Tag Archives: FPS

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

Deadcore Review

Deadcore is another game that combines elements from different genres. It has the first person platforming of games like Metroid Prime. It has the parkour feeling of Mirror’s Edge. It has some puzzles that rival the complexity of Portal. Most of the online store descriptions you’ll find for the game describe it as a First-Person Shooter. While you do eventually wind up with a gun, shooting isn’t really all that lethal.

PROS: Beautiful environments. Challenging game play. Interesting concept for a story.

CONS: Possibly too challenging for some due to a high difficulty. Minor glitches.

CREEPY: Sentient blocks that float around hoping to make you fall.

Deadcore has two modes. There’s a story mode, and a mode for speed runs. You can also play the story mode in the speed run mode if you want to try to see how quickly you can beat the entire game. Speed Run mode also lets players time attack individual levels, or sections of levels called Tracks. Of course you won’t be able to do much in this mode right away, as most of it is unlocked by going through the story mode. If you do play through a speed run setting, you’ll be competing against others on the leaderboard. There are score categories for each of the levels, tracks, and story mode. Deadcore also has a lot of achievements dedicated players can shoot for. There is even one everyone will likely get called Digital Barbecue. This is because dying five hundred times will unlock it. You will more than likely die over five hundred times in this game.

The story in Deadcore is honestly pretty cool. It centers around your character trying to escape a mysterious tower that reaches high into the Thermosphere. As you go through the game you’ll stumble upon icons. Most of these open up entries in a log book. When you go into the log book, you can look at the entries you’ve discovered. It’s like a lot of other titles in the sense that you’re finding journals. Some of the entries will be logs from previous climbers who died trying to escape the tower. Some of them will be discussions between your unnamed character, and a computer. Other entries detail some of the power up items you’ll discover during the game. Deadcore also takes a page from Valve by letting the world craft a lot of the story. It’s cold, soulless, and yet feels like there was life wiped out by this twisted, technological tower. The music in the game is some of the eeriest electronica heard in a soundtrack. While there are some thumping tunes during hectic times, Most of the time it’s brooding, and creepy. It captures the mood of isolation, and the desperation of the story nicely.

Some of the other things you’ll find are power ups, and Easter eggs.  Deadcore is very much a First-Person Adventure game. Obviously, the object of the game is to climb your way to the top of the tower to escape. The aforementioned gun is predominantly used as a tool. There aren’t any traditional enemies to speak of. You won’t be scoring headshots, or getting into fire fights with space pirates. Instead, the enemies you face are more or less parts of a security system. Sometimes cubes will show up to try to knock you off of a platform. Other times these electronic pods called Mosquitoes will gang up on you. Or you’ll find yourself turning off fans with shots from your gun while you’re trying to evade lasers.

The story mode is only five levels long. But these are some of the longest levels of any game you will ever play. Each one is broken up by several sections. These are referenced as tracks.  The first stage is the approximate bottom of the tower where you begin the game. The second one you’ll begin to see some progress as the world textures get smaller. Stage three things really heat up, as you’ll be inside a large chunk of the tower. Stage four is a tremendously large stage, with several tracks, and there is even a substantial amount of back tracking. The final stage is fairly brief. You will be very thankful about that fact because Deadcore is not an easy game. Frankly, it becomes the Dark Souls of puzzle-platformer hybrids by the middle of the game. Some of the sections in the game even put the hardest Super Mario Galaxy stages to shame.

For many, this game may even prove too hard, resulting in broken controllers, mice, keyboards, and monitors. But if you can keep calm, and practice you can eventually figure out exactly what to do. This game will force you to think under pressure.  Each area of each track is a puzzle. Yet there isn’t always only one way to solve it. Sometimes you’ll have a choice of which path of pitfalls you wish to take. But again, getting around each pitfall is its own challenge. I already mentioned the lasers, cube bots, and bug bots trying to make you fail. But it gets even more difficult.

Along the way the game will present you with new mechanics. For example, you’ll come across gravity switches. These create areas where you’ll be able to temporarily walk on the walls. Sometimes you’ll have to go through a modified gravity area, into a non-modified gravity area, into another modified gravity area. All within a few seconds. Other times you’ll run into flipping blocks, right out of Super Mario Galaxy, where one side is electrified. Landing on this side is instant death. Other times you’ll find fan blades that you need to shut off while avoiding moving boxes with laser beams on them. Because not shutting them off will blow you off of a surface. Leading to a subsequent death. Or go through a anti gravity area with a ton of enemies, while trying to avoid moving laser walls. Or any other number of difficult scenarios.

The game bases a lot of its maneuvering on platform jumping. If you’ve played a lot of Metroid Prime, or Mirror’s Edge you’ll have a good idea of what to expect. Much of the level design is focused on pixel perfect jumping, mixed with the aforementioned challenges. All of which will force you to complete them as quickly as possible. This is also why there is a focus on speed running. If you do choose to speed run in Deadcore you’ll need to master the dash mechanic once you find it. Dash acts as a fast travel, as well as a third jump. You can jump, then double jump. But once you find the dash power up, you’ll be able to dash after double jumping. Plus, a lot of the difficult sections pretty much require using it. There is a handy meter on the gun that measures how much dash power you have remaining. So you’ll have to decide on the fly if you need to do short dashes, or hold the dash down, and use up the entire bar. The dash recharges if you hold still. Unfortunately, the gun’s ammunition does not. So you also have to keep an eye on the number of shots remaining.

In between tracks there are checkpoints. Like many of the 2D games that celebrate the difficulty of 8-bit NES games, Deadcore gives you unlimited lives. You can re-spawn at the last checkpoint you’ve reached  at any time by pressing R. If you die you will also re-spawn there. You are going to be pressing R a lot, as well as suffering many deaths. Every missed jump will lead to a fall to your doom, the path of an enemy, or to an earlier point in the track. Similarly, you’re going to want to master the mechanics, and power ups as soon as you can. Because the difficulty only amps up. Especially since none of the traps, or enemies you shoot stay off. Everything you disable eventually turns itself back on.  It’s kind of like Evil Otto, from Berzerk in that nothing can be killed. Even the bosses can only be temporarily disabled.  So you’ll find yourself disabling something, and moving. Fairly often. Especially near the end of the game. You’ll also want to seek out the power ups, and some of the Easter eggs.  Some of them are actually messages from the developers instructing you to email them information from the secrets you find. Doing so gets you some cool media like music from the soundtrack.

Along with the high difficulty, Deadcore does have some minor problems that will add to some of the aggravation. Sometimes there will be some slight hiccups in the game’s response time. This means it might not recognize you’ve pressed the jump button, leading to a seemingly cheap death.  It isn’t the worst thing in the world. But this is a game that relishes the idea of speed running. Any little interruption in performance can result in the loss of precious seconds. There were also a few rare times I ran into clipping problems in my play through. As such, I found myself stuck in walls, and forcing a re-spawn. Sometimes this happened when I was ever so close to a checkpoint, which became really frustrating.

Some players might also dislike the lack of customization options. You can’t choose things like the kinds of filters, or post processing. You have to go to the custom setting to even see them, and even then everything is a low, medium, or high check box.  You can re-bind your keys, set screen resolution, and your field of vision. But you can’t do much of anything in terms of audio settings. These problems don’t ruin the game, or stop you from being able to complete it. But will lead to a few really grating moments for some of you. A few more checkpoints could have also been used. Because some of the sections between them are so long they begin to feel like levels themselves. This is especially true during the next to last stage, where backtracking becomes a big part of the game play.

When you do finish the game you will be treated to one of two endings depending on which paths you took, and what areas you’ve discovered. It’s certainly a satisfying finish for the story given here. It also leaves you with a sense of accomplishment. Overall, Deadcore is a really well made game. The rare glitch aside, it functions pretty responsively. The difficulty is high, but the game feels rewarding when you complete tough areas. It has an engrossing look, and sounds that pull you into its world of uneasiness. The mechanics, for the most part are fun to use once you’ve gotten a handle on them. There are versions for all three major computer operating systems. You can play this on Windows, Macintosh, or Linux. Plus, the system requirements aren’t very high. Most computers built over the last seven years should be able to run it.

5-Bits Games has really put out something special. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you that it isn’t for everyone. If you are the sort of player who is turned off by a high difficulty, you will probably not like the experience 5-Bits Games has delivered to the world. If however, you thrived on games like Dark Souls you’ll want to play this game. If you’ve got the patience, and love dystopian settings it’s certainly worth picking up.

Although you may want to purchase a spare keyboard in case you lose your cool.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Rainbow Six 3: Raven Shield Review

Ask many modern gamers if they’re familiar with Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six series, and a lot of them will bring up Vegas, and Vegas 2. While in their own right they were solid games, they were a far cry from where the series began. Rainbow Six started out as a tactical shooter, one of the earliest departures from the death matches, and flag capturing rounds of Doom, Quake, and Unreal Tournament. Based loosely on the late Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six novel, these games had more variety than their contemporary versions.

PROS: Solid mechanics. Fun multiplayer. Strategy, and action meld nicely.

CONS: PC Multiplayer is mainly LAN nowadays. Console Multiplayer is mainly split screen.

AWESOME: The gold edition includes the Athena Sword expansion pack.

Tom Clancy’s books had been adapted into many hit movies. The Hunt For Red October, Patriot Games, and Clear and Present Danger were turned into theatrical thrillers. Video game adaptations were also inevitable. Red Storm Entertainment was partially conceived by Tom Clancy, and one of his earliest books, Red Storm Rising was adapted into a game for 8-bit computers like the Commodore 64, and Atari ST by Micro Prose. Years later Red Storm Entertainment would become a competent studio, making games based off of Tom Clancy’s novels as well as original games. When First Person Shooters were hitting their stride, Red Storm gave the world Rainbow Six.

The earliest Rainbow Six games took a different approach to the FPS. Instead of throwing you into a giant labyrinth to explore, or an arena to battle in, they went tactical. Maps were shown from an overhead view before each mission, and you could select a number of characters to put into teams. From there you could mark entry points to the level for each team, and would be tasked with sneaking in, subduing enemies, and rescuing hostages. The games also had a very strict damage system. Getting shot by a terrorist or other nefarious enemy would impede your movement. A second shot would be fatal. You could then control one of your NPCs. If all of your crew perished, or if a key target died you would fail a mission.

Rainbow Six 3 is the apex of these titles. Rainbow Six 3 takes all of the game play foundation of the originals, and builds upon it. When you fire up Rainbow Six 3 you will be greeted with a number of tabs. You can play through the single player campaign, play a single solo mission, or hop on for some multiplayer. The campaign opens up with a brief prologue describing the end of World War II, and how two high-ranking officials of the NDH puppet state of Nazi Germany, and Italy made off with untold amounts of loot. Sixty years pass, and suddenly there are attacks happening around the world. The  counter terrorist team, Rainbow is contacted to investigate, and thwart these attacks. The team follows a trail of attacks on banks, energy sources, and other interests that ultimately lead to South America. It is revealed that one of the two World War II war criminals is using the stolen money to try to resurrect a Fascist empire.

Along the course of 15 stages, Rainbow goes through all kinds of environments. Snow capped mountain towns.  An oil refinery. A shipyard. A penthouse. Just to name a few. Rainbow Six 3: Raven Shield’s game play will start each mission with a detailed briefing. Each of the stages will have different objectives. Sometimes you’ll have to rescue a key person, or save multiple hostages. Other times you’ll have to kill every bad guy in the map. Before the mission begins you have the option to plan your course of action.

Players can first go to a screen where they can select which members of Rainbow to put on each of the teams.  Similar to the first game. From there each soldier’s load out can be configured in the gear room. Each soldier can have access to a primary weapon, a secondary weapon, and a few gadgets. There are many weapons, and gadgets to choose from. Rifles. Shotguns. Machineguns. Explosives. Heartbeat sensors. Infrared goggles. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. You’ll want to be careful when choosing load outs too. Because each mission can be easier or harder depending on the gear you choose to bring along.

Once you have your members, and equipment sorted out, it’s time to make a plan of action. The overhead view of the map is then displayed in vectors with icons for certain pathways. One can even see plans for each of the floors, and elevations. After surveying the entire map, players then choose entrances for each team to enter. From there it’s time to deploy your team, and make the best of your decisions. You can also let the game decide everything for you, if you just want to jump in, and play. But this won’t necessarily give you the best setup for the mission at hand.

Each group enters the stage, and proceeds to attempt to complete their objectives. You will find icons come up on interactive objects. When this happens you can press or hold the space bar (or another key if you change your binds) to do just that. There are all kinds of interactive moments. Mundane things like climbing ladders, to the more advanced stuff, like giving your NPC’s commands. In the case of opening or closing doors, This will kick them wide open. If you need to be more discreet, (9 times out of 10 you’ll want to) You can use the wheel on your mouse to slowly open it or close it. You can also use the Q, and E keys to peek around corners. This is a must. Because terrorists love to flank the doorways in this game. You’re definitely going to want to ensure your safety when entering areas.

You’ll also want to use some of the specialized gear for the same reasons. Heartbeat sensors give you a rough estimation of where hostile threats may be ducking out in a room you are about to enter. Night vision is useful in darker rooms or other areas. Putting silencers on your guns also makes it a little bit harder for enemies to know where you’re shooting from. Of course, there are the big loud weapons too, as I’ve already mentioned.

If things do go awry, and you end up getting killed, you can take control of one of your NPCs to try to complete the mission. In this regard they can also act as extra lives. But don’t get too comfortable with that idea either. Losing everyone in the mission isn’t the only way you can lose. If an objective isn’t completed, you fail. If time runs out, you fail. If the mission involves rescuing hostages, and even one of them dies, you fail. Rainbow Six 3 can be very difficult. Especially on the higher settings where the AI improves a lot. Also keep in mind the game puts in a fairly respectable attempt at realism in terms of ballistics. Your cross hair will widen farther, and farther in size if you aren’t in an accurate shooting position. So you can’t run, and gun the enemies, and expect to hit them. Many times your shots will miss if the cross hair isn’t positioned as tiny, and knit together as possible. You’ll also be killed in two bullets MAX. So stealth, and accuracy are key.

After every stage you have the option to either accept the outcome or re-do the stage. This is because if any of your characters die during the mission, they’re gone forever. Replaying the stage gives you the chance to succeed without losing anyone. Though you still very well may. Accepting the outcome moves you onto the next stage.

AI is about the only area that isn’t quite up to the bar set by the rest of the game. It is very good most of the time. Usually bad guys will use cover properly. If you’re using a shotgun to kill a terrorist, others will hear it, and give them back up. They’ll react to footsteps. They’ll run away if they feel out classed. Sometimes they’ll actually surrender, and you can arrest them. Unfortunately, the AI is also pretty inconsistent. Sometimes you can shoot one terrorist, and his comrade who is standing six inches away won’t react at all. Other times, a terrorist will go from not being able to hit anything one round, to becoming a crack shot the next. It makes for some unintentionally funny moments in a game that truly tries to be serious.

Once you’ve completed all of the missions there is still a lot of fun to be had. The game allows you to play individual stages with custom settings. Lone Wolf tasks you with trying to beat the stage using only one character with no NPC backup. Die, or fail to complete an objective, and it’s game over. Terrorist Hunt of course, peppers in however many terrorists you select, and it’s up to you to clear the level of them. Hostage mode tasks you with rescuing the hostages. You can also do individual story missions here.

Multiplayer in Rainbow Six 3 is a lot of fun provided these days you can get some workarounds going. Regrettably, Rainbow Six 3 is one of the games that used Ubisoft’s old account system which was replaced with Uplay. As such there aren’t anymore official servers for it. Thankfully, the game was coded with LAN support. So there are a number of ways you can still play this gem with friends. The first is the ever common P2P (Peer to Peer) way. Most homes these days have a P2P network set up, and don’t even realize it. If you have more than one computer in the house, networked through a router you can play multiplayer. Each person with a copy puts it on their respective computer, one person hosts, and everyone else can connect locally.  This is why the game was a popular choice for LAN parties (gaming parties where everybody brought their computer to a mutual friend’s home or other venue).

But if you don’t have the luxury of the time to organize a LAN party, there is a second way. You can use tunneling software to simulate a LAN over the internet. I’m not going to include a walk-through in this review, as explaining it is rather laborious. but I will say with a little tinkering it can be done. Everyone will need the same software, but once you have it the software simulates a local network by giving everyone a simulated IP. It’s generally secure, but there is one thing to be aware of. There is a security risk in that other players can possibly see your machine’s contents. So if you do go this route be sure it is only with friends you can trust.

Once you have everyone set up, you can play either Cooperative modes or Adversarial modes. Cooperative modes are essentially the same as the custom single player modes. Except that there will be a number of you playing together. Adversarial modes are mostly very different. There are death match modes for single, or teams. These act more like a Last Man Standing game type as they go on until one man or team is left. More interestingly, is a bomb mode, where one team of bad guys tries to set bombs, while the other tries to disarm them. It’s similar to the mode found in Counter-Strike. There is also a variation on Team Fortress’ Hunted Style. In it there is a downed pilot one team needs to lead to an extraction point on the map. The other team needs to kill the pilot before he can get there. Finally, there’s a variant of the cooperative Hostage mode, where one team controls the terrorists, and has to stop the other team from rescuing them.

Overall the game is still a blast some eleven years later. Don’t let the antiquated graphics fool you.  The game’s fuzzy skyboxes, and lower geometry may not look that impressive today. But there is a lot of fun, and challenge to be had here. The audio also excels. The score is right out of the sort of Hollywood thrillers other Tom Clancy novels were converted into. Sound effects are well crafted. The game was also one of the earliest to support 3D audio cards like the SoundBlaster Audigy. Being an older title it’s also an inexpensive title, that nearly anyone today should be able to run.  Considering the minimum requirements were an 800mhz Pentium III, 128MB of RAM, and 32MB of Video RAM on DX8.1 I think it’s safe to say, that old laptop you have in the cellar can handle it.

Although I should mention the game was ported to consoles. The Xbox actually saw two versions of the game, Rainbow Six 3 Raven Shield, and Rainbow Six 3 Black Arrow. The latter of which added a couple of new modes to the game. The PlayStation 2, and Gamecube received a port simply titled Rainbow Six 3. The key differences between these ports, are that the Xbox supported more players online, and had a few minor enhancements added to the visuals. It also received Downloadable Content like new multiplayer maps. The PlayStation 2 supported fewer players online, while the Gamecube had the online modes completely cut. Oddly enough however, the PlayStation 2, and Gamecube did feature two player split-screen. So if you were to want to revisit a console port today, those would be the ones to nab.  The other reason would be the console versions replace some of the PC versions multiplayer maps. So if you’re curious you can certainly track them down. They are ridiculously cheap should you decide to go that route instead.

No matter which version you pick up though, Rainbow Six 3 is a far cry from the norm. It combines some strategy elements into team shooting. Something all of its subsequent sequels thus far have seemingly abandoned. If you weren’t around for it when it came out, or missed it for some reason, check it out.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

The Conduit Retrospective Part One: The Conduit Review

Conspiracy theories can always make for a good story. Sometimes they are simply a fun romp held together by contrivances, and speculation. Other times they are deep stories, that bring up philosophical questions. Some are so good in fact, they will make the possible seem plausible because they are told so well.

The Conduit is between these two ends of the spectrum.

PROS: PC level controller customization, campy story, voice acting, satisfying gun play.

CONS: Multiplayer is no longer playable. Unique ASE mechanic far too underutilized.

ODD: Head shots that decapitate aliens but not humans. Strange.

Made for the Wii as an exclusive labor of love, The Conduit tells a narrative of a centuries old plot by a secret society to allow extraterrestrial beings to take over the world. The protagonist of the story, Michael Ford, is a secret service agent who saves the president from an assassination attempt.

In doing this Ford, unwittingly throws a wrench into the works of this plan. This causes a man named John Adams (Who shares a name with our second president) to contact him, and recruit him to do work for a shadow government entity called the Trust. The Trust is over 200 years old, and has access to many top secret technologies at its disposal.

The Trust sends Ford on a counter terrorist mission to find a man named Prometheus (Named after the character in Greek mythology). Prometheus is said to be behind the invasion of Earth by aliens known as the Drudge. But just when Ford thinks he’s caught him, Adams double crosses him, and it is here where The game really begins to take off. Ford will traverse throughout Washington DC fighting off alien threats in his quest to track down Adams, uncovering all sorts of vast conspiracies along the way.

The Conduit was novel in its release because at the time, very few first person shooters were being released on the Nintendo Wii. Developers decried the underpowered graphics hardware, praised the infrastructure of Microsoft’s Live service, and Sony’s horsepower, and went for those. Developer High Voltage Software, (who had mostly made licensed tie ins throughout its history) looked at the console’s pointer controller, and decided it could be used to play shooters.

HVS really surpassed expectations with its in-house engine. Called the Quantum 3 engine, it allows the Wii to produce some lighting effects previously not thought possible on the system. While the environments are not littered with detailed textures, or high polygon counts, The Conduit does feature some impressive effects. Explosions, lens flares, reflections all make for a few “Wow!” moments. Sadly, this does make for a little bit of unevenness, as some drab areas will lead to some really impressive ones only to go back to some drab ones.

The Conduit’s biggest victory however, has to be its emphasis on tweaking its control scheme.

You can change everything from what button, or gesture does what function to how sensitive the pointer is, to how big or small you want the bounding box to be. You can even change the colors, opacity, and layout of your Heads Up Display. Do you want your health bar in the dead center of the screen for some reason? You can certainly do that. Do you want to make the D-pad your pause button, and melee attack? Absolutely. For the truly insane, you can remove the HUD altogether. Of course most players will try to set the layout as close to a familiar setup as possible. Once you have it configured properly it definitely controls very nicely. While it doesn’t give you quite the precision a good mouse on your computer does, it is more responsive than most analog pads. It even beats out a lot of other Wii shooters in terms of tweaking controls, and user interfaces.

You can even map melee or grenades to motion sensors adding a little bit of interactivity to the experience.

As for the game itself, it is admittedly a bit of a mixed bag. The main campaign takes a lot of cues from other more successful games on other platforms. The most notable one being Half-Life 2. The game takes a very linear point A to point B approach to level design. This is far from the only game over the past decade that uses this blueprint. But few are able to mask it with an environment full of supplemental subtext the way HL2 does. To its credit though, The Conduit will keep you involved enough to finish the campaign. This is in large part because of TV show caliber performances by Kevin Sorbo, Mark Sheppard, and William Morgan Sheppard. While they can be campy at times, they all do give the game a TV movie feel. Other bit players are peppered throughout the background for those who wish to look for things. Notably some Military radios players can eavesdrop on, as well as AM radios playing parodies of popular, and fringe talk shows as well as news media.

The game borrows Halo’s weapon limit system, as well as the regenerating health system popularized in so many shooters. It does work in the game as it makes players have to think about which few toys to carry into which areas. One final thing the game borrows is the spawn point system from the old arcade game Gauntlet. There are portals that allow aliens to come through until they’re destroyed, as are egg sacks that allow smaller ground level enemies to keep spawning until they are destroyed. It works fine enough initially, but it does become formulaic. Eventually they’ll be the first thing you look to destroy in a shootout section. A.I. is nothing revolutionary, but it’s really no worse than what you’d find in the typical Call of Duty title. Enemies will try to find cover, or try to cover another enemy. But sometimes you will see a bad guy just stand out in the open like a sore thumb.

Character designs are honestly pretty cool. The insect look of the alien enemies is quite nice, with some real life inspiration. Human enemies also are also well designed, and varied. You’ll see men in black, mercenaries, research lab guards, and more as you play throughout the campaign. Even the weapons are inspired by the enemy designs. There are a host of weapons based on real world military armaments. But there are just as many alien themed ones. Some of them are your expected laser guns, and plasma rifles. But the look of these weapons also has a very organic, insect theme to them. This correlates with the insect designs of the Drudge.

The audio is also really good. The soundtrack is a blend of electronica, and orchestrated music that marries with the B action movie feel the game goes for. Weapons, explosions, and even small details like footsteps are presented well. In between stages there are animated cinema screens with Michael Ford talking to Prometheus or John Adams. Again these sections are well acted, but It really would have been nice to see these done in engine. Be that as it may, the cinema screens are utilized about as well as they could be.

One element of the game that feels underutilized is the highly touted All Seeing Eye. When you first start playing The Conduit you will find it rather cool, as it lets you decode hidden alien, and masonic texts hidden in the game. Finding enough of these will help you gain achievements, and unlock concept art.  The ASE  also lets you unlock secret doors that lead to experimental, and alien weapons.  Many of these weapons are exclusive to the secret rooms, and do higher damage to enemies than many of the other weapons.

Also, in some areas there are invisible bombs it can detect. Once detected, the bombs become more, and more visible. Concentrating the ASE on them long enough, can destroy them from a safe distance.  It can also find cloaked switches that correspond to certain locked doors. All of this sounds great, and it is. The first two or three times. Unfortunately, you’ll begin to see it become formulaic. There simply isn’t enough variety with the ASE. It becomes little more than a key before long. You will enter a level, have a shoot out before getting some more exposition, and then the ASE will start to go off.  You’ll immediately realize you need to find a hidden lock for a secret room, a locked door,  or a bomb.

 

It’s really too bad that it becomes so limited here. Because it could have been much better. Part of the fun in this game are the National Treasure, X-Files, Alien Nation, V, styled tropes, and influences. Seeing the ASE implemented even further as a way to find clues, or translate a lot more than graffiti would have elevated the experience a great deal.  Some more use as an interactive narrative would have certainly been welcome.Nevertheless, the game does keep everything together throughout the campaign hitting all of the notes you’d expect. There are even some awesome boss fights along the way.

The Conduit also featured multiplayer.  I say featured because the Nintendo Wi-Fi connection servers are no longer running. But I felt like I should talk about the game’s multiplayer because of its significance.  It was pretty decent initially, bringing competitive gameplay to an underserved audience. But there were a number of problems with it.  In terms of online modes  it was relatively sparse. The game had the prerequisite death match mode. Aside from that, It had one called Bounty Hunter (a variant of death match where each player has to kill a specific player), and ASE football where one player holds an ASE for as long as possible without being shot to death.

There was  also Team Reaper (Team Death match like mode), Team Objective (Which is a Capture the flag like mode), and Marathon which was timed. Multiplayer maps were mostly pretty good, the best probably being Streets, and Pentagon. The Conduit was also one of the few games that took advantage of the Wii Speak accessory. This allowed players to use voice chat in multiplayer game modes.

Multiplayer wasn’t all it was cracked up to be however. When playing against only your friends it could be a lot of fun (Even if you did have to exchange Friend Codes). But publicly the game eventually became rife with cheaters, and griefers. Far too many to recommend it over other multiplayer shooters that would come out soon after. People clipping through walls to unreachable areas. People using a glitch to gain access to unlimited missiles. Even loading into a test level that was never intended to be seen were all things you would have run into again, and again. There were sometimes bad lag issues when far away players connected, resulting into shots that didn’t register as hits. Or rubberbanding, and other hated things. Also, take into account its better levels are also in the much improved sequel. At this point, there would be little incentive to play this mode even if you still could.

Aside from the multiplayer mode the game does have its own set of achievements you can go for if you are so inclined. Some of them are your garden variety rewards for simply getting further in the campaign. Others are rewards for pulling off certain challenges, such as killing a certain number of an enemy type with a specific weapon. The game also had a number of unlockable extras through a promotional code system. The codes were given away with the special collector’s edition of the game. The codes grant players a couple of skins that can be used in lieu of the stock ones. They also unlock a few special buffs one can use in the campaign if one finds the campaign too difficult.

The unlockable content also includes a lot of concept art. Much of it is nice, but the average player isn’t going to pay much mind to it. This is almost always the case with concept art. The most dedicated fans may go through several replays to see all of it, but most players won’t bother. The game is certainly worth revisiting from time to time. But like most single player campaigns, concept sketches won’t be the reason for replaying it.

The special edition does also have two other differences. The first is that the package art is much, much nicer. It has a slicker style in the vein of a DVD or Blu-Ray movie cover. The other difference is that the collector’s edition included an art book. Much like the one Nintendo bundled in its Metroid Prime Trilogy collection. The art book is actually pretty nice. It isn’t just artwork featured here. It also has some behind-the-scenes commentary for good measure.  The other interesting fact is that the promotional codes aren’t only compatible with the collector’s edition. They work with every version of the game.

 

The Conduit is one of those games that is by no means terrible, but fails to hit its lofty goals. It may not have the best single player campaign, or the best storyline. But it is a fun campaign to play through. The story does have its share of cheese, but it’s delicious cheese. Cheese that compliments the rest of the meat in the proverbial sandwich rather than distract you from it. It has some interesting characters. It has some wonderful voice acting. If only the multiplayer were a bit more refined, and the ASE mechanic were allowed to blossom. The Conduit could have been a bigger deal. But there is also something to be said for being a cult classic.

It’s also notable in that it’s one of those  games where the developers, not the publisher, paid out-of-pocket for most of its production. Even notable still in that such a small, humble team caught the attention of much larger, developers, and publishers. After The Conduit came out, Wii owners saw proper ports of Call Of Duty games like 4, Black Ops, and Modern Warfare 3. They also saw Goldeneye, a Wii shooter that was actually converted to its competing console brethren. It also got UbiSoft to try again with a second Red Steel.

Even if The Conduit failed to set the world on fire it did succeed in what it intended to do. Proving that FPS titles could indeed work, and play well on Nintendo’s white box. It also proved that High Voltage Software is capable of making a blockbuster action game if given the time, and resources. The Conduit would be a solid first effort, spawning a sequel before seeing a port to Android mobile devices.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

Quick thoughts on the recent overhaul patch for Chivalry: Medieval Warfare

Torn Banner Studios just released a major revision for Chivalry: Medieval Warfare. The game has been out awhile now. While it has been a very good game, some very irritating bugs have irked fans. The biggest of these was an odd leveling bug that wouldn’t carry over data properly. This would cause players who had unlocked weapons to lose the ability to use them. Why? Because the bug caused an almost delayed reaction time scenario. The game wouldn’t sync up with the leveling data, and end up thinking players were at level 0. The strangest part of this is that eventually the data would sync over, and then give off a catch up feeling. It didn’t happen to everyone, but there were a significant amount of players who did experience this. This patch seems to have finally remedied that annoyance.

The patch also seems to have fixed a number of clipping issues in some of the maps. In the past, some cheaters, and pranksters would use them to get into inaccessible areas. Or use them to hide in the geometry. Some of these glitches have come, and gone between patches in the past, but hopefully they’re gone for good.

The most notable change is the overhauled user interface. The title screen has been updated with a direct link to the workshop. It also adds a new look to everything, not the least of which includes the browser. One of the best changes is that the game now has a native LAN tab in the browser. This is wonderful news for anybody who likes to set up local tournaments. With one caveat. You still have to use the Dedicated Server tool to set up the matches, which works well.  But now you won’t have to search through all of the internet games to find your network game. This is nice for those of us who like to have private matches with friends. It’s also a little bit easier to run tournaments or LAN parties with Chivalry.

I do wish the new UI would allow an individual player to be able to set up a LAN game though. Some people find running  dedicated server software daunting. It would have been nice for those who live in a house or apartment with a two or more computers. In most of these cases, family members or roommates are on a peer-to-peer setup through a router. A quick set up for a local game would have been a nice feature. Granted, with so many games focusing on 32 to 64 player matches, it’s a fading thing. Still, I would have loved to have seen the LAN tab fleshed out for local P2P a bit more. As it is, at least it is easier for people on a network to find a game without having to search all of the online games. The browser update also makes the color coding a little bit nicer for sorting the beginning player servers, custom content servers, and modified servers too.

Some of the UI changes also seep into the game. The class, and load out screens have been streamlined. Now instead of one huge splash page, the stats, and weapons are icons. Clicking the icons allows you to change your load out. It is nice, however I do miss the more detailed descriptions of weapons, and items. Novices could have used those to know what weapons might suit their particular style of game play better. The game now shows you not only your Kill/Death ratio, but shows you individual skirmish numbers. When any given player kills you, you will see how many times you’ve killed each other. So if you have a certain rival who seems to show up in every game you join you can see which of you has the upper hand. Team Death match, and Last Team Standing  were back ported. So some of the strange bugs that developed in earlier patches are gone. The oddest of which would keep TDM matches from ending when they were supposed to.

Character customization has again, been updated. Now you can change your Free for all death match versions of your classes with few restrictions. The Icon images are now in a list form so you have to look at the player model instead of hoping for a stand alone sprite. As before, the Agatha, and Mason versions of your classes can’t be tweaked as much. This is likely because of past confusion leading to friendly fire situations.

As far as post update performance goes, it’s mostly pretty good. The game seems to have a faster run speed, things seem to run smooth most of the time. But there does seem to be an issue where sometimes the game’s frame rate will begin to drop at an alarming level after a time in some maps. Lowering graphics settings doesn’t seem to help. Eventually the problem goes away, but can be really annoying when it happens. Hopefully Torn Banner can address this with the next patch which is supposed to address balance, and other issues.

Overall the update is a very good one, and it is wonderful to see a developer continuing to support their game two years after release. If they can iron out this latest performance bug it will go a long way to keeping veterans, and newcomers interested in the title.

For a full list of all of the updates this patch brings to Chivalry, visit Torn Banner’s own forum post:

Reposted Review: Bioshock Infinite

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(Originally posted on the lapsed Retro Retreat)

Bioshock Infinite. Is it worthy of all of the praise?

For some this review will seem rather unnecessary. By now, you’ve seen every journalist from every magazine, website, show, or newscast talk about how great Bioshock Infinite is. Upon playing through the game it isn’t hard to see why. Bioshock Infinite does make every successful attempt at pulling you into it’s story, and wanting to see what happens next. In an age where single player games (Especially FPS titles) have to have something to separate themselves from the crowd, stories are arguably the best way to do this. A great story can make even the most mundane, broken game somewhat playable by making a player want to see everything unfold. Bioshock Infinite, like the original game does exactly that.

PROS: Excellent storytelling. Solid game mechanics.

CONS: Minor technical hitches. The formula doesn’t stay behind the curtain quite long enough.

OMG: You will shout at all of the eerie things that shock you.

That’s not to say gameplay in the third entry is completely terrible, it is a solid shooter. But it’s the narrative that rules the roost. Not only in the actual storyline but in the fact that all of the other parts of the game make every effort to fit it. The artwork assets are among some of the best in gaming over the past few years. The floating city of Columbia really feels plausible. The different attractions, and set pieces shown to you feel authentic. You can almost believe you’re back in the early 1900′s  toward the peak of the industrial revolution.

Moreover, you will feel more, and more disturbed as you follow the game’s plot. I won’t be talking much about it in this review. While I am later than most talking about the game, it’s still new enough that I don’t want to spoil it for those who may be interested, but still haven’t played it yet. That said, I will give a general synopsis or summary here. You play as a detective named Booker. Starting the game he finds himself on a rowboat on the coast of Maine going toward a light house. The couple rowing you there exposit on about how he has a life debt, and if you can find this missing woman for them they will pay it off for him. Getting to the top of the lighthouse is where the game, and the strangeness begin. Booker will traverse through Columbia, looking for the young woman who he needs to bring home to New York. Along the way, much like earlier Bioshock games, Booker is given choices that make alterations to the game as you progress. Some will be small changes, others large. But every option given to you goes a long way into trying to deepen the tale of Columbia.

When you do finally find Elizabeth, (The woman you were sent to bring back) the story kicks into Twilight Zone mode, introducing some eerie Science Fiction elements into an already great detective story. Elizabeth will help you along the way, finding health, and elixirs for you during firefights, along with opening secret locked rooms. Much like the plasmids in the original game, the third installment features elixirs called vigors. These give you magical powers to help you defeat some of the harder enemies in the game. For instance, replacing the Big Daddies of the original game, who were almost like minibosses, Infinite brings in a mechanical cyborg called a Handyman. Not only are the Handymen difficult to put down, they are just plain creepy looking.  Also needing to be seen are the motorized Patriot robots.

All versions are essentially the same, although the PC version will look much better provided your video card can handle the Ultra settings, and the rest of your system won’t bottleneck it too much. Most average computers should be able to run the game on medium or even high settings without too much trouble. For those of us who have to run the game on it’s lowest settings expect the game to look about on par with the Xbox 360 version. There is little to complain about here. As of this writing though Ati users may have some minor quibbles with drivers. On my system I found even with the latest drivers some stuttering problems even on lower settings. I ended up tweaking some .ini settings to get the issue under control.

My experience of course isn’t going to be indicative of everyone’s mind you but looking into the issue a small number of players reported similar nitpicks. It still didn’t impede me from enjoying or completing the campaign.

If there is one valid complaint with the game though, it is that it does become a bit formulaic near the end. You will do some exploring for clues like Voxophone audio logs (Like the PDA’s in Doom 3) that further the background of the story. Or you will find key items to boost your health or vigor. Other times you’ll bump into some fun vending machines that allow you to buy power ups or find silent films that give more story. While all of this is happening you will converse with Elizabeth much like Gordon Freeman did with Alyx Vance in Half-Life 2.  The difference being Booker actually speaks here. Upon completing these moments you will be thrust into a shooting gallery. These never feel like unbeatable horde modes the way some other campaigns go, again feeling much closer to Half-Life 2′s pace.  Guns are equally inventive, and fun. Shotguns are powerful, pistols are accurate, and the more powerful weapons are just crazy. After these moments you may have to use a vigor to solve a small puzzle before moving forward to another bit of story. Then a shooting gallery. Then a puzzle.

It does a pretty good job of hiding the formula but near the end it becomes a little more obvious. Fortunately, the story does carry the game enough that you really won’t care as you’ll be on the edge of your couch or computer chair throughout the entire tale. And there are even some underlying discussions in it if you’re willing to really explore the environment rather than burn through the campaign. It really is the reason to play this game. The fact that it’s an above average shooter under the hood also helps this fact.

Devoted players can also go back, and play through a few more times making different decisions for alternate occurrences in the campaign too. So this does give the game some replay value, as well as being something you’ll replay simply to revisit the storyline every so often.

Bioshock Infinite is one of those rare times that yes the deafening high praise is deserved. Still one can’t completely overlook it’s minor problems. But just because it isn’t a flawless game doesn’t mean it’s a bad one. If you like a good story in your video game Bioshock Infinite is an excellent choice for you to add to your library.

Final Score: 8.5 out of 10

Reposted Review: Serious Sam Complete Pack

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(Originally posted on the lapsed Retro Retreat)

The collection to end all collections. Or is it?

It doesn’t seem like it should be but Serious Sam is seemingly both nostalgic, and lost to time. All the way back in 2001, a small team of Croatians developed a series that became a surprisingly big darling of the Computer Gaming World. While that last line  makes me nostalgic for the first of several magazines I used to enjoy before disappearing, I’ll press on. Serious Sam is a series of First Person Shooters that people will either really, really love. Or really, really not love.  At a first glance, many people made the mistake of comparing it to the original two DOOM games. Mainly because in those games you were sometimes placed in areas inhabited by large numbers of enemies. Also the enemies in DOOM were pretty imposing. But that comparison is actually wrong.

PROS: It’s every Serious Sam PC retail release, plus two indie games, plus all of the DLC expansion packs discounted.

CONS: Folks who don’t enjoy fast paced 80′s arcade games or 90′s arena shooters may not want to commit to the entire series.

WTF?: Is what you will ask yourself with every new enemy type you are introduced to.

Serious Sam: The First Encounter was originally put out in 2001.

The game would go on to prove itself as actually half of a game. But for it’s original launch price of only $20, at a time when most games were launching at $40-$50 a lot of people gave it a shot. What they found, was a game that was as visually stunning as the stuff the major publishers were putting out. A game that had Co-Operative play (Something that was slowly becoming rare) including split-screen (Which on a computer had been dead since around 1994.). It also had your competitive modes like death matching, as well as the access to the game engine. Like Epic Games did with the Unreal series, Croteam gave curious gamers, and budding developers their tools for free, leading to many custom maps, and modes being downloaded through the fandom.

As I stated earlier Serious Sam is thought of as a DOOM clone, but it really isn’t. It’s more in line with early 90′s Bally-Midway twin stick shooters SMASH T.V., and TOTAL CARNAGE. Those in turn were updates of their own companies’ 80′s classic Robotron 2084. While it is true DOOM had enemy waves, a key card system, and mind-blowing bosses too, DOOM was still more about trying to navigate in a way one could get the jump on imps or zombies. DOOM was (And still is) about using the environment to set up jump scares, and break the tension in between firefights.

Serious Sam rather, does little of this. It plays much closer to those arcade quarter crunchers. Entering a room, grabbing some health or ammo or even a fancy new weapon leads to enemies spawning in by the tens to hundreds. Every one of these monsters needs to be killed quickly, as the assailants will gang up on you. Levels are large, and expansive too, and Croteam’s artists, and coders have a wonderful sense of humor. Exploring the stages lets you see that, and you can spend hours just hunting out the hundreds of Easter Eggs peppered throughout the game.  You can also choose to blast your way through the campaign as quickly as possible. It’s the sort of thing you can do at your leisure. Play for a short burst of fun, or invest an entire afternoon into it. To keep the game from getting too repetitive Croteam was wise enough to put in a few puzzles every so often. These keep you from feeling fatigued, and can also get you early access to some of the nicer weapons.

Like most FPS games, there is a decent arsenal. You have your punches, a knife, a revolver that can be dual wielded with an upgrade. You get to use two different shotguns (An homage to DOOM II). One is a pump-action, while the better one is a coach shotgun that looks like something out of a John Wayne vehicle. There is a Tommy gun, a chain gun, a laser gun, a grenade launcher, a rocket launcher, and a cannonball cannon. The game is zany. Speaking of zany,  so is the enemy variety.  As you run throughout ancient Egypt,  you will face headless zombies,  guys who hold their disembodied heads firing at you. Headless suicide bombers who scream in unison, and charge from all directions.  There are flying one-eyed monsters. Bipedal one-eyed monsters. Scorpions with machineguns. Bionic dinosaurs. Winged harpies. Four armed monsters that throw rocks. Golems made out of lava. Kleer skeletons that throw bolos. Bison like creatures that ram you into the sun.

All of these have different attack patterns, and so the challenge becomes figuring out what weapons work best on which enemies. You’ll frantically be swapping weapons, and trying to memorize patterns while trying to prioritize what power ups, and ammo to grab on the battlefield.  Co-Op becomes a lot of fun in that the enemy numbers grow with every new player added to your party. This is why it’s more in common with the twin stick shooters of old. If you enjoyed those old games you’ll enjoy Serious Sam. Bosses are another high point for the game. Each is insanely huge, with it’s own weakness, and will summon thousands of enemies to protect itself. When you finally do beat one, you will feel accomplished simply due to the scope. If any of this sounds like it’s going to be too hard for you, Croteam gives several difficulty options throughout the series. Tourist is the series’ baby mode which ironically gives you the regenerating health the series tries to get away from. Easy through Serious modes however will have you questioning whether or not picking up that health box on the battleground is too early or not.

Serious Sam: The Second Encounter is the second half of the original game.

The two were also released together in a bundle called Serious Sam Gold. This was one of the most highly praised games because of the fact that it perfected the formula plotted out in Serious Sam TFE. The gameplay is pretty much exactly the same except that in TSE there are more enemy types, (Like Cucumberito the pumpkin headed chainsaw wielder) and you won’t be doing all of your fighting in Egypt. Serious Sam fights in Mayan temples, Mesopotamia, and Middle Aged Europe. The change in scenery makes much of the game more compelling, and there is a lot of it here.

Like TFE, levels are huge, with even more secrets for you to dig up. Pretty much everything about the first game applies here, it’s just bigger, and better.

If you play through the HD remixes of the original, you also are treated to The Legend Of The Beast DLC. On it’s own it’s another $5, and almost rivals the expansion pack for Serious Sam 3 (Which I’ll get to later) for half the cost. Taking place before the end of TSE, Sam has to go through another 3 stages before facing an ancient Egyptian demonic force.  All three of the stages are set up in traditional Serious Sam fashion, gunning down waves of enemies, finding new secrets along the way, and getting to new areas with keys or slaughtering more baddies. The boss in this expansion is actually a lot better than the one in The Jewel of the Nile, which only makes this expansion pack’s existence a little more peculiar. One would wonder why it wasn’t simply made for the third Serious Sam instead. In any case it is the better of the two because of the lower price, and the more interesting boss fight.  Complete pack buyers need not worry, but those buying everything piecemeal may feel at odds when they finally buy both DLC packages.

The next game is Serious Sam 2.

What can be said? Serious Sam 2 is admittedly the low point of the series. It isn’t a bad game mind you. It gives you more of the arcade action fans expect. However, it is also one of those games where you can see there was something off during it’s creation.

Serious Sam 2 wasn’t published by the defunct Gathering Of Developers. Instead it was originally published by 2K games. At the time 2K had licensed the Serious Sam name from Croteam to have other studios make Serious Sam games for consoles. As such when they saw the success of the original game they thought a big part of it was the humor, and craziness of the environment. So they told Croteam they wanted SS2 to focus on that aspect of the game. Serious Sam 2 has very Saturday Morning visuals. Everything is very bright, and colorful. It doesn’t look bad by any estimation. But it is a far cry from what was seen in the original game.

Enemies have been greatly altered or replaced all together. Werebulls show up as wind up buffalos. The headless suicide bombers now have gigantic bomb heads instead. Reptilian aliens have been replaced with orcs in space marine armor. There are zombie lawyers. The one-eyed gnarrs are no longer enemies. The scorpions look different. There are robot balls that float around shooting you. There are tribal golems. Some of the new enemies admittedly are cool, and could fit in with the other games. Particularly the buzzsaw throwing martial artists, and floating old mages. Mostly unchanged are the harpies, and skeletons. Even the weapon assortment looks different, and some of your old favorites are replaced.

Like all of the other games in the series Serious Sam 2 is also a very long game. There are several medallions throughout several levels each with several sub levels. At the end of each level is a boss fight. There is admittedly a lot of variety in the stages too. From jungle villages to medieval castles to the futuristic cityscape Serious Sam 2 does succeed in changing scenery fairly well. Once again each stage can go on long if you want to take the time. However levels are now boxed in with invisible walls. Longtime fans of the first game balked when they saw this because of how limited secret hunting becomes. That being said, Serious Sam 2 does provide some genuinely funny secrets, like Duke Nukem’s dead body. There are also funny moments like Sam complaining he has to do a sewer level.

The biggest change aside from the cartoon graphics are vehicles. There are several times (Including an impressive boss fight) where you will have to pilot different vehicles like hovertanks, fighter planes, and a spiked hamster ball. Using vehicles are a must though because they buy you time in the moments you get to use them. As the first game proved, Serious Sam’s boss line up has to impress, and even Serious Sam 2 with it’s drawbacks does try to deliver on that promise. Skyscraper sized bosses are back including one that might as well be an actual skyscraper. All of these continue the trend of setting up patterns you have to memorize, while micromanaging grunt waves of enemies who interrupt the party. Serious Sam 2 also made the odd choice of only doing Co-Op multiplayer when it first came out. Since then deathmatch has been patched in, but it’s still something worth questioning.

As in previous Serious Sam titles playing with extra players means more enemies. Co-Op is still a fun, fast paced ride in Serious Sam 2. While not the best title in the series Serious Sam 2 is still a good game, and should be played through at least once by fans. The humor being the focal point in it does lead to some truly funny stuff, and there are a lot of secrets despite the reduction of exploration.

Serious Sam 3:BFE Deluxe Edition is probably the best game in the entire series.

Serious Sam 3 is an odd animal in that it does everything players want it to, and yet does try a few small changes to the formula that fans hated at first when it came out  a little over a year ago (October 2011). Over time however these changes became accepted, and even loved.

The first thing you will notice upon booting up the game are the production values. Croteam really tried to capitalize on the photo realistic trend military shooters have been obsessed with over the past 8 years now. (Deluxe edition has a really nice behind the scenes video included more on that later.) Egypt looks much more realistic. From the ancient architecture, to the small shantytowns, to the war-torn cities at first glance you might mistake the game for a Call of Duty title. Then an in-game cut scene begins to play, and unlike the prerendered FMV scenes you laughed at in Serious Sam 2 Serious Sam 3 is ironically more serious. Serious Sam 3 has a story that tries to flesh out the events of the original games, and their HD counter parts. The original First, and Second Encounters merely gave you a backdrop in that they told you “Serious Sam was sent back in time to stop Mental, leader of an evil race of aliens who met the ancient Egyptians, and came back in the distant future to destroy the Earth.”. Yes they had some humorous endings that expanded on the story a little bit, like when Sam calls Mental from inside a mothership. Or the phone booth secrets.

But here you will open up to Serious Sam in an army helicopter being told he has to rendezvous with his squadmates at a museum to rescue a brilliant anthropologist. All while hearing a Born To Be Wild parody playing in the background. Of course the chopper is gunned down, and the game begins. But through it all you will learn that Serious Sam 3 is a prequel to The First Encounter.  The game, and it’s expansion pack actually tell the story of the alien assault on Earth that led to Sam having to go back in time to ancient Egypt. As the campaign goes on you meet side characters, who exposit more story bits, and will run into other changes, and borrowings that actually help rather than hinder.

The biggest change other than the story being a bigger part of the package, and the visuals I mentioned earlier is ADS (Aim Down Sights). Longtime fans decried this feature when they first heard about it because it’s lifted right out of Call of Duty, and is only featured on one machine gun. But unlike CoD where it instantly makes your accuracy better, Serious Sam 3′s ADS only helps in certain medium range applications. It also slows Sam down much, much more than a CoD combatant. However in those medium range situations against zombies, kleer skeletons, and (Heaven help you) headless suicide bombers it makes getting groupings of them a bit easier.

Another addition you will love using against the new, and classic waves of enemies is the new melee attack. These moves allow you to dismember alien enemies, and throw their entrails.  Among other new weapons?  A sledgehammer that can knock a crowd back, and a bracelet that takes a page out of Bulletstorm. With it you can lasso several enemies together until they’re shocked to death. You can also use it to move around certain items.

Actually I lied a couple of paragraphs ago because the biggest change is actually not the ADS. It’s the fact that Croteam committed to the notion of “No cover. All man.”. Simply put. You can not hide like a bitch, and expect to live. Unlike most modern shooters, where you can duck out behind a wall, or slab of stone, and pop out to take potshots, here you can’t. At least not often. Because the environments in Serious Sam 3 are almost as destructible as those in Battlefield Bad Company 2. Trying to hide behind an abandoned hut in the desert? That werebull is going to plow right through it. Think you’re safe behind that statue, and columns? That bionic dinosaur is going to bring it all on top of you with it’s rockets.

Croteam also took a page from High Voltage Software’s The Conduit. A Wii exclusive series, one of it’s hallmarks was decoding alien, and illuminati messages that furthered it’s B movie plot, and unlocked achievements. In Serious Sam 3 they exist in similar fashion, except they only require staring at certain Arabic messages or propaganda posters. Sometimes staring at hieroglyphics will do this too.  These aren’t something you have to find, although completionists will want to replay the campaign in an attempt to find them all. Speaking of finding things, like all Serious Sam mainline games, expect to find all types of hidden items, and gags. New to the series are parkour secrets. These secrets require you to make seemingly impossible jumps to find items or health. Like the hidden messages the game doesn’t require you to find them all, but some of the most fun parts of the game are indeed uncovering these Easter Eggs.

Croteam also added some new characters into the mix, like cave demons that hate light. Clone soldiers with shotguns. Spiders that only a certain T.G.W.T.G meme could love. Helicopters with tentacles. 12 story tall demons named “Khnum”. An homage to Doom II’s Mancubus called Scrapjack. And the biggest pain in the ass enemy of any action game you’ll ever go up against: The Witch-Bride of Achriman. Why is she such an annoyance? She can cast a spell on you that messes up your movement. In turn this allows the other enemies to take you down a lot easier. She’s like the Taser cop in Payday: The Heist. Or the jockey in Left 4 Dead 2.

As usual, bosses will be the massive encounters you will likely poop yourself over. Nowhere more is it clearer than when you finally reach the end of the campaign to face Ugh-Zan IV. Quite literally the biggest boss in all of boss history.

Once again, Co-Op is the primary multiplayer mode you’ll want to play. 16 players can again team up for a number of stages or for the entire campaign. As in previous games this game is a lot more fun when you go through it with friends.  Also returning are your death match variants, and other staples of arena first person shooting. Croteam also again, has supplied players with it’s Serious Engine. It’s one of the few releases this generation of games that does this. It should be a boon for anyone even remotely interested in making content or full-blown games. While it doesn’t have the reputation of an Unreal, iD, CryEngine, or Frostbite engine, Serious Engine can, and does give you something you can get some experience from.

Serious Sam 3 Deluxe Edition also includes a copy of the game soundtrack in 3 different formats. As well as a digital version of an art book composed of concept sketches, and paintings made by Croteam during development. It also includes several videos, including commercials, comedy sketches, and most importantly a half hour special on how they made the game. The soundtrack is easily one of the best parts of any Serious Sam game, especially in The Second Encounter, and here in part 3. Not only do you get all of Damjan Mravunac’s ambient percussion based tracks of world music (Which even if it isn’t normally your cup of tea, does prove to be well researched, and performed.) featured in SS3, but you also get the collaborated tracks with Croatian Metal band, Undercode. These guys put out some really great rock tracks that fit the environments put out by Croteam, kicking in when things get really hectic, but calming back into Damjan’s stuff when it’s safe to breathe. One of Undercode’s songs Hero is featured twice. Once as an instrumental, and once as the game’s theme song during the end credits. Even players who don’t like heavy metal will probably agree that in the instance of these games, the Undercode tracks work very well.

If you do like heavy metal, or Undercode in particular this will be one of your  favorite parts of the Serious Sam Complete pack experience.

Serious Sam Jewel of the Nile is the 3 stage DLC campaign for Serious Sam 3, and as part of the complete pack, it’s fairly nice. On it’s own it’s debatable due to the cost. Which is ironic seeing how the series’ popularity partially came about because of the low entry fee. Anyway, the Jewel of the Nile DLC reveals that one of the time locks Sam thought he had turned on really wasn’t. So he has to fight his way through another 3 stages. The stages themselves are actually very well put together. Giving a nice mix of action, puzzle solving, and looking for secrets. It culminates in a fight with an enormously sized Scrapjack. It isn’t a bad boss fight by any means, but it is a little underwhelming for anyone who beat the Ugh-Zan IV boss in the main campaign. As I said before, it also doesn’t compete very well with the Serious Sam: The Second Encounter HD DLC considering the fact it costs double the price point.

Be that as it may, you may actually want the DLC because despite it’s shortcomings, some of the user-generated stuff requires it. For die-hard fans of the game $10 really isn’t asking much, but casual players may wish to wait for a sale if they didn’t buy the complete collection which includes it.

Complete pack also includes two indie games inspired by classic gaming titles.

Serious Sam Random Encounter tries to combine the elements of console role-playing games like Final Fantasy with action gaming. Taking place in the future, Serious Sam is sent off to wander maps looking for items, and quests. You will be constantly hit with random battles (Hence the name) where you will fight 8-bit, and 16-bit versions of classic Serious Sam enemies. Along the way you’ll find items that help you, and as in many JRPG’s you’ll be able to set up items, and weapons as you see fit. It’s not a full-blown JRPG, but the inspiration is a nice take on the IP.

Serious Sam Double D goes back to basics, and tries combining the Twin stick shooting of Robotron, Smash TV, and Total Carnage with the side scrolling bullet hell of Contra. Unlike those games you won’t be dying in one hit, but you will be getting everything thrown at you from all directions. Between the two games this one is the prettier looking, as it can hang with some of the better flash games made by the guys at adultswim.com.  It even goes out of it’s way to invent it’s own new enemies. Some of these like cybernetic monkeys really work with the theme, others like pancake bugle blowers, wouldn’t even make the cut for Serious Sam 2. It does manage to be fun though, and true to Serious Sam in that you will find a lot of secret areas, enemies spawn like you’d expect, and there are even some mild puzzle elements to it. The biggest thing the game boasts about is it’s gun stacking mechanic. Finding wrenches throughout levels allows you to merge several guns together to make massive guns. It’s wacky, and it’s fun.

Neither of these games will tear you away from the mainline Serious Sam titles too long, but if you have a really old computer or an underpowered netbook these titles can offer you something new to try your hand at. I did run into a few technical hitches with both games on pretty decent hardware. Granted, my computer as of this writing isn’t some $1500 watercooled beast, but it is a midrange video card here (Radeon 6970 HD) with a quad-core Phenom II, decent RAM, and more than enough disk space. I could run every game in the bundle with no trouble except oddly enough for the indie games. Random Encounter crashed to the desktop for little to no reason, while Double D microstuttered during checkpoints at times. Your mileage may vary, but hopefully Mommy’s Best Games, and the two dutch programmers behind SSRE can eventually iron out these minor issues as they’re rare occurences.

So having gone through the collection, should you buy it? Well it’s really going to depend on the types of games you like, and how open-minded you are in the cases of some players.

As far as the mainline games go, they are first, and foremost arcade games. As such 90% of the game play is centered around shooting. It’s twitch gameplay at it’s finest, frantically switching guns around for the proper enemy type, managing your health, and ammunition.  All of them feature fun 16 player Co-Op, and competitive modes. There are a lot of funny moments, cool enemies, fun weapons, and bosses. But for those who don’t like “Horde mode” in modern shooters,  or don’t enjoy classic arcade shooters like Smash TV, Serious Sam may begin to get monotonous to you if you try to play through the entire game in one sitting. There’s nothing inherently wrong with Serious Sam mind you. Those who DO long for the quarter crunching greatness of 90′s arcade machines will love it to death. But to say it’s perfect for everyone would be dishonest so I can’t. The indie games are curious, and interesting takes on the series though. Even if you haven’t been a fan of the IP but you are a fan of independently made classic games they are worth checking out, and they’re not that expensive.

With all of that out of the way, Serious Sam Complete Pack is a must buy for any longtime fan of the series. You get all of the mainline games, two indie games plus all of the DLC. It’s also rarer, and rarer these days to have games include their development tools. If you already own some of these titles, Valve does let you re-gift the games you already purchased to other people. The only exception to this are the downloadable expansion packs. So if you already own Serious Sam 3, and The Jewel of the Nile you might consider buying the rest of it piecemeal. Again for those who have never played the series, and don’t love frantic games as much as their arcade wistful brethren, start out with Serious Sam HD Double Pack instead. It will be enough to let you know if it’s the kind of game you’ll get into.

Still when you see how much you save ($18. Or A lot more when Steam does a franchise sale.) it’s hard to argue why you wouldn’t want the Serious Sam Complete Pack. (Provided of course you love the series.)

Final Score: 8.5 out of 10 (An awesome series that isn’t for everyone.)

Reposted Review: Hard Reset

 

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(Originally posted on the defunct Blistered Thumbs community blog back in March 2012.)Hard Reset is truly a Frankenstein monster in every way. It’s story takes inspiration from Terminator, Blade Runner, Johnny Mnemonic, and The Big O. The game play takes inspiration from Quake II, Painkiller, Bulletstorm, and Bioshock. Musically it’s a hodgepodge of various forms of Electronica. Visually it feels like someone put TRON, Judge Dredd, Quake IV, Halo, and Doom 3 into a blender.

But is it a Pot Luck Stew you will truly enjoy?

PROS: Impressive effects. Satisfying gunplay involves environments. Interesting premise.

CONS: Short length. Story becomes hard to follow. Derivative at times.

WEIRD: The Swiss Army Knife-ness of your weapon.

Comprised of former members of People Can Fly, Flying Wild Hog Studios quietly rolled out Hard Reset to digital storefronts toward the end of last year. Set in a dystopian future, humans live in a closed off city called Bezoar. Much of the rest of the world is overrun by sentient robot armies who wish to exterminate the last remaining human resistance. The heart of Bezoar holds a place called “The Sanctuary” where the consciousness of many human souls lie interconnected. The machines wish to take down the Sanctuary, and so Major Fletcher heads into battle against the machines to save humankind. Along the way he is contacted by Professor Novak, who is revealed to have created the cybernetic technology in Fletcher’s nanosuit. It is also revealed that Novak created the technology the machines used to nearly wipe out human kind.

The story is told in between levels through narrated comic book panels. There is also some in-game exposition, but it’s mostly the comic book panels you’ll want to follow. The game doesn’t always lend itself well to understanding the story. This is because there are a lot of references to characters or events that are never shown or explained leading to a lot of confusion. Some of the in-game exposition helps, but you’ll be so busy paying attention to playing the game that you’ll likely miss it.

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The story is mostly there as a backdrop for the action however, and in a game like this it thankfully isn’t something you need to follow, or understand to have fun. It is a shame its poorly executed though because some of the art in these comic panels really does look cool. The voice acting isn’t too shabby either when compared to similar games.

As for the game itself Hard Reset does a lot of things you’ve seen a million times before, but it also takes some of its own chances, and liberties with those things. For starters, while you won’t be completing any in-depth mission objectives (Aside from shooting robots), the game does mix it up. Instead of doing the typical FPS fare of either giving you 25 different guns to use, or telling you “There are 25 guns. Pick TWO of them to use, and that’s all you can carry at a time”

 

Hard Reset instead gives you 2 guns. One is a ballistics based gun that has a chain gun, and the other an energy gun that has a plasma rifle. As in Bulletstorm, and to a lesser degree Bioshock however, Hard Reset has capsules that can be opened, and you can spend points on upgrading these two guns to the point you have enough modes to equate to around 20 some odd guns. There are rocket launchers, shotguns, and one of my favorites: the electric mortar. Each of these upgrades themselves can be upgraded.

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In addition to the upgradable weapon system one can also upgrade their health system, allowing for higher resistance to being shot, or a higher health meter. Unlike most other shooters this generation, Hard Reset does not do the regenerating health schtick.

Instead, like PC shooters of yore, you must find health packs in the field, and decide for yourself when it might be worth using, or waiting to grab later. It brings back some of the feeling from Quake II, or Goldeneye, or SiN. There is no ducking out behind cover to regain your health. In a bit of irony there is the “Bloody vision” popularized by Call of Duty. So getting badly injured does make it more difficult to see making it even more challenging in a severe firefight.

While there are some similarities to Painkiller, and Serious Sam in terms of combat, Hard Reset is still a bit different. There are indeed sections later in the campaign that follow those games’ structure of: Enter room\Wipe out enemies\Collect something or press button\Wipe out enemies\Repeat. But the entire game does not do this. There are a lot of sections that evoke feelings of playing Doom 3’s quiet jump scare moments, or Quake II’s exploration for secrets. The game combines just enough of these elements so that it feels both intimately familiar, and different enough you’ll want to see what’s next.

Hard Reset also has a novel combination system. Similar to how Bulletstorm, and Madworld reward players for creatively combining attacks on enemies for higher point boosts, Hard Reset has its own. The game doesn’t go for quite the same thing but it does reward you for using explosive objects in the stage backgrounds to take out enemies. For instance, you may fill your upgrade meter slightly for gunning down a small horde of robots. But blow up a car parked on the street, which in turn blows up a robot, which in turn blows up a flammable canister that destroys 15 low-level robots, and you may nearly fill it right there.

 

The game also delivers a few really awesome “Holy Crap!” moments in its boss characters. The greatest of these is easily the giant skyscraper sized android boss. Reminiscent of TRON, The Big-O, and The Sentinels from The X-Men comics, this Boss will make you nearly soil yourself when you first see him coming. It’s also worth mentioning that for people who may be coming over from Xbox 360 First Person Shooters, that Hard Reset also supports the Xbox 360 gamepad for those who prefer a controller to a keyboard, and mouse.

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As fun as the campaign is, some may find some faults with it as it isn’t perfect.

The biggest issue some may have is the short length. The average person will be able to beat the game in a day or two. While you can replay it several times over to use upgrades to guns you may have skipped in previous sessions, you probably won’t care to revisit it very often. The game does have a ton of achievements for players absolutely obsessed with collecting them, but again, it’s a small segment.

Other minor complaints will be the derivative nature of the art direction. While kudos go out to Flying Wild Hog for putting out visuals that can hang with some of the major big budget studios out there, the fact remains that you’ve seen these settings many times over the last 15 years. I hate to keep going back to Quake 2, but a lot of the robots are a stone’s throw from being actual Strogg.

Finally, as I mentioned near the beginning of this review, the storyline can be difficult to follow for players who want to be invested in it. While it isn’t required to enjoy the game, a lot of people really do play games for their stories, even if they are a lot like other stories, or even if they’re shallow. One thing that will certainly disappoint these players is the rather abrupt ending given by the game.

Some may also be turned off by the fact there is no co-operative or competitive multiplayer to be found here whatsoever.

 

At the end of the day though Hard Reset does have enough going for it to make it worth checking out if you find yourself interested in it. It is a fun ride while it lasts. It tries to do something new with its weapon system, and it takes a slight variance on the creative killing idea put forth by Platinum Games’ Madworld, and People Can Fly’s Bulletstorm. When it does decide to take chances it succeeds.

Even when taking it’s faults into consideration, the low asking price of $20 does limit the feelings of risk. There are games far worse than this one you might spend $60 on.

Hopefully, if there is ever a sequel to this game it will expand on some of these new features, and conventions. Moreover one can only hope  Flying Wild Hog will incorporate some form of co-operative play the way Serious Sam has in the past.

Final Score: 7 out of 10.