Reviews

November 19, 2012

Dishonored Review

Way back in 1998, when shooters were trying to expand themselves beyond “shoot what isn’t you,” gameplay, Looking Glass Studios released a game with the idea of “shoot nothing.” Thief instead encouraged and rewarded avoidance of confrontation, especially by casting a player character who had difficulty in a one-on-one fight, let alone superior numbers. The higher difficulties in the game stacked the odds increasingly against the player, even including mission fail conditions if the player killed anyone. The game and its sequel are often credited for popularizing the stealth genre, heavily influencing games to follow. Stealth games since have been a lot less about avoiding confrontation and more about doing it in a quiet and efficient manner while not getting caught. Now, Arkane Studios (Dark Messiah of Might and Magic, Arx Fatalis) are tossing their hat into the ring with Dishonored, and it lands pleasantly close to the totem planted by Thief all those years ago.

 

The game looks pretty, thanks to a good use of UE3

 

Read more…

September 15, 2012

Rapid-Fire Controller Review

The world of modding in the console gaming industry is a vast and eclectic culture of hardcore hobbyists. From aesthetic alterations like aftermarket buttons, cases and lighting, to more practical improvements of functionality, the possibilities are nearly endless. One of the most popular of these mods is a programmable rapid-fire function.  So I finally decided to see what all the fuss is about for myself.

 

This is the SPS – X1 Rapid-Fire Controller, crafted with love by the folks over at GamerModz. It also happens to be sporting an entirely aftermarket look—including the shell, trim pieces, sticks, and every last button. The appearance isn’t particularly relevant, as you can mix and match every piece to your liking when you order, but let me set something straight. One of my largest concerns with third-party controller parts is always the quality. Let me assure you that not only are all the individual aftermarket parts of this controller top notch quality, the entire thing is also assembled quite well. It has the smooth operation and tight feel of any factory-fresh Microsoft controller. I was impressed, despite being as relentlessly picky as I am.

 

Another major concern I had was the application of a rapid-fire mechanism. I was worried about how difficult it would be to configure, and didn’t see how it could be practical. Luckily, I simply did not understand. Once familiar with the process of reprogramming the rapid-fire rate, I was able to do it on-the-fly with little difficulty.

 

This leads me to application. Before I tried this, I was under the mistaken impression that the goal of these mods was to circumvent the max fire rate of any given weapon to give the player an edge. This is, of course, impossible with a great many games. More often than not, a gun’s fire rate is not only limited by the player’s input speed, but also by properties like recoil and a maximum rate of fire programmed into the game.

 

The use of a rapid-fire mod is nothing so dishonorable, anyway. I, for instance, had some fun experimenting with various semi-auto weapons. I experimented with various fire rate settings, trying to nail down the ideal balance of speed and spread. Basically, it was an easy way to handle the weapon to the fullest of its potential. It made me feel like a seasoned soldier, handling my weapon with the vigilant precision and efficiency that only comes through long years of experienced combat… But I could do it while simply holding down a trigger with a stupid grin on my face.

 

So let’s sum this up. If you head over to gamermodz.com right now, you can order a controller that looks any way you want. Moreover, if you want a great rapid-fire mod installed to boot, the finished product would look no different. The entire mechanism makes clever use of a controller’s sync button, adding nothing visible to the façade of the controller itself. And since you can program it on-the-fly, it could even be your little secret. Combine all of that with truly top-notch quality construction and materials, and it’s a no-brainer. So let me make this simple for you. Here’s the link for their website. http://www.gamermodz.com/ I’d input your card info for you too, if I could, but this is as easy as I can make your way to a custom controller. I won’t force you, but I will say this: all the cool kids are getting custom controllers.

 

September 2, 2012

Review: Syndicate

Story: In 2017 when a merger formed the first mega-corporation Eurocorp who then brought on the age of the Neural Chip that brings on the demise of all digital devices and the fall of governments world wide, in 2069 the world is now controlled by the mega-corps and industrial espionage has grown to new levels requiring covert agents to do the bidding of the mega-corp CEOs who are all hell bent on being the largest corporation on the planet.

 

 

Review: I’ve been debating on this game since it’s release in February 21st of 2012 decided to hold off until the price dropped to what I felt the content was worth. Playing the 4 player Co-op demo that was released then was very fun much like Mass Effect 3’s Co-op Syndicate has your team trying to complete objectives that will force you to work together to complete the mission. That was great But I wasn’t sold on the demo alone after looking into the campaign information that is where I thought this game wasn’t a $60.00 title but it looked like a $29.99 buy for sure so now that it hit my price range (I even have seen it on Amazon.com on sale for $14.99!) I bought it and my decision to wait was rewarded well…

 

 

Graphics: This game looks really great visually on thebox360and I can imagine that the PC looks even better. However, the graphics seem to come at a price in that in Co-op and even in the Campaign this game gets a fair amount of lag, when tracking around a room the choppy-ness really kicks in and drags the game play down at times

 

Sound and Voice Acting:  The voice acting is top notch with the Likes of Brian Cox, Rosario Dawson, and Michael Wincott give solid voice overs for their characters. Music was really good  provided by award winning DJ Skrillex to name one and other Electronica DJs the soundtrack fits the game to a “T”! Sound design is also really well done and I’m not sure if EA optioned Dice to do the sound but it really seemed like it.

 

 

Gameplay: It is typical FPS style although the triggers and shoulder buttons are flipped PS3 style and I can understand why being that you agent abilities are mapped to the triggers and come in very handy in both the Co-op and campaign. The responsiveness of the controls is a problem it seems when you are trying to switch abilities and reload on the fly it may not work the first tap of the button and you cannot multitask either i.e.: Reloading while sliding into cover.  The campaign levels average between 15 to 30 minutes to complete which took me between 6 and 7 hours to complete on Hard. One big complaint was the boss battles and I have read this else where and have to agree that they are mundane at best and could have been so much better given the weapons and abilities that you have access to in the game.

 

 

Multiplayer; This is where this game shines and if your looking for change up on the Mass Effect 3 Co-op this is for you! Four player HAVE to work together to achieve the goals and complete the mission, doing so gives you access to new weapons abilities and upgrades to three class types that each serves a purpose remember keep your team mates alive and you will complete the mission!

 

 

Overall: I was right in waiting to purchase this title with a short campaign and issues that from what I have read don’t seem have an ETA to be fixed and lack of any DLC to keep the Co-op fresh. This game is a discount buy sad to say, its worth what I paid But I wish it had more to offer in the way of support. I do recomment this game but not at the original price!

 

 

PROS:

 

+Visually stunning graphics

+ Top notch voice acting cast, soundtrack and sound design

+ Co-op game play resembles M.E. 3 but is different enough to be fresh

 

 

CONS:

 

-Game lags whether in campaign or Co-op taking away from the fun

-Boss battles are mundane at best and could have been so much better

-Call of Duty length in campaign makes this game very short

-Lack of support by EA and Starbreeze for bugs and no additional DLC to keep it fresh

 

For more info on Syndicate head over to EA/ Starbreeze’s page right here!

Now Peep the trailers and screen shots and leave what you think in the comments!


September 1, 2012

Darksiders 2 Review

 

In 2010 an unknown developer, Vigil Games, released a game that a jack of all trades and master of none. The original Darksiders was a mix mash of popular game mechanics inside a Zelda like shell, with an awesome take on the apocalypse. The mechanics it did use fit well together, even if it was a bit obvious where they came from, and was met with positive reviews. In Darksiders, you took on the roll of War, one of the Four Horsemen of Apocalypse. As War, you were trying to clear your name for starting the war between Heaven and Hell before the 7th seal was broken. Now in Darksiders 2, you control Death, War’s fellow brethren of the apocalypse, on a quest to help clear his brother’s name and restore humanity. Darksiders 2 feels familiar but is a beast of its own; bigger, deeper mechanics and a vast improvement over its predecessor.

*WARNING MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD*

*YOUHAVE BEEN WARNED*

This has been the journey so far

 

Death’s journey starts right after the opening tutorial in the first Darksiders. War has been imprisoned for 100 by the Charred Counsel for starting the apocalypse a bit prematurely and so Death takes it upon himself to help his brother and restore humanity. Death’s journey is great if not a little convoluted. Death starts by seeking out the keep of secrets also known as the Crowfather. During the first encounter with Crowfather we learn of the Horsemen’s past and that they are of a special race known as the Nephilim, a cross between angels and demons. The Four Horsemen slaughtered the rest of their kind in exchanged for powers, imbued by the Charred Counsel to keep the balance in the Universe. Death’s amulet holds the souls of his fellow kinsmen and in the battle with Crowfather it is broken and embedded into Death’s chest as a mark of shame, a reminder if you will. After the thrilling start, Death learns he must find the tree of life and on this journey he visits the Forge Lands. The Forge Lands are where the Makers call home. The Makers are responsible for creation and have a wee bit of a Scottish accent. The Forge Lands serve as one of the hub maps with dungeons strewed through it. The Forge Lands alone are about the size of the entire map from the first game. During the time in Forge Lands you learn that this realm has been over taken by corruption. Corruption takes the form as the main protagonist in Deaths story. The corruption takes the form of Absalom, a Nephilim that was betrayed and slaughtered by Death. At this point the story takes a turn for the personal and has Death not only trying to save humanity but him as well. The story and progression does a get a little repetitive with the dreaded 3 point quest throughout the game. You later visit the Land of the Dead, which is just as large as the Forge Lands, but in order to progress you must fight their champion which requires 3 larges stones to collect. Then you must face and collected the 3 hands of the Lord of Bones and you can kind of see where this is going. The fetch quest normally run in threes, while it elongates the game it can see tedious as well; though it must be noted that each dungeon of the three are all unique in their own right. There are two more maps that are not nearly as large as the others but serve their purpose well. There is one particular dungeon or quest I had a problem with that felt out of place and broke the flow of the game. After the Land of the Dead you will travel to Lostlight in search of a key, while you are there you will be transported to Earth for one of the fetch quest. This mission and dungeon just felt like they didn’t belong and really did nothing for the story and hampered the gameplay department as well. I will elaborate on the gameplay problem later in the review. I did enjoy the story however, there were points that really didn’t fit or felt like they could have been skipped. The corruption, as different as a villain it was, it stemmed from nowhere. There were characters that just seemed like filler. I must note that Death is a fantastic anti-hero, voiced wonderfully by Michael Wincott. He borders the line between compassionate and crass, while he has no patients for anyone on his quest, he does feel for the salvation of his brother and is tormented by his past sins. The Makers are other lot that I cared for and wanted to see a good outcome for them. Elder Eideard is voiced by James Cosmo (Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch in the superb Game of Thrones) and Pup, a young maker with faults was the most memorable. The story does wrap up nicely but ends up right were the first one ended which has me intrigued to how they are going to play off the inventible third installment (you know there will be third as long as THQ survives).

 

Loot, Loot, Glorious Loot

 

One of my biggest complaints with the first title was the combat got repetitive, you had one sword and a few different sub-weapons at your disposal but it never really got off the ground. This time around the game plays more like Diablo or Baulders Gate, damage numbers pop out of enemies and there are loot drops, wonderful loot drops. Death wields his signature scythes but has a variety of sub-weapons and armors that can be found or purchased at vendors. There are new scythes to be had each one with its own stats and esthetics and the sub-weapons range from gauntlets and claws to hammers and swords again with individual stats and appearances. Death’s armor is interchangeable with gauntlets, boots, armor, cowls, and shoulder pieces that make him look less like a walking trashcan ala War. There are two different types of armor as well, ones that will boost defense and strength and ones that will boost wrath and affect the things you cast. This leads to the new leveling system. For every baddie you kill you are awarded experience and wrath, wrath held over from the last game used to cast, and you will level gaining skill points as you go. The stat trees are broken into two groups one that build toward melee and one that builds towards casting. You have the option to head down either path or cross trees and do a little of both.  The armor you choose will effect what tree you go down, but only to a varying degree. I went down the casting path and used the heavier armor that boosted my health and strength. I was raising explosives pawns that drew enemies away while using larger sub-weapons while tanking in the middle of the chaos. Death has a chaos form as well; War had one in the first. The meter fills with every successful hit and when activated last for a limited time. This form can be leveled as well though there are no choices along with this form. Once you hit the max level an energy blast follows its deactivation. The combat never tired as I was always trying out new powers and weapons and trying to find the right balance of armor to compensate my attack tactics. Death is faster and less bulky than War and it shows in his movement and platforming. The platforming feels right out of the Prince of Persia Remake of 2008. Death can run on walls, run up walls, grapple on the ledges, and vault over small stubs that continue his climb. As with the first game using many popular game mechanics with varying results, the platforming is fantastic. The only complaint I have with it is using the left trigger to leap backwards; I wish it would have faster respond time as with some of the platforming has time restraints in some areas i.e. get to a door before it closes. Death does not go alone on his quest. This time around Despair, Death’s horse, is available from the get go. This change is a much needed welcome, the first game had a lot of back tracking and the horse was available a little over halfway through the game which made trekking a chore. Dust, Death’s raven is there as well glowing green and showing the way to objectives. Fast traveling has also been greatly improved. You can now fast travel from waypoint to waypoint on the world map without talking to Vulgrim. It becomes increasingly useful during dungeons when you’re loaded up with loot or need other health potion before you face a boss. The grapple hook makes a return in a new form as well as the Voidwalker (the portal gun from Portal) though it no longer shoots blue and orange portals, they are just blue now. There is one mechanic that I thought was a really great touch, the Voidwalker gets an upgrade that creates a portal through time. It only works in one dungeon but the dungeon is very well designed as are the puzzles wrapped around this mechanic.

 

Death is never the end

 

With all this great stuff going for it Darksiders 2 does has its faults. The engine is beginning to show its age, some of the textures are downright ugly while some look fantastic despite the amazing art style. There are sprawling area’s and the set pieces and bosses can be huge and it all runs well with no frame rate issues that I encountered though there was one time the game crashed on me and I had to reboot my console and start from my last autosave. The third chapter is a little lacking compared to the first two, despite it being two maps there isn’t anything to explore other than the dungeons and as before the one dungeon felt out of place and gameplay breaking. When you hit that dungeon you will know what I am talking about. While the ending is satisfying there is no indication that you have reached the final boss and he is a little underwhelming. Once I got to where the final boss was going to take place I thought the game was going to continue the credits were a real surprise. Though despite these little gripes the game is fantastic, they fixed a lot that was wrong with the first and despite still using popular game mechanics from other games; this one feels more of its own. The maps are worth exploring and the Land of the Dead is a visual splendor. Voice acting for the most part is top notch and would welcome Michael Wincott back as Death in a sequel. Now the question is who we will see in the sequel, we have been War and we have been Death, will Strife or Fury take center stage? We will have to wait but on a closing note I would like to see a sequel with the same art style on more powerful next gen hardware.

 

+ The game is HUGE, plenty of side quest to keep you busy.

+More RPG elements introduced and work well

+Combat has more variety and does not tire

+Loot, Loot, and more Loot!

+Fantastic soundtrack and voice acting (most of the time)

+Great platforming!

+/- Good Story even if some of it doesn’t make sense.

+/- Most of the game is gorgeous there are some muddy textures here and there.

-The game feels like there is still more build up to come and just ends

-One dungeon in the third act felt out of place and unnerved me

– Game crashed and locked up console

Final Score 9/10

 

Darksiders 2

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July 28, 2012

iOS Review: E.R.S Game Studios

Murder. Mystery. Intrigue.

If these are all things that you like to see packaged into an iOS game then you need to take a look at what ERS Game Studios has to offer. In addition to developing games for the iOS platform there are also PC, Mac and Online games to choose from spanning across a range of different genres including: IHOG, Puzzle/Adventure and Sim/Strategy. Formed in 2006, ERS Game Studios has developed a worldwide following attributed largely in my opinion to the polished gameplay and stunning graphics that some term ‘illustrative realism’. There are numerous reviews of the various ERS games out there and the quality of the final product and the graphics are always a big talking point.

I’ve been playing the iPhone and iPad versions of ERS Studios games for a while now and I’m glad I’ve now got the opportunity to talk a little bit about what attracts me to them and why I think they are so amazing. I started off playing ‘The Mystery of Joyville: Puppet Show’ which I found while browsing the App Store, as soon as I’d completed the game I actually looked up the game developers, found out what else they had released and got downloading. So far I’ve completed five of the eight iOS games that have been released, I’ve listed the titles of the eight games below (screenshots alonside this review are taken from Music of Death and Curse of the Raven) and you can find out more from the ERS Game Studios website. Where available it’s definitely worth springing for the collectors editions to get the bonus content at the end.

  • Maestro: Music of Death
  • Haunted Legends: The Queen of Spades
  • Haunted Halls: Green Hills Sanitarium
  • Dark Tales: Edgar Allan Poe’s The Black Cat
  • Redemption Cemetery: Curse of the Raven
  • Dark Tales: Edgar Allan Poe’s Murders in the Rue Morgue
  • PuppetShow: Mystery of Joyville
  • Hidden Wonders of the Depths 2: Around the World

As with all IHOG games there seems to be a combination of factors which make them appealing rather than tedious, a really nice aspect to these games is that many tend to run in series, for example, the latest games I’ve played ‘Maestro: Music of Death’ and ‘Redemption Cemetery: Curse of the Raven’ both have sequels coming soon and it seems like a natural progression for the games rather than something that is forced to get a new game out quickly. Another aspect of the games that appeals to me is the tie in with Edgar Allen Poe’s stories, Poe being best known for writing tales of the macabre. It’s amazing how well the games in the series work alongside Poe’s dark themes which often dealt with death, reanimation of the dead and mourning .

When you first start one of the ERS games, literally when you touch the icon you know that effort has gone into making it, there is a sense of becoming involved in the story by adding a cinematic-style opening which combined with the music really make the game interesting from the start. You know what your objective is and now you need to work through the content to achieve it. The story is a true mystery and your role is to act in a detective capacity to figure it out, the puzzles are not hard but they will get your brain working and the hidden object scenes are just fantastic, they are miniture works of art which are a pleasure to behold. ERS Game Studios also have the graphics-music combination nailed, and I find myself humming along as I try to find the objects hidden within the scene. In each game the gameplay is slightly different and you need to constantly adapt to the situation as it unfolds. It’s not brain science, you won’t achieve mensa status by solving the puzzles, but they are fun and progress the storyline in a way that keeps you entertained and eager to find out what happens next.

In general these games get excellent reviews, the only recurring critism seems to be that they are lacking in originality and perhaps do not lend as much of a challenge as some would like to see, as eluded to above. Both are valid points, but I think that it would be very difficult to create a truly original story in this particular genre, of course that’s not a reason not to try, but I’d also be concerned that by changing the format too much it would remove something fundamental to the success of games like these, taking away the reason that so many people love them, it’s that mystery, working through the process and progressing through the story that makes these games appealing. I also think that making the puzzles within the game or the gameplay more challenging is more a question of appealing to the right demographic, ERS Games Studios pride themselves on being casual game developers, these are games you are supposed to be able to pick up and run through without it being so difficult that you end up frustrated by the whole thing and fling your iPhone/iPad across the room, essentially they are feel-good games that allow you to get the little grey cells working and have that sense of achievement at the end. They are great games for what they are designed to be.

To wrap up, here are some of the game features that might be of interest:

  • You can play a certain amount of the content for free before purchasing the game
  • There is an in-game tutorial to get you started
  • Some games have a strategy guide (in case you get stuck)
  • The collectors editions have special bonus content
  • The game saves as you go, just start and stop when you like

These type of games are not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but there is definitely more than meets the eye and it’s definitely worth a look.

July 16, 2012

iOS Games Review: Pandemic

In a virtual sense of course! If the answer to the question is yes then I’ve got just what you need, that is if you’re not one of the hundreds of thousands of people who have downloaded the game already, grab your iPhone or iPad and download the iOS game Pandemic 2.5 from the App Store. This game has been developed by the team at Dark Realm Studios and was released to the Apple App Store back in May 2012 where it literally shot up the charts.

The aim of Pandemic is to create a suitably infectious disease and then manage its spread through the worlds population; the disease needs to infect every person in each of the 21 regions and then be lethal enough to kill them off, creating your very own extinction event. You create your disease by selecting from a range of symptoms, resistances (e.g., heat, cold, drug resistances) and traits which combine to hopefully increase it’s effectiveness; all the time the clock is ticking and you need to adapt to counteract government measures to control  and manage the spread of the disease, this is done by closing borders and creating vaccines. Governments on each continent will start implementing measures to reduce the spread of the disease once it becomes visible, so generally I try and keep the visibility down for the longest time while trying to infect as many people as possible e.g., choose symptoms for your disease which a person wouldn’t normally seek medical help for but would still make contact with other people. Once your disease is visible ensure it gets everywhere and is as lethal as possible. There are three levels: Casual, Normal and Madagascar (increasing in difficulty) and you can also choose to create a bacterial, viral or parasitic disease. Additionally, you do have the the ability to stop the clock while you make changes to your disease, taking advantage of the EvoPoints you accumulate as you infect the population. EvoPoints are used in the game to evolve your disease by adding new genes and traits.

I’m not sure what it says about me, but I took to this game quite quickly; I think you have to be a bit Borg-like in your approach and adapt, coming back stronger than before when you fail to achieve your main objective. Maybe the degree in biochemistry and microbiology helped a little! I would love to know what other science geeks think about Pandemic, I for one was really impressed with the science behind the game. I’m sure we could analyze each minute detail and come up with something dubious, but for a game like this I think it was amazingly thought out, you could apply real life biological principles and get a real life result – very very cool.

The strategy behind creating and deploying your disease (and of course getting to name your own disease) is definitely the best aspect of the game in my opinion. The only thing I did find was that you sometimes had to wait for long periods of time simply watching your disease propagate, or not as the case may be, especially when you know you are not going to be able to exterminate all of humanity – sometimes I wished I could just skip to the game stats to see how I did before taking another run at it.

One other point of note, in the forums there were a number of people who were a little frustrated by the games initial lack of instructional content, and I agree that I did find that I was working out a lot of the game play through trial and error; but Dark Realm Studios was not unsympathetic to this feedback and in update 1.1 they released, amongst other things, a new game tutorial which hopefully helped with starting out in the game and preventing some of the frustration of just not being able to wipe out humanity.

This is a great game, more than worth the £0.69 price tag.

June 10, 2012

Max Payne 3 Review

Over a decade ago, developer Remedy revolutionized action games by casting a man with gastrointestinal problems as the lead character in Max Payne. Among his other super abilities was control over the flow of time and diving around while maintaining incredible accuracy. Like nothing else at the time, the game was a comparison to The Matrix in more ways than its Bullet Time mechanics. Ever since its release games have attempted to shoehorn super slow motion Bullet Time gameplay into their formula, often with mixed success, and never as well as the original Max Payne. Nothing would closely mirror the success of the first’s execution until Remedy released Max Payne 2 in 2003. Elevating and refining the original’s gameplay, it became the new benchmark, as well as a memorable game with lasting appeal. I still install it roughly every year and run through it again. This is all without mention of user mods, which both games supported, launching with editing tools in the box. This encouraged hundreds of mods for the games, several of which were of legitimate quality, and a few of which had incredible production values for mods. Now, a decade down the line, the keys have been passed down to Rockstar, and it’s a question of whether or not the power-developer was able to make a worthy successor, trading mod tools for multiplayer.

 

 

Among the most immediate and apparent changes are the aesthetic and thematic divergences from the first two. Gone are the visual styling, the over-the-top caricatures, and the gritty noir dime novel story and pulp dialogue. All these classic Max Payne elements are exchanged for Rockstar’s trademark realism and imperfect characters. Affecting more than just the story, even the gameplay is changed by the character and narrative differences. Obviously these changes don’t affect the gameplay as much as Rockstar’s tried-and-true mechanics, but nonetheless they’re very tangible, even if they are overshadowed by other things Rockstar introduced, such as their cover system.

 

To many players who enjoyed the previous games in the series, mention of a cover system is met with belligerent scoffs and disgusted groans. Max has never before been able to press up against and hide behind walls. The first two games were about running forward and diving through doorways, shooting everyone in the room as fast as possible before diving through the next door. Gameplay was very rarely about stalling or staying in one place for long, but the introduction of a cover system completely reverses that. Redefining Max Payne to be stop’n’shoot rather than run’n’gun lends some credibility to those hesitant reactions, but the quality of the execution refutes nearly all of them. This is all the more true due to the fact that the game also allows you to dive around the level and just walk around in Bullet Time shooting bad guys. The flip side is that, while not ineffective, these techniques are much less practical, partly because the cover system is so pivotal to the game’s design. Anyone familiar with the cover mechanics in Rockstar’s other titles (Grand Theft Auto IV, Red Dead Redemption, L.A. Noire) will know immediately what to expect in Max Payne 3. The only major difference seems to be that cover is less of a magic shield granting immunity to bullets, though whether by design or by the nature of bullets being actual projectiles isn’t clear. Another minor difference is the incredibly curious absence of the ability to go around corners or across gaps while remaining in cover, something so prominently featured and underutilized in L.A. Noire.

 

 

For those stringently adhering to old-school play mechanics, never using the cover system is an option, albeit a deadlier one. Max has never been able to take a lot of bullets at once, and that’s seemingly more pronounced here, especially on the higher difficulties. Luckily enemies play by the same rules and die after a few shots. Some key differences made to Bullet Time and shootdodging also increase the difficulty of this method. Bullet Time doesn’t last nearly as long as it seemed to, and it also doesn’t seem to replenish as much per kill. It seems much more suited to quick bursts of slow motion. Provided he has one last painkiller, when Max is shot down he starts falling to the ground in Bullet Time, offering the player one last chance to shoot the guy responsible for killing Max. If he’s able to shoot him, Max gets another chance at life and recovers, hitting the floor ready to try again. Shootdodging is one of the primary recipients of those aforementioned narrative changes. Max is an old, fat, white guy. With this in mind, it makes a lot of sense that when he launches himself through the air and slams into the floor he’s rather slow to get up, waiting until the player tells him to, and even then taking his sweet time. Deciding to let Max stay on the floor allows him to slightly roll around and shoot attackers from a different position, as well as rest his feet. Anything played relying on Max by himself mirrors his character, behaving slower, more plodding, and chunky. All of the movement has weight to it. However, that’s not to say he’s incapable of quick bursts of aggression and pinpoint finesse, and that’s mostly due in part to the phenomenal gunplay.

 

 

One of the series’ hallmarks has been unparalleled shooting, thanks mostly to the fact that every bullet is modeled and simulated, having to actually travel on its trajectory. Guns are deadly accurate, with enough spread to require skillful wielding aided by clever use of Bullet Time. This goes for enemies too, their fire often far more accurate than you would care to receive. On the reverse side from the player, where Bullet Time makes Max more accurate, it seems to lessen enemy accuracy overall, and causes them to start shooting nowhere near Max, sweeping their fire towards him, even if they were in the middle of automatic fire when Bullet Time was activated. It’s a little disheartening that the game pulls certain punches like this, but otherwise Bullet Time would be significantly reduced in its usefulness. Still, the gunplay feels incredibly tight, and exchanging fire with the bad guys is always exciting and dangerous. The gunplay also has the same kinetic feel as the past two games, with things exploding into pieces and shattering when hit, as well as people staggering under the force of being shot. Everything destroys extremely nicely in this game. There were a few striking moments after firefights where I would turn around and wonder how I ever survived the encounter. An odd divergence from the first two is that Max no longer has any grenades or molotovs, made more odd when enemies occasionally do, and they’re present in multiplayer.

 


 

The game is a challenge on the normal setting and downright hard on the higher ones, something surprisingly refreshing among other games in which their hardest difficulty is still relatively easy. Again, Max cannot take much damage, and the amount lessens on higher difficulties. It’s not clear whether enemies get a whole lot more accurate as the scale goes up, since they start out as fairly good shots on the normal level. The game actually only throws a handful of ridiculously unfair situations at you, one of which is an infuriating timed end to a level, only to be met with an armored enemy where you have little cover and the checkpoint is a few minutes away.

 

Hands down the biggest change from the other titles are the thematic elements and the story and characters. Characters are no longer larger-than-life cardboard cutouts spouting dramatic lines but are surprisingly well fleshed-out. Any and all elements of film noir are gone, replaced with modern “digital glitch” styling. The comics are no more, replaced with long-winded, droning cutscenes. Occasionally they do a side-by-side panel in a cutscene, but mostly it’s just a standard cinematic. The one concession are the stylistic flashes of color and blurring of the screen to reflect Max’s feeling. When he’s drunk the screen gets fuzzy, and violence or yelling sees flashes of red overlaid on the action. The effect isn’t subtle, and it doesn’t feel like they were attempting to be, but instead of presenting a visual inner monologue it simply provides annoying flashes over relatively pointless and boring cutscenes. The other effect of removing the noir elements is that Max’s once iconic inner dialogues no longer have any poetry. Instead he sounds like a tired old drunk, spot-on for the character, but incredibly annoying to listen to. For the most part, Max is the only one affect by the narrative shift negatively, with everyone and everything else conceived around this new realistic style. Max’s past is barely brought up, and the few flashbacks are still later than the events of Max Payne 2. All of the new characters at least start grounded enough in this gritty reality to be believable, even if they quickly do things to break that. The story is penned by Rockstar’s head writer Dan Houser, who also wrote GTA IV and Red Dead Redemption, which makes the almost complete lack of “I’m a good guy who’s done bad things” as a constant theme both weird and refreshing. Sadly, Max instead comes across as a whiny “oh woe is me” character, earning more contempt than sympathy. The story also takes some pretty poor turns and is overall lackluster, but it’s a more than competent vehicle to get from one shootout to another. It’s unfortunate that half the cutscenes are pre-rendered, but the real-time cutscenes transition to gameplay extremely well, going from one final camera pan to following Max through a door and suddenly popping a HUD up on your screen as it relinquishes control.

 

 

In tandem with the writing and the gameplay, Rockstar’s forte in soundtrack choice comes shining through in Max Payne 3. The Max Payne theme returns, though it’s a much more subdued part of the soundtrack on this outing. Where Remedy went the route of creating actual background music for their titles, Rockstar has brought in their usual echoing sparse notes to create the soundtrack here. It gives the game an atmosphere of being disheveled and uneasy, something that reflects well upon Max’s character. True to Rockstar form, they also know when to kick the door in and play a licensed track. All such instances in the game flow real well, the songs fitting in naturally and adding a much more cinematic feel. It also didn’t hurt in the least that the songs were generally something you could bob your head in time with. But even for all the Hispanic/Latino gangster rap they threw at the game, the most striking moment of the soundtrack for me was in the final level. Max had cleared his mind of everything except getting the man he was after and simply picked up his gun and started walking. In one area of the level the player is tasked with fighting down an extremely long and large corridor against several dozen enemies. The song so perfectly captured both Max’s mindset, and how I as a player felt about the moment, as well as it just gave me the magical ability to keep Max walking forward while scoring headshots on the onslaught of enemies rushing to try and kill me. Perhaps it was the fact that I was never hit in this sequence, or perhaps it was the fact that I was getting one-shot headshots on all the enemies, but the general bad-assedry overlaid with music made this the most memorable moment in the entire game. For those four minutes I felt completely untouchable. The Angel of Death with a personal vendetta.

 

Worthy of special mention are the animations and the Euphoria engine powering them. The animations are already top notch, and now, with Euphoria, multiple animations can be seamlessly combined on the fly to create all new ones for the situation. It’s also a system of reaction, with bad guys tumbling and trying to keep their balance when shot, staggering their last few steps and grabbing for support when killed, and thrown back against objects far better than any traditional ragdoll. The system also works on Max, making him smash into objects from a dive beautifully, putting his arm up to shield his face in slow motion while he crumples up and slams painfully to the floor. Since he can now only carry two sidearms and one large weapon, they’re all always visible, so Max has to juggle the larger gun when using a smaller one, and always does so with absolute fluidity.

 

 

Something else worth singling out, though this time in a completely negative light, are the “load times.” The “load times” in this game are utterly horrible, but they aren’t actual loads. Instead, they just lock you into a cutscene with the inability to skip or quit to the menu, meaning you have to sit through them no matter how many times you’ve already done so. Each button press is met with “still loading,” which might make sense during the pre-rendered cutscenes, but not during the real-time ones, especially mid-level. The reason I claim they’re not loading is because it says it is for an entire five minute cutscene, while I can quit to the menu and load any other checkpoint that goes directly into gameplay in less than half a minute. Any cutscenes that allow you to skip are already on the last few shots before the camera pans into gameplay by the time it allows you to, negating the use of skipping it. In the same vein as cutscenes, there are a few on-rails segments in the game where Max is firing from a vehicle, and these are a particular weakness of the game. They allow you to shoot plenty of bad guys, but they remove all of what’s fun about the gunplay sticking it into what is essentially an interactive cinematic.

 

The visuals in the game are fairly spectacular, and even on aging rigs the game runs extremely well. The game takes advantage of new DirectX 11 features, and while they aren’t the most pronounced thing in the game, they’re certainly noticeable. It’s pleasant to look at Max’s bald head and not see any sharp corners sticking out. The texture work is also pretty good, although these high resolution assets come at the cost of a staggering 35GB of hard drive space. Even worse is that it seems some of the textures have broken and look like they were taken straight out of Duke Nukem 3D.

 

 

 

Finally, the multiplayer seems like an afterthought. That may seem very weird, considering that GTA IV and Red Dead Redemption both had significantly sizable multiplayer experiences that even received post-release updates, but the multiplayer presented in Max Payne 3 is a very poor showing, despite some obvious planning for it. Rockstar has implemented traditional game modes and a leveling and load-out system, as well as an account-side clan system called “crews.” But for all the thought into the underlying metagame for the multiplayer, the game itself plays very poorly. Both GTA IV and Red Dead Redemption had multiplayer where taking your time and using cover was rewarded, and the inherited mechanics from those two make Max Payne 3 seem like you should be using cover. But the mechanics inherited from the Max Payne series make it seem like you should be running around carelessly shooting anyone who isn’t you, which is what the game leans towards more. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make up its mind and leaves the gameplay stranded in the middle, feeling much more spastic and chaotic than it should. The gameplay is no longer tight but instead is an uncontrolled mess. This is slightly reduced in the more advanced, team-based objective  game modes, but it’s never fully rectified. This is made worse yet by the fact that such modes must be unlocked by playing enough rounds of the truly terrible deathmatch or team deathmatch.

 

 

But ignoring the multiplayer and concentrating on the singleplayer, Max Payne 3 is a very enjoyable experience. The gunplay is incredibly fun, and it has some sizable replayability, partly due to collectables scattered throughout the game and challenges to get X number of Y, but mostly due to the fact that the gunplay is so tight and entertaining, as well as being different each time you load the game up. Some deeply buried flaws infect the game throughout, but hopefully they can be patched out, and even if not, it doesn’t break the game, it just slows it down to a crawl for several minutes at a time. Remedy may have moved on, but Max Payne has far from withered and died without them.

June 10, 2012

Max Payne 3 Review

Over a decade ago, developer Remedy revolutionized action games by casting a man with gastrointestinal problems as the lead character in Max Payne. Among his other super abilities was control over the flow of time and diving around while maintaining incredible accuracy. Like nothing else at the time, the game was a comparison to The Matrix in more ways than its Bullet Time mechanics. Ever since its release games have attempted to shoehorn super slow motion Bullet Time gameplay into their formula, often with mixed success, and never as well as the original Max Payne. Nothing would closely mirror the success of the first’s execution until Remedy released Max Payne 2 in 2003. Elevating and refining the original’s gameplay, it became the new benchmark, as well as a memorable game with lasting appeal. I still install it roughly every year and run through it again. This is all without mention of user mods, which both games supported, launching with editing tools in the box. This encouraged hundreds of mods for the games, several of which were of legitimate quality, and a few of which had incredible production values for mods. Now, a decade down the line, the keys have been passed down to Rockstar, and it’s a question of whether or not the power-developer was able to make a worthy successor, trading mod tools for multiplayer.

 

 

Among the most immediate and apparent changes are the aesthetic and thematic divergences from the first two. Gone are the visual styling, the over-the-top caricatures, and the gritty noir dime novel story and pulp dialogue. All these classic Max Payne elements are exchanged for Rockstar’s trademark realism and imperfect characters. Affecting more than just the story, even the gameplay is changed by the character and narrative differences. Obviously these changes don’t affect the gameplay as much as Rockstar’s tried-and-true mechanics, but nonetheless they’re very tangible, even if they are overshadowed by other things Rockstar introduced, such as their cover system.

 

To many players who enjoyed the previous games in the series, mention of a cover system is met with belligerent scoffs and disgusted groans. Max has never before been able to press up against and hide behind walls. The first two games were about running forward and diving through doorways, shooting everyone in the room as fast as possible before diving through the next door. Gameplay was very rarely about stalling or staying in one place for long, but the introduction of a cover system completely reverses that. Redefining Max Payne to be stop’n’shoot rather than run’n’gun lends some credibility to those hesitant reactions, but the quality of the execution refutes nearly all of them. This is all the more true due to the fact that the game also allows you to dive around the level and just walk around in Bullet Time shooting bad guys. The flip side is that, while not ineffective, these techniques are much less practical, partly because the cover system is so pivotal to the game’s design. Anyone familiar with the cover mechanics in Rockstar’s other titles (Grand Theft Auto IV, Red Dead Redemption, L.A. Noire) will know immediately what to expect in Max Payne 3. The only major difference seems to be that cover is less of a magic shield granting immunity to bullets, though whether by design or by the nature of bullets being actual projectiles isn’t clear. Another minor difference is the incredibly curious absence of the ability to go around corners or across gaps while remaining in cover, something so prominently featured and underutilized in L.A. Noire.

 

 

For those stringently adhering to old-school play mechanics, never using the cover system is an option, albeit a deadlier one. Max has never been able to take a lot of bullets at once, and that’s seemingly more pronounced here, especially on the higher difficulties. Luckily enemies play by the same rules and die after a few shots. Some key differences made to Bullet Time and shootdodging also increase the difficulty of this method. Bullet Time doesn’t last nearly as long as it seemed to, and it also doesn’t seem to replenish as much per kill. It seems much more suited to quick bursts of slow motion. Provided he has one last painkiller, when Max is shot down he starts falling to the ground in Bullet Time, offering the player one last chance to shoot the guy responsible for killing Max. If he’s able to shoot him, Max gets another chance at life and recovers, hitting the floor ready to try again. Shootdodging is one of the primary recipients of those aforementioned narrative changes. Max is an old, fat, white guy. With this in mind, it makes a lot of sense that when he launches himself through the air and slams into the floor he’s rather slow to get up, waiting until the player tells him to, and even then taking his sweet time. Deciding to let Max stay on the floor allows him to slightly roll around and shoot attackers from a different position, as well as rest his feet. Anything played relying on Max by himself mirrors his character, behaving slower, more plodding, and chunky. All of the movement has weight to it. However, that’s not to say he’s incapable of quick bursts of aggression and pinpoint finesse, and that’s mostly due in part to the phenomenal gunplay.

 

 

One of the series’ hallmarks has been unparalleled shooting, thanks mostly to the fact that every bullet is modeled and simulated, having to actually travel on its trajectory. Guns are deadly accurate, with enough spread to require skillful wielding aided by clever use of Bullet Time. This goes for enemies too, their fire often far more accurate than you would care to receive. On the reverse side from the player, where Bullet Time makes Max more accurate, it seems to lessen enemy accuracy overall, and causes them to start shooting nowhere near Max, sweeping their fire towards him, even if they were in the middle of automatic fire when Bullet Time was activated. It’s a little disheartening that the game pulls certain punches like this, but otherwise Bullet Time would be significantly reduced in its usefulness. Still, the gunplay feels incredibly tight, and exchanging fire with the bad guys is always exciting and dangerous. The gunplay also has the same kinetic feel as the past two games, with things exploding into pieces and shattering when hit, as well as people staggering under the force of being shot. Everything destroys extremely nicely in this game. There were a few striking moments after firefights where I would turn around and wonder how I ever survived the encounter. An odd divergence from the first two is that Max no longer has any grenades or molotovs, made more odd when enemies occasionally do, and they’re present in multiplayer.

 


 

The game is a challenge on the normal setting and downright hard on the higher ones, something surprisingly refreshing among other games in which their hardest difficulty is still relatively easy. Again, Max cannot take much damage, and the amount lessens on higher difficulties. It’s not clear whether enemies get a whole lot more accurate as the scale goes up, since they start out as fairly good shots on the normal level. The game actually only throws a handful of ridiculously unfair situations at you, one of which is an infuriating timed end to a level, only to be met with an armored enemy where you have little cover and the checkpoint is a few minutes away.

 

Hands down the biggest change from the other titles are the thematic elements and the story and characters. Characters are no longer larger-than-life cardboard cutouts spouting dramatic lines but are surprisingly well fleshed-out. Any and all elements of film noir are gone, replaced with modern “digital glitch” styling. The comics are no more, replaced with long-winded, droning cutscenes. Occasionally they do a side-by-side panel in a cutscene, but mostly it’s just a standard cinematic. The one concession are the stylistic flashes of color and blurring of the screen to reflect Max’s feeling. When he’s drunk the screen gets fuzzy, and violence or yelling sees flashes of red overlaid on the action. The effect isn’t subtle, and it doesn’t feel like they were attempting to be, but instead of presenting a visual inner monologue it simply provides annoying flashes over relatively pointless and boring cutscenes. The other effect of removing the noir elements is that Max’s once iconic inner dialogues no longer have any poetry. Instead he sounds like a tired old drunk, spot-on for the character, but incredibly annoying to listen to. For the most part, Max is the only one affect by the narrative shift negatively, with everyone and everything else conceived around this new realistic style. Max’s past is barely brought up, and the few flashbacks are still later than the events of Max Payne 2. All of the new characters at least start grounded enough in this gritty reality to be believable, even if they quickly do things to break that. The story is penned by Rockstar’s head writer Dan Houser, who also wrote GTA IV and Red Dead Redemption, which makes the almost complete lack of “I’m a good guy who’s done bad things” as a constant theme both weird and refreshing. Sadly, Max instead comes across as a whiny “oh woe is me” character, earning more contempt than sympathy. The story also takes some pretty poor turns and is overall lackluster, but it’s a more than competent vehicle to get from one shootout to another. It’s unfortunate that half the cutscenes are pre-rendered, but the real-time cutscenes transition to gameplay extremely well, going from one final camera pan to following Max through a door and suddenly popping a HUD up on your screen as it relinquishes control.

 

 

In tandem with the writing and the gameplay, Rockstar’s forte in soundtrack choice comes shining through in Max Payne 3. The Max Payne theme returns, though it’s a much more subdued part of the soundtrack on this outing. Where Remedy went the route of creating actual background music for their titles, Rockstar has brought in their usual echoing sparse notes to create the soundtrack here. It gives the game an atmosphere of being disheveled and uneasy, something that reflects well upon Max’s character. True to Rockstar form, they also know when to kick the door in and play a licensed track. All such instances in the game flow real well, the songs fitting in naturally and adding a much more cinematic feel. It also didn’t hurt in the least that the songs were generally something you could bob your head in time with. But even for all the Hispanic/Latino gangster rap they threw at the game, the most striking moment of the soundtrack for me was in the final level. Max had cleared his mind of everything except getting the man he was after and simply picked up his gun and started walking. In one area of the level the player is tasked with fighting down an extremely long and large corridor against several dozen enemies. The song so perfectly captured both Max’s mindset, and how I as a player felt about the moment, as well as it just gave me the magical ability to keep Max walking forward while scoring headshots on the onslaught of enemies rushing to try and kill me. Perhaps it was the fact that I was never hit in this sequence, or perhaps it was the fact that I was getting one-shot headshots on all the enemies, but the general bad-assedry overlaid with music made this the most memorable moment in the entire game. For those four minutes I felt completely untouchable. The Angel of Death with a personal vendetta.

 

Worthy of special mention are the animations and the Euphoria engine powering them. The animations are already top notch, and now, with Euphoria, multiple animations can be seamlessly combined on the fly to create all new ones for the situation. It’s also a system of reaction, with bad guys tumbling and trying to keep their balance when shot, staggering their last few steps and grabbing for support when killed, and thrown back against objects far better than any traditional ragdoll. The system also works on Max, making him smash into objects from a dive beautifully, putting his arm up to shield his face in slow motion while he crumples up and slams painfully to the floor. Since he can now only carry two sidearms and one large weapon, they’re all always visible, so Max has to juggle the larger gun when using a smaller one, and always does so with absolute fluidity.

 

 

Something else worth singling out, though this time in a completely negative light, are the “load times.” The “load times” in this game are utterly horrible, but they aren’t actual loads. Instead, they just lock you into a cutscene with the inability to skip or quit to the menu, meaning you have to sit through them no matter how many times you’ve already done so. Each button press is met with “still loading,” which might make sense during the pre-rendered cutscenes, but not during the real-time ones, especially mid-level. The reason I claim they’re not loading is because it says it is for an entire five minute cutscene, while I can quit to the menu and load any other checkpoint that goes directly into gameplay in less than half a minute. Any cutscenes that allow you to skip are already on the last few shots before the camera pans into gameplay by the time it allows you to, negating the use of skipping it. In the same vein as cutscenes, there are a few on-rails segments in the game where Max is firing from a vehicle, and these are a particular weakness of the game. They allow you to shoot plenty of bad guys, but they remove all of what’s fun about the gunplay sticking it into what is essentially an interactive cinematic.

 

The visuals in the game are fairly spectacular, and even on aging rigs the game runs extremely well. The game takes advantage of new DirectX 11 features, and while they aren’t the most pronounced thing in the game, they’re certainly noticeable. It’s pleasant to look at Max’s bald head and not see any sharp corners sticking out. The texture work is also pretty good, although these high resolution assets come at the cost of a staggering 35GB of hard drive space. Even worse is that it seems some of the textures have broken and look like they were taken straight out of Duke Nukem 3D.

 

 

 

Finally, the multiplayer seems like an afterthought. That may seem very weird, considering that GTA IV and Red Dead Redemption both had significantly sizable multiplayer experiences that even received post-release updates, but the multiplayer presented in Max Payne 3 is a very poor showing, despite some obvious planning for it. Rockstar has implemented traditional game modes and a leveling and load-out system, as well as an account-side clan system called “crews.” But for all the thought into the underlying metagame for the multiplayer, the game itself plays very poorly. Both GTA IV and Red Dead Redemption had multiplayer where taking your time and using cover was rewarded, and the inherited mechanics from those two make Max Payne 3 seem like you should be using cover. But the mechanics inherited from the Max Payne series make it seem like you should be running around carelessly shooting anyone who isn’t you, which is what the game leans towards more. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make up its mind and leaves the gameplay stranded in the middle, feeling much more spastic and chaotic than it should. The gameplay is no longer tight but instead is an uncontrolled mess. This is slightly reduced in the more advanced, team-based objective  game modes, but it’s never fully rectified. This is made worse yet by the fact that such modes must be unlocked by playing enough rounds of the truly terrible deathmatch or team deathmatch.

 

 

But ignoring the multiplayer and concentrating on the singleplayer, Max Payne 3 is a very enjoyable experience. The gunplay is incredibly fun, and it has some sizable replayability, partly due to collectables scattered throughout the game and challenges to get X number of Y, but mostly due to the fact that the gunplay is so tight and entertaining, as well as being different each time you load the game up. Some deeply buried flaws infect the game throughout, but hopefully they can be patched out, and even if not, it doesn’t break the game, it just slows it down to a crawl for several minutes at a time. Remedy may have moved on, but Max Payne has far from withered and died without them.

June 3, 2012

Diablo 3

Diablo III

Long has it been since people first booted up their PC at home, dropped the phone line for an internet connection and started playing Diablo.

The story thus far:

Diablo is set in the world of Sanctuary, created by the Archangel Inarius for angels and demons weary of conflict between the High Heavens and the Burning Hells. When unions between angels and demons created powerful beings called Nephalem, the demon Lilith sought to raise them as her servants and rule Sanctuary, leading to her banishment and the destruction of most of the Nephalem. When Lilith returned, a farmer named Uldyssian-ul-Diomed stopped her by destroying the cults of both Inarius and Lilith, sacrificing himself to protect the world.

In an attempt to keep the lords of the Burning Hells from taking over Sanctuary, the Archangel Tyrael captured the three prime evils: Mephisto, Lord of Hatred; Baal, Lord of Destruction; and Diablo, Lord of Terror. The prime evils remained imprisoned until Diablo, through contacts with mortals living in the town above him (Tristram) began bringing minions from Hell into Sanctuary. While a hero managed to slay him, the hero soon transformed into a new host body for Diablo’s soul. With Diablo setting about to free his brothers, a band of heroes went after him, managing to slay all three prime evils. In the process, the Worldstone, designed to keep Sanctuary hidden from the High Heavens and the Burning Hells, was destroyed.

This last installment is meant to close the circle of the Diablo realm in a nice neat little bow, but how well does it actually do it? More importantly, how well does it play? I will try to do this review without putting in too many spoilers or I will at least let you know ahead of time for those that have not bought it yet or those who for some reason haven’t skimmed on through normal mode.

This game, depending on who you ask, is either amazing…. or complete crap. I have followed the franchise for more than a decade and can honestly say, it is a breath of fresh air with just enough of the playstyle to keep you from screaming that it is a different game all together.

I will be comparing many aspects of all 3 releases of Diablo thus far with their expansions included, for completeness’ sake, and let you decide whether or not to delve into this hell torn world once more. So in the words of our good friend Deckard Cain; stay a while, and listen.

Classes:

In Diablo there were a total of 3 playable classes. These classes included the Warrior, Rogue (archer), or Sorcerer. Diablo: Hellfire offers an additional character class: the Monk, in addition to two hidden character classes: the Barbarian and the Bard. This totals us at 6 playable classes for the original franchise release with the expansion adding more variety to the replay.

In Diablo II there were a total of 5 playable classes. These classes included the Barbarian, Amazon, Sorceress, Paladin, or Necromancer. Diablo II: Lord of Destruction offered 2 more playable classes from the get go, the Druid and Assassin as well as a fifth act to traverse through and a multitude of other upgrades such as multiple weapon pages and a substantial increase in the stash size. This expansion put Diablo II on the map with a large scale community and following.

In Diablo III we have yet again 5 playable classes. Barbarian, Demon Hunter, Wizard, Monk, and Witch Doctor. In all honesty, these fall almost directly in line with the first 5 classes of Diablo II with variables that have been changed. This is not to say that it is bad, it is a bit refreshing to see a difference in the way you play Diablo II and Diablo III with essentially similar class substitutes.  The exception is that now you can also select gender.

Skills:

In Diablo the classes were almost a nomenclature only in early levels as any class could wield a weapon or use spells. The difference really only showed itself later in play when high level spells required 255 magic that only the sorcerer could achieve. Likewise only the Warrior could wield high level plate armors and weapons.

In Diablo II the class system was overhauled and given a new style where each class had the ability to wield specialized weapons and the ability to use certain items that the others could not. They were also given split skill trees that each class would use to attain skills as they leveled where each class was completely separate in it’s uses and spells. This added variety so as not every character was using identical weaponry and spells regardless of class as seen wildly on its predecessor.

In Diablo III, however, the class system was overhauled in a different way. They kept the separate skills per class but instead of letting players “level up” certain skills while completely skipping others they have a strict linear pathway for skills and they unlock as you level gaining different runes that can change the use of certain spells. This is one point that many people seem to think droll but I for one am in love with it. No more are the days of having a limited number of skill points and only ascertaining certain skills to comply with a generally accepted build or otherwise be useless in the end game. This method makes every character unlock every ability and in doing so lets all players have free reign to change and modify the skill set that they want to adorn and play with. This also means, instead of being forced on a path based on the skills I have chosen like in Diablo II ex: Bowazon vs Javazon, I can simply switch between play types on said class by simply choosing the other skills that let me more easily play as that type. This is such a huge improvement over the old style. I no longer need 4 Amazons to have every build that I enjoy playing. I need only 1 with every skill unlocked and ready, simply hit the skill tree and select which skills and modifiers that I want.

Stats:

In Diablo you were given the chance to add points per level into the stat of your choice. This gave you the chance to create your character on the fly however you felt you needed it to perform. This was nice since most RPG’s at the time did not give you this ability.

In Diablo II you were still given the ability to add stat points where you felt they would best help you gear and fight. This changed when Uber: Tristram and the Diablo Clone were introduced as items that dropped from each gave an exorbitant amount of stats to every category leaving you free to put almost if not ALL point into Vitality and still being able to gear to the teeth effectively breaking the game and how character creation was done.

In Diablo III they have overhauled the stat system and stripped you of your right to choose stat point allocation effectively taking you out of the realm of customizing your character all together. Every Class that gears the exact same will have the exact same damage and health and everything. This may seem trivial but it is one of the only drawbacks I really find with the overhaul of the Diablo system.

Multiplayer:

In Diablo you had the chance to play with a maximum of 4 players per game and gave you the opportunity to have at least one of every class in any game which gave a good variety of way to tackle the dungeon. This also created less lag and kept games from getting out of hand. You also joined games while connected to Battle.Net through a server list and as a player would select the game you wanted to play in. This made it easy to join custom games made by your friends.

In Diablo II you could now only play online through Battle.Net and could play with up to 7 other people in a single game which gave the world a whole new meaning and with a world at the size of the Diablo II realm, it was easy to lose friends in a game even in the same area sometimes(when not partied). This helped to create PvP and Team PvP functions as well. Two teams of four players could effectively hit the landscape together and have an all out fight to the death and has become a big part of the game amongst players themselves. You joined games in Diablo II much as you did in the original by choosing a game from a list of available games that would scroll showing the game name and players names that were currently connected to said game.

In Diablo III you can now ONLY play online through Battle.Net and can have been restricted to a total of 4 players per game. This is not so much a take away as it is to help with the server lag dupe tricks used in Diablo II to gain non legitimate items. It also makes the game feel a lot more intimate and gives players a chance to revel in their own ability vs the mob of players attacking single targets and effectively giving some players a free ride on the exp train. The only problem with the system in Diablo III is the fact that you are required to log in online to play the game at all which is bad news for those who hoped to buy it and play single player offline.

Playability:

In Diablo there was no run feature, you walked everywhere. One speed to rule them all so to speak. This led to some slow gameplay if you happened to roll and extraordinarily large map style game. There was also a bit of a limit on HOW you played the game, as in, you would simply walk from one level of the dungeon and climb down and down until you reached the bottom and fought Diablo himself. This was WAY fun the first time through, but led to some loss in the replay value. I for one still like to trek down the 20 some odd levels and down big D ever so often even today but for others it was not so and it kept sales a big stagnant after the first year and a half or so.

In Diablo II they put in the run/walk toggle and all was good; or so you thought. This applied to those times when the legions of hell were on your backside and could also run but you ran clean out of Stamina which caused your untimely demise. A good idea for a feature but it seemed a bit pointless to add it after a while seeing as having a stat point to distribute to it seemed a bit ridiculous. The maps in this game were always on a similar scale even though they were different so often. It was written that there were a sum total of about 95 maps or so for each area that were picked up randomly from the .mpq and looking at the size of that file, it is easy to believe. This however, created TONS of replay value as every time you loaded a new game the entire world was different and created a sense of want in unlocking the maps secrets from beginning to end. A lot of people have spent the better part of 10 years playing through Diablo II and have yet to memorize maps.

In Diablo III the run/walk feature as well as Stamina is gone. This is a blessing and a curse. You always run in Diablo III but it often feels like the original release when you are playing as you move so slowly through the levels. The maps in this release are nice, they are not particularly big but also not so small that they require a simple following of a linear path to unlock the whole grid. The big difference here is that the maps feel more natural but they also feel a bit repetitive. I can remember well running through areas and things being in the exact same location time after time. The maps may change a bit but it doesn’t feel like they were in Diablo II where every game was a complete toss up. I feel like I can run through each game and run through the acts without so much as slowing down to find certain quest items. There is still a ton of replay value as the actual dungeon phases seem to change quite a bit but the world above ground feels very static and unchanging.

Changes that make and break the game:

In Diablo III you are given a single stash that is shared amongst ALL characters on your account. Separate for Hardcore of course. You also share wealth in aspects as you level artisans via gold and certain tokens that you use to help them learn higher level items with. You are however stuck with only 1 account and can no longer create mule accounts for you wears to sit in to sell. The remedy to this is simple. The Auction House. Taken from WoW the ability to add items from characters bags and their stash you can choose and sell items on an Auction House now instead of simply muleing them for other characters or keeping them around to sell or trade later. This is a good and a bad thing. It will keep the market from being bought out by in game item sellers but it will cause people to flood the market with items and to offset the searching for truly good items with obscene gold buyouts set on crap items. There is an up and downside to all of this. It means that anybody can get geared and never have to farm or even complete the game to get the best gear available. This will become an understatement when people can buy items with REAL MONEY. The market will instantly become flooded with people buying the Godliest of gear with real money and never having to touch the hardest difficulty to earn said rewards which I believe breaks the game a bit.  There are some saving graces however.  These include picking up coin without having to click on it and also when playing with other people, all drops are for your eyes only.  No more are the days fighting over that one legendary item drop.  Everyone sees their own item drops and cannot effect another players.

All in all, Diablo III may have been overhauled but good, bad, or ugly; it was worth every penny to me. This franchise has been overhauled every time a new release has hit shelves and this is no different. You may or may not like the changes made but all in all it is still Diablo and the game still kicks a whole lot of ass.

Let us know what you think in the comment section below, Love it, Hate it, Haven’t tried it….

June 3, 2012

Diablo 3

Diablo III

Long has it been since people first booted up their PC at home, dropped the phone line for an internet connection and started playing Diablo.

The story thus far:

Diablo is set in the world of Sanctuary, created by the Archangel Inarius for angels and demons weary of conflict between the High Heavens and the Burning Hells. When unions between angels and demons created powerful beings called Nephalem, the demon Lilith sought to raise them as her servants and rule Sanctuary, leading to her banishment and the destruction of most of the Nephalem. When Lilith returned, a farmer named Uldyssian-ul-Diomed stopped her by destroying the cults of both Inarius and Lilith, sacrificing himself to protect the world.

In an attempt to keep the lords of the Burning Hells from taking over Sanctuary, the Archangel Tyrael captured the three prime evils: Mephisto, Lord of Hatred; Baal, Lord of Destruction; and Diablo, Lord of Terror. The prime evils remained imprisoned until Diablo, through contacts with mortals living in the town above him (Tristram) began bringing minions from Hell into Sanctuary. While a hero managed to slay him, the hero soon transformed into a new host body for Diablo’s soul. With Diablo setting about to free his brothers, a band of heroes went after him, managing to slay all three prime evils. In the process, the Worldstone, designed to keep Sanctuary hidden from the High Heavens and the Burning Hells, was destroyed.

This last installment is meant to close the circle of the Diablo realm in a nice neat little bow, but how well does it actually do it? More importantly, how well does it play? I will try to do this review without putting in too many spoilers or I will at least let you know ahead of time for those that have not bought it yet or those who for some reason haven’t skimmed on through normal mode.

This game, depending on who you ask, is either amazing…. or complete crap. I have followed the franchise for more than a decade and can honestly say, it is a breath of fresh air with just enough of the playstyle to keep you from screaming that it is a different game all together.

I will be comparing many aspects of all 3 releases of Diablo thus far with their expansions included, for completeness’ sake, and let you decide whether or not to delve into this hell torn world once more. So in the words of our good friend Deckard Cain; stay a while, and listen.

Classes:

In Diablo there were a total of 3 playable classes. These classes included the Warrior, Rogue (archer), or Sorcerer. Diablo: Hellfire offers an additional character class: the Monk, in addition to two hidden character classes: the Barbarian and the Bard. This totals us at 6 playable classes for the original franchise release with the expansion adding more variety to the replay.

In Diablo II there were a total of 5 playable classes. These classes included the Barbarian, Amazon, Sorceress, Paladin, or Necromancer. Diablo II: Lord of Destruction offered 2 more playable classes from the get go, the Druid and Assassin as well as a fifth act to traverse through and a multitude of other upgrades such as multiple weapon pages and a substantial increase in the stash size. This expansion put Diablo II on the map with a large scale community and following.

In Diablo III we have yet again 5 playable classes. Barbarian, Demon Hunter, Wizard, Monk, and Witch Doctor. In all honesty, these fall almost directly in line with the first 5 classes of Diablo II with variables that have been changed. This is not to say that it is bad, it is a bit refreshing to see a difference in the way you play Diablo II and Diablo III with essentially similar class substitutes.  The exception is that now you can also select gender.

Skills:

In Diablo the classes were almost a nomenclature only in early levels as any class could wield a weapon or use spells. The difference really only showed itself later in play when high level spells required 255 magic that only the sorcerer could achieve. Likewise only the Warrior could wield high level plate armors and weapons.

In Diablo II the class system was overhauled and given a new style where each class had the ability to wield specialized weapons and the ability to use certain items that the others could not. They were also given split skill trees that each class would use to attain skills as they leveled where each class was completely separate in it’s uses and spells. This added variety so as not every character was using identical weaponry and spells regardless of class as seen wildly on its predecessor.

In Diablo III, however, the class system was overhauled in a different way. They kept the separate skills per class but instead of letting players “level up” certain skills while completely skipping others they have a strict linear pathway for skills and they unlock as you level gaining different runes that can change the use of certain spells. This is one point that many people seem to think droll but I for one am in love with it. No more are the days of having a limited number of skill points and only ascertaining certain skills to comply with a generally accepted build or otherwise be useless in the end game. This method makes every character unlock every ability and in doing so lets all players have free reign to change and modify the skill set that they want to adorn and play with. This also means, instead of being forced on a path based on the skills I have chosen like in Diablo II ex: Bowazon vs Javazon, I can simply switch between play types on said class by simply choosing the other skills that let me more easily play as that type. This is such a huge improvement over the old style. I no longer need 4 Amazons to have every build that I enjoy playing. I need only 1 with every skill unlocked and ready, simply hit the skill tree and select which skills and modifiers that I want.

Stats:

In Diablo you were given the chance to add points per level into the stat of your choice. This gave you the chance to create your character on the fly however you felt you needed it to perform. This was nice since most RPG’s at the time did not give you this ability.

In Diablo II you were still given the ability to add stat points where you felt they would best help you gear and fight. This changed when Uber: Tristram and the Diablo Clone were introduced as items that dropped from each gave an exorbitant amount of stats to every category leaving you free to put almost if not ALL point into Vitality and still being able to gear to the teeth effectively breaking the game and how character creation was done.

In Diablo III they have overhauled the stat system and stripped you of your right to choose stat point allocation effectively taking you out of the realm of customizing your character all together. Every Class that gears the exact same will have the exact same damage and health and everything. This may seem trivial but it is one of the only drawbacks I really find with the overhaul of the Diablo system.

Multiplayer:

In Diablo you had the chance to play with a maximum of 4 players per game and gave you the opportunity to have at least one of every class in any game which gave a good variety of way to tackle the dungeon. This also created less lag and kept games from getting out of hand. You also joined games while connected to Battle.Net through a server list and as a player would select the game you wanted to play in. This made it easy to join custom games made by your friends.

In Diablo II you could now only play online through Battle.Net and could play with up to 7 other people in a single game which gave the world a whole new meaning and with a world at the size of the Diablo II realm, it was easy to lose friends in a game even in the same area sometimes(when not partied). This helped to create PvP and Team PvP functions as well. Two teams of four players could effectively hit the landscape together and have an all out fight to the death and has become a big part of the game amongst players themselves. You joined games in Diablo II much as you did in the original by choosing a game from a list of available games that would scroll showing the game name and players names that were currently connected to said game.

In Diablo III you can now ONLY play online through Battle.Net and can have been restricted to a total of 4 players per game. This is not so much a take away as it is to help with the server lag dupe tricks used in Diablo II to gain non legitimate items. It also makes the game feel a lot more intimate and gives players a chance to revel in their own ability vs the mob of players attacking single targets and effectively giving some players a free ride on the exp train. The only problem with the system in Diablo III is the fact that you are required to log in online to play the game at all which is bad news for those who hoped to buy it and play single player offline.

Playability:

In Diablo there was no run feature, you walked everywhere. One speed to rule them all so to speak. This led to some slow gameplay if you happened to roll and extraordinarily large map style game. There was also a bit of a limit on HOW you played the game, as in, you would simply walk from one level of the dungeon and climb down and down until you reached the bottom and fought Diablo himself. This was WAY fun the first time through, but led to some loss in the replay value. I for one still like to trek down the 20 some odd levels and down big D ever so often even today but for others it was not so and it kept sales a big stagnant after the first year and a half or so.

In Diablo II they put in the run/walk toggle and all was good; or so you thought. This applied to those times when the legions of hell were on your backside and could also run but you ran clean out of Stamina which caused your untimely demise. A good idea for a feature but it seemed a bit pointless to add it after a while seeing as having a stat point to distribute to it seemed a bit ridiculous. The maps in this game were always on a similar scale even though they were different so often. It was written that there were a sum total of about 95 maps or so for each area that were picked up randomly from the .mpq and looking at the size of that file, it is easy to believe. This however, created TONS of replay value as every time you loaded a new game the entire world was different and created a sense of want in unlocking the maps secrets from beginning to end. A lot of people have spent the better part of 10 years playing through Diablo II and have yet to memorize maps.

In Diablo III the run/walk feature as well as Stamina is gone. This is a blessing and a curse. You always run in Diablo III but it often feels like the original release when you are playing as you move so slowly through the levels. The maps in this release are nice, they are not particularly big but also not so small that they require a simple following of a linear path to unlock the whole grid. The big difference here is that the maps feel more natural but they also feel a bit repetitive. I can remember well running through areas and things being in the exact same location time after time. The maps may change a bit but it doesn’t feel like they were in Diablo II where every game was a complete toss up. I feel like I can run through each game and run through the acts without so much as slowing down to find certain quest items. There is still a ton of replay value as the actual dungeon phases seem to change quite a bit but the world above ground feels very static and unchanging.

Changes that make and break the game:

In Diablo III you are given a single stash that is shared amongst ALL characters on your account. Separate for Hardcore of course. You also share wealth in aspects as you level artisans via gold and certain tokens that you use to help them learn higher level items with. You are however stuck with only 1 account and can no longer create mule accounts for you wears to sit in to sell. The remedy to this is simple. The Auction House. Taken from WoW the ability to add items from characters bags and their stash you can choose and sell items on an Auction House now instead of simply muleing them for other characters or keeping them around to sell or trade later. This is a good and a bad thing. It will keep the market from being bought out by in game item sellers but it will cause people to flood the market with items and to offset the searching for truly good items with obscene gold buyouts set on crap items. There is an up and downside to all of this. It means that anybody can get geared and never have to farm or even complete the game to get the best gear available. This will become an understatement when people can buy items with REAL MONEY. The market will instantly become flooded with people buying the Godliest of gear with real money and never having to touch the hardest difficulty to earn said rewards which I believe breaks the game a bit.  There are some saving graces however.  These include picking up coin without having to click on it and also when playing with other people, all drops are for your eyes only.  No more are the days fighting over that one legendary item drop.  Everyone sees their own item drops and cannot effect another players.

All in all, Diablo III may have been overhauled but good, bad, or ugly; it was worth every penny to me. This franchise has been overhauled every time a new release has hit shelves and this is no different. You may or may not like the changes made but all in all it is still Diablo and the game still kicks a whole lot of ass.

Let us know what you think in the comment section below, Love it, Hate it, Haven’t tried it….

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