Frivolous Waste of Time

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Archive for the tag “open world games”

Watch Dogs 2: Human Conditions DLC for PS4, Xbox One and PC

Watch Dogs 2 was far better than it had any right to be. It ended up being one of my favourite games of 2016, which I don’t think I would have seen coming. Dipping back into it with DLC, I wondered if somehow I’d been bamboozled by its in-your-face energy, but the Human Conditions DLC reminded me that, no, Watch Dogs 2 really is a bloody good game.

The meat of the DLC lies in three new missions, all centred around moral lapses in Silicon Valley. One mission focuses on self-driving cars and an algorithm which determines the value of an individual’s life in the event of a crash. Another brings the return of foul mouthed rival hacker Lenni as you investigate inhumane testing of nanotechnology. The final mission is about a hacking of a hospital, which ties into a storyline involving the Bratva Russian mob. The writing for Watch Dogs 2 was so sharp and fun and it’s all the same here, genuinely well written and charming. The core DedSec team have become a hugely loveable bunch of goons. Sure, the satire hits with precisely zero subtlety, but I enjoy its message about resisting corporate control and taking back freedom. Of course, being developed by megacorp publisher Ubisoft undermines this a little bit, but there’s more political and social engagement in Watch Dogs 2 than most AAA games will attempt. The storyline about the hacked hospital felt particularly relevant, given the recent NHS hack in the UK.

Watch Dogs 2 worked itself into an immensely satisfying groove, as you control your three tools: Marcus, your little RC car thing and your drone. The missions were, in many ways, your standard base assault stuff we see in Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry, but the range of genuinely useful and engaging tools at your disposal made them feel more like playgrounds for you to use all your toys. The missions in Human Conditions offer more of the same, but if they’d been a part of the main game I think they’d have been considered among the best. The only real change can be found in the addition of enemies which can jam your hacking. I’m not sure about this; adding difficulty by removing your ability to do what makes the game fun feels artificial, but unfortunately is fairly commonplace. It doesn’t ruin the experience by any stretch, but my feeling upon coming across a jammer was usually more irritation rather than a sense of excitement of a new challenge to overcome.

DLC is almost never worth it full price, so I’m happy I waited for a PSN sale. For what I paid, I think Human Conditions was worth it. If spending a bit more time with Marcus, Wrench, Sitara and Josh appeals to you, Human Conditions is certainly worth a look.

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The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for Switch and Wii U

I don’t even know how to go about reviewing this game. Zelda is my favourite game series, but it’s hard to deny that it’s been stuck in a rut. I think the last genuine classic is almost 15 years old; Wind Waker. The following games have been good, even great, but have not captured me as much as the games that preceded it. There were two major transformative moments in the series prior to this year; 1991’s SNES classic A Link to the Past and the seminal 1997 Ocarina of Time on the N64. Since then, the series has stayed roughly within the established formula. Now, almost 20 years later, the third transformative moment for the series has arrived with Breath of the Wild. It’s not perfect, there are definite roughs around the edges, but Breath of the Wild is a game changer both for the series and open world game design in general.

I think Breath of the Wild has the greatest open world ever made because it is truly open. Even in GTA you can’t enter all the buildings, but if everything you see in Breath of the Wild is attainable, everything is reachable, everything is tangible. There was a moment I headed towards a shrine which had popped up on my sensor. I later realised that the story would have taken me to its location eventually, outside a gate near one of the main villages. Instead, I climbed up a mountain and down again to my destination, seeing a glimpse of strange ruins I would come to later. On my way up the mountain I came to a plateau upon which I had a perfect view of Death Mountain, Hyrule laid out before it. I’m not ashamed to say I got a bit teary; this was the Zelda game I dreamed about as a child, the game I wanted Twilight Princess to be and it never could. The plateau I was on served no real purpose, it wasn’t how you were clearly intended to reach this shine, but it was there and it was gorgeous and I think Nintendo put it there on purpose. The world is massive, but still feels handcrafted. I don’t think Nintendo have even heard the word procedural generation. This is the Nintendo difference, this is why I will always love this company, for all they can be infuriating.

There has been a rigid Zelda formula since A Link to the Past. You explore a bit, you do a dungeon, you get an item, you beat a boss, you explore a bit, you do a dungeon, you get an item, you beat a boss etc. There’s usually a major focus shift a bit of the way through, like A Link to the Past’s Dark World or Ocarina of Time’s 7 year timeline jump, and then you do the same thing. It’s not a bad structure by any stretch, but the spirit of adventure of the original NES game was missing. Breath of the Wild abandons the formula almost entirely. Dungeons don’t really exist anymore and are replaced with Shrines scattered around the map. There are 120 in total and most contain some kind of puzzle. Some a very brief and some are like mini-dungeons and each give you an item which can either put towards giving yourself a Heart Container or expanding your stamina wheel. There are four larger dungeon-like areas, the nature of which I will not spoil, but they never reach the scale of the previous games’ dungeons. The puzzles themselves work very differently; you no longer have a set of equipable items you use to solve a dungeon’s puzzles. That design locks you into a particular path and you can tackle Breath of the Wild’s challenges in any order you like. Instead, you are given almost all of your tools in the first hour and sent out into the world. These powers are linked to your mythical Shiekah Slate and can do things like manipulate metal objects, pause time for a moving object, freeze ice and others. The puzzles are much more physics based and designed differently to traditional Zelda puzzles, often with multiple solutions, reminding me more of something like Portal or The Talos Principle.

Zelda games have long had a clear divide between exploration and puzzling, with the two halves of the games kept distinct through the dungeon structure. Breath of the Wild unifies the two, with a little and often approach to puzzling rather than dense and lengthy challenges. Initially I saw this an entirely positive thing; some of the puzzles are truly brilliant, but as time went on my opinion shifted somewhat. There may be 120 shrines (and the four mini-dungeons), but many of these shrines (too many) are combat focused and for a lot finding the shrine itself is the puzzle. All shrines have the same visual design and music, meaning that by the end I was feeling a bit like I’d seen it all before. A few fewer shrines and more themed and expansive dungeons may have been a better approach and I hope this is what they do with the sequel. The shift to shrines from a few massive dungeons is a good thing, but I think a slightly better balance could have been struck.

Link is the most manoeuvrable and fun to control he’s even been in 3D. Almost any surface is climbable, limited only by your upgradable stamina wheel, and any height can be used as a platform to glide from with your sailcloth. This is the most tangible open world since Metal Gear Solid V. Since I finished Zelda I’ve started playing Horizon: Zero Dawn, and whilst I’m enjoying it, it feels limited after Breath of the Wild. Breath of the Wild is entirely laissez-faire about how you approach its world. If you want to climb over the mountain in front of you rather than following a path wending round it, feel free. Many open world games use mountains and rivers to guide and block your exploration, to provide barriers, but Zelda simply places them as another challenge. Exploration is almost always rewarded, maybe with a shrine or with a Korok seed which you use to expand your inventory. If you see an interesting looking spot and wonder if there’s something cool up there, there almost always is. I love exploring in games, but many open world games are unwilling to remove the leash. Even games I love like The Witcher 3 would be very hard to play without waypoints, with a world designed in such a way that you need a map to get around. Early in the game, you will be sent to go through a valley between two mountains and then get directions. You don’t need a glowing marker to show you where to go, you can just look at the key landmark. There are more HUD options if you want them, but I played very minimalist, navigating by directions from passers-by and environmental clues. The last game I bothered to do this with is Morrowind.

This openness extends to the combat, which is another significant departure from previous games. In previous games you would generally have one sword, two at most, with which to fight. I mean, sure you could whack things with the Biggoron Hammer in Ocarina of Time, but why would you when the Master Sword is better and quicker? Breath of the Wild has an aggressive weapon durability system, which has been controversial. I totally get why people would hate it: I thought I would and sort of did myself at first. Your weapons are ridiculously brittle, with many weapons barely surviving a single protracted encounter before they literally shatter, never to be seen again. Breath of the Wild isn’t a game about acquiring loot and becoming more powerful; the difficulty curve instead fluctuates. There will be moments where you are powerful, fully buffed from food, quiver filled with arrows, powerful weapon at your side when you can take on the world. There will be times when you are low on health, depleted and with no weapon of any value. Breath of the Wild nudges you away from playing one particular way, from simply approaching each encounter by charging in with a sword. You don’t want to waste your finite resource of the weapon for no reason. You are instead encouraged to be clever, using the environment or stealth to clear areas. There’s something of Metal Gear Solid V’s vast toolbox of tricks in Breath of the Wild’s design. Some may find this nudging oppressive; if I want to charge in and just use a sword than why should the game stop me having fun? I see their point, but I don’t think I would have experimented as much as I did if I didn’t have to by necessity. Other games would teach you these mechanics through pop up or tutorials, Breath of the Wild teaches you to play smart by necessity. The actual melee combat itself is pretty basic, and feels like a step backwards from Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword, although the game is more about encouraging you to approach enemies in a variety of ways. Using the bow feels better in Breath of the Wild than it ever has before.

The biggest issue with the combat is a lack of enemy variety compared to previous games, with creatures like Re-Deads, Darknuts and Dodongos missing, with the world populated almost entirely with Bokobins, Moblins and Lizfalos.

One element I was very dubious of before release were the crafting and survival mechanics. I generally hate these in most games, but there’s a tactile charm to everything which makes even these irksome mechanics somehow delightful. Rather than collecting hearts from chopping grass, you heal from meals that you cook over a fire, which can also provide other buffs. Most games would just do this through a menu, with the outcome of your cooking clear based on your ingredients. Zelda is cheerfully chaotic, with cooking literally done by holding up to five items, dropping them in a pot and taking what comes out. Experimentation is rewarded and the buffs are considerable. There are areas which are too warm or cold for Link to survive, so these can be alleviated with particular outfits or foods. Zelda did something impossible; it actually made me enjoy crafting and survival. It’s essential that you take these mechanics seriously too because this game can be hard. It’s the hardest Zelda game since…Link’s Awakening maybe? It’s never cruel or capricious however and generous with autosaves.

Breath of the Wild doesn’t have the protracted opening for which most 3D Zelda games are guilty. Link awakens in a strange chamber and emerges into a Hyrule devastated by the arrival of Calamity Ganon. No clear timeline placement is offered, but the implication is that Breath of the Wild may be late in the timeline, as Ganon has abandoned any vestige of humanity or intelligence as Ganondorf, descending instead into as primal force of sheer evil. 100 years before, Hyrule had been overrun when Calamity Ganon turned the kingdom’s own highly advanced defensive Guardians against their masters. Link must piece together what happened 100 years ago and put an end to Calamity Ganon as it lurks in the ruins of Hyrule Castle.

Zelda has never had complex plots, but at their best they tap into a sense of epic destiny. Breath of the Wild is, in many ways, post-apocalyptic, and there’s a sense of melancholy and loss which pervades the whole thing. I had worried before release that Breath of the Wild would be a barren wasteland and would lack the loveable cast of weirdos which help make the series so special. Happily, this is not the case, with a cast as entertaining and eccentric as we’ve come to expect. Standouts include the charmingly positive Zora Prince Sidon and the intimidating Gerudo warrior Urbosa. The minor cast has some real stars too; I’m glad to see that the proud Zelda tradition of ridiculously effeminate carpenters is alive and well. Still, the actual plot is a bit underwhelming. We’re introduced to a key supporting player in each of the game’s four main dungeon locations, with their own subquests attached and I had been expecting, and hoping, that the game would return to them in the conclusion. The open structure and ability to approach the goals in any order make a story which feels more like a series of vignettes than an epic adventure. Nothing much can really change or grow. The lack of a true villain doesn’t help, with the mindless fury of Calamity Ganon never making anywhere near as much as an impact as Ocarina of Time or Wind Waker’s Ganondorf, or the titular Majora’s Mask.

The majesty of the open world would be nothing if it didn’t look incredible, but it really does. This is the best looking Zelda since Wind Waker, with an art style which falls somewhere between Wind Waker and Twilight Princess. I played it on the Switch and it looks amazing both on the TV and on the little screen, with beautiful bright colours and truly stunning art direction. The characters are also brilliantly expressive and funny, with charming animations. The music is minimalistic but wonderful. This isn’t a triumphant soundtrack I’ll listen to over and over again like Wind Waker and I don’t think it’s going to inspire complex tributes like Majora’s Mask, but it’s the perfect soundtrack for the game it is. A booming orchestral score would feel out of place in this Hyrule, but there are some lovely tunes in a lot of the towns and villages. Some are entirely new and some are truly stunning re-workings of songs from previous games. There are some problems; Breath of the Wild introduces voice acting to the series for the first time and the result is…mixed. Some supporting characters, particularly in the Gorons and Gerudo sound perfectly fine, but a few too many major characters are very stilted. I hated Zelda’s voice, which was breathy and a bit pathetic sounding. There are also regular framerate drops, particularly in chaotic scenes and when docked in TV mode. It’s not awful and anyone who tells you it ruins the game is an idiot who doesn’t deserve videogames, but it would undeniably be better if the framerate was more solid.

So, in summary. Breath of the Wild isn’t perfect, because no game is. What it does do is transcend its flaws, offering something which feels truly new whilst respecting the storied past of this great series. It’s a wonderful experience and Nintendo’s best game since Super Mario Galaxy. People may knock the Switch line up for only having one big game, but if you must launch a console with only one game it might as well be one of the greatest of all time.


The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt for PS4, Xbox One and PC

I’ve been lookng forward to this one for a while. It probably all started with Ocarina of Time, my obsession with exploring a massive fantasy environment. The satisfation and escapism this gives me is pretty much unparalleled in any other gaming genre. The Witcher series has typically been more focused, less open, with a tighter narrative and more tailored content rather than the scale of other games. In the Witcher 3, CD Projekt attempted to combine the two and damn it if they didn’t pull it off.

The Witcher 3 picks up a few months from where the last game left off, with Nilfgaard in the full sway of its invasion into the Northern Kingdoms and Geralt back in possession of his memories. Years after last seeing her, Geralt is reunited with Yennefer, his legendary sorceress lover in Vizima, now held by Emyhr, the Emperor of Nilfgaard. Geralt is told my Emyhr that his daughter Ciri, a girl who was once Geralt’s ward, who is also in possession with the power to jump between worlds, has reemerged after many years being pursued by the spectral nightmare known as the ‘Wild Hunt.’ Geralt journeys throughout the Northern realms to find the young woman who is like a daughter to him and discover why the Hunt seeks her.

There’s loads more going on too. The storytelling in The Witcher 3 is phenomenal. I could go on for ages about the variety, the scope, the wonderful range of memorable supporting characters, but the real reason is simple; Geralt himself. Feminist Frequency recently described Geralt as an example of ‘toxic masculinity.’ As much as I admire them and agree with them most of the time, on this topic they couldn’t have been more wrong. The Witcher 3 is, primarily, an emotionally driven story, with Geralt’s search for the woman who is, essentially, his daughter being the crux of the narrative. Geralt is capable of great sorrow and great joy, with the general approach being sardonic and mocking rather than stoic and tough. Geralt’s relationships with those around him are varied and fascinating, from the epic love story with Yennefer, to the boys club silliness with his fellow Witchers, to his grudging respect from a spymaster turned criminal boss, Geralt’s relationships with those around him are what drives the plot. It helps that he already knows most of the cast, either from the earlier games or from the original books. The Witcher 3 does have a looming ‘end of the world’ threat in the background, but it really isn’t about that, with the human relationships taking priority every step of the way. The Witcher 3 has convinced me to go back and read the books, something the first two games never quite managed to do and I don’t think I can pay its storytelling any higher complement than that.

The core mechanics from the earlier games return and adapt surprisingly well to the new scale. The combat is as deceptively complex as ever, the initially simple system of Arkham esque strong/fast attacks, blocks, dodges and counters being underpinned with a lot of extra things to think about. Particularly at higher difficulties, preparation is key, with certain potions and substances having advantages over particular enemies. Although you can hack and slash pretty comfortably at lower difficulties, you’ll have a hard time not keeping this stuff in mind elsewhere. The addition of what is essentially Detective Vision from the Arkham games in the form of ‘Witcher Senses’ does a great job of immersing yourself in the role as a Witcher, which is so much more than simply being a monster slayer. Things aren’t perfect; Geralt himself can be a bit difficult to maneuver, similarly to in games like GTAV. Horse riding works well most of the time but can be quite janky and awkward, with galloping over the beautiful terrain rarely being an option before you crash into something and slow down.

Probably my favourite addition is, somewhat ridiculously, the optional in game collectible card game of Gwent.  If a quest gave me the choice of cold hard cash or a Gwent card, I’d take the card every time. I won’t go into the rules here, but Gwent is simple enough to pick up and play but complex enough to develop strategies for and build an interesting deck. As well as being fun in it’s own right, I loved that Gwent sometimes integrated into other quests. For example, I was once sent to rescue someone from gangsters and the playful boss offered me the chance to play for his life rather than fighting all of his guards. It’s a simple thing, but the kind of little cleverness which sets this game apart. You also get to play as Ciri during set points in the story and she plays in an entertaining and different way. I wouldn’t mind a Ciri spin-off built around these.

The Witcher 3 has the best balance of scale and quest design since Fallout 3. It’s an accepted fact of game design that larger games generally must rely on more procedurally generated or simpler quest design; Skyrim’s Radiant Quest system or Dragon Age: Inquisition’s fetch quests for example. Well, somehow CD Projekt were able to bring the incredible and interesting quest design to a scale above and beyond anything they’ve done before. The side quests range from exciting and tense contracts to take down local monsters to involved political power struggles. There’s almost no quest without some kind of interesting wrinkle. Basic quests like horse races, fist fighting competitions or Gwent tournaments almost always spun off into something more interesting, meaning that right up until the end of the game I was still being surprised. As much as I love them, it would be difficult to make that claim for Skyrim or Dragon Age: Inquisition.

The Witcher 3 does have its moments of open world glitchiness, but not nearly as much as almost every other game of this scale. The Witcher 3 is stunningly beautiful, even on PS4 despite what the PC Master Race crowd may tell you. From the swampy mistiness of Velen to the bustling metropolis of Novigrad to the haunting beauty of Skellige, I never got tired of admiring the scenery. The characters are all convincing looking, with human feeling facial expressions letting us empathise. A few character designs are a bit overly sexualised, such as the odd unnecessary glimpse of Ciri’s bra and the amusing, if immersion breaking, frequent cameo appearance by the nipple of the sorceress Keira Metz. The monster designs are stunning though, being completely believable as real creatures in a functioning magical ecosystem. The voice acting is a triumph, with the main cast being excellent without fail. The music is lovely, with my favourites being the catchy tavern jig the plays during Gwent matches and the haunting and beautiful theme for the Isles of Skellige. The sound desgn is excellent and holds everything else together. There were moments in The Witcher 3 where I would just stop and watch the trees whipping in the wind, listening to the sound it makes, whilst the ethereal music backs everything else up. It’s stunning.

The Witcher 3 raises the bar on the genre and leaves other games with a bit of catching up to do. It’s not always perfect, but this is a game which set extremely lofty goals for itself and hits almost all of them. The flaws that we’ve come to accept as part of open world games aren’t present here; MMO style fetch quests just aren’t going to cut it after The Witcher 3. If you enjoy RPGs, this is the  comfortably the best of this console generation.  the_witcher_3_wild_hunt_prepare_for_impact-100564760-orig

Far Cry 3 for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC

Far Cry 3 is, without a doubt, one of the most interesting games that I’ve played in a long time. It’s a game which sticks in the mind and refuses to leave, a fascinating experience which offers something which feels truly new. I loved the original Far Cry, and appreciated the ambition and scope of Far Cry 2 (although it’s telling that this is one of the very few games which I never bothered to finish). After the huge disappointment of Assassin’s Creed III, Far Cry 3 goes a long way to redeeming Ubisoft in my eyes (although the Rayman Legends delay puts them on bloody thin ice).

Far Cry 3 takes place entirely in the first person, from the perspective of a young American by the name of Jason Brody. Jason and his friends had skydived onto a beautiful island somewhere near Thailand as part of a thrill seeking holiday before being captured by human traffickers and sold into slavery. Jason escapes the stronghold of Vaas, the local pirate leader, but at the cost of the life of his brother. Jason embarks upon a quest to rescue his friends from Vaas, eventually being drawn into the local tribe of the island, the Rakyat, and becoming profoundly affected by the unimaginable violence which he is committing.

Far Cry 3 takes place on two islands, both fairly large, and incredibly beautiful to look at. Ubisoft are incredibly good at creating gorgeous worlds for the player to explore, from my personal favourite, Beyond Good & Evil’s Hillys through to the Renaissance wonder of Florence in Assassin’s Creed II and the Maharajah’s palace in Prince of Persia: Sands of Time. Far Cry 3 is, in some ways, the apex of this development philosophy, the idea that it isn’t enough to be doing fun stuff in a game, but that the actual environs of the game must be equally compelling. I absolutely loved exploring the islands of Far Cry 3, with new areas of the map revealed by scaling high points, in a mechanic cheerfully borrowed from Assassin’s Creed. The world of Far Cry 3 can sometimes feel like too much of a good thing; the unrelenting glory of the locale can actually lead to everywhere feeling a bit…samey. It’s important in open world games to show some variety in their locales. Bethesda, arguably the masters of the open world genre, really get this; Skyrim may follow a clear snowy Nordic theme, but the icy wastes of the north of Skyrim differ greatly from the cooler, more idyllic lands in the south. In Far Cry 3, everywhere shares the same basic look; don’t get me wrong, it’s a hell of a look, and if you are going to only have one look in your game you could do a lot worse than this, but a bit more variety would have been nice. The introduction of the second island would have been a great opportunity to show us somewhere a bit different, but Far Cry 3 makes the exact same mistake as Far Cry 2 in giving us a second area very similar to the first. Ok, this all sounds a lot more negative than I mean it to; Far Cry 3 has one of the best open worlds I’ve ever seen, and without a doubt the very best that I’ve ever seen in an FPS, but it could have been better.

The plot of Far Cry 3 has had so much said about it, been subject to so much controversy, and been the topic of so much discussion that, in an odd way, it’s inherently validated. Anything that provokes this much discussion and debate can’t be that bad right? Far Cry 3 tells one of the most interesting and psychologically complex plots I’ve ever played in an FPS; other FPSs with great plots such as Bioshock and Half Life are focused upon the world, and things external from their (silent) protagonists, but Far Cry 3 is a very different beast, a journey inwards. Jason Brody’s journey from generic frat boy douche to brooding killer is accomplished with remarkable subtlety, and although it isn’t quite convincing that Jason is so able to adapt a life of death and carnage, it’s certainly interesting nonetheless, dealing with themes covered extensively in literature and film, but rarely unexplored in games. It’s not as fun to massacre thousands of people if your protagonist is ruminating on the morals of what they’re doing. That said, there’s a lot about this game that I felt to be repugnant; the presentation of the Rakyat tribe seems incredibly racially insensitive, with Jason’s induction into their tribe reeking of colonialist fantasies, and there were elements of the game which felt uncomfortably misogynistic and homophobic as well. Jeffrey Yohalem, the lead writer of Far Cry 3, has dismissed criticism of racism by claiming that Jason is an unreliable narrator, that we cannot take what we see at face value, and that the game is in fact a satire of a Western colonial attitude towards ‘tribespeople’. Now, there are some hints towards this in the actual game, notable some trippy dream sequences, but if the intent of the narrative was to suggest that Jason is in fact losing it and that everything we are witnessing is tainted by his madness, then this intent has entirely failed. For the vast majority of the game, there’s no hint that what we are seeing isn’t to be taken at face value, and no, a few Alice in Wonderland quotes during loading screens is not enough to convey this. A variety of Poe’s law has to be applied there; if your game is indistinguishable from the Western racial preconceptions it intends to satirise, that satire has failed. Now, I’m not saying that the writers of Far Cry 3 are racist, I honestly think that they were going for satire, but if that is the case they failed. Honestly though, I’d take the magnificent failure of Far Cry 3’s plot, filled with complex ideas which fuel debate, over other generic FPS plot any day. I enjoyed how much Far Cry 3 made me think.

Although I’ve played lots of open world RPGs with FPS elements, such as Borderlands 2 and Bethesda and Obsidian’s Fallout games, this is the first successful open world FPS with RPG elements. It’s a subtle difference, but in those games the focus is very much on being an RPG, with the shooting mechanics taking a back seat. Sure, there are lots of FPSs out there which operate within large, tactical environments, such as Crysis and Halo, but they’re not truly open world, simply a series of discrete areas. This is not the case in Far Cry 3, which lives up to the promise of its predecessor as a fully open world game. The shooting mechanics are solid, and the enemy AI is decent enough. The real triumph of this game is the open ended approach taken to missions. In Assassin’s Creed III, there was only ever really one way to do things, but here it’s really up to you. When approaching an enemy outpost, you could go straight in, all guns blazing, or maybe start a fire in the building to drive them out into the path of mines. Both work, and both are fun. How about picking everyone off from afar with a sniper rifle? My favourite way to play this game was to strip away the technology, to attempt to succeed with nothing but a bow and machete, with the reluctant withdrawing of my highly powered Israeli made assault rifle a last resort. This game succeeds in making you feel awesome, because it respects your decisions, and the rights of the player to do things how they want, something which Assassin’s Creed III entirely misunderstood.

There’s a lot going on in this game, such a robust levelling system, which unlocks a slew of fun abilities for Jason, and a decent crafting system to create medicines and new gear. My favourite gadget at Jason’s disposal was the wing suit, acquired during the second half of the game, which allows Jason to glide from any high point. My favourite aspect of this though is that you really don’t need to be that high to use the wing suit, so my preferred way of getting around became leaping off small rocks, deploying the wing suit and then releasing my parachute, which is not only a fast way to get around, but also an incredibly fun one. The driving is a bit tricky at first, as with the rest of the game it’s all first person, and whilst it can be a bit clunky and awkward, there’s no denying that it can be incredibly exhilarating, especially during some of the hair raising chase sequences in the campaign in some of the incredibly fun driving side missions.

There’s a lot to do in this game too. Unlike in many open world games, the actual central story missions are usually incredibly fun. Whilst most of the game allows the player to go at their own pace organically, the main story missions are a fair bit more scripted, but this isn’t really a bad thing. The sheer mayhem inflicted in these missions is sheer giddy fun, and they don’t get old, particularly if you space them out with some of the more thoughtful, inventive side activities. As well as liberating enemy strongholds, you’ll be sent out on assassination and hunting missions. The hunting missions are initially a lot of fun, with the player often required to kill dangerous animals with completely silly weapons, but it does wear slightly thin towards the end. There are some side missions with stories as well, and these don’t work nearly as well. I can only think of two which were actually engaging, and when compared to other open world games Far Cry 3 is entirely lacking in this department. That said, Far Cry 3 does have much better main story than most open world games, so this can be forgiven. I wish that there had been a bit more variety in the side missions, but the basic mechanics of Far Cry 3 are so accomplished that even the most rote missions are fun.

Far Cry 3 is a very nice looking game, but as with many games in the last year or so it really pushes current generation consoles to their limit. I can’t really blame Far Cry 3 for this, and it certainly isn’t the barely playable mess of Assassin’s Creed 3. The voice acting is something of a mixed bag; the main characters generally work really well, but the minor NPCs are truly terrible, I’m talking ‘worse than Oblivion’ terrible. The voice actor for Jason does a fine job during the main story, conveying the building rage within our young protagonist extremely convincingly, but during side missions he sounds hilariously disinterested and unengaged, which only contributes to the half baked feeling to these side activities. The clear highlight in the voice work is Vaas, a brilliant character who, despite his prominence in promotional materials for this game, doesn’t play nearly as vital a role in the ultimate plot that he should. I’m convinced that Vaas has climbed up alongside GLaDOS and Andrew Ryan as one of the best videogame villains in recent years, and a lot of this comes down to the manic and chaotic voice performance by Michael Mando. Mando was motion captured for the role as well, and deserves a huge amount of credit for creating this wonderful character. As mentioned before however, the voices for minor characters are often laughably bad. The average islander talks with a bizarre Maori accent, entirely inappropriate to the setting, and is usually played for laughs. Far Cry 3 points at these hapless islanders and says ‘oh look at these ridiculous locals and their bizarre problems, thank God our strapping young American hero is here to say the day!’ It’s probably the most offensive part of this game, and really drew me out of the experience in a way that nothing else did. Far Cry 3 does wield a dubious honour however; it is the game which made me understand the point of dubstep. I’m not what you would call a fan of this popular musical genre, but the use of it during some of the most tense moments in the game was incredibly immersive and exciting, working brilliantly.

Despite a story which falls short in its grand ambitions (whilst still being incredibly interesting in its own right), Far Cry 3 is an absolutely superlative experience. This is the most satisfying FPS experience which I have played since Bioshock back in 2007; Far Cry 3 is one of those games which make other games look bad. If you enjoy shooters, or open world games, Far Cry 3 is a great example of both. Far Cry 3 is a fascinating game, one which will be debated and discussed for a while, and I look forward to the continuation of the discussion which has engulfed this game since its release.far_cry_3_0_241245411566_640x360

Rage: The Scorchers DLC for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC

I really wasn’t that enamoured with 2011’s Rage, an FPS from id Software, the supposed masters of the genre. The game promised a lot that wasn’t delivered; I felt that it was marketed as an open world FPS with a strong vehicular emphasis, but in reality what we got was a series of linear shooting galleries linked by an open world. It may sound like an arbitrary distinction, but I think that it’s a significant one. I was therefore planning on skipping The Scorcher’s DLC, but a couple of factors influenced me in giving it a go. Firstly, it’s quite cheap, and has a tantalisingly huge file size for something of its price. Secondly, this DLC was released well over a year after the main game first came out, so it’s clear that id had been working hard on it and that it wasn’t rushed. To bother releasing this at all, since it’s widely known that DLC sells best relatively closely to release, implied that id felt that they really had something worth doing here, and by and large I think that they were right.

The Scorchers takes us on a mini tour of the first half of the Wasteland from the main game, which is fine as the first half was much better than the second half. Within these areas new levels have appeared. Some of these environments feel indistinct and boring, insufficiently distinguished from the main game, but there are some areas which impress, particularly the level of the final shoot out with the Scorcher gang in a derelict temple overlooking a vast canyon. I’d forgotten just how beautiful Rage could be, and by and large The Scorcher does a good job of showcasing this.

The Scorchers are one of the bandit clans, cut from the main game, and they seek to burn all life from the Wasteland. The Ark Survivor joins with Sarah, a young warrior wearing impractically sexy clothing, to bring down the Scorchers and save the Wasteland again.

Yeah, that’s pretty much it. There are a couple of bends in the road but that’s really all there is to it. Then again, the storyline of Rage itself was entirely forgettable, so I wasn’t exactly expecting much in the plot department, and id certainly delivered on that nothing. Still, this DLC was never presented as anything but an excuse to shoot a lot of people in the face, so I don’t feel particularly annoyed by this; it is what it is.

The shooting mechanics are really solid in Rage, and very satisfying in a mindless ‘run and gun’ sort of way. You really don’t have to engage your mind even a tiny little bit during the shootouts in The Scorchers, but it’s undoubtedly fun. There are a fair few new levels; not that many but certainly worth it for the price. In a way, this DLC works better than the main game with the pretence of exploration stripped away, and accepts Rage for what it is. There’s a fun little nail gun with a few different ammo types added to the armoury, but I quickly found myself switching back to my trusty shotgun/wingstick combo which got me through the main game. The final boss fight of The Scorchers is a lot of fun, and is much much better than the terrible ending to the main game. All in all, this package is an enjoyable, if dumb, ride. The Scorcher s also makes an entirely necessary addition by allowing the player to continue in the Wasteland after the credits roll, a feature bafflingly nonexistent in the main game.

Rage was a simply beautiful looking game, and (on consoles) hasn’t really been matched since. Everything runs so incredibly well, in a way which has been vanishing as consoles are pushed to the limit (just look at Assassin’s Creed 3!). There are some truly jaw dropping moments and some really wonderful vistas. Sure, it’s gameplay isn’t quite as good as it’s looks, but considering the price Rage goes for these days that can be forgiven. The voice acting for The Scorchers is pretty excellent, particularly for Sarah. Sarah is sadly one of the biggest let downs of this DLC however; her VA does a great job, and she’s very charming and likeable, but her over-the-top sexy character design as well as the unnecessary forcing of her into a damsel in distress position towards the end make the character feel like a parody of ill thought out male designed female videogame characters. Despite this, The Scorchers is an excellently presented package, and it’s not difficult to see the large file size being put to use.

The Scorchers is an ambitious and, by and large, successful DLC package. So much of DLC released these days is lazy, a rushed out stop gap to keep a stream of profit until the next major release, so it’s nice to see a company do something odd and support their game so long after launch. The production values are simply wonderful, and although the shooting still isn’t particularly inspired, it’s doubtlessly a lot of fun, and most certainly worth the impressively low price on entry. rage-the-scorchers-walkthrough

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