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.

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.

Cooler Master MH751 Review

Purchased March 2019, £51.77 from Amazon UK

Just over three months into the year and already a third set of headphones or headset in as many months. That wasn’t necessarily intended and hopefully this doesn’t set a trend and this blog is dominated by headphone reviews. I recently wrote about the Plantronics RIG 400HX headset and my need for a cheap headset for use with my consoles, PC and other devices such my Android phone. Whilst the Plantronics headset was absolutely fine as a budget option my curiosity was peaked about the Cooler Master MH751 headset after a review on the Z Reviews YouTube channel (particularly after Amazon ran a £5 off promotion recently).

There are two versions of this Cooler Master headset; the MH751 which I purchased, and the MH752. The MH752 includes a USB DAC and sell for approximately £15 to £20 more in the United Kingdom. The MH751 doesn’t include the USB DAC but does have a mute button and volume wheel on the included 3.5mm cable. Otherwise the two models are exactly the same. Given I don’t really have a need for a USB DAC I plumped for the cheaper of the two versions.

The Cooler Master MH751 Headset in their packaging

The headphones are basically a rebranded Takstar Pro 82 but with some small changes. The Takstar Pro 82’s have a bass slider with 3 presets. Cooler Master has removed these and fixed the bass response. In addition they have added a removable boom omnidirectional microphone, and the ear cups are slightly wider. The Takstar Pro 82’s are highly regarded as a great set of budget closed-back headphones that punch above their price and are exceptionally comfortable. Indeed if you only wanted a set of headphones with no need for a microphone then the Takstar’s sell for a similar price and include a wonderful carry case as a bonus.

So from a comfort point of view the MH751 are probably the most comfortable headphones I have ever tried. Perfect clamping pressure, relatively lightweight, soft ear padding and a headband with no pressure. Exceptionally comfortable. The only observation is that my ears get warmer compared to my open backed headphones but this is fairly standard for a closed-back set.

The headphones have a metal headband covered with a soft pleather material. However the rest of the headphone is mostly a rubberised plastic that feels solid and is nice to the touch. The 1.5m braided audio cable is near perfect length although it could be shorter for when plugged into Xbox One or PlayStation 4 controllers. The 3.5mm connector is also made of the same rubberised plastic. Overall the headset have a wonderful plain black look with the very simple outline Coolmaster logo which makes these headphones perfect for using outside or at an office. The ear cups and pads do a fantastic job of isolating sound and suffer very little sound leakage. Albeit there is a small amount.

The Cooler Master MH751 Headset

One minor negative is the lack of a port hole cover for when the removable microphone isn’t attached. Although the omnidirectional microphone sounds very good here and the build quality again is good. However a simple plastic cover for when the microphone isn’t in use would have been ideal. What I can say though is that the MH751 comes with a couple of really useful accessories. Firstly a splitter cable for using on a PC again made from that rubberised plastic. And small travel pouch. Overall as a package they are impressive to behold for their price. Even the packaging itself feels more premium than the price tag.

The MH751/752 have stealth looks, removable microphone, are closed-back backed and have a relatively low impedance of 26 ohms and can be used with any device. This all combines to create a pair of headphones that can be used in an office, or on the move as well as at home. For example they are the perfect partner for my laptop when I am on the move.

In terms of audio quality the MH751’s are vibrant and cope with detail well. Not bass heavy although there is some body to the bass and as a closed-back back set of headphones they do have more impact here. However the soundstage is impressive for closed-back back headphones and they work well for multiplayer games where identifying where other players are is important. Although the headphones are ideal for gaming, I found them fantastic for music as well. Although I didn’t like them as much as my open backed headphones for watching movies on although still very good. I think this is in part due to their lack of depth even if they have a relatively wide soundstage.

Overall I really like the Cooler Master MH751. I like them a lot. For me these fit the use case of a relatively budget closed-back headset which also has the added benefit of being a set of headphones I can use away from home. It feels like Cooler Master have taken a really well regarded set of closed-back headphones and added a microphone whilst making the bass balance nearly perfect for videogames.

A bargain at the price I paid, but even at £10 or £20 more, still a brilliant and very versatile gaming headset. Would absolutely recommend.

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.

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.