Monday, September 26, 2022

Mass Effect (PC) Review

I finished this game on Thursday, December 10, 2009, 8:44:00 PM. This review was first published on GameSpot on Mar 07, 2010

Mass Effect is the first Bioware I played. I went in, knowing nothing about the game. My initial impressions of the game were far from good. I found the combat quite tedious and the game was really slow. I was sort of expecting that, having played games like Deus Ex. Mass effect has a much bigger world. In fact it's gigantic. I have to applaud the level design here.

Closer to home A lot of people don't seem to have liked the planet exploration aspect; I for one loved it. The surreal feeling you get when you are on Normandy and open up the galaxy map and get to see all the star systems is really fantastic. I wonder if anyone remembers the music when open the map, it's a resonating sound that's really appropriate when you are gazing into the heavens.

Having teammates in the game is both good and bad. I've had the same team mates for most of the game - Tali and Liara. I liked their abilities and they provide a good balance. What I did not like was the behavior at times. More often than not, they do not take cover and rush into combat and dying shortly after making me reload the game. It's also hard to make them go where you want them to or to get them to stop following you into combat. It's not as broken as it sounds, it's definitely playable, but it can be very annoying at times. Thankfully you have the power to bring them back to life later on the game; it's definitely needed.

People on the forums said that the side missions are boring and there is no real reason to play them. I thought they were fantastic, especially for someone who is following the story. Just shows the effort BioWare put into this game. What was boring were the long elevator rides. That is a nice way to disguise a load screen, but it gets boring considering how long the game is.

What did not live up to the quality to the rest of the game is the inventory system, which is by far the clunkiest system I have ever seen. The different kind of ammo upgrades that tend to accumulate over a period of time is a little ridiculous. Of course, all the material in the inventory is not entirely useless; it can be used to convert into Omni Gel, which in turn can be used to hack electronics.

The one vehicle we get to drive in the game, Mako, handles in a weird way. It seems weightless at times, and that makes it hard to control.

What truly stands out though is the story telling. All the little choices you make during the game have an impact later on. The conversation trees are really well made.

Mass Effect is easily one of the best games I ever played.

+ Story
+ Conversation
+ Graphics
+ Music
+ Voice acting
+ Level design
+ Graphics
+ Exploration
+ Replay value

- Inventory system
- Teammate AI
- Combat
- Squad command
- Elevator rides

Verdict - Must play

BioShock (PC) Review

I finished this game on Tuesday, February 16, 2010, 9:45:00 PM. This review was first published on Saturday, May 1, 2010.

BioShock for me is one of those games that I had a hard time getting into. Unlike most people who were mesmerized with the setting of Rapture, I sort of found it a little dull. I persisted nevertheless and it paid off.

It has a very unique setting - an underwater city. Set in the 1960s, the game captures the feel of the era very well. Beginning with a plane crash in the Atlantic that leads the main character Jack into the underwater city Rapture, which is the brainchild of visionary, Andrew Ryan. The story is not very clear right from the start, but it unravels soon enough. The idea of telling the story through audio logs is not particularly revolutionary, we have seen an attempt made in Doom 3, which had a huge collection of audio logs and diaries. That went by virtually unacknowledged, and Doom 3 was accused of not having a story at all. Not so here. Voice acting is brilliant. Story is a little complex to understand at the beginning, its easy to get the big picture, but the nuances aren't very clear. It took me a little bit of time to connect all the dots.

Having gone through the process of connecting the dots, the story makes a lot more sense, and I can tell you, this game has one of the most interesting plots in games, its way up there with Deus Ex. To those of you who did not play this game, there can't be that many of you, don't read any more, just play the game. The plot twists are going to come as a bit of a surprise.

It was important that BioShock had a strong plot because initially the gameplay was a bit of a let down. The gun play is very weak. The Unreal 2.5 engine looks surprisingly dated at times, and plays poorly in the beginning. That is not to say its bad, but the weapons seem very unwieldy. Perhaps this is intentional? I don't know. This was one of the reasons I found it hard getting into the game. As the game progresses, there are better weapons available, along with different kinds of ammo. Machine gun initially handled very poorly for me. I preferred the pistol a lot more. There are much better weapons to be had in the later part of the game though. I loved the crossbow and the shotgun the most. The chemical thrower comes in very handy towards the end.

The plasmids however, steal the show. The fire and electric plasmids were by far my favorites. There are a whole lot of other plasmids available but I didn't like them a whole lot. The Telekinesis is something like the gravity gun in Half-Life 2, but the physics in the game were not as good. It is a fairly useful ability to have though. Apart from the core plasmids, there are tons of tonics that will add abilities. There is a lot of room for customization here, it sort of reminds me Deus Ex.

There are some really bad design decisions that I found really irritating, such as re-spawning Big Daddys. It just gets really pointless after a while.

The vita chambers are not among the bad design decisions though. They were controversial but I cannot imagine why. They made the game more free flowing for me. This sort of a setup won't work for every game, but it did here. Considering how strong the a Big Daddy is, I am glad the vita chambers exit.

There are a few different endings for the game. It depends on how much ADAM the player harvests. Harvesting ADAM would involving killing the Little Sisters. The characters will play some psychological games trying to either encourage or discourage the player from harvesting ADAM. This is quite well done.

After a slow start, BioShock turned things around, and I have immensely enjoyed it. It is not your usual game, and but the story telling, and atmosphere are top notch. There are traces of the game being a console port, which were really disappointing.

+ Atmosphere
+ Story
+ Voice acting
+ Plasmids
+ Vita chambers

- Weak gunplay initially
- Re-spawning enemies

Verdict – Must play.

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Age of Empires III (PC) Review

I played Age of Empires 3 for the first time in 2005. My machine at the time was not powerful enough to handle this game, so I went back to AOE II. 17 years later, I picked up this game on Steam.

I paid $5.99 for the definitive edition, which includes Warchiefs and Asian Dynasties. I also purchased the United States Civilization for $2.49. I am yet to play any skirmish matches with United States Civilization. I played all the story missions including the expansions.

I am by no means a strategy games expert. I do not play PvP. I wanted to play all the campaign missions, and because the game was on sale, I decided to take a chance.

I am glad I did because I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the game. The main campaign missions are quite well done. The story begins during the early settlement of the new world, and goes all the way to the founding of America. There are some very interesting missions here.

The expansions are also quite well done for the most part. The highlight of the expansions for me were the Japanese missions.There is something aesthetically pleasing about the Japanese setting. I liked the Chinese missions the least. There is nothing particularly wrong with them, I just did not find them very interesting. The Indian missions are quite good too, but the story is rather comical. They made The East India Company the cartoon villain and whether there is any truth to this, I am not sure. It did not stop me from having a decent time with the missions.

Graphics in the game are excellent. The snow covered landscape of New England, desert canyons of the south west, tropical jungles of South America, the visuals are very striking. I do not know if this is because of HD textures that were added in the modern edition or if they always looked this good. Explosions, water effects, and physics in game are all very well done.

In addition to excellent graphics it also works great at ultra wide resolution. I played this game at 3440x1440 resolution, and it ran perfectly fine. I also occasionally played it at 1080p in windowed mode. I was very pleased with the graphics and gameplay options. I wish all PC games implemented options like this.

Gameplay is much the same as the previous versions. There are certain choices that focus on efficiency, which may not be well liked by veterans. I am ambivalent to this change. Logging camps and mining camps are no longer needed to collect resources.

In fact resource gathering is far more rudimentary now than it was in AOE II. There are only 3 resources to gather - food, wood and gold. Other than wood, there are infinite options for both food and gold. In Asian Dynasties, rice paddy can be used to farm food and gold. It's rather bizarre, but it's not game breaking or anything. There are some odd choices made with unit production. Indian villagers require wood instead of food. Seems rather arbitrary.

Naval combat in this game is very underwhelming. The scale of the map does not allow for large- scale naval battles. AOE II did this a lot better. The map scale is smaller than AOE II. Certain AOE II maps are absolutely massive such as Bukhara and Dos Pilas. No such maps exist in AOE III. It's not a deal breaker, but the advance in technology did not bring us bigger, better maps.

It took well over 60 hours for me to get through the entire campaign (including the expansions). I totally got my money’s worth. In hindsight, I should not have purchased the DLC for it. I don't see myself going back to playing skirmish matches. I am currently playing AOE2 Definitive Edition. I think overall, I enjoy AOE2 more than AOE3, but you can't go wrong for the price.

I look forward to playing AOE I and AOE IV some day. For the price I paid for it, I recommend this game.

+ Visuals
+ Graphics & gameplay options
+ Interesting main campaign
+ Expansions

- Smaller scale maps
- Naval combat
- Arbitrary choices for resource requirement