Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Far Cry 3 (PC) Review

Contrary to the popular opinion, I did not enjoy Far Cry 2. I didn’t particularly like the setting, and the gameplay padding in the form of respawning guard posts was very annoying for me. When Far Cry 3 was announced, I did not have high hopes for it. I thought it was going to be another generic open world shooter made for the consoles and I completely ignored it.

In the winter of 2014, Far Cry franchise pack went on sale on Steam, and I thought it might be worth buying it because Far Cry 3 and Blood Dragon were included. I paid $9.99 for it. I did not want to pay anywhere close to full price for these games because Far Cry 3 requires Uplay - even the version purchased on Steam.

No shooter is complete without the 1911

The story of Far Cry 3 centers around a group of tourists getting captured by pirates on a tropical island. The main character has to escape and defeat the pirates. There is a lot more to it than that, but that’s the gist of it.

The villain in the game received a lot of attention. I don’t get the hype for this character. I didn’t think it was badly written, quite the opposite, but it is by no means original. I still think Bioshock had the best villain in video games.

I enjoyed the gameplay in this game a lot more than Far Cry 2. Activating radio towers can be repetitive, it is not as bad as Far Cry 2 with respawning guard posts. In this game, whenever you capture an outpost, it gets taken over by the friendly forces, and it will turn into a safe zone, which can serve as a spawn point. This is way better than having to fight the same enemies repeatedly throughout the game.

Scenery in Far Cry 3

The shooting mechanics are well done, and there is quite bit of weapon variety, but not a whole lot of customization. As a Battlefield 4 player, I couldn’t help but notice how limited the customization was. That said, they got the core mechanics right, the weapons definitely handle very well.

It is possible to approach the outpost missions as you please, but the enemy AI has this supernatural ability to pinpoint your exact location within seconds. When one guard discovers your position, all the guards know where and what to look for. This can get annoying when using the stealth approach, but more often than not, I take a more direct approach, so it didn’t really matter to me. The few times that I tried, I found it to be less fun.



I do have to mention the UI and the constant hand holding throughout the game. I do not understand why single player games use 3D spotting. I can see this being useful to an extent in multiplayer games, but in my opinion, if at all this exists in single player games, there should be an option to turn it off. As it stands, every enemy can be “spotted”, which puts an overhead icon on the enemy, and this even includes the wildlife...bad game design.

Exploring the island is a lot of fun, from land vehicles to wing-suit, it’s got everything! This is the part I liked the most about the game. Exploring new areas, finding vantage points to take out enemies using a sniper rifle is very reminiscent of the first Far Cry game.

Trees on fire, like in Far Cry 2

Apart from the exploration, there is a lot crafting and leveling up mechanics in the game. I used them sparingly. The most important item to craft are the various syringes and backpacks. Syringe kits can be used for healing, and for other buffs such as the special vision which will allow you to scout the surroundings for wildlife etc.

I didn’t particularly care about the leveling up aspect of the game. This does not have a lot of impact on the gameplay, and I ignored it for the most part.

The story is not bad, but some of the missions can be a little annoying, especially when they devolve into QTEs.

All in all, I enjoyed the game, and I would recommend it.

Verdict - Worth the price.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Razer BalckWidow Chroma V2 Review

I wanted to take my mechanical keyboard to work (tired of membrane keyboards), therefore I wanted to buy a new keyboard for my gaming machine and take the one I have to work. I always wanted a Razer keyboard, but I avoided them because they did not come with a wrist rest. It is very uncomfortable for me to type without it.

When the BlackWidow Chroma V2 was announced, I thought I can finally give Razer mechanical keyboards a try. All the reviews I read, said that the keyboard is fantastic, and the wrist rest is the best part.

So when the time to purchase a keyboard came, I had to decide between the K70 Rapidfire with Cherry MX Speed switches and BlackWidow Chroma V2. I went with the BlackWidow Chroma with Razer Yellow switches because they are supposed to be equivalent to Cherry MX Speed switches.

Razer BlackWidow Chroma V2 with Razer Yellow switches

The build quality is fantastic. It has the feel of a premium keyboard. The switches felt a lot like Cherry MX Red switches - I did not have a problem with this. I just wanted a linear and silent switch.

All that said, I found the keyboard to be unusable. The entire reason for buying a Razer keyboard was because this one came with a premium wrist rest. Unfortunately for me, this wrist rest made the keyboard very difficult to use.

The wrist rest comes with padding, and therefore it is about as high as the spacebar, which seems like a minor detail, but what this meant was my wrist is angled downwards when I am typing. It just doesn't feel right, and after a while, it started to hurt a little bit. In addition to this, the awkward posture meant that I was making a lot of typing mistakes.

The other minor complaint I had with the LEDs was that the entire numbers row is not fully illuminated. It only illuminates the numbers and not the symbols. I am not sure if this is intentional or if it is a defect. I do not see why they would choose not to fully illuminate the keycap...I would not have returned the keyboard because of this, but it is something to think about when deciding between the BlackWidow and the K70 Rapidfire, which does not have this problem.

I really loved the keyboard, but given that I spend a lot of time at the computer, I did not see any reason to spend a lot of money and still experience some discomfort. So I returned it and purchased a K70 Rapidfire RGB instead.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Max Payne 3 (PC) Review



I was looking forward to a sequel to Max Payne 2 for many years. When Max Payne 3 was announced, I eagerly waited for the reviews. They confirmed what I had suspected, this game deviated quite a bit from the classic Max Payne games. This was disappointing for me, so I did not buy it at launch. I picked it up on a sale for $3.99.

I am glad I did not pay more because this game is a thoroughly disappointing experience for me. I will never replay it, and it was uninstalled the moment I finished the game.

Max Payne and Max Payne 2 were not just great games, but they were great PC games. They have all the features you would expect from a proper PC game - quick save, quick load, smooth controls, support for mods etc.

All of this is gone in Max Payne 3. Other than the visuals, everything took a step back from the previous games.

Graphics settings I used

The biggest complaint I have with the game is the gameplay, which has changed for the worse, in my opinion. It is heavily scripted. Every combat sequence is followed by a cut scene. It is not possible to enter and exit an area without a cinematic. It was interesting the first few times, but it gets old, very quickly. The game gives very little control to the player when it comes to exploring areas. Entering a room is now done in the form of an in-game cinematic.

Out of the 9 hours I spent playing the game on normal difficulty, I get the feeling that I was watching cut scenes for probably 50% of the time. This hurt the pacing of the game. It’s almost as if Rockstar wanted to make a movie, but were forced to add some gameplay to it.

The change of the setting did not work for me either. I prefer the snowy New England setting for Max Payne as opposed to the sunny, tropical Brazil. The comic book storytelling is replaced by blurry cinematics with a film grain filter. This does not feel like a Max Payne game, but more like a Kane Lynch game.

Favelas in Sao Paulo Brazil. Great graphics, but uncharacteristic setting, and linear gameplay hurt the game.

The smooth controls from the previous games are gone. They are replaced by relatively sluggish controls, which are very reminiscent of GTA 4, although not as bad. There is a cover mechanic, and every firefight devolves into a peaking from cover and taking pot shots at enemies. There is bullet time of course and it definitely works well, but even that is nothing original anymore. It has been done to death in video games since the first Max Payne.



The game is perfectly functional for me. I never had any technical issues. All my complaints with the game are gameplay related. There was some cool moments during the short campaign, but  overall it is a disappointment for me.

Verdict - Not Recommended.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Wolfenstein: The New Order (PC) Review

The last Wolfenstein game I played was the 2009’s Wolfenstein developed by Raven Software and published by Activision. It was a fairly underwhelming experience, and it did not do well commercially, which resulted in layoffs, and the rights to this franchise were sold to Bethesda Softworks.

Machine Games ended up working on the next game in the series, Wolfenstein: The New Order. I thought they did a better job than Raven Software, but Return to Castle Wolfenstein still remains my favorite game in the series.

This game begins three years after the events of the last game. Despite the destruction of Black Sun Portal in the last game, Nazis make a comeback and win the war against the Allies. Rest of the game takes place 14 years after the war, and Nazis have dominated the world or at least the western hemisphere from what I can tell. The situation is about as bad as you think it would be with Nazis at the helm. It is once again up to Blazkowicz and his friends to destroy the Nazis and free the world.

America surrenders!

The gameplay is linear but it is not like Call of Duty. There is some freedom in the way the player can approach a situation, but there is very little choice in story progression. This is not necessarily a bad thing, I do not expect Wolfenstein games to be open ended. I do expect them to be well optimized for the PC, and not resort to console gameplay mechanics.

The game is a PC port, and while it is not awful, it definitely suffers in some areas because of it. The visuals are not great in my opinion. I expected better graphics. They are not terrible, but looking back at the footage of Wolfenstein (2009), I felt this game does not look a whole lot better. Also, the framerate is locked at 60FPS. I’ve been told that this is a standard for idTech5 games. There are some mods that will unlock the framerate, but I read that physics are tied to the framerate (like most games designed for the console), and therefore unlocking the framerate could cause issues. I haven’t personally tested these mods.

Graphics settings

In addition to the 60FPS cap, there are unskippable intro logos, the silly warning about not turning off the machine when the game is saving progress (which is a staple of console ports), lack of quick save and quick load etc. They definitely did not go the extra mile for the PC.

Another very annoying omission is the ability to use Mouse 4 and Mouse 5 buttons. There is no way I could map any actions to these buttons in the game. I am so used to binding these buttons to certain weapons that I find myself using them during combat, and getting killed because nothing happens when I press them. Took a while for it to sink in.

On a positive note, I think they did a good job with the environments and level design. An insight is shown into how the citizens are controlled by the media. You hear certain conversations about how the government targets individuals who do not conform to what they consider to be “moral behavior”. That said, they really try to hammer home the idea that Nazis are racist. Sometimes, it is subtle and clever, and other times it's just lazy writing.

Aryan features! Haha!

More often than not, I do not care about parallels to current political events in video games, because game developers pushing their own point of view, however noble they consider it to be, is something I regard as propaganda in and of itself. Gaming for me is an escape, and while I can appreciate a slight nod to certain social issues, I do not care to be preached. For the most part, this game avoided that.

Moving on to weapons, I thought they did a pretty good job with it, but the system of weapons management was very poor. We now have a weapons wheel, which serves the purpose but the weapon variety is not great as the last game. I really enjoyed dual wielding weapons though. Pistols are weak, but the rifles and shotguns are strong and fun to use. There are some stealth sections thrown in here and there, to change the gameplay, and they are not too bad. The annoying thing about stealth sections is that the game decides to strip the player of all weapons at the start of the level. All the ammo acquired prior to the level is gone. I can understand if this happens once, but that is not the case.



The New Order is definitely worth playing for FPS fans, but I am not sure it's worth full price. I paid $6.59 and I think I got my money’s worth. If you can find it for that price, I recommend picking it up.

Verdict - Wait for sale

Wolfenstein (2009) PC Review

Return to Castle Wolfenstein was one of my all time favorite FPS games. When Wolfenstein was announced in 2005, I had very high hopes because it was being developed by Raven Software. I thought they did a great job with Quake 4, which I  recently played, so things were looking up.

Having played it, I am not sure I am happy with the final product.

The story involves, the Nazi occult division on their quest for world domination, two factions that are out to stop them, a medallion which grants the person holding it some supernatural powers, set in the city of Isenstadt, in Germany.

The game has an open world design of sorts, but it's not very well done. It’s not a persistent open world like we see in S.T.A.L.K.E.R, but rather like the one in Far Cry 2. Everything from enemies to fuel barrels will respawn up on re-entering an area. This makes gameplay tedious because often times it is required to pass through certain areas repeatedly, and each time you encounter the same enemies. Other than padding the gameplay time, this does nothing to make the game better. I found it very boring.

Veil powers which are granted by the medallion, are fun to use. They are very similar to the abilities of the nanosuit from Crysis. It is sometimes possible to completely dominate enemies in certain situations with use of veil powers along with the very powerful weapons acquired later in the game. Combat benefits from this. Unlike the nanosuit in Crysis, veil powers can upgraded, which is an interesting addition.



While there are a lot of positive aspects such as visuals and sound, the gameplay has taken a step back. Manual/quick save and load are gone, the game uses a checkpoint system instead. I do not see any reason why a game like this on the PC needs to use a checkpoint save system. This is one of those unfortunate side effects of maintaining parity between platforms.

The boss fights at the end are a prime example of how not to design a game, at least for the PC. Given that there is no save feature, and the player has to defeat each boss multiple times just adds to the frustration. There was no fun to be had here for me.

Wolfenstein (2009) is not a bad game by any means. I did not enjoy it as much as the previous game. I do not mind recommending this to those that enjoy FPS games if they can find it for around $5.

Verdict - Wait for sale

Monday, June 5, 2017

S.T.A.L.K.E.R Shadow of Chernobyl (PC) Review

S.T.A.L.K.E.R is one of those games that is hard to describe. I can't imagine a western game studio releasing a game like this. We have to rely on eastern European game developers for it. S.T.A.L.K.E.R is primarily a survival game with a lot of horror elements Some of the design decisions are very old school, and it is better off for it. This game is a PC exclusive, therefore it can take full advantage of all the benefits that come with the platform, the most important benefit being mod support.

The game was terrible at launch. Thankfully, I never bought it at release. I've read forum posts by people who played about 30% of the game and when the developers released a patch, it rendered the previous saves useless.

As time went on, developers fixed some of the issues, and mods took care of the rest. The Complete Mod is highly recommended. I did not install the mod at the time, I encountered quite a few AI related bugs, but nothing game breaking. I recommend updating to the latest patch, and then applying the Complete Mod.

If you are spoiled by games like Call of Duty with regenerating health, then S.T.A.L.K.E.R is going to be hard, even on normal difficulty. I remember struggling my way through the game at the start because I did not have good weapons. This part was the least fun for me. Once the good weapons were available the game is a lot more fun to play.

Regardless of the type of weapon, accuracy is highly rewarded. It is possible to take out an enemy with a single headshot using a pistol. This will not work on all enemy types, therefore identifying enemies is important when approaching an area.



The game world is massive, and there are a few sections that require loading which can be slow, but it is not very frequent. The underground levels are very well done with excellent lighting and sound. Unlike most horror games, the game does not rely on jump scares too much. Its primarily an open world survival game.

If I am not mistaken, day/night cycles were not a norm at this point. This is the first game I played which had a day/night cycle. More often than not, I would not venture out at night, and when I did, it's a very different experience.

The game is about 20 hours long. S.T.A.L.K.E.R kept me engaged throughout and for what it costs, it's incredible value as well. I purchased this as a part of THQ bundle back in 2009. I recommend buying this on GOG.com, when it goes on sale.

Verdict – Must play

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Batman Arkham Asylum (PC) Review

This is the first comic book based video game I played to completion. There are a lot of things to like about Arkham Asylum, but it has the usual console game design flaws.

The highlight of this game is the combat. It is a lot of fun when they let you have a free reign on how to approach enemies. There are often multiple ways of approaching an area. Stealth is almost always a viable option, and the game does a good job of giving player the tools needed to make different strategies possible. Chaining combos and using the batarangs to stun enemies is fantastic. I did not mind retrying certain sections a few times over to get the perfect result.

Gothic art inside the asylum

Visuals and audio are fantastic. The game is locked at 60FPS. I did not mind this. The graphics are excellent, and I loved the setting. The game is set in the asylum at night. The art stays true to the source with the gothic architecture and the nighttime setting.



Music and voice acting are also excellent. Joker is the highlight among all the characters. Batman as usual is very monotone, Joker being the exact opposite. Mark Hamill did a fantastic job as the voice of Joker. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Player movement is a common complaint with console ports. GTA 4 is an example of sluggish player movement. Not the case here. It’s smooth and responsive.

All the complaints I have with this game are the console design choices. Checkpoint saves only, with no save slots. The only option allows you to load the last checkpoint. Yet again, the PC version suffers due to console limitations. While this is not a major problem, it can be annoying during certain tedious sections, especially the longwinded boss fights.

Asylum courtyard

In certain sections, the camera perspective switches to either a fixed perspective or turns the game into a platformer. The scarecrow sections could have been so much better, but in the name of gameplay variety, they felt compelled to do this. I do not care for it at all. These are by far the most boring parts of the game. Thankfully, the game is not very difficult, except for the final boss fight, which is needlessly frustrating.

Another annoying issue is the unskippable intos whenever the game is launched. There is a manual fix for this. http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=186804991

There are far too many hints throughout the game, and the interface can be very cluttered because of this. It doesn't leave a lot to the player imagination. I looked through the game options to see if I could disable the hints, like I could in Bioshock and Deus Ex Human Revolution, but there is no such option.

Joker Asylum

The game employs this very unoriginal concept of magically locking doors to restrict movement, and they magically unlock after whatever predefined event is completed. A console classic, the low hanging fruit of game design. It was annoying when Wolfinstein (2009) did it, and its annoying now.

I paid $4.99 for this game, and I think its worth it. I would not recommend paying anything more than that. Also, I did not try for 100% completion. I do not have that kind of time in life. I have a lot of games to finish, so I stuck to the main quest. Steam tells me I played a total of 16 hours to beat the game.

In closing, it can be a lot of fun, but it suffers somewhat because the developers did not take full advantage of the PC platform.

Verdict - Wait for sale.

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Witcher (PC) Review

I am not sure how to review a game like this. I enjoyed it, but it has flaws. It reminds me a lot of STALKER in that way. Good story, and level design made me play this game to the end, but quite a few of mechanics are unpolished. I am hoping the sequels address these issues.

The highlights of this game are characters, environment, story and music. I thoroughly enjoyed the setting, and the music is perfect. It is a true classic in my opinion, right up there with Deus Ex and STALKER. I have not played any of the other games in the series yet, but this game has set an excellent platform for future games.

The world is fairly well built. The game involves you revisiting some locations, after they have transformed quite a bit, and I think the art team has done a great job showing this transformation. Vizima levels are fantastic, and the swamp and sewer areas are my least favorite.

Vizima on fire

The story is well told, and they do a good job of keeping the player invested. It was interesting to see how the choices I made are going to impact the the end game.

Controls takes some getting used to. This game is somewhat like Mass Effect; there is no jump, or crouch, and the movement is very stiff. I never felt I had full control over the character's actions. During combat this lack of control will result in some very cheap deaths, especially because Geralt puts his sword away at the beginning of most cutscenes before battle, and as soon as the cutscene is over, a number of enemies will jump at you, and the delay in drawing out the sword will drain some precious health. Who thought this was a good idea? They had to have done this intentionally. One wonders what their rationale was for such a silly mechanic.

Boss battles can be extremely annoying. Just about every boss battle follows the same formula. A cutscene, followed by some dialogue and then combat begins by trapping you in the area in some manner. This may not sound bad, but considering it is not possible to save the game  during combat, dying would mean having to go through the cutscene and dialogue each time. The lack of quick save and quick load only adds to the pain. This is bad game design in my opinion.

Propaganda

Health system is needlessly convoluted. As I understand it, health regenerates automatically at a very slow rate. Eating food should accelerate the rate of regeneration, but its hardly helpful in a combat situation. Geralt has to stop in his tracks and consume food, and this will most likely get you killed. Same goes for health potions. Why the character cannot be in motion while consuming food or potions, I do not know.

The dialogue and voice acting can range from excellent to goofy. Same character models are used all over the game, to the point where, you can have four NPC characters talking to each other that look identical.



Alchemy is another mechanic that was not fully fleshed out. It is possible to craft a lot of potions, but the ones I used most frequently are for regenerating health faster, and then a potion to reduce the toxicity caused by using these health potions. This never made any sense to me. Why would health potions have toxic properties? Either way, I felt like Alchemy was a wasted opportunity in terms of affecting gameplay. The fact that all potions increase toxicity, meant that I had no real to use them, unless absolutely necessary.

Day night cycle are done very well

I still maintain that this game, in-spite of its flaws, is a lot of fun and it is worth playing. I am contemplating installing Witcher 2 right now to pick up where I left off.

Verdict - Must play