Uncharted 3 – Drake’s Deception

Info:

Developer/s: Naughty Dog

Publisher/s: Sony Computer Entertainment

Platform/s: PlayStation 3

Genre: Action-adventure, platform

Release Date: 2011-10-28

Review:

In 2006, Naughty Dog released the first Uncharted game, entitled Uncharted – Drake’s Fortune, setting a precedent for action-adventure gaming which the likes of Tomb Raider could never possibly match.  In 2009, the bar was raised even higher with the fantastic sequel Uncharted 2 – Among Thieves, which was awarded game of the year and is to my mind, one of the greatest games ever made and the best of the trilogy.  The first game set the rules, the second built upon that, improving upon absolutely every aspect – game-play, visuals, story-telling and what have you, and now we have Uncharted 3 – Drake’s Deception.  So what makes the second installment better…?

To make it very clear, Uncharted 3 – Drake’s Deception is an amazing achievement in terms of gaming, and is a prime example of cinematic gaming done right.  However, the reason why I reckon that the second installment is superior is due to the fact that with Uncharted 3, Naughty Dog have played it safe in that rather than try something new, they’ve essentially used the second game’s ingredients as a template for Drake’s Deception.  Needless to say, this is far from a bad thing as Drake’s Deception is an exhilarating experience (especially in the later levels and one scene involving a plane…), it’s just a shame that the developers didn’t try to raise the bar even further.  Then again, it is rather difficult to top an action scene where one is on a moving train trying to gun down a Black Ops Hind-D with an anti-aircraft turret.

So in Uncharted 3, the man with the incredible grip (he climbs everything) Nathan Drake returns once more with faithful companion and mentor, Victor (Sully) Sullivan as they embark on a quest to find the legendary lost city – The Iram of the Pillars.  Needless to say, much like Uncharted 2 – Among Thieves, Uncharted 3 is a globe-trotting adventure including locations like London, Yemen, Colombia, Rub’ al Khali and the Arabian Peninsula, which nicely contrast the Asian locales of the second game.  Uncharted 3 – Drake’s Deception has received a multitude of awards as critics praised every aspect of the game, however the title of  ‘Game of the Year’ was snatched from it in 2011 by Skyrim respectively.

The game starts off in a seedy pub located in London, where Nathan and Victor have agreed to meet a man named Talbot who’s interested in buying Nathan’s ring.  However the transaction gets derailed when the pair accuse Talbot of trying to pay them with counterfeit bills and needless to say, this erupts into a bar-room brawl which then escalates into the back-alley variety.  Nathan and Sully are then subdued by one of Talbot’s associates – Charlie Cutter.  After Talbot’s client – Katherine Marlowe, takes the ring, Cutter then guns Nathan and Sully down, supposedly leaving them for dead.  The story then begins with a flashback to 20 years earlier, where a 14-year-old Nathan is exploring a museum in Colombia in search of Sir Francis Drake’s ring (obviously the ring he intends on selling in the present).  The museum is also where Nathan meets the 39-year-old Sully as well as Marlowe.  From here, Uncharted 3 becomes a globe-trotting and gun-totting adventure that further expands on the Uncharted mythos, in spectacular fashion I might add.

As per usual, this third installment of the Uncharted series, boasts some of the most impressive visuals seen in a game, due to impressive motion capture and voice-acting.  Using 2 motion capture studios – a smaller one in their studio as well as a dedicated stage at Sony Studios (responsible for the motion capture and audio), Naughty Dog were able to raise the bar for video-game motion capture, as Uncharted 3 was shot in the same fashion as a major Hollywood production.  It is the reason why Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series is so fluid and realistic.

Uncharted 3 uses an ‘upgraded’ version of the engine they used for the first 2 games, resulting in better visuals, environmental effects, physics as well as environmental deformation.  The game also includes new innovative technology that makes elemental effects such as fire, smoke, water and moving sand (the desert sequences look unbelievable) all the more realistic. Six years down the line, it’s impressive to see what Naughty Dog have managed to squeeze out of the PlayStation 3 hardware,  even though Uncharted 3 is undoubtedly graphically superior to Uncharted 2, the graphical leap is far narrower than between the first 2 games, simply because the developers were unable to push the hardware any further.  When you consider that Uncharted 2 is just below 25Gb whereas it’s sequel hovers in at around 50Gb, if developer’s wish to make ‘bigger and better’ games in the future then we may start to see PlayStation 3 games being spread over multiple Blu-Ray disks.  The PS3 hardware has really been put to the test with Uncharted 3 as players are led from one epic scene to the next.  From escaping a burning chateau as fire creeps up the walls, to wandering around an expansive desert landscape as sun and fatigue threaten to undermine your efforts, Uncharted 3 is a beautiful looking game.  Throw in an Indiana Jones style chase sequence on horseback and a daring escape as players are thrust from an aircraft as the hull tears itself apart and you know you’re in for something special.

So Uncharted 3 has the graphical goods but what about playability? Those familiar with the first 2 games will be well-adjusted for this third entry as the controls are just as responsive and fluid as one would expect them to be.  Apart from the usual run-and-gun game-play, Naughty Dog have taken the time to expand upon the melee combat which now includes a counter system – extremely useful when going up against a wily foe.  Needless to say, quick-time events make a return, but they’re so well-placed and implemented that even the quick-time haters will have to appreciate them.  Once again, various treasure pieces are hidden throughout the entire game, and if you don’t manage to find them all the first time around, they will entice you to play the game through again.  Further adding to the longevity of Uncharted 3, is the online multi-player mode that will keep you playing long after you’ve completed the game, though personally I don’t really care for competitive modes in games as the single-player story experience will always be my primary interest.  At certain sections in Uncharted 3, you will be required to solve puzzles in order to progress the story, though the puzzles themselves are relatively straight-forward logic problems and if you do get stuck one can always check Drake’s journal for clues or, if you’re really stumped or just lazy, after a certain amount of time, a help prompt will pop up, offering to solve the puzzle for you (lame).  One thing that I did find irritating about Uncharted 3 was the difficulty curb.  Naturally as you progress through the game, the enemies become more challenging and better equipped – completely understandable, but when the game decides to place you in a room with minimal cover and multiple bad guys engaging you in melee combat as a platoon of overhead snipers and grenadiers take pot shots at you, forcing you to break from cover (resulting in instant death in most cases), then it just becomes frustrating and absurd.

Much like Indiana Jones, Uncharted 3 has an established main musical theme, instantly recognizable and wonderfully catchy.  From the trademark intro music to the exhilarating action sequences, Uncharted 3 ensures that you feel like you’re the hero in some epic Hollywood film.  But it’s not only the score that makes the game so engrossing.  Uncharted 3 has some of the best voice-acting I’ve ever heard in a game.  Nolan North returns once again to voice Nathan Drake, and as expected the dialogue is as witty and humorous as ever, as Drake comes armed with his usual amount of sarcasm and wry wit as he dishes out the quips left, right and centre.

If for some or other reason, you required further inclination for getting yourself a copy of Uncharted 3, do yourself a favour and track down the Explorer Edition, which includes a Nathan Drake statue, life-size replicas of his belt buckle and ring/necklace (with leather strap), a 3D lenticular image,  Special Edition of the game including the DLC and pre-order bonuses, packaged in an art book, made in the fashion of Drake’s journal.  All these items come packaged in a stylish wooden ‘travel case’ which has space for 19 PS3 games.  Talk about value for money *phew*.

Conclusion

Uncharted 3 has done the series proud and is a worthy addition to any gaming library.  Once again, Naughty Dog have outdone themselves by pushing the PS3 hardware even further to create a near-perfect gaming experience, with some of the best and most cinematic game-play and visuals you will encounter in modern gaming.  Uncharted 3 is the definitive adventure game, and I say that confidently even with the new Tomb Raider on the way (though no Tomb Raider game has come close to Uncharted, so won’t exactly hold my breath), so even though it’s not without its faults, I highly recommend it to anyone whoever wanted to experience an Indiana Jones style adventure.  Get it…get in now.

Grade: S

Max Payne 3

Info:

Developer/s: Rockstar Studios

Publisher/s: Rockstar Games

Platform/s: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360

Genre: Third-person shooter

Release Date: 2012-06-01

Review:

The Max Payne series has earned itself something of a cult following, with the release of the first game in 2001, Max Payne offered something different for gamers – a third-person action game, with a film-noir presentation that made use of comic-book panels in order to tell the story instead of CG cut-scenes, to top it all off, the game had impressive visuals (immediately identifiable by the protagonist’s constant grimace) and added a bullet-time play mechanic that meant gamers were able to slow down time at will allowing one to set up all manner of elaborate and impressive gun battles in a style lifted straight from The Matrix.  In 2003, Max Payne 2 – The Fall of Max Payne was released and it managed to outshine the original in every-way with improved visuals, tighter controls and a more polished storyline that added a new level of complexity to the Max Payne character.

The in-game graphics are insane, here Max dangles outside a helicopter engaged in a rooftop shootout with some thugs.

Nine years after the last game, Max Payne returns in full force with the aptly named Max Payne 3 and true to form the game is an engrossingly dark and blood-soaked expansion of the Max Payne mythos.  When I saw the first screens of this game about a year ago, I was somewhat concerned by a bearded, bald and Hawaiian shirt clad Max Payne (at the tail end of the game), thinking that Rockstar may have departed a little too much from the original series in order to relaunch the franchise in 2012.  Thankfully I was wrong as while Max Payne 3 does take a different direction, it only serves to strengthen the legacy of an already impressive series.

Sam Lake – responsible for The Fall of Max Payne’s plot as well as being the face model for the original Max Payne game (looks a bit like a Tim Burton character doesn’t he…?).

So as I stated before, Max Payne 3 is something of a departure from the first two games.  Gone is the New York City setting as Max has quit his job at the NYPD instead choosing to spend his time in bars, addicted to alcohol and painkillers.  Max has evolved (or perhaps devolved?) somewhat in this third installment – he’s older, warier and more cynical than ever which is nicely portrayed throughout the game by use of stylized cutscenes (more on them later) and various quips by Max himself (voiced by James McCaffrey, who you may remember from the cult classic television series Viper).  After a fallout in a New Jersey bar with a local mob boss’s son, Max befriends Raul Passos who interjects in the confrontation and eventually convinces Max to leave the bottle behind (somewhat) and pursue a career in private security.  So this time around, Max finds himself in São Paulo, Brazil working as private security for the exceedingly rich Branco family consisting of three brothers – Rodrigo, Victor and Marcelo and sure enough, all hell breaks loose as Rodrigo and his wife Fabiana are kidnapped by a gang known as the Comando Sombra.  Needless to say, as Max it’s up to you to rescue the couple and thereby kill off half of Brazil in the process as you duck, dive, shoot and maim your way through scores of bad guys over a course of fourteen chapters.

Throughout the story, Max will have flashbacks of New York, requiring players to fight through his memories.

Memorable quotes >>

“I knew this was a bad idea, but, in the absence of any good ideas, I continued forward.”

“I’d been sitting at the bar for three hours, or five years depending on the way you looked at things.”

“When you’re stuck in a foreign country and don’t know the words for “reverse charges” and you’re in some lonely skin joint in the middle of some poor slum and just had every last cent robbed from you and you call yourself a bodyguard then you know you’re a loser.”

“The guy was smoother than an oil slick on an iceberg, and about as toxic.”

The game is filled with elaborate set-pieces and action sequences such as this boat chase scene, hitting slo-mo (L-Shift) distorts the colour and adds scan-lines for effect.

While the storyline in Max Payne 3 isn’t the most original in the world – kidnapping, backstabbing and the like, it does however manage to be a little convoluted at the same time, as more and more characters, villains and para-military groups get thrown into the mix, it can be hard to follow exactly what’s what.  Thankfully though, this is only a minor setback as is traditional with the series, your goal is to basically kill anything that moves and the plot is unfurled in such a cinematic fashion that things are always kept interesting meaning that one doesn’t really have to concern them self with every little detail of the plot.  It’s also worth noting that the game consists of a lot of foreign dialogue (Portuguese if I’m not mistaken) that isn’t translated into English, but I believe that the lack of a translation serves to engross the player into the game even further, giving one the feeling of actually being in a foreign country, not knowing what the hell is going on.

At certain sections, the game will automatically enter slow motion mode, giving you a finite amount of time in which to kill all the enemies before they kill you. Very cool.

There are a number of reasons why this game won’t appeal to everyone, for one – Max Payne 3 is uncompromisingly violent so if you’re squeamish or deterred by the sight of blood and gore then you’d do well to skip this one.  There is a wide array of weapons to choose from in which to dispatch your foes with, and it’s done so in such a wonderfully cinematic style (thanks to bullet-time) that you will find yourself taking a moment before rushing enemies in order to plot out exactly how to take them out in the coolest way possible.  Another nice touch is that players will always know when they’ve cleared out a certain area of bad guys because the last man standing will always be killed in slow motion as the camera follows the bullet into the face, chest or other extremity of your hapless victim.  Secondly, Max Payne 3 has a strong narrative interwoven between the game-play in the form of stylized cut-scenes that make use of various cinematic techniques such as scan-lines and shifting, especially during his painkiller trips emphasized by various phrases and words on the screen during Max’s narrative, these cut-scenes serve to replace the comic-book panels of the first two games and are also unskippable, as they cleverly veil the loading screens, that’s right instead of having to sit watching a series of static images or loading bar, the in-game movies are actually the loading screens themselves, rather ingenious.  As the cut-scenes are so frequent, players may feel that they’re too long or intrusive (a common complaint of Metal Gear Solid 4 for example) especially since the narrative dictates the pacing of the game, but it’s a small trade-off for what is undoubtedly the most action-packed and cinematic shooter to come out in years (and besides, I’ve always been a fan of in-game cut-scenes or FMV so it suits me just fine).

Widower Max Payne deals with his grief by means of alcohol and painkillers, portrayed throughout the game’s cut-scenes.

Okay, so let’s talk about the visuals, the graphics in Max Payne 3 are absolutely stunning.  Every little attention to detail has been addressed here, everything from the texture quality, shaders and the people themselves look absolutely brilliant.  There’s no point in trying to convince you as the screenshots speak for themselves, and it’s definitely worth noting that the screen caps I took do not represent the highest quality settings available as my PC was simply incapable of running this game at maximum.  While the console versions have been lauded for their outstanding visuals, they pale in comparison to the PC version which is said to look four times greater than its console counterparts as it features DirectX 11 graphics and has high-end graphics features such as Hull/Tessellation/Domain Shaders (which adds curvature to the character/vehicle models), Gather4 (for optimized shadow sampling / FXAA), Geometry shader / Stream Output to name a but a few.  The PC version also requires 35GB of hard drive space for the install (an install that took close to two hours on my PC!) and has superior audio over the console version due to uncompressed audio (which does sound pretty amazing).  Of course, one doesn’t need to have a high-spec machine in order to enjoy Max Payne 3, as the game is quite scalable for low-end machines and has been tested on a wide range of PC’s.  A list of system specifications can be found here.  Apart from some minor instances of glitching, where for some reason Max refused to walk after picking up a new weapon, the game is bug free as far as I can tell, I didn’t see any clipping or sprites doing weird shit like being stuck through doors *cough* Dead Island *cough* or the like and overall, Max Payne 3 is an extremely polished masterpiece of graphical glory.

A nice feature is the video memory allocator which shows you how much memory each feature uses when you click on it, the game will only allow you to select features that your card supports (normal) but will restrict selecting certain features if your card has insufficient memory (not-so normal) thus ensuring that the game always runs comfortably on your system.

From top-to-bottom – Max Payne (2001), Max Payne 2 – The Fall of Max Payne (2003) & Max Payne 3 (2012).

To put it into perspective, Max Payne 3 ran incredibly well on my system which is considered to be rather low-spec by today’s standards, with the following specifications:

  • OS – Windows 7 (64-bit) Enterprise Edition
  • CPU – Intel Core2 Duo E8200 @ 2.66GHz/2.67GHz
  • RAM: 4GB
  • GPU: Sapphire Radeon™ HD 4870 512MB RAM

So we know Max Payne 3 looks great and has an amazingly cinematic presentation but all of that would be for naught if the game-play sucked, thankfully however it doesn’t.  Just as Max Payne 2 improved upon its predecessor, this third installment has improved the familiar and fun play-mechanics even further.  Using an over-the-shoulder camera angle similar to the first two games and this time incorporating an easy-to-use cover system (just press Q near a wall or such) similar to that of the Uncharted series, Max Payne 3 retains the run-and-gun game-play that made the series so popular to begin with, throw bullet-time into the mix (hitting L-Shift will activate bullet-time, represented by a small bar at the bottom right-hand corner, for a limited amount of time) and you have one hell of an enjoyable game-play experience.  The controls are tight and responsive. and it’s kind of difficult to imagine how one could play this with a controller as the keyboard and precision of a mouse definitely make life easier.  Though it can be challenging at times to know whether or not you’ve successfully killed an enemy with slo-mo on, things are simplified for the player in that the circle-cross hair will change to an ‘x’ when an enemy has been killed (people like Ben ‘Yahtzee’ Croshaw would do well to take this into consideration before bad-mouthing the game then again one can’t really blame him as that’s what he gets paid to do), I also find that emptying entire clips into a bad guy’s face helps.  Needless to say, balance is important in a game and I think this is where Max Payne 3 becomes a little indecisive, you are almost always engaged in some sort of fire fight or other and at times, it’s fairly easy, at other times not so much as you will find yourself repeatedly swamped by scores of enemies who will shoot at you with all manner of fire arms, combined with minimal cover and you will find yourself having to redo certain sections over-and-over.  In some parts I actually died so many times that eventually the only reason I was able to pass the section was due to knowing exactly where and when each bad guy would appear, thank fuck the action is scripted *phew*.  Health packs (represented as bottles of painkillers) are few and far between in Max Payne 3, further adding to the challenge.  Weapon switching is as easy as pressing a button, and you’re able to use pistols/handguns/machine-pistols, in a single or dual array (I’m quite partial to dual-Uzis), shotguns, grenade-launchers/rocket-propelled grenades, sub-machine guns, machine guns, sniper rifles and a multitude of assault rifles, so there certainly isn’t a shortage of firepower in this game.

The urban slum-lands of São Paulo add a nice contrast to the luxurious villas, hotels and yachts that Max finds himself in when in service of the Branco family. The attention to detail is also staggering.

Conclusion

To round off an already impressive package, Max Payne 3 proves to be rather lengthy, despite what some critics have said, easily offering 15 – 20 hours game-play and the experience is further enhanced by a wonderfully cinematic soundtrack by noise-rockers HEALTH (check out the song Tears and Combat Drugs), offering up an experimental, indie-electronic mash-up that adds a new-age ambiance to the game.  All-in-all, Max Payne 3 is one of the most frenetic and impressive games that I’ve played in ages, an action-packed, blood-soaked thrill ride with amazing visuals, game-play and a narrative that could put Hollywood films to shame.  Though frustratingly difficult at times, Max Payne 3 is well worth your time and money if slo-mo battles, elaborate action sequences and cinematic story-telling tickle your fancy.  Highly recommended.

Grade: S

Wallpapers | Devil May Cry

Resolution – 1920 x 1080 | Aspect Ratio – 16:9

Crysis 2

Info:

Developer/s: Crytek

Publisher/s: Electronic Arts

Platform/s: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360

Genre: First-person shooter

Release Date: 2011-03-24

Review:

I put off playing Crysis 2 for quite sometime now, after completing the dreary shit-fest that is Syndicate, I decided it was time to install this game and see what it had to offer.  In case you were wondering, the reason why I’ve been avoiding this game is because I really disliked the glorified tech-demo that is Crysis 1, not because of the ludicrous system requirements mind you, just because the first game was an empty husk of mediocrity gift-wrapped in shiny paper.  As a rule, I’m usually quite weary about any game that has ‘EA’ stamped on it (so then it’s a given that I’m weary of most games given Electronic Arts‘ apparent bid for platform domination) but thankfully, unlike its predecessor and the aforementioned Syndicate, Crysis 2 isn’t bad at all, in fact it’s pretty good.

The amount of detail is amazing, notice the realistic blurring of the out-of-focus firearm.

So this time around, the focus has been switched from a Pandora-esque jungle to an urban one, and you play as ‘Alcatraz’ who has taken ownership over the Nanosuit 2.0 from former Delta Force officer Laurence ‘Prophet’ Barnes.  Since CryNet Systems have been hunting down Prophet in order to reclaim the Nanosuit, your character – Alcatraz, is inadvertently pursued.  Needless to say, human operatives won’t be the only thing on your tail, as the squid-like alien race known as the Ceph make their return, ditching the ‘outdated’, tentacle-exo suits in favour of an armoured humanoid variety.  Crysis 2 takes place in a war-torn New York City, and if all the destruction wasn’t enough, a disease nicknamed the ‘Manhattan Virus’ has rendered most of the denizens as immobile, moaning meat sacks.

No time to look at the pretty lights, pissed-off aliens demand your attention.

You will need some pretty bad-ass hardware in order to contend with all the hostiles in Crysis 2, from CELL (CryNet Enforcement & Local Logistics) operatives – a private military contractor tasked with handling the alien invasion on Manhattan Island, to the aliens themselves, and there is no weapon better than the highly-advanced Nanosuit 2.0 that you will be stomping around in (though there are plenty of shooty-things too).  The Nanosuit has been upgraded and streamlined since the first outing and switching between the various modes that the suit has to offer has never been easier.  The Nanosuit 2.0 is equipped with a cloaking mode – enabling players to become invisible and for the most part, undetectable to the enemy’s field of vision,  this stealth mode is an integral part of the game-play and can be used to lure and ambush enemies or bypass them all together and allows you to perform melee ‘stealth kills’ though be warned, any attack while in stealth mode will cause you to decloak.

Nano vision, this thermal mode is especially handy for detecting hidden enemies or navigating through dust-laden sections.

The predecessor’s strength & speed modes have now been combined into what’s called power mode, turning the player into a veritable human tank, plodding around with this mode engaged while hearing bullet impacts on your suit gives you the feeling of what being a Terminator is like.  Power mode offers a fair amount of resilience to projectiles and limited protection against electricity-based attacks (at the expense of suit power).  The Nanosuit is also equipped with binoculars that provide on-the-fly tactical recommendations, as well as nano vision, a built-in thermal mode much like what is seen in the Predator films.  It’s up to you to use the Nanosuit’s various modes in order to outwit your foes and it is this kind of strategy that was sorely lacking with Syndicate’s DART 6.  It is also worth noting that all of the Nanosuit’s abilities drain energy (rather quickly) and will require brief intervals between use while your suit recharges, so players always have to be vigilant of the suit’s power levels as there’s nothing worse than sneaking past a group of enemies only to have your suit decloak on you midway…

Even though I played the game on extreme graphics settings, my Radeon HD4870 still couldn’t process all the detail, so essentially the game looks even better than pictured here.

The game-play in Crysis 2 is a bit more complex than the average shooter, and there’s far more to it than just sneaking around in an invisible power suit.  After you’ve killed an alien, they will leave behind a shimmering cloud (derived from Ceph tissue) referred to as ‘nano catalyst’, different types of aliens leave behind different amounts of the substance and collecting the stuff will earn you points that can be spent on various upgrades for your Nanosuit, such as faster regeneration, a cloak tracker (for detecting invisible foes), increased resistance to gunfire and so forth.  It is therefore vital that players eliminate as many of the aliens as possible in order to upgrade the suit as it will be needed as you progress through the game.  There is also a multitude of firearms which players can wield ranging from traditional weapons like the SCAR (Superior Combat Assault Rifle), Grendel Assault Rifle, Feline SMG, Jackal (semi-automatic shotgun), and various side arms to more exotic weaponry like the K-Volt (Electrostatic pellet SMG), M20 14 Gauss (electromagnetic anti material rifle) and X-43 Mike (Microwave Induced Klystron Emitter), these are just some of the available weapons and most of them are customizable too allowing you to switch out scopes, add silencers and so forth, all-in-all very impressive.

Some of the most mind-blowingly realistic scenarios seen in a game.

Crytek have made something of a name for themselves when it comes to the graphics department and Crysis 2 is no exception being the first game to feature the CryEngine 3 with Crysis 2 being lauded as the most visually impressive game ever created and it would certainly be difficult to dispute that claim as Crysis 2 is a beautiful-looking game.  Not since Half-Life 2 and Metal Gear Solid 4 have I stopped during a game just to take in and fully appreciate how awe-inspiring the graphics are (no point in harping on about shaders, anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering just check out the screens for proof, all in-game footage).  Crysis 2 had a multi-platform release, and while the console versions of the game look amazing, as Crytek CEO Cervat Yerli stated, the PC version is indeed graphically superior to its counterparts so needless to say you will require a pretty decent PC in order to run this game on extreme settings.

Not only was this scene somewhat harrowing (what with all the needles pointed in your direction) this is a good example of light-blooming done right, Syndicate could learn a thing or two here…

Conclusion

The only area that I can really fault Crysis 2 in is the linearity of the maps, and that’s only when compared to its predecessor,  though the open-world jungles are gone, Crysis 2 still offers plenty exploration in this concrete jungle setting, and a longer than average single-player campaign mode.  The addition of a multi-player mode further extends the longevity of Crysis 2,  rounding off an already impressive gaming experience.  The second and last gripe I have is that the few driving sections in the game are quite crap due to the awful handling of the vehicles but I’m really just nitpicking.  Otherwise, good AI, awesome visuals and an interesting single-player campaign make Crysis 2 a definite must for all first-person shooter fans.  Highly recommended.

Grade: A

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance Exclusive Trailer

While it does definitely look cool, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is certainly a far cry from the original series, whereas strategy and stealth played a key role in Solid Snake’s adventures, Raiden’s outing seems to be the exact opposite, resembling Devil May Cry more than anything else.  Spearheaded by Platinum Games in conjunction with Kojima Productions, only time will tell whether or not Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear magic will rub off on the Platinum Games design team.

Syndicate

Info:

Developer/s:Starbreeze Studios

Publisher/s: Electronic Arts

Platform/s: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360

Genre: First-person shooter

Release Date: 2012-02-24

Review:

In all their wisdom, Starbreeze Studios, in conjunction with EA Games, have decided that what gamers need, in a market saturated by tactical and first-person shooters is in fact, a tactical first-person shooter, set in a dystopic future-shiny world where you play as a corporate agent named Miles Kilo, for the mega-corporation known as ‘Eurocorp’.  Needless to say, since originality seems to be frowned upon in this day and age, Syndicate also happens to be a reboot of a series of games developed by (now defunct) Bullfrog Productions who were absorbed by EA in 2004.  Sounds like a winning formula…

An example of the DART 6 X-Ray overlay in action, for a limited time your enemies are slowed down in a 'bullet-time' fashion.

Syndicate’s premise is nothing new, the year is 2069, you play as Miles Kilo, Eurocorp’s latest and greatest agent equipped with a prototype chip called DART 6 created by scientist Lily Drawl.  Free will is at an all time low, and pretty much everything in the world is controlled by über-powerful mega-corporations.  As a Eurocorp agent, you are tasked with various wetwork missions to ensure that your company stays on top, so it’s a given that mass murder and assassination will be the order of the day.  Needless to say, all does not go smoothly as the overly predictable and crappy ‘badass hero gets betrayed by his boss’ plot device rears its ugly head rather quickly.  It’s so painfully dull that being slapped in the face with a fish would be exponentially more entertaining.  The generic plot is compounded further by archetypal characters that have about as much depth as a 2D cardboard cutout.  Two of the central characters, Lily Drawl (voiced by Rosario Dawson) and Jack Denham (voiced by Brian Cox) are instantly recognizable by their distinctive voices, yet if you were still unable to recognize them Starbreeze Studios have modeled the characters on the actual voice actors themselves which is kind of weird given that for the most part, you are bombarded by faceless nobodies.

The DART chip also allows players to hack into camera feeds at certain points in order to gain intel.

But it can’t all be that bad right? Well, the only redeeming factor of Syndicate is the innovation of the DART 6 bio-chip.  Apart from the stock-standard firearms (various assortments of pistols, automatic weapons, smart-guns etc) that a player can harness (in this case the player can carry two main weapons and grenades), the DART 6 chip offers a new dimension to the combat in the form of an X-Ray type overlay that slows down time similar to the ‘reflex-time’ mode from F.E.A.R. allowing you to pick off your enemies much faster as you move in real-time, though obviously this effect only lasts a few seconds and will require brief intervals in order to recharge.  The other prominent element of the DART 6 chip is the ability to hack into enemies minds – called ‘breaching’ thus presenting the player with three options; ‘Backfire’ – the enemy’s gun explodes stunning them, ‘Suicide’ – the enemy kills himself and damages nearby foes,  and ‘Persuade’ – where the enemy temporarily becomes your ally.  The three breaching abilities also require recharging after use and charging can be expedited by successive kills, however there’s not much strategy involved in picking which breach to use as it’s more of a matter of which one is available first.  Certain enemies such as end-of-level guardians or plot-sensitive characters can be ‘chip-ripped’ and once their bio-chip has been extracted it offers the player additional upgrades such as improved armour, faster regeneration and so forth.  The DART 6 chip can also be used to hack locked doors, elevators, automated turrets, as well as certain shielded enemies that are invulnerable until their defenses are breached.

Extracting bio-chips earns your player valuable upgrades.

As far as game-play goes, Syndicate is a washed-down version of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, there’s no need for stealth, character building or conversation as you march from one location to the next hosing down anything that moves in a rain of gunfire.  The environments are also populated by civilians who will cower in fear the moment you start shooting, the player is able to kill them indiscriminately and without consequence, and in fact the civilians don’t even seem like people, instead merely there to occupy empty space.  The boss battles are also horribly frustrating as the difficulty spikes from being infuriating to absolutely insane to the point where any level of fun has been replaced by Vegeta levels of anger, so expect plenty rage quits.  Sadly, much like the characters, the locations seem to be horribly dull and ‘samey’ as you move from one monolithic structure to the next.  In a way, Syndicate feels a lot like F.E.A.R. but without the psychological-thriller aspect that made the latter fun and interesting. It’s also worth noting that Syndicate’s single-player campaign can be completed in a mere 5 – 6 hours so you may want to think twice before handing over your hard-earned cash.

The LTB Thermite gun (flamethrower) originally designed to quell public riots, also effective for turning people into screaming bacon bits...

Finally, the worst aspect of the game has to be the visuals.  While the graphics aren’t too bad at all, with certain sequences looking pretty awesome, Starbreeze Studio’s overuse of blooming has made Syndicate almost unplayable for the most part as the overdone lighting effects will obscure the player’s view completely resulting in severe eye-strain.  Syndicate is broken up into chapters called ‘milestones’ and in fact during milestone 13 the game was completely unplayable as whenever I moved in any direction the screen would repeatedly flash white (though in this case I’m pretty sure this was some kind of bug), I managed to get around this by using the developer console Ctrl+Alt+~ and typing the command xr_effectmodels 0, oddly enough, typing the command once more returned all the lighting effects and got rid of the flashing white screen, though in the end it’s still only a temporary workaround for a persistent visual problem.

This is a prime example of the overdone lighting effects that plague the game throughout. It's actually so bad it causes eye strain and headaches, and needless to say you can't see shit...

Conclusion

While the DART 6 feature is an innovative aspect of the game, Syndicate fails on too many levels to make it really worth any of your time, apart from the terrible overuse of lighting effects which render the game almost unplayable at times, there have reportedly been several other glitches (in one section I encountered a horrid graphic flaw) including intermittent freezing which have led many to think that Syndicate has not been compiled properly, combined with over-used plot devices, uninspired locations, little-to-no character development as well as what may be the crappiest ending to a game ever and you get a title that drowns in an ocean of mediocrity and generic tedium. Is the gaming industry really so hard-up for fresh ideas that they need to reboot a series that was last seen in 1996? Avoid.

Grade: D

Rage

Info:

Developer/s: id Software

Publisher/s: Bethesda Softworks

Platform/s: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows

Genre: First-person shooter, adventure, semi-open world

Release Date: 2011-09-04

id Software is one of the heavy-hitters in the computer and video-game industry, perhaps best known for Doom, a game that pretty much pioneered the first-person shooter genre, Doom has been the influential building blocks for games of its ilk for decades now.  With Doom came the first id Tech engine which would eventually pave the way for id Tech 5, the engine used by Rage.  Since id Software only releases a new game once every few years – their last game being Enemy Territory: Quake Wars which was released back in 2007 – the company always builds excitement and much anticipation with each new title.  And so, almost four years later, Rage has been released showcasing the new id Tech 5 engine (which will be used in the forthcoming, Doom 4), but will it live up to the high expectations or be crushed beneath the myriad of other first-person shooters available?

The premise is this –  a huge asteroid named Apophis impacts with Earth on August 23, 2029.  The planet is devastated, the few remaining pockets of humanity rejoin to create settlements in the remaining habitable locations.  These settlements are fiercely defended from the mutants and bandits that now populate what is referred to as The Wasteland.  You play as an Ark survivor – Ark was a scientific faction that froze scientists and other prolific candidates in underground cryo-pods so that they may survive the catastrophe and rebuild civilization.  You awaken from your Ark pod 106 years later, in a world populated by madmen, mutants and The Authority – the de facto government faction, and having no memory of who you are or what your purpose is, it’s up to you to discover the truth…and stay alive.

Persistent low-resolution textures prevented the game from actually looking this amazing...

Rage draws a lot of inspiration from the Mad Max film series as it’s set in a dystopic future setting where the world has been reduced to a desert-type landscape after a huge cataclysm and rampant factions are in control.  Rage even acknowledges its similarity to the film with various references throughout the game, a nice touch indeed.  Much like Mad Max, driving plays a large role in Rage.  Starting off with a simple quad bike, you will soon upgrade to a souped-up vehicle of destruction as you navigate from one town to the next, all the while fighting off bandit doom buggies and Authority tanks.  Racing also plays a large role in this game, as winning races earns you the means to upgrade your vehicle into something truly formidable.  Though the racing is entirely optional (save for a few sections requiring you to race in order to progress the main plot) it is highly recommended as the landscape is populated by outlaws that will attempt to kill you as you navigate The Wasteland.  The benefits of purchasing upgrades for your vehicle will allow you to dispatch your foes more easily and the driving component of Rage is an extremely fun one drawing heavy influence from games like Borderlands and MotorStorm.

One of many bandits you will encounter...aim for the face.

The driving aspect however is a secondary component to what is fundamentally a first-person shooter.  Like the majority of id Software’s creations, you play as a lone warrior who navigates the game environment (for the most part) in first-person along a somewhat linear path.  Though The Wasteland is quite open-ended, and there is a decent amount of exploration to be had, it serves as a conduit from one locale to the next (kind of like the word map in an old Final Fantasy game) as you will most likely navigate the landscape quite quickly in order to get on with the main plot.  You will also find that while the maps seem to be expansive, in actuality they are quite linear, allowing very little chance for players to become lost or frustrated.  The game is linear by design in that, you go to a town, meet a person (be it a mayor, sheriff, resistance leader or what have you), are given missions and then set off to do them in order to progress the main plot.  Thankfully, I found the story to be quite engrossing, and because the game mechanics are just so satisfyingly fun, the linear game design never deterred from the game’s atmosphere and overall enjoyment.

When these rush you, don't be shy with your bullets.

Though entertaining, the game-play mechanics are somewhat predictable in that Rage works with event triggers.  To elaborate, for example you could be in a section devoid of enemies until such a point where you reach a switch or entrance-way that will trigger a barrage of enemies for you to dispatch (much like Doom 3).  The number of enemies is always finite and oftentimes you will be required to kill all of them before you can progress.  Thankfully, Rage employs some pretty good enemy AI and proves to be quite challenging at times, with enemies strafing, ducking for cover, flanking and sometimes when they’ve received too much opposing gunfire, they’ll retreat all together.  The enemies are also rather diverse, ranging from bandits, mutants, armoured enforcers and so forth and in the traditional id style, expect to contend with various imposing end of level guardians.  Apart from the main quest, there are a myriad of sub-quests to partake in as a lot of the world’s denizens have favours to ask or jobs that need doing.  Whether you’re required to escort a convoy, snipe mutants or destroy outlaw buggies, there is always something to do in The Wasteland, rewarding you with either money, guns and ammo or some rare and useful item.

The striker crossbow, brilliant for stealth kills, though shooting enemies pointblank in the chest works too...

So what would an id shooter be without a huge array of destructive weaponry?  Well, fear not, because Rage delivers in spades with an arsenal ranging from the usual stock pistol, shotgun etc to more exotic weaponry such as wingsticks (a three-pronged sort of boomerang), striker crossbow (complete with mind-control arrows), Authority pulse cannon and more.  While your ‘fists of rage’ are rather effective in a brawl, you’ll want to upgrade to some sort of firearm fairly early into the game as it’s just so damn satisfying to unload a clip into some mutated degenerate or outlaw reprobate.  Weapons are intuitive, fun to use and have a satisfying oomph to them.  Be sure to have a fair amount of coin though as large quantities of dough will be spent upgrading your guns or purchasing untold amounts of ammunition.  I also highly recommend that you stock up on ammo before each mission as you’ll be needing it…

Unfortunately, Rage is not without flaws and though there are only a few problems, the most frustrating of all is definitely the terrible amount of pixel-popping present throughout the entire game.  Basically, you will be looking at something in the game, be it a mountain, weapon, person or whatever and it will appear low resolution until the proper textures kick in a few seconds later.  I’ve never seen textures delayed to this degree before and it really kills the overall enjoyment of the game.  In fact, some of the textures never pop up in certain sections (like the urban environments or dark corners of a building), with the result that one is left staring at a blank, non-detailed piece of scenery resembling something from the PSX era.  Disappointing indeed, as well as unexpected as id Software is known for its highly impressive game-engines.  Though it seems that Carmack is aware of this problem and I read an article stating that the game was originally over 100gigs, but that the developers had to compress it down to something ‘workable’ so that it could be stored onto DVD and Blu-Ray.  I imagine this was a cause of much frustration to the texture artists who spent years working on the game.  The general consensus is that the PS3 version looks the most impressive with PC a close second (PC version has had a myriad of problems) and then with Xbox 360 placing last.  Though I imagine that realistically the PC version (given the available hardware) would be the best-looking in the end.  As far as I know, there has been no patch or update released for the PS3 version addressing the pixel-popping bug.  Apart from the low-res textures , the game-engine is truly beautiful – the skies look amazing, the environments are richly detailed and interesting and the character models are brilliant.  The id Tech 5 engine is truly a masterwork and I look forward to seeing what other third-party developers will be able to squeeze out of it.

Authority troops in action.

The only other gripe that I have with Rage is that the game ends too abruptly, with the final level being a complete cake-walk, I spent every last penny I had on ammunition expecting a final battle to end all battles only to be left feeling cheated and disappointed.  Rage could really have benefited from another 10 – 15 hours game-play but oh well, what can you do?

Conclusion

Rage is a highly addictive, engrossing game and a worthy addition to id Software’s library of kick-assery, unfortunately, some unnecessary (for today’s standards) texture problems and a half-baked ending detract from the overall enjoyment of what could have easily been the best first-person shooter of the year.  Otherwise, Rage is a worthy addition to your gaming library, I just hope that id Tech 5’s texture problems don’t carry over to future releases.

Grade: B+