Nov 042011
 
RAGE Box Art

Developers: ID Software
Publishers:  Bethesda Softworks
Platform: PS3

ID Software are legendary. They invented the First Person Shooter genre with games like Doom  and Quake and helped defined some of the guidelines FPS follow today. Their last AAA title was Doom 3 released in 2004. Since then, they’ve been happy to sit in as producers and let others do the hard wards. RAGE marks their return in the developer chair with a promise of an open-world, post-apocalyptic FPS and light RPG elements, powered by a brand new engine:  iD Tech 5.

I believe I can fly...

The Story:

A giant meteor crashes into the earth and threatens humanity. You are put to sleep into a stasis pods to weather the storm but things don’t go according to plan (anything rarely does in video games). You wake up to find that your stasis pods buddies have turn into dried fruits: they are not waking up any time soon. It’s not long before you are whisked away by a stranger eager to let you loose in the Wasteland to kill some mutants: way to make a good first impression on the locals.
It’s clear that RAGE took some cues from Half-Life 2 for delivering the story: your character never speaks and his motives are never properly explained. He could be a mute-robot for all I know. The game wants you to fill in the blanks. This might work for some, but I never felt engage with the main protagonist, the characters or the plot. As the story progressed, the clichés came thick and fast. Everything is treated with a superficial approach without going deep into the history and the motivations behind the characters. I would have liked to get into the Mutants back stories for example or get to meet with a defector of another faction to get their side of the conflict. As it stands, it’s an “us versus them” scenario with no grey area to speak of. The last few chapters are especially disappointing in terms of reveals and overall conclusion.

What a quaint little town

The Gameplay:

RAGE is at its core a corridor shooter. The open-world feature of the game is a bit deceiving as most of the action takes place inside buildings. The buggy you get early on is mainly there to ferry you from one level to the next. Sure you can get out and start walking but you’ll either get bored by the lack of things to do or get mowed down by bandits using their own buggies. You basically get 2 genres of games with RAGE: an FPS and a Racer (with guns).
As expected, the shooting portion of the game doesn’t disappoint. It’s fast, precise and the AI offers a good challenge. The weapons arsenal consists of a pistol, a shotgun, 2 kinds of machine guns, a crossbow, a sniper rifle, and few special energy based guns.  They feel weighty and satisfying. They also boast several types of ammo. The shotgun can fire exploding pellets, effectively turning it into a grenade launcher. The crossbow can use mind controlling darts giving you control of an enemy for a limited time before he explodes. The machine gun can be equipped with energy bullets capable of tearing through armour and shields. Some weapons are upgradeable via items you buy in shops, but they are too few to make a substantial impact on the gameplay.
Levels are littered with crap to collect. There’s no limit to how much you can carry and you’ll end up with a LOT of stuff. Some of it is useless and promptly sold off for a small profit. The rest are used for crafting items, providing you’ve bought the blueprint or learned it via a mission. You can make bandages that acts as medkits or more exotic stuff like a remote controlled toy buggy strapped with explosives.  I really liked the spider robots with machine guns which worked great for crowd control. You can summon several at a time also.
The driving segment works well. Goons will try to take you out as you travel from one level to the next. Vehicle can be upgraded (longer boost, better traction) via currency you earn by winning races. However, like the weapons system, the improvements are only slight and I upgraded everything I could early on.
Shops and Quests are found in the main towns, of which they are 2. They are also home to a few mildly entertaining mini-games.  A Magic The Gathering style game was the most interesting out of the lot. You use cards that you collect throughout the world and select a set number to use in a round.
The side-quests felt a bit cheap. They make you revisit levels that you’d previously cleared and populate them with a different type of enemy. You might go through them in reverse at times but even then, the experience felt like I was playing the previous mission again.
There is no levelling up in RAGE. Your health will increase at some point and so will your armour but aside from that, there are no RPG elements to speak of. This is an FPS and skills is what matters here.
Looking at the single player experience as a whole, it’s clear that a lot more care was given to the first half of the game. There are some good boss fights and I preferred fighting The Mutants instead of The Authority. The second half doesn’t have as many memorable moments. In fact, I can’t remember fighting a boss in the second half. The final level was utterly underwhelming. I was saving my big guns was some big encounter that never came and the end of the game fizzled out with me thinking “That’s it?”.
Multiplayer only offers competitive games with the buggies which is surprising. Their is a Co-op FPS component, but a team-deathmatch of some sort is sorely missing.

Anyone wanna play?... Anyone?

The Presentation:

From the moment you step out in the open world and marvel at the detail of the texture on the rocks above, you realise John Carmak can still pump out a great looking engine. The level of details is impressive, but this comes at the cost of seeing textures load in which can be distracting when you’re just looking around. However, once you’re the action kicks in, it’s hard to notice. The Art Direction blends bright sunny light with grungy aesthetic successfully. The NPCs are well crafted but the speaking animations were a bit strange. They are well done in a Disney kind of way (no motion capture) but didn’t fit well in the context of a post apocalyptic world. The sound design for the guns is well done with the shotgun being my personal favourite.

Why hello there!

Conclusion:

RAGE made a great first impression in the first few hours I played. The shooting portions are great fun and the impressive graphics lures you onwards to see more. Driving a buggy around is a fun distraction also. But once the dust settles, big cracks start to appear. The RPG element is pretty much non existent and the story becomes just a mechanic to funnel you from one corridor shooter to another. By the second half of the game, it becomes very predictable and almost unexciting. RAGE is ultimately a pretty and competent FPS but the weak story sporting one of the worst endings stop this title from becoming a classic.

Score:

3/5

Sep 202011
 
deus_ex_ps3_boxart

Developers: Eidos Montreal
Publishers: Square Enix
Platform: PS3
Completed on Normal difficulty

Back in 2000, Game Designer Warren Spector released the acclaim Deus Ex. It was a revolutionary game. It offered the player a deep conspiracy-based story and multiple ways to solve a mission. The result was a breath of fresh which hinted at things to come for the video-games industry.

In 2003, a sequel (Deus Ex: Invisible War) was received to a mixed reception, sighting AI bugs and general poor engine performance as the culprits. It wasn’t a bad game. It just didn’t surpass the originality of the first one.

Can Eidos-Montreal capture the greatness of the first Deus Ex?

The Story:

It’s 2027. The world has turned into a bleak Blade-Runnerest Techno Mega city. People casually enhance themselves with Cyber-Augmentations, but it’s not without its faults: Augmented subjects become addicted to anti-rejection drugs while others, who cannot be fitted with the technology, feel at a disadvantage over their cyber-enhanced counterparts. It’s a classic “Progress vs Luddite” scenario which produces a generous, if not predictable, amount of conflict.

You are Adam Jensen: Chief Security of Sarif Industries, one of top provider of Cyber-Augmentations. Adam is “Au Natural”, without any Augmentations and generally not that keen on the technology. A past-romantic involvement with Sarif’s top scientist (Megan Reed) is hinted but never fully developed.
The game starts with you casually following Megan through Sarif’s labratories when all hell breaks loose: a group of  heavily armed soldiers kill most of the scientists and destroy their research. You attempted to fight back but are quickly over powered. Megan tries to save you from getting killed and somewhat succeeds in fending off your attackers. Critically injured, you loose consciousness.
In order to survive, some major augmentation work is being done on you. Better eye sight, new sets of arms and legs, etc… It’s the equivalent of “Pimp My Ride” for your body. 6 months of re-habilitation later, you are back at Sarif Industries for a briefing with your boss.

Who were the attackers? What did they want to achieve? Did anyone survive? It’s your job to find out.

The Gameplay:

Just like the first Deus Ex, DE: Human Revolution blends FPS and RPG elements, with an emphasis on multiple ways to complete your goals. Except for the boss fights, there are many ways to achieve success: get passed the guards undetected by using conveniently placed air-ducts, silently take them down one by one with tranquillizer darts or engage in a fire fight. The choice is yours.
Praxis points are the currency for increasing your abilities. They are obtained by levelling up, buying them or just found littered in the game world. How you spend those points will be dictated by your play style. Want to go all guns blazing? Improve your armour and reduce your weapon recoil. Want to sneak instead? Gain the ability to cloak, view through walls and walk as silently as a cat. Want to overpower your opposition? Turn the robot sentries against your enemies by becoming a master hacker. Personally, I became a master hacker earlier on, then spend the remainder of my points in defensive & offensive skills. Some augmentations like the speech enhancer or higher jumping felt a bit redundant as you only get to use them a few times throughout the game.
The shooting itself is precise and the cover system works well. Ammo is scares which forces you to make every shot count. Even though Adam is more bad ass than Robocop, he can only take a few hits before dying. This made every firefight tense, but satisfying. Situation awareness is a must to succeed.
The level themselves are self-contained (except for two main hubs), meaning you’ll go through them once and not come back. It’s important to scrub  a level of all its loot before leaving.
The boss fights were a bit of disappointment. They felt like I was taken back to a standard FPS with little regards to the augmentations I’d put points in. I’ve since learned that an outside company took care of it which explains the disconnect. It’s possible Eidos Montreal ran out of time and had to outsource. It’s a bit of shame but the total package is great enough to let this one pass.

Presentation:

DE: HR looks and sounds great. Take downs will switch to a 3rd person view of the action with some great slow-mo to boot. The slick and plastic look of the world does a great job at conveying the coldness of this technologically enhanced future. The moody music remained in the background which is a good thing. The dialogues were a bit hit and miss with some truly awful chinese and African-American accents. They are the exception though.

Conclusion:

Having played and enjoyed the original Deus Ex, I was very pleased with DE: HR. The story is well told and rich in details. I liked that you have to observe and plan before tackling your objectives. This is very much a “Thinking Man” shooter. Let’s hope it doesn’t take another 8 years for the next instalment to arrive.

Score:

4.5/5