Unreal Tournament pre-alpha Impressions

Unreal Tournament is a return of the critically acclaimed and fan loved Unreal series. It’s a glorious return to form and is fast, fun and freaking magical. Its a glorious return to form and although pre-alpha it shows more potential than most multiplayer games I have played in the last little while. The game is being developed by Epic games in direct cooperation with community leaders and modders. This cooperation will shape UT  into what the UT community wants, not what sells the most. The UT pre-alpha is completely free for anyone and Epic has promised to never release paid DLC and have no plans to ever charge for the game. UT community members can sell items on the marketplace but Epic has released a good amount of professional content for free.

UT is running on Epics own Unreal Engine 4 as with tradition. The game looks fantastic and despite a few frame drops runs smoother than George Clooney after two martinis. This is quite the feat due to the particle heavy nature of the high-resolution maps. The soundscape however is a bit weak, the voice acting for the character’s taunts is well done even if only half intelligible and the announcer sounds great but jesus christ the guns sound like god damb be-bes. Despite a few specials like the flack cannon, plasma rifle and rocket launcher they just don’t have the oomph they need to make blasting someone into little bits satisfying.

The gameplay of UT is actually relatively unchanged from previous games with few new addition. For the uninitiated UT is arena shooter in the purest sense with a few twists of its own. Well when I say twists I mean staples of the franchise that have existed since 2004 but lets move past that. It retains the same guns, movement(with the addition of sliding) and health system. It’s a game that requires and rewards skill, timing and a near photographic memory of the maps. And oh god, the maps! They are all classics designed by the masters of multiplayer map design. They are all drop dead gorgeous, balanced and filled with nooks, crannies and secret paths for those who have mastered the mechanics. The guns take skill and have unique mechanics that make them unique and fun to use.

Its amazing and it’s as fun as I remember. but I am not entirely sure this game is necessary or worth it. There is a feature complete and pretty popular version of UT already out there. Right now I can only recommend trying it preferably with a friend or two. Its fun and great but right now its doesn’t have nearly as much content as UT 2004 which justifies the 15 dollar price tag. The new UT is only a a fraction of the game that 2004 was. Not sure It should have been released in pre-alpha. A new UT should be more modern and give me a reason to play it besides a new coat of paint. Give it a bit and then well check back in. In the meantime sorry for the delay.

Cheers,

Earlegrey

Find us on twitter! @Refractiongrey

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Hitman episodes 1-3: A review (PC)

This review is done differently. If you haven’t played any of the previous games this review is not a good jumping off point watch or read any other review.

Hitman is a very blatant game. If you look at the title you know exactly what you are getting into. You are hitting men. Wether it be with a moose, knives, bullets or your bare hands you have a very simple goal; eliminate your target. The way you go about this however is when it gets tricky. You can’t just shoot a man in the face in broad daylight in the middle of a bazaar. You can, however, shoot a man in the back of the head in a secluded, ungaurded point in his routine.This is where Hitman shines. It is the thrill of the hunt, planning and executing the perfect hit that drives you to replay massive levels again and again with the goal of doing it faster and more creatively then the last time. Hitman is about building up a routine and then perfecting it with different weapons and methods.

Its broad concepts and moment to moment gameplay feel great. Hitman refines the ideas seen in previous games without losing any of its luster. The incredibly controversial “Focus” Mechanic has been dumbed down to great effect. No longer does it detract from the recon and tailing required for planning nor does it let you take out a room of people with ruthless efficiency. Now it emulates Agent 47’s reflexes with the ability to see unlucky victims through walls. Shooting is strangely realistic and I recommend people try to fight their way through a level once just to mix it up.

Hitman has always been a bit clunky to control but this installment smooths out traversal and the control scheme to a point where any old person can pick up and control agent 47 without too much trouble. The levels are huge with almost endless possibilities to take out a target. Think the first real level of blood money times at least three. The planning phase is a interesting addition allowing you to stash equipment and choose your starting spot, disguise and gear. Hitman’s AI leaves something to be desired however. They occasionally see through walls, shoot walls and walk over bodies without noticing them. This is coupled with their set routines being interrupted for up to 30 seconds if you accidentally bump into them. On the other hand they are absolutely ravenous once they begin to hunt you.  Once you are spotted running is about as effective as wiping your ass with peanut butter and then doing a triathlon with a rottweiler.

Speaking of things slowing down (pretend those last two sentences didn’t exist) we need to talk about the framerate. I have a GTX 980 an Intel 17 4790k and 16 gigabytes of ram and in crowded areas or just looking at the ocean I get 30 FPS or below. It only takes a handful of people to drop it below 40 which is worrying for a game that looks a year or two old. This kills the experience because some, less crowded levels run at a solid 60 FPS and are much more enjoyable because of it.

Episode: 1, Paris

Paris, the first episode in the saga of death that is Hitman is a little lacking compared to the other two. The two targets are much harder to kill and it feels almost oppressive how set in stone the ways to kill them are. The first floor of the massive building the level takes place in is really quite dull compared to the other floors and the surrounding area due to it being mainly just one massive frame dropping crowd. A lot less intricacy is involved in infiltration here as well. Once you find a security outfit you have basically free run of the fashion show. The one redeeming quality for me was the many ways you could climb to the top floor and really make use of the verticality being seen more in not only Hitman but stealth games in general.

Episode: 2, Saspienza

Saspienza is the pinnacle of the three episodes and reminds me a lot of one of the levels from Blood money. The manor you have to infiltrate is surrounded by a section of a small city with shops a milling about. The inhabitants and their routines are believable (except for the guy who walks up and down stairs washing his face). The guards are easier to avoid due to the abundance of walls that tend to accompany houses. Just when you think you have seen the entirety of the mansion you head underground to destroy a virus in cramped quarters of a secret lab. The lab is full of close calls and risky maneuvers which add to the tension of conventional Hitman stealth.

Episodes: 3, Morocco

Morocco breaks the streak of verticality that was seen in Paris and Saspienza. It focuses on horizontal, multi level buildings connected by a dense urban area. Morocco also gives you access to it’s rooftops which give way to interesting and detailed house interiors. It combines the ideas of Paris and Saspienza to create satisfying social stealth that doesn’t quite hit the spot Saspienza did.

Verdict so far

Hitman has more than enough content to be worthy of purchasing at this point. It’s a satisfying and fresh stealth game that has reinvigorated it’s predecessor’s signature style. It is, however, held back by some patch-able technical flaws.

Score: 8/10, Great

Cheers,

Earlegrey

 us on twitter! @Refractiongrey
Find
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Path of exile impressions

If you have been on steam for more than 2 years you might have heard of a popular little MMORPG called Path of exile.  It is renowned for it’s extensive endgame, unobtrusive cash shop and great single player experience.  The game takes after games like Diablo, Tochlight and Titan Quest due to it being a loot driven click fest about maxing out unique characters. POE is instance based so you wont have to worry about too many uninvited players stealing your sweet loot or missing out on any experience. This instance based style does wonders for the game. This is the first MMO besides ESO that I can say nails a fun single player experience. When playing single player you can really take in the incredibly dark fantasy world grinding gears has created at your own pace.

The setting of POE is amazing! Although POE doesn’t have much of a story the unique world has fantastic lore with dark secrets for those who like that sort of thing. It also has a decrepit, salvaged look to it making it all the more interesting. Wraeclast is a dangerous place and this is reflected perfectly in the horrible monsters, shambling dead, exotic wildlife and everything else in between. It all feels grimy and dark. Think Diablo 2 but more exotic. The armor and weapons you collect give a good feeling of progression with their design. You start off punching zombies with a pot on your head and end up shooting ice out of your hands wearing you flaming thong of +1 badassery. It is quite satisfying. That said you do get a lot of junk loot and you will have to play a little inventory Tetris to get it all to fit in your backpack.

While gallivanting around the many unique regions in Wraeclast you will occasionally level up. Every level you get one passive skill point to spend on the MASSIVE passive skill tree (seriously, Look it up). This huge array of available abilities makes every players character feel unique. The traditional MMO trinity; tank, healer, damage has been thrown out the window to create crazy hybrid classes like a magic user that focuses on critical hits or a tank that uses a bow for crowd control. POE is about creating a class that suites your style and it gives you the tools to do so.

POE uses skill gems instead of active abilities that come with your class. They are picked up and socketed into armor which gives you access to their unique abilities. This adds a whole new layer to gear optimization; making sure you have the right color and number of gem slots. The only problem I have had so far is that POE can be quite tedious if you play for more than an hour. If you like the grind however,  (You masochist) then this is the perfect game for you but if your like me you might find it to get tedious when played for extended sessions. This tedium can be alleviated by bringing a few buddies but i still recomeend playing it in short bursts. POE is a fun a game that remembers it’s roots but still feels fresh. It is a glorious homage to the ARPGs of yesteryear and needs to be in your steam library. Leave a comment and let us know what you think.

Cheers,

Earlegrey

Find us on twitter! @Refractiongrey

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/user?ty=h&u=3310677

Fallout 4 Far Harbor: A Review

Fallout 4’s Far Harbor expansion is a massive improvement to the game. The use of assets and effects create a solid environment and narrative. However in some places more than others the game feels lacking. In Far Harbor the player must travel to a new island and resolve a conflict that rises there.

Gameplay

While there are some holes in the game play of Far Harbor the whole experience feels extensively better than the Commonwealth and Fallout 4’s base game. Far Harbor includes several improvements, great experiences and some bad ones. First, the good; Companions, interaction with the story and atmosphere. While there is only one companion in the expansion he is actually quite good. His story and actions are actually interesting and he seems to interact more with the separate factions. Speaking of factions the three featured are all well-developed and present a good back story for you to make your own decisions which have a real impact on the story. Instead of 4 different ways to say no, Far Harbor uses factions like New Vegas to decide the closing of the story. Lastly what I find to be  the most interesting important part of Far Harbor is its environment and ambiance. The use of graphics and sound are incredible overall they form a very pleasing atmosphere, which is leaps and bounds better than the original game. Included in the atmosphere are some new creatures. The creatures are actually quite tough and really seem to emphasize the foggy, dense environment. Other mediocre and mild additions include new settlements and some new weapons. Now that the good has been explained here is where most of the bad lies, the quests. Many quests in Far Harbor are extremely boring. These mostly consists of running and moving with very basic fighting. They are almost all fetch quests. I would like to say it would be nice for Bethesda to think outside of the box for these quests, but they have already done it, and it is disastrous. What should have been an easy puzzle section turned into what seemed liked hours of boring, grueling first person puzzles. These puzzles consisted of a simulation using the settlement system to place blocks to guide a beam. It is a sort of laser and mirror puzzle. In total there are 8 of these which are repetitive, annoying and just boredom inducing. Overall game play may be good in some aspects such as environment, but the quests leave a lot to be wanted.

 

Sound

The sound of Far Harbor is somewhat important in terms of ambiance and music which does a good job setting the tone. Otherwise the voice acting and sound effects are practically the same as the base game and mediocre at best. Sound in an action game is very important and still leaves something to be desired.

Narrative

A basic narrative of Far Harbor starts with a case presented to you by Nick Valentine. The case involves a kidnapping which takes the player to Far Harbor. Far Harbor is an island that is home to three main factions. These are a group of synths, the Children of Atom and lastly the people of Far Harbor. The narrative comes together very well and actually gives a better ‘true’ RPG Experience than the base game. This is due to the player themselves not having to be attached to the story in any way since its not somebody you know that is being kidnapped. In total the narrative is quite good.

Graphics

While technically the graphics and texture quality remain the same as the base game of Fallout 4 several improvements made in the way graphics and effects are used inside the game. Overall with the use of fog, landscapes and lake creatures Bethesda created a very atmospheric experience with a chilling feel. All in all the graphics although technically not improved are still an important aspect of Far Harbor.

Verdict

Far Harbor is a real improvement on not only the poor precedent set by the Automatron and Wasteland Workshop DLCs, but an improvement of the whole game of Fallout 4. However with the DLCs hefty price tag of 25 USD  (€ 24.99 / £ 19.99), I can not recommended this piece at its full price. Far Harbor, for its price, leaves a few things to be desired.

score: 6/10, Above Average

Cordially

N1sFoop

Shadwen: A review (PC)

Shadwen is made by the esteemed folks over at Frozenbyte the team behind Trine 1-3. The Trine games, For those who do not know, are very good puzzle platforms with an emphasis on physics.They are also renowned for their beautifully crafted backgrounds and stunning environments. Their new game Shadwen takes inspiration from their previous work but is a new beast entirely. Shadwen is a physics based stealth game. This is a very odd combination due to the nature of stealth games. Stealth games tend to be based on reliable, logical behaviors to allow players to plan and execute ideas in a manner that makes sense. Physics in gaming are, well, unreliable at best. This idea is directly contrary to what makes stealth games fun; that plan and execute style found in Thief 2 and Dishonored. Did it work? Well…

Gameplay

Shadwen’s stealth is brutal. It takes about a second to be seen and shot. The AI works in a way were if you cross into their line of sight even for a second they shoot you dead with laser accurate crossbows that never miss. This amount of difficulty is offset by the time pausing mechanic Shadwen employs. When ever you take your hands off the keyboard time grinds to a halt. This is very handy for making precise jumps and using the grappling hook. However, it also slows down gameplay and makes actions choppy and disjointed looking.

Besides time slowing you have a very fun grappling hook. It can be attached to almost any wood surface making grappling around fun and fast. However this and incredibly loose movement controls due to the procedural animations makes Shadwen’s movement clunky and unpredictable.

The objective is to move a small girl from one end of a level to another this requires you to eliminate or distract all the guards in her path. The AI for her can be buggy but largely does her job. The more you kill the more this little girl comes to hate you. This is at odds with the one thing that Shadwen does well: Murder. Their are plenty of physics objects (including your self) to drop on enemies as well as an assortment of mostly unnecessary traps. For some reason you can control how long and how many times you stab a target even though it takes just the one to eliminate an enemy. Levels are challenging and employ a near Styx level of verticality  which is used well with the grappling hook.

Sound

The very limited voice acting on display here is great! Guards mumble to each other in convincing British accents about cabbage and women while Shadwen speaks sharply and dangerously, every word a death threat. Overall outstanding sound especially when it comes to body on knife sounds.

Narrative

The world that Shadwen takes place in is fascinating. There is talks of religion and dark spirits. Shadwen’s plot is very unclear. The only plot points you get are from the guard’s chatter and expositional dialogue over  loading screens. I want to know more about Shadwen’s world and characters but it is delivered so slowly that I just barely kept myself engaged.

Graphics

An incredibly mixed bag. Like the rest of the game The overall motif is consistent but you see a ridiculous amount of reused assets. There also seems to be a slight disproportion in scale with enemies towering above you, a full grown women and bails of hay taller than your shoulders. Frozenbyte has made good use of lighting which compliments the great environment textures bu illuminates the terrible character models. Seriously, Shadwen looks like an alien molded out of clay.

Verdict

Shadwen is a really mixed bag. It feels unfinished and incomplete. The Grimm esque story is interesting but divulged so slowly that you will fall asleep before you finish it. Shadwen, although it has redeeming qualities is not worth the 16 bucks they are charging you for. Wait for a sale and have a wonderful day.

score: 4/10, Mediocre 

Cheers,

Earlegrey

https://www.patreon.com/user?ty=h&u=3310677

The modern shooter: A Renaissance?

I recently have had the chance to write a piece with one mister Jack Boyfeild. Below you will find for and against statements on whether or not the fps is devolving. Here is mine:

Game mechanics are always evolving. Although some remain constant, in time, most will change as the industry does. Such is the way of capitalism and thus our beloved pastime. The changes are subtle and do not necessarily manifest themselves in double jumps and faster movement speed but in subtler ways. Over the past 2 years I have seen more and more games abandon concepts like iron sights and sprinting. I honestly cannot explain where this trend is coming from but games have begun to focus on more old school design mechanics. Here is a list of Older ideas creeping into modern design and why they kick ass:

-Vertical movement: makes spacial awareness and a full degree of aiming more essential.

-Weapon specific ADS: Makes weapons knowledge more important and gives the player incentive to practice

-Weapon pickups: Forces players to learn map layouts

-Non regenerating health: Evens the playing field and gives less skilled players the chance to still progress

-No cross hair bloom: makes weapons more reliable and removes chance from the moment to moment game play. It also allows the player to move and shoot more effectively thus speeding up the game

-longer time to kill: This forces players to not just shoot first but to shoot second third and last. These extended periods of combat not only reward sustained skill but make encounters more dynamic due to players joining the fight or weapons being picked up during the engagement.

These mechanics are becoming more and more common amongst mainstream shooters. These include Wolfenstein the new order, Doom, Shadow warrior 1 and 2, and Overwatch. Their has also been a rise in the numbers of arena shooters like Toxikk, unreal tournament and Lawbreakers(Side note Cliff Bleszinsky Is awesome, see bottom for link).  Do I think that we are reverting back to the early 2000’s? No, some mechanics sucked and that is why they are being left by the wayside. Developers are realizing that there is a reason that people so fondly remember these older games. With these classic mechanics returning and the rise of the heroes shooter and online only gaming, the future of First person shooters is equally terrifying and exciting.

And here ladys and gents is the counter argument from the one and only Jack Boyfeild: 

The FPS was an absolute marvel when I was in my teens. MW2 was the most addictive experience I have ever had and I constantly rushed home from school to jump back into multiplayer. The entire experience was largely fresh to me and was one that I could not resist. The perfect combination of fast paced boots on the ground action with a wonderful sense of class customisation. The maps were beautiful and well designed and I remember the exact layout in my mind even now. Contrast that with my thoughts on FPS shooters now and it is largely different. Admittedly I don’t have as many friends to socialise with online as I did back that but i am going to speak of my thoughts on the direction I believe shooters are going in rather than my soured opinion on them. When one thinks of the generic annual releases one thinks of Battlefield and COD so that is my main reference point. COD is as popular as ever in terms of sales as each annual release is lauded over by the masses yet is it heading in the right direction? The high number of dislikes on the Infinity Warfare trailer such not and I cannot but agree. Whilst I do believe the fast pace is what the people want in a period where Twitch rewards the fast and the talented yet Activision just appear to be ripping off the ideas of first Titanfall which is outstanding and now feeding off of the space hype that comes with Elite Dangerous and No Man’s Sky. Battlefield on the other hand is one that is trying something new. It is a backwards step towards an era of warfare that we have immersed ourselves in before yet with the more powerful consoles we may see it on a grander scale. It is one which I will be much more likely to buy as I love historic warfare yet I don’t believe boots on the ground will be as popular among the Twitch crowd due to its inevitably slower pace. I hope dearly that it outsells COD but I very highly doubt it. In retrospect of these yearly releases, I can safely say I believe that the FPS is lacking innovation in the AAA annual market as the two big boys are relatively stuck for ideas. It is through the unburdened nature of lesser known titles such as Titanfall that we must rely upon in order to get the innovation we desire as true gamers. Yet they do not get the sales of the two games mentioned above and it is this that has caused the FPS market to stagnate and allow other genres to emerge triumphant such as MOBAs and MMOs (which I welcome). I challenge the big developers to create perhaps a FPS set in a relatively untouched setting such as the Old West or experiment with alternative historic events. When this occurs I will safely say that FPSs are moving forward.

Is this the renaissance of the modern shooter? Leave your comments below and have a beautiful day.

Cheers,

Earlegrey

Jack:https://part-timegamer.com/

Cliff kicks ass: http://www.polygon.com/2016/5/6/11612912/lawbreakers-gender-neutral-bathrooms-boss-key-cliff-bleszinski

Early access preview: Vagante

Vagante is a strange game. If i was too describe it in short it would sound like this: A love child of Dark souls and, strangely enough, Spelunky. It takes Dark souls sheer difficulty, slow, methodical movement and Deep RPG mechanics and combines it with Spelunky’s level design and Rogue-like tendencies. This combination makes Vagante a tantalizingly dangerous romp through a dangerous dark fantasy world.

Vagante is hard. Very hard. You will be shot, stabbed, crushed Magicked (?) and bludgeoned. The threat of a bloody end around every corner perfectly captures the feeling of creeping through a long forgotten dungeon. This makes the games clunkiness only more noticeable. The delayed attacks, methodical jumps and deadly traps and enemies mean you have to take it slow and think about every action before you take it. this slow pacing can be a  double edged sword. Right now there aren’t many incentives to take “just one more” run. Yes you can unlock perks called Backgrounds but this isn’t as rewarding as it sounds. This means that the 160th spike back rub only leaves you feeling mildly perturbed not excited for your next try, you masochist. This could be fixed with purchasable upgrades  between runs (Rogue legacy) or checkpoints (dark souls).

I recommend buying into Vagante’s early access if only to see were this game goes. The Developers and community are great. Multiplayer is fun if a bit buggy. If you like a challenge, try out Vagante.

Cheers,

Harrison