Author Archives: Ian Coppock

Crazy Oafish Ultra Blocks: Big Sale

COUB1

Kill hundreds of rival shoppers in the name of holiday consumerism.

PC Release: December 16, 2016

By Ian Coppock

Welcome one and all to the 2017 Art as Games Christmas Special! As usual, thanks to everyone who read the reviews that were posted all year, and a huge welcome to newcomers just stumbling into this particular corner of gamedom. Tonight’s title celebrates that most venerated of American holiday traditions. Family? Nope. Friends? Nope. Being thankful for things? Not likely! No, the holiday tradition being alluded to is, of course, un(hinged)bridled consumerism, with Crazy Oafish Ultra Blocks: Big Sale!

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Crazy Oafish Ultra Blocks: Big Sale (let’s just call it COUB, easier on the tongue and the eyes and the lips), is a high-octane shopping simulator that seeks to capture the quintessential American holiday spirit. Players spawn in as an everyday shopper whose goal is to get into the mall, find a list of randomly generated items, and leave the store. The game sounds like a perfectly innocent shopping trip on paper, until players consider that there’s only one TV left for dozens of shoppers to fight over.

COUB is far more than a trip to the mall: it’s a vicious battle royale in which dozens of shoppers bloodily compete for that last item on the shelf. Sure, players can find the item that they need easily enough, but getting out of the store ahead of the dozens of other customers who also want it is another story. Players who hope to escape the mall alive need to pack much more than a shopping cart. Luckily, being in America, this mall has plenty of gun stores.

COUB2

Santa baby, why don’t you go buy a new gunnnn, for funnnn…

Players control their shopper in third person and can meander around the mall at their leisure. Each round of COUB brings with it a different gallery of items for players to find. Players can bet that beer’ll be at the convenience mart and the TV’ll be at Not-Best-Buy, but sometimes COUB spawns its stuff in weird places. It’s probably not every gamer’s first thought to look for a VR headset in the women’s clothing department.

Grabbing a shopping cart and finding the items on the list is simple enough, but what about paying for them? In the event that the shopper forgets their wallet, players can find other ways to make money. Cash can sometimes be found in hard-to-reach areas of the mall… other times, it can be plucked from the bodies of fellow shoppers. Whatever it takes to get those gifts, right? COUB seems to agree.

COUB3

GET BACK! Or you’re all going on the naughty list!

Anyway, once players have the cash, they can purchase presents and leave the store. The catch is that, much like grabbing a key in a horror game, the purchase turns all the NPCs around the player immediately hostile. The more items the player collects, the bigger the angry mob that chases them around the mall. Sometimes the crowd can get alarmingly big; players who’ve crossed out their entire list can expect upwards of 40 customers to chase them to the exit. It’s social Darwinism meets ‘murican capitalism!

Even the most nimble players will find that outrunning rival shoppers is only a temporary countermeasure. The only way to truly deal with the throngs of crazed consumers in COUB is to mow them down with a gun or get choppy with a sword. The mall is loaded with plenty of melee and ranged weapons, allowing players to make quick work of bloodthirstily thrifty shoppers. Most customers jump into the fray armed only with their bare fists, but be careful; a few are packing some heat of their own.

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Two asscheeks full of buckshot and he’s still running like a champ… go Santa!

While COUB has no problem encouraging players to mow down swarms of shoppers, aiming is another story. It’s hard to tell if COUB‘s guns shoot directly forward or if they lock onto the nearest enemy shopper… perhaps a bit of both? In any case, aiming and firing weapons in COUB is much more of a chore than it should be. It’s certainly more difficult than it should be to hit a giant, hard-to-miss rabble of shoppers. Players’ best hope for killing bad guys is to wait until they’re almost brushing up against them before firing. Luckily, most shoppers go down in one hit.

Killing enemies with a melee weapon is marginally easier than using a gun. Players can jump into the fray with their fists if they want to get immediately killed by the horde, or keep their distance with a weapon and swat shoppers as they get close. No matter if players use a gun or a sword, they can count on COUB to cook up one hell of a bloodbath. The amount of gore that can be spilled in this game is comparable to Postal. Lord.

COUB5

You better not pout, you better not cry, you better say your prayers, you’re all gonna die…

It’s a bit jarring to see so much blood coat a cartoon aesthetic, but that’s what COUB goes for. The game’s visual design is all bright colors and block-shaped characters, with an impressive amount of object detail to boot. The mall is absolutely jam-packed with both colorful items and huge crowds of people, so good luck running out of things to glance at. The game’s character animations are a bit wonky (especially since NPCs ragdoll upon death), but remain serviceable.

COUB‘s sound design is a little less amusing than its visuals. Some of the game’s sound effects, like footsteps, come through just fine, but gunshots are extremely muted. COUB‘s “soundtrack” is a single, looping piece of elevator music that sounds alright the first time around, but quickly gets annoying the longer players are trapped in the mall. Hell, the music is probably what drives all the NPCs to such violence.

COUB6

I need your biggest frickin’ waistline, lotta cookies to eat tonight!

Much like a bearded fat man who’s had a hundred cookies too many, COUB struggles with running well. Players might find that the game chugs a bit on their machine, which is a joke considering its simple visuals. This problem also feeds into COUB‘s framerate, which has an annoying tendency to slow down even when there aren’t dozens of characters in frame. Most annoying of all is a bug that occasionally prevents players from leaving the store even when they’ve gotten everything on their list.

As is to be expected, these bugs weigh down the fun of driving a cart ’round the mall, collecting presents, and shooting bad guys. Even though COUB‘s been out for almost a year, the developers don’t seem to have done much to address these issues. Hopefully they consider a patch, because COUB‘s shopping adventure is bizarrely addicting. It is truly the tobacco of video games.

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Negotiations are breaking down…

Players should bear a few other things in mind when considering COUB. In addition to being slow with a patch, the developers are terminally Russian; ergo, the game has a few spelling and grammar errors (also, the devs’ names are listed in Cyrillic). Most of these comprehension errors, like “beer case” are funny, while others, like “system unit” are too opaque. Oh well; all the more reason to hit up (or shoot up) every store in the mall.

Additionally, despite its cute and cuddly appearance, COUB is not for the under-18’s. That should be a given considering how much gore is in this game, but there’s no shortage of other controversial sights in the mall. For some reason the game allows players to collect nudie cards, but that salaciousness is somewhat broken by the fact that all the models are also block people. It’s a random design choice but, frankly, so are nearly all of COUB‘s design choices. That’s what makes the game work.

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(inoffensive shopping mall music)

COUB is one of those games that was definitely built on the cheap and with a bit of duct tape, but that’s also what gives it its charm. It’s one of the weirdest games to come this way in a while, but it works as a title because of its absurd gameplay and painfully accurate satire of American consumerism. Sure, gun battles don’t break out every Black Friday (at least not yet), but COUB‘s humor works because it brings the real-life tension of the shopping season to a furious, hilarious boil.

And with that, this year of reviews draws to a close. As always, huge thanks to everyone who’s been along for the journey. As long as there are more video games releasing, players can always expect more reviews to appear on this page. Have a happy holiday (whichever one that might be), and don’t drink too much nogshine. Actually, scratch that; there’s no such thing as too much nogshine.

Or too many video games.

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You can buy Crazy Oafish Ultra Blocks: Big Sale 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.

SWARMRIDER OMEGA

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Outrun a horde of ravenous aliens on a stylish space bike.

PC Release: September 19, 2017

By Ian Coppock

2017 has been a good year for games. Major titles came out on time and (mostly) bug-free, while the indie catalog produced no shortage of novel and fascinating titles. Even the Battlefront II fiasco was good in its own way; gamers united against the malice of microtransactions and dealt a savage setback to one of the industry’s most draconian publishers. The best way to top all of this video game goodness off is with a stylish ride into the sunset of 2017: SWARMRIDER OMEGA.

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Released in September by Desktop Distortions wizard Walter Machado, SWARMRIDER OMEGA is a fast-paced, twin-stick shooter set in the UBERMOSH universe. The game stars the Blade Saint, the protagonist of the UBERMOSH games, atop a motorbike that looks like it was pulled through a black hole. SWARMRIDER OMEGA is played in short rounds and challenges players to out-drive and out-gun an ever-growing swarm of aliens. The longer the player can stay alive, the higher their score.

Much like the original SWARMRIDERS, SWARMRIDER OMEGA lets players veer crazily around the screen while they kill the Naaru-looking things speeding behind them. Unlike the original SWARMRIDERSSWARMRIDER OMEGA lets players take more than one hit before dying. SWARMRIDER OMEGA also borrows class mods from the UBERMOSH games, allowing players to pick different palettes of powers like extra shields or an almighty lightning gun.

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So she’s basically the female Joker, if the hair’s any indication.

Because the Blade Saint never takes her finger off the trigger, players only need to worry about what directions they’re driving and firing in. The pursuing aliens all go down in one hit, but there are so many of them that players must pay constant, frantic attention to where they’re firing… or risk the swarm catching up to them. Similarly to the zombies in Left 4 DeadSWARMRIDER OMEGA‘s aliens ebb and flow from a trickle of enemies to an overwhelming tide.

Additionally, these aliens seem to have gone to driving school since their appearance in SWARMRIDERS. The creatures are faster and more nimble here than in SWARMRIDER OMEGA‘s predecessor, resulting in a greater marksmanship challenge for the player. Sometimes the aliens even cut in from the sides of the screen instead of just running up behind the bike, so players hoping to hug the screen’s margins for the entire round are in for a nasty surprise. Constant movement is key to survival in SWARMRIDER OMEGA.

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I’m not sure swarming aliens are covered on my insurance…

SWARMRIDER OMEGA‘s twitch-happy bike rally makes for one of the most fun arcade challenges of the year. Players who thrive on high-difficulty, high-speed games will relish keeping the aliens at bay. Much like Machado’s previous games, SWARMRIDER OMEGA rewards players who have quick reflexes and a keen eye for sudden movement. SWARMRIDER OMEGA‘s smooth, tight controls grant the visceral feeling of power that could only come with being a cyborg angel on a motorcycle.

SWARMRIDER OMEGA also does a better job of staying unpredictable than its predecessor. Whereas in the original SWARMRIDERS enemies came and went at a predictable pace, SWARMRIDER OMEGA keeps players guessing when the next big tide of aliens is coming ’round the mountain. This makes the game different every round, which is essential for a title whose rounds rarely last more than two minutes. What a two minutes, though!

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KICK IN THE TURBO!

SWARMRIDER OMEGA makes shooting aliens from a motorbike all the cooler with crunchy retro visuals. Much like the UBERMOSH games, SWARMRIDER OMEGA is built from the ground-up to look like an old arcade title. Character models, animations, even the clouds of smoke are all heavily pixelated to make the game look at home in a lineup of retro shooters. Combine this look with bright neon colors, and the result is a game that screams cyberpunk.

SWARMRIDER OMEGA‘s simpler aesthetic also results in smooth system performance. The game’s system demands barely constitute a ghost in the machine, meaning that the game can run on PCs new and old. While SWARMRIDER OMEGA gets props for running like silk, it’s a shame that the game has absolutely no options menu. It’s true that the game’s old-school setup precludes most performance problems that plague other modern titles, but putting in a few options to help players out in case problems do arise is never a bad thing.

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Where is the option for a seat belt?!

SWARMRIDER OMEGA‘s visuals are a solid foundation for its gritty sci-fi atmosphere, but the game’s soundtrack is truly where that grit sinks in. Machado’s games feature an eclectic variety of sounds ranging from heavy metal to industrial, but SWARMRIDER OMEGA opts for dark electronica. With quick pulses and grimy textures, SWARMRIDER OMEGA‘s soundtrack is an ideal companion for the half-human, half-machine road warrior. It’s also available as a separate purchase on Steam.

Though SWARMRIDER OMEGA‘s soundtrack crashes in with enough force to topple buildings, its other sound effects are strangely muted. The sounds of the Blade Saint’s gun and of the aliens dying contrast starkly with the UBERMOSH saga’s much more forceful sounds. Machado should consider implementing a patch that makes SWARMRIDER OMEGA‘s sounds just as fierce as those of his other games; it would reinforce OMEGA‘s visceral vibe and make the guns feel far more powerful.

Omega6

Is the silencer on?

Luckily for SWARMRIDER OMEGA, the lack of an options menu and headphone-incinerating noise does little to dispel the fun of shooting aliens from a motorbike. Anyone in the mood for a few rounds of vicious, fast-paced shooting should pick the game up, especially since it’s only one lousy dollar. Walter Machado has once again proven his mastery of short-form fun, packing a lot of challenge and surprise into only a few minutes of gameplay. It’ll be worth seeing what he does next year, just as it’s worth staying ahead of the bad guys in SWARMRIDER OMEGA.

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You can buy SWARMRIDER OMEGA 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: Black Ops III

Ops1

Discover why your squadmates went rogue.

PC Release: November 6, 2015

By Ian Coppock

The end is here at last. Call of Duty: Black Ops III is the final installment in this quest to figure out where CoD came from and where it’s going. Like Black Ops IIBlack Ops III bears an uncommon dedication to twisting CoD‘s conventions into new and unfamiliar forms. The catch to change, though, is that deviating from the beaten path doesn’t guarantee newfound success.

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Developed by the longtime CoD-heads at Treyarch, Call of Duty: Black Ops III is the twelfth Call of Duty in Activision’s long-running, bad guy-shooting series. The game is set 40 years after the events of Black Ops II, in which a Nicaraguan narco-terrorist nearly brought the world to its knees simply by hijacking a fleet of drones. The year is now 2065 (more future CoD, hooray…), and all the world’s countries now sport impenetrable air defenses in case the robots rise up again.

With everyone suspicious of so much as sparks from a toaster, the only way for nations to conduct warfare is to use teams of cybernetically enhanced soldiers. In a first for the CoD series, players can create their own character with a variety of cosmetic options, and can even choose to play as a woman (surprising for a series as seemingly gynophobic as CoD). Once they’ve created their character, players join up with their own squad to undertake hazardous missions in a dystopian future.

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Sweeeeeet…

It’s worth pointing out right away that the only thing Black Ops III shares with its predecessors is the name “Black Ops.” Most of the characters in this sub-series aren’t all that interesting anyway, but their absence from Black Ops III‘s story campaign makes this title feel isolated from its peers. Black Ops III seems to be insecure about this fact, because the game rather conspicuously shoehorns a plot device from the first game into the ending. That’s about all the shoutouts that Black Ops fans can expect.

The characters that Black Ops III introduces to fill those holes aren’t very memorable either. The player character speaks every so often, but they’re devoid of personality and restricted only to heavily scripted, soullessly delivered dialogue. The character’s NPC squadmates are dead ringers for past CoD niches: there’s the overly angry sergeant, the computer nerd, and the guy who waxes philosophical about freedom and ethics. Treyarch couldn’t be asked to make these gunslingers a bit more endearing.

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You might say that this game has a few… Crysis moments.

Anyway, after spending a few years as a half-human, half-robot, all-American killing machine, the player character gets a phone call informing them that the rest of their team has gone rogue. Their new mission is to find out why, with only the aforementioned angry sidekick and the shy gamer girl to keep them company. Apparently the AWOL members of the player’s team have been exhibiting weird behavior, such as intent to bring down the CIA from the inside. That’s probably worth looking into.

It was mentioned at the beginning of this review that Black Ops III tries to make some changes to CoD, and narrative is first up on that chopping block. Black Ops III‘s premise and moment-to-moment dialogue makes for some of the series’ most yawn-worthy exposition, but the game does get a few points for experimenting with abstract psychological horror. More than once, the player character is pitted against mind-shredding hallucinations set in weird nightmare worlds, which both deepens the atmosphere and comprises a far cry from CoD‘s usual chopper-running.

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Where are we?

The idea of running around in a robot nightmare may sound cool on paper, but don’t get that wallet out just yet. Even though the player character can dive into their rogue squadmates’ brains and play around inside their darkest memories, those exposes almost never serve the narrative. Black Ops III seems more interested in letting players fight through nightmare worlds for the sake of fighting through nightmare worlds instead of actually advancing the plot. Until the very end, these vignettes all end with “I actually don’t know why we’re rogue, but the NEXT person definitely will!”

Unfortunately for Black Ops III‘s notion of depth, it takes a lot more than fighting ghostly Nazis in a floating snow field to construct a heartfelt or sophisticated narrative. Set pieces by themselves do not tell a story; the game has cool dream worlds down pat but can’t be asked to give players a good reason for being in them. That question is almost guaranteed to burn in players’ heads, especially when the game’s mystery mantra of picturing a frozen forest gets repeated ninety billion times.

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Are we awake yet?

Luckily for Black Ops III, there’s much more rhyme and reason to the game’s waking environments. When players aren’t busy running around in their frenemies’ heads, they’re exploring some of the most engrossing cyberpunk environments that gaming’s produced in recent years. Whether it’s the flooded ruins of a post-apocalyptic Singapore or the environs of a futuristic Egypt, Black Ops III‘s gritty fusion of technology and dystopia is to be envied. Good that these environments are rendered gorgeously; better that they’re rounded out with lots of beautiful lighting effects.

Unlike their ethereal counterparts, Black Ops III‘s corporeal realms actually make sense to be in. Players are given concrete objectives with which to explore these environments, and these help keep the narrative on track. Unlike virtually every other CoDBlack Ops III keeps its story confined to just 2-3 locations around the world. This represents a welcome change of pace from the senselessly quick globetrotting that CoD is known for, with multiple missions set in (gasp) the same city. Who dreamed that notion up?

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How scenic!

Although Black Ops III‘s environments certainly look cool, Treyarch continues to lag behind fellow CoD studios Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer Games when it comes to sound design. Guns in this game sound relatively muffled, as do sound effects like running through rubble or smashing through glass. Treyarch needs to take a page from its buddies and put in some clear-cut sound design: something that doesn’t sound like it’s being listened to through a Styrofoam head-wrap.

Even though Black Ops III‘s gameplay sound design is nothing special, the game bears the unusual (for a CoD) distinction of having an awesome soundtrack. The game abandons the conventional string-and-horn action music of its peers in favor of darkly textured synthesizers that sound straight out of Blade Runner. That’s probably no coincidence given the game’s gritty cyberpunk vibe, but boy does it sound glorious. It’s definitely one of the best soundtracks big-budget gaming’s produced this decade.

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The future is retro.

Black Ops III‘s levels have more to offer than a cool aesthetic and some retro tunes: they’re where one of Treyarch’s most ambitious gameplay change-ups comes out to play. Unlike all of its predecessors, Black Ops III can be played in 4-player co-op. The game’s levels thus shed the linearity of their peers in favor of expansive, open environments that multiple players can fool around in. Whether playing solo or with friends, players can pick different paths to the same objective instead of the single hallway littered with chest-high walls.

While the change to a more open level format is refreshing for CoD, it also reveals that CoD doesn’t know how to do open. Most of Black Ops III‘s levels are confusing mazes that are easy to get lost in. These levels are short on environmental cues or tactical opportunities, but enemies continue to spawn in from all sides. Black Ops III‘s idea of open is simply to dump a bunch of different hallways on the player and say “have fun”, instead of creating a functioning combat space.

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You, sir! Do you have a map?

It’s a shame that Black Ops III‘s levels are such a mess, because they’re meant to be the playgrounds for the title’s biggest gameplay innovation: augmentations. While Black Ops III‘s first-person shooting and health regen are virtually identical to those of other CoDs, the game lets players enhance their character with cybernetic superpowers a la Deus Ex. Whether it’s thicker skin or the ability to run along walls, players can pick a few different augmentations to suit their playstyle.

These powers’ biggest problem is that opportunities to use them are seldom. Some are restricted to certain contexts instead of being free to use whenever, which is an ironic call-out to CoD‘s fondness for giving players five minutes with the shiny toys. Players can buy more of these powers by acquiring upgrade points and switch them out between missions, but their difficulty of use dampens their potential.

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GIMME MY UPGRADE POINTS!

Black Ops III‘s multiplayer is still kicking, albeit with a much smaller community than when the game launched two years ago. Most of the maps consist of the same small spaces and static environments that all CoD maps do, which the use of jetpacks only does so much to freshen up. The “specialist” mode, in which players pick from 10 pre-augmented soldiers, does confer some Iron Banner-esque thrill to CoD even if one of the classes is locked off behind completing a series of challenges.

Despite a new XP system and a horror-noir setting, Black Ops III‘s zombie mode fails to make much of a splash either. Players can count on seeing the same undead home invaders that they’ve already seen many times before. Players in the mood for something new might want to check out Black Ops III‘s parkour maps, which force players to run up and through abstract environments like the challenge maps in the original Mirror’s Edge.

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I just want to run…

Black Ops III gets props for letting players be a female character and for having a great soundtrack, but the game proves that changes have to be implemented for more than the sake of change in order to actually work. The game is more different than any CoD before or since, but it’s not actually better. Its open levels are a change, but they’re roughshod. Its augmentations are a change, but they’re stilted. Its narrative is a change, but it’s nonsensical.

These net-zero changes mean that players won’t miss much by skipping Black Ops III. Hopefully Treyarch figures out how to make its attempts at innovation more meaningful, because everyone knows that CoD could stand more innovation these days. Meanwhile, Black Ops III serves as a reminder that attempting change is not the same as achieving change.

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You can buy Call of Duty: Black Ops III 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.

Star Wars Battlefront II

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Fight to save the galaxy and to achieve “a sense of pride and accomplishment.”

PC Release: November 17, 2017

By Ian Coppock

What a s***show. That’s really the most succinct way to describe Star Wars Battlefront II. The players may not all agree on who messed up where, but the fact is that this is the biggest gaming controversy of 2017. What started out as a customer complaint on Reddit quickly ballooned out of even EA’s control, and now gamers are left sorting through the ashes and wondering if Battlefront II is worth the money. That question (and many, many others) are at the heart of tonight’s review.

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Even before the Reddit post that sparked the current controversy, Battlefront II got a bit of heat from the press and fans for its loot box scheme. Though EA is hardly the only publisher to put microtransactions in its titles, players who participated in Battlefront II‘s beta noticed that the loot box items were good… a little too good. Indeed, players who bought the boxes seemed to have a substantial advantage over their more cash-strapped peers. The simmer failed to become a boil, though, and business proceeded as usual.

Then, the November 12 Reddit post happened. A user who goes by the handle “MBMMaverick” posted a comment to Battlefront II‘s subreddit complaining that Darth Vader was locked off behind a paywall… even though they’d already paid $80 for the game. EA’s response was (to put it politely), tone-deaf. The company replied that heroes weren’t immediately available because it wanted players to achieve “a sense of pride and accomplishment” for having spent time grinding for them.

Front2

RETREAT!

How much time, one might ask? The exact figure is unclear, but gamers and analysts calculated that each hero would require about 40 hours of grinding to unlock. Even in an industry replete with grind-walls, that figure is absurdly high. Faced with such a number, it didn’t take long for gamers and journalists to point out the obvious: EA was trying to make grinding prohibitively time-consuming so that gamers would pay money to unlock the heroes instead.

That realization is where the inferno really took off, as thousands of gamers immediately cancelled their pre-orders or changed their plans to buy the title at launch. EA responded by cutting the amount of time and money needed to unlock heroes. When that didn’t do anything, the company removed all microtransactions mere hours before Battlefront II‘s launch (though with a promise to restore them later). Even now, almost two weeks later, EA is still struggling to contain the damage caused by its greed, and Battlefront II‘s sales are only 60% those of its predecessor.

Front3

This was NOT how things were supposed to go down!

There’s no mincing words here: EA’s microtransaction scheme is absolutely disgusting. It’s hardly uncommon for games to have microtransactions these days, but to implement them into nearly every facet of a paid title is particularly odious. For EA, it wasn’t enough that gamers were shelling out sixty dollars for the title; they also had to sink additional cash into the game if they wanted to play as the heroes who lightsabered their way through the commercials.

There is a difference, by the way, between what EA did with Battlefront II and what other publishers have done with their titles. A few sycophantic gamers who for some reason insist on defending EA claim that Assassin’s Creed Origins has microtransactions but isn’t getting any heat for them. While it is annoying that Origins has microtransactions, players don’t have to pay Ubisoft extra money for story missions or to play as Aya. Battlefront II, meanwhile, initially charged extra for comparable advantages.

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The dark side is strong in this game.

Even though EA rolled back the microtransactions (at least for now), this is but a temporary victory for the gaming public. Gamers should be worried that a publisher contrived this scheme at all. EA has maintained a relatively low profile for the last few years and even built up some goodwill through its promise of free Battlefront II DLC, but all of that work was wiped out virtually overnight. What gamers need to realize now is that this draconian firm hasn’t actually changed at all.

It’s never a good thing when this many paragraphs precede an actual description of the game being reviewed, but that’s the situation that EA has created for itself. What other outcome could the company have possibly expected from a scheme this nakedly greedy? Just like when Microsoft first unveiled the Xbox One back in 2013, EA seems to have its head in the clouds. The best thing the company can do now is listen (and actually listen, not just put on a polite face) to what gamers are screaming at them. Otherwise, this little fiasco will hurt its earnings for years to come.

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Fight microtransactions, we must!

Even though Battlefront II doesn’t currently feature microtransactions, the game was still built to assume that they were there, leaving a few conspicuous holes in the title’s design. As of writing, the game’s arcade mode actually stops players from playing once they’ve accumulated a given amount of in-game currency. Players have to wait a few hours before jumping back into arcade mode in order to suit EA’s vague notion of player progression. Even in a landscape as uneven as gaming, the notion of a game that punishes players for, well, playing it is virtually unheard of.

Not all of Battlefront II‘s problems are related to the microtransactions, but they’re no less problematic for it. The game doesn’t run all that well on PC; players who buy the title through EA Origins risk running into choppy framerates, random crashes, server disconnects, and lots of lag. Though Battlefront II has a good options menu, those toggles can only do so much against these performance problems. Maybe EA originally planned to lock decent system performance behind a paywall as well.

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We are experiencing some SLIGHT setbacks, over.

Players who can stomach Battlefront II‘s rickety arcade mode and avoid its performance problems might have more fun in multiplayer. Battlefront II features a plethora of game modes that, unlike in its predecessor, can be played in all three eras of the Star Wars universe. The main mode, Galactic Assault, is a 20-on-20 brawl in which players attack or defend a given position. Starfighter Assault takes that same format and puts it in space, letting players duke it out from the cockpits of iconic Star Wars spacecraft.

Even though the running and gunning in these modes isn’t anything new, Battlefront II occasionally captures the feeling of a Star Wars battle. The game does a decent job applying Star Wars‘ visual and audio effects to the chaos of multiplayer, making combat feel just like a scene from the films. In addition to the aforementioned assault modes, Battlefront II also features team elimination and capture the flag modes for players to try. The all-star Heroes vs. Villains mode makes for a particularly visceral team deathmatch, even if it’s loaded with anachronisms.

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Hold still!

In another break with its predecessor, Battlefront II features a single-player, story-driven campaign. Set immediately after the destruction of the second Death Star, the narrative follows an elite team of imperial soldiers on a mission to carry out Emperor Palpatine’s last wish. It’s an interesting idea, to be sure, but anyone who’s played a Battlefield or Mirror’s Edge game knows that EA isn’t much for storytelling. All of the characters, even the protagonist, are one-dimensional grunts who are much better off shooting than talking.

The story’s writing is similarly rote, offering players little more than some stiff dialogue, shoehorned jokes, and sudden changes of heart. Even the Luke Skywalker cameo does little to shake the feeling that this shallow military tale has been told a million other times in a million other universes. The story’s biggest flaw, though, is that it’s technically unfinished; the last three missions will be released as free DLC later on. It’s hilarious that not even the story escaped EA’s habit of milking games for “extra” content.

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This is not the story you’re looking for.

Battlefront II, like its predecessor, tries to conceal a lot of shallowness and mediocrity beneath the glitz of its visuals. There’s no denying that the game at least looks beautiful, with famous Star Wars locales rendered in EA’s powerful Frostbite engine. The problem, though, is that even these well-lit, gorgeously animated visuals can only do so much to conceal the odors of a so-so campaign and well-trod multiplayer conventions. Much like Battlefield 1Battlefront II relies on its visuals to convey a sense of novelty rather than its gameplay.

The problem with that approach is that beauty is only skin-deep. Only the most ardent scenery whores will be enraptured enough by Battlefront II‘s visuals to ignore all of the problems that the actual gameplay presents. Much like Tusken Raiders, the microtransactions will probably soon be back, and in greater numbers. The multiplayer is fun more for its sights and sounds than the feeling of shooting a gun or swinging a lightsaber, while the story’s attempt to link the classic and sequel Star Wars eras goes out with a dang.

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One day, the galaxy will be free of EA.

So, where does Battlefront II go from here? The sales are down, the memes are vicious, and there’s no easy path for EA to take out of its quagmire. As of writing, a few state and national governments have even launched investigations into the company’s business practices, citing concerns over predatory behavior. As Battlefront II‘s postmortem drags on, it’ll be interesting to see what, if anything, those investigations dig up.

Ultimately, players are best off leaving EA to drown in its own vomit. What few standout experiences Battlefront II offers are crushed beneath the company’s outrageous consumer hostility. If this absurd saga has anything to teach gamers, it’s that the only thing EA truly cares about is money. Therefore, players need to vote with their wallets and stay far, far away from Battlefront II. Play the 2005 original instead.

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You can buy Star Wars Battlefront II 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: Advanced Warfare

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Use futuristic technology to neutralize a terrorist threat.

PC Release: November 4, 2014

By Ian Coppock

The title “Advanced Warfare” isn’t all that specific. What exactly is “advanced” about this Call of Duty‘s fare of war? Is it the tactics utilized by the righteous, one-dimensional protagonist? Or does it refer to the technology used by the good guys? Who is anyone kidding, of course it’s the latter. Advanced Warfare is definitely the blandest subtitle yet produced by the Call of Duty games, but if this game proves anything, it’s that a lot can be hidden beneath a bland exterior.

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Released in 2014 as a chaser to the much-maligned Call of Duty: GhostsCall of Duty: Advanced Warfare was the third CoD in a row to espouse the virtues of laser guns and killer robots. The game was also the first major CoD to be developed by Sledgehammer Games, whose most recent title, Call of Duty: WWII, is actually pretty good. Before shuttling CoD back to its World War II roots, though, Sledgehammer produced a CoD that, at least at first glance, is hard to tell apart from its peers.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare takes place decades into the future, in a world dominated by robotic warfare and cybernetic technology. Players step into the boots of Jack Mitchell, a fierce-eyed U.S. Marine who loses an arm and a best friend fighting North Korean forces in Seoul. Jack gets shipped back home short a limb and presides over that best friend’s funeral in the infamous “press F to pay respects” scene. That whole interlude wasn’t Sledgehammer Games’ proudest narrative decision.

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CoD managed to make player agency depressing.

On his way out of gaming’s most cringe-worthy “Press F” moment, Jack gets offered a job at the prestigious Atlas PMC by Jonathon Irons, the father of the deceased. Atlas is the largest, most well-equipped military in the world, putting even the U.S. armed forces to shame in terms of equipment and soldiers. Though Jack is initially hesitant to fight for a private army, the promise of returning to a soldier’s life (and getting a brand-new, cybernetic arm) entice him to sign on with Atlas.

Anyone who thinks that this whole setup sounds like a Deus Ex game isn’t wrong for doing so. Thus far, Advanced Warfare has already ticked a few Deus Ex boxes, including a horrible accident that results in cybernetics and the presence of unregulated PMCs. Now all that’s needed is an evil terrorist organization that mistrusts technology, and… oh wait, Advanced Warfare has that too. Yep, Jack signs on just in time to fight a cabal of Luddites who think that mankind has become too reliant on tech. Someone at Sledgehammer Games is a huge Deus Ex: Human Revolution fan.

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Now THESE are what I call augmentations!

Despite containing the same running and gunning sported in other CoDs, Advanced Warfare makes a few formula shakeups. The game does away with a heads-up display in favor of displaying holographic information on Jack’s weapons and tools, which feels a bit more organic. Additionally, Advanced Warfare allows players to pick different cybernetic enhancements (like extra jumping power or speed) to suit their playstyle. Apparently someone at Sledgehammer is also a huge Crysis fan.

Advanced Warfare‘s other “major” innovation is smart grenades. These little devils can be programmed to do everything from fly toward foes to emit EMP waves, and damn if they aren’t fun to use. Advanced Warfare also features an unusually large arsenal of both conventional and futuristic weapons, but the first-person shooting and automatic health regeneration informing the gameplay remain unchanged.

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Oh yes, and there are lots of drones.

As Jack, players learn how to use all of these gadgets and doodads over the course of an unusually long campaign. As the aforementioned techno-phobic terrorists strike at hot spots all over the globe, Atlas takes on an ever larger role in defending civilization. Most of the missions’ objectives don’t bleed into each other, which is typical of CoD but disappointing for a theme that has borne storytelling fruit for other games. Advanced Warfare tries to spice things up with a plot twist, but it can be spotted from a mile away, so good luck feeling the suspense.

Advanced Warfare tries to put most of its storytelling eggs into the character basket, with mixed results. There’s not a whole lot to say about Jack, mostly because he talks, like… five times throughout the course of the game. For some reason Sledgehammer Games hired Troy Baker, gaming’s bona fide male voice actor, to voice a character so quiet that players might forget that they’re playing as him. Not sure what the logic was there, Sledgehammer.

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Whojack?

No, the obvious star of Advanced Warfare‘s show is Jonathon Irons, the aforementioned CEO who’s voiced and mo-capped by Kevin Spacey. Spacey turned to his House of Cards performance for Irons, applying the same Machiavellian charm to the character that he does Frank Underwood in Netflix’s hit show. Like his Cards counterpart, Irons has a bit of a southern accent and a lot of ends-justify-the-means mentality. If Spacey can only play one type of political character, he does it well.

The writing in Advanced Warfare is about the level that most players expect from Call of Duty: heavy on shouted battle commands, light on exposition and character development. All of that said, the game does succeed in presenting a sliver of the futuristic dystopian atmosphere present in games like Deus Ex, even if that’s mostly because of the visuals and level design. The recent sexual assault allegations against Spacey also somewhat break the spell of seeing him in a video game.

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(Sigh)…

Advanced Warfare has a lot more going for it visually than with story. Sledgehammer Games took the unusual step of rewriting most of the CoD series’ IW engine for the game, and the result is a stunning world that threatens to cut eyeballs with how sharp it looks. With a high amount of powerful lighting and pixels so crisp that they almost look granular, Advanced Warfare might just be the most visually sophisticiated CoD ever developed. Even three years later the world still looks brand-new, as do the game’s gorgeous cinematic cutscenes.

Three years later, Advanced Warfare still sounds pretty damn good, too. The game’s music doesn’t stand out from CoD‘s usual gallery of fast-paced action songs, but the voice acting sounds just as good coming from Kevin Spacey as whomever played that one guy with the beanie. Additionally, Sledgehammer’s sound design is masterful; the sound of Jack stepping on broken glass in a Detroit meth lab might be the best footstep sound of all time. That may sound oddly specific, but those details matter a lot to atmosphere.

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Listen! Sounds like… dirt?

Apart from the campaign, Advanced Warfare offers up a bit of multiplayer and plenty of jetpack-wearing zombies. Advanced Warfare has managed to retain a small multiplayer community, but the game’s complete lack of dedicated servers has made it a hunting ground for hackers. Not that there are all that many new modes or changes anyway; this is Call of Duty multiplayer being discussed here.

As for the exo zombies mode… it’s zombies wearing exoskeleton armor. Enough said. The game’s presentation of armored zombies does warrant it a shred more novelty than the zombies modes in other CoDs, but the basic setup of defending an area from the undead remains untouched. Not even the voice acting performances of John Malkovich and Bruce Campbell help what little story there is to this mode remain memorable. The sight of a zombie in a jetpack, though, stays in the brain long after the fact.

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If only The Walking Dead was this exciting…

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare gets points for its occasional gameplay innovation and glitzy world, but its story campaign leaves a lot to be desired. On top of that, the game does have a penchant for making PCs chug a bit, so players who run rickety rigs might want to bear that in mind. Despite those problems, Advanced Warfare proudly bears the title of “substantially less mediocre” than the other CoDs out there. Players up for shooting a few terrorists while using a jetpack could do worse… but players up for a memorable narrative or solid multiplayer could also do a lot better.

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You can buy Call of Duty: Advanced 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.

Assassin’s Creed Origins

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Witness the rise of the Assassins.

PC Release: October 27, 2017

By Ian Coppock

Well, well, well, look what’s back after two years away! It turns out that Ubisoft has at least a modicum of self-awareness; the publisher decided to give the Assassin’s Creed series a break when it became clear that everyone was all assassin’d out. Indeed, Ubisoft now seems devoted to this revolutionary concept of not releasing annual sequels, and Assassin’s Creed Origins is its first proof of that concept.

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The Assassin’s Creed series made a strong showing with its eponymous 2007 debut. Despite its flaws, millions of fans fell in love with the saga’s tale of freedom-loving Assassins and power-hungry Templars duking it out throughout the course of history. From the Italian Renaissance to the American Revolution, there was seemingly no setting that Ubisoft’s new flagship series left untouched. When Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag released to universal (and well-deserved) acclaim in 2013, the series was at its zenith.

Then… Assassin’s Creed Unity happened. Released in 2014, Unity‘s high-flying tale of French Revolution intrigue was one of Ubisoft’s ugliest displays of hubris. In addition to being released in a broken state across all three platforms, Unity was stuffed with such bizarre design choices as needing a mobile app to unlock certain treasure chests. Unity‘s release made Ubisoft the laughingstock of the gaming world and even slowed the sales of 2015’s Assassin’s Creed Syndicate.

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ARE WE HAVING FUN YET, AMI?

After Syndicate (which was an alright game, by the way) failed to sell anywhere near what Ubisoft wanted, the company realized that rushing these games out year after year was probably a bad idea. As a result, no Assassin’s Creed game was released last year, as Ubisoft elected to take more time on this year’s release: Assassin’s Creed Origins. As implied by its title, the game is a soft reboot of the franchise that seeks to explore the hitherto untold origin story of the series’ hooded killers.

Assassin’s Creed Origins takes place in ancient Egypt over a thousand years before the events of even the first game. Players assume the role of Bayek, an Egyptian Medjay (think sheriff), who’s out for revenge after a cabal of masked figures kills his young son. The part about avenging the death of a loved one should sound instantly familiar to any Assassin’s Creed fan, and Origins tows that part to a T.

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Revenge is a dish best served sweltering.

Bayek may not be an Assassin on paper, but few would suspect that after watching him scale a pyramid. Like his many series predecessors, Bayek is an apt gymnast who can cross towering buildings and treacherous chasms in the blink of an eye. Players can put these abilities to good use attacking foes from above, or creep through some conveniently arranged bushes.

Origins also gets rid of the parkour-up and parkour-down system established by Assassin’s Creed Unity in favor of the more free-form system seen in earlier games. The result is a climbing system that feels more organic and allows for more movement (even if that means that players may unintentionally leap to their death every so often). Between the Pyramids of Giza and the numerous citadels and temples throughout ancient Egypt, players will never want for things to climb on.

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The Sphinx, pre-nose job.

Bayek’s sneaking and climbing is nicely complemented by his Eagle Vision. Like all of its predecessors, Assassin’s Creed Origins gives players a sixth sense for detecting bad guys and treasure, and it’s not dissimilar to the Batman: Arkham games’ detective mode. Unlike previous AC games, Bayek’s Eagle Vision is tied to the eyes of his pet eagle Senu, whom players can use to spot bad guys and points of interest just like the drone in Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands. How Bayek can see through his eagle isn’t ever quite explained… perhaps he’s a descendant of Takkar from Far Cry Primal?

However, neither organic free-climbing nor a telepathic murder-bird can hold a candle to Origins‘ greatest gameplay strength: its combat. Past Assassin’s Creed games tended to make combat too simple or too complicated, but Origins‘ fighting is silky smooth. As Bayek, players can fight foes with a variety of tight maneuvers like dodging and parrying, or snipe from a distance with a deadly longbow. Origins‘ combat makes it one of the most fun third-person melees to come this way in a while, and is a far cry from the tedious fighting of Assassin’s Creed Unity.

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You can also ride a camel. 11/10 would camel again.

Origins‘ preference for straightforward weapons over convoluted stealth tools gives the Assassin’s Creed series a badly needed breath of fresh air. Whereas past Assassin’s Creed games bogged players down with a riot of weird tools, Origins simply hands players a sword and a bow and says go get ’em. Bayek does obtain a few stealth gadgets (like the hidden blade), but most of these are context-specific tools that can be deployed on the fly. All of this comprises the series’ tightest gameplay since that of Black Flag. Naval combat also makes a welcome return, albeit restricted to a handful of linear missions.

Origins‘ neatly stratified gameplay is put to great use in its vast open world. Origins‘ rendition of ancient Egypt is by far the largest map the series has ever produced, comparable to Skyrim in both size and number of locations to explore. Players can sink dozens of hours into raiding Egypt’s tombs or hunting animals that prowl the oases. Origins also has more cities than any other Assassin’s Creed game, allowing players to explore Alexandria, Memphis, Cyrene, and other famous ancient world locales. It’s a rich, seamless realm that offers up no shortage of exploration and fun.

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Whadya mean there are no jazz clubs here? It says Memphis on the sign!

Players can also bet that Origins‘ Egypt is as beautiful as it is deep. The game’s environments comprise a gorgeous quilt of wilderness, towns, and cities; even Assassin’s Creed II‘s Renaissance landmarks can’t compare to the intricacies of Alexandria or the stark color of the desert. Origins make use of strong colors and plentiful object detail to bring its world to life. The game features dozens of environments ranging from dunes to forests (in stark contrast to the notion that Egypt is nothing but desert). Players can traverse this land on a horse, a camel, or in a boat.

Though Origins‘ environments are pretty to look at, its character models are much less impressive. Assassin’s Creed has never done well with its characters, and Origins‘ ancient Egyptian denizens look just as much like mannequins as the NPCs in previous installments. NPCs do look much more detailed during cutscenes, but all that detail quickly fades back into obscurity once the gameplay resumes.

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Would you look at that?

Origins rounds out its detailed level design and varied color palette with some of the series’ best sound design. The music borrows heavily from that of the very first Assassin’s Creed, relying on fast percussion and electronically modified horns to build a novel soundscape. Origins‘ other sounds are similarly rich; everything from Bayek’s footsteps through sand to the unsheathing of his blade sounds satisfying. The voice acting is hit-and-miss, but the characters who matter to the story are all well-voiced.

Yes, though Assassin’s Creed Origins continues the series’ tradition of historical figure cameos, they’re not as obnoxious as those of previous installments. Whereas Assassin’s Creed Syndicate rather pathetically shoehorned a nine-year-old Arthur Conan Doyle into its Victorian world, Origins presents a few famous faces and leaves the rest of the storytelling to the Assassins. Origins‘ decision to reign in the cameos is a welcome change over stuffing them awkwardly into the story. The game’s storytelling also benefits from the presence of meaty side missions instead of the usual story-free side activities.

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NOBODY MOVE! I dropped a scalpel!

While it’s fun to see Cleopatra and Julius Ceasar on the gaming screen, Origins‘ story is made on its original characters. Bayek is the most likable Assassin yet produced by the series; not even the legendarily affable Ezio Auditore can compete with this character’s wit, charm, and humanity. Bayek’s likability stems from the dichotomy of his infinite compassion for his fellow Egyptians… and his infinite hatred for the ones who killed his son. The character suffers crises of faith and fits of savage rage just as he plays with children and tells genuinely funny jokes.

Bayek is also an altogether different character than the many Assassins before (or after?) him. In stark contrast to most Assassin’s Creed protagonists, he is ardently religious, and it’s fascinating to see him try to reconcile his faith with all the blood on his hands. The game’s writing pulls off that inner conflict beautifully, without all the proverbial detritus that’s slowed the cogs of past Assassin’s Creed games. Aya, Bayek’s wife, is similarly torn between her desire for revenge and for Egypt to reclaim its past glory. Players can switch over to her for a few missions and rather emphatically prove wrong the notion that women can’t fight (or ignite lighthouses).

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Heaven help those who tempt parents’ wrath.

It’s because of its strong characters that Assassin’s Creed Origins sticks the story landing despite using the same premise as other titles. Origins is hardly the first AC game to send a protagonist off to avenge a loved one’s demise, but it is the first since Black Flag to portray characters’ emotions so candidly. Those portrayals go a long way toward encouraging players to once again kill their way through a list of greedy fat cats, and add fresh context to what would otherwise be a tired routine.

Because of its attention to detail, decent writing, and instantly likable characters, Origins‘ story is one of the best Assassin’s Creed tales yet. The story does suffer occasional pacing issues (especially toward the end), but Bayek’s quest for justice in an Egypt being torn apart from within is compelling stuff. The game’s ancient world setting is also the series’ most vibrant since the Renaissance set pieces; hopefully a future AC game sees players off to Greece or the Roman Empire.

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Don’t slip!

Origins has a lot to offer gamers on every platform, but the title has a special present for PC players: great system performance. It seems ridiculous to type onto this page, but even as of launch, Assassin’s Creed Origins suffers almost no performance issues. Occasionally the game may crash, but the title launched bereft of the character pop-in and other problems that have plagued Ubisoft titles for years. Origins comes up with a clean bill of health for PC gamers, and that’s marvelous.

Assassin’s Creed Origins has saved the Assassin’s Creed series, and is second only to Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag as the best game the franchise has ever produced. Whether it’s delving into the pyramids or igniting one of the most emotionally charged narratives that triple-A gaming has ever produced, Assassin’s Creed Origins is a resounding success that gamers everywhere should try. Origins has broken the shadow cast by Assassin’s Creed Unity and made being an AC fan fun again.

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You can buy Assassin’s Creed Origins 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: Ghosts

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Protect the United States in a world where it’s no longer on top.

PC Release: November 5, 2013

By Ian Coppock

The mere sight of that title card probably has Call of Duty fans rolling their eyes in disgust, but yes, Call of Duty: Ghosts is getting a turn in the hot seat this month. Ghosts means a lot of things to a lot of different gamers. To some, the title represents an abject failure to understand the name Call of Duty; to others, the game signifies an attempt to break away from convention. Call of Duty: Ghosts has a complicated legacy, one that’ll get dissected this evening.

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Call of Duty: Ghosts was developed by longtime CoD studio Infinity Ward, and was its first project without the involvement of founders Jason West and Vince Zampella. For a variety of reasons, the title is generally regarded by both fans and critics as the worst Call of Duty ever made (which isn’t exactly a high bar to clear). Ghosts failed to live up to the sales of its 2012 predecessor, Black Ops II, and was all but disavowed by CoD publisher Activision. So, what the hell happened?

For a start, Ghosts’ multiplayer was a bust. In addition to all of the usual deathmatch and team match modes, Ghosts‘ idea of multiplayer innovation was to introduce a few flimsy spinoffs of those modes. Some of these game types were just plain weird; Cranked, a mode that gave players mutant powers if they scored a kill (but would blow them up if they couldn’t get a second kill fast enough), was one of many… “interesting” additions that Ghosts‘ multiplayer made to the CoD roster.

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What even is happening?

In spite of its multiplayer woes, Ghosts did manage to win some critics’ hearts with its Extinction mode. Extinction is virtually identical to the series’ famous zombies mode, except that the shambling undead are swapped out for aliens. Like other CoDs’ zombies modes, Extinction features a few base defense maps with just a light bit of story. The entire setup is virtually identical to zombies but, to be fair, is pretty fun. Just don’t shoot anything that looks like it’s pulsating.

Another factor that Ghosts has in its corner is stellar system performance. The game runs well on PC; its system performance requirements are pretty reasonable and its options menu is in-depth. Players might get the occasional crash, but the game otherwise runs sans bugs (especially on machines built these days). There’s a ghost-in-the-machine joke in this paragraph somewhere.

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See what I did there?

As for the single-player campaign, Ghosts takes place in a timeline in which the Middle East nukes itself into oblivion, forcing the nations of South America to step up and meet the world’s oil demands. These countries band together into a new superpower, the Federation of the Americas, and attack the United States in a surprise nuclear assault. Years later, in 2027, the two powers are duking it out in the post-apocalyptic ruins of the southwestern U.S. Though America has managed to hold the Federation off, it’s clear at this point that the enemy is slowly winning.

For anything else that can (and will) be said about Ghosts‘ narrative, that premise is perhaps the most original story that the series has ever produced. For once, players can expect to fight someone besides Russians, Muslims, or Nazis, and that change alone is a good thing. The concept of a war with South America is also not that far-fetched, especially when considering how poor the United States’ relations are with some of the countries there.

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Es no bueno por America.

Players experience this tale of American decline through the eyes of Logan Walker, an American soldier who fights in the Tex-Mex no man’s land alongside his brother, Hesh. Both of these gents are eventually recruited into the titular Ghosts, an elite stealth ops unit that draws its recruits from what’s left of America’s special forces. The Ghosts are headed up by the boys’ father, Elias, and their newest mission is to hunt down and kill a former Ghost who’s been spotted commanding enemy soldiers.

It’s worth pointing out that none of these characters (even the ones who bother taking off their spooky ghost balaclavas) are particularly memorable. All of them are one-dimensional patriots who spout off about restoring America and little else. Additionally, Logan is a silent protagonist, which is a little weird considering that the protagonists of the previous CoDBlack Ops II, were fully voiced. Even if Black Ops II was developed by a different studio, details like that matter.

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Shh! No habla!

Come to think of it, Ghosts‘ main narrative feels pretty tired, too. It turns out that the Federation is close to completing a doomsday satellite that can launch more nukes at the United States, so most of the game is a desperate race to find and destroy that satellite. Ghosts also wastes its time shoehorning in a trite bad guy origin story that cool black-and-white CGI only does so much to make exciting. The written dialogue is noticeably worse than that of the Modern Warfare games.

Ghosts also does a pretty laughable job of portraying a down-on-its-luck United States. Sure, the first few missions go to great pains to portray the ruins of cities like San Diego and Las Vegas, but before long the game cuts to the same endless tank columns and military brigades seen in any other CoD. These ham-fisted attempts at provoking sympathy reach their zenith when one soldier grimly states that the U.S. is sacrificing its last aircraft carrier. Only one aircraft carrier?! Oh, the horror! Here’s a fun fact for the folks at Infinity Ward: that’s still more aircraft carriers than most nations have at all.

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Oh, the humanity! La humanidad!

So yeah, it turns out that all of Ghosts‘ talk about a revolutionary portrayal of a fallen America was one of 2013’s biggest clouds of ass-smoke (next to trailers of Watch Dogs and virtually everything about the Xbox One). Thankfully, players who are up for a spot of sight-seeing can expect the story to whisk them all over South America, from the frozen heights of the Andes to a glitzy rendition of Caracas, Venezuela. The levels look and sound pretty beautiful even if what the player does in them is barely memorable.

If Ghosts‘ narrative is any indication, Infinity Ward lost a lot of story-writing talent when the studio’s original team up and left. That said, the company still does a great job with sound design. Rockets explode with wincing force, and walking through crunchy piles of rubble never sounded so crisp. Ghosts‘ score contains music similar to that of Modern Warfare; quick strings, a few cutting guitars, and lots of deep disaster movie horns. The voice acting’s… decent. Certainly more so than the writing.

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Be vewy, vewy quiet…

Ghosts‘ level design is also pretty congruous to Modern Warfare‘s, with a bunch of linear corridors separated by occasional breaks of open ground. Though the level design treads few new paths, Ghosts excels at portraying ruined environments and post-apocalyptic wastelands. These set pieces comprise some of the CoD series’ most interesting artwork, even if they are marred by occasional design mistakes like underwater waterfalls. Ghosts‘ aesthetic also benefits from strong use of volumetric lighting.

Even though most of Ghosts‘ levels are structurally identical to those of previous CoDs, they do allow the gameplay to come alive in interesting ways. One level sees Logan off to the bottom of a shark-infested sea, giving players much more space to roam around and Half-Life 2-style environmental cues. A black ops mission in Caracas, meanwhile, explores vertical space. Ghosts is less afraid than most CoDs to let players move around a bit (the key phrase being “a bit”).

Ghosts8

Ooooooh…

Ghosts is bolder with its experiments in gameplay than level design. Players have a few opportunities to command a dog (by far the game’s most iconic feature), and send him scouting for foes or tearing the throats out of bad guys. The dog’s auto-commands are pretty fluid but the sections in which players literally assume the canine’s role require suspending a lot of disbelief. If this game is to be believed, war dogs are smart enough to critically analyze troop movements, attack isolated soldiers, and know when to stay hidden. Good boy?

Ghosts‘ gimmicks are CoD‘s coolest gameplay innovations, so it really sucks that this game is especially draconian at taking them away. It’s a given that CoD only lets players hang-glide or use special equipment in five-second, carefully choreographed bursts, and Ghosts is the most severe CoD of all in this regard. It also doesn’t help that the dog up and vanishes for the entire second half of the game, as if to say “playtime’s up, back to boots on the ground.” It’s a pity; the dog is easily Ghosts‘ most compelling character.

Ghosts9

Who’s a good throat-ripping death machine? You are!

In the end, Call of Duty: Ghosts is indeed a mediocre title, but no more so than most of the other CoDs released this decade. The game’s uninspired storytelling, samey multiplayer, and repetitive gameplay aren’t especially offensive in comparison to its contemporaries. Indeed, in some regards, Ghosts is an alright title: it has a novel premise and a few fun (if brief) ideas about gameplay. Its tight shooting is also not dissimilar to that of the Modern Warfare games, so fans of that series might actually enjoy Ghosts. Everyone else, though, is probably best off letting this game steal into the night like the beings it’s named for.

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You can buy Call of Duty: Ghosts 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: WWII

WW1

Liberate Europe from the Third Reich.

PC Release: November 3, 2017

By Ian Coppock

Get to the chopper! No, wait, Call of Duty: WWII is set before the chopper’s invention, so that meme doesn’t work. After five years spent flooding the market with one futuristic CoD after another, Activision has finally gone back to its flagship series’ roots with WWII. Of course, the publisher acts like this decision came about as the product of wholly internal reflection… and not because everyone was screaming about how terrible Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare was.

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Call of Duty: WWII is the eleventh CoD to release since 2007’s Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, making CoD the most sequel-happy franchise in triple-A gaming. The title was developed by neither Infinity Ward nor Treyarch, but Sledgehammer Games, developer of 2014’s Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. Unlike its futuristic CoD debut, Sledgehammer’s newest game returns CoD to the World War II setting from whence the series spawned. The title is the first CoD in half a decade to not utilize a futuristic, sci-fi-rich setting.

Like every CoD that releases these days, Call of Duty: WWII features three modes: a single-player campaign, a multiplayer mode, and the series’ famous zombies mode. All three were announced to loud enthusiasm at this year’s E3, as fans who’d spent years yelling for CoD to abandon its sci-fi obsession finally got their wish. Even though Call of Duty: WWII‘s release was overshadowed by a poorly received PC beta and one of the most cynical patent applications in history, the title made it out of the starting gate and onto the beaches of Normandy.

WW2

Time to crack some Nazi skulls!

The primary driver of all Call of Duty sales is the series’ multiplayer mode, and it returns little changed in Call of Duty: WWII. The mode features a middling selection of maps, each of which comprise the same set of open squares and constricting corridors that have comprised all CoD maps since the series’ genesis. WWII continues the series’ obsession with tiny maps, none of which hold a candle to Battlefield‘s own palette of war zones. Players who want expansive combat areas or dynamic environments will find neither in WWII; players who want only more of the same will get nothing but.

There is one shining exception to WWII‘s rehash of deathmatch and team match modes: war mode. Taking an obvious nod from BattlefieldCoD‘s new mode challenges players to complete a series of ever-changing objectives as they move around a map. Sometimes the team needs to escort a tank; other times, squadmates need to defend a tower. War mode is a welcome change to the monotony of CoD multiplayer and finally gives the series a team-building experience. The constant shifting of objectives helps the multiplayer feel fresh and organic.

WW3

GIVE UP THE HOT CHOCOLATE AND NOBODY DIES!

WWII‘s multiplayer fun gets a big boost from the game’s solid system performance. Call of Duty: World War II runs pretty much bug free; players might get the occasional crash but the game by and large runs fine on PC. It would seem that Sledgehammer took the criticism over WWII‘s multiplayer beta to heart and went to work ironing out its kinks ahead of launch day. The game sports one of the series’ finest options menus; go ahead and adjust how objects look while viewed through a scope and at an angle.

Players who enjoy working as a team but are tired of CoD multiplayer’s conventions should check out WWII‘s zombies mode, which is far and away the best zombies experience of any CoD game. Created by some of the folks behind the Dead Space series (RIP Visceral), WWII‘s zombies mode streamlines the features of past zombies experiences and makes the creatures of the undead Final Reich surprisingly spooky. Zombie hunters and Tallahassee wannabees take note.

WW4

Never eat week-old sauerkraut.

The third and arguably least relevant CoD mode is the single-player story campaign, which follows a twelve-man squad of American soldiers during the Allies’ push to Germany. Leading man Ronald “Red” Daniels is everything conventional about a CoD protagonist: young, handsome, played football in high school, and loves ‘murica oh so much. Daniels’ down-home Texan charm contrasts sharply with the New York wit of his best friend Robert Zussman, whom the game can’t seem to stop emphasizing is Jewish. Surely that plot point won’t come up again in a story about fighting Nazis!

Anyway, the campaign starts off by rushing players onto the beaches of Normandy and, from there, into the heart of Nazi-occupied Europe. As Red, players can partake in famous battles like the liberation of Paris and the infamous Battle of the Bulge. Occasionally, players take the reigns off of Red and swap him out for other characters, including—get this—a female character. That’s right folks, female player character confirmed in Call of Duty. What a time to be alive.

WW5

I thought women weren’t allowed in CoD?

No matter which character the player is, they can expect CoD‘s gunplay to be about the same as in previous titles. Unlike recent CoDs, players can’t pick their weapons before each mission and start out with whatever the game deems appropriate. Not to worry, though, because players can also find other guns in the level or just pick up the Nazis’ weapons after pumping them full of lead. WWII allows players to get certain items from their squadmates, including ammunition and grenades. Some missions also feature small bites of stealth gameplay.

The biggest shakeup, though, that WWII makes to the CoD campaign formula is the health system. WWII swaps out the series’ conventional health regeneration in favor of an old-school-style health bar with medkits. For the first time since the very first Call of Duty, players have to patch themselves up with a first aid kit instead of by taking cover behind a wall and waiting for regen. Players can find health kits out in the world or get them from Zussman (usually accompanied by a sarcastic remark).

WW6

I’m not burning them alive, I’m just mass-cauterizing their wounds.

WWII‘s health system is a refreshing change of pace for Call of Duty. Players can no longer just wait behind a pile of sandbags for their health to go back up, which forces them to be more cautious in combat. This change gives a greater emphasis to tactics than brute force, as players now have to be mindful of how much health that reckless charge into combat could cost. All of that said, Red can absorb bullets like a champ, so it’s not like the campaign implements PvP difficulty into those Nazis (this health system only applies to the campaign, by the way; multiplayer has the usual health regen mechanic).

Although the new health system is the biggest gameplay change CoD‘s made in years, that’s about the only gameplay change that series veterans can expect. Everything else comprises the same round of linear shooting already seen 10 times since 2007. March down corridors or up hills, chuck grenades, and empty that bolt-action rifle into the nearest bratwurst-loving German. Occasionally players can also save fallen comrades from certain death, but this has no bearing on the campaign’s outcome.

WW7

Get to the…! Tank?

Call of Duty: World War II doesn’t stray as far from the franchise’s gameplay tendencies as Activision would like players to believe, but the narrative is another story. Though Red Daniels is hardly the first bright-eyed soldier to be a CoD protagonist, voice actor Brett Zimmerman did a superb job injecting nuance and emotion into the character. Red’s musings are about what war does to a person instead of abstract notions of patriotism, which is highly unusual for CoD. The game’s introduction of scared squadmates and an alcoholic sergeant pay further heed to how traumatizing war actually is.

Additionally, WWII goes the extra mile in putting the series’ long-vaunted affinity for brotherhood under a microscope. When Zussman gets captured by those Jew-hungry Nazis, Red vows to move heaven and earth to find him again. It’s not Oscar material, but the main character’s determination to not give up on his friend makes for the most heartwarming CoD narrative in years. WWII also goes beyond other World War II games by portraying the Holocaust in a poignant—if brief—mission. It’s a little shallow, but that solemn interlude of wandering through a concentration camp is CoD‘s most profound moment since the nuke went off in Modern Warfare. It seems ridiculous to type, but Call of Duty pulled off portraying the Holocaust.

WW8

We finally have a true brotherhood moment in CoD.

If Call of Duty: WWII feels dark and depressing, that might be due as much to the game’s environment and visuals as its story. Though the series’ IW engine is starting to show its age, Sledgehammer Games went to great effort in creating a bombed-out Europe. The levels run the risk of looking samey (once Red’s seen one bombed-out Belgian village, he’s seen ’em all), but the environments get a big boost from impressive weather effects and dour volumetric lighting. The game’s textures and object detail look pretty good, too.

Sledgehammer Games has also proven to be a quick student of sound design, following Infinity Ward’s lead in creating bombastic sounds. Everything from Red’s boots squelching through mud to the crumbling of mortar under missiles sounds awesome; it certainly gives the ole headphones a good rumble. The game’s music isn’t as worth writing home about, even if the main theme is admittedly catchy.

WW9

Is it too early for German BBQ jokes?

Call of Duty: WWII doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but what gameplay changes the title does make result in a gritty experience that fans of old-school shooters may enjoy. Between the multiplayer war mode, the amped-up zombies, and the surprisingly poignant story, WWII might just be the best CoD since Modern Warfare. At the very least, the game is a welcome change of pace from the endless onslaught of futuristic CoDs, and it does an unparalleled job of examining the bonds forged in war.

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You can buy Call of Duty: WWII 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: Black Ops II

Blops1

Save America from being destroyed by its own war machines.

PC Release: November 12, 2012 

By Ian Coppock

The Call of Duty series tries to change more than most gamers give it credit for. The series’ annual release schedule hasn’t done wonders for this fact, but there are a few titles in the series that make a genuine effort to change the franchise’s “get to the chopper!” guise. Typically, the Black Ops games are the ones that try to push the envelope the most, introducing radical (for CoD) changes like new level design and protagonists who actually talk. Black Ops II is one such envelope-pusher.

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Black Ops II was developed by inveterate CoD studio Treyarch and was released in 2012 as a sequel to the highly popular Call of Duty: Black OpsBlack Ops II was also the first Call of Duty game to feature a futuristic setting, and kicked off an agonizing half-decade of CoDs that sported nothing but drones and laser guns. Fortunately, Black Ops II also catalyzed some more positive changes for the series, such as branching storylines and letting players choose their starting weapons.

The bulk of Black Ops II‘s narrative is set in 2025 and envisions a new Cold War between the United States and China. Players assume the role of David Mason, son of Black Ops protagonist Alex Mason, as he hunts down a Nicaraguan terrorist who’s trying to hijack America’s shiny army of drones. The game features a second storyline set in the 1980’s, which chronicles Alex Mason’s own attempt to apprehend that terrorist during the original Cold War.

Blops2

Robots are the future.

Black Ops II‘s storyline features a few innovations not seen before or since in a Call of Duty game. The campaign includes branching plot paths that are determined entirely by players; what decisions the player makes during certain missions can lead to different endings. It may seem ludicrous to read, but Call of Duty: Black Ops II is a choice-driven title. Black Ops II also allows players to spend one level as the game’s main antagonist, in an effort to make that character somewhat sympathetic.

Apart from these changes, series fans and shooter enthusiasts can expect most of CoD‘s traditional gameplay to be front-and-center in Black Ops II. Though players have the option of picking their loadout before each mission, the game features a linear shootfest not unlike every other linear shootfest in the series. Occasionally, players can access cooler hardware like invisibility cloaks and wingsuits, but these items are almost always restricted to specific scenes in the mission before disappearing for the rest of the game.

Call of Duty: Black Ops

The future looks an awful lot like the past…

Black Ops II is to be commended for attempting to change CoD up, but just because a game attempts to change doesn’t mean the outcome is guaranteed to be good. Black Ops II does indeed feature a choice-based storyline, but that narrative element is clumsily implemented. Oftentimes, players won’t know that an interlude is choice-determined until after it happens. Sometimes the choices are absurdly hard to spot, like that shooting a hostage in the heart instead of the head guarantees their survival.

The thing about choice-based gameplay that Black Ops II doesn’t understand is that the choices are supposed to be easy to spot. They can be subtle, but the storyline should set them up in such a way that players understand that they’ll have ramifications later on. Black Ops II does a ham-fisted job of not only letting players spot those decisions, but also in portraying their significance later on in the story. Innocuous events can radically alter the narrative, and players often won’t realize that until it’s too late.

Blops4

Don’t blow up that barrel or it’ll change the timeline forever!

Black Ops II also represents a significant step down from its predecessor when it comes to storytelling. The original Black Ops was a tightly wound Cold War thriller with elements of psychological horror; Black Ops II, by contrast, is neither tightly wound nor thrilling. The futuristic storyline is particularly uninteresting, with level objectives that spring up in apropos of nothing presented in previous missions. Leading man David Mason is one of the Call of Duty series’ most forgettable protagonists, offering up the occasional quiet line about completing the mission and little more than that.

Not that the 1980’s missions are all that great either. Players who enjoyed the original Black Ops might be excited for the return of Alex Mason, Frank Woods et al, but this segment of the story is little more coherent than the futuristic part. This section of the story is also where the game’s voice acting woes are at their worst; Alex Mason voice actor Sam Worthington continues his habit of randomly alternating between Australian and American accents, while CIA ice cube Jason Hudson is now voiced by Michael Keaton instead of Ed Harris. Keaton’s a good actor, but… he sounds nothing like Harris.

Blops5

Wait, who are you?!

The writing in Black Ops wasn’t all that great, but Black Ops II‘s is much, much worse. The dialogue seems especially rote and the plot points especially non-sequitur; even the drones that the game, well, drones on about seem to stay in the background for most of the story. So does the much-hyped new Cold War between the U.S. and China, as well as virtually all the other details that Treyarch harped about while promoting the title.

Unfortunately, Black Ops II now has little else to offer series and shooter fans. The game’s multiplayer mode is pretty dead, and has been for a number of years. Once again, publisher Activision’s insistence on putting these titles out every year has had a detrimental effect on multiplayer, but players seem content to keep paying it $60 a year, so… (shrug). Black Ops II also has a zombies mode, but its offering of shooting up undead house intruders is also offered up by pretty much every other CoD.

Call of Duty: Black Ops

What even is happening?

Any PC gamer who’s less interested in a narrative than a mindless shooting experience can rest assured that Black Ops II runs well. Black Ops II is pretty bug-free; the game is well-optimized to run on PC and any problems that do crop up can probably be sorted out in the game’s in-depth options menu. In an age when so many games release dead on arrival, there’s nothing wrong with going back to a years-old release even for some guarantee of system stability.

Then again, Black Ops II gets a strike for not looking all that great. The CoD series’ IW engine ages remarkably well, but Black Ops II‘s aesthetic suffers from blurry textures. Whether it’s the surface of a Soviet escape plane or the hull of a futuristic water-city, textures in Black Ops II tend to look shockingly muddled. That certainly throws a wrench into the game’s attempted presentation of a slick-looking futurama.

Call of Duty: Black Ops

Apparently contact lenses aren’t a thing in the future.

Tragically, Black Ops II also stumbles in the sound department. The aforementioned voice acting problems are distracting enough, but the game also offers up a selection of typical action music and muffled gun sounds. For anything positive that Treyarch achieves with its CoDs, the studio is leagues behind Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer Games when it comes to dynamic sound design. A war zone shouldn’t sound like it’s being heard through earmuffs.

Black Ops II‘s regression from the excellence of the original Black Ops is cause for concern. It’s certainly cause for wondering if there were some major staff shakeups at Treyarch after Black Ops released back in 2010. Whatever the case, the series’ shift away from gritty Cold War CIA ops is a disappointment, made worse by Black Ops II‘s mishandled attempts at everything from cool future gadgetry to choice-based storytelling.

Call of Duty: Black Ops

The future is subpar.

As stated at the beginning of this review, the Call of Duty series tries to change itself more than most gamers give it credit for, but the operative phrase there is “tries to.” An attempt at innovation means little to players if that attempt falls flat on its face, and really, that’s what this entire game ends up doing. Black Ops II throws all sorts of new gimmicks at the wall, but almost none of them stick. Players are thus better off sticking with some other shooter.

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You can buy Call of Duty: Black Ops II 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.

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

Wolf1

Ignite a revolution in Nazi-occupied America.

PC Release: October 27, 2017

By Ian Coppock

It’s surreal to see people stoking moral outrage against a video game that’s about fighting Nazis, but them’s the times we live in. Wolfenstein II‘s announcement sparked no shortage of excitement from fans, but America’s emboldened white nationalists shed tears over the idea that anyone would want to fight a Nazi; y’know, those gravely immoral, racist fascists who plunged the world into a horrifying war. Those Nazis. Unfortunately for the racists, video games about killing Nazis are always in vogue, and no less so with the release of Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus.

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Announced with great fanfare at E3 2017, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is the hotly anticipated sequel to 2014’s Wolfenstein: The New OrderThe New Order was itself a soft reboot of the legendary Wolfenstein series, in which series protagonist William “BJ” Blazkowicz stabs, shoots, and beats the crap out of Nazi foes. Despite inadvertently implying that Jews really are the secretive puppet masters that the Nazis believed them to be, The New Order was one of the best shooters of the decade. It makes sense to hope that The New Colossus is similarly momentous.

Like The New OrderWolfenstein II: The New Colossus is set in a world in which the Nazis won World War II. Picking up immediately where The New Order left off, The New Colossus starts with BJ getting rescued from Deathshead’s tower and the entire anti-Nazi rebellion taking off in a stolen U-boat. Even though BJ triumphed over his arch-nemesis, the injuries he sustained were so severe that he has to borrow a high-tech suit of power armor just to stay alive. Meanwhile, the Nazis continue their worldwide oppression with an army of masked fascists and their robotic killing machines.

Wolf2

Oh goodie, the tank dogs can breathe fire now. Fantastic.

With Deathshead down for the count, BJ and his pals plan their next move: revolution. The group decides to head to Nazi-occupied America and encourage the populace to rise up against the Nazi regime. From there, they hope to use the United States as a platform to free the rest of the world. If this game is be believed, only Americans love freedom enough to dare rise up against the Nazis, so only it can be the rebels’ freedom platform. “America, f*** yeah” indeed.

As BJ, players can travel to various locales around the former United States, undertaking missions to get the American people up in arms against the Nazis. BJ has his work cut out for him: the Nazi war machine numbers in the millions, and they’ve even leased governance of much of the country out to the Ku Klux Klan. BJ’s faced insurmountable odds before, but between his desire for a peaceful life and being confined to a suit of armor like Darth Vader, he’s starting to feel his own mortality.

Wolf3

This game’s a gut punch and a half.

Like all the Wolfenstein games, The New Colossus is a first-person shooter with heavy arcade elements. BJ can take the fight to the Nazis with an expanded arsenal of weapons, including all of the guns from The New Order as well as some new toys like a grenade-launching hand cannon. While The New Order also allowed players to dual-wield two weapons of the same class, The New Colossus lets players dual-wield whatever they want. Power to anyone who wants to charge in with a shotgun in one hand and a sniper rifle in the other.

The New Colossus is just as kind to sneaky maniacs as it is to gun-toting ones. Players who don’t feel like loudly kicking the door down can sneak around and take the Nazis out quietly with BJ’s good friend Mr. Hatchet. These kills aren’t as audacious as firefights, but they’re no less gory. Unlike The New Order, which had an unfortunate tendency to divide its levels into strict firefight-only and sneak-only zones, The New Colossus takes the limiters off and lets players play whole levels however they want.

Wolf4

Now’s probably a good time to ask what “jugular” is in German.

Anyone who enjoyed The New Order‘s silky smooth gunplay can breathe easy, because The New Colossus has all that and then some. It’s refreshingly easy to move through levels, stabbing or shooting each fascist that pops his head up. Though BJ is a force to be reckoned with on the battlefield, the Nazis make short work of players who charge toward them recklessly, so some caution is called for. Just like in the last game, players can find health kits and put on scraps of armor to stay alive.

The New Colossus does freshen things up a bit by re-balancing its foes and the player’s health. Individual Nazi soldiers are more alert than their New Order predecessors, but go down a bit easier than they did in the last game. The New Colossus also throws more enemies at BJ, including the Supersoldaten seen in the last game and new, insidious machines built to kill. BJ’s health system has also changed to reflect the grave wounds he sustained in The New Order; players can now equip twice as much armor but have only 50 health instead of 100.

Wolf5

More like the Big Not-So-Easy, amirite? Amirite? (crickets)

The New Colossus likewise steps its predecessor’s game up on grit and atmosphere. One of the things that made The New Order so noteworthy was its brutal honesty in depicting a Nazi-run world. Whereas in so many games the Nazis are merely bots draped in swastikas, The New Order brought the Nazis’ racist ideology to the forefront in creative, horrifying ways. The New Colossus is similarly bare-faced in its imaginings of a Nazi world, as BJ tours gruesome prisons, concentration camps, and other facilities. That these locales are stateside makes the game all the more gruesome for American players.

The New Colossus is also not for people who get squeamish around gore. It’s almost like MachineGames, the developer, set a five-corpse minimum for how much bloodshed was to be put in each level and every cutscene. It’s probably a given that anyone looking at a Wolfenstein game knows all of this already, but just as a courtesy… this game ain’t no Call of Duty. This be the turf of Id Software, and its games go to great pains to carefully choreograph guts spilling from stomachs and heads falling from necks.

Wolf6

I’m having second thoughts about this.

With gameplay and atmosphere in the bag, The New Colossus is also poised to take narrative (another New Order high point) by storm. The answer to whether The New Colossus‘s narrative is good is both yes and no. If all that’s being discussed are the game’s individual scenes, then the answer is a resounding yes. However, those scenes don’t necessarily work well when strung together into a story.

Fans of the first game needn’t panic; Wolfenstein II‘s story is well enough written and pretty easy to follow. The problem, though, is that its tone is all over the place. The game is a dark drama when BJ tears up over memories of his abusive father; then, it becomes a war epic during the actual fighting. Later, the game becomes a dark comedy when BJ drunkenly rides a pig through the halls of the rebels’ submarine. Taken individually, each scene excels at stoking the reaction it’s going for. When those scenes are put next to each other on a storyboard, though, the result is a game that can’t decide if it’s a dark comedy, a campy B-movie, or a serious war film.

Wolf7

Okay, this right here is NOT a comedy scene.

The New Colossus‘s tonal inconsistencies make the game’s story feel non-sequitur. It’s weird to jump from a scene that the developers obviously took seriously to a scene in which they throw characterization to the wind and jump the shark (or pig). The New Colossus also lets players decide, once again, which character they saved at the beginning of The New Order, but the resultant narrative differences are virtually inconsequential. When a game fails to make a major narrative decision have an impact, it feels conspicuously half-assed.

It’s a shame that The New Colossus‘s tale goes all over the place, because the characters in it are really interesting. BJ’s new treatment as a weary man who’s afraid of his mortality is bittersweet, especially when compounded with visceral flashbacks of his childhood. The character’s motivations go beyond killing Nazis to envisioning a better future, all while confronting the pain of the past. Frau Engel, BJ’s new arch-nemesis, is one of the cruelest, most psychopathic villains that gaming has ever produced. Her presence in the narrative makes the aforementioned atmosphere thicker.

Wolf8

YOU ALL DIE IN SIN!

The game’s supporting characters are similarly endearing, even if they don’t get all that much screen time. Anya returns with her quiet determination to end the Nazi threat, while Wyatt/Fergus attempt to confront their own troubled pasts. The New Colossus also introduces a few new characters to the rebellion, including iron-willed Black Revolutionary Front leader Grace Walker and a priest who slings sermon almost as much as whiskey. These folks make for an endearing band of misfits.

Nothing makes gameplay, atmosphere and narrative come together like decent visual design, and The New Colossus has plenty of that. Indeed, the atmosphere comes as much from how the levels look as what they’re meant to represent. MachineGames spared no effort in building a depressing, morose vision of Nazi-occupied America, adorning Main Street and the ‘burbs with lots and lots of Swastikas. The resulting aesthetic feels Orwellian… and depressing.

Wolf9

….

So far, The New Colossus sounds pretty great. It’s got interesting characters, a rich world, and some of the best gameplay of any shooter released this year. The problem with colossi, though, is that it only takes a single misstep for them to come tumbling to the ground. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus makes that single misstep, and any PC gamer reading this probably already knows what it is: bugs.

As of writing, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus bears the distinction of 2017’s buggiest big-budget game. Players who purchase this title on PC will probably experience some of the following: constant crashing, corrupted save files, choppy framerates, cutscenes freezing up, and in-game prompts not appearing on-screen. Additionally, achievements may not unlock. The state of The New Colossus is, frankly, shocking, and MachineGames should be ashamed that the title was released in this state.

Wolf10

Siiiiiiiigh

As if a plague of bugs wasn’t enough, Wolfenstein II also doesn’t run all that well on PC. Even running the game on an AMD card (the card for which the title was built) doesn’t seem to staunch the flow of unstable framerates and texture pop-in. Bizarrely, Wolfenstein II also doesn’t support the Steam overlay. Bethesda has admitted to the problem but hasn’t elaborated on why, which probably means that it’s a bug as well. Even meddling in the game’s awesome options menu doesn’t seem to fix anything.

In the end, Wolfenstein II joins the pile of ambitious sequels brought down by carelessness. It could’ve been GOTY material if someone had thought to check for all the bugs, but quality control seems to come optional at the big companies these days. PC gamers who want Wolfenstein II could want worse things, but wait until MachineGames rolls out a tirade of badly needed patches. Until then, Wolfenstein II‘s endless bugs have helped it achieve what was thought to be impossible: making Nazi-killing repulsive.

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You can buy Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus 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.