Frivolous Waste of Time

Sci-fi, fantasy and video games

Archive for the tag “fps”

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided – System Rift DLC for PS4, Xbox One, PC, OS X and Linux

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided didn’t exactly set the world on fire and I was lukewarm on it too. It was a decent enough experience, but it felt ultimately lacking. Oddly enough, System Rift in its microcosm helped me to appreciate Mankind Divided a little more.

System Rift sees Adam Jensen contacted by former colleague from Human Revolution Frank Pritchard to execute a data heist. It’s your standard Deus Ex plot and could have been one of the meatier side missions from the main game, but it contains a few twists and turns and has a bit more to it than you might expect. It doesn’t tell a vital story to the Deus Ex canon but it’s DLC so it probably shouldn’t.

Aside from some brief prep work, the vast majority of System Rift lies in the heist itself, which is a lot of fun. For all Mankind Divided felt a bit undercooked, the core mechanics really are bloody solid. As a stealth-RPG, it’s difficult to fault. System Rift is largely vertical in construction, as you make your way upwards through a facility. The only real gameplay change lay in heat sensors, which require you to mask your body temperature by hiding next to other heat sources. It seems at first like this is going to be a bigger deal than it is. You rebuild your Jensen from scratch, so it’s easy to min-max your way into an unstoppable killing machine/hacking ninja, whatever suits your preferences. Again, System Rift offers nothing more than more Deus Ex, which I didn’t realise I wanted until I started playing.

It’s not a long DLC by any stretch, but if picked up on a digital sale for a couple of quid like I did it’s hard to fault. It’s a really solid couple of hours if you fancy dipping a toe back into the Deus Ex universe, but you won’t exactly be missing out if you give it a miss.

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Prey for PS4, Xbox One and PC

Prey is a game which has been through many iterations, so it’s impressive that such a well realised and coherent product was eventually produced. Prey is a game with a lot of really interesting ideas which don’t always amount to much and I wish had pushed further down some of its weirder paths, but functions well enough as an enjoyable and sometimes clever experience.

Prey takes place in an alternate timeline where JFK was never assassinated and his presidency led to massive expansion in the pace and ambition of the space race. It is 2032 on the research space station Talos I, which orbits Pluto on the far edge of the solar system. The protagonist, who can be male or female, is named Morgan Yu and their brother Alex runs the station. Alex has been experimenting on the Typhon, alien beings who have been harvested to bring humanity Neuromods, which alter the user’s genetics to instantaneously give them skills and powers. Predictably, the Typhon have escaped and overwhelmed the station and an amnesiac Morgan Yu must discover what happened, how to stop the Typhon, and escape Talos I.

The actual narrative at the heart of Prey is competent, but never really climbs above that. There are some very cool ideas at the beginning and again towards the end, but it’s pretty straightforward for the vast majority of its run time. Convoluted ways to get you to explore the station make the plot feel a bit cumbersome; you must get two keys, you must get to the top of the station, then go to Deep Storage but the door is voice activated so you have to go to the Crew Quarters to get a voice sample blah blah blah. The plot rarely elevates above an excuse to send you to cool places, but those cool places really do save the experience. Environmental storytelling is somewhere Arkane have really excelled in the Dishonored series and they bring that expertise to Prey. It’s a bit of a cliché by now to say that the setting is the main character but, er…well, the setting is the main character. Sorry. Where settings in similar games, such as BioShock’s Rapture, position you long after it’s downfall, Prey’s Talos I only fell hours before and there’s a constant eerie sense of being just too late. The bodies are fresh and so the little tragedies and stories you find scattered through the environment all the sadder.

The actual atmosphere in Prey is, at least in the early stages, incredible. The world design is fantastic. Unlike Dishonored, Talos I is open and explorable, with some light Metroidvania elements. Talos I holds together as a coherent location, with a sense of variety matched with a general tonal consistency. I like settings which place you in one, dense, fully realised location and Prey pulls this off well. The thrill of exploration is somewhat hindered by brutal load times on PS4, which becomes a particularly significant issue during backtracking heavy later portions of the game. Exploring the station, poking about and finding little secrets, is the best part of the game by far. Alongside the main quest there are a handful of side quests, some of which are straightforward but some are really interesting and can directly affect the ending. There are some really interesting NPCs clinging onto life on Talos I, and I enjoyed lending them a hand.

The Typhon foes themselves are a bit of a mixed bag; the humanoid Phantoms aren’t particularly intimidating and some of the latter foes are more annoying than anything else. The standout enemies are the Alien facehugger-esque Mimics, which can disguise themselves as random objects. This is such a clever idea I can’t believe it’s never been done before. As you walk around you might see an object that seems a bit out of place, or catch a movement out of the corner of your eye. When you return to a location you’ll be asking yourself ‘was that mug there last time?’ At least in the early stages, it’s genuinely frightening. Of course, when you batter a few dozen with a wrench they become less engaging and more of a nuisance. The weapons don’t feel great in general, but the most interesting is definitely the multi-purpose glue gun, which can freeze enemies in place, put out fires or even create platforms allowing you to get to out-of-reach areas. It’s another clever idea in a game with plenty of them.

The actual core feel of the controls take a while to get used to, with a clunkiness that never quite goes away. This isn’t necessarily an issue at first; this is a horror game after all, but it becomes more and more pronounced as the game goes on. There are a range of upgrades available, some being to improve hacking and physical strength, as well as your standard health or stamina, but later on you can access Typhon abilities, with powerful attacks or the ability to transform yourself into any object like a Mimic. These work really well from a traversal standpoint; the promise of genuinely being able to pursue your own playstyle persists from Dishonored. You could hack open a door, or crawl through vents, or you could turn into a mug and roll through a gap. It really does work very well, but the combat abilities never quite work so well. The game speaks to you like you’re becoming an inhuman badass as you amass powers, but everything feels so clunky that you never feel it. I avoided combat at all costs, which was fine because for much of the time Prey is a perfectly serviceable stealth game. A late game twist makes stealth much more difficult and combat harder to avoid, but despite being bulked up with powers I never wanted to use them because they weren’t satisfying and the enemies were bullet sponges. I resorted to just running everywhere dodging enemy fire, which worked a little bit too well and got me thorough most encounters quite nicely, even if I did have to contend with the horrendous load times. It’s not exactly the way I think the game was meant to be played, but unfortunately that way just wasn’t fun. As I said, this only really becomes an issue in the latter parts of the game, but it did leave a stain on the experience.

Prey looks very nice, both in the setting and in the stylised human characters. The Typhon are creepy enough, but a bit vague and shadowy and PG. Aside from the Mimics, their designs are generally a bit lacklustre. An area Prey really shines in in the sound design. Prey uses ambient sound very well, where the falling of a coffee mug can herald the launch of a Typhon ambush. The voice acting is solid as well, but Prey also has a hell of a soundtrack. Heavy on the synths, it avoids feeling too kitschy and retro. The soundtrack elevates otherwise irritating action beats. It runs well and I encountered no glitches, so Prey seems to be a well put together package.

Prey is an interesting game, but I don’t think it’s a classic. It pulls from many sources of inspiration, but aside from the already iconic Mimics, it’s difficult to imagine it having much of an impact of its own. I had a good time for the most part, but the truly dreadful final act mars the experience, for the sake of what feels purely like an artificial inflation of the play time. Still, this is exactly the kind of game worth picking up in a couple of months after a price drop. In fact, considering the sales weren’t great, you probably won’t have to wait that long.

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Titanfall 2 for PS4, Xbox One and PC

I didn’t play the first Titanfall for two reasons; first of all, it was multiplayer only and I really do need some kind of campaign to enjoy this kind of game. Second, and perhaps more significantly, it was Xbox and PC exclusive and I do not have either of those things. Still, it definitely appealed to me a lot more than other similar games and I was happy to give Titanfall 2 a go, available on PS4 and with a campaign.

I very rarely spend much time in multiplayer games, but I’ve played a fair bit of Titanfall 2 and plan to play a fair bit more. The Titanfall series has two main gameplay attractions which are both brilliant. The first, and most immediately obvious, are the eponymous Titans, massive mechs which can be summoned from the sky and controlled, delivering destruction as you go. The feeling of power when you’re in one of these things is palpable and unlocking access to your Titan during a match never stops being exciting. The other core mechanic is even better; the movement. I think I’ll struggle to go back to other online FPS games after Titanfall. Movement is everything in this game, from wall runs to double jumps to grappling hooks. Zipping around the map at remarkable speed is hugely thrilling and I felt even more fun than the Titan battling. I’ve tried a lot of tactical shooters, your Rainbow Six or your Ghost Recon or your Counter Strike and I’ve dabbled in class based shooters like Overwatch and Team Fortress 2. In the end though, there’s only one kind of online shooter I really enjoy; good ol’ fashioned twitchy run and gun. I like sprinting through levels, reacting in an instant to get a kill. Running and traversal is at the core of Titanfall’s design philosophy and it’s lovely to see my personal favourite gameplay style be encouraged.

There are lots of different modes, like standard deathmatches and variations of King of the Hill and all that stuff. One concern is the low player base; it’s not hard to get games in the main modes, but even something like Capture the Flag is fairly depopulated. The actual matches themselves are frantic, fun and quick. There’s a pretty big range of customisation, both for your Pilot and your Titan. All round, I’m not a fan of loadouts in FPSs and never have been. I like FPS games where everyone starts out with the same equipment and picks up new weapons throughout the levels, which creates interesting choke points in the maps. Loadouts obviously completely obliterate this element. This isn’t really a problem with Titanfall 2; this is just what online FPS games do now, but I still don’t like it. I’ve yet to be persuaded that they exist for any reason other than providing an artificial sense of progression or a vehicle for microtransactions. Despite this quibble, I’ve been having the most fun with an online PvP FPS since…Halo 3 maybe? Damn. As much as I am enjoying the multiplayer, I’m not very good at talking about it as it simply isn’t my area of expertise, so I’ll move over to a highlight which I think no one saw coming; the campaign.

Titanfall 2’s story is so unbelievably bland I can’t even remember what happened and I finished the campaign about two days ago. There’s something about space mercenaries working for some evil business creating a superweapon and you need to stop it, or something? The main character has the most hilariously generic white guy name I’ve ever heard…wait for it; Jack Cooper. Jack. Cooper. This is a name so generic that it is almost ascends to art and the character fulfils those expectations exactly. Despite the actual plot being paper thin and, frankly, rubbish, I was still invested for one big reason. Early in the game Jack becomes linked with a Titan named BT and the two work together throughout the story, which follows a rough structure of having the two be separated and then join together again repeatedly. The relationship between Jack and BT is something we’ve all seen done before loads of times, but it is genuinely heartfelt and I can’t deny that it plucked at my very easily plucked heartstrings. I don’t know why human/giant robot is a relationship I find so compelling, but there it is. Blame Iron Giant.

The campaign isn’t particularly long, perhaps about five hours, but they are five of the most intensely fun and creative five hours I’ve ever played. Titanfall 2 shows a Nintendo style design philosophy; new ideas, which other studios would use for entire games, are introduced and abandoned in almost every chapter. Yes, Titanfall 2 is a rock solid shooter with hugely satisfying mechanics, but then again most shooters are these days; the standard for general gunplay is as high as it’s ever been. To stand out you must do something different and the real strength of this campaign is in the wonderful level design. The incredible traversal mechanics aren’t quite used to their full potential in the multiplayer, as wallrunning and launching off every platform in sight isn’t actual particularly effective. The campaign is the area where the sheer joy of movement can be harnessed; Titanfall 2 is the best first person platformer I’ve ever played, even better than games that weren’t also very solid shooters. The campaign is quite regularly breathtakingly exciting, with set pieces which don’t just feel like a beautiful skybox for you to blast enemies in. There’s something tactile about this world which is so lacking in many other linear shooter campaigns. There’s one section which reminded me of Portal. I remember back when Half Life 2: Episode 3 was still looking like a thing that would exist and people were wondering if the Portal gun could be incorporated into gunplay as a crossover. I said it wouldn’t work, puzzle based mechanics and shooter based mechanics will never be able to mesh. Well, Respawn have proven me very wrong. I won’t go into detail about specific mechanics as I don’t want to spoil the surprise. Lots of games have been abandoning campaigns lately, but Titanfall 2 shows just how good they can be when approached with love and attention. It may be short, but Titanfall 2’s campaign is pure concentrated joy. I’ll put it this way, I enjoyed my 5 hours with Titanfall 2’s campaign far more than my 25 or so with Rise of the Tomb Raider.

It helps that the game looks lovely, with a vibrant and colourful world. The muted colours of other FPSs are absent here, with Titanfall 2’s alien planet being a beautiful, vibrant place. I could maybe have done with it being a bit weirder, in the vein of Halo. The Titans are easily the best visual marvel of the game, particularly when you’re outside of one in a multiplayer match. Zipping around on foot whilst massive robots rain each other with ordinance in stunning. More than once I’d duck into the open, find myself in the path of a Titan’s chaingun and then take part in a thrilling chase back into cover. They’re awe inspiring and never stop being cool. The music is nothing special and neither is the voice acting, but the general sound design elsewhere is good, particularly the satisfying clanking of the Titans.

Titanfall 2 is better than I think anyone expected it to be but has unfortunately been a bit lost, launching as it did between Battlefield and Call of Duty. I hope this game gets a new lease on life because it really is excellent and I want to keep playing online for a long time, without it drying up into a playerless wasteland. I particularly hope a third game happens, hopefully with a better story because I want to see what those genius level designers over at Respawn can come up with.

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Destiny (2016) Re-review for PS4 and Xbox One

So, I’ve been playing Destiny on and off since it first came out back when I was a wee lad in 2014. I played the Taken King expansion and more recently, Rise of Iron, but I never felt like I had enough to say to justify a review. Instead, I’m going to look at where Destiny is now and my experiences with the game as a complete package in 2016.

Destiny was a familiar story in gaming, a victim of its own hype. Bungie aren’t blameless here; they promised something which wasn’t delivered. We had been led to expect a massive Mass Effect style story driven open world RPG MMO with the gun play of Halo. In retrospect this seems like a bit of an insane proposition, but this is what was arguably marketed and faith in Bungie as a company was high enough that lots of people thought they could pull it off. When Destiny released in 2014 it was a competent shooter/MMO with not enough content but excellent FPS mechanics. Two years later Destiny is unburdened of the hype and able to be appreciated for what it is and it turns out that what it is is excellent. I know that sentence was bad but I like it so I’m keeping it.

The story of OG Destiny was so incoherent that I still can’t quite believe it; it wasn’t even bland bad, it was an epic Phantom Menace/Batman v Superman level disaster. I don’t know how this happened but, well, it did. Taken King and Rise of Iron improve things somewhat; it’s clear what is actually happening and I know what’s going on, even if that doesn’t actually make either story particularly interesting. People still insist that the Grimoire cards contain some fascinating lore but that simply isn’t good enough, especially considering that they still can’t be read in game. I never rated the Halo story nearly as much as some, but at least it made sense. The characters were clearly defined and had relationships with each other, there were stakes to the action, Destiny still takes place in this weird ethereal void where nothing you do seems to matter. I really hope this is something Bungie touches up in the sequel, because whilst the storytelling has improved in later releases it’s improved from ‘unmitigated nonsense bollocks’ to ‘boring, bland bollocks.’

Now, before I go any further I need to explain what kind of Destiny player I am, because there are people who play Destiny and people who play Destiny. I’m the former; I’ll play each mission once and all the strikes maybe twice. I’m not into grinding for the best loot, or taking on ridiculous challenges, or mastering the PvP. I’m not going to talk in massive detail about Engrams and strange coins and Exotic Gear. I will say that levelling after 40 has gotten faster, with better loot drops to raise your light level meaning that the grind is significantly curtailed, which I massively appreciated. If you’ve bought every expansion you’ve paid a lot of money on Destiny, and a lot of people certainly got their money’s worth, but I’m not sure I did. That said, if you were to buy the complete package at full price today, you absolutely, undeniably would. It’s definitely worth picking up now.

The thing is, for all these problems, I just love playing Destiny. I love the gunplay, I love the way it looks, I love the music, I love the boss fights. The strikes in Destiny have provided me moments of gaming bliss only rivalled by Bloodborne and some Nintendo games. The weirdest thing is that I haven’t even touched what most call the best part of the game, the raids. They’re still locked behind matchmaking which simply isn’t an option for me. Out of my circle of friends around 2/3 aren’t active gamers and most of the remaining are PC master race types. Getting together six people for a Destiny raid just isn’t an option for me. Game journos have hyped these up, but they by the nature of their profession will have nowhere near the trouble getting these groups together than a normal person with a full time job will. Some of these raids take hours apparently; the most I can game in an unbroken period is maybe an hour sometimes. It’s a testament to how much I bloody love Destiny that I enjoy it so much whilst bypassing what is unanimously considered its best feature.

The Taken King and Rise of Iron certainly make improvements, but they are held back by the somewhat creaky framework of the main game. The mission design improves significantly across the releases, particularly the final story mission of Rise of Iron, which takes clear inspiration from Halo. If the inevitable full sequel can build on this, I honestly think Destiny 2 will be something incredible. Destiny remains the maddening contradiction it always has been, but riven of the hype we can now see the remarkably solid underpinnings of the whole thing. It remains a flawed experience, but I really do love it. I genuinely have faith in Bungie to learn from its mistakes and make Destiny 2 the best game it can be; I for one cannot wait.

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Doom for PS4, Xbox One and PC

I have no nostalgia for the Doom series. The original was a bit before my time; the oldest FPS I’ve played all the way through is Half-Life. I appreciated what Doom did for the genre, but a reboot was not exactly on my agenda. After giving it a go though, I ended up really liking it. It felt retro but with enough concessions to modern gaming to make it still feel accessible.

Doom has a story but you won’t be worrying about it much. Demons have overrun a station on Mars after a misguided attempt to harness energy from Hell as an unlimited fuel source. The player character is the Doom Slayer, a warrior who was imprisoned by the demons in a mythic sarcophagus who has now been freed to slaughter demons and close the portal to Hell. Doom has just the right amount of plot, rarely breaking up the action to talk to us. The story isn’t actually bad at all. That said, the player will mostly just be itching to reduce demons to lumps of flesh. The clever part is that the protagonist feels much the same way. He’s silent, but the way he moves makes it clear that he is mostly interested in killing demons and not much else. This creates what I can only call the exact opposite of ludonarrative dissonance; the protagonist’s desires and actions match pretty much entirely with the player’s. It seems obvious, but very few games have pulled this off as well as Doom.

Doom is a mechanically pure game; you’ll do very little that doesn’t involve slaughtering hordes of demons. Doom makes the rare choice to only do One Thing, but to do that One Thing incredibly well. This is shooting at its purest; no cover mechanic, run and gun. This type of shooter has almost died in AAA gaming; even Halo, one of the last bastions, is shifting away from this sort of thing. The first thing that a coddled modern FPS player will notice is that Doom is fast. The pace is frantic and you must be constantly moving; as a loading screen tells us, to stand still is death. You don’t need to reload the guns, meaning that you essentially never have to stop shooting. When you’ve done enough damage to a foe they begin to glow orange and at that point you can come in close for a violent melee ‘glory kill.’ I wasn’t sure how this would work, but in practice it’s wonderful. There’s a sense of rhythm to the core gameplay loop of Doom which I loved; shoot, get close, kill, shoot, get close, kill. Doom almost put me into the trance like state that rhythm games like Guitar Hero can bring about, which is pretty insane for a shooter. The best way to play Doom (at normal difficulty at least) is to turn your brain off and allow instinct to take over, giving Doom a sense of purity missing in many modern shooters. Doom has one of the most solid mechanical bases in any shooter I’ve played; it’s a shame that the bells and whistles on top didn’t quite appeal to me as much.

Doom is a decent length and has a good variety of weaponry. They fit within the standard mold of FPS guns, but are extremely satisfying to use and handle beautifully. Most guns can be modified one of two ways, allowing you a bit of control over your play style. Even after I started picking up chainguns and gauss rifles my favourite was still the trusty double barrelled shotgun. Doom also has a couple of platforming sections, which stunningly actually work rather well. Good platforming in an FPS, I never through I’d see the day. I found the level design a bit less inspired and it’s here where my lack of nostalgia may have affected the experience. I get that Doom is about Martian space stations and Hell, but I got pretty bored of the same-y environments. The Hell setting is open to some weird designs, but mostly it’s fairly conservative fire and brimstone or sinister tomb stuff. If this game gets a sequel (and I hope it does) I would like them to taken us to some more varied and interesting locations within which to reduce demons to their component pieces. All said though, when the core mechanics are this good any other criticisms feel like quibbles.

There’s a good level of attention to detail in Doom. The demon designs are brilliant, with a wide range of enemy designs all looking good and providing a unique challenge. The general feel of the guns are incredible, helped in no small part by excellent visual and sound design. The sound guns make when they fire is an underappreciated art in FPS design and Doom nails it. The soundtrack is classic obnoxious metal. In any other context I don’t think I could bear to listen to it for more than a few seconds but in the heat of the moment it just works. I mentioned before that I didn’t love the general design of the setting, which may just be down to personal taste. I think Doom achieves visually in what it sets out to do, but what it sets out to do just isn’t particularly interesting to me. A choppy framerate would (ahem) doom a fast game like this so thankfully the game ran perfectly throughout, without a hitch.

Doom is a rock solid foundation that I hope is built on in a sequel, which the story does set up. Where violence in games can sometimes just be nauseating, Doom is so ridiculously over the top that it feels like a cartoon. Doom is a hell of a lot of fun and I recommend it to anyone who misses the purity of run and gun.

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Far Cry Primal for PS4, Xbox One and PC

I’ve always preferred to play the Far Cry series as low tech as possible, favouring bows and knives over AK-47s and missile launchers. So, the announcement of Far Cry Primal was pretty exciting, with the series shifting to a prehistoric setting and a focus on primitive tools. In the end I found myself missing the modern elements, as spears and rocks begin to lack to the variety seen in previous games as well as an entire lacklustre story, but the stunning world and unique setting ultimately made up for it.

In Far Cry Primal you play as Takkar, a huntsman from the Wenja tribe. During a mammoth hunt gone wrong Takkar is separated from his group and stumbles into the hidden valley land of Oros. Here we sets out to build up the Wenja, in the face of violence from rival tribes as well as the hostile wildlife. These tribes are the cannibalistic Udam and the fire worshiping Izila and Takkar must learn to harness the powers of the beasts to defeat them and establish the Wenja as the leading tribe of Oros.

Put simply, the storyline of Far Cry Primal is a massive disappointment. Far Cry 3 and 4 both marketed themselves based on their flamboyant and distinctive villains. It may be becoming a formula, but by and large it works. Far Cry 3 and 4 really didn’t have great stories, but the roles of Vaas and Pagan Min elevated them to something memorable. Primal lacks that, with bland villains and a stereotypical supporting cast. The only potentially interesting character is the traumatised Wenja Sayla, who wears a necklace made of Udam ears, but she is absent for most of the story and given no space to develop. The less said about Takkar the better; he’s so bland and joyless he makes Ajay Ghale (Far Cry 4) look like Guybrush Threepwood (Monkey Island).

The core mechanics of the Far Cry series are incredibly strong and it can’t be overstated just how good Primal feels to play. Running around, throwing spears and massacring left right and centre never failed to feel good, but it did begin to feel a bit repetitive. There are very limited tools at your disposal; the idea of ditching the modern weapons sounded interesting on paper but in practice you’re left with little in the way of strategy and variety. Don’t get me wrong; nailing an oncoming maniac charging at you with a spear is intensely satisfying, but I found myself yearning for more by the end. The most interesting new mechanic is the beast taming, where Takkar can bring different creatures into battle with him. In practice, there is little here that we didn’t already see in Far Cry 4’s weird tiger dream sequences. I did find myself quite attached to my battle scarred sabre-tooth tiger and he’s pretty good for drawing aggro, but a lot of the more interesting sounding mechanics (like riding him into battle) don’t really work in practice.

The upgrading and levelling as an intensive as ever, but still very satisfying, with almost all new abilities making you feel genuinely more powerful. There has been some praise for the foraging system, but I’m not so sure. To craft new spears or arrows (which you will need to do a lot) you have to get bits of wood, flint and animal hide. I guess this is meant to make us feel like a primitive badass living off the land, but in practice I generally just felt like it was slowing me down from getting to the fun stuff. Sure, you’ll get to launch an attack on that outpost soon, but first you need to gather 20 Hardwood. It got old very quickly.

The mission variety isn’t the best, but as I said before the core combat is strong enough that it didn’t feel like a huge issue. This is an Ubisoft game so you must claim territory to unlock more of the map and side quests. People knock the Ubisoft structure but the reason they keep using it is because it works. The side quests are, generally, less interesting than in previous games. Where Far Cry 3 and 4 offered vehicle challenges to break up the monotony, these obviously cannot be present in Primal. Almost all side quests involved killing a bunch of animals/people, rescuing some hostage Wenja, escorting a load of Wenja to a safe place or tracking footprints. Slightly more interesting are the side quests provided by your village as you build up its population, but only because they provide a bit more context. Easily the best missions are hunts for legendary and powerful creatures. There are four total; a wolf, a sabre-tooth tiger, a mammoth and a bear. They involved tracking the creature and taking it down before it can be tamed. They feel genuinely intense and a bit different to everything else. Overall though, Far Cry Primal is significantly lacking in the mission variety department.

The one area where Far Cry Primal is most certainly not lacking is the visuals. Oros is a genuinely stunning setting. Primal may be one of the prettiest open worlds I’ve ever explored, if maybe not the most interesting. There is some nice variety though, with a snowy North, a lush middle and a swampy South. Far Cry 3 and 4’s settings were great, but the lack of variety was an issue. This is not so in Primal. Style can take you a long way and the simple pleasure of exploring such a beautiful world gives this game legs that it perhaps hadn’t earned elsewhere. The music is forgettable and the voice acting bland, but the visuals wind up being Primal’s biggest strength.

Far Cry Primal is pretty much exactly what you’d expect. If you’re feeling burnt out on the Far Cry/Ubisoft formula, give it a miss, but if you have it in you for another one you could do a lot worse. Give it a couple of months until it goes down further in price and enjoy. I hope Ubisoft shake things up a lot for the proper (inevitable) Far Cry 5. I’m not convinced they will though.

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Wolfenstein: The Old Blood for PS4, Xbox One and PC

Wolfenstein: The New Order was one of the most pleasant surprises of last year. It wasn’t on my radar at all, but after giving it a go I found my favourite linear shooter in years, perhaps since Half Life 2. The opportunity to dip back into that was tantalising and even if The Old Blood doesn’t quite capture the magic of The New Order it’s still a fun and worthwhile experience.

The Old Blood is a prequel, taking place before BJ Blaskowitz’s assault of Deathsheads compound at the beginning of The New Order. This is the story of how Blaskowitz discovered the location of the compound and sees him infiltrating the titular Castle Wolfenstein, which is under the control of the sadistic Nazi archeologist Helga von Schabbs. As Blaskowitz discovers more about von Shabb’s goals it becomes clear that the Nazis seek to tap into very dark powers to seek global control.

The story in The New Order was a real pleasant surprise and I found myself genuinely caring about the cast, something I really wasn’t expecting to happen. The Old Blood isn’t quite so successful, with new characters introduced and forgotten with regularity and a story which touches on interesting places but doesn’t reach them. Helga von Shabbs doesn’t really do anything as a villain that we hadn’t seen done better in the main game, but she’s a menacing presence nonetheless. The real success of The New Order was the way that it was able to go pulpy and silly whilst also meaningfully exploring the real horrors of the Nazi regime in a way most games would shy away from. This is a game which saw us fly to the Moon and also be subjected to a Concentration Camp. It shouldn’t have worked, but it did and that magic is just lacking in The Old Blood.

The core mechanics are still incredibly solid though, both as a stealthy and a run and gun experience. They just feel really good to play, with some very cool set pieces. There are two main parts to The Old Blood with very different tones and gameplay styles, with the first being undoubtedly the strongest. This is the actual invasion of Castle Wolfenstein and I really wish that they had just doubled down and built the entire game around that. The second half goes to an odd place for story reasons but simply isn’t as engaging to play. As mentioned before, the game feels good enough that it was never boring, but the pacing certainly isn’t as tight as it could have been.

The Old Blood looks pretty great, with Castle Wolfenstein standing out for its gothic majesty. The outstanding frame rate certainly helps the experience, but the quality of the design is what really stands out. The voice acting is generally good, with much of the dialogue in German with subtitles rather than hammy accents, which is always nice. The Old Blood is certainly a polished experience.

As a budget release, I’m more confident in recommending The Old Blood than I might have been otherwise. It doesn’t quite have the magic of The New Order, but it’s a good, fun game nonetheless.

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Far Cry 4 for PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PC

Far Cry 4 is proof that a sequel doesn’t need to innovate to excel. Far Cry 3 was a great game and, barring a handful of small changes, Far Cry 4 is more of the same. Is that a bad thing? Well, no, Far Cry 3 was great and I was very happy to do the same stuff for a bit longer. That said, I’m not sure if Ubisoft could get away with it again for Far Cry 5, or we may be entering worrying Assassin’s Creed territory.

Ajay Ghale has travelled from his home in the United States to his birth place, the tiny Himalayan mountain nation of Kyrat to scatter his mother’s ashes. Kyrat is ruled over the tyrannical, insane and charming Pagan Min. Pagan is opposed by the Golden Path, a resistance group formed by Ajay’s father Mohan. Ajay is quickly brought into the resistance against Pagan, slaughtering his way across Kyrat and through Pagan’s power structure until he reaches Pagan himself. At the same time, Ajay must resolve a power struggle with the Golden Path itself between the traditionalist yet regressive Sabal and the progressive yet brutal Amita.

The overall storytelling is stronger in Far Cry 4 than in Far Cry 3, partially by not killing off its compelling villain and replacing him with a much worse one half way through. I’ll never forget Vaas, but I can’t for the life of me tell you who the main villain was. Far Cry 4 doesn’t make this mistake with Pagan standing as your opponent through the whole thing. He still doesn’t have enough of a presence however, occasionally taunting you through your radio but feeling mostly absent for much of the game. The sheer unbelievability of Ajay’s military and action prowess is ridiculous, with Ajay being a total non-character, with her personal connections to the events in Kyrat never feeling particularly engaging as a result. Far Cry 3’s protagonist was also insanely proficient at killing, but at least that game attempted a Heart of Darkness style focus on the changes that violence makes to a person. Of course, Far Cry 3 also shared some of Heart of Darkness’ problematic colonial themes, which are thankfully less present in this instalment. The attempts at humour are pretty embarrassing, with the irreverent resistance DJ grating and the ‘comic relief’ stoner side characters really not working. Pagan Min is main redeeming feature of the storytelling, but thankfully he’s enough of an asset to carry the whole thing through.

If you played Far Cry 3, you know what to expect in Far Cry 4. The mechanics are basically the same, but that means they’re still incredibly fun. Stealthily taking outposts with bow, arrow and knife is still fantastically fun, as is raining destruction with rocket launchers, or sniping all from afar. Far Cry is a series which has made good on its open world structure, with the popular marketing buzzword that you can approach objectives how you like for once being very true. You won’t really be doing anything different; you’ll still scale radio towers to unlock new parts of the map, hunt animals to craft new gear, assassinate commanders and, of course, complete story missions with greater set piece moments. There’s a huge amount to do in this game, with some brilliant side missions given by particular characters being standouts. The generic assassination and delivery missions are still really fun, simply through the strength of the core mechanics. There are a handful of new toys to play with however and they’re all a lot of fun.

Kyrat is more hilly and vertical than the Rook Islands from Far Cry 3, so getting around is made easier with a fun and effective mountain climbing mechanic. I’m a sucker for first person platforming and Far Cry 4 does it quite well. There’s a nice little tweak to the driving in the form of an ‘auto-drive’ mode which allows you to focus on shooting during high speed pursuits. The real vehicular highlight is comfortably the mini-helicopter which you can use to get around quickly. I love flying in games and I never really got tired of zipping around in the little thing. The ability to ride elephants into battle is another extremely fun addition, although the guilt I felt when my giant flappy eared bro fell to enemy fire was a bit of a downer. The only change that I really didn’t like was that Pagan can now take back outposts if you haven’t already captured one of four fortresses. I’ve seen a few different opinions on this and I do really understand that the developer is trying to create a sense of satisfaction in taking the fortresses. The reality is however that every single time it happened I was extremely irritated, as I would usually be half way towards something else that I wanted to do. I ended up feeling like the game was wasting my time. That said, it’s really my only quibble in an otherwise joyful experience.

Far Cry 4 looks pretty great, although it is unarguably held back by its inclusion in the previous console generation. A large amount of stuff is ripped straight from Far Cry 3, but it’s not too noticeable. Kyrat is a hell of a location, quite unlike anywhere I’d really seen in a game before. It’s undeniably beautiful and a nice change from the tropical Far Cry 3. The music isn’t bad, although I actually kind of missed Far Cry 3’s wub wubs. The voice acting is mostly excellent, with the obvious highlight being Pagan Min, but your Golden Path contacts Amita and Sabal acquit themselves well too. It’s refreshingly glitch light as well, which is surprising considering that it is a) open world and b) released by Ubisoft. A nicely presented package overall, but I’m looking forward to a Far Cry 5 exclusive to the current gen.

Did you like Far Cry 3? Good, you’ll like this too then. It may not make the same impact as its predecessor, but it’s still a damn good game and well worth a play.farcry4

Destiny for PS4, PS3, Xbox One and Xbox 360

It’s funny; I expected to have mixed feelings about Destiny, I never quite brought the hype. The interesting thing is that the things I expected to love I hated and the things I expected to hate I loved.

Destiny takes place centuries into the future, after the downfall of ‘The Traveller’, an object or possibly being found on Mars which gave humanity the ability to travel space, live far longer and eventually bring about a utopia. Eventually however, a nebulous force known as ‘The Darkness’ arrived and caused The Traveller to fail, bringing about the destruction of civilisation. Fragments of the Traveller known as Ghosts have scoured the solar system to find ‘Guardians’, those who seek to defend the last vestiges of civilisation and drive hostile alien forces from the Solar System.

In short, the plot of Destiny is appalling. Truly, irredeemably bad. Destiny repeatedly fails to adhere to the most basic rules of good storytelling. Rather than showing us or letting us discover the world organically, all lore is confined to horribly narrated (we’ll come to that later) loading screen or unlockable ‘Grimoire’ cards which cannot even be viewed in game. We’re given precisely zero reason to care about the fate of the universe, with almost no actual characters or any feeling of stakes. I don’t struggle to keep up with complex plots, so there’s no excuse for why I frequently had no idea what I was doing and why. I went to this ancient temple and discovered this thing so I could go to this place and then I had to get a thing to get another thing which will help me get another thing to get into another place so I can get to the next place where the next thing I need is. Playing Destiny is kind of like trying to read that sentence. What’s so surprising about this is that this is Bungie. Among the AAA shooter crowd, Halo probably has had the strongest story-telling, with genuinely likeable characters and real stakes. How could these be the same people who made Destiny? But enough about the story, I could rant about it all day.

Despite the problems with the story, Destiny manages to achieve something truly astounding. It’s a fantastic FPS. It’s also a great MMO. On consoles no less! The shooting feels like Halo, which is a very good thing in my books, with the three classes all having unlockable skill trees to personalise the experience. I went for the levitating Warlock, as did most people looking at the games I’ve played online, but all three of them seem fun and the balance is good. The repetitive nature of this game has been criticised, but I actually never really got tired of the core mechanics. There’s a disappointing lack of vehicular combat, my favourite thing about Halo, but the un-weaponised speeders you can summon at will are pure joy to pilot. The social elements are brilliantly integrated, and I ended up loving this element more than anything, surprising myself as I tend to be a fairly solitary gamer. The player can return to the central ‘Tower’ between missions to buy new equipment and collect bounties, which give EXP rewards. Dancing around the Tower with strangers bought some of my favourite moments with Destiny.

Bungie really worked to sell the scale of Destiny, but frankly they lied. There are four areas; Earth, the Moon, Mars and Venus. Each contains a handful of story missions, which are fun but probably the most boring part of the game. Each world also allows you to patrol, which means travelling the planet map picking up mini-objectives. This was the element I was most excited about, but the promise of open environments simply does not come through. Yes, some of the areas are open, but are inevitably linked by valleys or tunnels, making each feel like a separate battle arena rather than a coherent whole. The worlds are no fun to explore, with none of the sense of awe or scale promised by the developers. The PVP mode is called ‘The Crucible’ is actually surprisingly fun, with a range of game modes. As mentioned above though, the lack of vehicular combat was felt keenly however. The best parts of the game are ‘Strikes’, where three person teams embark on a lengthy mission culminating in a boss fight. Although these fights get less interesting as the game goes on, the first few were some of the most exciting, tense and rewarding multiplayer experiences I’ve ever had.

Destiny is a stunning looking game, with beautiful environments and fantastic art direction. If only Bungie had found something to fill this lovely world. The music is good, sweeping and operatic when it needs to be and tense and pounding when the moment suits it. One thing really sticks out though; the voice acting. It’s terrible, across the board. Talented actors like Peter Dinklage, Bill Nighy, Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres and Claudia Black deliver stilted, dull performances. This isn’t really a criticism of those actors so much as of Destiny’s script. It would be an impossible feat to make much of Destiny’s dialogue sound good. Dinklage in particular almost crosses over to being compelling his voice acting is so phoned in; I never got tired of hearing the dripping contempt for his own dialogue, so…Destiny has that going for it I guess.

The main takeaway of Destiny is that it is slick. In fact, slick would probably be the best word to describe this game. That’s both a good and a bad thing. Whilst sometimes holding negative connotations in the game industry, a slick experience is of underrated importance. Everything in Destiny just…well, works. For a launch online game, Destiny’s lack of problems is possibly unprecedented. Everything fits together really well, with the separate modes and elements all feeling part of a coherent whole as you progress your character. The shooting is rock solid, the social elements fantastically integrated, the levelling smooth and satisfying. Destiny is quite clearly a game made by pros. To the negative implications of slick then; Destiny is a game that lacks a soul or a sense of direction. There’s no roughness or charm to this world, no irony or wit. In fact, probably the best analogy I can think of is the Star Wars prequels. Sure, the CGI was shinier and the lightsaber fights more over the top, but the grimy and witty world of the Original Trilogy always wins.Destiny_box_art

Wolfenstein: The New Order for PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PC

Well, this game was significantly better than it had any right to be. Wolfenstein isn’t really a series known to have aged with dignity and wasn’t really on my radar at all, lacking any nostalgia for the earlier ones. I gave it a shot though, and lo and behold I think I have my favourite game of 2014 so far on my hands.

The New Order follows long time series protagonist BJ Blazkowitz, and opens in an alternate universe where World War 2 has extended into 1946. Blazkowitz and a range of other soldiers launch an attack on the compound of Deathshead, a Nazi scientist and long time foe of Blaskowitz. During the attack, Blazkowitz gains a shrapnel wound to the head, which leaves him in a vegetative state in a Polish asylum until 1960. In this universe, the Nazis have taken over the world following the dropping of an atomic bomb on the United States. After Nazis storm the asylum and murder the kind doctor and his wife who run it, Blazkowitz re-awakens and, with Anya, a young pharmacist and daughter of the operators of the asylum, sets off to Berlin to free his former comrades and join a new revolution against Nazi rule.

The first pleasant surprise of The New Order is the great story. The alternate universe Nazi stuff has been done a lot, but rarely better than here. The true horror of a Nazi victory suffuses the entire experience, and The New Order does a great job of showing rather than telling, letting the clear misery of the populace and scattered propaganda impart to the player the sickness of this regime. Although any sane person will acknowledge the evil of Nazi ideology, it’s always been so far from my own experience that I could only appreciate this on an intellectual level. The New Order made me feel my disgust, on an emotional level, with the sickening reality that, robots and goofy technology aside, the attitude which underpins these villains was one which was widely held, and not that long ago.

Blazkowitz is an unsophisticated protagonist, but the excellent voice work and writing make him a cut above the average gruff, square-jawed American protagonist. Blazkowitz isn’t a misery, he doesn’t brood, he’s capable of a range of emotions. Admittedly, his most common emotion in Nazi slaughtering rage, but we see him capable of joy, love and grief. On the surface he may look like just another bland protagonist, but trust me, Blazkowitz is no Aiden Pearce. One disappointment is that while a Jewish heritage for Blazkowitz is hinted at, it’s never confirmed, something which would obviously change the context of his character significantly. I don’t really know why MachineGames held back from confirming this, but I really wish they had. The supporting cast a likeable and well developed too; they regularly sort themselves out of situations, and aren’t just passive targets for Blazkowitz to protect. So many games feature the American hero who parachutes in and saves everyone, but while Blazkowitz is a help, the rest of the resistance are all perfectly competent without him. There are some wonky tonal issues, with one chapter in particular veering from a viscerally horrifying depiction of a concentration camp to gloriously cathartic killing spree, but mostly The New Order balances its silliness and it’s seriousness well.

Of course, all this would be null if the actual shooting wasn’t good, but, happily, it is! There’s little in the way of gimmicks; all the guns are ones we’ve seen before, but it’s simply flawlessly executed, and never less than satisfying. The New Order balances the strengths of classic and modern shooters brilliantly, whilst jettisoning the weaknesses. The fast pace chaos of classic shooters meets an effective cover system, with none of the weightlessness of classic shooters or the blandness of infinitely regenerating health of modern shooters. The game is linear, but there are multiple approaches to most levels, with the stealth being simple but hugely satisfying. Guns blazing is a viable tactic though, and never less than gloriously fun. It’s worth taking your time through the levels though, as there’s a lot to scavenge and find. An unlockable perks system means that the player is rewarded for mastering particular play styles, whilst also perhaps encouraging you to eventually tackle situations in different ways to unlock perks which might otherwise remain locked. The New Order is a great case of not reinventing the wheel, focusing on tight gameplay and clever level design instead.

The campaign is lengthy, but doesn’t outstay its welcome. The New Order is a great example of just how good a single player only FPS can be, when a developer doesn’t need to divide their resources. It doesn’t even have pointless immersion breaking co-op! It’s brilliantly paced, with a wide range of different environments and situations, meaning that it never descends into the mindless corridor shooting that has infected modern shooters. There’s a timeline split early on, with two versions of the campaign, which will offer some changes, but felt mostly to me like an artificial way to inflate value. This game was plenty good value without it. There are a range of gameplay systems outside the shooting, but they’re always short but sweet.

The New Order isn’t exactly a visual powerhouse, and is one of those games depressingly held back by the need to appear in the last console generation. It still looks great though, and the actual visual design is fantastic, really helping to immerse the player in this world. There are all kinds of fun details as well, such as a great soundtrack including the Nazi version of The Beatles and The Animals. The voice acting is stellar, both for the English and German parts. This game isn’t afraid of making you read subtitles sometimes! Deathshead is a bit too muchof a silly cliché to be truly menacing, but he gets the job done as a baddie. You certainly grow to hate him very quickly. The better villain is the secondary Frau Engel, who runs a concentration camp with gleeful sadism. The New Order has a really strong aesthetic, and it’s a setting I really hope MachineGames return to.

Wolfenstein: The New Order is, most of all, a focused game. It doesn’t aim to be a jack of all trades, opting instead to simply to the basics really well. In the end, this produces an overall more satisfying experience than the sprawling variety of something like Watch Dogs. The New Order joins Mario Kart 8 as a surprise contender for game of the year so far.wolfenstein-header

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