The action and story picks up after the player, Artyom, calls down a massive missile strike on an alien race known as Dark Ones as seen in the previous title, “Metro 2033.” Artyom is a member of the Rangers, and tasked with finding and killing the last remaining alien.
People only survive in the tunnels of the Metro system because the outside world has become poisonous and irradiated from an atomic blast 20 years ago. Mutated creatures dwell inside and outside the confines of the rail system, and pockets of humanity also live in different parts of the Metro.
These survivors have grouped themselves into like-minded ideals. Nazis occupy one area, Communists in another and gangsters in a third. Artyom starts out in the D6 military complex, one of the most well-supplied and safest areas in Moscow. Obviously, this “wealth” is something sought after by the others and Artyom comes in conflict with the Nazis and Reds on his mission to track down the last Dark One.
The game plays out as a first-person shooter in a linear, survival environment. There are also elements of the supernatural at play when Artyom meets up with the Dark Ones.
Obviously since most of the game happens in a tunnel, there is only one way to progress forward in the game. However even during the outside missions, you do not want to wander away from the next target (more on that in a moment) and often times, the landscape will funnel you to the area you need to go.
Supplies are very limited and the coin of the realm is military grade ammunition. That makes for an interesting choice at times because you can use the better ammo for greater damage, but you are literally shooting away your money.
Artyom can carry up to three weapons and four secondary weapons. You will also need a gas mask and filters to be able to survive the areas outside of the Metro. The filters only last a specific amount of time so management and discovery of that resource is extremely important to your success.
This is why wandering around outside is not a good idea because you will run out of breathable air if you decide to go scouting. A compass Artyom carries helps keep you pointed in the right direction.
Gunplay was tactile with each type of gun doing specific damage and reacting in different ways. Some enemies have specific weak points that must be dealt with first before administering the killing blow.
There are also explosives (two types) and throwing knives if bullets aren’t the best way of dispatching your enemies.
Because ammo is a scarcity (yes, I ran out a few times even trying to be careful), stealth then become the preferred method of getting through as much of the levels as possible. Sneaking up and dispatching enemies doesn’t waste valuable ammunition nor does it alert the numerous guards to your location.
You cannot drag a body into the shadows after stealth killing, so where you slay someone becomes just as important as the actual death dealing. The enemy AI isn’t likely to overlook a body in the middle of a room or hallway.
That said, the AI is not particularly good at spotting you in the shadows no matter how close they get to you. In one scene, I slid along a darkened wall to near a workbench where I thought I could pause for a moment while the guards chatted amongst themselves.
Their conversation broke up and one guard started walking directly toward the workbench. Raising my rifle, I was waiting until he cried the alarm before firing. Yet, he just started sharpening his knife at the bench – not noticing me less than a foot away.
I was able to creep back along the wall and get behind him for a stealth kill while remaining within arm’s reach from him at all times. The very limited AI vision into their darkened surroundings made some missions easier than I would have expected.
The second half of the game involves Artyom and the Dark One, who is just a child. Telepathically, you understand the meaning and connection between your character and the Dark Ones. The game starts to get a little mind trippy at this point, but the Dark One’s ability does come in handy later in the game
The child accompanies you and provides help in combat by spotting enemies and offering supplies he finds on the battlefield. As far as I could tell, he never took any kind of damage so it isn’t a protect/escort series of missions.
He also taps into other people’s thoughts and creates some ethical moments that will impact the ending of the game. He is mainly there for support and to help you uncover some very dangerous truths about your enemy’s plans.
There were some technical glitches along the way. Some opponents would freeze in place and couldn’t be hit or damaged. At first, I just ignored them, but then they would unfreeze as I got close to them and attack.
In a few missions in the game, Artyom travels with a companion. More than once, the companion would get stuck in a doorway or passage and not let Artyom get by. This was only fixed by reloading from the previous checkpoint.
This game is rated M for Mature and earns it. Besides the obvious blood and intense violence, there are instances of nudity and sexual content. In a brothel house scene, you can repeatedly pay (with your hard earned ammunition) for a nude dancing girl to perform for you. There is a touching sequence involving Artyom and a different woman who is partially nude.
There is also a side mission where you can rescue a refugee woman who is about to be sexually assaulted. No nudity here, but the dialog is disturbing.
“Metro: Last Light” kept me hooked with the twists and turns of the story, solid combat mechanics and a step into the supernatural. The technical glitches were distracting, but did not diminish my overall enjoyment for the title too much.
**POTENTIAL SPOILER AHEAD**
If I can give you one tip, there is a mission involving a tank. Do not listen to the dialog. It is misleading and will cause you great anguish if you try to do what is being said.
** end tip **
“Metro: Last Light” is available now in North America and the rest of the world on May 17. It can be played on the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Windows PC. It is rated M for Mature due to blood, intense violence, nudity, sexual content, strong language, and use of drugs and alcohol. This review was done using a provided copy for the Xbox 360.
“Syndicate” tries to remake itself into a first-person shooter (FPS) with some good combat techniques, but falls way short on visually delivering an enjoyable experience.
The new game from Starbreeze Studios, Electronic Arts is a reboot from a 1993 title that was more of a tactical shooter and strategy game than FPS. This version drops you into a future where corporations instead of countries control the world and most of the world’s population contains chips in their brains. Players act as techno-agents with super-charged electronic implants that make them incredible weapons.
The key invention is the DART-6 chip technology that is implanted in the brain of your character, Miles Kilo. Kilo is tasked with discovering corporate espionage and dealing with it – permanently. The DART-6 enhances Kilo so that the world appears to be moving slower and he becomes more powerful.
He also gets additional enhancements early in the game that unleash three different powerful attacks – suicide, backfire and persuade. Each of these abilities allows Kilo to tap into an enemy’s chip and force them to do something against their will.
The suicide ability causes a brain chip to explode, possibly injuring surrounding people. Backfire shorts out an opponent’s weapon temporarily and makes them vulnerable to damage. Persuade gets enemies to switch sides and help out Kilo before blowing their own brains out.
Kilo also gets upgrades by stealing important chips from other people’s skulls. The technique is rather disturbing as the technology is removed through the ear or eye – after the people are already dead, of course.
These upgrades add to health, recharging, shields and other benefits that you’ll need to complete your missions.
From a shooter perspective, the action is solid with a wide range of weapons to collect and use. From a simple pistol to the powerful chain gun with infinite ammo, each weapon causes unique, and sometimes very visceral, damage. The chain gun literally cuts enemies in half. Don’t examine the bodies too closely without a strong stomach.
The enemies are numerous, so players will get plenty of practice with their weapons and abilities. Some strategy is needed in most scenarios, but on more than one occasion, the bad guys just kept coming down a hallway without any personal regard while I continued to mow them down.
The boss battles were lengthy and difficult, requiring quite a bit of dodging, restocking and flat out hiding. Kilo seems extraordinarily fragile for all his offensive firepower so you will die often.
Apparently, civilians aren’t immune to all the bullets flying around either. It was hard to determine whether I should care or not because there isn’t a morality system that punishes or promotes my actions. I tried not playing like a psychopath, but the lines between good and bad get blurred on the way to the game’s conclusion.
Most troubling was the visual representation of the environments. Yes, it is a far-flung future reminiscent of “Deus Ex” or even “Tron,” but the experience was visually painful.
Lens flare and extreme lighting lessened the game’s enjoyment. Even by adjusting the gamma and blackness controls, transitions from scene to scene would result in blinding brightness or darkness so deep that I couldn’t make out individual items on a desk. I spent more time in the video options menu than worrying about what skills I wanted to upgrade.
Glitchy animation didn’t help the visual experience either. Other characters would go through the shakes like they were going through techno-DTs and on more than one occasion, enemy soldiers would appear to go down only to spontaneously reappear in the same location and shooting.
The detail in the environments was impressive, but most of it was just for show. Walls and barriers would show bullet marks without taking any real damage.
The multiplayer is co-op for two to four players and puts you into some typical agent missions. Cooperation is vital as the enemy appears single-minded in their desire to destroy you. It doesn’t detract from the overall game, but it is important to get with people who know what they are doing. Those “solo” team members are just going to get themselves – and you – killed.
Overall, “Syndicate” is hampered by visual style and glitchiness that gets more frustrating as the game goes on. The combat is solid, fun to play and takes a creative mind to use properly against numerous and increasingly tough enemies.
Don’t treat it as a reboot. Treat it as something brand new and you’ll probably enjoy it more.
“Syndicate” is available now in North America and February 24 in Europe on Windows PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. It is rated M for Mature due to blood and gore, intense violence, strong language, and suggestive themes. This review was done using a review copy for the Xbox 360.
It was the year of hacking, the year of breaking records and the year of flinging birds at pigs. The year of gaming in 2011 had plenty of ups and down and that doesn’t even include all the video game titles that were released. While the explosion of social and mobile gaming continues to affect all games, it was a hacking incident that focused attention on the dark side of online gaming.
Gaming Network Hacked
In April, Sony confirmed that its PlayStation Network, the online service that has more than 77 million users and allows online play for it PS3 consoles, was hacked and taken offline.
It was more than just a denial of service ploy. Sony said that personal data, including credit cards information, was accessed and compromised. While they stopped short of saying “stolen,” the company recommended that its customers keep an eye on their credit card accounts and watch out for identity theft.
An outside security agency was hired to find out what happened and the network service stayed offline for several days while changes were made to prevent more intrusions. Sony also offered special incentives to bring back gamers after they fixed the issues.
But in October, the PlayStation Network was hacked again – this time affecting “only” 93,000 accounts. This intrusion affected thousands of user IDs and passwords.
Sony said the lessons they learned from the April hack prevented more information from being illegally accessed. A teenager inLondonwas quickly arrested in connection with the crime.
And before you think this was just a PlayStation problem, Microsoft announced that its Xbox Live customers were the targets of a malicious phishing attempts to scam personal user information. Microsoft was quick to point out that their online gaming service was not hacked and there was no breach of security.
Earlier in the year, the hacker group LulzSec released a data file with names, email addresses and passwords they said could be used to get into Xbox Live accounts as well as other accounts.
Breaking Entertainment Records
You know gaming is big when the release of a game smashes entertainment records for sales.
For the third consecutive year, the “Call of Duty” franchise raised the bar with the release of “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3” by earning more than $400 million and selling more than 6.5 million units in North America and the United Kingdom in the first 24 hours.
If that wasn’t enough, the game had more than $775 million in sales during the first five days. “Modern Warfare 3” also broke the record for peak concurrent players on Microsoft’s Xbox Live online gaming service.
According to Activision Blizzard, the all-time sales for the “Call of Duty” franchise exceeds worldwide box office sales for “Star Wars” and “Lord of the Rings.” There were more than 13,000 midnight openings at retail stores worldwide for the release of the new title.
Last year, “Call of Duty: Black Ops” sold $360 million on its first day while “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2” sold $310 million on its first day in 2009.
Mobile/Social Gaming Explosion
Gaming has transformed from being played on computers to home consoles to mobile phones. With it, game developers recognized they have a new audience to appeal to with games designed to be played quickly and with others electronically.
Zynga, a social network game developer responsible for “CityVille,” “FarmVille” and “Words With Friends,” recently filed an initial public offering with the SEC and began trading on NASDAQ. While the stock failed to rocket as previous dotcom stock did in the heyday of the tech bubble, the market for social and mobile is still very much a battleground.
Companies are developing games for smart phones and tablets and incorporating chat or other social features to allow players around the world enjoy games together. Atari recently announced they were changing their mission to work exclusively on social and mobile gaming while publishers like Electronic Arts continue to push big names (“Madden”) to the small screen. EA also bought Popcap Games for a whopping $750 million.
Facebook made it even easier for game play on their social network while Apple’s inclusion of the Game Center on their iPhones reflect the growing interest by the public toward gaming with others while on the move.
More Than a Gaming Device
Kinect for the Xbox was introduced with the idea of making motion gaming easy and fun for users. But creative people began “hacking” the device and make use of its cameras and sensors for more than just play.
Some people have used the Kinect to create very life-like movies using CG rendered figures. Other use it to manipulate video playback so that multiple screens can be created or erased as the user needs.
Kinect is also a watchdog for your home. A program turns on the Kinect when it senses motion and takes pictures of the “intruder’s” face, which can be stored or even sent online.
While hacking the Kinect wasn’t new this year, the ingenuity at which people were including the motion sensing device rose to new and exciting levels.
“Angry Birds” vs. The World
“Angry Birds” moved out of the gaming arena and into the pop culture spotlight with their inclusion in commercials, being released as stuffed toys and the very real possibility of a full length movie in the near future.
It is also notable for the people who play – U.S. Senator Chris Coons, basketball star Kevin Durant and UK Prime Minister David Cameron, who plays the iPad version of the game.
There is also a yoga philosophy that uses the characters and gameplay mechanics to explain its teachings. Rovio, the company that created the game, opened its first official retail story in Helsinki and plans another somewhere in China.
3D Game Console Released
With much fanfare and hype, Nintendo released a new handheld console – the 3DS – that would let players experience 3D visuals without the use of special glasses. It was supposed to revolutionize what the gaming experience was going to be.
The console was released inJapanin February and inNorth Americain March. But by August, Nintendo dropped the price on the device by $80 after demand for it was softer than expected.
As of March, Nintendo had only sold 3.61 million units – far short of the 4 million the company was expecting to sell. To appease early adapters who bought the 3DS at the early price, Nintendo offered 20 free downloadable games – ten free NES Virtual Console games and ten Game Boy Advance Virtual Console games.
The device also suffered from a perception problem as the company stated publically that the 3D mode should not be used by players 6 years old and younger. While there has been no scientific data to show any harm to the development of eye sight in children, some players did report experiencing headaches after continuous playing.
New Gaming Hardware
This year, two major gaming hardware companies announced they were going to come out with new gaming consoles.
At the Electronic Entertainment Expo inLos Angeles, Sony showed off its new handheld game console, the PlayStation Vita, while Nintendo introduced its newest home console, theWiiU.
The Wii U announcement has been described as the next generation of gaming consoles and is expected to be fully backwards compatible with the Wii. The controller will have an embedded single-touch screen and the console will be able to produce high-definition graphics.
There were worries that the console will be too expensive to compete with the PS3 and Xbox 360. Nintendo has said the Wii U will be released after March 2012.
In contrast, the PlayStation Vita, Sony’s new handheld console and the successor to the PSP, was released inJapanin December and is expected to hit North American andUnited Kingdomshores in February. It boasts touch screens on the front and back as well as dual analog joysticks.
Vita will also be available in two versions: one with 3G support and one without. The 3G service will be provided by AT&T in theUSand Vodafone inEurope.
Moving from subscription to free-to-play
“World of Warcraft” wasn’t the first, but it has been the most successful subscription based game for massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG) with 10.3 million subscribers as of November.
So it stands to reason that others would try to take a slice of that very large pie. “DC Universe Online” wanted to capitalize on the power of DC Comics and online gaming in a big way.
The game allowed players the opportunity to act out their comic hero/villain fantasies in the DC Universe and interact with iconic characters like Superman, Joker or Wonder Woman. Initially, players paid a monthly fee (around $15 in the U.S.), but by September, there were reports that the game was not doing as well as Sony, Warner Bros., and DC Comics would have liked.
In November, it was announced that the game would be free to play for anyone who wanted to play, but offered optional in-game microtransactions in place of the subscription fee. Two other paying levels were offered with different levels of in-game abilities being released as the price increased.
The strategy worked as “DC Universe Online” experienced a 2,500% increase in total playtime per day and a 1,000% increase in their user base.
More Affordable PS3
Perhaps feeling the heat from their hacking incidents or maybe just an attempt to chip away at Microsoft’s lead in the console market, Sony announced a price drop for their flagship console, the PlayStation 3.
The price drop put the cost on par with the Xbox 360, but didn’t include any bundling with the Move controller (that came later in the year). Some analysts wondered if Microsoft would respond with a price drop of their own – something that did not occur.
The Xbox 360 has traditionally been the top selling gaming console in the U.S.
The Season of 3
Finally, you can’t talk about the year in gaming without talking about games. This year, many of the popular franchises produced sequels with many of the shooter titles sporting the number three in their titles.
“Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3,” “Battlefield 3” and “Gears of War 3” all brought back familiar gameplay and characters while putting them in new situations and scenarios.
“Uncharted 3,” featuring the treasure-seeking ways of Nathan Drake, closed out that franchise. “Resistance 3” also brought an end to the alien invasion of Earth. And “F.E.A.R 3” finally stopped making us dread little girls in darkened hallways.
X-Play host Morgan Webb said all these sequels and finale installments are happening for a reason – new consoles on the near future.
“We’re nearly the end of a console cycle so series that have begun at the beginning of the console cycle, they’re starting to finish up the series,” she said. “People have made the investment in the franchise and they’ve got the art together and they don’t want to create something completely new when new consoles are starting to be on the horizon.”
“Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3” continues the franchise’s tradition of high action, detailed fighting and a super competitive multiplayer mode while still trying to let players play the way they want.
The latest in the highly popular and very successful series hits all the high notes in its cinematic single player campaign and its intense multiplayer mode. They also bring back the Special Ops mode from “Modern Warfare 2” that mixes the best of both modes.
The single player campaign, while short, takes you hopping around the globe to major cities in the world’s most powerful countries. Instead of battling in traditional hotspots (i.e., a desert locale), the story puts you inManhattan,LondonandBerlinto name a few.
Each city is richly detailed and the combat against a smart artificial intelligence is intense. The pacing from city to city varies due to the different missions and story in each location. One city will be frantic and offer a sense of finality while another city might be a bit slower, but nonetheless engaging.
There are some unexpected and tragic moments through the single player campaign, but it brings the “Modern Warfare” franchise story to a worthy end. I wish it would have lasted longer, but the plot flowed nicely.
The Special Ops mode takes the intense AI from the single player and adds elements that are usually found in multiplayer action. Creative strategist Robert Bolling said the development team wanted to give people who normally only tackle the single player campaign the opportunity to experience some of the rewards only found during online multiplayer.
“We noticed there were a lot of experiences that you were missing out on if you only played single player or vice versa you only played multiplayer,” Bolling said. “We wanted to find a platform that allowed the type of player from each of those to have those shared experiences rather than missing out because it wasn’t their style of play.”
Sixteen missions tie in to the campaign, but offer achievements like kill streaks, customization of weapons and a progressive ranking system so even the most “lone wolf” player can climb up the leaderboard. The Survival mode is particularly grueling with wave after wave of opponents coming after you.
The core of the multiplayer action stays pretty true to its roots. Huge battles, lots of action and an experience point system keep players involved and interested.
Most of the modes remain the same with one new additional mode. Collecting tags from dead bodies adds a cool twist to straightforward killing of an opponent and actually promotes teamwork, something that lacks from time to time in multiplayer action. There are 16 new maps to set the scene of your victories.
Bolling said they have 30 million players who have played the franchise online and a new Elite program will help provide stats, tips and bring together the franchise community without dividing them among consoles. He also tweeted on day one that they are already banning gamers from leaderboards and from playing because they are attempting to play unfairly or boost their rank.
While the multiplayer hasn’t changed much, it never really needed to anyway. The “Modern Warfare” franchise has a great track record of additive online play that is enjoyable and exciting.
Fast and furious multiplayer action, cinematic single player campaign and a Spec Ops mode offering the experience of both modes takes “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3” to the top of the class. At least until the next one comes out.
“Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3” is available now for the PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. It is rated M for mature due to blood and gore, drug references, intense violence and strong language. This review was done using the Xbox 360 version.
Perhaps one of the most anticipated and talked about titles for 2011, the developers at DICE wanted to raise the bar and go head-to-head against other military simulation games (i.e.: “Call of Duty” franchise). Publisher Electronic Arts went so far as to state they were gunning for “Call of Duty’s” market share with some pretty strong words.
The campaign for “Battlefield 3” is told in a series of flashbacks through the eyes of different people as a terrorist plot involving nuclear weapons is discovered. Twelve missions show off environments from the Caspian Sea to New York City and all are gorgeously rendered.
While most of the action occurs with the main character, players also become a gunner in a jet, a tank driver and a foreign spy. Each mission is intense, intricate and follows along the plot nicely. Some of the missions fail to energize like the rest. The jet mission doesn’t allow you to fly the jet, but rather sit in the back and wait for things to come to you. Not sure if it was done that way for pacing, but it does slow down the action and doesn’t offer the same thrills as other missions.
There are some emotional moments in the single player campaign that the actors portray very well. Beyond the typical “tugging at the heartstrings” scenes when a comrade dies, a few missions should make you want to slap the character on screen with the butt end of your weapon.
The Frostbite 2 graphic engine works hard to display intricate details, cast gloomy shadows and appears to move every blade of grass individually. Roads, tunnels, open fields, building interiors project the appropriate feelings of openness, claustrophobia and increased tension – and that’s even before the bad guys arrive to the scene.
I do have one complaint as the graphic engine produced rain smears or mud splatters on my display during missions for no apparent reason other than to show off. I’m not talking about on the jet canopy. I’m talking about walking around when it is obvious that I’m not wearing glasses or a visor. It was rather annoying, but a minor point.
There was also some video lag, which I found very odd on the Xbox 360 version. The audio would continue along nicely, but the visuals bogged down and would get out of sync for about 5 to 10 seconds. Not sure if it was just a fluke with my console, but it is worth mentioning in case it happens to you.
Combat, as expected, is the backbone of the game. Multiple weapon options are available and how you build your soldier’s arsenal will determine how your missions get accomplished.
Campaign players will start with initial weapons, but many more can be found. Will you change out your automatic rifle for something with longer range? Depends on if you are headed for higher ground or a possible flanking maneuver?
And teammates are key to any success. Wading headlong into the battle will just get you revived back at the last checkpoint. While the military movies may portray the hero rushing into the fray alone, that tactic doesn’t work here.
See how your squad mates are advancing and pick a different route. Often times, the enemies will be so locked in to the main force that you’ll discover easy pickings by taking the road less traveled.
If the campaign missions are good, the multiplayer missions are great. So many different options for weapons and vehicles open up as well as action that can’t be found in the single player missions.
“Battlefield 3” offers nine maps with 24 players each that span different objectives and environments. Five game modes offer familiar classics, but Team Deathmatch is a welcome addition that puts you in an infantry firefight where the object is kill or be killed.
Where the campaign failed on the jet mission, the multiplayer lets you pilot attack helicopters as well as fighter jets. Players can also spawn directly into the cockpits so no more waiting around for a plane to pilot.
A variety of armored assault vehicles are also available depending on the size of the map and type of mission selected. From jeeps to light tanks to full battle tanks, all have been revamped on how they recover from damage.
Minor damage is automatically repaired as long as you stay out of danger. Heavy damage caused the vehicle to catch fire, which results in slower speed but continued weapon function. The question then becomes how long you remain inside your damaged ride and racking up kills before it explodes.
There are plenty of weapons with unlockable attachments and gadgets to discover. Those bonuses are tied into your class so think about how you play before diving in. Loadouts, the weapons and abilities you choose at the beginning, have also been tweaked to offer more options to the players.
You can change classes from mission to mission, but focusing on one class will unlock the more powerful gear faster. Points can be earned in a variety of ways from straight kills to disabling opponents to working well with your teammates. When they succeed, you succeed.
All of the multiplayer experience is tied to the EA Battlelog, an online social media program that tracks your multiplayer stats and awards, keeps tabs on your friends and lets your form up platoons for future battles. PC games can also launch their game from Battlelog.
Word of warning: my Safari browser was not fully supported on Battlelog, so I could look around and talk to friends, but not join in their game. Also, there have been reports of server connections dropping or not connecting, particularly with the Xbox 360. EA has been working on the problem, but forum pages are filling up with disgruntled players who can’t enjoy multiplayer.
There are also six co-op missions that are loosely tied to the main campaign. They do require communication between teammates especially for the stealthy missions. One nice mission puts the player in the cockpit of a helicopter, giving you the chance to do some flying outside of the multiplayer missions. Weapons can be unlocked in the co-op game that can be used in multiplayer.
Comparisons to the new “Call of Duty” game will inevitably rise after its release. On its own merits, “Battlefield 3” still is one of the top games in the military simulation genre.
Intense action, wide variety of weapons and vehicles, and rich, immersive environments will test your skills and adaptation abilities. Some minor issues detract from a very fun and exciting game, but those shouldn’t stop players from coming back for more.
“Battlefield 3” is available for the PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. The PC version requires registration to the Battlelog and EA Origins. It is rated M for mature due to blood, intense violence and strong language. This review was done playing on the Xbox 360 Limited Edition retail version.
“Rage” starts off full of promise and beauty, but finishes with clunky game mechanics and an ending that was probably the most disappointing I’ve experienced in years.
The new first person shooter game from id Software draws heavily from the developer’s history and pedigree for producing intense action and violence in titles such as “Doom” and “Quake.” Players start out as survivors of a world hit by an asteroid and wake up from a cryo-sleep inside an Ark to a planet full of mutants and tribal clans.
The scenery is both gorgeous and dangerous. The surroundings are wide open and encourage exploration. The level of detail in even the smallest rock really immerses the player in a world that has lost civilization as we know it and is struggling to survive.
Once players get to “cities” where clans have gathered, the graphics continue to shine. Water droplets from a broken overhead pipe cloud your vision temporarily as small, furry creatures scramble around your feet.
Other characters in the game are equally impressive looking with individual features that make them very lifelike. Everything moves naturally and there are very few moments where something looks out of place even in this post-asteroid world.
While non-player characters (NPCs) do look alive, it is when they die that the graphics break down. Dead enemies will often fall through walls or desks and multiple bodies will occupy the same space, making it seem like you’ve just killed a three-headed, six-armed, six-legged person. Those are the moments that distract from gameplay.
Combat is varied and brutal. There are plenty of weapon choices to be found and used to blow away enemies. While only four weapon slots are handy, the game allows access to your weapon locker at any time to mix and match your selections to your opponents.
From a wingstick (sort of a three legged boomerang) to a crossbow with exploding arrows to assault rifles and machine guns, players will have many options to exact bloody damage. Each weapon also has a variety of ammo choices that can pierce armor or explode on contact.
A crafting system lets you create health bandages, grenades and remote controlled bombs, which comes in handy when funds to purchase these things are low. But it does force you to scavenge and pick up everything you can when walking around.
The story is pretty basic at its core. You awaken from the Ark and are expected to be humanity’s savior in this god-forsaken world. Your player moves from city to city as you try to stay one step ahead of The Authority, the military force that acts as the rulers of the planet.
Despite the game being filled with extra missions and plenty to do off the beaten path, the story tries to hurry you along to the next plot point. NPCs are constantly reminding you that The Authority is ready to invade their city if you remain too long or telling you to hurry to complete your mission because time is of the essence.
Most of the missions are what you’d expect from a wide-open game – fetch and return quests. You are often directed to a location (oh, and use a vehicle because walking takes WAY too long), have to kill either mutants or another clan, retrieve some item and return. The quests aren’t repetitive in their detail so each one does hold interest plus the opportunity to scavenge for more crafting parts.
The main points are generally more difficult and move the story along. You discover that your bio chip from your sleeptime in the Ark holds the key to surviving the future. Eventually, you become part of The Resistance, whose mission it is to overthrow the evil (?) Authority and make the world better for all survivors.
The game will offer tips along the way during loading screens. One reminds players to save often.
Do it. I’m not kidding.
The automatic checkpoints are spaced so far apart as to be nearly useless. Many a mission was restarted because I neglected to save after 30 minutes of gameplay and died. Pausing the game to save after every battle ruins the flow of the action.
Ultimately, you are tasked to take a disc to The Authority’s main city, upload data to a satellite and wake up people who are sleeping in undiscovered Arks. Why they would automatically join the Resistance side is never really explained, nor how the Authority managed to retain a full army complete with futuristic weapons after the asteroid hit.
Without revealing any details (no spoilers!), the ending was probably the most unsatisfying and disappointing I’ve experiences in years. When the credits started to roll, I actually shouted at the screen, “Are you kidding me?!?”
After obviously investing a lot towards environmental and combat graphics to make the game as immersive for the player as possible, I was stunned by the lack of an ending, answers to obvious and lingering questions, anything that would make me feel like I didn’t just walk out in the middle of a movie.
“Rage” is a beautiful game that lovingly renders a post-apocalyptic world into a place that draws the player in and makes them feel part of the whole. However, graphics issues with dead characters and an ending that is weak and incomplete makes the player feel like the audience of a magician who just told everyone how he did all his tricks.
“Rage” is available now on PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3. It is rated M for mature due to blood and gore, intense violence, and strong language. This review was done using the Xbox 360 version, which comes on 3 disks – 2 for single player and 1 for multi-player.
If there was a truth in game titling law, “Bodycount” would be in total compliance.
The first person shooter game from Guildford Studio and Codemasters is all about racking up the kills while not giving much thought to the overall gameplay. If you aren’t shooting someone, you are pretty much just wasting your time.
Players start out as an operative for a group called The Network, a shadow group that goes into world hotspots and tries to do good. Ultimately, The Network comes in conflict with its opposite, The Target, and it is up to you to track them down and punish them.
Once the bullets start flying, players will find that nearly all the surrounding environment is destructible. That cover you were hoping to hide behind will shortly be whittled down to nothing as opponents rain shells on your location.
Wood, stone and cement go flying and it is satisfying to crush an enemy who thinks he can just snipe at you from behind a wooden barrier.
The idea of blowing holes in walls to get to enemies is a fun idea and adds a bit of strategy to a straight forward shoot ‘em up game. And the supply of enemies to mow down never seems to lessen from mission to mission.
However, most of the enemies are not the brightest bulbs in the box and could almost be called suicidal. In several missions, I was able to sit in one location and kill bad guy after bad guy who keep running through the same gap in the buildings when there were other options to take.
The guns are powerful, but can’t be upgraded. Zooming in on a target doesn’t put the gun sights on the enemy, but positions the targeting reticule just off to the left – almost like sighting down the gun with the wrong eye.
Dead enemies can drop items like ammunition or grenades, but they also drop “intelligence,” which can be collected and used for powers like temporary invulnerability, more potent bullets or to call in a deadly airstrike. The intelligence can be maxed out and isn’t spent between missions so go ahead and use it up as you go.
Missions are quite linear despite an open-looking environment that is very detailed. The maps are often reused so there isn’t much variety.
There is only one way in and one way out for each mission, and you better be killing everyone along the way because you are graded based on the number of kills you have at the end. If you are player who likes stealth, forget it. That skill isn’t useful or needed in this game.
“Bodycount” is definitely a game for players who just want to shred through opponents and aren’t concerned with strategy or story. The play quickly becomes flat after traversing around the same maps with the same endless supply of enemies.
And in a market flooded with first person shooters, racking up a high body count by itself isn’t enough to break through.
“Bodycount” is available now for the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360. It is rated M for mature due to blood and violence. This review was done playing the Xbox 360 version.
As the line between video games and comics continues to blur, developers are looking to refine their ideas to bring the best of both worlds to the fans.
“The Darkness II” (2K Games, Digital Extremes) is a first-person shooter, action horror game that puts you in the role of a demon possessed hitman. It is a sequel to “The Darkness” (2007) and based on the comic book series of the same name.
At Comic-Con 2011, Marc Silvestri, creator of “The Darkness” comics, points out that it makes sense for comic books to reach out to video games and vice versa. He said there is a shared DNA in the make-up of the fans of each and the ability to tell a better story through multiple media is appealing.
“It has got that great sense of putting yourself in the place of the (comic) hero translates perfectly to other media – games and movies. (Comic fans) were just waiting for the technology,” Silvestri said. “Each generation gets more and more prepared for the next step (in entertainment).”
One good thing about “The Darkness” franchise, he said, is that it is so story and character driven. The developers realized that all their cool gameplay and technology would not stand up to the demands of today’s fans without a really good story to envelope it.
“In ‘The Darkness II,’ you are never not in the shoes of the main character. It is critical to tell a great story to go with the action,” Silvestri points out. “We’ve got a great writer who wrote, not only the comics, but the video game, in Paul Jenkins. He’s also a guy who understands gaming stuff.”
Developers are also embracing the transformation from comic book to video game by giving writers the ability to direct the story while still maintaining some flexibility to allow for player decisions in game. It isn’t as simple as going from point A to point B. Today’s games need to let the player feel like they control the action – even though they may be heading in the direction the game intends.
“The Darkness II” does rely heavily on the comic book source material for its graphical look and feel. While the video game action will be intense and the subject matter is definitely for mature audiences, Silvestri thought it was a bold move for developer Digital Extremes to stick to the look of the comic book series.
“When you play ‘The Darkness II,’ you are literally playing in a graphic novel. It is kind of an eerie effect, but it works perfectly for what the subject matter is,” Silvestri said. “These guys hand painted every texture. It is literally living art. If Walt Disney were alive today and wanted to make a game visually, he’d make ‘The Darkness II’.”
Performers are also embracing the transformation into video games. Movie actors have long been voice actors for comics and games, and musical artists are delving into the gaming side.
Mike Patton, lead singer for Faith No More, will be returning to his role as The Darkness in the new sequel. Patton is excited about getting involved again as the demon.
“I’ve had a lot of practice (with a demonic voice) with various musical projects I’ve been involved with over the years, some of which can be extreme. I’ve always tried to use my voice as an instrument,” Patton said.
He said the biggest challenge was not to overdo it because his character does a lot of yelling and screaming and makes a lot of demonic and otherworldly sounds. He spent about 8 hours in a studio and had moments where he really could improvise.
Patton points out there are as many hard core music geeks as there are gaming geeks and he thinks there is a lot of crossover between the two.
“This ‘Darkness’ thing has really taken off. It is a really elegant and dynamic game. It’s a gas,” he said. “It is ultra-violent, but it is stylized and an exhilarating thrill ride.”
Patton really enjoyed working on the series and said he would love to continue doing the voice in the future. He might get that chance on a bigger screen.
Silvestri said there are plans to make ‘The Darkness’ into a feature film. He said the movie would have elements from the game and the comic book series, meshing all the entertainment genres together.
“F.E.A.R. 3” aims higher than your typical shooter with cool combat features, paranormal story line, and a dramatic tension that goes missing at times.
The game (Day 1 Studios, Warner Bros. Interactive) continues the story of a family in conflict as two brothers work together in an effort to get to their psychically enhanced mother, Alma, who is about to give birth. However, their reasons for wanting to find dear Mom are totally opposite.
Co-op mode is the preferred mode of play so you can take advantage of each brothers’ skills during combat and strive toward the highest score on each level. You can play as Point Man, well versed in military training and technique, or as Paxton Fettel, slain during “F.E.A.R” and returning once again as a ghost with psychic energy powers.
Point Man, who can also be used in the single player mode, is able to utilize all the weapons found throughout the game. He also has an ability to slow down the action due to his hyper-reflexes and grant him an advantage to dodge and counterstrike.
Fettel, who is unlocked as a playable character after solo missions are complete, uses his psychic powers to attack or possess foes. If he possesses an enemy, he can use the abilities of that enemy to fire weapons or activate other powers.
The brothers must wade through wave after wave of soldiers, wacked out cultists, and creepy creatures created from Alma’s mind. The battlefields range from a looted out food warehouse to the science bunker where Alma is being held.
While the action is pretty linear, there are off-shoot areas to explore to discover hidden weapons and ammo, psychic link gathering locations, and the Alma doll, which scores big points when found. Points also translate into special abilities and a higher rank to help you with additional health, more ammo, and other perks.
First-person shooter combat benefits from the slow motion ability from Point Man as well as an excellent cover based system. Hiding behind walls or crates is simple and allows for easy pop-up moves to pick off targets under relative safety.
There are some enemies who are shielded and require some extra work to defeat. There is also one called a Phase Caster, who summons additional soldiers over and over again. Kill him first. Seriously.
While most of the action is person-to-person combat, there are a couple of areas that let you get inside a mech to blast away at helicopters, other mechs, and hidden snipers. Keep on the move when facing these opponents and your health won’t diminish to the point of shutdown.
It is easy to get immersed in the run and gun aspects of “F.E.A.R. 3,” but keep in mind that it is also supposed to be a horror game. Remember, Mom is a psychic time bomb allegedly waiting to erupt when she gives birth to … whatever.
To be sure, there are some very good horror moments in the game. The apparitions that briefly appear, scare, and disappear are disconcerting. And having a ghost brother along during solo mode is a constant reminder.
Legendary film director John Carpenter was tapped to help create cinematics that heighten the fear factor. Comic book horror writer Steve Niles co-wrote the storyline featuring the psychotic elements.
When they occur, the terror elements are jump-out-of-your-seat frightening. It is almost like watching a horror movie from the eyes of the lead actor.
The problem is those moments don’t seem to occur as often as you’d think or hope. There were plenty of times in the game where I forgot it was supposed to be a thriller and not just a shooter.
Sure, Alma as a little ghost girl appears and disappears in skin crawling fashion, but her appearances become less and less as the game progresses. Some levels features are so soldier combat heavy that there aren’t any paranormal experiences that can be remembered.
Even combating creatures I called devil dogs was less about the fright and more about tactics.
Early in the game, I was peeking around every corner, expecting to find some apparition or twisted scene only to shrug and move on. By the end of the game, I stopped looking for them and just treated everything as a combat scene.
The point system is pretty good to see how well you did on each level and it does impact what happens at the end of the game. I know the “good” and “bad” endings and both will leave you scratching your head about what just happened.
Four player multiplayer modes help the game’s replayability with team work scenarios as well as cutthroat opportunities. You can cooperate to survive waves of enemies coming from an advancing fog, or be possessed by Alma and try to take over your former teammates.
Losing the raw terror doesn’t take too much away from the game play. “F.E.A.R 3” is still an incredible first person shooter that will challenge players with intelligent enemies and powerful boss battles.
The combat tactics will challenge you and the environments will force you to think about your best way to advance. Sadly, the frights aren’t quite as jarring as they could have been.
Which, I’m sure, makes the ghosts very sad. Boo.
“F.E.A.R. 3” is playable on the PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360. It is available now in North America and the UK, and will be available in Australia on June 29. It is rated M for mature due to blood and gore, intense violence, partial nudity, and strong language. This review was done playing the Xbox 360 version.
We know “Bioshock Infinite,” the latest in the Bioshock series from Irrational Games and 2KGames, is going to take place up in the sky.
We also know that there is going to be some awesome combat in and around Columbia, the floating city.
Now we know why Columbia was created and how it fell into conflict.
Irrational Games creative director Ken Levine talks about the two factions who are battling over control of the floating city. He explains the philosophy for each side and what drives them against the other.
The latest video trailer also shows some of the hysteria that is tearing apart Columbia.
“Bioshock Infinite” will be coming out in early 2012 for the PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.