Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Best and the Worst of 2014!

                This year is almost over, it has been great for some genres and terrible for other. We had a few terrible releases and the usual false advertisement that we should get used with, but overall 2014 was a good year for PC gaming.
                So, in order to celebrate those games that made this year one to be remembered, here is my list of the best and the worst PC video games of 2014. I will focus, mostly, on the positive things of the games that impressed me the most this year with little mentions about what could have been better.
It is worth noting that I skipped a few titles like: Assassin’s Creed: Unity, World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor, Call of Duty Advanced: Warfare, The Crew, Alien Isolation and a few other.

The Best Shooter

                This year was a bad one for shooters with few titles released and even fewer worth mentioning. In fact my choice for the best shooter only shows how much the quality of this genre dropped in the last years.
                I would have said that Titanfall is the best shooter I played this year because of its partially innovative and fun game mechanics. But for an online only title, it seriously lacks contents and the developers did nothing to expand the game besides adding some community separating map DLCs.
                The best shooter this year is the one I expect the least to impress me and I postponed its purchase until I had nothing else to play. Wolfenstein: The New Order was a nice surprise for me and probably for many other games, especially after Wolfenstein 2009.
                It is a gritty game that takes to the extreme a subject that not many developers would dare to explore in video games. The story of this game is twisted and violent, presenting a world in which Nazis have won the war and rule over the world with the power of extremely advanced war machines.
                The New Order doesn’t excel at many aspects, but it’s a well balanced and enjoyable game. The action takes the player in various places, including the Moon, and provides a variety of enemies with challenging AI and enough weapons for a satisfying shooting experience.
It is fun to play and humorous at times (mostly in a dark way), but it never lets the player forget the reason behind the entire action.
                The game has many issues, but the most annoying ones are the average graphics, the abundance of scripted events and the odd combination of old and new game mechanics. In different times for shooters, a game like this one probably had little chance, but this year was barren and from the few titles released in 2014 Wolfenstein: The New Order raises up to be the best.

The Best RPG

                Of all the categories this year, this one was probably the one that gave me a hard time deciding which game to pick as the best, as 2014 was a great year for RPGs and there were so many good titles I had to weight.
Shadowrun: Dragonfall, Transistor, Divinity: Original Sin, Wasteland 2, Legend of Grimrock 2, Dragon Age: Inquisition and many other, are all great RPGs worth playing. These are terrific titles that should not be missed by any fan of the genre and those that played them know how hard it is to choose between them.
                But in the end the long awaited title won, in my eyes, above all the others. Taking back the players with its old school style to a time when RPGs quality was at the highest point, Wasteland 2 comes after over 20 years of waiting for many of the gamers and while doesn’t manage to deliver everything like it should have it is one of those buggy and amazing games like in the old times.
                Wasteland 2 is picturing a huge post apocalyptical world full of conflicts and puts the player in the middle of them with the freedom to choose the way things should change. There are many choices leading to multiple and different outcomes for each area in the game.
The dialogue system is great, even if not at the level of Fallout 1&2, but has of lots intelligent conversations and tones of funny moments while still keeping the tone with the atmosphere of the growing dire situation.
                The game has a huge attention for details, with each area being carefully crafted to look and feel unique. There are many things to discover and huge areas to explore, all filled with great quests, loot and challenging fights. The amount of everything in this game, from the number of dialogues to the loot, it is insane (!).
There is nothing misplaced in this game, everything has a purpose even if it is not always clear why some things are positioned as they are.
                The combat system is decent, not the best and overshadowed by Divinity’s: Original Sin combat, but still good enough to offer a tactical and challenging experience. There are loads of guns to be used in the game to wreck mayhem in the wastelands.
The skill system offers enough options to create well differentiated characters specialized on multiple and different tasks but it lacks the great perk system that made Fallout skill system so great.
                Wasteland 2 is a labor of love and a game designed for the gamers that supported it. It has many issues, but almost every great title of this genre had lots of bugs, it is something that comes with games that are focused on complexity and a sheer amount of details.
                There were many good RPGs this year, but this one stands out above all the others by reminding us the important features for a game of this genre.
Wasteland 2 makes you fear the consequences of your actions and the outcome is not always so clear to be able to change it in time and that is one of the greatest things in an RPG.

The Best Action

                The problem with action games is that they are plenty, but not many make it to the PC and many of those that are coming to PC are the yearly releases of some franchises with few exceptions.
                This year was not very impressive when it comes to this genre, many of the action games were full of problems and didn’t deliver what was promised (still waiting for those laws…). But one game that I didn’t expect to be very impressive stood out to save the year.
                Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is an action game set in Tolkien’s Middle Earth universe. The game takes some inspiration from Assassin’s Creed and Batman Arkham franchises with some of the game mechanics used by them. But the most interesting thing about Shadow of Mordor and what made this title be so acclaimed is the Nemesis system.
The Nemesis system generates a never-ending chain of command for the orc armies present in the game, leading up to a continuously shifting army with new bosses taking over areas and new fights all the time. It is an amazing idea that not only saved this game that could have been mediocre, but also made it well known.
                Shadow of Mordor has some other strong suits besides the Nemesis system. The combat is visceral, fast paced and extremely fun, it has multiple combos and lots of special moves that made me fight like a lunatic for hours just for the fun of it. There is even a good stealth system to complement the combat and make it even more enjoyable.
                The graphics in the game are extremely high quality, with detailed models, amazing lighting and all kind of good effects. The world design is not the greatest, but as the action is placed at the black gate of Mordor it is understandable.
                Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is a repetitive game with many flaws, but has enough good features to make it entertaining and fun, something that action games should be. With a higher level of details and more unique content this game could have been amazing, but even so it is the most polished and constant action game of 2014.

The Best Adventure

                Adventure games are a dying breed, it seems like players tend to want more frenetic action and less moments when they have to carefully search for clues and solve puzzles, therefore the problem of this genre that didn’t adapt well enough with the passing of time.
There are still some companies that are trying, but the titles are fewer (especially the high production value ones) and not as well received as in Microids golden age. But the genre is not dead yet and for that matter I think it is always worth mentioning. Maybe a little more publicity will make the future better for adventure games, after all to think and be curious about anything is part of our human nature.
                This year had some interesting titles like: The Walking Dead Season 2, The Wolf Among Us, Broken Age, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter and some others. Most of them I got to experience enough to form a strong opinion about and some of these games are still in development as part of episodic releases and I think this should keep them out of any kind of award lists.
I based my choice for this category mostly on atmosphere, story and how the game plays, considering as lesser determinant factors the graphical fidelity and the technical part, but not ignoring them.
                Set in the Fables comic book universe in a district 80s New York populated by characters from fairy tales who had to take refuge in our world and are now living among us. The game is using Telltale’s episodic system and artistic style to present a compelling and atmospheric story about the society of fantasy beings that live their lives in the proximity of humans, unnoticed, taking advantage of a potion that gives these fables the ability to take a human form.
                The story has as main character the Big Bad Wolf or Bigby, who’s the sheriff over the Fabletown. The action starts with a crime, what looks like a fable killing another fable, but as the game moves along it progresses into a depiction of the problems of this society and how it is shaken by the current events.
                How much is The Wolf Among Us an adventure game is hard to say, this genre usually implies puzzles solving and all kind of intelligent challenges. But this game removes all those elements and keeps only the detective work, while attempting to make a more appealing game focused more on storytelling and mistery. But this made Telltale’s games a big success and rightly so, despite losing some of the charm of adventure games which sometimes forced me into thinking that I’m stupid because I couldn’t solve a puzzle (no puzzles here!).
                For taking a big step for this genre in a modern era of gaming and for presenting such a curious and twisted world and story I say The Wolf Among Us is the best adventure video game of this year.

The Best Strategy

                Apparently strategy games don’t receive much attention anymore, there was not even a category for best strategy game at the Game Awards, which I found extremely odd considering the titles we had this year.
                The year 2014 wasn’t only a great year for RPGs, but was quite a good one for the strategy games as well, either we are talking about RTS, RTT or 4X. With titles like Wargame: Red Dragon, Age of Wonders III, Men of War: Assault Squad 2, Endless Legend, Planetary Annihilation or even Civilization: Beyond Earth, the enthusiasts of well planning and tactical games can’t complain.
                For a time I thought the best game I’ve played from this genre will be the best game of this year as well, but things changed close to the end. Even so, Endless Legend stands out as one of the greatest titles of this year putting to shame many games and coming only from a small indie developer.
                The innovative combination of turn based strategy, RPG and 4X is what makes this game stand out so much.
Endless Legend took the perfect amount from each genre and put it to great use in their standard Endless Space-like 4X strategy style. The end result is a video game with a lot of content and enough game mechanics to keep the player learning and adapting to new things with each new playthrough.
                The game comes with eight different races, each with its own play style, units and more importantly its own personality. Besides the player’s races, there are multiple minor factions in the game that can be attached to an empire to expand its power and units.
The end goals of the game remain the same as with any other 4X strategy, but with the addition of an impending doom, the winter. The planet of Auriga is dying with winter coming to take all life out. At the start of the game the winter is rare and shorter but as the game goes on comes more often and stays for a longer period, testing the strength of every empire and in the end only one might live to see the eternal winter.
                There is a quests system in the game providing missions which can help expand the empire and give a better understanding of the world of Auriga. The quests are varied and some of them depend on the race chosen to play with and many of them can even expand in bigger chains.
This system works great with heroes in the game which are fully customizable and can be used to lead the armies or the cities of an empire.
                The combat system is totally different from Endless Space and it is for the best. Endless Legend has a rock-paper-scissors turn based combat system based on positioning and target focus. It is not the greatest combat system, but it is a huge improvement over the previous title from AMPLITUDE Studios.
                The graphics are colorful and well detailed with a unique art style based on right angles which gives the game a very distinct look from any other 4X strategy out there.  The interface is clean and in tone with the game and provides the needed information to run the empire without an excess of data.
                What makes this game so great in my eye is the fact that it comes with the changes that 4X strategies so direly need to escape the repetitive loop they have been trapped into for quite a while, changes that not many developers are willing to do.
For its innovating ideas, beautiful design and the continuous content that developers are adding for free, Endless Legend is the best strategy game of 2014 and one title to be remembered.

The Best Graphics

                The quality of graphical fidelity has been going downhill lately (where is that next-gen?!). Usually, in the past years, a shooter would be the best in such a category, but apparently shooters abandoned the idea of good graphics.
                This category is a difficult one, because it is not only the technology that matters, but also the artistic style and uniqueness of the graphics. The clean and painted like graphics of Child of Light, Endless Legend’s unique art style full of right angles, Telltale's games comic book style or the photogrammetry graphics of Ethan Carter are all good examples that a game doesn’t need only the highest tech to be worthy of inclusion in this category.
                To be honest, at the beginning of this year I thought nothing would beat Watch Dogs when it will get released (boy was I wrong!). While the game did look pretty good, it had so many issues in the graphical department and it was so downgraded compared to the initial footage shown by Ubisoft, that it is better left forgotten.
                Truth be told, this year was not the best for graphics, apparently developers switched from forcing gamers to buy a card every other year because of continuous technological advancements to forcing the gamers to buy a card every other year because of poor optimization. I have to name a game that impressed me visually and despite me whining about this, there were a few good looking games.
                The one title that impressed me the most with its visual effects and art style is Dragon Age: Inquisiton. Before stating why, I would like to say that the game doesn’t look the best. Inquisition has quite a few problems with monster models, some of the animations or the cloths and skin wet effects are a little too strident, but despite all these problems the game still looks impressive.
Powered by Frostbite Engine 3 and helped by SpeedTree, Dragon Age: Inquisition offers a unique and beautiful world. The world foliage is rich and the maps are swarming with fauna making the player feel like going into adventures in a living nature. The combination of lighting and shadows give the world even more of a realistic look. The combat effects are spectacular and the animations are visceral and dynamic. But most importantly the world is full of visually unique places asking to be explored, from ancient temples and fortresses to elven ruins and nobles’ houses everything has the style of a different civilization. It is the right combination of art and graphical effects to make a great looking game.

The Best Sound Effects, Voice Acting and Soundtrack

                By May I was thinking that nothing can beat the performance of Patrick Stewart, Jason Isaacs and Robert Carlyle coupled with the great symphonic soundtrack of Castlevania: Lords of Shadows 2. But then Transistor came with a more subtle yet touching voice acting and a beautiful soundtrack that I listened for days, but that wasn’t it.
Dragon Age: Inquisition got released, a game with production value through the roof and while the main music didn’t impress me like the one in Origins, it is still great and the voice acting is top notch.
But things wouldn’t end here, in December Elite: Dangerous was released and it let my ears experience some of the greatest sound effects I’ve ever had the chance to hear in a video game.
                I had a hard time picking the winner for this category, I factored in the amount, the quality, the style, the sound effects and the voice acting. I’m not a sound specialist, but I do have a musical ear (or so I’ve been told), but a choice like this can be considered poorly subjective and I’m fine with it.
                Dragon Age: Inquisition’s production value makes the difference with probably millions spent on this feature of the game alone. The game is fully voice acted at the highest quality with many good actors, some reprising their roles from previous games only if it was just for few moments on the screen (with the possibility to not be present on every player timeline).
                The music is engaging and inspiring and varied for every situation in the game. But probably the most impressing things about the music itself are the songs in the tavern. Unlocked while completing various things in the game, these bard songs present actions or characters in the game, they are simple but beautiful and really capture the character or action they describe.
                Inquisition’s sound effects are great the weapons and spells in battle are terrifyingly realistic and the sound of the nature made me feel like I was really out there exploring the world.
                Dragon Age: Inquisition might not be as good as Elite: Dangerous in sound effects or not the entire soundtrack is as impressive as the one in Lords of Shadow 2, it is the overall quality and quantity of this game with a style fitting for the world of Thedas that impressed me. The sound is not perfect, but it is on par with this immense and high quality game and for this it deserves all the praise.

The most disappointing game

                Considering all the problems, lies and false marketing that have been pulled off this year in the video games industry, this category could be shared by multiple titles. But I picked one, probably the most obvious choice, but for me one of the games I expected the most in 2014 and one of the biggest letdowns and not only of this particular year.
                After being delayed twice, the second time for almost 6 months, few would have thought that Watch Dogs will be released in the state that it did (I’m pretty pessimistic and not even I saw this one coming).
                Promising a huge world to explore with loads of activities and hacking (!!), Watch Dogs sounded like Ubisoft’s big hit in 2014 (it hit them in the head) and possibly the start of a new franchise. In reality the release was a huge fiasco. The game was heavily visually downgraded compared with the footage shown at the first E3 presentation and this was a huge blow, since PC gamers were expecting this game to be a new standard for the next-gen graphics. But if this was the only problem this game had, maybe I would have been softer on it.
                Watch Dogs’ story is full of clich├ęs, predictable and not very entertaining, it lacks character and good characters at the same time. The protagonist, wants to be a vigilante, but plays the role of a total douche that has the power to steal from everyone and do all kind of cr*p and still gets away with it. He can’t even be classified as an antihero, he is more of a thug set on doing his own justice for a mistake he made in the past.
                The gameplay is repetitive and gets old quickly, with a map and missions in the style of Assassin’s Creed, the game doesn’t bring anything new to the table. The innovative hack it resumes mostly to pressing one button and hacking everything in sight, gaining money and everything you need like this (including beating the last boss).
                The AI is terrible in this game, while in combat it does act pretty well, outside of it is a total mess. NPCs run into your car, cops don’t react to what you do and there are so many issues on this particular topic that it is easier to watch a youtube video about them than writing all down (internet is full of funny moments from this game).
The physics are unrealistic and go inexplicably crazy most of the time, it is an immersion breaker, and unacceptable from a game that should have been top notch on the tech part.
                Watch Dogs was a repetitive and riddled with problems experience that I forced myself into in order to write a review and complain about the game. To make matters worse, Ubisoft didn’t manage to get their servers working this release either and many players couldn’t get online for days and the multiplayer was bugged for almost a week (not that it was playable after that considering the horrible rubberbanding).
                The game has some pluses, but I did emphasize the problems I’ve met with when playing this game and the entire masquerade that went on until the release day.
                This game could have been something amazing, but instead it was nothing more than a disappointment, Ubisoft’s attempt to do as much as possible with as little money as possible and lying to gamers about it in order to score big sale numbers and their marketing scheme worked as Watch Dogs was sold very well (…).

Watch Dogs Review!

Game of the Year!

                Until November I thought the game of this year for me will be Endless Legends and I was excited about the idea of having a strategy game up there. But things changed with one of the November’s releases and while I love Endless Legend and I consider it one of the best games of this year, I’m glad how things turned out.
                I’m a huge fan of RPGs and Bioware was one of the top developers for this genre, but things changed in the past years and their games started to go offroad. While advertised as RPGs, some of their titles became action packed games with small areas to explore and huge walls of text and I started to lose my hope in this studio. After Dragon Age 2, I kind of stopped following their work so closely and didn’t hope much for the next installment in the series. When Dragon Age: Inquisition was presented at E3 2014 and I saw Morrigan, Varric and other familiar characters, I started to follow the game and pondering if I should give Bioware another chance. So I waited and followed the game with hope in my heart and the end result exceeded many of my expectations.
                Dragon Age: Inquisition is far from a perfect game and clearly not the best RPG of this year, but it is a game that combines multiple ideas into a genre that can suck them all in, creating something impressive.
                The world of Inquisition is huge, has tones of quests and a lengthy story with some really epic moments.  Completing everything in the game can take over 100 hours and the adventure can continue even after completing the game.
                The characters are well written with good dialogues with the style that Bioware accustomed us with. The party members are varied in personality and easy to attach to and some of them are better than most of the characters seen in the latest Bioware games. The party banter can go on for hours and is extremely enjoyable and amusing as it was in Origins.
One of the biggest focus points of this game, when it comes to its RPG elements, is the choices system. Starting with dragonagekeep.com where players can set their actions from previous games and important those into Inquisition, changing some of the moments in the game based on the past choices. The game is full with difficult decisions that will have an impact on the story (more ore less, sometimes at all) of the game and of the future games as well.
                The gameplay tries to find the balance between console and PC gaming and for the most part it succeeds. The PC did suffer as the camera controls and some of the combat features can be quite annoying with mouse and keyboard. But the combat is dynamic and fun, the new exploration quests are repetitive but quite addictive and overall there is a lot to do in the game.
Sadly the balance between filler content and meaningful content is not at equality, but even so, the game manages to trick the player in not noticing this.
The War Table is a new addition to the game mechanics which allows a strategic control over the Inquisition, providing all kind of operations which expand the Inquisition power and open up new missions. It is a great tool to immerse in the world of Thedas and I liked it a lot.
                Dragon Age: Inquisition has many problems, with a slightly pay to win multiplayer and questionable PC controls being some of the worse, but even so the game covers them up with insane amount of content, huge production value and the awesome things that Bioware did in their good years.
This is why I think this game is the best one I played this year. It made me feel like in the old days, playing Origins and Mass Effect, getting attached to the characters and trying my best to keep my party alive and together while saving the world (obviously).
                The game is a combination of many features and tries to be more than just an RPG and for the most part it succeeds. The Dragon Age series is again on the right track and hopefully it will continue like this, because if it does, the future of this franchise looks very interesting.

Dragon Age: Inquisition Review!

                This is the summary of the best games I’ve played in the year 2014, there are other titles that I wish they would have been on this list, but from various reasons they aren’t. It is worth mentioning that I don’t play auto or sports simulators and that’s the reason there is no category for such games.
                There isn’t a category for online games or MMOs either, because I’ve played most of the big titles from this genre released this year and none of them impressed me in any way. I’m looking for something more in MMOs than just recreating the same atmosphere and using the same game mechanics that most of these games used since the beginning of this. I did give The Elder Scrolls Online and Wildstar a chance and I didn’t enjoy them, I felt like I was trapped in the past playing the same old MMOs.
The year 2015 sounds like a more promising year for this genre with games like Armored Warfare, H1Z1, Skyforge, Everquest Next, Albion Online, Warhammer 40k: Eternal Crusade, The Division and many other.
                Such tops for best games are always controversial, this is my weighed opinion (it took me weeks to make a decision) about the PC video games of the year 2014.


Sunday, December 28, 2014

Screenshot of the Week #18: Obsessive Compulsive Farming!

                December is a barren month when it comes to game releases, so I use the free time to play my usual games (ARMA 3, Path of Exile, etc.) and whatever co-op games I can get (force) some of my gaming buddies to play with me.
                I’m having a blast with Elite: Dangerous continuing my interstellar adventure. I put a stop to my galaxy exploration plan and the trading missions in order to become a bounty hunter. This new job is awesome, engaging in fierce fights with pirates from all around the galaxy and cashing in huge bounties.
Elite is great so far, I don’t know how much this will last, but hopefully with continuous content and features updates the game will have a long life, because it deserves one.
But my main focus this week wasn’t Elite and neither of my usual games, I turned back to one of the older titles that I supported since the Early Access launch almost two years ago.
                Don’t Starve is receiving a co-op update named Together, which will be free for everyone who owns the game and it is currently available via Early Access program for testing. The mode can be purchased at a cheap price for the original game owners and it comes with two copies of Together. I think this is a great way to improve the development this mode, especially since it will come with a lot of new content.
                Don’t Starve is survival game with a touch of dark humor. It is a challenging and has a steep learning curve which can be frustrating for some as the process of getting to learn the game requires dying a lot and starting over and over again. But I’ve always been passionate about survival games and Don’t Starve is one of the best out there and now with co-op is even better.
I’m looking forward to the final version of Don’t Starve Together and the DLC that will follow with new content to the co-op mode including (spoiler alert!) mounting beefalos!

                Happy Holidays to everyone and stay tune for my end of the year article coming early next week in which I will talk about the best video games I’ve played in 2014.

In the meantime, please share my articles and follow me on Steam and on Twitter!!


Monday, December 22, 2014

Wolfenstein: The New Order Review!

               The Wolfenstein series is one of the pioneers of the FPS genre. It started over two decades ago, in 1992 with Wolfenstein 3D. The protagonist of the game was B.J. Blazkowicz an American soldier born from a polish family. The main goal was to take down the Nazi regime and even included Hitler as a boss.
               The series continued in autumn of 1992 with Spear of Destiny which was a prequel to the original game followed in 2001 by Return to Castle Wolfenstein (probably the best in the series) and in 2009 with Wolfenstein (probably the worst). Blazkowicz remained the protagonist throughout the series and he was bound to return into a new game as despite his tremendous efforts to destroy the Nazis, the regime still poses a huge threat for the entire world.

               Wolfenstein: The New Order is the latest entry in the series developed by MachineGames and published by Bethesda Softworks and released on May 20 2014. The game is powered by id Tech 5 engine, the same engine responsible for Rage and The Evil Within.
               The game starts with Allies air forces attacking a Nazi castle in Europe in the year 1946. The copilot in one of the attacking airplanes is Captain William B.J. Blazkowicz, the legendary Nazi nemesis and protagonist of the series (who still needs a basics tutorial after all he has been through!). As things don’t go exactly as planned, the hero together with some other infantry forces find themselves emergency landing (crashing) on a heavily fortified beach. The situation looks dire and the chances of escape alive and continue the mission are very slim, but as the player takes full control of the hero, things turn around quickly.
As the attempt of killing the crazy scientist and the main villain of the game, Deathshead, is missed, the prologue mission ends with everything going straight to hell. The player is forced into making a choice that will modify the game’s timeline (not by much) and at the end Blazkowicz is hit in the head by shrapnel losing his memory and most of the primary body functions.
               For fifteen years the hero has been locked into an asylum with his own body being a cage. He slowly observed the family running the asylum taking care of the patients and Nazis coming from time to time to take some of the patients away for experiments. He waited for his body to recover until the moment came when he had to stand up and fight.
After fifteen years the Nazis rendered the asylum useless for their experiments and ordered its closure, starting to execute every patient. As the family running the place opposed this atrocity everything turned into a bloodbath because of some overzealous soldiers. Now was the perfect time for the hero to rise up (deshi basara!) and fight to protect those that took care of him and many others like him for all this time.
               Killing Nazis has always been Blazkowicz specialty and even after fifteen years of standing still he hasn’t lost his skill, especially because his muscles were not affected at all by his long slumber.
Being unable to save anyone except a nurse, the (sexy) daughter of the doctor in charge of the asylum and the one that took care of him all this time (such a lovely coincidence), Blazkowicz lets her lead him into a safe place as he grows to realize that the world he used to know is no more and the new world is ruled by the Nazis’ overpowering machines.
From this point Wolfenstein: The New Order gets back on track and is about finding the resistance and kicking some serious Nazi butt.
               The story is interesting at first and after completing one third of the game it gave me the feeling that it has the potential for something great for an FPS. Somewhere around the half of the game things started to go south and over exaggeration took over any rational and interesting elements.
The dream I have to protect!
You b*tch!!!

               The world of Wolfenstein: The New Order is interestingly built and because of the nature of this game it gets by with a lot of things that would not work in a different title. The game paints a grim world with an accentuated antithesis between the good and the evil in it.
               On one side there’s the Nazi regime, ruling over the entire world after reaching the atomic bomb first and taking advantage of their advanced robotics technology. This regime is run by sadistic extremists, one crazier than the other, set on creating the world that their twisted minds envisioned. Democracy died and all that is left is totalitarianism supported by the numbers, powerful guns and technology. People have to comply with the situation or suffer the consequences and fear is the primary emotion that takes over the population.
 It is a plausible idea of what could happen if what’s worst in humanity is allowed to take full control.
I'm coming for you bastards!

               On the other side there’s the resistance, a small organization of people that are not afraid to fight the system, those that don’t want to give up on the world. Outnumbered and outgunned, the resistance waits for a miracle to come and help them bring back the world so many died in vain to protect and that miracle is the player.
Every member of the resistance has a story that brought them where they are, pictures of loved ones and lost friends, toys, books and treasured items that remind them about their cause and what they fight for. A hideout wrapped up in bright colors to resemble the feeling of a warm home and mask the fact that they live in a sewer. Their ideals and optimistic vision of what the world should be is spread all over the headquarters. The attention given to this relatively safe place emphasizes how good these people are compared to the evil out there, is both touching and a little amusing at the same time and makes for the strong attachment and belief that what the hero does is the right thing.
               Wolfenstein gets away with a lot (not in Poland, Austria, Germany, Japan or Israel), because it puts together cruel and horrible elements with selfless heroes creating a contrast so big between the two factions of the game that there is no place for grey in this story. The action of the game can even be described as a battle between demons and angels (angels that can hold a grudge!). It is not the standard war with losers and victors, it is a war for the integrity of mankind.
Never forget!
Violence brings more violence...

               The gameplay in Wolfenstein: The New Order is pretty straight forward, a lot of satisfying shooting combined with stealth and some relaxation moments to catch a breath.
There is a decent variety of weapons in the game to be used based on situation or preferences. A new addition to the shooting system is the ability to dual wield almost any type of weapon in the game, no matter how big, for a maximized firepower and spectacular effects.
               A set of unlockable perks has been introduced to improve the already ridiculously overpowered hero (seriously he goes head to head with the entire Nazi army!). The perks are unlocked through various actions, but while there’s nothing wrong with such a system, the game goes out of its way to force the player to do ridiculous things in order to unlock a perk. Many times the requirements are in contradiction with the bonuses gained. A system like this should help newcomers accommodate with the game and learn some of the more complicated mechanics, while helping the veterans to gain various bonuses to maximize their combat experience. But instead of going hand in hand with different playstyles and the bonuses given, the tasks to unlock a perk just ask for something opposite to them.
Not the best screenshot to prove my point...
Looks big, but...

               Wolfenstein uses the classic system of life without regeneration (the way to go before CoD) and armor. Life is replenished by finding med packs and can exceed the maximum of 100 up to 200 hp but the exceeded amount degenerate by the second. This old school mechanic is designed to allow players to overpower fighting situation through bullet soaking and heavy shooting. Strangely enough in The New Order things are a little different. While life can be increased to a higher amount for a short period of time and there are plenty bullets to go crazy, many situations and the good enemies AI force the player into cover and continuous running, wasting the extra hp on waiting for a good moment to shoot without being destroyed.
               To make matters worse, the game has an incredibly annoying hand holding system to keep the player on the right track. There is no searching required to reach the main goal, it is always there as a dot on the screen to make sure nobody gets lost, something uncommon for the Wolfenstein series (but a feature that’s becoming increasingly popular in recent). The possibility of exploration is also hindered by mostly linear level design and a terrible jumping system (careful, the protagonist can easily get stuck behind a 20cm ledge).
               The game is gory, fun and short. It offers enough action to keep the entertainment level high and it combines it with dramatic and emotional cinematic moments to always remind the player the necessity of his actions, but also to highlight the superhuman strength of the main character that always gets up even after taking hits that should kill an elephant.
The New Order seems to be trapped between old and new concepts and is not sure which ones to pick and because of this the gameplay suffers at times.
Such a nostalgic dream!

               Lately there is a serious problem with the graphical fidelity of FPS games and Wolfenstein: The New Order is not an exception to this rule. The graphics are average with decent character and weapon models, but that’s how far this goes. Everything else in the game looks washed up and lacks graphical details.
The body physics is decent with nothing too spectacular and that’s about it. There are many objects that can’t be moved or destroyed in any way and most of the cover is indestructible.
It is a shame to see a game being ruined by elements that should be top notch for an AAA title, which had a steep price tag at launch.
               This issue starts to worry me (a lot!), more and more video games, including many AAA titles, leave technology on a secondary place for  various reasons (consoles?!). This has a negative effect on the quality of these games and considering the age we are in, such problems should not exist, especially when we talk about high quality FPS games. No shooter in 2014 should look like a 2010 game!
Glass from Return to Castle Wolfenstein?!
Letters with build in closet.
I believe I can fly!!!!

               The sound quality is quite good compared to the graphics. The voice acting is high quality, the music in fitting and encouraging and the weapons’ sound effects are good enough and represent each weapon well. It’s nothing impressive on the sound department, but I didn’t notice anything that would annoy me either.

               Overall, Wolfenstein: The New Order is a big improvement over 2009’s Wolfenstein game. The story has better moments, the action is more satisfying and everything is much smoother. The game lacks quite a lot on the technical part and being short and scripted at times doesn’t help it either, but being indecisive in what kind of game it wants to be is probably the most annoying problem. The New Order wants to please both old and new gamers, but it is not entirely certain of how to do this without affecting the gameplay in a negative way.
               But I did enjoy my time spent with this game, it was fun and it managed to take my mind of other things. It’s hardly any competition when talking about FPS games this year and it is good to see that this title, despite all its problems, is worth playing to the end and not because it takes 8 hours to complete it.

+ Satisfying shooting
+ Great enemies AI
+ Good sound effects
+ Terrifying world
+ Gory
+ Great villains
+ Dual wielding firearms!

- Mediocre graphics and physics for 2014
- Too cinematic at times
- Many scripted scenes
- Hand holding
- Story goes way off at some point
- Horrible jumping 
- Short


Sunday, December 21, 2014

Screenshot of the Week #17: Space, the final frontier!

                After a difficult development process, made possible by the fans via a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign, Elite Dangerous finally got released this week.
I’ve been looking forward to check this game out, since I’m a huge fan of space video games and I’m quite interested in science. I never played any previous Elite title, but I did spend a lot of time with X2: The Threat, X3: Reunion, Freelancer and many other notable titles of this genre.
                Elite Dangerous is a true space simulator using Newtonian physics and offering a 1:1 scale realistic Milky Way galaxy to explore. The game is also the first in the series to be an MMO (of some sort), even if the chances to run into other players in such a huge open world are quite slim.
                I have been playing the game this entire week and I can say I’m quite satisfied. It is a simulator as advertise and for a space enthusiast like me it is very enjoyable. It is a niche game and clearly not for everybody’s taste, the developers have made few compromises with gameplay mechanics, but even so, it is addressed mostly to the patient fans of the simulator games.
                Elite is a complete game as it is now, there is a lot more to do in this world besides trying to explore as much as possible of the galaxy. The game offers a good variety of missions, there is a reputation system for factions and a ranking system for pilots, there are plenty ships and upgrades and so much more. But I do feel that the game got released a bit too soon, some things can get repetitive quite fast and that’s not something you want to see in a newly released MMO.
                The massive multiplayer component could have been handled a little better so players can find themselves easier. Missions that would force players to interact with each other or special events throughout the known space would be something that I would very much like to see in the game. It feels a little like a grind right now, working hard to raise the reputation with some factions, leveling up the pilot rank and stacking up money for better ships. But as any MMO, the development never ends and there is more to come in the future.
                The guys from Frontier Development promised constant updates and even expansions for the game with planned features like full scale planet exploration (can’t wait!) and many other cool ideas.
                I look at the game as a realistic space exploration experience (since I won’t live to see that in reality… wish I had a VR!) with entertaining fights and a continuously changing economic system.  It is a long term investment and I can’t wait to see some of the new features this game will have in several months or in a couple of years.
Not scary at all! And this is just a portion of the galaxy...

                The Wolfenstein review is done, I couldn’t post it this week since I’ve been quite busy, but it will be up tomorrow. I’m continuing my work on my other articles and playing some more Elite so I can write a review for it.
Since many websites and digital distribution platforms started the winter sale this week I’m hunting for any good deals for the games I’m interested in (This War of Mine, The Old City Leviathan, Lords of Xulima and some others) and I recommend everybody to do the same.

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Sunday, December 14, 2014

Screenshot of the Week #16: Top notch graphics!

                I played many video games on PC this year and one question came to my mind after finishing each AAA title released in 2014. Why did the evolution stop or slow down (in the best cases)?
                I’m a declared fan of RPGs, but that doesn’t mean I ignore the other genres is just easier for me to talk about the one that I love the most. As I look over the reviews I wrote this year I can’t find a single one about an FPS game. I did purchase games from this genre with the idea in mind to write a review when I’m done with them, but I find it extremely hard to write about these games.
                When I played FPS games in the past I looked first at the technology, because this was always the genre for technological advancements and innovations. Over the years each new release of pixel shaders meant for me better looking FPS games, but now, in the year 2014, I look at these games and I’m horrified.
The gameplay didn’t progress much, it is looping into repetitive action sequences and missions with an attempt of story that most of the time is nothing more than filler cutscenes to justify more shooting and killing. But shooters can still be fun if the most important element, the shooting, is done right. But nailing the shooting requires a lot of technology and effort.
                The shooting mechanic is not just the action which requires the player to aim at the target and press the button to spray bullets in that direction. To be executed properly, this entire mechanic requires a lot of attention. Not only the aiming or the firearms weight and feel play an important role, but also the enemies AI, the environment physics, the sound effects and the visual effects, all play a huge role for this one game mechanic.
Sadly, because of multi-platform development, the technology invested in the creation of video games is rusty and sometimes outdated by titles that were released years ago and shooters seem to suffer the most because of this.
                I played three FPS games released this year and none of them were even close to the 2014 standards, yet each of them had an AAA game price tag and I wonder why. Ironically enough some of the indie developers have started to embrace better graphical engines (UE4, CryEngine 3, etc.) and use them create brilliantly looking titles, while some of the AAA developers can’t even bother to add destruction physics for the vegetation.
                It is hard for me to write an objective review when it comes to such situations, I feel the urge to rant about such titles from developers that can’t respect the PC gamers enough to use the proper technology in their games instead of porting it from the consoles version.
To make things even worse, many of this outdated looking games release in a poorly optimized state and run horribly even on gaming rigs worth thousands of dollars (…).
                Evolution means moving forward and while the hardware continues to do so, some of the popular titles seem to go backwards and their numbers keep increasing becoming a threat for this industry.
.gif animation?!

                Some good news, the stress fog that was following me in the last couple of weeks is lifting off and this will make things so much easier on me.
                 I’m still working on multiple review, but I’m having hard time writing about the FPS games I’ve been playing (now you know why), but hopefully I’ll finish everything and post it before the New Year.
                I bought Elite: Dangerous, which is probably going to be my last major purchase this year. Now I’m waiting for the release on Tuesday to check the game out and see if is worth a spot on my 2014 best video games list. I’m going to put some heavy hours into the game so I can take an informed decision about this.

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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Where did the Demos go?!

Demos seem like a forgotten concept from a gaming era that left its mark on the industry through high quality titles and not the number of sales.
The video games industry is a business and like any other business its main goal is to make a profit. Looking at this from a consumer perspective, it feels so shallow and wrong, but video games cost tens to hundreds of millions of dollars to make and sometimes even more to advertise. Like any other fundamental process of our society that involves human labor in any way, this industry cannot exist without the revenue it generates and nothing is ever enough. Money produces more money and video games that sell well spawn more video games. It is a fair enough trade that can keep an industry running until the end of time and for those that want a continuous flow of games this might be the perfect deal.
                But why do I peel at the economic crust of this industry in an article about video games demos? The answer is as simple as it is complex, demos don’t sell games anymore, but rather lower the sales value.
                The industry goes into an era of digitalization, with digital copies selling exponentially more than boxed games, this is the next step in the continuous evolution of the market. The evolution was made possible because of the increasing demand. The money spent today to make and advertise video games is several times bigger than it was ten years ago and even bigger than it was twenty years ago and it continues to grow. Much of the money is spent on advertisement (EA spend a couple hundred millions more on marketing than development in 2013) and while everyone might say that “All publicity is good publicity”, this is not entirely true.
Demos started as an altruistic concept, to give the gamers the chance to test if they enjoy the game and if it is working well on their gaming rig. But this was a good opportunity for much more and so demos became a marketing tool used to better sale a game.
While a demo should be a small cut from the full game, most of the time taken from the beta stages, with the growing realization of what demos could do some developers started to make them look better than the final product. False advertising one would say, but there is no law to support that in this industry (…). So slowly, but surely the good idea turned into a tool to support the greed of publishers and financiers.
                But gamers aren’t fools, despite the fact that some publishers treat them like they are (hello Ubisoft!) and gamers used their tool against them. Demos were used as benchmarks and as comparison scales between how the game really plays compared to what was seen in the trailers and screenshots. This saved everyone a lot of money, spent on games that were trying more to cover their weaknesses than actually providing the wanted experience.
The big publishers started to abandon the concept that backfired on them and only those small, mostly indie, developers that have nothing to hide use this nowadays, with some exceptions.
                Many demos can be found on the dusty shelves full with old games, but rarely any AAA games publishers provide this to their products and even if they do it is way after the release of the game.
                If you ask me, it seems like publishers and developers are putting more effort into hiding the problems and trying to trick customers instead of showing why their titles are worth buying. This seems to be a productive way of marketing, because many franchises still sell quite well despite being the same reheated soup every year with only the addition of new problems.
Ironically, with their plans, publishers pushed the gamers to piracy (talk about backfire!). By abandoning the demo’s idea, the publishers forced many potential customers to pirate the games in order to check them out before purchasing or even in protest for this entire problem. 

“The thing is, with no demo, you’ve gotta buy it if you want to try it.” - Jesse Schell

                So if you wonder why demos have disappeared or even worse, you never knew they existed (might be too soon for the second to happen), demos went away when they became an impediment to the sales. Video gaming is a growing industry, worth billions of dollars and if something can be done to increase these numbers, it will be done, even if is in the detriment of the customer. Some say “The customer is always right”, but this expression means nothing if you are not buying anything.
                But don’t panic, this doesn’t mean someone has to blindly buy new games. It is the era of digital distribution but also the era of video streaming. There are many good channels on twitch.tv or youtube.com to provide enough details to make an informed purchase, even if it doesn’t tell anyone if a game works properly on their machine, at least there’s something. There were many cases of false marketing and trickery in the last couple of years. So nobody should rush to pre-purchase until being 100% sure that it is worth doing so and if not, wait (!), the games aren’t going anywhere, but once spent, the money is gone (still waiting on a return policy law).

The amount of games on Steam ...
... Less than 25% have demos.


Sunday, December 7, 2014

Screenshot of the Week #15: The voiceless singer!

                It is so rare when I get to say about a game that it is beautiful, but now is one of those moments. I’ve been playing Transistor this weekend (well to be more specific, today) and the game moved me with its atmosphere, world and music. AAA games producers don’t really go out of their comfort zone too much when developing new titles and that’s why most of the time these AAA games resemble so much the previous titles. But indie developers that want to have an impact on this market (even if is a smaller one) always come up with interesting and innovative ideas to capture gamers attention and heart. Such was the case with Bastion and its impressive narrative style and is safe to say that Supergiant Games took their ideas to the next level with Transistor.
                The game is a short and sweet masterpiece, a living jewel in a sea of soulless diamonds. Transistor takes advantage of Bastion legacy, using similar art style and difficulty system while borrowing some of the narrative features, but at its core is an entirely new and different game.
It what comes from producers that make games out of passion and love, not the greed that is destroying this industry from the inside.
Five hours of genuine and awesome content is enough for the game’s price tag and I’m afraid to say that more could have been better. Sometimes is for the best to have concentrated content, instead of dragging it out just for the sake of the game length, ruining everything with the repetition.
The voiceless singer and the talking sword...

                I have three or maybe four reviews I’m currently working on, for the games that I have played recently (Far Cry 4, Wolfenstein: The New Order, Transistor), but I can’t say when they will come out.
It has been a pretty rough week and there will be more like this in the nearest future, so I can’t make any promises.
I’m working on The Best Video Games of 2014 article which should be up by the end of this yea. I’m still waiting for Elite Dangerous release to check that game out and see if is worth a spot on the list.
                Because of the excitement Dragon Age: Inquisition caused me, I started reading some of the books from this universe lore. I just finished Dragon Age: The Masked Empire and was surprisingly good. I really enjoyed the book and I felt sorry that I didn’t read it before I played the game, because it made me understand better the empire of Orlais and some of the reasons behind some important political characters. So if you are a fan of Dragon Age games and didn’t start playing Inquisition yet, you might want to give this book a chance (also Asunder has some big links with the game).

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