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Splatoon 2 Review


Well folks, it’s a new year, and thanks to a nice Christmas bonus I now have a Nintendo Switch. So now I have another platform to play games on, and review. I apologize for the delay in getting out some articles to you. Just know, the end of the year gets very busy for me, leaving me not as much time as I’d like for reviewing games. All of that being said, my first Switch game purchase is a sequel to one of the best games I own for the Wii U. Is Splatoon 2 as good as its surprise hit predecessor?

PROS: Everything you loved about the original, and then some!

CONS: Convoluted voice chat. Consulting the map is worse. Drawing with thumb sticks.

AMIIBO: The older figures have as much merit as the new ones.

In a lot of ways Splatoon 2 is a much better game over its predecessor. It features a lot of new weapons, and new maps. It has a few new modes. It also takes the Nintendo Switch’s wireless capabilities to add a LAN like feature. Think in the vein of the original Xbox’s system link feature. There are new characters, and a lot of great customization options. Even the campaign is improved. There is a lot to like here.


For those who never played the original game, be it because they didn’t have a Wii U, or because they were more enamored with something else, Splatoon 2 is a shooter. More accurately, it’s a third-person shooter with a lot of the stuff you’d find in a first-person shooter. You’ll be killing people, and blowing things up. But what really sets the game apart from every other game of its ilk is its mainline game objective.

Splatoon 2 is a very multiplayer focused team shooter. You’ll hop into game modes with other players online or offline (I’ll get to that soon enough), and fight alongside your teammates for victory. Splatoon’s trademark mode is called “Turf War”. In it, each team has to focus their efforts on painting every floor their own color. You’ll be doing this with a variety of paint, and water themed weapons, and tools that shoot ink. As is the case with many modern shooters you’ll start out with a competent gun. But as you play the game more, over time you’ll begin to level up. Once you get to around level 4 or so, you’ll be able to go into the various shops to buy newer weapons.


Each of the weapons also comes with a perk you can use once you earn enough points by painting the floors. Some of them are things like jetpacks where you can temporarily hover above everyone dropping ink. Others are rack mounted ink missiles. Or shields. Or any other number of things. During all of the game modes, you can, and will be killing each other. But that doesn’t get your team victories. Playing the objective does. When you kill an opponent it is really just a means to buy yourself a few more moments to paint.

Seeing how the characters in the world of Inkopolis are Squid people, you can transform into a squid which results in all different kinds of strategies. As a squid you can swim under your own team’s ink. You can camp in it, waiting for enemies to walk into an ambush. You can paint walls, and swim up to higher ground. You can try to go stealth, and get around opponents so you can start painting over their ink, and change the those floors to your team’s color.


Each of the modes lasts around five minutes per round. At the end of the Turf War the game displays an overhead look at the arena, and the team who painted more of it their color wins the round. Winning a round gets you a lot of points, which helps you level up faster.

The other modes are played under Ranked Battle, which you can begin playing once you reach a certain level. There’s Tower Control, which is a take on the push cart mechanic seen in other games. You have to hold your position on it, and the longer you do, the further toward your goal it drives. Of course the opposing team will try to kill you, and take it for themselves. If they’re able to do so, it will go in the opposite direction toward their goal.


Splat Zones is a variant of the mainline Turf War. Only instead of painting the entire map, the game will outline two key areas to paint. If your team gets one, or both painted your color, you have to defend the position, and hold it as long as possible. At the end of the round the team that held them down the longest wins.

Finally, there’s the Rainmaker, which is another take on the push cart mechanic. But this time it’s centered around a special weapon; The Rainmaker. One player on one team will have to take it, and then get it to the goal on the opposing team’s side. The player can defend themselves with it, as it fires charged shots. But the player will instantly become the default target. The entire enemy team will try to kill them so one of their own can take it for themselves. This is the only mode where your attack performance is going to matter as much as an objective.


Once you, and some friends have at least a B rank, you can group up into a League Battle, where you can play as a team in the various Ranked modes. The nice thing about the Ranked modes in this is that each mode has its own individual rank for you. So for instance, if you’re doing well with the Rainmaker mode, but patently average in Tower Control, you’ll see an *A* in the former, and a *C*. It’s great because if you get competitive you can see where you may need some practice.

There is also a fourth mode called Salmon Run. This mode works as a horde mode, where you have to keep waves of killer robot fish from taking you out. You’re also given a quota of eggs you need to collect during waves. These are dropped by bosses. It throws you into the grind with three other players, and you’ll have to work together to get all of the eggs, and survive. This also mixes up your load out when you play it, so you’ll be forced to learn to use weapons you might not normally choose. The only real issue with this mode is that you can’t play it all of the time. At least online. You have to be leveled up enough to do Ranked play, and the game’s servers will turn this mode on, whenever whomever manages it decides it’s playable.



When you first fire up Splatoon 2, things go about the way they do in the original. It will give you a quick character customization process. After this you’ll, be thrown into a brief tutorial to get you used to the control scheme. Splatoon 2 works in TV mode by using the two Joycons in the grip included with the Switch. Or you can use a Pro Controller or equivalent. As was the case on the Wii U in Splatoon, you can play with or without gyroscopic aiming. For those who eat, sleep, and breathe a controller with their shooters, turning it off might seem like a no brainer. But honestly, I would recommend using the gyroscopic aiming. When you’re in the heat of battle, and need that smooth, yet pixel perfect aim to hit something it is a Godsend. It isn’t quite as good as using a mouse in a PC shooter, but it’s still much better than the thumb stick. Particularly when trying to hit high or low targets on an angle. And you can focus your camera at any time by pressing the Y button. Handy, if somehow you find yourself stuck looking too far off.

With the Tutorial done, you’ll be dropped into the Inkopolis hub world. Again, as in the original Splatoon, you can go to the different shops after you’ve leveled up a bit, talk to NPCs, and get video updates telling you when maps have been rotated on the servers for online multiplayer. But beyond that you can find a shady character named Murch. Murch is pretty much this game’s version of the first game’s Spyke. After you get to the proper level, you can have Murch track down outfits of the random player characters who appear in Inkopolis. For the right price. They generally won’t have the same stats, but it is a way for you to find some of the nicer clothing options early, although they’ll usually cost you more.


As for each of the shops, again as in Splatoon one shop will have the weapons for purchase as you unlock them. You can also try them out before you buy them to see if it’s right for your play style. The others will cover shirts, shoes, and headgear. Each of these does more than simply make your character look cool. They have different attributes that will help you during your multiplayer matches. Some may boost your run speed. Some recharge your weapon’s ammo faster. Some will negate some enemy perk effects on you. As well as other potential benefits. Over time you can add other abilities to the clothes. If you ever regret some of the abilities that found their way into the clothes you can also have Murch scrub them out for a fee. At which point you’ll have to start over leveling that piece of apparel.

You can also buy food from a food truck for some temporary benefits. Beyond that you can also scan in Splatoon, and Splatoon 2 amiibo figures for some costumes. The original toys get you some of the outfits from the first game, while the newer toys get you some newer options. It should be noted if you open the Callie/Marie two pack, these toys also get you songs to listen to.  The toys will also give you access to a photo feature, and let you save load outs to them! One cool thing the original game did was implement the Wii U’s Miiverse service very well. You could post on Nintendo’s boards, and even draw fan art. But the game would post these pieces of art on walls at random in online matches.


With the service defunct, this game does retain a draw feature. Going up to a kiosk in Inkopolis will allow you to draw pictures, or write messages that can appear in the game on the walls. The thing to keep in mind though is you’ll want to use this feature in handheld mode, as you can draw freehand that way. Sadly, if you’re using the console in TV mode you’ll have to draw with the controller. Something that doesn’t work well at all. The sticks just swing far too wildly for you to do the intricate kind of detail needed if you’re someone who loves to draw. I should also note that once Nintendo rolls out its online service, you’ll need to pay $20 a year to enjoy online multiplayer. As of this writing it costs nothing to play online. But if you haven’t kept up with gaming news over the course of 2017, it has been something to be aware of. On the plus side, the netcode is really good in this game. I ran into no lag, even when connected to a hotspot getting coffee.

If you’ve been reading thus far, worried that you can only play this game against online warriors fear not. As I mentioned earlier, Splatoon 2 has a mode that works a bit like an offline LAN. If you have a few people with Nintendo Switches meet up somewhere, you can use the system’s wireless setup to connect the consoles together allowing each of you to play against one another in teams locally in the same room. Now unlike an actual LAN, you won’t be sharing files, resources, and other stuff through a router. But, it does make for a great time that will take you back to four player F1 Race on the Game Boy. However, if each of you have an old Wii wired adapter, you can play an actual wired LAN tournament through a router. This is also handy for convention tournaments.


But things don’t end there. If you’re not typically drawn toward multiplayer games, but you do enjoy single player action games, there is once again a campaign. Splatoon 2’s campaign is a bit more fleshed out that the original game’s was. This time instead of following Captain Cuttlefish down a sewer drain, you’ll see a mysterious woman hanging out in the back of Inkopolis square. When you follow her, you’ll find it’s actually Marie from the first game. It would seem her best friend, and fellow pop star Callie has gone missing. As an undercover agent she hires you to join her to face the Octarians.

This time around they’ve taken Callie, in addition to the Zapfish. So you have to help Marie rescue her. In the sequel you’ll again play a multitude of stages that combine elements of Super Mario Galaxy’s platforming, Metal Gear Solid’s stealth, and Doom’s circle strafing. It’s a lot of fun, and requires more than just hand, and eye coordination. Each of the stages houses blueprints, and hidden fish. If you find them you’ll get some back story for the game to read, as well as the ability to unlock some firepower for the multiplayer modes. You can also spend the tickets found in the campaign at the food truck for some boosts. Finding all of them takes some time, and some sleuthing on your part. Especially in later stages where they get pretty creative in hiding these items.


Stages are laid out similarly to Super Mario 64. There’s an overarching hub world, with different entrances to each of the stages. Some of these are cloaked, so you’ll have to shoot them to make them appear. Things get a bit more intricate as time goes on. Every stage will put you in exponentially harder situations that will force you to learn the mechanics. Until you get to that final showdown.

Boss fights in Splatoon 2 work almost exactly as they did in Splatoon. You’ll find the weak point, attack it, and then find you’ll have to do it three times. But each time, the attack patterns become a bit more complex, and so you’ll have to employ the advanced strategies you’ve learned in order to take them down.  Aesthetically they get more, creative as they’re introduced to you too.


The campaign is also done in a way that ultimately trains you for the multiplayer. But does so in a way that feels fulfilling. It doesn’t feel like padding, or that it only there as a trainer. The story is entertaining, and has a lot of funny dialogue. It’s also got a fair amount of challenge, and isn’t too long, nor is it too short. Though the final boss may irritate you a little bit with the cheap desperation moves.

Visually, the game looks slightly better than the original. With the game going up a minor notch from a 720p resolution to a 1080p resolution. A lot of the art has call backs to the original game, and even some of the old maps were retooled, and brought back. The texture work is also a little bit cleaner than in the old game. Overall, it isn’t that different from the last game. It’s still beautiful, but those hoping this would be a massive graphics leap over the old game may be left wanting a bit.


There are a few minor complaints I have with the game though. As a veteran of the first game, the dual screen gameplay really did one thing well. That was the map screen. You could jump to a teammate’s aid at any time by touching them on your screen. In this one you can still get to them, but you have to pull up the screen mid battle, and then select them. That fraction of a second in the heat of warfare can get you killed as you’re busy pulling up the map instead of looking at the incoming threats.

Another thing I think some people won’t like, is the cumbersome way they implemented a voice chat feature. Rather than, simply including it in the game, and letting players use a common headset you have to download an app to your smart phone, and have that an arm’s length away. This doesn’t affect me as I don’t have much more than a crappy old prepaid emergency phone. (I know, I know, I’m a relic.) But for those who do, this can be inconvenient, especially when someone calls your phone, and trying to take a call while voice chatting is going to be a pain.

It’s probably better to have a cheap, old laptop nearby with Discord, or another voice group chat application on it, and just using that to strategize on the fly instead. It’s not that much different although at least you won’t have to drop out to take an important phone call while you’re in a game. You can just tell everyone in the chat you have to take the call, without inexplicably leaving.

I also found it odd that the Salmon Run can’t be played online all of the time. Shooters generally let players play their favorite modes whenever they want, and locking this one up for arbitrary reasons just seems perplexing to me. Maybe they were trying to make it feel like a Splatfest event. But then again, it is one of the offline LAN modes too.


Fortunately, one thing that is very impressive is the soundtrack. Not only do some of the great tracks from the original show up again, but the variety is larger too. You’ll get the Pop Punk, Power Pop fix. But you’ll also get a lot of New Wave, Funk, Disco, and J-Pop too. In fact, a lot of the tracks mix a lot of these sounds together to make for something new. It really is a lot of fun to listen to. Hopefully, Nintendo will find a way to release this soundtrack as they did the first. Just at a much wider availability.

Overall, I’m quite pleased with the game. Aside from a couple of baffling decisions it does successfully move the great gameplay of the original onto Nintendo’s newer, highly successful system where more people can be exposed to it. It’s fun because even if you’re not very good at shooters, you can still do very well by focusing on the objectives. As long as you’re painting a floor, you’re getting some points, and leveling up. In fact, just like last time around, you’ll find a lot of good players don’t boast the highest Kill to Death ratios. That isn’t to say it isn’t important. It buys your team more capture time. But you don’t have to feel bad if you see your little squid combatant explode into Looney Tunes gibs constantly. I only wish they could work on solving the AFK issues that rise on occasion. If someone abandons a match, or stops playing, it’s curtains for their team. If you’re on that team it can be frustrating to find the reason you were beaten is because player 4 got zero points. Which is impossible unless you set the controller down, and walk away. But I digress.

Splatoon 2 is a great game. It is pretty much everything the first one was, with a lot more weapons, and clothing. The new mode, is pretty fun, even if it does only open up once in a while. And if you really don’t do multiplayer, the campaign is something that you’ll at the very least enjoy one play through on before trading it in or selling it off. I wouldn’t hop in if you aren’t willing to at least try a multiplayer game. At least with this being somewhat portable though, the LAN option is a great way to play locally with friends if your only concern with online are the trolls, and jerks who spoil things.  And even beyond that, the ability to join a lobby with three friends mitigates this a bit.

I know I keep repeating myself in this review. But for those who do love online competitive multiplayer though, this one is a no brainer. There are a ton of great strategies, action, and advanced movement techniques to master.  If you like online multiplayer, but are hesitant about needing to Get Good, fear not. It’s still something you can have a blast playing at a rudimentary level. Really, the only people who may want to pass are those who have no interest in competitive gaming. Though the campaign is still worth a rent for those who love a good platformer, or action romp. The issues I do have with it don’t ruin the experience by any means, but can be annoying. Still, as I said earlier, it’s a must play for Switch owners who are fans of multiplayer. Especially those who loved the original Splatoon on their Wii U machines.

Final Score: 9 out of 10.


Mirage: Arcane Warfare Review


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

Overwatch Review


I know. Once again, I’m super late to the proverbial party. You’ve probably made up your mind to buy this game a long time ago, or not. At this point reviewing it might seem like a pointless endeavor. But after receiving the game as a birthday gift recently, I may be able to come up with something new to say about it. Or not. You can decide.

PROS: Blizzard does it again. Fun times, with surprisingly low requirements.

CONS: There really isn’t that much for you if you like to play alone.

TURRET NOOB: Is what I was called after getting a kill streak with a gnome.

I saw all of the pre release hype for Overwatch, but never found myself as pumped to play it as everyone else seemed to be. That isn’t to say I thought from the outset it would be terrible. Just that it might not be my cup of tea. Blizzard has a long history of putting out great material. Most notably the Warcraft, and StarCraft games. They made the greatest MMO of all time too. No other MMORPG has come close to capturing players’ imaginations the way World Of Warcraft, and its expansion packs have. Before WOW, the biggest three MMOs anyone remembers are Ultima Online, Everquest, and Asheron’s Call. A few others might make the pre- Blizzard cut. But the point is, in the eyes of many, they essentially claimed an entire genre for themselves. At least on the monthly payment model. It’s a game that has been going for 12 years strong. Blizzard even had noteworthy titles before Warcraft was a behemoth. They even made the excellent Death, And Return Of Superman beat ’em up for the Super NES, and Sega Genesis.


The point is I had no doubts Blizzard would do a good job in any genre. They could release an Overwatch shmup tomorrow, and it would probably be very good. Overwatch is very good. My reservations were really less about it being sub par, and more about it not being something I could get into. I love playing First-Person Shooters. Many of my most played games fall into the category. But some of the most revered games in the genre haven’t always gripped me. A lot of people have sunk years into Team Fortress 2 for example. I played that game. I enjoyed it for what it was. But never found myself engrossed in it. Overwatch, at least on the surface can appear to be a Team Fortress 2 competitor.

It shares many of the same modes. It goes for an animated look rather than a gritty or realistic one. It has a bunch of cosmetic unlockable stuff, and even the potential for an in-game economy. But yet, there are a number of differences, that not only give the game its own identity, but make it more compelling to play.


One of those differences is the cast. The characters in Overwatch are far more interesting. not only from an aesthetic perspective, but because of how each one plays. The game has four classes, and several characters within each. In the Attacker class you have well-rounded, jack-of-all-trades types. They can be good to some degree in most situations. Then you have Support class healer characters. These characters can boost the health of their teammates,  and fill support roles. There are Tank class characters that can take more damage, and defend other players or objectives in key times. Finally, there are the Defensive class characters. These tend to have more ranged attacks to cover the other classes as they push on.

But each character within those parameters is still different from each other. No two tanks are alike. No two defenders are alike. There are different abilities, and perks that change the dynamics of how your team gets the job done. You may have two friends who enjoy playing  ranged attackers. But Hanzo’s long-range archery feels very different from Widowmaker’s sniping. Over time you’ll find it pays to try out every one of the twenty available characters. Not just because you’ll likely find the one you feel best fits your play style. But because each of the game’s maps, and modes require different strategies. Just because you can hold down an objective on Route 66 with Bastion’s gatling gun, doesn’t mean he is a good fit for you when you have to capture a point in the Temple of Anubis in the following game.


The makeup of your team is also important. You can compose your team with whatever characters you choose. But each map is designed in a way where having every player choose a designated role is beneficial. Odds are that if you have a team with equal number of defenders, attackers, supporters, and tanks you’re better positioned to win. Each character has a distinct load out, and perk to accomplish that victory. You’ll have a primary attack, a secondary attack, and a special ability. Some characters will have other optional moves to beef up their special ability. For instance, when playing as Torbjörn one can set down a turret to target the enemy team. But you can also bang a hammer against it several times to upgrade it. Every character also has a super move you can use after filling up another meter. Most of these are really impressive looking, and powerful.

That doesn’t mean you can’t win with an odd number of each mind you, but it can prove to be that much more difficult. Because if you don’t have enough healers, you’re going down quickly. If you don’t have enough defenders, you’re likely to lose an objective. If you don’t have enough tanks or attackers you can find yourself overrun. Still, there is a fair amount of skill to be found. So truly great players can still overcome the odds if their team is staffed with more of any given class over another. Not easy by any means. But not impossible.


This leads to an issue some potential players might have. There isn’t much here for you if you’re a solo player. This game is built almost exclusively for team play. If you’re someone who loves campaigns, competitive death matches, or one on one modes they’re not here. You can train against bots to improve. You can play with random players as well. But where the game really shines is when you have at least another three friends to play with. Because the game really values cohesion. You can sometimes find strangers online who will want to organize. But that isn’t going to be the case a lot of the time. Playing with friends means you’re more likely to want to co-operate, and communicate strategies.

There aren’t any innovative new modes here. But there are really well made, well-balanced renditions of proven modes. There is the Escort mode, which is a spin on Team Fortress 2’s cart pushing. One team attempts to move an object from one side of the map to the other with checkpoints solidifying ground gained. The defending team of course, tries to stop them by impeding their progress, and winding down the clock.


There’s the Control mode, which works kind of like a King Of The Hill mode. A point unlocks on the map, and both sides try to lay claim to it, and hold it for as long as possible. The round is over once one side can hold the point long enough to fill a meter. The team to win two out of three or three out of five rounds wins.

The Assault mode is a variation that involves multiple control points. This plays closer to something like the Rush mode in the Battlefield games. Attackers try to take points, and push the defenders back. If the defenders get pushed all the way back to the last point they lose. The difference here is that there are no objectives at the end of the game, or between points. It’s still a lot of fun to play though, and is probably the best of the various game modes.There is also a Hybrid mode  which blends the three modes between rounds.


Beyond all of this is the ability to have custom game lists with your friends privately, and a competitive mode which adds a couple of minor provisions to each of the three main modes for the tournament level players like number of rounds. There was also a recent update that added a soccer mode called Lucio Ball. In it you use your characters’ weapons, and move sets in order to shoot the ball across the field. It can break up some of the action of the regular modes, and is a genuinely fun update.

The game also has a season feature, where ranked competitors can try to earn exclusive skins, and bonuses for being near the top. These go on for a couple of months, with breaks in between so Blizzard can make tweaks, and updates. This is in addition to the regular loot boxes you can receive for levelling up over time. Even the standard stuff can be pretty neat, unlocking skins, spray tags, and other cosmetic stuff. Much like Team Fortress 2’s hat crafting, these are purely cosmetic things that don’t change the flow of the game. There is nothing like a more powerful weapon, or super secret character to unbalance things in your favor. However with the inclusion of seasons, there are some cool trinkets you can get for trying to claw your way to the top. Which does give players an incentive to play the game more often. It is true you CAN spend money on lootboxes for a chance to possibly get the cosmetic stuff earlier. But there’s no incentive to do so. Unless you simply cannot wait to unlock all of the skins, spray tags, and taunts.

One thing Blizzard has always done well with in its time making computer games is scalability. All of their games have historically had pretty low minimum system requirements. This has widened the appeal of their games since you could still play their games on fairly old hardware, and still have things look decent. Overwatch continues the trend. It looks splendid at max settings. But it also looks perfectly fine on lower settings. Awhile ago YouTuber LowSpecGamer did a nice video on getting the game running on old computers. While much has changed with recent patches, and things might not be as efficient as when he first made his episode, it’s still pretty good. There’s a fair amount of options you can turn on or off in the game’s own settings menu. So if you don’t have a midrange GPU, and you’re on an old CPU, you may still be able to enjoy Overwatch. Of course, this is all moot if you choose to play this on the Xbox One, or PlayStation 4 instead.


Whatever platform you decide to play on, you’ll have a pretty good time with Overwatch. It could stand to have a few more modes, like a more robust Team Objective mode, and it isn’t made for lone wolves. But not every game needs to be a one player affair. Hopefully Blizzard will add a deeper Team Objective mode in the future, seeing how it’s something a lot of really good competing games have over Overwatch. Beyond this one sticking point though, I can wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who loves team games.

The net code seems consistent in my time with it, so it’s been rare I’ve suffered any lag. The VOIP options are fairly good. You may still prefer a different option to communicate to your team. But what your given works well. Classes, and characters seem fairly balanced too. No one character really seems to overpower anybody outside of a skill gap between players. Make no mistake, I was obliterated many, many times, and I’m still getting my ass handed to me pretty regularly. But I never feel like it’s the fault of the character I’m using at any given time. It’s pretty clear to me in these times that I still need to better learn a character’s feature, or that the opponent was simply much better than I was. If I had any other complaints it’s mainly with my glitch afflicted experience with the Battle Net app. The game itself seems to run fine.

If you’ve been on the fence with this one, it’s a pretty safe bet so long as you have some friends to play it with. What it lacks in modes, it makes up with its great characters, balanced gameplay, and competitive depth. The audio is pretty great too. The thumping tunes, wonderful voice acting, and some really great sound effects accent everything nicely. Overwatch may not be the best game Blizzard has done, but it’s still pretty great.

Final Score: 8 out of 10


Insurgency Review

It seems as if modern military themed shooters are a dime a dozen. Call Of Duty 4 turned the series into a nearly guaranteed seller every year. So big a seller, that over the last decade many games have taken that theme. Even games that never competed directly with its mechanics, or action movie narratives. EA’s Battlefield certainly altered itself over the years to compete with it. Other games crashed, and burned in their attempts to clone Activision’s 800 pound gorilla. So here comes an indie game looking to nip at the heels of those big budget war shooters.

PROS: Challenge. Gear mechanics. Stellar map design. Old school tactical mechanics.

CONS: High difficulty. Graphics won’t satisfy those with unreasonable expectations.

MOD SQUAD: This joins the list of video games that started life as mods for popular titles.

The developers started Insurgency as a mod for Half-Life 2. Over time, and setbacks this eventually led to the creation of an entirely new game in Source engine. If it sounds like a familiar story, that’s because it is. Many other games in recent memory have followed a similar path. The original Counter-Strike is probably the biggest example, launching not only an entirely new franchise, but the careers of developer Gearbox Software.

Only time will tell if New World Interactive will follow the same trajectory. But Insurgency has the potential to  become a pretty big franchise if this title is any indication. Let’s get one thing out of the way, the entire focus here is multiplayer. There is no story driven campaign of scripted events to really speak of. There is a tutorial that has a little bit of exposition, and context. But it doesn’t go into any deep territory. There’s nothing that will remind you of more serious war movies like Platoon. It just explains that you’ve joined up with some contracted mercenaries who have been hired to fight off terrorists. The game doesn’t reference any groups or nations in order to avoid too much controversy. But just like Call Of Duty, Battlefield, and Counter-Strike you’ll be fighting in environments inspired by real world locations.

While there’s no doubt Insurgency borrows from other games, it seems to take out loans on only the good modes. There are several different modes to choose from in both , competitive, and cooperative styles of game play:

Push is fairly similar to the Rush mode you’ve likely played in any of the last few Battlefield games. There are three objectives on the map for the attacking team to claim, while the defenders have to stop them. If the attacking team succeeds, the defenders are pushed back, until they either successfully hold a position. Or, until they’re pushed back to their final position, and destroyed. There are no nodes to destroy in this mode, but the game mode works largely the same as in BF’s Rush.

Ambush is much like the Escort mode you’ve seen in Team Fortress. There are extraction zones on the map, and one team has to escort an assigned player to one of them. The assigned player has a limited load out to defend themselves. The opposing side wins if they can manage to kill off that specific player before they can make it to an extraction zone.

Firefight, and Skirmish are similar to the Conquest modes you’ve played in Battlefield. The difference between the two is that Skirmish adds a weapon cache to the mix. If destroyed, it deals a blow to the opposing team’s ability to have reinforcement tickets. Firefight replenishes tickets for a team when they capture a node on the map.  In both modes though, capturing all three nodes is essential to keeping the enemy team from being able to replenish tickets.

Strike changes things up from the other modes. By making an attacking team go after weapon caches, while defenders try to stop them. If the defenders can’t stop them they lose. They’ll also lose if they are wiped out while trying to stop the attacking team. It’s a little bit higher on the stress factor than some of the other modes as a result.

Occupy is essentially a king of the hill mode, where both teams try to hold a single position on the map. When your team is holding the position, you don’t have to worry about losing waves of lives. But the second you’re on the losing end, trying to reclaim it you do. So the game goes until time runs out, or until one side is out of lives.

But the game doesn’t end with these modes because there are a few cooperative ways to play as well. The most noteworthy mode is Hunt mode which feels like it was heavily inspired by Rainbow Six 3. In that game teams would enter a map, and plan a way to use stealth to take out computer controlled terrorists. If all of the players failed to do so they lost the game. But if even only one person was left standing at the end, the mission was successful. This mode is very similar except the maps are much larger, being a war game. It can be especially tough when dealing with night versions of the various maps, and ridiculously accurate snipers. But if you can pull it off it feels very rewarding.

The other cooperative modes aren’t quite as fun, but they will still have their fans.  Checkpoint is a lot like Push except you’ll have all of the human players fighting against the computer. In addition to that mode is the Survival mode which is effectively a horde mode. Teams try to survive against waves of computer controlled enemies for as long as humanly possible.

Once you’ve decided what kind of game you want to play you can either use the Source browser list, or you can invite friends into a group, and have the game find, and connect you to a server by itself. Having the game do it is a lot easier, and more convenient. However, it won’t always find you the closest possible server in proximity to everybody. So doing this does mean you’re going to end up on the occasional lag ridden game. Purists will want to use the Source browser to find a server to mitigate this possible problem.

When you do connect to a game you’ll be assigned to one side by default, and it is here you can choose to either switch teams or choose your class. This is where Insurgency really starts to veer away from the path taken by other team based shooters. In most games, you are given a choice of four classes, each with its own weapon tree. Over time you level up, and have access to more weapons, and upgrades for that specific class. Insurgency abandons that formula. Instead of only four classes, there can be several. Classes are dependent on the map in question, as well as the mode that is being played. They are also different in number. So there may only be three openings for say, snipers, one for an engineer, and two for other classes. Another interesting spin is that there are two sub groups in each army rather than squads of four people. Each of these subgroups can have one player lead them.

Once everyone has a class chosen, and the match is about to begin players can then choose their load outs. Each player is given a number of points to use. Each weapon, attachment for a weapon, explosive, armor, pouch, and so forth has a point value. You cannot exceed the number of points given. So you have to really think about what you want to sacrifice. Do you want to beef up your shotgun at the expense of body armor? Would you rather have extra grenades, and a side arm instead of a beefy machine gun? Perhaps you want to extend your life above all else, and you put more of your points toward armor, and pouches, instead of primary weaponry.  It’s a refreshing change from the weapon tree system so many games have used over the past decade. It hearkens back to the days of Rainbow Six where tactical games let you use whatever you wanted so long as you were going to be okay with the trade offs.

Once everyone is settled with their load outs the game will begin. Insurgency makes a lot of use of voice chat. It’s built into the game, and it’s highly recommended you take advantage of it. It’s a lot easier to be able to communicate with everyone than trying to type in the chat box. For those who don’t have a headset, you can still type, just remember you’ll need to find a good spot to hide. The game does allow you to mute individual players too though. So for those times you find you have an abusive or annoying player, you don’t have to listen to them. The game also makes very good use of Valve’s VAC anti-cheat system. It really cuts down on the number of cheaters. No game is cheater free, mind you but it does seem to be one of the better systems in place.

That said, you can expect to die an awful lot in this game. Because it does not hold your hand at all. Many of the things we’ve been trained to expect simply aren’t here. If by some miracle you survive being shot you will not regenerate health. Oh you may cease experiencing blur, but that’s only because they’re no longer shooting at you. One or two more hits from another combatant will probably finish you off. Most of the weapons in this game will put you down in three hits max. If you have the maximum amount of armor you may take a few more, but you’ll also move slower. There are no crosshairs. That’s right. No crosshairs. You’re going to have to really use your eyes, and learn to lead your targets here. You can use iron sights to make aiming slightly easier, but it is also slower. You also won’t always find time to use it when engaging three or four enemies at the same time.

Fortunately, some of the attachments for weapons like foregrips, and scopes can help you. But again, you will have to sacrifice something else in order to use them. The same can be said during night maps, where you’ll want to use night vision goggles in lieu of something else. Suppressive fire is almost as important in Insurgency as scoring frags. One of the cool features the game has to offer is the effect of debris. The game doesn’t have destructible environments, but it does have dust, and particle effects flying off of surfaces when bullets hit them. This can overwhelm people because they can’t quite figure out where they’re being shot upon from. So often times suppressive fire can lead to a retreating enemy, allowing a teammate to get them if you couldn’t. Which leads to another difficulty. Unless a server is equipped to do it, there are no notifications. If you kill someone, you won’t know without checking for a body. There are no kill cams. If you die, you won’t see a spy cam or a replay revealing who took you out. Again, a server may run a program that displays who got the jump on you, but it isn’t going to tell you where.

If all of this sounds frustrating, and difficult, that’s because it is. Very much so. But in a good way. When you think about it, it leads to much more careful plotting, and communication with your team. As opposed to other games where it’s easy to place a spot marker on someone, or consult a mini map to find an objective. In Insurgency you’ll have to pull up a large map, and risk being shot. It’s better to memorize the maps after several plays to remember where objectives are. There’s something really compelling about the ramped up difficulty. Especially if you’ve played a lot of the classic tactical games like Rainbow Six, Counter Strike, or Battlefield 1942. Doing well feels a lot more rewarding here than in many other modern shooters. Even if you do end up feeling frustrated, it’s still fun. You’ll still want to succeed, and you’ll probably want to keep playing until you do.

Insurgency doesn’t have all of the bells, and whistles of a major AAA title. Being a Source game, there are some rough edges here. Simple geometry in some areas. Decidedly, lower quality textures in others. If you’re the type who obsesses over what a game looks like rather than how it plays, you may be a little turned off. Nevertheless, Insurgency is not an ugly game. The game does a pretty respectable job at displaying lights, reflections, and shadows. The parking garage section in the Ministry stage comes pretty close to the look of the one in Battlefield 3: Close Quarters’ Operation 925 stage.  Player models aren’t highly detailed, but are on par with the ones seen in some of the older Call Of Duty games. There are also a decent number of options in the graphics menu. Making this something quite scalable.

As a matter of fact, the game has some of the lowest system requirements compared to many other games that have come out over the past 12 months. The minimum requirements list a Core 2 Duo E6600, (A processor that came out in 2006), a Direct X 9.0c compliant Video Card with 512mb of memory on it ( This version of DX came out around 2004), and 6GB of space on the hard disk. Suffice it to say, if you have a fairly old computer that can’t run most new releases, you may be able to run this. Albeit on the lowest settings.  Which still look surprisingly decent all things considered. Even in the world of independent B games, it’s rare for a new game to run okay on a nearly ten-year old computer. The game also runs on Macintosh, which should please those on Apple boxes.

But Insurgency does have some technical issues that keep it from dethroning the ARMA, Call Of Duty, Counter-Strike, and Battlefield franchises of the world. The worst problem the game has is lag. To be fair, all of those other great games certainly have issues as well. But this is a crucial area for competitive games. Being on par with the others isn’t going to help it climb the mountain. The lag issues aren’t nearly bad enough to make the game unplayable. But there seem to be nights when the hosting servers can’t seem to keep up with the traffic. It’s about as infrequent an occurrence as it is with many of the AAA shooters. But it will annoy you if it does happen during a play session.

The other problem it has comes up very rarely, but it will still infuriate people. Sometimes the game will simply close, and exit to the desktop on its own. You won’t see a box show up explaining that it has crashed. You will just see your desktop as if you had never launched the game. Again, almost every other game it competes against has bugs, glitches or crashes. It’s a shame though because it could be another chance for New World Interactive to have one over on its peers. One can only hope these connection issues, and random crashes are solved soon enough. One thing that is very encouraging, is the fact that NWI has been frequently supporting this game with updates. So hopefully they can iron out these problems.

Insurgency may not have the best in visuals, drivable vehicles, or an action packed campaign with Hollywood set pieces. But it has plenty of modes to keep you busy, a large variety of maps, weapons, and a very good communication software feature. It also has very low system requirements, widening the potential player base. The lack of hand holding is going to be very compelling for those who tire of red splashes, and kill cams. Players looking for a really good team based tactical shooter will really love Insurgency’s many competitive modes. Players who want a great cooperative mode will love the Hunt mode.  If you’re looking for a great shooter, with a ton of replay value you should definitely take a look at this game. So long as you don’t mind average graphics, and a high level of challenge. Insurgency kicks ass, and it will certainly kick yours.

Final Score: 8 out of 10