Hearts of Iron IV – The ‘What if?’ World War Simulator

After an extensive amount of revision for my history A level, I’ve developed a yearning for changing events. What if, Hitler sent the panza division to Dunkirk? What if JFK wasn’t assassinated? What if Trump was? What if I spent time doing my essay instead of playing Tetris into the early hours of Monday morning? Problem is, we haven’t developed any technology of the sort so in the mean time I’ll stick to virtually changing 1936-1945. Paradox Software’s latest ‘epic strategy’ game Hearts of Iron IV allows the player to take control of any country in 1936 or 1938 and dictate their actions through out the World War 2 , historically accurate or not.

Now that’s the simple summary out the way, time to get into the nitty-gritty. The gameplay is pretty complicated. I say ‘pretty’ with a fear of admitting how long it took me to even understand the game and I know I am nowhere near mastering it. It would take longer than this train journey to Manchester to describe to you so  I advise anyone interested to watch a twenty part tutorial if they want to learn. Whilst this has immediately turned off a lot of you already from even consider buying the game I’ll try to show you why I am having so much fun with it.

Paradox Software have used all their expertise in this game to create a thoroughly enjoyable game that keeps you engaged. They have allowed room for imagination they perfected with their genre-defying City Skylines and nailed the historical feel they gained knowledge about in Europa Universalis IV. The game all takes place on a boardgame-style map of the world which has acute detail when you scroll right into the forests of Northern Russia and an enchanting feel of scale of when you zoom out to see the continent of Africa. This allows for some real immersion in the game’s single-player as you genuinely feel strength when you can crush countries like Lithuania and keel over in fear of the Nazi Regime blitzkrieg-ing through the entirety of Europe. The UI is neatly designed also allowing an easy button press to take off a lot of annoying features like the day and night cycle (who plays with that seriously?) and to toggle on and off allied battle plans. That one comes pretty important when your pal Stalin is planning a separate plan for each of his thirty armies but you can’t see what your two divisions of Mongolian Calvary are up to. Side note: Don’t pick Mongolia unless you want to sit there for 2 hours trying to develop an army even Greenland wouldn’t use (Long live the Mongolian Fascist Regime).

Whilst the gameplay is too complicated for me to explain, take my word for it when I say it works. In fact, it’s so well designed even your craziest dreams are possible, for instance, what if the USA suddenly turned communist? I don’t know but it sounds fun. Every country has its own ‘National Focus’ tree which gives them tailored and well thought out event trees you can go down, which give their own benefits and drawbacks respectively. Even as I write this I want to just name off possible things to try out and see what changes. To make it even more fun I advise turning off historic AI so theirs even more randomness to their actions. As for the actual combat, it would make any battlefield tactics enthusiast giggle like a little school girl. To continue my quest of keeping this review simple I’ll just state theirs a lot of micro-management possible and depth to the battle plans but can just be set to auto and watch your troops plough through the lands of your enemies.

A major enjoyment factor for me is the politics and diplomacy threaded through the game. The game allows you plenty of options to interact with other countries like improving relations and creating factions but also allow for you to influence a political party’s popularity or even cause a civil war if you’ve got the political power to do it. I enjoy it so much because every sensible interaction possible has an ‘event’ for it. This is simply a little news article that pops up with a headline and a bit of text explaining whats going on but shows that extra bit of care that Paradox took to make this game. I challenged myself to find one it didn’t have it for by being Czechoslovkia and pushing to capture the German Reich but lo and behold a little article popped up stating ‘The Fall of Berlin’ and detail explaining how the Czechs pushed through. Like the gameplay, the politics is sensible and believable, an example being if Poland invaded Finland, Finland would join the allies and bring in the UK to help them. On the other hand, if Finland flipped to a communist state it would call on the great Mother Russia to stomp them out. This sometimes leads to even more countries piling in to defend certain pacts and alliances to the point where you ‘accidentally’ cause World War Two to happen three years earlier.

Although a lot of my playtime is spent on me playing on my own adventures, the multiplayer allows for even more surreal game experiences. Like being every country in south America and sweeping the USA out the game before they can even consider the Nuclear bomb (We got you Japan). This is of course, assuming your friends don’t just want to solely take you out the game as early as they can. Which has its own enjoyment factor as you have to end up trying to get one ups against them in the micro-management combat, there’s also nothing more satisfying as capitulating another player’s country. Now there are loads of features I’ve left out and not talked about ( Navy, Air Combat, Factories, Division Designers to name a few) but I hope I can convince you when I say it’s probably my favorite game I’ve played in recent history. In fact, I’d go as far to say it’s overtaken the Civilization series when it comes to these strategic epics – However that could just be due to gross amount of playing the games – and if I knew about it last year probably would have been my game of the year.

As a lovely side dish, the game is constantly being updated with a weekly development log and a super active modding community behind it allows for fine tuning of elements and allows some countries that get overlooked to gain as much enjoyment as playing as a major power. Whilst I could name problems like the sometimes silly A.I when it comes the automatic combat mode or occasional bugs in online mode, they have a really minimal effect on the overall game experience.

I hope my abnormal amount of praise for this game convinced you to give it a look. I don’t usually have this much to talk about. Let’s just hope that Mongolia will finally get’s its buff to be as powerful as the German Reich and finally fulfill my dream of the entire world being under the Mongolian Fascist Regime.

A Division has no orders,

-Sam Burdis

P.S A Levels are finally here and Summer so I’ll be returning probably in September sometime and whilst I travel to Salford for a university interview I hope I’ll be speaking to you from a comfy student union. x

 

Hearts of Iron IV – The ‘What if?’ World War Simulator

RPGs – Skipping Dialogue

So to follow up the Skyrim article I thought I’d have a go at trying to talk about what is essentially one of the most common ways to deliver exposition in RPGs, Dialogue. I can’t think of a single game in the genre that doesn’t have some sort of spoken language to communicate and who wouldn’t want to? It’s easy to understand as we do it in everyday life and when well crafted, it can do the job that 4 pages of a book does in shorter time. Although, during the hours I spend losing myself in these various titles, I find myself skipping through the talks or conversations with NPCs. A controversial move because why would you want to skip possible important information about the story your character is wrapped up in? And to be honest I don’t really know.

Some part of me thinks it’s my inner child wanting to just skip to the action or to the bits where I can shoot a bow or explore somewhere, but after an hour or so I realised I have no idea why I am murdering these animals or why I am collecting a random book. Another part thinks it’s plain boredom and sometimes it is. When you are sitting through your 23rd text box of pure plain text for a side quest with no relevance to the main story, you start to get a bit exhausted and just want to get it over and done with. However, the part that I feel is most probable is just me not feeling immersed in the game. In World of Warcraft for example, I always went to the exclamation-marked NPC, picked up the quest and went to complete it without even reading a single piece of information. Now it’s not that the WoW Universe has bad writing or story to explore, my good friend has shown me that with his constant lectures, but it could just be down to not having a voice to put behind it.

In Skyrim, a game where I feel interested in almost every conversation, the game stops everything around, zooms you into their uncomfortably detailed face and reads out the text in a believable and accurate voice. Doing that directs my attention to exactly where Bethesda wants me to be and can then create a story that’s worthy of keeping that attainment, so when I accidentally kill the pet bunny instead of saving it I feel a little bit more guilt. In Bethesda’s other successful RPG, Fallout, the player has consequences to their actions via the Karma system. This means that certain dialogue options affects the rating of whether they are considered good or bad and get rewards like certain quests available to them or punishments like hunting parties going after you in the middle of your travels. So not only do they have the immersive features mentioned in Skyrim but they have some validity to your actions so you have to actual process the information given to you otherwise you could end up having an entire faction against you.

Although, this can be time-consuming for developers and that’s understandable, but that didn’t stop the MMORPG Star Wars: The Old Republic. Whilst it isn’t as indepth as a £40 AAA game title in the RPG genre, it simply gives you two options of either making your character more align with the Force or the Sith. This made me more intrigued than any MMO had, not only is it in the Star Wars universe, but allows me to roleplay as a bounty hunter who would ditched his morals for more money. Not to mention the game itself is pretty fun but I’ll leave that for another time.

On the other hand, there’s evidence like the Pokemon series that blows this theory all out the water. This is a game which is reltable to a book when it comes to talking to NPCs. The game rarely offers interaction with conversations and often it’s just a  silly comment or remark. Yet I find myself actually wanting to talk to characters unlike being forced to but it doesn’t have a single voice sound effect in the whole game besides the bleeping of lines being written. As to why, I feel it’s because I know the conversations aren’t going to be a novel every time I talk and it could just simply be a witty one liner. It could due to the simplicity of the words used or the casual tone the overall game presents itself in that makes me want to explore it. It could just be because it allows me to input names that are used in the conversations but that doesn’t really help with immersion when you call your character ‘cuntface’. I’ll probably never know, but all I know is Pokémon sometimes makes me care more about a 3×3 sprite of a character than a 3D model hand crafted by a prestigious designer with millions of speech interactions.

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So to conclude, I won’t listen to the important lore or impressive story arc a team of writers have had numerous brainstorms to create, but I will want to hear about how a kid likes to wear shorts because they are comfy to wear. Fuck me right?
Press Any Button to Skip
-Sam Burdis

P.S After writing this I played some Witcher 3 and add it to the list of games that do offer immersive conversations and amazing stories. It also uses all the factors I named as well to achieve it so boom the correlation lives on.

RPGs – Skipping Dialogue

Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition – The Time Machine of Video Games

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When the fifth installment to Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls RPG series came out in November 2011, the reception received was on another level. For me, this ‘gamer’ who played Call of Duty: Zombies until he couldn’t feel his fingers (or when dinner was ready), I didn’t understand it. Who would want to walk and explore… In a video game? Why would you want to listen to someone talk about dragons? Who cares, I thought. When I played it on my brother’s steam account, I skipped all the dialogue and all the story I came across. Consequently, I gained minimal satisfaction from the game and thought it was one of those rare moments where I just didn’t agree with the hype train and quit to go lose more hours screaming at people on CoD or something along those lines.

As I made more friends (somehow) in my school life and as time went on, I found out that many placed Skyrim in a good light and any of my past problems were plainly met with the response of ‘roleplay’. Now if the genre RPG Adventure didn’t give it away already, roleplaying games are intended for the audience to pick it up and immerse themselves into the character they create. At the time, I had just realised that sitting in front of an Xbox 360 from dusk till dawn wasn’t the whole experience with gaming, as I had just bought a new PC. So imagine my surprise when my friends ask me to ACT in a video game, silly no? Well, since I was scared to be a social minority I went home and tried it again. Alas, no improvement. I don’t know whether it was the game running at maximum 20 FPS or my uneducated brain not understanding half the mannerisms or lore. Although I managed to run through a decent amount of the game – since I couldn’t be bothered walking everywhere once fast traveling was an option – I disappointingly dropped it and jumped on to the next bandwagon, which was some small indie game called ‘Minecraft’.
Circa October 27, 2016. My nicely nicknamed ‘Skyrim friends’ perk up once more but this time to inform me that a ‘Special Edition’ of the game had been released. I was half amazed at the fact that Bethesda had managed to get away with a £40 remastered edition of a game that was only 5 years old but also half intrigued once more by the sudden buzz for the game. Seeming as it was a big deal to my friends, I managed to fit some time in my super busy schedule to give it a look.

Just as a little input, since the last time I picked this up I had managed to get a computer that wasn’t just scrap parts and developed at least some knowledge of the outside world.

After the relatively short download period, I jumped in and spent some time creating a character that would actually be fun to be, I chose an Orc who, due to a shitty ass childhood, wants to go do some magic at Winterhold College and named him the creative and definitely LORE friendly ‘Michael’. After some hesitation I decided to give myself a little challenge and set it to the second hardest difficulty, ‘Master’, since I figured it would be easy enough. Unfortunately, I remembered the main twists and events of the main questline from my previous endeavour so after the chains of the tutorial and the first mission broke loose I went off to explore.

Instantly it felt different, whether it was these allegedly ‘high definition’ graphics brought about in the Special Edition or the cognitive change that comes with aging. I started to appreciate the beauty of the game. I realised that people didn’t walk around just for the sake of roleplay, they actually wanted to look around at the scenery and hidden locations you only really find by straying off the path. From the impressive structure of Winterhold College to the vast wastelands of The Pale. I was yearning to keep finding locations and thinking of my character’s reaction or thoughts in those situations .

I guess half of the game is about crafting your own narrative, with some essentials elements (i.e being a dragonborn) required to have the main story make sense. As Michael, as mentioned before my aim was to reach Winterhold College, the mage capital of Skyrim, but I wanted to make sure he knew his stuff first and made him go help Whiterun or any Imperial cities. I went for a playstyle of covering every spell area and not specialising in one (which was a pain when it came to leveling up) and a good ol’trusty mace, because sometimes the traditional methods work best. At first, it all seemed fine and dandy, with a cool ass lightning bolt followed by a swift swing of the mace combo, I seemed unstoppable in the early levels. Then later on I started to realise my flaw. I had gone too general and my skills were all spread out thinly whilst my enemies at the same level as me could easily throw a fireball my way and make my day a lot worst.

It also could have been the fact that I chose ‘Master’ difficulty. If you are thinking of doing a playthrough on it, prepare to be scared of literally anything that moves. Whether it’s a rookie bandit or a wild bear, they are all going to put up a fight. You think, maybe, that by pushing to get a higher level mace or armor you’ll be safe….but No, that just allows you to chip a little more health away from their looming health bar as they maul your eyes out with a rusty iron dagger. Heaven forbid if I ever get a dragon encounter that isn’t near a city, because even with the support of the hundreds of troops to help me slay the beast, the amount of close calls was insane. Even the death toll of anyone who attempted to help could rival the Battle of the Somme. Not to mention if you accidentally hit somebody else with a lone arrow the guards instantly turn on you and make you reload your save.

A highlight of that shows this difficulty to me was when I had to go up the big ol’ mountain (Players know which one I mean) to meet the Greybeards, after preparing for a while I got the courage to start climbing. Nevertheless, on the way up I got through the wolfs and bears ok on my own then , on the home straight, I came across a Frost Troll. Sure it looked scary enough but after easily sweeping through the various hostile wildlife before I thought it’d be a simple battle. Firstly, I attempted to just hit it and what do you know? I did about 2 HP of damage and was flung into space in one hit. My second attempt was to get one of the pilgrims that sit on the side of the hill to help me. After baiting the Frost troll to come and get one of them involved, I had a glimmer of hope that Michael could slay this monster, but no, after around four hits the pilgrim made their way down the mountain a much different and steeper path. Leaving me to yelp in fear before exploring this new path down the mountain myself, slapping my rag doll limbs against the trees as I went. After around 30 attempts of just trying variations of tickling the troll with my attacks I got a good idea – a seemingly rare moment. I dropped all my stuff in a bottomless chest and ran straight at the troll, naked. The troll must have been bewildered by the spectacle of a naked orc sprinting directly at him because Michael jumped around the monster and ran into the sunset with ease. Yet, the Frost troll started to pursue, so after pausing the game to start the Benny Hill theme song I run as fast as the stamina bar allowed it and dodge any hostile creature I came across before I made it to the temple victorious, naked, but victorious, (Made the conversations with the Greybeards a bit more interesting anyway)

To make the role-play that little bit more serious, I devised a few in-character gameplay elements like no fast traveling, no map etc which (whilst at first a nuisance) doubled my game time and doubled my enjoyment due to actually seeing more of the game and finding caves or secrets on my own travels. However, it made me re-consider my choice on difficulty more often, since you wonder why at level 21 you can’t kill a Mudcrab easily.

Recently, I finally got to the grand Mage Capital and started to the questline for Winterhold, although I have the game down for a while. The curse of playing it through already made me remember most of the questlines so the betrayals and twists in the stories of the common quests weren’t as effective as their intended to be. Although, I did have a lot of a fun with the game with all the side quests and while I may exaggerate the difficulty, it definitely added an extra element of knowing you can’t take on the world, or in fact, anything.

If this sounds like your cup of tea and somehow you’ve managed to avoid it then I’d suggest giving it a go. Hell, if you are one for story, the LORE inside this game is incredible large. Not even mentioning the depth of detail in the small things like items having so many variations, loads of ways to improve weapons, various skills and skill trees that allow for customisation. A favourite of mine was the alchemy or Enchanting which typically gave me the edge for surviving brutal dungeons. Locations themselves were also well designed and crafted with some sort of story to tell everytime, even through small stuff like the placement of objects can tell a better story than the group of writers for The Big Bang Theory could ever make. I feel myself wanting to start this up again and finally put an end to Michael’s story (and the fact I have barely made a dent in this game with 100+ hours) but apparently I need time for A-levels.

There’s a good chance Skyrim may stick around for another ten years though. The active modding community surrounding it allows for almost every element of the game to be changed for your liking, whether that means realistic HD textures or flying Thomas the tank engines. There’s also the big fanbase for LORE, with numerous subreddits dedicated to theories of the metaphysics surrounding separate gods and planes of existence, like arguing whether or not chickens are animals or a desperate cry from Ius to escape from the Akatosh party. It could very well be a game that stays popular till the end of time, or , at least till Elder Scrolls VI comes out.

 

Skyrim belongs to the nords,

-Sam Burdis

P.S When I went back  to get pictures for this, I attempted to do a random dungeon I found with a few only a few small goblin-like creatures (Falmers) in, it took me 4 hours. Tried again in the default, low difficulty with the same loadout, 20 minutes. With this information I don’t recommend ‘Master’ difficulty on your first play through if you value your sanity.

P.P.S After many attempts, I can’t get past one of the starting quests for Solitude. It seems after killing numerous dragons and acquiring the best possible armor and upgrades possible at the moment, I am no match for a singular frost Draugr Scourge.

Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition – The Time Machine of Video Games

A (Humble) Bundle of Reviews – Infinifactory and Mad Max

memes-and-many-moreAfter a few AS level exams and a sprinkling of social events I am back to writing these hopefully regularly. Kicking things off, we got a two games I picked up yet again from the humble monthly bundle which after having it since it started is the best monthly subscription based business for value in my opinion, with this month costing me £8 but getting over $100 worth of games from it every month, even if some of them are obsucure indie games some gems do appear now and then, and one of them was…

Infinifactory

Infinifactory, the indie game by one man named Zachary Barth, is a first person puzzler where the aim is to make an automated system to produce a certain product from other blocks. Seems simple right? that’s what I thought until I realised I had created a giant Rube Goldberg machine only three levels in.

But before we get to the steep inclination of difficulty lets first address the strange storyline that’s running through out. You are an abducted human – I think? – by a strange alien race in which you are set to create these factories for what can only be guessed at weapons for them to use. Whilst its a interesting storyline, you feel that the game doesn’t take itself seriously especially with the introduction where the alien leader has a comically long entrance that I just found to be cheap. I mean I am not asking for a Agatha Christie story but setting up the game with such a comical vibe only to have quite a pretty serious puzzle game gives off a juxtaposition feeling. Although the storyline is pretty weak, its also a puzzle game so of course that’s not what your here for, however sometimes it gives the player another reason to keep trying to get pass a level they are stuck on to develop a story.

Graphics and audio qualities are acceptable, but for one guy you cant really complain. The only true comparison is a well textured source engine game like CS:GO. That being said, graphics are good in my books as long as they don’t give me a headache after an hour.

Many games who share this first person puzzle genre, Anti-Chamber to name one, rely on the gameplay to be something new and / or interesting enough for the player to invest the time to figure out the level. I feel infinifactory has been done before, making an automated factory can be seen in simple flash games, but what the game allows you to do is figure out your own combinations of blocks or procedures to get to the goal. I haven’t seen this much recently in puzzle games, they seem to focus on set solution for every level which no doubt poses a challenge but I have much more respect for a puzzle game that allows for creativity to be a key part of its design. Sure, you’ll probably overcomplicate or spend ages trying to make your way of doing things work but when its finally completed, for me, its much more satisfying than finding the one way to finish the puzzle which normally just makes me annoyed that I didn’t figure it out earlier. This is also sensitises the audience to find a walkthrough because they know that’s only one combination possible and it isn’t yours and it actually feels like you’re missing out on an experience if you do it as well as the guilt you normally feel when cheating.

The game introduces new blocks and gameplay mechanics over time although they make it more challenging, its standard in puzzle games now but it does segway nicely onto my real problem with this game and its how quick the difficulty spikes, I am talking only a couple of levels in before facing a level that I really had to think about, a few more and I am having to log off for a bit to try and clear my mind to get past it. Its obvious the game doesn’t want to hold your hand with hints or solutions and I am okay with that but at the same time don’t break my legs and expect me to win a marathon. Later on the puzzles just get harder and harder till it took me a week to get over one level. This game doesn’t strike me as the type of puzzler judging by how many levels I had to get through to practically finish the game until I literally couldn’t figure out the answer for my current one.

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Although, there could be the possibility I am dumb, I mean I could just not understand certain mechanisms or tricks that are needed to complete levels but I do feel it is a punishing game, yet with such when you finally discover the way it adds to that creative buzz I was on about earlier. On top of this, I’ve also got to add this game has drawn me in, it’s been a pick up and play for me for a little bit of time so it must be doing something right.

Side note though, where are all the supplies coming from? and why does everything have to be made of blocks? These aliens could probably improve on efficiency if they actually built the things by hand first.

Mad Max

During the sudden burst release of video games in summer 2015, we got to play some of the most anticipated games to various degrees of success like fallout 4, Batman Arkam Knight, etc but one steampunk, scrap-metal party bus I missed was Mad Max. I heard of its reviews at the time and was intrigued but after watching the movie and not exactly loving it like everyone else I decided to save my pennies for some other gem.

It’s 2016 and the humble bundle darlings have given me a chance to finally play it and I am glad I gave it the time. Although it doesn’t mean it hasn’t come with a few faults.

A good starting point is the fact that Avalanche studios is behind the creation of this movie tie-in game. Who created the Just Cause series which is a open world game which basically allows you to blow up a lot of stuff, whilst I find the game boring since its pretty black and white, I understand that they know how to do open world at least, which I saw from the first in the series.

The first thing that hits you is the scenery and beautiful creation of the Australian dessert land, from the dust being spat back from your tires or the colossus sandstorms sweeping through the area next to you. By adding this extra detail, Avalanche really sets the same awe-inspiring tone that the movies managed to attain (I’d say one of film’s only achievements). What every open world game should try to accomplish is to make it fun to explore the giant world otherwise you’ll just end up having the player travelling from mission to mission avoiding all the game developer’s hard work.The simple ways to counter it is to add fun content to do and make it look pretty, so one of them boxes is ticked.

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There is a lot to do in the game, 100% completionists will adore it for this, I can tell when you finally do it, it would be so fulfilling but unfortunately I don’t have free time leaking out my pockets so I did not make it my goal. Breaking it down, there’s a soild storyline that adds more details about this undeveloped character you see in the films. Yet, it also makes new interesting characters that adds more depth to this post apocalyptic world. An example of this is good ol’ Chumbucket who works as your in game mechanic on your car, With his witty dialogue and actually useful advice he is really fun addition of the game. What I liked most about the game was when you did the typical open world ‘stronghold’ missions which looked to be designed separately individually as a tailored adventure and not just set puzzle pieces crammed together so you end up running through the same corridor eighty times in one play through (looking at you Shadow of Mordor). Heck, even the secrets were hidden with care and attention rather than sprinkled around randomly (that one was for you Assassin’s Creed). Although it isn’t sunshine and rainbows around, after about five hours of gameplay it tends to become a grind fest, sure its fun beating the living hell out fifteen guys but imagine if Batman: Arkam was all the but no story just hitting goons for no reason, you have Mad Max. Its fun don’t get me wrong (also stress relieving) but sure does get repetitive if you don’t upgrade new abilities to change it up a little bit.

This swiftly leads me on to actually building Max, the RPG elements of the game regrettably fall in to the same trap a lot do. Role-playing games focus on letting you choose where you put your hard-earned points in. An illusion of choice is a wonderful thing but what the game must do is make the player feel like these choices are important and by weighing up the advantages and disadvantages of them. In Mad Max though, the player more feels like throwing their points into the any old skill because they know soon enough they can just get more points and get the other ability, and so these choices are seen more as a progression of how close you are to being overpowered superhuman. What also made me annoyed was the limited character customisation that was available. What it had was overall about nine haircuts, four costumes and five beards to choose from through out the whole game. This silly addition just made me want more and make my Max, my Max in a way. I get the impression from this that Avalanche studios didn’t want you to change up your Max, and I can see why and wouldn’t of mind if they chose not to include anything. Nevertheless it’s like you gave the player the slice of a wedding cake which fell on the ground after the best man drunkenly dropped on the lager-infused dance floor.

Image result for mad max in game skill treeAs a nice feature, the soundtrack is glorious when your in combat and punching some goon’s brains out, truly adding what I gathered was the appeal of the movie. In fact I remember listening to it even after playing in for ten hours in a row and if you ever find yourself doing the same I suggest you do as well.

And of course, I saved the actual key element of the game till last, the Car. Motorheads will love the customisation for the car on this game. I mean sure, you need to get about 65% of the game before actually reaching a point you can customise it without meeting a level padlock over it. Though, it really adds to what I think the game is trying to achieve, you are this badass who is feared on these badass lands. Well, I mean, that’s I guess the normal player did but I just drove around with Rockstar Energy drink plastered all over my car because who doesn’t want a commercial set of probably deadly chemicals to drink in the middle of a post-apocalyptic adventure?  The car combat was also a highlight of mine, because who doesn’t want to be ramming a convoy of trucks at top speed ? (Yet, that never seemed to end well for some reason…) .To be honest, it amazes me how that company managed to survive the collapse of society but meh. What was annoying though was having to collect the cars, if you were going for 100% you would of had to firstly track down the vehicle (that requires you praying to RNGesus) then you would need to ditch your pimped up awesome car to drive this slow and sloppy transport all the way to one of your bases just so you can have it unlocked in your garage. This is in a game which focused on a fast moving combat style so it “matched the fast-paced action you expect” so I tended to just stick with the Magnum Opus.

Overall, Mad Max: The video game a fun  engaging open world game, that really tried to make it just another boring ubisoft-style game. Though you would definitely need a month of your time and a lot of willpower to see this game through the end – although that doesn’t mean you’ll still wont have fun with it – .

 

So even if these reviews have come out months after its actually relevant, I hope you might give at least one a look.

 

A (Humble) Bundle of Reviews – Infinifactory and Mad Max

Some Jargon for you….

Just thought that for a regular viewer who somehow manages to stumble across this blog they may not understand some of the stupid terms I use or incorrectly use and want to check what I mean by it. Here is a little list of what I mean when I say words:

 

  • Battle-Royale – Genre of game which players fight each other until there is one left
  • DLC – Downloadable Content, a typically paid digital expansion to a base game
  • Early Access – a version of the game which is not finished but can still be played
  • FPS – First Person Shooter
  • Framerate / Frames Per Second (FPS) – The speed the game runs, typically 30 / 60
  • Humble Bundle – a website in which you can purchase multiple games for one price
  • Indie game – made by a small team that has no publisher and normally low budget
  • Isometric – Type of graphical choice in which the game is seen from an angle
  • Lag – where the games playablity gets affected by the game or internet latency
  • LANs –  When I use this I refer to an event people bring PCs to link up and play gam
  • Microtransactions – When features in the game can be bought with real money
  • PVE – Player vs Environment, meaning users fight computer controlled enemies
  • PVP – Player vs Player, meaning that users fight each other basing the game on skill.
  • Spawn – When the player is entered into the game
Some Jargon for you….

The Culling Casual Review – F.U.N.Cky

Survival is a genre of video games that I recently stated was ‘easy to replicate’ and of course as soon as I said that The Culling came out of the shadows and shot a blowdart at my arse saying “You’re Wrong”. The Culling is an Early Access FPS-Survival-Battle-Royale  where you play on your own (or with a mate) to attempt to kill all other players on the map or cowering and being the last one alive. It’s pretty much The Hunger Games: The Video-game. However, the subtle attention to detail in the gameplay aspect makes sure the game stands on its own two feet to be something different and deliver a memorable, enjoyable experience

One of the ways it’s separates itself is actually entering the arena. After a laggy dark screen (remember, Early Access) you spawn in a random location instead of the traditional middle from the films. A positive is you don’t have to worry about someone picking up a pistol and capping your knees as you run away. In contrast, a negative is that your buddy more than often a blue spec on your screen rather than an outline and so far away that you need a hobbit, a wizard and 13 dwarves to make it.

The crafting system relies on a F.U.N.C currency (and the materials for the item of course)  to actually be make objects you can use. F.U.N.C is collected from finding former contestants around the place and hovering your hand over for five seconds or doing actions in the game, like finding F.U.N.C barrel (seen pic above) or setting off a gas canister and getting the out of there before your lungs get full with a crippling poison. There’s also loot crates dotted around the place -hey an accidental rhyme!- but for the highest tier weapons you need to have special items (like an explosive) or quite a large amount of F.U.N.C to open them. The final way to get items is to save up your F.U.N.C for an airdrop which gives you a good set of items with a theme to them for instance, a hunter kit would get a bow, arrows, meds and the potential to be more godly than Katniss Everdeen. I find these systems of item collecting balanced, and that will be a key theme throughout this review, its well thought out so there’s no real overpowered express way to win and it really comes down to the luck of the draw and how to use the result to your advantage. This is a common thing that others in this Battle-Royale genre get wrong like H1Z1 where you drop in (what you think is) the middle of nowhere only to find every nook and cranny has been scavenged and you’re a few seconds away from opening the bathroom door in which the Russian-speaking shotgun welder resides on the toilet.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are some moments where you find yourself still hitting trees with a rock and suddenly a guy in riot gear is throwing dynamite at you like a max powered tennis ball machine. However, I am willing to look past those experiences as most of the time the game works as a steady ramp of difficulty throughout the match that you keep up with. Some of my favourite moments in the game is where your standing in the middle thinking you’re the dogs bollocks when suddenly Chris Kyle takes out your friend with a Sniper and Braveheart blinds you with pepper spray and impales you with a survival spear. There are other ways to gain small advantages like perks, recycle machines, health stations but none of them make it so you’re going to be able to blitzkrieg every enemy you come by. Furthermore, if anything is slightly unbalanced the regular updates really means it wont be for a while so it means you can’t leave your tribal skills at the door.

Visually, the game is actually above average due to the Unreal 4 Engine it runs on. I mean, it doesn’t feel like I am ACTUALLY traversing a jungle or ACTUALLY opening every loot locker I see but it’s still got enough eye candy for immersion, well , enough to focus on sniping the guy hitting the tree with a rock. There’s no real soundtrack for the game besides the main menu music but the audio design is pretty impressive to, a major key to any Player vs Player game is sound as hearing them first means you have chance you climb on top of a building and react the Battle of Somme. In this case, the audio is pretty ‘balanced’ meaning you can anticipate a blitzkrieg from an enemy relatively quickly which gives you a bit of leeway to flee.

If you are looking for a narrative, then wait till the next station. This is a survival game and typically the best you get from these games is that you are a <insert character> and you have to kill the other <Insert other characters> before they kill you. I mean The Culling basically sets this up just insert contestants and you’ve got it. However, it is Early Access so something still might be added but I wouldn’t expect a BAFTA winning tale.

To conclude, the gameplay , although a copy of the hunger games (if that bothers you), is solid and regularly updated to make sure it stays fun and refreshing. It’s even better when you play with a mate but solo play is still possible if you fancy trying to be Bear Grylls.

May the F.U.N.C Be in your favour,

-Sam Burdis

The Culling Casual Review – F.U.N.Cky

Triple A Casual Review -Alien Isolation, American Truck Sim, Ark: Survival Evolved

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It’s been a while since I updated this page so to catch up with what I have been playing I am gonna do three reviews in one (revolutionary I know) in a more relaxed fashion. Coincidentally, all of the games begun with A making my job easy to make a title.

Alien Isolation

Alien Isolation came out on Oct 7 2014. Yeah, I am a bit late to the party, but I got it in one of the many humble bundles I accidentally pay out for every month. So if you haven’t heard of this SEGA game , I will give you a little overview. Alien: Isolation (A:I) is an Action-Adventure-Survival-Horror-Stealth-FPS and that still doesn’t describe it well enough. You play as Ripley, no not that one from the movies Ellen Ripley’s daughter, Amanda. You get put into an abandoned spaceship port, Sevastopol, trying to investigate her mother’s disappearance, then find out that you are sharing this giant creepy space station with an equally as creepy Xenomorph. Now obviously, Creative Assembly had a task on their hand as they had to do justice for this famous series and I am glad to say I enjoyed the end result.

The visuals of the game were very impressive to say the least. Every object, every vent, heck every wall looked like it was taken directly from the films. It actually felt like an 80s level of props and special effects. The lighting in this game was especially daunting as by the end of it, I didn’t even feel safe to walk with my torch out in case I get a nice tail stab through your torso. As much I hate discussing graphics, the attention to detail was very immersive which is key for what Creative Assembly tried to do here. Whilst the visual had all the boxes, tick, so did the audio with a chilling soundtrack to go along with every vent crawl and disturbing clicks from every movement of the alien as you hide in a locker shivering.

 

 

Great, it sounds good, looks good, but what about actual gameplay? well, as I said before its hard to put a in a genre really, the game gives the player very little tools in the sense of surviving and more gives you a chance. The main event that occurs is you versus the alien. In the movies, the alien is terrifying, in this game, the alien is as heart-stopping as an unexpected tail turning you into a kebab, which was quite a common event when hiding. There’s also a nice crafting system which gives some urge to go explore around the Pretty space station. It doesn’t matter what strange sounds are coming from that corner or how visually disorienting it was, I needed that scrap metal.

Story wasn’t exactly the unique selling point of alien series, more the giant demigod creature. It’s pretty basic having a few memorable moments but nothing as scary as the situations you create yourself. However, there’s enough content to keep you intrigued to explore and find out more about Ripley’s story and the spaceship’s. There are plenty of twists on the way as well, so don’t expect it to be plain sailing. Mind you, the only plain sailing part of this game is when you are on the save terminal.

Overall, an enjoyable experience for anyone remotely interested in the Alien Franchise, the game gives you a unique time throughout and holds together well. However, the story lacks some places it makes up for it in the terrifying encounters with the alien itself.

American Truck Sim

Next on this wild ride is American Truck Simulator. I had heard a lot about its predecessor, Euro Truck Simulator, This was either due to it being a good game or it being a good game, compared to its competition so I didn’t really give it much looking into. However, come the 2nd of Feb I saw this trucking simulator had been released so I picked it up and tried it out.

Loading into the game (besides that obnoxious intro) I noticed the general tone was a bit boring. Now I don’t come to simulators expecting to be picked up and taken on a magical narrated fairy-tale but it felt like I entered an office of a suicide hotline company. After about an hour of making controls actually feel realistic (they did a great job by the way on customization) I jumped in with my first trucking mission.

Safe to say, driving is hard. On this first job alone I must have caused 70 fatal injuries to other drivers and my character. It’s not the controls, it was just me, I mean, who knew driving a 12ft truck at 80 mph would be so hard to control? As for simulating driving a truck, I can’t say myself since I have never actually driven one, it seems pretty accurate (?) but I didn’t fancy driving illegally to get some research. You can tell it’s not a finished game yet. For instance, you have the option for window wipers yet every state is as dry as a nun’s area, but there’s plenty to play with and definitely giving you enough content to work with.

I do feel like I am not the target audience though, which is fair enough since I don’t think there were many 17 year olds craving to cure their truck addiction. Though, it just seems overly complicated for the sake of complications. I see this when I can’t actually buy a truck in the game for a while, starting you off with no money and you take small jobs to make enough and when you go to buy a truck, you have to pick which dealer you want and which make and what engine and..urgh. Just give me a list of trucks with a price next to it and I am happy, well, as long as it has Orchid pink as a colour option.

It does have its fun moments though. It’s a great game to play whilst listening to some music  or a podcast as you trek along, just don’t get too into the song or you might get to see what the world looks like upside down.There’s also a nice parking mini game at the end of every job if you fancy wanting to pull your hair out. I have yet to complete a hardest difficulty because apparently they want to drop this cargo of plates between an oil refinery and a tractor. Graphics wise, meh. Simulator wise, its the best you’re gonna get for a while and actually looks okay at max settings. Normal-Game wise? pretty bad, I mean its good on a decent rig, but if you’re running on medium to get 60 fps don’t expect to be amazed by the view.

Overall, a decent simulator that still has work to be added, yet it does fill a void of that don’t require much attention and can waste any time on. Graphics could use some work and more content, but that will all come in time. For now, if you’re a fan of simulators, this probably the best game you’re going to get till you can get holograms.

Ark: Survival Evolved

So after everyone either getting bored with CS:GO or ‘testing’ their aim on each others heads so many times they got too many bans to count, we decided to look for a different game to play and with a simple look at the ‘Top Selling’ list we found Ark:SE. So we all dropped £15, installed the 3.2 GB download and booted it up for our ears to be destroyed by the extremely loud intro music.

Sadly, we are focusing on Ark at the moment. So Ark is a survival game where you craft bases, make friends and scavenge to attempt to kill the biggest thing. Good idea! if it was original, sadly the survival genre is pretty easy to replicate according to the thousands of games available. So the ‘gimmick’ that makes Ark:SE shine bright like a small house fire is the dinosaurs which we will get to later. For now, the game has no story. Although its charging as a full game which doesn’t sit well with me, with the £15 price it is on steam you can get many more that might feed your hunger for hitting trees with your fists like Factorio , a base building strategy game in a retro 2D isometric view; This War of Mine, a dark survival  truth into life as a war refugee showing drastic measures that need to be taken as well, providing an entertaining game; Don’t Starve, a 2D/3D puppet-theatre themed world with a unique art-style and tons of content and I can go on but Ark still manages to stay on that Top Selling list.

The game itself is pretty generic, the experience I had from it was spawned in, joining a clan getting loads of stuff, hitting trees and getting food for a pink-painted Triceratops to be able to survive a night. Sure, you slowly level up and can do more stuff, but the effort : reward ratio falls short for me. I can spend four hours hitting trees to be able to craft a shirt that isn’t made of cloth. You may argue that I cheated, but if that’s how easy it is to skip “the game” then surely that can’t be argued. I don’t know whether it was my PC or Ark but it didn’t run well. There would be many times I would just freeze with no indication why before being jolted forward into the face of a hungry plant that shoots acid. Its buggy, no questions asked which I wouldn’t mind if again it was charging £15. Graphics wise, it looks pretty standard for a the type of game it is, don’t be expecting to climb a mountain and be in awe of the view. The settings for the graphics is another issue, firstly changing them in-game is not a good experience, be prepared to go downstairs and make a cuppa whilst you wait for the change to happen.

On the other hand, even with all these reasons to hate it, I found myself really enjoying it. This could be because I played it with my friends (and yes they are still my friends, even though I might find myself swimming next to a great white shark when I spawned back in) or it was actually entertaining (?). Sure, the reward is normally pretty disappointing, but its pretty satisfying to be able to paint your entire base with bright pink. Playing in single player may be a better experience for the actual game ( I don’t know, I never tried) but in multiplayer it definitely boosts the entertainment value, just don’t expect to have your items long when you log out without a roof.

Although, if this doesn’t tickle your fancy, The Culling (The Hunger Games) sort of ticks the boxes for survival and I have been playing it a lot so expect something on it.

 

Thus concludes the Triple A review, which I think deserves more credit than it gets for a title, I mean come on, three games, all beginning with A that have little correlation? linking to a common phrase for a game? Gold.

-Sam Burdis

 

Triple A Casual Review -Alien Isolation, American Truck Sim, Ark: Survival Evolved