Friday, December 29, 2023

Call of Juarez (PC) Review

Call of Juarez annoyed me.

Released in 2006, Call of Juarez is an FPS set in the Wild West. I should have loved this game, but I didn't.

Considering the game was released 17 years ago, the visuals still hold up. Compared to most of the gray and brown shooters released around this time, this game stands out with colorful visuals. They successfully portrayed Mexico in a way that avoids the visual style of a Breaking Bad episode.

The story follows two characters, Billy Candle and Rev. Ray McCall, one seeking treasure and the other redemption. Techland explored the idea of finding redemption in the Wild West long before Rockstar. However, the story is not quite as interesting, and the voice acting can be amateurish at times.

Shooting is clunky and the weapon degradation does not help at all. McCall is more fun to play because you get to use guns, but the downside is that between episodes, you don't get to preserve weapons. There is no ADS when using pistols, and at times, you have to engage enemies at a distance. There are a lot of post-processing effects that obscure visibility, and fighting enemies with pistols at a distance is a frustrating experience.

But by far the most annoying mechanics are the melee combat and duels. I can forgive the awkward melee combat but detest the duels. I remember playing the demo way back in the day and hating it. That hasn't changed 17 years later.

There is very little player agency during duels. The mouse has a mind of its own. The game runs at over 200FPS on my machine, and I get the feeling that made things worse. I restricted the frame rate to 60 using RTSS, and I think it made the experience marginally better. In my opinion, it's incredibly bad game design to lock a player into a specific situation and impose very narrow criteria for success.

Billy leans more towards stealth, and using a bow is fun. However, the worst part about playing as Billy is the platform sections. First-person games around this time were not smooth enough to attempt first-person platforming. To say these sections are awkward and boring would be an understatement.

The game's default control scheme is a little weird. Horse sprint is mapped to Caps Lock on default. Why not use Shift? Who thought this was a good idea?

The disappointing part is that this could have been a timeless classic, but needlessly poor design choices prevent this game from reaching its potential.

Friday, December 22, 2023

Darkness II (PC) Review

I have not played The Darkness I because it was never released on the PC. Not having played the first game should not stop someone from playing this game. Just watch a YouTube video about the story of the first game, and you will be all caught up on the story. I should also mention that I knew nothing about the comics before playing this game.

A direct sequel to the first game, in The Darkness II, you resume the role of Jackie who is possessed by Darkness, which gives the player control of the demon and its underling.

From a technical perspective, I played this game in 2023 on i7-6700k, Nvidia 1080Ti at 2560x1440. Since this is a console port, it doesn't work well when the game is running at a very high framerate. Enabling VSync, should take care of these issues. This means that the game is going to run at a steady 60FPS, and while this is not ideal, I didn't mind it too much considering how old the game is.

The story doesn't pull any punches. From dialogue to gameplay, this is a game meant for mature audiences.

Combat is the real highlight here. In the right situations, when everything works, it is a lot of fun. Darkness abilities are a lot of fun to use, and using objects in the level to attack enemies is very well done. The one big complaint I had was the visual overload at times. The gameplay involves sticking to shadows, which gives you access to dark powers. Oftentimes in combat enemies will use light beams and these are blinding. They should have toned down the effects. I am willing to bet its not as bad when viewing this on a TV, but on a monitor it becomes really annoying and induces headaches.

In addition to this, the weapon system is clunky as well. You use Q and E to interact with objects. Pressing E allows you to eat hearts, which replenish your health. E is also used to swap weapons on the ground. When there are a lot of enemies and objects on the ground, you have to be careful about pressing E, or else you end up switching weapons without meaning to. It is aggravating in the heat of the battle and can get you killed. This could have been easily solved by automatically getting health from enemies, and without needing to go through the animation.

I got this game in a Humble Bundle for $1 (along with some other games). I got my money's worth. It takes about 6 hours to finish it, and its fun. I would not recommend paying the absurd non sale price of $29.99. If you can find it for around ~$3, and if you enjoy action games, go for it.

Verdict - Buy on deep discount.

Sunday, December 17, 2023

Mirror's Edge Catalyst (PC) Review

The best parkour game I ever played, with a thoroughly forgettable story

I played and enjoyed Mirror's Edge back in 2009. It always puzzled me why DICE took so long to give us a sequel.

When the game first came out, the reviews were some what mixed and I don't think it was available on Steam. I recently picked it up on Steam for $1.99. Mirror's Edge Catalyst brings the free-running action from the first game, and makes almost everything better. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

This game shines on the PC, taking full advantage of the hardware capabilities. The graphics are crisp, and the performance is smooth, delivering an immersive experience without any noticeable hiccups or technical glitches. Optimization on PC deserves applause, ensuring that players can fully enjoy the breathtaking world. I played the game at 3440x1440 on my 3080Ti, and the performance was flawless.

The world deserves a very special mention here. The vibrant and minimalist architecture with striking colors, creates a visually stunning environment. I don't think I have seen a this kind of world design in any other game.

I remember combat in the first game being quite bad. Thankfully, combat in this game is much better. I wouldn't call it great, but its not the mess it was in the first game.

Unfortunately, the narrative falls short of the game's visually stunning world. The story in Mirror's Edge Catalyst is boring and fails to create a compelling reason for players to care about the main character's journey. I got bored within the first 10 minutes, and I couldn't tell you what the story was about, because I quit caring.

The cringe-worthy dialogue further exacerbates the poor narrative. Characters often deliver lines that feel forced and artificial, breaking the immersion and detracting from the overall experience. Thw world is very immersive, the story and dialogue are exactly the opposite. While the focus on parkour and action is evident, a stronger narrative could have elevated the game beyond its visual appeal. Thankfully, you can skip cut-scenes.

Navigating the rooftops of the city is a lot of fun. PC controls are intuitive and responsive. The keyboard and mouse setup feels natural, allowing for precise movements during intense parkour sequences. For the most part. There are situations where platforming can be challenging, but overall, I loved the parkour, and this speaks for the great PC optimization.

In conclusion, Mirror's Edge Catalyst on PC is one hell of a game, especially for the price I paid for it. The visuals are stunning and parkour is smooth and polished. The story is boring, and the dialogue is cringe. Just based on principle double DRM is always wrong, and EA App is terrible as ever. I thoroughly recommend this game.

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Tomb Raider Anniversary (PC) Review

Tomb Raider: Anniversary is a beautifully remade version of the classic 1996 game. It features modernized controls that are very much like Tomb Raider Legend, and while the majority of the game excels, subpar boss battles detract from the experience. The game's remastered visuals are fantastic, and the developers took some minor creative liberties with the level design, making the game better for it. I thoroughly enjoyed playing through iconic levels such as The Lost Valley, Palace Midas, and St. Francis Folly. The Tomb Raider Legend engine holds up very well.

Navigating the intricate tombs and solving puzzles remains the highlight of the Tomb Raider experience. The developers have managed to retain the essence of the original's challenging puzzles while incorporating smoother controls. The platforming elements, a core aspect of the series although not perfect, feel responsive and engaging.

The audio design preserves the original sounds and enhances nostalgia, but the soundtrack becomes obnoxious during some boss battles.

Boss battles in this game are simply awful. The combat mechanics overall are not great, and the boss battles are even worse. The biggest issue is the adrenaline dodge mechanic, which is necessary to defeat a boss. This involves dodging an enemy that is running towards you, and when the circle turns red, you have to press fire to damage the enemy. Without activating this dodge, it is impossible to win, no matter how much you shoot at the boss. I faced this issue while trying to kill the big mutant boss in Atlantis and had to give up on the game, as I tried everything from reducing graphics, lowering FPS to lowering the resolution, but nothing worked. This is beyond poor game design. This means that no further progress can be made.

There are some technical issues with Tomb Raider: Anniversary on PC, particularly related to the game's FPS. If the game is running at a frame rate higher than 60 FPS, some aspects of the game may not work as expected. To resolve this issue, I had to limit the frame rate to 60 FPS using RTSS.

Tomb Raider: Anniversary is was a good game overall. It managed to capture the essence of the original game quite well, but the boss battles tarnished the game. They were disappointing and felt like a blemish on an otherwise well-crafted experience. Unfortunately, I was unable to complete the final two boss fights due to technical issues. While I only paid $0.98 for the game, I feel that it was worth the price. However, I wouldn't recommend spending more than that on it.

Verdict - A great adventure marred by awful boss battles.

Red Dead Redemption 2 (PC) Review

I had planned to write an extensive review of Red Dead Redemption 2, but before I do, let me just say that if you enjoy open-world games with excellent graphics and haven't played this game yet, then stop reading and buy it now. I would hate to spoil the joy of discovering what this game has to offer.

Red Dead Redemption 2 is a sequel-prequel to the original game, and based on my experience, it surpasses its predecessor in every aspect. Unfortunately, the original game was never released on PC, denying PC gamers the chance to experience it. Despite the latest remaster of Red Dead Redemption not being available on PC, I'm glad that Rockstar decided to release Red Dead Redemption 2 on PC.

I played the Steam version of Red Dead Redemption 2 in 2023 on a powerful machine with an i7 12700k processor, GeForce RTX 3080Ti graphics card, and 64GB of RAM, running at 3440x1440 on the highest graphics settings. The game ran smoothly at mostly 60-70FPS with DLSS set to Quality. For those with less powerful machines, I recommend enabling DLSS, as this game is resource-intensive.

The game's visuals are stunning, with its open-world environment spanning different settings, from snowy mountains to great plains, redwood forests, swamps, and the desert landscape of the Southern United States and Mexico. The weather system adds to the immersion, such as riding your horse on the great plains during a thunderstorm. In terms of visual design, Red Dead Redemption 2 surpasses even The Witcher 3.

However, it's not just the visuals that make this game great. Its level of interactivity, side quest design, variety of gameplay, interesting characters, and Easter Eggs contribute to the overall experience. Rockstar's talent is evident when compared to other open-world games, such as those created by UbiSoft, which lack the same level of creativity and originality.

Despite the amount of focus given to creating a stunning open world, one might assume that Rockstar overlooked the importance of the game's storyline. However, this is not the case. The game's story is well-crafted and engaging, which is no easy feat considering the campaign is over 50 hours long. The voice acting is arguably the best I have ever experienced in any video game, even surpassing that of The Witcher 3 and Cyberpunk 2077. While I won't delve into the specific details of the story, I can assure you that it is exceptionally well done, with one of the most memorable final acts I've experienced in any game to date.

While the game is undoubtedly impressive overall, there are certain areas where it falls short, especially on the PC. The UX design feels subpar and gives the impression that it was created by someone who has never played games on a computer before. The menu navigation is frustrating and overly complicated. To switch between weapons, you need to hold Tab and press Q and E, which is a poor design choice. It would have been better to use an inventory option similar to that for items that you are carrying instead of the clunky weapon wheel.

The game has some mechanics that are quite unusual, especially the weapon system. As a player, you have two slots for long guns - the shoulder slot and the back slot. However, when you are riding a horse, the character puts away the weapons, and they become "horse weapons". When you dismount from the horse, the weapons should teleport back onto you, but sometimes that doesn't happen. This can be frustrating, especially when you need to quickly engage enemies and you realized that you no longer have the weapons you previously equipped. It would be easier if the weapons stayed on your person all the time. It's unclear why this feature was added to the game in the first place.

Customizing your outfits is another clunky mess of navigating multiple menus, and then having to store these outfits on the horse. Why? Other games have solved this problem. There was no reason to try and reinvent the wheel here.

A lot of effort appears to have gone into making animation for simple actions, and while impressive at first, they can become repetitive and dull after several hours of gameplay.

There is also no quick save. Thankfully there is a manual save option, but that doesn't quite work the way one might intuitively think it might. The lack of quick save option is unacceptable for an open-world game.

To add insult to injury, you need to create a Rockstar account to play the game, which launches via the Rockstar Game Launcher after launching the game via Steam. This double DRM process needs to be eliminated. There is no good reason for game companies to require paying customers to jump through hoops to play a game. Pure corporate greed.

I am definitely nitpicking here with my complaints (except for double DRM which is just the worst), because in spite of these annoyances, I played this game for over 190 hours, and I am still not done yet. There are more places to explore, and more animals to hunt, and bounties to collect.

The last Rockstar game I played was GTA IV, which I hated due to the atrocious requirement of Games For Windows Live and other technical issues with the PC port. I had very little hope for Red Dead Redemption 2 on the PC, but despite their best efforts, it turned out to be a fantastic game. Now, I am eagerly waiting for Red Dead Redemption 3, which I hope to play in 2030.

Sunday, November 5, 2023

Handbreak Settings for ShadowPlay Recordings

I record a lot of gameplay footage using Nvidia ShadowPlay. I play most games on my ultrawide monitor at a resolution of 3440x1440. At times, the file sizes can balloon up to over 10GB with a target bit rate is 50Mbps.

In an effort to reduce the storage size, and not to have to upgrade my hard drive, I decided to explore Handbreak to compress and encode some of the videos I recorded. After doing some research, here are the settings I picked, which seem to find the right balance between compression and quality.

In the Summary tab, check the Web Optimized option.

In the Dimensions tab, set the target video resolution, which for me is 3440x1440.

For Audio, I went with mp3 codec and set the gain to +5

The settings on the Video tab might require some tweaking based on the desired quality. In this specific example, I encoded an 8.92 GB video down to <>. The important things that affect the quality of the produced video are these -

- Video Encoder - H.265 10-bit (NVEnc)
- Framerate - Same as source
- Encoder Preset - Slowest
- Constant Quality - 28

Using the CPU to do the encoding is extremely slow compared to NVEnc encoder. The quality difference between CPU encoding and NVEnd encoding is not discernible to me, and it is also not very taxing on the system.

Constant Quality vs Average Bit Rate

I debated between using Avg Bitrate and Constant Quality. Turns out that Handbreak recommends using Constant Quality over Average Bitrate.

Constant Quality vs Average Bit Rate

It appears that the recommended way of doing things is by using Constant Quality over Average Bit Rate. I did however notice that there are situations where Average Bit Rate is preferable to using CQ, such as when encoding a video file, and I am not particularly concerned about preserving quality as reducing the file size. I tend to look at the existing bit rate, and then perhaps target 30% of it.

The following video is a ShadowPlay recording which was encoded using the above settings.

Here is the encoding log. The entire job took around 30 minutes.

Sunday, October 1, 2023

Frontlines Fuel of War (PC) Review

A game with massive potential that sadly never lived up to it.

Frontlines Fuel of War tells the story of a world in conflict between Western Alliance and Red Star Alliance forces. The game takes place in Turkmenistan, and moves into Moscow towards the end.

This is a typical mid 2000s modern military shooter. I never had the chance to play multiplayer and the single player is very average with blurry textures, very poor weapon handling, thoroughly forgettable story, bad voice acting and bad enemy AI. There are mechanics in this game that are better than an average Call of Duty campaign such as open ended levels, and vehicles etc. but it is very hard to get past the mediocrity of the rest of the game.

I can’t stress enough how poor weapon handling is. There are two viable weapons, the sniper and the shotgun, this is because everything else is terrible. There are also drones that can be controlled by the player, which make an interesting addition to the game.

Vehicles are surprisingly good. Tanks, LAVs and even an attack chopper are quite fun to pilot.

At the current full price of $19.99, I cannot recommend it.

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Infinite Backlog

As of Sunday September 17, 2023, I am looking at the games I own, and it is clear that I will not be able to finish or even play all of them in my lifetime. So I decided to make a list of games that I intend to finish or at least give my best shot.

I have 111 games listed in my backlog. It appears as if it will take 111 days of playtime to finish all these games. I am not sure how I am going to playthrough all these games, and also fit in Halo: Master Chief Collection, Cyberpunk 2077 Phantom Liberty, and the next Battlefield game.

The stats show that the most single player games I completed in a single year is 17, in 2009. At that rate, if I play nothing else except the games on the list, it will take me six and a half years to finish this backlog. Probably right in time for Red Dead Redemption 3!

How can I ever justify buying any new games when the backlog is as massive as this? I still want to buy Halo: Master Chief Collection and do another playthrough of Cyberpunk 2077 with Phantom Liberty.

  • Assassin's Creed Chronicles: China
  • Assassin's Creed Chronicles: India
  • Assassin's Creed Chronicles: Russia
  • Assassin's Creed Odyssey
  • Assassin's Creed Origins
  • Bastion
  • Batman: Arkham City GOTY
  • Batman: Arkham Knight
  • Batman: Arkham Origins
  • BioShock 2
  • Blood Omen 2: Legacy of Kain
  • BloodRayne
  • Borderlands
  • Borderlands 2
  • Borderlands 3
  • Borderlands: Game of the Year
  • Brothers in Arms: Earned in Blood
  • Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30
  • Burnout Paradise
  • Call of Juarez
  • Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood
  • Cities XL Platinum
  • Colin McRae Rally
  • Company of Heroes 2
  • Darksiders II: Deathinitive Edition
  • Dead Space
  • Death Stranding
  • Desperados 2: Cooper's Revenge
  • Desperados III
  • Desperados III: Money for the Vultures - Part 1: Late To The Party
  • Desperados III: Money for the Vultures - Part 2: Five Steps Ahead
  • Desperados III: Money for the Vultures - Part 3: Once More With Feeling
  • Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
  • Dishonored
  • Dishonored 2
  • Dishonored: Death of the Outsider
  • Doom Eternal
  • Dragon Age: Origins - Ultimate Edition
  • Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen
  • Dying Light
  • F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin
  • F.E.A.R. 3
  • Fallout 4: Game of the Year Edition
  • Fallout: New Vegas - Ultimate Edition
  • Far Cry 4
  • Frontlines: Fuel of War
  • Full Spectrum Warrior
  • Grand Theft Auto V
  • Grim Dawn
  • Hard West
  • Helldorado
  • Hidden & Dangerous 2
  • Hidden & Dangerous: Action Pack
  • Hitman
  • Hitman: Blood Money
  • Homefront: The Revolution
  • James Bond 007: Blood Stone
  • Just Cause 4
  • Mafia
  • Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes
  • Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
  • Middle-Earth: Shadow of War
  • Mirror's Edge: Catalyst
  • Mortal Kombat: Komplete Edition
  • Moto Racer 2
  • Murdered: Soul Suspect
  • Need For Speed Heat
  • Need for Speed: Most Wanted
  • PC Building Simulator
  • Planescape: Torment
  • Prey
  • Prince of Persia
  • Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands
  • Project: Snowblind
  • Psychonauts
  • Rage 2
  • Red Faction: Guerrilla - Re-Mars-tered
  • Rise of the Tomb Raider
  • Risen
  • Robin Hood: The Legend of Sherwood
  • Saints Row IV: Re-Elected
  • Saints Row: The Third
  • Shadow of the Tomb Raider
  • Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun
  • Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition
  • Soma
  • Star Wars: Battlefront II
  • Star Wars: Empire At War - Gold Pack
  • Subnautica
  • The Darkness II
  • The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion - Game of the Year Edition
  • The Lord of the Rings: War in the North
  • The Outer Worlds: Spacer's Choice Edition
  • Thief
  • Titan Quest: Anniversary Edition
  • Titanfall 2
  • Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2
  • Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Vegas 2
  • Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory
  • Tomb Raider: Underworld
  • Torchlight II
  • Trine 2
  • Tropico 4
  • Tyranny
  • Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War
  • Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II
  • Watch Dogs 2
  • Wolfenstein: The Old Blood
  • X-Men Origins: Wolverine
  • XCOM: Enemy Unknown
  • Yakuza 4

I am currently playing Red Dead Redemption 2 (absolutely amazing game) on my main machine, and Tomb Raider Anniversary on my auxiliary machine. I am making steady progress in Tomb Raider, and I think I should be able to finish it in a week or so. My next game is going to be Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. It appears that it doesn't take too long to complete this.

Alternatively, I just don't pay any attention to any of this and just play what I feel like, and not worry about the massive backlog.