Review: Deus Ex

This is a review that has been a long time coming. In reality, I should have discussed this game quite some time ago. Deus Ex was released in 2000, before some of the other titles I’ve already featured on this site. But, as I wrap up my turn-of-the-century playthroughs, I find myself filling in some of the gaps in my backlog that I missed the first time around. This game is a fine example of that. Deus Ex is one of those PC titles that always appears on the “greatest games of all time” lists, and with good reason. This game is so good it’s ridiculous. On the surface, it appears to be just another first-person shooter, but in reality it is so much more than that. While presented in the first-person, Deus Ex also incorporates RPG and stealth elements. It manages to successfully merge these different styles in a way that’s rarely done successfully. For this reason, it cemented itself as a classic in hearts and minds of many gamers, myself included.

Before I get into the meat of the game, I want to take a moment to discuss some technical details. Deus Ex is built with a modified version of the original Unreal-Engine. This means that it is generally compatible with today’s PCs, but lacks some of the modern conveniences such as widescreen support and higher resolutions. To resolve this, players have a couple of options. (All unofficial fixes) First, for purists, there’s “Kentie’s Launcher“. This is a replacement executable that offers higher resolutions and FOV fixes without changing any of the original textures or artwork. (This is what I used for my playthrough/screenshots). The second option is “GMDX” which is actually more of a total-conversion mod than a simple fix. This mod upgrades the game’s graphics and mechanics resulting in a much more modern and polished experience, without detracting from the intended feel of the game’s developers. In all honestly, the GMDX mod is probably what I would recommend to most players who are just trying Deus Ex for the first time, as long as they don’t mind playing the game with fan-sourced textures.

The story of Deus Ex is an interesting mixture of both political intrigue and science fiction. The game takes place in a futuristic setting where society is on a downward spiral fueled by terrorist attacks, a world-wide plague, and political turmoil. As a result, most of the world is now under the control of a division of the United Nations called UNATCO (United Nations Anti-Terrorist Coalition). In Deus Ex, players control the character of JC Denton, a recent UNATCO recruit. Denton is an experimental agent who has been physically enhanced with various cybernetic implants. For his first mission, Denton is tasked with resolving a terrorist occupation at New York’s Liberty Island. It is there that he learns the true motive behind the terrorist’s activities, and it starts him down a path that will ultimately force him to decide where his loyalties lie.

The creators of Deus Ex mix some of the best late-90’s sci-fi concepts with nearly every crypto/conspiracy theory you can think of, resulting in a compelling and thrilling story. Throughout the course of the game, players will be taken from the streets of Hell’s Kitchen NYC and the Hong Kong underworld to the catacombs of Paris and beyond. At several points in the game, players will be faced with various decisions that will impact the storyline of the game itself. This adds a level of replayability that makes Deus Ex a game that players can enjoy over and over again.

Excellent story aside, the big secret to Deus Ex‘s success is in the game design itself. Despite looking like just another shooter, players can determine exactly how they want to control their character. Yes, Denton can end up blowing through his enemies like a guns blazing “Rambo”, but more often it’s better to be more subtle. Players can sneak around in shadows and try to avoid enemies entirely. Instead of obtaining keys from the bodies of slain soldiers, they can instead pick locks and hack computer terminals, allowing them to infiltrate enemy territory and continue with their mission. As you progress through the game and complete objectives, you are awarded skill points than can be spent on increasing certain abilities. For example, when it comes to combat, you can choose to master light weapons or explosives as opposed to rifles and hand guns. This system allows players to create a character that matches with the style of play they want to experience.

While the main focus of Deus Ex is the single player story, multiplayer capabilities were added to the game shortly after its release. However, these days, players who wish to experience online play will have quite a bit of work cut out for them. Initially, the multiplayer browser found in the game served as a front-end for the now defunct Gamespy service. Since Gamespy no longer exists, players will need to either enjoy multiplayer on a LAN or edit the game’s configuration files to allow for play using other third-party services (such as Master Server), but even then active matches can be hard to come by.

In the end, the Deus Ex experience is truly a work of art. It is a title that every PC gamer should have in their library. It was released at a time in the industry when the focus was shifting from single player to online experiences. In a way, its release marks the end of a era in PC gaming.

Difficulty: Variable –  Deus Ex offers several difficulty options. However, even at the easiest setting, the game can be brutal at times. Players would be wise to save their game often and try to “out-think” the problem in front them. Often times when confronted with what seems like a hopeless scenario, players can find a solution by approaching their goal from a completely different angle. This is just one of the many things that makes this game shine.

Story: You’d be hard pressed to find a better and more in-depth storyline in a PC title at the time Deus Ex was released. This game ranks right up there with Fallout and Max Payne in terms of compelling storytelling. The plot is certainly one of the best aspects of this game.

Originality: In a time when first-person shooters were a dime a dozen, Deus Ex flipped the script by adding stealth mechanics and RPG elements. Sure, stealth-based first-person games like Thief has already seen the light of day, but Deus Ex allowed players to choose what style of play was suited for them. This brought a dynamic that had never really been seen before.

Soundtrack: Filled with futuristic tunes and funky Asian-flaired hip-hop, Deus Ex features a catchy soundtrack that fits the game perfectly. The game also boasts voice acting that was above-average at the time.

Fun: At first, this game can seems a bit overwhelming. But once I managed to sink my teeth into it, I found myself having a complete blast. This is a game that I enjoyed immensely at the time it was released. Playing through it now, I found that it still managed to capture my attention just like it did back in the day.

Graphics: By today’s standards, Deus Ex will appear a bit dated. Of course, at the time it was released it was top-of-the-line. Modern players can improve the visuals using third party mods and patches.

Playcontrol: Fairly standard first person PC controls. Deus Ex uses the common WSAD keyboard layout for first-person PC games. No major issues.

Downloadable Content: No.

Mature Content: YES. Language, violence.

Value:  At the time of this writing, the Game of the Year edition of Deus Ex tends to sell for around $7.00. At this price, the game is certainly worth every penny. It is not uncommon to see the game for sale as low as $1.00 during Steam sales.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – Deus Ex stands as a high watermark for classic PC gaming. It’s difficult to fully describe just how great this game is without sounding like a fanboy. But it really is that good. This is one of those rare games that reaches across multiple genres and appeals to nearly everyone. If you consider yourself to be a PC gamer, you owe it yourself to experience this game at least once.

Available on: Steam and GOG

Other Games in this Series:

Deus Ex     –    Invisible War    –    Human Revolution    –    The Fall    –    Mankind Divided

Review: Bloodstained – Curse of the Moon

It’s been three years since Koji Igarashi (or IGA, as he tends to be called) unveiled his plans for “Sword or Whip?” – the spiritual successor for the Castlevania franchise. Since that time, the game has been given a proper name; Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. The game itself is still in development with a release date scheduled for later this year. So, to hold players over, IGA has released a small spin-off title called Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon.  

As many know, Bloodstained is a game born from the ashes of the Castlevania series. For many years, IGA was in charge of the franchise while he was employed at Konami.  Ritual of the Night is viewed by many to be the modern continuation of the gothic-horror/platformer genre.  So if RotN is the future, what is CotM? This amazing little game is essentially a retro-clone. It’s presented in the classic 8-bit style that so many Castlevania fans will be familiar with. And yes, it serves as a prequel to the upcoming Ritual of the Night. As such, it is a delightful nod to the old-school roots that serve as the foundation for what IGA is about unveil.

The storyline for this title is surprisingly well done and it sets up the events leading into Ritual of the Night.  In a nutshell, the story goes like this: In the 18th century, science is on the verge of overtaking the long-practiced arts of magic and alchemy. In attempt to maintain their grip in the modern world, a group of alchemists conduct experiments on innocent people, implanting dark crystals into their bodies in hopes of summoning a demon. The experiment is successful, but instead of controlling the entity, the demon breaks free of the alchemists’ control and opens a portal to hell itself. Monsters and demons pour from the portal and overtake the countryside. Enter hero: Zangetsu – a blade-wielding demon-hunter. His only goal is to hunt down and destroy the source of the demonic infestation. During his journey he encounters the following other adventurers:

Miriam: A young girl who was taken as a child by a mad alchemist. Subject to the experiments mentioned above, her body was fused with cursed crystals – giving her demonic powers. Freed by Zangetsu, she seeks to hunt down the demonic entities with her enchanted whip.

Alfred: One of the alchemists responsible for unleashing the demonic threat. Fueled by his search for an ancient text, he will let nothing stand his way, be it human or demon.

Gebel:  Also a victim of the alchemist’s experiments, Gebel somehow managed to survive the ritual. However, his body continues to slowly be consumed by demonic energy. He seeks revenge against humanity by embracing the darkness that now consumes him.

When the game starts, players are in control of Zangetsu. As they continue to clear levels in the game, they will unlock the other playable characters. The player can switch between characters on the fly. Each character offers a slightly different style of play, with benefits and drawbacks of their own.

The game itself is VERY reminiscent of the NES-era Castlevania games, Castlevania III especially. The graphics, sound, level design, and overall presentation make this feel like a long-lost entry in that series. Everything that there was to love in those games can be found here, but with some more modern concepts thrown in as well. This makes Curse of the Moon feel like an evolution of those retro games instead of just a carbon-copy clone.

The game itself offers two difficulty levels from the start. Casual Mode offers unlimited lives and disables the knock-back that is experienced when a player takes damage. The Veteran Mode provides a more retro experience. Lives are finite and losing them all will result in players having to redo the entire level over again. Regardless of the mode selected, the game is not quite as difficult as the original Castlevania titles it is based on.

Upon completion of the game, Nightmare Mode is unlocked. This allows players to replay the game from the beginning with the additional characters already available. There’s also a Boss Rush mode that can be unlocked as well.

In the end, Curse of the Moon is both an excellent tip-of-the-hat to the games of yesteryear, as well as a clever set up for things to come. Everything about the game from the graphics to the enemy design is there to remind you of those classic Castlevania titles. But other aspects such as the depth of the storytelling to the well-designed boss battles, give players a hint that Bloodstained is going to be so much more.

I was blown away by this game. My level of excitement for Bloodstained has increased tenfold. This is a game worth a look.

Difficulty: Medium –  When stacked against the platformers of the past, Curse of the Moon is considerably easier. Even in Veteran Mode, this game is nowhere near as difficult as say, Castlevania or Castlevania III. The boss fights are probably the hardest part of the game, but the battles all contain patterns that are easy enough to learn and master. This is true even for the secret hidden boss available in the game’s alternate mode.

Story: The backstory for this game is surprisingly well done. It is presented at the start of the game and through readable in-game dialogue. This whole title actually seems to serve as a set up for the upcoming Ritual of the Night. I’m glad to see there’s actually some interesting lore for this new franchise. I’d hate for RotN to end up as nothing more than a poorly constructed style-clone.

Originality: Despite paying homage to retro Castlevania titles, Curse of the Moon manages to somehow feel fresh and exciting.  Maybe it’s because it’s been a while since we’ve seen anything like this. I’m not sure. But I do know that playing this game didn’t feel like a tired slog through memory lane. Instead, it felt like the start of something new and exciting.

Soundtrack: Classic retro bit-tunes. The soundtrack really took me back to the days of my youth. Most of the music was catchy and appropriate, but it honestly doesn’t hold a candle to some of the great jams we were treated with in the old Castlevania games.

Fun: This game took me by surprise. I was expecting to simply get a nostalgic smile or two out of it. But, instead I was floored by how good it was. The intricacies of the characters and the polish of the game design are simply brilliant. This little downloadable title is way better than it has any right to be.

Graphics: This game was designed to mimic the classic 8-bit NES era. With that in mind, it does a perfect job. By today’s standards it is not going to blow anyone away. But then again, it isn’t supposed to.

Playcontrol: If there’s any major improvement over the original Castlevania titles, it is this. The controls are responsive and accurate. No sluggish movement, no lag, No complaints whatsoever.

Downloadable Content: No.

Mature Content: YES – Religious and paranormal themes.

Value:  Backers of the Bloodstained Kickstarter can download this game for free on the platform of their choice. All others can purchase it for $9.99. In my opinion, this is a more than fair price for a game of this quality.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – Despite being a retro-inspired game, Curse of the Moon is a quality product. I love the way the developers used the 8-bit era to create a prequel for their upcoming title. It let’s the players know the source of the developer’s inspiration, while setting the stage for the next era. This title is a love letter to older gamers like myself, but I really feel that even younger players who grew up with their PS3’s and Xbox 360’s will find enjoyment in this title.

Available on: Steam, Switch, PS4, Xbox One, 3DS

Everquest

As many readers of this site will know, I’m a huge fan of fantasy role playing games. Both traditional pen and paper games and video games. When it comes to video game RPGs, my first taste of the genre came in the form of Wizardry, an old school PC game. From there, I moved on to Ultima and eventually to Final Fantasy. For many years, these three franchises continued to flourish and I would hop from one game to the other. Eventually, the Wizardry series fizzled into obscurity and the makers of Ultima had turned their attention to Online gaming. My initial experience with Ultima Online was not that promising, so for me, Ultima was now dead in the water. I enjoyed Final Fantasy, but I knew deep down in my soul that I wanted a gaming experience that captured that classic medieval Dungeons & Dragons genre of fantasy that I had originally found with Wizardry. Just when I thought all hope was lost, some friends of mine introduced me to a game called Everquest.

It was early 2000 and Everquest was the hottest online game in existence. It was not the first true MMO, that honor probably goes to Ultima Online  (or some would argue, Tibia). But, it was the first true 3D massive multiplayer online roleplaying game. I had several friends who had been raving about the game since it was initially announced. Then, upon its release in 1999, several of the them took whole weeks off of work just to dive in and play this new game. At that time in my life, gaming had been downgraded to a casual way to pass time. It was not a full time hobby of mine. So, for almost a year I avoided the Everquest craze. Then finally, a friend of mine showed up on my doorstep with a copy of Everquest: The Ruins of Kunark. The box contained both the original game as well as the new Ruins of Kunark Expansion. I was given the game as a gift on the condition that I would play with him and his friends for one month.

At first, I was completely enchanted with the game. The graphics reminded me of some of the later titles in the Wizardry series, only better. The music was delightful and awe-inspiring. The game even had an atmosphere that matched exactly what I was looking for. My only initial complaint was with the complexity of the user interface. I had spent a little time with Ultima Online, so the vast array of menus and options were not new to me, but Everquest had more windows and widgets than anything I had encountered thus far.

I remember enjoying my first few days in the land of Norrath. I was captivated by it. The world was large and full of mystery. Absent was the hand-holding that is often found in modern games. You were thrown right into a living, breathing world that was populated with other players. Your only guide was an instruction manual included in the box (which offered little more than basic instructions). To REALLY learn how to play, you had to rely on other people. In fact, it didn’t take long understand that it was actually the interactions with other players that really kept you hooked. Sadly, in my case, that’s also what led me to abandon the game after only a month in.

My friends played on a PvP server. As a result, you could be challenged by other players whenever you’d venture far enough into the world. It seemed that every time I’d step outside of the confines of my starting area, I would be bum-rushed by a hostile player. It got so bad that I eventually lost interest in playing. By the time my initial thirty days was over, I uninstalled the game and swore off of MMOs. My experiences with PvP in both Ultima Online and Everquest had sealed the deal as far as I was concerned. In fact, I wouldn’t touch another MMO until the release of Final Fantasy XI, three years later.

I tasted just enough Everquest in its early days to learn what it was and how it worked. I could see the charm that enrapt so many players, but I had become so frustrated with being ganked that I became disgusted. In truth, had I been playing on a non-PvP server, it is very possible that the game would have hooked me. If that had happened, I very well may have played it for years to come. Today, Everquest is nineteen years old. It’s still online and has a jaw-dropping twenty four expansions under its belt. The base game is now Free-to-Play with an optional subscription model. For me, the thought of getting back into a game when I’ve missed so much of its history was largely unthinkable.

Recently, I started participating in a special “progression” version of another MMO, RIFT. I found myself enjoying this “fresh start” version of RIFT so much, that I decided to take a look and see what other MMOs were currently offering something similar. To my surprise, I found that Everquest has just launched a new Progression server of their own. So as you might guess… I decided to go ahead and dip in a toe just to see how things felt.

Next thing I knew, I found myself back in the world of Norrath. Of course, I spent so little time there originally and it had been so long since I last played that I remembered nothing. I was completely lost. But, for the most part, this “vanilla” version of the game was just like I remembered. Yes, the graphics were a little more detailed and the the UI was a tad more modernized, but this version of the game is very much like I remembered. The biggest exception has to be with HP and MP regeneration. I seem to remember having to rest and heal HP between encounters originally. But now, they recover automatically.

Being a “progression server”, new content and expansions are added to the game every twelve weeks. At the end of the cycle, the content in the game will match what everyone else is playing on the live servers. After spending a week in this time-locked version of the game, I decided to take a peek at what the current version of the game is like. Needless to say, the modern version of Everquest is very different.

In the live version of the game, there’s enhanced graphics, a better tutorial, and a slew of additional races and classes to play. The Planes of Power expansion makes it easy for players to travel across the world in an instant, whereas the original version of the game makes traveling difficult and time consuming. The live version of the game also features an in-game store that allows players to buy items, gear, etc. (Something I generally disagree with unless these purchases are restricted to vanity items only).

I enjoy retro games. So for me, the fun in this little walk down memory lane has more to do with the look-and-feel of the game than with the content. It’s simply too late for me to become emotionally invested in a title as vast as Everquest at this point. I don’t see myself continuing to pay $15 a month or investing the time to reach the end of this progression server experience. But, I’ll enjoy it for a while. I simply owed it to myself to take another look back at a game that served as the inspiration for Final Fantasy XI, arguably my favorite game of all time.

If you’re a fan of any modern MMO, be it World of Warcraft, RIFT, Final Fantasy XIV, etc – all of these games owe a debt to Everquest. This is the game that made them all possible. These days, EQ is almost unrecognizable from what it once was. Add-ons and changes have taken a lot out of what once made the original game magical for so many. But, perhaps it is still worth a look for those fantasy online gamers who want to explore their roots.

Project: PC Upgrade – Final Results

The day has arrived! After almost a decade I’ve finally built a new PC. In my last post on the subject, I discussed my options; would I stick with an Intel processor or would I venture off and try one of AMD’s new Ryzen CPUs? Would I stay a loyal Nvidia user or jump ship to ATI? Well, the time to reveal my decision is here….

After doing a lot of research, I decided to ultimately stick with Intel. Despite the whole Spectre/Meltdown debacle, the latest generation of Intel chips still seemed to be the way to go. Despite having a larger core and thread count, the Ryzen 7 still comes up short in terms of most performance benchmarks. The only exception to that seems to be with workstation-style tasks. But for day-to-day use and gaming, Intel is still the king.

Following my personal rule of “build for longevity”, I did decide to go with Intel’s new Coffee Lake chip. In fact, I ultimately decided on the i7  8700k. At the time of this writing, this is currently the fastest Intel CPU on the market. Despite being the “latest and greatest”, this wasn’t an easy choice. The 8700k is famous for running pretty hot. So if I decided to experiment with overclocking (something I don’t usually do), heat issues could potentially be a factor. With this in mind, I decided to spend a little extra and go with a high quality cooling tower from Noctua instead of sticking with a stock Intel fan.

Noctua fans are world renown for their quality and durability. Plus, they are quiet as a mouse. I know many people would have considered going with a liquid cooling solution. But again, I don’t typically overclock. I build my PCs for longevity and I’d rather get my power by purchasing top of line products rather than pushing more performance out of a chip than is expected. Of course, that being said, I built my entire system with cooling and airflow in mind, so I may experiment with some very mild overclocking in the future. By my calculations, I should easily be able to get about 20% better performance with just some minor tweaks that shouldn’t result in that much more heat.  We will see.

For a mainboard, I went with the ASUS Prime Z370-A. Unlike their “ROG” boards, the “Prime” line from ASUS are geared towards middle of the road users. It features all of the customizability options without some of the extra flashiness. Option-wise, it contains all the slots and ports that I needed for my purposes, and still offered enough options for future upgrades.

For storage, I did end up finally going SSD. I purchased a small Western Digital Blue 500GB SSD for a boot drive.  I stuck with a hybrid SSD/HD for a secondary drive instead of going full SSD for storage. I tend to keep a large music library and I also like to have a lot of room for gaming, so going full SSD is just not cost effective for me at this time.

I ended up keeping my existing Sound Blaster Z card in this rig. Since I actually do a lot with audio production from time to time, I prefer to use a real soundcard to on-board sound. But I couldn’t see enough in Creative’s new Sound BlasterX AE-5 card to make me consider an upgrade. The Sound Blaster Z is still plenty for me.

I also ended up retaining my old Corsair CX750 Power supply. This thing is a medusa of cables, however. So I seriously considered going with a new modular PSU. But in the end, I was able to route and tuck away any excess, so cable mess wasn’t an issue. This is an important part of system building that people then to overlook. Proper airflow in a gaming PC cannot be dismissed. When building a PC, I always make sure to route wires and cables behind the back panel and secure them with cable ties.  Any unused wires are also secured and kept out of the way.

To ensure optimum airflow in a PC, you also have to make sure you have the right case. For me, I decided to go with the Corsair Carbide Alpha. This chassis had plenty of room for my needs, it also features two front intake fans and one rear exhaust fan. The intake fans feature a three-way speed switch on the front of the case. – Now, I know some would admonish me for this set-up considering I dropped a big honking CPU cooling tower right in the middle of airflow lane. But surprisingly, this does not interfere with the case’s ability to “breathe”. The Carbide Alpha features venting on the back card panels as well as the ceiling of the case. The air circulation is not impeded by the large heatsink/fan in any way.

The new case design did mean having to finally let go of my internal DVD drive habit. This is something I’ve been reluctant to do. But I managed to pick up an inexpensive USB DVD Burner and so far it’s worked out better than expected.

For a GPU, I did decide to upgrade my old GTX 960 to a GTX 1060. I know that is only a modest step up, but right now with the ongoing crytpo-currency craze, GPU prices are just too unreasonable. There was no way I could afford a 1080 or one of the AMD Vega 64s at this time. For the curious, my card of choice was the MSI GeForce GTX 1060 6G OCV1.

I also took the opportunity to upgrade some of my peripherals. I ditched my aging Logitech Surround speakers and went with a newer 2.1 speaker system. I chose the Soundblaster Kratos S5. These speakers are a popular for their 24bit USB connectivity. But, considering I use a good quality sound card, I actually connect them directly with an audio cable instead. Soundwise, they are amazing. The volume range and clarity is exceptional. My only complaint lies in the volume knob that’s hard-tied to the speakers. It seems a bit finicky… At its lowest setting, sound can still be heard through the tweeters. It doesn’t seem to have a “true-zero” position.  I often listen to music at low volume when I work, so being able to turn the volume down to nearly nothing is important to me. For now, I’ve had to rely on a combination of using the OS volume controls in conjunction with the speaker knob… not an ideal solution. But it allows me to have a sound-neutral setting on the knob.

Finally, I also decided to take the plunge and jump on the hype-train that is Razer. For years I’ve heard people tout the benefits of Razer mice and keyboards. But, I never really believed they were that different. While shopping for components, I found an old holiday bundle on sale and decided to bite the bullet and give at go. It included a Cynosa Pro keyboard and a Deathadder mouse. I have to admit, that I was shocked at just what a difference these products make. Until now, I was using a cheap Logitech Mouse and Keyboard combo. It switch has been night and day. That being said, the Cynosa pro isn’t a mechanical keyboard like many of Razer’s products, but quality difference is still undenyable. I can’t recommend this simply upgrade enough.

The cherry on top to the whole project was the purchase of a quality office chair with lumbar and neck support. I use my home chair for work and play and I’m often in it 10 hours a day or more. Truth be told, this was probably the most important purchase of the lot.

In the coming weeks I’ll be doing a full “My Tech Picks” post that will elaborate a little further on some other changes to my overall gear and rig. Stay tuned!

Project: PC Upgrade

WARNING: This post is going to be very nerdy and technical.

The time has finally arrived… I am building a new PC.

It’s been a year since I last made a “My Tech Picks” post. But if you follow them, you’ll know that my personal PC is getting a little long in the tooth. In fact, I built it back in 2010.  Over time, I’ve made a few upgrades here and there to various components. (Video card, hard drive, monitor, etc). But I’ve been rocking the same core system for the last eight years. A few months ago, I went to purchase the latest Wolfenstein game on Steam and I noticed that my PC didn’t meet the minimum requirements to run the game… It’s time for an upgrade.

My current CPU is an older  Intel Core i7 950.  This was one of the first generation Core i7 processors (AKA: Nehalem). Today, the Core is still Intel’s main product, but we are currently in the 8th generation (AKA: Coffee Lake).

I always build my own PCs. When I do so, I build them for longevity. So my personal rule of thumb is to go with the best components you can get without having to take a second mortgage on your house. This is especially true when it comes to the CPU and mainboard. Most everything else can be swapped out with relative ease. So I always try to get the very best processor available. Well, a lot has changed in the last eight years since I built my last computer. To so get started, I have a big choice to make: Do I stick with Intel or will I go rogue and snatch up an AMD processor?

Over the years I’ve built a number of PCs. I tend to prefer Intel processors since they usually outperform whatever AMD is offering at the time. In fact, of the eight PCs I’ve built for myself, only two of them have ever contained AMD chips. To be honest, Intel usually outperforms AMD in nearly every benchmark. But, AMD typically offers their CPUs at a much cheaper price.

Today, things are very different. Both Intel and AMD’s latest CPUs are priced about the same. Also, this time around, AMD’s Ryzen 7 processor boasts some serious tech-specs that put the current Core i7 to shame (at least on paper).  The latest Ryzen 7 1800x features 8 cores and 16 threads versus Intel’s  6 cores and 12 threads. But, Intel still takes the lead in clock speed. Then, there’s the whole Spectre/Meltdown controversy to consider… Intel is susceptible to both and AMD users only have to worry about one.

When it comes to graphics, I almost always use Nvidia products. I’ve owned a few ATI cards over the years, but I’ve generally been dissatisfied with them. ATI cards almost always tout better specs, but they tend to fall short when it comes to their driver performance. But, things are different this time around. ATI’s latest card the Vega 64 is a BEAST. It delivers top of the line technology at a mid-grade price point. Not to mention, my current monitor supports Freesync technology. This is a big plus if I own an ATI card. Of course, the biggest problem is actually getting my hands on one. The Vega 64 cards are supposed to retail for $500. But due to the crypto-mining craze, they are literally sold out worldwide. The only way to get your hands on one is to dish out over $1,000 to a reseller and even then, they are still nearly impossible to find.

This problem isn’t isolated to just ATI cards either. Almost any GPU is going to come with an inflated price at the moment. And there’s really no end in sight for the shortage. Some experts say prices should normalize in the fall of 2018, while other predict it might go on for two-three years. Literally speaking, this is the worst time in history to try to build a gaming PC… But I won’t let that stop me. Worst case scenario, I could always keep my Geforce GTX 960 and wait for things to settle down. But, I think I can find a few mid-grade cards at an affordable price that would still be an upgrade over my current setup.

I plan to build within the next couple of weeks. So which will I choose? Intel or AMD?  Nvidia or ATI?

I’ll be making an announcement on the site later this month.

 

Review: Doki Doki Literature Club

The October tradition of horror game reviews continues! This time I’m taking a short break from the PSX era games to review a modern title: Doki Doki Literature Club… Wait. That doesn’t sound like a horror game! It certainly doesn’t look like one either. Well… it’s not. At least not in the traditional sense. There’s no jump scares, zombies, horrifying monsters or any of that. Instead, what we have here is a game that shakes and rattles you mentally when you least expect it.  That being said, if you have not experienced this game and you think you might want to, it might actually be in your best interests to stop reading now. This game is truly best experienced blind. You should go into this game with as little information about it as possible to obtain the best experience.

Doki Doki Literature Club is a visual novel game. This is a genre that I’ve not really talked about on this site before, but one that I do enjoy. These days, most visual novels are romance/anime style games. They are filled with cutesy characters and more often then not, the goal of the game is to “meet your future waifu”. The creators of Doki Doki take this expectation and build a game that smacks the unassuming player in the face with a cold dose of shock and anguish.

The game starts off just like any other stereotypical Visual Novel. You play as a young, socially awkward school boy who is unexpectedly forced to associate with a handful of adorable school girls. Depending on the choices you make in the game, one of these girls will slowly start to take a liking to you. You continue to play in attempt to develop this relationship, while juggling your duties to the other characters in the game. Each character has their own quirks and backstory, and these become more apparent as you continue to play. Then, out of nowhere the game takes a very unexpected turn. I won’t go into specifics or there would be no point in playing the game for yourself. But, as if this twist was not enough – you soon begin to discover that everything you thought you knew about the game is completely wrong. How do I put it? You’re not really playing a game. Instead, this game is playing you.

At this point, some players might suspect that something is wrong with their computer or that somehow their game has become corrupted. But, sharp players will realize exactly what is going on and will feel extremely satisfied with the experience.  It’s difficult to discuss in a review without giving away too many spoilers. But, let me just say that in all my years of gaming, I have never had an experience that made we want to sit back and clap my hands in salute to a developer until now. This game completely exploits the players expectations and trolls them to levels unseen previously. It’s simply masterful in its execution.

One of the first things you will see when you start the game is a warning regarding the game’s disturbing content and imagery. This warning is very true. It might take you two hours or more before you encounter this type of content, but once it starts it doesn’t stop.

The disturbing content in Doki Doki Literature Club is more mental than anything else. If you are a person that truly suffers from anxiety or depression, it might seriously be a good idea to skip this title. That’s no a joke. This game will put you in a state of mind that you were not expecting to find yourself in. You have been warned.

That being said, if you are looking for a unique gaming experience that will kick-start your Halloween, this is certainly a title to consider. Look past the J-Pop and busty anime babes and give this game an honest chance. You will be surprised at what you find.

Difficulty: Easy–  As a visual novel there’s really no level of skill needed to play the game. However, unlike most games of this type – if you mess up and don’t get the result you want from the story, it’s not quite as easy to quit and reload your previous save as you might think…

Story: The storyline here is the main focus of the game, and it’s very well done. However, if you play through to completion you’ll realize there’s even MORE going on than the scenario presented in the game itself. You’ll get even MORE out of it if you try to play through a second time. Try it, you’ll see.

Originality: This title is probably one of the most original and refreshing gaming experiences I’ve had a long time. It takes an established genre and exploits the players expectations to a point I’ve never seen before. Sure, many games offer twist endings or try to surprise you in one way or another. But this game takes it to a new level.

Soundtrack: The music in the game is perky and cute. Typical of most Japanese style visual novels. I found the music to be oddly appropriate, but also a little repetitive and annoying after a while.

Fun: I wouldn’t really call this game “fun”. Then again, it’s not supposed to be. This game, if anything, seems to be a bit of a social experiment. It is certainly worth your attention and it’s an experience you are not likely to forget anytime soon. Overall, for me the takeaway was very positive. But this is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea.

Graphics: Typical Visual Novel flair. The game has colorful, anime style visuals. It’s very “kawaii” and well done. 

Playcontrol: No issues. Point and click 100%.

Downloadable Content:  N/A

Mature Content: Disturbing imagery, adult themes, sexual content, violence.

Value:  This game is available to all at no cost. It’s 100% free.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – This game is very unique. I recommend it. Don’t be fooled by it’s outward appearance. This is not your typically sex-driven anime VN. This is a psychological horror experience wrapped in a cutesy interface. It defies labels. Players looking for something different will find what they are looking for here if they have the patience to see it through.

Available on: Steam

Review: Thief II – The Metal Age

Again, I want to apologize for the long hiatus between game reviews, but I’m back now and continuing my “turn of the century” playthroughs. Today I give you my long-awaited review of Thief II: The Metal Age. I discussed the original Thief more than three years ago, in anticipation of the Square-Enix reboot. But it took me this long to catch up and play through the second entry in the original franchise. But finally, here we are.

For those unfamiliar with the original game, Thief took the concept of first-person PC games and turned it on it’s head. Instead of being a fast-paced shooter, this game required you to sneak around in the shadows and actually try to avoid killing enemies unless absolutely necessary. It was a smashing success and it was only a matter of time until it spawned a sequel. Thief II took everything that was great about the original game and cranked it up a notch. In fact, this sequel is a great example of developers actually listening to their customers. The folks behind the game took the feedback they received from the first title, and added more of what fans liked the most, and removed some of the concepts that seemed to garner the most complaints. The end result, is a game true to the original but largely superior.

This game takes place one year after the events of the original title. Garrett continues to make his living as a skilled catpurse, relying on no one other than himself. Since the events of the original game, a new faction has emerged in the city. One that believes in a future ruled by technology and machines.  As a result, the nature-worshiping Pagans have been driven out of town and into hiding.  None of this matters too much to Garrett, as he has other things to worry about. You see, there’s a new sheriff in town, literally – and he’s got his eye on putting an end to Garrett’s way of life. However, as one might expect, it’s not so easy to remain neutral. Before long, Garrett finds himself wrapped up in the middle of this conflict between the Mechanists and the Pagans. To save himself, he’s going to have to choose sides.

One thing to know before you decide to jump in to the world of Thief II; this is an older game and one designed for a different age of computing. However, just like the original – there’s a number of tweaks and unofficial patches available that will allow the game to run on modern hardware. I recommend something called “TafferPatcher”. This is a fan-made all-in-one patch that will both optimize the game for modern hardware, but retain the original look and feel of the title. Despite being unofficial, it’s widely respected and very much safe to install.

As I mentioned above, if you enjoyed the original game, Thief II is certainly worth your time. Every single thing that is great about the first title is expanded on here and there’s lots of it. To me, both the size of the levels and the number of mission objectives have increased and become much more engaging. There’s nothing better than sneaking around in the shadows right under the noses of the night watchmen and looting a place clean. The feel of the original game remains intact, but this time with a more engaging storyline.

From a technical standpoint, Thief II feels very much like it’s predecessor. I don’t really see a big difference in the bulk of the game engine. The environments look very similar to those founds in Thief. But, the character textures are greatly improved.  The enemy AI is also quite a bit better – in this game guards will notice more things that seem out-of-place. For example open doors or damaged environmental objects. So, tech-wise, Thief II does show signs of progression over the original.

To me, the Thief series represents a high point in PC gaming. It was a time where the industry was largely engaged in copy-cat behavior. But the Thief series took a bold step to stand apart from all the clones. It was a risk that paid off big. To me, Thief II represents the very best of the series. It’s a game that I recommend to retro PC gamers looking for a unique experience.

Difficulty: Variable–  Thief II offers several levels of difficulty. Increasing the difficulty level not only gives the player more objectives to accomplish during the game’s missions, but also going for Hard or Expert restricts you from being allowed to kill enemies. The game is certainly more rewarding on one of these two settings. But I recommend Normal for most players going on their first run.

Story: Thief II continues the lore and storyline established in the original game, and it’s quite well done. The game story develops a number of ways. First, there are cutscenes between levels. But, tidbits can also be picked up by eavesdropping on various NPC conversations or reading notes and journals that you encounter as you sneak your way through the areas of the game. Players who take their time and explore every nook and cranny will be rewarded with additional storyline elements.

Originality: The trail was certainly blazed with the original Thief. But the concepts laid out by it’s predecessor are highly refined and presented to players in this sequel.  Despite being a sequel, Thief II still manages to avoid feeling like a cheap retread of the original game.

Soundtrack: There not a lot here in terms of game music. But, that’s ok. This game is ALL about atmosphere. You have to listen for footsteps and other audible clues as you play. These sound effects are very well done. This is one of those games that still takes advantage of older surround sound technology – and it does it very well. Ambient noises aside, the voice acting in the game is also superb.

Fun: This kind of game may not appeal to all players. It requires patience and a willingness to learn from your mistakes. This will likely be a turn-off to some, but for those that enjoy stealth games, this one will provide hours of entertainment.

Graphics:  The first two entries in the Thief series are an odd mix of both really good 3D graphics and funky, blocky textures. However, Thief II does improve on the look and feel of NPC characters significantly. This entry also includes improved skybox and lighting effects. Regardless, it still looks very dated when compared to modern games. But it was quite top of the line for it’s time. 

Playcontrol:  No real issues here. The game runs on the standard WSAD keyboard layout for first-person PC games, with some modifications for the game’s unique features. Occasionally, climbing and jumping around on platforms can feel a bit awkward and cumbersome. But, it’s merely a minor annoyance at times.

Downloadable Content:  N/A. 

Mature Content: Mild language.

Value:  Thief II can be found on Steam for around $7.00. For that price, the game is well worth every penny. The amount of content in this game and the quality of this title overall makes it an absolute steal for that price.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – Thief II, despite it’s age, still holds up as one of the definitive stealth-based first-person games of all time. Fans of the genre that have not yet experienced it, should not hesitate for a moment. This is one game worthy of your attentions. For players who are not sure if this type of game would appeal to them, the price tag alone makes it worth the gamble. You’ll never spend a better $7 on a PC title.

Available on: PC (Steam)

Original Trilogy:

Thief: The Dark Project  –  Thief 2: The Metal Age  – Thief: Deadly Shadows

Reboot:

Thief

Check Up: Diablo III – Rise of the Necromancer (Patch 2.6.0)

It’s been a little over six months since I last checked in on the status of Diablo III. At the time, the game was just getting into it’s ninth “season” and the Diablo Anniversary event was in full swing. Now, Diablo fans have something new to celebrate. Just in time for Season 11, Blizzard has a released a new batch of paid DLC for Diablo III called Rise of the Necromancer. I call it DLC because the content does come at a cost and it’s contents are a bit more extraordinary than what you’d find in a mere patch, but also less than what you’d expect from a full expansion.

Essentially, for the cost of $15.00, you gain access to the new Necromancer character class, and all of the fluff that comes with it, but there are no new levels or main storyline content. The purchase does include a few cosmetic items as well. (A portrait frame and a pet).

Personally, I feel like this is a fair asking price from Blizzard. Asking $15.00 from players who are already well invested in the game is reasonable. But if you’re new to Diablo III or considering buying it in the future, it may be best to wait and see if there is going to be an “all-in-one” collection. But, if you’re impatient the existing Battlechest collection only costs $20. That includes the base game and expansion. So even if you purchased that and Rise of the Necromancer, you’re only out $35 total, which if we’re being honest, is a more than acceptable price for a full game of this quality.

Just like any other class in Diablo III, the Necromancer comes complete with it’s own skill tree, item drops and audio dialogue. So, this class is in no way a cheap tack-on. In fact, I found the Necromancer to be a the perfect fit into the Diablo III universe. I daresay that it might be my favorite class in the game! It has arrived just in time for the upcoming season. So, seizing this opportunity, once Season 11 starts, and friend and I plan to play through the game again as Necromancers. So, if you have similar plans (and I’m sure many do), feel free to look for me.

My final thoughts on this release are as follows: considering the  success that this DLC release has brought Blizzard, I can only wonder if they plan future releases using this model. Diablo III is now several years old, but it remains popular and profitable. Perhaps future add-ons to the game will come in the form of piecemeal DLC like this. Aside from character classes, maybe we’ll see new storyline areas or other paid content in the future? Blizzard has been very hush hush on such matters in regards to Diablo III, but we know from other games like Overwatch or even World of Warcraft that they tend to embrace paid content. We’ll have to see.

Review: Dragonia

It is with both shame and amusement that I type this review… As it is my ritual every summer in the weeks leading up to the Steam Summer Sale, I always take a moment to browse through the store looking for games that interest me. When I find one, I will add it my wishlist to ensure that I receive a notification if it goes on sale. This year, while perusing the store I came upon an interesting trend – I found a number of anime style games, of various types that were selling for $1.50 or less. Due to the extremely low price, I snatched up as many of them as I could. One of them happened to be an anime-style shoot-em-up by the name of Dragonia. After scrolling through the store page for the game, it quickly became obvious that this was an adult title. But, the game play looked interesting and the reviews were great so I bit the bullet.

Now, even knowing that the game contained some adult themes, I had NO IDEA what I had got myself into… to say this is a “mature” game is an understatement. This game is downright pornographic. On top of that, there’s even an “uncensoring patch” available directly from the developer, just in case you need absolutely nothing left to the imagination. In fact, I debated even reviewing this game at all, considering the content. But, as you will see, it’s actually a somewhat intriguing title. So much so, I decided to review it regardless of it’s extremely adult nature.

Let me take a moment to explain what this game actually is. First off, in it’s heart and soul, Dragonia is a bullet-hell schmup. You play the character of Feeney, a half-human, half dragon. Feeney is summoned by an old witch to help purge the land from the grip of several Evil Dragons. As it turns out, only Feeney has the ability to defeat and “purify” these dragons. As might be able to guess, to “purify” them, Feeney has to resort to her… seductive skills and… well… you can guess the rest.

(Censored by Sensei)

The basic storyline outlined above is easy enough to decipher. However, that’s about all you’re going to get out of the storyline text in the game. The English translation in this game can only be described as horrendous. It seems to literally be a copy paste from Chinese to English via Google Translate… Which in some ways is actually a godsend, because the text likes to describe in detail every single thing Feeney has to do to “purify” her enemies.

All of the adult material in the game is limited to the cutscenes that play before and after each game level. The gameplay itself is pretty much family friendly. You control Feeney from a birds-eye-view as she flies around and blasts her opponents from the air.  Enemies approach from every angle. It’s a classic bullet-hell scenario.

As you play through each level, Feeney will collect “souls”. In between stages, souls can be exchanged for a variety of things. You can unlock new modes of attack, you can increase your damage level, health, etc.  So in some ways, this game has a very RPG-like progression element to it.  You complete a level by defeating a certain number of enemies. Once you reach this number, the level boss is spawned. Defeating the boss allows you to proceed to the next area.  At first, the game levels are fairly simple but eventually you will come across a boss that you just can’t take down. This is where you’ll want to grind up some more health of damage output. Some bosses are weak to certain attacks (lightning, fire, etc). So unlocking specific attack modes is also part of the strategy.

In this way, despite the extremely high levels of fan-service, the game actually has some redeeming value to it.  I personally found the gameplay to be engaging and overall very well done. There’s no shortage of upgrades to unlock. So, this game gets quite a few things right. It’s hard to argue that the gameplay itself is bad. And, depending on your viewpoint, the cutscenes are either going to be a big plus or a big turn off.

The down points to this title are without a doubt the terrible localization and the UI/playcontol. The in-game menus look like they were designed by rank amateurs. There’s no logic to them at all. But with a little diligence, you’ll be able to figure out their quirks and limp through the UI. The game itself can be played using a keyboard, but I don’t recommend this. These types of game just work best with a controller. Personally, I played Dragonia using my trusty USB Xbox 360 controller.  Even on a controller, the control-scheme makes little sense. But, it is accurate and responsive. Normally, these types of complaints would be a BIG DEAL, because when I say they are bad, I mean they are really REALLY terrible. But, when the game sells for $1.50, it’s very difficult to complain. Especially for all of the content you actually get with that $1.50. Dragonia is a short game, but it’s longer than others that I’ve paid premium prices for.

If you enjoy schmups and bullet hells, this is a game that might tickle your fancy. Just know going in, that it is filled with unapologetic hentai visuals.

Difficulty: Easy–  This game is a curious case in terms of difficulty simply because as a schmup, it is exactly what you’d expect: bullets flying everywhere, endless enemies pouring from all sides, etc. Each level gets harder and harder. But, as mentioned in the main review, you can upgrade your life meter and even the damage that you deal. So, if you find yourself stuck on a particular level, the only thing you really need to do is be patient and grind until you are overpowered enough to blast your way through whatever roadblock you encountered. This mechanic actually renders most of the challenges in the game meaningless.

Story: If we’re being honest, the storyline for this game is nothing more then a vehicle to deliver some heavy doses of fanservice. In fact, I have a sneaking suspicion that the game itself was developed separately from the dirty cutscenes and the two were cobbled together into the game that we see now. The in-game story is shallow and weird. But, admittedly mildly interesting. The translation is barely comprehendable.

Originality: Hentai games are nothing new. Neither are bullet-hells. But, I have to admit that this is the first time I’ve ever seen them lumped together in one title. Add in the the RP/progression element and you have a pretty original package.

Soundtrack: The game has a somewhat catchy soundtrack. But the sound effects can be a bit annoying at times. One weapon in particular sounds like high volume static. It is quite annoying. Overall, the audio in this title is pretty poor and unimaginative.

Fun: It’s hard to admit this. But, I had a pretty good time with the game. The gameplay kept me hooked. I enjoyed leveling and unlocking all of the weapons. The cutscenes are amusing, albeit shocking at times. A certain fraction of players will no doubt be able to have a really good time with the cutscenes.

Graphics:  The cutscenes are colorful, crisp and well rendered. Fans of anime-style art will be pleased. The game itself is actually quite-well rendered as well. The bullet effects are colorful and dynamic. Sadly, the UI is crudely chopped together and messy.

Playcontrol:  No matter what method you use, the playcontrol is rough and very non-intuitive. Playing with a controller is manageable, but it still just feels off.

Downloadable Content:  None. 

Mature Content: Pornographic content and extreme adult language.

Value:  Despite the many negative things about this game, it’s hard to argue with the price. Someone paying a little over a dollar for a game shouldn’t expect much. Considering the paltry cost for this title, you are getting your money’s worth ten times over.  Often, many adult-content games actually come with a premium price tag. It’s hard to go wrong here from a value standpoint.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 2 – Content aside, a lot of aspects about this game are well done and interesting. There’s quite a bit of content for a very small price. On the other side of the coin, the game suffers from bad localization, terrible UI and playcontrol. It’s an interesting but largely mediocre title, but one that will appeal to certain gamers.

Available on: PC (Steam)

Review: Tale of ALLTYNEX Trilogy

As I type this, I’m downloading the Final Fantasy XIV 4.0 patch and awaiting the release of that game’s new expansion. It’s during downtime like this that I tend to dig through my library and pull out something that can be played start-to-finish in a reasonable amount of time. In keeping with my current theme of games from the late-90’s era, I came across a trilogy of arcade-style schmups (shoot-em-ups) called The Tale of ALLTYNEX. This trilogy consists of three games: ALLTYNEX Second, RefleX and KAMUI. I’ve had these titles sitting in my Steam library for some time, but I’ve never paid them much attention. If I remember right, I got them as part of an indie Japanese game bundle several years ago. Last weekend, I found myself with a desire to step away from all the deep and complicated RPGS that tend to consume the majority of my game playing, and jump into some old school, bullet-hell arcade action. So I installed these games and went in completely blind.

Unless you’re really into the Japanese indie scene, you’ve probably never heard of these games. So, let’s take a moment to bring ourselves up to speed. This trilogy contains a set of games created by Japanese developer Siter Skain. This collection was actually made possible via a project on Kickstarter. It contains the following titles:

ALLTYNEX Second – This game is a semi-modern remake of the Japanese 1996 arcade classic ALLTYNEX.

RefleX – A 2008 remake, this time of an indie freeware game called Reflection from 1997.

KAMUI – A 1999 Japanese PC game, based on classic shoot-em-up arcade titles.

Originally, each of these games were separate entities with each successive game being largely inspired by the one that came before it. Now, they have been compiled and somewhat re-imagined as a loose trilogy. Oddly enough, due to the various remakes, the newest games are actually the oldest chronologically.

As mentioned above, the first game lore-wise in the trilogy is ALLTNYEX Second.  Essentially, you play as the pilot of a “superfighter” starship.  In this title, mankind’s  orbital defensive supercomputer, ALLTYNEX suddenly goes rogue and uses its control over all of all of Earth’s military hardware to wage war on humanity. As a result, the human race is forced to flee the planet and regroup on the far reaches of the solar system. In a last-ditch effort to reclaim the planet, a team of  “superfighters” are dispatched to destroy ALLTYNEX.

This game is very well done. It feels just like one of those old quarter-pumper arcade machines, and thanks to moderns graphics, it makes the genre look better than ever.  It embodies the classic Starfighter schmup gameplay: swarms of enemies, rapid fire, bullets everywhere.  The player can choose between their regular blasters or a special shield that both protects your starship as well as damages enemies.  The gameplay is intense and not particularly easy – but few bullet hells are. The nearly unlimited continues make the game accessible for even a casual player. From start to finish the game can be completed in under an hour by an experienced player.

Next up is RefleX. This game is very similar to the others. It’s an overheard bullet hell/schmup. But unlike the other entries, you don’t have multiple lives. If your ship is destroyed, it’s game over. Luckily, the starship here is protected by a reflective shield. Enemy bolts will bounce off the shield and back towards the sender. This provides a whole new level of strategy to the game.

RefleX actually has quite an in-depth backstory, but to find all the juicy details you will have to dig through the manual. (The Steam version does have a PDF manual).  Essentially, you are a member of a resistance group that is rallying against an overbearing government. What’s unclear, at least to me, is how this ties in with the first game… has humanity retaken Earth and now bad guys are running the show? Despite several similarities, it just isn’t made very clear.

Finally, we have the third game in the trilogy, KAMUI. Despite being the last game in the series, this title is the one that shows it’s age the most. Which, considering the other two are remakes, I guess that’s to be expected.

This is the game that actually manages to tie the other two titles together. It features story elements from both ALLTYNEX and RefleX and presents a final battle between the resistance and a new militarized version of the ALLTYNEX AI.

Despite being the most dated of the three, I think KAMUI is my favorite of the trilogy simply because it reminds me the most of those old arcade-style shoot-em-ups that consumed so many hours of my youth. Which, is odd in itself considering KAMUI was a PC title.

Difficulty: Hard–  Most schmups and bullet hell games are infamous for their high degree of difficulty. These games are no different. Unless you’re one of those machine-like professional gamers or some kind of savant, you’re going to die a lot. Luckily, the games are pretty forgiving in that you are granted nearly unlimited continue credits. So, in reality, as long as you are persistent you can manage to complete the games regardless of overall skill. This still doesn’t change the fact that the game itself is difficult in it’s own right.

Story: As a whole, the storyline shared between these games is surprisingly rich. This is true despite it being largely absent from the games themselves. Schmups are not typically known for being rich is lore and storyline, so for this type of game any real attempt to provide one is welcome

Originality: Back in the 90’s games like these were a dime a dozen. These days, they have become a bit a niche category. Despite being based on a tested and tired model, the games in the ALLTYNEX Trilogy manage to stand out in their own little ways. For example, the ricochet shield from RefleX is a pretty unique feature. Little things like these keep the games feeling semi-fresh in a pool of stagnant copy-cat titles.

Soundtrack: One of the high points of all three of these games are the fantastic soundtracks. All these of titles come complete with a groovy, high-energy techno-like score. The music is catchy and appropriate. It does a fantastic job of keeping your blood pumping for the split-second twitch action that games like these require.

Fun: I can imagine that many people would find games like these to be frustrating and overly difficult. But that is something that fans of bullet hell games have come to expect and love. So you’re either going to enjoy this type of game or you’re not. For people like me, I don’t really consider myself to be a fan of these types of games, per se. But I do enjoy them for the nostalgia factor. And, I can appreciate them for what they are.

Graphics:  Being a trilogy of games from different eras, the graphics are a mixed bag.  Kamui and RefleX, are both still stuck in the 16-bit era. While ALLTYNEX Second has a much more modern, polished look. 

Playcontrol:  Even though these games support keyboard controls, take my advice and plug in either an Xbox or Playstation game pad. Games like these were made for controllers. Personally, I found a trusty old Xbox 360 controller to be perfect to all three games, with no real issues.

Downloadable Content:  None

Mature Content: Sci-Fi violence.

Value:  Each of these games is available separately on Steam for $8, or together in a bundle for $20. If you’re a fan of this genre, the $20 pricetag may be well worth it. But, these games are on sale frequently so a bargain shopper can usually snag them on a deal.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – Even though I don’t really consider myself a fan of the shoot-em-up genre, I found a lot of enjoyment in these three games. It was really a nice break our of the norm for me. Everything from the fast-paced action, to the visuals, to the soundtrack really scratched an itch I had been having for some retro arcade action. My biggest complaint about the collection is that the original versions of ALLTYNEX and RefleX were not included.

Available on: PC (Steam)