Sunday, October 26, 2014

Screenshot of the Week #9: The end of a Legend!

                Since I can’t afford games all the time, this week I had to choose between Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor and Wolfenstein: The New Order. I didn’t play many FPS games released this year, but not many action games either. I was tempted to go for Wolfenstein, but some unconvincing videos and a last minute deal, made me buy Shadow of Mordor and I can’t say that I regret my decision.
                I was skeptical regarding this title and some of my fears proved to be right. It gets repetitive few hours into the game, mainly because of the low variety of enemy and missions. But the game shines on the technical part with crisp graphics and gorgeous animations. The combat system is what should be expected from a good action game, it’s visceral, dynamic and satisfying. You can’t get enough of battling dozens of orcs at once and executing them in a gory fashion.
                I would have preferred a different setting than the Middle-Earth, because everything is canon in this universe and the way things were left in the books doesn’t give so much room for creativity, as some might think, without damaging the original story. Despite some interesting way of presenting it, the story is not captivating at all and it didn’t make me feel any attachment to the characters in it or made me curious about what I will find out in the next mission.
                Overall Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor looks like a combination of Assassin’s Creed and Batman Arkham series set in Tolkien universe. The game has some interesting ideas in it, but it does lack substance to some degree, mostly because of writing issues and repetitive gameplay.
Look at his face! I feel so sorry!!! 

                Hopefully I will be able to write a review for this game in the following weeks before Dragon Age: Inquisition is released, because I think that game is going to eat all my time.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Legend of Grimrock 2 Review!

Dungeon crawl is a type of scenario used in fantasy role playing games and is focused around a party of heroes navigating labyrinth-like dungeons and battling various monsters in order to find treasures. This concept was adopted by video games in 1980 and spawned many good games, like the Wizardry series, Might & Magic series, Ultima series, The Bard’s Tale and many others.
Because they go hand in hand, most of the time this genre is associated with rogue-like games.

Legend of Grimrock is a 3D dungeon crawler RPG developed by the Finnish indie studio Almost Human. Inspired by old school games and made into a modern version of those, Grimrock managed to revive a genre of video games that was in a muribund state for several years, awakening the interest in gamers for this kind of games and familiarizing the younger gamers with dungeon crawler genre. Legend of Grimrock was quite a success for this small studio and a sequel was bound to happen and with hard work and little to no marketing the sequel is finally here.

There is not much to say about the story of Legend of Grimrock 2. The action of the game takes place on the island of Nox, where a group of four heroes are stranded on, not by accident. The island is ruled by the Master, a mysterious being, who was expecting the heroes’ arrival and follows from a distance their every step as they try to escape this nightmarish place full with dangerous creatures and all sorts of deadly traps.
The world of Grimrock 2 is huge and more open compared to its predecessor (at first this doesn’t look like such a feat) where the entire game took place in a descending dungeon. The environment is not limited to dungeons and catacombs anymore, the island of Nox has many different explorable areas like shores, forests, swamps and even underwater areas. There is a terrifying freedom of movement in this game, which gives a feeling of doubt at the first playthrough when going in a new path. The immensity and freedom of the new world can be a disadvantage for this game as it might scare off some of the players, but in all fairness Grimrock 2 was not designed for the casual gamers. Even so, the developers thought of everything and they made a hub area with unlockable portals to each major area of the game.
An interesting thing is that many of the difficult areas are accessible quite early in the game and it’s up to the players to realize that when entering such an area they can’t handle it yet, but they sure have the freedom to try
The main goal in the game is to find all the power gems on the island in order to forge them into four elemental orbs. These orbs are the keys required to open the gates to the Master's castle, where the ultimate encounter awaits (or maybe not?!). The power gems are spread all over the island and in order to find them the game encourages players to explore the island and see all its beauty and dangers.
The Master is a real joker!

The gameplay follows the same recipe as in the previous title, focusing on solving puzzles, finding secrets, avoiding traps and battling tough enemies. Each of these aspects has been improved in Grimrock 2 adding up to a much better gameplay experience. With the addition of a huge and more open world, the hunt for secrets has become more complicated, pulling a hidden lever can open a hidden pathway anywhere and finding what effect your action had can be a little tricky. On the bright side the wall scanning for secret switches doesn't take that much time now, a huge portion of the game takes place outdoors where there are considerably less walls to look at and the overall number of hidden switches on walls has been reduced noticeably, but these improvements do not completely remove the wall scanning (so if you suffer of OCD like me and want to find everything, good luck!).

The puzzles in Grimrock 2 are frustratingly delicious, each unique in its own way and using many different mechanics. Solving the puzzles doesn't require only logic, but many times attention to the surroundings and fast reactions as well. Exploration also plays a key role in this matter, as clues can be found anywhere on the island. The feeling of puzzle solving is thrilling, this game made me feel both stupid and intelligent from one puzzle to another, there were moments when I was pulling my hair off not realizing what the answer was (a few times just because I didn’t have enough information about the riddle and was not aware of it) and other times everything went so smooth I couldn’t believe how fast I figured out the answers. The feeling of satisfaction for solving a conundrum by myself was so great and was ruined only by the shame of searching for some hints on the internet when I got stuck. The number of puzzles and riddles is huge and while some of them are not mandatory in order to progress further into the game, they are the core of this game and should not be ignored.
Looks like one of the first Russian video games!
Such a friendly place!

Grimrock is a grid based game with the entire party moving as one entity on a floor separated by squares, a common feature for dungeon crawlers. This makes the combat look like a fast paced chess game.
The party can be composed of up to four heroes and while they all move at once they each take turns in hitting the enemies. Each attack has a cooldown based on the weapon used to perform this action and the order of attack is dictated by the player's commands, leaving room for tactical decisions. But the lack of a key that would make the entire party to attack at once can be felt in some situations and this feature would have been welcomed.
The combat received many improvements, making it more challenging and less exploitable. There is a wide variety of monsters on the island of Nox, some of them are familiar to those who played the original game, but many are brand new. Each monster has its own set of abilities that fits with their nature. In addition, the reused monsters have been enhanced (steroids?!) to be more challenging than they used to be. All creatures tend to run away when they are low on health and position behind a corner waiting for you to come. The overall speed of action for all monsters has been increased so their reactions to the player's movement is much quicker increasing the combat difficulty and putting a stop to the “waltz” tactic abuse. There were many challenges in the original game, but almost none of them were battles, this issue has been addressed by adding bosses to each important area and lots of ambushes in key moments of the game (be careful where you save) which keep the player on edge most of the time.
The sewers boss and his gang.
Out of arrows?

The classes system has received an overhaul and from three standard classes we now have eight to pick from, each with their own benefits fitting a certain playstyle and set of skills. To help the characters variety even more, the Ratling race was added to the game.
The skills system has been modified to be more effective for melee users, the weapon type specializations from the first game have been removed and replaced with two skills for light and heavy weapons. The spell system is using the same rune system as in the previous game, which allows casting spells by forming a combination of runes and new spells for all schools of magic can be found throughout the game.
The itemization hasn't changed that much, with many old items being reused (including the icons). Firearms are the new type of weapon and are designed to work with the new alchemist class. While they look weak at start of the game especially because of the malfunction mechanic, they sure can pack a punch later on.
Overall the combat is tactical, fun and challenging, but it is nothing spectacular, mostly because of the lack of production value. However Legend of Grimrock 2 is not so much a game about slashing enemies left and right to get the better gear, but more a game of perception and logic where combat comes as a secondary factor, a test of both mental and fingers agility.
Me smash! You die!
There must be a hoarder around here.

While many models for monsters, objects, walls or spell effects have been reused (if CoD and Bf can do it, why not this game?!), Grimrock 2 has some graphical improvements that make the game more attractive. The beauty of the day-night cycle and the water reflections, which can be observed while exploring the thick forests and the creepy bogs, are graphic effects that could be praised and really improve the immersivity adding up to an already intense atmosphere. The animations have room for improvements and they should not be overlooked if this series continues. The UI could use an artistic and functionality upgrade as well, but these problems are not major and they are common for budget indie titles.
The music is great but lacks variety (at least I couldn’t hear many different songs), but the ambient sounds are really spot on and fit every area perfectly, giving me chills while I was running around lost in some of the darkest dungeons.
So peaceful...

                For those familiar with the previous game, Grimorck 2 can offer an endless dungeon crawling experience as it includes, from release this time, a map editor, which some of the more creative fans will put to good use.

Almost Human poured their heart and soul in this game and it shows, Legend of Grimrock 2 is an improvement in any aspect to their previous title and it kept me hooked until the very end. The freedom of movement, the challenging fights, the intelligent puzzles and well hidden secrets, all wrapped up in the mysterious and creepy atmosphere made this game one hell of a gaming pleasure.
I don’t think I’m exaggerating by saying that if this game had the production value of an AAA title it could be a contender to the Game of the Year award. Even so it was a great old school like experience and I’m looking forward to more titles from this small studio.
Oh noes!!!

+ A huge island to explore
+ Lots of challenging puzzles
+ Great atmosphere
+ Day – night cycle
+ Lots of secrets
+ Bosses
+ Improved monsters AI
+ Map Editor
+ Completists paradise!

- Reusage of many models from previous game
- Average production value
- UI could use some improvements


Sunday, October 19, 2014

Screenshot of the Week #8: Serious Grimrock 2!

Legend of Grimrock 2 was released this Wednesday and since then I’ve been spending my gaming time trying to beat this game and it proves to be quite a challenge.
The first game was a good dungeon crawler, not too fancy or complex but good enough to revive a sub-genre that was dead for years. After the success of Legend of Grimrock, more dungeon crawlers started to pop-up, including a game from the Might & Magic series (which is a very good thing in a market flooded with shooters and action games). I enjoyed the first game a lot and spent quite some time with it trying to find all its secrets, beat all the puzzles and trying different party setups, so for me the release of the second title was quite a big deal.
Despite waiting for Grimrock 2 and knowing lots of information about it, the game took me by surprise, its immensity and the huge improvements over the first title were way more than I was expecting from a sequel of an indie game. The world of Grimrock 2 is big, so big that is frightening, there is a freedom of movement in game I didn’t expect and I had to adjust to it. The game is filled with intelligent puzzles, secrets and challenging fights that kept me hooked until near the end (when I started to realize the game will end this amazing experience will be over).
Everything is better in this game and if Grimrock 2 had some serious production value it could be a contender for the Game of the Year title.
"Oh, God. Never underestimate the power of stupid things in larger numbers!"

                Be careful what portals some lead to treasure, others lead to your doom! I will write a review for Legend of Grimrock 2 in the next week, to present this amazing game the way it deserves.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Nobody wants a cinematic slideshow!

Does fps (frames per second) really matter in video games or is it just a pretentious request of the PC master –race?!

Last week the world level design director on Assassin’s Creed Unity project from Ubisoft said:
"At Ubisoft for a long time we wanted to push 60 fps. I don't think it was a good idea because you don't gain that much from 60 fps and it doesn't look like the real thing. It's a bit like The Hobbit movie, it looked really weird.” 

And the game's creative director, Alex Amancio said the following:
"30 was our goal, it feels more cinematic. 60 is really good for a shooter, action adventure not so much. It actually feels better for people when it's at that 30fps. It also lets us push the limits of everything to the maximum.” (The math is real!)

"It's like when people start asking about resolution. Is it the number of the quality of the pixels that you want? If the game looks gorgeous, who cares about the number?"

This started an entire discussion on the internet and I thought I should say my opinion on the subject matter.

               The quotes posted above either show that these guys have no clue on how fps in movies and games works or they are selling us a bunch of lies (bullsh*t) to cover up for the fact that Ubisoft doesn't care for the PC market that much to put extra effort in porting the game properly and the next-gen consoles can’t handle their graphical technology that good in order to deliver high fps (a thing quite clear for any gamer, but which developers avoid to mention).
               I will address the problem of resolution first because it is shorter and easier to explain. It is not the numbers that we care about, it’s the quality. Image scales with larger screens and the bigger the screen the bigger the textures become and the uglier the image. The higher the resolution of the game and the screen the better image scales providing a clearer quality. I would assume that a director from a video games developing company should know how this works…

…and now the big topic about the fps.

               Movies run at 24 fps because most of the projecting devices in the world used this speed and this became a worldwide standard and was embraced by Hollywood. Movies have blur between frames to smooth the action and improve the visual experience for the human eye (that’s why when a movie is paused the image most of the time has a low quality and is indecipherable), which can make a difference between 30, 60 and even 120 fps.
The reason the Hobbit movie looks so odd is because there are actors dressed up and full off make-up performing on sets with computerized effects, the faster the image the more noticeable it is.
When talking about how fps works in video games things change entirely. First of all games don’t have motion blur between frames, many games have  motion blur as a graphical effect, but it doesn’t do exactly what it does in the movies and it’s a graphical effect to simulate the distortional image that people get when they move their head from one direction to another. Video games motion blur does affect performance by lowering the fps and even causing micro-stuttering (not to mention it can be tiring) so most of the time is the gamers choose to disable or tune this feature down in order to gain a performance boost. 
               The second thing and probably the more important one is the fact that games have a free camera controlled by the players in a virtual rendered environment where smoothness of motion is more important. Every movement is synchronized with the player controlling device and any problem can be noticed not only by the eye but can be felt as an annoyance to the hand that controls the camera. (oh the beautiful human nervous system)
When watching a movie we just sit back, relax and enjoy it (or not depending on the movie), but when we play a game we are doing input and every major drop in fps can be noticed because the low fps makes the response to the player’s actions to feel laggy and sluggish.
It is true that in some fixed camera point and click adventure games or in 2D games the fps issue is not that big, but the statements quoted above were not made for such games.
There is no question about which is better, higher (and constant) fps is always better than lower fps, human eye can adapt and notice the difference even above 100 fps. There can be a question about what gamers prefer or accept, but that is a subjective matter. So if someone wants to play the game at a lower fps there should be options for locking the game at a desired fps, but video games should not be fps locked by default. It’s insulting to the PC consumers to do such things as there are many gamers that spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on powerful video cards and monitors that can support up to 144 fps.
 There is no such thing as more cinematic, games are not movies. We don’t buy video games to watch them, we do it because they are interactive, fun and require our input.

Ubisoft staff, if you want something to be so cinematic, maybe you should stop developing games and start making movies. And you should know we are not stupid (!!!) so stop lying in our face in order to cover up the fact that the next-gen consoles are already way behind the PCs tech (and you don’t want to spend extra money to create better ports for the PC market…), we know how fps works and how better games play at a higher fps.

Here is a link to the difference between the “cinematic” 30 fps and 60 fps from different games genres for those who are not convinced:


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Screenshot of the Week #7: My nerdy hideout!

As I was expecting when I started playing Diablo 3 Reaper of Souls again, after the release of season patch, it didn't last for long. The game just doesn't offer enough builds or a huge item variety in order to keep me hooked. The Season has no new or different mechanics compared to standard servers and there are so few season only unique items that I can count them on the fingers of my hands and many of them are useless. The 1.2.0 patch didn't bring enough new features to relight the spark of a Hack & Slash game that took some bad steps from its very beginning. The season update seemed rushed to fit with whatever schedule Blizzard had or (maybe?!) the competition.
               There is a golden time for singleplayer games at the moment, but I always had at least one online game to play at any given time. My lust for H&S was not satisfied by Diablo 3 RoS, so I came back to my sweet and buggy indie love, Path of Exile, because complexity is what makes PC games great and complexity is at home in this title.
The Forsaken Masters update really put a new spin on the game with new quests, a reputation system, player’s hideout, a crafting system and much more. There is a lot to do in the game and many things to aim for, is hard to get bored in Path of Exile and the developers didn't have to use a carrot on a stick loot system to keep players occupied.
               I'm enjoying a lot my time spent in this game since I returned to it and I think the new features are well designed and implemented.

Enough said about these games, is time for me to brag about my hideout which I created in less than three days (!):
A library like I always dreamed to have!
               I hope I can get more farming done before the new wave of singleplayer games kick in, starting with Legend of Grimrock 2 on fifteen of this month.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter Review!

There is no better introduction.

               The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a first-person story-driven adventure game developed by the polish indie studio The Astronauts and released on September 2014.

               The story is inspired by weird fiction from the early twentieth century (writers like H.P. Lovecraft) and revolves around Paul Prospero, a detective with paranormal powers, who received numerous disturbing letters from a boy named Ethan Carter. Understanding that the boy is in serious danger, the detective comes to Red Creek Valley the place where Ethan’s home is. Paul realizes that Ethan has vanished (shocked?!) after solving a local murder that he finds not too far from the entrance to the inhabited area of the region. Following the trails left behind, detective Prospero finds out that Ethan has awaken something that started to drive his family insane and tries to reach the boy before anyone harms him.
               The storytelling is made through various texts found lying around in the world or visions triggered by solving some of the puzzles in the game.
The liberty of movement in the game creates an illusion of an open world, but despite not being so, the game still has a non-linear way of telling the story as players can miss or ignore certain mysteries and move on. There is only one barrier in the game that stops the player from advancing freely without having to complete any tasks, everything else is optional. This idea of choosing what to do not only helps the players stuck at a puzzle but also gives a more realistic feeling to the investigation.
Red Creek Valley seems like a friendly place.
Looks like a nightmarish architectural design!

               The game has some interesting mechanics that fit really well with the atmosphere and the story creating a believable mix of reality and fiction. The main character has some paranormal powers which helped him throughout his career to solve his cases. He can access the last memories of a dead body by recreating the scene before the crime happened and if he puts the memories of the victim in the right order, he can see the entire scene right in front of his eyes, understanding the motives behind the crime but also seeing everyone involved. Another handy power our detective has is the visualization of the area where a lost item can be found, making his job to find something he needs in order to arrange a crime scene to its original state easier.
The photographic memory of our detective is depicted in the game in a very innovative way, as the name of every clue found is highlighted in 3D and can be seen by the players from the distance, making it easier to remember everything and serving a similar purpose as this impressive skill does in real life.
Eidetic memory?!
Blue memories...
An unfair power over other detectives!

               The world of Ethan Carter doesn’t just put accent on storytelling and interesting game mechanics, but one of the main focuses of this game is the attention to details and graphical fidelity. I have to say that The Astronauts studio did one of the best jobs I’ve seen in years by creating a game where everything is placed where it naturally fits, it’s like this game was a puzzle formed by pieces of textures that were carefully placed one by one leading to a spectacular end result. Almost every place in this world is unique and full of details forcing players without knowing it to explore more and not skip on its beauty.
               The great design and graphics of Ethan Carter were made possible with Unreal Engine 3 and by using photogrammetry (science of making measurements from photographs), which allowed the recreation of real life objects by shooting lots of photos of them and then uploading these photos into a specialized software that matches every detail and creates a 3D virtual model of that object. This process was repeated for many of the objects and even human beings found in the game and the result was a detailed photorealistic world.
Looks better than Pandora!
No photogrammetry for the sky?! That's disappointing...
Good place for a picnic.

               To top everything off and take the atmosphere and feeling at even a higher level, the music and sound effects in this game are at the highest standards being beautiful, mysterious and scary at the same time.
Put together, all the elements in this game create such an immersive experience that is hard to forget. Everything in The Vanishing of Ethan Carter looks amazing. But looks and good gameplay are not always enough and just as with every other game, there have to be some issues.
First, the length of the game (this review size is proportional with it) compared to the price tag is what is going to upset many players. At a price of 19.99 this game can take less than four hours to complete with little replay value, especially if you are searching every corner of the world and finishing all the puzzles in your first playthrough. For me this wasn’t the issue, but rather that when I finished it left me wanting more… (This doesn’t happen too often)
Despite saying that their primary focus is making the PC version as good as possible, The Astronauts studio choose to use a saving system that is not so popular or useful on PC. The autosave system in the game is annoying and its checkpoints are sometimes too far from one another forcing some players to replay big chunks of the game because they quit it without realizing they didn’t reach a checkpoint in a long while.
               The last problem I would like to talk about is related to performance. The game has an incredibly irritating micro-stuttering which is almost impossible to get rid off and does an amazing job at ruining the immersion.
Problems can be found in every game these days and gamers should get used with this idea because nothing will change. But if you can get over the fact that the game ends just when you start to get deeper into it then you should give this title a chance.
Well-chosen literature.
I have the feeling I'm searching for something.
This makes perfect sense.

               The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a short but fresh title in a gaming world full of franchises and reboots. With stunningly beautiful graphics, great atmosphere and an interesting story (which I found somewhat predictable), this title recreates the magic of adventure storytelling games without forcing anything on the players.

+ Beautiful graphics and art style
+ Huge attention to details
+ Captivating world
+ Thrilling atmosphere
+ Music
+ The feeling of freedom
+ Interesting game mechanics
+ Screenshots simulator

- Way too short
- Stuttering
- Autosave system
- (Subjective) Predictable story


Sunday, October 5, 2014

Screenshot of the Week #6: Everybody wants to rule the world!

With Wasteland 2 and The Vanishing of Ethan Carter out of the way, I can now spend more time with one of the most anticipated strategy games (by me) this year: Endless Legend.
Contrary to most 4X Strategy games released in the recent years, which change the setting but not much when it comes to game mechanics, Endless Legend focus is on improving the gameplay experience of this genre.
Taking place in a fantasy/sci-fi setting, the game combines the standard 4X Strategies elements with some RPG mechanics like heroes with personal skill trees, craftable items and quests.
AMPLITUDE Studios were not afraid to take everything to the next level and this includes the combat system. While in Endless Space the combat was a bit unpleasant, here is much more tactical and fun.

                In a barren year for strategy games, Endless Legend shines like a gem that not many noticed during its time in Steam Early Access. So go ahead, explore the world of Auriga, expand your race empire, exploit the remaining resources of your world and exterminate those who stand in your way!
This world is mine!!!
                With the review for Ethan Carter coming next week, I’ll try to spend as much time as possible with this game so I can gather all the information for a review which I will hopefully write later this month.