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Call of Duty: WWII – A Bridge too Beige or an epic masterpiece?

Call of Duty: WWII – The Standard

It is difficult to talk about Call of Duty: WWII without falling into an almost dream like state of idle reminiscence about ‘the way things were’ and why ‘it just isn’t the same anymore’. Much like my elderly father and his feelings towards multi-cultural Britain, my feelings towards the overall state of the Call of Duty franchise have become increasingly apathetic, even somewhat despairing.

To find a good first person shooter these days is rare. Second only to Donald Trump having a day off from his dick swinging contest with North Korea. Call of Duty: WWII isn’t inherently bad. It has all the dramatic set pieces you’d expect. Explosions, slow mo dives and blurred, ears ringing lying on the ground with a Nazi standing over you segments that you come to expect as standard. And, here in lies the inherent problem with Call of Duty: WWII. It is just standard.

My ongoing issue with these ‘big’ developers and publishers is the alarming stagnation and conservatism that currently grips them tighter than a monkey gripping a windshield wiper at the safari. What’s going on? The developers promised a return to the roots of what made Call of Duty the breathtaking story which redefined the meaning of first person shooter.

Yet here we are. In Western Europe…again! What about North Africa? What about Sicily or Italy? The Far East? There are so many untold stories that could be unleashed through the most powerful medium of entertainment today but alas, they remain untold for the time being.

The Story So Far…

The campaign places us in the boots of “Red” Daniels and a squad of infantry who fight their way off the landing beaches on D-Day to a final rescue mission in the heart of Germany. Additional characters are your best friend Zussman, some guy with glasses, a cliche Sergeant that had a tragic experience at the Kasserine Pass and your Lieutenant. They are forgettable characters with a serious lack of depth other than ‘the best friend’, ‘the one with glass’, and ‘the shouty sergeant’.  None stand out for any particular reason other than Zussman and that’s only because he gets taken prisoner.

For some reason there is beef between the Sergeant and the Lieutenant and beef between everyone else and the Sergeant. Every cutscene has the Sergeant berate, threaten or bully Daniels and the squad – it literally starts within the opening cut-scene. It’s predictable and gets tiring very quickly.  He’s irritating for no reason other than ‘what happened at Kasserine Pass’, which none of the characters are able to talk about, just because, and does nothing to further the character development or story.

 

The missions are lacklustre in terms of content, filled with in-game cut-scenes, the dreaded QTEs and not enough overall shooting of Nazis. I found myself frustrated at how the game robbed me of overall control at the very moment the missions seem to be gathering pace. You can find in game mementos which is kind of interesting, I guess. You can also perform heroic moments. Saving a fellow soldier grappling with a German or by dragging a wounded comrade to safety before he bleeds out. No old burnt out wreck or crumbling wall will do though. You have to drag the soldier to a specific spot and it’s never made clear where you have to put him. I’ve lost count how many times died trying to save ‘Private A.I’.

 Sneaky Sneaky…

The highlight of the game, which I touched upon earlier, sees you play a French resistance agent who infiltrates the German headquarters in Paris shortly before the Allies arrive. Disguised as an attache, you have to memorise your story for when you are inevitably asked questions, locate a fellow spy and plant explosives.

For an infiltration piece, it’s pretty basic with its content and what you can physically do, but it’s a welcome change of pace that gives the player a chance to snoop around, even locating some bonus objectives if you are patient enough. Out of all the missions, this one stood out the most. Sadly, even this mission eventually falls back into the loud, obnoxious chaos that typifies this increasingly gimmicky franchise (cue the eye roll).

Despite the story failing to engross the player, and the missions a shade of beige, the graphic and sound artists are a credit to themselves.  The set pieces are filled with amazing detail, the highlight being a breathtaking train crash, and I have come across absolutely zero visual bugs in my play through.

The ambient sound of men and metal clashing together in a maelstrom of violence is astounding, especially when you have a high quality sound system. The only let down is the weapon sounds, a problem that has been inherent throughout the series and continues into Call of Duty: WWII. Never do the guns sound ‘heavy’ or ‘chunky’ but more like cheap Poundland pop guns.

 

A word on the multiplayer

Okay, so I did play the multiplayer – the open beta anyway. I found it exactly how I expected it to be. Small teams and same old, same old game modes standing on parade with claustrophobic maps lining up in rank behind. Gun play swings clearly in favour of sub machine guns and shotguns. Rifles and machine guns are simply irrelevant.

 

In Conclusion

Overall, Call of Duty: WWII is a standard World War II trope. Lacking in a decent story, irritating and forgettable characters, with only one or two memorable moments that really hold out against the onslaught of bland missions. Not even the visual effects, nor the sound effects, can stem that kind of tide. Give me the old Call of Duty games any day.

Wow, I really do sound like my Dad.

 

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Wolfenstein: The New Order

Wolfenstein: The New Order makes me thankful that the Nazi’s never won the war. With all the weird weapons and merciless Nazi robot dogs that would have sprung up, I am glad I don’t have to live on Hitler Crescent and work at Goebbels Inc. Those nightmares are fully realised in The New Order which see’s the return of William “B.J.” Blazkowicz who, after a failed assassination attempt on his old nemesis General ‘Deathshead’ Strasse, wakes up in 1960 to a world dominated by Nazi’s and their robot dogs who think his limbs are Pedigree Denta-stix. Blazkowicz then sets about mounting a resistance against the Nazi empire with a small band of resistance members including Caroline Becker, last seen in ID Software’s reboot, Wolfenstein, in 2009.

Wolfensteain The New Order in-game characterMachineGames have done away with dimension jumping where you were attacked by angry blow fish and everyone’s eyed glowed. They have done away with weird crystals that not even Jesse or Walter would consider cooking up because of the absurd powers they gave you. Granted, Nazi robot dogs and a Nazi empire that covers the world is also a stretch but, what makes this Wolfenstein so enjoyable is the focus on telling a good solid adventure story, throwing in great gameplay mechanics and puzzles with a challenging AI system, something that lacked in the previous title.

MachineGames have also given BJ a substantial amount of dialogue which has been lacking considerably, meaning you are no longer in control of a cardboard cut out of human. His dialogue in both cut scenes and in game feel passionate and striking (it may also explain why, during cut scenes, BJ always looks close to tears). In game, a loss of an ally or seeing the Nazi’s commit atrocities against unarmed POW’s will trigger some sort of response from BJ, expressing anger, disgust or bitterness or questioning his own ability to save the World from Nazi rule through his thoughts and occasional murmurings. For a game full of laser touting, Aryan obsessed Nazi stomp machines, you can’t help but share the emotions of Blazkowicz in his moments of anger or self-doubt.

Just like the story is pumped full of emotion, the gameplay itself is pumped full of action. The layout of the game is strictly ‘on-the-rails’ but each level has multiple ways to approach problems. For a franchise known for its all out action, the ability to stealthily bump off enemies by slithering out of a floor level vent and throwing a knife in their back is a welcome addition. Secret passage ways are numerous and varied and finding collectibles such as letters, maps, enigma codes and gold gives you an additional reason to explore the alternate routes. In each area you will also find commanders who, if you are detected, will call in reinforcements until you can eliminate them, meaning you don’t have to always run around dual wielding shotguns trying to blast Fritz into bitz.

The Commander ‘pen-pushers’ who got promoted for their connections’ (according to the in-game journal) will flee and let the grunts do all the work to try and take you down. In this sense, the game almost encourages you to become Ninja-wicz. Almost. The enemy AI for the grunts and cowardly commanders is extremely smart, something you’ll quickly realise when being out-flanked for the fourth time. Their use of fire suppression and grenades is to be commended, meaning engagements are fierce and can turn desperate if you are down to your last mag. One significant criticism of the AI however, is that it can feel too good, sensing you through boxes and round corners, leaving you annoyed at wasting your time trying to sneak around the level. Perhaps the Nazis also have psychic powers? A nice addition is you don’t simply rearm by walking over ammo; you have to physically pick it up. If pinned down behind cover, coming under fire from all sides; desperately trying to reach across to pick up a box of ammo or med-kit will feel like a whole new game in itself.

Wolfenstein Robo DogFor a game that came on four discs (no, really) the graphics are good. No that is a lie, the graphics are incredible. All the set-pieces have been lovingly crafted for your destruction and they never feel half done or over-crowded. If you are a stickler for frame rates and high definition explosions, then this is also your kind of game.

On PC, the game is polished to perfection. I sometimes have to keep an eye on the temperature of my processor and graphics card but when playing such a huge (40GB!) game, I thought the demand on my processor and GPU would be too much. Amazingly I was utterly wrong and the game is so well optimised that temperatures for both components stay well within safe limits. Only the occasional graphical glitch spoils the atmosphere of playing fetch the grenade with a robotic pooch but I’m sure future updates will fix that.

Some will be surprised to hear that Wolfenstein: The New Order has not shipped with any multi-player whatsoever. I worry that this may discourage potential players but it is worth the money for a brilliantly dark and brooding storyline and gripping gameplay.

Overall, I have not had the pleasure of playing such a brilliant, story driven shooter in a long long time. The graphics, gameplay and the sense of adventure will have you hooked for whole weekends at a time. A few tweaks to the AI and a fix for the occasional graphical glitch would be appreciated however. The lack of multi-player is also disappointing but I’m glad that MachineGames didn’t overreach – I’m looking at you Battlefield – and fall flat on their faces. The single-player is entertaining enough to have a great deal of replay and you will enjoy the twitchy nervousness of getting hunted by Robo-Rover for months to come.

 

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Titanfall – is this the full version?

Titanfall, one of 2014’s biggest titles, has launched in the UK & Europe. The amount of hype surrounding Titanfall can only be described as ridiculous. It has to be one of the most anticipated launches in several years. No pressure then!

A brief look into the ancestry of the developer, Respawn Entertainment, quickly suggests that there is a serious pedigree at hand. This isn’t Titanfall creator Vince Zampella’s first rodeo. Mr Zampella did of course co-create Call of Duty as we know it today, before someone called someone a nasty name shortly after Modern Warfare 2 and everything went to shit.

Here we are, nearly half a decade later and we get to pick apart Zampella’s latest creation, the most anticipated Xbox One game of the year with 80 awards being dished out, before it was even finished…never really understood that!

If you’ve followed any of our other reviews, you’ll know that at UGP, we have a system for reviewing games. We believe that there are three key elements to make a game which if combined correctly, create a dynamite experience. These elements are the engine (visuals & how it plays), the scope (story, content & lifespan) and the effect (is it fun, does it keep you coming back for more?).

 

TF_AngelCity_PilotTHE ENGINE

Titanfall is very nice game to look at. While not mind blowing visually, it certainly does feel like a nice place to be once you’ve got into a match. It’s difficult to appreciate the detailed artwork that’s gone into the Titans because if you’re close enough to see it, you sure aren’t going to hanging around long enough to actually appreciate it. And that’s really how Titanfall plays, it’s very smooth but very very fast. Absolute chaos in fact. I like it, and the game does it well. There’s no bugs or glitches, random getting stuck, tearing of the map…it actually works. A shock in this era of games being released flat out broken I know! The controls are intuitive and very familiar, standard FPS stuff really. If you’re able to master the double-jump and wall running element of Titanfall, while not new it is nice to see, you’ll find that you can move about very very quickly, covering large spans in a short time. You do get rewarded for timing your jumps and runs and you can get a real flow going. Don’t and you’ll feel like you’re trying to run around on a bouncy castle.

With regard to balance, the weapons are very nicely balanced, the limited number of them, and there’s no obvious over powered strategy or loadout. There is no strategy to Titanfall to be fair so that’s not going to be an issue. My only gripe is the accuracy of Titan weaponry. If you’re spotted by a Titan as a pilot, you’ve had it. The weapons are so accurate, and cover so sparse, you’re unlikely to get away. It would be nice to see Titan weaponry be a bit less accurate, it’s not like the primary target, a Titan, is small and difficult to hit!

 

THE SCOPE

In terms of storyline, they might as well have not bothered. The campaign is next to non-existent and when you are playing it, you don’t even notice it. The campaign in Titanfall consists of 9 mission for each of the two factions, the IMC and the Militia. These missions are basically just multiplayer game with some predictable audio overlayed at intervals during gameplay to make you think you’re fighting for a cause. The cutscenes between missions honestly just get in the way. There’s no depth to the story and it certainly doesn’t leave you wanting to know more and wishing it went on. The only reason anyone would want to do the campaign is to unlock the two additional Titans that you are awarded for doing (doesn’t matter if you win or lose) the 18 missions, which takes about 2 hours incidentally!

The lack of depth and scope to the storyline is a good marker for the rest of Titanfall, read on and see what I mean.

I’ve played Titanfall for about 6 hours over the 3 days since release before writing this. It’s not challenging at all. Many other reviewers are seeing this as a positive, that beginners can jump in and survive more than 30 seconds before being annihilated. Well, that’s not a good thing in my book. Honestly, if I’d known this game didn’t really expand on the BETA, with which I was bored after 2 days, I wouldn’t have bothered looking at this. Titanfall multiplayer, which is all there really is to this game, is a lot of fun. For a few hours. But, the complete lack of strategy and objectives or goals means that once you’ve unlocked most of the things to unlock, of which there’s just 31, what do you do? Take the RC-101 rifle you get at the start. There’s 2 attachments for it…2!!!! There is such scope available to make something awesome surrounding weapons, it’s the future and there’s fuck off great big mechs storming about the place. Why can’t we have a Dead Space style weapon builder? If there was, this game would have a lifespan that extended past 6 hours. What do we do in multiplayer games other than unlock things and build classes? There’s none of that in this. 5 hours of gameplay and I’ve unlocked all but 5 things in the game. It’s poor, very poor.

 

Titanfall_E3_014THE EFFECT

The effect Titanfall has on me is one of massive disappointment, unrealised potential and boredom. The maps are very linear due to the need to allow for Titans and the lack of content in Titanfall is such a shame. As I’ve already mentioned, less than a day’s solid gameplay and you’ll have done everything there is to do. Battlefield 4 is a game where strategy and tactics require mastering, plus a shed load of stuff to unlock. Call of Duty: Ghosts, despite its faults, has clans, squads, and killstreaks. These things keep me entertained, and I’m not alone in my thoughts. Playing with a buddy of mine on Titanfall and after 1 day we both concluded that we’d probably only play this for a few days. He’s ok with that, he’s go a disc to sell. I on the other hand, have spanked £55.00. Fifty five bloody quid on this is not worth the money!

Titanfall was an immense amount of fun for a few hours but, as I realised this is as good as it gets, it got stale really quickly. There’s no progression, I’m at level 30 at the moment. The last unlock is level 48 or something close. I’m not sure what I’m meant to do after that? The 5 game modes certainly aren’t going to keep me interested. Particularly when two of them are just bits of attrition on there own.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

Overall, Titanfall is a good game technically. It’s built very well, works well, looks good and the gameplay is nice but…there’s just no meat to it. I get the impression that they did all the tricky technical stuff. The engine, the graphics, the controls and software to build the models and simply ran out of time. There’s potential for so much more. The Titans could come with so many more customisation options, the weapons are limited and the attachments for them are next to non-existent. We’re in the future, there’s no limit on what can be done. Where are the killstreaks? It’s perfect for that. But no, all we get is a nice little voice in our ear telling us it’s an impressive streak. I’m sorry but I need a bit more than that to keep me entertained.

Final verdict is this. Technically very very nice but a very lacklustre game. The lack of content and the potential to make a completely engrossing game is a massive massive let down. Yes there’s DLC coming, but it’ll cost £20 and it’s only for 3 map packs. Doesn’t really add to anything. It’s not worth £50. Wait and pick it up for £20 when you need something for a weekend. Due to it’s complete lack of depth and the fact I’m done with it after just a few hours play time,  I’m going to give Titanfall 7.5 out of 10.

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Ghosts man

CALL OF DUTY GHOSTS: A REVIEW

Call of Duty has been with us as a franchise now for nearly twelve years. On over eighteen different (and even now defunct) platforms from GameCube to Xbox One, the franchise has sold over 100 million copies of the game. Infinity Ward and Activision have really pushed the boundaries of first and third-person shooter gaming. However, the latest release; Call of Duty Ghosts fails to really ignite the same passions as previous CoD titles. As a headliner of the next-gen consoles lineup, Ghosts has been caught with its pants down – to date the game has had over 3Gb of updates. Issues with multiplayer, single player and engine-based issues have caused the developers to issue patch update after patch update. This has really affected the game and how its been perceived. UGP has decided, in the post patch period, to put the game through its paces.

UGP believes games have three unique elements that, when combined, makes a great game – even greater! Therefore, using the UGP Ozone review system, which means we focus on three elements that surround; the perspective (the storyline), the difficulty (how challenging the gameplay was) and how indulgent the game is – we decided to put Call of Duty Ghosts to the ultimate gaming paradise test!

 

THE STORYLINE?

The 10th installment of the CoD franchise moves on from Captain Price and his cohorts. The next wave, after Black Ops, sees you experience the campaign through the eyes of one Logan Walker. It all starts when Walker’s father, Elias, tells his son about the ‘Ghosts’. These clandestine warriors become a legend the Federation enemy came to fear. This back story is told in tandem with an attack on a US satellite system and an assault to destroy the oil producing nations of the Middle East. This alternative World sees old superpowers destroyed. The rise of a new power, called The Federation, in South America assumes a global dominance. The Federation has an ace up its sleeve; the main bad guy is Rorke, an ex-Ghost turned Federation supremo. Walker and his team play a game of cat and mouse with Rorke across the globe from Antarctic oil refineries to desolate US outposts.

The story seems half-baked. The ending, without any spoilers affects the overall ‘feel’ of the storyline. The lack of a more defined prologue introducing the Ghosts and more of the actual history of the War means you’re left guessing – and even Riley your pet dog doesn’t really make a difference in terms of experiencing this lack of knowledge.

 

HOW CHALLENGING IS THE GAMEPLAY?

Call of Duty Ghosts advert - Ultimate Gaming ParadiseIn an attempt to sex-up the gameplay, Activision and co have created a new type of gameplay format. This is called Squads mode. There is still the single player mode and the Multiplayer mode. However, Squads has been debated as the main ‘killer’ reason for the gameplay’s successes. Or in my opinion lack of success. The challenging nature of CoD is stymied by this title. It ends way too soon. The online multiplayer and squads don’t really offer anything different. It all seems like Activision and co are now simply in ‘launch mode’. They’re counting down to the next November launch and don’t really care about the nitty gritty of gameplay. Modern Warfare 1 and 2 really changed the dynamic, Black Ops 1 changed the aspect of gameplay. However, Ghosts fails to really change anything. The lack of a storyline and a short campaign mode really means the title has a stymied gameplay. The lack of a challenge really focuses the title’s failure to define itself in a better context.

 

HOW INDULGENT IS THE GAME?

Call of Duty Ghosts is however fun, regardless of a crap storyline and a feeling you’re constantly being underwhelmed in terms of being challenged. The fun factor of the game does come out. This is a saving grace in terms of buying the game. The multiplayer game has its moments, as does squads and campaign. The killstreaks have advantages – from the dog to juggernaut maniac – it’s all fun. It’s a bad storyline concealed in a challenge-less context which is partially saved by a fun gaming experience. The guns, the dogs, the explosives, the maps and the kill streaks really do bring the game’s fun factor to the forefront. However, is this enough to save CoD from ruin?

 

OUR VERDICT?

Call of Duty Ghosts is part of a long line of pedigree war-based first/third person shooter titles. The franchise is one of the gaming sector’s biggest moneymakers. However, these aside, there is a sense that Ghosts is a shop/online store fodder filler. It’s there because they have to release a title in November. The storyline is ill-defined and the context of structured gameplay challenges leaves little in the way of true gaming challenges. These two attributes, of the UGP review system, mean it has one possibility of a partial redemption. This comes in the guise of fun factor. However, the fun factor alone is not enough to really justify the game as a great game. The dogs, ODIN killstreak or the new guns aren’t enough of an allure to really give the game top marks. It’s not enough, winning a Juggernaut Maniac to justify a short campaign mode, a schizophrenic Squads mode or even the lack of any real gameplay challenges. As such Ultimate Gaming Paradise can give Call of Duty Ghosts a waning: 6 out of 10.

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killzone-shadow-fall-ps4-wallpaper

KillZone Shadow Fall Review – An Epic Title

A flagship game for a flagship console, KillZone Shadow Fall is Sony’s opportunity to show gamers and developers the true meaning of gameplay excellence. The game is designed and developed for Sony’s new PlayStation 4 console. This is new ground for new gameplay and as such the risks can be incredible. Microsoft and Bungie have previously endeavoured – see the Xbox 360 and Halo epic gameplay and epic game console. So, it can be a lot of pressure launching a headlining game for a new headlining console. In Sony’s case, the result is an epic story and a work of technical genius with a side order of ambiguity?

I enjoyed the original trilogy, I have always been an Xboxer – before that I was a Segaite – but I have ‘dabbled’ in the Sony PlayStation sphere of influence. One game that I have eternally hoped and wished would be ported to Xbox was the KillZone franchise. However, I’ve had to purchase PlayStation, PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3 – pretty much for KillZone; as it is a franchise that literally has it all. Its story is enthralling, the challenges are awesome and at its core, it is fun yet coated with depth. Well, on the PlayStation 4 comes the latest in the franchise – KillZone Shadow Fall.

Ultimate Gaming Paradise has a system – called the UGP Triple Lock Review. The system is based on three elements, which coexist, to offer gamers excellent gameplay potential. These three elements, which this review will focus on, surround perspective (the storyline), difficulty (how challenging is the gameplay) and indulgence (how fun is the title).

PERSPECTIVE

The KillZone storyline is legendary. It has contextualised, throughout the franchise, the nuances and idiosyncrasies that pre-dated the First World War (KillZone on PlayStation 2) followed by the nuances of stalemate during The Second World War (KillZone 2 on PlayStation 3) ending with the annihilation similar to that of The Second World War (KillZone 3 on PlayStation 3).

killzone-shadow-fall-helghanFor those who don’t know the back-story. Here’s a short recap. The Earth, after nuclear war destroys humanity, finds the survivors looking for a new planet. Searches in other solar systems find a planet in “Alpha Centauri”. Earth sends fleets, upon fleets to “Alpha Centauri” – where two planets are available for colonization; the first is “Vekta” a planet that is a mirror image of Earth. The second is a smaller planet which is more inhospitable that is called “Helghan”. The strategic and revenue-based dominance of the planet – as a kind of interplanetary toll route – means the planet poses a great reward to humanity. However, shuttles shipping the remaining population perish during a great solar storm. The stragglers of humanity – needing the capital – sell the planets in the “Alpha Centauri” system to the “Helghan Corp”. They exploit the planet and they face the wrath of the “ISA” – “Interplanetary Strategic Alliance”. They wage a gruesome war against the “Hellghast”. The “Helghans” lose the war – the “ISA” take “Vekta” whilst the “Hellghast” survive on the horrendous “Helghan” planet. Their leader, “Scolar Visari”, launches a gruesome counter attack. These counter attacks are the preface to each of the subsequent titles.

Shadow fall, enters the fray, 30 years after the fallout of KillZone 3 after the Stahl/Orlock affair. The war is over; however the peace has not arrived. The action centres on Vekta where both Helghans and ISA live in a kind of unequal truce. The balance of power is with the ISA. However, the brutality of the Helghans is balanced by the cruelty of the ISA. A ‘Cold War-esqe’ period has taken hold and this stalemate has resulted in disunity and distrust reigning supreme. This is the world the gameplay inhabits. However, there are nuances in the storyline that are both good and bad. The game is developed by Guerrilla Games, a Netherlands-based development team, who spent two and a half years bringing the game to life.

The storyline is helped along by the visual ‘successes’ of the rendering. The game is native 1080p and the technical rendering means the visual gameplay element is incredibly unique. The thematic rendering helps to add pizzazz to the gameplay. The use of symbolism in the ‘visual’ aspects of the game adds to the contextual storyline by adding depth to the gameplay’s perspective.

The gameplay has a little ambiguity in terms of the ‘cold war-esqe’ environment. This means there is the need for a new ‘protagonist’, as such the “Black Hand” is a construct that your character and the “ISA” aim their venom towards. However, the biggest problem with the game is that if you are going into the experience thinking its KillZone 4, you’re dead wrong. The depth and symbolism means you aren’t constantly shooting “Helghans” between their orange eyes all the time. This slows down the pace, unlike any other KillZone title. This slowness stymies the gameplay in parts. It is this thematic shift that hinders the wider gameplay experience. However, this nuance aside, you still have the ability to follow a coherent storyline from beginning to end with a big dollop of entertainment built-in.

 

DIFFICULTY

KillZone Shadow Fall is a surprisingly challenging title. The game, when I played it, moved in equidistant cycles between different challenges – this helped to fuse the challenges with the storyline in a more organic fashion. There is another aspect that helps to increase the difficulty of the game in a new and innovative way. Many shooter titles, take Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon as an example, is a ‘shoot forward and keep going forward title’. However, KillZone Shadow Fall creates a new dynamic in which the open battleground – again not a new endeavour – is brought alive in single-player context much like the multiplayer alternative. This increases the scope of challenges for the gameplay’s natural progression. As such, the learning curve is steeper but the end result is a more organic and fluid gameplay that helps to actively and continually challenge the player to endeavour and to achieve more during gameplay. This means a thrilling game is part of the experience.

killzone-shadow-fall-first-person-viewThe only problem I found in the context of difficulty – and therein achievements – was the issue of tactical diversity. You would start a level in a certain scenario that was visually stunning and your choice of tactical prospects where completely diverse. However, into the level, by around the 60 to 70% mark, you start to feel the gameplay becomes narrow and as such by default so do your choices. Now I am not saying it needs to be easier. In fact, I dare say in needs to be more difficult in terms of your enemies. However, the tactical element is an issue – it seems like Guerrilla, the developers, ran out of time or were close to deadlines by the time they got to the 80% complete mark. The first 80% of the single player campaign is epic the last 20 is thrust into stereotypes and gameplay vehicles we have seen time and again. It’s the issue of developing for a headline when you, in all probability, don’t know the full release date for the console?

 

INDULGENCE

KillZone Shadow Fall is sensational fun. The “Helghans” are bad ass mother f@~£$”s! They have new suits – similar to the Halo suit – that makes them more menacing, more challenging and a whole lot more enjoyable to slay. The “OWL” drone is a great addition to your tactical endeavours. This drone can suppress fire, offer a zip line and help you spy on your local area. It’s epic! However, these elements aside, what makes Killzone Shadow Fall fun is the speed and lack of paucity in gaps. It’s not ‘in the trenches’ style warfare that made the other prequel titles better. It’s a more nuanced approach – that’s more intelligent – which requires a different approach to destroy the enemy. However, it is this new approach that is the real winner of the game. The gameplay brings about an innovative story and adds challenging elements. However, the pure fun of the actual gameplay heightens the gameplay experience. There is never a dull moment. I have completed the single player game twice – and I haven’t managed to find a dull moment.

 

THE RESULTS

Killzone Shadow Fall is an epic game. The storyline is a mature take on a futuristic Cold War that sees both sides eye themselves and their enemies in uncertain ways. The thematic and symbolic construct of “Vekta” is poignant, as the resemblance between Berlin of the 1960s is echoed throughout the division on “Vekta” between the “ISA” and the “Helghans”. This is a linear element and one that is crucial to the story. The story is shored-up by a challenging game, a game that endeavours to offer the right balance of achievements and space. Finally the indulgence faction is heightened through with an increase in enemy design and the use of the “OWL”. These elements make the gameplay fun and the wider elements of the storyline and difficulty context blend into the wider narrative. I really can’t fault the game. The PlayStation 4 has a great headline game. It is a game of depth, of precision, of fun and of ingenuity – it is a game that bridges the gaps between ‘puerile entertainment’ and ‘depth’. It is a great game and I think the Sony PlayStation 4 is on to a winner here unlike one of the headline games for Xbox One. Ryse: Son of Rome fails to incorporate the right balance – a balance Guerrilla and Sony got just right with KillZone Shadow Fall.

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Battlefield 4

Battlefield 4 comes screaming at you; weapon raised with bits of metal and concrete tumbling to the ground in slow motion while a helicopter goes head-to-head with a tank in the background. That is what I imagined as I joined my very first multiplayer game of DICE’s brand new shooter. And how surprisingly accurate I was. Battlefield 4 is just as grand and chaotic as its predecessor with shrapnel, vehicles and players flying all over the place in impressive new maps, all waiting to be explored. While many people will argue that this is merely Battlefield 3.5, all I can say is: Nuts! Ok so not my actual answer. Battlefield 4 has enough changes and differences to warrant the ‘4’ at the end of the name. The current iteration in the Battlefield series has done a fine job of both impressing and frustrating me. The game is still in its early stages and with that comes the torrential downpour of crashes, glitches and server meltdowns that has many people seething with annoyance – but not me.

I am tolerant of all these problems because I know they will be fixed in good time and when the game does work it is furious fun. Now with the new Frostbite 3 engine, maps look more aesthetically pleasing and can be de-constructed quickly with well placed tank shells, grenades and bullets. Just watching a tank round hitting a wall and that wall falling apart seems too life like to contemplate. Moving away from walls, the ability to manipulate the maps comes in two different forms. The first is the rather overly macho sounding ‘Levolution’ which, despite the name is an amazing addition to Battlefield. In each map a large destructive event can be triggered which alters the gameplay. If you played the beta or saw the gameplay trailer of the Siege of Shanghai map then you know what I’m talking about. Trust me: these things are hard to miss. Even if the name sounds naff, it is difficult to deny that ‘Levolution’ is a fantastic addition to the series which opens different corridors or ambush points for players to use. This sudden change in layout can potentially mean a turning point in the battle. Take the map Battlefield 4 building collapseParacel Storm for example, that has a ship pinned to a giant wind turbine. The wind turbine was hit one too many times and the ship broke away and crashed into the island, wiping out the defending team. Suddenly, the enemy team were on the back foot; something that they never recovered from. Drastic changes like this can swing the game in an instant, creating desperate and ferocious flashpoints by soldiers staggering from the wrecks of buildings or vehicles.

While these big Hollywood style set pieces can change games entirely, there are far more subtle changes that can be made to affect individual skirmishes, helping or hindering individual squads rather than all players. I recall during the beta play, I found myself sneaking around an underground mall trying to capture a point. I ran to a corner and noticed a button I could interact with. The history of me and mysterious buttons is well documented and turned out like it always does. Pushing the button closed the shutters to this shop meaning that in my little corner I only had to deal with one entrance, a narrow doorway, rather than two. I held out long enough to kill a squad of three players attempting to come through the doorway before a well placed grenade exploded in my face. Little touches like this add new challenges and opportunities for players and encourage careful exploration of maps to discover new ways of defeating enemies – or being defeated.

The ranking and progression system has had a serious tarting up session since the last game which now, means some upgrades and camouflage for weapons and vehicles plus XP boosts can be randomly unlocked via bronze, silver and gold battlepacks; a kind of ‘trick or treat’ system. Don’t despair since the majority of upgrades are still unlocked through weapon use and are unlocked in a less randomized way, meaning you don’t unlock a scope with 12x zoom before a 4x ACOG scope for example. Along with this reshuffle, weapons and equipment have been changed around to balance the gameplay. Other than this, the soldier classes have changed very little. It is this point more than most that makes me understand why people consider Battlefield 4 a mere expansion of Battlefield 3. Overall, the ranking system feels much more consolidated and less chaotic than the previous Battlefield title which should help new players get comfortable, who may have found themselves on the receiving end of a 900 metre headshot.

 

Grudgingly, I should also mention the Campaign which took almost no time at all and felt like I had swallowed a box of sleeping tablets.  Try as they might, DICE has delivered a weak, nonsensical plot with cardboard characters. You are ‘Recker’, part of a hardcore and badass squad called ‘Tombstone’. Just as in the previous title, the characters of ‘Tombstone’ are the usual cliché cardboard cutouts. You have the naive, fresh faced soldier, the suspicious and foul mouthed black guy and you – who doesn’t talk and is only really useful for opening doors. While I don’t really mind playing a silent character, certain sequences in the game really emphasise how detached you apparently are from all decision making and discussion. It may seem insignificant but as the supposed leader of ‘Tombstone’ you would think that ‘Recker’ wouldn’t have to bunny hop around his squad mates or commanders or stand on a table in the corner just to try and look at a map. Even Casper the Friendly Ghost would feel more involved!

The plot of the campaign does nothing to encourage this notion of detachment as each mission awkwardly tries to bind together a barely interesting story about an aggressive Chinese admiral who has staged a military coup and is threatening the world. At least that is my educated guess as it is not made clear what the admiral is threatening to do. Along the way, you recruit a Chinese agent (I’ve forgotten her name already) but naturally the foul mouthed black guy doesn’t trust her and their storyline is supposed to flesh out the characters.

It doesn’t!

All it does is make you sit awkwardly in the background while they bond over what drives them to fight and other recycled garbage from every military film and game ever made. It is the only attempt to flesh out the two dimensional characters but with only seven missions to do it in, the bonding is quickly pushed aside and replaced with in your face combat.

The combat itself is a slightly more positive aspect. But only just. The setpieces are, of course, stunning and a great way to show off the new Frostbite 3 engine but that is all the campaign feels like; a set piece to show off the new  Frostbite 3 engine. Yet the impressive explosions don’t hide the slightly buggy campaign and the puny enemy AI. At one point you are tasked with rescuing a VIP from a high rise and, after some sneaking around you get Frostbite 3 Engine showcaseto a building overlooking the main plaza of the high rise. So I spot a ladder and try and climb down it. Lo and behold I fall to my death but instead of spawning back at the overwatch, I spawned outside the main doors of the building I’m supposed to sneaking into. I then spent 10 minutes trying to get back to the overwatch only to realise the AI can’t detect me and completely ignores my mad dash across the plaza.

In the end, Battlefield 4 has delivered another impressive batch of bullshit with the campaign with little thought given to the plot or the characters. While some of the driving sections are fun and the set pieces are impressive, it is still an average, on the rails shooter which gives you little freedom to make decisions or play the game any other way than direct aggression (don’t even bother trying to use stealth). The heart and soul of the game is in the beautiful and varied multiplayer game types which have equally varied maps on which to blast through walls, building and enemies. The multiplayer doesn’t quite hit the mark at the moment with the amount of bugs and server crashes but when it does work you will have the most memorable of memorable moments in the history of memorable moments!

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Far Cry 3

I’m lying on the ground in a wooded area with the sun shining through the colourful trees and plants as they sway gently in the tropical breeze. To my left is a car that I parked up a few minutes ago while I went foraging for herbal supplies. While the trees and plants were swaying gently my arm was thrashing violently. Why? Because it had a leopard attached to it. I kick and slash at it and run for the Jeep as I realize my gun is out of ammo and my health bar is flashing dangerously low. I reverse rapidly back onto the dirt road only to crash into a Jeep full of angry pirates. With no health syringes I am destined to die behind my battered yellow car as their bullets start flying. Suddenly I hear a loud roar and screaming. I have been blessed with one of the wonderful interactions that can be seen in Far Cry 3. For whatever reason the leopard has pounced onto a pirate, tearing him apart and distracting his friends who are now firing wildly at my former foe; but as they say, ‘The enemy leopard of my enemy is my friend’. With the help of Lance (cool name for a leopard I think), we finish off the pirates quickly and I bid Lance a fond farewell as he starts growling at a Boar herd nearby.

Ubisoft have done a tremendous job in making the world of Far Cry 3 feel as natural and as organic as the hallucinogenic plants you munch on throughout the game. You will often come across herds of different animals and their predators, which will hunt and kill them; or civilians with broken down vehicles asking for help. The emphasis is very much on survival and using the environment rather than popping down to the local store to get what you need. Granted you still have a shop to buy ammo, maps and weapons (with bizarre items it has to be said) but in order to carry and use more ammo or medical supplies you will need to make larger and larger ammo belts or syringe kits. To do this requires crafting the items you need from certain plants and animals in different combinations. In doing so it adds an element of survivability that most game developers either skip over or simply forget to include; it gives the game more depth and a sense of dependency on the environment around you which is unique.

So why are you running around this tropical island slaying animals and getting high? The story is told through the eyes Jason Brody who came to Rook Island with his friends and brothers but who were kidnapped by a scary eyed man named Vaas. Vass is a complete nut job to put it bluntly, and it is down to you to find him, kill him and save your friends. Unlike the previous installment you are not fighting alone; instead you are fighting for the native people of Rook Island against Vaas, and his army of pirates and mercenaries. The natives will come to your aid if they see you fighting the pirates and you can choose to return the favour if you see the two sides fighting each other-or raging leopards. In this way the game feels more immersive and you feel like you have a duty to help the native people which motivates you into taking back territory claimed by the pirates. This is a far cry (Come on, you knew it was going to happen) from the previous installment, which had practically no one in the maps save for a few angry mercs in various outposts or the two only towns. To Ubisoft’s credit, they seemed to have addressed this issue so now the world is busy with friends and foes alike making the game feel more wholesome and you feel as though you are not alone for the main story.

Following the main story is, paradoxically, a secondary feature as the game urges you to explore the island and complete side quests such as delivery of medical supplies (a checkpoint race against the clock) or hunting down a rare creature with a bow to create unique items and unlocks.  I only mentioned two of these but there are others and the variety makes the game even more enjoyable if you get bored of hunting for loot and completing the main quest. Despite the variety and the great passive interaction between the AI I always find that these types of open world games can be too long and I find myself starting to think about playing other games. So be warned, players may find even this polished and immersive game repetitive after a few weeks of playing.

I have to say I am equally disappointed with the Co-op and multiplayer experience. At first I thought it was quite an enjoyable alternative to perhaps Battlefield or Halo but the servers are always empty. People simply have no need or time for another multiplayer game in their lives and this is painfully obvious when you try and join a game, especially if you want to try out some of the Ubisoft handpicked player made maps. As a consequence you are forced to play Team Deathmatch on the vanilla maps, which are, well, vanilla. Couple this with a small variety of weapons and pitiful attempt to replicate the Call of Duty killstreak system; throwing all this in with dodgy internet connections means you quickly tire of the multiplayer and go back to the single-player or another game entirely.

Most people wouldn’t choose to go back the Co-op either since that is equally buggy and frustrating. When it works its better than a G and T in the sun but sadly it simply breaks more often than G and T breaks sobriety. The concept is innovative and adventurous with four players controlling a set of characters who are trying to escape prior to the main events of the single-player, and giving them an opportunity to compete with each other at certain moments to obtain the best score and win the most experience points. The last time I played this was the mission Overboard. At one point on a riverboat you are armed with a machine each and have to kill as many pirates as possible before you reach the other end of the river. Almost immediately the game glitched and we all awkwardly got stuck at the back of the boat, eventually falling off and having to run alongside the boat trying to keep up. It also made killing the pirates easier since you could see where they spawned and rack up chain kills. Easier made it boring. Far Cry also couldn’t detect when all the players had reached a cue point and wouldn’t allow us to proceed to the next area. After 10 minutes of my player muttering ‘Uh oh. Can’t go that way!’ my teammates and me quit one by one.  Admittedly I have only attempted to play five co-op missions but each has broken and ended up with me quitting the game in frustration and disappointment.

Overall, disappointing is the calling card of Far Cry 3. It has, however, certainly raised the bar for the sandbox style of games. I appreciate that they have taken Far Cry from the browns and yellows of the African plains to the mind melting technicolour dreamcoat that you see in the Pacific. The developers have tried hard to take the game play back to its roots of desperate survival that made the first Far Cry incredibly gripping by playing a character eager to escape from the clutches of evil mercenaries in a tropical paradise gone wrong. Perhaps it is wrong to use the term ‘back’; more like ‘improve’ on what made the first Far Cry so fun and interesting. Don’t be put off by the similarities to the first game, the story and game play have changed a lot since then and the world can be more friendly or more hostile depending on if nature chooses to spare you. Instead be put off by the mediocre multiplayer and Co-op, which deliver nothing but awkward despairing frustration – much like Miley Cyrus and twerking.

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