Category Archives: Game Reviews

Video game reviews.

Review – Batman: Arkham Knight

Rocksteady Studios walks away from their first massive hit with the release of Batman: Arkham Knight – the last in a trilogy of games starring the DC Comics hero (dating back to 2009’s Arkham Asylum) – but leaves gamers with their finest work to date. A handful of relatively minor issues keep this from being the perfect sendoff, but it’s still the best Batman game – and best comic-based game overall – that’s ever graced a home console.
Let’s get the issues out of the way right now, chief among them being the Batmobile. It’s not that Rocksteady didn’t do a great job with the look of Batman’s iconic ride, but the car-related gameplay is a bit on the thin side. Sideswiping bodyguard cars while shooting missiles at the ‘boss’ vehicle might be fun once, but it’s less fun after having to do it a dozen times. The same goes for missions where you’re called on to clear out unmanned tanks from the streets, using the Batmobile’s alternate ‘tank’ mode. It’s fun once or twice, but the fourth or fifth time that Alfred lets you know the enemy has released more drone tanks into the city…
Fortunately the rest of the game makes up for those small miscues, with the twist-filled plot going a long ways towards making amends all by itself. The Scarecrow is back, forcing Gotham to be evacuated with a plan to release a new fear toxin, which proves to be just part of a much larger plan to take down Batman. Several villains make appearances, including the game’s titular character, the all-new Arkham Knight – a Batman-like character whose real identity is unknown at the outset of the game. It seems the Knight has organized a Knightfall-like takedown of Batman, wearing him out with repeated crimes until he’s primed for elimination – and gamers will love the ride to the end.
The gameplay remains relatively unchanged from past Batman games, though combat has once again been streamlined with some new gadgets or uses for existing gadgets. The Caped Crusader also gets a helping hand at times, whether that’s from team-up attacks during certain missions or when fighting near the Batmobile – which can fire off a stun round to take out targets Batman has distracted or otherwise disadvantaged. Even enemies get new abilities, including a charging takedown (that can be foiled with a single Batarang toss) and the addition of Medic units that will get downed foes back into the fray if you’re not careful. The Riddler returns, bringing his puzzles and challenges (243 in all) back to the city, so gamers can look forward to hours of finding and figuring those out.

Review – The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is the latest release by Polish developer CD Projekt Red, and closes out the trilogy of games featuring Geralt – a white-haired monster hunter with a knack for becoming embroiled in political intrigue – with style. As a Witcher, mutated and trained from youth for the purpose of hunting down monsters, Geralt enjoys a number of advantages over normal humans: enhanced strength and speed, durability, longevity, and access to magic, but he’s still in tough against the likes of golems and werewolves.
This time out the story focuses on Geralt’s struggles to protect Ciri, his Witcher protégé, from the titular Wild Hunt – a band of specters that Geralt has encountered in past games. Longtime fans will be delighted to see faces from past games make a return, and choices made in The Witcher 2 come into play. Those without a save game (on PC) or who are playing on console will run through a series of questions that set their world state for the purposes of continuity. Fortunately, you don’t need to have played the previous games in the franchise or read the books to enjoy The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. You’ll get more out of the story and the supporting characters if you’re familiar with the history, but it’s not necessary thanks to a well-written plot that can stand on its own.

I enjoyed my run through the story, but was most impressed by how CD Projekt Red implemented side missions, the kind of missions that are normally mindless filler in an RPG: fetch this, kill that, bring (x) amount of (y) to (z), that kind of thing. Instead I found myself getting backstory on the life of people in the little collection of huts that constitutes a town, then playing medieval Batman and sleuthing out clues as to what really happened.
The story is backed by gameplay that offers significant challenge at the highest difficulty but is still very approachable for gamers with lower ‘action game’ skill levels when set at the lower end of the difficulty curve. At the outset Geralt has fast or strong attacks, an array of defensive and offensive magic, and the ability to parry and counter incoming melee attacks – an impressive arsenal that grows more powerful as you level up and put points into your choice of skills.
As in past games, Geralt will do fine in regular combat but you’ll need to do your homework before taking on major battles against monstrous foes. Taking out a group of Nekker, small goblin-like creatures, requires some battlefield awareness but not much more than that, but if you’re going up against the likes of a griffon – an early major encounter – then you’ll want to brew up some potions to bolster your body and prepare oils to augment your swords.
Visually, The Witcher is a delight – with vast expanses of grasslands, thick forests, and fantastic skyboxes. Adding to the immersive effects, there’s movement everywhere. Grass and trees alike move with the wind, a particularly impressive effect when riding your horse towards a setting sun, and it’s rare that you’ll find an environment that doesn’t have something roaming through it. From bears to wolves, there’s a good variety of creature types to slaughter for their alchemical bits and pieces, and little touches like a bunny hopping along really help bring the world to life…at least until a wolf comes along and tears that bunny to pieces.

 

Review – Battlefield: Hardline

Battlefield Hardline is EA’s latest attempt to expand on their wildly successful Battlefield franchise, taking the traditionally military-focused title in a new direction with a coat of paint that covers it in the trappings of a police simulator.
Where past Battlefield games have had a single player campaign that felt like it received less attention than the multiplayer, Hardline bucks the trend. Gamers can approach each of the title’s 10 levels in two different ways: playing ‘good cop’ and arresting those who stand in your way, or taking on the ‘bad cop’ role and blasting your way through with an ever-growing arsenal of weapons.
You’ll unlock those new weapons by earning Expert points to rank up your Expert level, and the ‘good cop’ role rewards you far more than the ‘bad cop’ path will. Perversely, that means you’ll unlock weapons faster if you don’t use them and have little use for them. Of course ‘little use’ might be overstating things a tad, as the campaign does force you into the occasional shootout, with the story taking twist after twist and ending in a way that I didn’t expect.
Like past Battlefield games, Hardline leans heavily on the multiplayer to keep gamers engrossed and it appears to have what it takes. The launch has been far smoother than Battlefield 4’s clunky abomination of a release, with a solid system of unlocks and a good variety of maps and modes.
The four classes: Operator, Mechanic, Enforcer, and Professional will be familiar to Battlefield regulars and are easily understood for newbies, and in no time you’ll be earning cash to buy new weapons and outfit them with attachments. Seven modes: Blood Money, Conquest, Crosshair, Heist, Hotwire, Rescue, and Team Deathmatch provide plenty of variety, with Conquest, Heist, and Hotwire being early favourites.

Review – Assassin's Creed: Unity

Assassin’s Creed: Unity hit shelves this week, with the stealth action game hitting the streets (and rooftops) of 18th Century Paris during the French Revolution.
Unfortunately that’s the only revolution found in Unity, which leans heavily on the now-tired mechanics of past games. As Arno Dorian, the game’s hero, I was run through the same missions I had grown tired of doing two or three games ago – tailing someone through Paris without losing them isn’t all that different from any other location the series has visited, for example, even with the much large crowds to push through. Where Black Flag, the series last outing, earned itself a reprieve with the all-new ocean exploration and combat, Unity has little new going for it besides a fresh coat of paint.
That’s not to say there haven’t been some changes. Combat has been overhauled slightly, with counter-kills no longer your primary means of dispatching enemies. Assassinations have also been revamped a bit, hearkening back to the days of the original release where you would stalk enemies to find a weak spot to strike – though the opportunities to actually put this into use are somewhat slim in number. I’d much rather have had more sandbox-style assassinations and less missions about wandering around Paris following a guy. That said, there are a number of new mission types that work well, including following clues – not a mission marker – around Paris to solve the 18 Nostradamus enigmas. There’s also four-player co-op mission, though connections have been a bit shaky at this point.
While Ubisoft has pledged to continue working towards resolution, at the time of writing Unity still suffers from a number of bugs on Xbox One and PS4 (the version played for this review) which affect everything from crowd AI (artificial intelligence) behavior to framerate drops and an assortment of animation and graphics oddities. The game also suffers from a number of legacy issues, like the frustration of having your character start to parkour up a wall when you just want him to chase a target down the street NEAR the wall, a problem that seems like it should have been solved five or six games ago…

Review – Destiny

Destiny makes me wish I hadn’t used the ‘plays great, less filling’ tagline last week for NHL 15, as using it back-to-back seems like taking the easy way out. Bungie’s latest shooter, this one a multiplatform affair available on both current and last-gen consoles from Microsoft and Sony, has all the great gameplay you’d expect from the makers of Halo but falls flat on delivering the epic storyline while trying to mix in elements from massively multiplayer online (MMO) games.
First, the good – you’ll love the controls, which allow easy access to primary, special, and heavy weapons, while still providing easy grenade and melee attacks. There are also special attacks this time around, with the three Guardian classes (Hunter, Titan, and Warlock) having unique super moves for both primary and secondary class options. Hunters, for example, can be either a Gunslinger with a super move that allows for three shots that deliver incredible damage, or a Bladedancer, with a super that turns you into a melee machine capable of shredding a room full of opponents in seconds.
The environments are also incredibly well detailed, with nooks and crannies to explore and gorgeous visuals around every corner. Bungie outdoes their past work on skyboxes, with stunning overhead vistas that will distract from the mission at hand.
Multiplayer is classic Bungie, with solid map design and a decent number of maps available from launch. Different modes like Salvage or Skirmish cycle in and out as featured matches, providing some variety, though Control is far and away my favourite. Those who loved Halo’s PVP won’t be disappointed here, though adjusting to the new power sets might take some time.
That said, there’s also a lot here that falls flat. The story, for example, is a by-the-numbers ‘opposing evil’ plot that loses steam quickly. Finishing the final mission in a fireteam with a pair of friends and watching the last cutscene, one said “Wait, that’s it?” There’s a lot of background story available in Grimoires, which are unlocked regularly as you play and complete challenges, but all that information is on Bungie’s website, not found in-game at all. The game also won’t allow you to skip cutscenes, even when replaying levels – something you’re called on to do with considerable regularity – which grows annoying quite quickly.
Then there’s the loot system…  Destiny is a loot-based game, where you hit level 20 fairly quickly and then use your armour’s ‘Light’ level to continue to advance. Stealing from the MMO genre, Destiny has common, uncommon, rare, legendary, and exotic drops, but these are parceled out sparingly. I quickly grew frustrated with the Engram system, a pattern that drops and is ‘identified’ by an NPC in the main hub, as Legendary Engrams rarely become Legendary items…dropping all the way to uncommon in my experience. Worse yet is getting a Legendary item, only it’s for a different class. With no ability to trade items with other players – a huge omission in a loot-based game – I now have a couple Warlock and Titan pieces banked up in case I make one of those, and not a single Hunter piece at all.
Lastly, there’s the Strike and Raid gameplay, which I’m not entirely sold on – though to be fair it’s not entirely in the game yet. The high-end raid just went active and took a group of highly-equipped players 1,600 deaths and 10 hours to complete, including a couple meltdowns caught on the live streams that brought back memories of raiding in World of Warcraft. The lack of matchmaking in the high end game locks it away from an awful lot of players, so we’ll see how the non-hardcore players respond.

Review – Aliens: Colonial Marines

Start to finish, Aliens: Colonial Marines (ACM) is a half-baked effort that fails to respect the license it trades on and never comes close to being worth the $60 it’ll cost you. SPOILER WARNING – this review will cover a plot point that’s important, but ridiculous.
While it seems almost comically easy to make a decent Aliens game, Gearbox fails on every front with ACM. The alien xenomorphs are well rendered but poorly animated, and their artificial intelligence (AI) frequently breaks down and results in enemies that flat-out ignore the player, even when being shot.
Instead of the lithe and quick aliens seen in the movies, ACM is inhabited by twitchy beasts that rarely seem aware of the environment, much less the player. Even allies frequently have pathing issues through the terrain, perhaps partly to blame for the design decision to have them continually teleporting in front of the player when they get left behind, instead of running to catch up.
The game, first put into development in 2006, looks far more like an early-generation release than a late-gen one. Visual issues range from poor lighting and shadows to muddy textures and terrible clipping problems, where characters will pass right through enemies, walls, or other characters. It’s particularly amusing to walk around during the short in-game sequences meant to advance the plot, casually strolling through the bodies of other characters like they’re not even there.
Even the plot falls flat, returning a dead character to the land of the living with the wave of a hand. Hicks, seen crushed to death in his cryopod at the start of Aliens 3, is brought back to life with no explanation for any of the inconsistencies this brings but a quick “That’s a longer story.” It’s the same sort of ‘look, don’t worry about it’ counter they use for earlier questions about why a ship last seen orbiting a different planet has appeared over LV-426.
In addition, the Alien franchise has long featured a strong female character, Ripley, who cleaned up the messes caused by the stereotypical ‘tough space marine’ characters around her. Not so this time, with Ripley out of the action and Bella proving a poor replacement.
Finally, the game’s real villain isn’t introduced, and then unceremoniously killed, until the final cutscene of the game, leaving the player with reams of unanswered questions and no real moment of resolution to the five-and-a-half odd hours the campaign lasts.
There’s multiplayer to help extend the experience, but even at its best, the competitive game doesn’t come close to making up for the rest of the package. Playing as or against the aliens has been done better in other games, ones that are available far cheaper now as well.

Review – Batman: Arkham City

Batman: Arkham City, sequel to 2009’s Arkham Asylum, outclasses its predecessor in almost every imaginable way.
The new game plays better, with an improved counterattack system that allows players to easily retaliate against multiple enemies at once the highlight of the combat tweaks.
Batman’s wonderful utility belt full of toys also gets an upgrade, as his equipment has been revamped with new secondary abilities. The line launcher can now fire off a second line, mid-ride, while the remote control Batarang gains the ability to alter its speed in midair.
There are several new gadgets as well, the most “Batman” of them being the innocent-sounding smoke pellet. When spotted by gun-wielding foes, Batman can drop the pellet to disperse a localized smoke cloud. This allows the player to either escape using the grapple gun to move quickly about the environment or go on the offensive while the enemy can’t see.
While Batman might not use guns, he has no qualms against employing a new taser-like weapon that can temporarily disable foes or be used to activate machinery ranging from doors to cranes and electromagnets.
Even the grappling gun gets an upgrade, with a new quick-reel option allowing players to catapult Batman into the air where he can glide long distances.
The increased movement option proves incredibly handy in the new setting, a prison in the middle of Gotham City that includes prisoners from both the Arkham Island facility from the first game and the infamous Blackgate  Penitentiary – home to the city’s sane supervillains.
Where the original game featured a small open area as a hub between buildings, Arkham City is set in a large and almost fully-realized cityscape. There are still buildings that can’t be entered, but the majority of the environment is open to exploration and riddled with side quests, items to collect, and small, secret tributes to the fans.
Despite the new focus on an open-world setting, the game still runs at a nearly rock-solid 30 frames per second on both the Xbox 360 and PS3. The PC version was delayed just prior to launch, with a vague ‘sometime in November’ release date.
Staying spoiler-free, it’s fair to say that the Arkham City storyline is a bit more complicated than the original game’s plot. There are some additional twists and turns, plus some hidden ‘set up a sequel’ moments for those who are perceptive enough to catch them.
Replay value is added via the Campaign and Combat challenge maps, as well as a new game plus mode that adds difficulty as well as some new story content.