Wolfenstein: The New Order Review

Wolfenstein: The New Order is a game I’ve had on my ‘to play‘ list for a long time. I first received it as a present near release but didn’t make much progress. Indeed it was a game I mentioned on one of my earliest backlog updates on this very website. However at long last I’ve finally managed to complete the story of the game. Although if I’m honest towards the end I had to really force myself to play the game through to completion.

Overall the game felt greater than the sum of its parts. It doesn’t excel in any areas in my opinion although it was fairly enjoyable. The biggest strength felt like the alternative universe set in a 1960’s where the German Nazis not only won World War 2 but went on to dominate the world. Certainly a far cry from the series earlier 3D games (the last I played was 2001’s return to Castle Wolfenstein). The setting feels original and unique. As if a lot of effort and thought went into this part. The story is fine, with lots of NPCs in the story, although I found them flat and didn’t really much care for them to much as the story played out.

The game has some very nice level design and environments. It really goes to town with its storyline and set pieces. The game uses health and armour packs to provide a ‘retro’ feel given most modern first person shooters have recharging health or shields. I kind of thought this worked well.

Technically the game on consoles runs nicely at 60fps and dynamic 1080p. The graphics have a nice amount of detail even for a game that came earlier in this generation of consoles. It also use has gritty visual style that suits perfectly. I can’t be certain of how long it took me to play through but I would guess somewhere between 20 to 25 hours. It certainly isn’t the shortest game. Oh and yes, the Easter egg is fantastic.

However there are things the game didn’t do well in my opinion. Most notably its use of stealth. It feels like the game was forcing it as a playstyle far too often with few tools to actually play it that way. If you can sneak through a set piece by remaining undetected it will make that part easier. However later on the levels and placements of enemies made this harder or more tiresome and I ended up just going in guns blazing as I couldn’t be bothered with the stealth anymore. The perk unlock system is also just a set of challenges to unlock something, rather than anything more in-depth.

The game includes five difficulty levels which is great, although the main difference seems to be the amount of damage you and enemies take rather than improved AI or anything. Until the final few levels I played the game on the default difficulty but for the last few levels turned the difficulty down and found myself preferring the game that way. Unlike other games such as Halo: Combat Evolved on Legendary, the game just becomes mostly irritating rather than changing the experience massively. At harder difficulty the ‘retro’ health packs and armour pickups obviously become more important.

Wolfenstein: The New Order is nothing I would regard as stunning but equally far from the worst single player, story-based first person shooter than I have played either. Never as downright sterile or flat as something like Halo 5, but equally doesn’t reaches the unique heights or set pieces of something like Titanfall 2’s campaign. If you enjoy the ride and accept the game for what it is, then it is a fun and strong modern update on an old game. A solid reboot.

Played (mostly) on PlayStation 4 Pro. Previously played the opening level on PlayStation 4.

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.

Borderworlds

Something must be in the air as recently I’ve started to think about the Borderlands videogames again. And no, this was before I found out about the long-rumoured next game being unveiled today. It was a videogame series I hadn’t really thought about after completing all the content of the second game nearly four years ago (aka True Vault Hunter Mode). In fact not only that but spoiler alert, I’ve purchased The Handsome Collection on PlayStation 4 a few days ago and have been playing it.

I still remember playing the first game upon release. It was a game I fell in love with instantly. The second game although largely more of the same did everything better and had a much more enjoyable and memorable story. Primarily due to the brilliant main villain and resurrecting notable characters from the first game. Simply put Borderlands 2 is one of my favorite games of all time. Indeed when I get around to compiling that list and publishing here as a post one day, you’ll likely see that game somewhere in my thoughts.

Borderlands 2 screenshot

Borderlands was far from perfect and the sequel very felt like a live service game before there really were live service games, i.e. mountains of DLC and add-ons sold for the sequel. However going back to play Borderlands 2 in 2019 still reveals a very solid, super fun, loot-o-rama of a first-person shooter with some wonderful set pieces. The bosses, story and humour all combine brilliantly. And no matter what level the rewards feel worthwhile with an abundance of uniquely crafted guns. Any item drop can be a potentially better weapon and upgrade your character. Borderlands even to this day has unique importance placed on its massive storylines. Unlike other loot based games where the story is more of a tutorial on the way to the endgame.

Yet that endgame is precisely one big area where a new Borderlands will need to improve upon. I don’t think replaying the whole story again is going to cut it anymore. It will need a more dynamic way of players engaging with the game after the story has ended.

Did you say Boom?

I thought about writing what I would like to see in a new instalment, but really I just want to be surprised. I would love to see the same level of innovation and execution that helped to launch the series back in 2009. 2K Games and Gearbox have released three Borderlands games that have all largely been exactly the same formula and not really changed anything from the original game. Whilst that might have worked on releases separated by a few years I do think Gearbox must do more on any future game particularly as times have moved on.

Although from a consumer point of view, that brings about probably the major worry. Will the next Borderlands be a microtransaction-riddled nightmare? As we’ve seen time and time again recently the balance between developers and publishers desire to make profits and not ruining a game’s design is very difficult to get right. Also ‘supporting’ a new game with actual new regular content and not just new events and microtransactions will be important in my view.

Either way, I look forward to seeing what Gearbox has been working on. If they can build on the uniqueness of Borderlands then it might be time to return. Vault Hunter.

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.

Titanfall 2 Review

A great first-person shooter, that is perhaps almost perfect.

I rather enjoyed the first Titanfall. Although I didn’t pour hours into it, it did give me around 15-20 hours of some great entertainment. Unfortunately like many games of its ilk I got bored and moved on to other things.

In some ways I felt Titanfall was a true follow-up to Call of Duty Modern Warfare. Particularly given how so many of the people made both games after the founders of Infinity Ward split off to form Respawn Studios. Whilst Call of Duty settled into yearly map packs, Titanfall delivered a more evolutionary take on the twitch run and gun gameplay.

I picked Titanfall 2 up for just over £8 on Xbox One to primarily enjoy the campaign (I will conveniently forget about also buying it on PC, sigh). And in the main really enjoyed it. Game looks, sounds and feels perfect at times. Graphics are stunning on Xbox One X at UHD.

The campaign took me just over 10 hours to complete, so it’s clear I took a bit longer than most to complete it. The campaign is definitely worth a play through at least once primarily because the ‘gunplay’ is just so good. Everything feels right, not just whether it’s the shooting, running about, the wall running and parkour or the sense of power when you board your titan. The pacing and level design is pretty much spot on although I have a few quibbles such as the ‘show where to run’ as too much signposting, the boss battles being overly easy apart from one, collectables being lazy and the ending section being annoying. That said these are very minor complaints.

With regards to the multiplayer I can’t really comment in that I have little interest to try it more. It’s very good and feels like an evolution of the first game with lots of improvements, but I’ll probably move onto other games now. I do wish Titanfall 2 had more PVE content because as it feels that technically it’s there and ready for it.

Anyway a great sequel. The campaign is worth playing if you enjoy single-player First Person Shooter games and the multiplayer is one of the best out there.

Played on Xbox One X. Previously played on PC.