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Review – From Dust (PC, PS3, Xbox360)

2011 – Ubisoft – One Player

The Good

  • Interesting Gimmick where you manipulate the world using literal God Power
  • Eventually there is a sandbox mode, which is neat.

The Bad

  • The gimmick is way more limited than it is made out to be and the world tends to “right” itself
  • The above makes a lot of the levels frustrating since you try to do X but it just sort of fails…
  • By the time you unlock the Sandbox, you’ll hate the game play.

In Depth

Ok, I tried… I really tried. If possible, I try to complete a game before I do a review of it. This means being late to the game most of the time but it also means I get to experience all that the game has to offer, which is the way it should be. There are exceptions for various reasons, some games don’t have a real ending, some are repetitious enough that it’s clear nothing more is going to be gained by continuing onward.

Others become so frustrating and irritating I just can’t being myself to finish it no matter how hard I want to. From Dust is one of the latter set there. (more…)

Review – Overwatch (PC, PS4, X-Box One)

The Good

  • Fun Team based Gameplay
  • Loot system that never feels like you need to buy anything (though you can)
  • Large variety in game modes

The Bad

  • No way to trade duplicate item drops with other people
  • Game can feel a little repetitive after a while, several maps feel like facelift copies of each other
  • Social aspects could use some work

In Depth

It’s really hard not to compare Overwatch to Team Fortress 2.  They have vaguely similar art styles, the game play is the same sort of class based team shooter game, and the whole attitude in design is sort of “fantastical cartoon” without seeming overly kiddified.  Having played more TF2 than probably any other title except possibly World of Warcraft, I will say they are definitely similar and definitely gunning for the same audience.  Overwatch takes some different queues though in how it works things, which help to differentiate itself a lot from TF2, which leaves some space for both titles.

If you enjoy Team Fortress 2, you will very likely enjoy Overwatch, especially if you’re like me and got driven away from TF2 once the whole economy thing became the focus of the game more than playing the game.  This touches a bit on both a good and bad aspect of Overwatch.  Item drops come in the form of loot crates, which each contain 4 items, skins, sprays, emotes, voice lines, etc.  Nothing that drops is game affecting in any way, it’s all cosmetic.  The things that you’re likely going to care about the most, ie skins, are more rare than things that are kind of useless like sprays.  As of this time, there isn’t anyway to trade items with other players.  Extra items are converted into in game currency that can be used to buy different items.  This is a good thing and a bad thing.  It’s kind of bad because I’d much rather trade an extra rare skin for a different skin I want rather than converting it into a tiny pile of coins.  It’s good be because it helps keep Overwatch from developing an economy, which personally, kind of ruined Team Fortress 2.

You can also buy Loot Boxes, they aren’t a super great price, but they aren’t overly expensive.  Unlike Battlefield 1, you get a lot of them just by playing the game, and each contains 4 items.  You get a free box for every level you gain on your account, and you can get an additional 3 boxes each week for 9 wins in Arcade Mode.  There are also seasonal ranked matches which I believe give some kind of reward in the form of loot.  There is also the currency you collect in game through drops and duplicate items, so you can simply save up and buy the specific cosmetic item that you are after for your favorite character.  The point is, you can more than get away with getting plenty of items just by playing the game.

But enough about loot, it needed mentioning, but it’s also kind of an aside to the game.

The real core of the game is of course, gameplay, and with it, the roster of characters.  It’s also where Overwatch and Team Fortress 2 really differ.  Team Fortress 2 has 9 classes, though each of these classes can be set up through different loadouts to have different play styles.  Demoman for example, plays differently than Demoknight.  Overwatch instead simply has, more characters, 23 of them, with more being added over time to add more variety.  For example, both Sombra and Ana were added after the game’s launch.  Each character is surprisingly unique in play style and design and for the most part the game is pretty well balanced.

For the most part.  Some characters are definitely more played and more powerful than others.  That isn’t to say that you won’t see every character at some point while playing.  However you’ll see way more D.Va and Roadhog than Zaraya for the Tanks.  Also, each character gets an Ultimate Ability which can be unleashed after filling a meter by dealing and taking damage and even just over time.  Ultimates such as D.Va’s exploding mechsuit are super useful at wiping out an entire team, while other’s such as Sombra’s EMP or Tracer’s lame little grenade are kind of less useful.

There is definitely enough character variety to suit any preferred play style.  Also, except in certain game modes, characters are limited to one per team, so no need to worry about having a dozen snipers hanging around in the back ala Team Fortress 2.  There’s only one real sniper, (two but one is a healer), so you’ll only have one useless player hanging around 500 miles back.

Speaking of game modes, there’s the regular Quick Play, and Arcade.  Quick Play works as you might expect, select a character, then play in one of several pretty standard play modes, control points, push a cart, king of the hill, etc.  There’s also Arcade Mode, where things get a little more varied.  Most of the maps work the same, but there are elimination modes, where you die and don’t revive, unlimited mode where there aren’t limits on how many heroes can be on a team, 1v1 matches, or even specialized holiday maps.

That said, some of the maps can get a little repetitive.  The basic designs tend to be pretty different but many of them feel like there was a punch list of features to be added, main path, side path to the right, one upper platform.  It’s kind of subtle but there’s several that feel like at a base level, they are the same map.  Like if you took out the buildings and just made everything squared out walls, you’d have identical layouts.

Things like the arcade mode really help to break this repetition up a lot though.  There are several modes available and they cycle occasionally on what’s available.  Things like Mystery Heroes, where you get a random hero each death, or All Brawls, where all sorts of crazy rules come into play.  Some of the All Brawls limit teams to certain types of heroes such as all offense only.  Some let you pick only Genji and Hanzo, the two brothers.  One of the craziest is This is Illios mode, where Roadhogs and Lucio’s battle it out over  giant pit, the goal is more to throw your opponent in the pit than kill them.

Possibly my chief real complaint is that the social system seems kind of crappy, especially coming off of Team Fortress 2.  Granted, I was admin on a Team Fortress 2 server with a forum and a community and a clan, but Blizzard as a whole just has a pretty mediocre social set up next to Steam and Valve.  This is more of a complaint with Battlenet of course than Overwatch.  For example, I can’t just friend someone by saying I am “RamenJunkie”, because Battlenet adds these lame numbers so I’m “RamenJunkie#1476”.  There also just feels like there is less of a community in Overwatch vs Team Fortress 2.  No one uses voice either, which makes things feel a little lonely.

The bottom line is, Overwatch is a lot of fun and a great game.  If you’re not into FPS games you may not like it, if you prefer some gritty “realism” FPS games you may not like it, of course, but it is a good game.  I picked up Battlefield 1 and Overwatch around the same time period, and while Battlefield 1 started out as my preferred of the two, it grew really stale, while Overwatch has grown on me as being a lot more fun, and feels like it’s going to ultimately have more staying power of these two FPS titles.

Review – Battlefield 1 (PC, PS4, Xbox One)

2016 – EA DICE – Single Player/ Online Mutiplayer

The Good

  • Visuals are top notch and dense
  • World evolves and changes as the battle continues
  • Massive miltiplayer battles that really feel like a war.

The Bad

  • Dense visuals can be extremely confusing most of the time
  • Leveling process is extremely slow
  • Price (Game, Micro Transactions, DLC, etc)

Note, I generally try to use my own screen shots but despite my best efforts with several tools, I couldn’t get this game to TAKE screen shots.  Chock that into the negatives if you want.  These shots are pretty indicative of what things look like, if anything, they are too sparse.

tl;dr Review

This isn’t the first Battlefield Game and it won’t be the last.  It is the first one that I’ve personally played however.  This sort of title isn’t really my type of game but I’ve found that I ended up enjoying it a lot and really stuck with it despite it’s flaws.

Most of these flaws are in the level progression, which is extremely frustrating and slow on all fronts.  Also, being an EA title, it’s kind of ridiculous how expensive this game is in order to get the “complete experience”.

It’s a lot of fun though and definitely a different play experience than the types of FPS games I generally play (think, TF2).  It’s much more grounded in a realism aspect, there isn’t any kooky power ups or super abilities, and you die pretty quickly if you get shot.  The game is pretty much built around the idea of dying a lot, the opening tutorial style missions says this right off the bat.  The line is “You aren’t expected to survive”.

The battles also feel huge, despite the massive open areas of each map.  You will almost always be surrounded by fellow soldiers with gunfire and explosions all around.  It’s easy to get lost and killed without even seeing the enemy.

It’s not likely a game that will appeal to everyone given it’s frantic nature but it’s a lot of fun to be sure.

In Depth

I want to start off with the problems, which are things that could be patched and fixed but reading around online about the history with other titles from the same folks, it’s not likely to happen.

The biggest annoyance is how slow progression is on all fronts.  Your account has an overall level and rank which progresses the quickest, you gain points for how you perform throughout each round.  I can tell you from experience that you don’t have to be the best shot and get the most kills to progress this rank.  I’m pretty terrible at killing the enemy and often have a Kill/Death ratio in the range of 1/10+.  I also still finish in the top ten players on the team often, since points are also earned for how much team work you do.  Kill assists, Medic healing, and control point capturing all help push up your score and rank.

As near as I can tell, this rank is mostly just good for earning money to unlock weapons.

There are also 4 classes, Assault, Medic, Support, Scout.  Each class has it’s own rank up system.  This system feels like it runs extremely slow and has the most impact on gameplay.  After fifteen hours of play across all classes, I only managed to level up one class to Rank 1.  I believe there is a maximum of Rank 10 on the classes.  Ranking classes allows you to unlock (via in game currency) new weapons and equipment to expand how you can play your classes.  Based on my experience, the new weapons work much better than the earlier ones.  I may or may not be an awful shot, but I find I often will unload 4 shotgun blasts into an enemy without a kill only to get killed in one shot in return.

This actually makes things kind of discouraging for new players getting into the game.  Dying is part of the game, but dying constantly despite what seems like a good effort starts to get discouraging.  Leveling up classes seems to be done by getting kills and such with the classes, which means it’s slowed even more when you are fighting stronger enemies with weaker weapons.

I don’t expect to be Rank 10 after a week of play, but it would be nice to see SOME progress.

Then there are the medals.  It’s not super clear within the game how Medals work and they don’t seem to really affect gameplay other than being a nice fun side mission to work towards.  Essentially, they are like achievements, only not (he game has it’s own separate achievements).  A different set of 5 medals become available each week.  They involve things like “Get 10 kills with the shotgun”.  Each medal has 3 stages.

Problem One, you must select which of the 5 medals you want to work towards before a match.  If you select an Assault based Medal, you can’t earn the Medic medal just by switching classes, which is pretty lame.  The 3 stages also need to be earned in order, which is also lame, since many of the later stages are tricky enough to earn.  For example, the above metal will have the stages, “10 kills with shotgun”, “5 headshots with shotgun”, “5 kills in one life”.  Killing ten people with headshots in one life with the shotgun, will only earn the first stage.

This is the biggest issue, because it really discourages newer players from getting into the game.  It encourages older players to always be more powerful which only results in a constant stream of death which just drives people away.

This isn’t helped with how confusing things can get, especially early on.  The maps are huge, there are enemies running everywhere and friendly players running everywhere.  There is a constant stream of noise and explosions, and the terrain changes drastically as the battle rolls on.  This is really both a plus and a negative actually.  It makes the game harder, but it also makes things way more interesting and it’s a nice realism effect.  War, especially this kind of on the ground war, is confusing and bloody and overwhelming.

Rolling into the positives, I really do like the crazyness of everything as much as I hate it.  Many of the buildings and structure can be damaged, so as more tank fire and canon fire rains down on the maps, the builds fall apart or get destroyed, walls will be missing sections, there will be huge craters to hide inside dotting the landscape.  You can take a tank and drive it through a small house and a wall and it will leave a permanent huge hole.  You can bombard a building with cannon fire and it will start to collapse revealing the structure and any enemies inside.  You can pummel a checkpoint from a one of the giant airships into a flat wasteland removing all cover for anyone trying to capture it.

This all makes the game pretty graphics intensive, though it’s worth mentioning even on under powered hardware it seems to run pretty well.  I get a warning that my video card is under the minimum but everything still runs fine and looks great.

The result is the battle feel HUGE.   Though admittedly sometimes they are huge.  Often there will be 64 players running around on a map making little ad hoc teams to drive tanks or defend or capture control points.  Everyone has a place as well and though there are only 4 classes, you can select different sets of equipment for different play styles.  For example, you can select trip mines and such as a Scout to try to snag enemies at choke points, or you can use the flare gun to help reveal enemy locations for your team mates.  The Assault Class can use different grenades for dealing with troops or heavier artillery to deal with tanks and armored cars.

There are also the limited “other” classes.  Such as piloting one of several types of planes across the battlefield, or jumping on a horse and running around shooting and swording people.  Occasionally the losing team gets a massive overpowered bonus in the form of a massive battleship, a zeppelin or an armored train, these have gun emplacements which can be used by the players to decimate enemy locations.  It adds a lot of variety, though it’s a shame some of it is behind the slow leveling gatekeeping mechanic.

You can also earn unlocks with “Battlepacks” which are your pretty standard fare micro transaction random loot boxes.  You can earn them through regular gameplay or by purchasing them in the store.  The gate keeping mechanism also kind of discourages low level players from purchasing these packs however.  The weapons still have a Class level limitation, so you may find a good weapon drop and still be completely unable to use it.  This is kind of a shame since, though it costs money, it would be a good way to help give newer players and edge if they so wanted if the weapons were instantly usable.

This leads into my last point, though it’s more a critique of modern gaming, especially EA.  This game is really expensive.  The base game is $60, the Deluxe version that contains some weapons and cosmetics is $80 and the Ultimate edition which includes all (eventual) DLC packs is $130.  Now, the base game does go on and has been on sale, but that extra $50+ for the DLC isn’t likely to go away anytime soon.

Review – Shadow Complex (PC, PS4, Xbox One)

2009, 2015 – Chair – 1 Player

The Good

  • Metroidvania games are pretty much awesome by default.
  • Interesting use of 2D and 3D
  • Fun gameplay and puzzles

The Bad

  • Not a lot of enemy variety.
  • Controls can be frustrating at times
  • Bosses are kind of a joke

tl;dr Review

I, like many others I gather, often have a pile of games from bundles that never end up getting played.  Recently Shadow Complex appeared in a Humble Bundle and came recommended, so I opted to actually give it a shot.  I was really surprised just how good it ended up being.

I was also surprised that it’s a Metroidvania style game,  That is, it’s a side scrolling, room based platform game full of puzzles and upgrades and the repeated need to retread old ground with new abilities.  These sorts of games, as a whole are pretty fun.  And Shadow Complex is no exception.  It’s also somewhat unique being a modern day sort of setting for such a game.

It’s not without it’s flaws though, the enemy soldiers get repetitive quick, there’s maybe a half dozen varieties.  The bosses are all kind of same-ish giant mechs and aren’t particularly frequent.    Some of them are extremely easy to pattern out and defeat as well, there’s one in particular which jets in a circle around the room that I found stupidly easy since it never once tried to enter the one corner of the room.  All that was needed was to stand there and missile it each pass.

The controls are also a bit frustrating at times, particularly when you have to do several things at once, like multi jumping and grappling.  The puzzles revolving around the speed run effect are also frustrating due to the dodgy controls while speeding along.

These negatives aren’t super bad though, particularly with the frequent save points.  It’s a fun platform exploration game and worth checking out.

In Depth

So, like I said, platform exploration.  Seeing this game was a modern era game with guns, I pretty much expected “FPS Shooter”.  Which also translates to, pretty much completely unoriginal.  I didn’t expect to really enjoy this game at all, but I was expecting a completely different game.

The basic plot follows Jason as he works to rescue his girlfriend Claire from a hidden base of radial soldiers.  Jason and Claire are out camping and they stumble on an underground complex, hidden complex, a … Shadow Complex, if you will.  Claire is kidnapped by soldiers and Jason sneaks into the complex to find her.  Over the course of the game, the larger goals of the army are made clear, they intend to overthrow the US government.  Knowing there isn’t much time, Jason works to take down the secret base and army.  Along the way he finds a super powered soldier suit and upgrades it over time to gain new abilities which allow him to reach new areas of the complex.

The game also takes place in the same realms as a couple of novels written by Orson Scott Card, called Empire and Hidden Empire.  These books are part of a universe owned by Chair who licensed the world to Card for the books.

I mentioned Metroidvania, this is a term that is commonly used for this style of game, it’s a combination of the names of the games Metroid and Castlevania, which both pioneered and made popular this style of game.  Shadow Complex has a lot more in common with Metroid than Castlevania, but the same basic play style is the same.  Honestly the similarities to Metroid are possibly part of it’s negatives as well.  Many of the powers gained through the super suit are pretty much lifted right out of Super Metroid, the Missiles, The Speed Boost, the Grappling hook.  Granted, there are all sorts of other examples of these abilities in games, and the speed boost works a bit differently with it’s running up walls and ceilings bit, the core mechanics are the same.

Probably the biggest problem of this game is getting around the map.  One key component that makes a good Metroidvania title is that the map work.  Generally speaking, this means some sort of central zone that easily access all or most of the other zones.  It should easily access each one as you unlock new abilities as well.  This makes traversing the map for return trips to collect power ups less of a trudge.  Shadow Complex has a severe lack of this.  Having to repeatedly complete the same simple puzzles to go back and collect some grenade upgrade gets really old the 4th or 5th time it’s done.

There’s also some dodgy points on the controls.  Some of the more complex puzzles involve, for example, double dumping around platforms and grappling to walls while avoiding instant death bits.  Sometimes while trying to aim the grapple it can be tricky to keep the direction of your jumps going the proper direction.  More annoying is trying to time the speed run jumps and flips needed to solve some of the running puzzles.  The speed moves too fast and the screen zooms in too much to always know what’s coming soon enough to make a proper jump.  This often means failing, then trying again, then failing again because you passed the first bit but now there was a second bit you didn’t know about and didn’t have enough notice to properly react to it.

I’m not saying it should be a cake walk, just that you aren’t even given a chance to make it a cake walk.  It doesn’t really hurt the game, but it can lead to some needless frustration.

One interesting aspect is the use of 3D in the 2D world.  The whole game is a 2D platformer, Jason only exists in one plane, but the world around you is in 3D, enemies will attack from platforms in the distance, sometimes you will find gun emplacements that let you switch to a stationary 3D view.  Your player will automatically shoot into the background when targeting enemies in the background.  It does lead to some odd moments, like why you have to scale a set of spiral stairs by leaping from landing to landing instead of just, you know, walking up them (the stairs are in the background).

In the end, Shadow Complex was a surprise but of fun to be sure.  I don’t stick around with games for long when it becomes clear I won’t enjoy them, but I played all the way through Shadow Complex once I started it.