Crackdown 3 (Campaign) Review

For a moment Crackdown 3 had me. Even after a very short time running around the city, I was quickly addicted to collecting orbs and taking out locations on the map. However what quickly set-in was the realisation I was playing the same game again and despite 12-years passing nothing had really changed. Still immense fun though.

I have fond memories of the original 2007 Crackdown videogame. It’s one of the first times I remember watching friends virtually jump from new release to new release every Friday. Something that was quite new with the Xbox 360 as you could seeing what your friends were playing via the dashboard. Although I never played Crackdown in multiplayer I did progress the campaign through to the end and enjoyed the nice twist as part of the story. And hunting down agility orbs never got old.

That said a lot of open world games have come and been in the last 12-years. And Crackdown 3 has left a quick impression on me no matter how long I’ll play this game for. I don’t personally believe a reviewer or critic needs to complete a game or have played it for hours on end. Whilst games can often change mid-way of fall off a cliff after the first few missions I generally feel that you get a good feeling for a game early on, depending on the game type of course. That said I haven’t played this game for long at all barely totalling three hours but I feel that’s enough.

Crackdown 3 is, well…Crackdown. Again. Essentially the same game as the 2007 original but with a new lick of paint. Nothing has really changed. As you jump around you slowly level-up various aspects of your character unlocking new abilities and moves. So you can jump higher, move in mid-air, fire with more precision etc. Just like the original game. You still fight enemies with weapons or melee combat and feel like a superhero jumping around in a comic book town. The sense of progression is both addictive and memorising as you watch, literally in front of your eyes, your foot soldier transform into a superhuman law enforcer.

‘Time to collect those orbs agent!’

The game does look quite nice in 4K on Xbox One X (Crackdowngrade 3 aside) although very bland and sparse with a lack of detail about its futuristic city setting. Much in the same style as the original. Cutscenes are relatively short and the game has the feel of a limited budget production rather than triple AAA videogame with lots of comic book style, 2D style cutscenes. What ever they had though was certainly spent on the intro and the rendition of Terry Crews. As it is superbly accurate.

I haven’t tried or played any of the multiplayer as this doesn’t interest me, although I love the fact you can choose whether to download the campaign or multiplayer parts of the game separately. Bravo Microsoft on this Xbox One feature.

If I’m honest I probably wouldn’t have tried this game if it wasn’t on Xbox Game Pass and again is a great example of the strength of the subscription service. Although still a fun game it might actually be better for those that missed the original. This is a simple update of the first game but without adding anything to really improve or change it. And it that sense as more of the same, it can feel like a disappointment. Which is a massive shame.

Played on Xbox One X via Xbox Game Pass.

Abzû Review

I’m not sure if I really wanted to write about Abzû from Giant Squid Studios. A 2016 game that I knew nothing about and tried following a recommendation. It is one of those games that it is best to know little about beforehand. I said something similar in my recent review of Dear Esther and it definitely applies with this videogame too.

However after playing through this game over a few hours I realised that Abzû had me wanted to acknowledge it. It felt like something I enjoyed and really think it is worth playing. Although it is a difficult game to put into words, so bare with me if I flounder at this. Like the aforementioned review of Dear Esther, I don’t want to go into too much detail but essentially an underwater adventure game. Although I would be inclined to describe it as more of an ‘experience’ or a ‘ride’.

It is beautiful, stylised and vibrant as it is simple. Abzû reminded me of certain Legend of Zelda games, which is a massive compliment. And it definitely had further parts that made me recall other popular games and films. I think that it does very well at providing some unique atmosphere and moments that are noteworthy or memorable.

The audio is standout and as good as the visuals. Whether it be the powerful and epic soundtrack, or the simple sound effects, which are matched to the game brilliantly. Either at individual level or as a package the whole game is executed very well.

Yes, it could be criticised for being shallow or way too short, but I think it’s best to just accept Abzû for what it is. Whilst the game might be very short it can be breathtaking, endearing and unique. And that makes it worth trying out if you like this style of game. It is very well made and rarely puts a foot wrong. I enjoyed this one.

Played on Xbox One X via Xbox Game Pass.

Borderlands: The Handsome Collection Review

My publisher says I can’t call them ‘Bonerfarts’ after all.

Sir Hammerlock, Borderlands 2.

The above quote early on in Borderlands 2 sums up the juvenile and internet meme-ridden humour that litters that game. Indeed the first Borderlands had its fair share of humour but the sequel cranked it up to new levels. To be fair it wasn’t the only thing it changed up from the original game. Larger maps, more quests, more characters, more varied environments, better story and more guns. Borderlands 2 was more fun, loot filled first person shooter gameplay but dialled up to 11.

After completing the original and (most) of it’s DLC I purchased Borderlands 2 at release and over the years spent nearly 130 hours on the PC version. So why am I writing a review of Borderlands: The Handsome Collection years later? Well because I recently purchased it from the PlayStation Network due to being on heavy discount. And it was very timely as only a few days later the developer, Gearbox Software, would announce the follow-up. Along with a new re-release of the original and some 4K DLC for 2015’s Handsome Collection. So a fairly timely review.

Borderlands: The Handsome Collection on PS4 Pro screenshot.

The free Ultra HD Texture Pack weighs in at 15.79GB on PSN and includes a new 4K resolution on the PlayStation 4 Pro, Xbox One X and PC. Well dynamic 4K on consoles at least. The Handsome Collection runs at full 1080p and 60 frames a second on the base Xbox One and PlayStation 4 so this free update ups the resolution and improves some of the textures in the game. It’s not a night and day difference but the free update has sharpened up the visuals for both included Borderlands games. I don’t think it’s perfect as there are small drops from 60fps. However for the most part both games run smoothly. It’s worth mentioning that The Handsome Collection introduced an adjustable Field Of View (FOV) slider. Anything above halfway (70-110) can cause frame drops in certain busier moments however.

The whole package is a massive performance boost over the original console versions on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Although I only played the original Borderlands on the Xbox 360 the limited FOV made you feel like you were running around wearing binoculars. The PC is still the best platform with the potential for over 60fps and Nvidia PhysX but the gap is now much more miniscule. The Handsome Collection includes both Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! Unfortunately the first game wasn’t included which is a shame as it would have rounded off the whole package perfectly.

Borderlands 2 is widely regarded as the high point of the series to date and this is something I would definitely agree with. As a refinement on the original game its story and characters were a big step up from the original games providing countless hours of entertainment. And whether you max level a character or simply play the main storylines on normal it is always immense fun. Although one of the great things Borderlands always did well was understand it isn’t about the destination, but the journey. The best loot being able to drop at any point is a great choice in making levelling seem like part of the game.

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! was something I never had much time for despite owning it in my PC backlog for years. Whether slightly irrational its presence irritated me. I regarded it as a cheap and quick cash-in that 2K Australia (who no longer exists) designed whilst Gearbox worked on their new project: Battleborn. What I really wanted was a true sequel to Borderlands 2. Unfortunately it would take Battleborn being a critical and financial failure for Gearbox to return to develop the recently announced sequel.

Playing The Pre-Sequel! For the first time now and I have very quickly realised it is basically more of the same. There are a few unique gameplay additions such as new laser weapons, the need to refill o2 air tanks for most classes and limited gravity. The games feels like more Borderlands 2 DLC doing very little to differentiate itself or anything drastically new. Still for fans it is fantastic and compliments the epic second games really well. The way the new weapons are introduced is fantastic and the game clearly has a lot of Australian references and in-jokes.

Overall Borderlands: The Handsome Collection is a nice re-release and certainly one improved by the recent free Ultra HD update (even with the new pre-order Borderlands 3 ‘nag’ screens and menu adverts). Borderlands 2 is a bonafide classic and this collection was always a great way to experience the two latest Borderlands games. In conclusion in 2019 it is still immense fun being a Vault Hunter. Badass!

Played on PlayStation 4 Pro. Borderlands 2 previously played on PC.

Hammerwatch Review

Hammerwatch is one of a number of games I started playing this last Christmas. It has been unplayed in my Steam library for years (I purchased it New Year’s day in 2014 for just over £2). It’s an indie, pixel art, 2D overhead dungeon crawler with loads and loads of enemies to kill. And unlike many games of its ilk isn’t a rogue-like and isn’t quite a twin stick shooter, although it arguably comes close.

The game has six different classes that can be selected and do have a noticeable impact on the gameplay. Each class has a different main attack and skills. And having played the Wizard followed by the Ranger I can say that the class can have an impact on the difficulty too. I found the Ranger easier with a better range on the main attack.

Hammerwatch screenshot from the PC version.

The levels are fairly large, easy to get lost within and can take a while to progress through with big boss battles breaking up the action towards the end of each chapter. Although it’s worth mentioning that while the game has two campaigns included to play through it does also have survival and wave-based modes as well.

I think this is a game that comes alive with other people although unfortunately I only played it solo. Although it’s fun I found the core gameplay loop can get repetitive quickly as ultimately most of the enemies have either one or two attack patterns. There are upgrades and a combo mechanic that can introduce slightly new elements to the gameplay but ultimately this is a very simple kill hordes of enemies and seek keys to unlock new areas. Although there are also some cool secrets to find.

There is a lot of content here and I do think the game has plenty of fun moments. The controls could be better though. This might just be the PC version but I tried both the Steam Controller and a Wireless Xbox 360 Controller. Essentially you have to use Right Trigger or A button to fire your main weapon, whilst using the left stick for movement and right stick for aiming. When you combine this with the extra skills that are on the front facing buttons (by default) it can make it overly complex to get everything working quickly as the gameplay requires. This felt like a game which is crying out for twin stick support. So shooting with the right analogue stick as well as aiming direction. I do think this change would immeasurably improve the gameplay albeit make the game slightly easier.

As an aside I’ve said recently the Steam Controller works well in certain games. Although I didn’t feel this was one of them. With the dual haptic pads, instead of sticks, I was often struggling to aim the 8 directional fire as easily as on dual analogue sticks although there is an almost unlimited customisation for the Steam controller to improves things.

I don’t currently score games as I generally just write up my feelings on the game in question but this would be a hard one to score overall. It is a simple fun old school 2D shooter which has a neat visual style, nice audio, and great ending mechanic to ensure replayability and different modes to enjoy. However it does get samey, repetitive and feel overly simple. However the developer has continued to support the game years after release on PC which is to be commended. I would have personally enjoyed this game more with a better control scheme and I suspect this is more fun when played with someone else. However even just playing on my own I still played through to complete the campaign which is a sign that I had fun with this game.

Played the PC / Steam version.

The Division 2 Private Beta (Impressions)

I written before how I generally was a huge fan of the original game and how the The Division 2 was definitely on my radar for 2019 upcoming releases. Fortunately I was lucky enough to be included in the private beta after registering last year.

I played this on an Xbox One X despite having played the original on PC and these are my thoughts:

  • I’ve had a few bugs and glitches with enemies floating or zooming about once or twice. Also the game disconnected and crashed to the Xbox dashboard twice on the first hotel mission. And the ‘poor connection to host server’ message has appeared a lot suggesting the servers are struggling on Ubisoft’s side. When I’ve been disconnected both times I’ve had to start the whole mission again which was very annoying. At least Anthem would ask if I wanted to re-join the expedition to resume where I was when this happened.
  • Framerate seems fine (on Xbox One X) and as far as I could tell the didn’t fluctuate badly. I would guess the game is dynamic 2160p or 4K – scaling down the game’s resolution when required. On a personal note having played the original on PC I can’t say the drop from 60-100+ fps bothered me that much.
  • Like the original a very pretty game. It appears to recreate its location in stunning detail. Washington, D.C. might not be as iconic as New York City but the more open, green areas are welcome.
  • AR’s and SMG’s seem to have more recoil on them, almost like LMGs from the original game.
  • The map doesn’t seem any bigger than the original, although wider. I know Massive have said it is 20% bigger though.
  • The UI is very similar and very badly implemented. They feel like they are optimised for console/controller, over flashy, don’t use space well and are even more complex than the first game.
  • Although a new look the game seems to have the same enemies types in this, but again they try and flank and take cover etc. when they need to.
  • I also followed some friendly NPC’s around because it says they are scouting for water thinking it might be an organic side mission, but alas even with an enemy shootout there was no reward or anything.
  • I also could play everything so far solo (haven’t tried endgame stuff) but unsure if it scales up for groups.
  • It feels like there are more lootable objects hidden around which is good and encourages exploration.

Overall

Everything feels very similar to the first game; the way the story starts, the way you build the base, the gunplay, movement, skills, perks, echoes, audio recordings etc. It’s simply more of the first game as if the same template has just been lifted from the first one, and simply put into the new location with some minor changes. And whilst that’s great for fans of the game I can’t help but feel a bit disappointed. I personally wanted an Assassin’s Creed 2 or Mass Effect 2 style improvement.

This all feels so remarkably similar, that my hunch is that we are looking at more of the same. Meaning you are replaying the same mission content over, and over. Of course many will argue that is true of the genre but I very rarely have the same complaint of similar games like Warframe where it always feels like there is more actual content.

Of course as mentioned this is a demo/beta and the full game may unlock more new features. And I do think there is enough enjoyment here for hardcore fans of the original who will love this as it is more of the same. However whether irrationally or not I did burn-out on the original Division and I haven’t seen quite enough to buy at the initial asking price. Although I will likely purchase at some point in the future.

Which is good in some ways because there are other games that I am really looking forward to playing and my backlog is still as big as ever.

Anthem Demo Impressions

I recently put Anthem in my most anticipated games for 2019, and so having finally played the open demo (1st Feb to 3rd Feb) I thought I would write up my initial thoughts. In summary there are a few good things but I also have some major concerns at this stage.

Played on a PlayStation 4 Pro.

The Good

  • The ‘verticality’ of the world. Rushing down the huge cliffs and waterfalls, or climbing high to get to a top of a mountain feels great. Also opens up some really interesting tactics in firefights, like being able to take refuge on a high vantage point. Makes games like The Division feel really flat in comparison.
  • Flight works well. Controls take some getting used to, but being able to quickly fly around or get to another side of a firefight is fun and different.
  • Combat feels good. The weapons feel impactful and some of the special abilities are great (R1 ability in particular).
  • Freeplay mode with world events and organic grouping works well. Obviously very similar to Destiny.

The bad

  • The game isn’t ready. Sure it might be an older fork of development but there are too many things wrong to suggest this will be ready at release. Even a demo should be fit for purpose. Particularly if it’s part of a paid package (pre-order bonus). I’ve had disconnects, crash to dashboard, sound cut out (had to close application) and graphics glitch so textures displayed incorrectly. Destiny in it’s alpha and beta demos, and The Division open demo were very stable by comparison.
  • Performance isn’t looking great. Drops below 30fps on the enhanced consoles and the framerate fluctuates. Digital Foundry did a great summary of PS4 Pro and Xbox One X performance. DF’s similar analysis of the PC version sounds like the game has very high system requirements too.
  • Not solo friendly. This might just be true of the demo. But as a solo player I could not get past the final part of the second main mission and struggled in certain sections. The demo doesn’t appear to scale in anyway. Hopefully this isn’t a thing in the full game, otherwise this is going to be a group co-op shooter only with limted endgame content for solo players (although this is often true of games of this ilk).
  • Microtransactions. The recent reddit discovery did highlight that even if prices are £10, £20 or £30, that a lot of customisation options will likely be locked behind long grinds or real world money.
  • Menus are a bit messy. UI feels slightly over flashy and clunky in places. Having to frequently back out of screens.
  • Loading times slightly long and screens too frequent.
  • Variety, or lack of. Will there be enough in the game? It felt like the core gameplay loop might get old quickly from the demo.

What the demo has succeeded at, even after a few hours, is making me lose interest in this game. Maybe one to check out later on. This has not been a good advert for the game.

After release it should become clear how the microtransactions work, how large the game world is, how much solo friendly content their is, whether the servers hold and if the game’s stability is improved. As ever we won’t really see any of this detail until after launch and reviews as players have the game in their hands.

Rage Review

The great thing about Xbox Game Pass is that it has a mix of new, recent and old games on its service. And for whatever reason I never got around to playing Rage (id Software & Bethesda) that released in 2011. Even though I always was tempted and it is often cheap on any format, I just never got around to buying it. And that is where Game Pass excels. You start playing games you might not have otherwise played. And whilst the Xbox 360 version is weaker graphically than the PC version it was a trade-off I was happy to make.

In Rage you are an non-descript survivor that has to very quickly learn to stay alive and get use to shooting lots of bad guys. There is a story which I thought was reasonably well setup and told although nothing particularly original or standout. The game is mostly an FPS but has driving sections which are used as a means of getting across the world although there is vehicle combat and racing. The game has what looks like an open world(ish) map although in reality the game is fairly linear with the expansive maps are really used for the vehicle sections. There are also some mini-games such as card games although these didn’t have huge depth to hold my attention for long.

Rage screenshot

Where Rage really stands out, is its 60fps gameplay, which is very smooth, fast and responsive. More of an arcadey FPS that resembles the other ‘arcadey’ Bethesda shooters in a way. 60fps was much rarer in the seventh generation of consoles so it is a pleasant surprise. Of course the trade-off is that the graphics can be fairly bland, lacking in texture detail and flat in comparison to some of its peers. Indeed Rage set in a futuristic wasteland is often a mostly brown, bland looking game with a few variations but nothing that stand-outs as much as the high frame rate. The game doesn’t have much colour and the locations can blend into each other as well. Although it is far from a bad looking game.

The gunplay is solid and there is a nice variety of weapons including variation of ammo types for each weapon which can change their behaviour. There is some variety in the enemies and a few boss fights in the game. The vehicle sections work well and compare to something like the Warthog in the Halo games. And the game does a good job of limited your ammo to begin with to make it feel like you have to scavenge for things. Although by the end of the game In was probably ‘over tooled’ with too much ammo.

One complaint that is often raised is how the game ends. I didn’t even realise I was in the very final moment of the game before the end sequence and achievements popped. So there is some truth to this.

Rage screenshot of a driving section from the game.

Although I can’t be precise it took somewhere around 25-30 hours to complete Rage on normal difficulty and it was a pretty fun experience. Although it is easily a game I could have abandoned with little regret. And I think that’s a fair way to summarise my time with Rage. It feels greater than the sum of its parts. Neither a bad game, but also not a classic. Merely a ‘good’ game. It is worth a playthrough it you like FPS games or would like to see the first game before its sequel arrives later this year. I just wouldn’t say it is essential.

One noteworthy fact is that this game was the first outing for the id Tech Engine 5 which would also go on to power Wolfenstein: The New Order and Dishonored 2 amongst other games. Newer versions of the engine have powered Doom (2016) and its upcoming sequel. You can definitely feel the similarities in some of the newer games, like Wolfenstein.

And finally the game is another great advert for Microsoft’s backward compatibility. Whilst unfortunately not Xbox One X enhanced, it is still great to be able to play Xbox 360 (and original Xbox) games on your Xbox One. The game only crashed once when I tried capturing a screenshot. Bravo Microsoft.

Played on Xbox One X via Xbox Game Pass.

FTL: Faster Than Light Review

During the past month or so I have managed to play a few of the indie games from my Steam backlog. Randomly nearly all games that were released in 2012. And of all of them this is by far and away the one I have my enjoyed the most.

Although I have to own up to a mistake. Only upon playing FTL:Faster Than Light recently have I realised I wasn’t playing it quite correctly when I first tried playing the game. At the time I realised that you could upgrade weapons, augmentations and crew members in the numerous stores found in the game. However I hadn’t realised you could actually upgrade the ship to power up things like shields, or weapons from the main screen. Therefore I thought it was a cool roguelike but a bit hard as I struggled in the latter systems. That said I was still able to reach sector 5 and unlock the Engi Cruiser ship!

FTL: Faster Than Light screenshot from the PC version.

Once you get the hang of the game (and yes, there is a basic tutorial for dummies like me) what opens up is a fantastic roguelike futuristic space games where you never know how each run of commanding your fleeing spaceship will play out. Whether this is a successful run or where one of the numerous alien ships will bring your run to a crushing end on the next jump.

The game is hard. Even on easy the game will kill you a lot. Particularly to begin with. With over 12 hours of so played I’ve seen my ships get wrecked far too often. The game will let you experience a massive range of emotions and it has some fantastically tense moments where you can literally come back from near death with only one bar of ship health.

There some things the game did which annoyed me or I didn’t like. There is no auto pause on enemy encounters once you’ve clicked on the dialog options. This mean you have to press the spacebar to pause every time which gets annoying quickly. And it would have been nice to see previous runs count in a progression model, even if it was cosmetics or something simple like crew names carrying over. However some of this is perhaps over analysing the game for what it is.

And for me of all the indie games I’ve played I think this is one of the best examples I have ever played. Although not a huge fan of rogue-like games it’s hard not to appreciate how beautiful, simple yet complex and wonderfully diverse this game is. The highest compliment is that it makes me want to check out the developer’s next game (Into the Breach) even before seeing all the rave reviews that game has received.

But for now, engage warp drive…

Played the PC / Steam version.

Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP Review

Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP was first released in 2011 for iOS, although on PC it wasn’t released until the following year. A bit like Dear Esther which I reviewed recently it’s been in my Steam library since 2012 after picking it up from a Humble Bundle at some point. Also like Dear Esther it isn’t a long game, taking under 5 hours to play through.

The game can be best described as an indie 2d adventure game with some puzzle elements and a small amount of action. However some of these felt more like a rhythm action game in certain sequences. Without saying too much the story centres on one character who ventures into the mountains shortly after coming across some non-player characters in the game. The story is split into parts which you must complete.

Superbrothers: Sword & Brothers EP screenshot

Audio is an absolute strength of the game, both in the soundtrack and the sound effects. The pacing as well, being perfectly in-tune to what was going on in game. A professional musician helped with the soundtrack and it shows. There is a fantastic pixel-like style to the graphics and the whole package is just very well put together, particularly for the less than five pounds the game sells for on Steam (in the UK). It is a very pretty and charming game than made an impact with me.

That said there are two main issues I saw with the game. Firstly the controls on the PC version didn’t feel great. The biggest issue is that the touch screen controls have simply been mapped to the mouse with no use of keyboard of even joypad controls. This lack of direct control really dampened the experience for me. It plays more as a point and click game but at times I was having to click more than once because mouse clicks simply weren’t registered because of the touchscreen controls expecting you to hold down rather than press quickly. On top of this in fights I couldn’t be precise when needed to and therefore resorted to mashing the mouse button which made these parts more irritating than they should have been.

Secondly the game time-gates content to a real world clock. You can adjust your clock settings although you lose a perfect percentage score at the end. And there is an in-game mechanical for changing phases however this is broken (whether intentional or otherwise) if events have been completed in a certain order. This meant I had to wait over a week just to be able to progress the game. I’m not sure that was really necessary. Other than that some of the puzzles aren’t about logical deduction and become simple trial and error.

This is probably a game best experienced on touch screen and portable devices not just because of the controls that have been designed around a tablet but also the gameplay which is suited as a more casual experience and therefore something you can enjoy on the move. Overall a really abstract, weird and unique experience that I enjoyed for the most part.

Played the PC / Steam version.

Dear Esther: Landmark Edition Review

I purchased Dear Esther in 2012 for the princely sum of £1.74. It’s the perfect example of the sort of game that fills up my library on Steam. Anyway with a bit of time over the holidays I’ve managed to complete it. It is a very short experience and it doesn’t take much time at all to playthrough.

Dear Esther screenshot

I don’t really want to say too much about it because it’s one of those experiences that best enjoyed with as little knowledge as possible. Essentially it’s the original videogame that created the walking simulator genre that has since become quite popular. So a noteworthy videogame in that regard.

It’s difficult to summarise how I feel about it, as at times it feels too vague for want of a better word. That said it is technically well done, quite atmospheric and pretty in places. It’s also well voiced and the soundtrack in general is good. I didn’t enjoy it as much as other similar games and in that sense it’s hard to disagree with either those that don’t like it or those who enjoyed it and really appreciate it for what it is.

It’s worth mentioning that I played the Landmark Edition that was given away for free to owners of the original game to celebrate its release on consoles and includes a director’s commentary and was remade in the Unity engine unlike the original PC Source-engine release.

And finally just a note to say that the Steam Controller is pretty much perfect for this sort of game. I’m not a huge fan of that controller and prefer the main console controllers for multiple reasons. But here the Steam Controller works really well. Particularly the haptic pads which require less resistance to move.

Played the PC / Steam version.