Monday, July 3, 2017

Bayonetta: Remastered


Happy Price: 19.99
Rating: 9

Gameplay

Bayonetta is an action packed shooter/slasher/platformer. It emphasizes different combos and aerial combinations to create unique attacks and strategies for different opponents. The main character is equipped with guns on her feet, which creates fun weapon combinations like a sword in the hands but shotguns on the feet. The creative and stylish combos are also innovative because of the ability to shoot from one's heel. 

Combat

The number of combos offered will leave you trying to master all of them throughout your gameplay run. There aren't too many weapons to choose from, that being said it isn't really necessary because variety is not lacking. When a new weapon is discovered, you'll have to learn how to use it. As the game progresses, certain situations will require you to use certain weapons. By that time, you'd better have a good idea on how to use them and mastered some of the combos. Experimenting with different weapon combinations that best suit your gameplay style is fun but can also be painful at times. You're judged each stage by the effectiveness of your combos and how much damage you've taken. So the learning phase will affect your score, and ultimately how much can be contributed to upgrades.



The most repetitive and impactful game mechanic is activating witch time. Witch time slows down the surrounding enemies for a short duration, but you get to attack at the same speed. This means you can dish out monster combos and gain the upper hand when outnumbered. Activating which time is done with a perfectly executed dodge. The more enemies attacking, the easier it is to activate witch time because there will be many projectiles and melee weapons attacking at once. Even though you may not hit your perfect dodge on your intended target, there are collateral dodges that happen and out of nowhere witch time is activated. You'll spend a lot of time dodging, jumping, shooting, and unleashing hell on enemies.

Story

I spent most of the time confused by the story. The game starts and all you know is you've been awoken from a slumber, you're a witch, and forces from the light are after you. You're then introduced to a love interest that is a journalist, but he's convinced you've murdered his father yet his this strange compassion for you. Then a little girl that calls you Mommy appears and you're trying to protect the little girl and the love interest from angels. That being said, the execution and presentation of the story was fantastic. The cinematics, animations, and voice acting were top notch. Bayonetta comes across just as she looks: charismatic, powerful, and ethereal. The actual story was not good or engaging for most of the game, until the ending where things come together and make sense. The game is driven by the fun of combat, not necessarily the narrative. If you wanted to, you can skip every cinematic and watch the last scene and know exactly what happened. If the design and animations of the characters was not excellent, the writing would have been exposed as being a huge flaw.



Animations

 A number of combos, cinematics, and unique enemies stresses the importance of unique and clean animations for each character. Many times games will be filled with unique characters but they have re-used or only a few animations. This is not the case in Bayonetta. Almost every enemy feels unique and they have to be handled differently. There are even enemies that have the same character models with slightly different skins, however, they will have different attacks and powers. For example two dogs, one blue and one orange. The blue one moves and attacks entirely different than the orange one. They also have different powers which influence their attack styles and movements. The blue being electric, while the orange is a molten rock creature. The electric dog moves around all the time and is aggressive, while the molten rock dog is defensive. Bayonetta moves extremely fluidly transitioning from running as a panther to doing cartwheels and shooting upside while airborne. Nothing feels choppy and the smoothness enhances the gameplay.




Environment

You've never been to this place before. Unsure if you're on Earth, in hell, or some heavenly realm, everything about this world is unique. Angels are characterized as having gold and white tones to their attire, but hideous looking faces. Some of them are complete atrocities with huge blood boils on their bodies. Some of their worlds are angelic like you picture in heaven, while others are just normal looking cities that have a nice stickly gold architecture to them.  The level designs are not repetitive and will keep you on your toes. Bosses might destroy the ground right beneath you, forcing you to jump to another platform. You may have to transform into a super fast panther to escape a rolling boulder down a hallway, or navigate along the sides of buildings during a flood. Not paying attention can result in a death, which reduces the rewards at the end of the level.



Summary

Bayonetta is a high octane adventure that mixes great action, platforming, and cinematics into an expertly paced experience. The characters are so developed and consistent you'll be able to predict their behaviors or responses to dialogue. The boss battles seem to be never ending and are always interesting. If you're looking for a game that doesn't try to do too much "realism" and lets the imagination fly, you'll want to pick this one up. 

Design: 10
Art: 9
Story: 7
Tech: 9
Sound: 9
Animation: 10
Total: 9

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Top 10 Most Annoying Wild Pokemon



10. Bronzor

Debuting in Pokemon Diamond and Pearl, Bronzor is a Psychic/Steel type with a high defense and special defense stat. Sometimes they will have the levitate ability which negates an attack weakness for the steel type (ground types). Most moves will not be effective against Bronzor, and the only types that are effective are fire attacks. The moveset won't do too much damage, but equipped with confuse ray, hypnosis, and future sight wild encounters while training can be painfully long and can cause extensive damage. Run in all cases unless you are training a fire type. 


9. Magnemite

This first generation pokemon wasn't so bad when it was just an electric type, but when it gained the steel type it became a different animal. Wielding moves like sonicboom, supersonic, and thunder wave this pokemon can be a nightmare early game when training. Supersonic never seems to fail when wild pokemon use it, and sonicboom takes a fixed 20hp of health away. Thunder Wave is a permanent status changer which will leave you heading back to pokemon centers constantly. When training pokemon between levels 15-25 battles will be long and will leave your party in shambles after only a few encounters.


8. Ghastly

Only found in special areas, they are not common across regions in the pokemon series but are concentrated in certain areas. That being said, they tend to be in areas that have multiple levels with lack of access to pokemon centers without the use of repels or escape ropes. Equipped with mean look, this pokemon has the potential to remove the ability for you to run away. It can then be followed up with the weak lick attack which can cause paralysis. Confuse Ray and Hypnosis always tend to be in the arsenal which cause annoying status changes. Night shade takes away a fixed amount of HP (whatever the level of the user is) so if it wants it can deal some good damage despite your pokemon being resistant to the attack type. 



7. Diglett

A high speed and attack stat, this pokemon has the potential to cause sustained damage after multiple encounters. Arena Trap will make running disabled, so when in tight situations can make things even worse. The aloha region gains the steel type which helps negate the fact that its defense level is low, because it's resistant to previous weaknesses like grass, but gains a weakness to fight types. Also fire moves now deal normal damage. They become abundant in caves, or caves made by diglett, which causes repeated encounters with this annoying pokemon. 

6. Geodude

Found common in all caves and has multiple level ranges. It can usually be defeated with one water or grass type attack due to the rock/ground type combination. However the abiliy called "sturdy" was introduced which does not allow one hit knock out moves on the first hit. Equipped with powerful moves like magnitude or self destruct, this pokemon does not go down without swinging. What should be a quick experience boost, turns into massive damage coming from a pokemon with 1hp left. It usually allows you to escape, so it can be avoided if necessary.  

5. Raticate

Appearing usually later in journeys, this pokemon learns Super Fang and Double Edge. Super fang takes away half of your HP in all cases, so if you don't defeat it in one hit it has the potential to halve our hp if it's in a full state. This can be very annoying while training. It has decent speed, so if you're training a pokemon that has high hp and defense, but low speed, this pokemon can plague you during training sessions. Double Edge is one of the most powerful normal attacks in the game, dealing 120 damage. The only normal attacks higher are Giga Impact and Self Destruct. 


4. Tentacruel

Trying to train your grass type pokemon for the pokemon league while surfing? You'll regret that once you come across a Tentacruel. The Water/Poison type negates the grass weakness, and is equipped with high special defense, speed, and HP. It doesn't have too many great offensive weapons, but has moves that can confuse and poison. When trying to run, it doesn't always allow you to get away, so you'll have to switch to a psychic or electric type to take this one out. Even then, you can find yourself poisoned or confused when your other party pokemon enters the battle because of its speed. 


3. Tentacool

The previous evolution of a Tentacruel, these are far more common and appear when you're at a lower level. More often than not equipped with moves like poison sting and supersonic, they will leave you in a status hell. Poison sting for whatever always seems to cause poison to occur, even though when I use it that never happens. This pokemon is the reason I no longer use grass types to deal with water, I'm exclusively an electric type wielder because of the difficulties of dealing with tentacool in the wild. Electric types take them out in one hit. 


2. Golbat

Golbat starts to appear later in journeys at higher levels in caves. Usually in the cave right before the pokemon league that is filled with the toughest trainers in the game. In later versions of the series it gains attacks like Acrobatics which is the one of the most powerful flying attacks in the game. Also Air cutter which deals critical damage. Confuse Ray and Mean look mean you can't leave the battle and you'll be in a confused state. These pokemon suck if they are in your party, but tend to ruin your training sessions. Training fighting types in caves is ideal to deal with the rock type pokemon, but a Golbat can kill them in one hit with Acrobatics or Air Cutter. Training electric types is not ideal in caves, but is the most effective type to match up with Golbat because of their speed and high special attack. Unfortunately rarely are they first in your party while in caves or where Golbats appear.


1. Zubat

Appearing far more often and much earlier in the game than Golbats, Zubats are the most annoying pokemon in any series. Equipped with supersonic which never seems to fail, and poison sting on top that, you'll find yourself using antidotes or having multiple pokemon poisoned. Zubats are everywhere and constantly appear. They don't become super threatening until they learn Wing Attack which is a decently damaging flying move. When training grass types early game in caves against the rock/ground types, Zubats can kill your groove. Electric types are not common early game to have in your party, giving you few options to deal with Zubats. The slower Rock types are the most common way to deal with the Zubat problem.

  







Monday, June 12, 2017

Mass Effect: Andromeda


Rating: 6.7
Happy Price: 19.99

Gameplay

Mass Effect expands on the previous trilogy of being a third person shooter/RPG with extensive dialogue, but lacks heavy narrative decision making seen in previous versions of the game. You'll customize armor, guns, and different party combinations. Selecting a class and building it out how you want to play it is one of the most rewarding parts of the game, but at the same time can feel more restrictive than in previous games. 

Quest Design

You'll be flooded with things to do, and not really know what is important or not when you first start playing the game. After a while you realize you're running around doing chores that don't reward much experience points or make any impact on the main story, yet they'll appear in your journal as incomplete which will bother you endlessly. It can be confusing because the dialogue for all these side quests is compelling and the voice acting is done well, which conveys emotion though the screen. You'll really want to save the botanists brother that may have been kidnapped by raiders, but after the 10th time you've heard this story it begins to lose its luster. Sometimes doing side quests unlock cool rewards like heavily discounted black market shops which help you in the long run, and other times you just get a pat on the back. Not knowing what the rewards are prior to doing the missions can result in a massive waste of time at points.

It's not always the content of the mission that takes a long time however, it's how these missions are constructed. You might start out on the Tempest (main ship) and have to fly to another planet [loading screen]. Then land on the planet [loading screen]. Walk around the station on the planet and talk to people [multiple loading screens opening doors and such]. Venture out into the wilderness of the planet which consists of long drives in the nomad which can be painfully slow at times. Then you'll fetch whatever you need to get. Return back to the planetary station [loading screen]. Be forced to read your email, which can only be accessed on the Tempest [loading screen] and then a follow up task from there which repeats this cycle. It made doing side quests a chore at times and it gets to the point where you just want the game to end. 



There are also missions that result in you having to wait for something to happen, and its not clear what has to happen for the follow up mission to unlock. Is it time duration? Real time or game time? A certain side quest? I still don't know. It will literally have a red ON HOLD: statement next to critical missions like companionship quests. I've completed the game and I have two companions still in this state with no idea how to progress. The main story quests are done well and have decent cinematics that progress the story. They consists of a linear set of tasks that have a good balance of combat time and dialogue time. There isn't the issue of multiple loading screens and they have a great flow to them. I enjoyed the main story quite a bit, but the side quests took away from the experience of the game especially when comparing to previous iterations of the game. 

Combat

Gunfights are much improved compared to previous versions, which we've seen steady improvements since the first Mass Effect was released back in 2007. There are new additions like jetpacks, dashes, hovers, and hovering which make you feel nimble on the battlefield and allow you to fly around and wreak havoc. These new tactics also come in handy when in tricky situations and you need to rush to cover or evade a barrage of bullets. The enemy types and their variety of behaviors gave good balance to each skirmish. There was a great range of enemies that included ones that rushed, normal assault rifle wielding enemies that utilized cover, the heavy's, and snipers. This forces you to switch weapons and have strategic loadouts that would make you versatile. I was constantly switching between sniper rifles and shotguns during skirmishes and combining those with my biotics. Each skirmished had enough tension to make me feel challenged, but wasn't overly frustrating.



Choices made outside of battle affect how your skirmishes will go. Wielding a scope on an assault weapon might be a good idea for some, but when I tried this it didn't go so well. Later in the game I had an assault rifle that was single shot but high damage and a low magazine size. The scope on this weapon was a great idea and I felt like I'd created an overpowered weapon and learned from a mistake I made earlier in the game. Guns are balanced very well, they range from high fire rate and low damage with large magazines to the polar opposite of that. There are modifications however that can make something overpowered however, and if you're strategic about how you're modifying weapons you'll have a good edge in battle. For example my high powered single shot assault rifle was equipped with a scope and a modification that increased the magazine size by 50%. I also had a low damage assault rifle with high fire rate equipped with a modification that made all my bullets sticky grenades. This allowed me to damage enemies near my target, or spray tons of grenades on the ground near a group of enemies.



Exploration

Most of the time exploring hostile planets will be done in the Nomad, which is the 6 wheel drive all terrain vehicle that features no weapons to shoot at all and extremely slow uphill speed. In order to upgrade things like speed, shield, and life support in this vehicle you'll need to mine some pretty rare resources. By the time I had enough resources to spend on the Nomad, I was debating if I should spend them on weapons, so I didn't spend them at all until later. When later came, the game was pretty much over. Despite that, the worlds you explore are beautiful and it's somewhat of a fun experience. The occasional jump here and there makes things bearable, but this vehicle needs guns so I can shoot at stuff as I drive across a planet to fetch someone's data pad that had missing research on it. 



A good game will feature something to do while driving, take lessons from a game like Forza Horizon which rewards things like getting air or burnouts. Things like this should allow for upgrades of the vehicle, or offer some reward so I have something to do while driving. Instead I spent my time looking around and being pretty bored while driving actually. Driving in real life was more fun than driving the Nomad which is a rarity in video games. The trailer made driving the Nomad this super cool experience of this badass vehicle. It doesn't become that until much later in the game when there are resources available to upgrade it. 

Progression

There are a limitless amount of abilities that can be upgraded, but at any given point only three are accessible abilities. Instead of the ability wheel we've seen in the past, you are now restricted to three abilities that are mapped to controller buttons. Abilities can be changed at fixed points in the world when your loadout is changed, places this can be done are on the Nexus which is your ship or resupply stations on planets. It is a bit counter intuitive that an "ability" needs to be changed out at the same location as armor and guns, since an ability is something housed inside your body. Because of the hassle of changing abilities at these stations, I just built out three main abilities I never changed and then built out all passive skills. I essentially became an expert at using my abilities, but at the same time was stuck with the same stuff for 60 hours of gameplay which made things feel stagnant.




What was surprisingly cool is the different combat archetypes that are unlocked. I started as a tech specialist that constructed turrets and disabled shields. When I started building out passive Combat skills like more damage from specific guns, I allocated enough skill points between the combat/tech trees to unlock a new archetype known as the Infiltrator. I unlocked an ability that allowed me to go invisible for a second while dashing which was surprising, and then also had a new set of buffs that combined damage and shield damage. Experience points are gained by both completing missions and killing enemies. Sometimes a skirmish that takes 60 seconds can yield more experience than a side quest that lasts 45 minutes, so this part didn't make a whole lot of sense to me.

Art and Animation

There are plenty of articles written about the animations in this game underachieving what a AAA studio like Bioware should be capable of doing. I'd like to highlight some of the positive artwork this game presents. The planets are highly detailed and beautiful to explore. Something I found a bit cheap was the main planets you go to follow common Earth environments but to an absolute extreme. You'll be on a planet that is full of ice, one that is a desert, one with poisonous swamp gas, etc. Even though they were not creative in this sense, the artists brought these places to life and made them worth exploring and spending time in. I found places where I could drive and see a spectacular sunset, or even appreciate something like the fauna on the tropical planets. There is a lot to complain about with this game, but the artwork was something that kept me going.




Summary

Combat has been much improved, but the franchise lost ground in terms of narrative, quest design, decision making, and animation. The thought of a sequel to this made me cringe. I'm not sure if I have much more faith in Bioware after this game, by the end of it I felt like I was playing a game that had a good story but was full of chores. 

Art: 9
Animation: 3
Design: 5
Combat: 9
Story: 6
Acting/Cinematics: 8

Total: 6.7

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Zombie Party


Rating: 8.3
Happy Price: 4.99

Gameplay

Zombie Party is a simple twin stick shooter that puts the player through a series of waves in randomly set levels. There are six levels per run, each having the same first level and same final level. Once a run is completed, a harder mode is unlocked that generates more points per kill. The goal is to get the high score on online leaderboards, as there is no way to beat the game. 

Combat

There are two enemy types, hordes of "zombies" that rush you and try to inflict contact, and zombies that fire projectiles. There are hundreds of them on screen at any point, but the simple behavior of the enemies puts you in charge of how successful you'll be. Health potions are a rarity, but this is balanced by fair enemy AI which is consistent and allows for you to get better at adjusting to. Jumping provides invulnerability to both enemies and their projectiles, given that you land in a smart location. To heal 1hp cost 100 gold, which is a steep price given the amount of gold rewarded at the end of each level. It's very important you don't get hit or lose health to complete the run, because gold is required to buy new guns. Improved guns are a necessity to survive harder levels. 



Progression

There are two progression systems at play, the character's that can be unlocked and the in game progression of your character with each gameplay run. When you begin, all that you have is a pistol without any upgrades. As ammo drops happen during the first level, the shotgun, assault rifle, and grenade launcher are unlocked. When the second level comes around, you have a full arsenal ready but limited ammo. Weapons can be modified with bullet modifiers like increased speed, larger bullets, homing, etc. These are universal upgrades that can be applied to any weapon type. So if you want a homing grenade launcher, that can be applied easily. There are also elemental upgrades to weapons which further modify it. These can consist of bullets that freeze targets, set them on fire, lasers, buzz saw's, etc. Elemental upgrades and bullet modifiers are combined, so you can have a homing, piercing, and freeze grenade launcher if that's what you like. 

At the end of each run, you get a gold reward that can be applied to character unlocks. Unlocked characters come with statistical upgrades that are better than the starting characters, which means you get to spend less skill points when building your character into the winning specimen you envision. New characters also come with new starting weapons, which saves gold because you don't have to buy the upgraded pistol. An example is unlocking Agent 47 (Yes from Hitman) will award you a pistol that has piercing damage. Atom is an alien, which has a piercing laser pistol and also 3 speed skill points to start, making the first boss a breeze to beat. When you've gained enough experience points, a skill point is unlocked. Skills include strength, speed, luck, hp, magic, and fire rate. These improve passive stats on our character which apply to all weapons or item pickups.



Art

The 2D pixel art is charming and technically effective. Because there are so many enemies on screen and garbage collection occurring when many are killed at once, I was waiting for frame loss or the game to crash. Time after time I was surprised that did not happen. The art style compliments the gameplay in multiple ways and creates a seamless user experience. There is a great variety of environments, and the characters that populate them appear to belong in the world. The game goes for a retro twin stick shooter, and it accomplishes that look and feel perfectly.  

Summary

I enjoyed this game. It's a great way to blow of some steam and really brings back the great thing about video games. They are not real, and they are meant to be fun. Exploding fish guns in hell make sense here, and that is perfectly fine. A successful run where you get to hard mode takes about an hour, after that I'm not sure because I haven't finished hard mode, but I would imagine it takes around 3-4 hours of continuous gameplay to get the high score. I would recommend this game on sale, as it's probably not worth the 9.99 price it commands. Below is some gameplay

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Horizon Zero Dawn


Rating: 9.8
Happy Price: 59.99

Gameplay

At it's core HZD is a third person open world shooter, but it's also much more than that. The world is inhabited with hostile humans and powerful robot dinosaurs. As you play the robot dinosaurs, which are just referred to as machines, gradually increase in both strength and variety as you progress. The tension stays high all the way until the final game boss. It seems no matter high of a level you are, you can't take anything for granted. Precision and calculated risks your best friend, and sometimes avoiding combat is your best option. 

Combat

It's very odd to take down high tech robots that are outfitted with high grade metal and powerful guns wielding a bow and arrow, but it's a game, and the ends of the arrow are lined with metal as well. This is why the game stresses precision. Just shooting a robot, even the least powerful ones, will do about 3-4 points worth of damage. However, hitting the same robot in the canister which holds it's flamethrower fuel can do 200 points worth of damage. Enough hits to the canister, and it will blow up, dealing 400-500 points of damage. It's difficult to be precise against one enemy, but when dealing with 3-4 it's nearly impossible. That's why the game stresses stealth as well. When the moment comes to take down something powerful, you must be ready, and you need to gain the upper hand right off the get go. That can mean headshot or bust, because missing the headshot can mean multiple enemies are now aware of your location, and you've just pissed off the one you hit in the chest and not head.



There are multiple ways to prepare for battle. You will develop your own system, but mine went something like this. Use stealth attacks (1 hit kills against weak enemies) to take down the "watchers" which are low level scout enemies which alert the more powerful ones to your presence. They also can shoot pulse bombs and jump on you similar to a velociraptor. Once those are taken care of and I have something big to take down, I'll set up traps, a lot of traps to ensure I'm covered once I start running around. They can be lured into these traps. Once the traps are setup, I'm ready to fire my first shot. If the enemy has a mounted cannon, I go for that first so I can shoot it off and pick up due to the high and rapid damage it inflicts. Here is some early game footage to see what It's like to take down a Sawtooth.



Story

The game starts and you're a banished child because you are born "without a mother" but the tribe pairs you with another outcast that trains you as a child to survive in the wilds. This is very confusing in the beginning, and it puts you into the same state of mind as the protagonist, Aloy. Since we are not aware of the customs of the tribe, we don't know of the mother passed during child birth or abandoned you when you were born. It is a constant tension for Aloy, and you, not knowing who your mother was but feeling like everyone else. does. The way it all unfolds near the end of the game is unexpected and extremely fulfilling. The story line regarding Aloy's origin was so imaginative and well executed, it's one of the best stories you'll find in any video game. 

The flaw with the story is your motivation to do everything in between when the game starts and when the game ends. The main (human) villain really only makes one appearance towards the end of the game, so his presence is lost while you're out doing things in the open world. It feels like at times you're doing things to assist in surviving the wilds, instead of gaining ground to your original reason of undertaking the daunting task of finding the guy you're looking for in the first place. There were times when I was helping people and I thought, "why am I doing this", how will this help me in the end?

Cinematics

I'm not sure if Guerilla Games got their hands on some new technology, but the facial animations in this game were superb, some of the best I've ever seen. I think the only competition it has is GTAV and The Witcher. This subconsciously enhanced the story because you're not distracted by funny eye twitches or mouth movements. This is coupled with fantastic voice acting and distinct character differences across the board creating a great clash of vibrant and strong personalities. Not only is this reflective in the main story, but all the side quests. The amount of effort to ensure the quality was consistent in every corner of the game must be appreciated, and it also motivated me to do side quests to see who I was going to meet and what their personality was. I think they covered almost every personality archetype, and also made sure to feature some new ones (like a female blacksmith).  




Art

The environmental art was spectacular and was simply a joy to just walk and run through. Never have I played a game where I questioned if I wanted to fast travel or walk. Most of the time running through a forest lined with flowers and fauna was fun in its own right. The fluidity of Aloy's running animations and the way the environment responds to her presence is just amazing. I felt like I was in a Jurassic time period with futuristic weapons which was a great contrasting of styles to create a unique immersive environment. The variety of terrains ranging from a barren desert to the snowy caps of a mountain were all executed cleanly and each had their distinct style. There was an underlying consistency that was supported by the uniqueness of each area that really makes you want to explore every corner of the game just to see what you might find. I'm not even referring to items, but just the artistic quality of a mountain or plant is worth the trip and time. 

The animations of the dinosaurs was so good, I can't even compare it to anything. Each enemy had their own animations and were unique. They resembled animals we see today, and dinosaurs of the ancient past. For example there are alligators, vultures, and Tyrannosaurs Rex. They each respond differently to your arrows or spear hits, and have unique animations for when you hit weak points that cause explosions or massive damage. Nothing was re-used (or so it seemed) and it rarely felt like there were enemies that were reskinned with the same animations. The Bellowbacks had multiple types of fire and ice which had the same animations but shot different types of weapons. In no way did this feel like things were being re-used for the sake of it, but it actually enhanced battles so I had no problem with that at all. Here are screenshots below to demonstrate the quality of the artwork.










Progression
HZD does not have a linear progression system other than the skill tree which is upgraded via EXP points earned. Weapons, Armor, Traps, and additional items need to be upgraded via purchase from merchants or crafting. Upgrading weapons and armor is far more impact than EXP points, yet it can be frustrating to upgrade because rare parts are required to do so, for example "Sawtooth Heart" or a "racoon skin". The game does not make it clear how to obtain these items, other than having to kill whatever robot or animal you need to in order to harvest its part. It gets frustrating when you kill ten racoons, which are rare already, and keep on getting the raccoon bone or fatty meat, when you need the skin. Nothing can be done to influence what item you get from a dead animal or robot, so this turns into a time consuming process.

That being said, the skill tree feels balanced when upgrading. They are divided into distinct sections which will define your play style especially early game. You can go stealth, run and gun, or depend on resources as a harvester. Around mid to late game, I wouldn't really notice that I was hoarding my skill points because the next upgrade never really felt "needed" where I was craving to level up. The sense of needing things came much more with upgrading my bow or armor, and that depended on getting unique parts and acquiring "shards" which are in game currency.

Why a 9.8?

There was a part of this game that really bothered me, and that was climbing. There are certain areas that require climbing, and the terrain or holds on the mountainsides are blended very well and look realistic. The problem lies with the rest of the environment where the game does not think you're going to climb. In these areas, you just jump up against the wall and don't hold onto anything. They should have gone the direction of designating climbing parts of the world a distinct color, because it feels like the game is confused when I see something I should be able to climb in an open world, but then I can't do it. This even applied to ladders that were in old ruins, not being able to climb these is unacceptable. 

Summary

Horzion Zero Dawn is an absolute masterpiece. It's one of the best games I've played in about a year. It did so many things well in terms of technical achievement, graphics, and game design. It will be remembered as one of the best games to come out on the PS4, and if you own PS4 this is a must play. 
    


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided


Rating: 7.5
Happy Price: 19.99

Gameplay

The Franchise has deemed and perfected one of the most appealing gameplay styles the game industry has to offer. A combination of Stealth, RPG, Tactical, Action, and Story branching gives Deus Ex its own flavor that nobody has attempted to replicate. In many phases of the game there are options to achieve any mission. Level design incorporates multiple routes to your objective, and dialogue situations offer a multitude of ways to convince someone to see things from your perspective. Abilities and traits also cater to all these options, for example someone that likes to find secret passages will need X-Ray vision and a high jump ability to access unique locations. 

Level Design

My favorite part about playing this game was the ability to choose how I wanted to do things. Taking the time to scout my environment paid dividends over and over again as I was able to find smarter ways to accomplish certain objectives. One of the most notable moments was when I was in an alley and saw two dumpsters and a refrigerator. In order to move the fridge, I needed an augmentation that allowed me to have super strength. I placed the two dumpsters next to each other, then laid the fridge on top of the dumpsters creating a staircase. I then had to use my augmented legs to jump from the fridge to a rooftop, where I was then able to easily break into an apartment window. I'm unsure if the level was designed that way, or if I did that with my brain on my own. Were the designers really aware of that edge case? Someone has these two abilities, at this point in the game, and then they can do certain actions? These moments are the reason I always come back to this franchise and have a love for it. 



One thing that was overused is the navigation of ventilation systems. The placement of some vents was unrealistic, and the scale of them as well. It just doesn't make sense to have a human sized vent behind someone's computer monitor. Think about that, a vent so big a full grown man could crawl through it on full blast during a summer day. I don't think anyone could work in those conditions. Yet these vents are everywhere, and quickly become your highway to sneak around facilities. Another thing is after a while, people would catch wind of a guy that is traveling through the vents and killing everyone. I think they'd start bolting these things shut or monitoring them closer. For the game's purpose, they are great tools to use to quickly hide and avoid being out in the open. But from an immersion perspective, it can be humorous.


Progression

The progression tree is deep and your choices of what you upgrade matter very early on in game. The game seems to blossom much earlier than your upgrade tree, hence making you feel limited in many situations. Something new that was added is Overclock abilities. Jensen somehow has these abilities buried deep in his operating system, and they are awakened after a traumatic experience. The downside to these abilities, is they force you to turn other abilities off in order to reroute power efficiently. This limitation makes me feel like I'm shifting things around the longer I play, instead of building myself into something better. You won't have enough ability points to max out everything, so you have to make a choice in what type of player you're going to be. Some things go better together, for example the stealthy hacker allows players to be strategic and smart. If discovered however, the situation can be overwhelming. Or, you can build yourself out to be confrontational.



One of the issues I saw with his however, is hacking and stealth tended to yield better rewards than being a brute. You can't smash a safe, it must be hacked. The game is full of situations where you have to break into safes or apartments. Even though break ins can be done through vents, it's a very time consuming task to find vents and finding out where they lead. The overclocking abilities which are mainly cool attacks, drain all of your battery making them a non economical solution since there will still be remaining enemies once one of them is used. For that reason, I built my Jensen out going deep into the basic abilities which made me feel like a whole part of the game went unexplored. I would have to replay the game building out something different, but the first play through was not fun enough to do that to myself.

Narrative

The whole premise is there a division between two types of people, the augmented and the naturals. What does not make sense is an augmentation is something added to a human being that suffered from an injury or sickness. For example, someone got maimed and they have a new arm. It never resonated with me there could be social issues surrounding this to the magnitude it does in the game. This cyber punk era is free of racism, but filled with augment discrimination. If you've never played the previous versions of Deus Ex, Jensen suffers an incredible injury and has several augments added to him. He's basically Darth Vader with military grade augments that, and add-ons can be downloaded to make him even stronger. He's basically the strongest augmented human alive. Yet when it comes to taking sides, he stays with the status quo that discriminates against him even though there are several opportunities to join an extremist revolutionary group that demands equal rights. Typical story structure follows a rising action, climax, then falling action. This story keeps you at one monotone level the entire time, with a small climax at the end in which nothing is resolved. It is one of the worst endings I've ever seen. 


via GIPHY

The presentation of the story is amazing however. The cinematics are top notch and I would argue are Hollywood worthy. The voice acting and animations are stellar, which keeps you engaged and motivated to keep advancing the less than stellar story itself. Characters are developed very well and maintain there quirks and behaviors consistently over time to develop emotional attachments towards them. For example the villain in this story is only a villain because he defies the status quo and has less than noble methods of maintaining control, but he's also oppressed and doesn't have many options. This is clearly presented, but this also hurts the story because the protagonist seems more like someone taking orders instead of leading with their true views. 

Environment And Artwork

There is incredible detail in almost every facet of the environment and the objects that populate it. This is top notch AAA grade 3d models, animations, and particle effects. The aesthetic of the golden yellow hue that envelops the entire region is consistent and creates some cool shadows and effects. The meticulous details of refrigerator buttons all the way to gunfire animations is stunning and immersing. You will find yourself amazed at the level of craftmanship that went into almost every single thing that was created for this game. I played this on the PS4, and unfortunately some of these items were low resolution and were likely not optimized very well. However on a 4k enabled GPU these things are rendered great. 

Summary

A very polarizing experience made this a tough game to get through. One one end the graphics and level design were amazing. The progression system and story were broken however. At times I dreaded what I was doing, and other times I couldn't stop playing. I would say with certainty this game is not as good as its predecessor. To buy this game at full price like I did based on reviews (IGN) would be a disservice to yourself. Wait for it to go on sale for about 20 dollars.