Posts Tagged ‘action rpg’

Deus Ex: Human Revolution Review

The Way You’re Wired

The announcement of a new entry into a series whose original game tends to inspire fresh installs every time it’s mentioned is a big undertaking. Warren Spector’s original Deus Ex is widely considered to be a classic PC game, so many fans have waited with bated breath to see if Eidos Montreal’s prequel is worthy of the name (especially after the second entry in the series, Invisible War, was poorly received).

Deus Ex: Human Revolution puts you into the biomechanically-augmented body of Adam Jensen, a security agent for Sarif Industries. While investigating an anti-augmentation group’s attacks on the company, Adam gets drawn into a much larger conflict. The most spoiler-free I can get regarding the story is that it’s pretty excellent, with plenty of intrigue and twists.

The game is a hybrid first-person shooter and action-RPG (as was the original). While you’ll spend a considerable amount of time in combat, the sheer amount of non-combat stuff to do is impressive. There’s plenty to explore, and exploration yields rewards in several forms: you can pick up extra quests, find new items and even gain a few XP with a little bit of footwork. While you can just follow the arrow to your next objective, it’s a lot more fun to get lost in Detroit or one of the other locations in the game. You can learn a lot about the environment and the world of 2027 just by asking around, and even more by rooting around. You can read other people’s email, pick up eBooks, and eavesdrop on conversations. Heck, you can even pick up a basketball and shoot some hoops.

Deus Ex: Human RevolutionThe combat system is interesting. While shooting is a major part of the gameplay, it isn’t all there is to do. Combat often requires a tactical approach, using cover and the element of surprise as a major advantage. You’re given the choice of both lethal and nonlethal weapons, in addition to grenades that can knock out machinery or daze opponents. The cover system, which switches you to a third-person viewpoint, is well-implemented.  However, my favorite parts of the combat repertoire are the ones that require a little subterfuge. Find the right computer terminal and you can turn gun turrets and patrol bots on their masters (which also, helpfully, means they won’t attack you). You also have a variety of Arkham Asylum-style takedowns at your disposal, both deadly and nonlethal. It’s fun to sneak up on someone and stick a couple of knives in his back; however, sometimes it’s just as satisfying to knock someone out cold after a particularly aggravating conversation.

(With the exception of the cover and takedowns of course, most of this is true for the original Deus Ex as well. This is NOT a bad thing.)

Scene-Stealing Hack

You’re also capable of hacking computers and keypads to open doors, safes, and terminals; thankfully, the minigame is fun. You have a limited number of attempts on any object and each node takes a certain amount of time to capture and has a certain percentage chance of detection. If your hacking is detected, then you’re given a time limit and have to finish the hack before the timer hits zero. You also have a few tools at your disposal – you can fortify a node to make it take longer for a trace to get through, you can use software to stop the timer briefly or capture a node silently. As opposed to, say, BioShock or Mass Effect, where hacking is an annoyance, these can actually be quite fun in their own right.

Using bots in deus ex human revolutionThis brings me to another part of the gameplay that enhances the others – your augments. The augmentations, which grant you special abilities, are what makes it a Deus Ex game after all. When you level up (or pick up a Praxis kit), you’re given a Praxis point, which can be used to unlock your abilities. These all serve to enhance your abilities in one way or another, and there are quite a few choices. You can take points that make you jump higher, let you survive falls from the tops of buildings, perform takedowns on multiple opponents, and chuck a cardboard box with enough force to kill the poor bastard hiding in it. You can also use them to enhance your radar so you can see enemies from further away, or to see through walls (and there is a weapon that exploits this). You can also level up various aspects of your hacking skills, and of course, bend light around you to become invisible. Temporarily, of course, because most of these powers sap some of your Bioelectric energy, which must be restored by scarfing energy bars or (presumably) snorting protein powder.

The setting is really cool. Set in a Golden Age of scientific discovery (with undertones of discontent, paranoia and fear of the new technologies), the look is both traditionally Blade Runner-esque cyberpunk and Renaissance-inspired. And it really, really works. You’ll see a wide variety of places – from Adam’s noirish apartment, to Sarif’s ultramodern offices, to a TV station that looks like it was designed by Apple employees, in addition to places I don’t want to spoil. The storyline and setting also have the perhaps dubious honor of being one of the most plausible futures I’ve seen depicted in a videogame.

Steet in Deus Ex Human Revolution

The one sticking point I find in the game are the boss battles. Seriously, whose idea was it to put forced combat situations in a game that otherwise allows you to play however you like? If I’m playing Adam as a hacker or stealth specialist, how am I supposed to deal with a big bullet sponge who doesn’t even respond to me trying to shoot the weapon out of his hand? In the original Deus Ex there were two forced confrontations, but each had a go-around that allowed you (if you did enough poking around) to take them out without so much as drawing your gun. The game is not optimized for head-on combat, yet that’s pretty much what the bosses force you into. I can only assume that the boss fights were designed by a separate team who weren’t informed that the combat in other parts of the game assumes you can avoid direct exposure to enemy fire. The fights just seem shoehorned in by someone who assumes that all games need boss battles. It doesn’t mesh well with the style of gameplay or the “play it how you want” spirit of the game.

A more minor complaint (and this may be a PC or even Steam-exclusive issue) is that the prerendered cutscenes all seem to be heavily compressed, and as a result look kind of rough. It doesn’t affect the gameplay at all, but it’s definitely a letdown when the prerendered scenes look less crisp than what my video card can render.

Future Perfect

Those complaints aside, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a superb game. It’s easily one of the best I’ve played all year. It’s an example of what a good team can do with an almost forgotten franchise by not forgetting or discounting what made the original so great in the first place (and yes, that is a jab at 2K’s X-Com reboot/abomination). Eidos Montreal, my mirrorshades are off to you.

BNBGAMING Mark of Excellence Award

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Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale logo

Dungeons & Dramamine

The Forgotten Realms campaign setting has been the stage for many excellent games. This includes the SSI Gold Box games, BioWare’s critically and commercially successful Baldur’s Gate series, and Interplay’s enjoyable hack-and-slash Dark Alliance games. Unfortunately, Daggerdale falls short of any of those titles.

But before I dig into the game for what it got wrong, let’s talk about what it gets right. The gameplay is a solid hack-and-slash dungeon crawl (when it works), somewhere between Gauntlet and Diablo. There’s plenty of stuff to collect, and all of it is useful in some capacity – no vendor trash, just sacks of gold, potions, weapons, and armor. In addition, there’s a good mix of quests, a few of which are optional. The storyline is OK. It exists, and in a hack-and-slash game that’s pretty much “good enough”. It pales next to something like Baldur’s Gate or R.A. Salvatore’s books, but it IS better than the Dungeons & Dragons film. In addition, some of the graphics (the ones with actual textures) look pretty good.

Glitchcraft and Heresy

Daggerdale reviewNow, let’s take a look at the bad parts.

Daggerdale is not so much a game as a collection of bugs and unfinished code being held together by the Unreal 3 engine. Characters will freeze up and be unable to move (which is essentially a death sentence as you can’t save mid-quest), textures won’t render on some weapons and armor (leaving your character looking distinctly like a smurf). Within ten minutes of starting the game, my floor textures turned flat black.  It’s bad enough that I made it to the final boss and when it came time to attack the boss…my fighter remained stuck in one place. There’s a small window of opportunity to get through an area while the boss is away, and I can’t move. Brilliant.

In addition, other players are reporting that stats, abilities, and items are being lost during gameplay. While I didn’t experience this particular bug, it just seems fair warning is in order.

The game was pretty clearly rushed out the door. I paid $15 so Atari could have me beta test the game! I mean, this wouldn’t be the first time a game needs patching, but it’s so flagrant that it stuns me. And not to go off on a tangent, but Atari has done the same “release it unfinished” thing with Temple of Elemental Evil and Alone in the Dark in the past. I’m frankly getting tired of it. I know it’s only a $15 title, but let’s compare it to two excellent downloadable titles: Mega Man 10 and Lara Croft & The Guardian of Light. Both of these games released with the same amount of polish one would expect from a full-price title.

Second, let’s look at distribution (for the PC version at least). The game is only available on DVD-ROM, as in you have to purchase a physical copy. And then it authenticates through Steam…OK, but why not just release it through Steam? The Xbox version is downloadable, so…why did I have to purchase a physical copy in a market where physical software sales are nearly dead?

Dungeons and Dragons Daggerdale reviewThe multiplayer experience, which, with 4-player co-op the game was supposedly designed around, is also quite frustrating. When you try to join a game you’re given no indication of where in the dungeon or in what quest the other players are. It’s kind of lame when you’re at level 8 and the other characters are running the tutorial mission. In addition, sometimes you’re lucky to join at all. I’ve had to hard reboot a few times when the game just hangs on the loading screen when I’ve attempted to join a multiplayer game.

Another major “what?” moment (at least from an old D&D player’s perspective): there is no character creation other than selecting a premade race/class combination and allocating a few feats. Now, when done properly, this kind of thing can work. It worked fine in Dark Alliance. However, in Daggerdale what struck me is that the rogue class is assigned to the elf and the wizard is assigned to the halfling. For those not in the D&D loop, elves have higher intelligence (and thus make better mages) where halflings have high dexterity, making them ideal rogues. Now, if we were creating our own characters, I wouldn’t stop you from taking those out for a spin, but in a game where you have no choice in the matter, you’re giving us these backwards setups?

The music is…well, for me it was nonexistent. It was irritating in the first dungeon so I turned it off and put Basil Poledouris’ Conan score on. The game doesn’t save this option change so I had to turn it off every time I played. The sound is fine for the most part, swords clanging and spells whooshing and bones clattering. And then there are the voices. There really isn’t any voice acting to speak of; however, anyone you speak to is bound to have a little worried sigh or groan. They tend to loop every few text boxes, and it would have been better in my opinion if the little niblet of sound hadn’t been included at all.

Daggerdale by Bedlam Games and AtariThe Final Verdict

I can conclude – no, I should beg you not to buy this game. It was released in an unfinished beta state. It’s pretty frustrating to do your work for you, Atari. My question is, why did Atari even buy the D&D license if they’re just gonna make crap like this? If you want a decent hack-and-slash, pick up Torchlight or wait for Dungeon Siege 3. If you’re in the mood for some real Dungeons & Dragons, download Baldur’s Gate from GoG or pick up a 4th edition starter set. There’s no reason for you to play Daggerdale.

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Mass Effect 2 Arrival DLC Review

Return of the Shepard

An Alliance agent has been captured in Batarian space. Admiral Hackett contacts Shepard with a mission: Are you a bad enough dude to rescue the spy?

Such is the setup for Mass Effect 2‘s latest (and reportedly, last) downloadable content mission. The mission, like the other DLCs, can be accessed from whatever point you’re playing from as with the other three DLCs. So far, Mass Effect 2‘s DLC missions have ranged from great to greater than great. While Arrival is probably the least of the DLCs, lacking the style of  Stolen Memories, the scope and moral decisions of Overlord, or the…well, let’s just say the Shadow Broker DLC was awesome, and Arrival is less awesome, but by no means bad.

Mass Effect 2 - ArrivalThe DLC’s first half (I’ll take care not to spoil the story, as it’s supposed to tie into Mass Effect 3) offers a few opportunities to take different paths, allowing you to slip by guards stealthily if you so choose. While there are no Deus Ex-style sneak attacks, I enjoyed being given a fresh option to not take the Rambo approach to infiltration. In any case, it’s still the same great Mass Effect 2 gameplay it’s always been- the same game I’ve liked enough to spend 60+ hours on. The second half doesn’t involve any sneaking around (as everyone is alerted to your presence early on).

The biggest problem to me, and definitely the biggest blow to the mission is that it’s a solo mission. The best part about BioWare’s games, to me at least, is the characters. The only recurring character that appears in the mission is Joker, and he has no lines. So all your favorite characters – Garrus, Tali, Mordin and the rest of your ragtag band all sit this one out. Now, I’m sure this was probably due to the fact that it would cost quite a bit to get the cast together (although I’m sure they’ll all be together again for Mass Effect 3 anyway…) and it’s probably easier to write. But like I said, a Mass Effect mission just feels so dry without its characters. It just feels like it’s missing something without the character interaction.

The lack of team play aside, Mass Effect 2 – Arrival  is not a bad deal for seven bucks. I clocked in about an hour and a half of gameplay. There are no new arms or armor, but you can pick up a couple of upgrades and some credits, ammo and resources. The main point, I think, is to thread the game with Mass Effect 3. However, we’ll have to wait a few months to find out how successful the threading is, and until then, what’s better than a fresh ME2 mission?

BNBGAMING Recommended Award

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Mass Effect 2 PS3 Review

The Popular Series Warps to PS3

Mass Effect 2. After a year of accolades on the PC and Xbox 360, it has finally come to the PS3. And after spending two weeks and around 50 hours with the game (many of which were very long sessions), I can easily say that I’ll join the chorus in praise.

My first question upon playing was, having not experienced the first game, would it be able to pull me in? Did I need to be aware of the Mass Effect universe beforehand? Even with the interactive backstory (detailed in my previous article) and in-game Codex, I did indeed feel a little lost at first. However, I soon acclimated to the setting and its stunningly diverse worlds.

As a quick overview, the game essentially consists of exploration and character interaction segments intermixed with some combat missions which play out as a third person shooter (although you are able to pause to activate a power, switch weapons or command your squad). If you’re expecting a shooter with the fluid run-and-gun mechanics of Vanquish or Uncharted, you’ll probably need some time to adjust. While still fast-paced, the combat in Mass Effect 2 is more strategic than typical shooters. Depending on the character class, the game will play very differently. I did my first playthrough as a Soldier (who can slow down time to take careful aim or switch ammo types) and am starting my second as an Adept (capable of using biotic powers to do cool things like throw people around). As you gain experience you can level up your character’s powers, eventually getting a choice to evolve a given power.

But combat is only half the battle – the character interaction and storytelling is unusually meaty, and you almost always have a say in what direction your conversation flows. The dialogue (and the choices offered) is extensive, and most of it is superbly written.

A conversation in Mass Effect 2In Space, Everyone Can Hear You Talk

But the conversation wouldn’t be much without interesting people to talk to. Luckily, the game is packed to the brim with great characters, and each member of your ragtag bunch of misfits has a distinct personality. The cast includes motormouthed scientist Mordin, gossipy master thief Kasumi, hard-bitten bounty hunter Zaeed, tank-spawned walking tank Grunt, the volatile and acerbic Subject Zero, and my personal favorite (and chosen romance), the socially awkward Quarian engineer Tali’zorah. This is just a sampling of your squadmates (I didn’t include them all), and beyond that there are plenty of other fascinating characters you’ll run into. Most prominently, your boss/benefactor of sorts, the Illusive Man, your pilot and your ship’s AI.

In addition to these aspects of the game, there are also exploration and recovery missions in a repulsorcraft, mining resources from planets, hacking computers, and a car chase. There’s a good variety to break up the shooting and dialogue.

Character customization is excellent – and this is important, because the default male Shepard is, in my opinion, incredibly dorky looking. However, I was able to create a character I was satisfied with in both male and female forms, and the game offers you the ability to customize your armor as well, right down to color and individual pieces (I personalized mine as blood red to imitate Crusader‘s Silencer). Backstory and reputation are all a matter of choice. And I like this.

An Intergalactic Journey

Robotic Enemy in Mass Effect 2The places you’ll visit are numerous and diverse, ranging from ship graveyards, to Blade Runner-esque cities, to prison ships. Most of them are superbly detailed and rendered. Unfortunately, it seems some areas weren’t optimized for the PS3 hardware as well as others, and in one case the backgrounds and skies were badly pixelated, which seemed very off, considering the otherwise high level of polish in the environments. Indeed, the game contains a few graphical glitches – lighting will flicker without sources changing (mostly on closeups), characters will sometimes disappear from a frame (rare, but noticeable), and in one of the Hammerhead missions the ground looks as pixelated as a PlayStation 1 game. However, the game has only been out for two weeks and I’d be surprised if these problems weren’t fixed by a patch within the month.

While galaxy-spanning epics aren’t particularly new in gaming, the fact that this is a character and story driven action-RPG as opposed to a strategy game like StarCraft or Sins of A Solar Empire offers a scope that is pretty much unheard of. You’ll be saving the galaxy and exploring it while assuming direct control of the hero. And I appreciate that it mostly takes a hard science fiction approach rather than a Star Wars science-fantasy approach. I would say this is (for me at least) the most well thought-out and involving science fiction setting in gaming since the Wing Commander series.

The PlayStation 3 edition includes the three DLC packs from the 360 and PC versions on the disc, adding considerable value to the package. The great thing is, the three DLC packs – Overlord, Kasumi, and Lair of the Shadow Broker – are all excellent. There isn’t a dud in the bunch, and Lair of the Shadow Broker in particular is brilliant (spoken with David Tennant’s voice and inflection.). Each of them adds depth and intrigue to an already involving game.

Combat on Cerberus Station in Mass Effect 2The game also includes some bonus weapons and armor, although I found this to be mostly novelty items, as you can’t customize the extra armors and the Arc Projector just isn’t my kind of weapon (not when there’s a particle beam and a mini-nuke launcher, anyway). In addition, the medieval-futuristic Dragon Blood armor (which is a pretty shameless plug for BioWare’s other series Dragon Age) looks remarkably silly and out of place. At the very least I’d like to change the paint job. I would guess that if you already own the 360 or PC version, there’s no reason to double dip; the content (from what I’ve been told) isn’t anything new or exclusive.

The Final Verdict

I thoroughly enjoyed Mass Effect 2 and can see why it’s so beloved. After my first playthrough I was ready to jump right back in – there are plenty of missions I skipped the first time around. I’m going to end up checking out the original game as soon as I get my new PC built, and I can’t wait to see what BioWare has in store for the third one. If there’s any doubt in your mind as to whether this game has its place in your PS3 library, have no doubt. It’s well worth the time and money.

BNBGAMING Mark of Excellence Award

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