Tag Archives: First Person Shooter

Insurgency Sandstorm Review

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Wow, two reviews this week? I really had to crunch to get this one done. It’s worth it though because like DUSK, this is a new FPS release that really ought to be on your radar. Insurgency Sandstorm, like its predecessor is here to give you a blend of arcade run speed, with late 90’s tactical subgenre features. But does it reach the lofty goals set forth by the original?

PROS: It’s an Insurgency sequel on a much newer engine!

CONS: Not every promised feature is here (yet.) Minor issues.

GIBS: A common 90’s FPS feature returns.

The original Insurgency set that bar rather high. What had started out as a mod became a full-fledged game that pushed Valve’s Source engine to its limit. It bridged the gap between Tactical FPS games like Rainbow Six 3: Raven Shield, and large-scale objective Military Team FPS games like Battlefield. In doing so, it offered a great alternative to some of the titles in the AAA space. While it didn’t run on the latest tech, it did give players a unique experience. Insurgency did well for itself, cutting out a nice niche for itself, and becoming one of the most beloved competitive games on Steam for some time.

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So what does this newer version bring to the table? Does it improve on the foundation set by the original? Should you play this over something else in the subgenre? All of these are questions you might have going into this one, and they’re all valid ones to ask. When the game was announced it was touting a robust single-player campaign in addition to the multiplayer goodness fans of the first game came for. It showed off some vehicle play, and all in a vast uptick in visual fidelity.

Well let’s get the one major point of contention some will have out-of-the-way. There is no one-player campaign. At least not yet. Now to be fair, those who followed the news around this game during its development, or played it while it was in Early Access were told it wasn’t going to make it in by launch. So a big chunk of the potential audience who were excited upon seeing it during E3 2017 already know this. But if you were one of those interested who saw the early trailers, put it on your “Look forward to seeing it when it comes out” list, and are just now looking at it? You’re going to be disappointed.

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But this is also not an “All is lost” moment, the studio has said it should be coming later, and that it should be included along with the other DLC. And that’s where the barometer may swing from disappointed to optimistic. Because the folks at New World Interactive will not be charging for DLC, nor implementing micro transactions or loot boxes. So everything that comes out for this game in the future will cost you nothing extra. New maps will be included. New weapons they decide to add will be included. Any new modes they cook up will also be included. So the lack of the campaign might sting, but they haven’t outright cancelled it either. If you only come to your army shooters for a campaign, and touch nothing else, you may want to wait. Or not, because there are things here you might still enjoy.

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Of course Insurgency, became a cult hit for a number of reasons. Its various modes. Its unique blend of styles. And that it pushed an aging technology pretty far in the process of delivering its fun. It didn’t look as good as the games EA, and Activision were putting out, but it stood in the same league when it came to game play. And that trend does indeed continue in Insurgency Sandstorm.

Think of Insurgency Sandstorm as an experiment in combining the best elements of various military themed shooters you’ve played over the years. All while implementing its own ideas into the monster before releasing it upon the world. What does it borrow? Well it gives you the vast conquest maps Battlefield fans would love. It also uses point capture as the primary goal of its competitive modes. Insurgency Sandstorm has three of them. (Though like the campaign, more may follow.)

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PUSH: This is the mode most like the Rush mode in the Battlefield games. It places one army as defenders, and one army as attackers. Attackers have a miniscule number of lives spread across its combatants. While Defenders have a much larger pool. However, if the attackers manage to take the first point on the map, they will gain more lives. They will also force the defensive team to fall back to their next point. This continues until either the defenders are made to fight their last stand, with no remaining lives to defend a cache. If the attackers blow it up, the defenders are defeated. The defenders will also be defeated if all of their lives are lost.

What makes this mode compelling is that there are a number of ways each side can approach their situation. When playing defense, you can do what I like to do. You can literally lie down on the objective (represented by a room with a giant flashing letter.), and attempt to kill any intruders. If enough of your team follows suit, it becomes nearly impossible to take the point. However, I said “nearly”. That’s because there are any number of ways a skilled attacking team can crack this. They can employ explosives to spook people to leave the point or die. They can send in their best stealth players to get inside. They can try to flank spawning defenders rushing to get back to the point. These are just some of the strategies you’ll see employed.

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FIREFIGHT: Is the next mode, and here all of the points on the map are preset with both armies having to take an attack position. One point is predetermined to be for one side. The second for the other side, and the third being unclaimed. The first team to capture all three of these wins. However, it isn’t easy because each player has only one life. The only way you get to come back into the battle is if your team captures a point while you’re dead. What people love about this mode is that there’s a tug of war going on with it. If you’ve got two points, but not the third, you’ll have to send people to take the third. But that means the opposing team will find less resistance, at one of your two points. If they take one, you’re at a disadvantage, and have to figure out which of their now two points is easier to take.

SKIRMISH: Takes the game play of Firefight, and adds the caches from the Push mode which gives each team multiple lives. So you’ll be going along in your back, and forth. But the twist comes when one of the caches is destroyed. Without a cache, your team will fall back to the stock Firefight rules, which makes it easier to become overrun. So you have to decide as a team whether you want to go all out, and take points. Or do you designate a few of your combatants to defend the cache while others go for points? Insurgency Sandstorm involves its own strategies into proven concepts.

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This is where the implementation of other ideas, along with NWI’s modern twists, and original features really begins to take shape. Insurgency Sandstorm may use some ideas you’ve seen elsewhere, but it isn’t a knock off. It isn’t just reskinning a popular game, and shouting “Ta-da!”. It’s transformative. It retools these ideas to work in ways that weren’t expected before. It again, also has original ideas too. That’s what made the first game so great, and that continues here in the combat system.

 

Like the original, it takes a page from the original Rainbow Six games, and goes for far more realistic damage. If you play Rainbow Six Siege, as fun as it is, you can still survive firefights if you get shot. Even if you go down a friend can revive you. But if you go way back, and play Rainbow Six 1,2, or 3, that is rarely the case. In those games a single hit was usually lethal. If you were hit in a limb, maybe you could take a second bullet to go down. Insurgency Sandstorm is tough like that. If you get shot, you’re probably dead. If you’re hit in the arm, perhaps you’ll find some cover to survive a little bit longer. But another hit, and you’re toast. Because while your vision comes back, your health does not.

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But Insurgency Sandstorm goes further. Because it eschews plenty of other ideas its competitors love. For instance, there is no mini map. There are no little lights on a square in the corner telling you where to go. You’ll see a flashing letter in the distance. But that’s it. Insurgency Sandstorm has no kill cam. You may be able to have the run speed of a soldier (provided you have no body armor) of a Call Of Duty entry. But when you get sniped running onto the point, and die you will not be watching the person who killed you as you wait to spawn. You can see your teammates, and communicate with them if you see a threat near them. But that is it.

Insurgency Sandstorm also adds a bit of realism in its movement. When you sprint you may not tire. However, you also can not shoot. You have to think about that when going about. If you think you can blast a nest of enemies while charging into a room, think again. At best you can kick doors down while running, and if it hits an enemy in the process you can kill them with the door. But you’ll also be wide open when the other campers see it. On the flip side, if you’re trying to snipe, and you’re too close to the banister, your arm will simply bend back toward you, as you struggle to find a spot where your gun isn’t going to go up against an object. It’s a small thing, but it adds a lot to the environment.

 

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Insurgency Sandstorm borrows an element from Arena shooters of yesteryear too: Gibs. In this game, getting hit in key parts of the body will cause limbs to fly off, heads to explode, and bodies to disintegrate. Since this game is going for a little bit more realism it doesn’t come off like it would in The Expendables. It comes off a little bit more like Glory. Rather it tries to. It doesn’t quite make that emotional transition, but it doesn’t elicit that same joyous surprise as it did back in DOOM, Duke 3D, or QUAKE. At least not for me. The point is, there is an element of its use in a contemporary setting that might remind some players of how horrific wars can be. Whether or not this is intentional is solely up to the artists to decide. They may have been going for the action movie vibe more so than the dramatic movie vibe. In which case I think it fell somewhere in between. But they do come off as impressive. The first time you see it, you really won’t be expecting it, and it honestly might just shock you even knowing about it going in.

The move to Unreal Engine 4 also means a big uptick in visual fidelity, and a jump in system requirements. However, New World Interactive deserves some praise in just how much they’ve done to ensure those like me, with aging video cards can still play their game with great performance. If you do happen to have the hardware that can run this at or near maximum settings, you’ll be pretty pleased with the end result. There are some very impressive lighting effects, Anti-Aliasing effects, Bump mapping effects, among others that UE4 can support. However, if you have a machine that’s five years old, you’re probably not going to be playing any game maxed out. The scalability this game provides is great, as are its customization options.

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All of the shots you’re seeing in this review were taken at the lowest settings. These can hang with a lot of other games despite the reduced image quality. Granted, you can’t expect miracles either. If you’ve got a ten-year old computer with barely any RAM to speak of by today’s standards,  you probably cannot run it. But If you have at least a fourth generation Intel i5 or AMD FX 6330 (around 5 years old now), a NVIDIA GTX 760 or AMD Radeon 7970 in there (also around 5 years old as of this writing), and a good 16GB of RAM in your system you likely can. And at better performance than you might expect. At the lowest settings, I’ve been able to play between 70, and 90 frames per second resulting in a relatively smooth, and responsive experience.

And with the game slated to hit the Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 next year, it does give those who prefer a console experience something to look forward to. As for the artistic side of the visuals, they’ve really gone out of their way here as well. Textures on buildings, look sharp, the costumes of the characters all fit the motif the game tries to present. Even on the lowest details, the backgrounds all still look great with some nice lights, and shadow effects going on.

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As in the original game, one side of the roster is composed of security forces. So when playing  as a security force member you’ll have a military themed character. The other side is composed of insurgents where you’re basically playing as a terrorist group of villains. One thing this game introduces over its predecessor is a cosmetic customization option. As you play the game you’ll earn in game currency. Much like Nintendo’s Splatoon series, you cannot buy this currency. These are points you use exclusively for this feature. Unlike Splatoon, these clothing options do nothing else. It’s strictly just to personalize your characters when playing online. No perk slots, no RPG elements, that is it. That being said, a lot of the costume selections are quite good, and go for something grounded. You won’t be running around on the security side wearing only pants, and bandoliers or rocking a Cobra Commander costume on the insurgent forces.

As in the first game, there are no unlockable weapons. When you start the game every one of your classes is given a certain number of points. Which you can use on your load out. So you have to use tactics even when deciding what to go onto the front lines in. You may not have to grind your way to that powerful machine gun you want to use. But if it costs a lot of points that doesn’t leave you a lot left over for attachments, or defensive items or a secondary item. Similarly, you can choose to go for a lot of body armor, and items. But this will actually affect your run speed by making you slower. You might be able to take a third or fourth bullet before dying though. So you need to approach every class situation differently.

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Also new to this game are new Commander, and Observer classes. These classes have to work together, and stay within a certain proximity to one another. Because these classes can work to call in air support. They can call in helicopters, or mortar storms to help them push when attacking, or to defend their position when being pressured. Every one of the classes is viable though, and if you couldn’t already tell, the best way to play is with friends who communicate. Insurgency Sandstorm is very much designed around teamwork. It has built-in chat, so you can easily talk to your team on the fly. For those who don’t have a headset, or a microphone, you can still type to your team members.

On the other hand, when playing with random strangers, there is always going to be a troll or two. It’s just the reality of online gaming. Fortunately this time around you can mute everybody wholesale if you have the misfortune of dropping to a match where everyone annoys you. Still, when playing with friends, the voice chat can be an accommodating feature. Especially for those with friends who don’t know how to set up their own chat alternatives like Discord.

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And if all of the heated PvP stuff sounds too tough for you, the cooperative mode included is something you may gravitate toward. Similar to the Terrorist Hunt mode of the Rainbow Six series, Insurgency Sandstorm’s cooperative experience pits you, and others up against a team of NPC bots. With frequently changing objectives. It basically blends some of its competitive elements into the mode. So at first you, and the other humans may be taking points. But then the game will decide you have to defend the one you just claimed against an onslaught, or destroy a cache. But all of it is done in, a fun, and entertaining way.  You’ll get a variety of enemy bot skill levels. Some will be pretty good at movement, others will be marksmen. But you’ll occasionally get that idiotic bot that just stands there after missing. Still, they employ some tactics one might not expect, making for some surprises. And of course for those who only want to go up against the best, Insurgency Sandstorm features a competitive option where you’ll be placed with other people on ranked servers, and modes to keep up your street cred.

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For those who absolutely must have something here for playing alone, there are a couple of minor options though. There are a couple of short tutorials that get you used to the game’s mechanics, and modes. These aren’t really necessary for those who have played FPS titles for years, though it can catch you up on the nuances here. The aforementioned cooperative mode is here however again as a single player option. Sadly this just isn’t going to be as fun as the cooperative experience. That’s because you’re paired with bots who aren’t as adept as the bots you’ll go up against, and you’re only given one life per objective. So if you die trying to get the first objective, the round ends, and you’ll move onto the next. This makes the one player option a lot more challenging too because without some competent bots, you’re basically going up against an entire army alone. Still you get five attempts, and winning alone is doable.

But there are also a load of options for you to tinker with. Not just the aforementioned graphics settings, and performance settings. Not just the look of your hero or villain. You can even tweak some of the marker settings, like changing the colors of the letter markers,  and names to something clearer to you than the default. You can also put on displays to show you the current frame rate, and ping. Things that have been in Unreal Engine games for years, but are often closed off in newer releases. It’s nice to see it here so that you can see the math when turning something on or off.

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There are a few problems I do have to point out though. While I imagine most people will get pretty good performance out of this game, there are a number of small visual glitches I’ve stumbled upon. In one game I noticed somebody’s weapon just flickering in the sky before the round began. Another round I noticed player models that hadn’t completely loaded in. So they were shooting at me, but the weapon they were using couldn’t be seen. These are rare occurrences. But the common issue I run into is texture pop in. Again, it loads in fast enough. It doesn’t affect the game play. But the 2 seconds between seeing a blue wall, and seeing a blue wall, with dents in it, and other details can sometimes distract from the experience. I suspect it could be an issue with older cards, that will eventually be fixed with patches, and drivers. But it is a minor problem.

When playing the cooperative mode, alone or with other players, there are a few minor nitpicks. Mainly with the inconsistent A.I. as I mentioned earlier, the bots you face can have a fair amount of variety in skill which is nice. But when you have to rely on them in your team, and a few decide to be idiots, you almost wish they weren’t there. The enemy bot spawns could have been obfuscated a little bit better too, as there were a couple of times in the single player cooperative I could go out a door of a point I had to defend, and see the game drop them in.

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In the grand scheme of things these issues don’t really amount to much of anything. The A.I. is still better than in many of the bots in other titles. The game rarely looks anything less than great aside from the 2-4 seconds of pop in you may experience. Leaving the bot spawn issues, which really breaks the immersion more than anything else. Back on the pvp end of things, there is far less to pick apart. The net code is generally very good. Unless you’re connecting to a server half the world away, you don’t see a lot of rubber banding, or players warping around like Mr. Game & Watch.

All of the online modes are generally quite fun. The studio kept them to the best maintained modes of the first game to ensure that you can always find someone to play against, and this strategy has worked. Yes, you can get into situations where there are people trying to spawn camp, or situations where you’ll have people on your team who refuse to run to the giant flashing “A” along with everyone else. But these aren’t issues with the game, these are the same issues you’ll run into with certain individuals in any multiplayer game. Fortunately, the game does offer the ability for you to mute individual people, or even everyone wholesale.

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The gun play is fantastic. Every weapon has a nice heft to it, and there are options here for every type of player. If you prefer to cover your team, there are many sniping options. If you want to go stealth, there are a slew of close range rifles, shotguns, SMGs, and other options, and attachments. The sounds of gunfire, and explosions are phenomenal too, which adds to that feeling of weight. You also have to hold your breath to steady your aim. Not only with the long-range weapons, but every weapon. Hip firing will just go wherever the gun is aimed. So panic shooting is going to be a crap shoot. These are all seemingly tiny things. But they add so much depth to the combat.

The maps are also mostly really good. Save for an exception or two, just about every map is built around each mode, and objectives are set that put either an attacker or defender into a tough situation at any given time. There are choke points defenders can use to their advantage. There are multiple paths attackers can take at any given time. The inclusion of vehicles in the Push mode also adds a new dynamic. I would have liked to have seen more of them. But between the drivable trucks with mounted guns, and the air strikes the two new classes can call in, there are new strategies that have to be employed to deal with them. And some maps actually make using these things harder. On the refinery stage enemies can just go inside buildings to escape the wrath of a Blackhawk helicopter. Similarly someone can put out roadside bombs in key locations that might deter someone from racing to the point in a pickup.

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In spite of its faults, Insurgency Sandstorm is a phenomenal game. It offers a real alternative to those who have felt disenfranchised with Electronic Arts’, and Activision’s annualized offerings. While it might not have quite the same level of visual fidelity of Battlefield or Call Of Duty, it also doesn’t require the purchase of season passes or micro transactions to have access to everything included in it down the line. The game play in it is also unique thanks to reintroducing an audience to hardcore simulation elements while retaining the run speed of something more twitchy. Absolute simulation purists may still want to go to the excellent ARMA games. And while this game may not be as recognized by the wider audience, the potential is there for that to change.  Especially if the game’s smaller issues are cleared, and the promised campaign shows up before it sees a port to consoles next year.

Whether you loved the original Insurgency, and poured hundreds of hours into it, or you’re a military FPS veteran looking for something new, this is pretty much a game you’ll enjoy diving into. This is also an excellent option for those who want something competitive to play, but without the pressure to spend more money. It’s also a great game for the casual military FPS fan who doesn’t have thousands of hours to devote to unlocking things. Insurgency was also supported for many years after it came out, and there’s no indication New World Interactive won’t do the same for the sequel. People who were interested solely in a campaign story mode will want to wait for its arrival. But for anyone looking for a unique take on the modern military multiplayer shooter? Insurgency Sandstorm should be on their wish list.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

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DUSK Review

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Man, I’m late again, I know. But I’m not late to the proverbial party. Because DUSK has officially launched, and I can tell you it’s really freaking cool. Where a lot of games have been tugging at our nostalgic platformer strings, DUSK tugs away at your nostalgic FPS strings. And while it isn’t the first to do so, it is one of the first to do it this well. It clearly takes inspiration from late 90’s shooters like Quake, Unreal, and SIN.

PROS: Classic visuals. Intricate maps. Fantastic characters. Gun play.

CONS: Minor bugs. One particular puzzle isn’t very intuitive.

DELIVERANCE: Some of these enemies will make you squeal like Ned Beatty.

But not only does it take that inspiration, it runs with it clearly into the end zone. This is noticeable before you even get to playing. Booting the game displays those familiar text parsers to anyone who played DOOM, ROTT, DUKE 3D, or QUAKE for MS-DOS back in the mid to late 90’s. Even after Windows 95 became an overnight sensation, it took a long time for video games to migrate to the environment as the de facto standard. Even in 1996, QUAKE was running on DOS. So this nod is going to make many old school PC game fans very nostalgic.

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But that’s just the beginning, because DUSK gives you a smorgasbord of visual settings, and sound options to choose from. You can run the game in resolutions set for 4K, HD, SD monitors. You can make things look grainy with a pixel filter. You can play with borders. You can screw around with the color scheme. You can have the game looking bright, and colorful. You can have the game looking near grayscale. You can make everything look Sepia if you want. The wealth of customization is great.

As in the FPS games of yore, you can bind nearly every key to your liking, and you can even turn off the vertical axis on your mouse. This is really cool because during the game you can do somersaults, and backflips in the air! It’s just one of many innovations you’ll find this game has added atop the classic shooter. You can also map everything to a controller if you prefer to play with a game pad over a keyboard, and mouse. Ideally, you’ll get much better control with the latter. However with the game getting a release on the Nintendo Switch next year, the controller support is a welcome addition.

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Once you’ve gotten your bindings, and other settings configured to your liking you’ll be able to start the game. As in the Apogee, and iD games from back in the day, DUSK is broken up into three episodic campaigns. It follows a three act structure, and the story is told through a combination of audio voiceover, level design, and paragraphs of exposition upon clearing each of the first two episodes. So many players who remember spending countless hours trying to find every last bit of environmental lore in DOOM, and QUAKE will feel right at home here. Of course this game doesn’t spell everything out right away for you in terms of its story. You’ll start out the first episode in a dingy, and dark dungeon armed only with two sickles.  You’ll immediately be attacked by three guys right out of Deliverance, armed with chain saws while sporting burlap sacks for masks.

It is here where you’ll notice that the game has an aesthetic direction that brings back the look of old FPS stalwarts in addition to the classic game play. Everything looks like it was released in 1997. Even if you opt to put on the fancier visual options, to make it look more modern, it will still look decidedly old school. This is really cool because it isn’t something that has been really done much. The closest thing to it would be Strafe, and that game unfortunately doesn’t come close to this game in terms of level design or gameplay. That’s because this game eschews the trend of randomly generated stages. Instead it builds its experience around some excellent level design, and atmosphere.

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DUSK may look old, and blocky on its surface. But it uses its employment of simplified graphics to its advantage. There are enemies in the roster that are truly unsettling. In fact, they may be more so because of the low detail, blocky designs. DUSK uses its retro chic very, very well. At the same time it takes the motif much further than you might find possible. It reminds me a little bit of American McGee’s Alice in this regard. That game was incredibly eerie for its time, and echoed feelings of a Tim Burton vehicle. But DUSK doesn’t feel like something out of The Nightmare On Christmas. It feels more like a perfect blend of psychological thriller, horror show, and action film. Because it takes elements from all of these things. Episode One will introduce you to a seemingly backwater group of occultists. Occultists with supernatural powers, brainwashed masses, and some horrific monsters to boot. Episode Two begins to show you just how deep their grasp on society in this world really goes. You’ll fight a combination of military, and industrial enemies. But as you go down the rabbit hole of stages, you’ll begin to see things get more, and more intricate. More, and more inventive too. You’ll start out in military installations. But by the end you’ll be dealing with laboratories of mad scientists, and machinations of twisted designs. There’s even a wonderfully crafted, and eerie level designed around M.C. Esher’s iconic Relativity drawing.

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By the third episode things begin to start coming together, and some of the more obvious questions are answered. There are a number of call backs, and the level designs become even more involved.  A lot of these may very well be some of the most memorable stages I’ve ever played through. All of the stages have a bevy of secrets to be found, and many of these even include old school secret exits that lead to secret stages. This is another splendid reference to those games of yesteryear. Many of those titles also employed secret exits to secret stages. But again, DUSK performs this trick in its own way. Really there isn’t a lot to complain about in terms of the game’s campaign. It gives you hours, upon hours of content. As I’ve said before, all of the stages have fantastic designs that will require not only reflexes, but your thinking cap. There are a plethora of puzzles you’ll need to solve in order to find all of the required colored keys to get through the corresponding colored doors, and to the exits. If I were to complain about anything it would be that one of the boss fights in particular isn’t very fair. I won’t spoil it for you, but you’ll likely know exactly which one I’m referring to when you get there. And it isn’t the final confrontation. That one is fantastic. There is also one gigantic horde mode of a moment near the end of the game where things turn into something out of a Serious Sam game. Which goes to show just how little that series really had to do with the old games many thought it did. It isn’t a bad moment per se. But if you’re not prepared for it you’ll find yourself very low on supplies, which will make getting through it a lot harder than it needs to be.

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Fortunately quick saving mitigates this a lot, and you’ll probably find yourself save scumming a lot during your initial play through. After that you’ll have a pretty good idea of when major hurdles are coming up. So during subsequent play throughs, you’ll have to save far less often. I should probably mention another cool thing about DUSK is just how funny it can be at times. In spite of the fact that things are played so seriously, and that it combines a vintage look with such a dark, anxious tone it will throw in comic relief. But like the best horror movies, these moments don’t make the experience feel campy. Again, it will likely remind you of the goofy stuff hidden in classic iD, and Apogee releases. You’ll be startled by invisible death reindeer one moment, and laughing at a Schwarzenegger impression the next.

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Andrew Hulshult (who did the excellent soundtrack to the Rise Of The Triad reboot in 2013) brings his talents to this game. He brings his love of Metal along with him here, but there are also some phenomenal moments of symphonic industrial sound, and a lot of ambient tracks too. There are even a few tracks involving some eerie pipe organs. One of the hallmarks of a great soundtrack is how it works with the setting of the game it is used in. Everything here melds along perfectly. It rocks out when there’s an ambush or a larger than life boss fight. It feels desperate, and fearful when there are moments of isolation or the prospect of deadly enemies around a corner. The sound effects are also top-notch. They make the weapon feedback feel great. They make the creepier enemies ever so more likely to freak you out. They make the environment feel like the universe the game takes place in feel all the more real.

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Not only does DUSK give you a compelling thirty stage (or more) campaign to battle through, it also includes multiplayer. DUSKWORLD is this game’s competitive death match offering. Now admittedly this isn’t going to be the reason you’re getting a ticket to this carnival. But it is a genuinely fun, and customizable experience. You can choose to play as many of the game’s enemy roster, and you can alter the color scheme of any character you choose. As with the main campaign, you can alter the key bindings, crosshairs, and various visual, and performance settings. The game also supports a multitude of multiplayer server options, and it has a respectable number of maps. The game will also have mod support, so if enough players enjoy it, there could potentially be a fair amount of content added to the game by the community. As for what is here, you’re getting a really good death match mode that can hang with SIN, and QUAKE II. You can rocket jump, strafe jump, and zip along at 100 mph. It’s a lot of fun, and fills a gap for those who miss the arena shooters in the vein of Q3A or UT.

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Again, like the main campaign, the shooting, and movement here is amazingly well done. Everything is not only fast, but responsive. Aiming feels smooth. Projectile weapons feel accurate, requiring a mastery of leading. Hit scan weapons work as they should, requiring you to get the cursor right on the enemy. The visual feedback goes along with everything well, as you’ll see red blood pixels with every hit, along with an audio feedback. You’ll hear a familiar tone when hitting opponents in the arenas. You can expect a full server to result in some spam techniques in smaller maps. But that’s merely a staple of the subgenre. All of the multiplayer maps feature multiple paths through to key power ups, and weapons. These are all either designed for the ground up for death match, or campaign maps that have been properly retooled for competitive play. Net code is pretty good. Finding a server in your area rarely results in rubber banding, or warping enemies. The action in multiplayer is a very fun experience. One can only hope enough people enjoy it to retain a decent player base. But even if it doesn’t carve out a niche for itself, it is possible to play privately with friends. Which is welcome as this is a rather well made death match effort.

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The game also offers a horde mode. It isn’t something most people will choose as their primary way to play the game. But it is here. There are three maps to choose from, and you’re given a limited number of supplies to survive each onslaught of enemies. You keep going until you lose. Basically it gives the game an arcade style Hi-Score flair. There are point multipliers for rapidly killing bad guys in a row too, so if you do enjoy this game mode, do take advantage of that.

Ultimately, DUSK is a must-buy. It retains what made the original two QUAKE games, and its contemporaries so good. At the same time it does so much the those games couldn’t do thanks to running on a modern Unity engine. If you’re an older player, you’ll love all of the pulls at your nostalgic heart-strings. If you’re a newcomer you may find that old can feel new to you. While there are some games that have tried to bring back that classic feel of the past, this game goes all in. Even as excellent as it was, iD’s own DOOM reboot didn’t fully bring back the level of exploration of its original game. But even the old FPS guard will find this game does plenty of new things with a proven concept. I might even recommend this one to some who might not typically be drawn to the FPS genre. It has so much personality, and creativity, those who are looking for something new to try out may find themselves pleasantly surprised. Plus for people who want even more lore there is a digital comic one can pick up with the soundtrack on Steam.

In short; DUSK is freaking cool.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Mirage: Arcane Warfare Review

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It’s no secret I’m a big fan of Torn Banner’s Chivalry: Medieval Warfare. Oh it has some issues. Weird bugs that don’t affect game play. Advanced tactics the community is split on how fair or unfair they may be. But overall it is a good game that a lot of people loved. Seriously, it’s done fairly well over the last few years. While things are tapering off of it now, it was a great example of a big game from a small studio. If you never played Chivalry, give it a spin. It goes on sale on Steam a few times a year, for a really low price. It basically took the Battlefield style of game play, put it in a Medieval setting, and gave it a deep melee system. The unique controls are a cut above most any other sword attacks in other First person shooters. Letting you “steer” your attacks. Mirage takes these swinging mechanics, and implements them into a different setting.

PROS: Improved mechanics. New magical abilities. Character designs. Customization.

CONS: Server connectivity issues. Team Objective mode isn’t as deep as it is in Chivalry.

MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE: The swords, and sorcery bring many reminders of the IP.

On the one hand, you can think of Mirage: Arcane Warfare as Chivalry with spells. But on the other hand, you really can’t. Mirage does carry over the mouse swinging sword fighting of Chivalry. You can swing overheads, swing horizontally, and stab. You can still steer the swings (The community calls this “dragging”) in any direction. This gives you a way to fake people out. Turning vertical , and horizontal swings into diagonal, or curved swings. Or speeding them up a bit. Or slowing them down a bit. The difference here is Torn Banner has altered the system mildly. In Chivalry it was possible to move the camera so wildly, skilled players could do helicopter swings, or arch so far back, their swords could hit people behind them. Of course equally skilled players could see this coming, and either block it properly, or even back pedal, and tire the tricksters out.

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But here some of the really extreme stuff is toned down. You still have plenty of depth, but you won’t be doing some of the over the top stuff. However, Mirage adds spells into the mix. This alters the combat significantly, and while many had their doubts, it works. In fact it works so well, that it really does accent the sword fights nicely. Each of the game’s six classes, can choose three of six spells. Each unique to the specific class. To keep the game from being spam heavy these have RPG style cool down periods. So if you use a spell, it’s going to be awhile before you can use it again. The cool down periods vary depending on the spell. Spells can also complement another spell, and sometimes that means complementing a spell cast by one of the other classes on your team. This adds all kinds of depth to a pretty cool system. On top of that, blocking has been beefed up a bit over Chivalry too. Not only can you block the melee attacks that come your way, but the spells as well! Just like Torn Banner’s last game, blocking requires knowing the timings, and aiming at the tip of the attack. So becoming proficient will take a lot of practice.

Each of the classes suits a different play style. There are six, each of which has their own pros, and cons.  The Taurant is a big brooding tank character. He gets heavy swords, and axes. He dishes out a ton of punishment on enemies, and his spells continue that theme. The Vigilist takes a lot of inspiration from the Knight class in Chivalry. She gets a shield, and pole arm. Her spells are focused a lot on defending the team. Like the giant dome she can put down, that is temporarily impervious to enemy spells. Then you have the Entropist. This class acts as a combat medic, while also being a great backup. He has spells that are centered around healing teammates, as well as some nice ranged attacks. The coolest spell he has will summon a magic carpet he can fly on, and attack from.

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Rounding things out are the Vypress, who is a faster, attack-heavy class. She can dual wield weapons, and she has spells focused on movement, and misdirection. She’s one of the weaker classes, but a skilled player can avoid, and parry a lot of stuff coming their way. The Tinkerer is speedy, and has spells that are great for booby traps. The Alchemancer is Mirage’s ranged class. You can either play him as a purely ranged character, who casts fireballs from afar. Or as a melee attacker. The thing to remember though is he is even weaker than the Vypress, and doesn’t have the speed on his side. Still his spells are great for supporting teammates, and quietly sneaking around.

One departure the game makes from Chivalry is in the weaponry. Where that game had a ton of weapons for each class to unlock, and debate over placing in a load out, this game doesn’t. There are still a lot of cool weapons in the game, but each class can only choose from a primary or secondary weapon. You can’t be swinging a mace, and then decide to switch to a hatchet. This is due to the importance of the aforementioned spells. Still, the weapons you can choose from, are all pretty interesting, and have their own stats. Some have better range, while some weigh less, and can be swung faster. Some do more damage, but are slow. And the weapons can be paired with spell combinations to some great effect after you’ve experimented, and practiced enough.

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Mirage has a lot of modes to choose from as well. There is the traditional Team Death match mode, where teams compete for frags. As well as a Last Team Standing mode called Arena. Here, teams go head to head until only one of them has any survivors. There are also a variant of Capture The Flag, where one team has to grab their randomly placed Jinn, and get it to their designated spot to have it planted. While this is going on, there are control points called Demiglyphs that can be held for bonus points.

Then there’s an actual Control Point mode, where you capture Glyphs, and Demiglyphs. If you hold the point long enough, you’ll get 20 or 10 points depending on the size. Glyphs are the larger of the two, so conventional wisdom would say to go for those. But sometimes grabbing the smaller point can turn the tide too. Then there is also a push cart mode, like the ones you’ve played in other games.

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The Team Objective mode in Mirage isn’t quite the same thing as it is in Chivalry. It still works a bit like a Rush mode in that attacking, and defending teams are given objectives to perform. And they’re still a combination of game types. But it isn’t as well concealed here, as the objectives don’t have the same compelling trappings, and the variety isn’t quite as nice.

That doesn’t mean that Mirage doesn’t have anything to grip you in terms of setting or story. It just doesn’t have the historical intrigue Chivalry did, or some of the Battlefield, Medal Of Honor, Joint Ops, or even some of the Rainbow Six games did. This game goes much more into the realm of high fantasy. So think more along the lines of Hexen, Heretic, Ziggurat, or classic CRPGs in terms of setting. Though there is a lot of inspiration from ancient Arabian architecture, and design here.

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All of this does mesh together really nicely. The swords, and sorcery will likely remind you of stuff like Masters Of The Universe, Willow, or even KRULL. The story centers around two civilizations who use magic to better their societies. Upon discovering one another, they begin to have reservations about their counterparts’ ethical standards in using magic. Eventually, tensions rise, and the two go to war with one another. Again, the design on display is beautiful. Where Torn Banner’s last game went for a more realistic look, this game goes for a cel-shaded look that is neither cartoonish or complicated. It feels closer to something like Borderlands than it does something like Team Fortress 2 or Overwatch. I just wish the game showed off the story through the tutorial rather than being something you had to read about on the game’s website. The tutorial isn’t much to write home about. It does give you a quick series of battles that get you acclimated with the basic controls. But that’s about all it does. If you’re coming into this for a campaign, you’ll want to be moving along. But if you like competitive multiplayer read on.

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Another really cool feature in the game is the customization. It isn’t quite as intricate as something like a WWE wrestling game. But it does have a fair amount you can customize. You can choose different helmets, headdresses, hair styles, skin colors, tops, accessories, and more for each of your classes. On top of that you can do this for each class in both factions. So if you want your Taurant to look one way on team purple, but a different way on team orange, you can! This gives the game a lot of personalization as you can try to make characters look the way you want. Again, not quite as deep as something Yukes would do in a wrestling game. But far beyond what many modern competitive shooters would do these days.

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When actually playing the game, most of the time things are a blast. The fine tuned swinging mechanics are wonderful, and they do combine with the new magic abilities quite nicely. Getting into a game with a group of people who communicate, and strategize can lead to some really gripping, competitive match ups. It’s one of the most fun experiences you’ll have. Mirage also supports LAN play, which makes it a great game to play with friends privately.  The audio here is also really good. The voice acting fits the look, and motif of the characters well, and the soundtrack has a nice orchestrated arrangement. It feels like the sort of thing you’d hear in an old black & white serial.

There is one big problem with the game though, and that is the unreliable servers. Most of the time you’ll connect to a game, and have a great time. But after a couple of rounds, you’ll find your ping inexplicably spiking. Going from a ping of 60 to a ping of 300 leads to a sudden rash of rubber banding, unsynchronized animations, and generally bad performance. Eventually, you’ll notice things smooth out, as your ping sinks back down to an acceptable level. But this can really turn off a player. On a day when you experience it once in a while, it is merely annoying. But on a day where it happens every other game, it will make you put the game down, and play something else. One can only hope Torn Banner can work this problem out sooner than later. Now it doesn’t appear to be as bad as what was reported about Ubisoft’s For Honor when that game launched (as that game didn’t even use dedicated servers). But it is still a blemish on an otherwise splendid game.

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As far as performance goes, it uses Unreal Engine 4, and seems fairly well optimized as of launch. My aging 760 card, and i7 4770k was able to run the game maxed out, and still crack 60 frames per second except in really frantic spots. Setting things lower made things get above 90. The biggest drain on resources appears to be the number of blood pools left by dead bodies, and the length of time corpses stay on the map. Regardless of your other settings, you can lower both of these things in the options, and you’ll see a noticeable performance gain. Obviously if you have a fairly old setup, you’ll want to move other things like texture quality, and draw distance down. As well, as shutting off Vsync, and lighting effects among other things. If you have something mid tier or higher though, playing on or near the highest settings shouldn’t be too much of a problem in most cases. Obviously, there may be some setups where this isn’t the case. But at least in my experience, performance really hasn’t been an issue.

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Overall, Mirage: Arcane Warfare is a really good game. I can certainly recommend it to anyone who enjoyed Chivalry’s melee combat, and is still open to playing other kinds of competitive first-person action games. Likewise, it’s a cool game for those who want to take a break from something like Overwatch, or a modern warfare themed shooter. It’s not character focused the way Overwatch is, and it plays completely differently. Likewise, coming from a more traditional experience is also a chance to be surprised. Mirage may share some similarities with these titles, but there are far more differences to be found. Good ones.

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Be that as it may, the server issues can be a bit of a turn off, and one can only hope Torn Banner is able to iron them out sooner than later. Otherwise, as fun as it is, it could be the realm of a niche player base rather than the fairly large following its pseudo-predecessor had. Still, even if the worst case scenario came to pass, the LAN play makes for an exciting game to play with friends.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Toxikk Review

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The arena  first-person shooter. It’s been awhile since the subgenre has been anywhere near the public eye. Oh sure, some people will tell you that Overwatch, and Team Fortress 2 are arena first-person shooters. Mainly because they have some zippy movement, and outlandish characters. But they’re not arena first-person shooters in the classic sense. When many people wish for an arena shooter they mean the very late nineties, and early two thousands. Shooters like Quake 3 Arena, The Unreal Tournament series, and even a dab of Tribes.

PROS: UT2k4-esque movement. Great weapons. Great map design.  Wonderful tutorial.

CONS: Skill Class system could use minor tweaking. Needs a bit more identity.

FATALITY: This game takes a cue from UT99, and adds environmental fatalities.

For full disclosure, I bought the Early Access pass on Steam last year. I know it makes me a bit hypocritical as I never buy EA passes normally. There’s no guarantee a game will get finished, and so I generally wait. But in this case, I caught wind of it, remembered my days in the Maximum Carnage UT2k4 clan, and was wistful. I liked what I saw at the time, but never really talked about it much because there wasn’t much content. You can’t really review something that isn’t complete.

Now that the game is done, and I’ve thoroughly played the final release, I can. The final version, is really, really good. It does everything it advertises, bringing players a game that hearkens back to the old days. Which weren’t that old, as the last UT game came out in 2007. Still, nine years is a long time in video games. There were other attempts like Nexius, but they fell flat even if they weren’t bad for a variety of reasons. They didn’t have an interesting enough look, or they weren’t talked about enough to give them a look. Or they didn’t connect with the players for other reasons.

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But with Toxikk, Reakktor, the game’s developer, seems to be trying to avoid some of those problems. For starters, there’s a demo. That gives you access to all of the game content. I’m serious. You can go download it, play to your heart’s content, and see if it’s something you’ll enjoy. But if you buy it outright you’ll get a lot of features you’re going to need if you plan on playing it with friends for a substantial amount of time.

But before I get into that, let me tell you what the game is all about. I’m sure there are some of you moaning “It’s an Arena FPS! We know!” But I’m sure there are also a number of people out there who have never played one of them. Toxikk is an arena first-person shooter. There is no single player here. The entire game is meant to be an arcade experience where you play against friends or strangers. The core game mode is a Death match mode. Basically it’s a free for all mode, where the person with the most kills wins when the time runs out, or whoever hits the score limit first.

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But what makes the game a bit more challenging is that it uses a similar movement system to Unreal Tournament 2004’s. So instead of simply running around, and shooting people, you can make yourself harder to hit. You can double jumps. You can do massive long jumps. You can do short dodges. You can do cartwheels off of walls. This means enemies have to step up their aiming game. Likewise they can do the same thing. The maps are all designed with the movement system in mind. So you may need to use an elevator jump to get to a certain room. Or there may be a huge gap between rooftops you can’t simply jump over. But using the advanced tricks you do a dodge jump toward the left, then wall jump off of that surface to make the rest of the jump. This system makes travelling through the stages faster, and worth the time to master.

The movement system is paired with a pretty cool selection of weapons. You’ll start with a pistol, but you can run through the maps to find shotguns, sniper rifles, flame throwers, rocket launchers, plasma rifles, and even a nuclear rocket launcher. These weapons all have influences from Quake 3 Arena, and Unreal Tournament. The great thing is, they all have secondary fire modes. So you’ll have to master when to use a primary or a secondary mode. There are also health boxes, ammo boxes for each of the game’s weapons, along with armor pieces to pick up. You’ll also find some stages have a jetpack, health that takes your meter up to 200, and armor that does the same. In most cases you’ll need to know the movement system well enough to get to them though. They’re also in places where you’re a prime target. So there is a nice mix of risk, and reward. The key to victory in a Death match is to keep everyone else from getting the power ups, and good stuff. Even more than your goal of killing everyone. Because it makes them have to fight an uphill battle. All of these elements add layers of depth to what may seem simple on the surface.

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But you aren’t only getting a Death match mode to play. There’s a Team Death match, called Squad Assault where one team goes after the other.  A point capture mode, where the game puts three points on the map for your team to hold. You walk over them, turn the spots into your side’s, and try to keep it. The challenge here is that if you have enough players for the map you’ll have three endless skirmishes. You’ll want to keep some team mates on each point to ensure the other side can’t simply walk up, and take it. Whichever side took points more times wins. So if you can hang onto them longer you’ll keep the odds leaning in your favor.

There is also a Capture the flag mode called Cell Capture. Basically one side tries to steal the other’s cell, then bring it back to their base. The other side is trying the same thing simultaneously. So across the different modes you have a variety of old-school game types. But it gets better for people who love the CTF, and Point Capture modes because some of the maps feature vehicles. Just as UT2k4, and UT3 had them, so does Toxikk. In this game you get a ship that operates a bit like a helicopter, a hover craft, a jeep, and a FREAKING GUNDAM. Each of them is a blast to use, and can add a lot of tension in the battles. The ships can shoot missiles from above, cut people down with a chain gun. The Gundam can step on people, take out several people at once. The hover craft can steam roll people. The jeep can have a rider take control of a giant gun on the back of it while they drive to get the cell.

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But if all of the vehicles sound like they add insurmountable odds, they surprisingly don’t. For one, vehicles all have fairly low health. Even the Gundam. If you’re good enough at maneuvering with dodges, jumps, and the other movement tricks, you can avoid a lot of the firepower. Most of the vehicles will go down from a handful of missiles. If you’re inside a vehicle when it blows up, the other team is also getting a frag. In Cell Capture, you also can’t drive or pilot a vehicle if you’ve picked up the enemy cell. You have to make it back either on foot, or on your hover bike. And if you choose to use the hover bike, you can’t shoot any of your weapons. So you’re pretty crippled, and really have to hope your team can cover you when you’re bringing back a cell.

If the movement system sounds rather daunting to you, Toxikk does have a pretty well thought out tutorial. The very first lesson is just the movement system, and basic weapon handling. From there each lesson gives you a handle on, more, and more. I would recommend every player to at least try the tutorial before going online. Because it can at the very least give you  a handle on the basics. It will also force you to acknowledge when someone is honestly that good. Seeing someone clear a rooftop jump, while shooting down three enemies, and landing unscathed can feel intimidating.

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But that intimidation is why Toxikk has a Skill Class system. As you play the game it measures what you’re doing, and will give you a rating between 1, and 12. This is always in flux. So you can have a ranking of 8, play ten really bad rounds, and find yourself a 7. Likewise, when you improve you’ll go up. This was put in place because the developers realize a lot of people won’t have fun if they’re constantly getting crushed by 12’s with no hope of learning everything. When you go on the server browser in the full game (more on that later) you’ll see servers allow some ranks, but not others. One server may be ranked 1-4, another may be 8-12, with others in between. You have to be within those ranks to join them.

That said, there are servers that don’t utilize the system. So if you would rather learn by playing against the heavyweights than training against  a cruiserweight division, you do have that as an option. Unranked servers are also great for groups of friends because you don’t have to shut out that friend who is too green, or that other friend who is a seasoned veteran.

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Separate from the Skill Class, is point system is an MXP experience point system, and this isn’t really all too important. But if you enjoy the game, and play fairly enough, over time you can increase this number for some cosmetic armor options for your character. There’s an assortment of different heads, torso options, and camouflage options you can use to customize your look. Everyone can change the color of their combatant. But people who like the game can add a few more tweaks over time. The coolest being a fearsome skull mask. This is one of the few grievances I have though because nothing about the core game requires any grinding. Perhaps it was put in for fans of that sort of thing, without effecting the game play. But it just seems odd. Since everything is open anyway, why make costume pieces on a ladder?

It doesn’t matter too much though because everything gives you boatloads of MXP. Fragging someone. Completing a tutorial. Utilizing trick jumps in a match. Piloting a vehicle. Virtually everything aside from dying gives you some points. You even get MXP in team modes for assists. Hell, if you’re bad at the game, but just really want a cosmetic item bad enough you can play against bots on the lowest possible difficulty.

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Now people who just want to play the core game can use the free demo. It isn’t timed. You aren’t blocked from any of the levels or weapons or movement. It’s all there. But if you enjoy it, or have friends you want to play it with, it’s well worth picking up the e-tail version. Buying the game means you’ll get a server browser. So you can actually find a server you, and your friends can all join without having to worry about an outlier not being able to get in because it was a certain rank limit. Paying customers also get the ability to host their own server, be it dedicated or by playing peer-to-peer through a router. You can set up private games over the internet too.  There are other perks for buying the full game too. You get to use the character customization I talked about, as well as the game’s SDK.

What does that mean? Well you can make your own content. New stages, modes, characters, whatever you want. If you’re proficient enough in using Unreal Engine 3, the sky is the limit. Because of this, even if you don’t plan on designing mods, or stages you benefit. Buying the game means that you can also download, and install mods other players make through the Steam workshop. So there is a wealth of potential stuff you have access to if you buy the game outright.

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Unreal Tournament games were played for years after release due to the prevalence of new maps, modes, skins, characters, weapons, and other content made by fans. The same could be said for the Doom, and Quake games. So hopefully, Reakktor Studios’ insistence on taking the path set by Epic, and id many years ago will have a similar payoff.

It all hinges on a player base sticking around. At launch some of those fears were quelled as a lot of people seem to have discovered the demo, and seem to be liking it. Toxikk is a fun game I think everyone should at least try. It’s a beautiful game too. Reakktor has pushed this iteration of UE3 about as far as it can probably go. There are a lot of cool visual tricks, and filters they’ve utilized to make it keep pace with even some of the newer games on bigger budget engines coming out. The environments are gorgeous. Great textures, wonderful designs, the entire world looks like it takes place in the same universe. Even the homage levels Dekk, and Cube feel like they belong here even though their layouts are taken straight from Unreal Tournament (Deck was in all of the games), and Doom 2 (Dead Simple).

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There are a wealth of menu options too. You can tweak all kinds of graphics settings, turning off some of the visual fidelity, lighting effects, bloom, and motion blur if you’re on fairly modest hardware. You can even turn off the frame rate limiter which starts on 60. But for a game of this nature you should really push it as high as it will go. It’s a much more responsive experience, and worth dealing with some tearing if you have a standard 60hz monitor.

You can also customize your entire HUD. The colors of the weapons on your selection bar. The crosshairs on your weapons, you can  even turn off your HUD entirely if you want. The hit markers when shooting someone, the size of them, the sound it makes. All of it. That’s besides the fact you can set whatever key binds you wish, weapon priority order, and a whole lot more. Toxikk is not giving you a shortage of performance or personal style options here.

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The audio is one of the weaker points in Toxikk. The sound effects are actually really good. But the soundtrack  could stand to be markedly better. The game tries to accent everything with a score of thumping techno, and electronica. But nothing really stands out. There aren’t any catchy loops, or hooks the way its inspiration possessed. UT, and its sequels had great songs like Go Down that would be stuck in your head even months after playing. Even people who aren’t fans of electronica can enjoy the UT OST. Toxikk’s soundtrack isn’t bad. But it feels too generic at times. It fits the atmosphere of the game, but doesn’t do much beyond that.

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The only other issue I have with Toxikk  is that while the character designs are really cool, they aren’t anything you haven’t seen in other games. They could use a little bit more personality, and perhaps some fleshed out back story. The most you hear about is that there are two factions; the Drayos, and the Exocom. There isn’t much told about either group, or the world. While I do think it is imperative any multiplayer game, focus on the actual game being fun (which this absolutely does.) it could have given players a little bit more detail on its universe. It may have gotten some players a little bit more invested, by having them care about the world. The UT games did this well with much of the story being put into the world, and in bios for the characters. There was also an intro in them to explain the setting. All without having to make people play through a campaign.

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That said, I still highly recommend Toxikk. If you miss playing old school arena FPS games I think you’re going to like it immensely. If you’ve never played Q3A, or a UT game but love playing competitive shooters in other subgenres you may like it. In the short time it’s been out there are already plenty of new players learning, and adapting. That’s in addition to veterans of the old games who have discovered it. If you’ve wondered where this style of game has been, or you’re someone tiring of modern progression systems Toxikk is definitely worth looking into. If after my long-winded review, you’re still on the fence check out the demo. You have nothing to lose by doing so.

Final Score: 8 out 10

DOOM (2016) Review

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Alas, I am late once again. But perhaps I can still bring something new to the table. A lot of people jumped into the new game almost instantaneously. Many claiming it was a full on return to form. Open, vast stages. Swarms of bad guys. All of the stuff Doom 3 was missing. Others claimed it did none of those things. That it was blasé. After spending some time playing through it, I don’t think either camp is entirely accurate.

PROS: Fun, arcade gameplay. Atmosphere. A wealth of performance options.

CONS: Still not quite the DOOM you remember. Creator tools lacking.

ROTT: They took a page from Interceptor’s Rise Of The Triad reboot, adding to the fun.

This version of DOOM went through a very long development hell period. It started. Then restarted. Then id software was bought out by Zenimax. Then John Carmack left the studio to go do Oculus Rift. The game restarted again, then focus veering more old-school. It came out a few months ago, and here we are.

DOOM gives us the two modes we’ve come to expect. A one player campaign, and a multiplayer game. It also has some tools for players to make their own stages. As well, as a host of performance options for those playing on a computer. Though, it goes further than most games in this regard on game systems as well. For those of you who do pick this up for your computer, you’ll find a wealth of settings to play with. The one I saw the biggest difference with, was the rendering selection. You can use the long running OpenGL renderer, or you can use the newer Vulkan renderer.

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From what I understand the Vulkan renderer uses far fewer resources than OpenGL does. It shows. Just to see how hard the game could push my middle-aged GTX 760 I tried the game on maxed settings using both renderers. On the tried, and true OpenGL it was an absolute slide show. Single digits the entire time, and going to a huge battle was too much for the card to handle. Trying that out on the Vulkan renderer got me into the high teens in fire fights, and the low twenties when I didn’t have much of anything going on.

Mind you, I still couldn’t play through the entire game maxed. But it goes to show what an improvement this was on my configuration. So if you do buy this for a computer with an older CPU, and GPU You can probably run with higher settings on the Vulkan, and have it look closer to what consoles see, rather than running with everything set minimally on OpenGL trying to break the 30 fps or 60 fps standards.

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With the firefights as frantic as they are in this game, you’re really going to want to get the frame rate as high as possible. You can see, and feel a difference as things are not only smoother looking, but more responsive feeling too. Some other settings you can take a hard look at are the lighting effects, and the resolution scale. DOOM seems to be a big fan of video card memory. So if you have an older card like mine with less than 4GB VRAM on it, you’ll have to turn some of these off or down a bit.

Fortunately, at everything aside from the absolute rock bottom settings, DOOM looks spectacular. At medium details it looks about on par with what you might see on the consoles, at high, slightly better. nearly night, and day, maxed out. You don’t have to have the latest, and greatest to run it on Ultra. But you also can’t do it effectively on a card that was midrange 5 years ago. Again, if you have a really old card, you’ll probably want to eschew the nice visuals in favor of a higher frame rate. The shootouts in this game really do benefit greatly from performance. If that means some jaggy lines, or blurry textures it’s worth the hit in visuals.

Whatever settings you ultimately go with, One of the things this game does well is the atmosphere. The stages all look creepy, whether you’re on a base on Mars, or in a chasm in Hell. The texture work is phenomenal. The character models are terrifyingly beautiful. All of the bad guys from the old games have been translated very well. Better than you could imagine. As great as these characters looked in DOOM, and DOOM II, they were still a little bit cartoonish. Here, most of them retain their designs while somehow coming off as a lot more fearsome. Some of the DOOM 3 style even makes its way in, particularly with the Hell Knights.

While I think the claustrophobic nature of DOOM 3 leads it to being the creepier game, this one still has plenty of moments where you may find yourself uncomfortable or disturbed. Again, doing this almost entirely using its environments. It also has a pretty great ambient industrial metal soundtrack that fits the action fairly well. It will intensify as battles become more difficult, and then subside when things calm down a bit.

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This version of DOOM tells its story pretty much the way DOOM 3 did. You’ll get cut scenes involving the main three characters. Samuel Hayden, one of the heads of the UAC, Olivia Pierce its top researcher, and the flagship DOOM GUY, you play as. If you only follow these cut scenes you’ll find a similar retelling of the story told in DOOM 1, and then again in DOOM 3. Once again, an experiment on Mars has created a portal to Hell allowing monsters to kill everyone. This time though, the UAC is shown as complicit in knowing about it, and justifying it by pointing to the technology they’ve created because of it. But when they realize they can’t control the situation, you get to show up.

Of course you’re having none of it, and you run off to stop a mad scientist blood cult leader through a 13 stage campaign. Like DOOM 3, along the way you can find logs that fill in back story, and if you find enough of them, you’ll discover that this game tries to tie all of the DOOM games together. Beyond that, there are a lot of Easter eggs to be found, giving nods to the old games. The most impressive of them are hidden retro stages. Just like Interceptor did with their Rise Of The Triad reboot, and Flying Wild Hog did with Shadow Warrior’s. You can enter these old levels from 1993 if you find a hidden lever in every stage. Each stage has a corresponding retro level hidden within.

But there are other eggs. Like DOOM 3’s Soul cube, DOOM 2’s Icon of sin, and even a DOOM 1 themed clone of Bejeweled. This game has a lot of love for fans of the original games on display. But they rarely get in the way of the current story on display. The game also is the first in the series to really give your character personality. The most you saw in previous games was an end game screen, or a cutaway. Here, you punch things. You kick things. In doing so, you point out the wrongs of the UAC without saying a single word. It’s pretty effective in spite of the silence.

Speaking of breaking things, the combat, and mechanics really shine here. They’re a lot of fun, and this game is all the better for having them. Every weapon in the game has weight to it, and destroys enemies in the most visceral ways. Your hand gun is the pea shooter you had in the original, except now it has unlimited bullets, and a charge shot. All of the other guns from DOOM 2 come back, including the Super shotgun. They all dole out a similar level of damage, and the zippy movement makes the battles feel very much closer to the old games than other action games have.

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DOOM also expands things a bit with its Glory kill system. Once you deal enough damage to a monster, it will flash. Press the melee button within a specific window of time, and you’ll get a gristly canned animation. During these, you kill monsters with your bare hands in savage ways to get health replenishments. You can turn them off, but honestly they don’t break up the flow of combat at all. On paper it sounds like something that would. But in practice it really doesn’t. Plus the game brings back the power ups from the old games. So you can walk in sludge, max health, and kill monsters in one punch.

The new movement system almost feels like Metroid Prime at times. You can jump up, climb onto ledges, and eventually double jump. Unfortunately, there are a couple of minor problems I had with the campaign. First of all, as wonderful as the environments are, they still aren’t as open as the original games’ were. True, this game is still a far cry from the hallway, cut scene, shoot out, hallway, cut scene routine many games have. But it isn’t as open. In the old games you could spend three hours on a single stage exploring it. While it’s also true that the key card system added some linearity to them in the sense you needed to go in a door order, it’s less here. There may be a side path you discover, only to find it leads to the same place the main path does. There are still colored doors that require a key, but things just don’t feel nearly as labyrinthine. It’s pretty obvious where you need to go. You won’t need to find the auto map, or a specific path because everything is laid out. I will give a couple of the levels a lot of credit though for their excellent verticality. These stages involve a lot of climbing, and require players to really pay attention. They also feature that excellent platforming I mentioned above.

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The other issue I had with the campaign is that things can feel a bit formulaic a couple of stages in. Throughout the game there are these monster teleporters called Gore nests. You have to destroy them, then fight a bunch of monsters in a quasi-horde mode. The thing is they place these several times over in a few of them. So you’ll pretty much figure out that you’ll go to a key area, maybe find a weapon. Then go to a room with a Gore nest, break it, and fight a horde. Then two rooms later, find another Gore nest, break it, and fight a horde.

Fortunately, everything about the combat is very fun, and the campaign doesn’t over stay its welcome either. So you likely won’t mind. At least not enough where you won’t finish it. Plus with all of the secrets hidden in the game, you may even replay it several times over to find everything. These two issues don’t ruin the experience by any means. But if you come into this game expecting THE ULTIMATE DOOM with prettier graphics, you aren’t quite going to get that.

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Still, it’s also much better than some people give it credit for. Even with its levelling system, it still delivers a challenging action game. Yes, this iteration of DOOM has a levelling system. You get two types of points. Points for your Samus Aran-esque  suit, and points for killing bad guys. Praetor suit points are usually found on fallen guards throughout the game. You take flash drives off of their bodies, and plug them into yourself. There are also energy balls you can find in giant tanks. between them you can beef yourself up over time, either by expanding health, armor, or ammo bars.

The other points you earn while playing can be used to put upgrades onto your different weapons. You can add rockets to your assault rifle, or a lock on to your rocket launcher, and so on, and so forth. You don’t have to use any of this stuff if you want to get closer to the old days, but there is a lot of challenge even if you do choose to use them. One other thing this game does well, is making health, and ammo scarce to pick up. Using your chainsaw (which only has so much gasoline) on monsters can often get you more ammo but you must have a certain amount of gas for each enemy type. There’s also a robot merchant hidden about in stages where you can buy secondary fire modes for you arsenal by spending your weapon points.

You can also find hidden runes in stages that send you to these challenge rooms. Completing these will unlock other tasks you can perform during your play through. Completing those can get you achievements, and other bonus perks. On the lower difficulty settings you probably don’t need to find all of these things. But on the harder ones you’ll probably need to. Because the difficulty ramps up pretty quickly.

All of this, again makes the combat a nice balance of risk, and reward. DOOM is a very fun campaign to play through.

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After you play through the campaign, you’ll probably want to check out the multiplayer. What you’re given here is also pretty good. Mostly. On the plus side, the modes all take full advantage of the mechanics. You can climb, double jump, and move the way you do in single-player. You can customize your player model the way you can in some other games, putting preset textures on your model, changing colors, choosing armor parts.  It plays with the pace, and frantic nature an arena shooter should.

What is going to turn many people off though, is that it uses a lot of modern-day features. There is a ranking system, and so weapons, and other items are locked off until you can grind away long enough to use them. You have a class system, with three classes. Beyond that you can choose a load out like in many modern games.These kinds of design decisions take away from the arena shooter vibe many people wanted.

The original game’s multiplayer threw you into a Death match, or Team Death match. Everyone had to scurry to find whatever weapon they could, and there were no restrictions. Once they had a weapon it was about map control. Finding a path that took them to each of the power ups, and keeping opponents from ever getting them. That was part of the strategy. If an opponent got wise, they changed their strategy, to find their own path, and that’s where the skirmishes would happen. Everyone had access to everything in the map, the challenge was keeping everyone else from having things. It’s what arena shooters, as a genre were built on. Games like Quake 3 Arena, and Unreal Tournament took that ball from the original DOOM, and ran with it.

So for those looking to relive the feel of the old DOOM Death match in an updated setting, this is going to be disappointing. It isn’t terrible. It uses the assets well, it runs fairly briskly. But the modern conventions do hinder more than help. Why? Because it doesn’t do much to differentiate itself from other modern games. There’s a cool rune you can pick up to turn into a demon, getting you some easy frags. But beyond that it doesn’t do anything all that different from other games. Going back to the original’s simple, but effective multiplayer oddly enough, would have made it stand out a bit more.

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Still, if you want to check it out, there are a fair number of people still playing it, and you can get some new content for it if you don’t mind buying some DLC. Again, it isn’t a bad mode by any means. But it likely won’t be the go to multiplayer shooter for most people with so many better options out there.

One area DOOM does try to stand out a bit is with its Snap map feature. Here, you get a utility that will let you take a number of pre-made rooms, and put them in whatever order you wish. It reminds me a lot of the level editor in Timesplitters 2. You can quickly make a map, and you can even sector tag sections of it. So you can plot how enemies behave or  tweak the store mechanics for the aforementioned point systems within your map. You can also choose to make a map a single player map, or a map for multiplayer.

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But, like the multiplayer mode, it doesn’t go nearly far enough. Especially since DOOM games all had countless mods, and maps made for them in the past. There are still custom maps, and other content being done for the original game. All with their own textures, sound effects,  music, and even features. Creative types, especially on PC are so used to doing full-blown mods that Snap map is going to be a huge step backwards. On consoles, it may fare a little bit better where it was probably focusing on to begin with. Again, it isn’t a bad feature. But it could have been much more attractive had it been a more fully realized set of mod tools.

Overall, I still recommend DOOM to any fan of the series. It does a lot to tie the games together. It gives you a fun, and challenging campaign with a lot of fan service. There’s a fair amount of replay value for those who want to find every last secret or get every last achievement. The other attractions are fun, but for most, they’re not going to hold one’s attention for very long. But for anybody who loves DOOM, or action games in general, check it out.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

 

Blood & Bacon Review

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Has there ever been a good horde game? I know there are good games with horde modes, to give you a break from the main game. I know you fight hordes in some really good FPS games like Serious Sam, Painkiller, Doom, Bulletstorm, or Shadow Warrior. But I wouldn’t call those horde games. More like FPS games where you have to fight a lot of baddies. But I’m talking games where you’re stuck in one tiny room, and fighting endless waves.

I honestly can’t think of one.  They claim to give you the fun, challenge, and high-score thrills of a twin stick shooter but they don’t. God Mode gave us monotony, R.I.P.D. re-skinned that monotony, and this game brings that same monotony with terrible jokes, and visuals your old PS1 could poop out in its sleep.

PROS: You can shoot the farmer in the dick.

CONS: Boring. So very boring.

PIGS: You’ll spend 99.9% of the time shooting them.

There really isn’t much to say about Blood & Bacon. It tries piling in new things every wave or two, yet you really see all there is to see in about five minutes. You choose from a handful of characters, and are thrust onto a farm where you must defend a farmer on his deathbed. By deathbed I mean barn wall. He’s impaled on a pitchfork, missing a leg, and coughing up blood. He is voiced terribly. No proper inflection on any of his lines. But you have to put up with him in order to start any given wave. The sole moment of actual fun in this game is shooting him in the genitals. That is it.

The rest of the game is spent running around the farm (which is around the size of the average front yard in my town. Ergo; not very big.) shooting pigs. Yep. That’s the game. Run around, and shoot pigs. I can hear the cries now. “But you like arcade games of the early 80’s. They’re repetitive! Why is this a problem?” Here’s the thing. Old games like Space Invaders are timeless. They have spot on control. They have a charm. Even in their simplicity you have an addictive set of rules, and gameplay that make you want to keep putting in quarters to be the leader on the board. They’re a lot of fun. Blood & Bacon isn’t.

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Oh the game certainly tries to make you think it is. Every few rounds, you get to try a new weapon. Every few rounds they introduce new kinds of pigs to shoot. There is even one round where they introduce pig skeletons. There are a couple of terrible physics devices you can use in the game, that seem like they’re better suited to something like Goat Simulator. Like a giant meat grinder you can kick dead pieces of pig into to get ammo crates. Or the electric fence you can turn on to fry pigs.

It even tries to go the zany route by having you juggle pieces of flesh in the air with successive shots. Bounce it enough times, and you get to see a fireworks display. Sounds like fun right? Well it isn’t.  With all of its feeble attempts at  silliness falling flat, it does try one last hurrah, by having the farmer spewing jokes. But between the bad voice acting, bad writing, and sheer lameness it does nothing to even begin to crack a smile.

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Gameplay is functional. There aren’t any crashes, at least it didn’t crash on me. Pigs take shots, and the mechanics seem random. One time you’ll shoot a pig in the face, and he’ll go down. Other times the same thing will blow its face off, and it will keep coming for you. Other pigs are bullet sponges. You’ll fire, fire, fire, and fire, only to realize you’re out of bullets after it’s been vanquished.

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After several rounds of this monotony, you’ll face a boss pig that sounds suspiciously like the farmer. At this point you’ll finally be facing something that can actually kill you, but you’ll be so bored to tears you won’t care. Every ten stages or so you’ll get a new boss, each as boring as the rest of the game. One of them will literally defecate on you. Being lowbrow didn’t save other titles, and it doesn’t save this one either. The game isn’t a looker by any stretch either. I wasn’t kidding when I said it can pass for a PlayStation game. It can. Blocky models, low resolution textures, and fuzzy audio all around. But again, you can have some fun with some of the sub par stuff on an old PS1. Blood & Bacon makes something like Mortal Kombat Special Forces seem interesting.

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Blood & Bacon gives you multiplayer, but it really isn’t any more fun with a friend. It’s still bland, boring, and banal. It is bad. It is very bad. Awful. But it isn’t the worst game you’ll ever play. Most of the time it’s just kind of there. In a way that can almost be worse than being completely horrible. In spite of the terrible graphics, and sound it’s a game that will leave no impact on you whatsoever. Really. In five minutes or less you’ll see all there is to see. Just skip it. There are plenty of good experiences for those on a shoe string budget elsewhere.

Final Score: 3 out of 10

Hard Reset Redux Review

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Wait. What? I’m re-reviewing Hard Reset? Well yes, though not in the way you would think. Flying Wild Hog brought out an updated version earlier this month, and I’m here to talk a little bit about the changes. Both minimal, and substantial. It’s another re-mastered, reissued games in a seemingly endless trend. But is this one a good director’s cut or a bad one?

PROS: New content. Balancing. Performance. Loyalty program.

CONS: The visuals don’t always convey the power of the new engine.

ZOMBIE CYBORGS: The Z-movie grunts still manage to be creepy.

Hard Reset was the first major project by Flying Wild Hog. It was a tough as nails First Person Shooter that took place in a dystopian future. Where killer robots are everywhere, a monolithic corporation has skeletons in its closet, and our hero blasts his way through the storyline. It was a lot of fun, and you can read my review here.

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In the years since, FWH helmed the reboot of Apogee/3D Realms’ Shadow Warrior. One of the few times a remake has been as good or even better than the original. Unlike today’s game, that game was a complete start over from scratch. Everything was different, the setting, and story. The characters returned but, were still different from what the old Shadow Warrior was. But it managed to be a very fun game, even though so much of the story had changed. So fun, and successful in fact, that a sequel is coming soon.

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But to make that sequel they built a new engine, and so they ported Hard Reset over to it. The results are pretty great for the most part. Though there was some controversy when it first launched. A video surfaced showing some parts of the game that looked slightly better in the original version. Which threw some people into a tailspin. Flying Wild Hog actually addressed the complaints . Visually, you can decide for yourself. But after having played it, I can tell you that like a lot of arguments, truth is somewhere in the middle. At least in my humble opinion.

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The new engine’s lighting is noticeably different. Depending on what is happening, sometimes it might look better or worse. In my case, most of the time it actually looked better. The textures honestly don’t seem that bad at all. There were maybe two instances of wall posters that looked a little grainier in the first stage. But beyond that it looks largely the same. Aside from a couple of stand out moments where it looks better, it looks pretty much the same. Really, if you’re only coming into this for the graphics you might feel a little bit disappointed.

However, if you’re here for a better experience you won’t be. The move to a new engine means that you can run this version at a much better performance than the original. The new Road Hog engine is much better optimized, and at least on PC you’ll be likely seeing frame rates in the hundreds  so long as you meet the requirements, and tweak your settings accordingly. On console I don’t know, as I haven’t played those versions. But they should be more than playable seeing how Shadow Warrior has done respectably on Xbox, and PlayStation. Flying Wild Hog  have stated the game runs 60 fps, and full 1080p on the XB1, and PS4.

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Hard Reset Redux also adds a number of balance changes. Enemies don’t feel nearly as much like bullet sponges as they could in the original version. They’re still challenging. They still employ all kinds of crazy techniques to kill you, and you will still find yourself trying to blow up background scenery to harm them. When you’re not doing that you’ll be trying weapon combinations to do so. But you won’t have to waste nearly a clip of bullets trying to take down one bull charging monstrosity.

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They’ve also added a new sword which works a lot like the sword in Shadow Warrior. Sometimes it ends up feeling overpowered. Especially on the lowest level enemies because it can cut them down so quickly. But to counteract that, the enemies can actually hurt you a lot more, so it isn’t always wise to use it. They’ve done very well with putting things in place to make you want to use every weapon upgrade. There are also new levels, and enemies here. Thankfully, they don’t feel rushed or cobbled together. They also feel balanced, and fit right into the action, and the mythos.

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If you already bought the original version on PC, through Steam the developer also gives you a sizable discount on this version. So it isn’t a very expensive upgrade. Be that as it may, I wouldn’t call this a must buy if you already own the old version. That is unless, you really loved it enough to play through it multiple times. If you did, the boost in performance, balance tweaks, and added content are all things you will definitely enjoy. So if you were a big fan, these bonuses are going to outweigh any concern you may have over the graphics. Which again, are pretty much the same most of the time. When the new lighting techniques work in its favor the new game does look a bit better. When they don’t only the biggest nitpickers are going to say it looks markedly worse. It really doesn’t though. Either way, don’t come into this for the graphics. Most won’t notice the difference unless it’s pointed out. Come into this for the better performance, and content.

 

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For those on console, I’d say check it out. It is a wonderful game that feels a lot like Quake, or Doom in its gun play. It has some elements of Painkiller’s hordes, but an entirely different pacing. If you’ve enjoyed recent iterations of Doom, and Wolfenstein there’s a very good chance you’re going to enjoy Hard Reset. If you enjoyed Shadow Warrior, I’ll especially recommend looking into this since it was made by the same people, and some of those Shadow Warrior Easter eggs will make more sense. If you’ve never played it all whatsoever, look into it for the reasons above, and in my review of the original game. You’ll be getting a fun title with a fair amount of bonus content in Redux.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Rainbow Six Siege Review

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Finally. Tactical shooting HAS COME BACK, to Rainbow Six. But will it be as beloved, as Dwayne Johnson is when he returns to the squared circle? That is going to be a pretty varied mix of affirmatives, and negatives depending on the people you ask.

PROS: A return to the days of Rainbow Six 3.

CONS: But with less of the planning, and management.

UNATTRACTIVE: Shortcut transactions.

When Rainbow Six Siege was first announced, I was actually pretty ecstatic. I had loved the original three games, and their expansions. In their time, most shooters were either single player exploration games that required shooting anything that moved, or arena shooters. Don’t get me wrong, I loved those games too. Doom, Quake, Unreal Tournament, Duke Nukem 3D, and Rise Of The Triad were some of my most played shooters of all time. Of course that excitement was tempered with some skepticism considering some of the publisher’s mistakes with high profile releases in recent years.

But Red Storm Entertainment saw an opportunity to make a shooter that required thinking in a new way. Coupled with Tom Clancy’s writing, they produced some deep games that focused on tactics. Instead of laying waste to hordes of monsters, and aliens you were placed in hostage situations, or in missions to thwart terror plots.

As I covered in my Rainbow Six 3 review, you had to plan who was going to enter what area of a given map with your friends. Everyone had a role. There were different gadgets usable by different classes. You couldn’t just run, and gun. You had to have a steady aim for the sake of accuracy. Those games were built on a nice mix of entertaining action, and tactical realism.

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But after Rainbow Six 3, the acquisition of Red Storm by Ubisoft would be complete. The following games would depart the tactical shooting almost entirely. Lockdown was not only a barely recognizable game in the series, but it was also pretty abysmal. R6 Vegas, and Vegas 2 proved to be solid linear cover shooters. But to original fans, didn’t really feel like Rainbow Six games.

So now we have Rainbow Six Siege, which promised to take the series back to its tactical roots. I’m pleased to say it actually does fulfill that promise. It isn’t as deep as the old games, but it still completely abandons the linear corridor cover shooting of the last few games. Rainbow Six Siege is indeed, a tactical shooter once again.

Now having said that, things are still different. Don’t come into this game thinking you’re going to be getting Rainbow Six 3 with prettier graphics. There are a number of changes to the formula including some of the applicable tools from the Vegas games. There are some entirely new things too like destructible environments,  a ranking system, and a class system. There are also a couple of things that will make some players groan, like the inclusion of microtransactions, and a season pass, that really isn’t much of a season pass.

Rainbow Six Siege also doesn’t give you much of a single player component. In the original games you could play through the various maps with NPCs in lieu of other players. You could choose which characters would enter each map, and then play through each of them, with their preset objectives. There was a loose narrative that tied the missions together to make for a storyline too.

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Instead, this game gives you a mix of challenges that act as training for the multiplayer. It isn’t bad. It does offer similar objectives as the old game, taking down terrorists, or freeing a hostage, or defusing a bomb. The difference is that now you have to do all of these on your own. There aren’t any NPC troops for you to give commands to. You don’t have a planning map. Instead, you’ll get a brief FMV setting up what you’re supposed to do. It doesn’t mean that these solo missions aren’t fun.

The missions actually can be fun, and challenging. The narrated intros by Angela Bassett are pretty awesome. They have great delivery, and feel like you’re watching an episode of a network action drama at 8pm.  They set up each of the missions fairly well. You can also skip them, if you want to get right into the action. But they give you enough information about what to do, where you should probably see them at least once.

The main issue, outside of not being able to do pre mission planning is that there aren’t a lot of them. If you’re committed, you’ll burn through them in a couple of hours tops. The game does give you some challenges within the missions to shoot for, which will give them some replay value. But they’re ultimately not very long. Beating the missions, and meeting the challenges will give you in game currency for multiplayer unlocks. So in that regard you may want to do them anyway if you’re just starting out.

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The unlockable content in the game is almost required. When you first start playing the multiplayer modes you won’t have access to the characters the way you do in the first few games in the series. In the old games, you, and friends pick characters for your missions. Then you choose their gear, whether or not you want other characters to come in as NPC alliances, and their gear if you do.

This game doesn’t have NPC help. So you have to play the game to earn in game currency. You can then use the currency to unlock other characters. Then you can alter each character’s load out, and use more in game currency to unlock gear for their load out. Each character also has one unique weapon or gadget. Some of them are used to breach walls, or find booby traps. Some of them are used to set traps, or find enemy locations.

Each character is in a subset of the international groups for recruitment. There are four characters in each. Two for offensive teams, and two for defensive teams. These relate directly to the game mode you are playing. Out of the box you have either competitive player vs. player modes, or cooperative player vs. environment modes.

In the PvP modes there are teams of attackers, and teams of defenders. Depending on the game, sometimes you’ll find each round the teams swap positions. Before each round you get to choose out of your pool of unlocked characters. Hurry up in this segment because the game only allows one of each character. So if you, and another player both unlocked Smoke for example, only one of you can play as that character.

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Once everyone has their character, and gear selected your team will vote on an entry point. This is one of the things that will annoy some original fans. You can’t split off entry spawns between everyone. The entire team will spawn on whichever location gets the most votes. So if you’re the attacking team, you’ll need to agree to send some players to different entries on foot when the round truly begins.

Most of the classic modes cycle through PvP. In some games you’ll have one side trying to rescue a hostage from the other. In others one side of attackers has to diffuse two bombs. In either scenario the attackers can also win if they kill everyone on the defending team. Of course if time runs out or the defenders kill all of the attackers, they win the round.

If you’re on the attacking team you really as a team, want to complete the objectives though. Because winning rounds gives you in game currency to go toward unlockable characters, and gear. But winning rounds by diffusing bombs, or rescuing hostages from the other side will get you even more money for those things.

This is also where a lot of the new gear comes into play. This game adds a lot of destructible environments into the mix. You can breach many (not all) of the walls in the homes, and buildings you infiltrate. When you do this the game gets a really fun dose of Red Faction thrown into the mix. It’s so enthralling to be able to rappel up the side of a building, crash through a window, and take down an unsuspecting opponent. It’s exciting to blow a hole through a floor, fall through, and grab a hostage, while your comrades storm the room, and cover your escape.

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Rainbow Six Siege also makes the PvE modes that were introduced by the first three R6 games shine in most cases. Terrorist Hunt is back. You can play this mode by yourself, but you’ll really want to play it with friends. Just like the PvP, in this, and other PvE modes you’ll vote on a sole entry point. Beyond that this mode is pretty much the same popular Rainbow Six mode you know, and love. You’ll go into a map with your gear, try to find every NPC villain, and take them down.

Hostage rescue comes up two different ways. In one version you, and your team have to go into a map crawling with terrorists, and extract the hostage. You have to locate them, pick them up, and bring them back to one of the entry points on the map. Doing this can be a challenge because often times the game spawns bad guys near the extraction point on your way back. If you’re carrying the hostage you can only use your side arm. You can set the hostage down but then you put them at risk, and if they die your team loses.

The other version is a horde mode, where you have to stop 4 waves of enemies from killing the hostage. So you get to use all of the defensive gear from the PvP modes to thwart the enemy AI from getting in. If you can hold the position down through the four waves your team wins. If you all die trying, or the hostage dies, you lose.

The bomb mode has you sneaking into the map, finding the bombs, and disarming them. When you do start to disarm the bomb, the game temporarily becomes a horde mode, as you have to gun down waves of enemies until a timer gets down to zero.

There are a number of challenges you can meet in the multiplayer missions to get more in game currency to unlock things faster. But one of the things that will make many annoyed is that the game has microtransactions. Thankfully they aren’t going to give you game breaking weapons.  They mainly act as the ones that NetherRealm added to Mortal Kombat X. You can spend real world money, to get chunks of in game currency. Then you can use that currency to unlock the characters, and gear right away, rather than playing the game.

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The thing is, you get a pretty respectable amount of money for simply playing. Even a bad player will likely have everything unlocked within the first few days of playing. It makes buying the currency a pretty silly purchase for anyone other than the handful of people who insist on having access to everything instantaneously.

On top of the buyable game currency, Ubisoft put out a $30 season pass for the game. It also may not seem worth it to most people. The pass touts that you’ll get a permanent boost, which means you’ll get more in game currency for playing missions. You’ll end up unlocking things faster. On top of that you’ll get to use the unlockable characters right away, and a bunch of skins for the weapons in the game. One of which is exclusive to the pass.

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The PC version of the game is the most preferable way to play if you have a machine that can run it. Ubisoft released a free HD Texture pack for the game that makes things look a lot nicer, and there are a wealth of performance options. On the lowest settings the game looks pretty close to the console versions. On medium details you’ll be about on par. Of course on high or ultra settings you begin to look better.

Because the game is so scalable you can expect pretty good performance across the board. Turning settings down on a midrange rig can get you well above 60 frames per second in many cases. On a low end machine you may not see that kind of performance, but it can at least be as playable as the console versions, provided there’s a decent video card installed. Ultra settings actually do push computer hardware a bit. My midrange GTX 760, and my i7 4770k managed to run everything on Ultra, but frequently dropped below 20fps if any structures were destroyed.  Ultra settings are truly meant for people with upper ended video card.

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If you’re playing on a console you won’t have performance or visual options. But all of the versions will have to contend with Ubisoft’s Uplay. I had some issues when I initially started playing. To change my avatar the service made me log into yet another service, the Ubisoft Club. To do that I had to go to a separate website, which crashed a few times before eventually let me finish that menial task. I also ran into problems getting my friends list to sync up. Trying to add them in game, using the overlay listed everyone as offline, even though they weren’t. Alt+Tabbing out to my desktop, and going into Uplay that way let me add them fine.

The service still has a way to go before it can hang with the likes of Steam or GoG. I will give the service credit in that at least during installation linking Uplay with Steam went easy enough. If you buy the game through Steam, this option allows the game to log you into the service rather than making you manually fire up the client. Though you’ll still have to be running both clients. Once I was able to iron out the annoyances of Uplay I did begin to have a good time.

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Rainbow Six Siege is actually pretty good. A lot better than my inner cynic expected. You actually get an experience that is close to the original game’s. Not exactly the same, there are some improvements. Not a perfect iteration, there are some disappointing omissions like the lack of LAN play. Uplay integration still needs some work. The season pass doesn’t provide much value for the majority of customers.

But even with those disappointments I still find myself recommending the game. The game is a lot of fun to play, and if you’re a lapsed fan who has skipped the last few campaign driven games you’ll find a lot to like. Conversely, fans of Vegas might hesitate before buying Siege because of the limited things for a lone player to do. Rainbow Six Siege is a fun if flawed return to form for the series.  Anyone who spent hours playing Raven Shield, and longs for a game in the same vein can feel confident picking it up.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

SiN Retrospective Part 1: SiN Review

Originally released in 1998, Ritual Entertainment developed SiN from humble, literal in-house beginnings. It follows the story of HardCORPS police officer John Blade. As well as hacker JC Armack (A play on id software founder John Carmack’s name), and the nefarious plots by SinTek. A mega pharmaceutical company run by a voluptuous, and sultry mad scientist named Elexis Sinclaire.

PROS: Huge environments. Solid mechanics. Multiple paths.

CONS: Blocky graphics haven’t aged well. Later levels aren’t as interesting.

CHEESE: It has a lot of the fun, direct to video movies of the 1990’s have.

The game runs on id software’s Quake II engine. To go back to it today admittedly will have you wondering how games from the era could have impressed us so much. But if you can allow yourself to get past the blocky, low poly look of the characters, and 16 bit textures you will find a lot to like. Levels are huge, and intricate. There are branching paths ensuring you can complete the stages different ways, and enter following levels in different areas. Character designs are fairly original with only a few fairly generic ones crawling out toward the end. There are a lot of fun weapons, some cool boss fights, and even a vehicle section or two. Bottom line there is a lot to like.

Seeing how I’m doing this review as a retrospective, I’m doing something a little bit different. I’ll be going over the storyline. Broadly mind you, but there will be a number of spoilers. The game is also a retro game at this point so for a lot of people it shouldn’t be that big a deal. Nevertheless, there will be spoilers.

SiN opens up with the main character. Blade on a police chopper flying in to thwart what appears to be your typical bank robbery. As Blade you will have to gun down a bunch of low-level grunts, (Some of whom are dressed like ninjas with machine guns) to infiltrate a bank. It is right out the gate you will see Ritual made great use of the engine to do in-game cut scenes leaving pre-rendered CGI cut scenes for the very beginning, and end of the game. After making short work of these criminals you’ll get out of the chopper, and fight your way through the bank to get to the vault.

When you get to the vault you’ll be introduced to Vincent Mancini. Mancini is behind this elaborate heist, and has drilled under the bank for an escape route. As you pursue him, you’ll find yourself going through abandoned buildings filled with more henchmen. A short time later you will be introduced to Elexis Sinclaire in another in-game cut scene. She meets up with Mancini on the roof of a building, and argues with him. It turns out that all she had hired the mob to do at the bank was steal a safe deposit box, but instead Mancini had gone all out with a full-scale heist. Here we see Mancini is your typical idiot lackey type henchman. Sort of the Beast Man to her Skeletor. Or the Star Scream to her Megatron.

Anyway, Elexis injects him with something before flying off in a chopper because now her corporation can be tied to the robbery. As Blade you’ll follow on through a construction area eventually leading to a Subway. At the end of this subway level you meet up with a huge mutant monster in a battle that will remind you of the final boss of Resident Evil 2. He crashes through the roof of the train, then darts off after being severely damaged. When the train reaches it’s destination, the mutant returns, and you have to gun him down. This boss takes a TON of punishment. But when you finally beat him, the next cut scenes show HardCORPS taking in the body, and discovering the mutant monster was actually Vincent Mancini. The autopsy also shows signs of a lethal new street drug called U4 in his system, and that SinTek labs is known for making components to it.

The next stage will have you infiltrate SinTek’s lab division. This mission is one of the hardest in the game because you have to be very stealthy. There are a bunch of worker characters like scientists, receptionists, and other low-level drones you aren’t allowed to shoot. If you do, someone will hear it, and pull the alarms. If this happens there will be a horde of spider robots with chain guns swarming you. Plus turrets on nearly every ceiling gunning you down. Your only hope of beating this stage is to sneak up on the low-level characters, and punch them in the back so they can’t trip the alarms. You also have to do this away from security cameras, and you have to find hidden paths like one of the air ducts (You jump into off of a ceiling fan in the break room) to do it. At one point you even need to steal a yellow jumpsuit, and key card to advance.

By this point it should also be obvious that the game retains the “Get the key” aspect of games of the time. So expect to find yourself not only shooting down bad guys, but also looking for keys. However, the branching paths of the stages also lessen this, because if you know where to go you can avoid some (Though not all) of the key cards. That said, it never seems to reach the level of the old DOOM games where you needed them constantly. Here it’s much closer to Goldeneye 007 on the N64.

When you do get the key you’ll get on an elevator, to go underneath the lab, and it is here you first learn about their plan with drugs. You have to sneak around the labs until finally you find this one head scientist who has the key to get further. Up until now the only major environmental action you’ve had other than blowing up background objects is one bank vault password on a computer. But here you will have to log into a system, and turn off a fan. Run through the fan tunnel before it comes back on. Turn on another terminal to unlock doors. Turn on another terminal to get a scientists’ password for another terminal. And there is another terminal that opens up a lab so you can grab a U4 sample. After getting that sample there is another computer that controls a U4 scanner that you will have to jack into so that JC can read the data for your case. After all of that you have to escape the lab through an underground sewage pipe, and make your way to a warehouse.

In the warehouse you find out that Elexis is planning to poison the water supply with this U4 which will do to everyone what she did to Mancini. You also find out after going through this warehouse that she has a SECOND lab under the warehouse designing cyborgs much like the Strogg from Quake II. Much like everything else out of B movies in this story she wants to take over the world. (Though one wonders just how much money her company will have left after all of this elaborate spending. When they’re not wondering how she’s managed to keep all of this stuff a secret.)

After a hard-fought battle through these labs fighting off hordes of enemies you do catch up with Elexis who taunts you before unleashing two NEW types of cyborg killers. These are easier to take down than the mutant Mancini boss, but you do have to keep circle strafing, and sidestepping to stay alive.

I should have probably mentioned this earlier in the review but you don’t just walk over things in this game to get them, you actually have to press a button (Default is E) to pick them up. Some of the items you press a second button (Usually ENTER) to use them. In any event hopefully you’ve figured this out by now. In all likelihood you probably have. After you beat these bosses it still isn’t over because you’ll have to get outside to call a chopper to a pad which of course, is guarded.

The next stage will have you doing A SEWER LEVEL. But I have to be honest, the sewer stage in SiN is actually pretty well done, and is fun thanks again to branching paths. Also helping is the fact that it doesn’t sport the usual “Sewer” enemies although there are mice. (Brief tangent, this game has TONS of mice in it if you’re willing to look straight down when you take seemingly random -1 damage)

When you do manage to get through the end of this you’ll find yourself at the Dam where you will have to find your way down to a secret bunker to stop SinTek from poisoning the water supply.

When you do, you will find it was all for naught.

Why is this? Because Elexis Sinclaire has more dough, and parallel plot points than Dr. Wily, and every one of James Bond’s adversaries combined. While you were busy making the water line safe, she was out hijacking nukes, and taking them to her secret uncharted island base.

From this point JC sends you out to an oil rig owned by SinTek. After quietly coming up on a raft, and sniping some guards you begin your next quasi stealth mission. Elexis lands on the top of the rig with her helicopter, and tells everyone to kill you. So of course now you have to sneak to the top, blowing away everyone you see to get to her. Really everyone. Big guys with wrenches, more ninjas with tank guns, even a few of those cyborgs show up. This is one of the most fun stages in SiN due to the variety of enemies, and the various ways to the top you can go. When you get to the top you will actually be going down, because the elevator leads to another shipping area where SinTek is moving cases of stuff to the island. After dispatching guards, and getting a few more key cards, you flood the undersea base, and follow the shipments out to sea. In the sea you will have even more new enemy types like underwater deep-sea divers with harpoons, and giant blue crocodile/fish hybrids. Beating this stage is less about gunning down baddies, and more about finding air bubbles so you don’t drown. Also avoiding falling rocks, and spikes. It seems like there’s always something falling on you.

Finally you get to the end of the stage, and onto Sinclaire’s island. Here you have to fight your way to the top of a mountain. There are not only SinTek mercenaries to worry about, but you also have to re-battle some of the monsters like the one Mancini turned into. Getting up to the top you’ll drive a jeep through a section of enemies to a lab. Sadly this is the one section where the controls are HORRIBLE.

You can’t steer very lightly, it’s mainly hard left or right turns. So to get to the top you’ll be letting off the gas, turning, then gassing again. Thankfully it’s a very small part of the overall game. But it is a nuisance.

When you do make it to the top, and slay the last few bad guys though, Elexis captures you, and injects you with U4. What follows is the most difficult, and strange area of the game.

“Area 57” as Elexis calls it has you in the role of the mutant. Clawing is your only weapon, and you can jump slightly higher. You also have to do things just the right way or you have to start over. For instance, if you kill the mechs you can’t get into the pipes to get to the areas you need to go. Doors permanently close behind you so you have to make sure you did everything properly before going through one. Do the stage properly, and you’ll find the antidote to U4, allowing you to go back to being human. After this trial, and error exercise Blade will find himself in a really bizarre area with guys in sacrificial coats, and doing experiments on mutants, and chunks of flesh. When you finally escape this area you interrupt Elexis who is in the midst of a meeting with villainous characters.

She goes on about how she stole her father’s research, and through these twisted experiments she hopes to use her drugs to create the ultimate being. In doing so she can use them to enslave the world, and rule it. Blade crashes the party, and even stops the nuke from being launched.

Only to have her capture him again.

This time though instead of being turned into a mutant monster, Elexis decides to throw you into a giant feeding ground for what has to be the biggest monster boss since the Cyber Demon from DOOM.

This thing is HUGE, and takes a TON of punishment. Even if you found all of the hidden super weapon parts throughout the game (Yeah I forgot to mention that before) it is still going to be a hard fight.

Where as the Cyber Demon from DOOM merely required you to duck out behind a pillar between lobbing tons of gunfire, this thing has no pillars to speak of. There are boxes of ammo for your various guns to be found on structures around the ring, but getting them takes some luck because of how many missiles he fires at you. Not only that but the monster taunts you, after it takes so much damage, and then increases it’s attacks. When you finally do take it down you’ll be treated to one of the most tongue in cheek CGI cut scenes in gaming history.

Elexis is in a chair as Blade confronts her. Instead of shooting her, he allows himself to be tempted by her assets just long enough for her to press a teleport button on the chair conveniently between her legs.

Blade does pull the trigger, but not in time, and she beams herself onto an escape rocket.

Back at the station, JC taunts Blade, and the credits roll.

SiN was a long game for its type, and the story while not the deepest was better than a lot of the thin stories back then. There was also a lot of stuff I didn’t get into, like the myriad of hidden secrets. There are a lot of Easter Eggs in the game if you want to take the time to seek them out. Other technical aspects in the game are pretty good here. The AI, and graphics supported realistic (For the time) limb damage. So characters acted different, depending on the situation. Sometimes they would hide. Other times call for back up. Textures on the models changed to reflect ongoing shoot outs. Shot a guy in the head? A hole appeared, and they usually died instantly. Hit a limb? the texture turned to a blood soaked ripped one, and they ran away. Point blank shotgun blast into a bank robber? His entire torso would giblet.

The last real games to do any of this sort of thing were the sequel to this one, and the Solider of Fortune series (Which sadly only really offered giblets after first one, and it’s low-budget second sequel didn’t even give that.). Sure a lot of games let you hack terminals, but in SiN they went as far as making everything a true command line OS prompt (At least in the vein of the game). Some of them let you type in commands besides simply unlocking a door, or entering passwords. The branching paths were also novel because not too many games around then or even since outside of RPGs really offered that sort of thing. It keeps the game from feeling too linear, and it’s something I wish games would go back to.

I also didn’t really talk about the multiplayer, which by this point is pretty moot. Not too many people play it due to the age, and while it is a fun death match game, other arena shooters, and modern multiplayer games have upset it. Still, you may want to check it out if you have yet to play through SiN. There is also the expansion pack Wages of SiN which is comparable to a modern-day DLC bonus episode. In it, Blade has to take down a crime boss who has somehow managed to get ahold of SinTek’s mutant drug technology. It isn’t very long, but it does have a few references to the main campaign.

This game would eventually find its way to Steam, and GoG. Oddly enough the Steam version had some censored textures throughout the game. The game also disappeared from the Steam store front. Though its sequel is still there. Fortunately, if my review has piqued your interest, it is still on GoG. You can also track down the original physical CD-ROM. Just know that there are a number of issues you may have running it on a modern PC. The GoG version is probably your best bet at this point in time if you’re a retro gamer. Still, for collectors, the original game isn’t terribly expensive or rare.

Final Score: 8 out of 10 (Still worth playing many years later)

Fistful Of Frags Review

I’ve had a lot of doctor visits as of late. If you’ve been following my Twitter feed you might have noticed me lamenting my poor dietary decisions over the last 30 years. Suffice it to say, when bills start piling up, you kind of have to put game purchases on the back burner. At least until you catch up. What does this have to do with today’s game review? Well if you’re in a state of “I can’t spend any money on non-essential things right now” it can suck. Especially if it means spending your little bit of free time bored.

Fistful Of Frags

PROS: It’s free! Really, really free! A western setting! Fun.

CONS: It really isn’t much to look at. Too similar to TF2. Minor bugs.

HOLY HALF-LIFE 2 BATMAN: Yes it’s another indie game that started out as a Source mod.

Freeware used to be a thing. In today’s climate when someone says “Free.” many of us instantly think about pay walls, and timers. Sometimes a game will start out as a paid game, and then become free. Team Fortress 2 is the most famous example of that. Its only post download purchases are the purely cosmetic hats people buy. But 30 years ago, there were many free games if you were playing on a computer. Often times computer magazines had entire sections devoted to free games, and other programs. All you had to do, was take the time to type in the 15 pages of code, and remember to save.

By the time MS-DOS was king, and about to be usurped by Windows 95 Free games were all over the place. Hobbyists made them. Even some companies made them. Sometimes even companies unaffiliated with gaming somehow gave away a free game. Chex Quest anyone? But of course over the years that became less, and less common. Eventually freeware games were replaced with shareware games. Where you had the first 30% of a game for free, and then bought the full game if you really enjoyed it. This proved to be a very successful model for companies like Apogee, and iD who would give us Wolfenstein, Rise Of The Triad, Doom, Duke Nukem, and Quake. Eventually however, we even saw those days disappear.

Rather than follow the path of micro-transactions forged by smart phone games, Fistful Of Frags opts to be freeware. True freeware. There are no add-ons to buy. No cosmetic items. Nothing. You have the complete experience for no charge whatsoever. But even a free game isn’t free from scrutiny. After all, it still has to be fun enough for you to want to download it in the first place. Fortunately Fistful Of Frags is fun enough for a download.

The game pretty much clones the experiences of Team Fortress 2, and Half-Life 2’s Death Match mode. You have your classic push cart mode. In it, you’ll have to move a mine cart from one side of the map to the next within a time limit. The opposing side will attempt to stop you. There is also the point capture mode, where you have to hold a position for so many seconds. In this game you also have to have the area clear or the timer will stop until you take out the enemy team. If you can keep them at bay, you’ll capture the point, and move onto the next. These modes also take a page from Counter Strike by having a shop at the start of each round for your load outs. Don’t worry though, the currency is not based on actual money. Rather, your round performance as a team will determine how much you’ll be able to spend. Suffice it to say, you’ll want to do well enough to have your favorite tools available.

Then you have the standard Death Match mode. Kill more opponents than anybody else within the time limit to be the victor. The game does add a few of its own provisions to the rule set though. First off, you won’t have access to everything right away. You’ll be allowed to choose a starter weapon, and favored hand. But many times you’ll begin with your fists, and have to find a weapon in the field. There is a variant of Death Match called Break Bad, where each kill gets you money, that you can use toward your load out on your following life.

Each of the Death Match modes can be played in teams, or in free for all settings. If you play in teams, there are four factions: Desperadoes, Vigilantes, Bandits, and Rangers. All of the factions are functionally the same. The only change is the player model you’ll be using. In team games, you can even play four team variants. So this allows all four factions to be in a game at the same time.

The game does attempt to differentiate itself from other modern shooters. One of the ways it does this is with its melee fighting system, and with its emphasis on dexterity. When you are completely unarmed, you can still have a chance at survival. It has a left punch, and right punch mechanic using the left, and right mouse buttons. You can also kick people back to get some distance. The game doesn’t go as deep as it could however. You don’t really get to steer your swings the way you do in something like Chivalry. But the fact you can mix things up is encouraging. The game could have easily gone with the fist as a pointless button 1 jamming affair. Instead it went with a system akin to a boxing game. Moreover, when brandishing firearms, or melee weapons you can choose which hand to use. Each hand setup has advantages or disadvantages. You can have a right-handed, a left-handed, or ambidextrous position. When using two weapons the left button is the left gun, and the right button is the right gun. Some of the alternate firing modes are a lot of fun too. Like the Clint Eastwood inspired rapid-firing of a revolver. There is even a focus on counting the number of times you’ve fired a weapon as it has a western theme.

That old west theme also works in the game’s favor. There aren’t a lot of western themed games compared with other settings.  So Fistful Of Frags stands out. It also has some fast, arcade movement, mixed with some realism. At least in the fact that picking up too many items will actually slow you down. This is one game where hoarding weapons can actually be a detrimental thing. Plus the game has some pretty great level design. Maps flow for their game modes really well. Weapons are mostly pretty good, with many of the weapons having some pretty good effectiveness. You’ll also stumble upon colored crates in maps. These have different weapons in them, and certain colors yield better ones. Of course the better crates are often in places near choke points, or places that leave you vulnerable. So going for them can be a pretty big risk.

Fistful Of Frags is one of many Source games that started out as a Half-Life mod, and it shows. It puts its wild west theme to good use. It has some great stages. But it isn’t going to win any beauty awards. The game looks very much like a 2004 release, and there weren’t many visual upgrades added to the engine. Where other games that started as mods have had overhauls, this has not. There aren’t a lot of lighting effects, or other visual add-ons to hide the limits either. The game even launches with a Half-Life 2 icon on your taskbar. It does nothing to disguise the fact that it runs as a stand alone mod. There are also some technical hitches that hold it back a bit. Sometimes I found myself stuck on objects. Some of the maps have areas you can go beyond, where you shouldn’t be able to. Sure you’ll die, but falling into a barren wasteland, and clipping through objects is something to be avoided. Then there is the minor nitpick in that there are only four player models. One for each team. Character variety could certainly add some more personality to the game. The main drawback however, is the lack of modes. With what you’re given, you might opt to play Team Fortress 2 with its added classes, and constant updates. Or you might opt to play something like Quake Live if you’re just itching for some Death Match action.

Be that as it may, I can say the game is FUN. Even if you only play it in short bursts, or the occasional night with friends. It controls well, the maps are interesting, and again, there haven’t been many western themed games compared with other settings. And because we’re talking about freeware here, you aren’t out anything if you end up disliking it. Hopefully though, the developers can take what they’ve learned, and apply it to a more fleshed out, deeper experience. There is certainly enough to build upon. As it stands, Fistful Of Frags is definitely worth checking out. Even if it is fairly average.

Final Score: 6 out of 10