Tuesday, May 28, 2024

First Play Review - STAR WARS Jedi: Survivor [2023]

After EA games failed to truly capitalise on their custodianship of the STAR WARS licence, they were almost too greedy to realise that single-player games (with no microtransactions) were demanded by a starved player base and would be successful in the right hands. The success of STAR WARS Jedi: Fallen Order in 2019 proved to Respawn's overlords that EA had managed to make at least one good decision before their exclusive licence would expire in 2023. The announcement of a sequel - STAR WARS Jedi: Survivor, heralded a welcome continuation to a fantastic original game. However upon its release in April 2023, the reports of bugs and poor levels of optimisation especially on PC prevented me from daring to try it; certainly not for the cost of a new AAA game that now seems to have been abandoned by developer and publisher before fixing it for everyone. One year after release with eight patches and some tech savvy precautions combined with the game's release on the standard €5.99 a month EA Play subscription created the perfect opportunity to see if the negative reports held true for me.

I'm delighted to report that I had no issue running the entire game on ultra visual settings settings with no upscaling at about 75-85FPS on average. I did install the game onto the OS drive as opposed to my normal video-game drive as per Steam user recommendations and I kept the Ray Tracing setting off as every user that has tried to run the game with RT (even with an RTX4090 GPU) has failed. There was some stuttering and hitching but no more so than any other game in recent memory and any FPS drops  were infrequent enough to not consider them a bother and certainly nothing like the woeful performance I've observed on the initial YouTube videos for the title. A single crash at about hour 36 of a 40 hour play-through was the only significant hiccup to a game I did not think I'd be certifying as 99% flawless.

I'd encourage any potential Jedi: Survivor player to play the original to both get used to the game play format of platforming, puzzles and combat before taking things to the next level, and as the plot is also a direct continuation, players who have played the original will have a more emotional connection to the characters. With that said of course there is a "recap" cutscene that will play as you begin the game to set the main story beats and there are plenty of tutorials to relearn some old abilities as well as when you learn new ones, but this is clearly the middle part of a three-game trilogy (with the final game already greenlit) so it's best to experience it as it's intended - after Fallen Order.

While the opening narrative also serves as your 'tutorial' gently spoonfeeding you new powers and abilities as you progress, the Cal Kestis you're playing is a seasoned Jedi Knight and practitioner of an array of force powers that you enhance as you level up. You have your lightsaber and some tweaked force abilities from the original game and as one would expect from a sequel, a whole lot more to discover. These include but not limited to new lightsaber stances, force powers (with mind-trick now), gadgets and some interesting abilities for BD-1. The saber stances are particularity cool given that your lightsaber is pretty much the only weapon you use and can now use single, dual blades, saberstaff, crossguard (like Kylo Ren's saber) and one where you use a saber in one hand and a blaster in the other - so uncivilised! As with how to use and level your powers, the choice is ultimately yours.

The Jedi games are often  given the label "Soulslike", a moniker I disagree with as the Jedi games are not RPGs, have no inventory and little resource management and chiefly, unlike From Software's games you can turn down the difficulty from way-too-hard for me to 'story mode' allowing you to experience the game more cinematically. This means you to cut down enemies easier and more fluidly while preserving boss fights to last long enough as an on screen battle with a named/foreshadowed character  and presents a far more enjoyable experience to multiple tries as killing the same boss. I could have done normal difficulty as I did with the original, but I was aware that this game was about 25% longer and I was on an EA Play subscription time-limit. Survivor also evokes the Metroidvania moniker as once again  you need to return to previously explored areas with new abilities in order to progress. Honestly it's more like God of War than anything else I've played.

Death is inevitable however, even on easy mode because as with Fallen Order much of the traversal over the beautiful and diverse level environments is jumping, somersaulting, swinging and wall running high above or over an abyss of death beneath you. One wrong move and you fall, die and respawn instantly back at your last solid ground. The sheer verticality of the the level design evokes many an old LucasArts STAR WARS game and it's welcome here as well as creating a sense of awe and vastness. The acrobatics are not just for traversal though, they're also for a vast array of puzzles some which will need some elevated strategic thinking as well as using combinations of force powers, timing and gadgetry to overcome. The more difficult puzzles are hidden and rewards are useful but optional. The true reward is the satisfaction of accomplishment as you complete them.

There are three main groups in the game at you will come into conflict with, obviously The Galactic Empire is still hell-bent on eradicating the Jedi at the Emperor's command so they'll all be trying to kill you with more or less the same toys they tried to in Fallen Order. Natural wildlife can be friendly like the cute Bogling (which you can pet) or unfriendly like the unfriendly-sounding Bilemaw which will try to roll on you to flatten you (if it hadn't already killed you). The third group is the most interesting, the Bedlam Raiders are a criminal group that have spent some time repairing an entire army of all the various models of Battle Droids found in the husk of a crashed Trade Federation starship which had crashed during The Clone Wars. The raiders themselves are not much of a threat but the Battle Droids loyal to them are numerous and deadly unless you're paying attention.

The story picks up about 5 years after Fallen Order, so is set in 9BBY in STAR WARS reckoning, the same year as the Obi-Wan Disney+ show and about a year before the majority of events in Solo: A Star Wars Story. By now Cal's original crew/friends have left and he's taken up with a new crew sticking it to the Empire. A series of unfortunate events leave him and BD-1 stranded on the remote planet Kaboh where they uncover a secret of the Jedi Order from the time of the High Republic initiating a quest that will take them, with some old friends and new, on an even grander adventure than before.

Final Verdict: STAR WARS Jedi: Survivor is an incredible iteration on Jedi: Fallen Order and a worthy sequel with better visuals, puzzles, character customisation, open-world exploration and secrets with an expanded array of force powers, gadgets and fighting styles all to enjoy as you pursue a twisting, turning, shocking narrative that rewards your time. Hopefully the third and final part has a smoother launch than this.

Technicals: 40 hours playtime though Windows 11 with RTX4070Ti @ 3440x1440. 75-85FPS

Bugs: Some stuttering, not significant. One crash at hour 36. One stuck animation when a bounty-hunter 'tazers' your character (changing lightsaber stance releases the animation - thanks Reddit).

Availability: STAR WARS Jedi: Survivor is available from Steam or the EA Store €69.99. Due to the chronic performance issues documented by multiple sources, the inabily to use advertised features like Ray Tracing and the current "mixed" rating on Steam. I would strongly advise against rewarding the abandoning of needed continuous optimisation or patching efforts by EA/Respawn since January 2024 with a full price purchase for this or future games. The game is available through EA Play or XBox Game Pass, which is a far superior and safer value proposition. Reviewed copy played through a 30-Day EA Play subscription in April 2024 for €5.99.

STAR WARS Jedi games

Sunday, May 19, 2024

SPEARHEAD Command Reshuffle Complete

In the aftermath of the tragic death of SPEARHEAD Supreme Commander General "Knuckles" McKenzie, British Army in December and with the recall of high ranking Russian Federation officers to Moscow in the wake of the Ukranian conflict, the UNSC (United Nations Security Council) ordered a high level personnel reshuffle to ensure command continuity for SPEARHEAD. The changes were confirmed by the UNSC today.

SPEARHEAD Acting Supreme Commander Vice-Admiral "Smokestack" Henderson, USN (United States Navy) [left] has been promoted to the grade of admiral and confirmed as Supreme Commander. He previously served as SPEARHEAD Deputy Supreme Commander in 2018 after a year as SPEARHEAD Staff Director. In 2011, then Rear Admiral (lower) Henderson was UNETIDA Director in an acting capacity until his promotion to rear admiral to become SPEARHEAD Deputy Commander for Operations in 2012 and Deputy Chief of Staff in 2013. In 2009, Captain Henderson was the UNETIDA Naval Tactical Support officer for the Pacific region 2009.

Acting SPEARHEAD Deputy Supreme Commander, Army Corps General "Faucon" Davout was confirmed to the Deputy Supreme Commander billet permanently. He will be promoted to Army General later in the month by the French Army as the UNSC has raised the SPEARHEAD Deputy Supreme Commander billet to 4-star grade. Davout had been dual-hatting as Acting SPEARHEAD Deputy Supreme Commander and as SPEARHEAD Staff Director since December 2023. He was appointed to Staff Director in 2017 after serving as SPEARHEAD Deputy Commander for Global Strategic Plans while a division general. In 2013 then Brigade General Davout was SPEARHEAD Regional Operations Commander [Europe].

Air Marshal "Buzzard" Farington, RAF (Royal Air Force) is the new SPEARHEAD Staff Director replacing Army Corps General "Faucon" Davout who has been elevated to SPEARHEAD Deputy Supreme Commander.  Farington returns after previously serving UNETIDA earlier in his career as a wing commander in the UARF (UNETIDA Arial Reaction Force). More recently since 2021 then Air Vice-Marshal Farington was responsible for plans and policy during the establishment of the UKSC (United Kingdom Space Command).

Major General "Whopper" Creedon, USMC (United States Marine Corps) [right] has been promoted to lieutenant general and appointed as SPEARHEAD Vice Commander for Global Operations and Force Integration. He replaces Vice Admiral "Sextant" White who will retire from the Royal Navy. Creedon was most recently SPEARHEAD Deputy Commander for Global Security since 2018. As a brigadier general, Creedon was SPEARHEAD Assistant Commander for Intelligence and Information in 2013. In 2003 then Colonel Creedon, he served as UNETIDA Special Operations Commander and later as UNETIDA/UNPASID Director of Intelligence.

Zhong Jiang (lieutenant general) "Besra" Hu of the People's Liberation Army Air Force of China was appointed as SPEARHEAD Vice Commander for Strategic Weaponry in 2022 after succeeding Zhong Jiang "Huǒjiàn" Li of the People's Liberation Army of China who returned to his nation's command. As a Shao jiang (major general), Hu was appointed as the first SPEARHEAD Deputy Commander for Operations and Integration [Eastern] in 2017. In 2011 Da xiao (senior colonel) Hu was UNETIDA Air Operations Commander.

The billet of SPEARHEAD Deputy Commander for Satellite and Cyber Systems has been elevated to 3-star grade and redesignated SPEARHEAD Vice Commander for Space, Satellite and Cyber Systems. Air Vice Marshal "Nakshatra" Singh has been appointed to air marshal in the Indian Air Force to serve in the new position. He was previously appointed as the SPEARHEAD Deputy Commander for Satellite and Cyber Systems in 2022 replacing Major General "Circuits" Anderson, USAF (United States Air Force).

Major General "Shellshock" Hollister of the South African Army remains as SPEARHEAD Deputy Commander for Operations and Integration [Western]. He has held the position since 2018 and previously served as SPEARHEAD Assistant Commander for Recruitment and Selection.

Phon tri (major general) "S̄eụ̄x" Tham-boon of the Royal Thai Army is now SPEARHEAD Deputy Commander for Operations and Integration [Eastern] replacing Sojang (major general) "Sang-eo" Chang, ROKN (Republic of Korea Navy) who has been reassigned as the Republic of Korea military attache to NATO.

Brigadier "Magnum" Pike has been appointed a major general in the Royal Marines and will succeed Major General "Whopper" Creedon as SPEARHEAD Deputy Commander for Global Security. Pike was previously SPEARHEAD Assistant Commander for Security and Surveillance.

Canadian Army Major General "Tucker" Reid [left] remains as SPEARHEAD Deputy Commander for Manpower and Personnel since 2018. He previously served as SPEARHEAD Assistant Commander for Training and Instruction. 

Vice Admiral "Tridente" Carlos of the Spanish Navy, SPEARHEAD Deputy Commander for Global Strategic Plans remains in his position since 2018. He previously served as SPEARHEAD Assistant Commander for Naval Operations [Western] as a counter admiral.

The new SPEARHEAD Deputy Commander for Financial Management is Generalmajor "Freya" Hansen of the Norwegian Army. She replaces Wing General "Altísimo" Hernandez who has returned to a senior position the Mexican Air Force.

Tuğamiral (rear admiral) "Balina" Demirci, SPEARHEAD Assistant Commander for Naval Operations [Eastern] is to be promoted to the rank of koramiral in the Turkish Naval Forces and assigned as the SPEARHEAD Deputy Commander for Civil Affairs. He will replace Aluf (major general) "Jackal" Dahan who will return to Israel Defense Forces.

Generale di divisione (major general) "Calzone" Manganiello of the Italian Army remains Judge Advocate General of SPEARHEAD since 2022 when he replaced Air Vice Marshal "Magpie" Brown who retired from the Royal Australian Air Force.

The SPEARHEAD Director for Science, Technology and Research, Dr. "Quantum" Pataal of India [right] will remain in the position held since 2013.

The SPEARHEAD Inspector General Major General "Bugs" Casey, US Army replaced Generalmajor "Schakal" Nilsson, of the Swedish Army who retired in 2023.

Liwa (brigadier general) "Sphinx" Al-Khatib of the Egyptian Army replaced Major General "Sangja" Park of the Republic of Korea Army as SPEARHEAD Deputy Commander for Global Logistics and Installations in 2023.

The SPEARHEAD Surgeon General Major General "Scalpal" Johnson M.D, USAF will remain in the position held since 2018 when he replaced Major-general "Scrubs" Janssens M.D. of the Medical Component of the Belgian Armed Forces.

Mr. B will assume the duties of the Chief of Shadow Directorate when Mr. G leaves service in October. 

1-star appointments were not available at press time.

Friday, May 10, 2024

20th Anniversary Review - Star Wars: Battlefront [2004]

By the mid 2000's LucasArts had significantly reduced in-house development of their own games, instead licencing to other developers and publishing all games using the Star Wars brand. This practice gave rise to some incredible Star Wars games encompassing almost every gaming genre. These included  Bioware's RPG Knights of the Old Republic, Raven's 1st/3rd person shooter Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast, SOE's MMORPG Galaxies and Petroglyph's RTS Empire at War

The biggest success story however was Pandemic Studios multiplayer objective-based 1st/3rd person shooter Star Wars: Battlefront. This was a Star Wars take on EA's WWII Battlefield franchise and it hit the market at the perfect time. Battlefield was immensely popular at the time and a marketing tie-in with the original Star Wars trilogy DVD release as well as it being right in the middle of the Episode III hype train aided Battlefront in becoming the best-selling Star Wars game of all time at that point.

Being primarily a multiplayer game I never had much interaction with the Star Wars: Battlefront series. That said I have actually picked up most of them over the years so that one day I might sample their campaign modes just as a curiosity. With the "problematic" release of Aspyr's Battlefront Classic Collection earlier in the year and the fact that it's now 20 years since it launched I felt it was time to sample and on May 4th I tried it out!

From what I know about the original Battlefront, its single player campaign was apparently its weakest link. Basically a set of connected missions from either the Clone Wars (prequel) or Galactic Civil War (original trilogy) era. The player first plays as the Confederacy and later the Republic Army during the Clone Wars and then as the Galactic Empire and later the Rebel Alliance during the Galactic Civil War. My goal was not to spend too much time (or to even finish the campaigns) so I only sampled the initial levels of each campaign. 

For the prequels I played as the Confederacy as various models of Trade Federation Battle-Droids during their battle on the fields of Naboo against the Gungans. The objective was to eliminate the Gungan menace by destroying their Famba (large creatures which carried shield generators) and remove their advantage. I do admit to enjoying killing Gungans with heavy weapons but it was otherwise a simple victory. The next mission was much more difficult, securing the Naboo capital, Theed. Here I used several different types of Battle-Droids, including snipers and heavy weapons variations to eliminate Royal Guards and destroy weapon emplacements. I was defeated during the first of these but succeeded the second time. The third mission with  seemed much longer than the others and also ended in defeat so I turned my attention to the original trilogy campaign.

I was a bit more clued in to how the game was played now when I switched to this campaign. It was much more fun taking control of various Stormtrooper types as they pacified Sand People and Rebels on the deserts of Tatooine. My favourite death was being eaten by a Sarlacc that I got too close to. Once I was victorious in the Dune Sea, the next battle was in Mos Eisley. Here I fought as a Dark Trooper alongside Darth Vader himself and eliminated Rebel resistance in the spaceport, ensuring victory. I tried to save at this point and perhaps continue the next day but I could not actually find a way of doing this! Once I exited the campaign it wanted me to begin the whole thing again, something it was not my intention to do so I left it there.

I must note that I played the Steam version of the game which was released in 2019. It ran flawlessly at 3440x1440 @ 175FPS for the brief time I played. It had load-times for each level that while only mere seconds, still surprised me. The cutscenes for the campaign consisted of woefully digitised clips from the movies to "explain" the battles you were partaking in. It is the most bare-bones effort of storytelling in a game I've seen in a while but I wasn't expecting anything unique or specially crafted here.

Final Verdict: I think today, due to the superiority of it's sequels that this exists purely to satisfy the curiosity of students of game design, fans of gaming in general or to die-hard Star Wars fans. In my brief time with Star Wars: Battlefront and despite not playing against human enemies I can see the appeal of playing this shooter in 64-man battles where tactics were used, objectives completed and victory assured by the side with the best plan and communication. I look forward to similarly sampling the much lauded superior sequel Battlefront II soon enough.

Technicals: 1 hour playtime through Steam on Windows 11 with an RTX4070Ti @ 3440x1440/175

Bugs: None 

Availability: From Steam or GOG for €9.75. Review copy purchased for €5.48 in Nov 2019.

Star Wars: Battlefront series:

Star Wars: Battlefront [2004]
Star Wars: Battlefront II [2005]
Star Wars Battlefront [2015]
Star Wars Battlefront II [2017]
Star Wars: Battlefront Classic Collection [2024]