Review: No Man’s Sky

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When I first saw No Man’s Sky presented at E3 in 2015, I was enthralled. The developer showcased the title as a space exploration game, one that took place in a universe of nearly endless proportions. Over eighteen-quintilian planets, all randomly generated. The planets were literally “planet-sized”, teeming with undocumented life. The first player to discover a particular planet could name it, and their name would forever be recorded as the “founder” of said world.  I mean, it was a concept unlike any other.  As a child, I was fascinated with deep space. The idea of an infinite universe filled with potential tugged at me then, as it still does now.  When the promise of No Man’s Sky was sold to the gaming world, I knew this was going to be a day one purchase for me.

So, here we are. No Man’s Sky has finally been released. And as I promised on the RetroSensei Podcast last year, I stopped everything and dedicated all my free time to playing it. I explored it, I learned its secrets, I experimented with it, and I ended up returning empty handed.  Allow me to explain…

First, let’s discuss what No Man’s Sky is supposed to be. As mentioned above, the game was sold to players as a deep-space exploration experience. The game is played through the eyes of an unnamed space traveler who wakes up on an alien world. As the traveler, you find yourself next to a broken spaceship. Not far from the ship is a strange artifact of alien origin. As you inspect the artifact, a strange voice invades your brain – you are given the option to follow the voice’s instructions and meet your destiny or ignore it and make your own way in the universe. Regardless of which path you may choose, you must first scour the planet for the resources needed to fix your ship and ensure your survival.

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Each player starting No Man’s Sky begins on a planet all their own. Your starting world is a world unseen by any other player. All planets, moons, and systems in the game are given randomly generated names, but as the founder of that world, you have the right to rename it if you wish. This is also true for the flora and fauna or special points of interest that you discover. The name you select, as well as the details of your discovery will be uploaded to the game’s server to be shared with anyone else who may eventually stumble across your world. At least…. that’s what the game promises. In truth, players have discovered that  (at time of this writing), discovery details are wiped after two weeks*… *** UPDATE- This is confirmed to be the result of a server error and not by design***

Anyways, back to the game itself. The first goal of the game is to harvest the materials needed to fix and upgrade your ship. This is done by seeking out ore or other raw elements and collecting them using a handheld multi-tool. While doing this, you will also quickly realize that aside from repair materials, you will need to collect resources to keep up your life support systems and even fuel for the multi-tool itself.  This quickly becomes a problem due the small amount of inventory space you start the game with. Luckily, as you proceed throughout No Man’s Sky, you will find frequent, albeit expensive, opportunities to upgrade your inventory slots. No Man’s Sky is very much a resource/survival game.

As you explore your starting world, you will likely encounter alien animals. Most are docile, but some are hostile. You will also eventually encounter “sentinels”. These are robotic probes that seem to appear whenever you seem to harvest materials in large number. If you’re greedy and continue to reap the land of its resources, these sentinels wills attack.

Once you’ve repaired your ship, you can use it to either travel around your starting planet with ease, or use it escape the atmosphere and head into space. Once you reach space, you’re likely to discover a few more planets and also a space station.  Now you’re into the meat of the game.

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Every solar system in No Man’s Sky features a Space Station. So you’ll encounter these often. Here, you will find at least one alien lifeform. (There are four intelligent races in the game). At first, communication with these creatures will be difficult. But as you continue to travel from world to world, and system to system, you will uncover artifacts and computer terminals that will teach you bits of their language. Learning to communicate is important because many of the conversations or puzzles you will encounter in the game will often reward you with a prize, assuming you understand enough of the language to make the right decisions.

My starting world was rocky and barren. There wasn’t much to look at so I was anxious to move on and see what might await me on a new world. The next planet was different, but after spending an hour or so exploring it. I found that on the whole, it was really not much better. In fact, that might be the biggest problem with No Man’s Sky. Aside from the view, all the planets in game feature the same few points of interest: trading posts, communication towers, ruins/monoliths, and science stations. The purpose of these locations is either to learn new alien words, obtain blueprints for new technology, or buy and sell resources.  Occasionally, you may also encounter a shipwreck. But these are fairly rare. On top of that, nine out of ten times the wrecked ship is no better than your current one.

Spaceflight is even less exciting than planet exploration. It serves mainly as a path between worlds. Yes, you can mine minerals from asteroids and occasionally, you’ll encounter a fleet of ships in orbit around a world. But if you linger too long in open space you’re likely to become a target for pirates and combat is space is rather cumbersome, to be honest.

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The “goal” in No Man’s Sky is travel to the center of galaxy. To do so, you will need to craft a warp drive for your ship. (Players who pre-ordered the game actually receive a special ship that can warp from the start). However, you’ll soon find that warping through space is not really that efficient. Even with a fully upgraded drive, it will take hundreds upon hundreds of jumps to reach the center. Each jump requiring you to harvest and craft fuel. You can also take advantage of black-holes. These are supposedly short-cuts towards the center but they cause massive damage to your ship.  Now, I don’t usually post spoilers in my reviews, but I’m going to make an exception here. Reaching the center of the galaxy is not all it’s cracked up to be. Simply doing so treats you to a long and unskippable cutscene that sheds no light whatsoever onto the purpose or storyline of the game, and then essentially starts the game over again from the beginning. That’s right. The screen flashes and you wake up again on a new world, but this time in a different galaxy.

If you actually followed the game’s “storyline” and collected a number of special items through your travels, the ending is given is a tad bit more interesting, but the end result remains the same.

You’ll notice that as I summarized the game, I didn’t mention any interactions with other players. No Man’s Sky was described as being a multi-player experience, and even the box contains a notice of online play. But, in reality, you will never encounter another player. The game developer would have you believe that this is simply due to the large-scale size of the universe. But in truth, that is not the case. Two players were indeed able to organize a rendezvous in No Man’s Sky only to discover that the game clients do not talk to each other. You cannot encounter other players. Aside from seeing names people have given worlds and other discoveries, there simply is no multiplayer in No Man’s Sky whatsoever.

Now, it’s obvious that I’m quite unhappy that No Man’s Sky is not the really the experience promised to me by developers. I know that sometimes a player’s expectation will not line up with the end experience in a game. But No Man’s Sky is a unique case in that the developers outright lied and fabricated facts about the game. Setting these unfulfilled expectations aside and looking at the game itself, how is No Man’s Sky? Well, that’s a bit tricky. Initially, the game was crashy upon release and did indeed have a number of annoying bugs and glitches. But to be fair, a large number of these were swiftly fixed and corrected in a series of patches.  So, as I write this, both the PS4 and the PC version of game are pretty much stable. The game itself is gorgeous. The graphics are well done and at times breathtaking. The game actually does manage to capture a sense of wonder and mystique. The vast scale of the game was not oversold, it’s nearly endless. But sadly, most of what you will find is not always all that interesting. It’s different planets with the same contents. Over and over and over and over. The grind does exist, but for some reason I kept feeling the pull to play more and check out that one undiscovered world, because… maybe something interesting would be there. Even if it never was.

To me, if you approach No Man’s Sky with the mindset that it is an open-ended experiment, or a piece of art (and make no mistake, it is that), you will likely not be disappointed. This game is essentially a large sandbox, but one with very strict rules. However, if you come to the game expecting deep gameplay or a satisfying story, you will likely be disappointed.

In many ways, I imagine being a lost spacefaring traveler would actually be very much like the experience provided No Man’s Sky. A silent, lonely journey from one world to the next, in hopes that eventually you will find something that  gives your journey meaning. Only to know in the back of your mind that the only thing that waits for you out there is the vast nothingness, the likes of which you have already encountered.

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Difficulty: Easy –  No Man’s Sky is not a punishing game. If your character perishes, you will respawn at the point in which your game was last saved. You can find and locate your grave and restore any inventory that was lost. Most of the danger in this game exists in open space, courtesy of pirates. But occasionally, you will encounter a planet where the sentinels are hostile and attack on sight. These encounters can be deadly, fast. But as I mentioned, there’s no real penalty. No Man’s Sky is a fairly relaxing and stress free.

Story: The backstory of the game is minimal. It revolves around something called “The Atlas”, which is essentially a phantom alien consciousness. By following the path of the Atlas, the player can be ensured they will eventually obtain everything needed to reach the center of the galaxy, thus serving the will of the Atlas itself. – This scenario is actually quite well done, but it goes over the heads of most players. Essentially, the player is slave to an unseen force, one who’s intentions are not made clear. There’s hope of an ultimate end, but one that never seems to come.  – As I said in the review itself. No Man’s Sky is ultimately an experimental piece of playable art.

Originality: Love it or hate it, No Man’s Sky is certainly original. There’s never been a game where every piece of a shared universe is proceduraly generated. The game itself and the very concept of it is uncharted territory.

Soundtrack: The game soundtrack is fitting and perfect. From spacey ambient music while exploring the alien landscape, to pulse thumping beats when being attacked by sentinels. There’s no top-ten hits to be found here, but the score and overall game sound effects serve their purpose well.

Fun: In the beginning the game is interesting and entertaining. But sadly, it gets old pretty fast. What starts out seeming to be a universe filled with endless possibilities quickly fades into the realization that it is really nothing more than endless, re-skinned, repetitiveness.

Graphics: If No Man’s Sky is anything, it is pretty. Even the barren lifeless planets that you encounter more often than not, are well rendered and breathtaking to look at. The game largely has the overall look of an Issac Asmiov book cover. Which I found to be interesting and refreshing.

Playcontrol: The default controls are efficient, but a bit clunky at first. Thankfully, they can be remapped but in reality it doesn’t help much. For the most part, the stiff controls are not big issue, but on the uncommon occasion when combat occurs, it can often be difficult to navigate.

Downloadable Content: Free DLC Planned – Hello Games has promised free DLC that will “expand and change that scope of the game”. What this means exactly, is still anyone’s guess. If later content does in fact change the game in a big way, be assured I will update this review with those details.

***   Foundation Update Review    *** Atlas Rises Update Review   ***NEXT Update Review

Mature Content: None

Value:  This game currently sells for a top-tier price of $60. In my opinion, this is too much for what you get. It won’t be long before this title is on sale. I cannot recommend a purchase at a $60 pricetag.  Knowing what you’re getting into, I’d feel more comfortable at or around $20.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 2 (original rating)  **3 (After Atlas Rises Update)** – No Man’s Sky is interesting. It’s not currently the game we were promised. But it’s not really as bad as some report indicate. If you like sci-fi, outer space and the thrill of the unknown, then you might like like No Man’s Sky. If you like peaceful, cerebral, open world games then you might like No Man’s Sky. But, if you’re goal-oriented, want an epic sci-fi storyline or exciting interactions with other players, you might want to sit this one out.

***(I have updated the score from a 2 to a 3 after the fixes and enhancements introduced in the 1.3 patch)

Available on: PS4 and PC (Steam)

Review: Fallout 2

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Having recently completed the original Fallout, I decided to plow right along into the next entry in the series. I enjoyed the first game so much, I was excited to see just what the sequel had in store. While I was not disappointed, I still ultimately found Fallout to be a better game in my personal opinion. Let’s find out why…

The sequel, Fallout 2, was released shortly after the original game. For the most part, the two titles are very similar in many ways. Fallout 2 seems to run on the same engine as the original. Both the gameplay and graphics is nearly identical. So if you have any experience with the original title, there is nearly no learning curve for Fallout 2.

This game takes place several generations after the original title. In this game, you play as a descendant of the original “vault dweller”. Your character is a member of a tribal-type village that was founded by the hero of the original game. Due to extreme drought and famine, the people of your village are suffering. You have been tasked with venturing out into the world in search of a legendary artifact called the Garden of Eden Creation Kit, a device said to contain the power to grow crops in even the most barren conditions. With this quest in mind, you take your first step into the dangerous world outside your village.

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As mentioned earlier, nearly all game-play aspects of Fallout 2 are identical to the original title, albeit with some minor refinements. This time around there are some new traits and perks as your character levels up, but the core game play mechanics are the same. Despite the similarity, there’s still plenty of challenge to be found here even for seasoned players. For example, at least from my observation, the NPC AI seems to be sharper. In this game, characters seemed quicker to go hostile if you approached them while your weapon was out. While this was also an issue some of the time in Fallout 1, it seems much more consistent in this title.

Compared to the original Fallout, Fallout 2 is a much more deserving of a Mature rating. The first game certainly had it’s share of violence and strong language, but Fallout 2 cranks both of these up significantly. On top of that, the game also features plenty of sexual themes. In fact, prostitution and using sexuality as a tool is now a legitimate game play tactic.

Content-wise, Fallout 2 expands on the mythology presented in the original game quite well. There’s plenty of new lore to dive into for players willing to seek it out as well as a number of nods to both places and characters from the original. This game is significantly longer as well. The number of optional quests and things to explore are plentiful.

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Also important to note: like the first Fallout, players are going to want to be sure to either purchase the Steam version or resort to unofficial patches to ensure that the title plays well on modern systems.

All in all, Fallout 2 is a very well-rounded sequel. I found the game to be quite enjoyable, but perhaps not quite different enough from the original to make it as memorable. That’s my personal opinion. But, I know that many people consider Fallout 2 to be the better of the two. So, this might be a case of play it yourself and decide.

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Difficulty: Medium –  Again, if you never played old school CRPGS, there may be a bit of a learning curve here. But, players familiar with the original Fallout will have a much easier time. In my opinion, this game seems to be just a tad harder than Fallout, but still tends to fall into that “medium” difficulty category.

Story: Taking place eighty years after the first game, Fallout 2 keeps with the lore and setting introduced in the original. The storyline here is engaging and very well done.

Originality: Fallout 2 is essentially a carbon copy of the original in many ways, but considering it is a direct sequel, this is largely forgivable. Most changes found here are tweaks and enhancements.

Soundtrack: Most of the in-game score is ambient and mood-setting. Which I found to be appropriate for this kind of title.  Again, the voice acting is top notch.

Fun: Fallout 2 is an excellent title and is a lot of fun. Players who enjoyed the original, or who like CRPGS in general will find a lot to like with this title.

Graphics: Even though this is an older title, the graphics still look pretty good. Modern players will want to seek out HD resolution patches to make the game perform well on current-day systems. Just like Fallout, this title was released during a time of crude graphics integrated with CD-quality video. Some of the NPC interactions looks much better than the rest of the game, giving the title a mixed bag sort of feel graphically. Graphically, this game is nearly identical to Fallout 1.

Playcontrol: The controls for this game will feel foreign and awkward to someone who doesn’t take the time to read the game manual. That being said, once you get the hang of things it tends to be quite smooth overall. My biggest complaints with the game have to do with mouse pointer accuracy and viewing angles. I’m looking forward to seeing how some of these issues are dealt with in future entries in the series. I noticed no real improvement with this from the original Fallout

Downloadable Content: Unofficial mods and patches

Mature Content: Violence, gore, strong language and sexual themes.

Value:  This game can usually be found today for $10 and under. Considering amount  how replayable it is and the content packed into the game, this is a steal and well worth the price. Many hours of fun for a low price.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – Fallout 2 is a good sequel to a classic game. While not as groundbreaking as the original, this is still a title that deserves a place in any PC gamer’s library. Highly recommended.

Available on: Steam

Other Reviews In This Series:

Fallout   –    Fallout 2  –    Fallout 3  –   Fallout: New Vegas  –   Fallout 4

Fallout Tactics   — Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel

Review: Fallout

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It is with great honor that I can finally declare myself free of one of the gravest sins a “PC Gamer” can commit. That sin is: never playing Fallout. The Fallout series is heralded as a favorite among gamers. But somehow, the original title, and thus the series as a whole, slipped under my radar. Since I’m currently undergoing a play-through of games from late 90’s to early 2000’s, this made for a great opportunity to finally see what all the hype was about.

Fallout was originally released in 1997, a time of transition in the PC gaming industry. First person shooters were on the rise and slowly beginning to dominate the PC gaming landscape, but a few gems like Diablo and Fallout still managed to make a name for themselves by being completely original.

At it’s core, Fallout is an RPG. Not the “JRPG” style game that one normally associates with the phrase these days, but rather it is a Role Playing Game the hearkens back to a genre that is nearly all but extinct.  In many ways, the mechanics of this game reminded me a lot of another classic RPG title from my youth called Realms of Arkania. For example, combat takes place on a grid. Each action that occurs during combat costs “Action Points”, be that moving forward a step, drawing a weapon, etc. Once your action points are used up, your turn is over and it’s time for your opponent or another character to move. This may sound tedious, but it’s actually very clever and can progress at a pretty fast rate once you get the hang of things. But before we talk too much about mechanics, let’s look at the story behind the game itself.

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The world of Fallout is essentially Earth in an alternate future. Imagine if you will, that sometime after World War II technology continued to innovate at a rapid pace, but pop culture did not. Then, imagine a worst-case nuclear war scenario actually occurred. Most of human civilization was destroyed, but a small number of people managed to survive by hiding themselves away in deep underground “Vaults”. Some of them still remain hidden from the world outside, while others have ventured out and adapted to the wild lands outside. This is the scenario in which Fallout takes place.

You play a “Vault Dweller” from Vault 13 who is tasked with venturing into the outside world in order to find a “Water Chip” needed to ensure that water supply for your vault can continue production without interruption. During your adventure you quickly learn of the harsh realty that is life outside the vault.

Now keep in mind, I started this game with absolutely no idea what to expect. I make it a habit not to read up too much on games before I play them because I enjoy the element of surprise. As a result, I found myself very confused and somewhat overwhelmed with the UI and game controls. Being an older game, Fallout does not do any hand holding when it comes to actually playing the game. To learn the basics, you actually have to read the manual. If you purchased the game digitally, a PDF copy of the manual is usually provided to you. This is true for Steam. So word to the wise, if you are playing this game for the first time, READ THE MANUAL.

Getting back to the mechanics, the game itself reminds me a great deal of pen and paper RPGS. Fallout features a system called SPECIAL, which essentially represents the core stats of your character. There’s also a large number of numerical skills and traits and other aspects that can all be customized throughout the course of the game. For example, if your plan is to try to avoid conflict whenever possible, you may want to level up your Speech skill over some of the other combat skills. The game can be conquered in a number of ways. How you decide to approach various situations can have a huge impact on how the storyline of the game will pan out.

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As I mentioned earlier, I was very taken aback at first by the sheer complexity of the game. I think I’ve become accustomed to a lot of hand holding and the generic familiarity that most games tend to provide these days, that I forgot what it was like to dive into something “original”. But after reading the instructions and spending a little time getting my feet wet, I found myself going along at full steam and having a really wonderful time. I’m really curious to see how some of the more modern games in this series stick to the core gameplay of this title and how they deviate.

I don’t usually enjoy post-nuclear type scenarios, either on film, in literature, or in games. But Fallout manages to do a fantastic job of keeping the scenario fresh and interesting. I was pleasantly surprised by this title. It somehow managed to feel both familiar and fresh at the same time. Which is quite impressive considering the game is now nearly twenty years old.

One final note, if you’re playing this game on modern hardware, I do recommend going with the Steam version of the game. This version is update to date with the official patches and also includes the developer approved HD resolution patch. (There are also unofficial patches out there as well the correct even more confirmed bugs and remove some in-game censorship.)

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Difficulty: Medium –  If you never played old school PC RPGS, there can be quite a bit of a learning curve here. But, completing the main scenario of the game is not particularly difficult once you understand how Fallout works. There are a number of ways to go about things also. So if one approach doesn’t work for you, there’s usually other options as well. The ability to save the game at anytime and having multiple save slots helps a bunch as well.

Story: When it comes to lore and storytelling, this game is filled to the brim with it. And it all very fleshed out as well. This game is all about story, and it’s fantastic.

Originality: At the time this game was released it was simply ground breaking. Sure, the core RPG mechanics are very similar to what you might find at a GENCON, but being able to capture that feel and put it on the PC screen so perfectly is feat in itself. Despite being an older game, Fallout still managed to feel fresh and new to me upon my first play.

Soundtrack: Most of the in-game score is ambient and mood-setting. Which I found to be appropriate for this kind of title. The real winner here is in the voice acting. The character actors in this game are simply amazing. This is hollywood-grade voice work! Superb.

Fun: As I said before, I was pleasantly surprised with this title. I played through the game in almost thirty hours my first time over the span of about four days. It flew by. After that, I loaded up some of the unofficial patches and explored some of the non-canon content in what was nearly another twenty hours.  I had a blast both times.

Graphics: This is an older game, and it shows. The pixelated graphics certainly giveaway the age of the title. But despite that, it still manages to look pretty darn good thanks to the HD resolution support the Steam and some unofficial patches provide. Fallout was released during that awkward time of crude graphics integrated with CD-quality video. Some of the NPC interactions looks much better than the rest of the game, giving the title a mixed bag sort of feel graphically. 

Playcontrol: The controls for this game will feel foreign and awkward to someone who doesn’t take the time to read the game manual. That being said, once you get the hang of things it tends to be quite smooth overall. My biggest complaints with the game have to do with mouse pointer accuracy and viewing angles. I’m looking forward to seeing how some of these issues are dealt with in future entries in the series.

Downloadable Content: Unofficial mods and patches

Mature Content: Violence, gore and strong language.

Value:  This game can usually be found today for $10 and under. Considering amount  how replayable it is and the content packed into the game, this is a steal and well worth the price.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – Fallout is without a top notch game that worthy of its legendary reputation. I can’t believe I missed this game the first time around. I’m now a fan.

Available on: Steam

Other Reviews In This Series:

Fallout   –    Fallout 2  –    Fallout 3  –   Fallout: New Vegas  –   Fallout 4

Fallout Tactics   — Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel

Review: Punch Club

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Sometimes it’s good to take a break from the normal and veer off on a tangent. So… I’m going to take a moment to review a game that’s occupied my time when I’ve not been grinding through Final Fantasy titles…  Punch Club.

Punch Club is a short, retro-sim boxing-tycoon style game. It originally landed on my radar due to it’s throwback-style graphics, but after spending just a little time with it, I was hooked on it’s unique blend of humor and overall gameplay.

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Punch Club is a game where you play as an up and coming boxer. As a child, your father was mysteriously murdered and you’ve made it your goal to uncover the identity of the killer – how so? By working hard, and kicking ass. As the game progresses, the storyline can branch in a few different directions, but the ultimate goal is always to climb the ranks in the boxing underworld with the intention of ultimately uncovering those behind the death of your father.

The game itself is chock full of hilarious 80’s & 90’s pop culture references. These range from video game to action movie references. Everything from the game’s retro 16-bit look, to it’s chiptune soundtrack are pumped with a health dose of nostalgia.

As far as gameplay goes, it’s pretty basic. Your character has three main stats that he can improve to unlock new moves and abilities. These are improved by training (working out). The only problem is, your character gets hungry and tired. So, you do have to stop working long enough to eat and sleep. Of course, eating requires food… which requires money. So… you have to work as well. All of this cuts in to your training time. So the whole game is really a big balancing act. Work enough to earn money to eat – so that you have the energy to train – so that you can win fights. All the while, the in-game calendar ticks by. If you don’t workout frequently enough, you slowly grow weaker.

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So what we really have here is a stat-based time-management game of sorts, with a very entertaining storyline. To be honest, there’s A LOT of grind to be found in this game, and it’s far from perfect. But the entertaining storyline motivated me enough to keep my attention. I just wish there was a way to speed up the clock during some of these monotonous activities. Being able skip through repetitive workouts would be a godsend.

The game itself is fairly inexpensive. Currently, it’s available on Steam for under $7.00. A new “expansion” was just released that adds a few new story-based activities to the main game. Plus, the development community seems pretty active and the game itself is patched frequently.

Punch Club is not the type of game I usually play, but it was unique enough to grab my attention and good enough to keep it for the long haul.

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Difficulty: Average –  This game can be a little tough to master at first. Patience is the key. There’s quite a bit of grind involved in this game, but it’s not as bad now as it was when it was first released. Upon completion of the game, you unlock Hardcore Mode – this ramps up the difficulty considerably.

Story: The story in the game is comical and filled with purposeful cliche’s. It’s not meant to be taken seriously. With that in mind, it’s quite good and very entertaining.

Originality: Punch Club takes a lot of ideas that have been seen before and rolls them into one really fun and unique title. It’s the presentation that makes this game feel new and original.

Soundtrack: The soundtrack in this game consists of old retro-era chiptunes and they are wonderful. The music in the game is catchy and very well done.

Fun: This game is very grindy. That can be a turn off to a lot of people, so be warned. But despite this one complaint, I found the game to be quite enjoyable overall.

Graphics: This title has a 16-bit look and feel. This is done purposefully, and can even be enhanced by enabling a simulated “tube television” effect. There’s certainly nothing new and groundbreaking here when it comes to graphics. But, considering the intentions behind the game, it works very well.

Playcontrol: This game can be played entirely with a mouse on the PC (touchscreen for the mobile version), no issues whatsoever with playcontrol.

Downloadable Content: YES – Free periodic updates. So far, one update “The Dark Fist” has been released. This added a new playable side quest to the main scenario. Note: this update requires you to start a new game to experience the content.

Mature Content: Minor language, crime and violence.

Value:  This game has a lot packed into for the <$10.00 pricetag it now carries. Well worth it.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – This game is a refreshing option in a market that often takes itself too seriously. Punch Club is unapologetic entertainment, pure and simple. I recommend this game to anyone who enjoys retro gaming, pop-culture, or just looking for something new.

Available on: Steam, iOS and Android.

Tech: My Tech Picks (Early 2016)

Since my recent posts about tech and operating systems, I thought it might be fun to elaborate on my personal tech choices. So, for those who might be curious, as of January 2016, this is what I use:

Computer Platform:  Windows PC – Even though I have nothing but great things to say about Apple hardware. I find their prices to be a bit hard to swallow. Yes, I’ve purchased and owned Apple hardware. But considering the cash you have to shell out vs the limit upgradability, I’ve decided to stick with custom built PCs for the foreseeable future.

OS: Windows 10 ( 64 bit Version 1511) – At the time of this writing, Windows 10 is the latest offering from Microsoft. Despite what you may read in certain online media, Windows 10 is not filled with NSA/Microsoft spyware. The OS does not record your actions or phone home to some secret location far in the mountains of Washington state. Yes, there is telemetry and data dumps for crash reports, but all of these things can be easily disabled during and after installation. Other settings such as predicative text and search archival are also optionally enabled for use with the Cortana virtual assistant. Don’t like it, turn it off. — As far as stability and modern options, this is the version of Windows to use.

Hardware: My PC is a custom built Frankenstein of both cutting edge and legacy tech. I prefer and use Intel processors, with Nvidia graphics cards. The biggest thing holding me back are my old school mechanical hard disks. I am hoping to upgrade to a solid state or hybrid drive in the near future. My current rig is as follows:

CPU: Intel i7 950 @ 3.07ghz

Mainboard: GA-X58-USB3

Physical RAM:  12gbs

Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 960

Sound: SoundBlaster Z

Storage:  Main: Hitachi 1TB  SATA    Secondary:  Hitachi 500gb   External:  Seagate USB 320gb

External Media:  DVD RW & Memory Card reader

Power: 750watt

Mobile: Windows Phone – Nokia Lumia Icon (929) with Windows 10 (1511) – This has been my phone for quite a while. In my opinion, despite being an older phone, it features some of the best hardware available today. This phone boasts a 2.2 GHZ quad-core CPU with a 20 megapixel back camera, and a 1.2 front camera. It features 32gbs of storage and wireless charging. It’s not a “phablet” (which I like) it’s display is 5″. Being a Verizon device, this runs on 4g LTE.  – As I said, the hardware is great but the phone suffers from the poor software support that Windows Mobile devices receive. The OS runs well, but at this time Windows 10 is still buggy on this device. (The Factory image for the Lumia Icon is still Windows 8.1 – which runs flawlessly), but regardless which OS you use, the app gap is real.

Tablet: Microsoft Surface My personal needs for a tablet are very limited. I mainly only use a tablet for reading comic books and doing some light searching while in the living room. Maybe occasionally a little bit of Netflix. For these purposes, the original Windows RT surface is perfect. The dimensions of this tablet vs a standard iPad are better suited for comic reading. Plus the old Surface is much cheaper.  Would I like a Surface Pro 3? Sure… but for now, this suits my needs fine.

e-Reader: Kindle Paperwhite – I like to read. I always have. I love the touch and even the smell of books. So for a long time I resisted the “eBook revolution”. I knew I didn’t want to read a novel on a glaring white LCD. So once I decided to take the plunge into eBooks, I knew that the eInk Kindles would be the best option for me. Amazon features the biggest digital library out there. Nook and other competitors can’t compete. This Christmas, my wife got me a new backlit Paperwhite to replace my old 4th gen Kindle. I bought a nice leather case for it. Now it even feels like a book in my hand. I love my Paperwhite. I can read in the dark without having to stare at an eyeburning screen. The soft light of the Paperwhite is perfect for me.

Virtual Digital Assistant: Cortana – I never thought I’d find myself actually using this type of technology. But once I got the hang of it, it really simplified things for me. I’ve tried and used all three of the big options, Siri, Ok Google, and Cortana and for me, Cortana is the winner with Siri at a close second. Of course, these technologies are all software driven so that could change at any time. But to date, I’ve found Cortana to be the easiest to use and “she” provides me with the most relevant search results. Be it web search or local directions, 9 out of 10 times, she delivers right what I’m looking for.

Web Browser: Firefox – Ever since the release of Internet Explorer 4, I’ve been a fan of Microsoft browsers (until recent years). In fact, if there was an Internet Explorer 12, I’d probably be using it now. But sadly, Microsoft has left IE out to die while they developed their new Edge browser. The only problem is… Edge sucks. At least right now it does. Sure it is fast and renders pages beautifully, but it’s not-feature complete. I can’t tweak it the way I want to. I can’t block ads without editing the hosts file on my PC. And with IE unable to keep up with modern web standards I find myself using Firefox. Firefox offers me everything I need to tweak and customize my web experience the way I like it. The only problem is over the years, Firefox has become somewhat sluggish and bloated. It’s not near as snappy as it used to be. Hopefully, Edge will receive the love and attention it deserves in the future and I can make a switch. I really like the Cortana integration in Edge, but it’s simply not usable for me currently.

Search: Bing – Yes, I’m one of the weirdos who actually uses Bing. Initially, I only used it for images searches. I found a while back that for whatever reason, Bing image search tended to bring me more relevant results than Google. Then when MS rolled out their Bing Rewards to try to snag more users, I entertained the idea for a few weeks and used it while racking up reward points. By time it was over, I was surprised to find it to be just a good as Google. Plus, the layout and design on the page was much more appealing to me than Google. It just sort of ended up being my go-to search provider. Plus, every month of so I can cash in my points for a giftcard, or Xbox Live points, which is nice.

Email and Calendar: Outlook – I’ve been a Hotmail user since back when people still knew why it was called “Hotmail” (HTML — duh), back before Microsoft acquired the company. Sure, I’ve used regular POP mailboxes, and even Apple and Google’s mail products, but I’ve always come back home to Hotmail, Passport, Live, Outlook…. whatever Microsoft is calling it these days. Their spam technologies and privacy policy are some of the best in the business. Plus, it integrates wonderfully into Windows and most other platforms actually.

Office Suite: Microsoft Office 2016 Sure, there’s plenty of competitors these days. iWork, Google Docs, Libra/Open Office – but none of them have the ease of use and compatibility that MS Office does. To me, it’s a must have.  – These days, the easiest way to get Office is through the Office 365 program. This is a monthly subscription service that grants personal users a license to install office on up to five computers. Always up to date, latest version.

Cloud Storage: OneDrive – As a Windows and Office user, I’ve found OneDrive to be a very convenient online storage solution. It integrates well into both Windows and Office 2016. It works with my phone. As a result of using both Windows Phone and Office, I have a ton of free storage. But the pricing for additional storage is more than reasonable and competitive with others such as Google and iCloud.

PC Gaming Services: Steam For PC games, I’m pretty much a Steam only guy. The only time I buy anything on GoG or other platforms is when it’s not available on Steam. In my opinion, Steam has won the day and they are slowly expanding their reach from the office to the living room.

Music Management:  MusicBee – I have a large digital music library, all tagged and sorted. To manage such a huge collection, I need the help of software. For years I used iTunes, but over time, I became very dissatisfied with it. As much as I’d like to use Microsoft’s new music app Groove (it integrates with my phone), it’s just too feature incomplete for me to consider at this time. Luckily, a few years ago I found a wonderful desktop app called MusicBee. I can’t recommend this software enough. It has the look and feel of iTunes, without all the bloat. Plus, it’s lightning fast! Edit your mp3 tags right from the software and search for album art from a number of sources. It’s absolutely wonderful.

Wearables: Microsoft Band 2 –  I’m not really big on wearable tech, but after seeing my wife really enjoying her Fitbit, I decided to take the plunge. After a lot of research I found that the Microsoft Band really seemed to get me the biggest bang for my buck. It features all of the fitness sensors that one might need: Heartrate monitor, pedometer, GPS, barometer, UV sensor. It’s water resistant and also works as a smart-watch. It syncs with my phone so I can read and respond to texts right from the band. I’m still new with this stuff, so I’m learning. But I may actually make a post about this device soon.

Home Gaming Consoles:  Currently at our house we own the following: Wii U, PlayStation 3 (First Gen), PlayStation 4, Xbox 360   (there’s a spare Wii in the closet).

Mobile Gaming: Both my children and I have a Nintendo 3DS. I also have an old PSP collecting dust.

 

 

Going All In: My experiences with the Microsoft/Apple Ecosystems (Part 2)

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My decision to jump from PC to Mac, wasn’t made on a whim. I had been growing increasingly frustrated with Microsoft’s apparent lack of vision. None of what they were doing was making any sense to me. Let me be clear, I am more than a PC user. I’m a licensed technician. I can design and build a personal computer from scratch. While I don’t write software, it didn’t take a developer to realize that Microsoft had no real strategy for the future at the time. For me, Vista was the straw that broke the camel’s back.  I used it for a few months, and I even found myself defending it against detractors who refused to switch from Windows XP. But more and more each day, I found myself being limited by it. Looking back, I can admit that Vista was a bit of a necessary evil. It was the epitome of Microsoft’s post-dominance “growing pains”.

For some time, I had been a user of Apple iPods and their corresponding iTunes software. Over the span of a few years, I had converted my entire CD library (Over six-hundred discs) to high-quality digital audio. I used iTunes to manage my library. I’m a very particular sort of guy. Some would say I am a perfectionist. I like my entire library tagged, with quality album art, etc. iTunes allowed me to do this in ways that Windows Media Player or other mp3 players never could. So, I was already a user of Apple software and services to a degree. Plus, I had always been intrigued by the beauty of Apple’s operating system OS X. At this point, the only thing keeping me on the PC platform was gaming. I knew that if I purchased an iMac, I would never be able to upgrade and service it the same way I could with a PC. Putting in the latest graphics card was simply not an option. That type of upgrade would require the purchase of a new, better iMac. Which again, would have the same limitation. All that aside, Apple’s operating system couldn’t run the majority of games I owned any ways. That’s when news of Apple’s next operating system (OS X Leopard) hit the web. Leopard would feature something called “Boot Camp”. This was essentially a boot loader that would allow you to install and run Windows on your Mac. So gamers could now simply boot over to Windows whenever they wanted to game. Despite the upgrade conundrum, this revelation, along with my Windows frustrations convinced me to make the switch.

When I first brought my iMac home, I knew that I was in for a learning curve. A lot of things worked the same, yes. But there was just as many things about OS X that worked differently. Not to mention, I had to find Mac-equivalents for all my software applications. Those first few days I did feel a bit lost. On more than one occasion I told myself that I had made a very expensive mistake. But then, things started to click. And it wasn’t long before I began to feel at home with OS X. In fact, I realized that I did indeed find it much easier, and even more pleasant to use than Windows. After the span of about four months, I was a full Mac convert. I used their built-in Safari web browser, their own iWork office applications, I even switched from my Gmail account to Apple’s Mac.com email.

What happened next, cemented that even further. Apple released the iPhone.  Now, I didn’t jump on the first generation iPhone, because I found the cost to prohibitive. Plus, I had a year contracting remaining on my silly Verizon flip-phone. But once the iPhone 3G was released, I was in line like the rest of the idiots waiting for my shiny new gadget. The iPhone 3G was a fantastic device. There had never been anything like it. It was like this missing puzzle piece that I didn’t even know I needed. I found myself completely emerged in this new “ecosystem” that Apple had invented. Everything about my Mac and iPhone worked together. Both the software and services. It was seamless and I was happy.

I was a happy Mac user for a little more than three years. But then the gaming bug bit and it bit hard. Square Enix had just released the beta of Final Fantasy XIV and I HAD to play this game. Until now, I had been an avid Final Fantasy XI player. And when switching from PC to Mac, I simply began playing the Xbox 360 version of the game. Sadly, the console version of XIV was not going to be available for sometime and it was obvious from trying to play the beta on the iMac that if I wanted to play this game, I’d need to find another option.

I began looking at buying a new Mac. But the model with the specs I needed to play the game would cost me around $3,000.00. Building a PC with nearly the EXACT same hardware would only run me about $1,100.00.  The temptation to leave behind this wonderful world of Apple began to pull at me. Microsoft had recovered from the black cloud of Vista, and their new OS, Windows 7 was receiving rave reviews. I found myself in a unique position. Having used both platforms extensively, I could clearly see both the merits and disadvantages of both. I found that I actually liked BOTH. Now I had to make a choice, which side would I choose now? Mac or PC?

To be continued….

Going All In: My experiences with the Microsoft/Apple Ecosystems (Part 1)

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This is a post I’ve wanted to write for a long time, but I was never quite able to figure out how to dive in the to the topic. So, I finally just decided to write it and put it out there, for what it’s worth. I know this blog focuses largely on gaming, but geek-culture as a whole has always been an underlying topic as well. That point considered, what’s more geeky than computers? More specifically, computer operating systems. I want to take a moment to talk about that very thing, despite the dangers it might bring.

You see, in the world of geeks, your operating system of choice is a sacred thing. I’ve known fellow techies who are more loyal to their OS than they were to their own religion. Which I find to be both understandable and completely absurd at the same time. I know that sounds contradictory, so allow me a moment to explain. Over the years, I’ve been a user of both Microsoft Windows and Apple products. I am intimately familiar with both. So when I listen to these arguments, I truly see both sides. Allow me to elaborate…

My first experience with a personal computer was being sat down in front of the original Macintosh when I was a young child. By today’s standards, the old black and white Mac is a crude, ancient device. But to me, even as a novice child, I found it to be quite intuitive. I learned to like it quite a bit. A few years later, when my parents purchased their first home computer, they elected not to go the Apple route, but instead they purchased a PC. (Or as we called them back then, an IBM-compatible). This was my first experience with MS-DOS and Windows.

At this time, PCs were on the rise and Apple machines were slowly fading into the background. The entire industry was focused on PCs. As a result, I too became centered on the PC side of things. Sure, Apple still had a loyal fanbase, but Microsoft was the obvious winner in the current personal-computer battlefield. I was just starting to cut my teeth on Windows 3.1, when MS launched Windows 95. But it wasn’t long before I too, became a seasoned 95 user. It was during this era that I decided for the first time that I was a “PC Guy”. I mean, why use Apple? A PC was able to do anything that an Apple computer could do, and often at half the cost. Not to mention, all the new games and software were being developed for PC. Apple was often left in the dust.

It was a really interesting time. The internet was just starting to worm its way on to the radar of the general public. You had Windows as your PC backbone, and on top of it you could run whatever software you liked best. Netscape for websites, Eudora Pro for email, etc. Microsoft won because so many software developers were creating applications that were compatible, or better yet, exclusive to Windows. It was perfect. But then, something happened… Microsoft got greedy.

With the release of Windows 98, MS integrated their new browser, Internet Explorer 4, into the Windows operating system itself. The web browser actually became the computer browser. Seriously. You would browse the contents of your hard-drive from IE. Microsoft claimed this was done to better the user experience, but everyone knew it was simply their way of defaulting users into using their web browser instead of the ever-popular Netscape Navigator. And the secret is, it worked. Over time, Netscape’s usage fell and was replaced by IE. Heck, even I switched from Netscape to IE.  It was a tactic that would later find Microsoft at the center of a large anti-trust case.

Despite this underhanded move, I remained a loyal MS user for the most part. I used Windows and Office exclusively. And as the years went by, I remained loyal to Internet Explorer, even when others were venturing off to new browsers like Mozilla Firefox. I stuck by MS all the way from Windows 98 up the release of Windows Vista. But over that time, even thought I didn’t want to admit it, I saw the company that I loved lose sight of what it once was. Even though MS was still the top dog, Apple had began to emerge from the shadows and creep back on to the scene. The release of the new iMac and OS X operating system had given Apple a fresh coat of polish. Their new iPod product was literally changing the way people enjoyed music… It was a reminder that Apple was down, but not out.

After the anti-trust case, MS lost quite a bit of their mojo. Apple was on the rise now, bigger than ever. In light of Apple’s surging popularity,  other players starting making waves on the scene as well. Google had evolved past just being a search engine. They were now offering web-services like Gmail and advertising. Microsoft began scrambling like crazy to “rebrand” a number of their properties. Hotmail became “Passport”, then “Windows Live Mail”. (Then Hotmail again, and eventually was changed yet again to Outlook). It seemed like Microsoft was trying anything, throwing whatever they could at the wall to see what would stick and what wouldn’t.

When Windows Vista was released, I was quick to adopt it as my operating system of choice. But that’s when I ran into a problem. At the time, I was very focused on audio. I used to record and edit music using my PC on a regular basis. Something changed with Windows Vista  in regards to their DirectSound API, and it directly interfered with nearly every audio program I was using. As a result, I was forced to make a choice, go back to Windows XP, or look for an alternative. At this point in my life, I was now an adult with a busy schedule. I no longer had the time to spend on tinkering with settings, tweaking drivers, like I did when I was a young hobbyist. I needed something that worked, and I needed it now.  That’s when I turned my attention to Apple for the first time. I was lured by their whole “It Just Works” ideology. So, despite years of being a Microsoft loyalist, in 2007 I drove down to the Apple Store and purchases a nice shiny iMac.

To be continued….

Final Fantasy XI: Seekers of Adoulin

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In March of 2013, Final Fantasy XI saw what would end up being it’s final full expansion ever: Seekers of Adoulin. Announced at a time when players had accepted the expectation that their beloved game had been all but abandoned, the news that XI would be a getting a new expansion came as quite a shock. SoA was more than players could have ever asked for. But it’s release was not without controversy. First off, this new scenario saw a number of big changes to the game. First, this expansion was the first in the west not to be available on PlayStation 2. SoA is only available on PC and Xbox 360 for US players. While this may seem trival due to the small number of US PS2 players, it is a still a big reversal from SE’s previous stance regarding PS2 support.

This expansion adds access to a whole new continent. The land of Ulbuka is located across the ocean to the west. It is a bit of a “new world” much like the Americas of Earth. In fact, one of the main focuses of the new storyline is participating in the pioneering of the undiscovered country. Players are able to participate in activities such a “rieves” and coalition assignments that explore the untamed wilds of the new land. Included in this expansion are two new jobs: The Geomancer and the Rune Fencer. These are somewhat trivial in their addition, but the new options are certainly welcome.

When it comes to content, Seeker’s is an expansion almost exclusively aimed at endgame players. SoA has adopted a new “item level” system much like that found in FFXIV to help players gauges the value of new level 99 equipment. Some older pieces can be upgraded to higher items levels, but most of the new gear is obtainable through participation in SoA-exclusive content, such a Delve. Delve is a new super-challenging battle system that focuses on notorious monster battles. It’s extremely difficult, but the rewards are well worth it.

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Aside from the usual expansion-type content, Seekers of Adoulin also ushered in a wave of core-game changes that would forever alter the way Final Fantasy XI was played. The Mog Garden was introduced. This features a small little private island where players can gather and cultivate materials. Players can now farm and gather from one simply location instead of scouring the landscape looking for places and competing with other players. The expansion included a new “waypoint” system that allowed players to warp around certain areas of the game world. This concept was later extended to existing homepoints. Players can now warp to any homepoint in the game that they’ve previously visited. This removed a giant pain-point for players and has really helped to modernize Final Fantasy XI. On top that, a whole new system called “Records of Eminence” has been added to the game. This is a sort of  sub-system of in-game achievements and rewards. Players are rewarded points and experience for completing certain in-game objectives. The points can be redeemed for almost anything; gear, skill ups, etc. This is very helpful considering the scarcity of items on the auction house these day. Not to mention, the experience points granted by completing objectives is great indeed. Making leveling now even faster than ever.

Shortly after the release of SoA, the ability to summon and party with NPC “alter egos” was also added. This is called the “Trust System”. Now players are able to form their own parties with NPCs instead of spending hours recruiting other members for content. While this is a welcome change, in a way it saddens me. It, along with the Records of Eminence system mentioned above, is a silent indication that the game’s population has become low enough to be addressed by the development team.

All in all, Seekers is a very welcome additional to XI. It added plenty of new areas for players to explore, as well as provided challenging and fresh activities for the game’s aging playerbase. Over the course of this last month, I reactivated my subscription and actually spent quite a bit of time exploring the post-Seekers world of Vana’diel. I participated in the new Trust initiative, reconnected with some old friends, conquered some old content on my to-do list and really got a taste for the way the game has changed.

As I mentioned earlier, Seekers of Adoulin is officially the final full expansion for Final Fantasy XI, so my little nostalgia trip will soon be coming to a close. I’ll be making one more post regarding the game itself by the end of the year upon the completion of the Rhapsodies of Vana’diel add-on that is being released for free. This new content is being rolled out between now and November. Until that time, I will leave my subscription active and continue to enjoy the experience that is Final Fantasy XI – quite possibly the greatest video game I have ever played. I don’t make that claim lightly.

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 ** POL Viewer Final Fantasy XI – The Rise of Zilart    –   Chains of Promathia   –   Treasures of Aht Urhgan –  Wings of the Goddess  –  Add-on Scenarios – Abyssea Scenarios –  Seekers of Adoulin –  Rhapsodies of Vana’diel **

 

 

Review: Wolfenstein

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I had planned to spend the next few posts focused exclusively on PS1 games, but I have to admit I’ve been sidetracked due to a few new releases. Often, I will place new PC games on the back burner for a bit. This allows many of the zero-day bugs to get worked out as well as the price to go down. In this case, the latest entry in the Wolfenstein series just came out a few days ago. I LOVE Wolfenstein. Of course, before playing it, I had to catch up with previous entry in the series, a game titled simply: Wolfenstein.

This game is a direct sequel to Return to Castle Wolfenstein. I was lucky enough to snatch it up on a Steam sale a few years ago, which is fortunate because these days it is no longer available for purchase on Steam due to some licensing issues. Lucky me.

Wolfenstein continues the adventures of allied solider BJ Blazkowitz. In this game, BJ is tasked with researching the secrets of a strange artifact he recovered from a German gunship. The medallion in question is powered by very unusual crystals that are mined in only one location; the German city of Isenstadt. Naturally, the Nazi’s have the city completely under their control. BJ’s job is to infiltrate the city and hook up with the local resistance movement in attempts to uncover what the Nazi’s are up to. This is where the game begins…

For this entry in the series, we have a very different game than the previous entries in the series. While still classified as a first person shooter, it’s very obvious that the genre has evolved greatly over the years. There’s much more to this title than simply running and gunning down the bad guys. Tactics in this title include taking cover from enemy fire, avoiding detection, and even using environmental weapons to take out enemies.

The game features a very realistic arsenal and a handful of fantastic weapons as well. The gamut runs from actual assault rifles used in WWII, to flame throwers and Tesla weapons. Unlike previous games, each weapon can receive a series of upgrades. These include things like more ammo capacity, better range, or silencers. Upgrades are purchased from an in-game merchant using gold and currency obtained during the course of play.

The game features a pretty in-depth stoyline. The main focus of the game is uncovering the Nazi plot regarding the medallion mentioned above. During the game, BJ will bounce between two different resistance groups operating within the occupied city. As a result, the town itself turns into a hub or sorts, connecting the various levels that the player must complete to progress through the game. Most levels are unlocked by accepting quests (known as Objectives). Typically, each major Objective takes place in a new level. Levels can be repeated and some can even be skipped (if a particular objective is not accepted). Each level also contains hidden currency and secret enemy intel. The intel helps to flesh out the storyline as well as provide hints for gameplay.

The trick to mastering the game is understanding the medallion artifact. The medallion grants BJ special abilities as the game progresses. These include slowing down time, a special shield aura ability and most importantly; the ability to see an alternate reality known as “The Veil”. Certain doors and areas are only accessible while in Veil Mode. Also, this mode also allows you to view enemies’ weak points. So it’s crucial for certain battles.

All in all, the single player scenario is very entertaining and well done. But I didn’t really feel like I was playing a Wolfenstein game. Something just felt a little “off” to me and I can’t quite put my finger on what it is. I think perhaps, the game ended up being just a little TOO fantastic and neglected the real WWII air that the other games in the series had. I mean, Nazi occult fantasy is great, but alterverse alien creatures just don’t seem to fit in. I’m playing Wolfenstein, not Half-Life.

Finally, I want to mention Multiplayer. I was really excited to dive in to the multiplayer content of this game. There’s Axis vs Allies Deathmatch,  Stopwatch, and Objective games. These are just fancy names for game styles that we’ve all seen previously in multiplayer shooters. But I was really looking forward to trying them out in Wolfenstein. Sadly, I did not get this opportunity. When I fired up the multiplayer mode and searched for game to join there was…. nothing. I mean absolutely nothing. No browser, no options to choose from… literally nothing. Something about the multiplayer mode for this game on the PC is just plain broken.

I thought maybe the problem has to due to the licensing issues with Steam. So I manually patched the game and tried again. Still nothing. After doing some research, it turns out to be an issue of some sort between the game developers and the Punkbuster anti-cheat software. Apparently, Wolfenstein is no longer supported by Punkbuster, yet the online portion of the game is dependent on it. So… we have nothing. Due to this issue, I suppose if you want to experience the multiplayer content of this title you’ll have to play either the Xbox 360 or PS3 version of game. Good luck with that. Seriously. I mean, look at the picture below:

 Difficulty: Variable–  There are multiple difficulty levels available to choose from. From my testing, these seem to be very well done and appropriate. Personally, I had to spend a little time in easy mode to get a hang of the gameplay before beefing it up a bit. Most of my FPS experience is with games from 10+ years ago, so I needed to have my hand held a bit.

Story: The storyline itself is a blend of history and occult fantasy. Moreso than even the previous entries in the series. It’s engaging and very well done. But as I mentioned, it felt a little out of place when compared to the other games in the series.

Originality: To my eyes, this was a completely new experience in FPS games. But I understand that in reality, there’s actually very little originality here in terms of gameplay. Many FPS games over the last decade feature a duck and cover style play that add a sense of reality that did not exist in the old “zerg and shoot everything” days of Quake and Doom. One thing that does make the game very unique tho, is the Thule Medallion and the abilities that go along with it. This functionality really makes for some interesting gameplay.

Soundtrack: A lot of the in-game soundtrack is military themed and appropriate, but sparse. It is well done, not overused and appropriate for the game.

Fun: I did have a quite a good time playing the game. The main scenario only took me about 8 hours to complete, and that was with every objective conquered. I really wanted to spent a lot of time with the multiplayer. But sadly, that aspect seems almost non-existent.

Graphics: I found the graphics to be very well done. Both the character and environmental textures are excellent. Shadows, lights and even particle effects are spot on. This is a good looking game.

Playcontrol: The default PC controls are pretty standard. I do not have any experience with the console versions. The game used a variation of the WSAD scheme found in most FPS games. No real issues.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 2Wolfenstein is a good game, but one that feels very neglected. I really feel that the developers have all but abandoned the title. Which is sad due to the popularity of the franchise. I recommend the game to fans of the Wolfenstein series, and even to those who enjoy WWII games. But if you’re looking for a good FPS to play, there are other games that do it better and that are more accessible. If possible, get the game on PS3 or 360.

Currently available on: PS3 and Xbox 360

Other Reviews In This Series:

Wolf3DRtCW – Wolf ETWolfenstein New Order  – The Old Blood

Review: Diablo III – Reaper of Souls

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Normally, I do not include separate reviews for expansion packs. But this time, I feel obligated to make an exception. I’ve had several weeks to experience the Reaper of Souls add-on for Diablo III and I feel this release deserved a post of its very own.

For those of you who have been reading this blog for a while, Diablo III was one of my earliest reviews. Looking back at that review now, I cringe to see just how poor that write-up is. I suppose my blogging skills have improved over time and interestingly enough, so has Diablo III.

When the game was originally released, D3 was a bit of a mess. There were server problems, performance problems, and lots of controversy over the direction in which the game was taken. Over time, a lot of these issues were resolved through patches and changes to the title. The long-promised PVP system was finally added, and not long ago, Blizzard made the decision to remove the auction house system altogether. In doing so, item distribution was radically revamped in the game. Fans rejoiced and I was no exception.

Even without the expansion, Diablo III is a much better game today as a result of these changes. So, what does the Reaper of Souls add-on bring to the table? Here’s a rundown of some of the more important additions:

New playable class: The Crusader
An extra chapter: Act V – Reaper of Souls
Maximum level increased to 70
“End game” content
Difficulty adjustment

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The game still requires an internet connection, but my criticism on this has softened a bit over time. The game servers are much more stable than they used to be, and it seems that Blizzard’s vision for the hybrid single-player/multi-player experience has become a little bit clearer over the last two years.

Aside from new content and patches, several core changes have really made for an all-around better experience. The old tiered difficulty levels have been revamped and replaced with a new system that seems to be a much better fit. The game now offers Normal, Hard, Expert and Torment options. With the hardest option being very customizable.

I was a bit skeptical at first of the direction that the expansion would take storywise, but that too came as a pleasant surprise. I don’t want to spoil anything, but naturally at the end of Diablo III it seems like everything has come to a satisfactory close. Blizzard did a fine job of adding a new angle and continuing the plot. Upon completion of Act V, it is also clear that the Diablo story is far from over.

All in all, I have to say that Reaper of Souls is exactly what Diablo III needed to help round out the rough edges and bring the game to perfection. When looked at as a whole, my original review is now superseded by the breakdown below:

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Difficulty: Varies –  As mentioned above, the entire difficulty system has been redone, and for the better. Normal – Expert modes seem to be a very nice fit. Although later in the game, they do seem to be maybe just a bit easier than they should be. Regardless, this all goes out the window once you’ve reached the Torment option. From here, you can crank up the abuse to your liking. Why would you do this? Well, the harder the game, the better the rewards.

Story: The original Diablo III had a fantastic story, this expansion only adds to that. A few loose ends are tied up and a whole new villain takes the stage. Excellent stuff here.

Originality: This is hard to gauge considering RoS is an expansion. The new Bounty system and Rift system that becomes available upon completing the main scenario is very fun and extremely well done. It really helps keep the game alive even after completion.

Soundtrack:  The new in-game music is fantastic. Very fitting and well done. For an expansion, no expense was spared here.

Fun: Reaper of Souls really does a lot to breathe new life into a two year old game. I’ve had more fun with Diablo III now than I did when the game was originally released. This is Diablo done right.

Graphics:  Not much has changed here. This game uses the same engine as it always has. The graphic options for Diablo III have always been well done. Lighting effects are used well, shadows are well done. Everything is and was beautiful since release.

Playcontrol: No changes here. The game still works and controls as it should. I tried a number of different mice and I encountered no issues worthy of mention.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4- This expansion and the patch the preceded it were EXACTLY what Diablo III needed to make the jump from being a good game to being a great game. The price of the core game has been reduced to a mere $20 in most places. The expansion will still run you $40, but together they still cost what Diablo III cost upon release. In my opinion, if you’re going to experience Diablo III, Reaper of Souls is a must have.

 Available at retail and through Blizzards Online Store

Other Reviews In This Series:

Diablo –  Diablo IIDiablo III :: Reaper of Souls