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

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Need For Speed: Most Wanted (2005) (PC) Review

I finished this game on Thursday, May 28, 2009, 8:05:00 PM. This review was first published on GameSpot on July 20, 2009.

Need For Speed series was reinvented with Underground, the series focused solely on illegal street racing. Underground and Underground 2 focused on nighttime racing. Most Wanted takes place during the daylight. It is a welcome change after two games which were exclusively under street lights.

This time around, there is a stronger emphasis on the story. Underground 2 had a story for the first time in the series but it was weak and was not treated very well. Most Wanted has a better story line and played a stronger part in the game.

The career begins with the player taking on the role of a nameless protagonist, who enters the city of Rockport to be a part of the street racing circuit. As you win races you go up in the Blacklist. The story starts to unfold when you enter a race with Razor. Razor sabotages your car and wins it from you at the end of the race, and you get caught by the police and land up in jail; but released soon due to lack of evidence.

You get help from a mysterious woman named Mia. She assists you in getting a car and taking part in the Blacklist races to win your car back from Razor, who reached the top of the Blacklist with it.

The police keep an eye on your from the beginning and as you start to win races they get more aggressive in their pursuit. Winning races in the Blacklist involves meeting certain criteria, such as having certain amount of bounty, evading cops in chases, and finally winning a one on one race against the opponent. This process repeats until you defeat the final Blacklist racer.

The story is told through full motion video with real actors. You won't remember the game for the acting, it is just about in the same league as your latest Fast and Furious movie, which is to say, mediocre and laughably bad at best but still fun to watch. Story is compelling enough with a few obvious plot twists to hold the interest to see it through the end.

The game makes it easier to jump in to a pursuit or a race right from the menu without having to drive in the city, which is convenient if you want to get into action right away. This makes the game less tedious. It thankfully does not follow the GTA style of having to drive to a certain location to get the mission; that would have been a completely unnecessary way to prolong game play.

Evading the police is a welcome return to the franchise; they were not to be found in the last two games. A chase typically starts slow with one car on your tail, but soon you might find 20 cars giving chase, in addition to a chopper flying overhead. Getting to the top of the Blacklist to beat Razor needs a LOT of work. There are tons of races and cop chases you need to beat to even get to race with a Blacklist driver. Halfway through the Blacklist, this process started getting tedious, more so because the AI starts to act crazy. For instance, I was in the final lap of a race and I was almost three quarters of a lap ahead of the race, and I happened to crash, and before I know, the AI is almost on top of me in a matter of seconds; and another time I was way behind in the race when the AI inexplicably slows down to allow me to win the race. The AI tends to do more of this as you go higher up; it oscillates between extremely tough and extremely easy.

The game has a lot of licensed cars that can either be purchased or won; I particularly loved the Ford Mustang GT. The customization of parts is really fun, and it gives you a sense of accomplishment when you install a higher upgrade of nitro and race past the AI.

The game, for the first time, has a speed breaker, which is a version of bullet time. The game slows down to a crawl and this allows you to navigate some really sharp turns without crashing. I thought this was a nice addition to the game.

Graphically, the game looks great. Playing it at 1600x1200 with all settings maxed is very exciting. The large environments of the city are well done. The different parts give a nice sense of variety, and the car models look sharp, especially when you start painting them with crazy triple-colored paint. The visuals scale reasonably well, I tried this game on machines with AGP cards and it worked well.

The game has outstanding engine noises that change depending on which car you're in and which upgrades you have. The rest of the sound effects are also of excellent quality. The game uses quite a bit of voice acting in the story, which is good, but sometimes they are entirely out of context. That's easily forgiven.

Most Wanted is an excellent arcade racing game with high quality visuals and sounds and some very interesting gameplay additions.

+ Visuals
+ Cop chases
+ Sound effects
+ Full motion video
+ Ford Mustang GT!
+ Speed breaker

- Racing in career mode can be tedious
- Unpredictable AI

Verdict - Buy

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl (PC) Review

I finished this game on Friday, October 2, 2009, 5:30:00 PM. This review was first published on GameSpot on October 22, 2010.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R is one of those games that is hard to describe. Games like this are produced once in a generation. S.T.A.L.K.E.R enjoys a cult like following among PC gamers and for a good reason too.

At release, it was quite buggy for most people. Thankfully, I never bought it at release. I have been told stories of people who played about 30% of the game and the developers released a patch which rendered the previous saves useless. I can imagine the frustration of gamers who bought it at launch.

Nevertheless, the game is not without merits. I wouldn't begrudge the game for its bugs. I am not a very forgiving gamer, I don't persist games which frustrate me; but I stuck with the game, and I am glad I did. This is typical PC game in that quick save is your best friend.

If you are spoiled by games like Call of Duty with regenerating health, then S.T.A.L.K.E.R is going to be hard, even on normal difficulty. I remember struggling my way through the game at the start because i did not have good weapons. This part was really the least fun for me. Once the good weapons become available, which is not too long into the game, life in the zone becomes more bearable.

Also, irrespective of the type of weapon, the game is easy or hard depending on how good a shot you are. Once you get used to the game, its easy to score head shots with pistol and earn one shot skills. Just don't expect an achievement to pop up every time you do that. None of that nonsense here.

Speaking of the atmosphere, the developers got it spot on. Unless I am mistaken, this was about the time when dynamic day/night cycles in games were yet to become a norm. At least I don't recollect playing a game with dynamic day/night cycle prior to this (If my readership knows of such a game, be kind enough to mention it). The zone feels a lot more eerie at night than it does during the day. Being the kind of person that I am, I hated venturing out at night; I even found the dogs scary, so I stuck to traveling during the day.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R is not a scary game as such, it does not try to scare you the way F.E.A.R or Doom 3 do. Those games rely on startling the player with enemies jumping out of dark corridors. S.T.A.L.K.E.R instead relies on creating a very depressing atmosphere, with a few scares thrown in. The overall atmosphere of S.T.A.L.K.E.R is a great mix of open environment and claustrophobic underground labs. There are some very tense moments in the underground labs.

If you are too scared to go out at night, go out during the day and you see mutants going about their business in broad daylight. They seem a lot less scary in that case. This is probably what sets apart S.T.A.L.K.E.R from a survival horror game. A survival horror game gives you very little options and there is no escape, hence the survival aspect. I remember parts in the game where I could almost always find a perch and take my time picking off the mutants. The game is scary in very subtle ways.

I need to touch upon the topic of bugs before I conclude. I played the game with the latest patch (1.0006) installed and I have encountered numerous AI bugs. There were times when all the AI around you is just plain dead and times when after a quick load, an enemy would spawn right in front of your face and shoot before you could do anything. This resulted in some backtracking.

I recommend the game to any FPS fan. Bugs or not, this game must be played. Its about 20 hours long, and that's almost 5 times the length of some games released these days (Medal of Honor - 4 hours long; Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 – 6 hours). Of course, the time taken to beat is not always a measure of a good game, but in this case it is, and for what it costs, its incredible value as well.

+ Excellent visuals
+ Atmosphere
+ PC game inside out
+ Level design
+ Story (Yes, its rather good, although its not very well told)
+ Enemies (When they all don't play dead, but to be fair that only happened once)

- Bugs

Verdict - Must play

Mirror's Edge (PC) Review

I finished this game on Friday, September 25, 2009, 7:39:00 PM. This review was first published on GameSpot on November 1, 2009.

Mirror's Edge is a first person running game developed by DICE. You play as Faith, a free runner. The story is set in a modern utopian society with a totalitarian government. Invasive surveillance is a part of life in this city and runners help exchange information between parties without getting caught.

Game play is the most admirable aspect, its not perfect but its very innovative and first of its kind. I was skeptical of how the game is going on handle, and it seemed baffling that DICE would not go the Prince of Persia route and make this a third person game. I remember there being a lot of talk in the press wondering why DICE are not making this a third person game. I am glad that DICE persisted with the first person perspective because Mirror's Edge is very unique.

Graphics can be stunning, some of the views from the tall buildings are beautiful and vertigo inducing. During the frantic chase sequences when there is a real rush to escape, vision tends to get a little blurry by the edges when leaping over rooftops and I could feel my stomach lurch forward at times. Playing this on my 24 inch monitor at 1920x1200 at highest settings with PhysX enabled is real treat. PhysX are supposed to be the selling point for PC version, but I did not find anything special about them - not that they are bad, but we have seen this in games all the way back to Max Payne 2.

I absolutely loved the soundtrack in this game. This ranks right up there with Halo for me. The theme song "Still Alive" by Lisa Miskovsky is now one of my favorite songs. Rest of the soundtrack includes some fast techno music which is perfect during free running segments. Voice acting is quite good as well. Sound is a very impressive aspect of this game.

On the flip side, Mirror's Edge can be frustrating in spite of DICE getting all the hard parts right. They made a game that handles free running extremely well. I never found the camera to be a problem and the controls on the PC are great. I loved the the chase sequences and getting the stunts right is not very difficult. The is hurt mainly by some intentional bad design choices - the scourge of all games. Weapons are extremely weak, it reminded me of Tomb Raider Legend and not in a good way - those of you who played it would know the reference, and melee combat is frustrating and unsatisfying. This only serves to break the momentum needlessly and seemed like an after thought. DICE have developed Battlefield games, so its not as if they are inexperienced in first person shooters, yet the gun play in Mirror's Edge is very inadequate. I would recommend playing the game on Easy setting to avoid the frustration of combat.

Also, the game is quite short. On Easy I finished the game in about 7 hours. For a free running game to be truly effective, it must have the feel of an open city where the game play is not restrictive. Mirror's Edge in this case is like a modern version of the old school platform adventures because most often, there is one and only one way of proceeding. I can understand that at times this might be necessary, but throughout the game, you will be in a huge city, which you cannot explore and the path is very linear - just like an old platformer. I also get the feeling that it could benefited from the no-death mechanic of Prey, Bioshock and Prince of Persia.

Puzzles in the game are fairly intuitive but there are places where the player can get stuck without a clue. I remember a couple of such instances. Thankfully, Xfire's in-game browser supports this game, and I could quickly log into Youtube for the video walkthrough. That said, the free running part is very well done, but there are always some needless breaks in the free flowing game play, and the linearity would impede this too.

My biggest complaint is the lack of realizing the full potential, reminds of Quake 4 in a way for not capitalizing on key moments.

I bought this game for $7.22 with shipping on Amazon and I also got an audio CD with the soundtrack, and for that money, it is well worth it. If I paid the full price though, I would be very disappointed. Anything around $15-$20 would be a good price. So if you can find it around that price, this is a must buy.

+ Free running is very well done
+ Visuals
+ Brilliant soundtrack
+ Decent story telling
+ Some segments are truly breathtaking
+ Tight controls

- Very weak combat
- Some puzzles break the momentum
- Short

Verdict: Buy it for around $20

Gears of War (PC) Review

I finished this game on Wednesday, June 17, 2009, 10:09:00 PM. This review was first published on GameSpot on June 27, 2009.

Gears of War is a 3rd person shooter developed by Epic Games and published by Microsoft Game Studios. It was first released as an Xbox 360 exclusive, and it went on to become one of the most successful games for the console. It was later released for the PC with some added content and better visuals to support the high end graphics cards.

You play as Marcus Fenix, a former COG soldier who was imprisoned for abandoning his post, and reinstated into command and asked to join the Coalition to fight Locust. The game is quite different from most 3rd person shooters in that, it relies heavily on cover mechanics. You take cover behind various objects during firefights, and stand up to shoot and duck back out of sight.

Even in the casual setting, there is some frustration to be had. Difficulty climbs quite steeply in these sections; I felt there should have been at least one checkpoint during these parts, instead there were none.

The sound track is good, but it could have used more variations. Every time there an action sequence, the same music kicks in throughout the game. Granted that the game itself is not very long, yet, listening to the same tune over and over again tends to get monotonous, and however good it might be. The effects are top notch, weapons pack a punch, especially the top gun and the six-shooter.

Weapons are fun to use. I especially loved the torque bow it reminded me of Rambo. In fact, the whole game feels like a big Hollywood movie. It's very slick and fast paced. The melee combat has some great moments. The chainsaw to the machinegun was a great idea; when you get a chainsaw kill on an enemy, the game takes over and it shows you slicing an enemy into half. As cool as this might be, it could have been implemented better, because sometimes it doesn't work like it should.

The best in the game for me are the visuals. Gears of War uses Unreal 3 engine, and it looks fantastic. I played the game in DirectX 10 mode at 1920x1200 with all settings on maximum on my EVGA GeForce 260GTX, and it looked out of this world. There is something about the art and environment though, while they are beautiful and unique, most of the game the environment is various shades of dirt. This can seem monotonous after a while. This could have used some lush green jungles as seen in Crysis. It would have looked beautiful in Unreal 3 engine.

Technically speaking, there is a nasty savegame bug that causes the savegames to disappear after exit. This happened a few times even after patching it. If you are playing offline, there is a fix, and also a way to backup the save games.

Over all it's a fantastic experience. Gears of War is an excellent port. It has all the qualities of a good port should have and some bad ones too. Controls are very well optimized for the PC. I have no hesitation in recommending this game.

+ Graphics
+ Sound effects
+ Level design
+ Fast paced game play
+ Cover system
+ Weapons, especially torque bow

- Savegame bug
- Repetitive soundtrack
- Uneven checkpoints on two occasions

Verdict - Must play

Red Faction 2 (PC) Review

I finished this game on Wednesday, August 29, 2007, 8:03:00 AM. This review was first published on GameSpot on June 14, 2009.

This game is a sequel to the fairly successful Red Faction. It explores the situation back on earth in 22nd century, 5 years after the uprising on Mars.

For 15 years Chancellor Victor Sopot has oppressed the people on Earth belonging to the Commonwealth. You play the role of Alias, a demolitions expert, who is a part of a 6 member rebel group united to put an end to the tyranny of the evil Chancellor. As you play the game, you will find that the story takes a few unexpected twists.

The game play is very similar to its predecessor. Geo Mod once again is in focus, and it plays a greater role. Battles take an advantage of the Geo Mod, and you are never quite safe when hiding behind a wall or a barricade, because it can be destroyed with the right kind of weapon. This makes the game play challenging and the battles can be quite intense at times.

The weapons are quite good. There are all kinds of different weapons to be had in this game. Playing with these toys is a lot of fun, especially because of the destructive environments.

But the good part is over.

This game is a PS 2 port, so the graphics seem very dull and dated. I am not really impressed with the visuals in general. The game almost looks the same as Red Faction, which was released almost 2 years ago.

There are slightly better particle effects, but that's about it. I feel that PC gamers deserve better visuals than the dated PS 2. It feels more like an after thought and an attempt to cash on the franchise.

The game is more like an arcade shooter than a serious action game. It is terribly short...it can be completed in one evening without any difficulty. So PC gamers are going to feel terribly cheated out of a good shooter that they would have expected to see, after the solid content the first game delivered.

Over all, I am quite disappointed with this title. I expected some solid game play, but it was over before I knew it. I finished it in a matter of 6 hours of casual gaming.

Perhaps fans of the series might want to play this in the wake of the release of Red Faction Guerilla. Otherwise, there is not much to be missed.

+ Geo mod
+ Weapons are fun to use
+ Plot twists

- Short
- Dated visuals
- Feels like an arcade shooter

Verdict - Pick it up if you find it for less than $5.

Call of Duty: United Offensive (PC) Review

I finished this game on Monday, February 5, 2007, 10:52:00 AM. This review was first published on GameSpot on June 10, 2009.

Call of Duty United Offensive is an expansion to Call of Duty. It is developed by Grey Matter Interactive. They developed games such as Return to Castle Wolfenstein and Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2.

The game is centered around three allied forces – United States, United Kingdom and Soviet Union. It includes some of the key battles of World War II such as Battle of the Bulge, Battle of Kursk, and the Invasion of Sicily.

Graphics are better than the original, with a heavily tweaked Quake 3 engine; explosions look superb with great particle effects. There were a few framerate issues though, but they are only few and far in between to affect the gameplay. My 7600GS AGP was able to run this game just fine at maximum settings without any problems.

Environments are varied, and like in the first game, you get to be a gunner on a variety of vehicles. I particularly loved the Sicily level where you get to be a gunner on the sidecar of a motorcycle and the driver navigates through the narrow streets at breakneck speed. Very exciting!

The sounds set the mood of the game, with battle cries and occasional orchestra music. There is a sound issue when using my Creative soundcard, so I had to switch to Miles 2D audio. There was a lot of crackling and static at times when I was using Creative hardware drivers to play the game. Sometimes restarting the game helped solve the problem.

The game is not too long, it shouldn’t take more than 6-7 hours to finish in normal difficulty mode. It keeps you hooked until the very end, just like the original. Most of the missions involve demolition, and it’s always fun to watch your hard work paying off at the end with sweet sight of everything exploding and falling to pieces.

+ Very intense action
+ Great visuals
+ Level design

- Minor technical issues with sound

Verdict: Must play

Far Cry 2 (PC) Review

I finished this game on Friday, August 20, 2010, 8:48:00 PM. This review was first published on GameSpot on November 13, 2010.

I can't remember being this mad at a game. Far Cry 2 showed me new levels of boredom and rage that I am yet to experience. The reason I get so angry is because the game had great fantastic potential. It easily could have been one of the best games ever made. It had all the right elements. However, the stupid decisions the developers made turned this game from a fantastic shooter to a mind-numbingly boring game that tries everything and fails rather miserably.

The story is quite good, believe it or not. The fighting between different factions in an untamed land, greed, deception, a journalist writing a book about the situation of the country and the plight of its people, and an enemy with a political and philosophical agenda. The game even incorporates a choice system a few times, its quite simple and shallow, but its still there.

Far Cry 2 game play. Played on 1920x1200, GeForce 260GTX and Intel Q9400 & 4GB RAM

Its really hard to appreciate any of the redeemable qualities when the rest of the game is so monotonous! The constant driving around between towns would not have been so bad, if the enemies weren't re-spawning endlessly! I've heard people on some message boards say this adds realism to the game. I've never accused message board trolls of having a brain, but this is a bit much. How is that enemies who got killed not 5 minutes ago appear magically in that exact same location translate into "realism"?! This makes the game seem longer than it is, because the actual "game" part of it is rather small. I even bothered to time the game play. If I played the game exactly as the developers intended the player to, in a 30 minute session, I spent 18 minutes travel (driving, walking, swimming), approximately 90 seconds in conversations, and the rest of the time shooting. So you can see, nineteen and a half minutes in doing something that absolutely adds NO value to the game, because you keep doing it ALL the time. Over and over again.

There is a fast travel system, but its not like Fallout 3. It involves driving to a bus station, select a bus station nearest to the mission location. Get off at the bus station, take a nearby car and drive the reminder of the way to the actual location.

Now, on the way to the destination up to two guard posts maybe encountered. So once that business is taken care of, continue to the actual mission location, take care of the mission, and then begin driving back to the bus station. The guard posts destroyed are magically resurrected. So fight the same guards and again take the bus, get off the bus, drive the car back to pick up more missions. I fail to see the realism or any semblance of fun.

The game somehow got rave reviews, not just from suspect publications, but from a lot of other publications I hold in high regard. PC Gamer handed out a 94! I can't imagine what they might been smoking. These are the guys know their stuff. Its really inexplicable. Its as if they played a different game from the one I played.

Don't even get me started on the weapons. No, they are not bad. The handle very well, until they decide to fall apart right in the middle of a firefight. I see the logic behind this, but then, if you have re-spawning guard posts and degrading weapons, tense and frantic game play soon turns into utterly boring arbitrary gimmick.

The other aspects of the game are extremely well done. Visuals are brilliant. This game stands up to Crysis in terms of graphics. Sounds are fantastic. The environment is absolutely brilliant. But what is the point? I am not going to recommend this game. Why bother talking about it about all those when the actual game is a total waste of time?

Even if the game is really dead cheap, I wouldn't recommend it, reason being it has no entertainment value. If the point of purchasing a game is to have fun, and that is not a far fetched assumption, then it is pointless to buy this game. There is no fun to be had.

- Boring, absolutely utterly boring

Verdict – Do not play

Quake 4 (PC) Review

I finished this game on Saturday, June 6, 2009, 11:49:00 PM. This review was first published on GameSpot on June 7, 2009.

For the first time ever, a Quake game is not developed in house by id Software. Raven Software, the developers of Soldier of Fortune, were entrusted with the job of creating a new Quake game. The story continues right after Quake 2, where the unnamed marine destroyed the Makron, and the player, as a part of Rhino squad has to secure the planet of Stroggos.

Graphics are stunning. Shadows are very realistic and add atmosphere to the game. There are a few low resolution background textures, which stand out poorly in comparison. Indoor levels look fantastic. Player and enemy models are rich in details and fluid in movement. Doom 3 engine really shines here.

A word has be said about the hydraulics in the game. As you can see in the video (00:29), they are these elaborate set pieces, and while you cannot call them beautiful, they are awe inspiring mechanical marvels. Its fairly obvious that a lot of work went to designing these machines throughout the game. I have never played a game which had this kind of environment, where machines are so well created.

Sound quality is good, and weapons sound better than they did in Doom 3. I enjoyed using the shotgun a lot, it packs a lot of punch, and it is very lethal at close range.

Most of the weapons here are variants of the old ones, which work very well for the game, but I thought the BFG was somewhat lacking the power of its predecessors. Quake II and Quake III had better BFG. I was hoping to see a BGF that was similar to Quake III.

Vehicle section are basic, but fun, and they break up the action very well. I particularly enjoyed the mech walker level.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the game is the potential that was left unexplored. About a quarter of the way through the game, the player is captured by the Strogg, and undergoes a ‘Stoggification’ process. This involves a rather gruesome bioengineering process where the limbs are severed, and mechanical counterparts are attached in their place. The brain is implanted with a neuro chip which when activated, turns the human into a Strogg. Kane is rescued just before the activation is complete, and so remains as a human with Strogg implants.

The developers had the chance to turn the game around with this, and yet, we never get to see any real gameplay changes. There is a slight health increase, and it is now possible to read the letters on the walls, pass through some portals towards the end, but nothing much else. There are no abilities to be gained here. So, that part was disappointing. It would have made a difference between a good shooter and a great.

Overall, my reaction to this game is very positive. This is a fantastic game, albeit it does not utilize its full potential. Given that the game is very cheap and latest official patch will make the game work without the CD/DVD (that’s the kind of support I’d like to see from developers), it must be bought and played.

+ Stunning visuals
+ Lots of action
+ Plenty of weapons
+ Fairly long single player

- Missed out on better game play

Verdict: Must buy

Desperados: Wanted Dead or Alive (PC) Review

I finished this game on Tuesday, November 23, 2004, 5:23:00 PM. This review was first published on GameSpot on June 2, 2009.

Desperados: Wanted Dead or Alive belongs to the subgenre of tactical strategy. Such games have enjoyed success in Europe, but not so much in North America.

Although this game is called a Commandos clone; I do not think so, just as Crysis is not a clone of Far Cry. It has taken the elements of Commandos and perfected them. The setting helps show off these innovations.

The story is set in New Mexico, 1881. Many trains have been robbed the last few months by a bandit called "El Diablo". The railroad company has offered a bounty to anyone who can stop El Diablo. Bounty-hunter John Cooper accepts the task, despite the objections of bad-tempered Marshal Jackson, but soon learns the mission is not as simple as he first assumed.

He then decides to enlist the help of his old friends. The initial missions involve rounding up the gang members – Sam, Doc and Kate, each of who have tutorial missions. These missions are integrated quite well into the rest of the missions and they do not feel disconnected. Later in the game, two more characters – Sanchez and Mia - become allies, making it a total of six characters.

Each characters have unique abilities. The game does not impose stealth as heavily as Commandos did, this leaves a lot of room for different strategies. It is not necessary to maintain cover at all times, so Sam’s shotgun and Cooper’s colt come in handy often. The other characters have decent weapons as well, except Mia, who has a blowpipe, which I was not very useful.

I found that I did not use certain skills all that often. For example, Kate can blind enemies using her mirror, and I did not use this in the game anywhere but in the tutorial. Same goes for Doc’s balloon.

Copper is the protagonist, but he is not expected to do all the work in the game. Each character plays an important role, and its not as if they are useful at the very end to blow something up. It is possible to chose a certain character to perform majority of the tasks, but ideally, the game becomes a lot more interesting when all possibilities are explored.

Quick action comes in very useful when there are multiple enemies to take out, and multiple characters to control. What this does is, help you assign an action to each character, and “save” the action. This action can be performed quickly at the press of a button. Very neat feature.

Level design is fantastic that way. It is challenging without being frustrating. I never had to spend too much time trying to figure out a way, because often, there is not just one way to accomplish tasks. Of course, this game has the Commandos syndrome too, in that, if you need to blow up a bridge, you will need Sam to do it for you. The story involves travelling through the American west, Mexican haciendas, and heavily guarded prison fortresses, providing a lot of variety. There are also night and day missions, so the strategies employed will be vastly different. The game contains 25 levels in all, and it takes a while to complete them.

Enemy AI is fairly intelligent. There are vision cones to see the field of vision. Green indicates all is well and the enemy saunters around. Once suspicion is aroused, the cone changes to yellow and the enemy scans in all directions frantically to find you. This gives you a clear indication of the situation at hand.

Visually, the game is stunning. The artwork is beautiful, the detail that has gone into it is amazing. Graphics are in 2D, and I got the feeling that a 3D engine would have done more justice to the excellent style in the game. Zooming in would make the game a lot pixelized, so this is not recommended, but it is sometimes useful.

Cut scenes, voice acting and sound deserve a worthy praise. The story is very well told and all the characters sound authentic. Sounds in the levels are very well done. Night time levels have crickets chirping, and water cascading and so on, which add atmosphere to the levels.

Anyone who has played and enjoyed Commandos should definitely play this. Its fantastic and will give your money’s worth.

However, this game, like all others in the genre, has a high learning curve. I cannot imagine a casual gamer putting in the time and effort to plan each move to complete a huge level. Its not a fast paced game at all. It is meant to be enjoyed for a long time, not something that can be casually beaten.

+ Excellent level design
+ Beautiful artwork
+ Challenging yet fun game play
+ Quick action

- High learning curve

Verdict – Excellent.

Call of Duty 2 (PC) Review

I finished this game on Thursday, March 19, 2009, 11:19:00 PM. This review was first published on GameSpot on March 21, 2009.

A sequel to the 2003 game, Call of Duty 2 tells the story of three soldiers from different parts of the world – Russia, UK and US, fighting against the same enemy – Nazi Germany.

Call of Duty 2 takes the high standards higher. The campaign is more visceral and engaging. Although the core game play aspects remain the same, some minor changes go a long way in making the game more immersive.

You are only a soldier in a group fighting against odds in the midst of heavy battle, there are no one man army missions, and you are always a part of a platoon. This gives you the feeling of being a small part in a great battle.

You begin your campaign in Russia as a private in the Russian army fighting to regain control of Stalingrad. Once you capture the city hall from German army, you move on to the British operation in Africa. You attack the Germans in tanks and race through the narrow streets of Tunisia in an armored car evading the Panzerfaust, and then a final mission in Amaye sur Seulles will see the end of the British campaign.

The American campaign begins in frenzy on the D-Day, not at the Omaha beach in Normandy (Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, remember?), but at the foot of steep cliffs of Pointe du Hoc in Normandy, France. You are a part of United States Army Ranger Assault Group in Operation Overlord. You have to scale the cliffs and gain the control of the 155mm guns. This for me was the best part of the game. It was truly epic.

The visuals and sound ensure that you are completely immersed in the game. At high settings the game looks amazing. Particle effects, explosions and rain have been greatly improved using the proprietary graphics engine. The game has native widescreen support, so there is no need to resort to user created patches. Character models look great, and the animations are very smooth. Soldiers don't appear to glide like they did in the previous game.

Level design is top notch. Environments in different parts of the world have been created with a great detail. The sand covered deserts in Libya and Egypt, icy streets of Russia and the ruined cities in France are outstanding.

Sound increases the intensity of the battle. The weapons sound really sharp and the score is very moving. You can hear soldiers screaming and taunting, and the sound of explosions create a great atmosphere. The Battle for Hill 400 level comes to mind; it begins with a battle cry and the allies charging to take on the Germans. The game puts you in a war movie.

Each level begins with real World War II footage and all the battles are factual. You get to read the diary entries of the character before each mission. It shows the work the developers put into the game to make it as real as possible.

Game play has received some minor tweaks. Unlike most other games, there is no concept of health packs. When you are hit by an enemy, your vision is blurred, and it turns red. You need to find cover quickly to recover. I was initially surprised and not sure if I liked it. After having played for a few minutes, I realized I didn't have to worry about getting health packs, and I could concentrate on the action instead.

The save mechanic in the game is different too. You don't ever have to save your game, the does this for you – it's a checkpoint system. When you start the game, you don't have to look through a save game menu, you just hit resume game and you are done. While I am not such a fan of not having Quick Save, I think in this game, it works perfectly, because there are no frustrating parts that would require you to play over and over. The pacing is just right.

I played the game on hard difficulty, and the enemy AI presents quite a challenge, so you don't ever want to rush into a fight. Instead you take cover, flank the enemy, use smoke grenades etc. The friendly AI is also very helpful and they often rescued me from tight spots.

Perhaps the only negative aspect that I can think of is the infinite soldier spawn. There are times when you have to advance in battle or else enemies keep spawning endlessly. You could be crouching behind a wall and kill hundreds of soldiers, and unless you move forward, they keep coming at you. This will not spoil your experience by a long way, but I expected something more than the age old infinite enemy spawn trick.

The campaign is about 15 hours long at Hard difficulty setting. This game deserves to be played by all FPS gamers. It is an amazing experience.

+ Great graphics
+ Some innovative game play changes
+ Excellent friendly and enemy AI
+ Sound
+ Level design

- Infinite enemy spawn

Verdict - Must Play!

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Prince of Persia: Warrior Within (PC) Review

I finished this game on Tuesday, June 3, 2008, 2:14:00 PM. This review was first published on GameSpot on March 14, 2009.

Prince of Persia Warrior Within is a sequel to Sands of Time. The story picks up seven years after the Sands of Time.

The Prince finds himself hunted by the Dahaka, the guardian of the timeline. Anyone who opens the sands of time should die, but the Prince escaped his fate, and the Dahaka who is a reincarnation of fate, tries to ensure that the Prince dies as he was meant to.

Seeking counsel from an old wise man, the Prince learns of the existence of the Island of Time, where the Sands of Time were created, which is ruled by the Empress of Time. The Prince sets sail for the Island of Time to attempt to prevent the Sands of Time from being created. The mysterious island is said to contain several time portals which enable the Prince to travel back in time. He believes that if there are no Sands of Time, the Dahaka will cease to exist as well.

The story has taken a much darker turn this time around. The Prince is no more the young and restless chap he was in Sands of Time. He is weary, scruffy and very angry.

The premise of the story is very interesting to me, but the way it is told was very convoluted. I was really confused some way through the game about my objectives, and I was playing through the levels not knowing what was going on. This made the game less immersive.

Although you understand the bigger picture of the plot, you are never quite sure the exact reason you are doing something. This is a result of the complicated story telling. Having said that, the story is unique and I quite enjoyed the ending and reading about the plot that I had missed during the game.

The level design is very interesting. Rather than taking the player to different locations, the whole game is set in a big palace. While you get to explore the palace, which is quite big, you get to do it in different time periods – the past and the present.

Traveling through time will greatly modify the levels; in the past, the palace is shown in all its glory, and in the present, it is a vine covered derelict with walls crumbling apart, and in a state of ruin.

I like the concept of showing the same levels at different times. It brings a sense of nostalgia. Having said that, the complex story telling disorients the player and the objective is not quite evident. This means a lot of needless backtracking. Of course, not all players might feel find this as a problem.

Combat is something I enjoyed for most part. The much publicized freestyle combat is a lot of fun. It was a little difficult to get all the combos right at the exact time you want to execute them, and often the combat turns into furious button mashing, yet it is very entertaining. Sometimes you got to pull off some really cool moves unintentionally – that is a very sweet feeling. There are a lot of combos to perform, and the game sets up quite well to execute them. The quality of animation is superb.

But like all other aspects of the game, there is a flip side to this. Certain parts in the game are very frustrating, especially when you don't get to have better weapons, and you get to see the Game Over screen very often.

The camera sometimes plays tricks and it is not possible to align it the way you like, making it harder to control the character. The controls are camera dependent, meaning W does not always mean forward, so should you ever be hanging onto a pillar and need to a jump to a ledge, if you do not align your camera right, you might leap to your death. If you have enough sands though, it's always possible to rewind.

I got the feeling that the game was unduly challenging sometimes because of the game play issues rather than the player's ability.

The boss fights are tedious at times and it requires a lot of retrying, which was very frustrating for me, especially because the camera has a mind of its own, and decides to act a little crazy during a crucial fight.

I understand that having checkpoints in a game will make it exciting for some, but there were times when I wished it had a proper save system and I wouldn't have to go through the same part over and over again.

Graphics in the game are very good, and they are very scalable, so older computers can handle this game very well. The environments are both vibrant and colorful or dreary and desolate depending on the time period.

Puzzles are for the most part are very well designed. Puzzles for the same level change with the time period, this is because they are environment based, and the environment sometimes vastly differs with time.

The choice of music for this game is very strange. I loved the music in Sands of Time and I was hoping I would see (hear) more of the same, but to my surprise, there was Rob Zombie playing in the background. I am a fan of heavy metal music, but in this case, it's definitely out of place. I would have loved more of the Persian/Middle Eastern kind of music in this game.

All said and done, Warrior Within is a solid game. I do not have second thoughts about recommending this. Keep in mind though that there is frustration in store for you, but it's a great journey.

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Extremely Fun Random Skirmish - Cyberpunk 2077 Diary

I am writing this post to commemorate last night's gaming session. I was playing Cyberpunk 2077, and its probably the most fun I've had with an RPG in a very long time.

Years from now, I want to look back on this gaming session and remember the fun time. There are a many such gaming memories over the years, some over 20 years old. That one time when I started playing Tomb Raider 3 demo when I first got my computer back in 2000, when I played the tutorial level of Tomb Raider 4 late at night, that one session of Quake 3 with my neighbor where I won the round with about 5 seconds to spare (we talk about it to this day, after 15 years), when I beat Commandos after playing all night, that super frustrating session of GTA 3 where I resorted to using cheats to finish the level, the ending of Half Life 2 Episode 2, when I first stepped out of the vault in Fallout 3, when I played the beta of Battlefield 4 early in the morning and knew that it was going be a special game, I could go on.

So what was so great about last evening's gaming session that inspired me to write this?

Its hard to articulate, but I will try.

I am generally not a fan of replaying sections of a single player game over and over again. I find it a complete waste of time. I've got a big backlog of games to get through, so I don't want to "waste" time replaying a section of the game. Last night was different. I was playing Cyberpunk 2077. The game is in a fairly decent state now by the way. I was on my way to start a side mission, navigating through the traffic at high speed on a random bike I found, when a notification on the mini map popped up, that there was an assault in progress. I decided to engage.

What ensued is the most fun I've had in an RPG in a very long time. Reminded me of the time I spent playing Witcher 3.

This seemingly random encounter with a bunch of enemies turned into a quite a battle. I don't have the best gear, and I am quite under powered to take on the enemies. I went into the battle head on, and I was defeated almost immediately. I was not prepared for that. This started a 1 hour battle where I kept retrying different strategies, and eventually took out all the enemies.

I discovered that enemies have weaknesses, and learned to exploit them. It took about 7 or 8 tries to win this skirmish. I could have easily left and leveled up, and returned when I had better weapons etc., but it was just too much fun to try and "beat" the game. For about 1 hour, I forgot about life, and I Was immersed in the game. I could have gone on for another hour.

I know this will be one of those moments that I am going to look back fondly years from now.

I am going to spend the rest of the evening playing more Cyberpunk 2077.

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Call of Duty Warzone - First Impressions

DICE released their latest Battlefield 2042 briefing. It was underwhelming and disappointing. They repeatedly insist that they are listening to feedback from the community, yet they continue to persist with the awful specialist system. To add insult to injury, there is only one map in the season 1 update. The only new content we are going to get until then are weapon skins (which are not that great to begin with).

Read more about it here - https://www.ea.com/games/battlefield/battlefield-2042/news/battlefield-briefing-development-update-may-2022

DICE, in their infinite wisdom, decided that the problem with the specialist system was that they were too clean looking, and proceeded to add some smudges to their face.

This is someone's idea of improving specialists in Battlefield 2042

I am at loss for words here. Its sad to see a beloved series, a truly one of a kind franchise suffer this way due to the incompetence of the studio. I decided that I am going to take a break from Battlefield 2042. So what are my options? I could play an older Battlefield game, but I spent approximately 4200 hours in Battlefield 3, Battlefield 4 and Battlefield 1 combined. I want something new.

I started scouring for a new shooter. I know that Call of Duty Warzone is very popular. I played the beta of Call of Duty Modern Warfare (2019), and to me it felt like a bad budget clone of Battlefield 4.

I remember thinking there was a decent game underneath the obnoxious interface, the constant radio chatter, the kill streaks and every other bad decision the designers made to break immersion.

This was 3 years ago. Call of Duty has come a long way since then with the release of Warzone, which is a free to play title. So I decided to give it a try. I was prepared to have to play Battle Royale, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that there are other modes as well. I am playing the large scale TDM to get a feel for the game, and I will jump in Battle Royale at some point. Maybe.

Technical Details

After an 80GB+ download, I started the game, and it did not like my ultra wide monitor. It launched at a 16:9 resolution and after attempting to install shaders (which it does when you start the game for the first time), it crashed. After a few times of doing this, I started the game, and left it for a while, and it successfully finished installing shaders.

At this point, I was able to customize the graphics settings. When I set the resolution to the native value of 3440x1440, the game would around move all the windows that I have open on my secondary displays. This happens every time I started the game. It was quite annoying. Do developers not realize that most PC gamers have more than one monitor? Its the current year, and its disappointing to see modern games still struggle to work right with a multi monitor setup. In addition to this, any change to the graphics settings would make the game window flicker, and all the other windows I have open would go on a little adventure. Some would disappear entirely, and I would have to use the Move option in Windows to bring them back into view.

The fix was easy enough. Running the game in borderless window mode solved all the problems. I was hesitant to run the game in this mode because Battlefield 2042 had performance issues when running in anything but fullscreen mode. I was impressed with number of graphics options in this game. There are so many ways to tweak the game, and if I had to guess, it will run fine on mid to lower end machines. At the highest settings, the framerates are quite good. I was getting anywhere between 115 - 120 FPS. I did not notice any drops in performance even when there was a lot going on.

The Interface

This game has by far the most obnoxious UI ever. There are almost no options to customize it. I cannot disable any pop ups. There is so much information on the screen at one point, I have no idea how anyone can make any sense out of it. What actionable information is the UI presenting to me, when the screen so cluttered? I have trouble identifying enemies when there is so much on-screen litter.

I was complaining endlessly about how the UI in BF2042 was not good (and I standby that), but in comparison, even at its worst, its not as bad as Warzone.

The awful banner...I could not find a way to disable it.

Everything about the UI is garish. The ads when the game is started, the in game UI and prompts, the music cues, the player characters...it never ends. Its an all out assault on the senses. The developers seemed to have never heard of the concept of subtlety. All this would be alleviated if they simply gave players the options to customize their experience. Something as basic as disabling in game messages is not available.

Even the audio is annoying. The menu music, the screams of Godzill and King Kong in the background, the irritating in game voice over...it just never stops. Of course, its not as bad as Battlefield 2 can be at times.

If I paid full price for this game, I would be livid. I cannot play for more than a couple of rounds because of the overload. I have new found respect for those that I can play this game for hours on end. Maybe I am getting old? Sometimes, I get the feeling that I am in the minority when it comes to wanting a clean, minimalist UI. Often times, I see Battlefield videos where every single UI option is enabled with 100% opacity. I am so thankful that Battlefield allows UI customization.

What is the point of creating a beautiful game, if the UI is constantly distracting and breaking the immersion?

Closing Thoughts

Its not all terrible. Notwithstanding my objections with the game, there are certain things that Call of Duty is doing right. Weapon customization is fantastic. Battlefield can learn a thing or two from this.

There is definitely some fun to be had, but this is not a game that I can take seriously. While it is possible that I missing something here, and I am not getting how this game is supposed to be played. I will play this game until the Season 1 update for Battlefield 2042 is released. I will try to discover as much as I can, and see if there is something I am missing. That said, in an ideal world, I will never resort to installing a Call of Duty game, but the sheer incompetence of DICE made me have to look for another multiplayer shooter.

As much as I am disappointed with Battlefield 2042, I am glad it exists. I shudder to think of a world where Call of Duty is the only viable alternative for me.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Assassin's Creed Rogue Review (PC)

I started playing Assassin's Creed Rogue right after I finished Black Flag. I went from not playing an Assassin's Creed in over two years to playing them back to back. I learned about the existence of this game while I was reading a review of Black Flag. The idea of a Black Flag like game set in North America felt very interesting to me. I really liked Black Flag, and I did not mind more of it. When I saw a picture of a ship with the northern lights in the background, I was sold.

I went scouring for a deal, and I found it on Fanatical. I paid $8.99 for the Deluxe Edition. In general I am not a fan of how companies carve out content and sell it as different editions, which is solely designed to nickel and dime gamers. However, the price of the Deluxe edition seemed acceptable to me.

This game was released very close to the release of Assassin's Creed Unity, which might explain why the game wasn't as popular. It was not as well received as Black Flag, which is a fantastic game, so it is a tall order for any game to top it, and considering that the main UbiSoft studio was working on Unity at the time, this was relegated to one of the smaller teams in UbiSoft Sofia.

Please be warned that this review will contain spoilers because I will discuss the story. SPOILER warning has been issued.

The premise is very interesting, but I felt that it was not executed very well. In Assassin's Creed Rogue, you get to play as Shay Patrick Cormac. He is a part of the Colonial Brotherhood of Assassins, working in North America during the Seven Years' War. He is tasked with retrieving a piece of Eden, which sends him to Lisbon. He locates the piece of Eden underneath a Church. As he tries to retrieve the piece of Eden, it triggers an earthquake in Lisbon. There apparently was a massive earthquake in Lisbon in 1755, so I guess I learned something new. Shay realizes that the Assassin's see this as a means to an end, and plan on retrieving all the pieces, at whatever cost. This causes him to question his loyalty to his side, and he eventually ends up joining the Templars.

When the Lisbon mission started, the opening shows a beautiful level, and it gave me the impression that we get to explore it. However, the exploration is confined to the church, and once the earthquake is triggered, the level becomes very linear, and you go through a set piece where everything around you is collapsing. Parts of this is done quite well, but I felt this was a huge missed opportunity. I was surprised that the Lisbon mission was over and we are back to North America.

Everything about how the story is told seemed very rushed. The transition from an Assassin to a Templar is jarring. One mission, you are an Assassin, and in the next mission, you are a Templar sworn to rid the world of Assassins. The transition felt like it was done in a very haphazard manner to move the plot along. If this game had gotten the attention it deserved, and if it was fleshed out a little bit more, it could have easily eclipsed Black Flag. As such, it has the feel of a budget title.

Those that played Assassin's Creed III and Unity will appreciate how the game attempts to tie up some loose ends. Not having played either of those games as of this writing, I am yet to appreciate the gravity of the plot lines.

When I watch the footage or look at the screenshot of Assassin's Creed Rogue those with Black Flag, I can't help but get the feeling that the visuals are very washed out in Rogue. One might argue that the saturation levels in Black Flag are a bit much, but I really liked the vibrant world of the Caribbean. The developers choose to make North America looks very dreary. At times, the game looks stunning, but for the most part the colors tend to be dull.

Music is another aspect of the game that does not live up to Assassin's Creed Black Flag. Black Flag is right up there with Witcher 3 as one of the best video game soundtracks. Assassin's Creed Rogue has some nice themes but I did not enjoy the soundtrack anywhere near as Black Flag. The music in Black Flag is just perfect, in my subjective opinion. In contrast, there was not anything memorable about the soundtrack of Rogue.

Speaking of aspects of the game that are not memorable, lets talk about the characters in the game. They are adequate. Let's just say Christopher Gist, and Hope are not as interesting as Adéwalé and Mary. There is no charismatic character like Black Beard, and lastly given how sloppy Shay's story arc was written, Shay is no match for Edward Kenway.

Its quite a shame really because this game takes place during the formation of America, and there are so many interesting characters to work with. They did try and shoehorn Benjamin Franklin who makes an appearance in the game, but in my opinion, his character could have been substituted by any generic mad scientist character and it wouldn't have made a whole lot of difference. He is portrayed more as a bumbling scientist than a legendary founder of a nation. Wasted potential in my opinion.

So what did Assassin's Creed Rogue do better than Black Flag? Naval combat is more streamlined. It is now possible to skip the cutscene that is played at the end of each encounter. The legendary ship encounters are a lot of fun. Ship upgrades are more easily attainable, there are no underwater missions here (I really disliked those in Black Flag). Some of the outfits are quite nice. I did not get a chance to unlock the templar and the native outfits, but the ones I had were quite nice.

That sums up the game for me. Its an adequate game, and the potential of an interesting premise is not fully realized. To me, its a budget version of Black Flag.

And yes, this game also has Abstergo missions. They are awful.

On the technical side of things, the game is locked at 60FPS, just like Black Flag. I upgraded to an ultrawide monitor, and It is possible to get the game to work on an ultrawide, but the FOV is not good, so I played the game at 1920x1080 in a borderless window.

In conclusion, for the price, I don't mind recommending this game. Anything more than $10 would not be worth it in my opinion.