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.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

ASUS ROG Strix Ultra-wide Monitor (XG349C) Review

I purchased this monitor on Amazon for $699. Then the price of monitor went down by $10 while the package was enroute. I decided to contact the seller and asked them if they could give me a discount, and they responded shortly, and gave me a $10 refund. Very generous of them.

The monitor is a renewed model. I did not notice any issues with the monitor, cosmetic or otherwise. I got all the accessories, like display port, HDMI, USB-C cables etc. The price of the new model is $799 as of this writing (5/13/2022).

Setting up the monitor is very simple. Its just a matter of assembling the base, and mounting the display onto it. Once the monitor was assembled, I connected to the PC via a display port cable. At startup, the monitor has a refresh rate of 144Hz. I went into the monitor menu and overclocked it to 180Hz. The process is quite easy and it takes effect immediately.

Needless to say to run games at 3440x1440 resolution, and at such a high refresh rate, a powerful GPU is needed. I am currently running an MSI GeForce RTX 3080 Ti 12GB Gaming X Trio. I would not recommend upgrading to this monitor unless there is a capable GPU powering the machine. I think a 1080Ti or an AMD equivalent is probably a minimum for a 1440p ultrawide monitor.

Games look absolutely fantastic on this monitor. Prior to the upgrade, I was playing on ASUS ROG Swift, which was a great monitor for its time. Its a WQHD monitor running at 144Hz, and it was a dream for most gamers. However, we now have IPS panels with the same specifications as TN panels, and upgrading from a 16:9 TN panel to a 21:9 IPS panel is significant.

The first game I tried with the ultrawide is Cyberpunk 2077. I put off playing this game till now because I was waiting for it to be updated. I was fairly confident that CD Project would fix the game over time. With the release of Update 1.52, it felt like it was the right time to play this game, but I didn't just want to play this game, I wanted to play it with all the bells and whistles, at a high resolution, on ultra settings with RTX enabled at a good framerate. With the purchase of this monitor, my machine was complete.

As shown in the benchmark video below, the results are fantastic. The game runs at an average framerate of ~60FPS.

Without RTX, I get around 100FPS. For me the sacrifice in framerate for graphics fidelity is worth it.

Getting older games to work right on ultrawide resolutions is always a challenge. Assassin's Creed Rogue had a lot of issues out of the box. I found a patch that enabled higher resolutions, but the game just didn't look and feel right. So I switched back to playing at 1920x1080 in borderless windowed mode.

I was very surprised to discover that Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb, a game released in 2003 worked fine with a widescreen patch. Of course, this is less to do with the monitor itself, and more to do with software support for older games.

I was willing to put up with playing older games in either a windowed mode or on the second display, if I could play the latest games at ultrawide resolution with all settings at ultra, and RTX enabled. I definitely feel gaming at ultrawide resolution is very immersive, much more so than a regular widescreen resolution. This was the reason why I decided against getting a 4k monitor, because 21:9 aspect ratio just feels right.

For someone looking to upgrade to an ultrawide, I would thoroughly recommend this monitor. It is a bit expensive, but assuming its within the budget, there is a lot of fun to be had here.

EDIT - I added another monitor to my setup. They were giving away old monitors at work, so I took one home.

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

State of the Game - Battlefield 2042

I take no pleasure in writing this post. As a fan of Battlefield for over a decade, it saddens me to see the state of the game, and knowing that this could have all been avoided. I want Battlefield to do well and I am not here to laugh at its current pitiful state. This series has been my main multiplayer game for almost a decade now.

As of May 4, 2022, it has been 166 days since the launch on November 19, 2022. To date, there has been one minor update, and one major update (released on April 19, 2022), and zero new content. The updates themselves are hardly praiseworthy. They fixed some egregious bugs, and added some so called legacy features, such as a scoreboard, simple UI customization options. I still can't get over the fact that they decided to ship the game without a scoreboard and a server browser. The latter is still missing for the main game as of this writing.

Some of the issues that got addressed in the latest update were present in the beta, and players brought this to the attention of DICE. However, we were all assured by DICE that the beta was a build from an old branch and the release branch was much better (or so they implied).

However, after the terrible reception of the beta, they decided to postpone the release by a month.

Hazard Zone is a total flop. Hardly anything next gen about these game modes

It should be noted that this person does not work at DICE anymore, which is very unfortunate because he was involved with building Battlelog.

In my review of Battlefield 2042, I said the game had potential, and I stand by it. I really dislike the operators, and I wish we could go back to the player models from BF4 or BF3, but it is what is it. I was willing to put up with that if the rest of the pieces were in place. While it is not a total let down, and I did put close to 300 hours into the game, as of now, I am just disappointed with the state of Battlefield.

When I wrote my review 5 months ago, I did not expect the progress from the development team to be as slow as it is. DICE is currently reworking the maps, and they made a blog post about it, and they went into excruciating detail about how they are listening to the community and collecting feedback, and in true DICE fashion, instead of shrinking the size of the map, and bringing objectives closer together, to reduce travel time, they decided to remove buildings near E on Renewal. While this is not final yet, it goes to show that there is a serious lack of understanding of Battlefield map design at DICE right now.

To add insult to injury, all said and done, they are only reworking two maps. Considering that the game launched with just 7 maps, the rate of progress is extremely slow. Most of the issues can solved by simply adding some cover, and shrinking the size of the map. Take Hourglass for example, the good parts are quite good, but the map can be so boring because of the large open spaces, and this is coming from someone who enjoyed Bandar Desert in BF3. Bandar Desert had transport vehicles, and it was easy enough to get from one point to the other. It really takes rare talent to increase the player count, and still make a boring game.

Very poor map design, Large area, no cover and not enough transport vehicles.

In my opinion the maps themselves are not bad. The main issue is traversal and lack of any cover between points. All they have to do was emulate the design of the best maps (not the most popular maps, because that would include Operation Metro, a truly atrocious map). Maps such as Grand Bazaar, Pearl Market, Propaganda, Dragon Valley 2015, Flood Zone, Zavod 311, Noshar Canals, Siege of Shanghai are all excellent maps, that could have served as inspiration. DICE appears to not know how to design a proper Battlefield map anymore. This is backed up by the fact that they are asking for community feedback on map design. Anyone that played previous games would be able to point the flaws in map design. The lack of transport vehicles, lack of cover, terrible spawn experience all contribute towards a poor experience.

Looking back at the statements made by the DICE team, there can only be two conclusions - they were either lying the whole time, or they genuinely thought they were shipping a quality product because what they said about the game, and what the game was actually like are very different things.

This is very misleading. Other real time events are hardly noticeable.

So how is this any different than Battlefield 4, because Battlefield 4 had an awful launch, which I wrote about HERE. Well, 2013 was a very different time. There wasn't as much competition in the multiplayer FPS games. Now you have Fortnite, Warzone, Apex legends, CSGO, PUBG all pulling in hundreds of thousands of players, so its very difficult for a bad game to recover. I don't necessarily think BF2042 is a bad game, I had more fun playing it than Battlefield V, but the problem with Battlefield 2042 is that at its core, it wasn't meant to be a Battlefield game.

Battlefield 4 was able to recover and redeem itself because fundamentally, it was a Battlefield game. DICE was not trying to reinvent the wheel. It took all the good things about Battlefield 3 and made them better over time, and there was a lot of content, so I never got the feeling I've done it all.

With Battlefield 2042, I am 300 hours in, and I feel like I am out of things to do. The game feels dead. The player base on Steam has dropped by over 90%, and it is very hard to get into a match without cross play enabled. Its embarrassing. These numbers are worse than Hardline.

Steep decline of players over time

Can DICE do what they did with Battlefield 4? No. I don't think so. At that time, DICE LA was dedicated to fixing Battlefield 4. The game was getting weekly updates, and CTE was an excellent idea. There was a lot of positive buzz around the game. I have a hard time seeing that happen with Battlefield 2042.

Also think of all the content that was available in Battlefield 4. There were over 30 maps! They even had night versions of some of the popular maps available in CTE, but sadly all of them were never released to the public. 2015-2018 was such a great time to be a Battlefield player. Battlefield 4, Battlefield Hardline and Battlefield 1 all launching within a 3 year period, and it was glorious.

I think DICE should have just released a Battle Royale game like they wanted to. Instead, they wanted to cash in on the popularity of Battlefield, but also wanted all those monetization opportunities of a hero shooter. You pick the worst things about gaming, and put it in one package, and you end up with this mess.

I refuse to believe that a significant number of resources are allocated to fixing the game. If this is the case, we would be getting weekly or biweekly updates. It wouldn't take them 5 months to add a scoreboard.

You would think as time passes, technology gets better, we would get better games, but no. We have a game on our hands that is in a worse shape than Battlefield 3, which was released 11 years ago. Its not surprise that Battlefield 2042 is probably the most poorly reviewed game in the franchise history.

Overwhelmingly negative reviews.

So here is my plan - I will not buy another Battlefield game at launch. I will wait for 30 days. No pre-order bonus will tempt me to buy the game, and if I am ever tempted, I will read this post, and hopefully it will bring me back to my senses.

Some of these corporations have no morals, decency and on the best of days, they have a fleeting relationship with truth. The marketing departments have this sociopath like ability to blatantly lie, because they have absolutely no respect for their customers. It is up to us to show some self respect, and hold on to our hard earned money until the game has proven that it is worthy of it. Do not buy games at launch. Wait for independent reviewers to release their reviews, and if the game is good, then and only then buy it.

It is unfortunate that it has come to this, but DICE really made a mess with Battlefield 2042, and given all the turnover at the studio, there is a strong possibility that the best days of Battlefield are behind us.

If this post convinced at least 5 people to not pre order the next game, then my work here is done.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

F.E.A.R (PC) Review

I first read about F.E.A.R when one of the computer gaming magazines I subscribed to had a demo for this game on the disk. Back in 2005, I did not have a computer good enough to run this game at settings that did justice to it. I believe I had a GeForce 5500FX, one of the worst GPUs to have ever been released, and it struggled to run this game at 1280x1024. I decided I wait for my next computer upgrade to play the demo.

After that, the game fell off the radar...until I decided to revisit the game 11 years later.

There were some technical difficulties with running the game in Windows 7, but some simple search yielded the fixes I needed. After I got everything setup, it was time to finally play F.E.A.R.

You play as Point Man, a silent hero who is a part of F.E.A.R (First Encounter Assault Recon) team. When Paxton Fettel, a psychic cannibal, takes control of super soldiers at Armacham Technology Corporation, it is your job to stop him. The story sounds goofy, but thankfully, its the least important part of F.E.A.R.

No one would ever play F.E.A.R for the story. Gameplay is the star of the show here. More than anything, its fun. So often, video games try to do too much, and not focus on the most important thing they are supposed be - a fun and immersive experience. The visuals in this game are excellent. They still hold up to this day. I would argue that they are better than any Call of Duty game to date. I remember seeing screenshots of this game back in the day, and I couldn't believe games could look this good.

Gun fights especially in slow motion look amazing. Its a real treat to get into a gunfight in a dimly lit room, you see sparks flying everywhere, and as the dust settles at the end of the action, the walls are covered with bullet holes and blood. Its unlikely anything I've seen before at the time. I would argue that this game is on par with Max Payne with regards to how well bullet time is implemented.

The gameplay is not anything revolutionary, even for its time. Bullet time mechanics and in game physics have been around for a few years now, but what no other game at its time has done (or since, I would argue) is combat and atmosphere. Its simply excellent. There are times when I had to stop playing after around 10 minutes or so because the combination of music, level design and visuals was a little bit much for me. The game does not rely too much on jump scares, but it excels at making the player uncomfortable.

The PC version, especially when running in on Windows 7 and Windows 10 has some issues but fixes for these are readily available. The game does not support widescreen on default, but with a simple tweak to the configuration file, it is possible to get the game up and running on a 16:9 resolution. I played the game on 2560x1440 resolution without any issues.

F.E.A.R is not without drawbacks, but those don't matter. Considering the game and the expansions can purchased for less than $10 on GOG.com (which I recommend over Steam), there is no reason to not try it. F.E.A.R is simply one of the best PC games ever. It is right up there with Deus Ex, Max Payne, Crysis etc.

Verdict - Must Play.

+ Graphics
+ Gameplay
+ Enemy AI
+ Sound
+ Quick save and manual save

- Level design
- Story