Month: November 2015

Review: Fallout 4

There are spoilers in this review, you have been warned.

There is certainly a unique aesthetic and feel to nearly all of the games developed byBethesda Game Studios. They have a phenomenal record and pedigree for creating games that exhibit all of the key elements needed for a successful open world role playing game (RPG). Fallout 4, their latest title is no different. The game attempts to be the most ambitious game in the franchise by allowing greater player choice and adding additions to the already superb gameplay. For those unaware of the history behind the Fallout franchise, allow me to give you a quick summary as to where this game takes place, the overall themes and tone of the games, and most importantly its genre defining gameplay.

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The world of the Fallout franchise is a grim post apocalyptic wasteland devastated by war over resources that culminated in mutually assured destruction of China, the Soviet Union and the United States of America (hence the name sake in reference to nuclear fallout). Like the previous games, Fallout 4 takes place in the remnants of the post nuclear wasteland of the United States. Specifically in this addition to the franchise, the game takes place in the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth is essentially Boston and its surrounding towns, including Salem, Quincy, Concord, and Lexington. Locations such as Fenway Park and CIT (a play on MIT) are also present in the game. The environment of Fallout 4 is littered with hideous creatures that have been mutated by radiation during the 200-year period between the nuclear exchange and the beginning of the game. Humans are also for the most part your enemies in all Fallout games. Whether they are cannibals, organized raiders, religious fanatics, or ghouls changed by the effects of radiation, humans can hardly ever be trusted in this game. Like previous games in the series, the very environment can kill you; well the better explanation is that pockets of radiation and radioactive waste will slowly kill you. So players always have to listen to their Geiger counter in order to stay alive. The basic idea in all of the games in the franchise is to basically just survive and find and complete the story along the way.

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I personally wanted to break down the overall aesthetic of the game and several unique environments for the beginning of this review. For starters I would just like to point out my favorite environment in the entire game that is right above this paragraph. This location is called the Glowing Sea, it is basically a low-level players hell, but it provides players with a different perspective of the series’ game world. The Glowing Sea is the area that is in close proximity to the ground zero of the nuclear strike that devastated Boston. The environment is void of any kind of sustainable terrain or plant-life. The player has to venture through this radioactive hell in order to progress the story through a specific quest. During which the player will encounter some of the most disgusting and tough enemies in the entire game. This on top of being the single most radioactive place on the entire map excluding the two nuclear reactors you venture to during the game makes this journey tedious and difficult. The player is constantly being attacked while also taking radaway (a medicine that magically gets rid of radiation, HURRAH for REALISM!) in order to keep the amount of rads that are affecting their body at a low rate. It is next to impossible to walk through this area without radiation suit or power armor along with dozens of radaways on the higher difficulties. I personally fond this journey to a cave at the edge of the map, past this area, as the most memorable part of the entire game. The fear of nearly always being killed by mutated beasts or radiation combined with how long it takes to traverse this location adds to the overall feel of how futile your journey appears to be until you finally reach your destination.

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Another location Diamond City, which is a town constructed inside of Fenway Park, also proved to be a unique environment. I personally enjoyed seeing humanity attempt to rekindle what is left of society inside the ruined baseball stadium. Overall the game looks good, but not great. I have been running the game at 4K in 60 frames per second and I have been kind of underwhelmed. That being said I absolutely love the art direction and usage of such a wide variety of colors in the games palette. Unlike previous games such as Fallout 3 or Fallout New Vegas, Fallout 4lacks the saturation that plagued 3 or the ugly sepia tone that made New Vegas seem straight out of Dust from Counter Strike Source. The textures at time, even on my PC were muddy at times, while at other points in the game I was caught off guard by the beauty of some in environments. For example, the previously mentioned area, The Glowing Sea was oddly beautiful, even though it was an absolute wasteland. I personally have yet to play the game on console, but the reports from IGN andDestructoid (which gave the game a 7.5/10) pointed out the low frame rate including drops to a pitiful 0 frames per second on the Xbox One. The game literally cannot run better than 30 frames per second on the Xbox One, and even so it hardly ever is at 30 frames to begin with. Sadly, the PS4 which by no means would get 60 frames per second was also handicapped by Bethesda’s decision to lock cap both consoles frame rates’ even though the PS4 would arguably have higher frame rate. Non the less, the only complaint I have for this entire game is its few graphical flaws, its inability to run steadily on console and its recycled animations which I will touch on later.

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The weapons and armor in Fallout 4 are few when it comes to base models but make up for it by being modular and open to customization. The ability to change so many things about my favorite handgun that I customized in the game, a .44 magnum I named the Wild Wayne in game, made me honestly care about my gear and weapons. I always fond myself scavenging derelict buildings in search of materials that I could either use to upgrade my gear or my settlements. The latter of which is a new feature that allows the player to create small little villages that can house settlers and companion non-playable characters. I will not go into detail about this feature since it is actually optional when it comes to completing the game and holds only little value in the overall meta of the entire game. A positive side effect of having customization for the player’s gear allows for various play styles to be used in the game. I fond myself using the armor taken off of a secondary antagonist, a cyborg named Kellog, that I killed about 1/4th of the way through the game combined with my .44 magnum and silenced sniper rifle as a solid strategy for combating enemies in the wasteland. Of course some enemies require a more brute means of destruction, I am looking at you super mutants and death claws. In these specific encounters I decided to personally equip more “personal” weapons such as the semiautomatic shotgun above that holds 32 shotgun shells. When that specific weapon wouldn’t suffice I would always end up using my laser Gatling gun that I nicknamed “The Duke,” because it just sounded cool. I will not touch on the vast variety of armor sets that the you can find in this game just out of necessity for time. That being said some of the armor types are brutally effective at not only protecting your player but also being incredibly intimidating.

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The writing and overall character design and voice acting is easily the best in the franchise (sorry Liam Neeson, you were pretty cool in Fallout 3 though). The witty reporter to the right, Piper, proved to be sarcastic and deadly with her words. Her trench coat attire and paperboy hat were just the final touches on a near perfect companion in a Fallout game. Back to the writing though, the Fallout games have never taken themselves this seriously. Topics ranging from if inhumane medical experiments are worth it for the greater good of the human race to are synthetic humanoids worthy of human rights are all tackled in this game. I attribute this more serious writing to the themes that are laid down in the beginning of the game. I am talking about the fact your husband or wife (depending on which gender you choose to play as) is killed in front of you and mysterious people take your son away from their dead body in the opening sequence of the game. This combined with the fact that your character actually lived in the world before the nuclear attacks, thanks to being cryogenically frozen in a vault right after the attacks. This gives the world a different perspective since you character constantly comments on how things were before the attacks and entertains or confuses other characters that never had the opportunity to live in a time before the bombs dropped. Ultimately the games main story begins as a journey to find the player’s son named Shaun. However, it soon becomes more complicated than that. For starters the player believes that their kid is only an infant when they finally wake up from their deep sleep. After which clues hint at your son being around 10 years old, which the player’s character accepts as the truth. Oh how gullible of the player’s personality to actually believe this.

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During this journey countless characters such as my favorite character above, the synthetic robot-hum detective, Nick Valentine, inform the player that a shadowy organization is up to no good. The organization, which calls itself the Institute is responsible for creating the synths, which are synthetic humanoid robots. These creations range from clearly being robots to resembling humans down to the exact detail. This is where the theme about are synthetic humanoids worthy of human rights,that I mentioned before comes into play. Nick, who is easily the most well written character in the game, is a proponent that synths are sentient and self aware, that they deserve to be treated as equals to humans. Other groups, such as the Brotherhood of Steel (you might recognize them from other games) believe that synths are a disgusting invention created by the Institute that are abominations to humanity. In addition to the creating the synths, the institute is fond to be responsible for taking your son. In fact your son’s DNA helped the institute create the synths since your son was a perfect specimen for a non-radiated human. This on top of the fact that the Institute is also harassing the “normal” humans from their subterranean base beneath CIT (once again a play on MIT) makes them at first appear to be the antagonists or at least the “bad guys.” However, after finally reaching the Institute the player realizes that the group isn’t exactly what you expected.

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For starters, it turn out that the leader of the Institute is actually your son Shaun. He reveals that it has actually been 60 years since he was taken away from your spouse while the three of you were frozen in Vault 111. This explains why he is so old and is dying of cancer (cough spoiler). Shaun reveals to the player that the Institute has actually been striving to attempt to reverse some of the effects of the nuclear attacks on the environment and is actually working to preserve the human race. They created the synths to act as pseudo slaves or as he phrases it “custodians.” Regardless, if you believe in sentient beings having absolutely no free will and being controlled by literal masters (symbolism much, slavery? Containment?) then you may side with the idea that the synths deserve this treatment. I personally found myself playing through the game three times at first to experience all three options when it comes to how you as the player believes they should be treated. My first instinct was that I should side with the Institute because honestly, putting the whole slavery of sentient creations aside, the Institute was actually completing essential scientific work for the betterment of the human race. The second time I sided with the Brotherhood of Steel and obliterated all synths and destroyed the last haven for any chance of a future for the human race (bleak right?). This option is arguably the worst of the three because all synths are exiled or hunted down like animals and humanity is doomed due to the destruction of the research the Institute has spent 150+ years working on. The last option has the player side with the Railroad (I am aware you can side with several more factions but they have little impact on the synth issue). This group of scientist and thieves is attempting to learn about and collect the Institutes research while at the same time freeing synths because they believe they are equal to humans. From my own personal moral perspective I felt that this was the best decision. Although the Institute is destroyed, along with the Brotherhood of Steel’s Commonwealth chapter, the Railroad secures the Institutes research and synths are freed of their bonds to their masters. Regardless of which decision you choose as the player, your son dies due to sickness either the villain (if you side with the Brotherhood of Steel or the Railroad) or as an ally (if you sided with the Institute). Also I forgot to mention if you do not side with the Institute you plant a fusion bomb on their nuclear reactor and nuke a good chunk of Boston.

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I know I glanced over a important part of the game, the perk system and VATS but honestly they are incredibly self-explanatory and are expected in an RPG. Not to mention the same exact system can be found in Fallout 3 and New Vegas. Overall I have enjoyed my time in Fallout 4, I know for a fact that I will spend plenty more time in the game. The game has its positive and negative factors such as how it looks and runs (the picture above isn’t from the game but actually a live action trailer). Nonetheless the game is a worthy addition to the franchise. Could it have been better? Absolutely, almost no games are perfect. If you have plenty of hours and the grades to spare some time in the Commonwealth, I highly recommend picking up Fallout 4.

Verdict: 9/10 on PC. 8.5/10 on Console.

 

Review: Halo 5 Guardians

After installing a massive 9GB day one patch, hundreds of thousands of Xbox One owners booted up 343’s newest title, Halo 5: Guardians. 343 had a lot to make up for after the release of Halo 4. The multiplayer community in the previous game was bored with the content after a mere two months. At the same time the story was incredibly predictable and gameplay was repetetive excluding a couple new bells and whistle. I personally have not been a fan of the series since Halo 3 (which is easily one of the two best titles in the series), yet Halo 5: Guardians surprisingly has changed my feelings towards the series. This game, by no means is as good as Halo 3, but it certainly plays well for an FPS. Take this how you will, but Halo 5 does not play or feel like a traditional Halo game. I thought it was kind of odd to even associate the gameplay with the series, that’s how different it is. Whether that is a good or a bad thing is up to the player.

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For starters, Halo 5 looks great. The assets from the previous games that have been reused in previous games have been completely redone, providing a much needed face lift for the franchise. According to my El Gato capture device the game runs natively (yes that’s a real term) around 900p and is up scaled to 1080p. This was planned by 343 in order to have a close to 60FPS so the shooting mechanics seemed as clean and smooth as possible when compared to how choppy Halo 4 was. However, the game is by no means a precise and surgical 60FPS that one can see in a title such as Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, the lowest my El Gato capture device ever read on the game was around 48 frames per second during larger scale battles. This honestly didn’t matter that much to me because I was surprised by the visual quality of the effects in the game. Also, the moment to moment shooting normally stays around 55-60 FPS, so you will notice when the drop occurs but it doesn’t take that much away from the quality of the game. I just would like for developers to stay true to their promises since 343 explained that the reason why they down scaled the resolution of the game was in order to have the game locked at 60 FPS, this game is not locked at 60 FPS.

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Back to the effects, Halo 5 sounds and looks great. 343 stepped away from the sepia tint that they used for Halo 4 and instead replaced it with a vibrant palette of colors. The mere amount of variety when it comes to the hue of the different primary colors used in this game made me pause at first because this is easily the best looking Halo game (and that is putting the fact that it is the newest iteration in the franchise aside). The sound design from gunshots to the sound of a Banshee exploding all sound genuine and honestly realistic. Each gun makes distinctive sounds which are varied enough and recognizable enough that players can tell what kind of weapon enemies are attacking them with before they even see the enemy. This is incredibly useful on harder difficulties since every bit of intelligence on your enemies can help you succeed in battle. I am just glad that 343 didn’t decide to lazily cut and paste sound bits from the same weapon and apply it to all guns that fire bullets or plasma.

Contrary to what the marketing behind this game might have informed you about the story of Halo 5: Guardians, is the fact that you hardly play as the series protagonist, The Master Chief, at all. In fact you only play as Chief and his friends from Blue Team only in 3 out of the 15 missions in the entire game. This angered me since earlier this year, 343 claimed that Halo 5 would follow two stories interwoven together. One following Master Chief and Blue Team, while the other follows Spartan Locke and Fireteam Osiris while they attempt to hunt down the former. To “Hunt For The Truth.” Instead players are given a campaign and plot twist reminiscent of Metal Gear Solid 2. In Metal Gear Solid 2, the game was marketed as the next stage in the protagonists story, Solid Snake, instead players realized that they were instead going to play as a new character, Raiden for the majority of the story. This game was marketed as the next title in Master Chief’s story yet I felt like this was more about Spartan Locke and his crew. I wouldn’t mind this if 343 actually attempted to flesh out the characters of Fireteam Osiris. Sure players are given short dossiers on each member of the team, but none of these facts or backgrounds are expresses successfully in the game.

The use and explanation for Blue Team, Master Chief’s long time friends and comrades is also set up and executed in the game with an incredibly sloppy approach. To the unaware players, Blue Team is the codename for the Master Chief and his fireteam. Originally comprising around sixteen Spartan IIs, Blue Teams roster was decreased due to the deaths of over half of its members before or during the Fall of Reach which takes place earlier in the series timeline. Blue Team, like all of the other Spartan II supersoldiers were kidnapped as children in order to be augmented and trained into the  most effective fighting force in the history of humankind. The relation ship between the Master Chief and the other three Spartans, Linda-058, Frederic-104, and Kelly-087 is reminiscent of a real brotherhood that one would find in real military units. Halo 5 does an absolutely atrocious job of attempting to flesh this dynamic out. There is literally one line said by Buck of Fireteam Osiris (voiced by Nathan Fillion) during level 4 of the campaign that explains to the unaware gamer that Blue Team has completed more operations than any other fireteam and that they are a family. That’s it, nothing else is mentioned in game to further explain the actually incredible dynamic between these characters.

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Multiplayer in Halo 5 has proved to me that old franchises can be successfully reinvented in order to appeal to a larger audience and to remain relevant to gamers. Halo 5 currently features two forms of multiplayer combat, Arena & Warzone. Arena is essentially the gamemodes a veteran player would expect to find in a Halo game. Gamemodes such as Slayer, Free for All, and my personal favorite SWAT are all under this category. They all have a new twist however, these gamemodes are limited to 4v4 and are incredibly fast paced. This is partially due to the fact that gameplay in Halo 5 is fast paced and constantly moving. These Arena gamemodes also have a new ranking system to them that is incredibly similar to that of MOBA games such as League of Legends & DOTA 2. I felt that this added a much needed competitive nature to the game and would make it appeal to more hardcore gamers. This was needed in my opinion because Halo typically has an incredibly low learning curve and normally lacks any need of skill at the surface. These new additions of jump jets and cambering along with dashes help raise the learning curve for this franchise in a well executed fashion. The other gamemode that I have been playing non stop is Warzone. Warzone at its core can be described as Titanfall mixed with Battlefield with a touch of MOBA elements. Warzone puts two teams against each other on a large map that supports close combat infantry engagements along with large scale vehicle combat. The two teams fight over control for 3 different points, typically two armories and a center stronghold. By controlling these points the teams gain points. The objective is to be the first team to reach 1,000 VP points. Simple enough right? Wrong. Along with worrying for the other team, players must also worry about incredibly strong Covenant or Promethean enemies that will spawn in at different locations at different times during the battle. If a team manages to kill one of the computer controlled opponents they will normally earn a large amount of VP points that will be added to their team’s total and will also more than  likely gain a powerful weapon from the now dead enemies inventory. These along with several other features that I will let players discover on their own adds some more complicated elements to the gamemode.

I found Halo 5 to be exponentially more enjoyable than Halo 4. That isn’t saying much though considering how much of a dumpster fire Halo 4 was. Halo 5’s new elements breath life into a struggling franchise and helped it become the best selling Halo game of all time. Whether this is due to the fact that it is the first exclusive shooter on the Xbox One or the fact that it is available to a much wider audience since it is rated T for Teens and not M is up to your interpretation and analysis. Halo 5 is by no means the best game in the series but it does succeed in reinventing itself but it also loses some of its original appealing factors by doing so. None the less Halo 5 is miles ahead of Call of Duty Black Ops 3 (Do not expect a review any time soon for that pitiful “game”) and proves to be an enjoyable experience when you put the flaws in the story aside.

Verdict: 8.8/10