Uncertain – Tom Clancy’s The Division (Beta)

 

the-division-coverMuch anticipated, and much delayed are two terms that I would feel accurately apply to Tom Clancy’s The Division from Ubisoft(herein referred to only as The Division). It feels as though this game was announced ages ago and it is only now that a much larger mass of us are getting some hands on time. So, how was it?

Remember this is only a beta, I repeat a BETA. I’ve seen the chatter online about how the game doesn’t look crisp, has clipping, bad frame rates, blah, blah, blah. With this being a beta, the code we are playing is likely months old and many revisions have been done to address the issues listed previously and certainly many more. Let us focus more on the experience overall rather than pick at faults that may likely, or perhaps not, be gone.

From the beta, we get understandably very little more about the story. There is only one story mission that basically gives you a small taste of the game play by having you rescue and secure a high value asset. This gets you some experience playing the game but little more. There are also some very limited side missions that didn’t appear to lend much to the main story, rather they seemed to be more about flushing out what is going on now and previously in the city of New York.

There are two open-world areas for players to explore, the PvE Zone and the Dark Zone. First let’s look at the PvE Zone. The area in the beta is more confined than that which is likely to ship with the game. When you pull up a map and look, you can see much more space than you can access. If you try to do so your screen goes red and you are “advised” to turn back. This is the area where you can do main and side missions of the game. You can also wonder around looking for loot crates and other items. Only AI combatants can be hostile here, so even if you do run across another player you need not worry. The beta left a lot to be desired in this area but not without potential. The size of the map was lass an issue rather than the lack of activity given the absence of missions and sparseness of AI confrontations.

Then there is the Dark Zone. Where as players were safe from each other in the PvE Zone, you don’t know if you’ll be safe in the Dark Zone. Not only are there higher level AI combatants, any player can turn against you. Why? Loot, the Dark Zone has the best loot. This area can be the most rewarding and exciting area but it often turns to the most frustrating. If you find loot or get a drop from a kill, you have to extract it via helicopter and this is when things can be the most contentious. I found that playing alone, I was often and regularly killed by groups of two or more players running together to steal loot. If there is not some type of balance adjustment, solo players like myself will quickly lose interest in the Dark Zone and the game itself.

the-divisionAt this point, may I reiterate that this is a beta. Having played the Destiny beta(yes, I hate the comparison but there are parallels as well as differences) and seen how much it changed from the public beta to the final release I feel that there is still time to make some necessary changes to improve The Division. Unfortunately, I don’t have any suggestions on how to balance out the Dark Zone so that solo players aren’t constantly getting f*&%ed by roaming packs of rogue agents but losing your loot and XP is going to drive people away.

If you are looking to get into an RPG shooter, then keep this one on your radar. Unlike Destiny, this game is outright stating it is and RPG as well as building the systems to do so. Some things we didn’t get to see in the beta, like skill trees and crafting, will hopefully hit home with RPG players.

 

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Paul Novak

Owner, Proprietor, Typer of Words, Gamer, Jester

A self described Polish ninja toiling away as an IT professional but more into gaming and writing. Physically existing on the western side of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania yet existentially flowing with the ether of the Internet.

Surprisingly Bad – Battlefield: Hardline

 

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The moment this game was announced, my first question was “Why?”. That question remains unanswered.

In Miami, a drug war is raging. An honest cop, name Nick Mendoza, is trying to stay honest but finds that his fellow cops may not be. Who is and isn’t on the take is unclear. Mendoza must try to take down those that are but finds that this is easier said than done. Things go from bad to worse and Mendoza finds himself on the wrong side of the law. Or does he?

To be blunt, the campaign is a mess. All the characters and story points feel rushed. There is little to no development of most things and people leaving the player confused if nothing else. This also lead to the introduction of events and people that felt fabricated and out of place. The game was intended to be delivered like a television show but the episodic format made it even less sensible. The novelty of having a recap of the previous stage was fleeting at best and lent nothing to the game overall.

The somewhat saddest fact of this game is that the multiplayer portion is pretty good. Much like the multiplayer of any other Battlefield entry, this multiplayer has good action and feel. There is a decent variation of gameplay even on the base maps.

This game felt more like a mod for Battlefield than a full game of its own. The small variants in the multiplayer portion were not robust enough to warrant a stand alone product. The urban landscapes could have been graphed to any city in the world and the game modes could have been patched into any other Battlefield game.

The fuller context of the Battlefield series makes this game’s existence even more confusing. The settling of US soil was an odd and not necessarily welcome departure. Furthermore, going from military to police personal was more unsettling. This became even more confusing when the character goes from being a cop to not being a cop to being…well, who knows.

Why was this game made? I don’t know that anybody can tell for sure. For my part, it feels like a half-baked attempt to create a second entry title into the Battlefield series much like Call of Duty has with Black Ops. Hopefully, this game will be seen as a failed experiment and all Battlefield resources will be used to make the true Battlefield’s next entry worthy of forgetting Hardline and the technical issues of Battlefield 4.

 

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Paul Novak

Owner, Proprietor, Typer of Words, Gamer, Jester

A self described Polish ninja toiling away as an IT professional but more into gaming and writing. Physically existing on the western side of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania yet existentially flowing with the ether of the Internet.

Get Rhythm – Amplitude

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A reboot of a rhythm based game from 2003 wasn’t anywhere near my radar as far as games go but I took a chance on it anyway.

The basic mechanic is that you are piloting a spaceship and must shoot targets. The trick is that these targets are laid out to beats and rhythms. There are distinct tracks that represent different musical instruments and completing each track unlocks that instrument within the music that is playing. The more of these tracks you clear, the more of the music you hear and the higher your score.

There is a campaign in this game that I cannot tell you anything about. Not that I didn’t play it, I just didn’t understand it. You play tracks and try to hit musical beats with some voices and such talking about some attempt to save a patient. I played through the entire thing but still have no idea what the point of it was.

My biggest problem with the game was me. Apparently I have less rhythm than I take credit for. I’ve played games like Rock Band and not struggled this much. Perhaps I was more familiar with the music and that helped. Amplitude has no music I recognize and having the music fill in as you complete it seems awkward to me at the very least. What I struggled more with were the controls. There are several control layouts but none of them seemed to work very well for me. Just to be clear, this is my problem and not a problem with the game.

The game is a little funky at points but pretty fun if you can get the hang of it. I’m bad enough that I can’t get off of the beginner difficulty. Even at that, the game was still fun to play even though it is not very deep in content.

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Paul Novak

Owner, Proprietor, Typer of Words, Gamer, Jester

A self described Polish ninja toiling away as an IT professional but more into gaming and writing. Physically existing on the western side of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania yet existentially flowing with the ether of the Internet.

Roaming Around – Ryse: Son of Rome

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Marius has a tough life. Not that being a Roman warrior isn’t tough enough, barbarians attack Rome and kill his father. If that still weren’t enough, he finds out that there is a plot to topple Rome. Still not bad enough? Well, Marius finds out that gods are involved in the plot against Rome. Now Marius has to avenge his father’s death and save Rome, no worries.

From a technical stand point the game is ok. The PC version isn’t anywhere near amazing as far as the graphics go. Not sure if this is tied to the game also being on Xbox One and a need to scale down the graphics because of it. The combat system can be frustrating at times but once you get a hang of the attack and block scheme it works just fine. Personally, I struggled with the combat more because of using a keyboard rather than a controller.

This game wasn’t great but wasn’t terrible either. It got a lot a bad press when it was released but after playing it myself, the bad press seems more harsh than necessary. Perhaps people took the length of the game as a problem and I can see that. Parts of the story felt abbreviated at times but to dole them out would have involved more elongated combat sequences and I don’t feel that that would have made the game better. I paid about seven dollars for this game on a recent Steam sale and I am fine with what I got from it. Had I paid the full sixty dollars the game retailed for upon its release I may have been disappointed.

 

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Paul Novak

Owner, Proprietor, Typer of Words, Gamer, Jester

A self described Polish ninja toiling away as an IT professional but more into gaming and writing. Physically existing on the western side of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania yet existentially flowing with the ether of the Internet.

Picking Up – The Drop

A seemingly normal guy named Bob Saginowski leads what appears to be a quiet life. He works as a bartender at his cousin Marv’s bar. The soft-spoken and well liked Bob works hard and stays out of trouble. This simple life becomes far more complicated when Marv’s bar is robbed. Normally that wouldn’t be too much of a problem but the bar happens to be owned by the mob.

My expectations were low for this movie because it looked like it was going to be just another mobster movie. Interestingly enough, that is not exactly what it turned out to be. The fact that the bar is a mob bar is the cog of the story but all the events around it are the real story and the mob seems to play only a small part of the events. The intertwining of the characters kept the movie interesting throughout despite its slow pace.

Tom Hardy was seemingly built for the role of Bob. Capable of being the quiet man but just as capable of being the bad ass. Set against James Gandolfini’s role of Marv, a loud and angry man full of regret, the movie shows a great contrast of characters.

James Gandolfini’s final performance doesn’t get much credit or mention even though this movie was ver entertaining. Granted he was better known for the Sopranos but this movie should be given more consideration.

 

dudewantshisrug-profilePaul Novak

Owner, Proprietor, Typer of Words, Gamer, Jester

A self described Polish ninja toiling away as an IT professional but more into gaming and writing. Physically existing on the western side of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania yet existentially flowing with the ether of the Internet.

Playing Detective In – Her Story

herstory

A compelling who done it murder mystery that will keep you guessing even after it is over.

Hannah Smith’s husband is missing and suspected to have been murdered. But who murdered him? Your only clues come to you in video clips of Hannah’s interview with the police and you must search through them in order to piece the story together for yourself.

It’s hard to talk about this game without giving too much of it away but I’m going to keep it spoiler free.. I stayed away from this game for a while because it didn’t seem like it had much going for it. A detective story that you have to search through video clips? Sounded kind of boring to be honest but once I started playing it I was hooked. Four hours later I had “finished” the game but found that it wasn’t truly over.

The game is still going on in my head. Who really did it and why are questions the game doesn’t directly answer. The clips keep going back and forth in my mind and I keep rethinking each of them. The game is powerful and compelling just with its story and should not be overlooked just because of the simplicity of its gameplay.

 

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Paul Novak

Owner, Proprietor, Typer of Words, Gamer, Jester

A self described Polish ninja toiling away as an IT professional but more into gaming and writing. Physically existing on the western side of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania yet existentially flowing with the ether of the Internet.

Stumbling at the Finish – Life is Strange

Life-Is-Strange-Episode-1-2

The quick version of this review is to say that the first three episodes of Life is Strange were brilliant and the last two episodes fell apart but let’s be a little more detailed than that, shall we?

Life is strange is about the strange life of Max Caulfield, a teenage student of Blackwell Academy. She is back in her hometown after having lived in Seattle for some time. It would be difficult enough coming back after five years and having to adjust to everything and how it has changed but it is even weirder to do so when you can control time. Max finds that she can rewind time and thus has the ability to change decisions made by her and other people thus changing the future.

Some have compared this game to Heavy Rain and some of those comparisons are justified. For me, the game played like Mass Effect sans shooting action but with a plot like Donnie Darko. The decision making gave you slightly different paths to follow as the game played out but just like Mass Effect you come back to essentially the same ending no matter what. The comparisons to Donnie Darko with the time travel and relative weirdness are pretty obvious if you’ve ever seen the movie and for those that haven’t seen that movie – what is wrong with you?!?!?

The game does involve some good production. There is an argument to be made that the graphics are low quality but I would prefer to think that this was a choice made to emphasize its style rather than try to be photo realistic. It was my feeling that the water-color-esque graphics enhanced the dreamlike feel of the game. The game was also augmented by its soundtrack. Nothing on this soundtrack would wow you or probably be a hit on its own but the music used in the game complemented the scenes very well.

With all the good you have to take the bad, however. There were times when the dialogue sequences didn’t match up with the choices made in the game and made the progression feel awkward. It felt like the pieces I had didn’t fit together but then were just crammed in to make them work. At times the main character felt as catty and terrible as the people she was complaining about. Then again, the fact that I am a man nearing middle-age does make it hard to relate to a young teenage girl, so this probably isn’t that much of an issue and you know what they say – bitches be bitches.

There were a few items that I found questionable about the game. There was a strange aversion of sex, there was obviously no scenes involving it but there was an odd feel to any time it was even mentioned or implied. Balance this against the fact that drugs and alcohol were prevalent throughout the game without question. Also, in a world of body shaming and unreal expectations, it seems a curious and flawed choice to have all but one or two of the characters be rail thin. There were times when the decision making, a key aspect of the game, was taken out of the players hand for some reason. Take the pool scene as an example since you weren’t even given the opportunity to chose to go there or not.

The real disappointment in this game was the last two chapters, so back to where we started(see how I just made you time travel?). The story goes from a very well done illustration of a teenager’s life to a crayon created mess consisting of zig-zags and over-lapping swirls. The first three chapters were strong and consistent in tone and story. Whereas the fourth chapter jumped all over the place in what seemed to be a rush to bring things together for the finale. A finale which was confusing and frustrating which led it to be unsatisfying.

Life is Strange was an ambitious and beautiful diversion from other games. It offers character and style rather than action. My only wish is that the last chapters had been done better. Perhaps if they had extended it to a sixth episode they could have let things play out better and not had to have forced so many points.

 

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Paul Novak

Owner, Proprietor, Typer of Words, Gamer, Jester

A self described Polish ninja toiling away as an IT professional but more into gaming and writing. Physically existing on the western side of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania yet existentially flowing with the ether of the Internet.