Saturday, April 18, 2015

Crysis 2 - Mugger Recommends

I would like to preface this review by stating that I actually liked Crysis, and Crysis 2 a lot. Throughout the course of the game I noted on the aspects that made the title enjoyable, and those that made my teeth grate.

 The Nano-suit is about the closest you can get to being the predator without playing an Aliens title. It's unique set of abilities let you switch to Power, Stealth, and Armor mode on the fly. You always have several ways to approach any tactical situation and the suit gives you the tools to adapt as necessary. Power mode is technically always active and provides you with lethal unarmed or armed melee attacks and the ability to throw heavy objects at long range as projectile weapons. Power mode doubles as your sprint and long jump function in Crysis 2. Stealth mode allows you to avoid visual detection by almost all enemies in the game. If you're like me, and enjoy taking enemies out without raising the alarm, you'll spend most of the game in stealth mode. Armor mode provides you with substantial damage reduction from incoming enemy fire, falls, and environmental hazards. Tactical vision allows you to mark targets for tracking, and mark items and interest points for use and also doubles as a limited zoom binocular set. Nano-vision enables you to view your surroundings by thermal and EMF emission. Use this as night-vision and to help track enemies through brush or with cloaking. Each suit ability drains energy with use, the tactical vision being an exception. Nano-catalyst upgrades offer you various ways to tweak your suit abilities to play-style or necessity. I found that once I purchased the covert ops and nano-recharge enhancers that I didn't particularly need any of the others.

 The cinematics were mind blowing and over-the-top, displaying the awesome power of the suit without hogging too much game time. Just about every weapon has a point in the game where it can be useful. Taking from it's previous title the weapon customization is relatively the same as before but with a couple new attachments like the under-barrel shotgun, and under-barrel guass cannon. The option to swap one of your main weapons for the Grenade launcher (T-LAG) was a nice touch, not to mention you can carry ten rounds for it. The K-volt is a utility weapon that will be your best friend, in your hands, or your worst enemy, in the oppositions. Stealth take-downs are my favorite new addition to the abilities line-up, allowing you to maximize the usefulness of stealth mode and putting some much needed melee into the game. Another nice tweak to stealth mode is that you can now fire certain low-caliber weapons without completely depleting you energy and becoming visible. I did this quite a bit with the stealth scarab, to great effect. Levels were linear in most cases, but allowed for several approaches. The shotgun can now be silenced! The game didn't have many stealth related trophies so I didn't feel obligated to play stealthy every time, and it was fun enough as a whole that I gave it two play-throughs before I traded it in. You can kill enemies with a giant donut, nuff said.

Crysis 2 did what any great sequel should do, it took what made the first title great and extrapolated on it, but it also carried over some of the things that plagued the original and even managed to create some new ones. If it isn't broke, Crytek, don't fix it! Why are Seth Jelly-people now walking around in power-armor? This seems like a huge downgrade from their hover platforms in Crysis. I do see the argument that it was to facilitate stealth kills and take-downs, but that's where innovation comes in! They aren't just accompanied by the walkers either they are replaced, I expected to see at least a few fliers but the closest things were the gunships. Where are the other nano-suits? Seriously? Someone as connected as Hargreave should have had a few mercenaries with those things at his beck and call. He just had to have Prophets suit? He could have made his own from the start. There are so many holes in the plot that I'm not going to hit them all, suffice it to say that you'll enjoy the game a lot more if you just shoot stuff and ignore the story altogether. The stealth function is a little buggy, but the real pain is attempting to use C4 while cloaked. Somehow this drains your entire energy reserve and leaves you exposed. I didn't find much conventional use for C4 as a result, and the rocket luancher was plagued with inaccuracy and was a bit under-powered. It forced you to hold aim until contact or else it missed or sometimes blew up a few feet in front of you. The majestic and guass rifle show up too late in the game (Semper-fi or Die) to be any fun. At this point I found the K-Volt and DSG did not need to be replaced and the M-60 was a piece of junk. If you play on anything above normal difficulty do not bother with the nova-12, Feline, or the AY (uzi). Why can't we use alien weapons? Vehicles still handle like shit, and the tank needs a mini-gun in single player. The game autosaves BEFORE, and not after, nearly every conversation and radio transmission which in turn forces you to hear them over and over again if you die or need to restart an area. Lastly Alcatraz gets knocked out more than John Doggett on X-Files. You might as well draw some railway models and build us train! oh wait...

You may have noticed my lack of noting on multiplayer. Simply put, the game has been out too long to be conducive to allowing a noob like myself to garner any experience or , for that matter, enjoyment from multiplayer. The Community is a ghost town.
You want a good multiplayer game? Try COD Advanced Warfare or Mass Effect 3. I would not recommend this title for online gaming.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Hitman Absolution - Mugger Reviews

I came into this review knowing full well that my fist impressions of this game were tainted by my experience with the previous titles. In older reviews by other escapist members I noted that people were judging this title, not as a game in and of itself, but as a part of the Hitman franchise thus far. I'm here to tell you that this is not completely wrong. Hitman is part of a series, and a game that is part of a series the consumer base comes to expect certain things from. So while the game may be great as it's own title, it doesn't stack up to previous games that (sadly) did better. This is not to say that HA is a bad game, only that it does not belong in the Hitman series.

 Pros: So where exactly does HA shine? 47 has a new and improved control system. He responds faster, moves more fluidly and reacts to input seamlessly. The massive array of weapons in the game means you'll always have a new toy to try out, and each weapon has a point where it can be useful. In particular I found the new sniping physics more realistic. Time lag between shot and hit at great distances was a nice touch. I did feel that bullet drop should have been factored in too, if they were going for realism, but it's still cool anyways. After playing the Sniper Challenge I feel like the game should have featured a few sniping challenge levels too. Sadly there are only a scant few areas that the rifle is useful, but where they are the game shines. Accident kills are more abundant than previous titles. The game is more modular, allowing you to move items around, like gas cans, c4, or bodies, and set up traps where you want. Despite all the complaints I've read about how stupid the AI, it is not. These enemies are by far the smartest in the series, and if you haven't figured this out yet then you need to turn the difficulty up to hard, pro or Purist and you'll see exactly what I'm talking about. The police work in teams like a trained SWAT unit would, while thugs are untrained and act as such. The agency troopers will methodically examine each and every corner if you make even the slightest error. Some enemies use silenced weapons now, making them easier to come by. Thrown weapons are super easy to use now and more numerous, my favorite was the fire poker.

 Cons: I found the fully upgraded 47 functions the way he should have the ENTIRE game. 47 has been a trained and seasoned killer for a decades worth of games now, why does he need training? Accident kills are horribly telegraphed and the same accidents get reused throughout the entire game. Silenced weapons are never truly silenced. I can't count the number of times I dropped someone with a silenced pistol head-shot in an empty room only to have a guard 3 doors down go "Was that a gunshot?" and come waltzing in a second later to blow my cover. QTE melee sucks worse than rock paper scissors. The QTE melee also has a nasty habit of forcing you into a fist fight even if you are armed with a melee weapon like a knife or katana. There is no inventory selection before missions, except on contracts. I don't know if I'm the only person in the world who is fuming mad over this, but I DID pay extra to unlock the DLC weapons and I am NOT happy about only being able to use these items, that I paid for with real money, in a segment of the game I only play a little. This alone really murdered the game as a whole for me. It discourages ingenuity, undermines motivation to unlock weapons and upgrades, and forces you to think inside the sandbox of each individual level. Admittedly these are sandboxes with numerous options however I found that only a couple options on each map allow for the stealth approach, while a majority throw stealth kicking and screaming off the top of a ten story building. Finally, my biggest problem with this game is the disguise and instinct system. Disguises will be shot down in seconds by NPCs wearing the same outfit as you-unless you keep your R1 mashed down the entire time. This happens even on Normal and becomes impossible on harder settings. Even with maxed out skills your instinct meter depletes far too quickly. I found that it was actually easier to just keep the suit on and use cover.

 Neutral: Challenges are a bit awkward and having several for the same target means that each level has a small percentage of replay value. A few of these challenges were hilarious and fun to achieve, like the Ronin challenge for Operation Sledgehammer. None of them really give you a sense of achieving anything though. Once you get the predetermined amount of points for the Technique unlock then there is no reason to get a higher score. Not much was done in the music department, but the sounds (explosions, gunshots, knife stabs etc.) felt more realistic than previous titles. Point shooting is fun, but also insulting. This is an shooter not a point-and-click adventure.

 Contracts mode: This seems to be where IO focused most of it's energy on the game. Contracts allows you to manipulate target selection on nearly every map, and choose which weapons and disguises to use. It gives you the functionality that SHOULD have made it into SP, like a working inventory selection prior to a mission. While contracts was not why I bought the game it is enjoyable to a degree. Sadly there just aren't enough options yet. Some of the maps don't make it to contracts, like the first segment of Mansion. The Bar-Fight level was pretty fun in SP, but did not make it to contracts. The Church level had potential but also didn't make the cut...

 In closing I sincerely hope that this game is patched and soon. There is a lot more potential here than quality. With the addition of a weapon selection before missions in SP and a more reliable disguise system, i feel this game could be far more enjoyable. I do not lower my bar for games like Hitman, and neither should you. The reason I judge new titles by old ones is because I loved the old ones. If I didn't, then I wouldn't have bought them. IO, you are selling nostalgia, lets be straight with each other. Don't reinvent the wheel, give us a silencer, one that doesn't make a sound when we pop melons...

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Dead Space - Mugger Recommends



 When it comes to video games, I have very particular tastes. If a game is rotten, then I tend to know it by intuition before I even have a play. Yet every so often a title sneaks up and surprises me, such as was the case with Deadspace. A self acclaimed sci-fi (action) survival-horror game, Deadspace is a competent 3rd person shooter with puzzle aspects. You are Isaac Clarke, a starship Engineer and field scientist. Isaac is sent to the USG ISHIMURA, a planet cracker, or mining starship, to repair what you believe is a communications error. At this point I should mention that Isaac is a silent-protagonist, so you are meant to project upon him. Having said that, during the lengthy intro of the game you get to watch a video transmission sent by Nicole (presumably Isaac's love interest) who is working as a chief medical officer on-board the Ishimura. When you arrive the ship is still in orbit of a alien planet rich with resources. Only a few minutes into docking procedures your shuttle hits a gravity field and smashes into one of the docking bays. The Ishimura is about the size of ten aircraft carriers, and the game wants you to know it. The graphical power of the PS3 definitely gets showcased here. The terrain is visceral dingy and lived in, as one might expect from an industrial starship. While I think it is safe to say that Deadspace was taking cues from Half-Life, the horror aspects of the game felt heavy inspiration from Resident Evil as well. Bloodstains and body-drag marks are smattered across the first room you enter and within a few minutes of system checks in a sealed room, one of your teammates gets sacked by a claw-monster. Then a chase sequence ensues, because you have no weapons!RAAAARGHH! I would not call Deadspace scary but there is definitely a sense of urgency. Later levels pit you against increasingly difficult necromorph types and in greater numbers.

 The game features some unique things like zero-gravity (Z/G) areas and puzzles and a combination of kenisis/stasis module puzzles. Some of them even have you go outside and walk the skin of the ship. If you accidentally jump up to the wrong spot then your grav boots will let go and you fly off into oblivion for a Darkstar-esque insta-death. Bouncing around quickly from surface to surface can prove to be very useful for survival in z/g battles with the (counter-intuitively) quicker three-legged necros. Mega-baby/tentacle monsters can climb walls and ceilings, spit acid, and pounce, so they can attack unexpectedly from any angle. Blob-walkers explode if you hit there massive one-pack, dealing area of effect damage and letting out a cluster of swarmers that will immediately try to kill you.
Excluding a couple of boss fights (thankfully there aren't too many) the basic encounters can get downright nasty. You need to seriously consider what weapons work best for what, and upgrade wisely. There is a nice selection of weapons to choose from, and each of them are pretty awesome in there own right (except the flamer). I think it closely resembles RE 1&2 in this respect, but even the super-weapon of this game (Contact Beam) is not an all-cure. Sometimes there are environmental hazards that you can use to your advantage, like busted gravity plates, open airlocks, moving engine parts, or explosive barrels. One thing you will always have is the kinesis module, which is a device that lets you pick up and fling items as weapons, and you always have this equipped so you can combo attacks with it and other weapons quickly. The stasis module functions as a point and shoot time-freeze device that can slow down most enemies and certain interactable puzzles. It has a limited number of uses, but careful aim can freeze a group of enemies, which you can then stomp to death.
Having smothered this game in praise I now need to get down to the grimy bits, and there are quite a few. First of all is the hideous inventory screen interface. Because the producers wanted to keep us immersed in the game they felt it necessary to have Isaac project his inventory with an "omni-tool"-like effect that is almost too small to see anything on. Also the game doesn't pause when you open your inventory, or when you are using a forge to upgrade weapons and armor. So if you happened to miss an enemy or you need to heal using a specific med-kit size, while in the thick of battle, then you better get ready to meet your maker. Of chief concern here is the clonky controls. Isaac handles like he's a drunk homeless man carrying a fully loaded shopping cart on his spine like a pack-mule. This could be the games attempt to define how first-gen exo-skeleton suits like Isaac's might actually handle, but it is not fun when you are being chased down a narrow winding corridor with twelve screaming-rabid necro-monsters nipping at your heels. The flamethrower feels like it got the short end of the stick in development, its upgrade node tree takes far too long to get its damage up to usefulness before the crimson-head zombies show up and make it pointless. It's great against swarmers and pods, but there is no trade-off for higher damage weapons like the line-gun or contact beam.

 The term Dead Space means : An actual or potential cavity remaining after the closure of an incision and not obliterated by operative technique. Essentially it's the space or gap left in the human body after something has been removed or worked on. This in many ways resembles the elements of Deadspace. The necromorphs were once human but had that stripped away by the "Markers" twisted power. Isaac had his lover, metaphorically, removed from him by her job on the ISHIMURA. I'm always reminded of that one sound-clip you encounter during the game, a creepy little girl singing twinkle-twinkle little star. I believe it's supposed to represent how any survivors have had their hope stripped away by the horror of what transpired here. This should be an indication of just how twisted the game is. It's heart-pounding, immersing, ingenious and exhilarating, at least the first few plays anyway. And you will want to play through it again because there are benefits to new-game+ mode such as the ability to use weapons and armor you earned from your last game, bump up one level of difficulty, and it gives you 10,000 credits and 10 power nodes to upgrade your stuff more (in case you didn't already max it out). There's also an awesome Spawn/Punisher -like powered armor you can buy from the store. Even after earning all the trophies I still play this game because it is sheer fun. There aren't many sci-fi titles out there that have put this much detail, craftsmanship, and care into their game. Unless, of course, we compare to Deadspace 2, but that's another review.

Immersion: 10/10
Story: 8/10
Characters: 6/10
Combat: 8/10
GUI: 5/10
Controls: 4/10
Graphics: 10/10
Sound: 10/10
Music: 9/10
Replay Value: 10/10
Rating: 80/100
Comparison: If you were to combine the entire Aliens series with Event horizon, throw in some power-armor and Gordon Freeman, then you would have Deadspace.