Saturday, 12 November 2016

London's syndicate of sibling rivalry

Assassin's Creed Syndicate

Platform tested: PlayStation 4

From a troubled debut on today's consoles, set in Paris, to the old cobbled streets of industrial aged London, Assassin's Creed is back. For me to review at least, this game is from 2015. The series seems to have taken a break from it's yearly schedule at this point. Not a bad idea if they plan on renewing the series with fresh ideas, even though Syndicate turned out to be a solid game!

There was only a matter of time before Ubisoft decided to travel to London in a AC game, the iconic city it is. Setting the era in Victorian times with the industrial age nicely accompanies the city's red brick built style too. This time around the story is set around two main playable characters rather than one, Evie and Jacob. Siblings competing and arguing their way around taking back control of the whole of London from a huge Templar syndicate gang. It's an interesting plot and nice sense of progression as you slowly take control of all the cities assets to keep it under control. Plus, finally we get a new female lead in the AC series!

In typical AC fashion there's a useless main plot set in the future once again, though why they even bother with this side story is beyond me. As little as you ever are in this modern time, you actually wonder what the hell it even is every time the game switches back to showing this world. Hell, in Syndicate it only shows this time at the beginning and at the end. Both Unity and Syndicate may as well have been set in their own time period completely. The main "storyline" has been dragged on far too long with minimal progression or any sense of where it's heading. The actual London story of Evie and Jacob is very good though, and has some interesting, and of course historic people, you meet along the way! I found the main bad guy to be a little weak though, and not really that threatening.

The ease of movement introduced in Unity has been retained, with dedicated buttons for climbing or descending while running. It makes traversing a far more enjoyable and easy affair, especially when you are in a hurry. Though there are still times you get stuck onto ledges or objects, breaking the sense of flow in a run. I also love the grappling hook they have introduced this time. It works basically like Batman's so you can instantly fly up the side of a building or across from one rooftop to the other. Perhaps the game takes the ease of climbing a little too far as trying to reach synchronisation points is rendered a one button affair with the grappling hook, rather than a strenuous and challenging climb. For the most part though, the more streamlined controls help the actual gameplay and missions requiring fast movement a more forgiving and less annoying touch.

Syndicate looks it's part, sporting the fantastic lighting engine Unity introduced us to back in 2014. This time around the insane amounts of pedestrians have been dialled back to give room for better performance at a more stable 30fps. Giving room for lots of horses with carriages on the roads too. It's a good compromise and perhaps a reminder of how much they pushed hardware technically in Unity. Running at 900p with some fairly washed out textures in the distance, the game can go from looking pretty to fairly rough in parts mind you. I get the scale when you gaze out over London is incredible, but it can also all look a bit grey and dull at times. The transition from a huge open city to detailed indoor environments by simply jumping in through a window or walking in a door is still impressive though!

I would have liked some more changes to a slightly over used AC formula. Syndicate feels like a repetition of missions you have played over and over in the series. The perfect balance of switching up the use of Evie and Jacob in the final mission reminds me of how cool the game would have been if they'd done this more often during all the missions. Maybe even letting the player choose which one of them they wished to use for each one. They could even have made their ability difference far diverse than some simple extra boxes on a skill chart too. It would have made the game far more fun to replay missions in. You get the sensation of having done mostly everything in recent AC games before as they never dare fare far off the formula. Even the coop missions have been removed this time, this game should have let you play the whole main game in coop with each player being one of the siblings!

If you enjoyed Unity's debut on either your PS4 or Xbox One and fancy a better game and story, well then Syndicate is tailored for you. For those that fancy a more diverse and off beat AC experience though, Black Flag still remains as being the more innovative and diverse AC game. All in all a more well rounded and solid entry than the previous attempt, that puts emphasis on making the game what Unity should have been at launch. Sadly it stays much to safe in it's well developed corner of an outdated formula in need of change. We can only hope the delayed new entry of the AC series is a sign the next game will bring something fundamentally new to the table.



    + Plus points

    • Once again a famous city is incredibly modelled from the past.
    • Great rivalry with two dynamic main characters, with more lighthearted dialogue.
    • A more technically polished game than Unity.

    - Minus points

    • Can look rough at times.
    • Extremely repetitive mission tasks.
    • Clumsy controls and annoyingly over hostile enemies still haunt the series.

    Thursday, 10 November 2016

    In Australia the horizon is upside down

    Forza Horizon 3

    Platform tested: Xbox One

    Playground Games seem to take each of the Forza franchises Horizon titles to a new level all together. From the yellow tinted, sunset mountains and pine forests of Colorado, to the sunny and rain drenched Mediterranean towns on coast of Nice in southern France, each title has been visually and geographically unique. The Horizon series offers a different, more arcade like take on the series compared to the simulator focused Motorsport part. A more light-hearted racing approach with the fantastic Forza  physics and gameplay feel retained, aiming for that road trip and summer festival feeling. Motorsport and Horizon alternating every second year to be on the Forza brands throne. Each alteration trying to outdo the last.

    Forza Horizon 3 is no exception, it's one of those sequels that doesn't just settle for a small evolution, but goes for a revolution. A sequel that goes an extra hundred miles to ensure it beats it's predecessors in every way possible. FH3 achieves to put a smile on your face as you step on the gas in one of it's alarmingly powerful racing machines. While FH2 indeed was pretty to look at, with an entertaining and large game to boot, it lacked some of that magic that sparkled the first game. Luckily FH3 retains this glory and sets the bar for other Forza's really high to follow. Pack your bags then, we are heading for Australia!

    FH3 introduces you to a wide range of vehicle types and race environments in it's introduction races, working almost like a tutorial. Slowly throwing more features, options and types of events at the player. This gradual approach to the huge freeroaming map is a nice touch and eases the jam packed content onto the player in a more controlled fashion. After some familiarisation to the map, events and icons on it, you'll be testing out new types of races, showcases and purchasing new wheels by the truck loads. Setting up you're own racing festival for the first time feels great and expanding onto other locations is even more so. The clear difference from a more controlled layout in FH2 to a very free and optional one in FH3 is very apparent. If it will suit everyone is another story, as some prefer maybe to be guided through a more constricted game structure, I found it refreshing and less intruding.

    There's a better sense of progress this time around too, gone is the constant rotation of six race locations from FH2, a progress system that felt repetitive after many play hours. In FH3 there's a clear system of unlocking and progressing your career as a festival boss. Racing will constantly unlock new routes to have races on and you can switch up to drive any of them as you please or even set up your own championships by choosing multiple routes and car classes. You are never forced to play certain types of cars, though routes taking place on asphalt versus off-road will tempt you into other types of car classes. It's about choice and within that is the choice to keep yourself to cars you want to drive and you love. Don't like super cars like myself, just skip driving that car clas at all, it's fine and it's your choice to make!

    Completing and winning races or PR events gives you fans, the more fans you gain the more you can expand each festival site or make new ones entirely. Each festival is located at distinctly different environmental locations. We have the orange sands of the outback, the dense and lush rainforests, a skyscraper covered city and a small surfing village by a huge beach. The variation of both terrain and visuals is incredible and a huge step up from the previous Horizon games. In fact I'd say the only open world game that challenges this level of environmental variation is Grand Theft Auto V.

    Visually FH3 is just jaw dropping, not that FH2 wasn't so, but this is just taking it to another level entirely. Especially the far more visually varied approach, both in colours and types of environmental areas. The picture quality, running at a locked 30fps in 1080p on the Xbox One is razor sharp and clean. The stunning colours and sheer amount of detail in the surroundings will just take your breath away from the first time you press down the accelerator button. I'd say it's one of the visually most impressive racing games I've seen to date. Even as an open world game it triumphs many other such games in other genres as well, the draw distance and level of detail into it, is extremely impressive. I love that they've added custom number plates too, saves you from making them and adds a personal visual touch to each car! 

    I can't really find anything that needs to be changed or done better in any major way. Sure I would maybe have liked more kits or bodyparts to be available for each car model to make them uniquely yours. A couple of more alterations on challenge types would sure have been nice too. Nothing, however, detracts away from how well polished package this racer is. Oh yeah, I'd like to play the game in 60fps too, but you'll need the PC version for that!

    Which brings me to the fact that this title is the first of hopefully many Microsoft published titles that support cross playing between the Xbox One and PC! I've already tried it out a couple of times from my Xbox One in the full campaign coop mode, which by the way is an awesome addition, with a friend playing on a PC. It's an excellent way to share userbases and keep the amount of people playing the game higher. Regardless of console or PC as your main gaming platform, both can enjoy FH3 and play it together!

    Possibly one of the best racing games I have played to date then, a must buy for any racing fan and casual racers alike. If there's one racing game you need to own this generation, this just became it. Even though you may hardly or even play racing games at all, I would recommend you give at least the demo a go, it really is unlike anything else and caters a lot for beginners. There's no game that rivals this games beautiful cruising, exploring and nature admiring feeling of racing a car. It's pure auto mobile bliss with tons of options to cater for all enthusiasts and my god, Australia is a beautiful country!



      + Plus points

      • Incredible detailed visuals and variety.
      • Much better progression and campaign mode compared to FH2.
      • Tons of races, events and challenges to drown hours and hours into.

      - Minus points

      • Would be nice with some more bodyparts for cars.
      • A few more challenge types maybe?
      • Where are my Porsches?!

      Tuesday, 1 November 2016

      Leon, Helena, Chris, Piers, Jake, Sherry and Ada

      Resident Evil 6 (remaster, sort of)

      Platform tested: PlayStation 4

      I gave up on my first try of Resident Evil 6 on my Xbox 360. After the excellent, albeit rather lower budget, RE: Revelations, which returned to a more horror focused style, I just couldn't get excited about an action focused RE again. Being close to home of the wonderful Gears of War games on the 360, RE6 just felt like a cheap and inferior b-market third person shooter to me. Although some of this feeling retains four years later, my low expectations actually helped me get through the game this time around. I didn't leave early and played through the whole thing, even though it ran out of steam and became a repetitive affair towards it's last hours.

      This version of RE6 is a rather PR downplayed remaster of the original 2012 release, it increases the resolution from whatever 600p or 720p it was to a full 1080p, increases the field of view for a wider shot of the action and the framerate is boosted up to a solid 60fps for both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. There's strangely no mention of it being an actual upgrade with words like "HD" or "remaster" in it's title. Kind of a re-release which, as an added bonus, upgrades just as much as many other high profile remaster titled games this generation. It's definitely the version to go for if you have a PS4 or Xbox One and never played the original release. PC gamers will find nothing new here.

      RE6 tries the difficult task of continuing a bloated story arch spanning over many RE titles. At this point of time I think I have lost the confusing main plotline many years and titles ago. Though there are some familiar characters that return; Leon, Ada and Chris as the most prominent ones, as does Leon's little helper Sherry Birkin from Resident Evil 2. She's an adult now and the reunion with Leon is cool one for veteran RE fans, especially considering it dates back to 1998!

      Leon and Ada's relationship however, is the never ending distanced love/hate story where Leon wants to talk with Ada ever since RE2 and Ada being super busy bitch and having to consistently leave in a hurry. It's so ridiculous at this point, it's becoming a farce. Capcom need to tone down the "too cool for school" attitude between the two of them, and for the love of all abandoned mansions, cut Leon's stupid 90's hair.

      The story spans numerous locations through it's five campaigns(!), which again are revisited several times from other characters points of view. Each campaign, except Ada's, is played with two main characters. Either together with a friend locally or online, or together with an AI controlled character. These "couples" cross storylines and locations numerous times along the way, with some alterations of routes through them. It helps with the continuity to the many changes of locations throughout the confusing storyline, but it also feels like an extremely padded out lifespan. It's a game that easily could have been at least half it's length. Luckily each opening level is unique for each campaign.

      The game doesn't successfully create or convey a relaxed dynamic between each duo of characters. Perhaps Sherry and Jakes' is the best one, but I would have liked more interesting conversations and funnier banter between them all. The way Leon never lets go of saying Helena for every damn sentence instead of just "hey you, help me out here" sounds so forced and unnatural. It feels like the script was translated directly over from overly formal Japanese. As far as RE dialogue goes it does fine and is miles better than the original PS1 game trilogy if you want to put things in perspective.

      This being an action game and all, I really din't mind to have an extra AI character tag along with me. It helped keep a conversation going in the dialogue and someone to help me out quickly if I was hit to the grown with low health. The singleplayer campaign of Ada though, helps build another kind of atmosphere. Letting the player feel slightly more lonely and vulnerable, especially the submarine level at the beginning stands out as fairly unique compared to the rest. It should perhaps have been possible to play each campaign alone, but then again it would change most of the games dynamic. Make no mistake though, there's never ever a creepy moment. Resident without the Evil again, just like RE 4 and 5 in my opinion.

      Although I'm ranting on here about it's negatives, RE6 isn't a bad game as such. It's a bad RE game and avarage shooter. If you're like me, who has that special place for the slower paced and original RE close to the heart, then RE6 will never deliver this. Accepting this before even attempting to play RE6 is important, same goes for RE4 and RE5 too. As an action game with nasty monsters and dark environments, especially if you can play it coop, it' works as brainless fun. There's always new enemies to fight and the game keeps it at a steady pace without long tedious sections without anything happening. Some areas are clearly more fun than others, but all in all it's a fine gameplay offering, albeit with a little clunky controls and unsatisfying hit detection if you're used to other higher quality third person shooters. Oh, and the cover mechanic is some of the most shit I've seen in a long time.

      RE6 loses it's focus on delivering quality when it goes overboard on aiming at quantity. I know it sounds strange to complain about too much lifespan or content, but RE6 with it's five campaigns and fucking seven main characters(!) is just going overboard. Repetition kicks in rapidly after a couple of campaigns. I'd rather seen they narrowed it down to two, with less main characters, a far stronger story and more consistency around level design. Areas you traverse feel like barren backdrops and empty rooms, offering at most a few item crates to smash. The constant movement from A to B also render most levels a simple eyecandy tour with little, to no familiarisation with your surroundings ever taking place.

      I began my new playthrough of RE6 thinking I'd hate it again, but lowering my expectations beforehand made me like it better this time around. I went in expecting a new Capcom action b-game and left the hope of anything Evil in Residents behind at the door, and you know what? It worked.

      The crossing storylines, the run and gun gameplay and the fairly original locations brings RE6 together as a fine bargain bin shooter for a low price. While it's length will most likely test your patience, at least playing through two of the campaigns should be sufficient for you to have a lot of entertainment for a low asking price. A very average shooting game in a series with a budget one would expect far more of.



        + Plus points

        • Within it's limits RE6 works as a fun action package.
        • Good environment variation, although without much thought as to why you're there.
        • A very large coop game for those wanting something to play with a friend.

        - Minus points

        • So many campaigns and characters feels like quantity won over quality.
        • Shooting and especially cover mechanics feel like a budget game.
        • Main story is all over the place and feels ridiculous far more often than good.