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Insurgency Sandstorm Review

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

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

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

GIBS: A common 90’s FPS feature returns.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Score: 8 out of 10

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Devil’s Third Review

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I know. I know. I’m late on this one. But I have a really good reason. I only recently managed to secure a copy. The game initially showed up stateside, where GameStop had a mere 420 copies nationwide. To say that the speculator market went insane over this is an understatement. For at least two months the game went for as much as $300 in online auctions. Nintendo quietly released more into retailers hands. The aftermarket price did fall a lot, but you can still pay as much as $80 for one. I lucked out, finding mine at retail last week, and it was likely the only new copy in my State.

The game has been a bit of a pariah since its release. Not only was there an initial speculator craze, that made a handful of second-hand sellers a considerable chunk of change, there was negative reception. There was a lot of negative reception. From other reviewers who hated it, to average players who hated it, the word of mouth got around fast. But is it really that terrible? Is it deserving of the ire not seen since the likes of The Garbage Pail Kids Movie?

PROS: Fun mechanics. Large weapon assortments.

CONS: Technical issues. Dumb A.I.. Microtransactions negatively impact multiplayer.

DTV: The action, and cheese are right out of a B-Movie.

Before I get into just why Devil’s Third is so reviled, I have to give a little bit of background. Way back in 2008, Tomonobu Itagaki left Tecmo, along with several Team Ninja members. He had announced he was leaving because he hadn’t been paid what he felt the company had promised him. He also announced he was suing them. Shortly thereafter he, and the others would form a new studio Valhalla Game Studios.

Valhalla would immediately begin work on Devil’s Third. In 2010 it was showed off at E3 for the first time. There wasn’t much focus on it compared with all of the other stuff at the show, but that wasn’t where the bad news would begin. During development, the game switched engines a number of times. The initial engine they started on had to be scrapped when the company they licensed it from went belly up. The game was then restarted on Relic’s Darksiders II engine. After awhile the team ran into other problems, and they moved the project to the Unreal 3 Engine.

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Things became worse for Valhalla in 2013 when THQ went out of business. During the sale of THQ’s assets the IP for Devil’s Third was given back to Valhalla. But they now had no cash flow to finish their game. Itagaki spent a year trying to find another publisher. Eventually Nintendo would pick it up. Nintendo would also dictate that Devil’s Third would be a Wii U exclusive.

Upon firing up the game you’ll go through the typical credit screens. One for Valhalla, one for Epic’s Unreal 3 Engine, and you’ll finally end up at a calibration screen. Before you can even get to the title screen you’ll be asked to move the screen borders to your TV’s actual borders. After that you’ll make your way to the title screen.

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The title screen has three menus. A single player mode, a multiplayer mode, and an options menu. In the options menu you can choose preset button configurations for the game pad. You can also revisit your border settings, volume, and contrast settings. One nice thing is the ability to tweak the sensitivity of the thumb sticks. It isn’t going to make it anywhere near as seamless as mouse look in a PC game. But it does give you a leg up on a couple of other games.

The single player campaign is a mixed bag. The story is right out of a direct-to-video action movie you’d find in a Best Buy bargain bin. In a war torn future, the global landscape has changed. The US was broken up into different territories, most of the world is in ruins, and an old cold war era terrorist has destroyed satellites. This has resulted in much of the world’s economies wiped out, as the decimation of the satellites has caused an EMP-like situation. Many computer systems are out, modern vehicles don’t work. Everything is in ruin.

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A US Official goes to Guantanamo Bay to release one old prisoner named Ivan who was involved with this old threat in a past life. So as Ivan you have to escape the prison (where your cell is a lavish apartment replete with guitars, and a drum kit for some reason), meet up with an old war hero, and fight your former allies for revenge. You go to all different kinds of locales in the campaign. Panama, Japan, a shipyard, are but a handful of them.

The game plays like a combination of Itagaki’s Ninja Gaiden games from Tecmo, Call Of Duty, and a hint of Max Payne for good measure. You can go into firefights using both melee weapons, as well as an assortment of guns, grenades, rockets, and other projectile weapons. You can actually do some pretty cool things with the system. Like Ninja Gaiden, enemies can be dismembered in various violent ways. Some of the projectile weapons cause them to explode into giblets. Swords, axes, knives, and pipes will often crush skulls, and chop off limbs. There are even a lot of cool canned animations for the melee attacks that make it feel even more like a fun Dolph Lundgren B-movie.

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Using the melee attacks will eventually fill a meter. Once full, you can activate a melee buff, that makes your attacks much more potent while your tattoos flash. There are some sections where you’ll have no choice but to use this mechanic as the game throws  you up against mini bosses that can withstand a lot of gunfire. The unfortunate thing if you come into this as a fan of modern hack n’ slash titles is that there isn’t much of a combo system.

Devil’s Third has two melee attacks. You can do light, or hard swings. Light swings do less damage, but you can get a few of them in in a short amount of time. Hard swings do a ton of damage, but have cool down periods between swings. These are only around a second, but in many situations that can feel like too long. You can also block incoming melee attacks. After you get two or three swings in, the aforementioned canned animations occur, usually killing an enemy. The problem is that there aren’t any of the intricate challenging combos you’re probably used to. Ninja Gaiden, Devil May Cry, Bayonetta, and God Of War, all let you do some pretty deep combos. Many of which could even help you those times where you found yourself completely surrounded. Not so, here. You can get a few light swings in, maybe combine them with a hard swing, and that’s about it. You do have the ability to throw your melee weapon as well, which can sometimes be beneficial.

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There’s also a pretty good dodge system in place, so you can dive out of the way of firepower,  peek out behind cover, and toggle a run command. The run command can also be used to parkour on certain surfaces to get to higher ground. You can also combine the movement commands with melee to perform an instant takedown that can be really handy in certain situations. Finally, you can slide to cover while running which is cool.

The shooting mechanics fare considerably better. Most of the guns, have a nice punch to them, and work the way you’d expect. Machine guns, sub machine guns, being best at medium range, shotguns being great at point blank, and everything being decent at a range. Explosives also have splash damage, so you have to be careful about shooting them too close. Devil’s Third also tries to keep itself from becoming monotonous by adding some turret sections, and a few sections where you use your X-Ray glasses to find traps, or to lock onto targets for air strikes. Some of these succeed in what they’re trying to do, others feel like busywork. None of them go on too long though.

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If there are any complaints to be had with the shooting, it’s that the right thumb stick’s responsiveness isn’t quite as smooth as in other games. It takes a little while to get used to. But while you’re acclimating yourself you can expect to miss a few shots, and get beat up by an enemy that probably seemed like easy pickings.

Speaking of enemies, there is a surprisingly large variety here. You’ll see your usual video game mercenaries. But there are Predator stand-ins, Resident Evil monster stand-ins, mech like super soldiers, enemy vehicles, and many more. Again, there is an issue that rears its head here, and that is the inconsistent A.I.. Sometimes you will find enemies have the most dead on aim in the game, or the best possible blocking times when you go to swing that emergency fire axe. But then you’ll get to the next section of the level to find the next run of henchmen are complete idiots. They will stand in the open practically asking you to shoot them in the face. Even when there may be a ton of optional scenery to duck behind.

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This can even affect the bosses sometimes. You could fight a boss in ten long battles, all of which you narrowly lose, only for them to become a pushover in fight eleven. It takes you out of the moment, especially after having to pull out all of the stops so many times. It’s almost as if the game just decides to randomly put you over for no apparent reason. But the inconsistent A.I. really isn’t the biggest problem with the game.

Those would be the technical issues. The game will randomly suffer from frame drops, and micro stuttering. Make no mistake, it’s infrequent. It isn’t a constant problem while you play through the campaign. But it can happen at the worst possible time, and get you killed. Even on the easiest difficulty setting. It doesn’t matter if there are 2 enemies, 60 enemies, or even no enemies. Your frame rate will go from an acceptable 30 frames per second down to 5 frames per second for around fifteen seconds. The conditions are arbitrary. It isn’t something where it happens when too much is going on for the Wii U to handle. It will randomly drop. In my play through I had it happen around ten times during the campaign. The campaign will get you between six to eight hours of play time depending on how fast you pick up the nuances. Difficulty settings honestly don’t impact the game much. In my case going from the easiest setting to the hardest one, I only noticed that enemies did more damage. The A.I. didn’t improve much, and they seemed to take only slightly more damage when I hit them.

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Some have really given the game’s graphics a hard time. To their credit, it does look like some of the earliest textures, and models were carried over from older builds to the final build on Unreal 3 Engine. You can probably notice it in the screen shots in this article. I won’t sugarcoat it. The visuals are pretty inconsistent. Ivan looks pretty amazing. There are a lot of little details on the model, and in some parts of the game you’d be forgiven for thinking you were looking at an Xbox One game. But then you have structures, and other models that have the complexity of a very early Xbox 360 game. Some of the textures aren’t as good as other textures. That is until you realize that the game has another technical issue. It seems like there is an issue loading textures. Go into one of these bland areas, and hold still for a moment. Eventually, things begin to look considerably better as details begin to show up on brick walls, marble floors, or painted surfaces.

While I don’t think it looks as bad, or plays as bad as some of the criticism would have you believe, you can’t entirely dismiss it. Devil’s Third does have some issues that really bring it down a lot. Having said that, I still had a pretty fair amount of fun playing through the campaign. It has a lot of problems yes, but they aren’t so bad that they make the game completely unplayable. It’s very simplistic fun, and that’s okay. If you can forgive the inconsistent graphics, and occasional frame drop, you can honestly find a fair amount of enjoyment in the campaign. Even if the A.I. goes from Einstein to dumbass out of nowhere.

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You can also find enjoyment in the multiplayer portion of the game. It has the typical modes you’ve likely come to expect. There’s a standard death match, and team death match mode. There is also a capture the flag mode, a bomb mode similar to the one found in Counter-Strike, as well as a fruit mode. This makes teams compete to capture fruit, and put it in a device for points. Finally, there is a Siege mode. This reminds me a lot of Sanctum, where you defend or attack structures in a map depending on your team. Moreover, Siege actually encourages players to form clans, as you can place structures in maps, and compete for territory.

Siege will give you the option to join a clan, or be a mercenary. If you join a clan you get the perks of having your base placements effect matches, as well as having a neat little icon next to your name. If you would rather play with your friends, you can also form your own clan, and invite them into it. When people ask you to join their clan, you’ll get an in-game email notification that you can accept or deny. If you opt out of being in a clan, and play lone wolf, you can still play Siege. But you will mainly be there to help whichever team you’re assigned to. You will get rewards for playing the mode however.

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Before you can play Siege you’ll have to get set up with gear, take a brief tutorial, and then fight through the other modes of your choosing until you reach level 5. But of course, this is where once again, there has to be a problem getting in the way of what could have been an excellent game. Microtransactions. I hesitate to say that the ones in Devil’s Third are as nefarious as the ones in a lot of free to play games. They aren’t. But by God are they still pretty dubious. The game has two forms of currency. In game cash you can use, and golden eggs. Golden eggs can be used to buy some items, while the cash is for others. You can also convert the eggs into cash. Beating the campaign gives you a lot of eggs, and winning or placing in matches gives you one to a few.  Finding all of the trophies in the campaign adds more. Thankfully, the weapons in multiplayer are all purchased with in game cash. So beating the game will essentially give you enough eggs to turn to credits to unlock every gun in the multiplayer.

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However, some things like multiple load outs for you to preset weapon combinations with, and costume pieces need to be purchased with eggs. Many of them require fifty eggs to unlock. The costume pieces also have negligible buffs, and nerfs on them. One shirt might take one less damage point from bullets while reducing you one speed point. The differences are so miniscule they rarely have any impact in combat whatsoever. They seem pointless to even be there. Really, they serve a mainly cosmetic purpose. But it doesn’t feel any better. Especially since you can pay real world money for eggs if you don’t want to grind out battles for eons. Siege mode also gives you a finite number of ammunition, so you’ll use the in game currency to replenish it. Again, another example of microtransactions  running amok. Thankfully, you’re still given plenty, and the rewards you get for playing generally cover you well enough. So you really shouldn’t have to buy any eggs to convert to cash to resupply with.

Prices for eggs will make you laugh your ass off, and ask the game if it’s serious. One hundred eggs will cost you $20. Go back to what I said a moment ago about how many eggs you need for a costume part. This means if you don’t want to grind your way to costumes you can easily spend a few hundred dollars. On nonsense. This is almost as bad as the technical issues, and for some players it might actually be worse.

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This is all disappointing because the underlying multiplayer game play is actually quite good. It makes effective use of the mechanics from the campaign, allowing you to use the same melee, movement, and gunplay. The maps are well designed for the different playable modes. I’ll go out on a limb, and say if not for the microtransactions this could have given some other online shooters on the Wii U some competition. It feels a lot like the multiplayer from Max Payne 3, minus the bullet time. In place of that are super weapons you can use for a short period of time after filling a meter. These do feel pretty beefy, and will have you cheering when you take people down with them. But they’re not win buttons either. You can still be taken out pretty easily when using them. Be it a shot from afar, or a sword from behind.

The technical issues from the main game do sometimes crop up here. Sometimes just before a round starts there might be a hiccup, and you’ll notice texture pop in. But outside of that, the death matches run really well. Interestingly, you can also plug in a USB keyboard to use in the chat room before matches. You cannot play the game with it though, so don’t expect to have a PC experience here. The game doesn’t support headsets or microphones though. Peculiar seeing how they went to the trouble of adding keyboard support. Anyway, in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t matter much since the most played mode is death match. The goal of which is to be a loner who racks up the most frags.

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Overall, I wouldn’t call Devil’s Third a completely terrible game. There are many issues that keep it from being an exceptional single player game. The microtransactions really hinder the online experience much more than help it. In spite of all of these problems though, I can say there is fun to be had here. The story, while full of plot holes, and clichés does live up the B-movie vibe it goes for. It’s still a riot to cut down waves of low level grunts with a shotgun, or an iron pipe. You’ll still feel an enjoyably surprising shock when a boss knocks a weapon out of your hands. The 75% of the time that the A.I. is smarter than a box of rocks it can be an exciting challenge. Especially when there are new tools given to you to try out. None of this is going to blow you away, but you’ll likely enjoy playing through it over a weekend.

Multiplayer actually is a blast though, which is why it is so disappointing to see it marred by a microtransaction system. The weapons, and mechanics are so enjoyable. Some of the extra costumes you can customize your character with do look cool. But they’re nothing anybody should spend real world money on. It’s the type of thing that should have been a  DLC pack you would find in a Call Of Duty game. If it had to be sold as an extra at all. The system here just nickel, and dimes you. It isn’t quite the level of a free to start game, since again, you can at least get all of the weapons by playing the campaign. But man, does it come ever so close to it. Beat the game, use the credits on the weapons, and enjoy the multiplayer that way.

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If after all of that you want to jump in, you can try to hunt down a copy like I did. But you can also buy it on the Nintendo eshop. In the end though, you’re getting into an average game. Nothing revolutionary. Nothing you haven’t seen elsewhere. But you’ve also played far worse. Although being average isn’t bad, there are many better games to choose from. If you do decide to play it anyway, you’ll have some fun. If you temper your expectations.

Final Score: 5 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