Tag Archives: pc

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 →

Medal of Honor: Warfighter

Alternate title: all these o’s directly followed by r’s with no u in-between getting all up in my grill, yo

Hooah.

I ended up pre-ordering Medal of Honor: Warfighter after enjoying the previous game so much, and, as it so happened, ended up playing this year’s Medal of Honor title during this year’s Uni study period (the second one). Warfighter isn’t the first game in recent times that’s been almost universally panned (see also: Resident Evil 6), and at first, I couldn’t figure out why. I mean, Warfighter is as much a game as any of these other titles; it has a plot, which is played out via interactive gameplay and the occasional cut-scene. Isn’t that what a game is? And yet, Warfighter was receiving scores which suggested it was nothing more than exceptionally mediocre — nothing spectacular in terms of breakthrough gameplay, storyline or pacing, but just… average.

But… why?

Warfighter is the story of Preacher, a Tier One operator who’s been through hell and back. He’s been through the thick of it in the past, but in Warfighter, Preacher starts out as someone who’s just on the sidelines. You learn that Tom — Preacher — has taken a leave of absence from his usual duties in order to fix his marriage, and meanwhile, something big is happening elsewhere in the world. By playing over some of Preacher’s previous missions, you learn that some of these things might be connected. Then, suddenly, boom — a train blows up in Madrid, the very train and platform where you’re supposed to be meeting your wife and kid. You wake up in hospital, where your former CO tells you your wife and kid are safe, that they missed their train. But that’s not all: things are going down, and others you used to know are there trying to clean up the mess, find the culprits, and get to the source.

What follows is your story of how you’re assigned to an entirely new Task Force, Task Force Blackbird, in order to find out who the source of these attacks is. First you’re looking for P.E.T.N., the explosive compound that you encountered during your very first mission in Warfighter, then you’re looking for where it came from, tracing the source all back to a certain Sheik, and then even further still, to a mysterious Cleric.

Along the way, you’ll eliminate enemies from a helo in the sky, breach through numerous doors in a variety of different ways, participate in a co-ordinated sniper strike on targets in a hostage scenario, and, perhaps my favourite of all, drive like a madman through the streets of Dubai, either in pursuit of a target, or in an attempt to evade pursuing forces.

Don’t get me wrong, Warfighter is just about as linear as they come. You play through the missions in the order as dictated by the developers. There’s no decisions to be made here, only enemies begging for a bullet in their skull. At the heart of it, maybe that’s the issue here: Warfighter is a game with a single-player campaign that doesn’t let you make decisions, that doesn’t put you in control. You don’t get to decide whether people live or die, you don’t get to call the shots.

“If I die, give this to my wife. She’s already got everything else.”

But, I mean, isn’t that kind of the point? If you’re expecting to make decisions in a game that’s all about what the developers want to show you, aren’t you expecting too much? Single player campaigns in first person shooters are all about telling a story, and if you’re not coming along for the ride — beautiful scenery, on-rails shooting galleries, and all — then you’re playing the wrong game. Because if the developers of the game wanted you to make decisions, if they wanted  you to be in control, wouldn’t they have put those kinds of elements into the game to begin with?

Honestly, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen this kind of game. Warfighter features un-skippable cut-scenes, and you know what other game does? The Walking Dead. Like Warfighter, The Walking Dead features un-skippable cut-scenes, of which there are many. And even though The Walking Dead is perhaps a game where you’ll make some seriously hard decisions, it’s also a game that features the illusion of choice. But again, why is any of this surprising, when it should be the complete opposite? Games that tell narratives (however poor said narrative might be) via their single-player campaigns aren’t exactly new, just ask any of the Call of Duty series, the Battlefields, or the somewhat newcomers, the Medal of Honor games (2010 game onwards, that is).

If it’s different you want, then it’s different you’ll get: Spec Ops: The Line is another game that I’ve written about recently, and that shares a lot in common with Warfighter. Spec Ops and Warfighter are both games that, on the surface, look extremely similar. They both set the scene for war, explaining to those who haven’t been in the mix what war is like. They’re both games that feature linear gameplay, fighting enemy after enemy, corridor after corridor. But where Spec Ops takes things to their extreme by evolving the protagonists into something resembling nothing like themselves, Warfighter takes the well-worn path. Warfighter forces you to take the shot, Spec Ops laughs at you for not doing so. By comparison with Warfighter, it’s easy to see why Spec Ops has been so widely praised.

After my first play through of Warfighter, I wasn’t sure if I liked it as much as the previous game. I wasn’t even sure what the plot was even about, or why some of the cut-scenes weren’t rendered in the game engine, but rather, as some kind of quasi-movie scenes with actors that looked like characters out of a video game. But then, around halfway though my second play-through, I realised it was more than that, that the non-rendered cut-scenes served to separate the story from the gameplay. It was then it started to click: the story wasn’t all over the place any more and actually made sense, and I felt that I had a real sense of purpose during the game, that I was doing something that had a real impact on things.

I don’t necessarily agree that Warfighter deserves the scores that it gets, but I can see where the critics are coming from. Warfighter isn’t a mind-blowing game in any respect, but it does tell a story, and it does feature some nice — if extremely linear — gameplay. There are the odd enjoyable parts, such as the epic car chase scenes, but it does lack what I consider essential to any first-person shooter: a black-in, black-out sniper mission. Just thinking about that snow level (“Evasion”, if you’re playing Spec Ops) in the second Modern Warfare is enough to send me to my happy place.

Have you seen the movie Act of Valor? Warfighter is a lot like that. So like that, in fact, it’s almost as if Danger Close took Act of Valor and made a game out of it. Both Act of Valor and Warfighter had real-life SEALs onboard as consultants, and it shows — the game and movie are uncannily similar.

At the end of the day, if Warfighter set out to tell us about the heroes that go into battle against enemies, get shot at, beaten up, and then get back up and ask for more, than it succeeded. If Warfighter set out to tell us about the sacrifices these people make every day, then it succeeded in every possible way. It’s people like Preacher, Voodoo, Mother, and Rabbit that make gamers like us realise that all of what we’re seeing on screen is inescapably real for a select few.

And for that, I thank them.

Why Guild Wars 2 is perhaps the first MMORPG that agrees with me

Alternative title: a somewhat pensive review of Guild Wars 2 from the perspective of someone who has not completely immersed themselves into the stream of MMORPG culture, but has simply splashed around in the bathing pool, presented as a series of sections separated by descriptive titles

I’ve been playing Guild Wars 2 ever since Day Z kind of fell out of fashion, and I can honestly say it’s one of the best MMORPGs I’ve ever played. Mind you, that isn’t a huge list: I dabbled in WoW at one stage, got to level 60 within a respectable time frame, and I played the heck out of Star Wars: The Old Republic during its beta period. I enjoyed both of those games, to be sure, but there was always something that wasn’t quite right about each: WoW felt way too inundated with lore and background storylines, like it was some kind of Lord-of-the-Rings-style plot but for every single character. There were stories behind everything, but I just couldn’t care less about them. They were uninteresting, boring, whatever you want to call it.

The Old Republic was fine in that regard, as the Star Wars universe is a little more forgiving — there’s still a copious amount of backstory, but because it’s Star Wars, it’s forgiven, and at times, welcomed — people just can’t enough of those Jedi, I tell you. But the one thing that grated about The Old Republic was that it kind of felt tacky, like it was trying too hard to monetise something that should have come naturally. Suddenly  the Star Wars universe wasn’t just about the big bad Sith and killing Stormtroopers, it was also about repairing droids, repairing things that went wrong, negotiating between various underworld characters. It  felt like you were playing out the entire lives between what you see in the movies, which might have appealed to some, but felt overdone to others. Now that I think about it The Old Republic tried too hard in a lot of areas. That was probably the main reason why I didn’t bother renewing my subscription after the first month.

Guild Wars 2 is much, much different to the two aforementioned games. It’s still a fantasy RPG in that the environment isn’t, strictly-speaking, “real”, and at first I thought this would be a big downside — “ugh, not another fantasy RPG!” — but I now realise it wouldn’t have worked any other way.

I didn’t even think I would be buying it, at first. I’m not entirely sure what convinced me to, in the end, but I’m extremely glad I did, because Guild Wars 2 is a great game. Not so stooped in lore as to be overburdened, not trying too hard for the sake of a few pennies, but just right. The right mix of a compelling personal storyline, even if some of the initial choices were a little ridiculous (my biggest regret was not joining the circus? Really?), combined with good quest and event mechanics, and of course, the right amount of replayability. And perhaps one of the biggest pluses: no subscription fees.

It’s about exploration

One of my biggest features about Guild Wars 2 is the fact that it’s not all “go here, kill/collect/escort this person/thing, come back” — at least, it doesn’t have to be. There are quests like that, of course, but what’s really great is that once you’re in a new location, you can leave the questing until later and just explore. Guild Wars 2 has a big focus on exploration, and you can visit Vistas which count towards your overall region and map completion. Some of these Vistas are easy to get to, others require lots of jumping and falling, but all have a great view of some feature or structure in the game world.

And that’s not all — through trial and error, players have discovered jumping puzzles in almost every region. They’re not marked on your map, and the only real way people would have discovered them is via exploration. They’re fiendishly hard, and sometimes what you think is a jumping puzzle is actually just you jumping up and down mushrooms.

Like I said, Guild Wars 2 isn’t just a linear quest grind. It’s about exploration, and it’s a better game for it.

It’s about aesthetics

Guild Wars 2 is the same as other MMORPGs in that you’re always on the lookout for better-specced gear than the stuff you currently have, but different to other MMORPGs in that there’s an aesthetics element to it, as well. Sometimes you can’t bear to swap out your current Greatsword for one that has +999 Critical Hit Damage because it just looks crap on your character. I came across a dude that had fish heads for pistols one day, and that was awesome. Thankfully, if you do come across your next big Longbow that has vastly better stats but looks much worse than the Longbow you currently own, you can simply transmute (read: combine) the item so it’ll have the better stats of the Longbow you just found, but look just as awesome as the Longbow that you’ve been using.

Choosing armour is perhaps even more stressing for the player that cares about aesthetics, because even though there’s bonuses for having armour with the same rune/sigil/accessory, sometimes having the set doesn’t look as cool as these other great pants you crafted yourself. Or maybe you’re looking for a different outfit entirely — the best thing is you can preview how a certain piece of armour looks on your character before you spend the clams.

I mean, if you needed any more proof Guild Wars 2 is all about the aesthetics: there are random dye drops that let you change the colour of your armour, for crying out loud. People seem to gravitate towards black and white colours, but there’s plenty that can be done with an interesting colour palette. Changing the colour scheme could be all you need to give you character a new lease on life, aesthetics-wise.

It’s probably a little girly, but the aesthetics portion of Guild Wars 2 is fantastic. It probably makes up for not having as many character/face customisations as, say, the Mass Effect series.

You don’t have to play with others (but it’s a little better if you do)

Another thing I like about Guild Wars 2 is that you don’t have to play with friends — at least, not all the time. Because it’s all PvE, everyone in the region has common goals if you’re all doing quests or random events — if you’re doing a quest or an event, everyone gains with your participation, so it’s like everyone is always in a big group together, doing the same quests for the common good. I played solo all the way up to level 80 (the current level cap), and it wasn’t until I hit later stages of my personal story and later regions that I really found running around with someone else to be useful.

Speaking of which, your personal story is perhaps one of the only times (at least right from the outset) that you might want someone else along for the ride. You make all the decisions, of course, but sometimes it’s handy having someone else in your own personal story instances to help out with the combat, purely because the NPCs can be a little useless at times.

Just about the only time you’re forced to group with other players is when doing dungeons, and that’s to be expected.

Overall, Guild Wars 2 is pretty great. It’s the first MMORPG that I’ve really enjoyed, and for all the reasons above; exploration, aesthetics, and the not-pared down solo play. I’ve only scratched the surface of the game, becuase there’s so many aspects to it: there’s World vs World vs World, which is kinda puts different “worlds” against each other (think massive battlefields, contention for castles etc, but with everyone on your server playing for the same team), and then there’s also player-vs-player, which is kinda like WvWvW except on a smaller scale.

There’s dynamic events which everyone can do at any time, and oh — perhaps one of the best features of any MMORPG, ever — instanced loot, which means your loot is totally separate to others. No more “rolling” for the best loot when you kill a boss, bceause you everyone gets their own loot according to how much they participated in any given event (or their own standard quest rewards). It means you’re guaranteed an equal shot at that rare pirate coat you’ve been hanging out for as everyone else, all the way down to gather-able items in the game world (trees, ores, berries, and so on).

I get that MMORPGs aren’t for everyone. Doing quests and crafting can seem a little grind-y at the best of times (not to mention be a huge time suck), but while Guild Wars 2 shares many similarities to traditional MMORPGs, it’s different enough to separate it from the pack.

And that just makes it all the more enjoyable.

New PC Hardware

I’ve never been one to call computer hardware sexy or anything, but this is pretty nice, aesthetics-wise1.

Results in a pretty nice performance upgrade over my previous graphics card, a GTX 480, too:


  1. Photo taken with my Olympus mju-II and Superia X-tra 400. 

Why Does Every PC Notebook’s Trackpad Suck? (Or Why Microsoft Is Building its Own Hardware) | PandoDaily

But when you move away from those machines into computers that are more like appliances, you get the sort of clunkers that now clog the ultrabook market. They’re cheaper than the Air, they have better specs than the Air, and yet—because of things like terrible trackpads—they fall far short of the Air.

via Why Does Every PC Notebook’s Trackpad Suck? (Or Why Microsoft Is Building its Own Hardware) | PandoDaily.

Spec Ops: The Line

Spec Ops: The Line is a game unlike any other in recent memory. It asks a lot of you. It’s emotionally exhausting, and it’s the biggest eye-opener to war I’ve ever played.

More on that in a bit. For what it’s worth, there will be a few spoilers along the way. I have endeavoured to keep the spoilering to a minimum though, in order for you to enjoy the game in its entirely at a later date. Thank me later.

My expectations for Spec Ops started out as they usually do when a new shooter appears on my gaming radar. The usual “ooh, new shooter!” excitement accompanied by a Google-ing of a PC demo. I found none, but I did end up watching the trailer on my 360, only to be incredibly disappointed: there wasn’t anything appealing here, just what seemed like a massive grind through an extremely linear level structure, doing the typical shooter thing; i.e. shooting things. Disheartened, I moved on and promptly forgot about the initially promising shooter that turned out to be nothing I hadn’t already played before.

Sometimes, it’s fantastic to be wrong. And boy, although I didn’t know it yet, was I wrong — on every possible facet and every possible level.

Fast forward to a few weeks later, when I’m going through my usual gaming feeds to see if there’s anything new. I come across the Destructoid review of Spec Ops, along with The Verge review of the same. I decide to read their reviews out of curiousity, to see if they came to the same conclusions as I did when I had simply watched the trailer.

What I read wasn’t just unexpected, it was flabbergasting. What The Verge and Destructoid described wasn’t the boring, cookie-cutter shooter I had seen in the trailer, but a masterfully put-together commentary on war and its effect on everyone involved.

And then I watched the Zero Punctuation review on a game that had piqued my interest for the second time around, and I realised something: I had to play this game.

As fortune would have it, Spec Ops was on sale on Steam during their Steam Summer Sale a few days after that, and that was that. I paid for, downloaded, and started to play the game.

Now, you have to remember where I’m starting out from: Spec Ops is a game that I initially was somewhat interested in, then completely uninterested in, then finally, very much interested in once again. I had high expectations going in, and Spec Ops exceeded expectations in almost every way.

It’s no secret that I love a game with a good storyline, and Spec Ops is perhaps one of the only PC games I’ve played this year that has delivered in spades.

The scene is this: Dubai is in turmoil after sandstorms have ravaged the once-beautiful city. The US has already sent the legendary Colonel John Konrad and his battalion, the Damned 33rd, to help with the evacuation, but something is wrong. In Spec Ops, you play the part of Captain Walker, a US Delta operator who is sent into Dubai with two of his buddies in order to find out what happened to Colonel Konrad and his band of merry men, the Damned 33rd.

Like many shooters of the same genre, Spec Ops stats out innocently enough. In the first half of the game, you’ll begin to hate the cover-based combat – it’s not too dissimilar from the system used in the Mass Effect series, and yet there’s a constant grating that means combat doesn’t feel fluid as it could. It’s not as intuitive as the Mass Effect system — sometimes when you want to run to cover, you can’t. You just run, and then stand next to the cover, all the while taking fire from multiple enemies. It feels every bit as awkward as it sounds, but it’s not a deal-breaker; you’ll get used to it soon enough.

Ammo is scarce in Dubai, so you have to make your shots count; head-shots, for example, are accompanied by a puff of red mist, and a slow-motion effect that lasts for a fraction of a second. Not enough to move the crosshair to another target, but enough for your adrenaline-fuelled self to plan your next move. In true third-person shooter style, you walk over ammo to collect it, and can pick up weapons from the fallen at your leisure.

Welcome to hell, Walker.

But it’s during the second half of the game where things start to get a little out of hand. It’s not so much a departure from the shooter norm than a complete, off-the-rails derailment that sends you spiralling into the abyss of questionable morals. The story progresses from simple “reconnaissance” to “search and rescue”, all the whilst spinning an intricate web of more questions than answers.

Suddenly, your two subordinates are fighting amongst themselves over a decision you made earlier in the piece. Suddenly you’re thrust into a truly unforgiving world, where horrific scenes are witnessed, where you have to make the choice between shooting a civilian who stole water or a soldier who murdered the unlawful civilian’s entire family as punishment. And, wait a second, why am I suddenly shooting US servicemen? Aren’t we supposed to be on the same side?

There’s various sub-plots in the overarching story of Spec Ops that only serve to drive home the realities of war. At one point, the game sees you team up with the CIA who apparently know what’s going on in Dubai and have a plan — but in the end, all your efforts to get some more answers only results in more questions, and perhaps even the realisation that something is very, very wrong here.

As the game progresses, it’s not just “search and rescue” anymore. It’s “escape”. It’s “revenge”. You’re forced to make terrible, terrible decisions – forget the lesser of two evils, and just choose what you can live with. You’ll die a lot, and the messages on the loading screen are chilling: “do you feel like a hero yet?”, “how many Americans have you killed today?”, and my personal favourite, “you are still a good person”.

Action or inaction will sometimes result in the same outcome anyway, so you might ask yourself: what is the point of Spec Ops? The point is to get you to realise that war itself isn’t just about killing. Make no mistake, Spec Ops doesn’t glorify war like other shooters might do: Spec Ops makes you realise that war is truly horrific. Bad things happen in war. Bad things happen to people who are involved in war, and sometimes, there’s just no coming back from that.

There’s not much more I can say about Spec Ops without spoiling it totally, but suffice to say Spec Ops has to be played. The only real sticking point about the game is it’s cover-based combat — something the Unreal engine isn’t really designed to do — but the gameplay mechanics pale in comparison to the real reason you’re here; I knew Spec Ops wasn’t going to be just another cover-based FPS, and I went in expecting a stellar storyline, great pacing, and believable characters.  Trust me when I say it’s worth it for the storyline alone.

What you get out of Spec Ops will depend on your resolve: some games aren’t just games you play sitting in front of a computer, but real experiences that make you feel like you’ve been there, and you’ve made those choices for yourself.

Spec Ops is a masterpiece of brilliance. It offers an experience like nothing else I’ve ever played, and as a narrative on the realities of war, Spec Ops is unparalleled. You should play this game.

Further reading:
Zero Punctuation’s review of Spec Ops: The Line
The Verge’s review of Spec Ops: The Line
Destructoid’s review of Spec Ops
Ars Technica’s piece on Spec Ops: The Line including an interview with lead writer (major spoilers, please only read if you’ve finished the game)

DayZ Review (feat. Diablo III)

The quintessential DayZ experience: three guys in a field, about to loot through a town, with a single zombie in between them and beans.

Another exam period finished, another game thoroughly played.

For a long time, I’ve always wanted a realistic zombie apocalypse game that was more military simulation than arcade first-person shooter, and in terms of realism, DayZ — the mod for ARMA 2: Combined Operations that’s perhaps the most realistic zombie apocalypse game I’ve ever seen — delivers in spades.

It would be unfair to describe Arma 2 as anything other than a military simulation, as there’s so many aspects to the game itself — radios, ranging, realistic bullet physics, real weather, and so on. DayZ builds upon that, with a few custom weapons and, of course, zombies.

The way it begins is this: you’re dropped into a post-apocalyptic world, filled with zombies. You spawn on the beach, and what you do from that point on is entirely up to you, with the overall goal being to survive as long as you possibly can. Everything is out to get you (zombies, the environment, other players), and you start with basically nothing; I remember the days when you spawned with basic gear — a small pistol, a few bandages, ammo, and enough food and water to get you started. But a few weeks ago, the developer (Rocket) changed the spawning gear to be just a flashlight, a single bandage, and painkillers. Lest you starve or die of dehydration, your first task as a new Survivor  should be to find a few rations — perhaps a water bottle that can be refilled from fresh water sources, or a can of lovely mountain dew.

What you do from that point on is up to you.

Do you lone-wolf it and try and find some kind of weapon to defend yourself from the zombies? Do you continually roam around the cities in your never-ending search for supplies? Or do you gear up and see what the wide open world of Chernarus has to offer?

It’s this combination of military simulation, zombie apocalypse, and open sandbox that means DayZ is so compelling to play. There’s so many things to do — if you’re geared up well enough, do you start setting up camp (provided you can find a tent)? Or do you start looking for a better mode of transportation? And if you run into another player, what then? Shoot on sight, or let them live? There’s so many questions that are asked of you during your time playing DayZ, and you’ll have to make all the choices. Will you explore the big bad world beyond the two or three main coastal towns?

Some choices are easier to answer than others: if you’re temperature falls below a certain amount, you better find yourself a heatpack, or stay indoors until you warm up. If you catch a cold, you better hope you can find antibiotics in a hospital, lest you attract zombies with your coughing and spluttering, along with the gradual decrease in your blood level to half what it normally is. If you’re thirsty, you should drink, and so on, and so forth.

Some of your actions even have consequences: if you’re hungry, you should eat. Consuming an easily-found can of beans only replinishes around 200 blood, but if you happen to come across an animal that can be killed, gutted, and the raw meat cooked, you’ll find that replenishes much more blood (800), but requires many more tools. You’ll need to find an animal, for one, then you’ll need a hunting knife to gut it, a hatchet to cut wood for the fire you need to cook the raw meat, matches to make a fireplace, at which point you can finally cook the meat you found on the cow’s dead body. Enjoying your steak raw, sadly, is not an option when you need the blood.

There’s so many ways to accomplish the same thing in DayZ. You can, for example, light a fire to warm up, instead of going indoors or finding a heatpack. There are many ways to replenish your blood, too: you can eat (beans or cooked meat), or you can get a blood transfusion, with the latter option requiring another player and a blood pack — an item only found in one of the four hospitals in Chernarus.

You'll do a bit of running in DayZ. Did I say a bit? I meant a lot.

It wouldn’t be a military sim without weapons, and DayZ is the perfect blend, weapons-wise, between realistic and military. Common weapons you can find include crossbows, double-barrelled shotguns, winchesters, Lee Enfield rifles, and a whole assortment of sidearms, from the humble Makarov (the previous starting sidearm), to the trusty M1911, revolver, M9, and many more. It isn’t until you start looking for higher-tier weapons that the real fun begins: you can find scoped hunting rifles like the CZ500, and then you get into the true military weapons: M16 and M4 variants, AK and variants, light machine guns like the M249, silenced sub-machine guns, and even massively overpowered sniper rifles like the M24, DMR, and 50-cal M107. All guns make a distinctive sound when fired, so you can tell whether a player is firing an M1911, or whether you should be running for your life any second now because he’s got the gun with the biggest range in the game.

In true DayZ fashion, the zombies are affected by pretty much everything. If you run, you’ll attract zombies. If you crouch-run, you’ll attract zombies. If you crawl, you might attract zombies. If you fire a gun that makes a sound, you can expect all the zombies within a 50-meter radius to hear it, and if you’re firing a weapon in town, you better hope that there aren’t any curious players who come to investigate. That’s kind of the beauty of DayZ: there’s always another way. If you want to kill a zombie that’s between you and an objective, you can — either use a silenced gun, or even melee using the hatchet or crowbar. Flares attract zombies. Smoke grenades attract zombies.

And the zombies in DayZ? The zombies in DayZ hurt. If you’ve got aggro, they come at you at a frantic pace, hurt when they hit you, and can cause you to start bleeding out, or even break your bones. Thankfully, you can outrun zombies if you’re standing up and running — you can lose the zombies if you break line-of-sight and they don’t see (or hear) you again, but you can usually expect your running to attract even more zombies, especially if you’re running through a town. The line-of-sight thing is pretty interesting, and makes zombies fairly easy to evade if you’re running through a town — harder to lose if you’re out in an open field, but still possible. The line-of-sight is an interesting game mechanic anyway, and means even that newer players have a chance to survive (or they’ll learn stealth, which will help them out in the long run).

Health in DayZ matters. You have a blood meter, and if you’ve been in battle and taken a hit, sometimes you’ll start shaking from the pain, making accurate gunfire impossible. Thankfully, you can take painkillers to numb the pain. If a zombie breaks your bones, or if someone opens a door on you and you break a bone (it’s still an alpha, remember), you can fix yourself up with morphine. If you start bleeding out, you can bandage yourself up.

Yes, there’s quite a lot to DayZ — and we haven’t even discussed looting, vehicles, other players, playing in a group, or even death. But the reason DayZ works so damned well — even in its current alpha state — is that it’s just fun to play.

Diablo III isn’t quite the opposite in that it’s still fun to play, but it’s just not as compelling when compared to DayZ or even its predecessor, Diablo II. Diablo II was much, much darker than its successor, and Diablo III just feels as though it’s been given an overhaul for the worse. I know they’re essentially the same game, but it doesn’t feel as foreboding. It tries to be, what with the grotesque models and overall evil themes, but it just falls short of the level set by Diablo 2, and I’m not entirely sure why.

Don’t get me wrong, for the most part the graphical upgrades are more than welcomed (gaming at 800×600 isn’t my idea of fun these days), but instead of using those fancy new animations and graphics to make a better, gritter game, all Blizzard have done is put a few new colours in here and there, made gameplay simpler along the way, instead of making it darker, like a true sequel to Diablo II should be. I enjoyed Diablo II because it was exactly the kind of game I wanted to play — a dark and gritty game, filled with unknown terrors and semi-RPG elements.

Now, Diablo III feels like it just doesn’t have that special spark, and all because they’ve added a few new colours into the palette. The core gameplay hasn’t been changed all that much — Diablo III is still a dungeon crawler at heart — but it has been made to seem more attractive to newer players. The typeface is different, more inviting, which contributes a lot to the overall look and feel of the game. It’s a beautiful game, but there’s no compelling reason to play it besides the continuation of the storyline, and I’m honestly not sure if I would have played it at all if I wasn’t such a huge fan of the second Diablo game. For those that actually want a “nicer” dungeon-crawling game with a more upbeat tempo, there’s always Torchlight. Diablo was supposed to be the go-to game for dark and gritty, and the third one in the series just doesn’t deliver.

Which is a real shame.

DayZ is different in every way. Because it’s based on a military sim, it’s so much more different than your typical zombie apocalypse shooter. There’s not much actual gameplay, to be sure, but that’s half the fun: when you’re given no strict instructions and no real goal apart from just survival, you make do with what you have. At first, you’ll loot cities for all the beans you can get your hands on. You find a weapon to defend youself with. You kill any zombies that cross your path.  You make your own decisions when it comes to killing other players, or letting them live. You team up with other players with the goal of survival, and maybe you’ll abandon them to save yourself from the horde of zombies, maybe you won’t.

But that’s just where the fun begins.

Sometimes you're killing zombies, or repairing cars — other times, you're attaching scrap metal to houses.

Mass Effect 3

Now that I’ve finished my first playthrough of ME3 and grinded my way through some multiplayer, I’ve been sitting on a second playthrough for about a week now.

That is to say, I’ve started my second playthrough, but haven’t actually played any of it yet. A FemShep, Vanguard, Paragon, if you must know.

The way I’ve played all three Mass Effect games thus far is that the first play through is always using the default male Shepard, with all choices made as I would make them. Usually this falls on the Paragon side of things, with decisions made as I would make them (with perhaps a bit of divination as to what might happen in the future). Many people play Mass Effect like this, as it is, after all, a role-playing game.

The second play through is a little more relaxed in terms of choice. It’s the play through that lets me experiment with different choices, as well as allowing me to be a hard-ass Renegade where I believe it’s required. The second play trough is usually played as a female Shepard, too, just so I can experience another level of voice acting and see the difference between the two Shepards.

Then the play throughs get a little murky. I only completed the above two play throughs on Mass Effect 1, but for Mass Effect 2 I started a third play-through, a pure Renegade FemShep. Never got around to finishing that, because my interest at that point waned (not too unexpected when you’ve already completed the 30-hour storyline… twice).

Now that the background is all out of the way, I can tell you why I haven’t brought myself to continue my second play through of ME3 beyond the first priority mission.

It’s about choice.

You see, dear reader, Mass Effect is all about choice. The Mass Effect series has always been about the choices you make as a player, as male or female Commander Shepard. And that’s why I can’t bring myself to play Mass Effect 3 any more than once.

Let me explain: in the first two Mass Effect games, you have lots of choices to deal with. Some of those choices carry across to the second Mass Effect game, and some of the decisions you make in ME2 carry across to ME3, and so on. Lots of choices, like, literally, quite a few — so many that it’s reported over 100 variables are carried across from Mass Effect 2 to Mass Effect 3. As an aside, the whole concept of continuing the same character across games is a brilliant, ingenious concept that I really think more games should adapt: rewarding players for hanging onto their save files so they can continue the story in future titles is nothing short of brilliant, and doubly so in a role-playing game centred around the story. There are small issues with this approach, one being that there isn’t a way to “confirm” your choices in later games (in case you lose your save file); what I’d love to see is some kind of prologue to each game that makes you make those decisions again, but I can see how that would potentially sour the game for many. Tough call, but I digress.

Okay, so back on track: Mass Effect forces you to make choices. Not necessarily decisions between good and evil, but more subtle decisions: sometimes the decision between being a nice guy and a ruthless hard-ass isn’t as clear as some of us would like it to be. Like whether to free the Rachni queen. Or whether to keep a mad Salarian scientist’s work on curing the Genophage. Or killing Urdnot Wrex on Virmire. And so on and so forth; as a player you’re never sure how the outcome of your decisions will turn out. It keeps you guessing throughout the series, and it’s great.

Now, here’s where it gets interesting: for the most part, you had no idea how these decisions were going to affect future games. Maybe your act of goodwill in letting the Rachni queen live will come back to bite you in the arse in a future title. Maybe Urdnot Wrex turns out to be indoctrinated, I don’t know. The thing is, in the first two titles of the Mass Effect trilogy, you pretty much can do whatever you want without there being too drastic consequences (at least, not consequences you care about, not consequences you actually know about).

Mass Effect 3 changes all of that. Suddenly, you know what the end-game is. Suddenly, your decisions will weigh heavily on you, moreso if you made the “wrong” decision somewhere along the line.

Being the third title in a trilogy must be pretty hard. Even before you rip open the packaging, you know that this is it. After this, there’s not going to be any of a series you have some kind of a vested interest in, emotionally or otherwise. You know that after this, there will be no more. It’s the final countdown. The end of days. The beginning of the end.

Which is why, as you make your choices in Mass Effect 3, you make them damn carefully. Unless you’re some kind of sadist who doesn’t care about the story at all, you’re going to try and get the “best” ending possible. You’re going to try and make peace with everyone. You try to “do what’s right”, to play the hero Shepard everyone seems to think you are. So many times during Mass Effect 3, I sat there for minutes on end, staring at that little dialog choice circle, agonising over the choice I had to make. Because short of saving right before and reloading saves (a practice somewhat frowned upon), there’s no going back. What choice you make will either be the right one, or haunt you until the very end. There’s no sense in being a ruthless, at-all-costs Renegade, because even though you might get the job done, you’re not going to make many friends along the way. And that, ladies and gents, could affect how it all plays out in the end.

Which brings us, somewhat nicely, to the section wherein I talk briefly about the ending that everyone seems to be so upset over. People have petitioned Bioware over the ending in Mass Effect 3, and rightly so, in my opinion. Gaping plot holes and non-sensical cut-scene theatricals aside, the ending is so incredibly unsatisfying it’s an embarrassment. Unsatisfying is probably too light a word; if I’ve invested over a hundred hours into a series of three games spanning a number of years, I want the ending to be to my satisfaction. I’m all for leaving the reader guessing at the end, but the ending of Mass Effect 3 just doesn’t do the rest of the trilogy justice. It’s almost as if Bioware just ran out of time and/or money to put together something as stellar as the rest of the series, and now we have… The Ending That Shall Not Be Discussed. I mean, this is the culmination of everything you’ve been working towards ever since the first Mass Effect, and for what? I wish I could say something other than “a wholly unsatisfactory ending”, but I can’t.

Yes, it could probably be argued that the entirety of Mass Effect 3 is the ending to the Mass Effect trilogy, and in some respects you’d be absolutely correct. That’s not the point though, the point is that the climax of one of the most anticipated games this year, not to mention the entire series, feels like a complete and utter let-down by Bioware. They dropped the ball on this one; not just a small fumble, a complete and utter shambles.

Phew. The good news is Bioware has apparently caved and are planning to re-work things a little. Exactly what that means is still up in their air, but at this stage I’d be prepared to DLC my way to a better ending, whatever that might entail. Bioware, are you listening? I’ll gladly pay for a better ending, one that’s worthy of flying the Alliance flag.

But you know what? Mass Effect 3 is still a fantastic, triple-A title. As a whole, Mass Effect has evolved a little throughout the series, but only to culminate in what is easily the best game of the year thus far.

It’s a passable third-person shooter with quite a decent wave-based co-op multiplayer reminiscent of Left 4 Dead’s survival, or Horde mode in Gears of War, that also features objectives every few waves. The single campaign is where it’s at for the majority of players though, and that’s where Mass Effect shines. The storyline is unparalleled, the pacing, fantastic, and besides that ending that we really shouldn’t be talking about, it has very few, faults.

I’ll admit, there were many times during Mass Effect 3 that I felt something. Reunions with past squad mates in the previous game are particularly heartfelt, as is hilarious dialogue with likeable characters. Mass Effect 3 has managed to pull off one of the hardest hitting emotional aspects of any game I’ve played, and it does it so well. There were times during the game that I sat back and thought: hey, why don’t more games do this? Or, I love how this game manages to evoke some kind of response from the player. The down time between missions isn’t as frantic as the main storyline, and there are periods where you’ll be standing around on the Citadel trying to work out where you’re going/doing next, but it’s all good. All part of the package, if you will. Mass Effect 3 is, in my opinion, the pinnacle of gaming today, whether you think the ending sucked or not.

Mass Effect 3 is the very definition of Role Playing Game, with one of the most epic plots that’s as engaging as it is compelling — triple that if you’ve played the previous games; if you get sucked in, hang on and take a deep breath — you’re in for one crazy ride.

PC Modern Warfare 2: it’s much worse than you thought

We thought the lack of dedicated servers was bad, but now we can add the lack of console commands, the inability to have a say in who hosts the game, a lengthy pause while the game migrates to a new host if the currently selected host quits, no leaning, no option to record matches, and no way to kick or block trouble players, hackers, or cheaters.

You have to wonder if there are any actual PC gamers working at Infinity Ward, as it will be a challenge to find any member of the PC gaming community that will stand up for any of these omissions, not to mention all of them bundled together. At launch, this will be one of the most locked-down, inflexible, and gamer-unfriendly game ever created.

via PC Modern Warfare 2: it’s much worse than you thought – Ars Technica.

…and that’s why I haven’t preordered what certainly would have been the most popular FPS to come out in 2009.

The Great CPU Caper, Part I

Daylight Shot

Folks, I’d like for you to meet the latest additions to the Ling family.

Fawkes, and Voldemort.

We’ll start with Fawkes, because he’s definitely the most impressive of the two.

CPU: Intel E8400 3.0GHz/1333MHz FSB/6MB L2 Cache, $220
CPU HSF: Artic Cooling Alpine 11, $10.50
Mobo: XFX 780i SLI, $150
RAM: Team Xtreem Dark 4GB kit, $50
GPU: Asus EN9800GT 512MB, $100
HDD1: Western Digital 320GB WD3200KS, $40
HDD2: Western Digital 150GB Velociraptor, $130
Case: Cooler Master CM-690, $109
PSU: Cooler Master 460W, $30
Other: 2x Xigmatek 140mm fans, $44
OS: Windows 7 RC1, 64 bit edition, $0
Total Cost: $783.50

It’s not too bad. 😛

Continue Reading →