Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Retro Review: Shadow Warrior [1997]

Note: Shadow Warrior was released by 3DRealms in 1997 and is available as "Shadow Warrior Classic" today. This is the game reviewed here. Not to be confused with Devolver Digital's "Shadow Warrior Classic Redux" version from 2016 or the reboot title "Shadow Warrior" from 2013.

Shadow Warrior was a 'cousin' of sorts to Duke Nukem 3D in so far as it was another 3D Realms Build Engine powered FPS game with a wisecracking protagonist. Lo Wang was every bit the 80's/90's misogynistic action hero Duke was but never achieved the status Duke had. That said the Shadow Warrior franchise continues to this year when in March a second sequel of the rebooted franchise released while the Duke was put on ice after the legendarily delayed and phenomenally shit  Duke Nukem Forever released in 2011.

The setting of the original game in 1997 was near future Japan and Lo Wang was the ninja employed by the Zilla corporation to protect its interests. However after Zilla began to wrest power from organised crime and dabble in supernatural forces, honour-bound Lo Wang took it upon himself to single-handedly bring down the corporation with a hilariously mismatched arsenal of both silent and high-explosive weaponry. In honour of it's 25th Anniversary, I said before the year was out I'd crank up Shadow Warrior for a few hours and just give myself a little injection of nostalgia.

Shadow Warrior, Duke Nukem 3D, Blood and Redneck Rampage to name but a few shared one of the more ubiquitous game engines of the mid to late 1990's, the Build engine. It's considered more a 2.5D engine as geometry is two-dimensional with added height and renders the world in a way that only seems three-dimensional, unlike modern engines that create actual 3D environments. Enemies and pickups are 3D voxels and simply animated unlike 3D characters. By the time Shadow Warrior actually released, Id Software had a year earlier brought the first true 3D FPS engine to the market with Quake and Build was woefully outdated by comparison. However Quake was only one game, whereas it would take developers a few years to master the true 3D environment, Build developers released fun games like Shadow Warror to fill the gap. Unfortunately when you're in a Build engine game today after playing modern engines for the past 25 years, one notices that the perspective tricks that Build used to project a 3D environment sadly don't work visually and can be disconcerting.

The game itself, while obviously a DOS game, benefits from the likes of DOSBox or other modern implementations to get it working on today's systems, and the results were satisfactory. I initially loaded the GOG Shadow Warrior Classic version as it's free. Sadly it restricted me to a low resolution using half the monitor and with no ability to change the controls to WASD/Mouselook, the FPS control system of today. Thankfully however there is a simple solution to this, VoidSW a DukeNukem Sourceport also supports Shadow Warrior and with it enabled I soon had a DirectX version of Shadow Warrior running at native 21:9 resolution with rebind-able controls.

An average play-through of Shadow Warrior would take about 14 hours, time which I knew I couldn't spend but I played enough to remember the good old days where games like this took less time to develop and would run great new even older hardware. Shadow Warrior benefited from the developers comfortability with Build after Duke Nukem 3D and it showed though the superior level design taking it to the max. In the couple of hours I did play I only encountered some of the game's basic enemies and collected about half of the weapons in Lo Wang's arsenal. I forgot how ridiculous the level of gore was although it was comically rendered, it left little to the imagination and tremendously excited myself at the time.


Final Verdict: Shadow Warrior is a minor classic but very much a product of it's time. I think it's harder to play and look at today than DOOM is due to the way it forces the 3D perspective to create more realistically shaped environments. The action however is loud, fast and littered with the protagonist's wisecracks and one liners as enemies explode with blood.It was fun for a couple of hours but it's highly unlikely I'll be trying it out again, as with Duke Nukem 3D, I'm happy with the memories I have.

Technicals: 2 hours approx playtime using a Nvidia 3070Ti @ 3440x1440 @ 175Hz with max settings on Windows 11. Windows HDR does not enhance.

Bugs: The standard version of Shadow Warrior does not have modern resolutions nor has options for adjusting keybinding. The VoidSW component of the Eduke32 sourceport however fixes both issues flawlessly..

Shadow Warrior Classic is available from GOG for FREE as in 2016 a Shadow Warrior Classic Redux version was made available for sale on both GOG and Steam.

Franchise Timeline: 

Shadow Warrior [1997]
- Shadow Warrior: Twin Dragon [1998]
- Shadow Warrior: Wanton Destruction [2005]
Shadow Warrior [2013]
Shadow Warrior 2 [2016]
- Shadow Warrior Classic Redux [2016]
Shadow Warrior 3 [2022]

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Retro Review: Quake II (1997) [2019]

Note: Quake II was originally released in 1997. The base game was given a facelift by Lightspeed Studios working with Nvidia in 2019 to showcase the value of Nvidia's RTX ray-tracing technology. The latter version is reviewed here.

I honestly didn't ever expect to install Quake II again. It was, superior to Quake in technology as well as setting, fun in its day but is considerably aged looking by now. Yes it's obviously been modded by fans to run in HD with updated textures etc, but id Software have not remastered it as they did with the original. They may not need to now however; After a proof of concept from Christoph Schied and the team at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, who added ray tracing to the game, Nvidia got behind a new modification that would serve to transform one of gaming's greatest tech-demos of the 1990's into one for the 2020's. I installed it earlier in the year just to test a new RTX GPU and was well impressed by the enhancements it brought to the game. This coupled with the fact that it is also 25 years old this year prompted me to take Quake II for an anniversary spin before the year was out.

What Nvidia RTX does is it enables real-time ray tracing. This used to be limited to CGI in visual effects for movies or photorealistic renderings for example, while games traditionally had to rely on direct lighting or precaluclated rays. RTX is able to instead, generate interactivity in images that react to lighting, shadows and reflections in real time. Now the GPU processing power required for this is expensive and reflected in the price of the current generation of GPUs but even then the effect is so demanding that it often can't be enabled together with Ultra-high quality graphics on modern games and still maintain a satisfactory frame-rate. Quake II however, is very far from modern and is a perfect showcase for the true power of the technology and what it means for gaming in general.

While playing Quake II RTX, despite the levels and some upscaled but dated textures and ancient modelling for enemies and pickups, I did often forget I was looking at a 25 year old game. The lighting and reflection effects were astounding. Your character is reflected as you look at reflective surfaces like computer screens or glass, overhead lighting and effects are reflected in all liquid and there was one sequence in total darkness that created a strobe light effect so realistic that I'm glad I don't have epilepsy. This all looked impressive on an SDR 4K monitor when I sampled it earlier but was even more amazing in HDR during my full play-through.

Quake II was an important step in the history of the FPS. It was one of the first examples of coloured lighting, a revolutionary feature for the time. Additionally the engine was written in such a way that it could be easily modified and marketed to others and it certainly was used for this purpose. Quake II powered classics such as SiN and Soldier of Fortune. Valve even used the Quake II engine to power the first version of Half-Life and although the final GoldSrc engine is more akin to the original Quake engine, GoldSrc still contained some Quake II code. It's fair to say that after John Romero left and beginning with Quake II, id software began producing games that were less about the story and gameplay and more about "tech-demos" showcasing the power of each iteration of their new engines preventing any of their games from reaching the hype Doom and Quake had in the mid 1990's until DOOM in 2016.

Quake II ditched the strange nailgun shooting Lovecraftian horror setting of the original and adopted something they were much more familiar with, shooting abominations with energy and explosive weapons as a Space Marine! Your enemy now was The Strogg, an alien race of cyborg-ish monstrosities that were invading earth, but your mission as a 1990's FPS game hero before AI coded team mates were a thing, is to attack their home world and kill their leader. As one would expect from a glorified tech demo, it was pretty short on narrative but that may be also be one of id's charms.

My initial time with Quake II RTX was brief so it was a thrill now to explore beyond the confines of the free version. The game is expansive was was the norm at the time and as I was more concerned with the visual aspect rather than playing the game I had godmode on half the time during some of the sequences that due to 25 years of advancements in level design and AI, are now too dumb to try to beat normally. It still took over 6 hours to navigate from start to finish and I would estimate a lot longer if going through carefully. In fact I recall one St. Partick's weekend in 1999 I played through the game in about 8 hours in co-op with my friend the late James Dutton. I think he'd approve of the enhancements made to the game today.


Final Verdict: The aged visuals, somewhat confusing level design by modern standards and the lack of compelling narrative even by FPS terms is not enough to play Quake II again. It's just not good enough or worth your time unless you need a hit of nostalgia. Quake II RTX however is certainly somthing that you should investigate if you have the hardware for it. It transforms the game and shugarcoats the aged visuals with some of the tastiest sugar you've ever had. Actually, it can't be sugar, it's cocaine... it's cocaine not sugar. But you must see for yourself.

Technicals:
Case 1: 1.4 hours playtime @ 3840 x 2160 (4K) / 60Hz with max settings and RTX ON. Avg FPS 35,  No HDR
Case 2: 6.1 hours playtime @ 3440x1440 UW / 175Hz with max settings and RTX ON.  Avg FPS 95, HDR settings implimented in game.  
Both cases through Steam using a Nvidia 3070Ti on Windows 11.

Bugs: Pressing F12 for a screenshot crashes the game. Rebinding F12 to another key and using that to screenshot also crashes the game. Not a bug but as Quake II used a CD as it's music soundtrack there is no music in the game. This was easily solved by using .ogg files of the music tracks from the original CD and placing them in a music folder in the game directory.

Quake II RTX is free to download from Steam or GOG and try out on your RTX ray tracing enabled system (it also apparently works with AMD RX series) but only has a few early levels. If you have the full version of the game (again on Steam or GOG) you get the benefit of being able to play through the entire game in the RTX implementation. Quake II is available from both Steam or GOG for €4.99. The Steam Quake II copy to unlock the full version of Quake II RTX for this review was purchased for €1.64 in July 2019.

Quake Series:

Quake [1996]
- Quake Mission Pack No. 1: Scourge of Armagon [1997]
- Quake Mission Pack No. 2: Dissolution of Eternity [1997]
Quake II [1997]
- Quake II Mission Pack: The Reckoning [1998]
- Quake II Mission Pack: Ground Zero [1998]
Quake III Arena [1999]
- Quake III: Team Arena [2000]
Quake 4 [2005]
- Enemy Territory: Quake Wars [2007]
- Quake Live [2010]
- Quake: Dimension of the Past [2016]
Quake Champions [2017]
- Quake II RTX [2019]
- Quake: Dimension of the Machine [2021]

 

Friday, December 09, 2022

Replay Review: Return to Castle Wolfenstein [2001]

While I enjoyed playing the 1993 version of DOOM a while back, I did so partly because it was one of my first PC video games. It wasn't until after DOOM II in 1994 that I played Wolfenstein for the first time and certainly for not as long. Compared to DOOM it was a bit inferior and I felt it was more interesting killing hell-spawn as opposed to just Nazis. However as the DOOM franchise was stagnant by the turn of the century, I welcomed a new version of Wolfenstein in 2001 as my new FPS for the year, even favouring purchasing it above Halo: Combat Evolved as by then killing Nazis was actually a more novel idea (Return to Castle Wolfenstein predated both the entire Medal of Honor and Call of Duty franchises).

Return to Castle Wolfenstein is a reboot of the Wolfenstein franchise as far as the loose narrative is concerned but employs similar themes including Nazi experiments such as the creation of "Ubersoldats" similar to MechaHitler from Wolfenstein 3D and occult themes including the appearance of the undead as in Wolfenstein 3D: Spear of Destiny. Return to Castle Wolfenstein is set in 1943 and once again follows the adventures of protagonist US Army Ranger William “B.J.” Blazkowicz as he navigates through German castles, secret laboratories and ancient tombs on his quest to thwart the plans of Heinrich Himmler’s German SS Paranormal Division from producing a force that could win them the war. 

Built on the id Tech 3 engine, under producers Id Software, developers Grey Matter who would also later make the first Call of Duty expansion delivered a very well received reboot of Wolfenstein. Despite the horror/sci-fi elements of the franchise they created an experience that was 80% WW2 action movie (specifically Where Eagles Dare) with an action movie score delivered by Bill Brown (Rainbow Six) and with a series of very well crafted levels which, while much too linear by today's standards, were certainly among the most superior examples of level design at the time. The game's weapons were also modelled on WW2 weapons including the British Sten gun and the U.S. Thompson M1 although one is most likely to use German weapons such as the FG-42 rifle much more as you eliminate enemies on your one-man-army romp through the game.

I was all set to experience a blend of action and horror, wielding a combination of classic WW2 and fictional, sci-fi-inspired weapons against Nazis, the undead, and experimental mutant soldiers. Unfortunately the Steam implementation of RTCW is buggered and I was given an OGL error on startup. While there were a series for fixes suggested to get one up and running today, I was also directed to a "RealRTCW" a community made Steam mod that not only allows the 20+ year old game run on current state-of-the-art systems, but also in ultrawide resolutions and with a plethora of graphical upgrades. It does make changes to some in-game elements adding several era-appropriate weapons and some combat rebalancing which I felt were worthwhile additions and reduced some annoyances that are common with playing such an old game, but a more vanilla experience exists retaining only the graphical upgrades is available for those who need it. RealRTCW seemed like a no-brainer and its install and setup was as you'd expect from the main game. While a separate entity, the game requires RTCW registered to Steam to avail of it.

 

Final Verdict: A solid shooter with varied narrative objectives. Despite the sci-fi/horror elements, which are present but not oppressive, the vast majority of the game is a quasi-realistic depiction of "Hollywood Style" WW2 combat and strangely was the most accurate WW2 FPS experience in Multiplayer at time of release. It sits right in the middle of one of the oldest game franchises today which is still beloved and going strong, a testament to how the genre of "alternative" WW2 depictions have intrigued fans for decades.

Technicals: 11.2 hours playtime through Steam using a Nvidia 3070Ti @ 3440x1440 @ 175Hz (capped at 77FPS) with max settings on Windows 11. Windows HDR auto-activated and provided an expected amount of superior lighting.

Bugs: The standard version of Return to Castle Wolfenstein would not initialise after setting  a resolution other than 1024x768 citing an OpenGL error. full ultrawide support with no bugs was delivered through the RealRTCW mod.

Return to Castle Wolfenstein is available from Steam for €4.99 or GOG for €6.19 when not in a sale. Steam recommended for the RealRTCW patch. Review copy purchased from Fanatical for €2.39 in March 2021.


Series:

  • Castle Wolfenstein [1981]
  • Beyond Castle Wolfenstein [1984]
  • Wolfenstein 3D [1992]
  • - Wolfenstein 3D: Spear of Destiny [1992]
  • Return to Castle Wolfenstein [2001]
  • - Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory [2003]
  • Wolfenstein [2009]
  • Wolfenstein: The New Order [2014] 
  • - Wolfenstein: The Old Blood [2015]
  • Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus [2017]
  • - Wolfenstein: Youngblood [2019]
  • Wolfenstein III [?] 

Sunday, November 27, 2022

First Play Review - Sniper: Art of Victory [2008]

I heard good things about Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 even as a relatively lower budget game than I'm used to and was waiting for it to go on sale to purchase. I was fortunate enough to get it and it's two predecessors Sniper: Ghost Warrior and this game bundled together for €0.95. While I'm not expecting much from Ghost Warrior, I was expecting even less from the very first game in Polish outfit City Interactive's long running series. I do look at other reviews for games before I buy them just to get a vibe but as this was essentially 32 cents, I simply installed and tried it before reading anything.

What was not promising was wherever video intro technology being used to display the opening logo or cutscene didn't show for me. I heard the narration but I got a 1024x768 blank screen before the main menu. Not a good start, but the game was made for Windows XP so... Changing the resolution involved editing a config file in the game's directory. Once that was done I was on the right track and I can safely say I has no other technical issues beyond that. All the issues I did have were with the gameplay itself.

Sniper: Art of Victory is clearly a low budget FPS which favours the sniper rifle as the base weapon and puts you in the shoes of a Red Army sniper tasked with various missions on the Eastern front in WWII. The graphics would have already been dated looking in 2008 when compared to the likes of Far Cry 2 or Battlefield: Bad Company 2 that were released in the same year. City Interactive however, were only just then trying to level up from the bargain bin low budget games tier at the time of release so I was willing to ignore graphics if the gameplay was good. Spoiler alert: It wasn't!

The actual sniping was neat enough, the game takes account of wind, your breathing, bullet drop etc. which is certainly not the norm in most FPS. Unfortunately the enemies you are actually shooting at are are what ruined the experience. The AI was shockingly bad, they were either dumb as a brick and stood motionless as shots were going off nearby or they were magically endowed with the power to see you even if you were prone or in cover. I was on board with the fact that you alert a camp full of guards once you fire the first shot, but I was not on board with the entire camp firing accurately on your position (with machine guns that should be relatively out of accurate range) before anyone could have seen your muzzle flash? No! Absolute nonsense! The credits list four play-testers who I must conclude were drunk while testing.

I shot this Kraut several minutes ago...

The sound was generic and passable but the voice work was a shambles. Your character doesn't speak much but when he does your voice is that of an American sounding stock voice artist reading the lines emotionlessly, not even a fake Russian accent attempt. I stuck it out for about 90 minutes before I got stuck in scenery and was then killed jumping off the roof of a shed. Something I've done in real life without injury, but a death sentence for a Red Army sniper apparently.

There was only a handful of good shooters out in 2008. Far Cry 2, Battlefield: Bad Company 2 and Call of Duty: World at War. Actually I didn't even play World at War because I was still playing some Crysis, Half Life: Episode 2 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare from the previous year. All games mentioned I have and will gladly play again today. But if Sniper: Art of Victory had somehow found it's way to me then I can safely say I wouldn't have been installing it today.

Final Verdict: An interesting idea that was seemingly done better three years earlier by Rebellion with Sniper Elite. Just because this can still be played doesn't mean it should be. So don't. Ever!

Technicals: 1.5 hours playtime through Steam using a Nvidia 3070Ti @ 3440x1440 @ 175Hz with max settings on Windows 11. A DirectX 8 game, it forces 60FPS as a cap. Windows HDR provided no enhancement.

Bugs: Blank screen on startup until menu. Resolution needs to be manually edited in config. AI is just incompetently coded as opposed to bugged.

Sniper Art of Victory is only available from Steam for €2.99 when not in a sale. Review copy purchased from Fanatical (with both Sniper: Ghost Warrior and Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2) for €0.95 in December 2018.

Series:

  •     Sniper: Art of Victory [2008]
  •     Sniper Ghost Warrior [2010]
  •     Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 [2013]
  •     Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 [2017]
  •     Sniper: Ghost Warrior Contracts [2019]
  •     Sniper: Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 [2021]

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

First Play Review - Heavy Rain (2010)[2019]

I played Quantic Dream's Fahrenheit in 2005 introducing me to a very different style of adventure game where cinematic storytelling was the focus rather than pointing and clicking. Despite being a french outfit I granted a pass to Quantic Dream created for what it was. Later in 2006 I recall being awed by the reveal of the tech for their new game called Heavy Rain. Producer David Cage gave interviews explaining his technology and motion capturing efforts drumming up tremendous excitement. Sadly it was later revealed that the new game was going to be a PlayStation3 exclusive and in 2008 the cover of an issue of EDGE led me to my first of very few cases of console envy. 

By the time Heavy Rain was actually released (after considerable delay) in 2010, the capabilities of the PC had by far exceeded those of the game and I enjoyed a far superior catalogue than any console but I had enjoyed Fahrenheit so much that I did for a time consider becoming a PS3 owner. However the ROI was deemed too negligible to get a console for a single game even one that was getting the press and accolades. It would be another eight years before it was revealed that Quantic Dream would release Heavy Rain and the studio's subsequent games for the PC. However there would be an additional delay as the initial PC release was limited to the hideously substandard Epic Games Store platform for a year, netting Quantic Dream another round of "exclusivity backhanders." But it was OK, I had waited for nine years and as I'm only playing it now, I actually waited for twelve.

Much like it's predecessor Fahrenheit, Heavy Rain is a cinematic story-driven adventure game with QTE actions and choices that determine how the story unfolds. Quantic Dream pushed the boundaries of character modelling for the age and with significant motion-capture development it has the production quality of a movie with it's camera views and angles, high quality voice acting and a Hollywood class score delivered by the late Norman Corbeil who also contributed to Fahrenheit.

While not named, Heavy Rain's setting is a bleak urban industrialised area of Philadelphia and as it's name suggests, is rains significantly as if to punctuate how depressing life is for it's despondent inhabitants. The plot is centered on four characters which you control through various scenes and take part in their lives as they intersect a police investigation into "The Origami Killer", a serial killer who preys on young boys by drowning them in rainwater leaving origami figures at the scene. We follow Ethan (Pascal Langdale - Killjoys) a family man whose life is shattered when one of his sons is killed in an accident and later his remaining son is kidnapped by the killer. Scott Shelby (Sam Douglas - Snatch) a P.I. perusing his own investigation. Norman Jayden (Leon Ockenden) an FBI profiler assisting the police with their investigation. Lastly Madison Page (Judi Beecher [voice] - Taken 3 and Jacqui Ainsley [model] - King Arthur: Legend of the Sword) an insomniac journalist  who becomes embroiled with the investigation.


What annoyed me about Fahrenheit is that the story fell apart when it introduced the prophecy and the supernatural elements, distorting what was shaping up to be a fine psychological thriller. Such mistakes are not repeated here and the game is firmly rooted in realistic drama that slowly unveils the root of human madness - or plain evil depending on your own views. While it's fair to say the story is significantly better than Fahrenheit's, it's clear from the construction of the narrative that David Cage is not the best writer when it comes to plot holes. While he nails the drama and emotional intensity of a scene; the technical issues in constructing a believable story without some gaping plot holes are sadly beyond Cage's reach. The most egregious and largest amount of issues by far are the almost complete incompetence on the part of the police. Granted some of them are corrupt but the way they are portrayed in the game as so inept they make Frank Drebin look like Columbo. Plot holes and dumb plot elements are fine in something like an FPS but in a narrative-driven game they can be distracting. To be clear these issues don't ruin the game but prevent it from being a masterpiece of interactive storytelling.

Much more improved upon from it's predecessor is the control system of Heavy Rain, some of which was apparently borrowed from Shenmue. Deft mouse movements as you press and hold your mouse to create patterns as well as quick snap clicks of associated keys are used here instead of the somewhat awkward "Simon Says" colour-coordinated gameplay of Fahrenheit. Unlike it's predecessor the game is much more forgiving for mistakes, you need to do certain sequences again if it's a necessary plot point but often you just might need to live with the failure and carry on with the 'failed' state into a different branch of the story than you would have had had you passed the QTE trial. This mechanic is a much more interesting way of presenting the content as success, failure or even inaction can produce different consequences making the story not only adapt to your choices but also your skill.


As documented in my review of Aspyr's port of the Fahrenheit remaster, that port was deeply flawed with  an initial inability to launch as well as progress-debilitating save-file corruption. Heavy Rain by comparison is technically flawless having been ported by Quantic Dream themselves and ran without a single issue on Windows 11 save for it not adapting to 2:9 resolution, keeping 16:9 even when the former is selected. It's engine performs admirably and it's visuals are superior to the original, having received some class of remaster itself for the PS4 in 2016 which was then carried over to the PC port.

Final Verdict: A deeply atmospheric, emotional and suspense filled adventure that had some remarkable twists and turns depending on your choices and actions (or inaction). While the story is flawed, the game's technical presentation, music, incredible voice acting and one's connection to the characters overshadow any faults with the plot. In Heavy Rain, success was achieved in pushing the boundaries of interactive cinematic storytelling and cemented Quantic Dream as masters of the genre. 

DLC: None

Technicals: 9.1 hours playtime through Steam using a Nvidia 3070Ti @ 3440x1440 @ 175Hz with max settings on Windows 11. Game capped at 60FPS and forced to 16:9. Win 11 HDR provides satisfactory enhancement.

Bugs: None.

Heavy Rain is available from Steam for €19.90 with significant sales occasionally. Reviewed copy purchased from Steam in 2020 for €8.16.

Quantic Dream releases (PS3/Console)[PC]

Wednesday, November 02, 2022

First Play Review - Metro 2033 Redux (2010)[2014]

Note: While Metro 2033 was released by THQ in 2010, Deep Silver later released a Redux (enhanced) version. The latter release is reviewed here.

In 2010 Ukrainian studio 4A Games turned Russian science-fiction writer Dmitry Glukhovsky's most famous novel Metro 2033 into a much lauded single-player first-person shooter. The game is set in the underground Metro tunnels of a Moscow which has been almost utterly destroyed by nuclear war. You play as one of the Metro's inhabitants who must brave the perpetually dark tunnels and sometimes harsh winter of the surface as you evade or kill both enemy factions and mutated beasts. As opposed to a military science-fiction shooter as one might suspect, the game falls instead into the category of survival-horror. It's really the worst kind of genre as I generally hate the idea of "ammo conservation", "environmental death" and "jump-scare-enemies". While certainly normally not my thing I decided to at least attempt to play by the rules, and see what 4A Games produced, especially as the series has progressed to a trilogy (thus far).

Following 4A's initial success with the game in 2010, they released a sequel Metro: Last Light in 2013 featuring significant graphical and gameplay improvements. Some of these improvements were then retroactively applied to the original Metro 2033 and 4A created a superior version of both games called Metro Redux the following year in 2014. Naturally I installed the Redux version of Metro 2033 and was greeted with a stable platform with a superior graphical fidelity augmented by Windows 11 HDR.

The central narrative, as with most FPS isn't considerably complex. As Artyom a young inhabitant of Exhibition, one of the underground areas humanity has claimed, you are tasked to bring an important message to Polis, capital of the Metro. You embark on a fairly linear path through the dank tunnels, collapsing walkways, monster ridden sewers and sometimes the even deadlier topside. The game is very atmospheric, everyone speaks English but in their native accents, everything feels broken and filthy, lighting is used to phenomenal effect and you rarely feel alone for long due to a plethora of NPCs you encounter along your route. Listening to others talk earns you hidden humanity which may effect the outcome of the game, much of the NPCs stories are most critical of modern Russia, but satire is not the focus of the game, it simply adds flavour.

Thankfully the game does not seem to fully embrace the harsher survival horror tropes of the genre. This is partly because the "Spartan" difficulty mode was ported into Metro 2033 from Metro Last Light. In this mode one is given greater resources and movement speed as opposed to the default play style of the original version of the game which by all accounts seemed more difficult such as having a less forgiving environment and less equipment and ammunition to collect. I did conserve a lot of ammo in the first half of the game but I became a little more trigger-happy as it went on as I got used to the amount of ammo one picks up with simple exploration.


AI is not the best here and there are not a significant variety of enemies, with some appearing in only one or two small areas of the game. There are not really jump scares or such nonsense but fear and apprehension is forced with the use of sound. When sound stops you know you've killed everything. Weapons are interesting; there are standard "pre war" weapons such as revolvers and Kalashnikovs but many weapons are bastardised makeshift weapons that have been put together from components of other devices such as gas-operated ball-bearing weapons. You can only carry three, so the tactic of picking up something that has more ammo than what you're holding can be used frequently.

There was one stand-out level partway through the game where you have have cross over (or under) a bridge - each side guarded by an enemy faction... who are also against each other! While many of the levels were unique even to a veteran FPS player, this seemed extraordinarily well designed and could be traversed differently, a stealth route under the bridge or a "loud" route across it. I completed one side by popping off each member of the enemy faction on one side with just a silenced pistol. Then I collected all their ammunition which I used on a crazy frontal assault to the other side. It wasn't the only time interesting choices were presented in an otherwise strictly linear game which was a nice touch.

The only issue I encountered during gameplay was a couple of times on the surface - where you must wear a gas mask or die from the poisoned atmosphere - was that I ran out of gas mask filters while exploring for ammo and ironically, more gas-mask filters! The first time it happened I had to replay a significant portion back beyond a number of autosaves to the beginning of the level so I could change my gas mask filter replacement and conservation strategy to have enough to finish the level. The second time it happened I enabled a cheat to put no time limit on the filter. Replaying sequences due to not having resources available wasn't something I was interested in doing. Other than this minor issue the game was great.


Final Verdict: The survival horror genre attached to this game put me off for years, but it's not nearly as harsh as the genre suggests in this Redux version. You have plenty of ways to see by flashlight, petrol lighter and even night-vision goggles. Ammo and equipment was more plentiful than in some WWII shooters so this is certainly a very light implementation of survival-horror, something which will make me less apprehensive now about the sequel Metro: Last Light that I will experience at some point in the future.

Technicals: 12.5 hours playtime through Steam using a Nvidia 3070Ti @ 3440x1440 @ 175Hz with max settings on Windows 11. As a Direct X game, it activated Windows HDR and this provided an unexpected amount of superior lighting.

Bugs: No bugs of note.

Metro 2033 Redux is available from Steam or GOG for €19.99 when not in a sale. Review copy purchased from Humble Bundle (with Metro: Last Light Redux) for €5.69 in December 2019.

Series:

  • Metro 2033 [2010]
  • Metro: Last Light [2013]
  • - Metro Redux [2014]
  • Metro Exodus [2019]
  • - Metro Exodus (Enhanced) [2021]

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

First Play Review - Assassin's Creed: Revelations [2011]

Assassin's Creed: Revelations is the final chapter in what is known as 'The Ezio Trilogy' bringing the epic saga of Ezio Auditore DeFirenze (Roger Craig Smith - Batman: Arkham Origins) to a stunning finale. It's generally considered the weakest of the three however as the main plot is much more by the numbers than the previous games, but I believe the ending sequence is the strongest so far, a fantastic bookend to an exciting series even if the game as a whole is not superior to it's predecessors. After  completing the previous two entries in the series, I said I would complete the trilogy before giving the franchise a rest for the time being.

For Desmond Miles (Nolan North - Uncharted) in the present day, Revelations picks up shortly after the terrible events at the end of Brotherhood. Desmond is in a coma but his mind is being supported by The Animus entirely as he follows the memories of Ezio, now a little past his prime and on his final quest to unlock the Library of Altair in Masayaf. But first he needs to find the keys in the city of Constantinople in 1512.

Constantinople is a wonderful setting for a game. It's a much more layered city than Rome and lends itself even more to the parkour staple. Much like your time in Rome in Brotherhood, you will play about 95% of the game in Constantinople and Ubisoft Montreal continued to make strides pushing even more fidelity out of their engine - although it was showing it's age when released originally. The streets were now filled with even more varied denizens and it's much more visually different from the Italian sights and sounds of the previous games, from the Turkish and Greek background noise to the brighter colours that the Byzantines pioneered in their fashion.

Gameplay is pretty understandably not changed much from the previous series entry. This is seen as a negative by many but I'd have thought changing the formula before Assassin's Creed III would have been a mistake as it really is a continuation of what's there before as opposed to a new experience. You have all the weapons and gadgets you had in Italy, obviously after going through the usual process of buying and upgrading them all again, while both fighting and movement seem very familiar to the point where the tutorial is much lighter probably suggesting that it's not for noobs to be beginning here. I was also never killed in CQC by an enemy which I put down to a familiarity with the unchanged control system spread out over 100 hours of Assassin's Creed over the past few months more than the game being easy (there are no difficulty levels). The control scheme does use different buttons here for Eagle Sense and a general context actions now which seems more fluid for the latter during gameplay. 


Your new gadget is the "Hook Blade" which means that you can use the Hidden Blade as a spring loaded hook that seems to allow you to scale buildings faster with less effort which is also suggested as a plus as Ezio is viably getting on in years. The new blade also allows him to hook onto some very conveniently placed zip-lines about the city for a quick escape. Two major additions are the use of crafted throwable bombs which you gather ingredients for and use to kill/distract enemies. The other addition is a mini-game in which you defend your bases against assault by assigning resources to guard captured bases in order to prevent them falling into Templar control. The latter addition I felt was unnecessary, uninteresting, and the tutorial event felt clunky in the Revelations interface as the camera can be dodgy at the best of times. I basically never let my notoriety fall far enough to be attacked so none of the base attacks actually triggered and I literally bypassed the entire mechanic for the whole game! With regards to the bombs I found very little use for them, preferring to either use my crossbow to range enemies or use stealth to get past guards rather than bombs for distraction.

What I did enjoy was the expansion of the "Brotherhood" system where you rescue citizens, invite them to join your cause, and subsequently train them as Assassins by sending them on missions in return for XP and rewards. You are also allowed to assign five Assassins to each of about 12 cities around the world as well as maintain a pool of 12 at the ready meaning you had to rescue and train an army of about 72 to fill all available slots. I have an itch for unit micromanagement not scratched since I played MGSV so this worked and I spent over a week building my army rather than advancing the game's plot. It's a totally unnecessary time sink that doesn't do anything in the game to really aid you but I enjoyed doing it and therefore I won't apologise.

Two sections of the game are not played as Ezio. As Desmond you're on an Animus constructed island where you explore areas of puzzles as Desmond narrates your history from childhood (including voice memories from his father (John DeLancie - Star Trek: The Next Generation) up to the point where Desmond is taken from his barman job in New York by Abstergo just prior to the events depicted in the first Assassin's Creed. The narrated levels "Desmond's Memories" are jumping and construction puzzles that are so wildly out of place in the game that I couldn't enjoy them and only did half of them, watching someone silently do the reminder on YouTube.

The other memory sequences are discovered as Ezio finds the Maysaif keys in Constantinople. In these memories you play Altaïr ibn La-Ahad (Cas Anvar - The Expanse) at different periods of his later life after the first game. They serve to piece together the puzzle of how the keys were sent to Constantinople and depict both the fate of The Apple, Altaïr himself and serve as a bookend to our original protagonist's story.

Final Verdict: All good things must come to an end. While Assassin's Creed obviously continues far past this point, this is the end of The Ezio Trilogy. I think gameplay here in Revelations was the most polished and enjoyable despite the lacklustre new features added. While it's fair to say the main story to the game is the weakest, the saga of the series most beloved protagonist comes to an exciting conclusion. We also get closure for the fate of Altaïr in the game's ultimately satisfying and poignant ending.

DLC: Assassins Creed: Revelations featured three DLC packs, 2 for multiplayer maps and skins while the third was "The Lost Archive" a puzzle game inside The Animus similar to the aforementioned "Desmond's Memories" and not something I wanted to play. Therefore I also watched these on YouTube to get the whole story. Purchases of Assassin's Creed Revelations Gold Edition get all the DLC included.

Technicals: 35+ approximate hours playtime through Ubisoft Connect using a Nvidia 3070Ti @ 3440x1440 @ 175Hz with max settings on Windows 11. As with Assassin's Creed II and Brotherhood, Cutscenes force 16:9 ratio with black bars, returning to 21:9 for gameplay. Win 11 HDR provides no notable enhancement.

Bugs: Sadly there was a significant amount of crashes in Revelations, far more than the previous two games combined. There was a three of instances where the game would crash in the same place and not advance after a restart. This issue was solved by setting the processor affinity on the Revelations process in task manager to only use CPU 0 and then re-enable all processors after the sequence had resolved.

The Assassins Creed: Revelations base game is available from the Ubisoft Store or Steam for €14.99 with significant sales occasionally. The Assassin's Creed: Revelations Gold Edition was available for €19.99 at time of publication. Reviewed copy purchased from The Ubisoft Store in 2019 for €4.80.

Series Timeline [PC]:
Assassin's Creed [2007]
Assassin's Creed II [2010]
Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood [2011]
Assassin's Creed: Revelations [2011]
Assassin's Creed III [2012]
Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag [2013]
- Assassin's Creed: Freedom Cry [2014]
- Assassin's Creed III: Liberation HD [2014]
Assassin's Creed Unity [2014]
Assassin's Creed Rogue [2015]
Assassin's Creed Syndicate [2015]
Assassin's Creed Origins [2017]
Assassin's Creed Odyssey [2018]
- Assassin's Creed III Remastered [2019]
Assassin's Creed Valhalla [2020]
Assassin's Creed Mirage [2023]
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Tuesday, October 18, 2022

First Play Review - Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood [2011]

Note: The version reviewed is Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood - Digital Deluxe Edition

Rather than release an Assassin's Creed III with a new protagonist next, the success of Assassin's Creed II prompted Ubisoft to continue the story of Ezio Auditore in a new game to be released in 2011, only a year after the last instalment. In June 2022 Ubisoft announced that the ability to download and play the DLC for Brotherhood would cease on September 1st (this was changed to October 1st after Internet outcry). Having gone through ACII in July to prepare myself for Brotherhood, it was now early August so time was of the essence.

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood continues the narrative of Assassin's Creed II pretty much the moment the previous game ended both for Desmond and Ezio and their respective plots continue. Desmond and his new crew are "on the run" and Ezio is on the trail of the Apple once again but this time his adventures are restricted to mainly one open-world location, Rome. Here Ezio seeks to thwart the plans of Cesare Borgia who has claimed the Apple for the Templars as well as seeking his own personal vengeance.

One should not believe that this game suffers from a single location as may have been perceived as a failing of Dragon Age II in the same year. While we did see one small part of it, Vatican at the end of ACII,  here the entire city of Rome is rendered and is, as one would expect, much larger than any of the previous game's locations and sustains the narrative for the vast majority of the game. With support for The Assassins somewhat scarce Ezio builds up Rome with his wealth in a similar manner which he did with Monteriggioni and wins the respect of the Mercenaries, Courtesans and The Thieves Guild which become more available to help him as he wrests control of each district of Rome from the Borgia and returns it to the people.

Ezio's home base is now a brotherhood safe house in the heart of Rome and it is from here, as "The Mentor" he starts to build a new army by training assassins. This is done through the addition of the "Brotherhood" system, allowing you to recruit and train NPC assassins by sending them on money and XP-gathering missions and also providing support to you in times of need. It's a very interesting addition to the game and despite it's benefits it provided a major distraction for me as I like to micro-manage any kind of minions when I get them. Also an improvement is the use of horses, both inside the main city walls and on the outskirts. They come when whistled for and you can make great use of mounted combat (below) as well as a convenient method of travel from practically any two points.

While some things change, others stay the same and Leonardo Da Vinci returns to send Ezio on a series of adventures outside of Rome which are welcome changes of scenery and provide him with some new gadgets including parachutes and a crossbow, the latter becoming one of my more personal favourite weapons in the game as a one-hit-one-kill near silent ranged weapon. Also the same is most of your missions which while vastly superior the the original game, are still pretty much the same as with ACII, but that's OK this is a continuation of before not a reinvention of the wheel.

Final Verdict: Although this is only the third Assassin's Creed title I believe at this stage Ubisoft already knew that this franchise was going to be a yearly milkable cash-cow as CoD is for Activision. While graphics did see an uplift, there wasn't too much technically changed for Brotherhood. Most systems including combat remained relatively intact and while the new additions such as the Brotherhood system and using a crossbow were most welcome, the narrative was a little weaker than ACII. There was times the game it felt like a major DLC for ACII, but perhaps just a really really long, unmissable and worthwhile one.

DLC: Originally Assassins Creed: Brotherhood featured two DLC packs The Copernicus Conspiracy and The Da Vinci Disappearance with several hours of additional story content. Purchases of Assassin's Creed Brotherhood: Digital Deluxe Edition have both DLC included. At time of writing the ability for the DLC pack to be downloaded will be removed from Ubisoft Connect on Oct 1st 2022.

Technicals: 35+ approximate hours playtime through Ubisoft Connect using a Nvidia 3070Ti @ 3440x1440 @ 175Hz with max settings on Windows 11. As with Assassin's Creed II, Cutscenes force 16:9 ratio with black bars, returning to 21:9 for gameplay. Win 11 HDR provides no notable enhancement. 

Bugs: (1) Two to three unexpected program quits over the course of 35+ hours. (2) There ware a number of event sequences that could not be completed due to the framerate being higher than anything at time of release. If the framerate is capped to 60FPS for these sequences, it runs perfectly. (3) Late in the game a sequence did not trigger, halting progress. The level was restarted and the event triggered correctly the second time through. (4) One of the DLC packs did not activate correctly, a file was made available by a user of the Ubisoft Tech Support forums to correct the issue.

The Assassins Creed: Brotherhood base game is available from the Ubisoft Store or Steam for €9.99 with significant sales occasionally. The Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood Digital Deluxe Edition was not available for sale at time of publication. Reviewed copy purchased from The Ubisoft Store in 2019 for €5.44.

Series Timeline [PC]:
Assassin's Creed [2007]
Assassin's Creed II [2010]
Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood [2011]
Assassin's Creed: Revelations [2011]
Assassin's Creed III [2012]
Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag [2013]
- Assassin's Creed: Freedom Cry [2014]
- Assassin's Creed III: Liberation HD [2014]
Assassin's Creed Unity [2014]
Assassin's Creed Rogue [2015]
Assassin's Creed Syndicate [2015]
Assassin's Creed Origins [2017]
Assassin's Creed Odyssey [2018]
- Assassin's Creed III Remastered [2019]
Assassin's Creed Valhalla [2020]
Assassin's Creed Mirage [2023]

Monday, October 03, 2022

First Play Review: Assassins Creed 2 [2010]

Note: The version reviewed is Assassin's Creed II: Digital Deluxe Edition

Assassins Creed II is a direct sequel to the original Assassins Creed. The modern day story of The Animus continues as does the struggle between the Templars and the Assassins. The Templars continue to seek "The Apple of Eden", a McGuffin which they intend to use to enslave the world, and the noble Assassins seek to protect it. The genetic memories being followed to lead the Assassins to victory however are now of new protagonist and his adventures in Renaissance Italy. Many of the elements return such as the hidden blade, rooftop parkour and blending into your surroundings to escape your foes.

It has been three years since my first step into the world of Assassin's Creed by enjoying the original game in one of Ubisoft's most famous franchises and I was itching to return to see for myself why the series had spawned almost a dozen sequels in just 15 years. During the summer Ubisoft announced that they would limit the functionality of some of their older games, including the retirement of multiplayer and servers used to deliver DLC on September 1st 2022. One such game would be Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, the third game in the franchise which I had not yet played. However, more pressing was that I hadn't yet played Assassins Creed II which preceded it. It was early July and the race was on.

Assassins Creed II picks up for Desmond Miles in the 'present day' pretty much when we left him at the end of Assassin's Creed. However after exhausting the immediate relevance of Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad's memories you now delve into the past of Ezio Auditore da Firenze, a descendant of Altaïr some 300 years later and whom the modern-day Assassins believe will reveal the location of "The Apple" in 15th century Florence. Ezio is a completely different character to Altaïr which is a godsend as the latter was an uncharismatic and deathly serious compared to Ezio who quickly establishes himself as a lovable, womanizing rogue, yet fiercely loyal to his family. We learn more about him in the first 30 minutes than we are ever likely to know about Altaïr and it's easy to see why our new protagonist is considered the favourite of the series.

There are many additions and changes in Assassins Creed II. Ezio can heal his wounds, disarm foes in combat and is subject to a notoriety system which will have guards more alert to his antics. The main story is far more gripping than the original. It's structured differently and the gameplay missions are more varied now with multiple objectives that advance the plot as opposed to simply stalking and killing a target. Interestingly it also intersects with some more famous individuals one may remember from history class such as Pope Alexander IV, Lorenzo de Medici and your new best friend Leonardo da Vinci who creates some new equipment for you such as dual hidden-blades! In addition to the main story quests there are plenty of extras which range from mundane feather collecting to exciting assassination contracts. There are also Prince of Persia-esque puzzle-dungeons in which your accuracy and speed with acrobatics are considerably tested, rewarding you with the means to unlock powerful equipment.

One of the more interesting additions to the game is the inclusion of a central hub that's more than just the Assassins' safehouses of the original game. Ezio gets a home base in the form of the dilapidated walled town of Monteriggioni where you use your money to renovate, restore and earn income through tax. You will likely make far more than you can physically spend in the game, finishing with about a quarter of a million florins, enough to buy the papacy if you were allowed. Your home also allows you to display paintings you buy and display weapons and amour you acquire throughout your adventures all of which serve to cement your connection to the character as well as properly establish his connection to the world in a way not done in the original.

The detail level of the environment is also incredible. The Italian cities feel much more alive then those of the the holy-land and even more crowds of people are going about their business. NPCs range from courtesans which can be hired for distraction, street vendors telling you they have the best prices in all of Italy, to men carrying objects who curse you for causing them to drop them. And of course how could I forget to mention the deliberately annoying mandolin players blocking your path as they play misic for you in the hope of you sparing them some coin. Running through the streets can be difficult in crowds so free-running across rooftops can be a better way of traversing the world once you avoid guards positioned on the roofs who scold you before attempting to force you down. 

Sound design was standard Ubisoft fare, plenty of people cursing you and screaming in English but in vaguely comical Italian accents. Jesper Kyd returned to provide a competent and unobtrusive score as did Nolan North (Uncharted) and Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars) reprising voices for Desmond and Lucy respectively. They are joined by Roger Craig Smith (Resident Evil) as Ezio.


What really impressed me about this game, more so than all other elements was the sheer accuracy of the setting. I've never been to Florence, Venice or the other Italian locales depicted in the game but I do know something about architecture and to see the level of detail and accuracy of the famous buildings that still stand today is remarkable. After playing for a few hours I found myself watching travel videos on YouTube which go into the architecture and history of the buildings in which I had just spent hours scaling to find secrets and sneaking around silently killing guards. The thought occurred to me of course that it may in fact be easier for developers to input architectural studies of these famous buildings into to a 3D modelling application for the game engine than it would be to create an entirely fictional environment. Scaling the famous Giotto's Campanile and Brunelleschi's Dome on the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower is an extraordinary experience probably more than flying over somewhere familiar in a flight simulator and enhances the unique connection one has with the game world.

Final Verdict: Ezio is a likeable protagonist who is enjoyable to control. His arc spans three games, the first two - this and Brotherhood - vie for first and second favourites of the pre-RPG genre that the franchise adopted with Assassin's Creed: Origins. It's easy to see why as Assassin's Creed II is as superior a sequel to a game as Half-Life 2 or Mass Effect 2 are. It took all the mechanics of the original, and refined them, making the ones that worked better and took what didn't work and changed it to make them work.


DLC: Originally Assassins Creed II featured two DLC packs The Battle of Forlì and Bonfire of the Vanities with several hours of additional story content. They were sequences cut from the base game on release due to time constraints. Purchases of Assassin's Creed II: Digital Deluxe Edition include these packs reintegrated seamlessly and unskippable as part of the main game.

Technicals: 37 hours playtime through Ubisoft Connect using a Nvidia 3070Ti @ 3440x1440 @ 175Hz on Windows 11. Cutscenes force 16:9 ratio, returning to 21:9 for gameplay. Win 11 HDR provides no notable enhancement. Only bug was about two unexpected program quits over the course of 37 hours.

The Assassins Creed II base game is available from the Ubisoft Store or Steam for €9.99.with significant sales occasionally. The Assassin's Creed II: Digital Deluxe Edition was not available for sale at time of publication. Reviewed copy purchased from Fanatical in 2019 for €3.39.

Series Timeline [PC]:
Assassin's Creed [2007]
Assassin's Creed II [2010]
Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood [2011]
Assassin's Creed: Revelations [2011]
Assassin's Creed III [2012]
Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag [2013]
- Assassin's Creed: Freedom Cry [2014]
- Assassin's Creed III: Liberation HD [2014]
Assassin's Creed Unity [2014]
Assassin's Creed Rogue [2015]
Assassin's Creed Syndicate [2015]
Assassin's Creed Origins [2017]
Assassin's Creed Odyssey [2018]
- Assassin's Creed III Remastered [2019]
Assassin's Creed Valhalla [2020]
Assassin's Creed Mirage [2023]

Saturday, September 24, 2022

First Play Review: DOOM [2016]

Despite the success of DOOM 3 in 2004 it would take Id Software twelve years to release the next installment along with some incredible new technology. DOOM released in 2016 is more a sequel to the games released prior to DOOM 3 as that game's perpetually dark survival horror didn't really gel with the Doom concept. As a consequence DOOM is also a reboot as such and has lost its numbering but retains it's primary identity of balls-to-the-wall demon-killing FPS shenanigans where you put an end to the latest demonic invasion from Hell. Only this time you learn to be quick about it!

Doom has always been light on story. Any plot was even once relegated to a few pages of the manual that came with the original games of the 90's and DOOM 3 had very little by way of narrative in contrast to its peer FPSs of the early 2000s (it was released in the same year as Half-Life 2). DOOM today however has an 11.5 hour (on average) campaign which, while not a narrative cutscene filled epic by any sense, still fleshes out the story of the Doom Slayer (or Doom Marine) as your character still only gets a moniker as opposed to a name but you get the feeling you have more in terms of a story, a past and a goal. You play the Slayer that was essentially there since DOOM (1993) and you piece together a story that you were captured by the demons and imprisoned in hell after the events depicted in DOOM 64, only to be excavated by those working in a new Martian hellgate project facility under the control of scientific-genius(?) Dr. Samuel Hayden. Of course at least until he naturally loses the control and releases you to clean up the mess. So that's your job and just like you did in the 90's, you go through all of Mars and Hell itself to do it (again).

Much like it's predecessors, DOOM follows the principle of basically shooting everything that moves and doing it while not stopping. Stopping, even slowing and any form of careful strategy is death here, one must keep moving and killing rooms of enemies before you are allowed to progress to the next one. One of the ways employed to keep you moving is "glory kills", context-sensitive melee attacks that guarantee to both kill your target and claim rewards like health, armour and ammunition that 'spew' from it as it's beheaded or explodes in gore (no I don't know what the in-game explanation for why that happens). It's a genuinely fun mechanic and encourages you to shoot and finish an enemy off with a melee attack which powers you up for the next target and so on until you clear the room.


The game brings back not only the Doom Slayer but also has the elements that make it Doom, your weapons, enemies and systems. Your weapons are all here, shotgun, plasma rifle, minigun, chainsaw and naturally the BFG. This time you get alternate fire modes and a choice of two modifications that are upgraded as you progress expending the base weapons with zoom functions and specialised explosive ammo etc. The mobs are what make DOOM Doom in my opinion and they all return here, Zombie soldiers, Imps, Barons of Hell, Cacodemons, Mancubui and Revenants to name but a small few. Everything is basically a upgraded design from mobs as seen in DOOM II, sure they have some variants with different attacks and strategies but they were all just too iconic not to use again.

Even with welcome additions like RPG-lite enhancements to customise your weapons and armour, the additions of grenades and jumping jet boots DOOM is still the essence of the experience it was in the 1990's. You sometimes have to grab a blue/red/yellow skull-key to unlock a door or reveal secret areas (some which are pieces of levels from DOOM (1993)) with collectables or ammunition and finishing a level gives you screen to tell you what goodies you found but also what you missed if you want to try it again for full achievements.


As good as the visuals are, the sound design and score are even more outstanding. Mick Gordon's score was a multi award-winning highlight and primarily consisted of digitally synthesized progressive metal processed with analog effects. The post-industrial, dark synth-rock influenced score contains references to earlier Doom entries by Bobby Prince. Audio designer Chad Mossholder's work on the mobs, environments and weapons were punctuated by a disembodied demon narrator voiced by prolific video game and TV voice-actor and impressionist Piotr Michael.

Final Verdict: Despite being a visceral experience with heat-pounding fights where you are always outnumbered, DOOM is still comfort-gaming as it evokes much of the spirit of FPS gaming from the 1990's when times, and games, were simpler. The only real difference is that you're doing it with modern era graphics and effects. Id did the right thing here, they didn't try to do something vastly different with the franchise, just take the originals and update it to reflect the technological evolution of the 20+ years since it first appeared. The overwhelming success of of DOOM and that it spawned a sequel, DOOM Eternal four years later means it's exactly what people wanted.

Technicals: 18.5 hours playtime through Steam using a Nvidia 3070Ti @ 3440x1440 on Windows 11 partly with HDR enabled. No crashes or bugs evident.

DOOM is available from Steam for €19.99 but is occasionally found on sale for around €9.99 or less either on Steam itself or using Fanatical, Humble Bundle or Green Man Gaming. Review copy purchased from Steam for €9.99.in August 2018.

Series Timeline:
DOOM [1993]
DOOM II: Hell on Earth [1994]
- Final DOOM [1996]
- DOOM 64 [1997]
DOOM 3 [2004]
- DOOM 3: Resurrection of Evil [2005]
DOOM [2016]
DOOM Eternal [2020]
- DOOM Eternal: The Ancient Gods I [2020]
- DOOM Eternal: The Ancient Gods II [2021]

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Review: Dark Souls - Remastered (2012) [2018]

Note: The original game was Dark Souls: Prepare To Die Edition and released in 2012 by From Software. In 2018 they released a remaster with 4K support and a 60 FPS framerate. The latter version is reviewed here.

"I'm too old for this shit", were words I repeated about 3 dozen times when I started playing this, the 2018 remastered version of the 2012 classic Dark Souls from From Software. Dark Souls like it's spiritual progenitor on PlayStation, Demon's Souls heralded a new RPG sub-genre the "soulslike" which is basically a way of telling people "this is fucking hard".

After trying it out in late 2020, I gave up after a day as it was (a) nigh-on impossible to control with a mouse+keyboard and (b) when I did make some progress, I was killed in seconds. I returned earlier this year in honour of the 10th anniversary of it's original (PC) release and reinstalled it after purchasing a third party Xbox One controller. Armed with the controller I made much more significant headway and was at least able to move and fight far better than using a mouse+keyboard making this the first PC/console game I've ever played that IMHO is only playable with a controller pad. 

Playing a little at a time in order to get used to the controller was a good move, but when I felt like I was actually able to properly hold my own against enemies I would progress a little further only to either miss one parry, or swing and miss at the wrong time and suddenly I was dead again. Bear in mind there is no difficulty modes that you can just turn down to 'normal' or 'easy'. This is permanently 'nightmare' or difficulty that one unlocks only after beating other games on 'hard'. There is no quick save or even a forgiving checkpoint system. When you die, you respawn at the last bonfire/sanctuary you rested at. The bonfire could be as little as 60 seconds or possibly 20 minutes behind you - and to make it worse - anytime you rested to heal, or died and resurrected - every non-boss enemy would also resurrect and you must fight your way through 20 minutes of mobs again! Naturally the more this happened again and again, replaying the same path with the same enemies who were always as deadly as before, wore you down, you start making mistakes and dying even earlier than you progressed before. This was certainly neither fun, nor enjoyable and left me with little sense of accomplishment.

From Software don't do "cheat modes" so there's no console commands to make you a god or even give you any advantage. But the beauty of the PC being the ultimate gaming platform is that no PC game is impervious to glitching, hacking, modding, cheating and or some class of reverse-engineering. Being more than sure that I was certainly not the only player to have issues with the difficulty, I set about researching not a "god mode" as such but more a way of giving me enough of advantage to make more significant progress. I discovered a method of "duping" inventory items which I applied to consumable souls items you pick up from fallen heroes who came before you. Once I applied the dupe I increased my Strength, Dexterity, Vitality etc. to 99 and while I was far from a god, I was able to take more than a few strikes before dying (which I reduced by about 90%) and was able to one-shot most enemies save for bosses or mini-bosses which required a little more attention. At least I was finally able to play the way I wanted.

The plot of Dark Souls is fairly simplistic. You just go in a mostly linear fashion and to do the next thing you've been told to do, be it ring the bells, descend into the abyss or kill some powerful entity. All this is done with the overarching goal of breaking a curse that has befallen the land and allowing the undead to rise again and again and finally give them (and you) peace. It's easy to forget however because you could be playing for days before you meet someone that tells you something, even then NPCs speak cryptically and it's not like you have a quest log or a map.


The lack of map or log makes navigation a pain especially as some areas with very high level enemies are accessible if you take a wrong turn. Of course the UI is also bare bones and there's no indication of a enemies level until you're dead in seconds (even with exploited stats). I had to resort to external guides about which area I should avoid or explore next and needed to watch other players on YouTube to actually see how you get there.

Combat in the game is actually great. So many games have some default attack animation supplemented by a plethora of button-click powers/abilities but Dark Souls combat is very involved with blocking attacks, parrying an attack, rolling out of the way, jumping attacking, heavy attacking and so fourth. It felt great killing a lot of the enemies. Some enemies later employed your tactics to block, parry, riposte etc. and this should lead to very challenging fight - but in this game all the fights are challenging and exhausted my fingers and thumbs up to the point where it was more efficient to boost my health and defence up and use duped health regenerators every 60 seconds or so just to advance in the later game.


I can't speak to the original 2012 version but the remaster looks stunning at 4K High Quality. During my playthrough I switched systems to an Ultrawide 3440x1440 monitor and while the game itself is not HDR enabled - using the Windows 11 HDR renderer to enhance the visuals was a treat. From Software created some of the most unique and grotesque monsters I've ever fought in a video game. Some of them were standard like zombies, ghosts, skeletons and minotaurs but others were not. Treefolk that skewered you with their branches and a Dragon whose entire centre section was a gaping maw with teeth were just two extraordinary designs of note. A lot of game was dark, underground, in crypts or dark forests but occasionally you'd climb to the surface and be met with a beautiful but sadly fleeting vista worth screenshotting.

While the game exhibits little by way of any form of help, assistance or generosity to the player, the inventory system is actually pretty solid. There is no limit to your carrying capacity as I was able to lug around 20+ unique suits of armour of various quality in my bag. As you don't have a central base as such, this makes sense for you to to have access to everything. You can store things in a box that you can access from any bonfire, but I've just realised after finishing the game that I did put things in for safe keeping.... I never took anything out of it, so ultimately I didn't need it.


There was quite a few times when plodding through Dark Souls bleak and depressing but beautifully and expertly crafted world that I questioned continuing because I just wasn't enjoying it. And that is a feeling that I get very rarely in a video game. It wasn't a feeling I had all the time, but it certainly surfaced when I died and had to repeat a tedious section of wandering before getting to the good bit again. However once I researched how many areas I had done , what was left to do, estimating the time it would take to finish and wanting a solid return on investment on my €30 controller I stuck the course and completed the game after 68 hours (according to Steam). Dark Souls: Remastered also contains the substantial Artorias of the Abyss DLC, but at which point of being able to access it, I felt thoroughly done with the game.

Final Verdict: I'm glad I played it, and got through it even if it was somewhat unconventional (hey if the developers didn't want you to dupe they would have patched the exploit in the last 6 years). But despite the awesome creatures and involved combat here it's just too depressing, too difficult, too repetitive if you fail something and too light on plot or characterisation to make me feel like a hero or even connected to the world in any meaningful sense. I don't often know I'll never play something again - but I do this time. It's sequels are another matter... we'll see.

Technicals: Played through Steam on Nvidia 980Ti @ 4k in Windows 10 and on Nvidia 3070Ti @  3440x1440 on Windows 11 with HDR. No crashes or bugs evident.

Dark Souls: Remastered is available from Steam for €39.99 but is occasionally found on sale for €19.99 either on Steam itself or using Fanatical, Humble Bundle or Green Man Gaming. Review copy purchased from Fanatical for €18.39 in March 2020.

Series Timeline:
Dark Souls [2011]
Dark Souls II [2014]

- Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin [2015]
Dark Souls III [2016]
- Dark Souls III: Deluxe Edition [2017]
- Dark Souls: Remastered [2018]