Dying Light Enhanced Edition PC Review

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Do you remember Dead Island? That open world zombie game that had everyone hyped and then left everyone with the taste of disappointment because of how janky and underdeveloped it felt? Well in comes Dying Light, which is a lot like Dead Island, with the notable difference that it’s actually fun to play.

So what does Dying Light retain from Dead Island and what differentiates it? To start with, the setting is different. Instead of the zombie outbreak taking place on a resort island, the outbreak this time takes place in the fictional city of Harran, a city that has the feel of being vaguely European and Middle Eastern in it’s people and aesthetic. Or Brazilian, I am not quite sure. The first zone, the slums, evokes images of favelas, whilst the second zone, the old town as the name suggests, provides the charm of a European old town. It is quite the aesthetic shift once you reach it, but it is nice.

After the outbreak has been occurring for some time, you are dropped into the midst of it as Kyle Crane, an American operative working for an organization called the GRE in order to obtain some material and persons of interest. Throughout the game, Kyle finds himself heavily invested in the plight of the people stuck in the city. It’s quite a bland plot really and extremely predictable, as pretty much every twist can be spotted a mile away so it has no impact. Additionally, Kyle Crane himself is bland and becomes attached to the people of Harran unbelievably quickly, like someone who falls in love because that person smiled at them one time. This also includes a romance subplot within the main story that in addition to being forced, is also very unfulfilling. Kyle Crane is attached to these people but the game fails to make me care on an emotional level. So the story is clearly not the main attraction here. The main expansion, The Following has a similarly generic plot that is similarly bland even though it had the potential to be a fun b-movie kind of narrative.

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Some quests can be funny and interesting but these are the exception

In terms of how the game plays, the two fundamental aspects are combat and free running parkour (think Assassins Creed but in first person). The parkour works surprisingly well and is assisted by strong overworld design that facilitates this freedom of movement. It controls wonderfully and intuitively, making it fun to just run around the levels. But it is also very useful and is your most important tool in the early game, since enemies are plentiful, they hit hard and fast and your weapons are, at least at the start, about as effective as butter knives trying to fell a tree.  This makes for a very exciting start to the game in terms of the parkour mechanics, but an at times frustrating combat experience. I also found the ability where you can use an enemies head as a jumping platform to be endlessly entertaining and useful.

The combat really shines in the mid to late game when your weapons start dealing serious damage and you’ve got a good amount of ability upgrades under your belt. Enemies still hit pretty hard throughout the game, which makes me suspect there’s some level scaling at play in both loot and enemy damage output and they can dodge you, even the zombies. And since you have a stamina bar to worry about, you can’t just mash the left mouse button and hope to be effective, so there is at least some thought required in the combat. Early on, I found an effective tactic to cheese enemies by using the slide tackle to down enemies and then wail on their face with my equipped weapon. Drop kicking is also fun, but less effective than the slide tackle. But when you’ve got those higher levels of weapons, the combat becomes extra fun when your machete cuts heads off in one hit and the head flies off and blood gushes out of their neck stump. Or when they have a hammer smashed face or are bisected by a scythe or sword, it’s great stuff.

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Around the half way point, guns become more common, but they are a mixed bag. On one hand, they’re extremely effective as you can now have some range and easily pull of head shots that are one hit kills against normal zombies and smaller specials, such as a spitter that looks like the jockey from Left 4 Dead 2, or regular human enemies. One drawback, however, is that the noise of attracts more zombies to your position, so while it is effective crowd control, it still brings all the boys to the yard. Plus guns don’t have degradation. You’re going to want to keep guns as a staple of your equipped weapons. But on the other hand, the shooting just feels awkward and clunky at times, especially in the more linear main mission levels that involve shootouts against human enemies. Plus there are no abilities in the upgrade tree for guns, which is a missed opportunity.

Another main feature of the game is how night shift runs are quite dangerous,with creatures such as Volatiles (which look like discount bloodsuckers) which will fuck you up if they catch you so it is best not to take them head on in most instances. I usually avoided nights despite the award rate of double exp simply because being caught by volatiles was annoying. But they can still be fun. It’s up to you except for the occasional mission that requires you to go out at night.

In regards to this upgrade tree, the game uses a simple leveling system where you level up combat or parkour through simply engaging in them and thankfully, they are separate exp pools in addition to the general ‘Survivor’ skill tree that levels up through completing quests. It is a good an easily understandable system. The skill trees themselves avoid the common pitfalls many other games like these have of being dominated by passive abilities and instead offer a good balance between passive and active skills. The general progression is very well done and the player going from scrub to death on legs is satisfying and feels earned.

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Early area in the Slums zone

The Following expansion also adds driving, which has it’s own upgrade tree and the feeling of driving, depending on how much you’ve upgraded it and it’s overall condition, range from unwieldy to cathartic as you ram zombies in the countryside and create roadkill. I wouldn’t recommend driving at night until you’ve got a good amount of upgrades because being jumped by volatiles, especially off road, is incredibly irritating. But overall the driving is a fun way to compensate for the parkour being less relevant in a rural setting.

Crafting is also very simple in that all you need is a blueprint and the requisite materials and base weapon if applicable and you can craft a new item. Weapons have two types of upgrades, the first being ones that add durability or higher damage and the other being elemental effects. You don’t need to do this with every weapon as there are many that are effective in their default states. The designs of the weapons can are usually pretty grounded and can look like they would be practical or semi practical in any other kind of zombie media.

In regards to the visuals and performance, the art direction is quite strong as I have mentioned before with the different zones and they are good on a technical level too. Zombies are detailed and have excellent animation where sometimes even their vestigial humanity will show in combat and look like they are briefly yielding. There is also a good amount of variation in what each zombie looks like and while not all are unique, feelings of excessive repetition are minimal. Gore effects are satisfyingly implemented which is crucial for this kind of game and the lighting is phenomenal and the deep, expressive orange hues of twilight are the most impressive along with the immediate coldness and blackness of night. It also performs well at 1440p at high preset using at least a GTX 970.

There is perhaps more minutae of the game I can discuss, but I better wrap this up. I bought Dying Light on sale for about $24 USD and played about 30 hours, the vast majority of it being highly enjoyable in spite of my critiques discussed in this review. It’s not the perfect zombie game, but most of it’s mechanics work well together, the world design is fantastic and the soundtrack even has some good tracks, especially those with more synths. At around that price, this enhanced edition of Dying Light comes highly recommended to anyone looking for a fun zombie game that can be played solo or with friends.

7.5/10

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Kingdom Come: Deliverance (2018) PC Review

 

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Warhorse Studios have realized their ambition of of creating an authentic-feeling medieval RPG that, unlike most historical themed action games or RPGs which feel the need to add elements of fantasy or nonsensical science fiction (I’m looking at you, Assassins Creed), goes for a much more grounded and realistic approach. And not only that, but it chooses for it’s setting an early 15th century Bohemia,which is rather obscure to most of us in the English speaking world. But Warhorse, under the helm of Daniel Vavra, have made this an accessible and fully compelling setting and adventure.

Like many RPGs and medieval stories, you start as a young man whose village gets attacked by a foreign enemy, slaughters the village and the parents of the protagonist. In this case, you are Henry, the son of a blacksmith and after the village is attacked, you set out on a quest for vengeance and to regain the sword forged by your father. It is a very typical set up. However, to the game’s credit, it takes its time and it is elevated to have a stronger emotional impact than one might expect.

Once the game starts to pick up, you meet plenty more compelling characters, my favourites of which are Hans Capon; a haughty young noble that is first at odds with Henry but soon become friends. The second is Father Godwin; a local priest with whom is part of a wonderful quest involving drunken escapades that require you to deliver his sermon for him the next morning. Theresa is also wonderful, a simple village girl who lived in the same village Henry did. She has a romance quest line associated with her that feels genuine. It really nice and uplifting. I do however wish there was more of it or that extended into the main quest line with at the very least dialogue that reflects the point you are at.  There is also a hilarious side quest involving a witches sabbath that goes awry. And let us not forget Henry himself who is a rather ordinary, but likeable young man who has believable motivations. These are just some highlights, but the writing here is generally quite strong and so are most of the voice performances.

The low point for the quests would probably have to be the monastery infiltration, mainly because it is kind of tedious and annoying if your more rogueish skills are not up to snuff by that point in the game. It felt a little like Bully, minus the fun and ability to give wedgies or kiss girls.

If you have a decent computer, Kingdom Come: Deliverance looks astonishing. The forests are dense and luscious, some of the best I have ever seen in a game. Simply traveling through them either to explore or in between locations and questing is a serene pleasure, whether on foot or on horse. From the tall trees to the running creeks, clearings and hills, the Bohemian countryside presented here is serene, joyous and wonderful.  Towns too are brilliantly realised and despite their relatively modest scale and architecture, feel much more lively and large than anything present in Skyrim. Characters, armour and weapons also possess an incredible attention to detail, not only from their fidelity, but also to the grit, grime, blood and wear and tear shown. I played at the high preset, although I had to turn down my resolution to 1080p. Simply put, the visuals of the game possess extraordinary technical quality that allows for the amazing mimetic aesthetic here. It is incredibly immersive, when it all works.

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Yes, as you have probably heard by now, KC:D fits the “eurojank” descriptor quite well. It is plagued with technical issues. There’s clipping issues, weird shit like sometimes levitating during alchemy and some people have even experienced bugs that have made certain quests impossible to finish or corrupted their saves. Sometimes certain staircases are bizarrely difficult to surmount. Thankfully, in my approximately 60 hours I didn’t experience anything quite that game breaking. However, for me the worst was the pop-in issues that are frequent enough as to be incredibly distracting and immersion breaking. The performance too is quite poor. To play on medium-high, or high preset, I had to drop my resolution down to 1080p to get generally playable, but not ideal, performance on GTX 970. At 1440p, things were wildly inconsistent with some parts being playable, with the better performance being in wilderness areas rather than cities. In cutscenes too the frame rate dived to painful single digits and in towns it would be a “cinematic” 24fps or thereabouts. This would be more understandable if I tried going for the ultra preset on my setup, but on high or a medium-high mix at 1440p, it should not be so bad. So the game definitely needs some work on that front.

800 words and I haven’t even talked about how the game plays yet! To summarise, the game is an open world structure much like the Elder Scrolls series and The Witcher 3. The entire game, except for dialogue, is in first person. Combat lets you use primarily swords, axes or maces and it uses a sometimes fiddly lock on system. It is directionally based, with five directions plus a thrust and the ability to feint, parry and later on, riposte. As you level up, you can learn new combos as well. It is a system that in its fundamentals is actually quite intuitive, but at first it can feel a bit clunky and very weighty. However, the progression is excellent and you go from slow, clumsy scrub that can hardly handle one or two moderately armored bandits to death on two legs by the mid to late game that can singlehandeldy wipe out an encampment of five or six guys by yourself.. So for me it felt like the typical RPG combat progression and it is incredibly satisfying.

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Archery is another facet of the game and, like the melee combat, can feel a bit awkward at the start, especially with the lack of cross hair. But with enough perseverance, it can be rather fun in its own right. Much like the Elder Scrolls games, leveling a skill works by doing, rather than the traditional RPG method of gaining xp and assigning points each level. But with this, an a lot of other elements of the game, will be rather familiar if you have played some of the bigger RPGs of recent years.

As for the save system that is often complained about,while not having a standard manual save (which has been fixed by the recent 1.3 patch), the save system of autosaves or requiring a particular item or using a bed isn’t terribly obtrusive. As for some other general things about the game: much ado has been made about how “hardcore” it is and, while it certainly offers a decent challenge, especially in the combat department, it’s not much more “hardcore” than the Witcher 3 is. The other controversy from some outlets and internet forums is the lack of racial diversity in the game, but those complaints are utter nonsense and I am glad to report that this game is free of irritating pandering to current hot button political issues and other such nonsense.

From start to finish, Kingdom Come: Deliverance was utterly captivating and has been just about the only game I have been playing the past few weeks. I was drawn into it’s serene and beautiful wilderness, the believable characters and the challenging combat. It is a brilliant debut effort from Warhorse Studios and is well worth playing, however it is firmly describable as eurojank, and so the present technical issues seriously hinder the game from achieving true greatness for the present time. Considering that the story also ends on a cliffhanger, I am eagerly awaiting some kind of expansion or sequel that concludes Henry’s story and draws us more into the medieval politics of the Holy Roman Empire.

8/10

 

Brutal Legend (2013) PC Review

 

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Brutal Legend with its heavy metal theme and aesthetics feels like a game made just for me. The licensed soundtrack, which has over 70 songs, features tracks from a wide range of metal genres. But apart from its unique theme and cast of Jack Black, Ozzy Osbourne, Jennifer Hale and Lemmy, is it a good game, or is it style over substance?

Before I touch on the mechanics, I cannot heap enough praise upon the overall presentation of the game. With a cartoonish style, the visuals have not held up incredibly well over the past 8 years and playing at 1440p, it looks and performs far better than I remember the PS3 version being.  The world of Brutal Legend is an epic fantasy setting and one of the most unique in video games, owing to its heavy metal theme. All the landmarks are striking and could have been ripped straight from the covers of power and thrash metal albums. One of the first areas of the game, Blade Henge, looks like an extended version of the real stone sword monuments in Norway. Trees in this world are actually scaffolding, there are panthers that shoot lasers out of their eyes at you, weird BDSM monsters, spiders whose web doubles as bass strings and all sorts of creative creatures and allied unit types that range from thick headed headbangers, to roadies and big bouncer looking dudes with small heads and large fists, as well as featuring swamps with amazonian warriors that look like they started in the KISS Army.

In terms of the writing, this game is from the time when Tim Schafer still had it and wasn’t so involved with political game dev cliques. The writing, in combination with with excellent vocal performances is sharp and witty and the narrative is a simple good versus evil epic with a heart of romance. It isn’t perfectly paced and there are a few plotholes, but it is engaging nevertheless. And it made me laugh and smile much like the headbanging tunes that played in battles or as I zipped around the map. The background lore is also quite cool and is pretty much The Gods Made Heavy Metal by Manowar. The writing also takes a few shots at nu metal and glam metal, although I would have liked to see some more black metal parody.

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Now to how the game actually plays. There are three pillars here: hack n slash combat, open world exploration and RTS battles.

In regards to the hack n slash elements, it is quite basic and is closer to 3D Legend of Zelda games as opposed to something like Devil May Cry 3 but it is functional and violently stylish. Left mouse is to melee attack, right mouse is to do a ranged attack with the guitar. You can block and also individually target, as well as roll away but I felt these slightly clunky on the mouse and keyboard. I wanted to play this game with a controller but I had a strange technical issue where the left trigger and right analogue sticks would not function and I used two separate controllers that work on everything else. Targeting is kind of dodgy.
There are special attacks, like the face melter for instance, that never get old and work like a basic rhythm mini game. The omission of a jump button is quite strange but the world was designed in a way where it isn’t really needed so it isn’t too much of an issue. The combat system is fun enough but it still feels a bit shallow button mashy and underdeveloped.

In regards to the open world, it feels very small since you can drive around it very fast. If you’re on foot it might feel large but then you’d be missing out on listening to half the soundtrack whilst going fast in a vehicle that becomes more  aesthetically ridiculous (in the best way possible) as you progress through the game. Outside of story missions, there are collectibles that all feel tangibly linked to the progression or theme of the game, so it is not useless bullshit like the flags in the first Assassin’s Creed. There are a few side missions, but there were only two that had any kind of side story content. Maybe I’ve just been spoiler by The Witcher 3. In any case, the open world, despite being visually impressive has little in the way of content besides the same three side missions over and over again. These days we complain about open worlds that are too big, but considering the vehicle in this game as the main means of transportation and the allure of the game’s licensed soundtrack, the world could stand to be a bit larger to bolster the sound track and epic scale.

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The RTS battles caught many people by surprise when the game first came out. But really, they aren’t so bad. There are a good variety of distinct units with specific purposes, but considering this RTS battle system was designed around a console controller , it can feel a bit awkward and to any RTS veterans, it is definitely lacking in depth, at least in the campaign on normal difficulty.  There are a few battles which are fun enough, but only one where I had to use a specific strategy and the strategy is more about build orders than anything else. One nice feature is being able to wade into battle yourself to help out your troops with a quick face melter to a group of enemies or crash the Hindenberg on your enemies.

Brutal Legend is strikingly confident in its tone, theme and aesthetics and feels like the work of people who truly love metal. On the other hand, mechanics wise, it is pulled in so many directions and all of them are underdeveloped. Thankfully, the relatively short campaign length of 4-8 hours is in this game’s favour, for if the campaign was 20 hours, the mechanics would not be able to hold up the campaign. What is important, however, is that the game, despite my gripes, made me laugh, smile and bang my head a few times. If you’ve ever enjoyed metal in your life and you can get this game for a good price, it is definitely worth a run. If you’ve never enjoyed metal or call all metal ‘screamo’, then this sure as shit is not for you.

7.7/10

Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory (2005) PC Review

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One of my first impressions of Chaos Theory is how well it has aged, for the most part. The introductory cutscene sets up context of the story: the year is 2007 and the North Koreans and Chinese are performing manoeuvres and holding the contested Yellow Sea area in east Asia. Tensions are flaring with Japan over their re-armament that flaunts the post war constitution. This struck me immediately as something that feels like it is ripped from the headlines of the last few year, as if the writers of the game had some powers of clairvoyance and slammed all the geopolitical tensions of the region into one spy thriller.

As for the game itself, Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory is widely regarded as a classic in the stealth-action genre, with very much emphasis on stealth. In moment to moment play, you will be sneaking slowly through ships, banks, warzones, apartments, military bases and various other mostly urban looking  locations during the game’s ten or so missions. The stealth mechanics of the game have a decent amount of depth to them, where your chances of being detected are determined by how illuminated you are, which is a sliding scale, as well as line of sight and sound, the latter being determined by movement speed. This system works well most of the time, although there was one instance where it didn’t. I was under a walkway in the third last mission and I was crouched,completely still and completely shrouded in darkness. I was also out of sight, then the guard suddenly turns on a dime and shoots me with pinpoint accuracy. The shooting occassionally has inconsistencies like this as well. At one point, I was similarly stationary, aiming with the silenced pistol and I had my crosshair perfectly on the head of a guard who was sitting down. I shot and missed. Admittedly, things like this weren’t too common for the 5-8 play time of the single player campaign, but when they did happen, they were frustrating.

Stealth is also undoubtedly the best way to play this game, despite the load out screening offering an assault kit. Even though I did use the recommended or stealth loadouts through all of the campaign, any time I got into a high action situation, usually because of a fuck up or two, and the slow movement speed, combined with the controls and tight spaces in the level design make a run and gun approach insanely difficult. And this is not to say the controls are bad; they’re not. In fact, they are very easy to get used to and using the mouse wheel to control movement speed is excellent. It is just that the controls are best suited to stealth play.  Additionally, slightly more customisation for mission loadouts would have been welcome. You also have takedown moves that knock or kill enemies in a single hit, which is incredibly useful in tight moments as a kind of panic button when you’re right by an enemy and you’re suddenly spotted. I also found it useful using it sometimes after luring one or two enemies with some noise, running around the corner, throwing a flashbang and then sprinting up to them to knock them out (or cut their throat).Sam’s goggles also have multiple modes, from binoculars, to night vision and thermal vision, as well as a fourth mode which I never used because I never understood what it was for. You can get by mainly just using the night vision mode, since with thermal vision I only really needed to use it in the Hokkaido level.

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In fact, most of the shooting you do here will likely be less shooting of enemies and more shooting out of light sources to give yourself more darkness. Or you can just turn off the lights at the switch. It’s up to you. However, this has the drawback of making guards suspicious, so use with caution. Sometimes it is best just to use the regular light levels of a room when figuring out your plan of action for a particular room. This game rewards patience, a degree of planning and quick thinking when the situation calls for it.

The visuals here have also mostly held up quite well, at least the environments have. The use of light and shadow here are fantastic and make the environments look quite great. The environments are a texture pack away from passing as a more modern game, but even in their current state they aren’t too bad for something released in 2005. Character models, however, are generally not so good, except for Sam, mainly because the faces look quite bad. There’s a good reason the Metal Gear Solid series used face masks on most of its grunts. Cutscenes, owing to them being pre rendered, also have serious compression artefacts and don’t scale well to higher resolutions, but they’re usually not that long and are minimally watchable as far as technical quality goes. The game also doesn’t support widescreen from the menu settings so you have to either do a .ini edit or use a fan made patch, but it is not too much hassle to do so.

The soundtrack is also quite good and has quite a bit of variety from fast paced almost jazzy sounds to sounds that reminded me a little of Harry Gregson Williams’ score in Metal Gear Solid 3. However, the music tends to play only when guards suspect you or you’re fully detected so if you’re especially good, you might not even hear the music.

In terms of the writing, the story that I summarised earlier is pretty serviceable spy thriller kind of stuff. The best writing in the game are Sam’s interrogation dialogue with guards and the radio banter with Grimsdottir, which Michael Ironside delivers perfectly. While the main plot is serious, there is still plenty of humour in the game, which mostly works, except for that time guards talked about the new Prince of Persia game, which was a cringeworthy moment.

Speaking of Prince of Persia, there is also other product placement in the game from gum to deodorant, which is really distracting whenever it appears.

As for the multiplayer modes, I don’t think you can even play them these days without using game ranger or similar programs, so I do not know how the multiplayer holds up. It’s best to treat it as a single player experience these days.

Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory is a game that in spite of its age manages to hold up quite well, for the most part. It has some annoyances and rigidity to the movement and lacks some of the mechanical improvements that occurred in the genre over the last decade. But it still remains a mostly very well designed game that is a lot of fun and a good challenge even on the lower difficulty settings. I would definitely recommend it for people to replay or even check out for the first time.

8/10

Bayonetta (2017) PC Review

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With legs that don’t quit to the point where they are actually disproportionate and sporting guns on her heels,Bayonetta struts and flaunts herself with confidence. The game is a brazen, cheeky and lighthearted hack and slash romp that is self aware and relentlessly exciting, radiating confidence effortlessly.

The game falls in the tradition of character action games pioneered by titles like Devil May Cry, being a fast paced brawler that prioritises fast reflex and skillful combo memorization. A halfway decent player can create a speedy and fantastic spectacle that can end in torturous finishing moves that sometimes resemble some strange form of BDSM. One of the core mechanics here is witch time, which rewards skillful dodging and risk taking with a brief hit of slow motion, allowing you to start wailing on enemies with abandon,continuing a combo and juggling so insanely like an expert circus performer or Tekken player. This hack and slash brawling, while being a little more combo focused and button mashing than the older Devil May Cry titles is nevertheless requiring in skill and an absolute blast to play.

In regards to the difficulty, I did my playthrough on normal and let me tell you, it can be quite challenging and occasionally frustrating, especially if you want to get the highest mission ranking. However, it rarely becomes so frustrating as to feel unfair or make you want to throw your controller out the window. The only times I felt the game was a bit unfair were with some enemies that could stun lock you and hit hard, taking large chunks of health away. Another is that witch time appears to not work on some enemies for some reason that is not immediately clear. Another thing I would like to have is a few more immediate health restoration drops on the normal difficulty, especially after a particularly difficult mob or mini boss. That said, some sections where I had barely a sliver of health left motivated me to push harder in each section and sometimes to success. On continues, the game restores you health bar fully and boss battles have checkpoints, making them much more fair.

Speaking of enemies, there is plenty of variety between the standard enemy types that the game throws new ones at you almost constantly and mixing them with the previous ones, providing a pace that never leaves you bored. The enemies are typically some form of angel, that are all white and gold trimmed and bosses are impressively scaled and look like bizzare statuesque frankenstein beings with tentacles and wings and gigantic faces and legs that sport a white and gold trimmed aesthetic. One later boss looks like some weird cross between Volgin, David Bowie and the Phantom of the Opera, rocking robes that look like a catholic clergyman and decked out with peacock feathers. All these boss fights, in addition, are tremendously fun, with the Jeanne fights being particular notable highlights since they often have the best backdrops and are the most intense, reminding me of the Vergil fights from Devil May Cry 3.

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The overall look of the game is stunning, with sharp high resolution textures, sublime animation work and environments that range from bright medieval cities with a slight gothic influence in the architecture to art deco near futuristic cities and the heavenly paradiso, Bayonetta will have you running, jumping and fighting your way through all of these. You will even fight on a plane, a rocket and on the sides of buildings, and by the end, literally kill god. The story isn’t the greatest, but it’s presentation is so enjoyable that it’s worth holding off on that skip cutscene button, at least on the first playthrough.

Did I mention that this game is completely ridiculous? Because it is and it revels in it from the absurd character proportions, unbelievable fight choreography in cutscenes and some weird story about the balance between light and dark and destroying the universe to create a new one. Oh, and demonic summons that are weaved from hair. Bayonetta herself , as I have mentioned, is cheeky and sexy, with a sultry and sarcastic British accent. She is just a fun character, both to play and to watch.

The score of the game too is quite idiosyncratic that goes from fast, poppy jazz renditions of Fly Me to the Moon during normal combat to a big orchestral score that builds and sounds like something that might belt out through the choir in a cathedral. It’s quite a strange sound mix for the genre, but it fits the tone of the game quite well.

In terms of game length, a playthrough on normal took about 10 or so hours, but this is something that is made to be replayed, with new unlockables, such as outfits, more techniques and weapons and increased difficulty levels that are a bit more well thought out than being a mere buff in enemy attack and speed and debuff in player health.

As a port of a game that is about 8 years old as of this writing, the PC version of Bayonetta is definitely the best. It performs flawlessly at high resolutions and my system doesn’t break a sweat at max settings with 8x MSAA. It looks sharp and the cutscenes, which I am not sure if they are prerendered or not, look fantastic although they’re locked at 30fps.  I would also recommend playing with some kind of game pad, considering that this game was not originally designed for keyboard and mouse. But if you’re feeling particularly risky, the keys are fully re bindable. As far as glitches and crashes go, I only experience one glitch on the plane section and one CTD somewhere else, but it was otherwise smooth sailing. The load times are incredibly quick too, making the combo practice feature during loads that were supposed to make them bearable on the console release, at least for me, became redundant.

This PC release is without a doubt the definitive version of this Platinum Games classic. Especially if your only experience with the game is the shoddy PS3 version, you should definitely give the game another shot here. The game itself also remains a joy, with some of the best combat in the genre and a lighthearted and sexy style that is impossible not to love, unless you’re some kind of weird prude. This is an absolute must play and it’s only $20 on steam, so there’s no excuse not to get it.

9.5/10

Outlast (2013) PC review

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Outlast is a game I am of mixed mind about. On one hand, it can be absolutely terrifying but on the other hand, the actual game part of this supposedly survival horror game is lacking.

Let us start with what I liked most about Outlast.  It has an impeccable presentation, with the grungy and dirty Mount Massive asylum with strewn viscera rendered in sickening detail sprinkled throughout. The texture work is superb with excellent attention to detail that persists throughout every section of the game. The overall visual quality is excellent and the night vision mode when using the camera, combined with the ever present noise filter give the game an appropriately dirty look that truly does look like a found footage urban exploration film. The game is also quite dark in the Doom 3 sense, so use of the night vision mode is frequently necessary.The only gripe I have with the way the game looks is that in the camera mode without night vision, there is quite a bit of what appears to be really serious chromatic abberation which just makes me think the developers are adopting a bad trend in modern video game graphics or the journalist protagonist deliberately bought a terrible camera for some bizarre reason.The performance at maximum settings is also flawless.

The sound work here is also quite strong, but the score lacks variety in mood, chiming in mostly during chase sections with the bombast of a slasher film. There are a few exceptions of quite tense and creepy ambient tracks during exploration, but these have less presence in the game.

The other aspect of the game I liked is that it manages to successfully build a creepy and disturbing atmosphere that is not totally reliant on jump scares or being too relentless with symbolism. And while there are some shocking moments, they aren’t presented in a way that straddles the line between proper horror and over the top death metal album cover art edginess that players of Outlast 2 might see. The denizens of mount massive are well voiced and have designs that are disturbing stapled faces that make them appear like crosses between Frankenstein and Leatherface. The whole feel of the game is as a whole, quite unsettling.

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Now for the stuff I did not like too much. The actual mechanics of the game are rather slim. Whilst there are times where there is genuine panic, rudimentary stealth or some very light platforming, the whole thing is basic. That said, it is a step above a walking simulator, but not quite as in depth as proper  recent survival horror titles, such as Alien: Isolation or Resident Evil 7which as far as I’m concerned are currently the gold standard of first person horror games. How Outlast works is that you are totally defenseless and armed only with a consumer grade handheld camera, which is used pretty much only for seeing in the dark.  So when you encounter an enemy, you are only able to piss your pants and either make a beeline to point B or hide in a locker or under a bed. This lack of combat, combined with the inability to do anything other than run and hide (no weapons, no ability to make distractions, etc.) and rather tight spaces with linear design mean that every enemy encounter will play out in almost exactly the same way. The rudimentary stealth also works best on the rare occasion when there is a bit more space in a given area. At least you have a decent movement speed and can sprint almost indefinitely if you want. You also have to manage your battery resources for the camera, but on normal difficulty, batteries are plentiful enough and battery life is enough. It is not really a resource management mechanic of any significance and feels superfluous as a whole. But because the game sticks so strictly to defenceless horror game protagonist ethos, there is no way for the game to progress. Because the mechanics are so simplistic and have very little variety, there’s not much else to say.

With the story, to be honest I didn’t pay too much attention to it. But from what I gathered it was something about uncovering supernatural scientific experiments gone wrong. It’s all pretty basic stuff and the plot takes a backseat to the core experience since most of the plot comes from notes and documents that you can read throughout.

2013’s Outlast then is a decent horror game whose strengths lie primarily in its incredible presentation and unsettling atmosphere, with some admittedly quite tense moments throughout like navigating the pitch black courtyard at night and having to shimmy tiny platforms along the walls in the dark. However, the basic mechanics are lacking the quality and depth of survival horror. Even in spite of my gripes with the game, it is still something worth experiencing, especially if you can get it for cheap. The lack of depth really prevents it from greatness as it sits a step above walking simulator but not quite survival horror.

6.7/10

Resident Evil 7: Biohazard (2017) PC Review

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The Resident Evil series has had it rough after the fourth entry in the main line series. It’s sequel, Resident Evil 5 is routinely laughed at for the ridiculousness of Chris Redfield punching the shit out of a boulder. It is also routinely and rightfully criticised for it’s poor partner AI that is forced on you if you don’t have a friend to play with. Resident Evil 6, while it’s combat mechanics are surprisingly quite good, every other aspect of it’s overall design is questionable. With Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, I am pleased to say that Capcom has put the series back on it’s feet.

One of the first things you will notice about this latest entry in the 20+ year old franchise is that it does not utilise the fixed camera angles of the original 3 games, nor the tight third person camera of 4, 5 and 6 but rather opts for a first person perspective that has become ubiquitous with contemporary horror games. This change in perspective is very effective in RE7. For example, in cinematics, such the dinner table scene, where the Baker family tried to make protagonist Ethan Winters eat some rancid looking human organs, which made me wince and recoil in disgust. Likewise in early sequences when Ethan suffers horrific bodily mutilations.

The storyline is also surprisingly good and well told. The set up is that the wife of Ethan, Mia, has been missing for three years but then receives a message from her in Dulvey, Louisiana, setting Ethan off on a mission to rescue Mia from the Baker’s estate. It all sounds very Silent Hill 2 and I was concerned before the game came out that the plot of this would just be a SH2 rip off. Thankfully, it’s not. Whilst the general trajectory of the story will be of little surprise to veteran Resident Evil fans, it is still skillfully executed and shows a positive level of restraint that never lets the game veer into a level of campiness that would put the game at odds with itself. Skulking around the decrepit houses on this plantation also reveal an incredible attention to detail that provides background information on the Baker’s life, which despite them being the primary antagonists of the game, had me feeling pity for them.

In terms of the mechanics and design of the game, everything from the shooting to the inventory management and sneaking around work really well. The shooting is tight and responsive, with weapons such as the shotgun feeling and sounding powerful, to the SMG’s high recoil or the kick of the 44 Magnum, every weapon feels different and satisfying to use. Even the knife is satisfying to use and can be quite effective, at least in one on one encounters with standard enemy types. Enemies are also threatening and can take quite a few pistol rounds before they can die, which is especially terrifying in the early game where ammo is scarce, so it’s often better to run away. One time after I had picked up the shotgun, I was in the boiler room and quite a few of the molded, which look like a more earthy and grotesque crossbreed of Regenerators and BOWs, had spawned and were giving chase, so I managed to headshot a few and kit the rest until they were all dead. It was tense and exciting. Boss fights, at least the early ones, are especially terrifying and thrilling at the same time. Enemies also telegraph their attacks, which gives you enough time to get a shot off, run away, or crouch to dodge, but you must still be quick about it if you don’t want to be hit. One disappointment is that there are very few different standard enemies.

Stealth mechanics, meanwhile, are very rudimentary, so there’s no lockers or closets to hide in to remind yourself of your high school days,  but it works well enough to be tense yet never frustrating.

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Save rooms and item boxes return and general inventory management return through an interface that is dark and minimalist, but still easily readable and intuitive to use. The save rooms are comfortable spaces which play a melancholic but relaxing tune that is incredibly comfy.

While inventory spaces and item combinations are much more streamlined and forgiving, you will still be making regular trips backtracking to item boxes. But since your movement speed is decent and the levels are designed quite tightly, the backtracking never becomes tedious. There is also a slight bit of handholding in that the map screen tells you what your objective is, but there’s no objective markers that trivialise the game and insult the player, but nor are you under threat of being regularly confused or forgetting what you had to do in case you returned to your game save after not playing for quite some time.

The game is also expertly paced and shows a lot of variety and influence from a variety of different horror titles. One minute you’ll be skulking through the guest house with nothing, the next you’ll be defending yourself against a crazed enemy and then skulking around the main Baker house, finding items and solving puzzles and playing a cat and mouse game with the patrolling Jack who functions much like the Xenomorph from Alien: Isolation, although thankfully frustration is avoided since he can’t one shot you, at least on normal. The best puzzle is a later game escape room, whereas the rest of the puzzles are things like rotating an abstract object in front of a light to match the silhouette of a painting. These puzzles are largely simple and while not entirely brain dead, they aren’t exactly head scratchers of old Resident Evil or the Silent Hill series. Speaking of Silent Hill, the overall progression is more like that than the first Resident Evil where instead of being singular location with shortcuts,loops, different pathways and so one, each area in RE7 is more like a discrete area and it works well here.

The campaign as a whole is quite lean, as I beat it in 7 hours and 42 minutes. Some online have complained about this length, but this length, for a decent player on a first  time playthrough is quite standard for games in the horror genre. The original 3 Silent Hill  games took me about this long, or a bit less to beat.Horror games as long as Alien: Isolation are quite an anomaly. Here is a good balance between quality and quantity. There is also replay value in the Madhouse difficulty mode, which is unlocked upon completing the game, which I will probably play on when I eventually revisit the campaign some day. But what it does is not only makes the enemies tougher or Jack faster, but item placement is changed, checkpoints are removed and saves are limited like how they were in classic Resident Evil.

In terms of the presentation, the game is near impeccable. Sound effects are all excellent and so is the voice acting and overall performances with the Baker’s Southern intonations that are both menacing and highly entertaining that deftly walks a fine line between serious horror and camp. The graphics too, as well as the attention to detail, with deep black shadows, excellent animation, texture work and extremely detailed character model. While there is occassionally a low res texture or two, the visuals as a whole are quite great. Enemy designs are creative and often highly grotesque.

The only downside to the visuals is that they can look blurry at times. When I first started playing I thought my eyes were going to shit since the game looked like a layer of vaseline had been smeared on the camera, but it turned out this was due to the anti aliasing setting it was on, which I promptly changed down to FXAA and all was well. Additionally, the motion blur effect here is quite good and I usually don’t like using it in games, but I recommend turning it on. It’s actually quite nice in this game at high framerates.

On a technical level, there is a high level of polish. On a GTX 970, running at 1440p on settings that were a mix of High and Very High, I had a mostly smooth experience running at 60fps or higher for the vast majority of the game. Although sometimes I would experience inexplicable and massive drops in areas that I shouldn’t have, these were few and far between. It also has a suitable amount of graphics options that allow you the game to be scalable on a variety of systems and tweak the visuals to your liking, such as turning off chromatic abberation or motion blur if you dislike those effects. It’s an excellent PC port all round.

Resident Evil 7Biohazard is a game that as you can see, I enjoyed very much. It has a well told story, excellent presentation and will spook you good, especially if you play with headphones on and lights off; the way horror is meant to be played. This is a Resident Evil game that should be enjoyable for anyone of varying levels of familiarity with the series. A great horror game and great Resident Evil game. This is the best the series has been since Resident Evil 4 and is well worth picking up.

9.5/10