Tag Archives: gaming

Mass Effect 3 Multiplayer: thoughts, strategies, and a guide or two

The N7 Shadow Infiltrator melee attack, with flame sword.

The N7 Shadow Infiltrator melee attack, with flame sword.

Continuing the trend of abandoned games I’m recently just getting back into (see: Battlefield 3, ARMA 2), I’ve been playing Mass Effect 3. I’m now all up to date with all the single player DLC; I’ve re-taken Omega with Aria T’Loak, I’ve investigated Leviathan, and I’ve had a ball in my swanky new apartment on the Citadel (and even invited a few friends over — if you’re a fan of the Mass Effect series and haven’t played through the Citadel DLC, you’re doing yourself a disservice).

But enough about singleplayer and its DLC temptresses. Let’s talk about multiplayer! On the face of it, ME3 multiplayer seems like the worst thing ever, or at least, not the most appealing. It’s four-player, peer-to-peer coop set in a variety of locations from the single player side missions, against a variety of the enemies. It follows a pretty simple formula: choose a location (there’s quite a few so I’ll link you to the appropriate Wikia page), choose an enemy (Geth, Cerberus, Collectors, Reapers), and choose a difficulty (in order of least to most difficult: Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum). From there, you form a four-man squad of varying races and classes, all of which have their own unique skill sets (even though their skills will be shared by other characters, no characters have the same set of skills), choose from a massive variety of weapons, and kit out your characters.

There’s actually quite a bit to it. There’s millions of possible equipment and weapon combinations alone, which makes for unique games. You can be playing with four of the same characters, but each of those characters could have different playstyles (and hence carry a different weapon loadout and consumables, etc). Plus, there’s a heap of stuff you can unlock. 62 weapons, each of which has 10 “levels”. 65 characters over 6 classes. I’m not even counting all the weapon mods, character appearance customisations, consumables, or gear. You can see my stats and what I’ve unlocked so far here.

I’ll get to talking strategy in a sec, but first, a few quick tips.

Narida’s Class Builder is an amazing ME3 multiplayer resource where you can choose how to spec your character. It lets you choose everything about your character, including what weapons, how much damage your character does, what different evolutions your powers can take on and how that affects your damage/other stats, and so on. It’s fantastic. When you’re speccing a new character, consult the class builder to get an idea of what powers do what, and how that affects your cooldowns, that sort of thing. The only place where it falls down is giving you a sense of how fast things happen in game: a five second cooldown might not sound like much, but it’s an eternity when you’re trying to reload your Widow sniper rifle and dodging that Geth Hunter that appeared out of nowhere. For everything else, Narida’s Class Builder is your ME3 multiplayer bible.

Now, a lot of the game resides in the characters, and the classes you play. A lot of it depends on your particular play-style — any decently skilled player will be able to pick up an entirely new (level 20) character and do well enough at the bronze and silver levels, but I find gold and platinum require a higher plane of thinking.

The Krogan Warlord. I named my Warlord Thor, for obvious reasons.

The Krogan Warlord. I named my Warlord Thor, for obvious reasons.

As an example, take this particular Krogan Warlord build. The Warlord is a good character for smashing trash mobs on silver and lower difficulties, but like pretty much all melee-based characters, you generally don’t do enough damage to make it worth your time getting close to bosses (Geth Primes, Cerberus Atlases, Collector Praetorians/Scions, Reaper Banshees/Brutes), which means on Gold and higher, you’re generally going to have a bad time if you run in and try and hammer everything. I remember the first time I played the Warlord. I built my Warlord similar to the build linked above, and, thinking I was some kind of god, charged in and attempted to break all the enemies into little pieces with my hammer. That worked pretty well, at least up until the boss characters — the banshees, brutes, scions, praetorians, and atlases — who proceeded to insta-kill me, every single time I got too close. It was during that game that I discovered that even Brutes have their own insta-kill animation. Up until then, I had no idea brutes could even insta-kill you. But now I know, and these days, I tend to keep my distance with my Warlord — at least until I know I can take a boss down with one hammer attack. And that’s really what ME3 multiplayer is all about, working with the skills you have in order to be an effective asset to the team. It’s about knowing your limits, and playing it smart.

One of the first things I do when I unlock a new character is to look up “builds”, which tell me where I should put points into powers. But builds are only half of the story, and they’re almost worthless without knowing the strategy for that build. So many builds don’t have a guide on how to play that particular character/build, so you have to experiment to see what works and what doesn’t — but then, what’s the point of a build in the first place? Isn’t the whole idea of a build where someone else has already done the experimentation for you, and can just tell you what to do to win? Another thing I found really annoying is how builds recommend specific weapons. What happens if you don’t have that weapon unlocked? For this reason, these guides will recommend what weapon I run with, then suggest alternatives if you don’t have it. Which is why I’m going to open my little strategy guides under the proviso that they work for my particular playstyle(s). I have a few different play-styles — some are easy, others require a little more work on your part.

These are less strategies, and more just me telling you what I’ve found to be effective with any given build. In no particular order…

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To the Sea: A Wasteland Story

ArmA2OA 2013-02-12 00-00-47-70

Okay kids, Wasteland story time.

It’s the end of a long night. Toj, Sub, and I have been shot at, shot others, killed, and been killed all around the map. We’ve held the bridge at Prig even with cars driving past it, sent the drivers of armoured Hummers and medical Vodniks to meet their maker with rockets, and scared anyone in the vicinity with shots from an M107.

Sub had called it a night already, and Toj and I both agree that this will be our last life. We spawn in Cherno, looking for a car to get back to Elektro: we know Prig has been hot all night (we’ve done a lot of killing around there ourselves and had a little bit of an adventure up on the east coast before spwaning in back in Cherno), but since it’s the last life of the night (and after we died to some total suspiscious stuff at Elektro) we decide to get up to some shenanigans.

Now, normally there’s over 700 vehicles in a server. Apparently, none of the ones in Cherno are working. We come across a bus that has a broken wheel, a ute that has a broken wheel, a jeep with a broken wheel, and a blue van with — you guessed it — another broken wheel. But right next to the van I find a green sedan that seems to be in working condition. The engine is still mysteriously running, leaving me to question the fate of whomever drove this little green sedan before me. The glass is a little banged up, but she drives. This other dude, Seeker, also gets in the car with me, and I head south towards the Cherno docks. There, Toj is manning a Hummer with a 50 cal; Seeker and I pick him up, and we drive towards Prig.

As we’re approaching Prig Seeker tells us to stop at the gunstore. As a new spawn he’s only got $100 on him, but that’s apparently enough for a basic M4 rifle and 2 magazines of ammo. Sam and I buy the same gear. We jump back in the green sedan and decide to do something, anything.

It was back at Cherno when we were driving to pick up Toj that I figured out a new, fun game: how long can you drive on the train tracks? Green civilian sedans don’t go very fast on anything but the highest quality bitumen, and railway tracks are about the same speed, terrain-wise, as the open grassland. Except I had figured out that you can drive at full speed (110km/h) when your wheels are on top of the railway tracks themselves — it’s nearly impossible to stay on top of the tracks for any period of time, but that just adds to the challenge.

So at this stage, we’re heading east from the gun store at Prig towards Cap Golova, east towards Cherno. I start to play the “how long can I stay on top of the train tracks for” game, when we spot it: a beautiful speedboat, complete with multiple seats and a mounted .50 cal on the front. In an instant, the plan is hatched: we tow the boat to the open sea using the green sedan, and cruise the open seas in our new found boat. It’s an excellent plan — what could possibly go wrong?

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Not Quite An ARMA 2 Mod: Wasteland

As a current member of the Blufor army, this soldier's face must remain hidden

As a current member of the Blufor army, this soldier’s face must remain hidden

I’ve been getting back into some DayZ recently, and while that’s been pretty great fun (although I haven’t played any of the latest patch), something new has captured my interest.

Wasteland. It’s not actually a mod of ARMA 2, but it kind of is: Wasteland is better described as a team-based set of custom missions in Chernarus. There are two teams: Blufor and Opfor, both opposing factions. In the middle are the Independents, for the lone-wolves, the ones that want to kill everyone without discriminating. There’s a few other bits to Wasteland, so I’ll try and explain them in a bit more detail.

Far and away, the biggest difference to DayZ players in Wasteland will be the zombies. Or rather, lack thereof: in Wasteland, there are no zombies. it’s just you, the opposing faction (if you’re on Opfor or Blufor) and the independents (commonly referred to as “indies”). Occasionally you’ll get objectives which have armed NPCs at them (who can and will shoot at you), but those aren’t super common.

You might think the lack of zombies is a little strange, but really, it’s not all that different to what you might have seen in DayZ. DayZ is a little flawed in that zombies only spawn around buildings and the like, which means you don’t see any zombies if you’re just running around in the woods. If it helps, you can think of Wasteland as the post-post-apocalypse: the zombies have all died out, and now it’s just you and other players fighting each other over dwindling resources.

Whilst it may be true that zombies do add an extra level to the tension when you’re engaged with another player, not having to worry about them when you’re tracking another player is good, too — any kind of movement you spot in a town is likely a player. No zombies also means you don’t have to deal with bandaging in the heat of battle and other nonsense. It’s kind of nice, actually.

Unlike DayZ, you don’t have you find your weapons in deer stands, abandoned firestations, or military barracks. Instead, you’ll find your weapons in crates that you find at objectives, or more commonly, inside pretty much every car. And what’s nice about these weapons is that they’re all high-end gear, stuff that isn’t included in DayZ; all the way from top-tier military weapons, Soviet-era weapons (AKs and variants), all the way down to the lowly Lee Enfield and the Makarov PM (easily the worst thing about playing Opfor — Blufor players spawn with the much harder-hitting M1911, and I believe Indies spawn with the G17).

The Mk17 Sniper is a piece of art, and while you don’t necessarily need a silenced weapon in Wasteland as there aren’t any zombies to give your location away to, suppressed weapons can still be useful for silently taking out other players without them getting an immediate fix on your location. Anything with an ACOG scope is great for short to mid-range engagements, too. There’s basically no restriction on the weapons you’ll find in Wasteland — you’ll find specific variants at weapons crates and inside cars (US Special weapons inside a US Special Weapons Crate, for example), but finding a gun in Wasteland usually isn’t an issue. Plus, heavy guns actually work: various shoulder-fired rockets (RPGs, SMAWs, Stingers, Javelins) are necessary for killing armoured targets such as SUVs and Hummers, and make very big bangs.

We made a nice bonfire out of our excess cars.

We made a nice bonfire out of our excess cars.

One of the other big change from DayZ is vehicles: cars are plentiful in Wasteland. There’s over 700 vehicles in Wasteland servers, which means transportation isn’t usually a problem. You can spawn in, jump in a car nearby, and drive away — all without having to repair it or fuel it. It’s a beautiful thing to not have to waste an hour scouring industrial spawns to find a bloody toolbox, let me tell you. Like the weapons, there’s every variety of vehicle in Wasteland: armoured SUVs with mounted miniguns, giant trucks with anti-air machine guns on the back, Humvees, Humvees with .50 cal machine guns, armoured Vodniks, jeeps, off-roads, ambulances, plus the usual assortment of push bikes, motorbikes, sedans, vans, hatchbacks, utes, and so on. There’s also Ospreys, Blackhawks, Little Birds, C130s, and Hueys, but they’re much rarer — only a few per server, plus whatever comes up in the objectives (more on this later). Oh, and did I mention the tanks? There’s tanks, too.

The greatly increased number of vehicles evens the playing field a little: it means the map is smaller, to be sure, but it also means everyone has reasonable access to fast transport to anywhere on the map. What’s more, you can even drive through towns without having to take detours due to debris on the road: evidently, someone was sick of random wrecks on the roads, so they went through and swept it all up, making the roads actually drivable.

It’s not unusual to come across a convoy of vehicles driving along the road in Wasteland. Get a few players, get a few cars, and there you go.

More after the HALO jump.

What’s your DayZ flavour?

I’ve been getting back into DayZ after giving it a long break, and there’s now so many different “versions” of DayZ that it’s insane. They’re not all mods of a mod, mind you – most of the ones you can play easily are just the stock game on a different map. What follows is a quick run-down of the few I’ve tried, and the one that’s hooked me the most.

Bliss

I think the first DayZ mod of a mod we played was Bliss, a Chernarus-based map that’s like the original DayZ, except with a few additions. There’s more weapons of different varieties and more weapons altogether. There’s even additional buildings in various places, such as the additional hospital in Stary Sobor — meaning that you don’t have to go to the coast for medical supplies such as blood bags or epi pens. Playing on a Bliss server doesn’t require any additional files, and the Bliss server that we played on was pretty geared towards PvP — whether that was due to the plentiful high-powered weaponry or not is another question, though.

As far as mods go, Bliss isn’t bad. The additional weapons and buildings add an extra element to the game that stock-standard DayZ doesn’t provide.

Fallujah

Fallujah was actually the third DayZ map I’ve played, the second being Lingor and the first being Chernarus. I’m not sure what the main point of Fallujah actually was, but a few of us joined the server mostly to have fun with vehicles: the name of the server was something along the lines of “have fun with vehicles DayZ Fallujah”. You spawned in fully geared with an AS 50 and everything else you could want. Vehicles of every type littered the landscape: there were Chinooks, Ospreys, C130s, biplanes, Hueys, Black Hawks, and pretty much every vehicle in between. We didn’t really play this one for too long, but a few friends did practice their flying techniques. I, being the more experienced pilot, mostly just flew around and laughed at their antics.

From what I saw from the map whilst I was in the air, Fallujah was a much more urban environment. I wouldn’t really like to be engaged in gun-battles there.

DayZ+

DayZ+ was the first true DayZ alternative we played. It’s a true mod of a mod, requiring a different set of files than the normal DayZ. DayZ+ is pretty easy to describe: it’s the DayZ that’s geared towards PvE rather than pure PvP, because in DayZ+, zombies hurt; a few hits and you’re black and white, a few more and you can pretty much expect to be dead. It’s a harsh world, and in DayZ, you know exactly how harsh. Zombies will aggro from incredible ranges, king-hit you in one go so you’re unconscious on the ground, and will start feasting on you with no mercy. Zombies will glitch through walls. Zombies will teleport around (making headshots all but impossible). Those hours I spent in DayZ+ were perhaps the most challenging of all, because you really re-considered wether you actually needed to go into a town, or whether you just wanted to play it safe and play the virtual farming simulator (meat is one of the best sources of blood-restoration in DayZ, outside of blood bags which can only be found in hospitals).

DayZ+ had a few things that stock DayZ didn’t, namely construction. You could build things with basic gear in DayZ, allowing you to build fortifications away from the zombies (or away from other players). The weapons in DayZ+ were also balanced so that the one-hit, super-powerful sniper rifles such as the AS 50 and M107 were removed from the game, and so were little things such as the rangefinder. To compensate, they added a few new varieties of Russian weapons, such as the Sa-51 machine pistol and variants.

I wouldn’t want to play DayZ+ alone, all because it’s already hard enough when you’re in a group. It might have been easier alone because you only have to watch your own back, but then again, if you got into a stick situation, there were few ways out. Apart from dying, of course.

But that’s just what happens in DayZ.

Shenanigans and Tomfoolery in DayZ

A few cliff notes:

0:00: “I’m gonna hatchet his ass”
0:47: I cannot throw grenades
2:58: “Can I shoot the four to the front or no?” “Negative” *starts shooting immediately*
3:45: M107 vs AS50 noise comparison
5:07: what kind of a person lets off a DMR at the NW Airfield? Not that it really mattered anyway…
5:48: “You’re not dead, you’re not dead, you’re just unconscious”
7:21: “Glad I brought plenty of ammo”
9:28: “Damn boy that’s a lotta shooting”
9:34: “That was an M203! Oh, no, wait, it’s blowing up now.”
10:07: We try and flip an flipped ATV with the ute
12:20: “Just smash into it”
12:30: “It disappeared.”
13:20: Long-range sniping at the NW airfield
14:07: “The answer is always bandits.” (lulz in chat)
14:39: “I couldn’t even see it, there’s so much lag man”
15:09: “Well, I think we just got rid of this server’s airfield population”
16:34: “Now we’ve killed everyone at the airfield.”
16:52: M203 flare brightness testing
17:23: Low-FPS infinite zombie killing
18:00: “Hey, I didn’t use a Lee Enfield, that was somebody else”
19:23: Whose blood is that? I’m not bleeding…
20:16: Last-gasp abort attempt

I am the Gun Master

Battlefield 3 Gun Master Knife Kill

When you playing Gun Master in Battlefield 3 and you use the knife, you’re doing it for an entirely selfless reason; to demote the other player. It’s the ultimate middle finger, a kind of “hey, I’m this much of a better player than you and don’t you forget it” move that means your level stays the same while the other person goes down a level.

For the uninitiated, Gun Master is a game mode in Battlefield 3 that’s like the “gun game” you might have played in Counter-Strike back in the day, also known as Arms Race in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Regardless of which game you’re playing, the premise behind Gun Master/Arms Race/Gun Game is the same: it’s a deathmatch-style game mode where you don’t buy guns, instead, there’s a specific order of guns that you need to progress through in order to win the game. You’re given the first gun in the list and need to get a certain number of kills with it in order to progress to the next gun in the list. The objective is simple: get the required number of kills with whatever weapon you currently have and keep doing so until you finish the list of guns — being the first to do so means you win the match.

Using the knife in any version of this weapon progression game mode is a risky manoeuvre, which might be why a knife kill is the last one on the list, the kill that ends the match. If you’re at the top of the ladder, on the last weapon, you have a knife, and that usually means you’re going to have a bad time. Everyone else has guns, and here you are, with a knife; getting kills is hard — difficult, even — but not impossible. But if you’re using guns, in the ranks,  you can still use the knife to get a kill. Again, it’s hard, but not altogether impossible.

Only there’s one major difference between Gun Game and the Arms Race/Gun Master versions of the game work with regards to the knife. In the older Gun Game version of the game, successfully using the knife to kill another player means you immediately level up, advancing to the next weapon in the list, and also demoting the other player to the previous weapon in the list. You’re effectively “stealing” a level from the other player in Gun Game. For this reason, the Gun Game knife kill is beneficial not only to yourself, but humiliating for the other player. Hate a weapon? Get a knife kill to advance to the next weapon. Don’t want to bother getting however-many-kills your current weapon requires to level up? Get a knife kill to immediately go to the next level. Just want to show someone who’s boss? Get a knife kill.

But in Battlefield’s Gun Master and in Counter-Strike’s Arms Race, the knife operates on a slightly different mechanic. If the Gun Game knife is a tool used for purely selfish reasons (to advance to the next level by stealing a level from another player), the Battlefield version is used for purely selfless reasons. Successfully killing another player in Gun Master or Arms Race doesn’t raise your own rank, nor does it add a kill for your current weapon. All you’re doing when you knife someone in Gun Master is sending them back a level, “demoting” them to the previous weapon in the list.

This opens up a whole set of tactical opportunities. Because you can see the ladder in Gun Master and see who’s in the lead, it means you can specifically target someone to knife. Maybe the leader is too far ahead of the pack, so if you knife him, the he’ll be taken down a notch. But doing so is usually at your own expense; you could knife every single player on the other team and you would still be on whatever weapon you started with. Which is why I’m saying using the knife in Gun Master and Arms Race is a purely selfless act, a kind of middle finger to whomever is unlucky enough to be on the wrong side of your ACB-90.

It’s for that reason that using the knife in Gun Master is more of a challenge than it is in Counter Strike. You’re not doing yourself any favours when you use it, so what’s the point? But used correctly, the knife can be a tool for showing off your own skills, humiliating the other player, and demoting them in the process.

Seems like a fair trade-off to me, which is probably why I find myself reaching for the knife button whenever I’m stalking another player.

Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward

I’m not sure why they call Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward the “spiritual successor” to the original 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors game. The events of the previous game are spelled out for you during the course of Virtue’s Last Reward and referenced throughout the game, so we can just drop the whole “spiritual” thing and just call Virtue’s Last Reward the sequel to the original game — and it’s for this reason I highly, highly recommend playing though the original game for yourself before playing the sequel.

The first thing you have to know about Virtue’s Last Reward is that it’s the sequel to one of the best games I played this year, 999. This alone made it a must play for myself, seeing as I was this close to giving 999 the prestigious game of the year crown (stopped only by the fact it wasn’t released this year).

The second thing you have to know about Virtue’s Last Reward is that it is every bit as good as the original, which follows that if you enjoyed the original, then Virtue’s Last Reward will be right up your alley.

And that’s pretty much all you need to know about Virtue’s Last Reward; it’s a spiritual successor to one of the best games I’ve ever played, and it’s every bit as good as the original. Now, normally this is when I’d launch into my usual spiel of what the game is about, how you play the game, and just how damn good the game actually is (and why), and I’ll do that in just a second, but I also want to explore the characters themselves — there’s lots to say about each of the characters, and maybe it’ll mean a different review than you might normally read.

Virtue’s Last Reward is similar to the original 999. Very similar, in fact. They’re both story-driven games interspersed with puzzles/escape sequences, and they’re both better described as visual novels than typical games. They’re similar to The Walking Dead, in ways; there’s lots of dialogue, quite a number of cutscenes, and they’re both pretty light on actual gameplay.

But you shouldn’t shy away from either 999, Virtue’s Last Reward, or even The Walking Dead because of how story-driven they are. These three games are perhaps the most powerful games I’ve played, and all because of how damn good the stories they tell are — it’s like watching a movie, only because you have some part in how things play out, you feel all the more immersed. It’s an intense feeling you can’t get from reading a book, and it’s all the more real because you have some part in what happens.

There are quite a number of similarities between 999 and Virtue’s Last Reward. Both games prominently feature the number nine; nine main characters, a door with the number nine, and all with the number nine bearing a kind of symbolism that’s echoed throughout the game. Both games follow similar a gameplay style, too: novel sequences interspersed with escape sequences where you have to solve puzzles and find your way out of a room.

Like you did in 999, you’ll make choices in Virtue’s Last Reward that affect the story. In fact, Virtue’s Last Reward introduces a new gameplay mechanic that means there are even more possibilities than there were in 999. The introduction of the Ambidex Edition of the Nonary Game means you’ll be making more choices than ever before. There are stages of the game where you’ll choose to “ally” or “betray” your partner — without giving too much away, it’s this alliance or betrayal that determines how the game plays out.

It’s also this same alliance and betrayal game mechanic that also means that Virtue’s Last Reward is a slightly different game. 999 featured multiple endings, and Virtue’s Last Reward does as well: but in 999, the endings felt much more final. Besides the icons on the save screen, you weren’t really given any indication of how you were progressing towards the multiple endings, all to get to the one true ending. 999 made you play through the game in its entirety every time you wanted a different ending — I lost count of how many times I played through the first escape sequence, or how many times the characters were introduced to each other. Fast-forwarding dialogue was a welcome addition, but there was still a lot of extraneous gameplay.

Virtue’s Last Reward is different in that you’re given a “map” from the start that outlines all the possible paths the game can take. You have no idea how things will actually play out, but this map and your newfound ability to jump between different paths means you’ll spend a lot less time playing through parts of the game you’ve already played, as you can just jump straight to the point where you made a choice, make a different choice to the one you already made, and play a different path. It might sound confusing at first, but it makes perfect sense when you’re playing the game.

And that’s one of the best things about Virtue’s Last Reward: there’s a lot of complexity buried within the game itself, but it shouldn’t take you long to see through it all and see the truth. I know that might sound a little ho-hum, but it’s true: you might not realise what’s going on as you go about your business and solve puzzles, but it’s all there. All you have to do is play the game, and join the dots.

You haven’t finished this playthrough. There’s more after the jump.

Hitman: Absolution

47 pointing his silenced pistol at someone threateningly

Agent 47 can point a gun like the best of them.

Confession time, once again: I have spent precious little time in any of the Hitman titles. Before Absolution, my knowledge of the Hitman series was limited to something about a professional contract killer with a barcode on the back of his head that read 47, with various ways of eliminating targets via use of disguises, varied weaponry and accident kills.

Going into Hitman Absolution, I was excited to play the latest Hitman title. Maybe this would be the one that sucked me right into the Hitman universe, prompting me to go back and play some of the older games in the series, just to see where Hitman Absolution got its roots from.

And as I played through Absolution, it did give me that feeling that I needed to play the previous titles — but for all the wrong reasons. As it stands, I’m not entirely sure whether I liked Absolution or not. You can have fun, but it’s few and far between, and even then, you have to look pretty hard for it.

47 holding a silenced pistol in front of a woman in the shower

The story starts here.

Which is a great shame, as Absolution has a great start: as a player, you’re quickly caught up with what happened in the previous game(s), and learn that your former handler from the Agency has gone rogue and taken a valuable Agency asset with her. As an Agent, you’re tasked with eliminating your former handler and recovering the asset, which is what I assume to be pretty standard fare for Hitman games thus far. But things take a turn just when you’re pulling the trigger on your former handler: you begin to question why she went rogue in the first place. Quite convenient, really, and it’s all very cinematic, very tense, and plays out quite well. After hearing her side of the story, you decide to go rogue yourself — you acquire the asset, who turns out to be this (let’s face it, somewhat attractive) young girl, and go into hiding — from the Agency, who now have a serious problem on their hands.

What follows next, story-wise, is a competent, if slightly bland, story based on Agent 47 finding out why this agency asset is so valuable; you taking back the Agency asset from those that have taken her, and finally, you eliminating the main villians (and, of course, anyone else that gets in your way). If you follow along with the story the whole way though, you’ll realise that it’s a little shallow; the game revolves around this agency asset a little too much in my opinion, and doesn’t spend enough time exploring the Agency side of things, or any other side stories. And maybe that’s just my perspective, given Absolution is the first Hitman game I’ve played, but the fact that the story itself is a little ho-hum is okay, because I wasn’t really expecting anything spectacular from what was supposed to be a gameplay-focused game, a game that truly excelled in the gameplay.

Which is disappointing on so many levels, because Absolution falls flat on its face in the gameplay stakes.

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Dishonored

I’m somewhat ashamed to admit I never played Thief. The first time I saw it being played was so long ago I can’t even remember the year, but it was a friend’s house, on his original-generation Xbox. I didn’t see a lot of gameplay, but what I did was enough to intrigue me.

Dishonored has been described as the spiritual successor to Thief, and it’s easy to see why: both are stealth based games, both revolve around assassinations of prominent characters, and both are set in some kind of steampunk-slash-industrialised England. Like I said — I’ve never played any of the Thief series myself, but Dishonored looked good enough that I decided to pick it up the other day.

And I’m glad I did, because Dishonored is my game of the year. More on this in a bit.

There’s a lot to like about Dishonored, wrong spelling of its title aside. You play the part of Corvo, a bodyguard of sorts who fails to protect his primary within the first few minutes of the prologue. What happens next is the story of how you escape from prison, meet up with some mysterious friends and benefactors, and begin exacting revenge upon those who wronged  you in the opening scene.

The story itself is all very cloak-and-dagger, and it plays out like any good conspiracy should: the bad guys all have ulterior motives, and you soon begin to start unravelling the real sequence of events that led up to your wrongful incarceration. There’s a bigger picture here, one that you might not fully understand unless you’re reading the myriad of letters and notes left carelessly on desks, or securely locked away in safes. The basic premise of the story is based around the tried-and-true concept of “someone did some wrong to me, now it’s my turn to find out what happened and/or slit the throat of everyone who was involved”, with perhaps a few non-optional side quests here and there. It’s all quite well done, to be honest.

But as good as the story aspect of Dishonored is, where it really shines is the gameplay. The combination of stealth and the option of non-leathal and lethal takedowns at all times gives you lots of choice — there’s always multiple ways to the objective to suit your gameplay style. Do you walk in the front door  with pistol in hand and sword in the other, ready to execute whomever you come across? Or do you use the side entry, tagging the guard with a sleeping dart before scaling the wall to get access to the roof, dropping onto a guard from the railing and taking him out like you’re Batman? There’s lots of choice in Dishonored, enough to suit whatever your playstyle might be.

The stealth aspect is particularly interesting. It’s been a while since I last played a good stealth game, and I think the last title that did this the whole “stealth combined with multiple access routes” was Deus Ex: Human Revolution. That game had similar choices when approaching objectives, meaning that you could either walk in and blow stuff up, or you could take the stealthy route, silently taking out guards and managing to do the most amount of damage without any alarms being rung. And say what you will about the Splinter Cell series turning to crap after whatever the last title was, but Splinter Cell Conviction was enjoyable because it employed stealth in a way that worked well: its excellent use of colour (or more specifically, the lack thereof) to tell you when you were hidden from enemies was a brilliant, brilliant move. Continue Reading →

999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors

How do you write a review of the best game you’ve ever played?

Excuse me, that was a little melodramatic — but how do you write a review of one of the best games you’ve ever played?

How do you even begin to describe the combination of an incredible storyline, fantastic pacing, and solid gameplay, all mixed into what is easily one of my favourite games of all time?

999 is one of those things I wish I could forget. Not because it’s bad, no, exactly the opposite: it’s so good that I want to be able to experience it all over again. I want to play it again, but it just won’t have the same impact as it did the first time around.

But where are my manners? I haven’t even told you about the game, and here I am, already singing its praises like it’s the best game I’ve ever played.

So we’ll start at the start.

999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors is a visual novel. It’s similar to games like Ghost Trick and more recently The Walking Dead in that the entire thing is completely story-driven. There’s parts where you actually play the game and make decisions that have some kind of impact on what happens, to be sure, but for the most part, you’re just along for the ride, wondering where it will take you.

999 doesn’t have any kind of spoken dialogue. It means the game comes of as rather text heavy, but that’s par for the course with these kinds of visual novels/interactive stories. The Walking Dead has endless cutscenes, and 999 has text. Lots and lots of text, seeing as that’s kind of the only way it can tell you what’s going on and how the story is progressing. It comes of as text-heavy at the best of times, but it works well — the text isn’t something that ever becomes overburdening at any point, is what I’m saying. The delivery of text is near-perfect, and you never feel like you’re being swamped with information.

When you’re not progressing the story through these semi-cutscenes (which can include the odd decision here or there), you’re playing the other part of the game. You see, gameplay in 999 can be broken into two parts: there’s the story-based cutscenes, if we can call them that, and then there’s the escape sequences. During these escape sequences you’re tasked with escaping from whatever room you’ve found yourself trapped in, and the sequences themselves play out a little like some kind of point-and-click adventure game. In most cases, you find objects, combine them with other objects, and then use them to escape the room — somehow. Sometimes your companions will give you hints on how to use the items you’ve collected, or hints on what you’re supposed to be doing to escape the room, but for the most part, you’re just left to explore rooms on your own.

Yes, you’re not the only one in this story. As the title might suggest, along for the ride are eight other individuals. There’s a few other characters that play minor roles, but for the most part, the eight characters and you are the only ones that really matter — when you meet the other characters for the first time, you’re not really sure who they are, what backgrounds they have, or why they’re with you. All you know is, something out of the ordinary is going on, and it’s up to you to find out what and why.

Actually, that’s not entirely true: the Nonary Game and associated rules are revealed pretty early into the piece by one of the so-called “bad guys”, and it soon becomes clear you’re just a pawn involved in some kind of game. A game where you have to find answers to questions such as: why were you chosen for the game? Why were the others chosen for the game? And perhaps the question with the most elusive answer of all: what is the purpose of the game?

The puzzles you’ll encounter as you play the game are fairly simplistic, for the most part. Usually you’ll be able to solve puzzles by combining objects, using objects with the environment and using some lateral thinking to work out how to escape out of the current room. No puzzle is impossible, although you might find yourself scratching your head on occasion when you just can’t figure out the answer. Random guessing will ocassionally reveal the answer, but some answers simply can’t be obtained by guessing every combination, and indeed, there are cases where doing so would take quite a lengthy time indeed.

Quite a few puzzles involve numbers and the concept of a “digital root”, as that’s one of the key concepts the Nonary Game is itself based around. The digital root is just the digits of any number added until only a single digit remains: for example, the digital root of 5, 7, and 3 would be: 5 + 7 + 3 = 15 = 1 + 5 = 6. Over the course of the game you’ll be using these digital roots to solve puzzles and progress though the Nonary Game; just try not to think about how the numbers do or don’t add up at any given time — there’s enough on your plate as it is without adding that kind of stress.

Solve the puzzles, make the right decisions, and maybe you’ll get to the end of the game.

But that’s just where it all begins.

Continue Reading →