Tag Archives: FPS

The trouble with tier lists

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Any game with a competitive setting in mind will have a host of tools for players to choose from. Okay, well most competitive games anyway. You really don’t get to select from a variety of paddles in PONG. But throughout the history of video games, many games have given the players who’ve enjoyed them some variety. By the time the Commodore 64 rolled around we had games like Mail Order Monsters where we were choosing which giant twisted creatures we were going to command and level against one another.

Of course, by the mid-1990s we had reached a point where games didn’t have to give both competitors carbon copies of one another. This was also the period when fighting games would truly evolve beyond the usual martial arts competition games we’d seen before. Data East had given us Karate Champ, Epyx had given us World Karate Championship (a.k.a. International Karate), but Capcom’s Street Fighter would move the needle a bit. It had the same approach as Nintendo’s Punch-Out!! in the sense that you were going to essentially be playing a boss rush. To a lesser extent, one could point to Konami’s Yie Ar Kung Fu.

But Street Fighter would spawn Street Fighter II and SNK’s Fatal Fury. and before long the genre would see a slew of contenders. This is the point where fighting games gave players several characters to choose from. Mortal Kombat, Virtua Fighter, Killer Instinct, Tekken, and a host of other contenders would also enter the fray. All of them would put their own spins and tweaks on the fighting game formula.

While this was going on in arcades, in the PC Gaming side of things another major genre we love today was coming up: First-Person-Shooters. Obviously, we think of games like Wolfenstein 3D and DOOM for wowing everyone by putting us in the head of a hero. But DOOM, Rise Of The Triad, Duke Nukem 3D, and Quake brought us the Deathmatch. And while most of these games gave us all the same character, they all had different weapons strewn throughout their maps. Before long, the FPS would be bringing us multiplayer-focused experiences like Quake III Arena and Unreal Tournament. 

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But these genres’ options in characters and weapons both led to something. Something called the tier list.

Tier lists are most referenced in fighting games but they also show up in First-Person Shooters due to the possible weapon matchups that can occur at any given time. Within a few weeks of release, you’ll begin to see them pop up in their respective game communities. Showing off brackets that group the combatants or the weapons into different levels or “Tiers” of effectiveness in battle.

These lists change continually over the lifespan of their respective games. As new strategies are discovered, new content is added via DLC, and when patches are created by the developers to fix bugs or rebalance the game they’re redone. Who makes these lists? Usually, it’s the absolute best players of any given competitive game. The top 1% of the top 10% of tournament level players. Here, they lay their opinions down at the feet of everyone in the community. And to be honest, at that level of play it makes some sense. It gives the absolute best players a good idea of which matchups are going to be the most difficult, or most balanced among two players of equal skill.

The problem is that these lists are not gospel. Even among the top bracket, there will be a lot of debate because one player might intricately know a supposedly lower-tier character or weapon has a technique or talent that isn’t being given enough credit by the author. And sometimes these debates may change the writer’s mind.

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Be that as it may, the unfortunate trend in recent years has been that average people have been taking these lists as concrete law. Leading to a swath of people entering into a game like Street Fighter V, going on Eventhubs to find Karin on the top of the list and immediately choosing to use them. Because they want to win, and in their minds being number 1 on their list means they should always win.

It doesn’t take anything else into account. Why did the authors think Karin was the best character in the game? What does the character have over the other characters? How complicated are these advantages to learn? Are they really *that* much better? Because if one pays any attention they’ll notice that some matchups are nearly even, and there are even a couple of characters that give them some trouble.

And whether you decide to believe a list or not, these were generally made by people who have tens of thousands upon tens of thousands of hours in experience in it. Those who have mastered most of the fighters in a game or weapons in a game as well as arenas and maps. What they’re talking about pertains to a very small portion of the audience playing the game regularly. Although with things like Tiermaker, pretty much anyone can make one about anything. I made a joke list for a private group below.

 

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The reality is that if you take any of the best players in a given game, and force them to use the tools they haven’t written a lot of fondness for they’ll still likely win even if they think they’re using inferior tools. Because they have enough of a handle on the ins and outs of that weapon. They know exactly where the best sniper locations are, and they’ll still take you out with the pea shooter. They know when you’re going to try to use that awesome super and they’re going to make you whiff it. And when you do they will absolutely punish you.

Until you get to that kind of a level of talent in your favorite competitive game, pay no mind to these kinds of lists. Instead, find that character you like, or that weapon you feel comfortable with and try to go as far as you can with them. Along the way, you may just discover things even some of those who are objectively better than you haven’t yet. Then use those things to your advantage. To truly get better at any competitive game you’ll have to get used to losing and analyzing those losses. Eventually, you’ll start finding those holes in your plans and patching them. You’ll change strategies. Something far more effective than looking at a list and changing a character or a weapon.

ION FURY Review

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In recent years we’ve had a few high-profile games that hearken back to the early days of the PC FPS. There was a pretty great Rise Of The Triad reboot, a few years ago. Bethesda brought back DOOM, and New Blood Interactive has hit it out of the park by publishing DUSK, and AMID EVIL. But where all of these games bring back the elements of old using modern technology, Voidpoint went for the new game in the 1990s mold a different way. They actually went with technology that was released in the 1990s.

PROS: An excellent use of the 1996 3DRealms Build Engine in an all-new game!

CONS: There isn’t much for you beyond a terrific single-player campaign.

JON ST. JOHN IS BACK: But not as the gun-toting action hero he made famous.

Ion Fury had a few swerves on the lead up to release. When I bought it in Early Access eons ago it was called Ion Maiden. And it was one bug-ridden demo level. Once the issues were hashed out, it was one excellent demo level. But it hit other speedbumps like a potential lawsuit from a major record label and Iron Maiden because of the letter “R”.

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But a lot has changed since then and now that the game is officially out we have a new name, full-fledged campaign, and some other bonus content for good measure. Voidpoint also built this entire game on the very same technology 3DRealms used itself for Duke Nukem 3D and Shadow Warrior.  The game runs in a modified version of Build Engine that works under the modern Windows 10 environment. No need to fire up DOSBox, or write a batch file. It runs natively.

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But they didn’t just reskin a bunch of Duke 3D content. Everything here is all new. A cast of wild and inventive new enemies. A bunch of fun and interesting new weapons. A plethora of crazy new enemies to turn into gibs. A slew of stages that will have you really thinking about how things work in between volleys of enemy waves and hellfire.  They did a lot to push 23-year-old video game engine technology beyond what was thought possible. It even simulates some room over room scenarios with some clever tricks as Build technically was never designed to do so. We wouldn’t see that until iD Software created Quake.

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So the game is technically impressive, but how is the gameplay? Honestly, it’s quite good. If not for a few things I’ll get to later on, this could be the game people wanted Duke Nukem Forever to have been. You play as Shelly Harrison, the protagonist of the little-known twin-stick shooter Bombshell. Ion Fury is technically a prequel to that game. In any case, Shelly is after a mad scientist Dr. Jadus Heskel. Like many fictional insane villains with a Ph.D. Heskel has an army of twisted designs and is bent on taking over the world. He also has many acolytes in his group. So you can expect to go up against every sci-fi, and Saturday Morning Cartoon enemy trope you can think of.

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There are the cultists, zombies, cyborg ninjas, terminators, demons, death bots you would expect to face in a game like this. But there are a lot of other hidden surprises. But the game also gets points for being a bit more original with the designs of most of its rogues’ gallery. You’ve seen these kinds of enemies in many games over the last four decades. But they do have terrific, original costumes most of the time. Though there are a number of them that do not differentiate themselves from the henchmen in the late-night B-movies that inspired them. Though the ankle-biting enemies in this game will likely infuriate you as it can be impossible to see these heads with spider legs when they’re clipping behind 2D scenery sprites like trash cans or trees.

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Regardless of that annoyance, the stages in this game are very well thought out. As you get further in the game they become pretty intricate, rivaling some of the biggest maps from DOOM, Duke Nukem 3D, and Shadow Warrior. In late-game stages, you’ll often find the familiar color-coded keys bring you back to earlier areas or open up previously inaccessible paths. Simply trying to complete some of these can take you close to an hour. Possibly more. Then there are the secret areas. Some of them are obvious. If you’re going down a hallway, and see an air vent you may as well shoot the cover off and climb into the air duct. But others can be rather obtuse.

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If you’re just looking to blow through the game without worrying about finding every last secret and Easter egg, it will still take you a considerable amount of time to do so. As I’ve mentioned before, these levels are quite large with intricate paths. Then there are the set-piece moments peppered in. These are the times where you’ll hear Dr. Heskel taunt Shelly while the game introduces a major puzzle, new enemy group, or a boss encounter. These are done exceptionally well by the actor who brought Duke Nukem to life in Duke3D; Jon St. John. Here, he does a fantastic job of portraying a stereotypical supervillain. Even if the rest of the game doesn’t do much to flesh out the character, Jon St. John makes up for it a bit with some great delivery.

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And while Jon St. John isn’t reprising his most famous video game role, there is someone bringing you the snarky one-liners. That’s Valerie Arem. She’s the voice behind Shelly Harrison and Harrison brings the B movie quips as well as Duke Nukem did. Whether she’s blowing up cyborgs with bowling bombs, discovering new weapons or interacting with things in the environment you’re going to hear some great line delivery. Sometimes the game may replay them a bit too much. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t good. It really does feel like you’re playing a Duke Nukem 3D spinoff.

Of course, the modern standards that have been added here also make the game much easier to play than the old Build Engine games in their vanilla forms.  But it won’t be an easy game. When you’re not facing hordes from recently opened monster closets, you’ll rack your brain trying to figure out which path to take in the maze you’re currently in. And again, the visuals are all new in spite of running on modified old tech. The gritty textures and sprites will feel both new and familiar. For younger players who never experienced Duke Nukem 3D or Blood or Shadow Warrior back in the day, it might just give you enough understanding of why those games are considered classics while giving you a fantastic new experience.

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All told you’ll spend anywhere between 7 to 20 hours clearing the campaign, and for the completionists out there you’ll spend even further trying to get every last secret. All while jamming to some pretty great Electronica by Jarkko Rotsten that hearkens back to those 90s DTV films that used to adorn the video rental store walls.

When you clear the campaign there is a horde mode to play, but honestly, it feels pretty weak compared to the main game. Even if it can’t compete with the massive player bases of things like Overwatch I think a Deathmatch or Capture The Flag mode would have been much more fun. Barring that, an actual Co-operative campaign option would have been even better, giving players more replay value as they could play with friends on a second or third playthrough.

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Still, for what it is, it is a fun ride that gives you what it advertises; a fun, modern shooter built to appeal to the classics on a classic engine. If that sounds like something you’d be interested in playing, you’ll undoubtedly enjoy your time with Ion Fury. It’s a very well-made game that does what it does well. It pushes old tech to the limit while providing FPS fans with a new game. You’ve seen a lot of what it does before, yes. But it somehow doesn’t feel derivative. It’s a fun game with a cool protagonist.

Final Score: 8 out of 10.

AMID EVIL Review

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New Blood Interactive is quickly becoming known for the publisher keeping 1990’s FPS design alive. One of their top guys Dave Oshry helped bring Interceptor’s reboot of Rise Of The Triad to market when he worked with them. As did composer Andrew Hulshult. Since then, both have been involved with New Blood. The company published the excellent DUSK last year, and recently Indefatigable’s AMID EVIL finally released.

With DUSK the concept seemed to be a celebration of Resident Evil, Deliverance, and the original QUAKE. All rolled into a mind-blowingly creatively designed shooter wrapped in retrospective trappings and design. AMID EVIL too, is an old school shooter at heart. But with a wistfulness for the old Heretic and Hexen games. But is this new game just a new coat of paint or is there something else going on?

PROS: Visual design. Level design. Responsive controls. Scalable experience.

CONS: Enemies sometimes blend into backgrounds. Inconsistent A.I.

EARTH: Will be blown up tens of thousands of times.

While it’s true AMID EVIL (I can’t help that they wrote their title screen with the Caps Lock key turned on.) does evoke memories of those classics ID produced with Raven way back in 1994, it doesn’t give you the whole picture.  Fighting monsters with magic-themed weapons are only one small part of the game. This game gives you a lot of elements that come from a number of places. In most cases, these elements work surprisingly well together.

The storyline in AMID EVIL isn’t really its strong suit. Most of it is buried in the game’s menu system where you’ll get a cliff notes version. The gist of it is you’re called by a mysterious voice to be the Grand Champion of the universe. There’s been an evil being referenced only as an “Evil Force.” So much like the Avatar in the Ultima series of RPGs, you leave the comfort of your life to take up a magical Battle Axe and become a slayer of evildoers.

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From here you start out in what look like ancient ruins whereupon further inspection reveals a few paths. Depending on the one you take, you’ll find each is tied to a difficulty level. All of the paths ultimately take you to the same physical place. But the harder paths will give enemies greater strengths and numbers. Once you’ve chosen your path you’re off on your quest.

When you begin your quest, you’ll find it actually starts in a hub world. At first, the game will make you play the episodes in order. But after you clear the first two episodes of levels, the hub world changes. Several walls come down, and you can play the following episodes in any order you wish. Once you play through all of them, the final episode opens up for you to embark upon.

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This is why I said there is a multitude of elements earlier. This is the sort of thing often seen in platformers like Super Mario 64. It’s less common in FPS games. But in this case, it’s done rather well. You’ll find that each episode also follows a strain of Super Mario logic: giving each place you visit a distinct motif. AMID EVIL never repeats a theme. Each of these lands is themed after a different rogue gallery of villains. So every episode has a completely new area to explore. Don’t get me wrong, there are still some common settings here. There’s a volcanic area filled with tombs. There’s a space-age area where you may be reminded of games like The Conduit. But the overall, point is that aesthetically, each set of stages is set apart from one another.

Tying into this, are the enemies you’ll face. Each set has its own group of villains. Some of them may share a strategy or two, but their behaviors are still just different enough to keep you on your toes. For instance, one world pits you against flying enemies that feel somewhere between the Angels Bayonetta fights, and the Harpies Serious Sam has been shooting since 2001. But you can’t assume you know how to fight them off. They still have their own attack patterns going on. Even within this game’s worlds, going into the volcanic temple regions throws forth a floating rock with a face on it. A face that breathes fire. A fire breathing face you can’t attack the same way as the sun-worshipping winged guys you fought five stages ago.

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That’s what makes things feel different in each area. The fact that while you still may have enemies that charge you, enemies, that fly, or enemies with a great arm in each region, they have nuance. It’s never a 1:1 feeling across the board. As such, AMID EVIL has a lot of personality other games do not. It keeps you going because you always want to see what else is in store for you. Pairing along with all of this is fantastic level design. The fact that Indefatigable cut their teeth making mods for those classic ID and Apogee titles really shows. Each of these levels has a lot of emphasis on exploration. Partly because you’ll need those keys to get those color-coded doors open. But also because it incentivizes you to go off the beaten path for secrets.

Often the secrets will get you more powerful weapons earlier, or get you big boosts of health orbs and mana. The weapons in this game are about what you’d expect. You’ll have your starting ax and you’ll find magic wands early. As well as a sword. Most of the weapons in the game still operate as guns. However, there are a few really creative ones here. The morningstar is really fun to use. It shoots spikes at enemies, and if you get that critical hit with it, it will actually nail them to the wall! Another one is a wand that shoots planets like rockets. It may sound silly, but this game finds a way to make the silly plausible. Each of these weapons uses a different color of mana. Much like the weapons in the old Heretic/Hexen games. You’ll need to keep an eye on levels for each of these especially later in the game where they become more scarce. Resource management is a much bigger deal in these types of games than one might think. There’s nothing worse than an opening monster closet when you have 5% health and only 30 magic bullets for your wand.

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The stage layouts are terrific even if you’re not planning on 100%ing all of them. Many of them have some very challenging puzzles in between taking out squads of monsters. Sometimes you’ll have to go to a previous area to find a room you couldn’t enter before and have forgotten about. Then you’ll find something in there leads to that latest room you had left, only now you’ll have an item you need. Other times it’s less complicated than that, but might expect you to think vertically as opposed to horizontally.

At the end of each set of levels, you’ll fight a boss. A lot of these are your standard GamePro Cyberdemon “Shoot it until it dies.” meme. But a number of them involve puzzles. One fight, in particular, stood out to me because it involved forcing the boss to walk into a trap in order to make it vulnerable. Obviously, the final boss encounter is something of a grand challenge. Thankfully, the game has a slew of power-ups to help you out. You have an invisibility power up to keep enemies from seeing you for a short time. There’s an invulnerability power-up to make you temporarily invincible. There’s also one that allows you to fly like the one from Rise Of The Triad. Beyond all of that, if you collect enough souls from fallen enemies, you can also temporarily boost the power of your weapons with a right mouse click!

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AMID EVIL is a glorious game. Like DUSK before it, it keeps this style of shooter alive. Yes, it involves a lot of twitch gameplay as you’re blasting anything that moves. But there’s a sense of exploration modern games often don’t have as the focus is putting you through a linear set of areas to evoke a sense of being involved in a story. There’s definitely nothing wrong with this, but bringing back the classic formulas from the genre’s infancy is going to feel fresh to those who’ve missed it, as well as those who never experienced it. The important thing is AMID EVIL does it very well. The character designs, level designs, and unique themes for each area all go toward making this game a compelling one.

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Be that as it may, some might notice some of the blocky N64 era models, and wonder about them. This game was made using Unreal Engine 4, and so it does a lot of modern effects many newer games would have. And yet, the characters are much less complicated looking than nearly anything else you’ve seen from other games using the engine. AMID EVIL doesn’t go with contemporary trends. It goes with a retro look with contemporary touches instead. This makes the game look not quite contemporary, but not quite retro either. It beats to its own drum, and it works to its benefit.

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Andrew Hulshult comes back from DUSK to do the OST to AMID EVIL, and it’s far from the typical hard rock sound he’s known for. There’s a slew of ambient tracks that suit the mood of the visuals in any situation. Occasionally the music does pick up the tempo and begins to rock a little bit harder during firefights. But when you’re not killing things, you’re getting some very eerie sound effects, and tones. Especially during the final episode where the audio marries the visuals again leading to some of the strangest stuff you may have seen in a game. Stuff that can hang with the likes of American McGee’s Alice, or Disney’s Epic Mickey. When you clear the mainline game you can go back and play it again on a higher difficulty. But there’s also a horde mode included here to keep you a little busier for a little longer.

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AMID EVIL is pretty amazing. Whether you loved the era of early DOOM games or not. It has a great blend of action and puzzle-solving. It has a great soundtrack. It does, of course, have a couple of tiny issues I have to nitpick a bit. First off, some of the enemies have the same color schemes as some of the backgrounds. So occasionally, you’ll be hit by something, and won’t realize what it is until you’re just about to die. Second of all, some of the enemies aren’t always consistent in their behavior. Sometimes you’ll be getting hit from a mile away, but other times enemies may not see you even after you’ve snuck upon them. I also wish the story could have been told more through the gameplay, instead of just throwing it into a submenu. Because there are some cool things in there that could make for a better storyline. Still, it all takes a backseat to the action anyway, so it’s a minor thing to pick at. Overall though, I highly recommend checking this game out. If you love the classics, you might have looked into this already anyway. But if you’re looking to try something out of your comfort zone, this is also a solid choice. Take up the call! Pick up that ax.

Final Score: 9 out of 10.

Mordhau Review

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Every so often a piece of media comes out and becomes so inspiring it makes a group of fans attempt to improve upon it. Back in 2012, a scrappy upstart indie developer composed of modders created Chivalry: Medieval Warfare. Built off of what they had done with their Age Of Chivalry mod they had made with Half-Life 2‘s Source Engine, it was a cult hit. It gave Team Objective based FPS multiplayer fans a new setting. It was the modes Battlefield style fans loved in a Medieval setting where two fictional kingdoms waged war. What really set it apart was an innovative sword fighting control scheme. It went on to make Torn Banner Studios a noteworthy small business.

PROS: Improves on Torn Banner Studios’ idea in many ways.

CONS: Some of the new ideas could use some fine-tuning.

FOR THE ORDER: How shall Triternion compete with their inspiration?

But Torn Banner Studios had their own steps and missteps with their new I.P. It was frequently updated, but some of the patches introduced minor glitches or competitive imbalances that would have to be worked out with follow-up patches. Their expansion pack project with the folks behind The Deadliest Warrior improved the combat but was light on modes. Then their last game Mirage: Arcane Warfare went in a completely different direction. While it was an excellent game, the built-in Chivalry audience didn’t gravitate toward it, not enough newcomers became interested in it and it sadly went the way of the dodo within a year.

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During this time, a group of European Chivalry fans quietly worked on their own project between classes and jobs. Initially, called Project Slasher, it evolved into the game we have today. Mordhau builds on nearly everything Chivalry was known for while bringing in some elements of its own.

As in Chivalry, there is a big emphasis on melee combat. Just like that game, you’ll have an overhead swing, a horizontal swing, and a stabbing motion. Unlike Chivalry, there are no alternate swing buttons. Instead of pressing a different button to swing left instead of right you have to pay attention to a cursor. Depending on where exactly you’re facing there will be a line next to the dot. This indicates the direction of your swing. The swing always goes toward the dot. If you’re a long time Chivalry player coming into this, it will take a little while to get used to. But it is an improvement over what Torn Banner Studios’ cult classic started out on.

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In addition to this, there are other additions and alterations. In Mordhau you’ll find a new mechanic called Chambering, where if you time the same attack just at the right time you’ll actually get a prolonged parry effect allowing you to potentially get a combo attack going. You’ll also find if you can get the right angles and connections going in your swings it’s possible to disarm your opponent. Don’t be the least bit surprised if after a chain of blocks, and parries you drop your bow or melee weapon.

Speaking of bows, even the archery has had some improvements over what was introduced in Chivalry. For starters, drawing the string can’t be held quite as long. So you’ll really have to get better at leading targets. If you do hold it too long not only will your arms need to rest, but just before that happens you’ll see your arms wither and shake leading to very inaccurate targeting. Fortunately, you can still cancel the draw and start again. Also, bows, are projectile based again, while crossbows are hit scan again. Meaning bows move like rockets while crossbows fire like lasers wherever the crosshair is aimed.

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What is different now is that skilled opponents can now swat arrows away. If you can get the timing down, you can actually hit arrows with your sword like a baseball. Archers also have to take arrow drop into account. So for long distances, you’ll have to figure out what the angular curve is. And while that might not seem so bad for stationary targets, it’s much tougher to master when they’re on the run. On top of that, you don’t want to stay in one place too long because in any mode you can be flanked at any given moment.

One significant change Mordhau makes is the inclusion of added classes. Not only can you roll with equivalents to Chivalry’s four classes, but there are also entirely new ones. Most notably, the new Engineer class. This class allows you to build structures to help your team and hinder your enemies. You can build arrowslits for your archers or block chokepoints. You can build a ballista for your teammates to defend your line with or to cover your attackers with. This class also has very low health though so you have to be pretty stealthy to use it effectively.

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But speaking of classes, one of the coolest things about this game is the ability to create your own custom classes. Here you can spend the gold you earn in battles on customizing characters for your own specific play styles. You can unlock cosmetic items, armor, weapons and more with your gold to build some fearsome warriors. You may want to have a tank-like character with a lot of armor and a mighty billhook. Or you may want a nimble assassin armed with knives and a crossbow. Or you may want to make a class that lies somewhere in between. The game can even get pretty zany with comedic weapons, and improvised weapons too. You’ll see people swinging pans around. You’ll see people playing the lute before smashing someone over the head with it like a Medieval Honky Tonk Man or (for you more contemporary fans) Elias.

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Mordhau has the modes you would expect from a Chivalry inspired game. You’ll have servers set up for 1 on 1 dueling. These are a great way to get a handle on the mechanics of the game’s basics. The thing is, in other modes, you’ll be attacked from all sides so you’ll want to at least try the more traditional Deathmatch, and Team Deathmatch servers in order to get used to facing two or three enemies at once. These work like you think they do, with the former being a Free-For-All you’ve experienced since the original DOOM. But as you improve in these fights you’ll be better prepared for the game’s main attraction.

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There’s also a fairly robust tutorial in the game as well. This will give you a respectable handle on the basics of the aforementioned combat. The tutorial also covers some basic archery to give you some experience using a bow. The third major part of it goes over how to fight while riding on horseback. It then ends after briefly showing you how to use battlefield weapons like catapults. Overall, not too bad. While it doesn’t go over all of the nuances, it does go over the core concepts well. It also explains some of the more complex mechanics even if they’re something you’ll still have to learn by playing in matches online.

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The main mode in Mordhau is a mode called Frontline which is the objective mode of the game. To its credit, it really does a lot right. It adds a new vehicle to the formula: horses. You can take control of a steed and ride into battle, lancing people and flanking enemies using catapults or ballista structures. The mode works an awful lot like the conquest modes in the Battlefield games. You want to take control of points on the map by holding them which in turn drains enemy tickets. While in control of certain points the game then assigns your army objectives. You might have to go destroy a specific target or push a cart to a certain part of the map. If you can pull that off you’ll win the day. But if you lose the control point in the process you’ll also face a major setback in that you have to take it back to continue.

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This is really the one thing Chivalry did a little bit better. In the older game, the Team Objective mode took these mini-missions and worked them into something more akin to Battlefield’s Rush modes instead. This made it feel more centered around the missions themselves and made you feel more accomplished if you pulled it off. And it felt multi-tiered. First, you might have gotten dead bodies into the aquifer. But then you had to go break into a camp to find the enemy monarchs in hiding and assassinate them. But that part of the mission would prove far harder due to the tactical advantage the enemy team had. That sort of emotional ride isn’t here quite as much. It’s an absolute blast to play, make no mistake. The new mechanics, classes, and steed combat really mix things up in a good way. But knowing your progress can be completely shelved if you lose a control point takes a lot of the emphasis away from the missions. So in some rounds, you’ll find neither army goes for the objectives in a significant way, playing heavy defense on both sides in a war of attrition. It’s a bit disappointing since performing objectives can be so much fun.

That said, the developers have said they plan to continually support the game so something more akin to the Rush style of an objective mode could show up at some point. And again, what is here is a lot of fun especially with the tweaks on the combat. Plus the aforementioned create-a-character feature adds a lot of personality to the entire experience.

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Obviously, Unreal Engine 4 means better graphics and sound technology. Mordhau looks like a significant leap over the game that inspired it. The texture quality is highly detailed. Even on the lowest settings (which you’re seeing in these screenshots), the game looks great. Lighting effects, shadows, and pretty much every environmental effect are wonderful. And while the models themselves could look a little more realistic, it ultimately won’t matter to you because the action is non-stop. You won’t have time to analyze facial animation when you’re trying not to get stabbed.

The sound effects are right on par with those in Chivalry’too. The clanking of clashing weapons, the screams of anguish, the taunts all create a sense of immersion. The music is very good too, though not many of the tracks really leaped out to me. They just kind of felt like the sort of thing that fit the motif. I would have liked something a little bit more distinctive. Be that as it may, it really does fit the castle siege movie motif everything else in the game is going for.

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Ultimately, I’ve absolutely loved playing Mordhau, but I do have a few minor points of contention with it. First, I wish the time between switching weapons was a smidge shorter. If you’re using a bow, for example, you may hear those footsteps sneaking up behind you. You need to defend yourself! You quickly go to grab that dagger and your head gets chopped off. If you only had a split second more, you could have gotten in a parry. Assuming you’re good at steering the block. Again, this game does allow you to steer your swings and blocks so if the opponent is more skilled in this example you’d still be decapitated.

Another thing that I wish was executed a bit better were player counts in some maps on some modes. Deathmatch is probably the worst offender in this regard. It’s an excellent and fun mode overall but some of the maps are too small for a full server. It ends up making for a spammy match where blindly attacking will get you at least a kill or two. Again, not the end of the world and many games suffer from this. But it is a minor quibble.

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Frankly, Mordhau is an absolutely astonishing first effort from a rookie team. It succeeds in its mission to build upon the foundation their heroes at Torn Banner Studios started. The expanded melee combat truly does make the sword fighting more compelling while also cutting back on some of the unforeseen weirdness of Chivalry: Medieval Warfare’s exploitable mechanics. That doesn’t mean everything here is perfect. But you won’t be seeing people kill you with their backs to your eyes in Mordhau. Steed combat is a lot of fun too.  It’s just so great being able to lance enemies or shoot arrows from horseback. And even some of the stuff that’s detrimental to you is still entertaining. Getting knocked on the ground from a door then eating a claymore will make you laugh at yourself. Falling off of a horse from taking an arrow, or getting slashed in the leg feels out of a film. The added immersion really does deserve some worthy praise here. Really, the main thing holding it back slightly is the disjointed feeling in Frontline. Hopefully, that will be remedied in an update in the not too distant future. As it stands though, Mordhau is still a keeper. It will be interesting to see how the fans of Chivalry: Medieval Warfare do against their inspirations next year when Torn Banner releases Chivalry II. But whether you’re a huge Chivalry fan looking for something new, or a big multiplayer shooter fan who would like a different take on the idea Mordhau may just be the game you’re looking for.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

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

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

Pop the game in, and live to win.

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With all of the Splatoon 2 I’ve played as of late (It’s a great game, if you’ve got a Nintendo Switch you ought to check it out.) I got to thinking about previous multiplayer shooters I’ve gone back to again, and again, and again. I’ve reviewed a number of them on this blog, and in some previous ones I’ve had over the years. Obviously I talked a lot about the features, modes, how they work, and how these make for a good game.

But over my life growing up with games, I’ve found I get very competitive. More so with myself than opponents. Though I’ll put my best attempt at winning forward, I know, at least in the realm of video games, I can’t claim to be the top guy. If I were, I could be like the great Chris Jericho cutting amazing promos, and winning e-sports championships. (Seriously, Chris Jericho is one of the greatest wrestlers of all time. That’s one of my favorite of his promos. It’s great. That feud gave 2012 one of the best WrestleMania shows ever.)

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Where was I? Oh right. Competitive gaming. More particularly why do I find it so compelling? It’s hard to describe really. Depending on the game there could be one or many goals. You may have to fill a role on a team, and work well with everyone else while focusing on your task. But you have to be well-rounded enough to pick up the slack if someone else falls. In another game it could be a free-for-all where you only have to focus on your own performance, hopefully being a cut above everyone else in the match. It could be a one on one game like a fighting game, where you have to not only continually hone your own skills, but be aware of both your own weaknesses, and your opponent’s weaknesses.

Then you have the cerebral aspect of strategy. In an actual strategy game it might be about managing resources, properly placing units, and making contingency plans in case your current plan of action doesn’t pan out. But there are different layers of strategy in any game. In a turf war round in Splatoon 2, you may decide to paint your side thoroughly, and slowly push ahead with a defensive focus. Or you could decide to just rush ahead, and get early claim at the middle ground. Then hope you can hold it, while touching up all you’ve skipped at the start. Or you could send two people ahead, and leave two behind. What load outs does everyone have? You could create a plan of action around your armaments. There is a lot more to think about than you might realize.

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I remember way back in 2004, when I first got Unreal Tournament 2004. I had played the first game (commonly referred to as UT99) to death working at a OEM at the time. I loved it so much, I was excited to pick up the 2003 edition, and of course the 2004 version was lauded for ironing out some balance issues, adding new modes, and options. Though some weren’t fans of its omission of a few features in the process. But I digress. I had decided I wanted to get better at the game. Not to be a professional player (which wasn’t as common as it is today. There was no Twitch. There were a handful of major tournaments, and a number of smaller, regional ones. The major competitor back then was Johnathan “Fatal1ty” Wendel, and chances were I was never going to go up against him on TV. Obviously, I never have.) but just to be able to get a win online occasionally. To not always be at the bottom of the scoreboard. Also to beat my coworkers.

Anyway, I decided that I was going to improve by focusing on one weapon in the game, and becoming proficient with it. That weapon was the Bio-Rifle. It was probably the least popular weapon in the original game, and so in the world of 2003/2004 not much more. People were enamored with stalwarts like the Flak Cannon, or the Mini-gun or the Shock Rifle (Those shock combos are known to clear rooms.). But I found the weapon to be pretty cool once I started getting a handle on it. In the Unreal Tournament games, every weapon has two firing modes. The Flak Cannon shoots shrapnel, or a bomb. The Shock Rifle shoots a laser, or an orb. You can shoot the orb with the laser to make an explosion. In the case of the Bio-Rifle you can shoot slime on the ground, walls, ceilings, etc. If people touch it, they get injured. But, you can hold the secondary fire, you can charge a single glob of slime. When you let go of the button, it shoots it off in an arc. If that glob touches someone, more often than not they’ll die, or be on their last 5% of health.

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Each version of Unreal Tournament has a different design, and physics for the weapon, so you can’t expect to be a whiz overnight going from UT to UT2004 or from UT2004 to UT3. But the point is it became my de facto weapon in the series. And I honestly became pretty good with it. I was no Fatal1ty by any means, but I started finding myself in the top 5 in a full death match game of 20 people more often than not. At least on public games. Well imagine my surprise when a couple of other players noticed this, and asked me to be on their team. I ended up not only improving my own skills for my own personal goals. But I impressed players who were even better than I was. As someone who has always had self-confidence issues, low self-esteem, and other problems this was a pleasant surprise to me. Anyway, for a good four years or more we frequently played against other teams in scrim, and had fun trying to master the game together. Improving trick jumping skills, getting better at other modes, and mods. At one point our head player rented server space where we had our own public server, where we hosted our own maps. They weren’t the best maps. But they were our own!

We disbanded after the UT series went dormant where others moved onto other games. Though from time to time I may see them online playing something else. But the bigger point is that competitive games can really drive you to want to keep playing them when their formulas gel with you. Some of the early Battlefield games were like that for me. Chivalry: Medieval Warfare was like that for me. It may have had some issues that kept it from perfection, but it was a blast to play, and the melee combat was, and still is quite novel. Not too many games make swinging a sword deeper than a left mouse button click. Toxikk was probably one of the better attempts to bring back the movement focused arena shooting that the Quake, and Unreal games gave us.

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But even long before these games I’ve found competitive games compelling. As a teenager, and young adult I gorged on Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, World Heroes, Tekken, Soul Calibur, Virtua Fighter, and other fighting games. I loved Doom, Duke Nukem 3D, and Rise Of The Triad campaigns. I loved calling my friend via a modem, and 1v1 deathmatching even more. I’m not the biggest sports fan out there, as a casual fan. But NBA Jam, NFL Blitz, NHL Hitz, and Sega Soccer Slam gave some of the most intense gaming moments ever when they were new.

Even when I was growing up, there were a plethora of great competitive games I played with my younger brother. And I’ll admit, I often hated it when he’d beat me. Here I was, putting in time to try to master stealth, and ricochet tactics in tank mode on Combat. He somehow just knew where I was on the screen. To this day, I cannot defeat him in Warlords, one of my favorite Atari 2600 games of all time. And this is a man who rarely gets the game time I do, due to the fact that he owns, and operates a small business. Sometimes you just end up with a sibling who picks a game up like it’s second nature.

Be that as it may, whether you’re going for a high score in Kaboom!, trying to place first on Rainbow Road, or blow up the enemy cache in Insurgency, there’s something enthralling about competing against friends or strangers. There’s the joyous feeling of riding high when you’re victorious. There’s the humbling nature of a soul-crushing defeat. There’s a stressful, yet entertaining feeling you get when it’s neck, and neck, and that last second, or last frag, or last goal is about to transpire.

Obviously, not all of us handle a loss like a civilized person. I would argue that at one time or another we’ve all been guilty of this. Flipping the chess board. Screaming like a petulant five-year old. But there’s no place for the awful stuff some spew over a chat microphone. You never know who is on the other end of a headset, so one really needs to behave as if they were walking through a crowded mall. Not be a nuisance who is going to regret saying the wrong thing to the wrong person. Fortunately, in most cases you can mute all of the instigators. But in the end sometimes it pays to remind oneself to take the loss like a grown up. Set down the controller afterward, and go do something else for an hour or two. Competition should feel exciting, and even cutthroat at times. But it should also come with a feeling of enjoyment. If it stops feeling fun, it’s time to take a breather.

Of course, there are going to be those who get a rise out of getting others upset in any given game. And it ruins the experience. But this falls in line a bit with sore losing too. In the sense that after the round ends, stop playing, do something else. Don’t rage quit, and further worsen things for other people. Don’t flip out, and give the bullies what they want. You have to be the bigger person. Which is admittedly easier said than done sometimes. That’s what made this classic Family Guy moment so funny.

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In spite of these circumstances, I still find myself constantly going back to competitive games. It doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy solitary experiences. I like a single-player experience as much as the next player. And in some cases one could argue, you can even get competitive with yourself. Can you speed run a game faster than before? Can you get the best possible ending? Can you find every last item? Can you complete every side quest? Can you get a kill screen going for a high score? Can you speed run a kill screen?

But the point is competition is one of the highlights of gaming. Sure, not every game needs to cram a death match or tower defense mode into it. Especially in games where a story driven experience is the focal point. But competition can be its own reward. Giving players a drive to improve, little by little with every match. Learning more about the mechanics, or building a strategy with each setback. Getting that feeling of accomplishment waving over them with their first big win.

And you don’t have to be a professional player to get that kind of experience. You can find it in your inner circle of friends, and relatives on game night. Or on a holiday gathering. Or when you all get out of work at 9pm. Competitive games are also something anyone can enjoy. You don’t always have the time to devote to a 60 hour RPG, or a 10 hour campaign. But most of us can squeeze in an hour of ten minute matches into an otherwise busy week with friends.

But I’ve done enough long-winded rambling. Hopefully I’ve opened up a point of conversation, or have given someone something to think about. What about you? Do you have the drive to pop more balloons in Circus Atari than your siblings? Get more frags than your friends in Quake? Shut down your Aunt in Mario Kart? Sound off below.

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

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 3: SiN Episodes: Emergence

2006. Valve had been talking up the idea of episodic gaming. The company had decided that a series of games could be released in chunks at a time at a discount. Then, much like a TV show, each episode could end with a cliffhanger getting the player hyped to see what happens next. They eventually tried this with Half-Life 2. But Valve wasn’t the only company sold on the idea. Ritual Entertainment thought that SiN would be a great franchise to use the idea on.

PROS: Level design. Voice acting. Innovative A.I.. Soundtrack.

CONS: Short. Will likely never see a conclusion.

BIANCA BEAUCHAMP: Portrayed Elexis Sinclaire at E3 in 2006.

SiN Episodes was supposed to be the heavy hitter for the episodic model. The game takes a bit of a departure from the original game’s wide open maps. Instead, the game follows the Half-Life model of intricate maps, with linear routes. So much so, that it was one of the first games that licensed the Source engine from Valve. Everything is built on the foundation of Half-Life 2’s tech. While at first glance that may seem like a step backwards, it does help move the series toward the TV feel the developers were going for. The game opens up with Blade waking up on an operating table. Elexis Sinclaire, and her latest henchman, Viktor Radek.

Before they can finish whatever they were doing to blade, HardCORPS shows up, and starts taking down the cartel’s minions. Elexis, and Viktor escape as a new character, Jessica Cannon (Played by Halo’s Jen Taylor) emerges to rescue Blade. She gets him out of the building, and into her car. As she drives we learn that Viktor’s cartel has gotten control of large sections of Freeport. He’s suspected of leading a U4 operation (SinTek’s mutant creating drug).

Blade has a weird dream about a scantily clad Elexis in a pond, before coming to. Jessica, contacts JC about an informant, and takes Blade to go meet him. Despite JC’s objections, and pleas to get Blade examined. Blade ends up going through a development sector. Things seem on the surface like a housing revitalization project. But the large number of SinTek security officers, and mercenaries suggest otherwise. The trail then leads to the Freeport shipping docks. Blade meets the informant who leads Blade to a tanker where the U4 is being made. Before he can finish telling Blade everything he needs to know, one of the informant’s men betrays him. SinTek forces show up in droves, and Blade has to escape. After going through a gauntlet of forces he meets back up with Jessica briefly. After getting armed she forges ahead to get in contact with JC, while Blade makes his way to Viktor’s base.But it is here that Blade finds out that U4 is only part of the secret operation. Viktor is also dealing in a number of military grade technologies. SinTek is shown to have continued its mutant research. After making his way to Viktor he learns that Viktor has the antidote to whatever Elexis injected him with. But that Viktor has no idea what the concoction is, other than it has powerful results. The tanker base begins to self-destruct, as Viktor escapes. Elexis appears as a hologram to taunt Blade, before he has to start fighting his way out of the secret factory.

After getting through some secret sewer tunnels the trail leads back to the development sector. Blade discovers that SinTek’s largest building in the area, Supremacy Tower is a potential stronghold.  He meets up with Jessica after he defeats a giant mutant. Jessica picks up Blade in her nearly totaled car. With the supremacy tower being heavily fortified, Jessica sees no stealth option. She drives the car through the front of the building. The two of them make their way to the top. They also discover SinTek’s data servers on the way. Jessica patches JC into the network while Blade continues to track down Viktor. Jessica gets the data to JC, but not without being captured by Viktor. Viktor meets Blade near the top of the tower in his helicopter. He rambles on to our heroes about how he has 5 data servers across the globe, and that losing one to the police is of little consequence. After some sarcastic dialogue from Elexis Sinclaire, he tosses Jessica out of his helicopter onto the roof after injecting her with some sort of poison. He then gets away after calling in an attack chopper.

Blade climbs to the top of the tower to try to shoot it down, but is confronted by another giant mutant. After barely defeating the mutant, he manages to take down the vehicle by the skin of his teeth. Then we get a trailer for the next episode. Jessica is put in an infirmary at HardCORPS, and JC explains that thousands of the monsters Blade barely defeated on the top of the Supremacy Tower have run amok. We get a montage of them killing civilians, police, and even SinTek’s own private army soldiers. Elexis can be seen laughing victoriously, as the end credits start to roll.

SiN Episodes Emergence does what it sets out to do. It delivers a short game in the vein of a television serial. As a game, it uses a lot of design ideas, and play we’ve seen in countless shooters since. The thing is, there are a lot of things under the hood here that were actually pretty revolutionary at the time. The interactive objects that were novel in the first game, are back with a few improvements. You’ll still be typing on computers, and using keypads. The game borrows Half-Life 2’s companion idea too. Jessica Cannon is this game’s Alyx Vance. She shows up similarly, finding alternate routes, and expounding  story information to you. She also fights with you in the last stage. But the biggest innovation the game added is an A.I. scale. The better you do, the harder the enemies will become. They’ll stop standing in the open if they see a comrade go down. They’ll change their attack patterns if a certain technique doesn’t work out for them. Similarly, they’ll become easier to defeat if you’re consistently failing, and continuing. It eliminates the need for the typical Easy, Medium, Hard layout traditionally seen in gaming. (There is also a HardCORPS mode that you unlock upon beating the campaign. This tasks you with beating the  game with no save states, on one proverbial quarter.).

The A.I. isn’t perfect mind you. Jessica doesn’t always go where she’s supposed to. Sometimes even an otherwise difficult enemy will bug out, and do something dumb. But it still reaches a level few games have in recent years. The game also has a pretty wide range of enemy types considering the short length. There are a number of variants on the mercenaries, and SinTek security forces. The mutants from the original game also return, alongside the different NPC’s like construction workers, guards, and so forth. The game can be completed within four to six hours depending on how good you are, and how you’ve set the Artificial Intelligence sliders. But it’s an insanely fun four to six hours. Most of your favorite weapons return from the first game, each with their own feel mostly intact. All of the weapons also have new secondary functions you can use provided you have the proper kind of ammunition. While the game has gone more toward the linear cinematic route instead of the original’s focus on exploration, there are plenty of secrets. The game has a number of Easter eggs, hidden weapons, and more if you’re the type to try to go off of the beaten path. It feels different, but also keeps the spirit of the cult first game alive.

The game also retains the brutality of SiN’s gun fights. Headshots often result in decapitation. Explosions will many times turn enemies into giblets. Fires will burn enemies alive. Some of the scripted animations will still amaze you today if you’re seeing them for the first time. Malfunctioning jetpacks sending guys off into the distance. Bad guys failing to stop, drop, and roll. Bad guys calling in for back up, or regrouping. It all makes for the B action movie feel the franchise is known for.

The game doesn’t have a multiplayer mode. Where the original SiN had a run of death match maps, and variants this game gives you something called Arena Mode instead. Arena is basically a single player horde mode. You are put into a map, and have to keep fighting bad guys until you die. You can compete for a high score on the leaderboard, but this really feels like an afterthought, and isn’t worth playing more than a few times. Supposedly there was going to be some form of multiplayer added later, but it never was. Another positive thing about the game is its music. The soundtrack is one of the best scores in video games. The title track What’s the world come to? features some wonderful vocals by Sarah Ravenscroft. The soundtrack has a very James Bond feel. It was even popular enough to see an actual album release.

The storyline isn’t a big upgrade over the one in the first game. But once again, it’s voice acted very well, and nails its B movie target. Even though it gets a bit campy, you’ll still want to see what happens. Unfortunately, we probably never will. Episodic gaming ended up going the way of the dodo pretty quickly. Mainly because the few studios doing it found they couldn’t finish the episodes fast enough. The development time for these budget games ended up being almost as long as a full priced game. Moreover, Ritual was purchased by Mumbo Jumbo not long after SiN Episodes, released. Upon the buy out, the company was told they couldn’t work on the second episode. Instead they had to focus on budget priced casual puzzle games. Most of the staff at Ritual left Mumbo Jumbo after the buyout, and so much like Half-Life 2 Episode 3, remains in limbo.

It’s a short ride, and it’s a sad note to go out on. But SiN Episodes: Emergence is still a historical gaming footnote you should look into. It’s a lot of fun to play through, and delivers the Popcorn movie action in spades. At release the game even included the original game, albeit with some content edits. Still, for anyone looking for an entertaining cult series should pick this up if they missed it way back when. With that, is the end of the SiN retrospective. It’s unlikely the series will ever see another entry, but on the other hand other games have taught us to never say “Never.” Here’s hoping if that day ever comes it continues the fun B movie camp of two excellent action games.

Final Score: 8 out of 10