Saturday, May 4, 2024

Doom Eternal (PC) Review

Doom Eternal annoyed me to no end.

Its a very polished game, and it looks great. When the game gets going, its a lot of fun. Its a functional product, and it works as advertised. Soundtrack is excellent, and the action is hectic. Is Doom Eternal a polished game that runs well? Yes. There is nothing technically wrong with the game.

However, I cannot recommend this game, because I did not have fun playing it. For fans of the first game expecting similar gameplay, understand that in certain aspects, Doom Eternal is a VERY different game. My biggest complaint are design decisions that get in the way of me having fun.

Generally, to acquire ammo, you have to kill grunts with the chainsaw, but you have limited amount of ammo you can carry (even with all the upgrades), and because weapons share the same ammo pool, such as double barrel shotgun and combat shotgun, running out of ammo with one weapon means you are out of ammo with the other (this is the same as the first game), but what makes it worse is how you constantly keep running out of ammo, and you have to use the chainsaw to kill a grunt to get some precious ammo, which by the way doesn't always top up the ammo supply AND you have to wait excruciatingly long for chainsaw fuel to auto refill. Its so dumb. Why not let glory kills refill ammo? They had the perfect system all worked out in the last game. Why change it?

To further add to my irritation, there are LONG platforming sections. I don't understand this. Why? Who wanted this? Its so poorly done too, it feels goofy and out of place.

The final levels are an incredible culmination of all the irritating design choices into one perfect package. When I beat the final boss...I stared at the screen for a good 30 seconds, in a state of introspection, thinking to myself, how with some minor tweaks this game could have easily surpassed DOOM (2016) in every respect. Such a pity.

I really wish I enjoyed this game, but I didn't.

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Rise of the Tomb Raider (PC) Review

Rise of the Tomb Raider is a very solid sequel, and I really enjoyed this game. The graphics are top-notch — I played it at 3440x1440 resolution on a machine running an i7 12700k and a GeForce RTX 3080Ti with ray tracing enabled and I was getting over 100+ FPS with DLSS set to Quality mode. The attention to detail in the tombs you get to explore is outstanding, even extending to the optional ones. These optional tombs came closest to delivering the experience of the old games for me.

Level design in this game is exceptional, surpassing Tomb Raider (2013). Notably, the Syria level stands out as extremely well done. Combat mechanics are functional, and thankfully, unlike the last game, there aren't too many quick-time events.

However, the crafting system from the previous game makes a comeback, and unfortunately, it's not good. It feels out of place in a game like this. Having to constantly loot for resources becomes quite tedious. RPG mechanics don't make much sense in a fairly linear game such as this. Personally, I play Tomb Raider games to explore interesting levels, solve puzzles, and collect cool artifacts—anything beyond that feels like a distraction.

The voice acting for Lara Croft is very good, but I can't say the same for any of the other characters. The dialogue is often boring, and the overall story feels nonsensical. I don't understand why they felt the need to “humanize” Lara Croft, especially when they struggle to tell an interesting story. The original games kept it simple: Lara Croft is a rich adventurer who likes to raid tombs. Now, they've tried to create this elaborate backstory for her, which, in my opinion, detracts from the experience. The story of Rise of the Tomb Raider is essentially an Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade rip-off, told in a boring and lazy manner.

It took me about 16 hours to finish the main campaign and some of the optional tombs, which can be very challenging.

I got this game for free on the Epic Game Store, which, despite all the Fortnite money, is still not great. Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, the game is not available on GOG. I recommend buying this game on Steam, where it frequently goes on sale.

Assassins's Creed Origins (PC) Review

The best thing about Assassin’s Creed Origins is the game world. Ubisoft did a fantastic job creating Egypt. The map is massive, and strictly playing the story missions covers around 60% of the map—this is without any of the DLC content. Exploring the pyramids, the Sphinx, and other Egyptian landmarks is a lot of fun. The City of Memphis is particularly memorable to me. In the hands of a better studio, this game could have been a masterpiece.

Graphics fidelity is top-notch, and it’s very well optimized. At the absolute highest settings on 3440x1440, I was getting around 120 FPS on my GeForce RTX 3080 Ti. With the HUD elements disabled, it manages to look on par with Red Dead Redemption 2 in some areas.

Gameplay is very mediocre and extremely repetitive. It’s obvious that they are trying to imitate The Witcher 3, but it does not measure up. The mechanics seem very shallow, and they got boring fast. It suffers from the copy-paste design of Ubisoft games—bargain bin gameplay in a AAA open world. In true Ubisoft fashion, the map is full of markers, which robs the player of the joy of exploring and discovering something cool in the open world. Once a viewpoint is activated, everything in the area is highlighted on the map for the most part. There is no reason to go to a remote corner of the map because you know nothing is there other than maybe a trinket or two. But if it is anything remotely important, Ubisoft will make sure there is a question mark on the map. It removes any sense of discovery.

The bird is another goofy mechanic in the game. It’s basically a high-tech drone in the form of a hawk, and the game really wants you to use it. It could have been so much better, but Ubisoft can’t help themselves.

There are also those ridiculous modern-day sections, but thankfully, they are very short.

I am happy they removed looting animations from the previous games.

The story can be interesting in certain parts, but by and large, it’s nonsensical. The dialogue is very bad, and the characters are poorly written. It felt like they were trying to create a character like Geralt from the Witcher games but failed. Black Flag still remains the best in terms of story and characters. The final missions are extremely annoying because you don’t even get to play as the main character.

I paid $8.99 for this game, and I think I got my money’s worth. I recommend getting it on sale.

Friday, December 29, 2023

Call of Juarez (PC) Review

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 very 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 Mirror's Edge Catalyst first came out, the reviews were mixedand it was not available on Steam until June 2020. 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.

This game shines on the PC, taking full advantage of the hardware capabilities. Optimization on PC deserves a special mention. The graphics are crisp, and the performance is smooth. I played the game at 3440x1440 on my 3080Ti, and the performance was flawless.

DICE did a fantastic job with the open world. 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 makes things worse. 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.