luni, 29 august 2016

Deus Ex Mankind Divided Impressions - Cyberpunk Relapse

Lately, I've been trying to find some joy in playing some game, any game, mostly because I've been a tiny bit disappointed in one certain title and felt really betrayed by some developers and publishers, and yes, I'm counting Square Enix among them. However, I've been pleasantly surprised by Deus Ex Mankind Divided. I've had a few doubts and paranoia did made me question Eidos and Nixxes, the devs, and their showing-off with the gameplay trailers and overall confidence in their game. They went so far as to renounce the embargo on reviews earlier before release, and that's something you don't see much from triple A titles these days. That got me questioning: what's the catch? Well, let's just start with the good parts of the game.

 The good
I'll be honest, I haven't finished the game, and I'm only halfway or so, maybe deeper, but I'm aware of what this game is all about. What I mean by that is that it's a great follow-up to Deus Ex Human Revolution in every sense, and I mean it. If there was one thing you loved about Human Revolution, aside from the setting, of course, then it's all here, and better. Okay, to be more specific, the gameplay is amazingly familiar. The shooting, the hacking, the stealthiness, the climbing through vents, they're all back and they've been improved so much more.
There are new, more types of weapons, there's crafting, there are new and amazing augs that are actually referenced in the story, the hacking has been slightly improved with a couple of new viruses to use, and I don't even know where to start with the numerous paths and ways you can take to reach an objective. If you're and explorer like me, you're going to be so upset for using a good multi tool to unlock a door when you could've just used the air shaft hidden behind a trash bin or in plain sight. There are so many paths, it's almost overwhelming. It's also encouraged by the immense size of the levels and the only city hub of the game, set in the capital of the Czech Republic, Prague (or Praha, as they call it in the game), a country where the titular divided mankind is in a constant tug of war between the militarized police who abuse their force on the augmented and ARC, a faction of augmented rebels who make their voiced heard through terrorist acts. Beyond these, there's the Interpol trying to catch ARC's leaders and a hacker nicknamed Janus, head of a shadow group called Juggernaut Collective, opponents of the Illuminati. And, of course, in the middle of it all, Adam Jensen is caught again. I cannot get enough of his passive-aggressive ways of dealing with trouble, and Elias Toufexis does again a great job of portraying this awesome character with his memorable hoarse voice.

The sound is fantastic, Michael McCan's music enriches the highly atmospheric tone of the game. And lastly, it look fantastic. The graphics are breathtaking and the environments are incredibly rich in detail. I have noticed the same voice-lip sync and odd character animation from Human Revolution, and it's even weirder seeing these on these amazing graphics, but these are trivial things I'm not going to bother going further into complaining about when they've improved upon the formula in so many ways. You know, it's like when you play a game, you love it, but think that some things should be done better or a bit differently. Yeah, that's what Mankind Divided is in contrast to Human Revolution. Eidos already proved they are a listening dev, and I'm pretty sure they will start listening further down the line.

The bad
Well, my biggest complain is that it's a formula and the devs have played it too safe. It's definitely not the Far Cry 4 of Far Cry 3, but it's not Far Cry Primal either. Which can be a good thing? Maybe? I loved Human Revolution so very much and I really asked for more of that, so can I really complain? It's not a simple DLC, let me tell you, although I can already see the DLC content they'll be releasing. One will surely be a prequel DLC about Adam Jensen's adventures in Antarctica, because they've spent so much time talking about that part, I somehow can't imagine it not being showed one way or another.
My biggest disappointment, however, is that one and only city hub. It is big, it's split into two different sections bounded by a subway ride/loading screen, and the loading screens aren't short, let me tell you. To me that's a little complain, because I've installed the game on an SSD, a good one too, but I have heard some people talking about minutes of waiting for the game to load. Back at the city hub, it's full of life, miserable life oddly mixed with arrogant pricks life, but abundant nonetheless. There's rich architecture everywhere and it's filled with personality, while the background looks so fantastic I'd like to go there. But even as it stands, it's somehow not Hengsha. I would've loved for them to actually make what they where originally planned for Hengsha in Human Revolution, a huge thriving city above the one we've played in. Instead, Eidos focused more on detail, lots and lots of detail, I'll give it to them, while the settings of the away missions are almost city hubs in scale and chock-full of variety and verticality. Still doesn't quench the thirst for more, if you know what I mean.
The main story is interesting, there are a lot of factions, there's stuff happening and it's a logical follow-up to Human Revolution's event's. But I somehow feel distracted by side-missions, which are more fun than the main plot. Seriously, there was a main branching mission where I finished it with swift stealth around the level and a quick CASIE conversation, while a side quest where I had to solve a murder was more challenging and involving then I'd expected, and that surprised me in a very good way. It actually reminded me of another game I really loved and I had the same disposition: The Witcher 2. Amazing side missions, lame storyline. I somehow couldn't feel as immersed to what is happening as I've felt in Human Revolution, where Adam Jensen had a personal grudge with everyone, and there were so many characters! So big, yet the more I think of it, the more it starts breaking apart. There still are many characters, but their parts are so small in the bigger picture, while Adam Jensen feels like a Mad Max in the whole story, he's our vessel through a stormy sea which we have to navigate with only the complain for getting wet.
And if I have to, I have to. I'll say something about the microtransactions. I think it's crappy business practices I do no support, more so in a single-player full-priced game. That being said, I didn't felt bothered by it. The store is somewhere in the main menu, easy to miss, and the game doesn't ever mention anything about it. Also, the core gameplay is definitely not built around microtransactions. Sure, being able to buy bundles of Praxis that change the way you play the game and make you really OP in a game that encourages stealth and challenge is a lot like cheating, but then it's not something you can't just ignore by clicking Play and let other do what they want. The only downside to this is that it may encourage the publisher to push them further if it turns out to be successful. So all I can say is, please don't let it become successful! Just respect Deus Ex and play the game as it's supposed to be played.

marți, 9 august 2016

Star Trek Beyond goes where Abrams never dared

I won't pretend I'm the biggest Star Trek fan or even care so much for the franchise. I damn enjoyed The Next Generation, hell, I grew up watching that show, while most avid trekkies will scoff at it. But seriously, let's not be snobs. Sure, TNG brought Star Trek into the world of heavy computer generated special effects, and started under the helm of the same Gene Roddenberry. It was a logical transition. After Roddenberry passed away, everyone who enjoyed the TV shows thus far were sad to witness each episode getting worse in front of their eyes. My generation, or younger, we didn't. We just enjoyed them for what they were, being too young to realize the real meaning behind what the original series were supposed to reflect, what Gene Roddenberry envisioned. Still, every show and spin-off, from TNG to Deep Space Nine, from Voyager to the critically panned Enterprise, they were all about dicovery, multicultural diversity, diplomacy and exploration, actual Science Fiction stuff. Many will say that Star Trek begun to plunge with the release of the Star Trek Generations movie, which brought the casts of both the original series and TNG together. Personally, as a mere spectator, I enormously enjoyed that movie as a kid, and even as I grew older, mostly maybe because of nostalgia. I don't know what went wrong, but longtime fans didn't (and apparently they still don't) approve of the violence and the energic and loud battle scenes, pretending that Roddenberry never intended for the series to be an action-packed fest, but rather a gathering of peaceful tranquility. Really, when Kirk fought a guy dressed in that hilarious lizzard costume it was because they wanted to look ridiculous, not because they lacked budget, right?
I think I'm stranding too far from the title of this article. I'm supposed to talk about Star Trek Beyond. I've been slacking on writing about this movie since it first la
nded in theaters.
To make it short, I loved it, more than I loved either previous movies in this series, but not more than the first one, The Motion Picture. TMP was revolutionary for its time, as was Alien or Blade Runner, and these are movies that will remain relevant a long time from now. I can't really say the same about Star Trek Beyond. So far, this series relied too much on references to the original series and related pop culture memes, yet it's a surprise that the 2009 Star Trek reboot was the most original of the bunch, with Eric Bana giving the performance of his career, in my opinion. As for a plot, Nero wanted to destroy all Federation planets with a mining ship in a revenge spree across dimensions, Khan also seeked revenge, and... guess what? Krall, the villain of Beyond, also wants revenge on the Federation for being left for dead. It's not even funny anymore. But you know what is funny? The dialogue, the script in general, but I couldn't have expected anything less since it was written by the nerd Simon Pegg himself. As for the whole gay Sulu debacle, it was all really stupid, the movie handled it beatifully and actually in a meaningful way.
I liked that they went for the destroyed Enterprise and grounded crew, same as in The Search For Spock, directed by Nimoy himself, although they went for an original storyline... or, well, as original as they could. I also liked they way they paid a final tribute to Leonard Nimoy with a proper and emotional send-off. And I have to mention that I loved the portrayal of the characters this time around, and the relationship between them. While Abrams had two movies to set up the crew of the Enterprise, Justin Lin (known for the most of Fast & Furious movies) took the helm and made a more grounded, more visceral and practical action movie, but also had every character do something, not only Kirk, Spock and Uhura. This was a movie that involved the entire crew and it was amazingly well constructed. Because the movie took place on the surface of a planet, they had a lot of fun with actual stunts and sets, and that was a breath of fresh air in these CGI-heavy movies.
What more can I say? Idris Elba's portrayal as the Krall was okay, but nothing noteworthy, but on the opposite, the character of Jaylah (played by Sofia Boutella) had a great presence. It's a movie filled with awesome moments both of suspense and emotion, with references gallore, and personality. I really enjoyed it and I think it's a great addition to the series. I expect in the future more original scripts with new and awesome stories that'll blow our minds, so they can escape the anchor to the old series.
Thank you, Anton Yelchin!

vineri, 22 iulie 2016

Ghostbusters (2016) is actually good!?

I had the awesome pleasure to be invited at the new Ghostbusters movie preview with my friends from Blogal Initiative Craiova. We had a great time at this new, hip theater called Inspire Cinema, in the city of Craiova, Romania, and if you ever find your way over here you just need to give it a chance. It's really inviting, best setting for a theater up on the 4th floor of the Mercur Shopping Center right in the downtown, can't miss it. Best part is, even if there's no movie you're interested in, the view up there is worth the visit.
As for the Ghostbusters reboot, I was surprisingly entertained during the entire viewing. But, since I'm not the best art critic, I'm not going to pretend that this is a review. Therefore I am going the less classy way and will compare it to the original 1984 movie, which just happens to be one of my favorite movies, alongside The Thing... and will also mention the internet outrage around the trailers and Paul Feig's comments.
Ghostbusters is an overall fun summer flick starring Kristen Wiig as the down to earth relatable character, Kate McKinnon, who just did her best to be the zaniest on the screen, Leslie Jones, who wasn't the stereotype they made her out to be in the trailers, and Melissa McCarthy, who played herself. Also, maybe the funniest presence was, in my opinion, Chris Hemsworth as Kevin the receptionist, an eccentrically dumb hunk who's just a refresher every time he's around. So, except for one typecasting, every actor portrayed characters filled with diverse personalities and, most importantly, quirks. There weren't any down-to-earth, Kristen Wiig-type character males, except Ernie Hudson's brief but funny appearance, and the villain was the cliche whitest white guy with a weird frustration upon all humanity as his sole motivation, but there was also a purposefully unlikable woman character, the secretary to that stereotypical always-in-denial mayor played wonderfully by Andy Garcia. What I'm trying to say is that the movie is not trying to be sexist in any way, at least not intentionally. So now that I've got this out of the way, let's talk about it in relation to the 1984 Ghostbusters with Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver, and the late Harold Ramis, who all, except Ramis, had very small parts in this movie, more as their validation, their approval towards this production. They weren't distractions, they were winks to us who know their work well, and it was a good touch. I liked that and they were incredibly funny, most notably Aykroyd.
But how do the movies stack? Well, the 2016 Ghostbusters features a good cast of characters who can hold their own without drawing from the original like many other remakes, reboots and nostalgia-driven sequels do. Except for those little winks from the original cast, the movie tried its best to be as original as it could... at least it tried. It was kinda the same story, to be honest. Some smart working class citizens of New York decide to open a ghost busting venture after encountering a floating ghost woman in an old building, villain ghost possesses some schmuck and opens a portal that brings all sorts of crazy ghostly creatures to the land of the living, and it's up to our unlikely heroes to stop the madness while also fighting a huge white version of a logo; and it's their logo this time... But while the original Ghostbusters had a cast of simple, real people who were way over their heads in the whole ordeal, we feared for their well-being and rooted for them to succeed. Melissa McCarthy does cartwheels! Well, almost, but they dual wield proton handguns, throw proton grenades, and basically kill ghosts. They KILL GHOSTS! Think about that. They catch one ghost, and then they awkwardly improv-dance over rap music. You know, the original movie was a product of its time, like the quintessential ghost-catching montage, and so is this one. I get that. The jokes however were hit and miss. At least for me. I chuckled a few times, I had a smile on the whole time, and it even got me twice with a couple of jump-scares. But it started poorly with puerile poop and fart jokes, then transitioned into awkward commentaries, the kind where you can assume that the screenwriter wrote the entire script in dialogue, in which the characters have to banter and describe what is happening, basically explaining the joke, ruining it... Stop that! The original was witty, sarcastic and smartly satirical. Melissa McCarthy complains over soup four times.
The action is intense, it's loud and colorful, and so are the visual effects. While the first movie used mostly compositional and practical effects, this re-imagining, because that's what I see it as, uses mostly CGI (computer-generated imagery) creatures and effects, while also some compositions mixed with CGI, I think, like the first ghost woman. The first movie had also a darker tone, because the ratings were a lot more flexible, but now the movies tend to lessen the violence in search for a wider audience. That's good too, it brings more people, youngsters and nostalgics, to the theater and enjoy the Nickelodeon-style graphics for what they are, colorful but still effective. And if you're watching the 3D release, you're in for some fun. It's one of the few movies in which the 3D is noticeable, but just enough not to get distracting.
The movie holds amazingly well on its own. If you're a grumpy nostalgic, don't worry, it won't ruin your childhood, the original Ghostbusters will never be erased. Besides, the creators and actors of the new Ghostbusters were very artistically respectful to the roots. I don't see it becoming a classic, because its premise is not as original as it was 32 years ago, but it is highly enjoyable, it's funny, it's explosive and, despite some odd editing choices, like distracting fast cutting, it's a consistent adventure through a vapors-infested New York.
So, well, that wasn't terrible. No, it wasn't terrible at all.

Ghostbusters (2016) will have a wide release in most theaters and Cinema 3D Craiova on July 29. I, personally, enjoyed the movie and I hope you'll do too. If my viewing experience can be summed up in three words, those are colorful in regards to the visuals, laughter in regards to the atmosphere and crowd, and a general sense of surprise.

marți, 31 mai 2016

My BETA experience with Overwatch

I've played a lot of Overwatch during the open beta, and it... was... sweet! The gameplay is so addicting and satisfying that it got me hypnotized over and over. It's the kind of game that doesn't take itself serious, there's no real story, yet it's brim full with personality and so are its characters. You will fall in love with it. And it's fantastic that we've actually played the full realease version of the game during the beta, at least mostly. That's extraordinary, especially for a shy industry like our gaming. So here are my opinions on the game, both positive and negative:
- The game looks great. The level of detail in the graphics doesn't stem from photorealism, instead Blizzard focused on a stylized cartoony aesthetic that's just gorgeous, from environment to weapons and characters.
- The sound design is not only well done, it's imperative to the gameplay. You have to be able to hear the enemies and, most important, their Ultimate Abilities.
- Ultimate Abilities. I don't know how they did it, but these abilities (or "ultimates") that you charge up slowly by completing goals and killing foes are well thought out, well implemented, and really well balanced.
- Counters. To every ultimate there's a counter, with one character or another. Not every character can counter all ultimates, but it's fantactic when you can pull off a hard counter using Genji to reflect Widowmaker's hitscan snipes. I never did it, but I've heard stories...
- The maps are really layered and intricate, very strategy oriented, some more than other. There are lots of maps, each with its own rich theme.
- There's a deep combat mechanic, or rather many mechanics. Not only does Overwatch feature four different classes, but the characters are very unique, some not even combat oriented. For example, you can use Mercy to extract health from enemy players, but she's a lot better at healing your friends.
- The characters are fun, each and every one. They're full of personality, they're really unique and a blast to play as. Most likely you'll find you're best as one character than other, and that's alright in this game. You'll fall in love with 'em.
- Fun for everyone, big or small. Easy to get into, even if you're not very good at games. You may not win many matches, but you won't feel like you've lost either. At least, you know, not painfully.
- No pay to win microtransactions. I hate to admit that this has become a thing to notice, but it's something we have praise whenever we can. Also, every microtransaction can be purchased with in-game currency that you can acquire by just playing, and why wouldn't you?
- Only a couple of modes so far.
- Some character feel just a tiny bit overpowered, while others subtly underpowered.
- *Leveling doesn't feel like it's rewarding with much. Sure, there are those obligatory loot boxes, but they only give out some skins, tags, voice lines, victory poses or just poses, I don't know, feels really cheap and pointless. But that's from someone who's more into RPGs that online shooters. (*This might feel like a negative for me, but not for others.)
- For a full-priced game, there are a lot of microtransactions. Sure, you can basically unlock them with the fun sort of grinding, a lot of grinding, but their pointless presence has a blatantly obvious means.
Just to be sure, this is not a review, just my opinions on the beta I've played. There's a lot of promise in Overwatch, one I'll happily invest in. Outside of stuff I'm generally not interrested in, personally, the game is an absolute blast to play for a long while. Also, for whoever likes Esports, Overwatch isn't only a good candidate to become that, it already is. So go get blastin'n have fun!

joi, 12 noiembrie 2015

A Dive Into Fallout 4 - A Fallout Fan's Impressions

Some feedback, constructive criticism, and a few cool suggestions.

As any fan of the Fallout series, I've been very excited about Fallout 4 ever since I've heard the first and very vague rumors about the development. I have to say, we've all been surprised when they announced it, even though we sort of expected at least something, but to have Todd Howard basically tell us the game is almost done and delivered by the end of the year, that's astonishing. The mindblowing feat is that they managed to somehow keep the whole development a secret. Even though we've all knew the gossip around the setting and the script, nothing was really certain until it was unveiled. That's a good thing and a cautionary one at the same time. I, personally, will be more inclined to believe rumors from now on. But enough about me...
Let's talk about the game. I found the start to be a bit too quick. It's not really a big issue, but I still to this day prefer the slower, more contextual opening of Fallout 3. It had development to characters other than your own, and you get to spend time in a Vault Tec vault enough to almost learn its layout, creating a familiar connection between the player and the setting. Fallout 4 doesn't give the player the same chance, but does enough in the context of what is happening to appreciate the "show, don't tell" approach. For example (no spoilers, I promise), in the first few seconds, in the very first "War... War never changes" cutscene, we get the info that our character (at least the male one) is a soldier who's preparing for a sensible speech. It's a smart move the writer made, and we also understand why Ron Perlman doesn't reprise his role as the narrator. We do get to see what the life before the nuking was like, or pre-war, but only for a brief sequence, which is indeed disappointing. But the game has a powerful start even so. We get enough info to get the fun started, in a sense. To be honest, I was impressed and surprised by subtle and not so subtle details. Color, one of the most criticized elements, gives life to the world. Since the game starts up by incorporating the pop culture of the late 1940s through mid 1950s, it's more than obvious that the game would incorporate the colorful lifestyle of that period. Some might argue that things rust in a couple of century, and it is mentioned early in the game, but not everything turns into a greenish mist. Others might argue that color breaks atmosphere, and they'd be wrong. The game gets atmosphere right from the very start and sticks to its power tightly. Not only that, but the atmosphere changes with subtlety and great effect, not to mention the night-day cycle.
I need to say something about the combat, the role-playing elements and the crafting, all in that order. The combat has been generously improved. We've heard about Wolfenstein The New Order devs helping out with the shooting mechanics, and if you've played that game you can really tell. It's indeed a blast to shoot stuff, we've got the aim down the sights working well, and enemies are really strong, at least as far as I've played. Deathclaws are a force to recon with. And then there's the highly customizable Power Armor you get early on, plus lots and lots of insane weapons. Bravo, Bethesda, it can be done! Can you believe the fact that we get to find legendary and rare loot? It's like an actual RPG. Talking about RPG, I really don't understand why almost everyone is upset about the voiced main character. Okay, the argument most used is that it limits conversation and dialogue options, but I disagree. I've yet to find an instance where I wanted to say some other thing that was not in the dialogue wheel. Shameless or not really, the dialogue wheel is ripped from recent Bioware games. That means there's an approving answer, a negative answer, a neutral answer, and at least one interrogative option where you can deepen the conversation. Now, in the same effect, you can't really back out to previous options, since it's not a list. However, the voice actors are amazing, and I found myself drawn into the conversation, I felt connected, even though maybe not always relating. I like it so much, I place my Fallout 4 character next to Commander Shepard and Geralt of Rivia, two of my favorite video game characters of all time. As far as choices go, I haven't reached a moment where I could do that yet, and that kind of worries me, but I have taken my time with the game as much as I could, and I heard that the choices have deep impact on the ending. Hope it is so.
Finally, even junk is very valuable and useful. When you start cleaning up mugs and forks, now you know they'll be worth something more than measly caps. All junk is used for crafting, and crafting is so awesome and overwhelming – in such a good way – it becomes a game on its own. You can craft weapons, armor, food, not to mention base building, which is also a crafting thing. Although nothing the level of Minecraft, building is enjoyable for those who enjoy that kind of stuff, like I do.
That's all good and awesome. The devs learned a lot from their past mistakes and successes, but also from the community, especially the modding community. Weapons, crafting, building, survival, it's all there. About the subtle details that surprised me in a good way, I found the new usefulness of the Pip-Boy to be a true revelation and an actual companion. Also, the Power Armor is finally a big thing. While the PA doesn't change the gameplay by much, it's does feel like controlling a hulking machine of war, but not devastation. Maybe not the Power Armor, but maybe in the future we actually get to control a force the size of Liberty Prime. A DLC perhaps, eh Bethesda?!
You might be asking yourself why I'm not saying anything about the graphics. I won't say graphics don't matter. I am a hypocrite, but not that big of a hypocrite. I already wrote a bit about it, and my point still stands. The graphics are good enough, They aren't a pain to watch, like some I've heard saying, my eyes didn't melt, and I've found the stylistic choice to be fair and nice looking. Now, we'll obviously get very soon an official HD texture pack, and I hope I'm not wrong, but as always modders will make it look better even if the game looked like reality. So I'm hopeful.
I know Bethesda and Todd Howard are watching the community and fans and trying to put out amazing content for the players. So I'd like to make some suggestions. I won't ask for the Moon, I promise! We've all been trying to get vehicles to work in the game, but the engine is just too unforgiving in that aspect. Modders tried, all gaming gods bless 'em, but there was just no way to get a decently functional vehicle. Now, I don't know about the lore, I know Fallout 2 had a fast travel car, but I feel like it would make the most amazing DLC. Bethesda, give it a thought, why don't you!? And a thing to cater to us old fans, both accepting, like me, and die hard old-schoolers who won't touch anything that's not isometric. Guys, if there's something I've learned from my time as a gamer is that small things can be just as appealing as big stuff, if not more in some cases. I'm talking about Fallout Shelter and XCOM Enemy Unknown. "What?" Yes, let me elaborate. We're impressed by that one gameplay of The Division in which the guy closes the car door. We're not hard to impress, we just want to seem like that. When 2K announced that they're making an XCOM game as an FPS, everyone screamed in despair. "Yeah, 'cause that worked well for EA's Syndicate." People started asking for a good 'ol turn based isometric XCOM, and probably 2K just asked Firaxis to make an XCOM game just for the gigs. And it was good. So good, it surpassed what they thought would be the flagship XCOM game – The Bureau: XCOM Declasified. I could say much more about XCOM and how excited I am for the XCOM 2, but I'll get to the point. Bethesda, just do a spin-off isometric turn based/real time RPG in the veins of Fallout 1, Fallout 2 and Tactics. It's the best move. I know it's hard to make a game, no matter what perspective it's played on, but it won't be a failure, I just know it.
With all that being said, I'm eager to find out what expansions await us. I hope I haven't forgot any of the things I wanted to talk about. This was not a review, by the way. I really want to hear if you have any feelings on what you've read here, so please let me know. Let's talk about it.