Call of Duty Advanced Warfare Review

Title: Call of Duty: Advanced WarfareCall-of-Duty-Advanced-Warfare
Developer: Sledgehammer Games
Distributor: Activision
Platforms: XBOX One, XBOX 360, PS4, PS3
Approximate Campaign Length: 8 hours

Pros:
-Frequent action scenes
-Beautiful visuals and audio quality
-Beneficial upgrades
-Great equipment, and an outstanding arsenal
-Kevin Spacey
-Kevin Spacey
-Kevin Spacey

Cons:
-Many similarities to previous titles
-Conclusion falls short

More Entertaining Than:
Haze

Less Entertaining Than:
Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3

Verdict: 8 (out of 10)

The following thoughts are based on my experiences playing the XBOX One version of the game.

Arguably, Call of Duty is a franchise that continues to provide an endless source of entertainment. After 13 years and 11 games, has the oil well that was tapped to produce these iconic games begun to dry up? By the end of Advanced Warfare, the answer is of course, no, but even with that said, there was so much more that could have happened to make this title more impressive, and there could have been so much less devotion to the previous entries to make it stand out more on its own.

Advanced Warfare begins in 2055, and Atlas, a private military, yields an impressive collection of technological sophistication and weaponry, that no enemy could ever dare triumph. At the helm of this militarily force is Jonathon Irons (voiced by Kevin Spacey (squeal!)), a man whose ambition is outmatched, with countries frequently turning to him for aid, rather than the United States. The character the player portrays is one Jack Mitchell, a Marine, deployed along with his friend, William Irons (Jonathon’s son), and a wealth of other brave serviceman, to enter South Korea and put an end to the North’s attempt at seizing full control.

Despite the success of the mission, Mitchell loses a lot in the concluding battle, including his left arm, but a chance meeting with Jonathon Irons gives him access to a second chance; not only a new arm, but a new opportunity to continue being a hero in the military. Besides Irons, there are a host of other great characters you meet, including Cormack, a dedicated, powerful, combat hardened marine; Gideon, a worthy companion in a fight, with a preference for destruction, and the beautiful Ilona – but don’t let her looks fool you – she’s harder than nails, with an unflinching resolve and impressive fighting skills.

The antagonist you face is Hades, the code name of a terrorist who believes technology has corrupted the planet. Appointing himself the savoir of the people, he is convinced that technology’s desolation will lead to freedom, the ends justifying the means, even when those means are diabolical. Alongside this grave threat, there are still questions that need answers; what is Sentinel? And what’s more – when you hand over the keys of the world to one super power, are you exchanging freedom, for a cage?

Over the course of the game, depending on the Exo (skeleton) you are wearing, the player will have access to several unique abilities. You can deploy a drone (and wreck havoc from the air), activate a shield, use a stim (boost) to replenish health, use mag gloves to crawl along walls, fire a grapple (hook) to quickly move from one location to another (this is incredibly fun, especially when you used on unsuspecting enemies), or activate overdrive. For those who have played Mass Effect, do you remember Adrenaline? Same thing applies, Overdrive makes everything move slower, allowing you to adeptly take out enemies.

Alongside these tactical benefits, the rig itself can come equipped with the ability to leap great distances into the air, hover over an area, or even cause massive melee damage. You can get up close and punch someone’s lights out, or you can jump into the air, and come crashing down with enough force to knock opponents out of the way.

When it comes to grenades, you can lob either the tactical variety, which include an EMP, a flash-bang, or a new addition, which detects threats by painting their locations, causing them to brightly stand out. On the other hand, you can use the lethal kind, which include the always useful frag, or the new smart grenade, which will fly in whatever direction your cross-hair is aimed towards.

When it comes to the weapons at your disposal, despite several decades separating our time from Atlas’s, carbines, assault rifles and shotguns often react in similar ways, regardless of how attractive some of them may appear. On the other hand though, there are a couple of new additions that really deserve mentioning. The stinger Missile, is now capable of deploying several rockets at once, dealing greater damage than before. The sniper rifle feels like a hand-held rail cannon, launching a turquoise round at impeccable speed towards the target. But the best weapon, would have to be the self-regenerating laser. You only have access to this gorgeous creature a couple of times during the game – but she never disappoints.

At the end of each level moreover, your kill count, the number of head-shots, grenade kills and intelligence received are calculated, and if you prove yourself to be a valuable asset by acquiring each levels prerequisite, you receive a certain number of points, which can then be spent on obtaining some of the 22 upgrades. These include more health and a larger grenade capacity, increased speed, reduced recoil, resistance to explosions, or more energy for your exo-skeleton, among others, some of which need to be unlocked as your progress.

Although these entertaining additions to your arsenal makes the game all the more immersive, what is really impressive is the quality. The graphics are a step-up from Ghosts, with environments appearing and feeling so very real. Smoke wafts across the battlefield, as rich fires burn. Debris flies through the air, trampling across the man-made structures. Sparks erupt as bullets slam and ricochet off environmental objects. But what is most immersive, is the sound quality. The ground squelches beneath your feet after having rained. Glass creaks, and you shudder for a moment, wondering if someone heard the noise. Gun fire and explosions are hurled around you, as though possessed by extraordinary digital quality.

All of these combined come together to effectively ground characters into their environments. One particular highlight is Detroit, when a fuse blows, and for a moment you think you’re under attack, before you and Gideon alike share a smile, glad it was a false alarm. In the same level, you patrol dark hallways, constantly encountering threats, and upon turning a corner, quickly rush for the trigger at the sight of an opponent, only to realize it was a mannequin all along.

There are other impressive moments, which include running across the road that perhaps inspired AC/DC to write Highway to Hell, for not one of the drivers has a problem with running you down. On another occasion, you traverse through a frozen cavern. The walls close in around you and icicles hang on the ceiling. The Earth rumbles, and you wonder for a second if an icicle might fall and impale you in this unexplored paradise, as your team discuss how the cold is almost unbearable. There is another moment, when you must jump from one bus to another, and let’s not forget the hectic highway chase, with an awesomely powerful cannon mounted on top of your vehicle, or the moment you run along rooftops, which may remind some people of Gordon Freeman, at the beginning of Half-Life 2. Furthermore, the penultimate fight scenes will surely be remembered by all who play this game, however, as with all positive comments, there is almost always a ‘but’, and Advanced Warfare is no exception.

Despite the entertaining arsenal, and the amazing moments you encounter, and there are a great many of them, a number of the environments are very similar to previous Call of Duty games. Cities, slums, military facilities, secret bases, environments entombed in ice, highways, ships; sometimes you may find yourself wondering – have I done this before? If not in this game, then certainly elsewhere, for that is Advanced Warfare’s fatal flaw. COD Ghosts allowed the player to fight, not only in the depths of the ocean, alongside aggressive sharks, but in outer space, taking the player to areas never before explored in the franchise. Advanced Warfare never seizes this same opportunity.

Despite having a new developer taking charge of the game’s directionality, it still retains the same feel Call of Duty has in the past, and though this should not be viewed as a criticism, Sledgehammer Games had an opportunity to experiment even more with this particular title, and yet, have deviated little from former games. Even some of the technological gadgets have been ripped straight from Black Ops 2 or Ghosts. Due to this, it occasionally has that ‘same old, same old’ feeling, or perhaps even ‘been there, done that’, which may also be why the storyline often felt very predictable. If the deja vu is not enough, the ending is no where near conclusive, and if anything, after so many ordeals, and the loss of so many innocent lives, one might expect something more rewarding than what you eventually receive.

You are left with so many questions, characters and their relationships that were never truly fleshed out, and several moments in the game that fail to make comprehensive sense because of the lacking answers. In conclusion, Advanced Warfare’s campaign is destined to provide you with a wealth of action scenes and enjoyable moments. If you are a die-hard fan, you will surely not be disappointed. If however, last year’s Ghosts left you feeling as though it was awfully similar to previous titles in the franchise, don’t be surprised if that exact feeling begins to resurface yet again.

Battling Mutants Beneath the Sunset in Insomniac’s new Open World Shooter

Title: Sunset Overdrivesunset-boxart
Developer: Insomniac
Distributor: Microsoft
Platform: XBOX One
Duration: 12 + hours

More Entertaining Than:
Ratchet and Clank Q Force

Less Entertaining Than:
BulletStorm

Pros:
-Gorgeous visuals
-Acrobatic fun
-Uniquely awesome weapons
-Entertaining upgrades
-Good use of humor
-Enjoyable soundtrack

Cons:
-Occasionally annoying controls
-Moderately restrictive environment

Verdict: 8 (out of 10)

Insomniac’s more recent titles, including Resistance 3 and Fuse, might cause some gamers to question their faith in this developer. The quirks in the above mentioned games however have certainly been ironed out when it comes to Sunset Overdrive, a game which, much like Ratchet and Clank, seems to make a habit of taking the piss out of the gaming industry. Many titles today seem to be obsessed with realism. In 2009, a developer working with id software discussed people’s first impressions of Rage, a strong focus been on the weapons. Apparently, having spent brass ejecting from the left of the weapon caused criticism from gamers, who said the bullet casings were a distraction, however, when the casings sprang out from the right, people complained it wasn’t realistic. Clearly, a damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenario. In the case of their new product, Insomniac take the guide book on how to create a video game, and kindly tell it to fuck off (excuse the expletive, however, if you play Sunset Overdrive, expect to encounter as much profanity as you do mutants).

This is evidenced throughout the entirety of the game. Right from the start, you can change the appearance, physique, sex and attire of your character, and can continue doing so as you progress through the story. Unlike a certain game I played recently (*cough* Destiny *cough*) which refused to show the player how an attire looked upon their person before they bought it, Sunset Overdrive happily does, and for good reason. Despite having access to contemporary attire, you may also equip, if you happen to have the same tastes as I, a jester hat, spider web face paint, a corset, drivers gloves, a biker’s jacket, loose jeans and red sneakers.

Additionally, whilst playing, there are moments when the character might hear a narrator discussing how to use the controls, before wondering how a disembodied voice is talking in their ear, and later still, when things aren’t properly explained, the lead says ‘don’t poke holes in how we present the story.’ Although NPC’s and the player alike may question the legitimacy of the environment or story in general, Insomniac constantly reminds the gamer that this is a work of fiction, and thus, seriousness should therefore be the one thing that’s lacking. While games like Call of Duty go above and beyond to provide an in-depth world which feels and reacts much like the military does, Sunset Overdrive doesn’t care about authenticity. Rather, it works similarly to the film Cabin in the Woods, where a genuine horror story is instead told with ridiculousness and humor. Despite monsters running amok through the streets and the plentiful amount of violence, the game often appears bright and inviting. The physical layout is reminiscent of XIII meets Fuse, with comical graphics ensuring stunningly bright environments, which the player is drawn into via the action oriented soundtrack. On one occasion, the character asks that a spy theme begin to play to help set the espionage mood of the mission, and immediately, the game grants the request, the themes helping the gamer feel like a regular action hero.

Fizzco, a shady drink developer, may have created the ultimate thirst quencher, however, their beverage has the undesired affect of turning those who drink it into mutants, and unfortunately, the town in which you inhabit, much like Resident Evil’s Racoon City, is suddenly in the midst of an apocalyptic disaster. The mutants the player encounters come in a variety of flavors, from the common OD, which brainlessly chase anything resembling a human, to Blowers, a more intelligent life-form, which eject a pile of glop at enemies from the leaf blower attached to their arm. Larger enemies, like the Spawner, which aptly do as their name suggests, require specialized attacks from the player, who must switch between weapons in order to take them down. Unlike in many games, where the stronger opponents often appear later, the player finds themselves in front of a massive ugly not even half an hour into the story. As more enemies appear, players are forced to adapt to creature’s attacks. Where some use ranged weaponry, others pounce, or attack from above, a combination of styles being required to achieve success.

Mutants are not the only threat in the city though, with Scabs, a human gang, who seem to have adapted to the epidemic a little too well, rampaging through the districts. Apart from looting and kidnapping, they arm themselves with a wealth of firepower and explosives, to inflict maximum casualties. On top of this, Fizzco themselves have a lot to answer for, and will go to any lengths to stop their dirty secrets been made public, which the player is unfortunate enough to often confront. Despite the mutants been a massive threat, Fizzco’s mascot, Fizzie, is the true masochist of Sunset City. Zenya Amo in Akiba’s Trip Undead and Undressed was very entertaining for being such an eccentric villain. Fizzie however takes this a step further to become quite possibly the funnest antagonist this year. ‘It’s the apocalypse, bitches!’ he cries, while doing all manner of horrific atrocities, before resorting to using lines from contemporary media sources when things don’t go according to plan. If a mutant were to say ‘we have destroyed the world’, Fizzie would surely be there to retort ‘and I’m going outta my way to make sure the world stays dead.’

Fizzie may well be the apex of the game’s deranged characters, however, he is not alone, with those who survived the pandemonium making up a collection of rather funny sorts. With the exception of Floyd, who is the master of wisecracks, the men in the game who your character teams up are either, insane, nerdy, LARPers, or lacking in limbs or common sense. The women on the other hand are the most well adjusted to the end of days, with a combination of intelligent babes and kick-ass cheerleaders accompanying you for the ride.

The game itself operates much like a Greek tragedy and a comedy of errors, all combed into one. In one instance you find a certain someone to help craft an item. This someone has friends who are needed to build said item, each of whom need motivation to work, requiring you to fulfill jobs for each of them. Once complete, and the item in question is in the process of been built, the machine crafting it breaks down, and you are required to find spare parts, which just so happen to belong to a person who has a mission of their own they want completed.

Unlike in Gears of War Judgement, where all you really ever did was kill Grubs, Sunset Overdrive makes the continuous slaughter of mutants fun by providing the player with a collection of weirdly unqiue objectives. In one instance, you are required to go to a bottled water plant to find several liters of refreshingly overpriced spring water, while on another, you go to a hot dog factory to find a missing acquaintance. However, as the game progresses, the missions become even wackier. At one point, you are tasked with killing hundreds of pigeons, while on another, you are required to bounce across a set of drums in order to achieve an intended result. Near the conclusion, the lead character decides in their wisdom, that although threat of an imminent cataclysmic event is on the horizon, they will instead form a rock band, and even I, at this point, began to question the general sanity of the storyline. If there is a line separating the deranged from normality, Sunset Overdrive not only crosses it – the game leaps over it, before turning around with a laser gun and pulverizing the line into oblivion.

The serious lack of authenticity begins to be displayed from the start with the armaments you find yourself using. Reflective of the gadgets in Ratchet and Clank (people may remember Mr Zurkon), the guns you use are both original and unqiue. These include the High Fidelity, or Nothing But The Hits, weapons which fire records at your opponents, or the Flaming Compensator, a shotgun with flammable buckshot. There’s the Acid Sprinkler, which lobs a grenade which acts like the kind of sprinkler you may find in your yard, but instead shoots noxious acid at your foes. On top of this, there’s The Dude, which fires an onslaught of bowling balls, the Murderang, which lobs a metallic boomerang at opponents, which almost always hits its mark, if not the first time around, then certainly on the return journey, and the TNTeddy, which fires an explosive teddy bear. At the end of the game, if you have the cash, you can reward yourself with the Charge Beam, a weapon that makes even the mightiest mutant do pee pee in its pants. These are just a few of the entertaining armaments, however, this isn’t all, with a selection of traps also available at the player’s discretion. Such include the Hack N Slay, which produces a propeller that renders your enemies shorter, and the Pyro Geyser, that when bounced on, emits a burst of fire upon all enemies in the vicinity.

Additionally, the environment itself constantly reminds the player this isn’t the conventional experience some gamers may be used to. You can bounce on cars, use fans to reach higher altitudes, run on walls, swing on lampposts, and grind across rails and power lines, among other things. The fact your character’s health is unable to survive much attack is the game’s way of incentivising the player to use the wealth of acrobatic options available to them in order to survive.

Occasionally though, as the ‘x’ button is used to not only enter grind mode, but swing and wall run as well, sometimes the character might inadvertently do something the player did not intend, or perhaps even begin moving in the wrong direction. Although the character is able to grind without the player holding down any button, the game will automatically pick the direction you grind in (although this can be changed). On top of this, despite the openness and interactivity of the environment, restrictions do apply. The character may climb up some buildings, but not others, which instead requires you to bounce up them, and if said bounce pad is located on the other side of the building, and you are presently on the other, being chased by mutants, this makes chances of survival less plausible. On top of this, some plants can additionally be used as bounce platforms, however, on occasion when I leapt in the direction of one, I passed right through it rather than ricocheting upwards. Again, the inconsistencies and restrictions are a little annoying: it’s a bit like going to a camp where the instructor announces ‘there are no rules’, before providing a list of regulations.

Using the acrobatic options moreover, along with killing enemies whilst grinding or leaping through mid air, increases the character’s style gauge. With each part of the style meter that is filled, abilities the gamer has attached to their character become unlocked. Abilities can include Amps, to increase the character’s effectiveness in combat (as an example, you can set enemies on fire with your melee weapon, create a shield around your player which activates after an enemy attacks you, or leap down onto your foes, emitting a shock-wave in the process). Amps can additionally be applied to weapons, many of which allow for an influx of explosive capabilities, however, there is no guarantee they will work every time, with the game insinuating there is a chance the Amp may be activated.

Many of the Amps moreover, the player needs to build, by using a combination of items, including smelly shoes, toilet paper, cameras, or even balloons. What is a little annoying though, is that the game makes it a requirement for you to build the Amps, rather than an option. Although it is not mandatory to play online (unlike Destiny), or compete in Buck National (an arena where you verse mutants to score points), it is rather restraining the game presumes the player wants Amps in the first place. The fact they are difficult to create, as you are forced to hold off wave after wave of mutants as the Amps brew, is perhaps a deliberate strategy by Insomniac to make the game last longer.

Moreover, upgrades can also be applied to your character, which can increase the amount of style points you acquire from using acrobatic skills, how much spare ammunition you can carry, or the damage done by your weapons. Rather than increasing the overall health of the protagonist, the game offers the player the option of decreasing damage taken by certain enemies. Some upgrades do however come with a price. An example might be, inflict 5% extra damage to mutants, but suffer an extra 1% damage from them, and in a game where a single hit from a mutant can take off a significant portion of your health, increasing that particular damage is the last thing you may want to do.

Although death is a common occurrence in the game, unlike during other titles where gamers may find themselves grunting  a number of choice words afterwards, Insomniac alters death from an unwanted hindrance, to a welcome occurrence. If simply running around town, or undertaking a side quest, the game will automatically respawn you where you fell, however, it is always different. Maybe you’ll hatch from an egg; erupt like Dracula from a coffin; be deployed from an alien mother-ship, or materialize out of the air; the possibilities are as vast as they are fun to watch. On top of this, unlike in Fuse, for instance, when, during the final boss encounter, you were forced to repeat the grim ordeal time and time again if you failed, checkpoints are commonly found in the game’s main gigs, which limits the amount of repetition in difficult areas.

As with many games these days, the conclusion is left wide open for a potential sequel. Though the ending doesn’t necessarily fall flat in contrast with the rest of the game, it certainly leaves a lot of unanswered questions, again, perhaps doing so to pave way for future titles. Moreover, although your character is frequently referenced as a hero by your fellow peers, at the end, unlike conventional story lines, there is no gorgeous dame who launches herself into the arms of the lead character, which I found to be a little limiting.

In conclusion, Sunset Overdrive reminds consumers of the pure, fictional entertainment once experienced in games when they were been conceived over ten plus years ago, with suspension of disbelief and realism having no sway over the game’s events. Frequently ludicrous and often lacking in sense, rather than questioning how something occurred, you simply go with it, in a game that plays by no rules – not even its own. Where so many gaming companies today seem to care only about making money, and this desire flows into their titles, Sunset Overdrive appears to be filled with the same passion games were once injected with; fantastical environments, unexplainable, often delusional story lines, and energetic fun.

Lo Wang Returns to Fight Demons in the new Shadow Warrior

Title: Shadow Warrior73af76807e737e8f3ffa2817c36f6d25
Developer: Flying Wild Hog
Distributor: Devolver Studios
Platforms: XBOX One, PS4

The following review is based on the
XBOX One Version of Shadow Warrior, HD.

More Entertaining Than:
Painkiller Hell and Damnation

Less Entertaining Than:
Serious Sam Gold Edition

Pros:
-Beautiful graphics
-Serene soundtrack
-Deliciously bloodthirsty
-Occasional humor

Cons:
-Concept seems outdated
-Repetitive game-play
-Long-winded
-Lackluster storyline

Verdict: 6.5 (out of 10)

When it comes to the argument that games these days need to be longer, I am often at the forefront. In the case of Shadow Warrior however, ironically, I am of the opposite opinion. Don’t get me wrong, Shadow Warrior is great when it works, but, so much of it doesn’t. The opening of the game is borderline fantastic. The humor is immediate, as is the volume of blood, and I couldn’t help but burst out laughing as my katana turned vicious soldiers into hapless pieces of meat.

Not long into the opening, lead protagonist Lo Wang is introduced to Hoji, a spirit banished from the Shadow Realm, who joins the player on their quest to find the mystical sword, that will inevitably bring an end to the horrific demon invasion, that Wang unwittingly helps start.

This premise is well conceived; it is what comes after that unfortunately falters. For one, the game is attempting to balance seriousness with humor. The back-story involving the Shadow Realms and Hoji’s exile is incredibly deep and meaningful, however it does not have the attention it deserves in order to spur any prominent reaction from the player. The tranquilly serene soundtrack which plays when you are not drowning in the blood of your enemies is very nice on the ears, and conveys the depth the developers obviously wanted for the title. This soundtrack though lasts about as long as a bar of chocolate does around me, and before long, the general rock anthems which too often occur in shooters, is blasting out of your television.

Instead, the developers tend to focus more on Wang’s and Hoji’s punchlines, which blur the line between ridiculousness and hilarity. The humorous fortune cookies which can be found, alongside the bunnies which are often discovered fornicating somewhere on the battlefield, only furthers the idea that this is not a game the player ought to take too seriously. This seems to contradict the locations which Wang traverses though, each of which have been made void of life after everyone has been slaughtered by demons. Rather than acknowledging the thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people who have been murdered, he strolls over their mutilated corpses as though they aren’t even there at all. On top of this, the human opponents you encounter seem to be as equally unaffected as Wang, regarding the unquantifiable level of death that surrounds them. Strangely enough, the developers found enough time to push their own wheelbarrow, with games like Serious Sam 3 and Hard Reset been frequently advertised, to the point that I occasionally had to remind myself what game I was even playing.

What is most annoying though, is the repetition. After the beginning, almost every level is a carbon copy of the prior. You kill a bunch of monsters. You find a locked door. You find a key to open said door. You kill a bunch of monsters. You find a door locked by a sigil. You kill a bunch of monsters. You destroy a statue which breaks the sigil. Then, you repeat. Hold the phone though; sometimes, you need to destroy more than one statue, or hit a switch, in order to open a door.

But it’s not just the game-play which is repetitive; it’s the environmental setting. There’s a moment when you are fighting in a ship yard, and perhaps this wouldn’t be so bad if it hadn’t gone on for five levels, many of which begin to look exactly the same after a while.

Now, although the visuals are gorgeous, and cannot be faulted, the length of time it took to navigate an area, like the ship yard, does nothing to effectively show the attention that has been provided to the graphics. A dull atmosphere like this one takes away from several of the other locations you visit, which brilliantly take advantage of the new system’s abilities. Furthering this argument, in games like Halo 4, there is one primary mission per level, which continuously keeps your attention. In Shadow Warrior, you may have one primary mission for several levels, and after a while, you begin to wonder if you are ever going to accomplish your mission objective at all.

The addendum that in many levels the player is forced to go backwards and forwards to complete objectives only intensifies this nuisance. There’s one level later on when you must retrace over your own footsteps three times in a row, and what would have made this laborious task slightly less agitating, is a compass. No aid however is provided to finding objectives, and on more than one occasion I found myself waltzing around an area trying to find the exit. Additionally, the sub-missions, including turn the valve, or find the key, are about as interesting as they sound, and the fact you need to repeat them several times over during the campaign takes deja vu to an all new level.

The continuous onslaught of demons and sigils moreover, eventually feels less like entertainment, and more like speed bumps, which deliberately cause traffic congestion. In a game spanning 17 chapters, it is unnecessary to hold the player up in a vain attempt to make the game last for longer than it probably should. Although I have no qualms with defeating a barrage of enemies, the fact the demonic legions only come in so few flavors does nothing to enthrall. After killing the 100th enemy in a level, which looked remarkably similar to the previous 99, even I begin to lose the urge for battle. The massive, yet infrequent boss encounters tend to shake things up, and the challenge of fighting an enemy the size of a tall building is the breath of fresh air the game is hopelessly lacking.

Furthermore, the fact that the player is unable to govern many of the choices that Wang makes over the course of the campaign seems rather restrictive. There are numerous moments when Wang makes what can only be described as a rather douche-bag move, and instead of having the opportunity to choose an alternate path, you either act like a douche-bag, or, you act like a douche-bag.

Fighting agaisnt the enemy though is made somewhat more entertaining with the wealth of upgrades Wang can apply to both himself, and his weaponry. While cash is used for the armaments (and the player needs to suspend their disbelief, for I find it hard to believe that cash can literally be found every couple of meters on the street), chi is applied to Wang’s abilities, and Ki crystals are used to strengthen demonic powers. Although Chi can be found, a great amount of its energy is siphoned from the demons that you kill, and much like in Uber Soldier, the more violent you are, the better the rewards.

The opportunity to use demon hearts, and even their heads agaisnt opponents, proves advanetgous in battle. Additionally, been able to block incoming projectiles with a shield that surrounds the player, and having the ability to heal your wounds are fantastic bonus features agaisnt the unending waves of monsters. The key combinations however (for instance, to heal, you need to tap the movement key to the right twice, and press the left trigger) can occasionally be more of a hindrance. The abilities you earn are more mandatory than optional, and when you are battling a wealth of massive creatures, like warlords or crystal demons for instance, you are less concerned with the buttons you are pressing, and more on taking out the opposition. The addendum that the keys need to be pressed in just the right manner (not to quick, but not to heavy either) means there are numerous times when you don’t execute the ability you were after, resulting not only in failure, but occasionally in death as well.

Weapon upgrades on the other hand prove to be just as unreliable, but for a completely different reason. Although each weapon can have alternate firing solutions and damage boosters applied, and true, in the case of the rocket launcher and shotgun, these are quite apparent, more often than not, the katana seems to be the most reliable weapon. As an example, there was a moment when I fired a torpedo from a rocket launcher at the wings of a boss monster, only to have the round go right through it! This was not the only time this particular incident occurred either, which repeated during battles with other creatures as well. However, for those who grow bored of Wang’s default sword, they can wield either the classic katana from the original game, the hammer from Serious Sam BFE, or several other melee armaments available from the options menu.

With the Halo Master Chief collection on the horizon, alongside Doom 4 arriving sometime this century, it would seem that remakes are in vogue. What makes Shadow Warrior quite disappointing is, rather than rejuvenating the franchise, it seems so outdated. When the original Shadow Warrior arrived, mindlessly killing monsters, finding key cards, and traveling through one level after another with no real goal was common practice. Today however, where gamers (I presume) are interested in enjoying mature story-lines, portraying detailed, well imagined characters, alongside the opportunity to choose how their story ends, these lacking opportunities cause Shadow Warrior to fall short.  Though there is some enjoyment to be found in the game, much of it is buried beneath unnecessary occurrences, that cause what little plot there is, to become lost amidst mindless repetition and an over-excessive, unjustifiable quantity of violence.

Battling Inhuman Opposition in Alien Isolation

Title: Alien Isolation
Developer: Creative Assembly
Distributor: Sega
Platforms: PC, PS4, XBOX One

Verdict: 9 (out of 10)

The following review is based upon my experiences with the XBOX One version of the game.

The motion tracker picks up movement, though there is no discernible location. The erratic pings indicate whatever life form is nearby is coming from all directions. I cannot see it, but I can hear it – in the walls. The ceiling quakes as foot steps are heard on the floor above, dust falling before me as the light flickers, interrupted by the weight of whatever is upstairs. I can only imagine what is pursuing me, but I would rather not, as an animalistic scream, like nothing I have ever heard, broaches the atmosphere. Remaining crouched, to minimize the sound of my feet, I finally get to the elevator, a raucous noise emanating from within as it begins to make its descent. The elevator nearby suddenly opens, and as I approach, two humans make their way out into the open, each suspiciously observing me, their fists raised. We stand off, waiting to see who will blink first. I raise my motion tracker, noticing there are not three life forms in the vicinity of the elevator; there are four. Lowering the device, I spot the tail of an alien life form dangling in the vent shaft behind the humans in front of me, which is retracted as quickly as it appeared, the animalistic cry again piercing through the air. The humans run, the elevator still yet to arrive. The sound of something being torn open is heard over the creaking of the elevator doors, as I rush inside to push the button that will raise the lift, the sound of heavy footsteps approaching reverberating across the walls. The sound of Ripley’s heartbeat is erratic in my ear, and I cannot help but wonder whose is beating faster; mine, or hers? As the elevator moves onward, I heave a sigh of relief. For the moment I am safe, but in less than thirty seconds, the process will repeat again.

This is just five minutes of Alien Isolation, a game which perfectly thrusts you into an atmospheric nightmare, where the hiss of a pipe, the drip of liquid, or the clanging of a ventilation shaft, could be sure signs of the xenomorph’s proximity. This is intensified by the foreboding soundtrack, the unsettling ambiance indicating that something terrible is approaching. That tight knot you feel in your stomach as you find yourself moving down a corridor, is fear, and Alien Isolation cranks up the juice until you’re retreating into your chair, and temporarily forgetting how to control your bladder.

I didn't know tongue was optional on the first date...

I didn’t know tongue was optional on the first date…

For me, I have always been a fan of intelligent horror movies, including recent additions to the genre: Insidious, The Conjuring, Dark Skies and Mama. What makes Alien Isolation so terrifying however, is that you are not watching as a temporary visitor to this fictitious world; you are instead, up to your eyes in it, and in a game that is capable of spanning more than twenty hours, the tension is certainly enough to unnerve even the most hardened horror veteran. I actually had to laugh when my father, who is often bored by horror movies, leapt several feet into the air, the first time the alien came charging down a corridor towards him.

Upon beginning the game with the Kinect attached moreover, I was notified that if I wanted, the Kinect sensor could detect the sound in the room. As an example, if I were to sneeze, speak, or suddenly receive a phone call, the alien would track the noise, rendering the safety of home, obsolete.

What makes Alien Isolation even more disconcerting, is the immense difference it has when in contrast with other survival horror titles, including, The Suffering, The Thing, Cold Fear and Dead Space, where the character is bestowed with a wealth of fire power. In Alien Isolation though, the severely limiting resources and lack of offensive armaments ensue flight rather than fight is the most common response. Again, unlike in these other titles, Amanda Ripley is bathed in fear as she constantly fights for her life, the sound of her heavy breathing or thumping heart bursting through your ears. In this sense, you truly become the character, and in doing do, you not only witness evil, you feel it, crawling up and down your skin.

This is made even more hectic by the situations you are frequently placed in. Occasionally you need to memorize codes to unlock doors, or use a blow torch or specialized device to hack into a locked area (people who have played the Dead Space games will witness a similarity here), all the while attempting to operative covertly and quickly to avoid being detected.

The graphics additionally assist in developing the terror. Sweat covers the faces of human characters during game and in cinematics alike. Locations appear and feel as they have previously in the first two alien films, but especially the original. The cloaking darkness fills you with a sense of despair as you attempt to fathom what could be hiding in its depths, but light itself also fails to provide you with a sense of comfort. Despite been armed with a flashlight (although batteries in the future are apparently no where near as powerful as they are today), I infrequently found myself using it, with even the darkest areas becoming visible after my eyes acclimatised to my surrounds. Unlike in traditional horror movies where the dark is never your ally, in Alien Isolation, if you are anything like me, you will feel marginally safer when in darkness, rather than traversing around with a source of light accompanying you, which serves as the perfect tool to be spotted sooner.

Furthermore, similar to an adventure title, there are lots of opportunities to scavenge random items about the environment which can then be used to build an assortment of pieces, from health packs, pipe bombs, to EMP grenades (which unfortunately require eight separate items to be constructed). Ripley can only carry so much of each item, however, none of it is unanimous, with your character only carrying three of one item, while having the ability to hold five of another. In this sense, your choices on what to craft, are as essential as your choices on which corridor you move down next.

Occasionally though, it is imperative to explore other locations where checkpoints may not be available, for in these areas, equipment blueprints may be uncovered, and if you do not find one, then that particular item will be henceforth unavailable to you for the entirety of the game. Similar to a number of the survival horror titles I mentioned above, rather than the game automatically check-pointing your progress, Ripley needs to do this for herself by finding save stations on her journey, which are normally only located in the direction of primary objectives (hence straying off the path to find items becomes quite the gamble). I know GameSpot in their review mentioned there were few checkpoints available, however I would argue against that. Checkpoints are often spaced rather close together. What makes it so difficult, is that an area that might normally take four minutes to travel through, may take up to twenty, when you are attempting to sneak around an enemy. This leads me to another disagreement I have with the statements made by GameSpot. Their claim, was that you infrequently see the alien. I strongly disagree. Although every person’s experience will be different, there were several missions, one after another, in which all I ever did was see the persistent life form as it proceeded to hunt me down, time and time again.

Bulletproof, and equipped with a very bad attitude, the alien tracks the player not only by sight, but by sound and smell as well. You would think Amanda would have this knowledge herself, and yet, when going to hide in a locker, she violently flings it open, before slamming it closed, and anyone in the vicinity would have to be tone deaf not to hear the ruckus. Hiding, in this sense, as you are sure to discover, is never a permanent solution.

Distractions, including flares, smacking walls with your equipment, and creatable machines that make random sounds, can be thrown to temporarily lure the alien’s attention. The alien however adapts to the tactics that you use, and after a while, rather than choosing to investigate the flare, the creature will instead choose to investigate where it originated. It certainly is no fool, and although the motion tracker helps give an approximate location, not only is this device loud, and very bright, but it isn’t always accurate. On more than one occasion, I confirmed the alien was moving in one direction, but, without my knowing, it double-backed, and I ran right into it.

Humans and synthetics alike also prove a common threat (though there are exceptions, with the occasionally helpful individual), with synthetics especially proving to be a difficult foe to dispatch. Despite having the capacity to be thwarted (you can escape into a vent and travel out the other side without a synthetic knowing), the amount of damage they can take is astronomical, and unless you have a shotgun, or an EMP, it is perhaps a recommendation to avoid acquiring their attention at all costs. Later still, there appear synthetics immune to EMP grenades altogether, making the journey even more strenuous, so even after having mastered a specific technique to defeat a particular combatant, you are then required to again, alter your tactics.

Alien Isolation is a terrifying descent into a stress-provoking environment, and if you happen to suffer from an anxiety disorder like I do, the game does nothing but unnerve you further. Although sometimes environments might feel repetitive, and on rare occasion there may even be a graphical anomaly, Alien Isolation captures vulnerability and terror perfectly in this sci-fi horror masterpiece.

The Most Difficult Murder to Solve is Your Own in the New Square Enix Thriller, Murdered: Soul Suspect

Title: Murdered: Soul SuspectMurdered_Soul_Suspect_Artwork_Logo
Developer: Air Tight Games
Distributor: Square Enix
Platforms: XBOX 360, XBOX ONE,
PS3, PS4, PC
Rating (out of Ten): 9

More Entertaining Than: Condemned: Criminal Origins

Less Entertaining Than: Beyond: Two Souls

Duration: 6-7 Hours (not including completion of all
secondary objectives)

 

 

If you are interested in a violent shoot ‘em up, filled with outrageous explosions, I recommend you avoid this title. If however, you are interested in a character and story oriented drama (the game is quite similar to the 2013 PS3 title Beyond: Two Souls, and if you enjoyed that, it is more than likely you will enjoy this too), I would recommend you look no further than Murdered: Soul Suspect.
At its core, Murdered is a love story, about Ronan, a detective with a criminal past, who, in order to be reunited with his wife, Julia, on the other side after he is violently killed, must solve his murder, in order to move on. On top of this, Murdered is a dramatic paranormal thriller, which has features reminiscent of adventure games.

The game begins with Ronan’s murder; an over the top death at the hands of the notoriously antagonistic murderer; the Bell Killer (aptly named for the bell symbol left at the site of all his murders); a man Ronan had been investigating prior to his death. The Bell Killer is responsible for putting a number of Salem’s residents into the ground, the roots of these murders dating back into the region’s history. There are still more victims on the Bell Killer’s list, and Ronan must bring this ritualistic killer to justice.

Stuck in a purgatorial realm, Ronan must travel from one scene to the next in order to uncover the truth. As a character, Ronan comes off as a rather tough as nails detective, his criminal past often being revealed in flashbacks as the player discovers memories located across the city. This potential darkness is counteracted with Julia’s thoughts of him, which are additionally found scattered across the environment. Although these thoughts are written down, and thus need to be read by the gamer, the actress who voices her, and the words themselves, are both as equally powerful at revealing a beautiful romance. This is not told in contemporary order, and as Ronan travels from one location to the next, he discovers memories of his past, and that of Julia’s, which shape his character into a man with a hard exterior, but an incredibly warm heart.

This is strengthened also with the opinions of his brother in law, Rex, a fellow detective investigating the Bell Killer, who is grieving the loss of his best friend, his opinion of Ronan being rather contradictive; although he loved Ronan like a brother, he is worried about his criminal past, something that officer Baxter is not. To say he loathes Ronan would be an understatement, believing that he represents everything a police officer should not.

Not long into the game, Ronan meets Joy, the daughter of a medium who has additionally acquired the gift, however, unlike her mother who assists the police during investigations (including the Bell Killer), Joy is apprehensive about communing with the deceased, wishing instead to have a normal life. With her mother missing, and she been the only living person who can actually see Ronan, the two form an awkward partnership, as the two become better acquainted with one another over the course of the game.

Set in the town of Salem, which has a long history of war, pestilence, and a wealth of other colourful occurrences (which can be found by visiting locations and exploring the environment), the game is a very open world, where the player is able to either freely explore, or head straight towards the next objective, which is always marked with a waypoint. On the subject of the town, I found it strange that 95% of the residents were Caucasian, and although the town comes attached with its own history and culture, the lack of other cultural backgrounds and ethnicities seemed mightily peculiar. Though this does not affect the game, it does fail to contribute a further sense of realism to the environment the gamer temporarily inhabits.

The purgatorial realm of Salem is a mixture of real world environments, and ghostly effigies. These residual spectral visages are strangely corporeal, and cannot be passed through. A benefit of the game is that Ronan is able to pass through almost any structure; how many times in other games have you become stuck on an object? This annoyance is almost non-existent in Murdered. Ronan is unable to pass through buildings that are locked, however, once inside, either through a partially opened door or window, movement is fairly unrestricted, with the exception of aforementioned objects linked to the deaths of others. These however can often be navigated around, and if not by walking, then by using ghostly portals. These residual shadows are tied directly to the existences of ghosts, and can be jumped to and from. Later, when Ronan discovers the ability to teleport, this additionally serves in getting around solid objects or other like obstructions.

Moving on, when travelling towards a destination, Ronan bumps into literally dozens of other ghosts, who can either be conversed with, or ignored. Furthermore, near every major mission location is a ghost in need of assistance regarding a side quest. These often involve a poor soul who is trapped in this purgatory through either regret, or from not knowing about their death, which can include all manner of people; from a young woman who believes her ex-paramour cheated on her, to a man who believes himself responsible for the car crash that killed his friends. Around these ghosts are fragments that can help provide answers, from pieces of the past that can be reformed to tell a portion of their story, to living people, who can be possessed.

When possessing a living character, Ronan can influence them to think about a certain topic or theme, which provides him with valuable information; he can additionally read their mind, or listen in on conversations. Unlike in last year’s Remember Me, in which the character Nilin’s abilities are rarely used, in Murdered, Ronan is frequently using his powers, either pro bono for the benefit of others, or to assist in finding his killer. Although no justice can be bestowed upon the dead who were murdered, the fact their deaths have been resolved and they discover that any guilt they feel is unnecessary, their movement from this world and into the next, provides the player with a certain satisfaction.

Major quests offer a similarity, with the exception that they are on a much larger scale. These locations range from a church to a graveyard; a police station (which strangely enough has a lot of Just Cause posters) to an asylum, each coming attached with its own historical significance to the region. After exploring the area, gamers are able to locate their objective, and scour around for clues, piecing things together from the environment, before enlisting the assistance of living people, who, once possessed, can help provide a consensus on the topic at hand with their own thoughts, memories, or even their eyes, which you sometimes have the option of looking through. On that note though, some clues are unable to be found unless Ronan interacts with the environment. Turning on equipment (or as the game calls it, being a poltergeist), like a fan to blow pieces of paper around, may reveal photos and other documents that were initially invisible beneath layers of other pages.

On occasion, Ronan is forced to visit the same region twice, and even when this does occur, the environment loses none of its atmosphere, the sheer gruesomeness of the murders, and the conversations which take place during these ‘missions’, offering a source of unstoppable intrigue. The issue however when exploring these major areas, is that almost each of these locations are often infested with demons.

These demonic creatures come in two flavours; the kind that hover about like ghouls in a particular territory, which they have carved out as their own, or as large, bright red puddles on the floor, and drag you in when you step into proximity (similar to the floor creatures in F.E.A.R: Perseus Mandate). Although these demons can temporarily be avoided, more often than not, confrontations inevitably ensue, however, unlike Condemned: Criminal Origins, where you beat up your enemies with whatever piece of equipment you come upon, these demons require more nous and tactical proficiency. By possessing people (and on occasion a gorgeous kitty), gamers can make their way around areas, and this is additionally possible by using those ghostly portals mentioned earlier. When in close proximity to a demon, Ronan can execute them (only ever from behind) with a combination of keys that are frequently different. After successfully dispatching one (there is unfortunately often more in any area), the gamer can hide again, and then move on to attacking the next. On a side note, the occasional existence of deceased crow can offer the player a distraction, with demons charging at them the moment Ronan requests that they provide a raucous ‘kaw!’

The graphics of Murdered are powered by the Unreal engine. In the past I have occasionally being sceptical of this particular engine, with some games (I’m looking at you Singularity) occasionally not cutting the mustard when it comes to how it looks. The game is set over the course of the night, the streets becoming darker and slightly emptier as you progress. This darkness often follows the player into the levels, and can provide a rather drab colour swatch, with a vast quantity of darkness merging together. With this said, there is just as much light as there is dark, with the locations you visit all looking and feeling very realistic, with a combination of old and new fighting visually for dominance.

This being said, the graphics are perhaps not outstandingly brilliant (considering that I was playing this on the XBOX ONE), however, at the same time they are really nice to watch. Never is there a part of the environment that looks as though it needs further rendering. With the exception of images, and some portions of text, the game felt and looked like an actual town, and although many ghosts had particularly smooth features, the living cast members, Joy in particular, looked very lively. Her face, with a number of freckles and a couple of moles, along with the jewellery that she decorated herself with, gave to her a unique sense of character.

On a further side note, the controls during the game are incredibly easy to learn, and after roughly 10, maybe 15 minutes, the gamer will have efficaciously adapted, and they will simply become reflex actions.

The conclusion, which seems to come racing towards the gamer faster than I may have initially imagined when beginning Murdered, is about as predictable as it is surprising. When I was almost 90 minutes away from the conclusion, I had already begun to postulate theories on who the killer might be, and although some of my assertions were accurate, there was much I did not count on, and was at the same time thoroughly surprised with the final revelations. Although the conclusion does successfully offer closure to all of the storylines that are written into Murdered, at the same time the gamer (or maybe this is just in my case?) is left with a slight remaining thirst. On this note, despite a slight degree of disappointment at the length of the primary storyline, I have not being so captivated by a title since Beyond: Two Souls, and will happily play Murdered again in the future.

Image obtained from the following link: