Category Archives: Driving

Rust

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Survive.

PC Release: February 8, 2018

By Ian Coppock

It’s surreal to see so many Early Access games suddenly cross the finish line. CAT Interstellar, Gang Beasts, Subnautica, and now Rust have all exited Early Access just in the last few months. Some of these games spent years bearing that stupid blue badge on their Steam store pages… Rust longest of all. It’s time to see how one of Steam’s most well-known titles fares after so long in the oven.

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How long did Rust marinate in the puddle of horror and regret that is Steam Early Access? The game first cropped up in Early Access in the winter of 2013, which makes Rust one of the first titles (if not the very first) to launch within that program. The game underwent many changes over the next four years, guided by the steady hand of Garry Newman (the Garry’s Mod guy) and the folks at Facepunch Studios.

Rust has changed a lot since its 2013 debut, but through thick and thin the game has always been about mulitplayer survival. Players spawn in naked and alone on the shores of a mysterious land and their goal is to stay alive as long as possible. To that end, they can search for food, gather resources, build bases, and band together for common defense. They can also descend from the hills wearing nothing but a headscarf and promptly beat new spawns to death with rocks. Absolutely terrifying.

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Must… murder… noobs…

Rust‘s tutorial provides just enough guidance to get new players on their way. The game gently prods new spawns to complete a series of increasingly complex tasks. Gather wood. Gather stone. Build a pickaxe. Gather more wood. Build a house. Find some food. Eat the food. EAT THE FOOD! Players also have no control over the race or sex of their character; Garry Newman has continually insisted that Rust is about survival, not identity. Those are some bold words in this age of hypersensitive identity politics.

Spawning in with no clothes and only a rock for defense may sound daunting, but Rust is kind to resourceful players. The game has a resource flow similar to that of Minecraft, i.e. gathering materials, building new tools, and using those tools to accrue more advanced materials. Before long, players can go from living in a dilapidated shack on the beach to an expansive fortress reinforced with stone walls and metal gates. Likewise, clubs and spears eventually give way to pistols and even rocket launchers. Players can also gather food by foraging plants and hunting animals.

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“Well the weather for the whole area, will continue much the same as the past few days…”

Rust‘s gameplay and user interface are both pleasantly streamlined. It’s easy for players to scrounge for items just as it’s fun to engage wildlife in combat. In keeping with the game’s goal of staying alive as long as possible, players have to manage health, thirst, and hunger meters as they make their way around the world. Finding water and food is usually pretty simple; the fate of the health bar, though, hinges on players’ ability to “git gud” in combat.

Players can craft lots of other stuff in Rust. The game’s menu is a simple two-panel affair comprising inventory and crafting screens. The latter menu lists all of the items the player can craft; just click on a weapon, wait thirty seconds, and boom: instant spear! Rust‘s items are divided into smaller menus that look an awful lot like the menus in Garry’s Mod; overall, it’s a system that’s easy to pick up. Just don’t call up the menu while standing out in the open. Enemy players love that.

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Welcome to Rust World! Check out the severed heads on aisle 12!

Rust contains many realistic survival threats that range from chilly nights to cold river currents, but these natural phenomena can’t hold a candle to the game’s greatest danger: other players. Yes, just like so many multiplayer survival games, Rust is a breeding ground for hilariously unhinged psychopaths. True, some of the folks in Rust are just fellow digital pilgrims peacefully going about their business… but many more are cutthroat raiders who’d sooner shoot a player than mic chat with them.

Human enemies are always much more terrifying than computer-controlled characters, and the proliferation of them in Rust adds tension to the game. It’s hair-raising to be approached by a spear-wielding stranger during the morning mushroom forage, especially if they refuse to mic chat or lower their weapon. In the end, it’s up to each and every player to decide how to interact with the people around them. Rust players either die civil or live long enough to see themselves become assholes.

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Ah, a refuge! DON’T SHOOT I’M NAKED

Gathering mushrooms and killing occasional nomads works well for solo players, but the best way for large groups to sustain themselves is through all-out war. Raiding is the name of the game in Rust, as players suit up and break into each other’s fortresses for food and sleeping bags. These turf wars can be frustrating (especially if unwelcome visitors come knocking while the player’s logged out), but damn if it isn’t fun to blow up a gate and rush in at the head of a blood-crazed war band. Another beautiful day in Rust!

Rust is now balanced enough to give logged out players a chance to protect themselves. It used to be that anyone could come in and take all the things during logout, but players can now build nigh-invincible doors with keys and code locks to protect their loot during the workday. True, a door won’t stop someone who has C4 and a rocket launcher, but attackers have to invest a lot of time into Rust to acquire such sophisticated weaponry. It’s not perfect, but compromises rarely are.

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Roll out!

The notion of players competing for scraps of food lends Rust a postapocalyptic vibe, and so does the game’s world design. Players spend most of their time in the wilderness but occasionally stumble upon dilapidated buildings and rows of rusted-out cars. Rust has no narrative outside the stories its players make, but these unsettling sights still succeed in making players wonder what happened. It’s a bit creepy to wander through a dark, cold munitions factory in search of food, especially when there’s signs of recent occupation.

Rust‘s artwork is also both bleak and beautiful. The game is absolutely saturated with bright colors from the roots of its green grass to the top of its searing blue skyboxes. The game’s textures are above-middling but could still use a bit of refinement, especially on those wooden house panels. Rust also makes effective use of lighting, or rather, the lack of it. Days are brightly lit but nights are dark and full of terror. These artistic choices inspire caution in players, which is appropriate considering that Rust is a survival game.

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What happened here?

Rust‘s sound design also goes to great lengths to make players feel as vulnerable as possible. Whenever music does play, it comes in the form of mournful little interludes that barely constitute a whisper above the game’s other sounds. They sound like the piano medleys from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild as rewritten by The Sound of Silence-era Simon & Garfunkel. Really creepy (albeit pretty) stuff.

When these tracks don’t play, players are left alone with the sounds of the wilderness: the birds, the wind, and the occasional creak of metal. This minimalist setup is not dissimilar to that of PUBG. Players are left alone with these sounds and have to creep around wondering when the sound of another player will finally break the tension. Rust‘s environmental sounds are, well, sound. Everything from the creak of a wooden door to putting scrap metal in the inventory sounds rich and full.

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(breeze blows)

Rust is one of those rare survival games that combines fun gameplay with smooth presentation. The game runs well on PC and its options menu contains more toggles than players can shake a stick at. Players might notice occasional lag during gameplay, but alas, such is life in the world of online video games. Facepunch made good use of Rust‘s elongated Early Access cycle, though, as the title is now all-but completely bug free.

Many players, though, continue to insist that Rust faces a hacker epidemic of Biblical proportions. Such claims have dogged Rust since it first hit the Steam store. While players might run across the occasional hack-riddled superhuman, the claim that every other Rust player is a Chinese bot needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Gamers are a creative group, but they’re also one of the saltiest bunches on the Internet. Was that enemy player really a hacker, bro, or was he just better?

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No, I’m not interested in hearing about your lord and savior.

Rust was in Early Access for over four years. That’s a long time. It’s worth pointing out, though, that Garry Newman and the folks at Facepunch made damn good use of that time. Rust is an example of Early Access done right, because even though the game took a while, Facepunch made regular updates to the title and interacted with the community. That’s more than can be said for the dozens of Early Access titles in which devs update “whenever they feel like it” or just ghost from their projects altogether.

Rust can feel like an unfair game. It’s a title that doesn’t care about players’ feelings and chides them for being “asshats.” Players live or die by their ability to make good choices with the resources that they can find. The game inspires euphoria with every successful raid just as it inspires hopelessness when players are captured by a 20-man crew of AK-47 enthusiasts. All of these experiences, fair and otherwise, are what make Rust a compelling game. It’s both a breakneck survival odyssey and an endlessly entertaining glimpse at online human interaction.

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You can buy Rust 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.

Trials of the Blood Dragon

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Save the day, freedom and the world from retro sci-fi threats.

PC Release: June 13, 2016

By Ian Coppock

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon delighted players with its 80’s vibe and the endless one-liners of point man Rex Power Colt; so much so that it’s regarded as one of the best standalone expansions ever made. Understandably, Far Cry fans have spent years clamoring for a sequel. What many of those fans might not know is that there is a sequel to Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon… it’s just not very well-known. UNTIL NOW! (Dun dun dunnnnn).

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Trials of the Blood Dragon erupted from Ubisoft’s glitched-out nether regions in June of 2016 with little more than a whisper. The title was developed as a collaboration between Ubisoft and another studio called Redlynx. The game is indeed a sequel to Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, but it’s presented in one of the last formats any Blood Dragon fan would ever suspect: a Trials game.

Anyone remember the Trials games? Those side-scrolling stunt bike games with floaty physics and absurdly obstacle-ridden race courses? That’s what Trials of the Blood Dragon is: a sequel that sheds Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon‘s open-world FPS format in favor of side-scrolling motorcycles. Bit of a disconnect, right? Just wait: there’s more. A lot more.

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Wait what is happening…

In addition to being produced in a format that no one asked for, Trials of the Blood Dragon trades in Rex Power Colt for two new protagonists that no one asked for: his kids. Like their father, teenagers Roxanne and Slayter are cyborg agents who fight to defend a retro-futuristic America. Unlike their father, Roxanne and Slayter are insufferably bland characters who lack both Rex’s wisecracks and his humorously overboard patriotism. Neither character creeps even an inch out of his or her ho-hum niche.

It’s a bit strange that Ubisoft decided to let two unfunny teenagers stand in for a much funnier action hero. Rex Power Colt was a big reason Blood Dragon fans wanted a sequel, so to remove him from star billing in Trials of the Blood Dragon is a slap in the face. The comedic writing that fueled so much of Blood Dragon is but a shadow of its former self in Trials of the Blood Dragon. Few of the jokes land and the protagonists are barely memorable. Indeed, the teens’ commanding officer is the only funny one in the production… and that’s mostly because he’s a lot like Rex!

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Would the real Rex Power Colt please stand up?

With Rex Power Colt down for the count, only his children can defend America from a wide swath of futuristic threats. These threats exist as only the 80’s could imagine them. Whether it’s fighting drug dealers in Miami or taking one for the team in Vietnam War IV, all of Trials of the Blood Dragon‘s scenarios are straight out of the 80’s sci-fi playbook. Each threat takes about 3-4 missions to contain and is even more ludicrous than the preceding one. Trials of the Blood Dragon, at least, managed to preserve that part of Blood Dragon‘s storytelling.

What Trials didn’t manage to preserve was its predecessor’s attention to an overarching plot. There is a shell of a story tying all of these disparate levels together, but it’s weak at best and the ending payoff is pretty lame. The story’s implication that Rex might be alive after spending years listed as MIA serves only as a framing device for fighting bug-men one second and Vietnamese cyborgs the next. Players who are invested in Blood Dragon‘s retro-80’s lore are all but damned to disappointment with this title’s storytelling.

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Far out!

Fortunately, Trials of the Blood Dragon‘s gameplay is more fun than its story. Even though no one asked Blood Dragon‘s sequel to come in the form of a stunt racer, the game does a good job of providing challenging, multilayered levels for players to race across. Most challenges in Trials of the Blood Dragon consist of jumping over ravines or traversing trap-laden lairs. Though some of these sections are teeth-gnashingly frustrating, Trials‘ physics are very forgiving and make the game accessible to novices.

Trials of the Blood Dragon also dips its toes in platforming. Every so often, Roxanne and Slayter have to ditch their bikes and take the fight to the enemy on foot. These sections are made up of side-scrolling, cover-based shooting. Despite being fast-paced, the on-foot sections of Trials of the Blood Dragon suffer for shallow controls and being far too easy. Get off the bike, shoot a bad guy, press a button, and bingo! It’s back to the track!

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Do you like hurting other people?

Trials of the Blood Dragon also scores points for its artwork. Love it or hate it, there’s no denying the game’s fealty to low-fi retro-futurism. The entire game is saturated in neon from start to finish and utilizes VHS visual effects to convey that 80’s vibe. The object and detail placement in this game are excellent, as are the character animations. What’s more, players can run all of this visual goodness on machines new and old thanks to Trials of the Blood Dragon‘s competent optimization. The options menu ain’t half bad.

Even better than Trials‘ fondness for 80’s visuals is its lockstep adherence to 80’s music. With hazy synths, pulsing beats, fast-paced drums and warped vocals, there are few better game soundtracks out there for players who are fond of the 80’s. The only problem is that the soundtrack isn’t available on Steam; the only way to buy it is directly from Ubisoft, and that version is missing some of the game’s best tracks.

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(plays Indiana Jones theme inside own head)

Even though Trials‘ visuals are fun to look at and its music great to dance to, its mediocre storytelling seeps into even those facets of its design. A few readers might’ve noticed that that screenshot two images ago looks an awful lot like a 3D Hotline Miami. The one posted a paragraph and-a-half from now’ll look just like DOOM. See a pattern here? Trials‘ various threats aren’t just kooky 80’s pipe dreams: they’re actually shallow ripoffs of other popular video games.

Taking out drug dealers in Miami? Hotline Miami. Fighting demons on Mars? DOOM. Retrieving a chalice from an old temple? Indiana JonesTrials of the Blood Dragon isn’t afraid to borrow all but the names of these media. What the game tries to present as loving homages instead come off as blatant ripoffs. This strategy would make more sense if Trials of the Blood Dragon was attempting to parody specific 80’s media, but its copycatting of recent video games makes it clear that it’s just trying to ride its contemporaries. This strategy makes the game feel cynical and derivative.

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See? Told ya.

The question of why Trials of the Blood Dragon ripped other games’ settings off is rhetorical, but the larger question behind this entire game is… why Trials? Ubisoft’s decision to follow an open-world FPS up with a side-scrolling stunt racer is (to put it politely), conspicuous. If Trials of the Blood Dragon is any indication, it’s better for publishers like Ubisoft to admit that they’re too busy with other projects than to attempt a half-assed sequel set in another genre.

At the end of the day, there’s little more to say about Trials of the Blood Dragon. Some players will enjoy its stunt bike platforming and gorgeous soundtrack, but far more will be unimpressed with its uninteresting characters and a plot that shamelessly borrows from other, better games. There’s no doubt that even if Trials of the Blood Dragon is a decent stunt game, it’s patently unworthy of the 80’s sci-fi badassery from whence it spawned. Approach this game’s Steam store page with caution.

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You can buy Trials of the Blood Dragon 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.

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds

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Fight to be the last one standing in 100-person gun battles.

PC Release: December 20, 2017

By Ian Coppock

Never has a video game been so worthy of the phrase “needs no introduction.” Reviewing the most popular video game on the planet may seem unnecessary, but there’s nothing more fun than delving into the inner workings of a smash hit. It’s easy to lavish all sorts of “smash hit” and “sales-breaker” synonyms onto PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, but what exactly has made it worthy of those terms? (Besides the obvious promise of chicken dinner, that is).

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PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (or PUBG, as it’s almost exclusively known) is a multiplayer shooter developed by Irish photographer-turned-developer Brandon Greene: the original PlayerUnknown. Inspired by the realistic combat mechanics of such titles as DayZ (the mod, not that piece-of-s*** standalone), Greene envisioned setting the conventions of multiplayer shooting on a far, far grander scale than the likes of Call of Duty provided. Greene popularized the notion of a grand-scale battle royale in video gaming, and if PUBG is any indication, the genre and medium meld well.

What exactly is battle royale? To hear PUBG tell it, battle royale comprises putting 100 players on a large island and letting them kill each other until only one person is left to claim the almighty honor of Winner Winner Chicken Dinner. Each player is given only one life with which to advance to the top, and the playable area of that island continually shrinks to force encounters between players. Picture The Hunger Games mixed together with George Carlin’s concept of the Slugfest and the result is PUBG.

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Time to move in!

It’s worth mentioning that even though PUBG needs no intro… that’s no excuse for its lack of a tutorial. A game about 100-person deathmatches is merciless by default, but even a quick primer on the controls would be better than the current, abject lack of orientation. If ever there was a game that embodied the phrase “git gud”, it was PUBG. The closest this game comes to teaching players how to play is letting them run around in a small staging area during the 30-second warm-up.

Now it’s time to jump into the heart of the game… literally! PUBG piles all 100 players onto an airplane that cruises above the game world. The plane flies a different path each game, and players have only so much time to settle on a destination and then skydive to the ground below. This stage of the game typically sees a lot of deaths, as players rush to loot-rich areas to grab guns and kill their opponents. Truly, all those Hunger Games comparisons are not without merit.

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Be careful what you wish for… punk.

It’s worth mentioning that each of PUBG‘s two maps is huge; in stark contrast to the smaller maps found in shooters like CoD and CS:GO, players are given a 5.0 mi x 5.0 mi wilderness to run around in. Each map sports a versatile mix of open wilds, buildings, and towns, most of which are rife with equipment like shotguns and body armor. Players can also get around the map in one of several vehicles; just make sure to stay topped off on gasoline.

As if 99 other players weren’t enough to worry about, PUBG‘s playable area shrinks every few minutes. Those players caught outside the force field denoting that playable area will gradually vaporize. Though it might sound a bit hair-raising, the force field is a great way to, well, force gunfights between players. It certainly prevents campers from hiding in the boonies and prolonging the match indefinitely. The force field brings each round of PUBG to a terrifying climax, as the last 2-4 players have to kill each other in what’s suddenly become a small area.

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QUICK! Out-drive the force field!

The tension of fleeing from cover to cover in search of guns and improvised body armor is what makes PUBG so damn addictive. The game is as much a survival challenge as a competitive one, as players have to rely on both their skill with a gun and their minute-by-minute tactical acumen to stay ahead of their opponents. Sure, being handy with a gun goes a long way in PUBG, but players also have to calculate how to stay ahead of the force field. That takes a lot of math: the kind of math that usually involves taking cover behind as many rocks and trees as possible.

Planning a route ahead of the force field is one source of PUBG‘s tension; the other is the game’s minute-by-minute surviving. The only way to get the best loot is to scavenge buildings, which means risking getting shot in the face by unfriendly occupants. The only way to travel from locale to locale is by sprinting across open ground, which means risking getting shot in the face by a prone foe with a sniper rifle. Few games put players at as constant risk of getting shot in the face as PUBG… that’s what makes it so fun!

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Who’s REALLY riding shotgun in this situation?

PUBG may sound intimidating to novices, but the title is actually one of the fairest multiplayer shooters on the market. While it certainly helps to be good at shooters, players in PUBG live or die largely by what loot they find out in the world. PUBG‘s maps are littered with a random assortment of firearms, body armor, mods, and other equipment. This match-by-match randomization helps level the playing field and gives even noobs a fighting chance. This system also punishes campers, as players who decide to sit in a building all day risk losing out on the best loot… and are thus far easier to kill.

PUBG‘s gameplay is elegant and pure of vision. More than almost any other shooter, it’s one of those games that’s easy to pick up but difficult to master. There’s a simple rhythm to picking a landing zone, looting it, and searching out other players among the wilds of the battle royale. Sure, most matches won’t end in Winner Winner Chicken Dinner, but PUBG‘s mix of firearms and tactics is deeply satisfying. The controls (while unexplained), are intuitive, and the UI can be learned in under a minute. These well-designed functions are probably why PUBG tops the Steam charts more days than not.

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You guys better not be going to Outback Steakhouse without me!

PUBG makes for a tense survival experience solo, but that tension doesn’t go away with the addition of teammates. Players can tackle the battle royale alone or in teams of 2-4 people, giving them additional support to lean on while also increasing their target profile. Players who enjoy tactical shooters will relish the teamwork opportunities that PUBG provides; just remember to never enter a house through one door and in a single-file line. That right there is a field day for stairwell campers.

PUBG‘s tension also stems in large part from its sound design. The game has almost no music, playing a few tunes in the menu but leaving players with nothing but the sounds of nature in-game. The stark mix of wind and occasional animal noises makes for a suspenseful audio backdrop and demonstrates that minimalist sound design can do wonders for a suspenseful atmosphere. Creeping through abandoned buildings never sounded so satisfyingly creaky.

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Using rainstorms to mask footsteps is a must in PUBG.

While on the subject of game design, it’s also worth mentioning that PUBG‘s visuals are bright, if a bit primitive. The game benefits mightily from the use of strong colors, but most of its environmental textures are rough around the edges (if not outright blurry). Hopefully Greene and the folks at the PUBG Corporation continue to sharpen those now that the title is out of Early Access.

PUBG‘s character animations also leave much to be desired. The characters’ movement animations (particularly the running) look a bit… amateurish. Whether it’s walking, crouching, or running, PUBG‘s combatants seem to have a hard time with bending limbs and waistlines. True, these animations have no effect on the characters’ actual (and smooth) movement, but these unpolished animations confer that Early Access stink upon PUBG‘s production.

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That woman appears to have her scope glued to her forehead. Most unusual!

A few wonky character animations can hardly blemish PUBG‘s user experience… but the game’s hacking epidemic can. As of writing, PUBG is suffering an unprecedented plague of hackers. Many of them are alleged to be from China, but these dastardly cheaters wreak havoc upon PUBG servers no matter their nationality. A lot of them such inveterate multiplayer shooter cheats as jump and invincibility hacks. Greene has pledged a fix even as thousands of American players clamor for region locking.

Less severe than PUBG‘s hacker problem (though little less annoying), is the game’s penchant for lag. Lag has been a persistent issue for PUBG throughout the game’s development, and it hasn’t gone away with the title’s full release. The problem isn’t so persistent that players can expect it in every match, but it can get gnarly in team-based matches.

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CHINANUMBERONECHINANUMBERONECHINANUMBERONE

PUBG promises a bounty of fun and suspense for players who willing to chance occasional lag (and slightly more numerous hackers). Greene has vowed to address both issues as he has throughout this game’s development and has been proactive about responding to problems through the game’s Steam forums. PUBG deserves a try from every gamer for its fair, suspenseful experience. The game succeeds in capturing a hunt-or-be-hunted sensation as few games can, and is immensely rewarding as players continue to improve. Get the game. Try a match. Go for that sweet, sweet chicken dinner.

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You can buy PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds here.

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

Far Cry 4

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Liberate your parents’ homeland from an eccentric despot.

PC Release: November 18, 2014

By Ian Coppock

This month’s tour of anarchic third-world dystopias continues with Far Cry 4, the most recent mainline installment in the Far Cry series. Though Far Cry 4 does away with its predecessor’s setting and shakes up the franchise’s storytelling conventions, there’s no doubt that this game is still pure, unadulterated Far Cry. How so? Well, grab a hang glider and a machete, because it’s time to dive into Far Cry 4.

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Far Cry 4 was the one decent title that Ubisoft released in 2014. Following the ho-hum debut of Watch Dogs that May and the disastrous launch of Assassin’s Creed Unity that November, players were suspicious that Far Cry 4 would be as buggy and unpolished as those titles. Fortunately, Ubisoft stepped up to the plate in the final weeks of 2014, releasing a game that both ran well on PC and was largely bug-free. That was certainly more than could be said for Watch Dogs or Unity.

Far Cry 4 continues its predecessors’ proud tradition of providing a lawless open world for gamers to go stark raving mad in. Players can explore a world teeming with enemies to kill and treasure to discover, with plenty of shooting and crafting to boot. Most of the world is also open to players from the get-go, though it’s probably a good idea to level up before tackling that impenetrable mountain fortress.

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DIEDIEDIEDIEDIE

Though the fundamentals of Far Cry‘s open-world design remain intact in Far Cry 4, the game trades out Far Cry 3‘s tropical island setting for the fictional Himalayan country of Kyrat. Players behold this mountain nation through the eyes of Ajay Ghale, a Kyrati-American who journeys to his parents’ homeland to scatter his mother’s ashes. What should’ve been a simple pilgrimage becomes much more complicated when Ajay is captured by Pagan Min, Kyrat’s flamboyant and tyrannical king.

After being shuttled to the world’s most awkward dinner of crab rangoon, Ajay gets rescued by the Golden Path, a rebel movement dedicated to ousting Min from power. Ajay learns that his father was one of the Golden Path’s founders and is offered help scattering those ashes in return for joining the fight. Once again, it’s up to the player to liberate a beautiful albeit lawless land from the clutches of remorseless bad guys.

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Min (pictured left) is not the world’s most empathetic boss.

The Far Cry series teaches that there’s no better way to take care of remorseless bad guys than by remorselessly riddling their bodies with bullets. Far Cry 4 bursts at the seams with weapons, which range from suppressed pistols to powerful rocket launchers. Players can get their hands on all of this hardware pretty quickly. Just like in Far Cry 3Far Cry 4‘s guns feel satisfying and make for some of big-budget gaming’s best first-person shooting. Many of the weapons that were present in Far Cry 3 make a comeback, but Far Cry 4 adds plenty of brand-new rifles, LMGs, and custom signature weapons.

Of course, players who aren’t in the mood to make lots of noise can also sneak around stabbing people. Far Cry 4 has even better stealth gameplay than Far Cry 3, allowing players to slip from cover to cover in quick rounds of cloak’n’dagger. Distract a bad guy, sneak up behind him, and liberate his jugular from the rest of his neck. Players can also access all sorts of suppressed weapons for stealth killing at a distance. Sneaking might not always be as fast as shooting, but hey; better to take an extra five minutes killing five bad guys than to let one hit the alarm and summon 10 more of ’em.

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So much for training honey badgers to be sleeper agents…

Players can pick and choose skills that suit their play style thanks to Far Cry 4‘s RPG system. Ajay can level up by completing missions and killing bad guys, giving players points to put toward such perks as faster healing and better sneak attacks. These abilities are streamlined into two skill trees that generally reflect attack and defense power-ups, and some skills can be upgraded multiple times. It’s fun to experiment with different combinations of perks to nail down that ultimate mountain warrior skill set.

Finally… the animals. Far Cry 4 is overrun with even more hostile wildlife than Far Cry 3. A few animals, like tigers, return from the previous game, but Kyrat is also overrun with new critters like honey badgers, snow leopards, elephants, and rhinos. While it’s fun to encounter these animals out in the wild and their hides make for great ammo bags, one facet of Far Cry 4‘s wildlife design feels gratuitous: the birds. No joke, eagles swoop down and attack the player because logic. The constant bird attacks are as annoying as they are nonsensical, as players frequently get talon’d while trying to scope enemies or just enjoy the view. Someone at Ubisoft is clearly a fan of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.

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You cannot be serious.

If all this talk of guns and exploration sounds like Far Cry 3‘s talk of guns and exploration, that’s no coincidence. Far Cry 4 replicates Far Cry 3‘s gameplay nearly wholesale, from finding treasure to shooting baddies to capturing enemy outposts. The setting may have changed, but players can expect Far Cry 4‘s gameplay to be all but identical to that of its predecessor. At this juncture, the point of tonight’s review becomes less about how Far Cry 4 is “pure Far Cry” than about why players shouldn’t just give Far Cry 3 a second playthrough.

To be fair, the claim that Far Cry 4‘s gameplay is a mirror-image of Far Cry 3‘s is untrue in at least two respects. Firstly, the game adds a grappling hook so that players can climb cliffsides and mountains like a pro. Given Kyrat’s excess of vertical space, this only makes sense. Secondly, players can now shoot from behind the wheel of a vehicle, which is a welcome change of pace from Far Cry 3‘s much more pacifistic driving. Far Cry 4 also introduces mini-helicopters, but they’re rickety things that can only fly so high before crashing. That thin Himalayan air is a real b****.

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Mayday! Mayday!

Far Cry 4‘s zeal to copy its predecessor seeps into the game’s art department. Though its graphics are sharper than Far Cry 3‘s, Far Cry 4 re-uses nearly all of its predecessor’s character and world animations. Everything from Ajay’s herb-gathering animation to bad guys taking a smoke has been recycled from Far Cry 3. That may not seem like a big deal on paper, but any sequel that reuses animations and assets from previous games has a much harder time establishing its own identity. Such is the case with Far Cry 4.

Players can also expect Far Cry 4‘s missions to be congruent to Far Cry 3‘s. Ajay is faced with the same bout of exotic animal hunts, outpost takedowns, and head honcho headhunts that Jason took on in Far Cry 3. All of these missions are fun, but Far Cry 4‘s reluctance to try new mission types is disappointing. If the point of these past few paragraphs hasn’t been hammered home yet, here’s the skinny: Far Cry 4 feels more like a DLC for Far Cry 3 than its own game.

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MIC DROP

…Or does it? It’s true that Far Cry 4‘s gameplay is unambitious, but the same cannot be said of the game’s story. Plot, at least, is where Far Cry 3 and Far Cry 4 diverge, with the latter having a much more compelling story than the tale of Vaas and the Rook Islands. Though Ajay Ghale is an uninteresting character who speaks almost exclusively in quiet murmurs, he’s far more introspective and believable than Far Cry 3 point man Jason Brody. That the protagonist’s parents are from Kyrat also gives the player an actual connection to the setting.

Meanwhile, Far Cry 4‘s supporting characters provoke both mirth and cringe. Ajay gets some help from some complicated characters, including two British marijuana enthusiasts and an African warlord who found Jesus. Far Cry 4 also dabbles in choice-based narrative, forcing players to side with one of the rebellion’s two constantly feuding leaders. It’s not an easy choice: one is a religious nutjob and the other is an aspiring drug lord. This rift helps keep the story’s tension high and makes it difficult for players to see which leader is better to support in the long run.

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So you’re telling me that I have to pick between legalizing child marriage and getting the locals hooked on heroin? Good Lord.

Far Cry 4 is one of those games in which the villains are more compelling than the protagonists. This is almost certainly a minority opinion, but main antagonist Pagan Min is a funnier, more interesting character than Far Cry 3‘s Vaas. Min’s royal proclamations are darkly hilarious, as he rants about everything from the perils of lighting candles to how he’s a much better Asian despot than Kim Jong Un (“Why doesn’t Dennis Rodman visit me?!?”). Min also possesses an air of deep tragedy that Vaas lacked, which becomes apparent as players discover why the king has taken such a particular interest in Ajay.

Indeed, the whole of Kyrat is rife with much better lore, writing, and storytelling than Far Cry 3 possessed. Ajay can delve into several layers of the land’s history, which add to the fun of exploration just as much as the promise of treasure. Players even have the option to explore Kyrat co-op, so long as P2 is okay being stuck as the eternally unfunny Hurk. Far Cry 4‘s multiplayer mode is much more hit-and-miss, and isn’t really worth delving into now that it’s all but dead. Also… was it mentioned that players can ride elephants into battle?

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Charge, Stampy!

While it’s a shame that Far Cry 4‘s gameplay is in near-complete lockstep with that of a preceding title, the game is saved from feeling wholly derivative by providing much better storytelling than Far Cry 3. Players who get into Far Cry solely to shoot things might feel like they’re rerunning Far Cry 3, but other players might also be pleasantly surprised by how good the tale of Ajay Ghale and Pagan Min is. It’s worth it for gamers in both camps to at least try the title, especially since Far Cry 5 is still a few months away.

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You can buy Far Cry 4 here.

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

Far Cry 3

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Rescue your friends from the clutches of an insane pirate lord.

PC Release: December 4, 2012

By Ian Coppock

Are there any gamers out there who are ready to feel old? No? Well, too bad, because Far Cry 3 is five years old. It released a half-decade ago as of last month. Crazy, huh? Feels like just yesterday Vaas was torturing McLovin on the pristine beaches of the Rook Islands. With Far Cry 5 only a few months away, now feels like a good time to stroll down that avenue of memory lane.

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Though few would guess it from looking at Far Cry nowadays, the series got its start as a linear sci-fi shooter. The original Far Cry was developed by CryTek, and dealt less with trying to survive in an anarchic open world than battling mutants and stopping mad scientists. After Ubisoft bought the rights to the series, the publisher used Far Cry 2 to reinvent the franchise as an open-world shooter grounded in more realistic enemies and obstacles.

Far Cry 2 succeeded in exploring open-world violence, but the game was a very rough cut of that concept in action. Far Cry 3 heavily refines what Far Cry 2 pioneered, doing away with the focus on ultra-realism in favor of an emphasis on player freedom. Far Cry 3 also focuses a bit more on story and narrative, with larger-than-life characters built to complement its wild world.

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Kitty!

Far Cry 3 begins when a group of rich kids from SoCal decide that it’d be fun to go skydiving in lovely southeast Asia. Unfortunately for them, the island chain they land on is ruled over by a psychopathic pirate named Vaas, who promptly imprisons all of them and plans to sell them into slavery. Player character Jason Brody escapes from Vaas’s camp and finds refuge with the native Rakyat people, who’ve also suffered greatly under Vaas’s reign.

Even though Jason is a rich American kid who’s never wielded a gun in his life, the Rakyat inexplicably believe him to be a hero whose coming was foretold in some ancient prophecy. As Jason, it’s up to players to travel across the Rook Islands, defeating Vaas’s pirates and freeing Jason’s friends one by one. Jason isn’t alone in his quest to liberate his pals, receiving help from such eccentric supporting characters as an expat botanist, a Liberian soldier, a crazed CIA operative, and an obnoxiously sexualized island priestess.

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I don’t have my seat belt on I DON’T HAVE MY SEAT BELT ON

Right off the bat, Far Cry 3‘s premise is difficult to take seriously. The game expects players to believe that a white Cali kid who probably grew up in the same neighborhood as the Bluth family can somehow succeed where dozens of battle-hardened brown people failed. The white savior complex is strong with this game, and it’s a complex that Far Cry 3 expects players to buy hook, line and sinker.

Jason Brody’s evolution as a character is similarly hard to buy without guffawing. Sure, the kid starts out timid and unsure of himself as he makes his first trips around the islands, but the game depicts him gradually tiring of a “civilized” life and becoming enamored with stabbing people in the jungle. It’s not impossible to buy that time in an anarchic hellhole could do that to a person, but Jason’s character change feels painfully forced even when accounting for that notion.

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Genocide is fun!

Fortunately, Far Cry 3‘s supporting characters are much easier to buy than the posh kid-turned-jungle killer. The Rakyat guy who earnestly believes that Jason is the hero is even harder to take seriously than Jason himself, but each of the other characters has his or her own believable air of tragedy. The aforementioned botanist is easy to feel sorry for between his being exiled and his daughter being dead, while the CIA agent stokes laughter with his over-the-top boasts of American greatness.

Far more fascinating than Jason’s allies, though, are his enemies. Vaas is easily one of gaming’s most entertaining villains, conjuring up a blend of laughter and cringe a la the Joker or Reservoir Dogs. Whether it’s pontificating on the nature of insanity or brutally executing a prisoner, Vaas is a fascinating character to watch and is believable as a product of Far Cry 3‘s environment. It’s just a shame that he’s not the primary antagonist; that other guy is way less interesting.

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Vaas is the jungle and the jungle is Vaas.

The narrative binding all of these characters together is much less memorable than the characters themselves. All players have to do is rescue their friends one at a time in a rinse-and-repeat cycle that feels conspicuously like the early Assassin’s Creed games (coincidence, Ubisoft?). Far Cry 3‘s story is built exclusively around prepping for and executing these rescue missions, culminating in one of the dumbest, easiest-to-make story decisions of recent gaming years. It’s difficult to elaborate without spoiling, but suffice it to say that the choice is built up in apropos of nothing and is therefore easy to make.

Story enthusiasts won’t find much earth to till in Far Cry 3, but that might be because storytelling is not this game’s point. The story missions are meant to serve as beacons between which players engage in hours of adventuring fun around the islands. The true narrative highlights of Far Cry 3 lie not in its cutscenes or writing, but in jumping off of mountains and engaging predatory animals in the jungle. That might be part of the reason why so many critics compared Far Cry 3 to Skyrim.

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Another lovely day in paradise…

Open-world adventuring is what Far Cry 3 does best, and the game still does it better than most of its contemporaries even five years after release. Players are given two massive islands to explore and can search every nook and cranny from the tallest mountain peak to the deepest depths of the ocean. Because this is a Ubisoft game, players can bet that there are plenty of collectibles and treasure chests to find out in the world, with loot that can go toward buying bigger and better guns.

What’s that? Guns? Far Cry 3 is so rife with firearms that players could be forgiven for thinking they’re the national currency of the Rook Islands. Players can wield everything from pistols on up to LMGs; no matter its class, each gun in Far Cry 3 feels powerful and is a pleasure to wield. Players can also go in loud with a variety of grenades or sneak around stabbing people with a cool tribal knife. Far Cry 3 packs light RPG elements, allowing players to level up and obtain upgrades for sneaking or shooting.

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This right here is an example of a “shooty” gameplay style.

Getting around the Rook Islands is a breeze thanks to the Rakyat people’s fondness for cars and boats. The game’s vehicle controls are a bit clunky (especially in rocky terrain), but players can adapt to that beat up old Jeep with some practice. It’s just crazy that Far Cry 3 disallows players from shooting while driving, which is especially inconvenient during high-speed chases. Players who are up for more scenic travel can hop onto a hang glider; just make sure not to crash into a cliff. Oh, also, bring a parachute, because there’s no other safe way off of a hang glider.

In addition to finding guns, treasure, and more guns, players can also explore the Rook Islands for side missions and conquerable outposts. The former comprise survival challenges like killing a set of bad guys with only a knife, while the latter make for some great gun battles. Capturing enemy outposts allows players to obtain gear and see new locations around the islands, as well as encounter fewer pirate patrols. Each of the Rook Islands has its own brand of bad guy, which staves off the feeling of repetition that might otherwise come with constantly capturing outposts.

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Gently does it… gently does it…

The final piece of Far Cry 3‘s gun-toting, jungle-sneaking puzzle is crafting. Players can make bigger and better ammo bags from the hides of the Rook Islands’ various animals… nearly all of which are man-eating carnivores. Seriously, any ecologist who says that tigers are endangered needs to go to the Rook Islands, because there are literal swarms of them prowling the jungle. The idea of tigers, Komodo dragons, wolves, crocodiles, dingoes, sharks, cassowaries and other beasties all coexisting in one ecosystem is laughable, but it also makes Far Cry 3‘s world a thrill to traverse.

Far Cry 3‘s gameplay requires some suspension of disbelief, but it makes for one of gaming’s smoothest open-world packages even though it’s five years old. It’s refreshingly easy for players to get into a Jeep, capture an outpost, switch over to a boat, dive into shark-infested waters, and then hang glide home for lunch with pockets full of doubloons. Couple this ease of exploration with no shortage of fun missions, and the result is a game with an uncommonly acute understanding of the phrase “open world.”

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DOWN, FISH!

The icing on Far Cry 3‘s cake of blood and violence is its presentation. Even a half-decade later, the game still looks pretty good. Players can expect lots of brightly lit, brightly colored tropical environments that are consistent in their quality… sans the occasional floating patch of weeds. This island paradise’s only other drawback is its draw distance, which causes objects to pop in a little close for comfort and can only be adjusted so much in the game’s options menu.

Far Cry 3‘s sound design is also top-notch. Guns go off with satisfying force and the island’s fauna produce no shortage of startling noises. The game’s voice acting, a category that Vaas actor Michael Mando wins handily, is believable and compelling even if the story could be more so. The Rook Islands might be a hellhole, but they make up one of the most beautiful hellholes in recent gaming memory.

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Paradise awaits for the cheap, cheap price of your soul!

Far Cry 3 is an easy title to enjoy as long as players ignore the narrative. This game’s story is a badly paced exercise in forced character development and white savior-ism, despite the admirable efforts of Michael Mando as Vaas. Its gameplay, by contrast, is a smoothly concocted round of open-world adventuring that is guaranteed to provide dozens of hours of fun. Come for Vaas, stay for being able to snipe a tiger from a mountaintop while high on strange herbs. That should be the Rook Islands’ slogan.

Oh, and… Ubisoft? Hurk isn’t funny.

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You can buy Far Cry 3 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

Omega1

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.

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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.

Project CARS 2

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Blast down realistic tracks in fine-tuned super cars.

PC Release: September 22, 2017

By Ian Coppock

Coming down the track now is Automobilista, a Brazilian racing sim that—oooh, right into the barriers! Coming up behind Automobilista is Assetto Corsa, an Italian competitor that looks to be doing quite well and—agh, it looks like the driver’s AI has shorted out! That’s okay, because Gran Turismo Sport is speeding down the track and… oh. Looks like it’s a PS4 exclusive. Disqualified! What’s this new vehicle sneaking up and stealing first place, though? It looks like Project CARS 2!

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After two years in the body shop, Project CARS 2 has finally released onto the racecourse. Created by the one and same Slightly Mad Studios that developed Project CARSProject CARS 2 is the developer’s latest attempt at snagging first place in the world of racing simulators. Like its predecessor, Project CARS 2 is a glossy title that lets players get under the hood (literally), and race dozens of super cars across a plethora of detailed tracks. Project CARS 2 emphasizes both customization and close attention to realism.

Project CARS 2 is a right and proper racing sim; anyone looking for a stunt racer or an experience more akin to, say, Trackmania 2 is in the wrong place. Trackmania is a great game, but it’s an arcade racer. Project CARS 2 is a game for the hardcore motorhead. The title boasts advanced car physics and features a lineup of real racing machines from prestigious manufacturers. The game also makes quite a few upgrades over the original Project CARS.

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Let’s do this!

Before going any further on Project CARS 2, the answer is yes: the sequel has Ferrari cars. For all the amazing driving that Project CARS offered, the title also offered a conspicuous lack of famous manufacturers. It’s hard to picture a racing sim that shows up to the track without the likes of Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Porsche in its motor pool. Project CARS 2 rectifies that issue right away, sporting cars from all three of those companies as well as Nissan, Jaguar, and other new additions. It makes for an impressive gallery of cars.

Of course, this also means that players have more vehicles to choose from in Project CARS 2 than most other racing sims out there. With all of these manufacturers each featuring diverse classes of vehicles, Project CARS 2 offers up a delectable (and enviable) garage of possibilities. Players can access these vehicles at any time for offline test runs or multiplayer matches. It’s worth testing each vehicle out on the track first; no use getting into a high-stakes race with a vehicle that has unfamiliar handling.

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(creepy drooling noises)

Another improvement that Project CARS 2 makes over its predecessor is that it has even more customization options. In Project CARS, players could make a few suspension and tire pressure adjustments, but Project CARS 2 flings the toolbox wide open. Players can continue to customize tire pressure but can now make new adjustments to their car’s suspension, dampeners, and gearing. The amount of customization available in this title marks a significant improvement over that of the original Project CARS. Players who mouse over different functions can get a pop-up window explaining how they work.

Additionally, Project CARS 2 features a new “Race Engineer” utility that allows players to select queries about car performance and get the game’s take on them. The feature is a thinly disguised troubleshooter, but it’s a great way for players new to racing sims to get the facts on car performance, as well as recommendations for fixes and improvements. The Race Engineer is a great olive branch for both newbs who have no clue what they’re doing (ahem) or vets that want the game’s opinion on their setup.

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‘Scuse me, how do I activate the cup holders?

Though Project CARS 2‘s customization improvements are a boon for all racers, the game’s willingness to provide information makes it one of the most user-friendly racing simulators on the market. Racing sims can overwhelm and unsettle players new to the scene with all the customization options, but Project CARS 2 circumvents intimidating newbs by going the extra mile to provide detailed, concise information on how race cars work.

Project CARS 2 also makes itself user-friendly by streamlining its menus. The menus in Project CARS were a bit of a jumble, but Project CARS 2 benefits from a simple, clean UI. Race modes and configuration options are all neatly arranged inside just a few menus, making it simple to navigate the game, pick modes, or tinker with system performance. Like Project CARSProject CARS 2 features an incredible options menu with dozens of in-depth toggles. Just don’t try to run this game on anything but a big rig.

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This is a well-oiled machine.  So is the game!

After selecting a car, a paint job, and a racing setup, players can take to the track. Project CARS 2 features a variety of race courses from all over the world. A few, like the Azure Coast track, return from Project CARS, but the game also features entirely new courses. In addition to customizing weather, players can now choose which season to drive in, among a few other new toggles. The courses are where players can see Project CARS 2‘s most dramatic graphical improvements, as the photo-realism (especially of the tracks’ backgrounds) is stunning.

Less dramatically improved are the cars themselves. Project CARS 2 doesn’t look all that different from the original Project CARS, but let’s be far; the original is a gorgeous game. Project CARS 2 doesn’t feature dramatic graphical improvements on its vehicles, but that’s not a big deal when the first game was already one of the most graphically sophisticated racing simulators. Players can expect more lighting, more gloss, and more impressive weather effects.

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Game? Or real life?

Project CARS 2‘s vehicles also don’t handle all that differently from their counterparts in Project CARS. Players accustomed to arcade racers might have some trouble getting used to this game’s more realistic driving, but few feelings are more rewarding than nailing down a super car’s handling. Project CARS 2 pays close attention to how a vehicle would handle in real life, and players should also remember that tire pressure and physical damage can alter its performance. Different tire pressure affects driving, different damage affects steering and alignment, so on and so forth.

One of Project CARS‘ biggest drawbacks was its draconian penalty system. Project CARS was infamous for having a system that would commonly ignore players totaling each other’s vehicles but bestow life bans for brushing against a barricade. Project CARS 2‘s penalties are a bit more consistent; players now get disqualified no matter what object they brush up against. Additionally, players that execute an illegal move like cutting through grass are now given the chance to return to their position in the race instead of being disqualified outright. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s definitely a bit fairer.

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You can’t put my car in the corner! LOOK AT IT!

Even though Project CARS 2 runs well on high-end PCs, the game is not without a few conspicuous issues. One of the silliest bugs causes cars to clip through race handlers as they emerge onto the track. Another issue is long stretches of time spent waiting for a game when a server is visible. There are also allegations that the game doesn’t register tire heat, but thus far these accusations are being made infrequently and by forum posters who are angry that they just lost a big race, so… take those with a grain of salt.

By and large, though, Project CARS 2 runs like one of its high-end vehicles. Even the most jam-packed races still achieve a silky smooth framerate. Players also won’t spend all that long waiting for a race to load, even if they front-load events with all sorts of changes and specialized adjustments. Running Project CARS 2 on a potato machine is still not recommended, but players who have a decent rig can expect decent performance.

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Woot!

Project CARS 2 distills all of this racing awesomeness into a few simple modes. Players can create a Custom Race, choosing everything from the number of opponents to the number of laps, or give different vehicles a spin in the Private Test mode. Most players are going to be found tearing it up in the Online mode, where racers from all over the world can gather. Players can also create their own events and make them public or private as they see fit. All of these modes are neatly arranged and concisely explained.

Project CARS 2 also features the return of the single-player Career Mode, in which players create a racing persona and take part in tourneys on behalf of fictitious driving clubs. The mode gives players more flexibility in choosing a starting point for their career, but otherwise remains about as dry as Project CARS‘ Career Mode. Indeed, it could be argued that the sequel’s Career Mode is even drier, as the game strips out the names and personas of the player’s racing crew (shallow though they may have been). Still, the driving AI is greatly improved, and players can now adjust its aggression.

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Coming up behind ya!

Project CARS 2 is best enjoyed with friends and human opponents, both of whom are plentiful as the game basks in the glow of its release honeymoon. Project CARS 2 represents a significant improvement over the original Project CARS and is one of the most customizable, user-friendly racing sims available. Players of all skill levels can expect to attain some success in the game thanks to its emphasis on fair penalties and thorough explanations of car functions. Get the game and enjoy some of the most fun high-gloss racing this side of PC gaming.

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You can buy Project CARS 2 here.

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

Assassin’s Creed Syndicate

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Liberate Victorian London from an authoritarian cabal.

PC Release: November 19, 2015

By Ian Coppock

Even in an age of unlimited sequels, Ubisoft’s devotion to churning out Assassin’s Creed games felt particularly gratuitous. Another year, another assassin running around killing people in an exotic locale. It wasn’t until the release of Assassin’s Creed Unity, one of the worst big-budget games of the decade, that the studio checked its ego and realized that maybe, just maybe, fans’ patience was not unlimited. Before putting the series on a year-long hiatus, though, Ubisoft had one more card to play: Assassin’s Creed Syndicate.

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Released in the fall of 2015, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is, like its many predecessors, an open-world, third-person game that’s all about stabbing people. It’s the 10th Assassin’s Creed game released on PC in just eight years, making this series even more sequel-happy than Call of Duty. After the demise of Assassin’s Creed Unity in 2014, Ubisoft released Syndicate a year later in the hopes of putting its flagship series back on track. Whether those hopes ever materialized is the subject of tonight’s review.

Assassin’s Creed Syndicate takes the series’ secret war between freedom-loving Assassins and control-obsessed Templars to Victorian London. The game portrays the British capital as having been a bastion of Templar power for centuries, with the Assassin presence in the city all but obliterated. Jacob and Evie Frye, twin Assassins living out in the boonies, decide (quite literally on a whim) to go to London and liberate it from its Templar masters. Whereas most Assassin’s Creed games take place over years or even decades, this title’s narrative takes place just in 1868.

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Time to go to merry old London!

Jacob and Evie unite with London’s last surviving Assassin and realize that the Templars do indeed run everything from banks to bilges. They control a good chunk of the British parliament, have a hand in all of the city’s most powerful industries, and rule the criminal underworld with a gang called the Blighters. In case all that wasn’t enough, the Templars are also searching for a Piece of Eden, one of those prehistoric mind control devices (because of course they are. That’s the premise of, like, every one of these damn games).

Jacob and Evie decide that the only way to liberate London is from the ground up, so they start the Rooks—the game’s titular crime syndicate—as a means of taking back power one city block at a time. Jacob decides to go after the Templar bigwigs running London’s various rackets while Evie looks for the Piece of Eden. Thus begins the latest battle in the millennia-old war between stab-happy freedom fighters and aloof control freaks.

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I think it’s time for a right proper slashing, eh wot?

Like all of its predecessors, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is a third-person game that encourages players to explore a vast open world. Indeed, some might say that AC games are more about exploring than, y’know, assassinating people, especially considering all the collectibles. Players can pursue main story missions (which thankfully still involve assassination) or run around London gulping down tea and opening treasure chests as they see fit. Being a Ubisoft game, Syndicate is also rife with side activities like taking down enemy fortresses and stealing cartloads of crumpets.

Assassin’s Creed Syndicate does break away from its predecessors in some regards. It’s the first game in the series with two playable protagonists, allowing players to switch seamlessly between Jacob and Evie a la Grand Theft Auto V. Syndicate‘s marketing made a big noise about Jacob being a bruiser and Evie a sneaker, but both twins are pretty much identical when it comes to abilities (which calls the necessity of multiple protagonists into question). The game also introduces street vehicles and a few new gadgets for players to toy around with.

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‘Ello guv’na! *stab*

What’s that? New gadgets? Yes, Jacob and Evie get toys that scream steampunk. These include electric grenades great for making a “shocking” entrance and a line launcher that lets both twins grapple around London like Batman. That latter tool makes getting around the city both fun and easy, and it gives the series’ aged climbing gameplay a break. Jacob and Evie can also fall back on more conventional weapons like throwing knives and, of course, the hidden blade. Owing to the Victorian era’s open carry restrictions, most of the twins’ weapons are concealed inside canes and under cloaks.

Despite these new weapons, Syndicate‘s core gameplay remains little changed from that of previous AC games. Players can still hop around buildings, sneak along corridors, and stab unsuspecting enemies with speed and style. Syndicate also retains Unity‘s parkour-up and parkour-down utility (perhaps the one thing Unity did well) allowing players to hop up and down surfaces with ease. Unfortunately, Syndicate insists on tying the running and jumping functions to the same button, so inveterate AC players can look forward to more of the same free running snafus. It’s both fun and frustrating.

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Mistakenly grabbing a ledge is just as endemic to AC games as assassinations.

Syndicate‘s combat is much more forgiving than that of Assassin’s Creed Unity. Players have a small window with which to execute counter-attacks or exploit holes in an enemy’s defense, but that window isn’t minuscule like it was in Unity. As in previous games, players go toe-to-toe with several classes of foe, each with his or her own weapons. This system ultimately results in combat little different than the button-mashing of AC games past, but it is one of the series’ smoother instances of this system.

At the end of the day, Syndicate does Assassin’s Creed gameplay better than most of its peers… but it’s still Assassin’s Creed gameplay. The free running is still a bit clunky, the combat is still a bit too reliant on button-mashing, and traveling around the open world is more or less the same. Players can also count on occasionally missing the haystack when they leap off of a building. It’s the same set of core issues that’s been hounding the series for years, buffed to a slightly less problematic shine.

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Slow down slow down slow down SLOW DOWN

One major improvement Syndicate makes over past Assassin’s Creed games is its menus. This game has an even more in-depth options menu than past AC games, no doubt an attempt by Ubisoft to smooth things over with PC gamers after Unity‘s downfall. Players can adjust anti-aliasing and other functions to the tune of their own machine, and the game’s other utilities are easy to find. It’s a sad commentary on Assassin’s Creed when a game gets props just for having a decent menu, but that’s where this series is at.

Syndicate‘s aptitude with menus goes beyond options. Players can easily adjust Jacob and Evie’s appearances and arsenals from the game’s streamlined character menus. Managing the Rooks is also made simple with a one-page menu, which allows players to select upgrades like better weapons and increased revenue. This feature may not sound all that exciting on paper, but anyone who’s put up with Assassin’s Creed III’s economy menu or the mess of menus in Assassin’s Creed Unity will appreciate it.

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Just checking for options, sir, no need to be concerned.

Syndicate is a video game worth taking some time in the options menu for, because when it runs well it offers a gorgeous presentation. Ubisoft did well in bringing Victorian London to life on the small screen; the city is awash with thousands of sharp textures and beautiful lighting effects. The game fluidly combines pristine royal palaces and rotted slums into a single tapestry, one that players will want to explore. The game’s apt use of both dour and bright lighting, as well as the aforementioned textures and object placement, result in a world that feels alive.

Being an Assassin’s Creed game, though, Syndicate‘s character models could stand to gain some… life. NPC movements still look a bit stiff, and it’s sometimes easy to spot a clone-stamped character that was just in another crowd. Thankfully, Syndicate avoids creating huge crowds of people like Unity did, keeping the game safe from all of the performance issues that that decision caused in Syndicate‘s predecessorThough Syndicate‘s NPCs look like wax dummies, the game’s cutscene animations and facial capture are much more impressive.

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Them’s some good shadows.

While on the subject of performance, how well does Syndicate run on PC? The answer is that it runs better than Unity, but that’s not saying much, is it? Though Syndicate benefits from a steady framerate and alright optimization overall, the game is still awash with lots and lots of bugs. No facet of the Syndicate experience is bug-free; sometimes the HUD disappears, other times enemies don’t react to the player’s presence. Some objectives don’t feature an interact prompt. By far the weirdest bug is the one that both causes the audio to short out and the player character to walk around of their own accord.

The list of bugs goes on and on, and that’s a real shame for both Syndicate and the Assassin’s Creed series. After Assassin’s Creed Unity met its demise from an ungodly flood of bugs, Ubisoft had an opportunity to prove that it had a quality assurance department, even a quality assurance guy, somewhere in its corporate apparatus. Syndicate‘s slew of bugs, while not as bad as that of Unity, is still substantial, and indicates that Ubisoft didn’t adequately test for these problems before Syndicate shipped.

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Looks great, but why did the sound just cut out?

The amount of inconsistencies in Syndicate‘s system performance is outdone only by the amount in the main story. The game carries the Assassin’s Creed series’ adorable bastardization of historical figures to new lows, portraying Charles Darwin as a sneaky thief and Alexander Graham Bell as a guy who invented poison bombs when he wasn’t busy inventing the telephone. The game even finds a way to shoehorn a nine-year-old Arthur Conan Doyle into some side missions, which is just… why?

Not that Syndicate‘s fictional characters are all that great either. Jacob Frye is written as an irritating frat boy who dispenses arrogance at a teeth-grating clip. By contrast, his sister Evie is a far more likable character and the only one who seems to be taking this jaunt into merry old London seriously. Her level-headed demeanor and sarcastic wit contrast painfully with Jacob’s poorly written overconfidence, to the point that players may leave a cutscene having suffered a small stroke.

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These two couldn’t be more different.

The plot that all of these characters pursue is the same plot that almost every other Assassin’s Creed game shares: an assassin kills his or her way to a Piece of Eden. Syndicate‘s narrative suffers from using this same tired premise, but benefits from having a lighter, much more upbeat tone than recent AC games. This helps give Syndicate one of the better Assassin’s Creed narratives and proves that these games are at their best when they don’t take themselves so damn seriously.

Players who were hoping for a grim Victorian tale in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate will find it in the game’s Jack the Ripper DLC. Set 20 years after the events of the main game, Jack the Ripper follows the Frye twins as they pursue history’s most infamous serial killer. The DLC allows players to even play as the Ripper in certain sections, and these are executed with an unexpected affinity for horror. The DLC’s side quests, like liberating prostitutes and protecting innocent suspects from being killed by mobs, are similarly morose. It’s a surprisingly fun DLC, one that demonstrates that horror can work in an AC game.

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Why so serious?

Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is a mixed bag. It has a decent narrative and a streamlined open world, but its gameplay is badly aged and it has a ton of bugs. Syndicate‘s narrative also doesn’t move the series forward in a meaningful way, continuing recent games’ frustrating habit of hinting at new concepts while ignoring hints introduced in other titles. It’s better than Assassin’s Creed Unity, but again… that’s not saying much. Maybe Assassin’s Creed Origins will provide the reboot that this series needs; might be better just to wait for that game instead.

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You can buy Assassin’s Creed Syndicate 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.

Project CARS

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Win high-stakes, high-speed races with a variety of stylish super cars.

PC Release: May 6, 2015

By Ian Coppock

When it comes to sports that bind the world together, motorsports are superseded only by soccer in terms of global popularity. Whether it’s watching a NASCAR race here in America or a Formula One tourney in Europe, audiences from across oceans are drawn together by the spectacle of watching cars go really, really, really fast. Racing enthusiasm is one of the foundations of the video game world, with racing games having been around just as long as titles in most other genres. In recent years, that enthusiasm has manifested in the form of ultra-realistic driving simulators such as Project CARS.

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Project CARS is a community-assisted racing simulator (hence the acronym CARS) developed by a cabal of racing-obsessed Brits called Slightly Mad Studios. True to its name, Project CARS was developed with funds raised by the game’s community, allowing Slightly Mad to initially bypass using a publisher. Project CARS is but one of many racing sims released in recent years that seeks to create a driving experience as true to the real deal as possible. This game ain’t no arcade stunt racer (though those are fun too).

Though few would guess it from looking at the game now, Project CARS had quite a turbulent development. Despite spending four years in the garage, the game shipped with a ton of bugs; the exact number is impossible to approximate, but it was undoubtedly way too high for how much time and money had gone into the game. To make matters worse, studio head Ian Bell decided that the best way to address complaints was to belittle and insult his own backers, infamously typing “shut up you idiot” in response to a concerned buyer.

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We seem to be having a spot of car trouble.

Eventually, Bell and his cohorts realized that being censor-happy and rude to their paying customers was probably not a great idea and decided to devote that time to fixing their game instead. To their credit, they succeeded; Project CARS shot out of the gate with lots of rusty lug nuts and a faulty transmission, but now it runs like a dream on PC. True, the game does require a high-end machine, but its system requirements are thoroughly advertised on all of the game’s store pages.

Players who do have an issue running Project CARS can check out its options menu, which may well be one of the greatest options menus of all time. There’s no facet of the Project CARS experience that players can’t adjust, whether it’s how sharply the car’s surfaces render or how slick rainy roads look. Project CARS is also designed to run with any controller and makes setup easy with its fluid key and button binding menus. A gamepad or racing wheel is always better for driving than a keyboard and mouse is.

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NOW we’re on the right track!

Project CARS features a variety of game modes that each have different rules and conditions, but their common goal is to create a racing experience that’s as realistic as possible. The game does away with the vehicular invincibility afforded by arcade racers like Need for Speed (as players who are accustomed to an arcade racing experience will quickly realize). Project CARS‘ adherence to realistic physics is to be commended; cars can’t turn on a dime if they’re speeding (unless it’s an F1 car) and tires heat up as the race progresses, altering how vehicles handle.

Project CARS seeks to replicate other features of real-world racing experiences. Players who are in it for a long race can create their own refueling and pit strategies, which are both handy for endurance runs. Damage realistically hampers vehicles; shouldering a road barrier, for example, is likely to throw off alignment and give players an extra headache until the next pit. Players can receive advice from an in-game racing crew, who can hint (rather emphatically) when it’s time for a trip to the body shop.

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This thing feels lighter all the sudden… must be hitting turbo mode!

All of this realism demands some familiarity with the world of motorsports, so players who buy Project CARS for a casual racing experience are likely to feel bewildered by all the options, modes, and stats. To be fair to the newbs, Project CARS could do a better job of introducing novices to the world of racing sims. The game gives a lot of great customization options, like being able to determine how much air goes into each tire, but never provides a detailed explanation on how that choice impacts driving.

Motorheads and racing sim veterans, on the other hand, will immediately warm up to Project CARS‘s in-depth customization. The ability to adjust tire pressure, pick tire type, and choose between a manual or automatic transmission does provide a delectable challenge, as does editing pit strategies. All of this customization also allows for endless experimentation with different cars and handling. The base version of Project CARS comes with 74 vehicles and more are available as DLC, so anyone who wants to sink hundreds of hours into comparing and customizing cars will enjoy this title.

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Connect the ubulus to the upper dorsenisk, and the hyperdrive to the flux capacitor… see? I know what I’m doing!

Although Project CARS is nigh unparalleled when it comes to vehicle detail, the same cannot be said of the races. Anyone who’s considering buying this title should do so for the online mulitplayer, because Project CARS‘ AI is… primitive. Computer-controlled cars do everything from bunch together at corners to drive in a straight line. Amusingly, they’ll often swerve as far away from an approaching human racer as possible, as if the player has a deadly disease or something.

Additionally, Project CARS is highly inconsistent at penalizing bad driving. Sometimes the game disqualifies racers for so much as looking at a traffic cone, but if they should careen off the road and take out a family of onlookers? No problem. Project CARS has a similarly unpredictable attitude about hitting other cars; if this game is to be believed, totaling an opponent’s car is okay, but brushing its bumper is grounds for a lifetime ban. Because realism.

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“For the high crime of staring at your AC dial the wrong way, Project CARS sentences you to death.”

So how exactly are all these cars and racetracks organized? As previously mentioned, Project CARS features several racing modes. The most basic is the free practice mode: pick a car, pick a track, go drive. Solo racing is virtually identical to the practice mode… come to think of it, it’s hard to spot what the actual difference between the two is. Online mode comprises the meat of Project CARS, where players can join ranked and free-end racing tournaments against other human drivers.

The last, and arguably biggest, mode in Project CARS is the career mode, in which players can create a fictionalized version of themselves to compete in racing tournaments all over the world. Players can pick whether to start out small as a kart racer or skip straight to the big leagues driving F1 supercars, and partake in races that span a season. This mode is alright; it’s endlessly entertaining to see fictional racing fans tweet about how awesome a racer the player is… but much less so to undertake the same tournaments over and over again.

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Winning millions of NPC hearts with each and every race!

It’s understandable for gamers in this day and age to be skeptical of screenshots, given how often devs airbrush the living hell out of them (cough*Ubisoft*cough). The screenshots in this review, though, are barely airbrushed. Project CARS looks gorgeous, with vivid colors and textures on all of its cars and courses. The game also features impressive lighting and weather effects to drive home the notion that this game seeks realism in its world as much as its mechanics.

Project CARS‘s attention to detail also extends to its lineup of vehicles. 74 cars isn’t all that many to choose from, but the game counts vehicles from such big names as Aston Martin, Renault, Audi, and McLaren in its garage (commence the flame war over which of those aren’t actually big names). Project CARS also misses vehicles from a few big names, like Ferrari and Porsche, but this could be due as much to licensing issues as any mistake made by Slightly Mad Studios.

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Apparently I forgot to mention BMW.

Project CARS is relevant to the modern racing sim fan for a few reasons: for starters, playing against other humans in a sim as realistic as this one is quite the adrenaline rush. The game also features a wide variety of tracks based on courses from all over the globe, as well as a mid-sized range of high-end cars. Additionally, few sims give players as much control over their racing experience as Project CARS does, from its near-endless options menu to all the vehicle customization.

Ultimately, though, racing fans in the market for an exciting sim might as well wait for Project CARS 2 to drop in mid-September. The sequel promises more cars, more tracks, and even more customization. Slightly Mad has also pledged to fix Project CARS‘s mediocre AI and its schizophrenic penalty system, both of which also warrant holding off on buying this title. Even though Slight Mad Studios got more than slightly mad during Project CARS‘s development, the studio demonstrated eventual maturity by fixing nearly all of this game’s bugs. Here’s hoping they pay similar attention to Project CARS 2.

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You can buy Project CARS 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.

Agents of Mayhem

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Bring the ruckus (and some mayhem) against a ruthless super-villain.

PC Release: August 15, 2017

By Ian Coppock

What could Volition do to take the Saints Row franchise any higher? Saints Row IV gave players godlike abilities and virtually unlimited freedom; how could Volition up the ante from there? More than a few inveterate Saints Row fans loudly suggested taking the series back to the grounded grittiness of its early installments, but the brand as it’s known today was built on silliness. Volition kept silliness in its pocket when it went back to the drawing board, which may explain why its newest game, Agents of Mayhem, is several degrees sillier than the studio probably intended.

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In case the purple fleur-de-lis symbols weren’t enough of a clue, Agents of Mayhem is a spin-off of the Saints Row franchise. The game follows the exploits of M.A.Y.H.E.M., a super-cool spy agency battling the League of Evil Gentlemen Intent on Obliterating Nations (or L.E.G.I.O.N. for short). Led by the diabolical Dr. Babylon, L.E.G.I.O.N. has gotten its hands on a deadly dark matter device, prompting the titular agents of M.A.Y.H.E.M. to spring into action.

As one might expect of a game with this premise, Agents of Mayhem has a campy, ultra-light atmosphere consistent with Saturday morning cartoons. That motif is evident in everything from the game’s animated cutscenes to the main plot; the name “Dr. Babylon” certainly sounds like something out of Freakzoid! or Animaniacs. Just like those cartoons, Agents of Mayhem prefers to keep its premise simple: retrieve the doomsday device and defeat Dr. Babylon in a futuristic rendition of Seoul.

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Oooooooooh…

Players control the agents of M.A.Y.H.E.M. from a third-person perspective, and each agent has his or her own weapons and combat specialties. Some characters get up-close and personal with a shotgun, while others keep the fighting at a distance with a sniper rifle. Most characters have powers befitting their personalities; the team’s resident frat boy douchebag, for example, can pelvic-thrust grenades at foes. Players can also upgrade each agent’s stats and unlock new abilities with every level up.

Players can send a team of up to three agents into the field, but Agents of Mayhem only allows control over one character at a time. That said, players can instantly switch to any character in their squad (even during firefights) which is handy for alternating between combat skillsets or in case one agent is on the verge of death. It’s convenient to be able to use the shotgun character for close-quarters combat, then switch over to the sniper class to hit foes who are far away.

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I cause the mayhem around here!

Agents of Mayhem‘s squad mechanic is novel, but it’s the only novelty the game brings to the table. Its gunplay is some of the blandest third-person shooting of recent years. Anyone who has spent hours running in little circles shooting bad guys can look forward to doing more of precisely that, and only that, in Agents of Mayhem. While it’s true that each character has his or her own special power, they’re not all that cool to look at. They certainly could do a better job of hitting the bad guys.

Agents of Mayhem also lets players drive cars around the city, but the cars handle like ass. No, seriously, they handle like trying to speed down a highway on nothing more than an unclothed posterior. Acceleration and braking are both incredibly abrupt, while turning the vehicle feels more like trying to turn a big-bottomed yacht. The vehicle camera also insists on facing the rear of the car at a flat angle instead of an elevated one, so good luck avoiding obstacles and pedestrians.

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“Hey! Who put a boat hull on my Sedan?!”

Alright, so Agents of Mayhem‘s gunplay is a snore-fest and the cars handle drunkenly even if the driver is sober… is there anything fun to do in Seoul? In real life, probably, but in Agents of Mayhem… not really. There are two types of side activities in Agents of Mayhem: the first is street racing, which, given how poorly the cars handle, isn’t all that great (although certain missions allow players to race on foot). The other activity is taking over enemy outposts, which involves a lot of…. gunplay. Agents of Mayhem dresses shooting missions up as different types of firefights, but they’re all firefights.

With Seoul apparently being a bust, the only other place for players to hang out is aboard M.A.Y.H.E.M.’s futuristic airship. It’s a cool-looking set piece that divvies up various agent activities and utilities like a shopping mall, but that’s about it. Players can travel back to the ship between missions to hear other agents’ take on current affairs or to buy upgrades from various armorers.

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Apparently the M.A.Y.H.E.M. ship has a Sunglass Hut.

If Agents of Mayhem can’t play cool, at least it tries to look cool. Character actions ranging from jumping to shooting are smoothly animated, though the agents seem to suffer a literal stiff upper lip when talking. The game’s world is also quite lively, utilizing a blend of bright colors and just a touch of cel shading to achieve a stylized aesthetic. Agents of Mayhem‘s rendition of Seoul also benefits from neat object placement (though the game could stand a few more objects).

The big downside to all of these visual achievements is that Agents of Mayhem‘s open world ain’t all that open; in fact, it’s tiny. The entire game world is maybe the same size as one London borough in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. Size doesn’t matter if a game can make its world feel lively, but Agents of Mayhem‘s Seoul also feels empty. The map has only a handful of cars and NPCs moving around; sometimes players will stumble onto a street that’s completely devoid of either. Because of these design missteps, Seoul is wasted as an open-world setting in Agents of Mayhem.

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Let’s blow this joint.

If Agents of Mayhem had more vehicles and characters swarming its streets, that might help to explain why this game has so many bugs. As of writing, the PC version of Agents of Mayhem is rife with a few peculiar performance problems (say that five times fast). Players should be on the lookout for everything from the sound randomly cutting out to NPCs walking through solid objects. Agents of Mayhem is also fond of crashing, and crashing frequently. The game’s options menu, while thorough, can only do so much against these issues.

Let’s be generous for a moment and pretend that Agents of Mayhem doesn’t randomly go deaf or send its NPCs off of cliffs; the game still doesn’t run all that well. It has a nasty penchant for unstable framerates that can flare up for no apparent reason. That problem makes some sense when the game gets gummed up over lots of on-screen explosions and characters, but who knew that a stroll down the sidewalk was cause for a game to panic? If the game’s constant freezing is any indication, Seoul’s a lot chillier than it looks (ba dum tssss).

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DAMN YOU GLITCH WIZARD!

The final nail in Agents of Mayhem‘s purple-glossed coffin is the writing. While it’s true that the Saints Row games aren’t as laugh-out-loud hilarious as core fans say, the writing in Agents of Mayhem is several notches below the humor in the mainline Saints Row games. The jokes just aren’t funny; characters say lines like “home-sweet-temple-turned-field-office” and pause like that’s the most rip-roaring punch line of the century. No, the real punch line is that this game thinks that that’s a punch line.

At the end of the day, it’s also hard to know who Agents of Mayhem‘s intended audience is. The game’s cheesy dialogue suggests that it’s trying to appeal to children who enjoy similarly cheesy cartoons… but its liberal use of profanity and adult humor implies that it’s gunning for adults (as does the M rating). While it’s hard to know who Agents of Mayhem tries to please with its writing, it’s easy to see that it ends up pleasing no one.

Mayhem8

Agents of Mayhem’s confusion is unknowable, and possibly diabolical.

Agents of Mayhem is both a disappointment in its own right and a shocking step back from the fun of Saints Row. There are a lot of video games out there that do one or two things blandly, but Agents of Mayhem is one of those rare titles that does everything blandly. The game is just so mediocre; the writing falls flat, the gameplay is rote, and its system performance leaves a lot to be desired. Gamers looking for a new open world to play in and Saints Row fans emerging from hibernation both need to stay far, far away; there’s better mayhem to be had in other, better games.

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You can buy Agents of Mayhem 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.