Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered Review- Returning to active Duty

27 Nov

Nine years since Modern Warfare got the call to participate in active duty and to this day its tremors are still being felt. Since then there have been swathes of imitators attempting to replicate and duplicate its success, carrying similar bombasts and scraping for a modicum of Modern Warfare’s renowned multiplayer success. This remastered version gives this ground-breaking FPS a good spit shine, a veneer of polish so pristine that it dares make most remasters look like their original releases. Modern Warfare Remastered has been beautifully curated and stands up as one of the elite remasterings of the generation, an honour befitting its seismic impact on the videogame industry, and every Call of Duty to this day still bows down to its majesty all these years later.

Packaged alongside Infinite Warfare for those who bought the pricier editions of the game, Modern Warfare Remastered might be looked at as an afterthought. You might assume Infinite Ward is casually coughing up a prettier version of a 9 year old game, haphazardly bolting it out to consumers in a bid to garner more capital, but this is truly a remaster, carefully designed to both allow for reminiscence of old times, and reigning in newer audiences to experience the shooter that rewrote the rulebook and got the mainstream masses chirping non-stop in lieu of its presence. By all accounts Modern Warfare getting a remaster should be a huge deal to anybody who spent hours upon hours in its multiplayer suite, and to those who were blown away by the pulse thumping single player campaign, putting gamers on a blood pressure monitor the entire way through. These ballistic thrills can now be relived with a sharp and deftly handled leap forward to current generation consoles, meaning you can get stuck in again, but this is more than a mere nostalgic globe trot rife with explosions, this is the innovator and the architect of the standard military shooter.

So what makes this the remaster of all remasters? The care and attention to detail of course. The remaster not only includes mesmerising definition of graphical textures and improved environments, but the minor details are superb. Take the swishing and sweeping litter as you approach the car surrounded by Al-Asad’s henchman before meeting the man himself before execution; or the gushing plumes of smoke emitting from the smoke grenades as you surreptitiously plant explosive charges in the Ultimatum mission, both moments show the leaps in visual quality utilised, indicative of a worthy remastering. The best moments of the game are spruced up beautifully, making a revisit a much more pleasurable experience, enhancing an excellent shooter beyond the necessary to make it a deeper and more expressive than it was before.

The campaign of Modern Warfare retains all its zest too as you would expect. From the moment you slash up melons to the time you’re All Ghillied Up and proceed to the Mile High Club, you will embrace the slickness and the production values all over again. Never one to be an easy ride, Modern Warfare tests your precision and acumen with various weapons both scoping and no scoping and acquainting yourself with modern war tech. You’ll bare witness to many things under the eyes of Soap McTavish including a thunderous blitzkrieg of military affairs, skulking silently, clothed in foliage as enemy forces trample through a field as you clench nervously for personal space hoping and pleading to yourself that you won’t get caught and forced to restart if you snuff it. The pace of the campaign has been the blueprint for all Call of Duty games, but Modern Warfare is the zenith of its success. One dinger that sticks like an insignificant leech to its leviathan core, are the relentless enemies who toss grenades hither and fither towards your feet, granting you, at times, an impossible length of time for you to scurry away from danger. Veteran difficulty will make the problem even worse and the challenges you face with that difficulty enabled are incredibly high already. Sometimes Modern Warfare can be overkill and sometimes it detracts from all its revered excellence.

The videogame industry owes a great debt of gratitude to Modern Warfare for its innovative and raucous multiplayer offerings. Not only is Modern Warfare’s multiplayer brilliantly frenetic, chaotic and all-out explosive fun, but it has single-handedly popularised a lexicon and infamous playstyles that have its dedicated fanbase raging down headsets and spewing cuss words asunder. Maybe Modern Warfare’s multiplayer has generated a surge of irritable and unpopular set of player archetypes, but at the same time its simplicity and addictiveness are unmatched in the genre. Whether you are battling in a cramped area with lots of shipping containers or surging through middle-eastern sun-baked streets, the multiplayer never fails to inject that surge of adrenaline, and for this reason and many others, Modern Warfare’s multiplayer is one of a kind.

Regardless of how much time has past since its original release, Modern Warfare has aged brilliantly and the remaster proves this tenfold. An already riveting and brilliant shooter, Modern Warfare Remastered revitalises and uplifts the look and vibrancy of the original release, exquisitely polishing it for a new stage on PS4 and XBOX ONE. This is definitely not an aside to Infinite Warfare, but a complete game featured alongside it. The single-player is fantastic and takes you across the globe engaging in a litany of missions that challenge your abilities to utilise advanced equipment and centring you in perilous scenarios. The gameplay is as fast, fluid and gripping as ever, even with the incessant grenade use of the enemy A.I being the game’s only real sticking point. Then there’s the insurmountable multiplayer offerings with its host of punchy game modes, furthering the appeal of the entire production, uniquely spawning a lexicon and many imitators in the nine years since its initial release. The bottom line is it doesn’t matter if you are a veteran of nine years at CoD who knows everything there is to know about how to play Call of Duty like a pro, or you are totally new to it all- Modern Warfare will both accommodate and consume you, looking and playing better than it ever has done, which is precisely what its legacy has granted and what you should look forward to discovering or rediscovering.

+A sharp and pristine remaster worthy of Call of Duty,

+The visual upgrade shows how much care the remaster has received,

+The base game is still incredible nine years after initial release.

-Too many grenade deaths due to unfair enemy A.I tendencies,

-No bonus content,

-Waiting for hypothetical remasters of Modern Warfare 2 and 3.

93%

Virginia Review-Silent Sensation?

16 Nov

Not another walking simulator! You exclaim before hastening to the nearest fire exit and slamming the door shut. Suffices to say the immediate reactions to another game where you walk about and interact with things will make some gamers spew criticism towards it without a second thought, after all the walking simulator is a videogame genre, and the word ‘videogame’ is supposed to illicit kinetic action and excitement. These often short curios however, get shafted for having the longevity of shortcrust pastry and there’s not a lot going on in them. The examples are plentiful from Dear Esther, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture and The Vanishing of Ethan Carter to more experimental and inspired titles like Layers of Fear, Gone Home and this darling Virginia. What Virginia manages to accomplish though, is a subtlety unique to its own storytelling within the broad realm of the genre and lifts it above mediocrity because of its ability to tell a story without leaning on convention.

Before you wail and think this has something to do with a woman because Virginia Woolf was a woman and you connect this piece of information with the fact she was a key figurehead in literature, know that Virginia is a setting, one you should be aware of if you live in America and it is a real place for those who don’t know and who have never stepped foot on its soil. The game is based on a real story circa 1992 and you play as a female FBI detective called Anne Tarver and along with your partner Maria Halperin, are investigating the vanishing of a boy called Lucas Fairfax. Forget about the investigation though, because the heart of the game is about the relationship between Anne and Maria. The chemistry between these two figures is engaging to see unfold, and along with other characters including a priest, your sergeant and a few fellow employees-manages to spur on your curiosity of how all of them connect to the story. The places you visit including an abandoned observatory, a bar and a diner help to prolong the sense of wonder and the inscrutable definition of what you see and how everything unfolds. Virginia has a rather peculiar range of ideas all concocting to create a short but thought provoking tale, and it is all done without spoken dialogue.

Unlike the vast majority of story-led videogames the industry churns out, Virginia is notable primarily for the absence of verbal communication. All the actions and responses from the characters are received through physical reaction, demonstrating how a solid narrative can be forged without verbally telling you anything. It’s a commonly practised technique in film making outside Hollywood, and there are a litany of lauded foreign films that transcend language barriers through events as they unfold from cut to cut. Virginia purposefully and methodically crafts its story by utilising this intricate storytelling method to sew one scene to the next, allowing the player to inspect emotions and body language for deeper meaning and understanding underneath their actions. The result is instead of making characters feel like the central hook, animals and objects have just as much importance, carrying significance by their repetitious placement. When you pick up the pendant with Maria’s mother’s face on it or watching the cardinal lying prone then springing back to life, or the buffalo being ritually sacrificed in a sacred place where figures gather round wearing white masks, you begin to realise that they are all linked together in some way because Virginia doesn’t let you forget about them. This imagery demonstrates Virginia attempting to tackle cinematic aesthetics head on and while that isn’t very videogames or interactive, it nevertheless reveals the potential that videogames have in providing more intricate ways of telling stories.

If you’re looking for a proper game to play there isn’t much here to recommend. You will be touching and grabbing things relevant to the story like letters and your F.B.I badge to show one individual in the game, and also picking up flowers and feathers, but there’s just not enough engagement between you and the game to care about, which is Virginia’s biggest bugbear. You are here for the story or you aren’t, there is no considerable argument to conjure up as to why it’s a decent game to actually play. Yet its length just like its price, isn’t suggesting you’ll ever get bored with it because you know what you should be getting in advance. You can’t help but be deflated that Virginia doesn’t give you much to participate in, but the story is compelling and nuanced enough that you should set aside your gameplay requirements and experience it with a fresh and curious mindset.

Visually Virginia isn’t a looker but the way its artistry evokes its differentiation is nevertheless compelling. The myriad of locations you visit reflect the webbing of the story and the characters, with each setting promoting a mood for players to feel swallowed in by. The inviting interiors of the bar you visit and the eloquent music performed on stage sets a tone so sterling and yet so calming that at times, Virginia can be chilling and thought-provoking. The music in general is delightful and never departs from suitable tones that fit the moment.

Virginia is all about subtlety and you’ll learn to appreciate its values the further the story progresses. Sporting no dialogue is without a doubt Virginia’s biggest niche, both requiring the player to pay attention to what’s happening, and continually stroking their curiosity. The novelty of Virginia’s soundtrack can’t be understated either, supporting and maintaining the thematic juices and tones the developers want you to be swallowed in by. There might not be much of an actual game in here and the cutting techniques deployed while relevantly tuning the mood, are jarring and a bit bothersome, but Virginia is primarily a game about story, if a good yarn is what you are clamouring for then Virginia comes openly recommended.

+The absence of dialogue creates a sumptuous deck of meaning through its layered mise-en-scene,

+Soundtrack is superb with tonally eloquent scores that suit the themes of Virginia,

+Locations are diverse and offer thought provocation consistently.

-Not much interaction going on in this one,

-Could easily be a film, doesn’t suit the videogame form so much,

-More of it would’ve been welcome.

78%

Assassins Creed: Unity Review- Assassins Creed: Impunity more like

29 Oct

Who knew the French Revolution could be so boring? Assassin’s Creed: Unity tackles this question with the force of a jar of mayonnaise smashing into a ceramic floor tile from its precarious destination on a ceiling fan- that is to say the mayo looked and perhaps tasted nice enough, but because of the careless of its holder it’s now reduced to a pasty splat and plenty of broken shards, mirroring just how unfinished and blemished Unity really is. Somehow it prevents total disaster because Ubisoft knows about polished games even if they refuse to wipe away the remaining smudges, that is to say it still retains the franchise’s eloquence, pinpoint historical accuracy and intrigue, but some of it has been sacrificed in the process because of the blatant inertia stinking up the final product. Is it Assassins Creed’s worst outing yet? Arguably so, but just how bad are things? Let’s find out.

Time to set your calendars back to 225 years ago in France during the country’s notorious revolution period, only this time an assassin named Arno exists and he stabs people he doesn’t like, not very courteous obviously but he’s a man on a mission so don’t chew on his temper like a grunting bovine or he’ll have you skewed on a stick. In all seriousness Arno is on a mission to curtail the sinister plots of France’s inner circle and along with his lover Elise, seeks to thwart their plans in both cerebral and supercilious ways. A personal mission also sends Arno on his tirade- the murder of his father. Arno is framed for his adopted father’s slaying, thus compelling him further to seek vengeance and clear his name. As ever the story is strung along with Templar politics, political pressures and plenty of tyranny, treachery, and more than a smattering of men wearing wigs.

Meanwhile in the real world Abstergo introduce a program called Helix, the exposition of which is fed to you via in-game cutscenes because now there are no missions based in the real world, but instead through Helix you chase down glyphs set in World War II and the Medieval era environments. The Helix programme provides a refreshing alternative to the usual bout of Abstergo platforming in previous games, but the backdrops are merely dressings for sprinting, evading guards and climbing structures.

Assassins Creed: Unity is squarely focused on its narrative exploits to such an extent that the game becomes rather boring to keep up with. Trying to remember all the French figures is one thing, but detonating our minds with a lot of talking and sterling accents, you might come under the impression that Unity has much to say but doesn’t transmit the words into actions quite as readily as you’d be prepared for. Interesting things do happen within the story but the exposition curls around your throat so tenaciously that it’s hard to breathe a spellbinding breath. The characters are too one-dimensional to get invested in, so Unity relies on its usual tricks and some new features in an attempt to parlay the dryness of its cast.

Unity’s rendition of France comes with plenty of narrow streets and tall regal buildings, so it’s a place ripe with opportunity for assassinating targets, but it isn’t all about your will to kill with skill. Unity deftly applies the brunt of more powerful hardware to produce a city that feels condensed and compact with eighteenth century townspeople, by using them as denizens to trick guards into a game of Where’s Waldo? or more specifically Where’s the Assassin? The world feels impressively alive too with events unfolding naturally in the world like the school playground crimes of bullying and thieving, so yes Arno has to be a superhero way before the genre was even popularised. Ubisoft have worked hard making Unity, a world full of life, not much of it is interesting mind but it’s still an ambitious and maybe pretentious world of possibilities.

Adding to the beautiful portrayal of a city in revolt are the ludicrous amount of collectables. Open up the world map and it would appear somebody at Ubi barfed various icons because they literally litter the map to such a point that navigation becomes difficult. A lot of it is excessive tat as well, there’s no need for three kinds of chest to loot, though Ubisoft wants you to spend as much time in its world, so it can push you to save up Abstergo upgrade points so you can unlock the red chests. Outside of these boxes with shiny objects in there are cockades to collect, murder mysteries to solve and a host of Paris Stories to intrigue you, not forgetting the weapon training tutorials, glyph puzzles and Nostradamus Enigmas to unearth. Then on top of these are the co-op missions and heists, which are solid additions if you have a reliable partner or partners, seeing as up to 4 players can tackle these and they can be booted up at any time. You even have a homestead called the Cafe Theatre you can manage and use to participate in more tasks and is where you’ll find the training tutorials and a sacred layer underneath where you first access the Nostradamus puzzles.

Unity appears relentless in giving you stuff to do that hours trickle by and you’ll feel you’ve only scratched the surface of what’s on offer. So much of the content is nebulous making the world seem like it’s fettered with padding and excess, especially when Unity stumbles when trying to offer you an unblemished world, because besides the mess of things you can do in Unity, technically the game is a right pig’s mess too.

There’s no clearer testament to a developer’s loyalty than their ability to ensure the consumer’s time is pleasurable and unique. Unity may stand out uniquely by being the most bug-filled AAA release in some time, but in no conceivable way is that pleasurable. Glitches abound as Unity serves you a not-so-fanciful buffet of hitches that you’d wonder where the familiar novelty of vol-au-vents went. Unity traps you in glitches to make you restart, can load up in bizarre ways such as releasing you into its world where the camera greets you with a screen full of shrubbery from the background, facial textures can tear into ghoulish like shapes, and the loading times are abysmal whether you’re online or off. Surely if there is a technical disasterpiece award given out at the end of the year then Unity will win all the accolades and awards associated with being a deplorably buggy mess. If Unity is any indication, Ubisoft would rather flaunt you with signups to their network Uplay than offering an untainted experience, it is rather sad but luckily the biggest faults don’t crush the whole of Unity which is a relief.

Playing Unity is a mixed bag, feeling like Assassins Creed should in both good and bad ways. On the plus side finishing off enemies and using the iconic wrist blade to slice necks is still ultra violent and satisfying. The combat is still rudimentary as one guard goes into attack you and you need to parry or dodge and attempt to counter attack in order to slay them. These encounters tend to get very boring, sluggish and frustrating at times, meaning the stealthy approach is the more convenient way to play. Jumping from rooftop to rooftop still feels natural but monkeying down the sides of buildings can get a little clumsy. You will often find that you struggle to navigate the environment the way you want to, making for some clunky moments of dire irritation as you try to force the game to do what you want it to.

Commendation should be given to Assassins Creed: Unity for finally showing the promise the first game in the series had all those years ago. Thanks in large part to the swathes of character models that flood the screen, you can feel like a proper assassin carrying out bludgeonings and stabbings while a monolithic public event is in progress. These huge events are usually reserved for main story mission and are more complex and demand precision and pinpoint stealth. Truncating yourself in a bale of hay and disguising your presence by huddling with the people around you aren’t enough, you need a route to your target and a sensible means of escaping. Such intricacies will come naturally to seasoned Creed players but those new to the series might find them too complex and annoying. The excellence of these missions win out though because it is as close the series has come to making you feel like an assassin.

If this is your first view of France without history books and lecturing, then you will be blown away by the details. Much in the same manner as seeing Venice in Assassins Creed 2, Unity renders Paris’s cobbled city streets and statuesque palaces sublimely. Interiors are lavish and sparkle with aristocratic golds and blood reds for the prosperous and housing is decrepit, dank and cramped for the poor. The draw distance is very impressive, stretching outwards seamlessly and the view from the Cafe Theatre is breathtaking. The sound design is given equal attention with beggars and preachers shouting in French and the rich converse with shrewdness tethered to posh accents. The music is once again subtle but reflects the upscale drama and peaks in to develop the mood and pace of the game as you choose to play it.

Hopping over to a new generation, Assassins Creed: Unity has certainly made an impression albeit a controversial one. The series has retained its penchant for sophisticated historical accuracy, beautifully captured environments and plenty of trinkets to collect, but all of it is almost squandered on an unbelievably untidy technical performance. Glitches are abundant, being both distracting and potentially game breaking. Loading times are protracted beyond reasonable measure, taking the time necessary for players to go for a bathroom break and microwave a curry in back-to-back succession. You might even say all the collectibles Ubisoft have packed in are examples of how lazy they have been with the polish they’ve refused to shine upon it; along with the fairly boring cast of characters, Unity puts a solid argument forward as the worst Creed game out there. But then it slings you about in an impressively populated Paris, occasionally shimmering with glints of excellence due to a scattering of high stakes assassination missions, and delighting you with a vast upgrade system, a multitude of weapon types and some cool Helix missions where you can experience challenges backdropped in World War I and Medieval. Ultimately the trip to the eighteenth-century is an inspiring one, but Unity stands as the most unpolished of the series and perhaps the most uninteresting one too.

+Paris is exquisitely rendered and feels as monolithic as the historical event it replicates,

+Some assassination missions remind you of some of the promises made in the first Creed game, only took them seven years,

+Helix missions provide new backdrops and does away with the irksome present day platforming of previous entries.

-Unity is rife with technical problems,

-The characters are largely flat and uninteresting,

-Gameplay needs refinement as combat is usually too slow and cumbersome and pinpoint platforming is frustrating.

65%

ABZU Review-A whale of a time

29 Sep

If Journey swapped out the mystique, scarves and the dessert climate, replacing them with scuba gear, an ocean and plenty of fish, ABZU is exactly what you would get. You won’t be surprised when you discover the creative director behind Journey is illuminating this underwater adventure title, but you should appreciate ABZU’s modesty as it attempts to beautify the symbiosis between man and underwater inhabitants. Forgive the cribbing and you’ll have an indulgent time in this dazzling and reflective downloadable, that like its spiritual predecessors, is full of heart, wonder and meditative experiences.

Providing you have wandered around in any of ThatGameCompany’s games, you will immediately understand ABZU as an unobtrusive and calming game where you solve light puzzles and explore the sea life; watching the kelps and other aquatic plants sway and bow underneath you, while you spiral and swim with the wild life under the sea. There is a majesty to swimming with a company of fish surrounding you like you were in a Disney or Disney Pixar production, which coalesces to the meticulous sense of wonder and harmony ABZU cleanses itself with. The unbridled aura of it all ensures you’re not soon to forget about any of the pleasures ABZU serenades you with.

Taking less than three hours to complete, ABZU is not intended for those who value length of play over substance. However, if you want to indulge in a few hours of harmonious underwater exploration, ABZU will get its hooks into you. Like those that have come before, ABZU is fills its time with light puzzle solving and unlocking gates to the next area. If you want to head for the finish you can do so, but you’ll be missing the hidden trinkets in this delectable underwater world. Ruins open up eloquent fountains and ancient etchings tiled on the walls. Some areas are more foreboding, but for the most part, your undersea excursions will be cheerful, playful and bountiful.

You are also able to interact with the sea life, grabbing onto them and using the PS4 controller to guide them and the player character to desired destinations. Several moments in ABZU are breathtaking or otherwise joyful and sorrowful. When you choose to intertwine you will get the most from ABZU because the marriage between underwater diver and underwater creature cements what the adventure is all about, sharing moments with the submerged populace. If you’d rather soak in ABZU by watching, then you can meditate by interacting with whale statues. You can peer and discover a wide selection of fish and underwater mammal, and even see them devour each other, not in a bloody mess way, but in a survival imbued way. Then there are explosive trinities you’ll have to watch out for, nothing but a nuisance obstacle that interferes with the calming energies that ABZU constantly gives off.

A few bugbears dent the experience somewhat. The loading times are quite lengthy, which seems quite silly to say in the eighth generation console cycle, but they still exist. You can’t interact with fish or the chirpy yellow bots beyond their primary usefulness. Selecting the fishes in meditation is also clunky, and you can only discover the names of the fish, there are no biographies detailing facts and mannerisms, which dampens the intrigue of finding all the creatures the game has to offer.

Despite some general knit picks and its distracting similarities to Journey, ABZU is by itself a lovely adventure, taking the time to let the player swim and splash around in a world often dormant to human activity and often left unexplored in videogames. The grace ABZU harnesses is elegant and you will find the game to be a celebration of the aquatic. If you don’t go looking for a deep plunge, you will not be disappointed with the calmness and beauty effortlessly exuded in ABZU.

+An underwater adventure game with heart and joy at its core,

+An effortlessly mesmerising game,

+Interacting with the sea life.

-Cribs from Journey a bit too much at times,

-Loading times are a bit extensive,

-DAMN YOU EXPLODING TRINITIES!

80%

Fallout 4 Review- Irradiated Success

17 Sep

Discovery is at the heart of most Role Playing Games. Digging and traipsing the innards of vast, varied and unpredictable worlds is a large part of what makes the genre irresistible and enticing besides the accumulation of hours you pack into your adventures. What you don’t find however, is a super mutant stomping towards you hand-cradling a miniature nuclear bomb as though he was your son dashing up to you and showing off the model ship he just crafted, only this wooden ship explodes in your face and bursts him (and potentially you) into bloody chunks of limb and carcass on the concrete floor. Surprises in the Fallout world are abundant, ensnaring you in a false sense of safety at one moment, and relaxing you the next. You feel calm and chilled when you interact in a friendly settlement, but are monstrously eager to accrue experience and rid of enemies when you’re embroiled in all-out warfare. Fallout 4 retains and the patented necessities but crams in a ridiculous amount of perks, abilities and stuff to craft and build that Fallout 4 is to Fallout what GTA V was to the GTA series, a massive, incomprehensibly explorable open world with too much to do and so much to upgrade that you’ll feel overwhelmed with attributes you want to assign to your character. Within these depths Fallout 4 finds a nuclear bomb’s worth of excitable playtime, but all the gameplay improvements under its external core is what empowers Fallout 4 into the annals of true excellency.

In convincing Fallout fashion, you start your journey in Fallout 4 in a swanky urban neighbourhood, full of colour and cheer and growth. You own a house, you have a beautiful wife and now a baby has entered your life, some life for a ahem “nuclear family”. Another 20 minutes or so later your wife is killed and your child is taken away to a place called “The Institute”, where robotic figures called synths come from, who can embody the appearance of real human beings, but are really just cyborgs, or terminators for the less erudite among you. The quest is simple- find your son, but like many RPGs, there are a myriad distractions and the road ahead is long, complex and very destructive. You spend your opening hours finding sanctuary, both literally as the name of the first settlement you encounter, and figuratively as you gather your bearings and find allies to help you forward on the traversal towards the freedom trail. You’ll meet various factions, exchange barbs and quips with them, ally with them, turn against them, all to move forward to the central goal of finding your son.

Like the Fallout games that have come before, Fallout 4 is an open world wasteland embedded with hostility,conflict and a nuclear factory’s worth of radiation. You can go anywhere you please, but keep in mind there are ferocious settlements infested with super mutants, rotting feral ghouls and raiders. Be sure to tread carefully too because there are various poisonous creatures and nasties like mirelurks that aptly ‘lurk’ near lakes and open water sources, and an assortment of flying monstrosities that spit bile. Beware of deathclaws and Yao Gai too because they will not relent until your limbs are torn asunder and you’re nothing more than roadside meat. Just in case you enjoyed Codsworth’s company at the beginning, know that if you try to get smitten with assaultrons, they’ll happily explode in your face, so beware of robots and then some. Like its predecessors, Fallout 4 does a tremendous job of making the wilderness feel like a dangerous place. You need to feel secure in yourself everytime you head out with a hefty ammo supply and an overdose of stimpacks to ensure you don’t end up being savagely mauled and unprepared for the threats you encounter. Thankfully you’ll come across a range of friendly neighbourhoods too, allies who will help you out and potentially become crucial to your progress in the game. You will want to head straight towards Diamond City as it is the jewel of the Commonwealth and there are always interesting things going on with the townsfolk. You’ll also want to dive right into the history and politics of each area you visit because you will be embroiled with information from the citizens and the numerous terminals you unlock and holotapes you pick up on your excursions.

As you can tell, there is a seemingly endless supply of information in the Fallout 4 Boston Commonwealth, but even this pales in comparison to the substantial strides Bethesda has made in making Fallout 4 a remarkable RPG to play for hundreds of hours. Apart from the familiar scavenging for loot including caps, ammo and other supplies and surprises, the base game has seen a positive mutation, a feistier, meatier, meaner, more malicious and macabre Fallout than ever before. Attacking with projectile weapons feels tastier than ever because your enemies react to each and every blow, and a single whack from a heavy weapon will splatter their greymatter all over the place. Using conventional weaponry feels more devastating too because manual firing no longer feels rigid and unsatisfying, but can be just as gruesome as when you decide to utilise V.A.T.S. You won’t feel like Fallout has morphed into a First Person Shooter, but you will feel like the franchise’s versatility is richer and more enticing than it has ever been.

The perks you receive for levelling are vast and cater to any kind of Fallout player. There are seven types of skill you obtain and the more you rank up any, attribute the more skills you’ll unlock for that set. There is an autonomous level of choice in Fallout 4, allowing you to play in a multitude of ways, offering you plenty of incentives to challenge yourself and choose perks that rival your comfort zone. Sneaking is a great alternative to using weapon based upgrades, as you’re more likely to feel empowered by a far less messy option. Then again, the Mysterious Stranger is a godsend to players who aren’t yet tuned into the world and need an extra pair of hands to finish off scoundrels. Then there are rewards tailored to companions. Dogmeat, your friendly canine companion can chew up and thus distract enemies, while benefits are given to those who wander without a companion, so you can live up to being a true loan wanderer. Perks from previous Fallouts such as lock picking and terminal hacking are still very useful to have as they provide easier and faster gateways to access otherwise unreachable areas. Upgrades to weapon modifications are addictive perks to have, swapping out attachments and forging your own Frankenstein of destruction. The levelling up system in general is tailored to the longevity of the game, meaning you won’t find it easy to stop playing, which is ultimately how impressively large and in-depth Fallout 4 truly is.

Crafting is another monolithic area of Fallout 4 that should be sampled. Early on you meet Preston Garvey, the leader of the Minute Men- a group of Commonwealth defenders and loyalists. Garvey encourages you aid a litany of settlements by eliminating pests and solving their problems. Once you’ve accomplished tasks for them, you’ll be free to assign unused companions to those destinations and you can help them harvest food, as well as build defences for them and setting up radio beacons.

The crafting station affords you the luxury of building your own settlement as you see fit, meaning you’ll have to forage components from the scrap you get by demolishing whole buildings and dismembering objects to grab the necessary raw materials. Wood and steel are common and will be contained in almost every object you find, but scouring around for gears, oil, plutonium and such will require further rummaging. There are a few knitpicks with crafting though. Firstly, you can’t build anywhere and a green wall shows that you can’t craft beyond the indicated point. Object placement can be a pain and will annoy those who have a thorough vision of how they want their settlement to look. You’d think Bethesda would throw you a bone after all that salvaging you’d have committed to, but instead building things is tempered by the rules the developer has applied to it. If you’re completely bummed out and not knowing what to do with crafting, then the pleasure of doing it will be lost on you.

What’s even more irritating is that there are many missions with Garvey where you’ll have to craft and set up something using the system. Sure, it gets easier the more you do it, but this insistence on building and maintenance comes off as a chore, seeing as Garvey’s missions are on the main quest line this is even more frustrating. Then he has an endless supply of settlement based missions to send you on and they repeat themselves ad infinitum.

One small but worthwhile component to the game that is totally badass, is you can hop into a fully fortified suit of armour. Congratulations, now you are quite literally a walking tank, but be cautious of the damage you’re taking because just as is the case without it, the limbs of the armour can be damaged severely to a point that you might as well be wearing a loin cloth because a damaged suit of armour is a useless suit of armour. You’ll need to keep the power topped up with fusion cores which are fairly rare to find unless you know where to locate the nearest hostile sentry bot, once you’ve minced it there are usually a couple of cores nestled inside. Power armour can be stored at inside yellow hangers at particular locations and the specific location of the armour can be found as an icon on the world map, so you won’t lose it and can track it down as fast as you want to boot it up again.

When there is Fallout there are usually a lot of bugs and not always of the radroach variety. Crashes, irritable framerate drops, awkward and stiff animations- Fallout 4 can be a technical wasteland at time which can have a detrimental impact on the game’s stain power. For as remarkable as Fallout 4 usually is, its high standards can be easily offset by a game breaking hitch that can be hard to forgive, especially if they happen repeatedly. Nothing in Fallout 4 should be so intrusive as to be a total turnoff, but considering the stellar scope of the game, the bugs stick out a lot more than they otherwise would.

Downgrades besides technical problems also exist. The conversation response options are no longer a list and boil down to four types mapped to each face button. Pressing x usually results in a positive karma response, with circle being negative karma, square usually being an alternate response such as a sarcastic option and triangle is often a question stemming from the information you receive. The problem comes down to the lack of knowing what will pop out of the player’s mouth. For instance a sarcastic response might yield some clever wit, or it might be too disrespectful and your companion may not like what came out of your mouth, then again they’ll criticise everything you do if you have a companion lugging about with you.

What can’t be denied in Fallout 4 is just how sumptuously varied the wasteland is. Sure there’s still plenty of rubble and rusty bombed out vehicles to go round, but this time the colour palette is pleasing. Bright blue skies in a Fallout game? Yep and they look sharper than the faecal matter of a bloatfly. Environments look distinguished and are populated appropriately. The hospitals and some of the hideouts look quite samey with collapsed floorboards acting as makeshift ramps and the facilities looking like haphazard copy and paste jobs with their labyrinthine layouts and similar looking rooms, yet some of the bigger friendly areas such as Diamond City and Goodneighbour are bustling with life and activity; inspiration is imbued with personality in the latter settlements, as there is a strong whiff of the noir genre permeating like streams of cigarette smoke throughout.

As seems to be the case with Fallout’s presentation, it can be very misleading. Look at the pipboy and the smile plastered across his face when you see him on the upgrade menu or on the titular device, he seems happy go lucky does he not? Then you listen to the classy soundtrack all about love and uranium and being a super cool man about town. All of it is so misleading, the wasteland is full of nastiness and all you see and hear externally from the world around you is a bunch of spurious positivity. Uranium fever might have gone and got you down but you sure won’t be singing about it, you’d just reach into your Pipboy, cross over to your inventory and press on the RadAway. If you’re powerful enough to treat your enemies like ticks you can flick off using your thumb and index finger, then maybe the music will be a suitable companion on your journey, until then stop listening to The Wonderer, because that song will only make you want to feast on dead raiders and jack you up on Psycho to make you furiously made for about thirty seconds. It’s worth noting at this point that certain drugs gift you special abilities such as Jet, which slows down time so you can shoot more accurately and avoid incoming fire.

There is no measuring stick to quantify how successful Fallout 4 is in enhancing the series’ gameplay mechanics and overall autonomy. Fallout 4 is a substantial achievement for Bethesda, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are one of the finest RPG creators in videogames. The Commonwealth of Fallout 4 is staggering, its size is enormous and the fear of treading outside of it matches the comfort of strolling inside of one of the pleasant friendly areas it has to offer. Fallout 4 balances contrasting emotions like it balances the worth of the game depending on how much time you decide to sink into it and getting to know all the nooks and crannies it goads you into trying and applying. There hasn’t been a game so polished but so plagued since Deadly Premonition, but unlike the latter, you seriously have to appreciate the magnitude of Fallout 4 to understand why it will cease up occasionally. Fallout 4 is far from perfect, it will cause you more than a few annoyances and there is still sizeable room for improvement, but were this the last Fallout game ever released, well Bethesda would have unleashed a nuclear bomb of hard-working excellence right on top of us all with the radiation spreading endlessly around the globe. Fallout 4 is fractured but fully capable of providing many hours of top quality entertainment, and that is what truly matters.

+An unfathomably huge wasteland with excellent writing (most of the time) and heaps to do,

+A full blown gameplay design upgrade from previous fallouts, feeling as visceral as the world around it,

+The Commonwealth is inspired and the locations are diverse in so many different ways that we no longer have to compare it to the dankness of its predecessors,

-Not clean enough to squash the bugs,

-Preston Garvey, the Minutemen, the crafting and settlement missions-all boring,

-The main story is perhaps the least interesting part about the entire game.

92%

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End Review- A Bang or a Whimper?

6 Jul

Nathan Drake has lied to us all. Regardless of the relentless strain he subjects his body to by stretching his arms to grab ledges, tumbling over and through structures, snapping his body back and forth from left to right against exposed objects, and leaping, sprinting and scraping away from certain death, he told us he was done with this life. After three gruelling mainline servings of Nathan Drake’s exploits through a skittles palette of natural and sinister environments riddled with all sorts of antiquated treasures and historical etchings, it would appear the fourth entry brings the journey of the legendary treasure plunderer to a close; but not before he bounds through one more scrumptious circus of puzzle-solving, action-adventuring, wise-cracking and antique scavenging. The final exam for Drake turns out to be every bit as delicious as its predecessors, but has it lost something sacred along the way?

After an action sequence eerily similar to Drake’s fortune, we find that Drake has given up on his adventurous lifestyle. He works for an excavation firm, has receded to a peaceful life with his wife Elena, and it would appear that he sucks at playing a certain PS1 era videogame, not to mention he plays in the attic with a plastic gun and a few targets. You’d be forgiven for thinking all this tomfoolery in the early chapters is misleading, but with a title in a franchise this prestigious, you should expect a feathery calm before a blighting hail chucking thunderstorm.

Once business picks up and Drake embarks on a fourth whistle stop tour. You and your brother are off to uncover Henry Avery’s lost treasure and literally follow in the footsteps of the dead. Along the way you are invaded by mercenaries sent by the two villains Rafe Adler and Nardine Ross, who are also after ancient riches too. Ross is a super tough woman who can whip Drake’s backside if he so much as pop a cheap wisecrack her way, and Rafe is a disgruntled man bloke dude guy, who has a desire to have all the riches he wants like a spoiled rat.

The finale of Uncharted 4 is both strong and startling in how disappointing it is. The closing chapter isn’t difficult at all, and isn’t fuelled with as much malice as the best videogame finales, in other words it doesn’t make you bubble with the same visceral drive that you’d expect, especially from Uncharted. Maybe it’s because the central villain is comparatively weak compared to the other games, or maybe the poor construction derails any potential excitement, in any case Uncharted 4 leaves something to be desired. Luckily the epilogue redeems the disappointment somewhat by reigniting the familial aspects that specially characterise Uncharted 4, parting with us in a warm and comforting way that is much needed and appreciated.

The opening few chapters of A Thief’s End play like an imminent reunion leading to an actual reunion. When the opportunity arises thanks to Sam, Nate’s brother, Nate reluctantly but confidently obliges for one more globe-trotting go round because American Pie’s cast reunited, so why can’t a treasure hunter and his pals? Despite the cliches, Uncharted 4’s story is set to its usual high standard of production values including great voice acting, a pair of interesting villains, wonderfully realised natural landscapes, the usual Naughty Dog sheen and who can forget the eye-gasmic sight of Drake’s sopping damp clothes after taking a dip in a river? It’s like he rubs baby lotion all over himself. Save for the thoughtful inclusion of a literally dirty Drake adding to a calender’s worth of images of Nate being peppered and engulfed in the elements, Uncharted 4 doesn’t add a lot of surprising newness for a series that revels in it.

This time Drake is off to an assortment of idyllic locations such as the green and grimy pastures of Madagascar and up to the shivering highlands of Scotland. Along the way he will pause and embrace crisp horizon views, dive underneath vast teal and aqua blue oceans and swim with the corals to unearth hidden treasures and discover crumbling ship wrecks. If this description didn’t clarify it enough for you, Uncharted 4 is a glorious visual spectacle, dripping in detail off Drake’s weathered brow. Similarly the sound design is right up to standard with the series’ best, so no surprises, the production value has always been of the charts.

By this point we’ve bare witnessed to a plethora of exceptional chair-gyrating moments from Uncharted. Admit it, your head bolted through the ceiling when you saw Drake almost getting swallowed up by the front-gushing wind as he desperately and narrowly clawed onto waving plastic mesh, whilst cargo boxes flip and role past you. Your veins almost slit through the skin as you fired your way upwards in the train section in Among Thieves. Oh, and you got giddy when Drake was dangling from a rope, getting dragged along concrete and dirt. Ok, ok the latter demonstrates Uncharted 4 does possess a few exceptional moments, but the momentum is downplayed somewhat in the service of emphasising the importance of the narrative. Uncharted 3 was like a heart attack because it threw you recklessly into setpiece moments like a carnage strewn symphony, and that’s what made it incredibly special to some, whereas the story felt like a backdrop. Uncharted 4 by comparison is more conservatively paced and provides a workable balance between the action and the story, but in trying to harmonise its components, it doesn’t excite as much as it should, yet it does offer a more fleshed out story because of its decreasing bombast. Whether you are experiencing medias res, or taking on a flashback sequence with Nate and Sam as kids, the story flexibly and conveniently ebbs with eloquent intrigue and funnels you through some really tense and climactic moments.

Where Uncharted 4 does succeed is with its puzzle sections. A chapter that takes place in a clocktower has you contending with climbing up cogs, gears and even messing with the hands of a clock face to proceed forward. Another great puzzle involves you walking carefully across wooden boards and trying not to combust yourself by walking where you shouldn’t. Sure, there are an array of familiar symbol matching puzzles as well, but it is clear that Naughty Dog has managed to think outside the box again in refreshing new ways, creating a bigger scope without the need for guns and explosions, therefore helping to alleviate any potential lingering disappointment elsewhere in the campaign.

Stealth is a property of Uncharted 4 that has seemingly unchanged, yet probably for the better because it was brilliant anyway, but there are a few annoyances. Firstly, why is it that Uncharted 4 insists on loving the shrubbery as relates to hiding? To be an avid stealth assassin, Nate nestles himself amidst the foliage with Sam and the old fart Sully, and you all move about without suspicion within it. This is fine because The Last of Us had Ellie roving about unseen to the AI, but why are there green shrubs and long tall grasses everywhere to hide in? Hasn’t stealth moved past this since MGS3? As a result Uncharted 4 can feel too boxed in, with each hostile area a zone for a couple of different play styles, though the versatility is limited as the story anchors you in, appropriately ensuring you’re on the right path, so silent stealth sneaker or bullet banzai are your only true personae on Uncharted 4’s battleground. Not that this is a bad thing, far from it because you now have the ability to mark targets a la Splinter Cell, making espionage about rapid planning and executing, fast like everything Uncharted is known for, still holding up well on PS4.

The multiplayer is in a word needless. There is value here and it plays exquisitely, but there’s barely any sense of progress or competitiveness to it. Two teams have at it, both killing members of the opposing side for treasure and the team that reaches the point threshold once the time limit expires wins. There is some fun to be had when the grappling hook comes into play, but for the most part the offering is a straightforward shooting and clambering affair. There simply isn’t the replay value in Uncharted 4’s multiplayer, so your experience may be relatively short lived, unless you just can’t get enough of Uncharted’s often irresistible gameplay flow.

Uncharted has held up to almost a decade of continuing existence. There are spectacles in Uncharted 4 that wouldn’t have been possible before and this old dog has learnt several new tricks, so there’s no need to take him out back and pull the trigger. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End still has the moxie to impress after eight years and it does so with its own panache. Some might dispute its quality amongst the series’ elite, but there is still no denying it has everything a Playstation gamer could ever want. If Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is truly the end for Nathan Drake and his entourage, then the send off is a fitting if slightly disappointing one, but remember you’re still in for a hell of a ride nonetheless.

+A worthy conclusion to an outstanding videogame franchise,

+More intimate and familial than before, making for an especially touching and inviting tale,

+A far more open and expansive Uncharted than previously seen.

-Multiplayer is ok but feels like an unneeded tacked on extra,

-There’s not a lot surprising here,

-The final chapter is underwhelming and disappointing.

85%

Firewatch Review-This Fire Burns Bright

28 Jun

Life on your own can get you down. Henry, the main character in Firewatch sets out on hikes as he is permitted to do as a fire watchman, embarking on this lonely job just so he can gather the funds to visit his seriously ill wife in Melbourne Australia. But don’t fret, though he is almost literally on his own, he carries a walkie-talkie which he uses to converse with a woman called Delilah and the two banter back and forth like they were genetically related. Firewatch is more than just about two humans verbally exchanging with one another though, as you will find out as the plot thickens and the drama starts to vigorously shake proceedings up several notches, so that you start feeling a sense of unease and helplessness as the narrative slithers towards its peak.

Firewatch is a dazzling game first and foremost, drenched in a mixture of bright yellows and reds, it’s easy to think of its visual identity as the most eye-bleedingly beautiful Indie game on the PS4. The vistas are gorgeous, encouraging you to slap that share button on your controller, but the eloquence of the verdant horizon views echoes the closeness and familiarity Henry feels in this environment, so his surroundings hold a purity beyond sight to accentuate simultaneous feelings of homeliness and isolation.

Without his wife by his side, Henry treks along Wyoming’s wilderness with his backpack and a walkie-talkie. Along the way he can nix supplies from several cache boxes by first opening them with a simplistic combination code; the contents of these typically includes map locations, notes and pointless tat like pinecones and rocks. The most meaningful item in the game are strands of rope you can use to abseil up and repel down rocky cliff sides to reach otherwise inaccessible surfaces. You can also utilise an axe to chop down trees and cut through branches to reveal pathways, but is used to minimal effect like most of the other items in the game.

You aren’t challenged when playing Firewatch, all you do is follow instructions. Delilah will ask you to set out across the map where something important has happened, but when you get there you’re often disappointed to find nothing you hiked there for, then you follow more instructions and proceed to travel to another point on the map where the story progresses, but again nothing exciting takes place. You feel like a voyager, a traveller who witnesses some impressive sights but the engagement with your environment feels minuscule because the narrative demands your fullest attention. When you have vast opulent landscapes to explore, you don’t want to keep following objective markers. In this way Firewatch fails to provoke your curiosity because a lot of the time you are too busy trying to progress through the story than interacting with the world around you.

Compounding the issue is the awkwardness of using the map. Whipping out your map and finding the location of where you need to go is easy, but navigation is fiddly and you can’t look at the map and explore at the same time because if you attempt to do so your treading will shake the map, so you can’t simultaneously walk and find your footing. Another annoyance is that getting from one spot to the next fails to alert you to obstructions and Firewatch is too linear to give you the leeway you’d need to make travelling easier. Being met with an unexpected mountainside on your journey is a hassle and when you don’t have the equipment you need to traverse the environment with ease, you’ll realise that finding and searching are more integral to the gameplay experience than immersion and fun.

All this negativity might paint Firewatch as trite and unconvincing, but the minor decisions you make throughout do craft the lightest sense of you having any impact and agency in its world. For example, before you know what’s going on at the start of the game, you get the chance to read reams of text, not only setting up and contextualising the game’s narrative, but offering you some options pertaining to your relationship with Julia and how you respond to Delilah when bringing her up. Do you want kids? Do you want to take care of Julia yourself? Player involvement goes beyond you acting as a surveyor and participant, but when no other characters matter besides you and Delilah, you’ll end up feeling everything and everybody else is superfluous by comparison. There are other characters in Firewatch, but your investment in them is very limited. Case in point there is a boy you get to know towards the end of the game though you never actually meet him. Something happens to him and any emotional weight carried by what you learn is soft because you weren’t given enough time to know him as a person. As a result, Firewatch seems persistent in ensuring your interactions with others aren’t as strong as the bond you have Delilah, making you wonder why any of the other characters matter at all.

Let’s cut Firewatch some slack, it’s clearly a beautiful Indie adventure title with two entertaining characters and a lushly constructed setting. The ambience and the nature of exploration make Firewatch a trip worth taking as the drama is pulse-raising and there are a myriad of flourishes that accentuate Firewatch’s presentation. There is a calm presence about patrolling Wyoming’s forests with nothing but the voice of another human muttering through an interactive radio device at you. If the story could have somehow made your presence more expressive in this world, we’d have a truly marvellous title that would rightly place Firwatch amid the upper echelon of PS4 titles; alas it doesn’t quite achieve the excellence that it clearly had the potential of grabbing and hoisting proudly because of a few bruising gameplay stumbles. Still worth splashing out for though.

+A gorgeous and refreshing setting,

+The drama is very compelling,

+Henry and Delilah’s banter is exceedingly good.

-Traversing has a few problematic kinks,

-The map is awkward to use,

-The story tends to cut off the sense of wonder and openness of the world.

73%