Archive for September, 2012

Spec Ops: The Line

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 27, 2012 by caseystorton

-Well, this one certainly flew under the radar. I literally don’t remember taking any notice at all of this game when it was released. But then, little by little, people popped up telling me about how Spec Ops was something different, and that it had one hell of story, especially considering the fact that it was a modern military shooter. So when it dropped down to $30.00 on Steam, I couldn’t help myself.

-I’ll get the easier part out of the way first and talk about the gameplay. Usually I start off these reviews with a discussion of the game’s plot, but since the plot here is such a big deal, I think I’ll save the best for last. Long story short, Spec Ops: The Line is a linear, cover-based, third-person shooter. The closest thing to something original is the use of sand. The game takes place following a huge sandstorm in Dubai, and sand is now piled up all over the place, resulting in a few extraordinarily rare moments that allow you to drop sand on enemies for an easy kill. There are also squad commands that rarely ever get used, and alternate fire modes for most guns, which are a nice touch, although they don’t really affect gameplay all that much. Ammo is pretty scarce, which adds another layer of challenge, but really just forces you to constantly change up your loadout and occasionally go in for a risky melee attack. So yeah, basic stuff, not too exciting, kinda a drag to slog through to the end.

-Now, I know what you’re asking yourself if you haven’t played the game yet. You want to know why, if the gameplay was so generic and repetitive, that I stuck this one through all the way to the end? Well, I’ll tell you why. It was the story. Spec Ops: The Line has, without exaggeration, the best storyline that I have ever experienced in a game. I don’t play many RPGs, in case you were wondering. Basically, the story concerns three Delta Force, American soldiers that are sent into Dubai following a massive sandstorm that crippled the city. There’s also the matter of another battalion that was already sent in, a plot point that never quite stops developing. The thing is, unlike most modern military shooters, Spec Ops barely has you killing any foreigners. Yes, after offing a couple dozen or so early on, the rest of the game’s enemies are rogue American soldiers that never quite have a clear motive. There’s also a commander that was stationed in the city when the disaster hit, and unconfirmed reports say that he’s still alive somewhere.

-The beginning of the game feels very much like a false setup. We start off with some witty banter between Captain Walker (our player-character) and his two squadmates, Lugo and Adams. They are respectively a silly white guy with a sniper rifle and a silly black guy that likes to blow things up. For the first few missions or so, it seems like a fun-filled adventure of sillyness a la Battlefield: Bad Company, but a few missions in there’s a really big turning point that I won’t spoil. Basically, it happens when Walker, the squad, and by extension you as a player, unintentionally do a bad thing. I felt downright horrible afterwards. It felt like I’d just played No Russian where all of the civilians were little girl scouts that just wanted to sell me cookies.

-The thing that might be asked of the game at this point is, if the awesome story and character development make up for the dull gameplay, why couldn’t the game have just been, say, a book? Or a movie? And like any good video game storyline, Spec Ops has an answer for you. The amount of attachment that you feel towards Captain Walker is almost entirely dependent on the fact that whenever Captain Walker is presented with a difficult decision, it is you, the player, who must make the difficult decision and live with the repercussions along with him. On that note, you are given a number of decisions to make throughout the course of the game, and this is where the game truly shines. Unlike that Mass Effect bullshit where there is a very clear “good” and “evil” option for any decision that you may be faced with, Spec Ops has no such thing. When you make decisions as Captain Walker, it often feels as though you are trying to pick out the lesser of two evils, but nobody is telling you which is which, and it is left entirely up to you to figure out what to do, and live with yourself when innocent people inevitably die because of something you do.

-Spec Ops: The Line is a massive step forward in the world of video game story telling. Never before have I played a game that had such a powerful relationship between player and player-character. I found myself constantly asking myself, am I really controlling Captain Walker? Or am I just that last voice in the back of his mind, that gets quieter and quieter the more he goes insane from the increasingly horrible things that he sees and does? Am I really even here, or am I just as far removed from Walker as the rest of reality? Forced to sit back and watch as the closest things I had to friends in this world are pushed into an increasingly dark and inescapable hole in which there exists no salvation. A hole that holds nothing but destruction, fear, misery, and death.

89/100

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Borderlands 2

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 22, 2012 by caseystorton

-When this game was announced way back when, I was quite excited. I really enjoyed the original Borderlands, even in spite of its few glaring missteps, including the nonexistent story, annoying interface, and occasionally repetitive missions. Now that the sequel has arrived, I can tell you all about how awesome it is.

-Things pick up a few years after the original Borderlands with four new main characters to serve as protagonists. We have Maya the Siren, Zero the Assassin, Axton the Commando, and Salvador the Gunzerker. They each have their own special abilities to complement different play styles. Maya can trap enemies in a Phase Lock which suspends them in midair and keeps them from attacking. Axton can deploy an auto-turret that goes after enemies and takes the attention away from the player. Zero can turn invisible, leaving a hologram of himself behind and dealing more damage when he exits his invisibility. And finally Salvador can enter a super mode that allows him to dual-wield two guns at once.

-The plot centers around Hansome Jack, the CEO of the Hyperion corporation who is currently recharging the Vault key from the first game to try opening some other vault that contains a crazy monster that he will use to wipe out every living thing on Pandora that he doesn’t like. Already, I can feel anyone who’s reading this mentally tuning out under the pretense that this is going to but another story like Borderlands 1. The thing is, Borderlands 1 didn’t have a story, it had a goal. The goal was to get to the end and open the vault. That’s it. Sure, there were people that may or may not help you with that, but the primary objective is exactly the same in the beginning as it is at the end. Borderlands 2 has, by contrast, a fantastic story. As the story goes on, the stakes continue to get higher and higher, with one of the most uncompromising game stories I’ve seen in a long time. In the original, the closest thing to an antagonist was the leader of the Atlus Corporation who talks to you once or twice over the phone, asking you to please stop doing what you’re doing. Hansome Jack talks to you continuously all throughout the game. At first he’s pretty funny, but as the game went on and Jack killed more and more people that I cared about, I started out-right hating him. At first he seems like a ruthless killer with a sense of humor, but by the end of it he turns into a disgusting, heartless monster, and I desperately wanted him to die. Slowly, painfully, die.

-Now that we’ve discussed the complete 180 that is the story in Borderlands 2, let’s move onto the gameplay. The game mostly plays like a regular FPS with a few RPG elements. The challenge system from the first game which granted EXP bonuses for things like killing 100 human enemies, firing 100,000 bullets, and so on, has been replaced with a new system that grants “badass tokens” which you can spend on buffs like increased gun damage, shield capacity, accuracy, ect. It’s a nice new addition that adds another layer to progression that’s aimed at giving players more to strive for after they reach the maximum level, which is a nice touch.

-The biggest question recently when word of a sequel to an acclaimed original surfaces is always people wondering whether or not the sequel will be different enough and bring enough innovation to the table to warrant its own existence. In this regard,  Borderlands 2 more than justifies its existence. Even if they could condense the plot enough to sell this adventure as DLC, all of the changes in gameplay coupled with the new and improved gun models, gameplay alterations, and yes, even more new types of guns, Borderlands 2 innovates more in 1 game than Call of duty has in 5, and that’s a fact.

-The best thing about Borderlands 2 is the way that it makes amends for all of the issues from Borderlands 1. Claptrap no longer annoys you with missions you don’t care about, the interface is a little easier to navigate, and would you believe,they managed to give the original a story! No seriously, we hear some back-story over the course of the game, mostly from returning characters, about who wanted The Vault open, why, what they needed out of it, and how it all has an impact on what’s happening here in Borderlands 2. I don’t think I’ve ever played a sequel that actually managed to make the original better.

-At the end of the day, Borderlands 2 is a fantastic game. I consider it the best game to be released this year, and one of the best sequels I’ve ever played. It’s tons of fun, and it’s got a fantastic story to boot. So go ahead, buy it, there’s no need to wait and see how other people like it, because it’s just a great game. 93/100

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Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 13, 2012 by caseystorton

-I know I said that I wasn’t going to play this back in my Call of Duty: my experience review, but a friend was selling all of his 360 games for $5 each, and I decided that I’d never have another chance to see what this game had to offer while simultaneously making sure that Infinity Ward and Activision  got none of my money for it.

-As far as the plot goes, things basically continue on from Modern Warfare 2, ie, Soap McTavish has been stabbed, and he along with Captain Price and Nikolai are hiding out somewhere. Now Macarov (not bored enough to look up how to spell that) decides that he doesn’t really like Europe anymore, and kidnaps the Russian president while also somehow ensuring that Russia invades Europe. All of Europe. At the same time. I’m not even kidding. I’d try to explain more, but going on would only insult everyone’s intelligence even further.

-I received a bit of backlash from some people over my positive review of Modern Warfare 2, but I still stand by what I said about it. If there’s one thing that Modern Warfare 2 did right, it had variety. At any moment you could be gunning your way through the war-torn Middle East, a snow-mobile shooting at pursuer, climbing a glacier, or sneaking around unnoticed. Modern Warfare 3 attempts variety, and it fails. There is one laughable excuse for a stealth section that is nearly impossible to screw up. There’s a part where you drive around a remote drone to shoot a bunch of people, which is kinda like playing in god-mode for a couple minutes. That’s about it in terms of variety. Sure, the rest of the missions have different locations to run around in, but the actually gameplay never changes. Run to cover, shoot some dude, hide until the blood falls off your face, shoot more dudes, advance, repeat. This brings me to a fundamental problem that I’m starting to have with these games. I feel that as the series goes on, the games are actually struggling to keep the player a relevant part of the experience. The longer I played, the more it became increasingly apparent that in I was just one of a bunch of other people that are doing exactly the same thing I am exactly the way that I do it, which certainly isn’t the feeling that I want from an FPS. The idea of an FPS is to make the player feel powerful, make them feel that they have total control over the on-screen action, make them feel like they have nothing to fear. Modern Warfare 3 turns you into an average soldier graced with Wolverine style healing powers that nonetheless needs to hide behind a wall every 10 seconds to keep himself from keeling over and dying. Fearless and powerful indeed.

-Thankfully, the multiplayer is better than the campaign, which is to say that it’s merely passable. There are a few new perks, a couple new guns, and a few new kill-streak rewards, but it still feels like you’re playing the same multiplayer you were playing in Modern Warfare 2, just a little more balanced. The maps aren’t all that great, with the fan favorite apparently being Terminal, a free-download holdover from Modern Warfare 2.

-Really, Modern Warfare 3 sucks. I can’t say I expected much, and it’s not the worst game I’ve ever played, but it still just isn’t worth anyone’s time. 37/100

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Skyrim: Dawnguard DLC

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 6, 2012 by caseystorton

-If you read my review of Skyrim, you already know how much I despise it. It’s a shame too, with a few more months in production to iron out the bugs and add a few new dungeon layouts, Skryim could have been a great game. I decided to see if the game could be improved and bought the PC version of the game along with this DLC.

-Before we begin, let’s do a quick comparison between the Xbox 360 and PC versions of the game. Really, there isn’t much to say. The graphics are a bit better, but even on Ultra this game doesn’t look nearly as good as The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings does on low. There’s console commands just in case you want to make the game even easier. The 100 Sneak exploit is now even easier thanks to the auto movie button. At first the interface seems like it’s better, but on a few separate occasions I found myself selecting the wrong dialogue option because I didn’t scroll all the way over it with the mouse. I noticed something really weird, when playing on Xbox, I felt like the interface was designed for a mouse and keyboard, and when playing on PC, I felt like the interface was designed for a controller. So basically the interface doesn’t work for anyone. Great job Bethesda, great job.

-Anyway, Dawnguard’s main conflict concerns a newly reformed faction of soldiers that call themselves the Dawnguard who aim to eradicate all of the vampires in Skyrim. How? I don’t know, I sided with the vampires. Being a regular old vampire in the original game had its perks, like more powerful illusion spell, frost resistance, better sneaking ability, ect. but it also had its limits and drawbacks. In Dawnguard, you can choose to allow the leader of the vampire faction to make you a Vampire Lord, basically the elite of the vampires. You still have all the same abilities as normal vampires, although during the daytime your health, stamina, and magica now regenerate more slowly rather than not at all. With becoming a vampire lord you gain the vampire lord form, a special form that you can transform into if things aren’t going so well. You have a number of interesting abilities in this form as well as a skill tree that allows you to upgrade this form much like any other skill.

-One thing that really surprised me about this expansion was just how much effort was put into it. Most of the issues I addressed in my review of the original have been recognized dealt with accordingly. The glitches are almost entirely absent (wall textures would occasionally flicker if I got to close, but I never encountered anything that had a negative effect on the gameplay). The quest dungeons now have much more variety to them, with several different enemies old and new providing a fair challenge. The writing has improved, even if the voice acting still has long, awkward pauses in between one character speaking and another character replying. Most importantly, it’s fun. Seriously, when I played the game for a review most recently, I felt as though I was just going through the motions, mindlessly trudging through endless dungeons and forests with no sense of progression or urgency. But here, things actually felt like they had weight to them. The struggles within the family in charge of the vampire faction felt like they could have a major impact on the future of the game, and once all was said and done, I was actually pretty disappointed when I discovered that you can’t marry your loyal vampire companion Serana. And given that there is a petition with over 8,000 signatures to make this an option, clearly I’m not alone here.

-Basically Dawnguard is everything that Skyrim should have been. It’s interesting, it’s got plenty of variety, bugs are minimal, and it’s just fun. 85/100

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