Thursday, August 30, 2018

Classic Review: Crysis

Crysis, the game that brought even the highest specced hardware at the time to it's knees is now 11 years old. "But can it run Crysis?" became one of the most famous gaming memes of all time. It referenced the fact that practically no PC, neither launch or for many months following the game's release in 2007 could actually play it at it's highest settings. I constructed Maxximus that year with the intention of playing Crysis but only managed high resolution for most of the game, with alien levels grinding it to 10FPS in places. Even 10 years on, many including myself currently lack the GPU power to render the game on ultra detail at 60FPS in 4K, despite being able to run some later games with those settings without issue, but it makes me smile rather than annoyed because... well because it's Crysis!

After recently playing Far Cry, I thought I'd take Crysis out for a spin again. I'm pleased to report that the EA's normally crap Origin platform installs the best version of the game without issue but you may need to edit a config file to manually generate a resolution above HD as that wasn't considered at the time of Crysis' development. I played in ultra detail but in 2K [1440p] as I wasn't getting close enough to 60FPS at 4K. I'm pleased to report that the game holds up very well and I had no issues with it at all for it's duration.

Far Cry, Crytek's original game, was noted for it's extraordinary draw distances, superbly drivable land and sea vehicles and it's sandbox approach to the outdoor levels which allowed the player to choose their own route to an objective rather than standard linear path with dozens of scripted sequences as employed by many developers. For Crysis, Crytek took those elements and enhanced them with an even more free roaming environment, superior AI, added an airborne vehicle and wrapped it up into CryEngine 2, a magically beautiful and realistic graphics engine that can still hold a candle to the first person shooters that followed it but has been surpassed by a few iterations since then to power the Crysis sequels, the Sniper series, Homefront and 2017's Prey.

The gameplay experience is still top-notch especially the majority of the game's campaign that dealt with you killing a lot of North Koreans. You can around the island picking them off one by one in your heavily armoured and souped-up Nanosuit or go for a full-frontal assault depending on your play-style or your mood. The the game caters for multiple approaches for the same problem, be it stealth, distraction, long range or just drive in and kill everything!

You have an arsenal of weapons to chose from, mostly real-world fare - pistols, machine gun, shotgun, assault rifle, minigun, rocket launcher etc., all which can be customised with necessary attachments like suppressors, grenade launchers and scopes, basically all the tools you need including your Nanosuit. The Nanosuit is Crysis' true gimmick and it can both save your life and enhance your gaming experience with its different modes, the default being armour which prevents damage, strength for jumping or punching your way through doors (and people), speed for running and a cloak which bends light around your armour effectively making you Predator.

The latter third of the game sadly falters a bit due to it's alien levels. You find your way eventually to an alien ship thingy and the gameplay changes radically from what it was to fighting flying aliens in zero-g! It's thankfully not as misjudged as the infamous "Xen" of the original Half-Life, but it's a bit shit. Improvement comes later when you escape from the ship and proceed to the final showdown on board the USS Constellation aircraft carrier which was for the most part thrilling and exciting in it's own way but not as good as when you were battling the N.Koreans.

It's evident now, looking back at this that Crytek were not just building a game, but a game engine tech demo that had pretty much all of the possible graphical features they could think of putting into it like force-based destructible scenery, enhanced volumetric smoke, realistic surface water behaviour, unpredictable artificial intelligence and physics based combat, all without any regard to people being able to actually play it or not - the fact that it ended up being a great and successful game must have actually been a surprise to them. 


In my opinion, Crysis represents the first game for the way games look like today because one would be hard pressed to find a graphical or physical engine feature in a game now that isn't just a more modern or better version of what Crytek did here. Developers (even Crytek themselves) sadly don't put as much effort into games, or innovate as much as Crytek did for Crysis because that's not what makes money today, instead it's micro-transactions and loot crates.

I'm glad I could go back and enjoy Crysis as it was meant to be experienced after a decade. I feel primed now to play Crysis Warhead, Crysis 2 and 3 for the first time soon.

Pros: Still a fantastic looking game. Nanosuit! Customisable weapons! Kill North Koreans!
Cons: Still can't play Ultra detail in 4K @ 60FPS 11 years later! Alien levels are shit. Boss fights a bit tedious.

Crysis is available to buy today from:
Note that my original experience was with the PC CD-ROM version and this review is based on the Origin digital download version.

Disclaimer: This post uses elements from my own original Crysis review dated September 14th 2008.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Replay Review: Quake 4

Quake 4 was released in 2005 and continued the sci-fi single-player narrative id began in Quake II by doing what it does best - pitting you against the forces of the Strogg so you can kick their ass - with a Hyperblaster! Quake 4 is the very definition of a mid-2000's bog-standard shooter, it is nothing special and brings little to the table. So why play? Well it was developed by Raven Software who were major players in FPS development at the turn of the century with multiple successes in both the Star Trek and Star Wars IPs and the Soldier of Fortune games. Development was supervised by id, the people that defined the FPS genre but I guess the real reason it's just nice to play something dumb that you don't really need to think about - that's Quake 4

2004's Doom 3 was id's proof of concept tech demo of their Tech 4 engine and they gave it to Raven for this, the fourth iteration of the Quake franchise. Tech 4 included normal mapping and specular highlighting for the first time but it's primary innovation was its use of entirely dynamic per-pixel lighting, as opposed to pre-calculated per-vertex lighting or lightmaps and Gouraud shading. The engine was designed for somewhat dark environments and criticized for its perceived inability to handle extremely large day-time outdoor areas. This coupled with the fact that id didn't licence Tech 4 before Doom 3's release (which was delayed) meant that Epic Games cornered the market with the Unreal engine to this day. For such an essentially dark game as Quake 4 this meant that the lighting effects alone would be responsible for it's graphic fidelity and finally getting a chance to see it in it's ultra glory in 4K was worth it.

Unlike Quake II, this game features (and is pretty generous with) AI teammates. Yeah, they shoot and kill enemies only about a tenth as effectively as you do and seem to be blessed with much better armour because it takes a lot more for a Strogg to kill them than it does to kill you! That's fine because more often than not a 'live' team member needs to 'stay with the computer to open the door' or some other plot device designed to send you out on your own again - patterns which Raven used as superior plot devices in Star Trek: Voyager - Elite Force earlier. Team mates provided a much needed realistic idea of being in a war zone with entire units of troops (something that the WWII games of this period were already doing) with fluidly changing objectives rather than just plodding on as a one-man-army which was a concept that is best was reserved for Doom or games with unrealistic mega-hero or Mary Sue characters. One of your team mates is voiced by Peter Stromaire himself so that makes it worth it alone but the late Charles Napier puts in a good turn as General Ulysses Harper.

I prefer Quake 4 to Doom 3 because the sci-fi combat on an alien planet setting is superior to the sci-fi horror aspect of Doom 3 which was too dark and the jump-scare tactic got old pretty fast. Essentially in Quake 4, you're a space marine who is dropped in to fight the evil Stroggs again and destroy their communication equipment which will render them incapable of continuing to fight effectively. Because of my previous experience with Raven's games such as the sublime Jedi Knight II, I was expecting much more plot wise with Quake 4. Sadly this didn't really come to pass, it appears id exerted too much influence and prevented Raven from crafting a plot fitting the adventure.

It's not the shortest FPS of this era and while one could probably complete it in 7 or 8 hours, less than other games that year such as Call of Duty 2 or Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory. I note that F.E.A.R. which was released at the same time and had a similarly modern engine was also an 8 hour game but by virtue of the fact it had an better plot it was not as noticeable as Quake 4 as being too short. Raven only did 2009's Wolfenstein following this and  they now seem to exclusively support whatever primary developer is working on the Call of Duty franchise.

Quake 4 is still worth loading up but has issues on modern graphics cards with more than 1 Gb VRAM (which I guess is practically all of them), and it looks terrible even with ultra textures and HD resolution. One must rummage in either GOG or Steam forums to find configuration settings which you can edit into your installation with a text editor, which is a simple and painless process to get it working correctly. One example is here.

Pros: Shoot aliens with a variety of great often classic weapons like the nailgun, combat is king. It has Peter Stromaire
Cons: Short. No environmental variety. Wafer thin plot.

Quake 4 is available on GOG for €14.99 or on Steam for €14.99, both overpriced so wait for a sale and get it for about €3.50.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

RIP Sen. John McCain

Senator John S. McCain III, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has died aged 81. 

McCain was a Vietnam war hero who flew A4 Skyhawks for the U.S. Navy and survived five years as a prisoner of war after being shot down in 1967. His captors offered him early release after learning his father was a notable naval officer. But he refused to leave before the other prisoners and released in 1973 instead.

In '86, he was successful in the Republican Arizona senate race and subsequently served three decades in Congress, even securing his party’s nomination for president in 2008, a race which he unfortunately did not win.

McCain was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2017 and flew back to Washington days after surgery with a large scar visible above his eye to partake in the Senate’s health care debate. In his final hours,  his family announced that he had refused further treatment.

Capt John S. McCain's awards
He achieved the grade of O-6 (Captain) in the Navy and his "fruit salad" would allow him free drinks in any officer's mess with multiple awards of the Bronze Star, Legion of Merit and Navy Commendation Medal (all with combat 'V's to signify awards from combat engagements) in addition to the Silver Star, Combat Action Ribbon, POW Medal and two Purple Hearts, and many more, undeniable proof of his status as a hero despite the claims of some.

McCain is survived by his wife Cindy, seven children and five grandchildren.

Friday, August 24, 2018

First Play Review: The Witcher

I embraced Bioware's Dragon Age and Mass Effect franchises so fully since the turn of the century that I missed out on what are regarded as two of the best RPGs ever. One is The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and the other is The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. At time of writing both remain unplayed in my  playlists, oversights I believe I may finally have a chance to rectify in time mainly as I believe the the energy of Bioware's star may now be dying.

I was put off playing either Skyrim or The Witcher 3 because they were not the first games in the franchise. However I learned from the several people I spoke to who have played Skyrim only two have played any other Elder Scrolls games so it's not necessary to have done so and not get rewarding value of the experience. The Witcher is a little different however as you play the one character throughout all three games and in a fashion similar to Bioware games - some of your choices are recorded and used from the final save. So before I could ever play The Witcher 3, I would really need to establish my canon by playing the previous entries.

The Witcher was released by Polish developer CD Projekt in 2007 (who also established and while it received praise and favourable reviews, it lacked the spit and polish of it's peers and suffered some instability as well as poor voice acting. An 'Enhanced Edition' was released in late 2008 that corrected the instability and other bugs, added new animations, side-quests, NPC models and recoloured generic NPCs and mobs. It was also noted that it vastly expanded and corrected dialogues as well as voice acting replacements and load times were reduced by roughly 80%. It's this Enhanced Edition (known as The Director's Cut in the U.S.) that's available on both Steam and GOG.

Graphically, the game uses a bastardized version of Aurora, the successor to Bioware's Infinity Engine, featuring full 3D environments, real-time lighting and shadows and surround sound. Aurora was used to produce Neverwinter Nights in 2002 so it was five years old when The Witcher was originally released but there was so many graphical enhancements (by CD Projekt and modders) that one would think it was a more modern engine than Aurora, or at least a game that graphically on par with anything from 2008. The character and monster models and animations are sub par but the lighting is something I found very effectively used in this game. Things hide in the shadows and you use what's essentially night-vision goggles by drinking a 'Cat's Eye' potion (which you must craft yourself). Artificial intelligence is pretty standard but I like the way that when it starts raining, that NPC's run for shelter and complain until the shower stops.

Combat in The Witcher received very bad press at launch because it's different to any other game. The Witcher's game manual describes the nature of combat, what needs to be done and when as it's an event that needs timing. Paying attention during the tutorial level will also help. It's worth noting that the easy difficulty gives you an nonintrusive colour coded cursor assist for attack combinations whereas the harder difficulties this assist is absent. I played in easy mode (because I'm old) but I did not find the system difficult although it took a bit of getting used to. You will likely ever use one of two weapons for the most part, a steel sword (against man) and a silver sword (against monster) and you will need to be in one of three combat styles: quick, strong or group to be in any way effective. I found the combat one of the more interesting aspects and a welcome deviation from the standard single click for an attack on an enemy in almost every other RPG. 


I would say that CD Projekt concentrated more overall on story than graphics or gameplay, while I think most players would prefer a better mix of the two, the story here is certainly enough to allow players to overlook it's shortcomings in other areas. The setting for The Witcher is a bit more realistic than Dungeons and Dragons' staple of fantasy or Dragon Age's dark fantasy. I would class this more like a medieval fantasy, just with the obvious additions of monsters and magic. The original creator, Andrzej Sapkowski, author of The Witcher series of novels drew heavily from Slavic mythology for his monsters and fusing them with Tolkeinesque ideas of dwarves and elves of modern fantasy. The final piece of the puzzle is of course the titular Witcher himself, Geralt of Rivia who has been compared to Philip Marlowe in that he is both cynical and noble. The result is a truly compelling setting for a detail-rich RPG where one may need to abandon one's traditional concepts of good and evil as well as order and chaos in order to get the most of the incredible adventure that this would seem merely the first part of. 

To the best of my knowledge, some fan-made enhancements have made it into the official release of The Witcher which also enhanced it's value. Ten years on, while playable it's strongly recommended that one uses some extra modifications which correct the last few possibly game-breaking story bugs in some of the side quests and enhance the graphics for modern systems. While I will say I noticed a distinct enhancement to the graphics especially as I played in 4K, there was a large amount of crashes but fairly isolated to going in and out of taverns. Sadly you do this a lot so the game crashed a lot (about 50 or so crashes over the 60+ hours I played the game), but the story and desire to stick with such an impressive game kept me hooked enough to ignore the excessive crash inconvenience. It just made me quick-save when going near a tavern.

Pros: Compelling story. Interesting characters and setting.
Cons: Combat will be too odd for those who cant adapt. Quite buggy and unstable, but your mileage may vary.

Handy links:

The Witcher is available now from:
But as always find it for less than €2 during frequent sales.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Super Soldier Serum being worked on by SPEARHEAD?

FOX News reports that archaeologists in Egypt have now unlocked the secrets of the ancient black granite sarcophagus unearthed recently in Alexandria dating back to the Ptolemaic period 2000 years ago. The huge coffin was found to contain three skeletons, those of a woman of 20 to 25 years of age, between 5-feet-3 and almost 5-feet-5, a man between 35 and 39, who was between 5-feet-3 and just over 5-feet-5 and a second man between 40 and 44, and was between 5-feet-10 and just over 6-feet tall.

The infamous disgusting red liquid that was found inside the sarcophagus was theorised by Dr. Ayman Ashmawy, head of the ancient Egyptian antiquities sector, as likely to be sewage water combined with the decomposing remains of the skeletons’ wrappings. More than 30,000 people signed an online petition asking to drink the liquid believing that by doing so they would absorb the mummies' powers.

The strange petitioners may be onto something however as it was understood that SPEARHEAD had an "R&D interest" in the liquid and a man believed to be Brigadier General "Whopper" Creedon, the Assistant Commander for Intelligence and Information was sighted in the region in July.

A man believed to be Brigadier General "Whopper" Creedon in Egypt in July.
Internet speculation has swayed between SPEARHEAD developing a Super Soldier Serum to them covering up a secret unearthed in the tomb not suitable for the general public.

Source: FOX News

Sunday, August 05, 2018

Classic Review: Far Cry

German developer Crytek's first game was Far Cry, one of the first FPS to evoke a sense of freedom by breaking out of the linear "corridor" gameplay of its genre predecessors. Far Cry was one of those games that few could play at max settings at launch even with above average hardware. It was an issue that would be exacerbated later by Far Cry's technical successor Crysis but Far Cry had the issue before it albeit to a lesser degree, certainly not not enough to spawn memes.

Far Cry was the last game I played with my old GeForce3 Ti 500 as the poor resolution at which I was forced to run its demo prompted me to get a 5900XT in March 2004*. Even then however, it fell slightly short of the 'Ultra' settings I dreamed of and was incapable of either full screen anti-aliasing or anisotropic filtering to any degree without reducing the frame rate to sub 30FPS which is shit. Even with the details set to medium it got choppy in places and had to run at 800x600 for some outdoor heavily populated levels. Despite the disappointment, overall it didn't prevent my enjoyment of the original game experience delivered by Far Cry as high resolution on such a fantastic engine as CryEngine1 was amazing but it certainly made me less surprised concerning the Crysis situation a few years later.

By the time I was benchmarking a new ATi X800 Pro in mid 2005 (GPUs were replaced a bit more frequently than today) the Far Cry issues were tamed boasting a 60FPS with 4x AA / 8x AF @ 1280x1024. Recently I got the chance to return to Far Cry for a third time to enjoy the whole lot on ultra but this time I had 64 bit textures for the first time and the ability to play in 4K resolution.

Reinstallation from CD is untested at this point but a modern download installation of Far Cry from Uplay, GOG or Steam should set up everything without too much tweaking. The game received updates to v1.3 but an additional patch for 64-but systems was released later to include bump mapped rock face textures and increased environment activity. 4K resolution was available in my system after a restart.

Far Cry may seem old to those that have only been playing FPSs for 15 years but at the time, when most weren't even able to play it a max it still looked extraordinary. To see it in it's maximum glory I'm happy to say that it still looks impressive. The graphics gap between this and games that were released five years before it is far greater than the visual gap between this and games made five years after it possibly even 8 years. The original CryEngine is significantly superior to idTech 3 including superior bump mapping but wasn't quite up to idTech 4 as that innovated with per-pixel lighting as opposed to vertex shading. Of course it would have been impossible to render Far Cry's expansive island-hopping environment Tech 4 at the time as evidenced by the mainly darkened indoor confinement of Doom 3 [2004] and Quake 4 [2005] so the trade off in this case was welcome as neither if id's 'tech demos' could hold a candle to Far Cry.

The outdoor environments of Far Cry were truly astonishing and it felt like a living breathing world. You could see distant birds fly, water flowed and rippled and enemies pottered about on their daily routine (before you killed them), but the absence of animals may be noticed by those more familiar with later Far Cry games. The islands are supposed to be lush islands in the Pacific. Old Japanese World War II bunkers, scuttled ships and downed aircraft often provided set pieces for the adventures of Jack Carver, your character and one of the more inappropriately dressed protagonists in videogames.


Weapons feel effective and punchy, they're typical real world 2004 weapons, Desert Eagle, M4 Carbine, H&K MP5, Machine Gun, Sniper Rifle, Rocket Launcher, grenades etc., the usual fare. Interestingly the game has an advanced version of the OICW which was a prototype weapon being tested by the U.S. armed forces in the early 2000's. The OICW never left the prototype phase but it excited Hollywood and videogame developers appearing in many releases including Universal Soldier 2, Die Another Day, the Delta Force games and the Ghost Recon franchise.

Enemy models are well done for the age of the game but there's little variety among the hundreds of human mercenaries who are there to prevent you casually walking to the end game. The genetic mutant army is a little more interesting and diverse and the most science fiction-ey element of the Far Cry franchise which grounds itself to quasi-reality from Far Cry 2 onward. The artificial intelligence on display here wasn't too shabby, enemies took cover when under fire and search for you if they saw you. Sadly sometimes they had super-vision and were able to see you while prone in the long grass, but stealth in this game was never a viable strategy anyway.

This was as far as I recall the first FPS that I played that evoked such an extraordinary sense of freedom. While it's pretty much the norm now, it had to begin somewhere. In Far Cry you required driveable vehicles on the roads or the water in order to reach some objectives, or to just generally traverse the expansive outdoor levels. Sure you had to travel around and do a lot of killing, but the journey to go and do this is still a wonderful experience.

Pros: It's like taking a tropical island holiday (just have to contend with unruly locals). Great weapons, vehicles, scenery and AI. Looks great on a modern system 14 years on.
Cons: A few linear 'indoor' levels are a pretty 'standard' FPS experiences, but an welcome change of pace mid game and there's not as much as most shooters. Later levels with the heavier Trigens aren't as good as the earlier levels.

Far Cry is available today on the Ubisoft Store @ €9.99, Steam @ €9.99 or GOG @ €8.09 but as always often appears for €3.50 or so in many sales.

Friday, August 03, 2018

A definition of retro gaming

I was recently asked what my definition for "retro" gaming with regards to PC gaming is. The question is necessary as everyone's answer regardless if they're a console or a PC gamer, is different. It's one of those questions that's unlikely to ever be definitively defined in such a way as to be agreed upon by everyone.

Quake II

For PC gaming, some sources will use the arrival of the CD-ROM or the move from a dedicated DOS mode to a native Windows game is the deciding factor. Others define the viewpoint, control system or essence of the game as retro - e.g. I've seen Pillars of Eternity (which evokes Baldur's Gate's isometric viewpoint) or games like Cuphead (a traditional side scrolling Run & Gun) being referred to as retro because they're *based on* the ideas of the types of games that aren't considered modern, although the games themselves certainly are.

In the gaming console community, many players use the generation of the console and say that 4th generation consoles or those that came before them are retro. Others however drag that out to 5th and others claim 6th generation consoles, meaning that the Playstation 2, Game Cube and XBox and the games designed for them are all retro. Players from both camps have argued that the switch from 2D to 3D games to define what's retro and what isn't.

So it's obviously subjective as what is retro or just 'old' at the end of the day, but for me personally I tend to consider a few factors including how well a game functions on modern hardware without significant editing but I would consider the game's base engine technology as a primary factor. A game's engine has a considerable effect on the look and feel of a game, both graphically and functionally although in some cases an engine can be pushed from it's retro beginnings to something that wouldn't be considered retro at all, for example Max Payne (2000) and Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne (2003) use the same engine (MAX FX) but for Max Payne 2 it was so much improved that it surely surprised everyone that it was using the same engine as it's predecessor.

I designate games like Quake II as retro due to the fact they were created using engines that game developers were still getting to grips with the concept of true 3D engines. I think my cut off point would be games using those early blocky 3D engines like Quake II, Unreal, Jedi Knight and Neverwinter Nights where humans had square heads, triangles for noses and were woefully animated. Many were in fact less asthetically pleasing than their 2D counterparts. In my opinion the Unreal Engine 2 (Unreal Tournament 2003), id Tech 3 (Quake III) engine and their contemporaries are less dramatically different from today's similar games and shouldn't be regarded as retro. Splinter Cell (2002) for example was one of the first games to use the Unreal Engine 2 which was considered good enough to power the entire Splinter Cell franchise for 11 years, up to and including the most recent Splinter Cell: Blacklist (2013).

Splinter Cell

There was a crop of games between around 1999 and 2003 that straddle the divide between retro and not, I'll just give you a few examples:

  • Quake III: Arena (1999) = Not retro (id Tech 3)
  • Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance (1999) = Retro (Last in the greatest game series of the 1990's but graphically a dinosaur compared to space-flight games of the 2000's)
  • Deus Ex (2000) = Retro (Unreal Engine 1, needs work to get working on modern PC)
  • Star Trek: Voyager: Elite Force (2000) = Not retro (id Tech 3)
  • Max Payne (2001) = Retro (MAX-FX engine in development since 1997)
  • No One Lives Forever 2: A Spy in H.A.R.M.'s Way (2002) = Retro (LithTech Jupiter engine, is comparable to idTech 3/Unreal Engine 2, but rights issues have prevented re-release and support of the game and it requires retro-style shenanigans to get working).
  • Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast (2002) = Not retro (id Tech 3)
  • Neverwinter Nights (2002) = Retro (Aurora Engine, Bioware's first 3D engine)
  • Knights of the Old Republic (2003) = Not retro (Odyessy Engine, Bioware's second 3D engine, a dramatic improvement over Aurora that would set a standard for years). 
  • Judge Dredd: Dredd vs. Death (2003) = Retro (Rebellion used the Asura engine previously deployed with Aliens Vs Predator (2000) and this iteration of it was not up to id Tech 3 standards but later iterations were).

Of course I reserve the right to change the status of the entries on this list in time due to technical circumstances, but this is what I suspect to be true at time of writing.

In conclusion 'retro gaming' is an entirely subjective concept and merely a semantic issue at the end of the day, unlikely ever to find a true concensus. But now you know where I stand.