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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 – 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.