Monthly Archives: November 2016

Firewatch

fire-1

Investigate strange happenings in the woods around your lookout tower.

PC Release: February 9, 2016

By Ian Coppock

But soft; what light through yonder barrage of triple-A games breaks? The delay of Watch Dogs 2‘s PC release has brought an unexpected reprieve. A chance to recover from the relentless assault of buggy, so-so titles that together comprise one heck of a holiday collage. It’s difficult to find video games this November that offer a quality value proposition, and that’s without hyperbole. With no sign of Watch Dogs 2, and no time to review some other new game, a rare opportunity to review something else entirely has presented itself. A chance to look back at all the games that came out this year that went un-reviewed. Of all those games, the one that most deserves a spotlight is Firewatch.

____________________

Firewatch is a first-person mystery game and the debut title of Campo Santo, a small indie studio. Firewatch received a great deal of media attention following its initial tease, and the game sold half a million copies on opening day. Why? Because it espoused a colorful world, meaningful dialogue, and an intoxicating atmosphere. The degree to which the game accomplished all three of these things is still being debated, but the fact that they’re still being debated since Firewatch‘s February release mean that the game has had a wide impact.

Firewatch takes place in the summer of 1989 and casts players as Henry, a newly arrived fire lookout in the employ of the forestry service. An early-40’s gent from Colorado, Henry had a pretty nice life until his wife Julia came down with early-onset dementia, as detailed in Firewatch‘s heartbreaking prologue. After Julia is sent away to live with her parents, Henry seeks any opportunity he can to escape his pain and just leave things behind for a while. That opportunity? A job as a summer fire lookout in the remotest corner of Wyoming.

fire-2

Home sweet home.

Upon arrival to his new digs, Henry is greeted by Delilah, a snarky, delightfully witty senior lookout and Henry’s direct boss. The two can only communicate by walkie-talkie, as Delilah is in the next region over, but she tells Henry that she’ll be his boss, overseer, and perennial crossword buddy until the fall arrives and the fire danger passes. Henry, happy enough to be away from his marriage and other issues, gets ready to settle in for a long summer of looking outside.

But, as we all know, video game protagonists never just “settle in” for their occupation or mission, do they? Henry arrives to his tower thinking that he’ll just sit in a splintery old chair for three months, until he spots a shadowy figure walking around in the woods outside. Henry starts off thinking little of it, but when he returns from a routine patrol to find his tower vandalized and most of his stuff stolen, the woods outside begin to look a little scarier. Perhaps forest fires aren’t his biggest worry after all.

fire-3

Who’s out there?

Firewatch is played from a first-person perspective and incorporates deep, meaningful dialogue into its design. The game has been unfavorably compared to a walking simulator, and though Henry spends much of his time walking, Firewatch is much more of an adventure game. As Henry, players will spend most of their time completing tasks out in the woods, either as part of their fire lookout duties or in search of whomever vandalized the tower. The game is set in a small but robust open world which affords for plenty of exploration opportunities as Henry goes about his job.

More than the adventuring around Wyoming, Firewatch emphasizes believable, choice-based conversations with Henry’s boss, Delilah. Though she doesn’t appear in the game physically, Delilah is available via walkie-talkie. How Henry shapes his relationship with Deliah is up to the player, with Mass Effect-style conversation trees that allow players to be anywhere from amicable to a complete dick, as the player’s mood warrants. The player can also decide how much information to share with Delilah, as well as if she’s worth trusting. Just as Henry has discretion over how much he can share, so too does Delilah.

fire-4

Delilah is Henry’s sole connection to the outside world.

For anything else that can be said about Firewatch, it has some of the most authentically written and delivered dialogue of any video game. Having a casual conversation is a surprisingly difficult challenge for voice actors to take on, but Rich Sommer (Henry) and Cissy Jones (Delilah) took to it with gusto. The result is a game with compelling writing and the best video game voice acting of the decade. All of this is a great boon to Firewatch‘s mysterious atmosphere, but it also allows for some deep character development. Henry and Delilah undergo many twists and turns as human beings, chosen and not, shaping their personalities and their relationship.

It’s rare to find a video game that can drive players forward solely on dialogue. Firewatch has much more than that, but players will be propelled as much by the characters’ chats as they will be by the game’s central mystery. Both Henry and Delilah are funny, feisty, horribly flawed human beings, but that’s what makes them so relatable. They’re just two people in a strange situation, packed with a lot of believable anecdotes. A lot of game writing will attempt to incorporate realistic-sounding chitchat that ends up falling flat, but Firewatch‘s writing and voice acting combine to produce dialogue that sounds much more organic, more spontaneous. It is an absolute pleasure to play through.

fire-5

“And then he chugged 10 rum’n’cokes in a half-hour, oh my God it was hilarious, and then…”

Outside of conversing with Delilah, most of Firewatch‘s gameplay comprises simple exploration. The world of Firewatch is not the biggest open world ever, but it hides a lot of secrets. Players can expect to find clues from fire lookouts past, maybe even a cabin or two hiding out in the underbrush. Playing the game doesn’t require any sort of expertise, per say, but it does reward keen attention to detail. Players can ping Delilah with whatever they’ve found to get her (usually sarcastic) take on it. There are several layers of history hidden out in the woods. Some of it has to do with Firewatch‘s main narrative, and sometimes it doesn’t. Regardless of its purpose, Henry can usually find it by checking his map.

The narrative of Firewatch is what the voice acting and gameplay combine to inform, as well as a series of low acoustic tracks and eerie sound effects. Firewatch is one of the most suspenseful games released this year, combining elements of mystery with writing right out of a thriller novel. Despite what this assessment might imply, Firewatch is not a horror game, but it does bring that same narrative tension that many horror games are famous for. As Henry delves deeper into the mystery behind his tower getting trashed, he becomes embroiled in a deadly game out in the trees. Someone, or a group of someones, doesn’t want Henry out here, and players need to take care while creeping through the pines in pursuit of this shadowy adversary. Henry only has his wits, after all. Sure, Delilah’s on the radio, but she can’t come and save him from whomever’s out in the forest.

fire-6

Huh. This ain’t on the map.

Firewatch‘s problems are few, but they’re not without substance. The biggest issue with the game’s narrative is how severely it collapses upon itself in the final act. To put it vaguely, Firewatch‘s ending is profoundly anticlimactic. The game keeps the mystery percolating up until the very end, only to employ deus ex machina and end the story abruptly. The use of a sudden plot device to upend the narrative at the very end is usually the result of lazy writing, and unfortunately, this feels like the case with Firewatch. Henry and Delilah are basically given the last piece of the puzzle, and then it cuts to black. Much like Mass Effect 3Firewatch is excellent until the last five minutes of the game.

Luckily for Firewatch, this ending doesn’t stop the rest of the game from being enjoyable, and it has little effect on the quality of Henry and Delilah’s chats. The game is also saved by the fact that it’s virtually bug-free and runs well on machines both new and not-so-new. Indie games seem to be the only ones interested in going without bugs these days, and for any problems Firewatch‘s story might have, at least it runs okay.

fire-7

Oooooh…..

As can be gleaned from these screenshots, the world of Firewatch is quite beautiful. Campo Santo built a wilderness on bright colors and fluffy graphics, complete with some gorgeous skyboxes. The game’s aesthetic looks like a Pixar film combined with a 1950’s national park poster. The result is a wildly colorful world that produces no shortage of spectacle, contrasting easily between fiery red sunsets and deep blue midnight interludes. Despite the pastel quality of the in-game objects, each one is painstakingly detailed. Animals move and make noise just like their real-world counterparts, and all of the effects from water to shadows are gorgeously rendered.

The other nice thing about Firewatch‘s world is its sound effects. The game’s wilderness is overloaded with the sounds of nature to accompany its, well, sights of nature. From animal calls to the wind rippling through trees, from the flow of water to gales hitting rock faces, Firewatch has a vibrant audio-sphere to accompany its visuals. Its sound design is also a key component of the game’s suspenseful atmosphere; every snapped twig, every flight into the underbrush, is well-implemented to keep players on their toes. The game’s soundtrack is nothing too unique, but its series of acoustic guitar solos is quite relaxing.

fire-8

Over the river and through the woods…

Despite its narrative’s rather abrupt ending, Firewatch has some of the best video game writing and voice acting of the past 10 years. Its organic conversations and believable characterizations are a welcome companion to the game’s suspenseful atmosphere. The gameplay is crafted well in-tune with thriller novels and films, leaving players feeling vulnerable and wondering what the next mystery might be.

A few players have complained that the game comes up too short for its $20 price, but length is not the only guarantor of a good game. Firewatch has much better dialogue than games ten times its length. For a game that tries to present a compelling story with believable characters, it’s worth the money. Heck, it’s one of the best games released this year.

____________________

You can buy Firewatch here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

 

Far Cry 2

far-cry-1

Assemble a team of bounty hunters and search for a ruthless arms dealer.

PC Release: October 21, 2008

By Ian Coppock

This season of big-budget video games has been pretty torturous. Not just because almost all of them are buggy beyond playability, but because the studios behind them did nothing to innovative or to move their series forward in a meaningful way. From Square Enix to Activision to EA to 2K and even Bethesda, no publisher has been innocent of producing a buggy and/or halfhearted sequel this year. Has there ever been a time in video gaming history when a sequel did something different? Maybe even turned a series on its head and blazed off in a completely different direction? Such boldness has become a rarity in today’s gaming industry, but writing it out brings one name to mind: Far Cry 2.

____________________

The original Far Cry is a linear sci-fi shooter developed by Crytek, who are best known today as the creators of the Crysis series. Even though the first Far Cry was released to critical acclaim, Ubisoft decided to move the series in a different direction. The publisher took the Far Cry development rights from Crytek and handed them off to their own Montreal studio, which had some very different ideas for the series going forward. Crytek, meanwhile, migrated over to Electronic Arts and began putting the ideas they’d pioneered with Far Cry into Crysis.

Ubisoft built Far Cry 2 to be, well, a far cry (pretty sure that joke was used in the last Far Cry review, but whatever) from the original game. Ubisoft Montreal abandoned the original game’s linearity and sci-fi themes for the robust open worlds and anarchy motifs that the Far Cry series is known for today. Indeed, though the two games share the Far Cry name and a penchant for first-person shooting, the buck stops there. New universe, new gameplay, new emphasis on open-world anarchy.

far-cry-2

Woah…

Far Cry 2 takes place in contemporary times and is set in a war-torn African country whose name the game keeps anonymous. At some points the setting is implied to be the Central African Republic, but there’s an unfortunate proliferation of war-torn countries in Africa, so it could be one of many. Like many African countries before it, this one is locked in a brutal civil war between two factions that each claim the people’s allegiance: the United Front for Liberation and Labor (UFLL) and the Alliance for Popular Resistance (APR). The conflict has resulted in near-total anarchy across the country, causing government services to collapse and most of its civilians to flee.

The chaos of the civil war is being fueled by the Jackal, a mysterious American arms dealer who’s letting top-tier firearms go for dirt cheap to both sides. The Jackal’s antics earn him a giant price on his head from the U.N., and an international team of nine bounty hunters lands in Africa to collect the prize. The player selects one character from this pool of grizzled people-hunters, while the other eight become allied NPCs. Candidates for hunting the Jackal include an Israeli smuggler, an Algerian customs officer, a Chinese sharpshooter, and a North Irish car bomb builder, among others. Not exactly a cuddly crowd.

far-cry-3

The key is to be subtle.

Players begin Far Cry 2 after selecting their character and arriving to the town of Pala, wherein they immediately come down with malaria. Not a great start. The player wakes up to be greeted by the Jackal, who throws out some Nietzsche quotes before fleeing the town, paradoxically leaving the player alive. From there, it’s up to the player to earn the trust of his fellow hunters and work with the region’s various factions to catch up to the Jackal. The player will also have to perform tasks for the locals in order to get malaria pills, a sore necessity in a region as ravaged by disease as the war.

Far Cry 2 is primarily a first-person shooter, with elements of stealth and vehicular gameplay thrown in for variety. Players can wield an impressive variety of weapons, from pistols all the way up to light machine guns, found across the African landscape. The player character can also make the combat up close and personal with a machete, or run down crowds of foes from behind the wheel of a stolen vehicle. Though the potential for different playstyles is impressively varied in Far Cry 2, the gameplay functions informing those playstyles leaves something to be desired.

cry-4

Good morning, gentlemen! Maniacal serial killer at your service.

Even more than guns and driving, the element of war that Ubisoft sought to bring into Far Cry 2 is realism. The studio paid an uncommon amount of attention to how combat affects weapons, vehicles and other items. Guns will jam, cars will stop working, and the player will have to take malaria pills to keep their disease at bay. Far Cry 2 cares not whether the player is taking a gentle stroll or in the middle of a firefight; weapons will degrade and stop working all the same. Vehicles can only take so much punishment before they stop working, and unlike the cars and trucks in GTA or Watch Dogs, are not bullet sponges.

Far Cry 2‘s attention to realism goes beyond combat. Players have to use a physical map and GPS system to find their way around. The only option for fast travel is to take the bus. Fires that are started in the brush will spread out of control and devour everything in their path. All of this may come as a surprise to gamers who are used to years of carefully controlled video game environments. The realism isn’t total; the player’s map won’t get wet if he drives into a river; but Far Cry 2‘s adherence to realism wouldn’t be seen again in video games until the recent explosion of the open-world survival genre.

cry-5

Please don’t jam, please don’t jam, please don’t jam, please don’t jam…

Even though Far Cry 2‘s realism approach presents a raw challenge, it can also sabotage the fun of the game. Nothing’s more frustrating than having to start a mission over because the AK-47 jammed mid-firefight. Sure, that situation is much more realistic than most, but survival gameplay should inform the fun of a video game, not detract from it. Far more irritating is the malaria mechanic, in which players have to go buy more pills every 45 minutes just to stay alive. The player’s bottle can only hold 2-3 malaria pills at a time, which is a serious nuisance. This mechanic works at cross-purposes with Far Cry 2‘s open world, punishing players for taking too long to explore. Fast-travel is restricted to finding a bus stop, but they’re plentiful, and finding one gives players a chance to jaunt around the environment for adventuring fun.

Far Cry 2‘s innovative buddy system bears much less potential for annoyance. Players can select from one of nine bounty hunters to play as, but the other eight stay in the game as NPCs. Players can befriend these other hunters and work with them on missions. They’ll usually call the player before a mission with an idea for a better, albeit riskier, approach to completing the objective. The NPC with whom the player has formed the closest bond will show up to rescue them should they fall in battle, much like Elizabeth reviving Booker in BioShock Infinite. The buddy system is an interesting paleo-squad mechanic that can help act against the game’s annoying attention to realism, but it was never expanded upon in future Far Cry games.

cry-6

Got MY best buddy right here… ain’t that right, Mr. Machete?

Far Cry 2‘s realism and buddy system are all that make its gameplay stand out from the crowd. The rest is a pedestrian mix of running and gunning that few gamers will be a stranger to. Players can shoot enemies or blow them up with grenades and rocket launchers. Cars, trucks, boats and hang gliders can make excellent assault or escape tools, as the situation warrants. The enemies in Far Cry 2 are not particularly bright, fond of standing out in the open to make for easy pickings. They, are, however, exceptional at spotting players who are trying to be stealthy, telepathically alerting their fellows when the player so much as thinks too loudly.

Far Cry 2 does have something of an economy for players to take advantage of. Players can buy guns from automated kiosks around the country, or retrieve them from enemy encampments. Players can also recover from combat by using medical syringes or by sleeping at save point beds around the region (this is also how one saves the game). In a sobering nod to real African conflicts, players pay for weapons and equipment using diamonds. Diamonds can be dug up using the player’s GPS system, or received as payment for side jobs. Interview tapes and other backstory items can also be found around the world, though they do a pretty paltry job of fleshing out the narrative.

cry-7

A peaceful nighttime interlude. One of very few in Far Cry 2.

No one has ever praised Far Cry 2 for its narrative, and with good reason. Indeed, to call Far Cry 2‘s narrative a narrative is a hefty insult to the entire concept of narratives. After their encounter with the jackal, players will wake up in the service of one or the other warring faction, and complete a variety of missions for them. After a set number of jobs well done, that faction will betray the player and leave them for dead. The player will then journey to the other faction’s headquarters and work for them until that faction also leaves the player for dead. The player will then travel back to the first traitors’ headquarters, and the cycle repeats itself until the end of the game.

Far Cry 2‘s narrative isn’t really a story as much as a cycle of lunacy. In what universe does it make sense to keep working for factions that both constantly betray their underlings? It wouldn’t be so bad if this phenomenon happened once, even twice, within Far Cry 2‘s world, but the constant betrayals and swapping back and forth between factions is comically ridiculous. Combine this cycle with the game’s lack of memorable NPCs and paltry, skeletal writing, and there’s not a whole lot here story-wise. The game’s story ends on a very paradoxical note, as the Jackal shows up one more time to reveal the real reason he’s been filling the country with weapons. To keep it spoiler-free, his reasoning makes no sense, even with more Nietzsche quotes thrown in for good measure. It ends the narrative on a “wtf” note, to put it lightly.

cry-8

Wonder how long before THESE guys betray me…

Repetition is the name of the game in terms of both Far Cry 2‘s “story” and its mission design. Each mission in Far Cry 2 plays out the same way: get out of the car, go kill some guys, blow something up, and then drive back to HQ to hand in the quest. Meeting up with buddies and implementing their ideas for the mission can diversify its design somewhat, but usually all it adds is one new gimmick, maybe a new obstacle. The last few missions of the game are the only ones that offer anything new, but they’re not worth suffering through the entirety of Far Cry 2 to see.

Far Cry 2‘s visuals are much better than its story, but they have an unfortunate tendency to amalgamate into a single shade of brown. Even though the game’s world encompasses savannahs, jungles, deserts, lakes, and other varied terrain, it all seems to employ the same color palette no matter the physical environment. As such, even though there’s some biome diversity to be had in Far Cry 2, the game’s muted colors can make its environments pretty ugly. Character animations are passable, but nothing exceptional for the late 2000’s, and the music is a samey mix of fast-paced action ballads. The art department got off to a pretty rough start with Far Cry 2.

cry-9

See how the colors all roll together, especially in the distance? It doesn’t look terrible up close, but even the greenery in the foreground is quite subdued.

Overall, Far Cry 2 feels like a rough pre-alpha of Far Cry 3, before the developers added narrative, characters, bright colors, and varied level design. It plays like a proof of concept for what the series would later become. Survival enthusiasts might be drawn to Far Cry 2 because of its attention to realism (in which case go for it), but everyone else is perfectly safe skipping ahead to Far Cry 3Far Cry 2 gets props for moving a series in a bold new direction, but it’s also proof that boldness is not a guarantor of grace.

____________________

You can buy Far Cry 2 here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Dishonored 2

dishonored-1

Fight to reclaim your throne from a ruthless, shadowy foe.

PC Release: November 11, 2016

By Ian Coppock

The 2016 video game holiday gala continues this month, as more and more big-budget studios contend for Christmas cash. Activison and Electronic Arts punched in with their yearly dose of shooters, while other major studios like 2K have climbed into the ring with heavy-hitting sequels. Now it’s Bethesda’s turn as they usher Dishonored 2 into the fray. The sequel to Arkane Studios’ 2012 electropunk stealth’em’up, Dishonored 2 is the latest in an unusually crowded field of sequels to fight for the wallets of holiday shoppers. What effort does Dishonored 2 make to stand above, or sneak past, the rest?

____________________

When Dishonored hit shelves in 2012, it was acclaimed for its electropunk setting and stealthy gameplay. Corvo Attano’s mission to rescue a young heiress was not new narrative material, but Dishonored‘s grim atmosphere and apt blend of Victorian and Orwellian themes helped make it a standout game. Arkane Studios fell silent as their creation grew louder, and it was only at E3 2016 that Dishonored 2 was revealed, four years in the making. Like its predecessor, Dishonored 2 espouses an electropunk setting and a narrative that blends redemption with vengeance.

Dishonored 2 takes place fifteen years after the events of Dishonored, in which royal bodyguard Corvo Attano avenged the death of his empress and rescued their daughter Emily from traitorous conspirators. Only a little girl during the events of Dishonored, Emily Kaldwin is now in her early 20’s, and administers the Empire of the Isles with her father’s help. Corvo has also spent the 15 years since Dishonored training Emily in the same arts of assassination and combat that made him such a menace in the first game, fearing that though the empire is secure for now, new threats will appear on the horizon. Emily herself is fearful that she’ll never be the empress her mother was, despite Corvo’s advice and encouragement.

dishonored-2

Emily has taken her late mother’s place as empress, while Corvo advises her on matters of state and keeps her enemies at bay.

Dishonored 2‘s story kicks off as Emily marks the 15th anniversary of her mother’s death, an event attended by dignitaries from all over the isles. Anticipating a long, hot day, Emily is shocked when a mysterious woman named Delilah arrives to her throne room, claiming to be her aunt and the rightful empress. It’s at this point that the player chooses to play Dishonored 2 as either Emily or Corvo; whomever the player does not choose is imprisoned by Delilah as her men capture Dunwall. The character who escapes makes their way to the Dreadful Wale, a ship captained by Corvo’s old friend Meagan Foster, and escapes.

Clues from Delilah’s coup prompts Emily/Corvo to travel to Karnaca, the capital city of the empire’s southernmost island. Karnaca serves as the principle setting of Dishonored 2; Corvo was born and raised there and remembers it well, while Emily is a complete stranger to it. Not long after fleeing Dunwall, Emily/Corvo receives a visit from the Outsider, the same black-eyed wraith that bestowed his dark powers upon Corvo in the original Dishonored. The Outsider speculates that Delilah has much darker schemes than “merely” taking over the Empire, and either restores his Mark to Corvo or gives it to Emily for the first time. Interestingly, players can choose to reject the Outsider’s mark and play Dishonored 2 powers-free. It’s insanely difficult, but hardcore stealth fanatics will be sated.

dishonored-3

The player is given new powers with which to fight Delilah.

Like its predecessor, Dishonored 2 is a first-person stealth game set in Hitman-esque open levels. Players are given a target to assassinate and a variety of possible paths to that objective. Just like in Dishonored, players can choose to non-lethally remove big-name targets from the picture, and can directly influence the game’s final outcome by how many people they kill. Killing few to no people will result in a, shall we say, “calmer” ending, while leaving a trail of corpses wherever the player goes will destabilize Karnaca.

Players have a diverse arsenal of tools with which to effect stealth, assassination, or all-out war. Corvo and Emily can dispatch enemies directly with a wickedly sharp blade, or from afar with an array of pistols and crossbows. Each character also receives an array of powers from the Outsider; Emily gets a whole new set of abilities, while Corvo gets retooled and reworked versions of the powers he had in Dishonored. Most abilities in Dishonored 2 revolve around the environment; specifically, getting around it easier or being more aware of enemies. Emily and Corvo can upgrade their powers with special Outsider runes found around Karnaca.

dishonored-4

The dark arts give players an unbeatable edge in Dishonored.

For  better and for worse, Dishonored 2‘s gameplay is difficult to distinguish from that of Dishonored. Some fans will see this as a positive, as the original game is a genuinely good stealth title, but players hoping to find a uniquely Dishonored 2 experience will be sorely disappointed. Dishonored 2 offers few innovations for the series’s stealth formula, choosing instead to be in lockstep with the original Dishonored. Just like in that game, players are delivered to the mission area by a battle-scarred mariner in a little boat, given a bunch of different possible paths to a target, sneak past guards, eliminate the target, and then escape out the back door. Emily and Corvo will avoid guards, climb up ledges, disarm traps, and pass by electrical barriers just like Corvo did in Dishonored. None of this is objectively bad, but it does make Dishonored 2’s gameplay feel derivative.

Luckily, Dishonored 2‘s gameplay is not a complete carbon copy of it’s predecessors, at least if players choose Emily Kaldwin. Some of her powers, like the Shadow Grapple ability, are little different from Corvo’s powers in the original game, but others are entirely new. The domino effect power that unleashes one guard’s fate upon others in the area offers interesting, if seldom, new gameplay activities. Dishonored 2‘s guards return little smarter than those of Dishonored, though they now notice when their comrades are missing, which represents an added challenge. Dishonored 2 also introduces new enemies like witches and clockwork robots, but their appearances in the game are disappointingly rare.

dishonored-5

Dishonored 2 is perhaps too similar to its predecessor.

Dishonored 2‘s reluctance to innovate extends beyond its gameplay. As Dishonored fans might have inferred from the introduction to this review, Dishonored 2‘s plot is virtually identical to that of the first game. Sure, fifteen years have passed and Emily is now a playable character, but take a look at the plot points. Some shady aristocrats conspire, they attack the throne, their leader becomes the new ruler, Emily disappears, and now a whole bunch of conspirators have to die so that she can be restored to her rightful place. That is the exact storyline of Dishonored. Even if the game introduces a new setting and a few new characters, the underlying narrative structure is every iota the same as that of Dishonored.

That said, Dishonored 2 does manage to raise the stakes higher than in the narrative of Dishonored. Delilah is no ordinary conspirator, and unlike the conspirators in Dishonored, possesses some shadowy powers of her own. Though Dishonored 2‘s narrative is not that innovative, it adds a lot of exposition on the Outsider and other underpinnings of the Dishonored universe. Most of this exposition is woven into the narrative; it doesn’t save the story from feeling stale, but it will offer hardcore series fans more tidbits of lore to enjoy.

dishonored-6

Dishonored 2 spends more time fleshing out the universe than treading new narrative paths.

Speaking of the world of Dishonored 2, how’s the level design? Well, it’s… about the same as that of Dishonored. Karnaca’s sunny avenues and Greco-Italian architecture make for a welcome change from the dour Victorian visage of Dunwall, and yet the two cities’ levels are nigh congruent. Corvo/Emily is dumped off at the limits of a city district filled with guards and hidden paths, and needs to sneak their way to a target. It’s nice that Dishonored 2 has preserved the original game’s sense of freedom, but anyone who was hoping for a change from infiltrating police stations and sneaking through abandoned apartments is in for a disappointment. The one exception to this rule is the Clockwork Mansion, a house whose rooms shift and transform with the press of a button and mark an impressive feat of level design. It’s just a shame that not all of Dishonored 2‘s levels received the same amount of attention.

Arkane Studios also introduces the exact same slate of woes to Karnaca that it did to Dunwall, inadvertently quashing this new setting’s uniqueness. A plague is ravaging the streets of the city (although this time it’s spread by giant mosquitoes instead of rats), the plague creates zombies that are the spitting image of Dishonored‘s weepers, and the city guard has set up Wall of Light checkpoints everywhere. Just in case it wasn’t enough for Dishonored 2 to copy its predecessor’s plot, gameplay and level design, it also replicates the original game’s socioeconomic situations. With Dishonored 2, the apple hasn’t fallen that far from the tree so much as gone right back up the tree and ossified into its very bark.

dishonored-7

Haven’t we covered this already?

The icing on the cake with Dishonored 2 is the same icing that’s affected almost every big-budget release this year: bugs! Lots and lots of them. Like Far Cry PrimalDeus Ex: Mankind Divided, No Man’s Sky, and Mafia III before it, Dishonored 2 was delivered glitchy on arrival. The prevailing issue for the PC version is a dramatic framerate drop, which no amount of graphics and visual effects lowering seems to fix. Arkane Studios has pledged a patch, but for the moment, only a tiny handful of PC gamers have been lucky to hit even 60 fps. The game has a nasty tendency to slow down to the 10-15 FPS range, especially in crowded areas and, worse, during combat. It can take upwards of five minutes merely for the game to load its main menu.

Furthermore, Arkane Studios did a poor job of rendering distant objects. From far away, the environs of Karnaca and indeed every distant landmark look like they’re covered in glitter. Reducing the draw distance only amplifies the problem, obfuscating everything from miles away to across the street with bright sparkles and really bad shadow striping. This devalues the novelty of Dishonored 2‘s new setting, while the constant system crashes make gamers forsake it altogether. The game boasts improved textures and lens flare effects over its predecessor, but only under ideal conditions.

dishonored-8

What are you guys doing, Arkane?

The tragedy with Dishonored 2, as with all mediocre sequels, is the chance that it missed. With Dishonored 2, the developers had an opportunity to spring into an entirely new story, with improved mechanics that do more to advance what the original game introduced. Half-Life 2 and BioShock Infinite are perhaps the best examples of games that took what their predecessors did and undertook the hard work to meaningfully advance it.

Instead, even more than the other big-budget sequels that have been released this year, Dishonored 2 just replicates what the original game already did. It’s difficult to believe that Arkane still has the same confidence and sense of adventure that it did when making Dishonored, because all that can be inferred from this game’s overwhelming fealty to the original is a sense of fear. A fear of doing something different. A fear of innovation.

dishonored-9

System failure

Dishonored 2 is not a bad game, but it feels more like a DLC for Dishonored than its own title. Dishonored 2‘s reluctance to deviate from the path that Dishonored already blazed is deeply disappointing. Sure, the game introduces a handful of new enemies and backstories, but these aren’t enough to save the game from feeling stale. Even if Emily has a few new powers and the world of Dishonored has some robots, the story that all of this informs is functionally identical to the first game’s. No one should pay sixty dollars for a game that feels like a DLC and that’s loaded with bugs. As such, new arrivals to the series and core fans are both better off just playing the first game until Arkane introduces a big patch and an even bigger price discount. Meanwhile, the search for a well-running and truly innovative big-budget game this holiday season will have to continue elsewhere.

____________________

You can buy Dishonored 2 here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Call of Duty: World at War

world-1

Drive back Axis forces across the various theaters of World War II.

PC Release: November 11, 2008

By Ian Coppock

Although Battlefield 1 is far and away superior to Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, it doesn’t contain any sort of new gameplay despite its antiquated World War I setting. Players have access to automatic weapons and grenades just like in modern Battlefield games, and its biplanes handle just like the TIE Fighters in Star Wars Battlefront. So while the game is technically a period piece, its gameplay makes the World War I setting only skin-deep. What then, might Battlefield 1 have looked like had it adhered more to the conventions of its time period? What might authentic “period” gameplay in a shooter look like? To answer that question, additional shooters set in past conflicts must be consulted and reviewed. Perhaps Call of Duty: World at War has an answer to this conundrum.

____________________

Call of Duty: World at War is first-person shooter and one of the most venerable Call of Duty titles ever made, at least to hear the fans tell it. Unlike Modern Warfare and the series’s most recent installment, Infinite WarfareWorld at War was not developed by Infinity Ward. Rather, World at War is a product of Treyarch, the Call of Duty studio best known for developing the highly successful Black Ops series of CoD games. World at War was released one year after Modern Warfare and, rather than continuing that game’s contemporary combat theme, opts for a World War II setting.

Call of Duty: World at War features  a single-player campaign split between two different protagonists in two different fronts of World War II. The first story stars Private Miller, a U.S. Marine fighting in the Pacific against the Empire of Japan. The second narrative focuses on Dimitri Petrenko, a soldier in the Soviet Union’s Red Army, as the Russians push westward through Nazi Germany. Miller and Petrenko are both silent protagonists, but Treyarch called in some top talent to voice each soldier’s commanding officer. Private Miller’s squad leader, Sergeant Roebuck, is voiced by Kiefer Sutherland, while Sergeant Viktor Reznov of the Red Army is voiced by the one and only Gary Oldman.

world-2

Oorah!

The gameplay in Call of Duty focuses on one goal and one goal only: grab a gun and shoot the bad guys. Players fight their way through a series of linear maps, taking out any and all resistance as they go. There are usually plenty of opportunities for cover, but almost never for tactics. A few levels get a bit more creative, like a stealthy sniper mission set in the ruins of Stalingrad, but most are the all-out shootfests that Call of Duty puts out like clockwork year after year. World at War does shake things up a bit by letting players drive vehicles, but this ability is relegated to two heavily scripted missions.

That said, World at War does a much better job presenting gameplay true to its time period than Battlefield 1. Whereas Battlefield 1 drops players in with unrealistically high-powered weaponry for the 1910’s, World at War gives players a bolt-action rifle, maybe a pistol, and a bayonet for stabbing bad guys. The game will occasionally dole out trench guns and semi-automatic weapons, but most levels start the player off with the most common weapons of the World War II era, which does wonders for its immersion.

world-3

Forward, comrades!

The nice thing about World at War is though its shooting gameplay is nothing but conventional CoD firefights, each campaign’s environment and enemies present a different challenge. The American campaign demands careful attention to detail, because the in-game Japanese infantry are fond of the same jungle ambushes and tripwire grenades that were used during the actual campaign in the Pacific. As Private Miller, players can’t just charge recklessly from island to island, but must instead move carefully to disarm traps and fire back at enemies that spring from cover. As a result of replicating actual World War II tactics used by the Japanese, the American campaign presents a more visceral sense of danger.

The Soviet campaign is larger scale with louder explosions, but is much more straightforward, consisting of repeated breaks through Nazi lines as the Red Army roars to Berlin. In stark contrast to their East Asian counterparts, the German infantry rely on heavy armor and large contingents of men rather than crafty environmental tactics. As a result, this segment of World at War falls much more in line with other Call of Duty games. This facet of gameplay changes somewhat once players arrive to Berlin and engage in furious street-to-street fighting, but not all that much.

world-4

Fascists seem to have a thing for oversized weaponry.

Despite leaving Call of Duty‘s core shooting mechanics well enough alone, World at War presents enough attention to detail in its gameplay to feel like an authentic period shooter. One of the biggest problems with Battlefield 1 is that its enemies do not rely on any sort of tactics and all fight the same regardless of different nationalities. In World at War, the Japanese and Germans each employ a roster of completely different tactics that are not only true to their historical origins, but also help keep the gameplay feeling fresh. World at War switches between the two campaigns every 2-3 levels, so players can’t get complacent fighting one type of Axis enemy for too long at a time.

Additionally, the weaponry and tools in World at War are much more realistic in their function and their allotment. Bolt-action rifles are quite common while submachine guns and other comparatively high-tech weapons are rare, true to the times of World War II. None of us will ever know what fighting in World War II felt like in real life, but Treyarch’s uncommon attention to the military tools and conventions of the time, instead of just handing out the highest-powered weapons and enemies for everybody, is highly commendable.

world-5

AIn’t no high-end weaponry in this jungle, boy.

A lot of Call of Duty players look back to World at War because of its narrative, which is interesting… because this game doesn’t really have one. Sure, players are given an objective to fight through in each level, but that’s not a story, that’s just a guide rail. Miller and Petrenko never talk during the campaign, and though their commanding officers are voiced by top talent, neither experiences meaningful character development. Instead, they regurgitate the same platitudes about heroism and sacrifice that are present in every Call of Duty game. The pacing of each campaign is also quite strange, presenting two prologue missions set early in World War II, then jumping like five years ahead to close to the war’s end. Treyarch could’ve crafted something more compelling, but settled for “get to the checkpoint!” instead.

To be fair, World at War provides a bit of exposition in its narratives, but this is all crammed into the cutscenes between missions and all deals with numbers of things. Number of people killed in World War II, number of shells fired at Berlin, number of bratwursts the Nazis ate at the Seelow Heights, etc etc. Some of these numbers are terrifyingly impressive, like the two and a half million Soviet troops that descended upon Berlin at the end of the war, but these numbers are rarely distilled down to the characters’ personal experience. Instead, they serve as more of an abstract factbook that players can look at for two seconds and then immediately forget once the shooting starts.

world-6

Great facts, but you die now.

What else can players look at? A diverse palette of environments ranging from burning Pacific islands to war-torn European countrysides. One of the main reasons that Call of Duty went back to its roots with World at War‘s World War II setting was to reintroduce that conflict in the then-new IW Engine. World at War doesn’t look bad by contemporary standards, but like Modern Warfare, its environments are way too clean and glossy. Even the dirty tank battlefields in eastern Europe look like someone laminated the mud. Character animations and indeed the entire game are quite smooth, but the environments are painfully sterile. Some environments, especially the jungles in the Pacific, employ too few colors, blending together into a single shade of mustard brown.

Luckily, the fact that World at War is an older game means that it’ll run on pretty much any PC today. Be it a potato or a high-end rig, World at War can be depended upon to be bug-free and stay at a consistent 60 FPS, even during the hairiest fighting scenes. The game employs a pretty conventional options menu and will most likely open in a horrendously outdated resolution setting, but these issues can quickly be fixed.

world-7

I wasn’t kidding when I said “single shade of mustard brown”.

Call of Duty‘s multiplayer is as pedestrian as ever in World at War, with the same small maps and same low-IQ, shoot-everything gameplay that the series has been churning out for years. Of course, World at War has been on the market for eight years now, so its multiplayer community is basically dead. Players looking for a multiplayer rumble in the jungle will probably want to give this a miss.

World at War was also the first Call of Duty game to feature a zombies mode, which is now a mainstay of every Call of Duty title. As far as can be discerned, this mode is set after the main campaign and features a foul-mouthed Soviet survivor fighting off waves of Nazi zombies. It’s the first iteration of Call of Duty zombies, so it’s nothing fancy, but that’s what makes it surprisingly fun. Shoot zombies, board up windows, rinse and repeat. It’s just a shame that this mode has changed so little with subsequent Call of Duty games. Infinite Warfare‘s zombie mode is virtually identical to the one here.

world-8

Operation Soggy Hellhole is a go.

Call of Duty: World at War does not reinvent the franchise or add anything that players won’t be able to pick up immediately, but it does feature a surprising attention to detail. Treyarch put a lot of effort into adding historically accurate weapons and situations to each of its single-player campaigns, and these help make the game a “play at some point” recommendation for shooter fans. History nerds looking for a visceral rendition of World War II and shooter fans looking for something different will get a kick of some size out of World at War. At this point, a shooter without drones and cybernetics makes for a nice change of pace.

____________________

You can buy Call of Duty: World at War here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare

call-1

Wage war across the Solar System with space-age tools of combat.

PC Release: November 4, 2016

By Ian Coppock

Oorah! The battle of hyper-masculine, low-innovation shooters continues with Call of Duty stepping into the ring against Battlefield. Never before has the contrast between the two series been as stark as in 2016; while Battlefield 1 takes shooters back to World War I, Call of Duty takes them into the future… where…

Wait a minute. Hasn’t Call of Duty done this five times in a row now? Oh Lord. For better and for worse, Call of Duty is extremely consistent. This year’s Call of Duty release has been particularly contentious, for reasons that we’ll discuss in a moment. For now, it’s time to dive into the spanking new Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare to see what it has to offer to the world of gaming in general and shooters in particular.

____________________

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare is a first-person military shooter developed by Infinity Ward (one of three studios licensed to create Call of Duty games) and published by video game mega-label Activision. Each studio produces a new Call of Duty game on a rotational basis, and this year marks Infinity Ward’s first step into the spotlight since 2013’s Call of Duty: Ghosts. Infinity Ward prides itself as the studio behind 2007’s critically acclaimed Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, but that claim is a bit misleading. The studio’s original founders were fired by Activision in 2010 under murky circumstances, and when they left, almost all of Modern Warfare‘s developers went with them. So while it’s technically true that this studio made Modern Warfare, the actual people behind that game have since moved on to found Respawn Entertainment and make the critically acclaimed Titanfall games.

Infinity Ward has struggled to find its footing since the exodus of its original team. 2011’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 was… passable, but 2013’s Call of Duty: Ghosts is by far the worst Call of Duty game ever made, and that’s not exactly a high bar to clear. When Infinity Ward unveiled Infinite Warfare earlier this year, the game’s first trailer became one of the most disliked videos on YouTube. Consumers and critics unfavorably compared the game to Halo and pointed out that this is the fifth Call of Duty game in as many years to use a futuristic sci-fi motif. Again, Call of Duty is nothing if not consistent, but Infinity Ward’s latest effort does deserve a fair evaluation.

call-2

Prep for battle, brah.

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare takes place far into the future, a future in which mankind has achieved advanced spaceflight and colonized other planets in the Solar System. Humanity’s interests in space and on earth are governed by the United Nations Space Alliance (UNSA) and protected by the Solar Associated Treaty Organization, or SATO. Decades before the start of the game, an authoritarian separatist group called the Settlement Defense Front wrests control of Mars from the UNSA and declares its independence, leading to a tense stalemate between the two worlds. Each one makes grabs for different planets in the Solar System, building fleets and fortifying space stations.

After a bombastic but ultimately anticlimactic prologue, Infinite Warfare‘s narrative kicks off with the arrival of Nick Reyes, a special forces space pilot and the game’s main protagonist. Reyes and his partner Nora “Salt” Salter arrive to Geneva just in time for the Settlement Defense Front to launch a surprise attack on earth, knocking out most of the UNSA’s space fleet. Reyes is promoted to captain of the starship Retribution and given one mission: stop the SDF. Reyes is voiced by inveterate games voice actor Brian Bloom, while Kit Harington of Game of Thrones fame provides his voice and likeness to Admiral Salen Kotch, leader of the SDF and the game’s main antagonist.

call-3

Ohhhh man, Jon Snow is pissed.

From the bridge of the Retribution, Reyes assembles an elite team of pilots and space marines to defeat the SDF. It’s at this point that Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare surprises with something that’s been missing in the entire Call of Duty series up to this point: diversity. Reyes not only has a female deuteragonist on his crew; he also counts two Asian-Americans, a female Gabonese navigator, a black Brit, and basically every other demographic and minority that Call of Duty has omitted from its previous games. The sudden shift to a diverse cast is a welcome change of pace for a series that built itself up on the backs of gritty, stone-faced white dudes. At the very least, it makes Infinite Warfare easier to take seriously.

What makes Infinite Warfare difficult to take seriously is how cartoonishly evil the Settlement Defense Front is. Its animosity toward earth is never clearly explained and basically boils down to “we want to kill you because we’re evil”. SDF mantras will pop up on the screen when Reyes dies, containing such hilariously overkill notions as “freedom is evil” and “war is amazing, everyone should want war all the time because drinking blood is great”. The exposition in Infinite Warfare reads like a script by a preteen Michael Bay, and somehow it’s twice as incoherent.

call-4

Nick Reyes is not amused.

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare contains the exact same running and gunning that we’ve all come to expect of Call of Duty games over the years. Reyes finds a gun, points it at a bad guy, and squeezes the trigger until the bad guy’s blood and organs have been sufficiently evacuated from his body. The gunplay in this game is absolutely nothing that shooter fans in general and CoD fans in particular haven’t already seen literally ten times before now. Infinite Warfare sprinkles a few little novelties over the generic shooter pie, like a spider grenade that hops onto enemies and a hacking tool for taking over enemy robots, but the heart of the game is the same heart that’s pumped for every other CoD game.

Slightly more novel and a lot more fun are the game’s flying sections. Though he spends plenty of time with his boots on the ground, Reyes’s pilot training means that he also spends at least some of each mission in the cockpit of his Jackal starfighter. Players can engage the SDF in large-scale dogfights across space, with lots of enemy fighters and big capital ships for good measure. Console gamers have complained of this mode’s clunky controls, but flying a Jackal on PC is not only smooth, but quite fun. Like the first-person shooting, it’s hardly anything complicated, but it feels like a meaty enough morsel of novelty to make Infinite Warfare stand further apart from its peers.

call-5

Woooooo!!

Infinite Warfare‘s visuals are also much better than expected. The aging IW engine that’s been in use since Modern Warfare can still pull a few tricks, resulting in diverse, well-lit environments on par with those of Battlefield 1. Infinity Ward also avoided its past mistakes of making environments look too glossy, spritzing every space fight and every planetary landing with plenty of dirt and mud. Infinite Warfare has more lens flares than a J.J. Abrams film, but it’s an impressive lighting setup. Textures and character details are similarly crisp and clearly defined.

Another nice thing about Infinite Warfare? It runs well- that is, after having to validate 10 files that didn’t download from Steam properly, but after that, it’s virtually bug-free on decent machines. Not every gamer has been this lucky, but Infinite Warfare‘s build is head and shoulders more stable than Ghosts or Advanced Warfare. For anything else that can be said about this game, it has the fundamentals down pretty tight.

call-6

Infinite Warfare doesn’t look bad at all.

So, Infinite Warfare runs well, looks good, and introduces at least one novel gameplay element. Is the larger game any good? Well… yes and no. It’s not as bad as the number of dislikes on its YouTube trailer imply, but it’s certainly not good enough to advance the Call of Duty series in a meaningful way. For a start, the single-player narrative of Infinite Warfare is flatly written and has the pacing of a drunkard. The game’s dialogue and exposition contain the same old platitudes about the nature of war and standing up for loved ones and all that well-meaning-but-derivative psychobabble we’ve already heard in 10 CoD games before this one.

The game’s story starts out at a strong clip but quickly collapses into some of the worst pacing of any modern video game. Instead of ending the story on a nice, climactic confrontation with Salen Kotch, Infinite Warfare forces players through an awkwardly slapdash boss “battle” and then 40 more minutes of blowing stuff up before abruptly cutting to black. None of the characters are written to be interesting or endearing, which makes it hard to care when they die, and even the robot written in for comedic effect gets old pretty fast. For any relief afforded by its smooth running and fun to be had with its flying, Infinite Warfare has one of the clumsiest Call of Duty narratives ever penned. It’s not the worst, but it sure ain’t no Modern Warfare.

call-7

Wait, what just happened?

As with other Call of Duty games of the past 5-6 years, Infinite Warfare seems deathly afraid of doing something different. The missions in the single-player campaign are some of the most pedestrian first-person shooting imaginable. Ironically, the real fun of the campaign is sequestered away in optional side missions, where Reyes can hit side targets to expedite his battle against the SDF. These missions feature much more novel situations and gameplay than the mainline missions, like hopping between asteroids on route to a big spaceship, dogfighting in the clouds of Venus… one mission even contains stealth gameplay. Stealth gameplay! In a freaking Call of Duty game!

Are these innovations featured in the main missions, though? No, of course not. The main missions are in the same stream of running and gunning that, again, we’ve already seen nearly a dozen times. Any gimmicks or novelties that Call of Duty presents are available for one mission, maybe one moment, before being tucked back into the ether by Activision’s commitment to homogeneous gameplay. It’s remarkable that a Call of Duty game even features side missions, though, and it is fun to roam the halls of the Retribution and fly to other worlds. It’s like Infinite Warfare is trying to be a diet Mass Effect.

call-8

Okay, admittedly, the ship is pretty cool.

Okay, so not everyone buys Call of Duty for its story, right? Right. How is the multiplayer, the main meat of the game? The multiplayer is the exact. Same. Freaking. Mode. That we have seen in 10. Other. Call of Duty. Games. Tiny maps, senseless shooting, instant respawns. No tactics, no strategy, just DIE DIE DIE DIE DIE. The fact that Call of Duty‘s multiplayer hasn’t changed one iota since the previous game is unsurprising, but still disappointing. It’s a massive disservice to fans of the series to churn out the same mode year after year and charge sixty dollars for it. Inveterate Call of Duty fans will blaze no new trails in Infinite Warfare‘s multiplayer mode, and PC shooter fans are better off playing something with bigger, more epic battles and dynamic environments (something like Battlefield 1, for instance).

Okay, so single-player is mediocre and multiplayer is a total wash. What about zombies, the third gameplay mode that’s become endemic to the Call of Duty series? The zombies mode is, again, a clone of every zombie mode in every Call of Duty game since the mode debuted in Call of Duty: World at War. Players shoot zombies and board up the windows between rounds. The 1980’s spaceland carnival park setting bears some novelty, but said novelty is never really capitalized upon.

call-9

Mission failed.

In closing, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare starts out on a strong note, but its pitiful writing, reluctance to innovate, and cloned multiplayer make it just as tired and rehashed as we all expected of the newest installment of the Call of Duty franchise. Its gameplay has some moments of fun, but those moments aren’t worth suffering through a sixty dollar purchase and hours of poorly paced narrative to experience. Battlefield 1 is the clear winner of this year’s shooter tussle; not because it did anything particularly great, but because Infinite Warfare did so many things wrong.

To be fair, though, Activision wouldn’t keep churning out these crappy games if customers didn’t keep buying them. So vote with your money. Don’t buy Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. When a series has reached its breaking point, it collapses, and the developer has a chance to innovate and re-introduce it down the road. That’s what Ubisoft did with the Assassin’s Creed series, and it’s what Activision should do with Call of Duty. The series, and its customers, will be much better off in the long run.

But Activision will only do it if you tell them to.

____________________

You can buy Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Crysis

crysis-1

Investigate an archaeologist’s disappearance on an island occupied by hostile forces.

PC Release: November 13, 2007

By Ian Coppock

Shooters are a difficult genre to review sometimes. Not just because their subject matter can be controversial, or because their publishers can have shifty business practices, but because they comprise among the least innovative genres in video gaming. And yet, people keep buying them. Human beings are just endlessly fascinated by pointing a gun at someone and shooting them, especially here in America. With such a crowded field of games to choose from, it can be difficult to find shooters that withstand the test of time and stand tall among their peers as truly innovative. These shooters are few and far between, but for the discerning firearms fan, Crysis is a game worth considering.

____________________

Crysis is a military shooter developed by Crytek, the creators of the original Far Cry. With Far Cry, Crytek created a shooter that espoused open environments and many paths to victory over linear rows of set pieces, as in Call of Duty. Ubisoft acquired the rights to the Far Cry series and moved that franchise in a very different direction, but Crytek was able to continue the ideas they pioneered with Far Cry in Crysis. Hence, Crysis can be considered a spiritual successor to Far Cry, taking what that game innovated to ever greater heights.

Crysis takes place in the year 2020 and is set in the Lingshan Islands,  a fictitious archipelago not far from the Philippines. Shortly before the game begins, a team of American archaeologists led by a Dr. Rosenthal discovers an artifact that is allegedly millions of years old. Before Rosenthal can report more on his discovery, the North Korean military invades and conquers the islands under the pretext of national security, but really in hot pursuit of whatever Rosenthal dug up. The United States dispatches an elite squad of Delta Force operatives to Lingshan to extract Rosenthal and the artifact first, of which the protagonist, Jake “Nomad” Dunn, is a member. Nomad is accompanied by a team including Michael “Psycho” Sykes, an operative on loan from the Brits, and Laurence “Prophet” Barnes, the team’s steely commandeer.

crysis-2

#Murica

As if the “Delta Force” designation wasn’t enough to set these guys apart, Nomad and his buddies are also equipped with Nano-Suits. These futuristic combat rigs secrete nano-particles into the user’s system, granting superpowers that allow for all sorts of high-end combat maneuvers. Players can use Nomad’s suit to run super-fast, punch super-hard, and absorb bullets super-well. In a delightful extra for stealth players, Nomad’s suit also grants a cloaking ability that allows him to move about the jungle unnoticed. All of these abilities mean that Nomad can make short work of his foes, but the suit has a finite battery that must recharge after using these powers.

Anyway, Nomad and his squad make a covert air drop over the islands, but are attacked by some sort of giant flying creature on the way down, scattering the team. Nomad lands in the jungle unharmed and begins stealthing his way toward Dr. Rosenthal’s dig site, dispatching (or avoiding) North Korean patrols along the way. As they travel through the jungles of Lingshan, the team hears strange roars in the underbrush and occasionally discover North Korean patrols that were brutally torn apart by an unknown foe. Something on this island is hunting everybody, and it seems to have a taste for human flesh.

crysis-3

Armistice THIS, you commies!

Despite what some of these screenshots imply, Crysis is played from a first-person perspective. In addition to using the powers of his suit, Nomad can also pick up and wield firearms scattered all over the island. Crysis includes a weapons modding system that allows players to outfit each gun to suit their mission profile. Silencers and lasers are but a few of the tools that players can add to their guns. There’s also the more conventional combat fare like grenades and turrets that players can use to great effect against North Korean forces.

Although Crysis‘s suit powers and gun customization allows for many different kinds of gameplay, it is, at its heart, a stealth game. There’s a huge amount of fun to be had in creeping through the trees and silently taking out enemies, whether from afar, or from very short range. The enemies in Crysis are tough and smart, so even if players prefer barging in guns blazing, Crysis does warrant at least a bit of strategy. Players who enjoy spending a few minutes assessing each area before barging in will do well in Crysis. Much as some of its weapons are quite audacious, the game does reward subtlety and planning.

crysis-4

Subtlety or not, Crysis has great diversity in its gameplay.

The element of Crysis that Far Cry players will find most familiar is its open-world esque levels. Rather than herding players along a straight line, Crysis allows for many different paths through a level. Between where each level begins and ends is square mile upon square mile of jungle and other terrain that players can traverse at their leisure. Just like in Far Cry, these areas are peppered with enemy outposts and patrolled by fierce foes, but Crysis has turned all of this up to 12. Even by today’s standards, there really isn’t a shooter that allows for the same degree of environmental freedom that Crysis does. Players can mountaineer to the next checkpoint or swim along the bottom of an island bay. They can shoot every Korean from here to Hanoi or combat-crawl through the underbrush. Crysis‘s level design is in lockstep with the open-ended nature of its gameplay: do what one wants.

Most levels in Crysis also feature optional side objectives to be found in these wilderness areas. Occasionally, the Army will phone in and ask Nomad to go kill a dude or steal a laptop that will inhibit the North Koreans’ control over the islands. These side objectives disappear about two thirds of the way through the game, but they incentivize players to get out and explore. Sometimes, these objectives impact how easy or difficult the rest of the level will be.

crysis-5

Smell the jungle… feel the jungle… BE the jungle…

The most immediately remarkable thing about Crysis is how gorgeous it looks for a game that’s nearly a decade old. The game was built on Crytek’s proprietary Cryengine, which seems to always be at least a few years ahead of the curve. Today the Cryengine has been outpaced by EA’s Frostbite 3 engine, but that doesn’t stop Crysis from looking like a game that came out in 2012 or 2013 instead of 2007. The game’s advanced graphics demanded high-end cards and processors back in the day, but the game runs quite smoothly with contemporary hardware. Though the Cryengine still allows for beautiful works today, it seems to have been about a half-decade into the future when Crysis hit the market.

The Cryengine gives Crysis a palette of lighting and visual effects that are still impressive by today’s standards. The game employs dozens of different lighting levels for bright outdoor environments, nighttime raids into enemy territory, and exploring dimly lit indoor structures. The jungle and its villages encompass hundreds of sharp textures and bright colors, while the water effects are, again, impressive for a relatively old game. The character animations look a little stiff and suffer the occasional physics bug, like long hair gone ragdoll, but are by and large consistent with the rest of Crysis‘s impressive visuals.

crysis-6

Impressive… most impressive…

Of course, all the gameplay and graphics are meant to serve the narrative, and Crysis‘s narrative is robust for a first-person shooter. The voice-acting is excellent, for the most part, especially the performance given by Prophet’s voice actor, James Vincent Meredith. The needle falls more toward the rapid GET TO THE CHOPPER cadence of an action film than, say, a serious drama, but it doesn’t contain the camp of Far Cry nor the repetition of Call of Duty. It conveys a feeling of danger and a sense of mystery, especially when Nomad discovers the anti-gravity chamber in the heart of Linshan’s mountain.

What’s that? An anti-gravity chamber? Yes, Crysis starts out as a military shooter but slow-bakes into a sci-fi adventure. The hints of non-human activity dropped throughout the game’s first half accelerate into a full-scale war by Crysis‘s second half. The game’s smooth storytelling transitions lend the game more of a suspense-thriller air than a pure military/war atmosphere. Not only does this provide incentive for the player to course through the jungle, it also delivers a pleasant twist on what appears to be a conventional military game. There’s some dramatic character development to be had as well; while Nomad remains largely the same, his actions drive shifts in his comrades, particularly Prophet.

crysis-7

Uh…

Because Crysis features North Koreans in its first half and alien machines in its second half, it bears the potential to feel like two separate games. The shift in gameplay is also noticeable, as players go from shanking Koreans in the jungle to repelling alien octopi with a minigun. Despite this dramatic shift in gameplay, the tightly woven narrative keeps the two halves of Crysis from falling apart, instead helping the transition feel like a natural evolution. Few games that feature shifts in gameplay and context can pull them off as smoothly as Crysis does.

The Crysis experience is further rounded out by Crysis Warhead, a standalone expansion pack for the main game that stars Psycho, the aforementioned British operative, as its main protagonist. While Nomad busies himself with killing Koreans and advancing on their position at the heart of the mountain, Psycho is called in for his own mission to stop the Koreans from detonating a nuclear bomb. Crysis Warhead features a few gameplay deviations of its own, forcing players to adapt to cramped indoor areas and to fighting with another team of Delta Force operatives inserted on the other side of the island. The former bears the potential to make Crysis Warhead feel like Call of Duty, but the linear areas are delivered rarely and with opportunities for stealth. The story itself feels like a side quest instead of its own narrative, but Psycho’s status as one of the Crysis series’s best characters is cemented in this expansion.

crysis-8

Don’t mess with a psycho.

Crysis remains a competitive military shooter because of the innovations that Crytek pioneered in Far Cry. The studio found a decent middle ground between open-world gameplay and linear first-person shooting and then turned it up in their development of Crysis. Players can engage Crysis at their own pace, whether they prefer spending a half-hour tagging enemies before going in quietly or running in guns blazing and letting the chips fall where they may. Occasionally, the game will bend players toward a particular type of gameplay, especially the level in which Nomad drives a tank, but these instances are few and far between.

More so than its decent sci-fi narrative and its gorgeous environments, Crysis espouses freedom for players to engage the enemy how they well, be it with a knife in the back or a mini-gun to the front gates. This flexibility remains a rarity in the military shooters of today; maybe that’s why Crysis continues to stand out so well even after nearly a decade’s worth of shooters have come after it.

crysis-9

Glorious.

In closing, Crysis is one of the best military shooters ever made and a must-own for fans of stealth and guns. The game is basically bug-free and will run on any modern machine despite its advanced visuals. Modern shooters don’t seem terribly interested in the open-ended world design and gameplay options that Crysis brings to the table, which gives gamers all the more reason to buy and play this instead. Get it (and Crysis Warhead), now, to unveil one of gaming’s greatest sci-fi mysteries in whatever manner seems most suitable to you.

“Suitable”. Get it? Because the suit can let you run and hide, and, and… whatever, just buy the game already.

____________________

You can buy Crysis here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

The Survey

survey-1

Elude a monster that’s broken into your home and take a survey on how that makes you feel.

PC Release: October 27, 2016

By Ian Coppock

Just because November is the biggest release period of the year for big-budget games doesn’t mean that the small-budget ones shouldn’t have any say. Indie games are keeping this industry innovative, so to say that the public square belongs exclusively to high-selling but low-innovating titans (*cough*Battlefield 1*cough*) is a bit unfair. With that in mind, it’s time to take a break from this winter’s deluge of Triple-A games in favor of something smaller but more innovative than its gargantuan peers. Plus, we haven’t reviewed a horror game in forever. Luckily, The Survey contains both innovation and horror.

____________________

The Survey is a first-person survival-horror game created by Robert Gammon, a man whose understanding of subtlety and attention to detail makes his game stand out from the hundreds of other indie horror games released on Steam. Every horror gamer knows that about 95% of the horror games released on Steam are complete garbage, comprised of hastily thrown-together environments and a few cheap jumpscares. The Survey is neither of these things and more, so inveterate horror fans who get weary of wading through dozens of cheap, crappy games need not worry here.

The Survey takes place in a 13-room townhouse from which there is no apparent escape. The game begins as the protagonist, a nameless man, wakes up in the middle of the night to an alert from his smartphone. He’s to complete a strange survey that asks him some very specific questions, like if this house seems familiar and if he remembers having a family. As his phone prattles on about how he’s feeling and where he is, the man leaves his bedroom and gets out into the house to see what’s going on. Disturbingly, the phone keeps asking him if he sees anyone or is expecting company at this hour.

survey-2

Everything SEEMS normal… helloooooo?

As the man begins exploring his house, he starts finding notes about a family called the Walkers, a pair of working-class parents with two children. Their daughter Lilith demonstrated an incredible affinity for painting at a very young age, leading the parents to abandon their day jobs and ride the money that their child brought in. All of this was done at the expense of the couple’s son, Marcus, whom they abused to coerce their daughter into painting more pictures. The man has no memory or connection to this story, despite his phone prompting him about it.

After exploring the house a bit and finding more inklings about the Walkers, something breaks into the man’s house, and damn if it isn’t a terrifying sequence. After departing his bedroom once more, the man begins to find items rearranged around the house, more notes scattered around, and what sounds like crying coming from downstairs. He also seems to be getting tailed by the large porcelain doll that was supposed to be sitting near the sofa. Whoever’s texting the survey to him seems aware of what’s happening, though the answers the man puts into his phone, if he chooses to, seem to have no bearing on what’s happening in the house.

survey-3

Uh-oh.

The most immediate facet of game design separating The Survey from its peers is its sheer beauty. Though the game environment of The Survey is not that big, each room and area has been well-rendered and immaculately detailed. There’s a surprising amount of color and texture in the game, yet it all conforms to the realistic setting of a townhouse. It’s not meant to be a visual feast, but Gammon did a good job replicating a commonplace environment with flair.

The other element Gammon nails in his game design is lighting, one of the most important elements to a great horror game. Much of the house is drowned in darkness, but even turning the lights on doesn’t do much to dispel the gloom. Most lights are soft but dim. They light up the house, but only by the bare minimum amount of light needed to make out environments. Everyone turns lights on when they get scared, but Gammon has succeeded in creating a lighting scheme that does nothing for the player’s sense of safety.

survey-4

The lighting in The Survey doesn’t do much to calm the nerves, and that’s a good thing.

Although some players might chafe at the idea of an entire game taking place in a small townhouse, the constricted environment is perfect for a horror game. The entire 2-3 hour experience takes place in a two-level townhouse with just 13 rooms. Some might wonder if that’s enough space to execute a horror game, but the lack of space also means lack of places to feel safe or take refuge. A horror game is at its best when it keeps players guessing and extremely apprehensive, and The Survey accomplishes just that with its relative lack of places to hide. There are closets and other spaces strategically spaced throughout the house, but the house is small. Can the protagonist reach them before he gets got?

Gammon manages to keep the environment feeling fresh by introducing some subtle (and not so subtle) changes as the game goes on. The aforementioned creepy porcelain doll will sometimes block access to different parts of the house. Blood smears and rearranged furniture re-contextualize old areas. Even though The Survey‘s physical environment is small, more is done with that environment than with many games 100 times its size.

survey-5

Who turned on the TV?

The small size of The Survey‘s game environment is also reflected in its gameplay. The protagonist cannot run for fear of tripping down stairs or alerting the monster, so players are forced to creep through the apartment at a slow pace. It feels a bit agonizing sometimes, especially when going down hallways, but most environments in this townhouse can be reached quickly enough that not being able to run isn’t an issue. It becomes a bit more of a problem when the monster shows up, but The Survey doesn’t allow players to simply run away from the problem. Survival in this game demands an eye for detail and some strategy, like tagging closets to hide in in case trouble shows up. Besides, where would the leading man run, anyways? The front door is sealed shut.

Aside from being careful about how he moves around the environment, the mystery man may be prompted by the survey or in-game items to complete certain puzzles. These conundrums are hardly challenging, forcing the player to trade only a few iotas of brain power for much bigger crumbs of narrative. Occasionally, strange voices from the radio will pipe in to fill in the story where notes and in-game puzzles do not. It’s an effective mix of storytelling elements, and if the player gets stuck, their smartphone will relent with a hint on how to proceed every 10 minutes or so.

survey-6

I am NOT going up there…

So what exactly is this exposition that game puts players through their paces for? What is this mysterious place and how does the main protagonist connect to it? Most of the exposition and narrative throughout the game connects back to that aforementioned family with the talented little girl. Everyone knows that stories like this aren’t brought up unless they have some bearing on the story, so it’s safe to assume that the leading man has some connection to the Walkers.

Ultimately, The Survey‘s central narrative is a tale of intense family dysfunction, and how that dysfunction can have lasting impact on everyone in the family. It’s a subtle yet heart-wrenching tale, one that gamers with family problems of their own may find depressingly familiar, but it’s told with a steady hand that reveals the truth at a steady clip. Gammon’s a good writer, despite his prose’s occasional spelling error, and the story he unfolds is delivered from the perspective of each sibling in the Walker family. The game’s central theme is that everyone gets what he or she deserves, and it’s refreshingly consistent.

survey-7

We’re all just shirts on a shelf built from LIES….

The other character who bears a possible connection to the Walker family is the monster herself, a gaunt, weeping widow that wanders the house in search of… something. You? Herself? It’s not made clear at the outset and only haltingly more so as the game progresses. There’s the usual chase sequences and hiding seen in such greats as Amnesia and Outlast, but Gammon isn’t afraid to employ some psychological horror as well. The monster will try to trick players into its embrace, from sounding like a scared little girl knocking frantically at players’ bedrooms, to sitting in the closet until the protagonist passes down the hallway. Sometimes the monster isn’t apt at spotting the player when they’re right close by, but the townhouse is so constricting that this error rarely happens.

The combination of visceral house-searching and devious psychological tricks makes this monster absolutely terrifying. It’s also quite difficult to get a good look at it, because Gammon understands that a monster stays scary the less frequently one sees it. Fear of the monster is what extends a game in such a small environment to vastly bigger lengths. One never knows when this thing will round a corner in hot pursuit of your jugular.

survey-8

AHHHHH! NONONONONONONONONONONONONO

The Survey is uncommon among low-price indie horror games in its emotional brevity and attention to detail. It is a very patient game, trusting players to get scared by the environment and the morbid atmosphere instead of cheap jumpscares that YouTubers can obnoxiously overreact to. It’s consistent in its themes and storytelling, and is worth suffering through a few bugs and spelling errors in order to suffer through the terror. For five bucks, all of this is not a bad deal. Players can get a well-crafted narrative about the tragedy of family dysfunction and one of the most visceral survival horror experiences of the year rolled into one game. Horror fans will want to pick this up immediately. As for Robert Gammon, his budding career as a horror game developer bears watching with great interest.

____________________

You can buy The Survey here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Far Cry

far-1

Rescue a mysterious woman from a mad scientist.

PC Release: March 23, 2004

By Ian Coppock

There’s a certain charm that can only be found in really bad action movies. Whether it’s 1989’s Roadhouse starring Patrick Swayze, or 2016’s The Asian Connection with the one and only Steven Seagal, there’s a special cadre of films out there whose combination of acting, dialogue and special effects is so atrocious, so cliched, that it’s weirdly endearing. Similarly, there’s an elite corps of video games that espouse similar effects to unintended, yet paradoxically enjoyable, consequences. They produce an enjoyable experience despite employing certain conventions and cliches to an obnoxious level. Few periods in video game history produced more of these titles than the early 2000’s, and few of them are more memorable than the original Far Cry.

____________________

The Far Cry franchise is best-known today for its volatile, open-world anarchy with lots of guns and colorful antagonists. Under Ubisoft’s hand, the series has become renowned for giving players lots of guns and lots of freedom to do whatever they want in an open world with said guns. However, this wasn’t always the case. Before the psychopathy of Vaas and the dizzying heights of Kyrat, the Far Cry series was the brainchild of Crytek, a German developer best known for developing CrysisRyse, and anything else whose title they can fit a misspelled “y” into.

Indeed, about the only thing Far Cry has in common with its sequels is, well, the name Far Cry. In sharp contrast to the open-world adventure fests of the games that would come after it, the original Far Cry is a linear first-person shooter with heavy sci-fi elements. These elements would be abandoned once Ubisoft acquired the full rights to the franchise and commenced production on Far Cry 2, but they would survive into the production of Crysis, Crytek’s next game. Far Cry may have almost nothing in common with its more recent successors, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t still have a penchant for chaos.

far-2

Woah…

Far Cry is set in modern times and tells the story of Jack Carver, who is perhaps the most obnoxiously over-the-top action hero video gaming has ever produced. That’s not exactly a low bar to clear, either. Somehow, Crytek managed to distill the DNA of every white, macho action hero into one protagonist, and it shows in everything from his ridiculous one-liners to his unmatched skills with high-powered weaponry.

The story of Far Cry begins, as many cliched action movies do, with the protagonist having left his life as a special forces soldier behind in favor of keeping a low profile; in Jack Carver’s case, running a charter boat service in Polynesia. Jack’s newest client is Val Cortez, a mysterious journalist who hires Jack’s boat to sail near an equally mysterious archipelago. Not long after Val departs the ship via jet ski, Jack is attacked by mercenaries armed with rocket launchers, who sink his ship and leave him marooned on the islands. Jack learns that the archipelago is the domain of the evil Dr. Kreiger (not to be confused with the character from FX’s Archer), a German scientist who conducts genetic experiments. Not long after his arrival, Jack is contacted by Doyle, a scientist who wishes to defect from Dr. Krieger. The pair strike a deal; Doyle will help Jack find Val in exchange for Jack’s help exposing Dr. Krieger.

far-3

Time to blow s*** up.

As a former spec ops soldier, Jack is proficient with all of the pistols, assault rifles, shotguns and other weaponry to be found across the archipelago. Paradoxically, he also has no problem picking up and using the more advanced weapons found later in the game. The gunplay in Far Cry is absolutely nothing that shooter players haven’t seen before; Jack shoots enemy, enemy shoots back, both parties continue shooting until one has too many bullets inside of him. Jack can restore his health with first aid kits scattered around the islands, and protect himself with body armor pickups found in mercenary camps. Players can also drive cars, steer boats, and even use hang gliders to get from area to area. The levels in Far Cry are linear, but they’re large, giving players lots of leeway in picking their approach to the next area. Jack can also sneak through the jungle and knife people with his machete, but the game’s AI is supernaturally gifted at picking up trespassers, making all-out gun battles the only true way to proceed. It helps to proceed skirmishes by blowing up the conspicuously placed fuel tanks in enemy encampments.

Like many shooters from the 90’s and early 2000’s, Far Cry is quite difficult by modern standards. The game doesn’t have a save feature, relying solely on checkpoints that can be quite far apart. Players have to take care to move through each area cautiously, making sure to kill all enemies and leave nothing, especially distant snipers, to chance. Easy mode on this game is normal or hard mode on a modern shooter. Far Cry is rarely unfair in its checkpoint allocation, but it can still be cruel, especially during the volcano confrontation at the very end of the game. Far Cry is old-school territory, and players who can’t live without a save button or checkpoints every five feet might get frustrated.

far-4

Far Cry isn’t interested in coddling.

It’s at this point that the musings about so-bad-it’s-good action films come into play, because the plot of Far Cry is precisely that. For starters, Jack Carver’s voice acting is bad. Hilariously bad. The character retains a macho-man demeanor throughout the entire game and in everything he says. Indeed, he uses a movie announcer voice for all of his conversations, making it impossible to take him seriously as a character. And yet, his bad voice acting conveys the facepalming charm of, say, a Chuck Norris joke, and in so doing remains entertaining to listen to. Val Cortez, Jack’s mysterious female companion, is obnoxiously sexualized just like every action film female protagonist ever. It’s not excusable, but given that similarly low effort was put into everything else about this game’s plot, it’s unsurprising.

The adventure of Jack Carver reads like a collaboration between Michael Bay, Ian Fleming, and Sylvester Stallone. The evil Dr. Krieger has been performing experiments on mutating primates, resulting in vicious creatures called Trigens. These beasts escape their lab and run amok across the island, opening a three-way battle between them, Jack, and Dr. Krieger. Dr. Krieger is holed up in a cool volcano base in the middle of the island, and plans to use the virus to make himself lord and master of the world… somehow. He also has nukes, because every action villain has nukes. Far Cry delivers all of these plot elements without a single shred of irony, and, just like Jack’s voice acting, that’s what makes them endearing.

far-5

An evil scientist on a private island. That’s NEVER been done before.

Although Far Cry‘s gameplay remains surprisingly sturdy for a 12-year-old game, the graphics have not aged very well. Sure, players will be able to discern what type of gun they’re holding and who to shoot it at, but some of the design elements are pretty under-baked even for a shooter that came out in ’04. Some of the textures, especially details on the character models, are absolutely atrocious, like the all-pixel suspenders the mercenary commander wears. The character animations are passable, though, and the game even features ragdoll physics, which were cutting-edge back then. The game’s environments are also pretty to look at, if more for their colors than their finer details. The sound design is the usual package of things going boom and intense drum-and-guitar action scoring, but, again, nothing that hasn’t been done before.

Even though Far Cry‘s adherence to action film conventions means that its plot is silly and its setting is pedestrian, it remains a fun shooter to play after over a decade on the market. It can be brutally tough, but it grants a tremendous sense of satisfaction upon completion. Far Cry‘s adherence to tough guy stereotypes and bad action writing provokes more laughter than Crytek probably intended, but laughter is laughter. And even though most of the plot elements are downright silly, that doesn’t mean they don’t hold some sliver of nostalgia, whether they feature Jack crawling through the jungle or enduring a hilariously convoluted survival gauntlet from Dr. Kreiger. The fact that Dr. Krieger shares a name with the hilariously inept scientist from Archer grants an additional element of unintended comedy. Indeed, the only way Far Cry‘s action-sci-fi narrative could be any more ridiculous is if old Algernop himself was the villain, supplementing his mercs and mutants with the choke-bot and Rush drum solos.

far-6

Time to save the world, bro.

Far Cry‘s so-bad-it’s-good action plot won’t satisfy everyone, but it remains a competent shooter whose legacy lives on in the Crysis series. It also led to the rise of subsequent Far Cry games, even though it’s safe to assume that this title doesn’t share a universe with its successors. Far Cry is also a must-have for fans of old-school shooters, or shooter fans looking for something more challenging than the fare coming out these days. There’s little harm in giving it a try. At the very least, it’s an easier purchase to explain to friends and loved ones than a Steven Seagal film.

____________________

You can buy Far Cry here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Battlefield 1

battle-1

Experience visceral frontline combat at the height of World War I.

PC Release: October 21, 2016

By Ian Coppock

November has landed, and with it, the annual battle for supremacy between Battlefield and Call of Duty. Each year, or most every year, both franchises release their take on intense first-person gunplay, competing for the bigger slice of the venerable shooter pie. This year’s contest represents an especially dramatic divide, because while Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare goes for the same sci-fi setting the series has utilized for half a decade, Battlefield is taking what many gaming industry pundits call a risk. That risk? Going back to a time before modern weaponry and to a setting we don’t discuss nearly enough these days. Whether such a move comprises an actual risk in the grand scheme of things is a topic that we’ll touch on as we review Battlefield‘s bid for military FPS supremacy in 2016.

____________________

Battlefield 1 is a military first-person shooter set during the first World War, a setting rarely explored in any game, let alone big-budget ones. Indeed, Battlefield 1 is the first WWI-themed game Electronic Arts has put out since 1994’s Wings of GloryBattlefield 1 gets its name from developer DICE’s stated belief that World War I was the first instance of “all-out warfare”… whatever the heck that’s supposed to mean. If DICE means the first instance of worldwide combat, then no, absolutely not. However, if by “all-out warfare” DICE means the first major conflict that made use of modern weapons like tanks, machine guns, etc., then yeah, that makes sense.

Like previous Battlefield entries, Battlefield 1 splits its content between multiplayer and single-player modes. The former continues the series’s grand tradition of large-scale, 64-player battles across a variety of modes and maps. The latter mode takes players on a tour de force of World War I’s biggest battlegrounds, from the muddy trenches of France to the peaks of the Italian alps. Battlefield I‘s campaign also visits locales and battles rarely discussed in the western world, such as the Arab rebellion against the Ottoman Empire. Battlefield I also features cameos from such historical figures as T.E. Lawrence (better known as Lawrence of Arabia).

battle-2

Giddyup, boys!

 As with Call of DutyBattlefield‘s story-driven campaigns are often split between at least two protagonists. Battlefield 1‘s campaign takes that design choice even further by splitting its narrative into mini-campaigns called war stories. Each of the game’s six war stories follows a different protagonist in a different theater of World War I. Each war story also espouses a different method of combat; for example, the war story “Through Mud and Blood” allows players to take command of a British Mark V tank, while “Friends in High Places” emphasizes aerial combat from the cockpit of an old-timey biplane. No matter its emphasis, each war story features at least one level of good ole boots-on-ground combat.

 As previously mentioned, some of these war stories touch on conflicts and campaigns that are rarely discussed (if not completely forgotten) by the public at large. Battlefield 1 has the conventional Verdun and No Man’s Land campaigns that everyone would expect of a game set in World War I, but it also touches upon much more obscure conflicts, such as the Austro-Italian battles of the Alps and the combined Australia-New Zealand offensive at Gallipoli. Battlefield 1‘s Arabian war story even features a female protagonist, a true rarity for a military FPS. The diversity in setting and story goes a long way toward keeping the narratives and visuals of Battlefield 1 fresh.

battle-3

Tired of war-ravaged European countrysides? Fear not! Battlefield 1 also features war-ravaged Arabian countrysides.

Although the war story model affords Battlefield 1 great breadth, the game’s campaign ends up feeling quite shallow because of it. Because Battlefield 1 has 20 or so levels to divvy up between six mini-campaigns, each campaign can be completed in 30 minutes to an hour. That’s not very much time to explore a facet of a major conflict. It’s far from enough time to form a connection with the characters in each tale. Not that the stories are really all that interesting anyways; DICE is great at producing visually impressive environments, but anyone who’s played Mirror’s Edge or other Battlefield games knows that storytelling is not their strong suit. The game’s writing and dialogue is passable, if a bit stale, and the quality of the voice acting varies wildly from episode to episode. A few of the main characters undergo brief but predictable development arcs, but everyone else stays the same.

Unfortunately for Battlefield 1, the fact that each of its campaigns is 30-60 minutes long means that the entire game can be beaten in 3-4 hours. Even for a military FPS, that is a woefully stunted amount of play time. It’s certainly not worth sixty dollars. And sure, it’s not fair to judge Battlefield 1 on its single-player mode alone, but the paltry amount of content degrades the novelty of the game’s World War I setting. The irony is that Battlefield 1 starts out on a profound note, forcing players into an unwinnable battle against German forces, but none of the subsequent campaigns capitalize on that poignancy. For everything else that Battlefield 1 has going for it, its single-player mode is ultimately a disappointment.

battle-4

A campaign that can be beaten in one sitting is not a very good campaign.

It’s lucky for Battlefield 1 that the game features much more bang for its buck in its multiplayer mode. The game continues the Battlefield series’s proud tradition of dynamic environments, drive-able vehicles, wide open spaces, and 64-player capability. All of this makes Battlefield the obvious choice for multiplayer when compared to Call of Duty, whose tiny maps, small matches, static environments, and near-total lack of innovation over the last few years makes it a pretty paltry contender. Battlefield 1 further refines the Battlefield multiplayer experience with a squad system that lets players join and leave servers as a single unit. Sure, this means that Battlefield 1 is harder for solo players, but the variety of terrain and multiplayer modes leaves a lot to be explored.

The gunplay that informs all of this gameplay, though, is a lot more familiar than one might expect of a shooter set in World War I. The firearms may be antique, but they all feel the exact same as do those in shooters with contemporary settings. Even the vehicles, like the Mark V tank, handle virtually the same as tanks in Battlefield 4Battlefield 1 nixes truly original period gameplay in favor of taking the same gunplay mechanics used in previous games and giving them a century-old coat of paint. In this way, it’s not entirely fair to paint Call of Duty as being solely guilty of no innovation, because for all the novelty afforded by a World War I setting, Battlefield 1‘s guns and tactics haven’t changed since previous Battlefield games with modern settings. That’s a shame, because DICE had an opportunity to innovate older techniques of war and set Battlefield 1 further apart from its contemporaries.

battle-5

Battlefield 1’s WWI aesthetic is just that: an aesthetic.

Aside from the multiplayer aspect and its being refreshingly bug-free, Battlefield 1‘s biggest saving grace is its visuals. Indeed, the visuals are the only thing stopping this game from feeling completely like a new shooter disguised as an old-fashioned one. Few game development engines today can hold a candle to Electronic Arts’ proprietary Frostbite 3 engine, and DICE has put it to spectacular effect in Battlefield 1. The game’s environments are saturated with multiple layers of light and smoke, and the textures are unparalleled, espousing realistically rendered mud, fires and environmental objects. Everything from the airplane levels’ cloudy vistas down to the Arab rebels’ sturdy mounts has been rendered in exquisite detail, leaving players with no shortage of things to gawk at. Like DICE’s other games, Battlefield 1 may not have all that much substance, but its spectacle is absolutely gorgeous.

The other specialty that DICE has developed over the years is its sound design. The game’s palette of sound effects works in perfect tandem with the visuals, producing ear-shattering explosions and cannon roars to accompany the smoke and flames. As with Star Wars Battlefront, DICE did an exemplary job of leveraging sound to produce a visceral combat experience, reinforcing the feeling of being in an actual, chaotic battlefield. Even if Battlefield 1‘s gameplay is surprisingly pedestrian, the onslaught of sights and sounds ringing all around the player still makes this game a thrill ride. The music contains the quick strings and deep horns that one might expect from a film scored by Hans Zimmer, and it’s similarly well-placed within the game.

battle-6

NEEEEEEEERRRRRRRROOOOOOOWWWWW

Even though Battlefield 1 gets points just for deviating away from the futuristic motif drowning the FPS genre these days, its innovation, like its beauty, is only skin-deep. Beneath the antiquated war cries and century-old aesthetic lies a game that is in lockstep with titles set in modern times. Its World War I setting is beautiful, but deceptive. It offers the tiniest single-player campaign of any Triple-A shooter in years, and its undercooked war stories never capitalize on their own emotional potential. The game’s multiplayer returns in roaring good form, but whether its own twists on the formula are worth sixty bucks is a matter of subjectivity. Shooter fans will probably enjoy Battlefield 1 just fine, but contrary to what its visuals imply, it doesn’t truly offer anything new.

____________________

You can buy Battlefield 1 here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.