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The Long Dark PC Review

The Long Dark PC Review

As The Long Dark emerges after years in early access, it introduces the first two chapters in a five-part story, called Wintermute. The game’s demanding survival mechanics have the potential to mesh well with the story of a plane crash survivor stuck in the Canadian wilderness of Great Bear, but it’s too early to say whether or not Wintermute’s narrative ultimately pays off. It is, however, clearly off to a rocky start, leaving the more open-ended sandbox mode as the best reason to jump into The Long Dark today.

During Wintermute, you play as Will Mackenzie, a loner pilot working in the northern reaches of Canada, who agrees to help transport his distressed ex-wife and her mysterious cargo somewhere into the far reaches of the woods. Though there are a few revealing moments shared between Will and Dr. Astrid Greenwood before their plane comes crashing down, the quick and cliched implication of an emotional backstory through suggestive and vague dialogue makes a weak first impression. It certainly doesn’t help that many of the scenes throughout Wintermute’s first two episodes are hampered by odd animation jitters and floating objects that pop in and out frame.

While you both survive the sudden crash that cuts your conversation short, you are separated from one another, and Will succumbs to injuries that make surviving the harsh winterscape a true challenge. Recovering from the crash acts as the game’s tutorial, throwing you into the basics of survival. Whether it’s seeking shelter, starting a fire, or generally looking after your vital signs, almost everything you need is covered, giving you some confidence before you set out on a journey to find your lost passenger. Learning how to make the most of The Long Dark’s survival mechanics is no simple task, but these foundational steps are relatively easy compared to the hurdles that lie ahead.

Despite Mackenzie’s apparent desperation to find Astrid, he’s more than happy to scout the countryside to gather things for other people, ultimately earning nothing for himself except scraps of information about Astrid’s possible whereabouts and increased knowledge of the wild. It’s frustrating to watch–and even more frustrating to play.

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As you carry on, most of your time will be spent scouring abandoned structures for granola bars, harvesting meat from animal carcasses found frozen in ice, and dodging the elements as best you can. Tools like knives and hatchets can be built provided you have the right blueprints, parts, and access to a forge or a workbench. They also need to be maintained using spare parts, which can be gathered by breaking down extra items. Annoyingly, inventory management doesn’t let you optimise your carry weight by combining like items, so instead of being able to do something like emptying lantern fuel containers into a jerry can, you’re forced to carry them all around separately. Be careful where you tread, as well, as it’s not uncommon to get stuck in geometry without the means to free yourself–you aren’t able to jump, only crouch and walk.

Mackenzie’s survival knowledge is minimal to begin with, so his crafting abilities are minimal at best, but what he can make is essential. Blueprints can be found to learn how to craft new items, though these are extremely few and far between. In my experience, most crafting time is spent breaking down things found in the world; spare chairs, tables, curtains, old bedrolls, there’s a lot that can be fixed into something else, and it could be life-saving. By combining some sticks, a bit of spare cloth, and some lantern fuel, you can make a simple torch, providing not just light and heat but also warding off any potential predators that may be circling nearby.

The first episode never really lets go of your hand, keeping you close to a small township for most of its entirety–and rarely asking you to venture to edges of the playable area just beyond the town limits. It’s not until the second episode that you’re set free–albeit under the conflicting pretense of playing fetch for someone else–across three large expanses of untamed wilderness.

Refreshingly, these spaces are deathly beautiful and a showcase for The Long Dark’s striking visual style. When the aurora borealis shines at night, it’s nothing short of stunning–the green hues bounce softly off of snow-covered surroundings. Likewise, the stark pink and orange sunsets that wash over Great Bear are consistently captivating. They are easy come, easy go, due to the game’s dynamic weather system, but it’s impressive how the world–and your place within it–can turn on a dime, choking clear skies with a gusty snowstorm, turning a moment of peace into a chaotic dash for shelter.

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When you set aside the available Wintermute episodes–which, crucially, you can–The Long Dark’s tough yet rewarding gameplay owns the spotlight. Survival mode is unforgiving, but it plays to the game’s best strength, and you can always dial down the difficulty to keep going–likewise, if you’re finding it too easy, you can ramp it up as well. The sandbox also has five challenges you can attempt if you require a hint of direction, offering a more catered survival experience, but without the stringent procession of tasks seen in Wintermute.

Stricken from frostbite, and desperately wanting shelter from a violent blizzard, the feeling of helplessness in the sandbox mode gets overwhelming, and it’s in these moments of desperation that The Long Dark is most effective. And thus every minute you survive, and every meter of progress you make, feels remarkably rewarding–the result of a series of calculated decisions you made in the face of depressingly unfavorable odds.

Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9 No Caption Provided When the weather isn’t out to kill you, chances are you’ll find some wildlife that would be more than happy to try. A lone wolf can be handled by waving around a lit torch or flare in its face, but if a pack gets a whiff of you nearby, the only option is to run. And did I mention bears? There are bears, and they aren’t interested in being friendly. Death comes swiftly and brutally at the hands of the animals in The Long Dark, a stark contrast to the slow fade into darkness that comes with growing colder and hungrier.

It’s important to remember that The Long Dark is just waking up from early access. It’s cold, hungry, and huddled somewhere under a rock face, but it’s just gotten the fire started. Another three story episodes are still due, so there is time to turn things around for Will and Astrid. However, because the best parts of The Long Dark are already alive and well in survival mode, perhaps Wintermute’s weak beginning is reason enough to stick to what’s worked for the game all along, blemishes and all.

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Expeditions: Viking PC Review

Expeditions: Viking Review

Being a Viking wasn’t easy. Between the icy winters and all the fighting, it’s a tough life. Enter Expeditions: Viking–a game founded on the intrigue that lies between Jutland and the British Isles centuries before they grew to be the modern marvels we know today. It’s a premise that the hardcore tactical RPG wields with enthusiasm, but its performance isn’t the most refined. Rampant bugs trigger frequent crashes and make portions of the game unplayable, but when you catch a smooth multi-hour stretch, the strategy game will entice you back with solid storytelling, deep combat, and satisfying role-playing.

Expeditions: Viking opens (as these stories so often do) with your father’s passing. He died on a journey to the British Isles, so his position of leadership falls to you. Immediately, you’re berated by some of his most bitter enemies and dissenters, and you’re tasked with holding everyone together and bringing glory to your tribe.

As a setup, it works well enough–and does a wonderful job of inviting you into this world. But it’s also an early sign of the game’s blemishes. While bands of drunkards challenging your claim to rule on the night of what amounts to your coronation is exciting, it also leads, inexorably, to some basic questions, but there aren’t too many answers. Some say your father was too focused on conquest, while others claim he ignored the needs of his people.

It’s a confusing tangle of different, conflicting accounts. Some of those issues fall away soon enough, however, as more vibrant, nuanced characters come into focus. Stitched between the dialogue, you’ll find rich descriptions that round out the development of your gang. As they worm their way into your adventure, though, it’s tough to shake the feeling that Viking is nudging you away from the man behind the curtain, so it wows you with its cast and the novelty of its setting. And it works…mostly.

The needs of your people aren’t as straightforward as you might expect. There’s an entire pantheon of gods whose favor you’ll need, not to mention requisite arcane knowledge of the lands and its medicines. These sorts of crisp details play up the role and mystique of magic in the world without breaking believability. Divine presence is faint but palpable, and that imbues the world with a certain vitality. Vikings, like most Dark Ages folk, were a superstitious lot, and Expeditions: Viking shows you that perspective as clearly as it can.

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Morality, too, has to be viewed through the eyes and conscience of the era. It’s a notable challenge, but it’s also a fun one to play with. There aren’t any deep, profound revelations about humanity to be found here, but novel ethical frameworks are the bread and butter of most role-playing classics, and it’s wondrous to see a backdrop leveraged to such effect. Resources are scant in the frozen north, and staying the slaughter of conquered combatants isn’t always prudent or kind.

Combat keeps to that theme. It’s slow and painful–you’ll take losses and often face permanent consequences along the way: arrows tear through bone and sinew; axes break bones and shields; no one gets out unscathed. That’s all a natural part of Viking life, though. Battles are hard, but fair–especially as the game opens up its tactical options.

Fun as political jockeying in the 700s may be, mixing it up with blood and iron is even better. Expeditions: Viking borrows heavily from its tabletop forerunners like Dungeons & Dragons. Bulky warriors grab axes, nimbler fighters use bows or slings or knives, and everyone else can pick from an array of simple sidearms. When you’re ready to bop some baddies on the head, you’ll have plenty of skills and abilities to complement your tactics. Taken together and spread across your party of marauders, techniques are a tactician’s dream, offering all manner of precise or circumstantial benefits to exploit. Archers can spot for one another, offering each other battlefield support, while a wall of shieldmaidens can choke an enemy advance and help you crack opposing lines. Just about any approach is valid–as battles get tougher, though, you’ll have to think to keep moving.

If you do lose, you’ll face the usual game-over screen and have to restart–but not every time. Early on, the game is quick to suggest that failure isn’t a big deal, and that you may see new story or plot regardless of the outcome. While that’s true, the concept gets short shrift. Vikings are, to reiterate, brutal and bloodthirsty. It’s rare that you’ll be allowed to walk away from defeat. And that’s a shame, because there’s so much that Viking nails. Deep connections between plot and play yield powerful synergy, at times. The choice to switch to non-lethal attacks at the right moment for the right person might net you a bargaining chip for later. Similarly, exploration and trade will outfit your fledgling fighting force–at least until you hit a modern term that pulls you out of the experience.

So much of the game is spent being a bit too pedantic about Norse culture for it to escape critique when it drops the pretense. That would be fine on its own, but a lot of that world-building crumbles with quest design, too. The nature of the setting lends itself to politicking, and to a degree, that’s explored. You’ll need to rework some relationships and build alliances to cement the legitimacy of your rule, after all. But it’s hard to stay in the moment when you’re told you need to collect generic “trade goods” in order to progress.

Those headaches compound a few hours in when excessive, intrusive bugs start to hit. Conversations might fail to load and progress, loading screens will hang and then crash to the desktop, and Viking seems to be so poorly optimized that at one point, it pressed an eight-core processor and a GTX 1080 graphics card close to their thermal limits. That’s far more disruptive than it may sound, and players may find themselves stalled for real-world days trying to figure out ways to advance that don’t crash the game.

Viking lives in its atmosphere, so it’s appreciated that most of the game is a spirited romp. For now, that experience is mangled by dozens of technical hiccups and anachronisms. At its heart lies an earnest drive to recreate a slice of Viking culture, and those looking for just that niche will find nothing better. But for everyone else, it’s impossible to recommend until it’s given some major help. There’s a lot to be gained from stepping into the 8th century, but be prepared to have your journey hindered by bugs.

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Persona 5 Review

Persona 5 Review

Persona 5 is a game overflowing with style. From bold black and red menus that leap off the screen to the pop-and-lock of scene transitions that carry the player from one colorful corner of Tokyo to the next, it’s a game about youthful exuberance and the power that lies within it. But its beauty isn’t just skin deep. Persona 5’s gameplay systems evolve and coalesce over its 80+ hours to deliver a confidently executed role-playing experience that is not only satisfying, but worth the almost decade-long wait since Persona 4.

Like its predecessors, it’s part social simulator, part dungeon crawler. By day, you’re a high school student–busy taking classes, visiting cafes, watching movies, and hanging out with friends. But by night you are the leader of the Phantom Thieves, a ragtag troupe of idealistic teenagers that infiltrate a parallel reality called the Metaverse. Here, the corrupted hearts of adults have manifested as Palaces, and the Phantom Thieves must find and steal Treasures within them to reform their marks, and by extension, society. Think Lupin the Third, but with a socially conscious supernatural twist.

Together with your friends, you infiltrate the Metaverse. Here lie physical representations of people’s personalities, called Personas–angels, demons, and monsters of all shapes and sizes that you battle using elemental attacks. Physical moves can be used to chip away at health points incrementally, but exploiting an elemental weakness elevates battles from turn-based slapsies to a flurry of crushing combos. Hit an enemy weak to fire with Agi and it will crumple, giving you an additional turn to exploit another enemy’s vulnerability, either by switching Persona to adopt a different elemental alignment or by passing the baton onto a teammate who can pick up where you left off. Once they’ve all keeled over, you can launch an All-Out Attack and watch as black silhouettes of your team dance across a striking red background, slicing and dicing enemies until they burst into a shower of blood. This triumphant animation calls to mind The Bride’s iconic blue room battle against the Crazy 88 in Kill Bill, and even though you’ll see it hundreds of times it never stops being cool.

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Improvements to the battle system mean that if you’ve already identified an enemy’s weakness, instead of trawling through menus to locate the specific ability, tapping R1 takes you straight to the move you need. When combined with the baton passing, streamline the turn-based fights into pacy experiences that maintain forward momentum with ease. There’s nothing more satisfying than firing off Persona spells, tagging in teammates, and wiping out waves of Shadows without them even getting a look in. Persona 5’s combat pulls together some of the best elements from previous games–and it’s borderline addictive as a result.

Persona 5’s combat pulls together some of the best elements from previous games–and it’s borderline addictive as a result. Negotiations from early Shin Megami Tensei and Persona titles also make a return, but the system is much improved. If you knock down a Shadow, you’ll surround it with guns drawn and can commence an All-Out Attack or simply talk to them. The conversation becomes a weird Q&A about your character or society a whole, and it often throws up some hilarious dialogue. There’s nothing quite like winning over a succubus by playing hard to get or gaining the favour of a giant demon sitting on a toilet by telling him you, too, are a pretty easy going kinda guy.

Whether you’re successful or not, negotiating will get you something. You can demand items, money, or a monster’s allegiance, but whether your request is granted depends on your gift of the gab. I found negotiation to be a much more useful reward system than the random pickings offered by Shuffle Time in Persona 3 and 4. When filling my Persona compendium or trying to fuse a specific Persona I’d ask them to join my cause. While grinding I’d use an All-Out Attack to earn more XP. In a pinch I’d demand an item. The new system let me reap the benefits I needed at that point in my playthrough.

Palaces are areas given form by the distorted desires of powerful, corrupted individuals, while the process of infiltrating is akin to pulling off a heist. You need to identify your target by conducting investigations in the real world, then enter the Palace to explore it and secure an infiltration route. Once you’ve located the corrupted heart of the individual–represented as an ethereal Treasure–you send a calling card to the target in the real world. This act of showmanship not only alerts the world to the target’s misdeeds but also gives physical form to the Treasure in the Palace so it can be stolen.

And those Palaces are the best dungeons the series has ever had. No longer are you climbing through levels of procedurally generated corridors to reach a boss at the top. Instead, each Palace contains a myriad of puzzles to crack, traps to avoid, and of course, Shadows to defeat. They are intricate, striking locations that unravel as you explore them, each varying in size, scope, and gameplay opportunities. One is a rat maze filled with locked doors and looping hallways, another is a giant safe that you need to crack, and one is a crumbling pyramid filled with walking mummies. They feel almost like different worlds from a Mario game, each uniquely themed and cycling through gameplay ideas like cards in a rolodex.

As Phantom Thieves, you sneak through halls, darting between cover and jumping over obstacles. As you slink into the shadows and ambush an unsuspecting enemy, getting in that crucial first shot, you realize that these Palaces are designed for you to be sneaky. And it feels really satisfying to bounce between coverpoints and ambush an enemy … when it works. Although you’re encouraged to take enemies out sneakily, doing so is made difficult by the game’s uncooperative camera, which often restricts your view. Similarly, clambering over obstacles doesn’t quite feel as good as it should. There are specific spots that you can climb up to access more areas and I often missed these because I wasn’t standing in the pixel perfect point to get the prompt needed to jump.

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But honestly, this is nitpicking. I loved my time in each of the Palaces, wandering around using my Third Eye Ability to uncover secrets and steal treasures, feeling like Batman on Opposite Day. Its puzzles never became too taxing, even in later dungeons that required backtracking to find a specific item, enemy, or switch using the Third Eye. In these areas the game mercifully opens up shortcuts for you, so you don’t feel like you’re wasting too much time.

Persona 5 has a hefty run time and while the story remains engaging until its final moments, the gameplay has some pacing issues towards the end. Balance in such a huge game is tricky. I played on Normal difficulty, and for the vast majority of the game enemies felt well-matched to my level. Persona 5 has a hefty run time and while the story remains engaging until its final moments, the gameplay has some pacing issues towards the end. Instakill attacks, a short supply of elemental power-refuelling SP items, and going long stretches of miniboss after miniboss without a save point mean the latter stages can sometimes feel more frustrating than enjoyable. I’ve been wiped out half an hour into a fight on multiple occasions, and I’m still a bit bitter.

But Palaces are just one part of the Metaverse. Once you take a Treasure, Palaces collapse, so they’re not really the place to grind for levels. For those that enjoy the grind-heavy areas of P3’s Tartarus and P4’s randomly generated dungeons there’s Mementos–society’s joint Palace, which takes the form of the depths of Tokyo’s subway system. This area is long, with many procedurally generated levels spiralling down towards a mysterious, seemingly unreachable core. It would feel like a monotonous job were it not for the Phansite. One of your Confidants believes so much in the plight of the Phantom Thieves that he sets up a website where members of the public can leave messages of support (or memes).

More importantly, Phansite users can suggest people they think deserve a change of heart. These are figures that aren’t quite evil enough to have their own Palace, but who are still misbehaving enough to spawn a demi-boss within Mementos. These side stories of abusive boyfriends, scammers, and thieves are mere tasters–bite size chunks of justice that you can dole out at your leisure while grinding for experience. Infiltrating Palaces can sometimes take hours, so quickly dealing with a few Phansite Requests in one go is a satisfying microcosm of the larger gameplay loop in Persona 5. Plus it made me feel like Judge Dredd, dishing out justice as I saw fit to clean up the city.

Persona 5 creates a rewarding synergy between its social simulator and dungeon crawling by making everyday activities in the former empower you in the latter. With limited time in each day and a constant deadline to steal Treasures by, it’s up to the player to prioritize after-school and weekend activities. Attributes such as Knowledge, Charm, Proficiency, and Guts can be improved by studying, working in part-time jobs, crafting tools, or watching DVDs. In turn, these enable you to build deeper bonds with other characters to strengthen yourself and your cause.

Persona games live and die on characterisation as much as they do on the RPG mechanics that underpin the gameplay, and in that respect the latest entry delivers a cast that is loveable, quirky, and nuanced in equal measure. Although the main group neatly fits into classic anime archetypes initially, over time everyone reveals the baggage they carry and, as you solidify your bonds, they start to show their complexities, creating emotional moments where you work through their pain together.

Sometimes their goals will align with yours and sometimes they won’t, so the group can be a little rowdier than previous Persona teams–but that only adds to the experience. I loved that you really had to invest time and effort into each character to crack their personality and unlock how they truly felt. Morgana the amnesic talking cat (it is a Japanese game, after all) is shrouded in mystery, determined to learn about his forgotten past. The quirky Futaba, despite suffering from extreme social anxiety, is the strategic genius behind the group’s Metaverse adventures. Ryuji’s boisterousness is both the energy the team needs to push forward and the powder keg that could be its undoing. And Ann deals with issues of self-doubt in the competitive field of modelling. These characters grow and change as you spend more time with them: They go from being mechanical tools that you engage with to strengthen their Personas, to real people you can identify and sympathize with. By the time the credits rolled, I felt like I was leaving behind friends I had known for years.

Building these relationships with teammates is key to success in the Metaverse. Increasing Confidant Ranks (a rebrand of the Social Link system from Persona 4) by spending time with each of your friends not only affords you deeper insight into their personalities, but also provides bonuses and special moves in battle. A teammate who initially was closed off and distant in the real world can end up literally taking a bullet for you in the Metaverse. Similarly, by improving your personal traits through daily activities you can meet a variety of side-characters that teach you new abilities or offer bonuses that feed back into the battle system.

More than any entry in the series before it, Persona 5 manages to make the mundane not only fit into its gameplay loop but be essential to it. Atlus has perfected the back and forth investment and reward dynamic between the game’s two parts to point where even doing laundry is gratifying–and how many games can you say that about?

While there are moments of levity in Persona 5, the actions of the Phantom Thieves are important and often have much bigger implications than even they intended. Persona 5 deals with complex subject matter and really doesn’t shy away from dark, even uncomfortable, story beats. A constant theme of the game is oppression and injustice, specifically how people can be suffering them in silence. It uses personal hardships and the pressures of modern day society to explore how the actions of the older generation affect the future of the youth. But there’s also an optimism to it all. Its cast approaches complex issues and takes on overwhelming odds with a clarity and gusto that can only be born from teenage naivety, and there’s a refreshing, cathartic quality to being part of that. But of course, just like in the real world, things aren’t always black and white, and the game does an excellent job of showing how even well-meaning actions can have adverse consequences.

Narratively and thematically, Persona 5 has the potential to overwhelm–particularly once it starts digging into Jungian theories of psychology. Thankfully, however, the writing does a fantastic job of eliminating unnecessary exposition, which ensures the important storylines are clear and everyone–especially series newcomers–is on the same page. It means the first ten hours are a little slow, and may make a lot of surface level observations, but not to the detriment of the story or its characters. Even with the heavy subject matter, it doesn’t become overbearing and in fact is filled with little jokes and easter eggs to lighten the mood where appropriate. The localisation team has done a superb job of translating the comedy for a Western audience, too. I’m a big fan of the DVDs you can rent–spoofs of popular Western media like ‘The X-Folders’ or ‘Bubbly Hills, 90210.’

Within Persona 5 is a complex set of interconnected gameplay mechanics, and in almost every aspect Atlus has executed on its vision exceptionally, barring the pacing issues towards the end. At every turn, it presents something to marvel at, whether it’s the fluid combat, vibrant world, or the many memorable characters. It’s a game I could talk about for hours; I haven’t mentioned the ability to connect to the Thieves Guild, which lets you see how other players spent their day or ask them for help answering questions at school. Or the thumping acid-jazz-infused soundtrack that I’ve not been able to get out of my head. Or even just the joy of seeing how it stylishly transitions between menus. But that encapsulates why Persona 5 is a game that shouldn’t be missed. It’s stuffed to bursting point with gameplay ideas and presentation flourishes–there’s an overwhelming level of artistry in every part of Persona 5, making it a truly standout entry in the series. It’s a refined, effortlessly stylish RPG that will be talked about for years to come.

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Torin’s Passage Review For PC

Torin’s Passage Review

In his latest project, Torin’s Passage, Lowe has cast aside the bathroom humor and created a game suitable for adventurers both young and old.

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Torin’s Passage Review For PC

Sierra has been perfecting their brand of computer adventure games for over fifteen years, and game designer Al Lowe has been a major part of that evolution. His ribald Softporn Adventure, re-made into Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards, was religiously played by every teenager with access to a computer. In his latest project, Torin’s Passage, Lowe has cast aside the bathroom humor and created a game suitable for adventurers both young and old.

The script tries to stray from Lowe’s usual vulgar jokes, but still includes playfully overstated poo and hemorrhoid mentions. And while it’s thankfully devoid of his usual sexist fare, you should be prepared for a lot of corny humor mixed in with a few clever lines.

Although Lowe maintained control of the writing and game design, he employed over forty specialized artists to create the game’s visual artwork, music and sound effects, and it shows. Every scene in this adventure is beautifully crafted using a hybrid of hand-drawn cell animation, oil paint backgrounds, 3-D rendered objects, and the less fluid computer-generated art. While this may sound hodgepodge and gaudy, the overall effect is harmonious. Digital music, sound effects, and speech are flawless on a fast machine, but a major slowdown will occur below 75MHZ.

The puzzles, and there are plenty, come in two varieties: contextual (place gum on stick, use stick to pick up coin from grate) and exploratory (push the red button and the bridge lowers halfway, the green one makes it raise halfway). In an interesting (and pleasing) development, Sierra included on-line hints for all of the game’s puzzles. This means no more long-distance calls to a hint-line or frustrating weeks of being stuck in the same place, but wanting to continue the game. Veteran adventurers might weave their way through the game’s difficult logic puzzles, but novices will definitely need to use the on-line hints. Though this game is aimed at a younger audience, it may be too difficult for all but gifted children. Even so, the storyline and characters should keep the young ones enthralled while older siblings or parents wrestle with the puzzles. A fine family play.

See more: Funny adult jokes

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Modern Combat 5 Review–Game Androids Review

Modern Combat 5 Review: A Mobile Shooter Loaded With An Extended Magazine Of Caveats

Like a great many developers, Gameloft has resorted to rolling in-app purchases into most of its games. One notable exception to that de facto rule is the new installment of the Modern Combat series. These games have much more production value than any other mobile first-person shooter, but this is a genre that’s notoriously hard to adapt to touchscreens. So, can a big production budget make Modern Combat 5: Blackout worth your time?

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Modern Combat 5

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Gameplay

Modern Combat 4 focused on an intricate and ultimately uninteresting story about a terrorist who took every opportunity to remind us he was the bad guy through the use of torturously long cut scenes. Modern Combat 5 is still about terrorists blowing stuff up and shooting people, but there’s less time spent on an attempt to flesh out everyone’s motivation for shooting stuff. If you ask me, that’s a good thing. The story is no more compelling in MC5, but it stays out of your way more than in the last installment.

The game’s story mode takes place across six different zones including a Buddhist temple, a bustling metropolis, and a military base. Each area has 4-6 missions that advance the story, which is mostly about figuring out what these terrorists types are up to (it doesn’t really matter—you still just shoot all of them). After finishing those missions, there are a few “spec ops” levels to go through in the same zone. These are quick one-off missions that might call upon you to cover your team from a sniper perch, breach and clear a few rooms, assassinate a target, or rescue a hostage. The level design is reasonably good, and the spec ops stuff is surprisingly fun. I actually replayed some of these missions just because.

Modern Combat 5 includes a few different classes you can play including assault (rifles), heavy (shotguns/explosives), and sniper. Not all classes are unlocked at the start of the game, but seeing as there are no in-app purchases, you can unlock things pretty easily just by playing the game. In addition to all the classes, there are multiple guns, attachments, and secondary weapons to unlock. Basically, there’s a bunch of stuff and it’s oh so great to not get the hard sell every five minutes to get access to it.

Some upgrades to your units earned through leveling up can only be used in the multiplayer mode, which is pretty straightforward as shooters go. You have game types like deathmatch, team deathmatch, and capture the flag. I have no real complaints about multiplayer separate from my general gripes about the controls (see below), except for some possible balance issues in matchmaking. One undeniable advantage for Modern Combat 5 compared to other multiplayer games is that there are actually people playing it. I’ve lost track of how many games I’ve seen with online components that were little more than ghost towns. In Modern Combat 5, I was able to find a game in a matter of seconds.

Okay, let’s talk AI—it’s still kind of dumb. I have yet to play a shooter on Android that has impressive AI that can avoid making stupid mistakes, and Modern Combat 5 continues the trend. Look at the image below. See that guy I’m pointing my gun at? He’s “in cover,” but his head is clearly exposed to all the people shooting at him. There are a lot of little things like that; enemies standing still out in the open, taking cover where there is no cover, and generally making themselves easy to hit. It’s not as egregious as some games I’ve played, but don’t go in expecting a ton of clever AI soldiers to flank you—they can barely manage a frontal assault.

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Shhh, I’m hiding

I do have one more ongoing concern with Modern Combat 5, and this might be a deal breaker for many of you. You need to have an internet connection to play the game—yes, even the single player. Frankly, I can’t think of any good reason other than (maybe) combating piracy. The game comes with the first zone when you download it, but the others are loaded when you unlock them (a nice feature, actually). So of course you need a connection for that, but I’m talking about levels you are currently playing. If you lose connectivity for even a moment, the game pauses and tries to reconnect. You cannot play until the server has been reached.

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Gameloft’s end

The first day I had Modern Combat 5, it seemed like the connection was lost every few minutes. I have no idea why, but there might have been some issues on Gameloft’s end. It’s been better since then, but I really have to wonder why anyone thought this was a good idea. Single player games should not arbitrarily require an internet connection.

Controls

If you’ve played any of Gameloft’s previous shooters (especially Modern Combat 4), you won’t find many surprises in the controls for Modern Combat 5. The various on-screen control schemes rely on some arrangement of dual thumbsticks. Drag on the left side of the screen to walk forward/backward and strafe side to side, and use the right side to aim. Here’s where things get weird—when you want to fire, you pick up your right thumb and press the floating trigger button. While pressing this, you can still drag around to refine your aim, but nothing is going to make that process completely smooth.

Modern Combat 5 has extremely aggressive aim assistance on by default, and frankly, I can’t imagine playing this game on a touchscreen without it. I say this as someone who plays a lot of shooters with a keyboard/mouse and a controller. Once your crosshairs find a target, your aim will actually stick there, even if the enemy should run a short distance. It’s weird, but you’ll wrestle with the controls enough even with the auto aiming. Sometimes it can get incredibly frustrating as you switch back and forth between swiping and tapping the fire button, always feeling just a little disconnected from the action.

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Modern Combat

The bottom line is that on-screen FPS controls are awkward, but I will grant that Gameloft has done the best job of making a shooter enjoyable on a touchscreen. I guess you could say the controls are good… in the context of other mobile first-person shooters. If you’re not wiling to settle for barely passable controls (and you shouldn’t), your best bet is to pair a controller with your device. I tested Modern Combat 5 on the Nvidia Shield, which is fully supported as a controller. Most other HID devices with the standard layout should work too.

Using a controller instantly makes MC5 more playable (you need to increase the sensitivity, though). The difference is actually huge. With touchscreen controls I feel anxious and off-kilter playing Modern Combat 5, but I’m instantly at home with the controller. That’s not just because I’m used to a controller, but the precision of a physical thumbstick is higher, and (importantly) you can fire while aiming without moving your thumb from the stick.

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FPS games

I feel like we’ve reached the point where perhaps we need to admit that FPS games are never going to be great with touchscreen controls. With a controller, Modern Combat 5 is actually completely playable, but it’s only barely acceptable on the touchscreen. This disconnect might be most evident by the way I completely destroyed the competition in online multiplayer mode. I suspect most of them are playing without a controller, giving me a huge advantage.

Graphics

Console-like graphics, you say? I’d really like it if everyone could stop saying that. I have yet to see a mobile game with console-like graphics, with the possible exception of some of the better Tegra-exclusive titles, but even then it’s older consoles. Modern Combat 5 looks good for a mobile game, but console-like it is not.

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On the Nexus 7

The game will default to “optimal” quality when you install it, but the specifics of optimal depend on your hardware (I suspect many of the complaints about graphics are because of this automatic setting). On the Nexus 7, I found the default settings to be a little lackluster (those are the screenshots with on-screen buttons). The textures were a little muddy and aliasing was pretty obvious during gameplay. Cranking it up to the higher quality setting made the game lag a bit too much. The Shield, on the other hand, looked much better at optimal settings with improved smoothness, lighting, particles, and textures. The game played perfectly maxed out on this device.

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Modern Combat 5

Modern Combat 5 is an ambitious title, to be sure. The environments are large and open. The game does guide you more or less in a certain direction, but you’re not closed in a tiny space, and you won’t have to wait while new parts of the level load. The promo video might not be indicative of the experience you’ll have when playing Modern Combat 5, but it’s a good looking game overall.

Conclusion

You can play Modern Combat 5: Blackout on a touchscreen, but it’s not fun. At least it wasn’t fun for me. Even with the auto aiming and generous hit boxes, I was constantly annoyed with the lack of precision. It’s not that Gameloft stinks out loud at implementing FPS controls on a tablet or phone, there just aren’t any good options. I’m sure there are people who will overlook the awkwardness of touchscreen shooter controls, but I feel like I’m over that. It doesn’t work very well and it never will with the technology we currently have. I want to play fun games, and a shooter isn’t fun with on-screen controls.

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Gameloft’s newest shooter

With a controller, Modern Combat 5 is a fun game. The difference is so stark that I can really only recommend buying it if you intend to play with a controller.

The story didn’t really strike me as interesting or relevant to the gameplay, but it seems to have been deemphasized this time, which I’m fine with. The lack of IAPs is a total win, though. It’s refreshing to play a game with unlockable content that isn’t tied to a paywall. Yes, MC5 is a $7 game, but you get everything for that price—and there is a lot of content here. So you should consider picking up Gameloft’s newest shooter, but only if you have a controller or hate yourself a little bit.

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Pokemon Go Review–Game Review

POKEMON GO REVIEW

Pokemon Go, described in simple terms, is a clever concept: Walk to real-life locations called PokeStops marked on a map on your phone to get items and collect the Pokemon that pop up along the way to gain XP. Use those Pokemon to take over real-world objectives called Gyms from other players. It has all the basics covered to make it a functional mobile treasure-hunting app, though technically its performance (and that of its servers) is often very poor on iOS and Android. But the main appeal of the free-to-play Pokemon Go is how being out in the real world, finding tons of other people who see the same augmented reality you do, brings the sort of intangible dream of Pokemon to life.

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pokemon go

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It has to be experienced to really make sense; without that social aspect it’s really just an extremely light RPG level-grinder. Pokemon Go’s success or failure hinges on that experience, and right now it’s stuck somewhere in between, simultaneously fun and unique but also inconsistent and incomplete. (It is, after all, listed as version 0.29 despite being released onto the App Store and Google Play without caveats.) It’s not mechanically interesting, but it is socially very interesting thanks to a few smart design decisions. You wouldn’t jump off a bridge because everybody’s doing it, but that is a great reason to play Pokemon Go.

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how to play Pokemon Go

Welcome to the World of Pokemon At least in the short term, Pokemon Go is a proven phenomenon with millions of players. I was at a party in the San Francisco Bay Area over the weekend where at least two dozen adults were out on the front lawn, calling out the names of Pokemon as they appeared on our phones. We ran inside when someone claimed a Bulbasaur was in the fridge; we ran back outside for Ponyta. We walked a block or two to challenge a nearby Gym only to have it taken over right from under us by someone we didn’t know and couldn’t see, and we all had the app crash on us a few too many times during our hour out and about. It was silly and frustrating and fun all at once.

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Pokemon Go’s setup

The San Francisco area is admittedly really well-suited to Pokemon Go’s setup — your mileage may vary if you’re out in a remote area with few points of public interest around. Here, it feels like there’s no shortage of PokeStops to visit, and on multiple occasions I arrived at a PokeStop or Gym only to find that a group of other people playing Pokemon Go was already there. I also learned a lot about my neighborhood and the landmarks I walk by every day just by taking meandering walks to PokeStops, which was one of the best things about the times I played Pokemon Go by myself. In this environment, at least, Pokemon Go’s design — the RPG-lite level system combined with the collection aspect and the nostalgia only a hugely popular, decades-long franchise can bring — all build to the kind of experience that developer Niantic wanted, the kind the trailer seems to evoke.

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people playing Pokemon Go

“ It feels like the whole world is playing Pokemon Go.

I was drawn to Pokemon Go for that real-life Pokemon Trainer dream, but even when that aspect of it underwhelmed me with its simplicity and bugginess, I keep playing because having to go outside puts me in front of new places surrounded by other people doing exactly what I’m doing. All of my friends are playing, random passers-by are playing; it feels like all of the world is playing.

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Pokemon games

When It’s Not Very Effective But this is a precarious house of cards built on top of a wobbly foundation of nostalgia. For the most part, Pokemon Go’s design as a paper-thin RPG is super accessible, but it’s completely unremarkable. You as a trainer have a level, and your captured Pokemon have “combat points” tied to your level, but none of that relationship is explained very well and thus feels confusing. It turns out that your level impacts the combat point ceiling of Pokemon you acquire, which is essentially how catching Pokemon in the regular games works… but just not as polished or intuitive, even to long-time Pokemon players. Fortunately (in a way) combat lacks the depth of traditional Pokemon games, so it barely matters.

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Pokemon’s rock-paper-scissors

Battles for control of Gym locations are nothing more than simple, real-time tapping-based combat, and it’s virtually unaffected by anything other than combat point value. Even Pokemon’s rock-paper-scissors type matchups hardly matter, either — if you have the higher-powered monster, you’re all but guaranteed to win. It’s boring by itself and, like the combat points system, isn’t explained well. (There’s dodging, but it doesn’t seem to do much to turn the tide of a fight.) It’s not that the only acceptable form of combat is turn-based and tactical, but the system in its place here is simply a dull chore after just a few fights.

On top of that, the app itself is stuttery, crashy, and performs inconsistently. There are updates that help with this, and it’s not a dealbreaker, but it’s often frustrating. I’ve lost semi-rare Pokemon to random crashes that struck during crucial moments (though sometimes those seemingly escaped Pokemon show up as caught once I reload after the crash).

“ Pokemon Go’s biggest weaknesses are more a matter of the features it doesn’t yet have than the ones it does.

Pokemon Go’s biggest weaknesses are more a matter of the features it doesn’t yet have than the ones it does, though. There’s no trading, no player-versus-player battles (you only fight automated Pokemon left to defend Gyms), no friends list, no leaderboards, and no in-app social capability of any kind, other than how we’re all prompted to group into one of three competing teams. Some of these features are in the works, but right now, the most interesting thing about Pokemon Go is not its gameplay but how its design encourages personal connections with other real-world players by physically bringing us together as we all chase common goals. Collecting is fun for a while, but without more things to do with those Pokemon or my Trainer profile, it feels a little empty at times.

The Power That’s Inside Battling against that emptiness are a few key things that keep Pokemon Go together. In order to power up or evolve a Pokemon you’ve captured, you have to catch duplicates of its species — sometimes many, many duplicates. Transferring the weaker ones out of your bank of available Pokemon earns you “candies” for that species to fuel power-ups. It seriously takes the sting out of finding yet another Zubat, something that the main Pokemon games never quite solve. In Pokemon Go, I want to catch that hundredth Zubat so I can farm it for power-up potential.

There’s also an area-of-effect item that all players can use for a limited time: lures. One person can place a lure at any PokeStop, which increases the number of Pokemon that will show up. The cool thing about them is that they lure people in addition to Pokemon — I pulled over while driving because my friend said there were lures nearby, and we ran into the people who had placed them. Wanting to catch Pokemon means more lures, which keeps the community alive. It’s one of the smartest design choices in Pokemon Go.

“ A few key design choices keep Pokemon Go’s community alive.

That drive and incentive to catch ‘em all keeps me walking and venturing out of my way (I walked all the way around a hospital yesterday) to catch even more Pokemon. I mostly want stronger Pokemon to take over Gyms for my team, even though combat is boring. There’s just something satisfying about holding an objective that every other person playing can see, and the draw of taking territory for my team kept me coming back when the battle had long since worn out its welcome. It also helps that taking over a Gym nets you in-game currency, and I’ve found that spending real money on microtransactions isn’t strictly necessary. I haven’t bought any of the in-game money since I can find items and earn coins from playing as normal, and I haven’t felt pressured to do so in order to keep playing at the aggressive pace I’ve been going at.

All of this, even if it’s not too complicated, encourages more walking around, which it keeps everyone playing and encountering each other. That in turn feeds the real-world aspect that makes Pokemon Go special. It’s just a matter of whether people continue to play.

The Verdict Right now, Pokemon Go is an incredible, can’t-miss social experience — like Pokemon is actually real and everyone is on board — but its RPG mechanics and combat don’t have nearly enough depth to support itself in the long term. If people start to lose interest due to its lack of depth once the novelty of seeing Pokemon pop up around their everyday lives expires, the community will fall apart and the spell will be broken. What Pokemon Go needs is more features to support that real-world interaction. Things like Pokemon trading and leaderboards, which developer Niantic says are incoming, could keep that momentum up. Even if it will be short-lived, though, there’s no doubt it’s exciting to be a part of while it lasts.