Monday, July 28, 2014

The Most Overrated Games of the Recent Years Part IV

Bioshock Infinite

Bioshock was one of the best FPS games I have ever played, an incredible, sick and terrifying experience (with a few problems here and there) and because of the first game, I followed the entire series hoping that I will get to play something at least close to the quality of the original.
While Bioshock Infinite is a good game, it doesn't rise up to the hype created around it, with a journalists score on Metacritic of 9.4 for the PC version and I can’t figure why (I can, but I don’t want to go into the conspiracy theory lands).
The world of this game is linear with some of the levels breaking free from the shackles of corridor shooters, but overall the level design doesn’t offer much movement freedom.
The game aesthetics look impressive, but the graphics are very demanding and far from being up to 2013 PC standards, also the producers used all kinds of tricks to cover up these facts (like bloom spam).
The story is predictable to some degree and not that interesting compared to the original game. Irrational Games used very sensible subjects in the matter of story like religion and racism, but it’s obvious that they were afraid to use these subjects at their full potential and because of this the story suffers a lot, lacking the depth and sickness of this series. Because of how the story evolves, the ending could have been a real savior as there are endless possibilities for it. But instead of providing players with endings based on their choices, the developers only offered one and that ending didn’t have enough of an impact to save the entire story.
When I played this game, I was expecting a twisted (especially considering the subject) and atmospheric story with characters at the level of Andrew Ryan, Fountain, Dr. Steinman or Sander Cohen; instead all I got was a girl who throws coins at me and has super powers, the diaries of some unmemorable people and one overrated ending.
Developers should always put as much effort as possible in combat, when making an FPS game, so that the shooting is top notch. But when it came to this series, the shooting was always a letdown and Bioshock Infinite doesn’t disappoint. The shooting in the game doesn’t feel right, the guns don’t act as you would expect and have no weight and as the player you have to suffer with this poorly done feature through 13 to 16 hours of action packed gameplay.
The attention to details in Bioshock Infinite has been praised by both critiques and players, but I will always remember this game for the ironic and funny fact that this is a game that takes place in the skies, yet you can’t even shoot a bird (I was able to do this in Half Life 2 in the year 2002).
There are some top quality features in this game, like the sound and the artistic design, but that's not enough for a triple A title.
My impression about this is that Bioshock Infinite is one of those extremely overrated games that come every once in a while and most people will remember them as genre saviors (later on as classics), but to me it will always be far behind in the shadow of shooters like Half Life 2, STALKER and of course, its own father, Bioshock, one of the greatest FPS games  ever made.
Bloom spam!

Fallout 3

The Fallout series is my favorite RPG series (not so much anymore, since it’s now in the wrong hands). The nuclear post-apocaliptical theme combined with a good story, an amazing dialogue system and tactical combat, placed Fallout 1 & 2 among some of the best RPGs ever made, despite their insane number of bugs and issues. But after Interplay went under, the license moved to Bethesda and they did as they had known best with it (so pretty much a large world and nothing more... oh I forgot the radio!).  
Fallout 3 is one of the games that I waited for the most in my entire life. I wanted to see what will become of this awesome series and if Bethesda could rise up to the challenge of making a true Fallout game. But as more information was released about the game the more grim the future for this series became.
Bethesda changed everything, but the IP, which they basically used to trick the fans of the series to buy their game.
The action takes place almost 40 years after the events of Fallout 2, yet the world is in a worse shape than before. People now live in terrible places that hardly make any sense, like a city around an unexploded nuclear bomb or a ship broken in two (really?!). Apparently in the 40 years that passed, the world went from a healing society back to atomic caves.
The new world is barely plausible and has no interesting places to visit like those from Fallout 2 which gave players the chills.
The story in this game is not very interesting being about a boy from Vault 101 who is tracking the steps of his father through the ruins of Washington D.C. in order to find out the reason why his dad left. During this (un-epic) quest, you don’t encounter any memorable characters, everyone in this world is so uninteresting that after a while you don’t even want to talk with anybody anymore especially because of the terrible dialogue system. The series went from some of the most intense and epic dialogues to something so basic (Bethesda style) that you start wandering how old were those who wrote this.
The combat system suffered major changes, from an isometric turn-based combat system with action points it went to an FPS combat system with a new mechanic called VATS which allows the player to pause the game and pinpoint the body part of the enemy they want to hit triggering a cut-scene with automatic shooting based on weapon skill level (basically an I win button). This new mixture of FPS and RPG works terrible and after a few hours into the game makes the player almost invincible.
The graphics of the game are lacking color, a world painted in grey and beige that becomes tiring to the eyes after a while (I understand that it's a post end-war world, but nukes can’t erase all colors). The game looked good for its time of release, but it did suffer from the problems of Gamebryo like frame skips or characters that look like they fly instead of walking over the ground surface.
Instead of being a hardcore title like the games in this series used to be, Fallout 3 refocused to a more casual and arcade style, making it less attractive to the fans of the original games.
Overall, as a huge fan of the old series, Fallout 3 is the most disappointing game I have ever played. I found the new approach insulting, Bethesda bought a popular IP and they used its name just to attract the old fans while modifying most of it to attract the rest of the market.  The radio is the only thing I remember with pleasure from this game.
In the end, Fallout 3 is a hybrid of multiple genres and styles, but it doesn’t really excel in any of them.

I win interface

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

                 Morrowind is one of my favorite RPGs of all times and after this game I had high expectations from The Elder Scrolls series. Sadly Oblivion was a disappointment delivering only on the technical part, the game had amazing graphics at the time but everything else was just dumbed down, from gameplay mechanics to quests, story and world. After seeing what happened with Oblivion, even if I still am a huge fan of Morrowind, I lost my faith in Bethesda Softworks and when Skyrim was announced I was very skeptical about it.
TES V: Skyrim was a huge commercial hit, selling a ton of copies on all platforms and being well received from both journalists and most of the gaming community, but looking at this game in a purely objective way, things don’t look so good.
Skyrim is focused on exploration , offering players a huge world to discover, full with dangers and treasures and while this sounds very good on the paper in reality the game offers a predictable and repetitive experience.
While there are many dungeons, caves and strange places to visit in Skyrim, all of them share the same pattern: a few enemies, some loot, some basic traps or secrets and a boss at the end of every hostile area. The game lacks the uniqueness of exploration, the places players visit only look different from outside (barely), indoors everything is almost the same, basically Bethesda reused as many models as possible and just renamed a few things here and there so players don’t find themselves fighting the same thing over and over again.
Because of this terrible level design, after visiting each type of dungeon in the game any new dungeon explored feels just like a déjà vu and nothing more, ruining the feeling of exploration.
                Oblivion was a graphical masterpiece at its time, because the new generation of consoles was just released back then and the game could take full advantage of the new technology. Skyrim suffers from the technological problems of a game released at the end of a console generation, the game tries to look good by using all the tricks possible, but doesn’t get the desired effect. The PC version of the game looks terrible for the year 2011 and it is put to shame by Witcher 2.  Texture resolution is incredibly low and the game doesn’t even have DirectX 11 support (despite what was promised). While the landscapes look awesome from afar, when getting closer to them the blunt reality hits the screen and wakes up the players from their immersive state.
                TES series never excelled in the story part, storytelling or dialogues, but after all these years we should have some expectations from a game with a development cost of almost 90 million. The story follows the same pattern of any other TES game I have played. The main character is a prisoner that escapes because it turns out he’s The One and he has to save the world from utter destruction, add to this pathetic scenario some dumb dialogues and some cliché quests and your ruined most of the RPG elements in this game.
                Complexity is what PC players usually want (otherwise why would you play games on a PC?) , on top of graphical fidelity, and this is what they won’t get in Skyrim. The game is a console port (and doesn’t disappoint!) in every aspect, the interface is terribly looking and hard to navigate with the mouse and keyboard, the skill system has been dumbed down with fewer skills and spells to use, there are less weapon types in the game and the action combat is as basic as possible (but hey! we have cinematic finishing moves!!!).
                Bethesda does wash some of their sins off (or do they?!) by adding support for mods and the community of this game is extremely passionate, creating awesome content and improving the game in every aspect. But the questions are now: Why would a game worth 60 bucks (with DLCs worth 100 more) need modders to fix and improve it? Why Bethesda couldn’t do all these things themselves? Is it really the merit of the studio for all these mods just because they went a little out of their way to add support for community created content?
I would say NO! The game is what you get from the producer with all the patches they deliver to fix and improve it, while modding does add a little more to a game and prolongs its life, that game should not get the full credit for someone else work.
The community was always active for TES games and if Bethesda followed them throughout the years they should know what they want and add this things into their game. But the producers didn’t bother to use any of the community ideas in Skyrim, instead they let the players improve the game while kept collecting the pay checks!
                While being a fun and enjoyable experience for a short time, way better than Oblivion, I find Skyrim one of the most overrated games of all times. This game takes a huge credit for being massive and having mods support, while is ignored the fact that the quality of all the original content is low.
A wise youtuber once said: “Skyrim is an ocean with the depth of a puddle” and I find this the best summary for what this game really is.
Look at those high resolution textures!

I've met you before in like 50 other dungeons.

These are the games I find the most overrated in the latest years.  The majority of these games are good and enjoyable, but not as good as professional websites make them look.
I wrote these articles to point out some of the most obvious (most of them objective, some could be considered subjective) and annoying problems about these games that should be taken into consideration when someone calculates the score in a game review. And considering the high scores these titles received I believe most of these problems were not taken into account (why?!?!).
A game can be enjoyable and fun, but that doesn't make it a masterpiece and players should always remember that!


Monday, July 21, 2014

The Most Overrated Games of the Recent Years Part III

Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty

   Starcraft and Brood Wars were some of the greatest strategies ever made and not just because they got so popular due to e-sports in Korea, but because of the gameplay and awesome story. Starcraft delivered some of the most complex and interesting characters you could see, in the limits of a strategy game, but Blizzard thought they should ruin all of them (so maybe other RTS’s have a chance?).
   After waiting for 10 years for this game to come, the expectations were pretty high, especially when the previous games were true masterpieces, sadly for Starcraft II the hype was bigger than the overall quality of the game (same mistake made with Diablo 3). Wings of Liberty came with an online DRM (bnet 2.0), no lan mode and a campaign only for the terran race.
   The campaign mode of the game is at times terrible, with lots of missions in which nothing happens, while all the action is packed in the last 3-4 missions. Selectable paths in completing some story arcs have been added to the campaign so players have a (false) feeling of choice, but it doesn’t matter what you choose, because in the end, Jim Raynor still comes up as a hero no matter the mission and its consequences.
   Characters that were great, like Kerrigan and Mengsk, got ruined in Starcraft II. They are not the cunning and controlling masterminds they were in the previous games (and only 4 years have passed since the action of those games!) and now these characters get so easily outplayed by Raynor (long live the American hero!).
The funny thing about the story is, that you go out of your way to do something in Wings of Liberty and in the end you do something else entirely, but it doesn't matter anyway because everything gets turned back to how it was in the beginning of Heart of the Swarm expansion (talk about good story!).
   The gameplay of Starcraft II was designed for e-sports and came with everything to support this except units balance. Many units were useless in multiplayer matches and rarely got used and others were so overpowered that the outcome of the matches became hard to watch. For months the game was heavily imbalanced and because of some flaws in the race design some things could not be repaired until after the expansion was released. These problems damaged the image of Starcraft II as an e-sport and continued to do it even after the release of the expansion, which is such a sad thing, because Starcraft II is a great e-sports strategy.
   Wings of Liberty was highly acclaimed by journalists, but I have a feeling I played a different game than they did, as I didn't find that great story and exciting campaign they were mentioning. All I got from this game was a sense of regret, because of what happened with this great franchise.
Terran wins! But protoss op!!!

Diablo III

It took Blizzard 12 years from the launch of Lord of Destruction to release another game from the series. When Diablo 3 was first announced the community went crazy about it (me included). After such a long wait, a cancelled development from Blizzard North studios and some controversial features added to the game, Diablo 3 was finally released in May 2012.
Diablo 2 revolutionized the Hack and Slash sub-genre and there were little changes required, besides the technological upgrade, to improve the game. Yet Diablo 3 went on a different path, making massive changes from the previous title of the series, many of them to worse, and not changing what was needed.
The story of Diablo 3 was a bad joke (trash is the more appropriate word), being linear and predictable most of the time. The new characters added to the story were not interesting and some of them looked like they had nothing to do with this universe (Magda?!) The demonic villains in the game don’t have any personality and instead of posing a threat to the main character and the world itself they handhold you throughout the game so you can find them more easily (Azmodan and Diablo helped me find and defeat them!). The game lost the grim and dark atmosphere of the previous titles and with the new graphics, looks colorful and almost cheerful.
The artistic style and level design of the game can be praised, but when it comes to graphical fidelity, Diablo 3 was outdated at release and hinted out the intention of Blizzard to release this title on consoles. Blizzard was always in a war with pixel shaders, but this doesn't mean the new game had to look so washed up.
The thing that suffered a lot in Diablo 3 and is clearly the most important is the gameplay. The end-game was the one problem that had to be sorted from Diablo 2 and it wasn't. Instead Blizzard went out of their way to ruin every feature that was good in the previous game. The progressive skill trees were removed and replaced with abilities upgradeable by runes which are unlocked as the character levels up. This affected the complexity of the character progression and limited the number of available builds per class. The level cap was lowered to 60 and was reachable quite fast, affecting the end-game quite a lot, as there was no goal to strive for.
The last difficulty level of the game was absolutely insane, hinting an untested release (or was it intentionally made for RMAH cash grab?), for some classes the game was impossible to beat because of this and it was really frustrating.
The itemization was completely ruined, by adding almost fully random generated stats on all items, this way yellow items became better while legendaries and set items became useless.
Diablo 3 had no actual end-game, besides farming for items with better generated stats. Because of the high difficulty level of the game, the random generated items and the limited number of specs available per class, the game became boring really fast and the number of people playing it dropped drastically after just a few months from release.
                To make matters worse (almost an impossible task, but Blizzard did it!), a Real Money Auction House was added to the game so players can legitimately buy better items so they can progress further into the last difficulty (otherwise really hard to achieve). Basically Diablo 3, a 60 $ game, was turned into a pay to win game.
                Diablo 3 is the fastest PC selling game of all times and received lots of positive reviews, looking again like the reviewers played a different game than what the gamers experienced. I waited for Diablo 3 so much and wanted it to be a good game, but what I got from it is what I got from every Blizzard game since Wrath of the Lich King, disappointment…
With the release of the expansion Reaper of Souls, the gameplay and overall experience improved a lot, but people must not forget the terrible state of the original game.
Reenacting Diablo I

Washed up world.

Far Cry 3

                Far Cry 2 is a brainless shooter, with fun gameplay, amazing physics and good shooting. But when Far Cry 3 was announced, the developers promised a more deep, mature and immersive experience. The footage from game expositions looked really good and I was completely sold out for this title.
                Far Cry 3 enjoyed a positive reception from journalists and lots of praises from the community. The game would probably be used as a comparison standard for future sandbox FPSs. But was it really that good?
                The gameplay in Far Cry 3 follows the same pattern of the previous game, with the addition of some new elements like crafting, a skill tree, weapon upgrades and stealth, while being supported by a better story (not like it was hard to beat the story of Far Cry 2). But the player can experience all the new features in about 2 hours into the game and after that everything is just repeating the same things over and over again (besides main story missions, which sometimes are really great). While repetitive style was a characteristic of Far Cry 2 as well, in the new game it gets even worse. Because Far Cry 3 was released on both PC and consoles, and the PC version is nothing more than a port, the game lacks technological features that would improve the feeling of an FPS by a lot. The level of physics from FC 2 is nowhere to be found in this game, there are no destructible buildings (not even mentioning entire cities), you can’t even shoot down a fence, almost everything in this game is hard as a rock, and this takes all the fun out of it.
The stealth, the exploration and some of the main story missions can make the game entertaining for a couple of hours, but not enough to keep you hooked for the entire game (at least not for me) and the game map is quite large.
                The graphics of the game is what you expect from a port from consoles, the landscapes might look good, but the technology used is outdated and it shows, the game has low quality textures and doesn't take full advantage of the latest technology. The presentation videos of the game shown a much richer vegetation and a better looking game, but after release it turned out to be nothing more than false marketing (we need laws against this!).
                Far Cry 3 has a multiplayer mode as well, against players or co-op missions and can be fun for those who are looking for some fast paced action on small maps. The game doesn't have support for dedicated servers and this makes the multiplayer unplayable at times because of the terrible lag (and hackers). At release players couldn't connect to Ubisoft servers (typical) or host matches and this problem persisted for days.
                Overall Far Cry 3 wasn't the great experience everyone talks about, but rather a game that tries to be something good but fails because of developer's laziness.

The game might be considered a classic soon (the quality of the classic status drops by the year), but I wanted to remind everyone, that things were not so great as they seemed and it is not enough for a game to be a sandbox with some decent feeling of exploration to be an epic game. In the end Far Cry 3 pales in front of games like S.T.A.L.K.E.R..
At least cars have physics.

To be continued...


Friday, July 18, 2014

The Most Overrated Games of the Recent Years Part II


   Released in 2007 and way ahead of its time, Crysis is a sandbox (at times) shooter that destroyed the video cards of its generation and looks good even today (way better than all these console ports we are getting…).
   But while physics, sound and graphics are extremely important in an FPS game and Crysis became a classic for these things, I can’t say the game really deserved this honor.
   The story was predictable and laughable at the same time, fighting North Koreans and a race of aliens (that was hiding inside the earth) on a fictional island in the American way (hell yeah!!). The story is not the only thing that bleeds in Crysis, the gameplay is trying too hard to be interesting and to create a mysterious atmosphere but it fails to do so. The game lacks feeling of real combat most of the time and after going through the aliens base it can’t even be taken serious anymore (I fought Mickey Mouse!)
   I admit that Crysis was a technological masterpiece, something that the PC audience will probably not see again anytime soon (come on Star Citizen!), but gameplay and story are important factors in a video game, even if it is an FPS, and the guys at Crytek ignored these and continued to do it throughout the series (seriously hire some real writers).

Beautiful graphics...

Dark Souls

   Back in 2009 when Demon’s Souls was released everyone was craving for a hard game, the market was saturated with games that hold your hands from the beginning to the end of the campaign, and Demon’s Souls was exactly what many players were looking for.
   Dark Souls is a spiritual successor of Demon’s Souls and was released on PC as well. But despite being praised by fans and journalists, the game lacks a lot of things and tricks the player into a false sense of difficulty.
   Dark Souls is a terrible PC port with horrible graphics that make the game look like it was made in 2004-2005. The control system makes it almost unplayable with a mouse and keyboard and on top of everything it's locked at 30 FPS. The irony in all this is that a modder managed to unlock the FPS of the game and improve its visuals in a couple of hours, while the studio itself released a game in a horrible state for PC and expected the money to flow while using the excuse that they don’t have experience in working with the PC platform (why hire experienced people if the gamers buy anyway…).
   The most important thing to discuss about is the difficulty. While in the first game it's not so artificially implemented as it was in Dark Souls 2, the difficulty of the game is still based on the high amount of damage the players take if they are hit. Another equally important factor is the patience of the player and how long they can evade hits, waiting for an opportunity attack on the enemy.
 The combat animations are horrible, stationary and can’t be interrupted if started and when you combine this with bad controls you really have a hard game.
   I’m not denying that Dark Souls is a hardcore game, I’m saying that it's praised for being a hard game while the difficulty is artificially increased in many places. The game doesn’t have a good AI to put players in hard situations and surprise them, but rather forces them to repeat somewhat scripted fights in order to learn them and execute them properly.
While these mechanics can make a game very challenging, these kinds of tricks have been used since the beginning of gaming and are not something special.
   It is sad to see that lately the games became so easy forcing gamers to embrace and make a true culture out of those few titles that provide them a sense of challenge.
You look like you came from 2002.

Is this a .jpg building?

World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King

   While World of Warcraft is considered one of the most innovative MMORPGs ever created and is used as a benchmark for the rest of the MMOs, few people know (or care to admit) that in reality World of Warcraft was inspired heavily from the games of that time like Dark Age of Camelot or Everquest and continued to be "inspired" by other MMOs that were released after it. It's undeniable that WoW had a huge impact on the MMOs market and it was a great game (at start), but people should always remember about this before naming other games “WoW clones”.
   Despite all its shortcomings, The Burning Crusade is considered by the community the best expansion of the game (and it really was). Some say that they are just nostalgic, but TBC did push the game features and improved its mechanics and created a solid base for expansions to come (sadly, none as good).
   Wrath of the Lich King was the second expansion of WoW and the one that should conclude the Lich King story (it's in the title!) and because of this many people were excited about it (including myself). But from the very beginning what WotLK delivered was at a lower standard than someone would expect from a game with over 8 million subscribers (at that time).
   While fixing some of the leveling problems, the start of the raiding experience was a reskin (something that Blizzard started to do a lot) of a raid that was the end game of vanilla WoW, Naxxaramas, and this was just the beginning. The tiers of raids to come were not properly tested, full of bugs and exploits, the quality of the end game content dropped a lot.
In an attempt to make the game more accessible to the casual player, the raiding content suffered a lot and hardcore players ended up doing the same raids multiple times just so they could be able to access the higher difficulty.  A new mechanic was added to the end game content, raid with limited number of attempts and rewards based on the attempts left, but this was more to cover up for the fact that the content of that raid zone was poor. Many bosses got reused (poor Anub’arak) together with many other things which lowered the overall production value and feeling of the game.
   The PvP was an unbalanced mess for months and the balancing was in a loop, what was overpowered in the previous season got nerfed for next one and what is underpowered got buffed, ending up with new overpowered classes and team combinations every new season.
   The story of the expansion was a total let down, the Lich King’s greatness was destroyed in dungeons where the story looked like a joke and despite his boss encounter in the end raid of the expansion being insanely hard, his image as a true power could not be restored.
   There were good moments in WotLK, like the Ulduar raid or Wintergrasp chaotic fun, but overall the experience of this expansion was like a warning for the quality of the next one.
Icecrown Citadel, the downfall of Warcraft story...

To be continued...


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Most Overrated Games of the Recent Years Part I


   The gaming industry has evolved a lot in the last decade, becoming an industry worth billions of dollars. When so much money is in the middle, those involved in this will do anything to boost their profits, this way gaming marketing exploded, with more money being thrown on commercials than the actual development of the games, which from the perspective of the consumer is a terrible thing.
   With all the money spent on games, those that influence the buyer with their reviews become more important to the publishers. Critics can affect the image of a game and therefore the sales. So it became a known fact that publishers started to influence journalists in any way they can so they could get higher ratings for their games.
   Websites like metacritic became a major factor in selling and rating of video games and publishers went as far as putting terms in contracts with the developing studios related to the score from metacritic, which is a terrible thing to do (poor Obsidian Entertainment and Fallout: New Vegas…). The journalists score on metacritic is far from a reflection of the truth and more often than not, the score given by the users (despite their exaggeration) reflects the reality so much better.
   I recommend anyone to stay away from the scores given by these kind of popular websites as they are not standards to measure if a game is actually good. If you want to find out more details about a released game, check some of the more popular youtube broadcasters for their opinion, which is usually much more objective, or watch streams on and make your own impression about the game.
   With all these being said I decided to make a list of the most overrated games, not necessarily by journalists, of the recent years and the reasons I consider these games over appreciated. This list will refer as always only to PC games and will stay away from franchises like Call of Duty, Battlefield or Assassin’s Creed, because everyone should know by now that they are overrated.
Note: I’m not saying that these games are bad, I’m just saying that they are not as good as the journalists say in their reviews or some gamers praise them to be, ignoring soo many of their flaws.

X-COM: Enemy Unknown

   X-COM is a legendary series by now, that started in 1994 with UFO: Enemy Unknown.  The franchise features a human organization fighting an alien invasion in order to defend Earth.
   X-COM: Enemy Unknown is a reboot of the series on the old but still decent Unreal Engine 3. The game graphics are not the greatest and suffer from the same problems as any game using UE 3 (say Hi! to textures loading in front of you).
   The biggest problem with this game is the lack of complexity, as it is a strategy that should be complex to the bone. While the combat is good, it's not supported in any way by features that would make it more complex and allow the player to use different styles and tactics. There are not enough types of missions in the game and this makes it repetitive and boring after a short while. The research system is deceiving and looks complex at first but as you go through the game it's noticeable that it lacks the depth that players should expect from a game like this one. There are not enough weapons and armors to research and utilize and not many things that should make you think what to prioritize in researching and building.
   While I do understand people getting excited for receiving something new from this series, I think the game is way overvalued compared with what is actually given. The expansion Enemy Within does improve a lot the experience of the game, but the original title was not such a masterpiece as the scores make you believe it is.
A boring world...

The tactical combat system, the most enjoyable part of the game.

Sid Meier’s Civilization V

   4x strategies, like all other types of strategy games, are not a very popular genre. Even so, because of its mainstream gameplay Civilization V managed to sell quite well. This is a good  thing because as a strategy becomes more popular the whole genre benefits from it as more people getting in contact with these types of games.
   The reason why Civilization V is on this list being mostly because of its terrible business model combined with some of the issues the game had. At release, the game came with basic features wrapped up in a good looking foil. For a 4X strategy that starts from the beginning of humanity, Civilization V lacked the complexity of such a game. 
   The economic and diplomatic systems of the game were a mess, combat was soo basic, multiplayer was not playable and features like religion and tourism were not present in the original game and they were added with a new expansion each.
   So in order to have a complete experience of this game, gamers had to buy the original game which was 60$ and two additional expansions which were 40$ each plus a ton of DLCs. One might argue that you could get the game on sale, but that is not the point here. 2K deliberately released an incomplete game just to make sure they charged the gamers more money for additional features that would make the gameplay more complex and at the level that was in the previous games of the franchise.
   There are indie 4X strategies that manage to beat the level of complexity and the gameplay of Civilization 5 at a much better price and even providing free DLCs for the community and a multiplayer that actually works.
Terrible combat...

The hexagons system, the biggest improvement in the game!

Mass Effect 2

   With little upgrades to the technical part, Mass Effect 2 loses lots of important features and mechanics from its predecessor.
   The RPG elements in the game have been dumbed down with laughable skill trees and the dialogue system turned into a compact wheel of choices between good, evil or useless. The exploration of planets has been removed instead of being improved and made more fun and maybe more rewarding, the depth of space has been reduced to 10 by 10 square meters maps. The gameplay is now a run and gun with cover and special abilities, close to any standard console action game.
   While the characters in the game are brilliantly written they can’t cover for a poor story that places humans in center of everything (again? really!?!) and with a villain that is just a mere shadow of what Sovereign was in the first game.
This game turned from a great RPG experience into a hollywoodian style game with lots of run and gun action and sex scenes (this sells right?).
   Mass Effect 2 was highly acclaimed across all platforms, but for a game that advertised as being an RPG and came from Bioware itself it was just a sad story of the worst to come from this studio now under the restraints of EA.
Pew pew!

Even more pew pew!

To be continued...


Friday, July 4, 2014

Watch Dogs Review!


               False advertisement becomes more and more a practice used by the developers and publishers of video games, most of the times it is related to graphical fidelity of the games ported from consoles to PC.  
               Producers of video games take advantage of the fact that there are no laws against false marketing for the gaming industry as there are for the physical products. It would be hard to make a law to do justice in this matter, as rarely everyone is 100% satisfied with a game and because games can be patched later on. But there should be something to protect the video games consumer from greedy producers that would do anything to make more money with as little effort as possible.
               As the gaming industry becomes more successful more money is at stake  and the market is saturated with games to pick from, because of this producers make promises they cannot fulfill and in the end the product is different than what was promised.
               Alien Colonial Marines and Dark Souls 2 are just two examples of games that advertised one thing and offered something else entirely.
If there are no laws to protect gamers, maybe they should start taking action themselves by not  pre-ordering games and waiting to see if the game actually delivers what was advertised.

               In 2012 when it was shown at E3, Watch Dogs was one of the biggest surprises of the gaming exposition, showing beautiful graphics and physics and what looked like complex and interesting game mechanics. The main development platform for the game was to be the PC and Watch Dogs was looking like the first true next-gen title. Oh how deceiving that was…
               I usually start my reviews by talking about the story because it is one of the most relevant things to almost any game and it relates to everything else, but for this game I will make an exception and talk about the technical part as this was the thing that should have shone the most.
               From E3 2012 to May 2014 when this game was released many things have changed, the game was postponed for more than half a year and in all this time there was almost no sign of it still being alive. The producers didn’t reveal any new videos or screenshots and something didn’t feel right. In the spring of 2014 screenshots and videos started to flow, but none of them were confirmed of being from the PC version. What followed was the Watch Dogs Press Event in France where journalists received Nexus 7 tablets as a gift from Ubisoft (I’m convinced that it was in exchange for their impartiality).
E3 2012, now just a good dream...

               The game was released on 27 may 2014 and it shifted its visuals from those of the E3 presentation, and surprisingly it looked worse. The particle effects, the lighting, the physics, everything was gone, Watch Dogs comes with washed up textures, no casting shadows and a physics that doesn’t apply to most of the things in the world and has no ragdolls. On top of everything the game streams objects in front of the player at a good pace for walking but as you drive a vehicle the streaming remains at the same rate and while driving horrible players will experience horrible pop-ups. These pop-ups will negatively affect both the immersivity and the gameplay and players will find themselves in situations where they can’t avoid the stuff that just appeared in front of them.
He must be a vampire!

               It is ironic that even after lowering the graphics so much, the game runs poorly even on high-end machines, it’s not possible to maintain a constant frame rate when playing on the highest video settings of the game.
Ubisoft released statements blaming performance for the graphical downgrade, but a modder did search through the game files and found all the effects that were shown at E3 2012 and managed to unlock them with almost no performance losses.
               The question is now, why did Ubisoft went out of their way to downgrade this game and lie to the teeth about it? How much of an impact over their decision did console producers have?
One thing is sure, no games developer wants to give up on the PC market, but some of them are willing to downgrade their games even after time and resources spent in making it look better for PC (why?!) and then lie to the PC market consumers about the true state of their game.
Even after all these downgrades the game still looks quite good, the city looks amazing during night time after rain and the water is gorgeous. Watch Dogs looks much better than most of the console ports out there.

               Watch Dogs is a third person action game that features the story of Aiden Pearce, a hacker (cracker?!) that messed up with the wrong people and because of him his niece was killed right before his eyes. The action of the game takes place in Chicago, a city using a special operating system, cTOS, which connects everyone and everything in the city (smart move Chicago mayor!).
Aiden becomes a vigilante fighting crime by taking advantage of the most powerful weapon he has, a Smartphone, which allows Aiden to connect to the cTOS and hack it accessing everything related to it, from people profiles and bank accounts, to city cameras, road blocks and more. With this power over the city of Chicago, the main character tracks down the hitmans that tried to kill him and tries to find out who ordered the attack on him that got his niece killed.
On his crusade to make his own justice, Aiden messes up the situation even more and puts his family into grave danger.
It’s worth mentioning that Aiden is not a hero, he can’t even be catalogued as an antihero. Controlled by the player, the main character can steal people’s money, cause car crashes, destroy the smartphones of those that try to report him to the police or for hacking, violates people privacy and more. Aiden Pearce can be quite a jerk in this game and even if you don’t want to, at some point or another you will be forced to do all these things.
The sexual tension girl.
You can't watch the watcher!

               The gameplay of Watch Dogs is pretty straight forward, it’s a standard Ubisoft game with some additional mechanics to make it more interesting, but there is a lot to talk on this subject. Like in Assassin’s Creed or Far Cry series, the player can unlock details and missions about a sector of the map and in order to do that the player has to find a cTOS tower and hack into it.
Digital Chicago
Hmm... Ubisoft art?!

               The hacking is the key mechanic of the game, it allows the player to access other people’s phones and find information about them, unlock missions and even steal money from their bank accounts. The player has control even over the traffic lights, city cameras and road blocks, gas pipes, electrical gates, the player can even shut down the city lights and many other things that can be activated remotely through hacking the city’s operating system.
The hacking mechanic makes the gameplay more complex and fun and all of these can be done with no effort as hacking requires just aiming and the press of a button.
You can't hide!
Because hacking gives you superpowers!

               The combat in Watch Dogs is well done and is helped by the design of Chicago, which offers, most of the time, room for different play styles. The player can go full out combat or use a more silent approach by using hacking, stealth and silent takedowns in order to finish missions. The shooting has some weight, there is a large variety of weapons with great impact and sound effects, sadly the lack of ragdolls physics diminishes this aspect of the game. 
The AIs make the game’s combat system quite enjoyable, human AIs engaged in combat act realistically, shooting from behind cover and using suppress fire to help each other and keep the player pinned. A huge minus to the combat is the fact that you cannot shoot while driving in any of the vehicles in this game.
The game also has a skill tree, split in four different branches, which enhances the combat experience and the player’s game style, while destroying some of the immersion.
Welcome to America...

               In a game with a large map like Watch Dogs, transportation is important, while players can fast travel from one safe to another or use boats and even trains, cars remain the main means of transportation. Sadly however, the driving experience is terrible, cars have no weight or momentum, they accelerate instantly and they lack physical damage. The player’s vehicle is like a tank, it barely takes any damage and destroys almost everything that stand in its way.
               Players can entertain themselves in the game world by playing minigames like gambling, drinking games, chess, but the most fun are the digital trips. Digital trips allow your character to enter a fictive world (a fictive world inside a fictive world! Inception!) where they can fight robots, drive a card through hell or, my favorite, take control of a giant spider tank and shoot everything that moves for points!
Fun times!

               The in-game UI is a testimony to support even more the claims about Watch Dogs being a port from consoles. The UI navigation and design is horrible and renders mouse completely useless. The mouse acts like a controller stick when navigating the interface and this causes all kind of problems, is almost impossible to switch a weapon in time during combat because of this.
Must be an iPhone...

               There is a lot to do in the world of Watch Dogs there is no doubt about that, but this world that attempts to look realistic is plagued bugs and poor design choices.
The AI of the NPCs is terrible, they jump in front of your car instead of moving away from it, call the police when they hear you shooting but not when you run someone over or stay near a car on fire and die from the explosion.
               The city’s design is great but it’s not enough to make this world plausible. Things like the fact that trains stop instantly when something is on the rail, the absurd control over some things in the world like gas pipes or the lack of police on the street are just some of the immersion killers in this game and this list can get bigger.
The world of Watch Dogs is like a nice dream from which you wake up every few seconds and you can never fully enjoy.

               The sound is very well done, the game features a soundtrack of 14 tracks that can be listened to on the in-game radio. The overall sound effects are at a higher quality than the rest of the game.
               Watch Dogs has multiplayer featuring 6 distinct game modes, some of them being free for all and others team based with up to 8 players connected simultaneously. The multiplayer is fun and can be fun to play for a while (much more than the singleplayer), but as the rest of the game, the multiplayer is full with problems. For days people could not connect to the multiplayer servers because of Uplay errors and a later patch fixed the problem, but that wasn’t the end. The multiplayer has no dedicated servers and apparently matches players randomly from all over the world, the lag in multiplayer is horrible and drags down the fps a lot making the game unplayable.
               To make things even worse (like that was even possible) all the things that drag down the singleplayer, like the driving or bad physics, affect the multiplayer experience as well and to top everything you don’t even get access to the entire map.

               Watch Dogs was compared a lot to GTA V prior to the release and even to GTA IV after it, because the latter has features and mechanics that Watch Dogs doesn't. In all fairness, GTA V costs were close to 300 million $ while Watch Dogs budget was around 70 million $, the budget difference is astronomical and Ubisoft tried to make the most out of this money.
               Sadly what looked like a good license had to suffer, many things were cut off, others were not even implemented and even if the game gets fixed, which it would eventually, it will still lack the mechanics that were never implemented.
On top of everything, Ubisoft forced Uplay on everybody even if you purchased the game on a different digital distribution platform. I wouldn't mind this kind of advertisement for their platform, as it was done by others before, but Uplay is very unstable and annoying.
Watch Dogs was the dream of every PC master race gamer out there, that hoped this platform will get the attention that it deserves, but in the end it was nothing more than another console port.

+ Graphics
+ World Design
+ Shooting
+ AI in combat
+ Digital trips and mini-games
+ Multiplayer (if you can connect to it…)

- Graphics
- Physics
- Optimization
- Arcade driving
- AI outside of combat
- Some of the game mechanics destroy immersion and realism
- Lack of many necessary features
- Lots of glitches and bugs
- Uplay