Archive | January 2013

Closer Look: Resistance 2

Resistance 2 is the follow up to PS3 blockbuster Resistance: Fall of Man, the title that sort of shared co-flagship FPS status with Killzone 2.

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Developed by Insomniac Studios, Resistance 1 was a very good game, a more fast paced FPS with a great selection of weapons, solid enemy AI and a rather interesting 1940’s world war 2 era, only with high-tech weapons and aliens setting.

This is another one of those major PS3 franchises that just never got a foothold in my gaming life. Even though I’ve owned a PS3 since 2007, these big FPS games were never must-buys for me. I did play Resistance 1 back in 2007, but it didn’t really make that much of an impression on me, and when Resistance 2 released, I was in no rush to get my hands on it. So here I am, getting in on the action years too late.

As the story goes, Europe is attacked by creatures called the Chimera, that not only wreak havoc across the continent, but infect people with a disease that turns people into one of them as well. You play as Nathan Hale, a part of a US force that is sent to Europe to support the allied forces fighting against the Chimera.

Resistance 2 picks up immediately after the end of Resistance 1. Things didn’t go so well in Europe, the allies have fallen, and out of the thousands of US troops sent into Europe, Nathan Hale is one of the only survivors. As Resistance 2 opens, Hale is battered and bruised, walking through the UK winter alone. He’s picked up by a US back ops helicopter, and they make their escape.

The story then jumps forward a few years, and Hale is now the leader of the Sentinels, a squad of soldiers who are infected by the Chimera virus, but much like Hale himself, they are resistant to the Chimera infection, and with the help of treatment and a serum they have to take every few hours, they keep the infection at bay. This helps them get the advantages of infection, a healing factor, enhanced physical abilities, and a connection with the Chimera, without succumbing to the infection.

After the Chimera engulfed all of Europe, they are now towards American shores. Hale spends most of the story escaping from safehouse to safehouse as the Chimera tracks them down and destroys the human bases. The Chimera are digging up ancient towers across the globe for sinister purposes. To add to the Mayhem, Deadelus, a man turned Chimera, escapes from containment and leads the Chimera on a campaign to destroy humanity once and for all. Nathan Hale is slowly succumbing to the infection in his body, and as the story progresses, he’s slowly turning into a Chimera himself.

The story itself is pretty good. While you experience a lot of the narrative through cutscenes inbetween levels, a lot of narrative and exposition is delivered in-game through dialogue from the AI controlled team mates that fight alongside you. This is a method of elaborating on the story I enjoy immensely. You can also find documents around levels that provide some background information on the characters around you and the events that took place in the time between the first and second game.

The one failing the narrative in Resistance 2 has is the lack of characterisation. Nathan Hale himself isn’t really fleshed out, beyond being a man of steel with ice in his veins who lives for the sole purpose of killing Chimera. Not exactly an engaging character. In addition to doctor Malikov, and Major Blake, you also have several Sentinel team mates, Capelli, Warner and Hawthorne. Unfortunately, they are not explored much as characters at all beyond Capelli being shown uncomfortable and aggressive against Hale for slowly turning into a Chimera. This is a bit of a missed opportunity as more fleshed out characters would have created a more engaging narrative. At least the ending is a bold step for a franchise and surely provocative for fans of the series, guaranteeing that things will be shaken up a bit in any potential sequel. I enjoyed that very much.

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Graphically, Resistance 2 is pretty solid. Character models are nicely detailed, and the environment design is superior to the first game. They’ve broken away from the drab greys and browns in the first game, and gives you a varied level design that takes you from snowy mountains to metallic alien ships to lush jungle environments. The colour palette is more saturated and much more visually interesting than the previous game.

Insomniac also successfully presents a haunting vision of destroyed American towns, deserted and void of life, containing only the husks of those who once lived there. Through their environments, they successfully sell the notion that you are on the losing end of the fight against the Chimera

The gameplay in Resistance 2 remains fairly fast paced for current era FPS. Some changes have takes place, you now have a regenerating health system, so no more health pickups. In many ways the flow of the game is reminiscent of Halo. Resistance 2 has some really good gameplay elements going for it, the gunplay just feels good, which is the most important thing for an FPS after all. It also has one of the best collection of weapons in the FPS genre. Sure, you have your standard assault rifle and shotgun, however you also have amazing weapons like the Auger, that shoots through walls, or the bullseye that lets you tag an enemy and have your bullets track them. But my favourite of all is the very first weapon you get in the game, the Magnum, which not only packs a punch, it allows you to trigger explosives in the bullet at will. All the weapons have alternate fire features that add another layer to the gunplay. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any other game with as many weapons that just makes me smile.

While the gameplay is very solid and a lot of fun, there are some serious issues with Resistance 2 that holds the game back from greatness, and in certain sections make it take a sharp U-turn towards craptown.

There are way too many instant death situations in Resistance 2, where you’re just walking down the street, minding your own business while blasting fools in the face, only to just go splat instantly. Sometimes it’s because you triggered a blatantly stupid enemy appearance, and sometimes you just get no indication of why you’re dead, what killed you, or what you did wrong.

And they have stealth enemies, that you get no warning about until approximately 1 second before they are on you, who 1-shot kill you. Sometimes they appear to work as intended, as in you’re making your way through the level, and then you see tracks on the ground and hear the noise of their footsteps, warning you of their approach. But way too many times, I appeared to be looking in a different direction than where the designers had wanted me to look, and was attacked by these stealth Chimera from the side or the back, or they would catch me while reloading. In both of these cases, there is nothing you can do, and you die.

Other times you’ll be in a firefight, a long one with several stages, and just towards the the end, you hit a trigger and get bumrushed but the Chimera when your health and ammo is low and you’re out of position. My favourite (/sarcasm) is the big Chimera with the energy shield who runs at you with 2-3 others behind him also hiding behind the shield. Insomniac just loves having those guy appear from around the corner just when you approach and think the fight is over. The result of this is, you die. Sure you can deal with it the second time around, when you know it’s coming, but the first time you see it, you’re dead. Every time, and there is nothing you can do about it. Resistance 2 makes you go through these kinds of cheap deaths repeatedly.

I can not stress enough that this is not good game design. The player needs to understand what happened, why he died, and know that he had a fighting chance. If not, it’s not going to feel challenging, it’s just going to be frustrating. Dying because of bullshit is never fun, ever.

This leads in to the second big issue with Resistance 2. Checkpoints. Really brutal ones. When you’re in a big fight, going from room to room, all those placed you think there should have been a checkpoint, don’t get your hopes up, because there wasn’t one. Tough checkpoints alone isn’t so bad, in fact it can make a game feel really challenging and change the way you play it, making you more cautious in your approach. However, when you mix tough checkpoints with cheap deaths and just sadistic enemy triggers, you have the makings of an immensely frustrating game.

And this is the major reason I don’t really like Resistance 2. Because it’s a good game, real good, the gunplay feels just right and the weapons are totally awesometastic. But with a few key game design decisions, they made the game not fun to play. I was sitting there playing a game I knew was good, and I wasn’t having fun, I wasn’t enjoying it all. I was just frustrated and wanted to get it over with.

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Being mostly a single player guy, Resistance 2’s excellent multiplayer offering doesn’t make much of a difference to me, and the fairly short single player campaign doesn’t provide nearly enough value for me. The length of the campaign is extended purely through how many cheap deaths you suffer, forcing you to replay sections, and ensuring that I would never even dream of playing the campaign a second time around on a harder difficulty.

In the end, I’m kind of torn in my feelings about Resistance 2. It’s basically a really good game that I never want to play again. In fact, I’m not too excited about picking up Resistance 3 either. I feel like Resistance 2 is a rare case of a game that is good, but not a good experience. Way too much frustration and cheap deaths mar the experience and leave me with a bitter taste in my mouth.

In any case, if you really liked Resistance: Fall of Man, Resistance 2 is a must buy. For everyone else, I think it should probably get in line behind Killzone.

 

Rating: 7

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Closer look: Killzone 3

Killzone 3 is the follow up to 2008’s release, Killzone 2 (/Captain Obvious hat), who was hailed as the savior and first legitimate killer app for the PS3. It had massive hype going into release based on previous years E3 trailers who displayed a mindboggling graphical quality. Fanboys everywhere waged wars over whether the footage had been all pre-rendered smoke and mirrors, or if Killzone 2 would make a graphical jump that would forever shame all competitors and make even reality look like shit.

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Killzone 2 didn’t quite live up to the massive hype generated before release, but it was a really solid first person shooter with some of the best graphics seen at the time.

I had stayed away from the franchise until earlier this year, just based on the ridiculousness of the name “Killzone”. But when I finally broke down and played it, I found a very good FPS franchise.

With this in mind, I was very interested to see how Guerilla built on the excellent Killzone 2.

Killzone 3 picks up immediately after the end of Killzone 2, with Emperor Visari dead at the hands of Rico. Sev and his team are trying to get off-world with the full might of the Helghast army bearing down on them. Things go bad, and the ISA heroes find themselves stranded on Helghan, trying to avoid capture and wait for rescue from the ISA.

Much like the previous game, the story is presented from two perspectives, that of Sev and his ISA buddies, and inbetween levels the perspective of Jorhan Stahl and the Helghast council, as they take over from Emperor Visari. You get to see the goings on and infighting in the Helghast government.

Also much like the previous game, the Helghast bad guys are much more interesting, well developed and complicated characters than the ISA heroes, who while improved over the last game, are still much more 2 dimensional and still mostly shout curse words and shoot stuff.

The character of Rico received a lot of criticism from fans and press alike in Killzone 2, as he was an unlikeable expletive spewing douchebag. Rico is noticeably improved this time around, as he’s toned down his language and has a bit more developed personality.

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Malcolm McDowell continues Brian Cox’s legacy of making the bad guy infinitely more interesting and compelling than the heroes of the tale, with an excellent performance as the slimy industrialist Jorhan Stahl. The Helghast council in general feature some awesome voicework that really drew me in to their political posturing during the cutscenes.

These great Helghast characters only make the heroes Sev, Rico and Narville feel even more flat. The ISA characters in the Killzone franchise never really stuck with me. It’s only been about 9 months since I played Killzone 2, but when I started the game this time around, as the introductory sequence began, I didn’t even recognize which one was the player character. I actually confused Captain Narville and Sev at one point.

They do have a little bit more characterization in this game than the last. Rico is the tough guy with an authority issue, Narville is the boyscout leader who’s too worried about losing his guys to really get in the fight, and Sev is the straightforward problem solver.

Aesthetically, Killzone has never been very good. The Helghast designs are deliciously evil, with kind of nazi stormtrooper vibe, but beyond that, the world isn’t very inspired. There’s a lot of grey and unremarkable character designs.

Killzone 3 makes some improvements over Killzone 2, but still features way to much industry grey and shades of brown. There is an awesome swamp level though, with plants and animals that create an eerily beautiful wilderness. The contrasting colours between the plant life and the cold dead rock it lives on creates a very visually interesting level.

There is more variety in Killzone 3’s levels as well, as it takes you from the grey and dreary capital city to the swampy wilderness, to an arctic base, to the desert and then into space. The game does get more grey/brown towards the later levels, however it somewhat makes up for this with some giant enemies and interesting set pieces.

Don’t get me wrong, Killzone 3 has some amazing graphics. While I’m not fully on board with the art direction in the Killzone series, the graphical quality of Killzone 3 is off the charts. Characters are highly detailed, and the environments have solid and detailed textures, without feeling too busy on the eyes. Additionally, the pre-rendered cutscenes are stunning.

 

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The weapon sounds really pack a solid punch, and really sells the feedback whenever you fire your weapon. Explosions and gunfire surrounds you, while the shouts of your teammates and the Helghast can clearly be heard whenever you get close. It does a great job of pulling you in and making you feel like you’re in a chaotic combat situation.

The very first thing I noticed upon jumping back in the boots of Thomas Sevchenko was that developer Guerilla games have tweaked that weighty feeling of Killzone 2. The last game was criticized by gamers who felt like the game was unresponsive and slow. Personally I never really had an issue with it, as I enjoyed the weighty movement of Killzone 2. But this time around, you feel a little lighter on your feet. That weighty feeling is not altogether gone, but aiming and moving is more responsive this time around.

Another major tweak I really enjoyed is that you can carry 3 weapons now instead of 2. In the previous game, you had one main weapon slot, and a sidearm slot, meaning that if you wanted to pick up that rocket launcher, you had to drop your assault rifle. This often meant picking up a larger weapon was a bit un-inviting unless needed for a specific situation.

This time around, you have 1 slot reserved for large weapons, so you can always keep a grenade launcher or a minigun on hand for those pesky tanks.

The cover system from the previous games are back, where you press L2 to lock on to a wall in front of you so you can peek out from the side or over in order to stay in cover and shoot. I’ve never really been a fan of cover systems in first person games, and I’m not a fan of this one. It can be a bit unreliable from time to time, where you are crouching behind the only cover you can find, but still getting hit.

It’s also a bit awkward, since you end up spending a considerable amount of time just kind of staring directly into a wall. This isn’t really taken into account by the environment artists, so while the environments look great from a normal distance, textures appear quite blurry when you’ve got your face mushed against the wall.

Killzone 3 is quite short. I finished the single player campaign in about 5 hours. It has a very robust multiplayer mode, however 5 hours for the campaign is a bit on the disappointing side. For people like me, who usually can’t be bothered with multiplayer, it kind of sucks to pay full price for a game and finish it in 2 nights of playing.

Much like the previous game, Killzone 3 is just a really solid shooter. There are no major innovations, it doesn’t change the genre, or push any boundaries. The closest thing it has to a gimmick is the first person cover system. This is necessarily a negative thing, as it does everything really well. Firing weapons feels great, they’ve really nailed the feedback for the player. Movement is a lot more responsive, and enemy AI does a pretty good job of utilizing cover and flanking the player if you get pinned down.

The game does have some drawbacks, most notably the on-rails shooter segments, where you have no ability to dodge incoming fire, and just have to shoot anything on screen. This would not be a problem if not for the inexplicable instant death situations I experienced from time to time, where I would just fly into oncoming fire (on the large robot close to the end for example) and have to reload and hope it didn’t happen again. It seemed pretty random, but it happened to me 3 times during the course of the game.

I also experienced an issue with the cutscenes where the sound would get de-synced from the video, and voicework would lag almost a full second behind the lipsync.

Final word

 

Killzone 3 is a really solid FPS game, with some of the best graphics on the PS3. It doesn’t really bring anything new to the table, but displays a refined iteration of what was already a great game in Killzone 2.

It doesn’t really tell an interesting story, but has some really good badguy characters, and gives you a great action packed campaign. The campaign can also be played in co-op, which I’m always happy about, and it has very well done multiplayer mode, if that’s your thing.

Killzone 3 is only held back a little bit by a very short campaign, a fairly uninspired aesthetic direction and some minor technical issues.

 

Rating: 8

Closer look: Dragon Age 2: Legacy

Legacy is the first significant piece of DLC for the not great but somehow still awesome Dragon Age 2, from RPG gods Bioware. The original game had me conflicted and confused, as I saw a lot of flaws in the game, yet was absolutely consumed by it regardless.

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With this in mind, it was with quite a bit of interest and excitement that I jumped back into the boots of Nate Hawke, my very own champion of Kirkwall.

As far as I can tell, Legacy picks up some time before the start of act 3 in the original game, as it’s after (SPOLER ALERT!) his mother dies, but before the s*** hits the fan with the Templars and mages.

After installing the DLC you can access it by approaching a new statue in the Hawke estate. I’m not sure if it only becomes available after a certain event in the game or not, since I loaded up my character that I beat the game with.

I started out in the Hawke estate, wearing my comfy rich man’s robes, and for some reason sporting a blood-splattered face that Hawke apparently neglected to wash off after killing Meredith in the Hollows. After a short time getting re-acquainted with the Hawke estate, I found a large statue up by the master bedroom. After approaching it, I was prompted to begin the Legacy DLC.

Legacy begins with Varric being questioned by the Seeker Cassandra about an event he seems to have neglected to mention as he told the story of the Champion of Kirkwall. Varric responds that it was just a minor event, and she would never have believed him anyway. After some prodding, Varric agrees to spill the beans.

I forgot what a good character Varric is, he’s always hugely enjoyable when he’s on screen.

 

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Varric always brings the dwarf sexehness.

Varric’s tale leads in to the gameplay, which starts with Hawke and your chosen companions arriving at a Carta base in the desert after the Carta had apparently tried to kill Hawke and his sister. At first I was a little bit confused as to what was going on, but some friendly banter with the Carta dwarves, which leads to some good old fashioned asskicking, filled me in with the basics. Apparently the Carta needs the Hawke’s blood in order to free someone called Corypheus.

This fairly simple set-up leads to an interesting story that touches on both Hawke’s father, the Grey Wardens’ past, and the origin of the Darkspawn. If you bring your sister/brother along as well, you’ll get some good character development and interactions with your sibling as you discover things about your family’s past.

The story in Legacy is the DLC’s strong point, as it weaves quite an interesting tale that reveals some genuinely meaningful information about the world of Dragon Age.

A major complaint about Dragon Age 2 was the recycled environments in the game. Not just the fact that you spend almost the entire game in a city that doesn’t change over time, even though there were big opportunities to change things up in-between the different acts, but that the dungeons kept recycling the same 3-4 settings throughout the entire game.

Legacy immediately remedies this by starting you in brand new environments created specifically for this dungeon crawling quest. The environments are quite varied as well, ranging from deserts to a fortress, to dungeons, to swampy caverns. There is an impressive sense of scope in these new surroundings, with large caverns and vistas that make you feel like you’re traversing a massive environment, as opposed to the smaller, more cramped corridors of DA2.

There are some new enemies as well, like the Genlock Alpha, a solid and stocky Darkspawn bastard with a huge shield who charges you. There are some impressive demon models as well, and the Corypheus model is just pretty darn badass. As a character artist, I saw some very interesting designs that made me think.

 

dragonagelegacy1The Genlock Alpha will do his best to leave you mushed underneath his shield.

The voice acting was excellent as always, highlighted by my old favourites Varric and Isabela (because that’s who I brought along, obviously).

There are no immediate changes to the old DA2 gameplay in Legacy. It only took me about 30 seconds to get back into the combat system and kick ass without feeling awkward and fiddly, which speaks highly of how streamlined and easy to use the DA2 combat system is.

During Legacy you’ll gain a few levels, but there are no new skills to pick up, aside from what you have left in your talent trees. You’ll get a new class specific weapon, that you are able to tailor with specific abilities of your choosing, which is nice.

There are a few side quests available during the course of Legacy, but they are not hard and don’t require you to go out of your way at all. As long as you check all the rooms as you move through the dungeon, you’ll complete all the side quests without really trying.

In fact, I’m not sure if it’s because my characters were relatively high level, but Legacy was a very easy dungeon crawl. I didn’t die once. I was never even in any real trouble, and only had companions fall during the final boss fight.

The final boss fight in itself is very well done. Boss fights in DA2 would usually devolve into just bashing the boss until it fell down. The final fight in Legacy however, has different stages, and requires you to move around and figure out the boss’ attack pattern.

 

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This guy was pretty badass.

Legacy is fairly short, I finished it in about three and a half hours. And that was with checking every nook and cranny of the dungeon. It’s a solid 3 to 4 hours though, with entertaining combat and interesting story, so at least it’s there’s no filler content here.

 

Final Word

 

Through a solid 3-4 hours of entertainment, Dragon Age 2 Legacy provides a very good story that elaborates on the history of the Hawke’s, the Grey Wardens and the Darkspawn, which for a Dragon Age fan is probably worth the price of admission by itself.

Legacy also fixes one of the major issues with DA2, which was the recycled environments, by providing brand new environments with a great sense of scale. But in terms of gameplay, it doesn’t provide anything new, it’s just more Dragon Age 2.

Personally, I was very happy to get back to one of the most interesting games I’ve played this year. I feel like a lot of the complaints I had about the original really didn’t come into play this time around. The combat system is still quite button mashy, but for 3-4 hours of gameplay, it was fine. Legacy is simply short enough that DA2 flaws that were so grating in the original simply doesn’t have time to annoy me. It didn’t get nearly as repetitive as when playing through a 30+ hour game. The environments were new and fresh, I really enjoyed the story, and it was nice to get reacquainted with my old wise-ass buddies Varric and Isabela.

In the end, Dragon Age 2 Legacy comes down to this: If you liked Dragon Age 2, you’ll enjoy Legacy. If DA2 just didn’t do it for you, there’s nothing here that’s going to change your mind.

 

Rating: 7,5

Poorly Thought Through Review: Deus Ex: Human Revolution

The original Deus Ex is considered one of the best games of all time, and one of the first games to truly (and somewhat successfully) merge the RPG and FPS genres.

In the original Deus Ex, you play as JC Denton, as state of the art, cybernetically augmented agent, who gets involved in a story featuring government conspiracies and grand Illuminati type social manipulation stuff. I honestly don’t remember the plot of the game anymore, it wasn’t that memorable.

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Deus Ex is considered one of the best PC games of all time.

What made Deus Ex so amazing was that you could approach the game in many different ways, and 2 players handle the same situations completely differently, depending on their playstyle and character build. Deus Ex even had boss fights that could be completely bypassed by just running away and slamming the door.

The game would never force you to do anything a certain way, it would give you a goal, give you a vast array of tools to accomplish that goal, and then let you just get on with it however you see fit.

In the decade that followed, with the rise of open world games, we have seen many games give us varying degrees of freedom to accomplish goals. But back in 2000, this was almost unheard of at the time.

In 2003, Eidos released a sequel that was not received well. Deus Ex: Invisible War, a game that wasn’t bad at all, it was just rejected because it didn’t quite live up to the promise of the original. After that, we would not hear much about Deus Ex for a long time.

8 years later, we hail the arrival of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, a prequel to the first game. Is Human Revolution finally the worthy sequel to the original Deus Ex? I was hyped to find out!

I somehow managed to avoid any information on Human Revolution before release. In fact, I didn’t even realize it was coming out until about a week before the release date. All I knew was that it was a prequel and you play as a dude with a funky beard who wears sunglasses inside and doesn’t have arms. It turns out he did have arms (the teaser trailer I had seen a long time ago confused me!), but the rest was fairly accurate.

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Ready for some cyborg lovin’.

In Deus Ex: Human Revolution you play as Adam Jensen (although you could be forgiven for referring to him as Solid Snake), the chief security officer for a leading biotechnology company called Sarif Industries. Sarif scientists have made a huge discovery and are preparing to present their research to the government. Needless to say, things go wrong. the Sarif Industries HQ is attacked, and Adam Jensen is mortally wounded.

His life is saved by the augmentation technology of his employers, and when he comes to, he finds that he is now more machine than human. As he recovers from his injuries and tries to come to terms with his new situation, a Sarif Industries subsidiary is attacked, and Jensen is brought back to work to deal with it.

What follows is a story of extremism, corporate espionage and government conspiracies. While sometimes convoluted, the story is solid and touches on heavier themes than most games, like intolerance, prejudice and extremism.

What strikes me immediately when playing Deus Ex: Human Revolution is that this is not really a role playing game any more. The original was very much an RPG, as your character would be terrible with weapons unless you levelled up his skills. Even just aiming straight would be tough if you hadn’t put points in your chosen weapon type, although in retrospect, it was odd that an elite agent like JC Denton would be so awful at everything.

In Human Revolution, Adam Jensen can wield any weapon expertly from the start. You have some character progression choices through augmentations, letting you do things like lessen or eliminate recoil, improve your hacking abilities, punch through walls, and jump higher. You can even gain the ability to see through walls, jump off buildings without taking damage or become invisible for short periods of time. But in terms of design, this game is very much an action game with RPG elements, not an Action-RPG. I’d say Human Revolution falls somewhere inbetween Mass Effect 3 and The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay, in terms of its ‘RPG-ness’. Which is to say, not that much of an RPG.

The quests are very well done, with engaging characters and plots. Even the side quests you can pick up in the city hubs are well developed and interesting. Never do you come across flat characters with nonsensical fetch quests for you. While there are some “go here, kill that dude, bring back the thing” type quests, they all come with engaging characters and plots that make the quest worthwhile.

Human Revolution has one of those inventory systems that give you a set number of squares and makes you manage your space manually, meaning you’ll be rotating weapons and packing things together as best you can to fit that new gun in there without having to drop anything. A lot of people seem to dislike this, but I’ve always enjoyed it immensely, ever since the old X-Com games on PC, to Resident Evil 4, to here. It’s just an involving way to handle inventory and makes you think about what you’re carrying around. To me, anything that makes the player think about things and get involved further, no matter how minor of a feature, is a good thing.

In Human Revolution, the combat is an interesting blend of 1st person and 3rd person combat, and it tries to give the player the same sort of freedom to approach situations as the original Deus Ex did. However, it falls short in a few specific circumstances, and very clearly displays a preference for stealth in general.

Jensen can’t take a lot of damage, if you’re not careful you’ll die almost immediately if caught in enemy fire, and enemies will swarm you if you’re in a bad position. This almost requires the player to start out stealthy, orientate themselves, and plan an approach to each area.

Not that I mind, as I like the stealthy approach. Jensen can walk quietly if you crouch, or even get an augmentation that lets you run quietly, and by pulling the left trigger, he’ll stick to walls in order to hide behind cover and peek out behind corners.

First person games with cover systems are often really awkward when you go into cover, leaving you just staring into a wall, and the wall usually has a texture that, while good looking from afar, was not intended to be examined so closely. The Killzone games are a good example of this. Human Revolution bypasses this neatly by pulling back into a 3rd person perspective when you are in cover, climbing ladders or performing cinematic takedowns. It works really well.

In fact, when you’re sneaking around hiding behind stuff, Human Revolution reminds me a lot of Metal Gear Solid. Waiting patiently, trying to figure out a soldiers patrol patters, the cone of vision you see on security cameras (and enemy soldiers as well if you get the augmentation for it), even Jensen’s pose while in cover and the way he holds his weapon, is very reminiscent of MGS. This appears to be entirely intentional, as the game sports an achievement called “the foxiest of hounds”, that the player can earn by finishing the game without ever setting off an alarm. A nod to the Foxhound team in Metal Gear lore.

In most situations, you have the choice between sneaking past an obstacle, going in guns blazing, or hacking something in order to move on. In most cases, I ended up doing a mix of all of them. I don’t have the patience to try to sneak through the whole game, reloading saves every time things go sour. As I was playing through the game, I ended up starting most situations by sneaking and quietly taking out the guards, but if I was spotted I would just go “Aw screw it” and start blasting fools with my shotgun. I found the different approaches available, as well as how a situation can swing drastically from one approach to the other, very engaging.

The hacking system is quite entertaining, especially compared to the old progress bar in Deus Ex. You’re faced with a grid full of nodes, and you need to capture the goal node before the alarm system captures your starting node. You do this by hacking a path through each node, while reinforcing your own nodes to buy valuable seconds. You also get “powerups”, like a nuke that can capture a node instantly without alerting the system, and a Stop ability that will freeze the system for 5 seconds. This hacking mini game can lead to some tense moments as you frantically try to finish your hack before the system shuts you out and starts the alarm.

You’re also able to hack security consoles and take control of cameras and security bots. I had a lot of fun with hacking a turret, setting it to fire on enemy soldiers, and then using my augmented strength to carry the turret around. It provided both a shield and infinite ammo, and I could put it down to provide suppressing fire while flanking my enemies.

A lot of people have complained about the boss fights in Deus Ex: Human Revolution, with good reason! The problem boils down to the fact that throughout the game you are given a choice of how you want to play the game, while the boss battles just… don’t. The game essentially asks; do you want to be stealthy, or a tech savvy hacker, or a hardened soldier? But the boss fights, they force you to fight. You don’t get any options whatsoever, you have to fight. The first boss fight in particular is really bad with this, as it’s early on, and players will only have had a few points to spend on augmentations, which will have gone into whatever they specialized in. If that wasn’t being a hardened soldier, then you’re in trouble, as the first boss fight has you locked in a room with a large man with arms that turn into machine guns. And there is nowhere to run. This happens a few times during the course of the game, and while it’s not at all game breaking, it can be quite hard for certain character builds. From a design perspective, it is quite jarring and completely betrays the design of the rest of the game.

More successfully, Human Revolution also features something along the lines of boss debate battles, where Jensen enters an argument with certain key characters, and if you choose your responses carefully, you may talk them down and avoid a fight, or get that piece of information you need. It’s quite refreshing and I really enjoyed it.

I think my biggest issue with the game, and really the only serious downer about Human Revolution as a whole, is the ending. The final boss battle itself is quite weird and borderline anticlimactic. But the real head-scratcher comes after you defeat the final boss, and find yourself faced with something that can basically be boiled down to the “End-O-Tron 3000”. You have to choose one of four choices, that then give you your ending. It doesn’t matter what choices you made, or what transpired during the course of the game, none of that influences the ending of the game, just this one choice. It’s one of the more puzzling design decisions I’ve come across in a long time.

There’s an achievement for seeing all the possible endings in the game and I assumed it would have required me to play the game repeatedly, making different choices along the way. But no, I got that achievement by just reloading my final autosave and choosing each different End-O-Tron 3000 option in turn.

Human Revolution presents the illusion that you’re experiencing a heavily choice based game, only to shatter that illusion entirely and render every single choice you’ve made in the game insignificant. Much like the much maligned boss battles, this inconsistent design choice hurts the game.

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Never make fun of my sunglasses-at-night!

The immediately striking thing about Deus Ex: Human Revolution is that it looks and sounds a lot like Mass Effect in many ways. The design of the more high tech futuristic areas look a lot like the Mass Effect space stations, and the background music sometimes sounds like it’s been captured directly from ME.

The graphics are very good for the most part. The character models are well done with a good amount of detail, while the lighting compliments the normal maps very well. There are no jagged edges, texture seams, or undesirable shadows formed by the normal maps. Textures are crisp and good looking for both characters and environments. It’s always nice when you see posters and notes on walls and tables, and you can actually go over and read most of it.

The art style favours dark steel, teal and black, contrasted with warm oranges in the lighting. It’s quite nice and creates a tangible sense of atmosphere.

My only real issue with Human Revolution in terms of its visual and environment design is the city hub areas, that often feel very static and fake, with mannequins propped up to simulate a real place. There’s something very unsettling about wandering the streets of Detroit and Hengsha.

I always point to Metro 2033 as my example for how to do a city setting that feels real and alive. In that game, people were always moving around, or having conversation unrelated to the player. The people in the city areas were going about their daily lives, just doing their thing, not standing there like robots who had no purpose in life unless you were looking straight at them. It would be full of ambient noise and background conversations. Even if you peeked through a door that’s cracked open, you’d see people moving around inside. Metro 2033 really raised the bar for how to do believable public areas.

You can see a bit of what I’m talking about regarding Metro 2033 here:

Human Revolution on the other hand, while it makes a decent effort at creating a city setting, just doesn’t succeed very well. The characters in the public hub areas just kind of stand there. There are some conversations that trigger if you get close to them, which is nice, but it’s really just the bare minimum. Even the streets wrecked by riots felt more static and barren than chaotic. The buildings you can not enter, while well textured, feel like cardboard boxes with paint on them. You can’t see through windows you’re not supposed to be able to enter, for example. Very rarely did I believe in the world around me when I was in the public hub areas in Human Revolution.

Human Revolution also has some stiff animations that, combined with the realistic character models, create a robotic look that evoke the uncanny valley a little more often than you’d like.

The sound design is solid, with strong weapon sounds, and a good sense of direction in terms of footsteps and ambient noise. In a fight against invisible cloaked enemies, I could easily track them by their footsteps if I focused on it. The voice acting is pretty good (although some of the hobo characters border on racist stereotypes), and does a good job of selling the various characters and their personalities.

Final word

Deus Ex: Human Revolution tells an intriguing story set in a very well fleshed out and complicated world, that is only let down by a somewhat dodgy ending sequence.

The gameplay is part Metal Gear, part Mass Effect, with a dash of classic Deus Ex. With only a few unfortunate exceptions, it provides an excellent gameplay experience that lets the player decide how the game should be played.

In terms of presentation, it’s a high quality game with a solid voice cast and a really effective art style that really creates an atmospheric world that supports the story and setting.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution is finally the worthy sequel to Deus Ex that fans had been waiting for. It’s a much better game than the original in almost every way. However, it doesn’t quite pack the same punch or break new ground the way the original did, and it unfortunately also has a few puzzling inconsistent design choices with the boss battles and the ending sequence that hurts the overall game.

The competition is just so much more fierce these days than it was in 2000, and while Human Revolution’s faults are relatively small, they are enough to prevent it from standing head and shoulder above the rest like its predecessor did. Due to this, it will probably never become the kind of cult game that Deus Ex was, which is a shame, because this game could have been a classic.

If you enjoyed the original Deus Ex, or stealthy games like Metal Gear Solid, Chronicles of Riddick or Thief, you will probably get a great deal of enjoyment out of Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

Rating: 8,5

The best reason for why Tom Cruise is awesome: No one runs quite like Tom Cruise!

Think what you like about Tom Cruise and his rather unfortunate choice of religion, but there is one thing no one can deny, Tom Cruise is the best runner in movie history!

Poorly Thought Through Review: F.3.A.R.

F3AR, or FEAR 3 if you like, is the third game in the F.E.A.R. series which stands for something I have long since forgotten. As shown by perverting the initials with a 3, it’s not really important, it just spells out FEAR.

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The original FEAR was a very interesting game that mixed First Person Shooting with horror gameplay, created by Monolith Productions, the same developer behind the excellent Condemned. Putting the player in the shoes of Point Man, a genetically enhanced soldier (hello bullet-time!) sent out with his squad to deal with Paxton Fettel, a nutcase responsible for a string of cannibalistic murders. Things quickly go from bad to worse, and you’re on your own and slowly realizing that there is more to this than you were led to believe.

Soon strange things begin happening, that are centred around a creepy little girl named Alma, an immensely powerful psychic who has completely lost it and is trying to kill everything. The story wasn’t super interesting, but I remember enjoying how you could track down phone messages and files that would shed more light on the story, who Alma is and what happened to her, who Fettel is, and even who you are. It’s a neat way of including more story for the player who might be interested, without beating everyone over the head with it if all they want to do is shoot stuff.

The original FEAR was also interesting in that it was an FPS that worked the best when there were no enemies around. The sequences where paranormal events were happening around you, strange noises, flickering lights, things moving for no reason, Alma appearing out of nowehere, were by far the best and most immersive parts of the game. I would catch myself sighing and thinking “aww not this again, let’s just get it over with” whenever enemies appeared.

After the release of FEAR, there was an interesting chain of events where two more FEAR games were released, Extraction and Perseus Mandate, but created by a different developer. Once Monolith got their IP back after Vivendi went belly up, they ret-conned those two games out of existence and created FEAR 2.

FEAR 2 took place before and during the events of the first game, and followed a new protagonist, Michael Beckett, sent in with his Delta Squad to retrieve a scientist who was ready to leak information about Armacham, the company behind the creation of Alma, Point Man, and Fettel. Needless to say, things go awry, and Beckett is soon in a world of shit. FEAR 2 was a pretty good game, but had that same thing where the combat were the boring parts and the paranormal activity was the entertaining part. It also elaborated on the story of Alma further, as the player learns she was just a little girl with psychic abilities, who Armacham abused and experimented on, even impregnated her in an effort to create super soldiers out of her children. FEAR 2 also ends with the main character, Beckett, getting psychically raped by Alma, which was… interesting.

FEAR 3 (now done by Day 1 Studios) picks up a few months after the events of the first game. You’re back in control of Point Man, the main character of FEAR 1. He’s been captured by Armacham as is being tortured for information on Alma. Suddenly, he gets a helping hand by a surprising ally, Paxton Fettel, his brother who he killed with his own hands in the first game. Sporting a bullethole in his forehead and all, Fettel appears to have left his physical form behind and is now basically a psychic spectre. I’m not sure if he’s real and is using his brother as a host, or if he’s a figment of Point Man’s imagination, it’s never really explained how Fettel has returned from the dead, or if it was, I missed it. Perhaps Point Man has some latent psychic powers himself, that are manifesting in the form of his dead brother, allowing him to embrace his dark homicidal impulses without really facing the consequences of his actions? Who knows, maybe I’m reading too much into things. Fettel is able to possess enemies and help out in combat though, and he just done broke your ass out of jail, so let’s not look a gift horse in the mouth.

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After the events of the second game, Alma is pregnant and is close to giving birth. Her contractions release powerful psychic blasts that wreak ever more havoc on the surroundings. Point Man wants to find Alma and put a stop to this, while Fettel wants to find his mother and share in the joy of the birth of their new sibling. What follows is a long slug through the prison, sewers (of course), towns and military complexes.

In-between levels you are treated to short sequences, showing video tape of Point Man and Fettel as children, held in a containment room doubling as their home. Sometimes a doctor comes in and takes one of the boys away for experimenting, more often than not, Fettel as it becomes clear that Fettel has psychic powers like their mother, while Point Man (Point Boy?) exhibits no signs of psychic ability. Occasionally, Alma will pop in and check on her boys in the form of a little girl. Only Fettel notices her, as Point Man is blind to her presence. As the levels pass, you can see little Fettel becoming more and more powerful, and more and more unhinged, both from the experiments on him and the influence of his mother. Although it’s only a minute or so clip between each level, I found it to be by far the most interesting and compelling part of the story of FEAR 3.

FEAR 3 plays pretty much exactly the same as the previous two levels. There’s a bit of a cover system, allowing you to pop  your head out of cover and take a few pot shots if you have a lot of enemies zeroing in on you. The combat is pretty slow, but is remedied by the fact that Point Man is able to slow down time due to his superhuman reflexes, which allows you to basically think “what would Rambo do?”. It’s quite satisfying to be stuck behind a pillar with enemy fire all around you, only to slow down time and just come out spraying bullets all over the place.

The game does introduce enemies later on that require some more different tactics. Some enemies have shields, requiring you to shoot their feet, or wait for them to drop their shield momentarily to reload before you attack. Strangely they don’t seem to react at all to grenades thrown behind them. Then there are the bullet sponge wall-teleporting phase commanders that will take hundreds of bullets to kill. Usually I approve of mixing things up a little, but in FEAR 3 I genuinely just felt annoyed when faced with these enemies, as they broke the flow and forward momentum of my attack.

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Then there are the psychic monsters, at several points in the game you’ll be faced with beasts created by Alma that appear out of the walls. They are by far the worst part of the game. They have no intelligence whatsoever and will just come straight at you, leaping and slashing with their claws. This usually leaves you running backwards while spraying bullets in their face. I suppose the intention was to mix things up a bit and force the player on his heels, but these enemies do not inspire any dread, just annoyance. There’s no entertainment value in fighting them at all, and I would just sigh whenever they appeared in the game.

Then there are the occasional sequence where you get to drive bipedal mechs for a short time, letting you just wander forward like an indestructible force of asskickery, blowing shit up as you go. These sections are short and few, but entertaining and breaks up the action nicely.

Much like the previous games, the best gameplay sequences are the ones without any enemies. When things quiet down, the lights start flickering and paranormal events start happening. Unfortunately, they’ve been done to death by the FEAR series in the past, and aren’t particularly inspired, so while still neat, these sequences are not nearly as compelling as they were in the original game.

There is an excellent level at the end of the game though, that consists mostly of one big paranormal sequence, as Point Man and Fettel revisits the facility they grew up in and have to come to terms with the atrocities they suffered at the hands of Armacham.

As an added bonus, you are able to play every level again as Paxton Fettel after you’ve beaten them once as Point Man, giving you a much different look at the action with Fettel’s psychic powers and ability to possess enemies.

If you’ve got a buddy handy, you can also play the entire game in co-op as Point Man and Fettel. The game definitely feels like it’s designed for co-op, with plenty of opportunities for flanking and such. If you’re like me and have no friends however, it’s kind of disappointing that single player runs removes Fettel entirely. It would have been nice to have an AI partner to at least serve as a distraction and bullet sponge.

Graphically, the game looks pretty dated. It’s not a bad looking game, but it looks like a 2008 game. Put alongside the AAA shooters of the last year, it doesn’t hold up at all. Plus Point Man looks really stupid, he looks like a cross between a cave man and Macho Man, only without the awesome macho madness.

There’s a selection of multiplayer modes as well, including something quite awesomely named “Fucking run!” but we don’t play that multiplayer shit ‘round here son, so I’m not going to comment on that.

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Final thoughts:

FEAR 3 is a competent shooter, with a bit of a hook in the horror parts that sets it apart from the pack.

The story of FEAR has some interesting parts, most notably Alma and her sons and the combination of torture and frightening psychic powers. There are some really interesting psychological angles in the story that sadly and frustratingly goes unexplored. There is real potential there, and nothing is more frustrating than wasted potential.

Graphically, it looks dated and fails to impress, but it’s not bad either. Just perfectly middle of the road.

Ultimately, I think FEAR is a bit played out. The original game was new and interesting and compelling, and I enjoyed it a lot. By now though, in its fifth iteration (counting Extraction and Perseus Mandate) it’s still pretty much the same game and have made very little progress as a franchise. I hope that if they make more FEAR games, they take some chances with it and move the gameplay along, hopefully in a more horror, less action direction.

FEAR 3 is a decent game to kill a couple of days with if you have nothing else to play, but beyond that I can’t see myself recommending it over other FPS’ out there. In fact, I’d recommend FEAR 1 over FEAR 3.

However, if you liked the previous FEAR games and want some more of the same, FEAR 3 is for you. Me on the other hand, I wish they’d leave FEAR on the shelf for a bit and make another Condemned game.

Rating: 7