what stood out for me was the level of intensity the developers were able to capture and the grit soldiers in the field must exhibit to get through a day.

That being said, the adrenaline that mission brought about was more of an exception than the norm. There were AI pathing issues, and the AI, in some cases, was simply too dumb to spot me walking around their camp in plain sight. The scripted events were structured in a way that hindered the realism when you did anything outside of what you were supposed to do.

For example, in one Taliban camp, I saw an enemy unit with his back to me, naturally I sneaked up and stabbed him in the back. He stood there, unblinking, still oblivious to my presence, still alive. I tried again, once again my knife went into his back, there was a ripping noise, and yet the unit stood there, his back to me, enjoying the scenery. It was then that I realized that my AI partner had been talking to me the whole time about silently taking out the guy himself. He then walked up to the enemy, grabbed him from behind, startling the previously oblivious bastard, and finished him off. That was a huge turn-off. Scripted events are cool, but at no point should they be so unpolished that they break basic game mechanics, such as you stabbing a seemingly invulnerable-and-downright-indifferent-to-your-presence enemy unit.

There were other issues. One of the things I have enjoyed about the Modern Warfare series is the ability to see the battle play out from multiple viewpoints, without getting lost in the narrative. While Medal of Honor also tries the same novel idea (I wonder where they got it from!), very often I was a little confused as to which character in the story am I controlling now. Rabbit, Hawk, Deuce, Dante, or someone altogether new, mostly I just fired my gun and moved on.

Between the rescues, the rescuing of the rescuers, and the survival missions, I often found myself a little lost with the narrative (not in the narrative, but with the narrative). I wasn’t sure what the story was, except one long series of disjointed missions to destroy the Taliban, and by the end of it, we didn’t really get anywhere at all. Perhaps that was because much like the war, no mission in the campaign clearly identified the goal of the whole affair.

I’d give it a 6 out of 10, mostly because the concept was cool, and the idea was somewhat innovative, but in the execution they xeroxed too many pages from the Modern Warfare doctrine, and ended up with a half-baked game filled with glitches and other disappointments.

Black Ops

The Call of Duty franchise released its seventh game shortly after Medal of Honor and to resounding success. Let us briefly compare the two in terms of chronological releases:

Call of Duty

  • Call of Duty
  • Call of Duty 2
  • Call of Duty 3
  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
  • Call of Duty: World at War
  • Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops

Medal of Honor

  • PC releases
    Medal of Honor: Allied Assault
    Medal of Honor: Allied Assault – Spearhead
    Medal of Honor: Allied Assault – Breakthrough
    Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault)
    Medal of Honor: Airborne
    Medal of Honor
  • Console releases
    Medal of Honor
    Medal of Honor: Underground
    Medal of Honor: Frontline
    Medal of Honor: Rising Sun
    Medal of Honor: European Assault
    Medal of Honor: Vanguard
    Medal of Honor: Airborne
    Medal of Honor: Heroes 2
    Medal of Honor
  • Portable releases
    Medal of Honor: Underground
    Medal of Honor: Infiltrator
    Medal of Honor: Heroes
    Medal of Honor: Heroes 2

Notice anything? Call of Duty took three games for the developers to realize that they needed to breathe some fresh air into the franchise, and thus came about Modern Warfare, one of the most innovative and novel tactical shooters in recent memory.

Look at how many games it took for Medal of Honor.

Beyond that, the latest installment of the Call of Duty franchise reinvents itself yet again, dumping you smack-dab in the middle of the cold war, the Vietnam crisis and an international conspiracy spanning multiple continents. The story was shockingly solid, with a twist at the end that I didn’t see coming, and I am normally very good about that sort of thing.

On top of all that, it is a solid shooter, one that doesn’t just focus on what might be cool to play or see in the game, but genuinely focuses on what will be fun. From an assassination attempt on Fidel Castro to surviving a brutal gulag, from blowing up a soviet rocket to fighting in the trenches of Vietnam, and from flying a B2-Bomber to hunting down psychos in secret hideouts, this game had it all, and it brought it all together in style.

This isn’t to say the game didn’t have any issues. There were a few graphical glitches, and the game wasn’t balanced in terms of difficulty. You either blew through anything in your path, or you got your ass handed to you, forcing you to reload and play that sequence again and again. (Yes, I played on the toughest difficulty setting again). There was simply no middle ground.

The voice acting, while otherwise top-notch, sucked because of goddamn Sam Worthington. You may have seen him as the titular hero in Avatar and the first humanoid machine in Terminator 4: Rise of the Machines. He’s Australian you see. And regardless of which role he undertakes, he cannot, for the life of him, mask his Australian undertone. That kind of ruined it for me, but I suppose you can’t have it all.

I’d give Black Ops a resounding 9 out of 10. It is a brilliant game, with an original story, and intense action. Well worth your money if you are a shooter fan.

“Why I loved Enslaved” or “Here Piggy Piggy Piggy!”

November 12, 2010 1 comment

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, which would have been better named just “Enslaved”, is one of my favorite games of 2010. Don’t let the above-average critic reviews fool you. This action adventure game is one for the keeping. The following are some of the reasons I absolutely loved this novel, innovative game in a sea of over-hyped, over-budgeted, over-saturated AAA titles:

  • The Setting: The game is set in a post-apocalyptic New York; except its been hundreds of years since the city fell, and unlike Fallout’s arid landscape or Metro 2033’s dreary tunnels, this version of New York has been overrun by nature. Vegetation is abundant and has spread itself to every crevice, corner and edge. The whole city gives the vibe of a true urban jungle, and the effect is gloriously gorgeous.
  • The Story: In simplest terms, the story can be explained as “protagonist helps secondary protagonist get home”. But Enslaved story is like an onions, layers peeling away to show additional layers and complexity. The characters are real, their tragedies are heartfelt and profound, and their quest unbearably daunting and seemingly impossible. Again, in the simplest terms, it is a story about getting from point A to point B, and the two points are filled with further iterations of mini-quests requiring you to get from point A to B. But at the end of the day, as is so often the case in life, the journey becomes the legend, and the destination and purpose only serve as fringe concepts to drive the plot forward.
  • The Lore: Anyone who puts themselves through the trouble of reading my blog knows that I am a huge lore buff. I live for lore. So it is a bit strange that I am in love with a game that gives you as few elements of the background story and how the current world cam to be. There are subtle hints strewn across the landscape. Missing person posters in Grand Central Station, vestiges of prominent landmarks, and the dialogue in general give you a very vague idea of what might have happened to the world as we know it in 2010, but they don’t offer much else beyond that. I normally get cranky in a lore-starved game, but in this one, the scenery itself was the lore, and the lack of in-your-face walls-of-text lore was quite alright by me.
  • The Characters: The characters reveal themselves in bits and pieces, leaving much of the construction to the minds and imaginations of the players. The main characters don’t even exchange names a good hour, hour-and-a-half into the game, an homage to the slow but steady appreciation and respect they develop for each other. The voice-acting is phenomenal, the facial expressions are perfectly molded to the character’s psyche and emotional strain. Hell even the gait and mannerisms are well thought0out and character-appropriate.

I am not trying to sing unending praises for Enslaved, for it certainly has its flaws at time, such as unclear mission objectives and frustrating puzzle solving. But all in all, when considered as a whole, it is the sleeper hit of 2010 that wasn’t, and I can’t wait to get more of this bold new IP.

Speaking of which, the game has an upcoming DLC, starring the game’s playable sidekick Pigsy. You can watch a trailer, or screenshots from the upcoming DLC, Pigsy’s Perfect 10,  below:

Categories: DLC, Enslaved, Review