Hearts of Iron IV screenshot
Hearts of Iron IV screenshot

Game Review: Hearts of Iron IV

Background

Hearts of Iron IV is the fourth entry in the Hearts of Iron series from Paradox Interactive, the developers behind Europa Universalis, Crusader Kings and Stellaris. The year is 1945, on September 1st the old world is under the control of the resurgent Neo-Ottoman Empire. The old imperial powers of Britain, France and their allies have been pushed to the bottom of the African continent. The Americans are fearful of involving themselves due to a nuclear bomb having been detonated on New York, Washington DC and Boston: the prelude to the invasion of the Turkish Island hopping campaign. The Soviet Union and Nazi Germany have collapsed along with all major resistance in Europe. Today is only the start of the new empire of sons of Otto. This sums up my first 15 hours of my third campaign of this truly wondrous game: a game that lets you think and plan as a military planner would need to.

Story

The backdrop of the game takes place in either 1936 or in 1939. In 1936, you can push your nation state in certain ways that in 1939 would be impractical to do. This could be factors such as improving infrastructure, researching certain technologies and planning ahead of time. As such, for those more interested in the grand planning, it would be best to play in the 1936 era as you could look at your nation state and research how to progress in a way that would suit your playstyle. For those more interested in the grand conquests then picking a powerful nation in 1939 could be more of what you are looking for.

Mechanics

The mechanics feel at times like a more polished Europa style but at the same time feels like the game is trying to be overly complex. What the game aims to be is to as close to reality as possible but still be enjoyable as a game, a feature reflected in the game’s mechanics in many ways. For example, the game makes sure that you understand the importance of ensuring your forces are supplied with fuel, replacements and other logistic equipment – if you lack in some of these areas your troops could be hindered or beaten even if you outnumber and outclass the enemy. However, my biggest annoyance is how hard and tedious it can be to launch sea and air invasions. If you were to attack the United Kingdom, for example, you would need to have 75% control of the air as well almost complete control of all the parts of the sea you would need to send your troops. If you compare this to a game like Europa Universal IV, if you were to launch a sea invasion you would only need to put the troops on a transporter and send ships to defend it, however, in Hearts of Iron, you need to defend sections of sea and put yourself at risk to a massive sea invasion. I can understand the need to have this but with my experience with Stellaris and Europa it seems really weird in compassion.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Hearts of Iron IV is amazing if you are willing to have the patience for it and attempt to enjoy the game. The game is at its best when you can either become a massive superpower as a minor and weak nation, or when you finally defeat a nemesis that has long since been needing a good conquering.

Score

8 out of 10

GAME REVIEW: Hitman 2016: Episode 1 (PC)

Background

The Hitman Franchise is perhaps one of the oldest stealth games in the genre, not as old or well known in comparison to its rivals Metal Gear franchise or Thief. The Hitman series however hits a certain sweet spot in the market. As in previous Hitman games, you need to plan and act in an effective timely manner. When a plan is successful and no one notices you feel like a true Hitman. A hitman above hitmen. As such I look forward to this new entry into the series, focusing less on the story side of the franchise (which had arguably been one of its weaker elements) but instead fusing the sandbox style gameplay of Hitman: Blood Money but with the Hitman: Absolution game Mechanics; Hitman sense, cover mechanics and general a modern overhaul of the general feeling of controlling Agent 47. As such, although I am happy with the game that has been given to us so far I am somewhat concerned that some of the minor features have been overlooked, such as releasing the game in an episodic nature instead of a full game.

Story

Hitman 2016 so far has a limited story, as it mostly follows Agent 47’s exploits post events of Absolution. However, we get to see him in his early days which function as a tutorial to the game and a way to understand how this games plays differently to others. As such, so far we don’t have anything in terms of the grand scheme but the games feel less focused on story and more so on mechanics, which serve the game better. Instead of trying to have a ‘Taken’ feel or an excuse to explain why Agent 47 is going from Russia to Japan. The game simply says, Agent 47’s target and that they are in this location and off he goes. This how the game implies with Agent 47 being at the peak of his career.

Mechanics

The most notable mechanic to be added is the games way of making guards more lethal having a more realistic approach to disguises. As in Hitman: Absolution, any person in the same disguise as you could recognise that you were in disguise. This has been balanced so only certain people within the disguise can notice you; this would mean it is far easier to remain disguise then in past version in the game. Guards will now pick up and remove any weapons you leave lying around. This could prove to be useful if you want to smuggle certain items in or if you want a guard bringing a bomb to your target allowing you to kill them and make a mess just long enough you can sneak out.

The last major change that I would like to mention is that of contacts mode. Contacts mode allows people to pick and choose targets. Sometimes they request the targets are killed with certain disguise or weapons. Perhaps some of the funniest have been killing characters who you heard talking in the main mission only for you to put a bomb down, have them pick it up and watch it explode… However, the main flaw I have with game is that contracts feel more like side-missions for fans by fans but with no real purpose other than to polish your skill. Perhaps including a skill tree, or allowing for a money system would give people incentive to take contracts as right now there’s really only three missions, two of which are just tutorials. As such there is a limited replayability, perhaps borrowing from one of the newest games being made Yandere Simulator, the idea of including a system that makes a certain element of the game less of task to handle easier. Perhaps adding an incentive that you will be given x amount of points which you could use to make disguise better, hiding weapons easier or allowing for more starting equipment? Having such an option will have provided fans of the series more reason to revist the maps and learn more on how the character and the game world reacts and interacts with each other.

Sound Design

The sound design in done in way that makes the game more realistic than before, as overhearing conversation feels natural and that it can often lead to different ways to approach and take out your target. However, the music feels somewhat limited. Hitman games often have amazing soundtracks whereas in this game the soundtrack does a good job of portraying feeling and emotion but not in way that is unique to the Hitman Franchise. As often, you’re seen as reaper like figure, one that often kills those who are corrupt or at least by society’s standards “bad” so you would often hear Ava Maria. As such I am rather surprised I have yet to hear one of the most iconic soundtracks to the franchise but perhaps this is something to be added in a different point in the games release schedule.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the game at launch is good and seems to be one that will be polished and improved as each new entry is added. As such I look forward to perhaps reviewing the game in full when all content is released or at least within a years time when the game first year of content will likely be completed. I nevertheless, grow concerned that perhaps the games need more polish despite how large the sandbox is often the crowds don’t respond in the way you think they would.

Score

Because of the mode of release, the review is seen as still in progress and as such it seems improper to give it a full score until more content is added

Street Fighter V Character
Street Fighter V Character

Game Review: Street Fighter V (PS4)

Background

Street Fighter is considered by many to be one of the very first ‘proper’ fighting games, in terms of the fact that two people have the ability to fight each other for glory and being considered the best. It seems fitting that the theme of Street Fighter V is the idea of reset. Four of the sixteen characters are new characters (Rashid, Necalli Laura and F.A.N.G.), with another four being characters that have barely been used in the long and deep history of the franchise (R.Mika, Karin, Bridie and Nash). As such, despite being conflicted with the games launch options, I would suggest that if there was ever a time to enter into the Street Fighter franchise it is with Street Fighter V. However, since the game has been designed to be constantly updated and improved I will not give a score at this point in time and perhaps may give one a year later looking retrospectively.

Story

With Street Fighter V, Capcom have decided to release a sort of overview of the characters stories as somewhat barebones and instead the grand story mode is be added at a later stage (around June). As such I am rather conflicted, as the game is impressive in terms of mechanics but the story is more a way of just showing off the new V Trigger or having the new characters introduced. This again goes well with the idea of being a reset and makes me ever hopeful for the grand story mode in June since Street Fighter, in my humble opinion, has perhaps the richest story modes to exist in fighting games. Considering the main premise of most fighting games is to have two characters beat each other up, Street Fighter does this in a way that adds layers of sub-plots. Since you could look at the Ken and Ryu rivalry and argue that is the main plot, or you could look into the Shadaloo who are the guys organising the fighting event or Zangief story line of inspiring the children of Mother Russia. Its the franchise’s ability to link seemingly random events and stories into one cohesive mesh that is one of Street Fighters strongest points. So when the game is being sold for full retail price, I am somewhat disappointed but optimistic that Capcom have promised that June will deliver an in-depth story mode (I say this despite having received a review copy of the game).

Mechanics

Street Fighter has, like many fighting games, always been one of learning the basics in order to master it. Street Fighter V is no different but what they have done is simplified the commands in way that allows new players and veterans of the franchise to understand the game. This is best shown with V Trigger, as this is new mechanic that, if played well, can flip the table on your opponent. For example, Zangief can harden his body to reduce the damage and stagger effect on enemies attacks, allowing you to get closer and use his grappling ability. This mechanic has been balanced with many characters as, although it reduces the damage, Zangief still takes damage and often at a higher rate due to his reduced ability to crawl.

This is the most notable change to Street Fighter format but the game polishes and perfects the other elements involved in the game. Charged or special attacks are done in way that feels fluid and free. The games training mode lets you test out different playstyles quickly and efficiently while the challenger’s mode requires you to use what you learn in training mode against a CPU with ever increasing odds. Capcom’s ability and the work of series veteran Yoshinori Onoto, who worked on Street Fighter Alpha 3 and Street Fight III 3rd Strike, allows for such refinement in the gameplay style of Street Fighter V, perhaps also explaining why some of the characters are drawn from the Alpha series and Street Fighter III.

Sound Design

Street Fighter V, is perhaps the best game in the franchise since Street Fighter 2 in being able to either remix or create new pieces of music that best represent each characters playstyle and personality. The strong, stoic, grappling Russian Zangief has a grand and orchestral theme; American Ken’s playful rock filled style fits with the guitar usage in his theme; and Middle Eastern Rashid’s love of technology and wind based attacks is best shown when the bass drops on his theme and you hear his name. The credit for this amazing job must be given to all the composers involved: Masahiro Aoki, Hideyuki Fukasawa, Keiki Kobayashi, Takatsugu Wakabayashi and Zac Zinger.

In the words of William Shakespeare ‘If music be the food of love, play on’ and with fighting games, perhaps more so that any other genre, every factor matters as often the rounds and matches in the game are done quickly and swiftly. This means that music becomes vital: if the music does not give you the feeling of going for broke or the ability to feel alive then the game would feel dull. It is because of the iconic music that games like this are remembered and Street Fighter V has succeeded in this.

Conclusion

This leads me to my conclusion, which leaves me conflicted as, although the story is missing the core of the Street Fighter franchise formula, the mechanics and sound design are there and do an amazing job. As such I will not give a score at this current moment in time since the game is ready to be scored yet and doing so would be an unfair judgment of the game. This project that Capcom is doing, as Killer Instinct has done, to keep updating, tweaking and improving could prove to be Street Fighter V’s strength. Furthermore, you can unlock new character costumes and potentiality new characters by simply playing the current arcade mode. This could be a better choice of getting new characters instead of the largely unliked methods in the past which was to release new version of the game within the same generation and, with some Capcom games, the same year. As such I look forward to the future of Street Fighter as some of the characters are fan favourites. However, if I had to give one recommendation is to buy the game sooner rather than later so as to unlock the characters at your own speed.

Score

Review in progress

GAME REVIEW: Resident Evil Zero (PC HD-Remastered)

Background

Resident Evil Zero for the PC is a HD-Remaster of Resident Evil Zero which was a horror game from the Resident Evil Franchise that was released back in January 2002. However, unlike more recent entires in the franchise such as Resident evil 5 or 6, which have more action packed content. Resident Evil Zero instead focuses on the survival horror aspect of the genre. Each encounter feels tense and with you having to ration bullets while spending much of your time in the iconic Spencer Mansion. This is due to the fact this game takes place sometime before the events of the first game which had a HD-Remaster back January 2015. As such, much of the games events play in a dramatic, ironic manner, with the idea of planning the doomed Bravo Squad in the events that would inspire a franchise. However, the game is a HD-Remaster of a previous HD-Remaster, as such graphically at times it feels dated but the updated visuals and smoothness feel impressive. The game takes what makes horror important; the loneliness, the ugliness of the monsters and the feeling of dread. Nothing is worse than going into a boss battle with nothing but the bare essentials to fight your enemy.

Story

The events of Resident Evil Zero focus as a way of explaining elements of fluff that are left unanswered in resident evil 1. Such as how did Rebecca Chambers survive despite being a rookie in the team, what caused the zombie outbreak in Spencer mansion in the first place. However, the main point of the story in the game is focused on Rebecca Chambers and a new character Billy Coen. As they attempt to survive and understand what exactly caused the zombie outbreak, which if I were to go into would be a spoiler that I believe would somewhat ruin the experience of the game. As with horror games the fear of the unknown is perhaps the greatest fear to be had. As such, even though you can swap between Rebecca and Billy with ease you are not able to play cooperativity. This I think is a good idea, as it helps build tension in the game as you have to depend on yourself and considering at several points in the game you have to use a certain character it would be a burden to make this a cooperativity game. This leads me to my discussion of the mechanics of the game.

Mechanics

The main mechanics in the game that separate Resident Evil Zero from other entires in the franchise, is that the game has a tank controller style of combat and fixed camera placements needed to aim then shoot. As such I found it best to use a controller as whenever I used the keyboard it would seem to become a burden and even harder to think, plan and play. Perhaps this is more of an issue of the games port as the game’s first release was made with the idea of controllers in mind. However, even then the game takes some time getting used to considering how different this style of gameplay to other more recent entires to the franchise. Furthermore, with the regards to the fixed camera placements, they can be both spooky and annoying as you may hear a zombie moans just beyond the camera so you can’t shoot the creature but it could also prove annoying in boss battles were you may not be able to shoot at a boss weak point due to the poor placement of a camera.

The other major mechanic to mention is the ability to swap and change characters at points in the game which allows you help co-ordinate and attack enemies. This can be useful and annoying at times. As you could for example give your weapons to Rebecca only to find out she is going to become unplayable meaning you’re going to have possibly fight a number of enemies with barley any allies. Or worse during a boss encounter Rebecca may become pre-occupied in a boss grip and the best tool you have is a knife…

The last major addition is the Wesker mode which lets you replace Billy with Alber Wesker who has a more powerful attack and is more for fan-service for those who finish the game. As such it’s a rather nice little gift but nothing that really adds to the game as a whole.

Sound Design

The sound design is an interesting subject area, as the game’s music and soundtrack builds the element of fear and dread. However, the voice acting work at times can feel rather jarring and out of place. I’m not sure if this is due to the game’s initial translation or attempt to rush the game out. Nevertheless, at times the dialogue spoken feels cheesy which if the developers of the game were aiming have succeed. If that is not the case then I am at a loss as to why there is such a difference in the ability of the characters to speak without sounding like they are reading from a script…

Conclusion

The game succeeds in being a HD-Remaster of the game, at least in the basics of the port. Have a controller. If you don’t have a controller then you will struggle; you can still play the game with some difficulty. This notwithstanding, the jarring dialogue and the dated fixed camera angels and tank controls at times feel like a limitation and less an attempt to get harken back to the good old days of horror. As such I would give this game a 7 out of 10. As there are points in this game that I felt scared for myself but much of the time I was confused by how weird the dialogue sounded or by my inability to shoot a zombie despite being with 3 feet from them.

Score

7 out of 10

 

Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen
Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen

Game Review: Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen (PC)

Background

Dragon’s Dogma is, in my opinion, one of the most underrated games of the previous generation, as the game attempts to mix elements of Dark Souls, Monster Hunter and The Elder Scrolls into a new IP (intellectual property) from Capcom. The game that I played on the PlayStation 3 so many years ago was a fun and bizarre adventure, with the usage of the pawn system and the ability to climb monsters and strike at weak points. When the chance to play a possibly improved and polished version of this game for PC came, I was more than happy to play the review copy. As such, I can say with joy that this game feels better than the initial PS3 port of the game. The issue of long loading screens and jagged movements has been resolved and improved to the point that it no longer feels like a chore to resolve item management. However, minor issues get annoying after a while – slightly dated graphics and the fact that your pawns still constantly say the most random of things with their non-stop chatter in particular.

Story

The lore of the game is complex but pretty much boils down to one issue: the issue of fate. The game argues that your job as the ‘arisen’ is to take back your heart that was stolen by a dragon – not the Skyrim kind of dragon that dies after a few hits but the Desolation of Smaug kind. This is an event that regularly occurs in the game’s lore so when you eventually meet that big firebreathing lizard (after your first encounter where he literally steals your heart), you are given choices and options. Capcom do an amazing game post-dragon first since they seem to take a large inspiration from the manga Berserk, which similarly deals with issues of fate and giant creatures that need slaying (sadly I think the Berserk armour easter egg has not been ported into the PC port of the game). It is hard to discuss the Dragon’s Dogma lore without going too deep into spoilers and the story is what kept me going: the idea of finding out what was out there, finding new enemies to fight and fearing the day and night cycle.

Mechanics

The mechanics in the game are interesting developments in the RPG (role playing game) genre as a whole, as you have a new and interesting take on the class system in which you can change class rather easily to better suit the pawns and your play style (called vocation in game). For example, if you wanted to play less like a berserker and more into range you can do that. There are also different sub classes that mix two classes into a one, so you could be a mystic knight (a classic paladin) who has the ability to use heavy weapons and armour but with a few spells in your back pocket should you need them. My favourite was having an advance vocation and becoming a warrior with two handed tanks aimed and designed to cut away the most amount of health to large enemies. Plus, playing Forces (a berserk soundtrack) while running around as the warrior class felt snug like a shoe.

The other major mechanic is the beast fighting element in which you are able to climb up on creatures, such as Hydras and Griffons, and attack them while they try to throw you off. This may sound like nothing new, but in the heat of the moment with the music score blaring and your pawns all trying to help with range weapons and your character holding on by the tips of their fingers hoping they don’t get thrown off: it truly is one of the best moment to experience. Something that I think games like The Elder Scrolls Skyrim fail to achieve is the idea of how big and grand an enemy is: in Dragon’s Dogma you feel and fear the presence of these grand creatures whereas in games such as Skyrim you just hit them in the ankle a few times with a heavy weapon and poof they’re dead.

The next major element, which I have mentioned several times already, is the pawn system. This is perhaps one of the most interesting elements of the Dragon’s Dogma systems as a pawn is a NPC (non playable character) that you create early in the game to help be a support role for whatever class you pick. However, you also get two additional pawns from other players if your game is connected online or from the developers if your game is offline. This then allows them to learn about new enemies and dangers as well how to fight them allowing other players to hear advice from the monsters you fought when they return to their owners. This can also work for your pawn as well and sometimes you can receive gifts and items.

The last major mechanic I woud like to mention is the day and night cycle, as often in RPG games the day and night cycle has no major importance to the game. However, in Dragon’s Dogma you get to see why this is a Capcom game when it’s night time as the game becomes less of an Arthurian legend and more like Dark Souls where every kind of ghost, undead or anything that poses a challenge can appear. I remember when I got lost and ended up going to one of the hardest areas in the game due to being lost at night, leading me to having to run away with little more than a cloth on my back and a rusted sword.

Sound Design

The sound design, and most notably the soundtrack, is amazingly well done, as it helps create immersion and the feeling of grandness that the art style of this game shows. A new feature introduced in Dark Arisen, Bitterblack Isle, reflects this as the music becomes darker and more gothic, with each encounter feeling like a boss battle struggle. The final boss music for the Bitterblack Isle is a wondrous and beautiful song that is fitting for the struggle you have to encounter and makes you feel sorry for the final boss (not when he is trying to turn you into a paste).

Conclusion

The only major flaws I can suggest is that the pawn systems seem to be an idea that could be tweaked with a few minor changes. For one, I wish there was an option to stop recycled dialogue from occurring since hearing the same thing over and over again tends to get tiresome. Lastly, it would be an interesting idea to include more multiplayer – it would be interesting to see the different ways players could team up to take down bosses with experienced players giving advice on enemies and locations to newcomers to the franchise. As such I would give this game an 8 out of 10 due to the fact that Capcom have a great job porting this game onto the PC and I look forward to new places to explore and new enemies to fight in future works within this franchise.

Score

8 out of 10