Welcome To Empire Bay

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1945. Vito Scaletta returns to Empire Bay from World War II. Vinny hooks up with his old pal Joe Barbaro and they start doing some jobs together.

I instantly notice how dated the graphics are. This is far worse than Red Dead Redemption. Screen tearing is immediately noticeable as well, and is omnipresent during any interior location. It’s quite bad.

An early mission deals with breaking into a heavily guarded federal building to steal Gas Stamps. Upon retrieving the stamps, it is determined that the stamps expire at midnight. Off I went to each gas station to sell off the stamps. A few missions later, one of the gas station attendees rats me out to the Feds. Next thing I know, I’m doing 10 years in a federal penitentiary. Vinny meets some contacts in prison through Joe that will protect him if he fights inmates. This section of the game reminded me of the Shawshank Redemption and Goodfellas. I appreciate when games take a detour from the norm like this. I only wish my time in prison would have been longer, and focused on more of the day-to-day experience instead of just fighting inmates. Anyway, Vincent’s contacts in prison were able to get him out of Jail early. They knocked about 4 years off of his sentence. Vinny is released to a different world : the 1950’s. Cars, clothes, music….everything is a lot different now.

Mafia II is almost too realistic of a game. The game is set in a semi-realistic 1940’s & 1950’s universe. The cars, music, and setting are all incredibly accurate. In fact; the game is so real that there’s an actual speed limit. I can’t seem to go over the speed limit without alerting the police. This was a bit of a bummer; as I really wanted to hear a lot of these babies purr. Pressing Square puts a speed limiter on to help avoid attention from the police. If that wasn’t strange enough…the cars can run out of gas. Seriously. You have to refill your tank at gas stations around the map. Why is this a part of the game?

The voice casting and storytelling are top-notch in Mafia II. The game has this sort of cinematic feel to it. I was constantly reminded of my favorite gangster films like The Godfather and Goodfellas.

Vehicles in Mafia II are a great representation of cars from the time period. 2K did a fantastic job nailing this as well as the featured music. Radio stations play hits from Bing Crosby, Fats Domino, Little Richard, The Everly Brothers and more.

In terms of weapons, Mafia II features pistols, shotguns, machine guns, rifles, and grenades. My favorite gun was the .357 Magnum, as it sounded just like the one Harry Callahan used.

In a world of “GTA clones”, games usually do alright in copying the open-world aspect, but the driving always seems to be second-rate. There’s just something about the driving in Grand Theft Auto that’s just so perfect. It can’t be touched, and no other team has been able to compete with it. It’s almost as if so much has gone into the process of creating the world, and then there wasn’t enough time / resources / space to make other things work well. That’s why most of them seem to fail at grasping the concept of an open-world game, compared to Grand Theft Auto. For Mafia II, I felt that the driving was actually quite good. The cars are from the 40’s and 50’s, so they function a bit differently. The cars tend to fish-tail, but they still handle very well for not having power-steering!

Mafia II features the best collectible items I’ve ever seen in a video game : Playboys. That’s right; each Playboy magazine has a different centerfold from the time. I can’t confirm whether these are actual centerfolds from the time period or not, but they sure fit! I had originally planned on collecting all of them, but I didn’t.

Mafia II’s Director’s Cut includes three DLC stories, and vehicle & clothing packs. While I found the vehicles and clothing to be fine, the DLC stories were quite lackluster. Two of the stories feature a character named Jimmy, and the story-based missions are replaced with timed arcade-style missions. Yeah; putting a time limit is a great way to entice me to play. It’s safe to say that I didn’t spend much time playing. I probably did a mission or two, but my patience grew thin. Then, I checked out the final DLC installment, Joe’s Adventures. This DLC is at least a bit more familiar. Joe’s Adventures of course stars Joe Barbaro, and takes place during the time Vinny is sent to prison. Joe sets out to find the ones responsible for ratting out Vinny. I found the first few missions to be fine, as the gameplay went back to the story-based missions. Then, after a few missions, the gameplay switches over to the timed arcade missions again! This is where I said “to hell with this game!”, and played some Titanfall 2. I’m sorry….you know what? I’m not sorry. No one likes time limits in games. There’s nothing more stressful and frustrating than having to meet a time requirement in order to continue playing. I’ll give you an example of the last mission I attempted to play : Let’s make players drive to retrieve a stolen Limo, and then drive all the way back across the map. The second the Limo is stolen, the player will be chased by Police (who are easy enough to evade but will re-alert anytime they see you). To make things even more difficult, the person who wants the Limo needs it in mint condition, so you also have to go to the shop and repair any damage. Now imagine doing all of this under a very unfair time crunch. Fun, right? Sure; it may be challenging, but I’m not playing Mafia II for a challenge. I’m playing for the STORY. There’s no interest if the STORY is replaced by CHALLENGES. It gets worse. Instead of entering locations or meeting people to start the mission, there are just little cheap looking logos on the map. You walk up to them, and press X to start the mission. What is this? a PlayStation 1 game? I figured the arcade-style missions were just for the first two installments. Joe’s Adventures started out great. I figured the trouble was over. This wasn’t the first time I’ve been wrong, and it most certainly won’t be the last. My question is, why change the pace right in the middle of everything? Why start out with story-based missions, and then switch to the timed arcade crap? Ugh. Perhaps you can sense my frustration. I look forward to playing DLC, as it’s (usually) an extension of what I loved in the base game. It allows for that craving for more to be satisfied. I enjoyed playing Mafia II, but these DLC offerings made me crave something else to play right away, and I did just that. It’s a shame that the last thing I experienced from Mafia II was negative, because that’s the last thing I wanted to happen.

All in all, Mafia II isn’t a terrible game. It does have its flaws when it comes to the game mechanics and screen tearing, but the story and solid voice-acting combined with the look and feel of the 1940’s-1950’s make up for it. I was crushed with the ending of the game. I hope somehow Joe made it out alive and makes an appearance in Mafia III. The biggest problem with Mafia II is that it’s a big open world full of nothing to do. The game is quite short, with a mission or two for each chapter. Each mission will have you traveling to locations all around the map, and when you’re done, you are forced to go home and go to bed to continue the story. Again, why is this a part of the game? Things were added to the game in an attempt to make Mafia II seem more realistic (such as speed limits and gas tanks), but in the end they just make things more annoying. Personally, I think that’s a few steps too far. That’s too realistic. When I’m forced to drive slow and fill my tank up, I’m not playing a game anymore.  Anyway, once all of the story missions are completed, there are no side missions to complete, and there is no way to free-roam around the city. Loading up the last save takes you to a checkpoint in the final chapter. The only way to continue roaming around the city is to replay a chapter. Other than a few vehicles and clothing items, the DLC is a complete waste of time and can not be recommended.

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Outlaws To The End

Warning : This review will contain spoilers. Why anyone would read a review for a six-year-old game they haven’t played yet is beyond me, but I’d be giving people on the Internet too much credit if I didn’t include a disclaimer. So…there you go.

“Every man has a right to change, a chance at forgiveness.”

The year is 1911. John Marston’s family is kidnapped by a group of ruthless Government agents. In order to secure their safety, John must revisit his past and hunt down each of his former gang members. He meets several people along the way who will help him.

So far, I can tell almost immediately that the graphics are a bit dated. The graphics were at the top of their game back in 2010, but we’ve come a long way since then. However, I am playing a last generation game, so I completely understand the graphical difference here. That’s not to say the game isn’t impressive, though. There’s still a lot to adore here. There tends to be some lag during horseback riding. Draw distance is quite impressive here. The worst lag I encountered was upon using the scope on the sniper rifle; the frame-rate just diminishes. Red Dead Redemption does feature a gorgeous day-night cycle with dynamic weather, which features some of the best sunrises and sunsets I’ve ever seen in a video game.

The weapons in Red Dead Redemption seem very similar to Grand Theft Auto V. The white reticle dot is the same and everything. It would be safe to bet that the combat in this game was a test for Rockstar’s next GTA installment. While there’s plenty of guns to choose from, I mainly used rifles and shotguns.

So far, I’ve been helping a woman named Bonnie MacFarlane around on her family’s ranch, herding cattle, watching the grounds at night, and lassoing and breaking in wild horses. Catching horses was a bit frustrating for me. The controls didn’t seem to work too well. Then I realized that I wasn’t holding R2 down, so I was basically throwing out the lasso and then dropping it. Once I figured this out, breaking horses was a cakewalk. There are several different horses to find and break throughout the game; each with their own characteristics.

Much like GTA, there are strangers to help and random events that will occur throughout the game. Since I’m new to the game, and I’m taking in all of the scenery, most of the time I miss what’s going on with a random event and I’m dead before I can even react. You see, not everyone is nice in New Austin. Some folks will even stop you on purpose or use a lady in distress to convince you to pull over. Once you’re off your horse, you’re dead. That is, unless you give the robbers your money or use Dead Eye Targeting to take all of them out in swift precision.

Part of the main attractions of Red Dead Redemption are survival skills and hunting. Being out in the Wild West can be rough, and towns aren’t always close by. If you find yourself in trouble, you’ll have to use your skills to create a makeshift camp area for the night, or you can always fast-travel to a safe location. Expect to hunt everything from birds to bears in this game. Herbs can also be collected. Treasure maps help locate treasure all throughout the game, getting progressively more difficult than the last. Mostly, all of the items collected will only be used to sell for money back in towns.

It would appear that this game has taken a few steps back from recent Rockstar games. I find it very strange that John can’t swim. What happens when you try? DEAD. Thieves’ Landing is the worst for this, as I keep missing the bridge in the middle of town when I’m riding fast on my horse and dodging people. Sometimes I’m going so fast, that I end up in the water.  I guess no one could swim in 1911? If that’s the case, good on you Rockstar for being historically accurate.

The game takes place in three different territories : New Austin, Nuevo Paraiso, and West Elizabeth. America is basically what you’d expect from a Western atmosphere. Mexico isn’t quite what I was expecting, and it’s easily the longest story section of the game. Unfortunately, Mexico drags on for a bit too long for me. John ends up being the quintessential errand-boy; helping people from both sides of the war, and neither are suspicious about it. Of course, almost everyone promises to help John to find his former gang members, but most of the time, they have their own agendas. Of course!

Each of the territories have several little townships which have doctors, general stores, gunsmiths, tailors, saloons, and some even have movie theaters. Probably the best thing about these locations are the games, such as horseshoes, five finger fillet, and table games such as Poker, Blackjack, Liar’s Dice. Liar’s Dice was easily my favorite, as it was very fun, easy to pick up, and even easier to win. Everyone knows about the table games, but this is the first time I’ve ever heard of Liar’s Dice. The game is actually very simple. A player will put in their bid, and then the the other players can either increase the bid, or call the original bidder’s bluff. If the bid is true, whomever called the bluff loses a die. Repeat until players lose all die.

Marston eventually tracks down Williamson, Escuella, and van der Linde, with the help of his new acquaintances. John states that his former gang members were “good men who turned bad.” Williamson and Escuella I didn’t care for, because I knew they were bad. However, I felt for Dutch Van der Linde. Dutch, much like Harvey Dent, thought he could be a decent man in an indecent time. He attempted to be the Robin Hood of the Wild West; robbing from the rich and giving to the needy. Unfortunately, Dutch finds out the hard way that his methods simply don’t work. It not only drives Dutch to madness, but it also drives everyone away from him. He becomes isolated and flees to Cochinay where he leads a gang of savages.

After John’s former friends have been dealt with, the agents cut him looose….or so we think. John returns to his home to reunite with his family. Everything seems to be going well; John purchases cattle from MacFarlane’s ranch, and teaches his son Jack how to hunt.

I figured this was the end of the game.

I was wrong.

It’s much to happy to be the ending.

U.S soldiers and lawmen led by Ross start showing up at the house and shooting at the family. John manages to cover his family enough that they are able to escape. John stays behind to deal with the agents, but he quickly finds that he’s outnumbered. John peeps through a crack in the barn door to see Agent Ross and at least a dozen men with their guns drawn. John steps out. Dead Eye is automatically initiated. I begin locking on to targets one-by-one. Before I can target less than half of the enemies, I’m blown away. John meets his fate on this day by Ross and his men. The worst part about it? There was no way around it. I was crushed by this. Turns out, Abigail was right when she said, “the life we led, that doesn’t go away. It’s never over.”

It’s very rare in video games that the main character of the story dies.

But this still isn’t the end.

The game picks up years later, as the role shifts over to Jack Marston. Standing over the graves of John, Abigail (who passed away just three years later), and Uncle (who died in the fight against the agents), Jack is dead-set on revenge against the man who killed his family. Jack heads to Blackwater and talks to an agent about Ross. The agent gives Jack his location. Ross has been retired for many years, but the agency continues to contact him, since he was one of the best. He was also one of the worst. Jack arrives at the Ross home and speaks to his wife. Ross is on a hunting trip in Mexico with his brother. Jack heads down to Mexico and confronts Ross. The confrontation ends in a duel. Revenge has never felt more sweet. Jack turns to face the screen, and the logo “RED DEAD REDEMPTION” pops up.

Surely, this is the end?

Undead Nightmare marks the return of John Marston as he returns home to find his world flipped upside down in what appears to be some sort of twisted alternate reality of the apocalypse. The dead are walking the Earth and feeding on the living! Abigail and Jack get bit, and John rides off to see if he can find a cure and some answers to all of this.

Undead Nightmare changes up the game’s tone a bit, and plays more like a survival horror game. Ammo and places to rest are scarce, so John will have to make every shot count and help survivors clear out the undead in each town in order to make safe territories. The problem with this is that every two or three in-game days or so, I had to drop whatever I was doing to go and save a town that was under attack again. This never ends.

The Four horses of the apocalypse can be found throughout the map, these four special horses have special abilities, and can run forever without getting tired. Apparently if you do everything in the game, you can break a Unicorn! I wanted to do this very badly, but I just didn’t have the time.

A new weapon, the Blunderbuss, is pretty cool : it uses Undead body parts for ammo, and can take out a bunch of zombies at once. Think of it like a Western BFG.

The best part about Undead Nightmare is the end. John still meets his same fate in Red Dead Redemption, but this time, he rises up from his grave as a playable zombie. That’s right; zombie John Marston. He walks crookedly, and makes growling noises. Talking to people like this is hilarious. It’s total fan-service, and I loved it.

All in all, Red Dead Redemption is a fantastic, memorable game with excellent storytelling that I can’t believe I waited six years to play. I decided to jump into the game because there were a lot of rumors circling around about either a remastered version or a sequel. As I am writing this, Red Dead Redemption 2 has been officially announced for a Fall 2017 release by Rockstar, with a trailer coming out this Thursday. The game does have a few flaws with the dated graphics and the duration and story flaws of the Mexico adventure. If it weren’t for Mexico’s flaws, Red Dead would be a perfect game. It’s still a great one. Undead Nightmare’s only flaws are the repetitive nature of saving towns over and over, and the fact that there are just more time-consuming things to do that are too similar to the main game. There’s plenty to see and do for both the main game and the DLC that will keep the player occupied, but I’ve had enough. I spent about 60+ hours overall (50+ with Red Dead Redemption, and 10+ with Undead Nightmare). As much as I’d like to spend another 50+ hours getting the Platinum trophy, it was time to move on to something else. However, now that Red Dead Redemption 2 will be released this time next year, my mind begins to fill with excitement. Early rumors are only heightening my excitement, as people are beginning to think that Read Dead Redemption 2 will not be a sequel, but a prequel focusing on the period when John was a part of Bill Williamson’s gang. I think this would be incredible. However, the reveal picture which is rumored to feature Marston, Williamson, and Escuella doesn’t seem to show a female silhouette (John’s wife Abigail was also part of the gang. They both quit the gang after John was left for dead). Anyway, Thursday will reveal all!

On to Mafia II. Yes II…not III. :\

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The COG In The Machine


With Gears of War 4 coming up in a little over a month, I’ve finally jumped into the beloved series. This is the first time I’ve been a multi-console owner, and this is the first Xbox game I’ve ever played.

Gears Of War begins 14 years after E-Day, also known as Emergence Day. The two superpowers of planet Sera (the Coalition of Ordered Governments, also known as COG, and the Union of Independent Republics) fight over the planet’s natural resource, also known as Imulsion. This leads to the 79-year-long Pendulum Wars. After the Pendulum Wars came to a close, Sera became overrun by Locust Horde and many major cities had to be destroyed. Lead hero, Marcus Fenix of Delta Squad, is rescued from his cell by his pal Dom. The squad is tasked with heading deep underground to detonate a resonator, which will map out the Locust tunnels. When the resonator doesn’t work as planned, Delta Squad settles for Plan B : crippling the enemy stronghold by deploying the Lightmass Bomb. Things become more complicated when General RAAM makes it his personal agenda to stop the Gears at any cost.

Gears is a third-person cover shooter. The controls feel as if I really am controlling Marcus. They’re very bulky / clunky…kind of like Resident Evil controls. Cover is quite detailed and deteriorates over time upon shootouts. The control scheme is quite simple and easy to get used to. This helped tremendously since Gears was my first Xbox game.

The main weapons in Gears are pistols, magnums, assault rifles, burst rifles, sniper rifles, shotguns, grenade launchers, and frag grenades. One of the assault rifles has a chainsaw attachment that can be used as a melee weapon. The Hammer of Dawn is a special weapon which uses satellite technology to take out large targets. Due to the satellite requirement, the weapon only works outside with a clear view of the sky.

The graphics are gorgeous. I’m not sure how the original Gears looked in comparison with its Xbox One counterpart, but it’s very solid. The game doesn’t very have much color in it; it’s a pretty dark game. This helps to show what the planet is like after being in war for almost a century.

The Locust Horde reminds me of the Chimera from Reistance. They mostly resemble the goons from that awful Mario Bros. film. Enemies come in all different shapes and sizes. Many of the enemies appear from emergence holes in the ground. They will continue to come out of the hole until a frag grenade is thrown, which closes up the hole.

COG Tags from fallen soldiers are collectible items which contain comic story segments. There are 33 total COG Tags throughout the game, resulting in 5 comic book issues. The comic books help add to the overall story. These stories are comprised of the COG battles against the Union, Marcus’s father (Adam Fenix) coming to terms with leaving the war behind to develop weaponry (he creates the Hammer of Dawn used in the game which actually ends the Pendulum Wars), and a young Marcus’ start in the COG army.

I appreciated that Gears kept throwing in new and different things to keep me engaged in the single-player experience. I wasn’t just shooting from behind cover, I was driving vehicles, riding in carts, and turning levers. While I enjoyed the game immensely, I did feel that the story was a bit lacking. It could have been better. I wanted to know more about these characters and how the disaster happened. I wasn’t quite sure why the missions took place where they did (Why did we go to Fenix Mansion? What was the importance there?). I felt that the comic collectables did a better job at explaining the Pendulum Wars and the overall story. I’m assuming the story will be explained further in the sequels. I also thought it was odd that General RAAM, the game’s primary antagonist, is only shown like three times in the entire game. In the end, Gears was a fantastic way to start my Xbox experience. I can’t wait to check out the rest of the games in the series.

 

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Next up : Red Dead Redemption & Undead Nightmare!

Hands-On : Titanfall 2 Tech Test


Prepare For Titanfall…2

Titanfall always seemed like a very interesting premise to me. However, having the original game being an Xbox exclusive, multi-player only game was a deal-breaker for me (I didn’t have an Xbox at the time of release, but I also don’t have an Xbox Live membership). Fortunately for me, Titanfall has gone multi-platform for its second installment, Titanfall 2. Not only has the game switched to my console of choice, but the game has included my gameplay preference as well : a single-player campaign. With the game quickly approaching on October 28th, I thought I’d do a little write-up on the Titanfall 2 Tech Tests that took place over the weekend as well as this upcoming weekend.

The Tech Tests allow for players to choose a network based on their location. Players can find the best network that works for them. Each Network has their own designated “Happy Hour”, which increases points earned for faster leveling during this timeframe.

Players can choose and customize their Pilots, Titans, and more. Pilots all have different attributes that can be chosen, such as the primary and secondary weapon types, grenades, and special abilities. There is also a custom loadout. For the Tech Test, choosing between several pilots, two Titans (Ion and Scorch), and several attributes were the available options. Obviously, Scorch is fire-based, and Ion is energy-based. More options became available as I leveled up. Some can even be purchased with points. For the first week, Pilots had the following abilities : Pulse Blade, Holo Pilot, Grapple, and Stim. The second weekend will include the previous abilities, plus the Cloak. Titans Ion and Scorch will be available both weekends. I chose a Tactical Pilot with a primary assault rifle and a secondary anti-titan gun.

Titanfall 2’s first tech test is comprised of two maps (Boomtown and Homestead), and the second weekend will add Forwardbase Kodai. There is also a training level which is great for newbies like me to help get a feel for the game. Titanfall’s Tech Test consists of three different game modes : Pilots vs. Pilots, Bounty Hunter, and Amped Hardpoint. Pilots vs. Pilots is just plain deathmatch; no Titans involved. Bounty Hunter involves a money system for each kill earned. The money needs to be banked. The team with the most money at the end of the round wins. Titans are considered “Special Bounties”. Amped Hardpoint is Titanfall 2’s version of “Capture The Flag”. Hardpoints must be captured, and then “AMP”ed (for more points) if possible. This takes exactly one minute. Defending something for a minute is definitely not easy, but somehow I was able to capture and “AMP” a Hardpoint all by myself. After the match, the losing team on any game mode can attempt to make it to the evac ship before the timer runs out. The evac ship can be destroyed by the other team.

In terms of gameplay, Titanfall 2 feels very familiar. This was helpful since the Tech Test was my very first Titanfall experience. It feels very much like Call Of Duty. The movement and gunplay is very fluid and fast. Mechanics such as auto-sprint, sliding, wall-running and grappling (which can be used to climb as well as take out players) set Titanfall 2 apart from its competitors. After a specific amount of kills, my Titan meter was full and I was able to call my Titan to the battlefield. As epic as the giant mechs are, they were a bit difficult to control, and I didn’t feel as invincible as I had hoped. I hope to work on this more in the next Tech Test. For Titanfall 2, each Titan has their own unique feel and play style. Another nice thing I recognized was that the leaderboard does not keep track of how many times I’ve been killed. This is helpful because I know I can get frustrated if I’m focusing on my Kill / Death Ratio. Titanfall 2 only records your kills. I didn’t realize this until after a few matches, but some modes include AI enemies that you can kill for quick points. These AI enemies don’t count towards kills, but they will help Titan meters fill up much faster. All in all, I had a blast with my short time playing the Titanfall 2 Tech Tests so far, and I can’t wait to jump back into it this weekend as well!

Update 8/26/2016 

Respawn has taken player feedback to heart, and have made some changes resulting in a patch for this weekend’s Tech Test. I really appreciate that they actually listen to their fan-base and make changes to the game based on their feedback. Listen up, EA! This is how you run a business! Thank you, Respawn. The patch notes can be read here : 

https://forums.titanfall.com/en-us/discussion/3323/titanfall-2-pre-alpha-tech-test-weekend-2-patch-update-x1-ps4#latest

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Welcome To Hell

DOOM

Here are a few steps you should follow :

  1. Buy DOOM right now, if you haven’t already.
  2. Immediately remove the plastic.
  3. Flip over the God-awful cover art to reveal the true DOOM cover.
  4. Immediately insert the disc into your console of choice.
  5. Get ready to have a rad fucking time.

DOOM has finally returned, and not just in the form a brand new reboot, but also in a way that’s very reminiscent of the old games. No bullshit; this is classic DOOM at it’s finest, and at the same time, like it’s never been before.

As soon as I finished Uncharted 4, I hopped right into DOOM. I can’t say enough about this game. It’s easily one of the funnest games I’ve ever played. The key of the game is to stay in motion, so it’s very fast-paced. It’s very fast-paced, free-flowing, and feels just the way it should. Movement is the key to survival, so the player will have to constantly stay in motion, chaining skills together as they go. Besides the weapon wheel, there’s a chainsaw and glory kills that can be used to eliminate enemies. The chainsaw, much like Big Daddy’s drill, consumes fuel. Each enemy consumes a certain amount of the fuel before it has to be replenished. The bigger the enemy, the higher the amount of fuel consumed. Glory Kills are melee kills that can be pulled off in several different ways. They can be achieved by attacking an enemy until they become stunned (the enemy glows and flickers like an arcade game boss). The enemy only remains stunned for a short period of time (the flickering will become faster when it’s close to going away), so getting to them and pressing R3 in time is key. Combining the weapon wheel, the chainsaw, grenades, and the brutal glory kills are the keys to surviving the battle. The BFG, once collected, aids tremendously in do-or-die combat scenarios.

Each level has specific goals, but you’ll need familiar colored access keys to get where you need to go. Doom plays very much like an arena game. Each level features several rooms with waves of enemies.

I played the DOOM on the “Hurt Me Plenty” difficulty, and it was still challenging enough to be fun. Some wave encounters can be very difficult, but it just takes some time to figure out the map and which weapons work the best on certain enemies.

Weapons, suits, health, armor, dexterity; all can be upgraded. Runes are earned from trial challenges which also unlock attributes. Praetor Tokens can be collected from dead soldiers. These tokens upgrade the environmental resistance, area-scanning technology, equipment system, power-up effectiveness, and dexterity of your suit. Your arsenal is upgraded by finding Field Drones, which upgrades the Weapon Mods.

Just like Wolfenstein, DOOM features secret areas which unlock sections of maps from the original game. Pulling on a secret lever will open up these areas. I wish that these were full levels like they were in Wolfenstein, but that’s okay.

DOOM was a welcomed change that, in all honestly, wasn’t much of a change at all…if that makes any sense. I was instantly brought back to memories of my childhood; playing DOOM on the 32X at my Cousin’s house (they always had the cool stuff when I was a kid). DOOM instantly put a smile on my face every time I played. It’s just so good, and the fun-factor is huge. The story isn’t finished here, so I absolutely can’t wait to see what happens next.

 

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A Thief’s End

Uncharted 4? Check. Uncharted 4 DualShock 4? Check. Limited Edition Art Books of the entire Uncharted Saga? Check. What a perfect way to say goodbye…

Due to the fact that this is a very recent game, I will be keeping things short to avoid going in to spoiler territory. The screenshots, however, may include spoilers. For your own risk, if you haven’t beaten the game yet, I’d suggest not reading this review or viewing the pictures.

Uncharted 4 picks up a few years after Drake’s Deception. We see a settled-down Drake, who has put aside his treasure hunting for less desirable treasure hunting (he now works for a company who has legitimate permits for searches). Drake and Elena finally have the chance at a normal life like they’ve always told themselves they’d have. Unfortunately, it doesn’t last long. Drake’s older brother, Sam, who was thought to be dead, reamerges 15 years later. Sam is in trouble, and Nate is the only one who can help. Sam promised half of pirate legend Henry Avery’s treasures to a very bad man, if they manage to find it. If not, Sam is as good as dead. So; in true Godfather fashion, as much as Nate wants out…he gets pulled back in. Finding Avery’s fortune won’t be so easy, as Drake’s old “partner”, Rafe, is also seeking it for himself. Uncharted 4 is a race to find the treasure and save Sam.

Honestly, where do I begin with this game? Graphically, Uncharted 4 is easily the most beautiful game I have ever played, without question. There is a level of quality and detail here that goes above and beyond anything that has come before it. Water has its own physics, like when a breeze blows against a steady pool. Rocks, shake, and debris roll and move away from directions they originated-especially when on a steep hill. Shade even affects shallow pools of water, detailed by darker areas. The main characters have more detail than ever before. Faces have undergone a complete production. The game is all in real-time, so there’s this sort of seamless branch between the cut-scenes and gameplay. Clothing acts accordingly to the environment. The clothes even have their own degree of fabric detail. The game is utterly gorgeous. There are screenshot opportunities everywhere. Speaking of the environments, the areas in Uncharted 4 are larger than they’ve ever been before. Some areas (such as the Jeep driving in Madagascar) are quite massive and allow for a lot of exploring. Naughty Dog has always been known for their impressive games that really push the boundaries of not only what’s possible in a game, but what’s possible for the console. It is shocking to know that Uncharted 4 was not pushed to the PlayStation 4’s limits, but it’s safe to assume Naughty Dog’s next game will.

This is the largest Uncharted game yet. When I say largest, I mean largest. The main story is about 16 to 20 hours long, and takes place over 20 chapters. These chapters are much longer than normal, boasting massive areas of exploration. I really appreciated the game’s length, as it kept me coming back for more. I played the game a little bit at a time to fully savor it.

The Uncharted series has always been known for its storytelling, and Uncharted 4 does not disappoint. It is the greatest treasure hunt I’ve ever experienced. Much like an Assassin’s Creed game, A Thief’s End had me researching pirate history left and right. You know that you’re really into a game if you find yourself researching things like that. What always interested me about these games is the unknown. These cities could have actually existed, and they’re out there, just waiting to be discovered. It makes me want to go searching. In the meantime, I’m treasure hunting through Nate-through all of these characters, and that’s a really special thing.

I was honestly worried about Naughty Dog introducing a new Drake into the mix, but Sam fits in very easily. It definitely doesn’t hurt that  the amazing Troy Baker has joined the rest of the cast. 

Enemy encounters are a bit different in most of the locations in the game. Tall grass allows Nate to hide and take out his enemies using stealth. This also helps to hide when discovered. Nate now has a new rope ability as well, which allows him to climb, rappel, and swing. The combat is heightened when a rope swing is combined with a takedown from above. Ever so satisfying.

Throughout a couple larger areas in the game, a Jeep is available to drive. This Jeep comes with a wench on the front that can be wrapped around an object to either help the Jeep climb, or help to create a new path. 

Uncharted 4 doesn’t have the most difficult trophy list, but the 6-hour speed-run trophy is keeping me from going for the Platinum. There are your typical difficulty trophies, treasures, and specific weapon kills, but Uncharted 4 is far too wonderful to be rushed through at all, let alone for a trophy.

The end has finally come for our favorite thief / treasure-hunter extraordinaire, and Uncharted 4 delivers on all cylinders. Naughty Dog has done it again. This time, they’ve done something really special. Uncharted 4 is by far, one of the greatest games I have ever played. In terms of the series, I’d say it’s just a peg below Uncharted 2. The Uncharted series has always been known to feature bold stories, massive action sequences, the best-of-the-best in terms of graphics, but most importantly, it has heart. For me, it’s not  about finding the treasure as much as it’s about the journey on the way to the treasure, and the relationships that these characters go through along the way; especially Nate and Elena.

That’s what I’ll always remember the most.

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Manhattan’s Last Stand

The Division is the story of a group of Government-activated agents tasked to be the last line of defense for the United States. After a massive viral outbreak in Manhattan on Black Friday, it’s up to these agents to find out the source of the virus in order to create a cure before all of New York (maybe even the world) is wiped out. I don’t want to go into detail about it, but the outbreak is quite scary because of how easily it could actually happen. Basically, because of the Country’s fears of going to the doctor, people went about their daily lives, infecting even more people in the process. When the time comes, The Division are activated. It could be your brother, your sister, your co-worker, the person you sit next to on the bus. These are the people who become activated and answer the call. They are The Division. The first wave of Division agents have gone rogue, so the game focuses on the second wave as they restore order.

THE DETAILS

I fell in love with The Division essentially right away. I pre-ordered the game months ago in order to receive access to the closed Beta. Two weeks later, I jumped back into the open Beta; this time with some friends. Graphically, this is one of the most gorgeous games I’ve ever played. Beautiful graphics. New York City has been totally recreated in video game form. Many of the famous New York landmarks are present. The entire city was preparing for the holiday season coming up; there are lights and decorations everywhere! The Division also features an incredible day-night cycle with dynamic weather. The sun shines bright, flurries trickle down, and blizzard-esque snowstorms take away almost all visibility. Snow even piles up on your clothes if you stay in one place long enough. Now that’s detail.

The Division plays like a typical Tom Clancy game, which are primarily tactical third-person cover shooters. However, The Division comes with a twist; it’s also heavy in RPG elements, most similarly to games such as Destiny, Borderlands, Fallout, Dying Light, and more. Just about everything in The Division is upgradable, from guns, to gun parts, to skill trees, to armor. Each item collected has its own personal stats so they can be compared to the other things in your backpack. The stats are like most RPGs; green arrows pointing up are good, and red arrows pointing down are bad. You should only (and always!) use items which will increase your stats.

The Division is a cover shooter, and a great one at that. There’s a grid that sort of surrounds the player whilst in cover. Moving the camera around will show other available cover spots ahead, with a path lit up in white. Hold down the X button to quickly run to the next cover spot whilst staying in cover as you run. I didn’t discover this until the last day of the closed Beta. You can also sneak around the corner of the object you’re using as cover by holding the left stick in the direction you want to go.

The Base of Operations is where players will take on missions, purchase or sell weapons, mods, gear, and craft new items from collected materials. The Base also has three wings (Medical, Tech, and Security) which can be upgraded by completing specific missions. By completing these missions, a skill, skill mod, or talent will be unlocked with each upgrade built.

The Division’s recreated map of New York is split into level sections by the different districts. Each district has a specific level of difficulty which you should reach before entering. Within each district is a safe house. Each safe house can be unlocked upon entering, which allows for fast-travel. Each safe house provides side missions which reward the player with credits to upgrade the three different wings (Medical, Tech, Security) at the Base of Operations. This part of the game is quite repetitive because the player is tasked with doing the same 5 or 6 things for each district’s safe house. There really isn’t much of a variety when it comes to these side missions : rescue the hostages, support the JTF, defend the supply drop, all while defeating waves and waves of enemies. Ugh.

As side missions are completed, more collectables will appear on the map. These collectables include ECHOs (hologram playback), cellphone recordings, missing agents, crashed drones, survival guides, and incident reports. These collectables are all over the map and are very tedious to collect. Some of the collectables can’t be activated until the end of the game.

Each player has a primary weapon, a secondary weapon, and a sidearm. Each weapon has multiple parts that can be modified, such as scopes, magazines, barrels, suppressors, and skins. The player’s inventory Overview represents the Primary weapon’s DPS (Damage Per Second), Health (Toughness), and Skill Power. Each weapon has its own set of stats, represented by DMG (Damage), RPM (Rounds Per Minute), and MAG (size of the clip). These weapon stats either benefit or take away from your DPS, Health, and Skills. You’ll continue to find new weapons as you level up and progress through the game. It’s always good to find a weapon you’re comfortable with. Make sure not to have your primary and secondary as the same class, as you’ll be sharing the same ammo for both. There are six weapon classes : pistols, sub-machine guns, shotguns, carbines, assault rifles, and light machine guns. Try to find a nice balance (or not, it’s totally up to you on how you play The Division). I used an assault rifle as my primary weapon, and a marksman rifle as my secondary weapon for the entirety of my play-through. The Carbine can have scopes that deal a certain percentage in headshot damage. In other words, one-hit kills. There’s a scale for weapons that are more on the rare side. These are almost always depicted in different colors for most RPG’s that I’ve played. They’re usually colored blue and purple. In The Division, Standard is green, Specialized is blue, Superior is purple, and High-End is a yellowish orange. There is also a separate green gear color and a gear score that becomes prevalent in the post-game experience. Some weapons will be better than others. Visiting vendors or playing missions on “Hard” or “Challenging” difficulty will usually net you some good loot, but the Dark Zone is where the best items are. More on that later.

Looting is very important in The Division. Loot can be collected in a variety of ways. Enemies drop them, they can be found in abandoned houses, in secret areas during missions, and especially, in the Dark Zone. Looting outside of the Dark Zone mainly consists of weaponry, clothing, tools, and crafting components. Looting within the Dark Zone? Not always a piece of cake…

ALONE IN THE DARK (ZONE)

The Dark Zone is The Division’s largest contaminated area, spanning a chunk of central Manhattan. It’s best to only go there with friends, but even then it’s not always safe. Why? Because the Dark Zone is where you’ll encounter other players, and they’re not always friendly. The rare loot you’ve collected in the Dark Zone? They want it, and they won’t hesitate to kill you for it. Items from the Dark Zone require an extraction via helicopter. That is, of course, if you survive long enough for it to arrive.

I took a three month hiatus from The Division to play Uncharted and DOOM, and the Dark Zone is a much scarier place than I remembered, and much different from the Beta version. Rogue players are always present. It’s a very horrifying feeling to know that anyone could turn on you at any second. You always have to be watching not only your back, but your surroundings, and of course, the maps. Most of my Rogue encounters resulted in my death. This happened quite often. Players who go Rogue have to wait for a timer to expire before they can go back to being a non-hostile again. Rogues like to use this to their advantage. They’ll kill and steal, hide out until the timer expires, and then repeat. Some Rogues will even camp right outside the Dark Zone checkpoint and saferoom entrances and prowl on unsuspecting players. Rogues who do enough bad things will have a longer timer and a Manhunt will be executed. If Rogues are in a group, it’s best to stay far out of their way. They like to hunt players down, especially if an extraction flare is lit. Like a moth to the flame, extractions draw silent Rogues to the players who are just trying to safely get some new items.

TROPHIES

After a three-month hiatus, I returned to The Division to tackle the remaining trophies for the Platinum. I had to replay all 16 missions on hard, complete a mission on Challenging, finish up the last few remaining collectables, and worst of all : Dark Zone trophies. I hadn’t even stepped foot into the Dark Zone yet. Actually, I hadn’t been in the Dark Zone since the Beta(s). To make things worse, I was playing by myself. For the Dark Zone trophies, I had to :

Extract an item at all 8 locations – This proved to be quite a challenge. Some extraction areas are easier than others. The problem is that enemies hang out there and more enemies appear when the extraction flare is lit. The two areas I had the most trouble with were near the top of the map. In DZ03, there is an extraction area in a park that is loaded with enemies and a Named Elite. Another area in DZ05 was very difficult because it included Level 32 Purple and Yellow enemies. However, I found a very interesting method to get this final extraction. Flamers make their patrol rounds near this extraction point. When they come near the area, the two rival factions fight each other. I was able to sneak my way in, light the flare, and extract, without killing a single enemy.

Kill 10 Named Elites – This wasn’t too difficult. I just spammed the Named Elites that were in DZ01 for the trophy.

Kill 20 Rogue Agents – This was my final trophy, and definitely the most difficult one. As stated before, Rogues are no joke. I spent the majority of the past week and weekend attempting to stalk and kill Rogues. I only managed to kill about 5-7. Honestly, it’s a miracle I was able to get that many. Luckily, my friend was able to help me boost for the rest of the kills to wrap-up.

CONCLUSION

The Division is an open-world that’s full of things to see and do. Whether you’re saving New York by completing missions and side missions, or discovering story elements through Intel such as Echos, incident reports, cell-phones, and survival guides ; there’s enough to keep the player busy. It’s also a game that best played with friends. Venturing into the world alone isn’t for everyone; especially the Dark Zone. I played The Division a bit differently from others. I stayed away from the Dark Zone until after I maxed out at Level 30. I spent most of my time grinding to Level 30 by doing the main missions and the side missions for each safe house. Doing these side missions helped me level up rather quickly. I felt that the main story missions were a little off on the recommended levels. For instance, I found it was easier to play them at one level above the recommended level. Playing them at the exact recommended level was quite too difficult. I played The Division for a total of about a few days. There are 16 main missions in total. I found the final mission to be very anti-climactic. The end-game material is comprised of replaying the missions on different difficulty modes for better gear, free DLC updates, paid DLC updates, and the Dark Zone. After Level 30, the game introduces a Gear Score. The higher your gear level is, the better your Gear Score will be. The paid DLC content adds a brand new leveling system on top of the pre-existing ones. Either way, it’s a long grind that I don’t really wish to experience anymore. My friends and I had our fun with the game, and may return once in a while. For the most part, we got what we wanted out of it. I got what I wanted out of it. Besides, I’ve got a backlog of games that need my attention! I can’t spend forever on a single game. As nice as it is that Ubisoft Massive has added free updates and daily missions, The Division is not a game I can see my friends and I coming back to very often (like GTA Online and Rocket League). The Division is, however, a great game, and a very beautiful one. The Division managed to reel me in and keep me satisfied, where Destiny failed (although, I believe it deserves a second chance). I did enjoy my time with the game, with the exception of the Dark Zone. I’d like to see a sequel that takes places somewhere else and follows the spread of the virus as it works its way throughout the United States. if not, it appears Wildlands may be able to whet my appetite.

Enjoy the slideshow of collected screenshots below. The pictures are mainly to show off how gorgeous this game is. I didn’t take pictures during enemy encounters for obvious reasons, so there won’t be much action in these. These screenshots are basically just things that I discovered whilst playing the game. They might not sell you on the game itself, but they may make you realize how special the graphics are, and how there’s something eerily beautiful about the sudden collapse of a central city.

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