Review: Gone Home

Well, despite my focus on classic Playstation titles, the Steam Summer sale did manage to snag my attention. This year I decided not to spend too much money and kept my purchases limited mostly to very inexpensive titles. One of the games that caught my eye this year was a small indie title called Gone Home. I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this game when I purchased it. I knew from hearsay that it was a fairly short game, and also somewhat controversial. I purposefully made sure to keep away from reviews and discussions about the game because I did not want any spoilers to sneak through. Having now completed the game, I’m glad I didn’t.

Here’s what you need to know if you are interested in this title; it is very short. Played at a normal pace, the game is typically beaten in little over an hour. Second, it’s a very mellow title. There’s no combat, no death, etc. This game reminds me a lot of classic PC “point and click” adventures from the early 90’s. Essentially, the set up for the game is this: It is 1995, you play the role of a college student named Kaitlin who has returned home after a year overseas. While away, Kaitlin’s family inherited a house from a rich and unusual uncle. Upon arriving at her family’s new home, it’s obvious that something is amiss. Mom and dad are gone, and there’s a strange note on the door from Kaitlin’s sister stating that she has gone away, and requests that Kaitlin does not attempt to discover her fate or whereabouts.

The goal of the game is to explore the house and uncover clues that unravel your sister’s fate. That’s all I can really say about the plot without giving too much away.

Graphically, the game is very attractive. Despite its casual design, the graphics are very well done. The lighting and texture effects impressed me quite a bit. I didn’t expect such good visuals from an inexpensive title. But that’s not all that impressed me. The game also features an excellent soundtrack. The ambient/mood music in the title are appropriate and compelling. Also, the game features a number of cassette tapes laying around the house. These feature mock 90’s style punk/grunge tunes that also stuck my fancy (although being a former 90’s rocker myself, I may be a bit biased).

But what makes this game unique is not it’s soundtrack or visuals. The focus here is storyline. What starts out appearing to be somewhat of a horror game, slowly unravels into a dramatic tale. Without giving too much away, the finale of the game actually managed to touch me emotionally and caused me to give pause for a few moments to reflect on some rather personal ideals.

Critics of the game often refer to it as boring, or label it a “walking simulator”. But I think they are missing the point. The purpose of this game is atmosphere and emotion. The enjoyment comes from exploring and piecing together the backstory and scenario. It’s a title that is designed to tug at your heartstrings a bit. Essentially, you get out of it what you’re willing to put in.

Difficulty: Easy–  There’s really no challenge per-se to be found. It’s more of an interactive story than a game, I suppose. However, there are some areas and that are out of reach unless you’re really paying attention or take the time to thoroughly explore and seek out clues.

Story: The storyline is the focus of the game here. The game narrative is presented with an opening sequence but unfolds throughout the game as you read notes and clues scattered about the house. The main story is driven through entries in your sisters diary that are played back automatically as you progress. Initially, I started the game expecting it to be a dark mystery of some sort, but about halfway through the true nature of the game started to become clear. Despite having a different outcome than I originally expected, I was not disappointed.

Originality: While this type of game is not entirely a new concept, the presentation and ultimate outcome of the game is pretty unique. Some might even say risky. It was certainly a nice change of pace from other titles I’ve been playing recently.

Soundtrack: As I mentioned earlier, the soundtrack in this game is really really good. It fits perfectly with the atmosphere for the game. The rock tunes are novel, but very well done considering their role in the title.

Fun: I played through this game in about an hour but despite it’s short span, I enjoyed it quite a bit. It is certainly a niche game and might not appeal to everyone. But for those with a mind for slow-paced narratives, it’s quite good.

Graphics: The graphics are very well done. Especially considering the type of game we’re talking about. In some ways, I was left with the impression that visually, the game was designed to be artistic, and not so much on precise photorealism. But regardless, it’s pretty good looking.

Playcontrol: There’s not much to worry about here. The game controls as one would expect a standard First Person title to work.

Mature Content: Partially – The game does not exhibit any violence or nudity. But there are some mature themes that pop up from time to time such as occult imagery and homosexuality. Nothing graphic.

Value:  At the time of this review, the regular price for this game is $20. In my opinion, that’s a bit steep. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend paying anymore than $10 for the title, simply due to it’s length. Luckily, the game is on sale quite often. I think I got it for around 3-5 dollars.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – I enjoyed this title. It was a breath of fresh air compared to most things on the market these days. I enjoyed the ambient feel of the house, and trying to piece together the events leading up to the game itself. I saw the ending coming from a mile away, but still enjoyed to the little twist at the end. The main drawback to the game is the length of the game, but all in all even that is quite appropriate for the title.

Review: Wolfenstein – The New Order

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I don’t always get the chance to review games when they are brand new. But I knew that Wolfenstein would be an exception. After playing it, I’m glad that I put everything else on the back burner for a bit. The game was better than I expected.

The New Order continues the story that started with Return to Castle Wolfenstein. The war is coming to a close and BJ and his team are pushing deep into Nazi territory in attempts to raid Deathshead’s fortress and exterminate the Nazi leader. First part of the game focuses on this raid and also serves as a bit of a tutorial. However, things don’t go as planned and our hero suffers an injury that takes him out of commission for a quite a well. When he finally wakes up, he finds himself in an asylum. The world has gone to hell. The Nazi’s won WWII and control a world-wide police state. The focus of the game from this point is to locate the resistance movement and do whatever is possible to strike back at the Nazi regime in hopes of sparking a revolution.

It’s difficult for me to go into too much detail without spoiling a bit of the game. But from very early on in the title it’s obvious that this is not your typical FPS. The graphics are superb, the voice acting in the game is probably the best I’ve ever encountered, and the story is nothing short of fantastic. This game takes you on a journey from the trenches of WWII to a Nazi controlled dystopia that’s nothing short of terrifying. From prison camps to a Nazi Moon Base, this game is certainly a ride to hell and back.

In a lot of way this game does play like a typical FPS. You acquire, and can switch between, an arsenal of weapons; Handguns, Machine Guns, Sniper Rifles, Grenades, etc. These change over time and some can be upgraded throughout the game. There are alternate fire modes, and zoom-in options, etc. Pretty standard fare. A knife can also be used to sneak up behind enemies for stealthy take-downs. There’s also heavy weaponry that is available from time to time, such as mounted chain guns.  There’s a lot of duck and cover in this game as well. There’s actually a lot of variety when it comes to combat. Strategies range from trying to traverse the level without being seen, to all-out bullet hell.

Aside from being a simple shooter, this game is very story focused. There are a number of objectives presented during the course of the game. These help to drive the game scenario and break up the routine a bit. Throughout the game you will also come across collectible items. These are viewable in the main menu and some of them help to unlock additional modes of play. Also worthy of mention, early in the game you will be prompted to make a very important decision.  Your choice has a huge impact on the game going forward and you can’t take it back. So, to fully experience all the game has to offer, you have to play through it at lest twice. For me, this was not a problem. I enjoyed the title so much, that I was happy to do just that.

In a somewhat unusual move for a modern FPS, there is no multiplayer option. Wolfenstein: The New Order is strictly a single-player title. For me that is fine, but it does seem a little difficult to justify the premium price tag.

Graphically, the game is stellar. I was able to run it fine on my GeForce GTX 660 using medium to high settings. It does seem to be somewhat un-optimized and very fickle when it comes to some driver settings. I had to disable V-sync completely to avoid strange screen artifacts. If you’re unsure if your PC can handle the game, it may be better to go with one of the console versions that are available.

 

Difficulty: Variable–  There are multiple difficulty levels available to choose from. From my testing, these seem to be very well done and appropriate. I played the game on the default setting and found it to be very balanced.

Story: This game shines in term of storyline. The alternate 1960 presented here is both well done and horrifying. While there are some “occult tech” elements in the game, it’s not ridiculous like it was in the previous entry of the series. Almost everything here is quite believable. Everything from the plot, to character interaction is fantastic.

Originality: I found this title to be refreshing. And that’s something that’s often difficult for FPS games. The unique plot setting combined with excellent storytelling really made the game stand out to me. For once we get some deep insight into the main character of the series.

Soundtrack: The in-game soundtrack is unusual. Most of the music in the game comes in the form of ambient/distortion style mood music with a few exceptions. Among the collectable items in the game are record albums featuring songs by familiar real life bands, but done in a German style. (IE: What would the Beatles have sounded like if the Nazi’s won the war).  This is a really nice touch.

Fun: Despite some initial frustrations with graphical issues, and some minor annoyance with the default controls, I had a blast with this game. So much so that I immediately played through it second time to experience the alternate storyline. That’s a good sign!

Graphics: By today’s standards, the graphics are about as good as you can get. I played the game using less than maximum settings and I was still awed at how good things looked. Everything from the textures to motion/lighting effects are superb. — That being said, the game has been reported to have odd issues with some ATI hardware. So it may require some tweaking.

Playcontrol: The default PC controls are pretty standard. There’s a few combo moves, for sliding and running that seemed a bit difficult for me to master at first, and this cost me more than one death in the game. It kind of felt like my fingers were on a twister mat. But other than that, no real complaint. Plus, all the keys can be reassigned.

Mature Content: Yes – Extreme violence, gruesome imagery, language, sex and nudity.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – I purchased this game out my love for the Wolfenstein series and my curiosity to see a Nazi-controlled setting. I was very impressed with the game as a whole. I went with the PC version simply because, to me, Wolfenstein is a PC game. But I have heard feedback from others that the game is better experienced on the console. Regardless, I was blown away by the title and I recommend it almost anyone.

Currently available on: PC (Steam and Retail) , PS4, PS3,  Xbox 360 and Xbox One

Other Reviews In This Series:

Wolf3DRtCW – Wolf ETWolfenstein New Order – The Old Blood

 

Review: Thief (2014)

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This review took a bit longer to put together than I anticipated. My total playtime through the newest entry in the Thief franchise was just over 35 hours, so forgive me for taking a while to get this review posted. However, I’m happy to report that despite many of the dismal reviews out there on the net, I thoroughly enjoyed my experience with this new version of Thief.

As you may know, I enjoyed the original Thief back when it was released in 1998. I admittedly have not had any experience with either of the two original sequels (I plan on fixing that soon), so when I heard SE had purchased rights to the franchise and were rebooting the series I decided to go ahead and pre-order it and jump right in on day one. That’s exactly what I did.

Without spoiling anything, I do want to mention that after playing through this new game, the lines between reboot and sequel have become a bit blurred. It seems that this game does take place in the same universe as the original three Thief titles. Aside from several interesting similarities, in this game you play a different “Garrett”. This Garrett still lives and operates in The City but it seems that several generations have passed since the original series and his connection to the original character, if any, are unclear.

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The game begins with Garrett and his companion Erin, sneaking about the town doing what they do best. The pair fall into a sticky situation and Erin seemingly falls to her death as Garrett passes out. When he awakens, he learns that he has been missing for nearly a year. During that time, A strange sickness has began to spread through The City and things are near boiling point among the local and various political factions. Garrett is determined to figure out what happened to his missing time and uncover and further details about the fate of Erin. This is where the game begins.

The main game is divided into eight chapters. At the end of each chapter, Garrett returns to his hidden base in The City’s clocktower. In between the chapters Garrett has full roam of the city and can undertake various thievery jobs or sidequests. Once a chapter has been completed, it can also be repeated. The bulk of the story is unfolded by completing the main chapter scenarios, but there’s a ton of background lore and subplots that can be discovered by taking on sidequests and just exploring and looting various locations within The City. During my play, I completed the game and all of the sidequests, but fell short of finding all unique items and secrets. I plan to revisit the game later when the mood strikes me.

The focus of the game is to follow the story missions and help Garrett complete his objective. However, a big part of the game is finding and stealing various treasures and trinkets. Once an item is stolen, it’s value goes directly into Garrett’s pocket. This gold can be spent to purchase weapons and various thief tools. The game does not feature an experience point system, but throughout the game Garrett will earn Focus Points. These can be used to improve skills and unlock abilities.

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There’s a lot of similarities in this game to the original series. As Garrett sneaks about the city, shadows are your friend. You are virtually invisible when shrouded in darkness and motionless. Most enemies can detect you by both sight and sound. So staying out of sight is important, but so is treading lightly. Running and walking on uneven surfaces can alert others to your presence. Famous tools such as Water Arrows make a return in this game, enabling Garrett to extinguish torches from a distance. But even a suddenly extinguished torch can raise suspicions. The game also features a Focus Mode that Garrett can use to help detect lootable items or traps. Once activated, the focus meter will begin to drain. If empty, Focus Mode is no longer available to use. Focus can also slow time down to make pickpocketing and combat a bit easier, so use it wisely.

As I mentioned earlier, Garrett can also find and acquire unique items. Unique items are displayed at Garrett’s hideout in the clocktower. Aside from being a challenge to locate, looking pretty and unlocking achievements, unique loot has no other value in the game.

Graphically, the game looks amazing. Thief uses the Unreal-Engine and everything is very well designed. I was really impressed with the visuals of the game. But performance-wise, the game is hit or miss. At first, I thought maybe my machine was unable to handle the game on high settings – so I lowered things a bit and it only seemed to make them worse. This leads me to believe that the game is poorly optimized. About halfway through my time with the game, a patch was released, upping the game to version 1.2. This did seem to improve things a bit, but I still experienced some stuttering and other weird performance issues. I expect these to be addressed over time, but I was a little disappointed to see how glitchy the game seemed at launch.

Also, while large parts of the game play seamlessly, there are quite a number of load screens when navigating around The City. This can sometimes be a bit annoying when hunting down sidequests or simply trying to move between several areas. This is also a good place to note that there are no real shortcuts in Thief. No warps, no waypoints, nothing. If you want to get from the south side of the city to the north side. You’ll have to navigate it all on foot. You will likely spend about 10 minutes and encounter 3 or 4 loading screens in the process.

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Aside from some of these technical annoyances, I found the game to be superb overall. Atmospherically, the game is fantastic. The City is brought to life and really feels like a living, breathing location. Of course the more memorable locations are presented during the story missions. During the game you will explore a mansion, a brothel, and a haunted asylum to name a few. I should also note that this game has a Mature rating for a reason. There’s a some pretty rough language and even bits of nudity. Also, the asylum is not for the faint of heart. That level is probably one of the creepiest things I have ever seen in a video game. Hats off to the developers here. Fantastic job.

People who pre-ordered the game also have access to a special in-game mission called “The Bank Heist”. I expect this is be available to all as downloadable content in the near future. — Note: It is quite obvious that this mission was intended to included as part of the main game when it was designed. It feels like it was simply locked-out later for anyone who didn’t preorder the title. This is a practice that I have come to despise in modern games. Shame on SE for stooping to such antics.

Once you have completed the main scenario, you are able to explore the city and replay chapters as you wish in attempt to find any unique loot that you may have uncovered. There’s also a Challenge Mode, that allows you to revisit several locations from the game. Challenge mode pits you against a clock or gives you certain objectives to conquer. There is an online leaderboard for this mode of play, and it seems that future DLC will focus around the challenge mode and not the single player experience. I’m interested to see if I’m wrong on this. Time will tell.

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Difficulty: Variable–  Thief offers three basic difficulty levels. I actually recommend playing on the middle (default) setting. The easy setting actually seems to be a bit too simple. While the hardest setting will feel a little more comfortable for players of the original franchise. There’s also a custom difficulty option that allows you to tweak almost every aspect of the game’s challenges. The game also analyzes your play-style and provides you with one of three styles of play at the end of each mission, so trying to complete the game in different ways also adds some additional fun.

Story: The story behind the game is very rich and well done. If you’re fan of the original series, you may actually take away a bit more from the plot than a new player. The ending of the game seems a bit lacking unless you pay really close attention… so keep that in mind. If you blink you’ll miss it.

Originality: The game borrows heavily from the original franchise, while also integrating several elements seen in other recent Square Enix titles (optional objectives like those in Sleeping Dogs, and player upgrades like those from Tomb Raider). I’ve also seen several comparisons to Dishonored, but that is a game I’ve never played, so I cannot speak on this.

Soundtrack: The game for the most part focuses on realistic ambient noise. Music only plays when Garrett is detected or during other high intensity places in the game. I found the use of the game music to be quite effective and appropriate. Excellent stuff here.

Fun: A lot of people on the net have had some pretty negative things to say about the game, but I had quite a bit of fun with this title. Despite putting in nearly 40 hours in a single playthrough, I found myself wanting a more. This is always a good sign.

Graphics: This game is a good example of what the modern Unreal-Engine is capable of. The game has a very gritty and dark feel to it, design-wise. I found it to be very well done. Lighting and fog effects are used appropriately and look really great. Thief is a shining example of what moderns games are capable of.

Playcontrol: I played the PC version of this game, and I feel the default PC controls were very well done. I ultimately decided to use an Xbox 360 controller because of the good experience I had with it during both Tomb Raider and Sleeping Dogs. The gamepad controls were intuitive and felt natural.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – Thief is a really good game but it’s far from perfect. If you’re a fan of the series, I think it might be worth paying full price for it. If not, it may be better to wait a few months for the price to drop a bit. Even if you’ve never played any of the original titles in the series, this game is a starting point and is pretty accessible to nearly anyone. Fans of stealth and exploration game will really find it especially enjoyable. If you’re going to play it, go all out – turn off the lights, light a candle and wear a hoodie. Chapter four is one heck of a ride.

Currently Available: Steam, PS3, PS4, 360 and Xbox One

Other Reviews In This Series:

Original Trilogy:

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

Reboot:

Thief

Review: Half-Life (Collection)

 

 

This is a review I’ve looked forward to for a while now. Half-Life is one of those types of games that doesn’t come along very often. It wasn’t an easy decision, but I decided to lump both Half-Life and its many spin-offs together in one review. For this reason, the format of this review may differ a bit from some of the others.

Half-Life was a game originally released in 1998 by a then little-known company named Valve. The game received much hype in the months leading up to its release and for the most part lived up to the high expectations. The game was developed using a modified version of the original Quake engine and despite being released in the era of Quake II, Half-Life managed to hold its own in the ever growing arena of the FPS titles.

The game focuses on the story of a research scientist named Gordon Freeman. The game begins as Freeman is riding the employee tram into his workplace. Arriving a bit late, Freeman dons his hazmat suit and prepares for another regular day at the Black Mesa Research Facility. We soon learn that Freeman is a scientist working with anomalous materials, and when what should be a semi-routine experiment goes awry, Gordon finds himself temporarily teleported into a strange alien environment. After passing out briefly, he wakes up back in lab only to find all hell breaking loose. It soon becomes obvious that there was more than meets the eye when it comes to the experiments conducted at his place of business. Alien entities are swarming the facility, equipment is malfunctioning and the sheer chaos has taken hold.

What begins as a plan to escape the facility, soon turns into a fight for survival as black-ops military show up and start slaughtering all survivors. You control Gordon Freeman in his quest to beat all odds against both alien forces and a hostile military. Together with other survivors, Gordon must fight for his life.

For the most part, the game plays very similar to most other FPS games of the era. There’s a wide variety of weapons to choose from, interactive environments, friendly NPCs, and puzzles to solve. However, unlike most other games Half-Life is more about survival than simply shooting your way through everything. Many of the big boss monsters in the game cannot be defeated with normal weapons, but instead are conquered using the environment in creative ways. NPCs are needed to unlock checkpoints or to help access certain areas. This was also one of the first FPS games I played that features full voice acting incorporated into the game itself. What really makes this game unique is the way the story unfolds. There are no cutscenes per se, everything is experienced through the eyes of the player. It is the level design and environment that really makes Half-Life stand above the competition.

Aside from the single player campaign, there is a Multiplayer option included in the game. But these days, “vanilla” Half-Life multiplayer is nearly non-existent. Instead, there’s a plethora of mods and other multiplayer spin off games that take most of the attention. More on this later.

Opposing Force:

The first expansion to Half-Life came with the release of Opposing Force. Instead of being a continuation of the original story, this chapter is seen through the eyes of a soldier tasked with “cleaning up the mess” that is Black Mesa. However, when his own team becomes attacked by Black-Ops, his mission shifts from following orders, to survival. The add-on brings a few new weapons as well as some multiplayer modes. But it really stands out as a single player scenario.

I never played this add-on during its original release, so I’m experiencing it for the first time with this review. I have to say, I really enjoyed it. I felt it was right up there with the main game in terms of quality. The “boot camp” tutorial alone is worth the purchase.

Blue Shift:

The second add-on is called Blue Shift. In this chapter, we experience the Black Mesa events through the eyes of one of the facility’s security personnel. Arguably the weakest of the expansions, this is the scenario that brought HD textures to the game. So for this feature alone, the pack was worth obtaining.

Like most other games of the time, Half-Life and its expansions were originally released on physical discs and were available at retail locations. These days, the games are available primarily through Valve’s digital content store known as Steam. Back in the day, I owned physical copies of Both Half-Life and Blue-Shift. Shortly after the release of Steam, I was able to convert these retail copies to my Steam library using the CD Key included with the game. By doing so, I was given all of the official expansions as well as several popular mods. Today, the whole suite of Half-Life games are available for a very affordable price.

Included in the Half-Life game suite are the following games or multiplayer mods:

Deathmatch Classic, Team Fortress Classic, Day of Defeat, Ricochet, and Counter-Strike.

Each of these titles started out as a mod for either Quake or Half-Life, but received enough support to be considered separate titles. Each is now available for individual purchase on Steam and still receive plenty of support and activity.

My honorable mention here is Counter-Strike. While originally starting out as a simple multiplayer mod, CS quickly blossomed into it’s own game. One that really deserves its own post and review here, but I’ve ultimately decided to hold off and review a later release of the game instead.

Counter Strike is a team based multiplayer arena. In this game you choose between either terrorist or counter-terrorist forces. Each team has a goal that must be completed during the match. The winning team is awarded with virtual money that can be used for new weapons, etc. The game became so popular, that in many circles its almost considered a virtual sport. There have been several re-releases and enhancements of the game. These I will cover separately in later reviews.

I spent many hours and late nights of my youth playing Counter Strike and it was nice to revisit this game for the sake of my playthrough and review. However, during my stint through the game this time, I found most of the players to be foreign and difficult to communicate with. Also, I encountered quite a bit of online cheating. So unless you’re playing with friends, it may be better to stick with some of the newer versions of the game.

All in all, the Half-Life suite is well worth the time of any PC gamer. It’s important to note that the game was also released on the PS2, and even included an extra very short addon by the name of Half-life: Decay, but this port does tend to suffer from play control issues as well as degraded graphics. For this reason, I highly recommend the PC version over all others.

Half-Life alone is worth the price Steam charges, but if you’re frugal, you can often get the complete Half-Life collection on sale. I definitely recommend taking advantage of such a deal if you do not already own all of  these titles.

For simplicity sake, the breakdown below focuses mainly on the main scenario. However, for most part, what applies to Half-Life easily applies to the expansions as well.

 

Difficulty: Variable–  Half-Life offers three levels of difficulty. The game also features a special tutorial level that helps even the novice gamer get familiar with the controls. Overall, I found the difficulty levels to be appropriate. However, if you plan on tackling hard mode, be prepared for lots of saving and restoring.

Story: The story behind Half-Life is really one of its stronger points. The way the scenario is presented, and the way it is told through the eyes of the character almost make the Black Mesa Incident believable. Half-Life really helped to pave the way for storytelling through play.

Originality: Despite being a Quake-based FPS, Half-Life was a breath of fresh air to the genre. The style of play, the storytelling, and even the seemingly open-ended support of the mod-community was really something almost unheard of at the time. The legacy continues to this day.

Soundtrack: The music in the game is sparse, but occasionally there is some event-prompted background music. For the most part, the audio is environmental and very well done.

Fun: I forgot how much I enjoyed this game. Despite being a behemoth of a playthrough, I enjoyed all of the titles discussed in the review above. Of everything I played over the past couple weeks, the main scenario and Opposing Force are must have for single player FPS fans, while Counter-Strike is my recommendation for those that prefer online play.

Graphics: Upon release, the game was mixed bag graphically. The Quake engine was beginning to show its age, but this largely rectified with the release of the HD Pack that was included with Blue-Shift. This brought better details for both the weapons in the game as well as the character models. These days, the HD pack comes built in regardless of version.

Playcontrol: Half-Life is the first FPS game I played that featured the now default WSAD keyboard + mouse control scheme. This is a setting that I find to be intuitive. Regardless, the controls are still customizable, so whatever you prefer, there is no real issue. My only gripe with the game is that some of the jumps and climbing feel a little inaccurate. However, this is easy to work around.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – Even if we’re only talking about the core game, Half-Life is easily a 4-star title. This doesn’t change when combined with the add-ons or other scenarios. In my opinion, this game ranks right up there with Doom and Quake as an iconic PC title. It is a must have.

Currently Available on: Steam  (Half-Life is typically available for $10 alone, or $15 for the full suite. — Counter Strike is available separately.)

Other Reviews In This Series:    

Half-Life –  Half-Life 2

Review: Shadow Warrior (2013)

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This review took a little longer to get out than I expected, but here we go! After playing through the original Shadow Warrior, I decided to give the brand new remake a spin. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but here we go…

First of all, this is no ordinary Wang. Gone is the aged wise-cracking kung-fu master from the original game. This time around Lo-Wang is much younger, and while he still cracks a few jokes and one-liners here and there, most the humor is provided by his demonic companion Hoji. That’s right, for most of this game, Lo Wang is accompanied by a snarky demon.

The storyline for this game is quite a bit different that the original. In many ways, it would be easy to look at this as a prequel to the original Shadow Warrior. (Although I believe it’s been confirmed to be a simple remake with no continuity to the first game). In this game, Lo Wang is still employed by Zilla, and the game starts as he accepts the task of attempting to purchase a mysterious sword from its reluctant owner. Needless to say, things don’t go entirely as planned. To achieve his goal, Wang must partner with a troubled spirit and travel between worlds in pursuit of the blade.

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The game is absolutely stunning. The graphics are very well done and the ambient lighting in the game really sets the mood for many of the areas. What really makes this game stand apart from many other FPS games of its type is the combat system. Yes, there is a plethora of weapons to choose from, many of them making a return from the original game. But more times than not, I found myself sticking with my trust Katana. In this game, your combat encounters are scored. Your score is increased by varying the type of attacks you use on your enemies. Altering between weapons and special abilities, and using the environment to inflict damage all have an effect on your rating. The higher your rating, the higher your reward can be. Reward points can be used to purchase new skills and abilities. I found this system to quite unique and a lot of fun.

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As I said, many of the weapons from the original game make a return. Shurikens, Katanas, Demon Hearts and even the Demon Head are all back in this go-round.  Also returning from the original game are hidden fortune cookies scattered around the various levels. These provide a small boost to your health as well displaying an amusing message. Occasionally, you will uncover secret areas that are textured like the old build engine game. The first time I encountered one of these blocky areas, I admit to chuckling out loud. The developers really made sure to provide enough throwback Easter Eggs to keep the classic players amused. But aside from these cute inclusions, this game is very much its own monster.

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For an FPS, I found this game to have a pretty solid storyline. The story unfolds through the game thru dialogue between Wang and Hoji. Bigger details are revealed thru animated cutscenes between some of the levels. Its actually quite an epic story, but the ending left me wanting a bit. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some story-expanding DLC in the future.

That brings me to another worthy mention. Steam players get access to free a “dlc” game, that is actually a separate download. In this quirky title, you get to play as the janitor who has to clean up all the body parts Lo Wang has left behind. Weird, but free. So who’s complaining.

One glaring feature that’s missing is any form of multiplayer. This title is single player only. It’s a bit of a shame too. Many of the weapons seem designed with multiplayer in mind. But I believe its been confirmed that this will remain a single player title only.

All things considered, I enjoyed the game quite a bit. I’m not 100% sure it was worth the price I paid, but I didn’t feel ripped off either. As someone who pre-ordered the game, a special version of the Katana is available. Although, the default sword is quite a big part of the story, so using the DLC version kind of breaks the immersion a bit. There’s also a handful of other silly items available for those willing to shell out the money for the Collector’s Edition. Also, Saint’s Row IV players unlock a super special weapon…. but I passed on that one. Beating bad guys to death with a rubber dong is not really something I’m interested in.

One final note; this is a very mature game. Very bloody and graphic. There’s tons of strong language.

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Difficulty: Variable–  The game includes a number of difficulty settings. Admittedly, I played thru the game on low difficulty. I was more interested in seeing what a modern day Shadow Warrior was going to look like than I was looking for a challenge. I did mess around with the others settings and everything seems to be quite appropriate. There’s something for everyone here.

Story: As I said, the story is surprisingly deep. It mostly unfolds as you play the game and I don’t wish to spoil anything. It reminds me a lot of something you’d see in a Wu Xia film.

Originality: Being a remake, there’s many ideas borrowed from the original game. But there’s also a lot of unique features too. There’s really nothing that’s ground breaking here. But I do feel that the combat system is a pretty fresh development in this title. It felt new to me.

Soundtrack: The music is very well done, but fairly repetitive. Nothing I was really dying to listen to over and over.

Fun: I found the game to be quite enjoyable. It was certainly worth my time, but I wasn’t really motivated to play through it again after finishing it.

Graphics: Graphically the game is amazing. The detail is fantastic and the environmental effect are very well done. This is one of the strong points of the title.

Playcontrol: The default controls are very easy to grasp and feel natural for the title. it’s your standard WSAD game. No issues here.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3Shadow Warrior 2013 is certainly a solid game, and it is one that I recommend. That being said, the pricetag of $40 seems a little too much for what you get. I find it a bit hard to recommend at this price. But in few months when it drops to say, $19.99 I have to suggest grabbing it. It’s a bloody, violent mess. But, that’s exactly what its supposed to be isn’t it?

Currently available on: Steam and GOG.com and Retail

Other Reviews In This Series:

Shadow WarriorShadow Warrior (2013)

Shadow Warrior 2

 

Steam Summer Sale 2013

Just a friendly reminder to all the PC gamers out there that the Steam Summer Sale is on! It’s like Christmas for gamers. This is the one time of year where Steam slashes prices on games in crazy amounts. Sometimes 75-90% off.

Lots of good deals have been had so far this year. The sale runs until the 22nd, so keep your eyes peeled for any good deals that might entice you.

Of course, my Steam ID is: RetroSensei

Review: Final Fantasy III

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Having completed Final Fantasy II, it is time to move on the next chapter, Final Fantasy III. This is another Final  Fantasy game that was originally released in Japan only. For years it seemed like North American players would never see a localized version of this title. However, after years of fan petitions, Final Fantasy III was finally made available to western audiences.

Until the US release, only unofficial hacked/translated ROMS of the 8-bit game were available. Having played the game in its bootleg form years ago, I was delighted to finally get my hands on a legitimate copy. It’s important to note, the US version of the game is very much a remake. The North American version features upgraded 3D graphics. It also takes some liberties when it comes to the main characters in the game as well. Originally, FFIII featured four generic, nameless characters. The re-release gives them all proper names and personalities. These characters all have backgrounds that are interwoven into the main storyline itself. This might seem like blasphemy to a purist like me, but actually it is so well done, that I feel it is truly superior to the original release. Nothing is lost in the update, but so much more is gained. The only oddity I found is the small change made to the job system by including Freelancer and hiding away the Onion Knight job (more on this later).

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Initially, the North American version of Final Fantasy III was released on the Nintendo DS.  However, an updated version has since been made available for iOS devices, and there’s also a downloadable version for PSP and Vita users. Since I played DS version a few years ago, I decided to give the PSP version a go this time around.

The modern version of Final Fantasy III is an amazing game, regardless of what system you play it on. From the introductory movie, to the various optional content – I was hooked. It is after all the game that introduced Moogles to the series!

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The storyline begins pretty simply, an earthquake reveals a long forgotten cave on the outskirts of town. The game begins with our main hero Luneth falling into the cave. Inside, he discovers a magical crystal that speaks to him and tells him to gather his friends and return. From here, we are slowly introduced to the gameplay basics and to the other characters. After assembling the team and returning to the crystal, the game truly begins.

Unlike the previous games in the series, our characters are not really typecast into specific roles. Instead, they are able to switch between various jobs. Many of the classic Final Fantasy jobs (or classes) were established in this game. At first, your characters are jobless, or Freelancers. This changes once jobs bestowed to the characters by the crystal. At first, the jobs unlocked are pretty basic (the same found in the first Final Fantasy game). But as the game progresses, more advanced jobs become available.

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This is a good place to elaborate a bit on something I mentioned above. In the original release of the game, things started a bit different. Instead of beginning with just one character, all four youths were in the party from the very beginning. Instead of being assigned the “blank” class of Freelancer, they were known as Onion Knights. This original job is also available in the modern version of the game as an unlockable. The DS version, really makes you jump through hoops to unlock Onion Knight. It involves communicating with other players through the in-game mail system, which for a game that over five years old, can be quite a chore. Thankfully, the PSP version eliminates this nonsense and allows the job to be unlocked with a simple in-game quest.

The job system aside, the game is quite impressive. Having played both, I found the PSP version to be overall more agreeable than the DS version. The dual screen features of the DS did not bother me or detract from the gameplay in any way, but having now played the game on a single screen, I find them to be somewhat unnecessary.

All in all, this is one of my favorite games in the series. All of the classic Final Fantasy elements can be found here. It is a shame the west had to wait so long to enjoy this wonderful title.

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Difficulty: Medium – While still not overly difficult, this title can be quite challenging for those player unable to wrap their heads around the job system. Many obstacles in the game can be easily overcome but thoughtful use of the character jobs. You can switch on the fly for the most part, so don’t hesitate to try new things. Also, as usual in these remakes, the hardest content in the game tends to be the extra hidden bosses…

Story: The original version had quite a story, but this is only made better in the modern remake. Despite the political intrigue of Final Fantasy II, I have to say that the plot line of this game is much richer. Another excellent storyline from Square Enix.

Originality: Again, this game takes all of the great aspects of the previous games and builds on it. The job system is a completely original concept that really makes this game what it is. It was bold move at the time, but one that pays of big in terms of gameplay.

Soundtrack: Magical! The main theme is one of my favorite pieces of video game music. It is routinely played at the Final Fantasy concerts. Uematsu at his finest!

Fun: I absolutely love this game. The first time I played it, I had been put on bed rest due to back problems, and this game made the time fly by. It’s worth every penny.

Graphics: The original Famicom version was very similar to Final Fantasy 1 in many ways. That version still remains unreleased in the US. The modern version is a different story. Our Final Fantasy III is made of rich and colorful 3D graphics. Compared to most moderns games, things are little blocky, but this is a result of the port from the 3DS. Despite that, it’s not at all distracting and it is a vast improvement over the original.

Playcontrol : The 3DS version is a little wonky to control if you actually try to use the touchscreen. But most players stick with the standard controls. Going this route or if you’re playing on the PSP, there’s no issue with playcontrol at all.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 Stars – Another excellent title with a perfect rating. I’m trying not to be biased, I swear. If you’re at all fan of RPGS or Japanese games, there is no excuse. This is a must have.

Available today on: DS, PSN, Steam

Other Reviews In This Series:

Main Series:

I – II – III – IV – V – VI – VII – VIII – IX – X – X2 – XI – XII – XIII – XIII 2 – XIII Lightning Returns – XIV – XV 

IV: After Years – VII: Dirge of Cerberus – VII: Crisis Core – VII: Advent Children (Movie) – XII: Revenant Wings – Type-0 – XV: A King’s Tale – XV: Brotherhood (Anime) – XV: Kingsglaive (Movie)

Misc Titles:

World of Final Fantasy – Explorers – Mystic Quest – 4 Heroes of Light 

Tactics:

Tactics – Tactics Advance – Tactics A2

Dissidia:

Dissidia – Dissidia 012 – Dissidia NT

Crystal Chronicles:

Crystal Chronicles – Ring of Fates – My Life as King – My Life as Darklord – Echoes of Time – Crystal Bearers

Mobile Titles:

Dimensions – Dimensions 2 – Record Keeper – Brave Exvius – Mobius Final Fantasy  – Justice Monsters V – King’s Knight  – Dissida Final Fantasy Opera Omnia

Review: Tomb Raider (2013)

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If I’ve been a little quiet lately it’s because I’ve been busy playing the recently released Tomb Raider game.  I know that traditionally I’ve focused mainly on retro games when writing on the blog. However, it is my intention to cover just about any type of game that interests me. My recent experience with Sleeping Dogs showed me just how much fun a lot of modern games can be. So, once I heard that Square Enix’s reboot of the Tomb Raider franchise was about to be released, I decided to make it my next purchase. I have not been disappointed.

I owned and played the first three classic Tomb Raider games back when I was in high school and college. I had them on the PC, and enjoyed them. But I always felt the controls were a little awkward and determined that perhaps I should have been playing them on a console to really get the best experience. So I naturally assumed that this new reboot would be the same. I decided a while back that this was going to be a game I was going to play, I just had to determine which would be the better purchase – Xbox or PS3? Then, I saw the game being advertised on Steam with a load of valuable pre-order content (multiplayer maps and an optional tomb), so I decided to take an extra look at the PC version. What I learned was quite interesting. The PC version features many graphical enhancements not present on either console system. The game engine takes advantage of modern DirectX 11 hardware in way never seen before. If you have a PC that can support it, new technologies like TressFX and Tessellation really bump up the visuals to a jaw dropping level. That coupled with the good PC experience I had on Sleeping Dogs, I ultimately went with the PC route for my purchase.

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Being a reboot, this game is a complete re-imagining of the Tomb Raider mythology. Long gone are the days of Lara Croft’s H-cup boobs, and her “I can do anything attitude”. Now we are introduced to a fragile, young Lara. Who is more a victim of circumstance than a swashbuckling heroine. The opening movie does a good job of establishing who Lara is and it did a quite effective job or getting me emotionally invested in the character.

In this game, Lara is a member of a expedition/documentary film crew who is search of the long lost island of Yamatai. During the journey, their ship is wrecked in a freak storm and Lara and her companions find themselves on an uncharted island. Not long after their arrival it becomes painfully obvious that they are not alone. Lara awakes, bound and hanging upside down from the ceiling of a bone-littered cavern. This is where the game begins. From here, it’s a non-stop thrill ride while Lara tries to escape the clutches of her captors, find her friends, unravel the secrets of the island and ultimately, makes her escape.  Due to the recent release of the game, I don’t wish to spoil any plot elements so I’ll stop there.

I found myself feeling almost protective of poor Lara. The thrilling atmosphere of the game, combined with the fact that danger and death can lurk around almost any corner really kept me on the edge of my seat. The death scenes in the game are often shocking and gruesome. As I said earlier… SE did a fantastic job of making me “care” about our heroine.

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At first, the game seems to have a very “on-rails” feel to it. Many early parts of the game rely on button pressing combos to navigate through action sequences, but it’s not long before you are given complete control. Once this happens, the focus turns to exploration and survival. The island is occupied with hostiles, and Lara must either sneak her way through the environment or fight her way to safety. Throughout the game, Lara will acquire gear and weapons which can be upgraded using salvage materials scattered throughout the maps. Lara also earns experience points by hunting animals, killing opponents, or discovering lost treasures/items. Once she levels up, she can learn new skills and abilities.

True to its name, Tomb Raider also features optional tombs for the player to explore. These tombs are fairly short and feature a bit of a break from the rest of the game. Exploration of tombs often require solving various environmental puzzles to reach the large treasure cache at the end.

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Initially at release, I had quite a time tweaking the graphical settings to get the game to run properly. I found this to be quite frustrating as I have a beast of a video card that should be more than capable of running this game even on its highest settings with all the bells and whistles. As it turns out, there were some issues with both the game code and the drivers provided by Nvidia that were causing a problem. Luckily, both SE and Nvidia released fixes to alleviate this problem and I am happy to report that things are going smooth now.

I completed the single-player game last night and I found the whole thing to be quite a good experience. I certainly felt like I got my money’s worth with it alone. But there’s also a multi-player mode available as well to add a little more value. (Something I toyed with, but did not find all that interesting). I’m sure that this title will spawn a slew of DLC in the coming months (multiplayer maps have already been released), so I look forward to checking it all out when the time comes. All in all, I certainly recommend this title to anyone. Old Tomb Raider fans may not appreciate the “New Lara”, but personally, I was beyond impressed.

Pre-ordering the “Survival Edition” from Steam offered the following additional content:

Guerilla Outfit – (Pointless change of clothes for Lara.)
Shanty Town Multiplayer Map
Tomb of the Lost Adventurer (Additional optional tomb to explore)

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Difficulty: Variable – The game offers three difficulty settings which apply to combat only.  As usual, I played the game on the default/normal setting and found it to be a fairly easy playthrough. There were a few situations in the game that required me to make several attempts at victory, but nothing very challenging at this setting. I found most of the puzzles in the game to be fairly straightforward, only requiring some basic out of the box thinking. I’m hoping for some more challenging tombs to raid in future DLC releases.

Story: Once again Square Enix delivers a breathtaking story. This game does a fantastic job of transitioning between cinematics and gameplay. The background story for the game is actually based on real mythology and is quite fascinating. I found it to be a perfect setting for the game.

Originality: I’ve heard many in the media compare this game to Uncharted (a title I have never played), so I can’t really be sure just how fresh many of the concepts presented here actually are. To me, I found the game to be a nice departure from anything I had played before. From the platforming angle, it is very similar to the old Tomb Raider titles of yesteryear. However, the collecting and item upgrade system are something entirely new to this title.

Soundtrack: The soundtrack is mainly ambient. Often times the music serves as a warning to impending danger. Nothing really captivating, but certainly fitting and very well done for the game.

Fun: Personally, I had a blast with the title. It was a purchase I made on a whim and was not disappointed.

Graphics: Here we go. Depending on your platform and set up, the graphic quality can vary greatly. PC users with high-end systems definitely get the better deal here. The game takes advantage of some really cutting edge tech. Video cards able to handle TressFX are treated to a Lara Croft with almost photorealistic hair, for example. That doesn’t mean that PS3 and 360 users are left out in the cold… the game looks marvelous on any system.

Playcontrol: Despite playing on the PC, I made sure to pull out out my trusty wired Xbox 360 controller. The game identified it immediately and even the onscreen tutorial reflected the correct button icons. This is a game that was designed for controllers and while there is native PC keyboard support, I think the a controller is defiantly the way to go. I experienced no real issues at all with controlling the game.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – I think SE has delivered a great title. While some old school gamers fond of the original series will certainly gripe about the radical departure this game represents. I found it to be quite well done. I’m not usually a big fan of reboots, but in this case, Tomb Raider 2013 has really injected new life into a series that (while good in the beginning) grew more stale as the years went by.

Other Reviews In This Series:

TR – TR2 – TR3 – Last Revelation – Chronicles – Angel of Darkness

Legends – Anniversary – Underworld – Guardian of Light
Tomb Raider (2013)    –  Rise of the Tomb Raider

Review: Sleeping Dogs

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After spending a bit of time with some retro classics, I figured I would change direction and give a new game a try. I knew i wanted to try something completely different, so when I saw a flash sale for Square Enix’s Sleeping Dogs on Steam, I jumped on the opportunity. Normally, this is the type of game that I would prefer playing on a console. However, due the good price I went with the PC version and played it using a standard Xbox 360 controller.

As I said, Sleeping Dogs is not my typical type of game. But I found myself hooked within the first few minutes of play. It is one of the first very mature titles I have ever experienced. Fair warning, this game is filled with bad language, so it’s not one to play with kids around! I’ve been told that the game is on-par with mature titles like Grand Theft Auto.

At its heart, Sleeping Dogs is  a story-driven open world action/exploration game. You play the role of a Hong Kong undercover cop; Wei Shen. His mission is to infiltrate a wing of the Chinese Triad mafia. The game features a very in-depth cinema style story that really sucked me in.

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The storyline of the game progresses as your complete various missions. Missions are completed at your own pace so you have plenty of time to explore Hong Kong and undertake side quests and other activities.

As you progress through the main scenario, Wei earns experience points with either the police department or the triad. Each branch unlocks new abilities and martial arts techniques. Additional fighting abilities can also be unlocked through side quests. Throughout the game, Wei also acquires various vehicles and weapons. And at a certain point, you unlock the ability to participate in illegal street races.

Combat in the game is fun but takes a little getting used to. Aside from the classic attack and block moves one might expect, there are combo moves and counter attacks. Experience points are increased by using a variety of attacks and also by integrating the environment into combat. In nearly all areas of the game are objects that can be interacted with during battle. Fish tanks, toilets, and phone booths all make for nice things to break apart with your enemy’s head.

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Playing this title was a real eye opener for me. The game is beautiful. The atmosphere and attention to detail really blew me away. It’s not at all what I expected and it really opened me to trying some more modern titles. The PC version also feature an optional High Resolution Texture pack which really makes the visuals in the game even more breathtaking.

Once of my favorite aspects in Sleeping Dogs is the atmosphere. This game really makes you feel like you’re in the middle of Hong Kong. The sound of the streets, the dynamic weather, etc. It’s very immersive.  I even have my favorite Hong Kong radio station on the dial whenever I’m cruising the streets.

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Like I said, I’m a bit behind the curve on when it comes to modern games. I tend to stick with my comfort zones so I was really blown away by the experience Sleeping Dogs offered. This game also introduced me to the world of downloadable content. Sure I’ve played some games with DLC before, but most of the time I never felt the need to really go hog wild with all the options. For some reason, this title really knew how to get my wallet. Most of the DLC offered are fluff pieces, various costumes that offer minor stat boosts, etc. But there are several that unlock new police missions or street races.

There’s also two story add-ons available, with a third on the way in the near future. The first downloadable add-on is called Nightmare at North Point. It’s a secondary mode of play that is not integrated into the the main game, but completing it unlocks a vanity costume for the main scenario. It was released in time for Halloween 2012, and features classic B-movie Chinese vampires, and a zombie apocalypse scenario.  In the end you’re led to believe that it’s nothing more than a dream.

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The second add-on Zodiac Tournament is actually integrated into the main scenario and unlocks a new area. Here, Wei can enter a “karate island” style death-tournament. Upon activation, the game takes on the look of a bad grindhouse kung-fu movie, complete with film grain and mono 70’s soundtrack. It’s a fun nod to classic kung-fu cinema. Again, completing the DLC unlocks some helpful items for the main scenario.

An upcoming storyline expansion called Chinese New Year is planned for the near future. Reports state that will extend the original storyline of the game.

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Difficulty: Medium – I found the game to be somewhat easier than I expected. Most of the main scenario was completed on my first or second attempt. Several of the races were quite difficult. I’ve read online that several people find the later part of the game to be quite a challenge. So maybe I just got lucky, but compared to many of the old school NES games I’ve tackled over the years, this game was a walk in the park.

Story: The game features an amazing story. It’s like watching a good Asian cop movie, but one that you can actually interact with. I loved it and I can’t wait for the new DLC to see what comes next.

Originality: It’s my understanding that a lot of what’s found in this game has been done before. Games like Grand Theft Auto and Yakuza have covered this ground in the past. Despite that, I find Sleeping Dogs to be quite unique and refreshing. Players who have experienced similar titles may not find very many new concepts here, but there’s enough new spice added to the formula to really make this game stand out.

Soundtrack: The soundtrack to the game is quite a gem. For the most part, music in the game is restricted the radio you hear when driving or entering dance clubs and participating in the karaoke video game. All the musical selections are appropriate for the setting, and there’s some really good tunes to be found on the radio. My favorite stations in game were H-Klub and Softly radio.

Fun: I thoroughly enjoyed the game. It never got old. Even after completing the main story, I found myself firing up the game to complete some races, or search for lockboxes. The game really stirred that sense of nostalgia from my time living in Asia.

Graphics: Excellent graphics. Even though I played on the PC with the High-Rez textures, I’ve seen both video and screenshots from the console ports and the game is beautiful all the way around. The game played smooth at 1680×1050 with hi-res and most settings on high.

Playcontrol: I played this game using a standard Xbox 360 controller and the game detected the hardware and adjusted the default controls and in-game tutorial accordingly. At first, the camera controls felt a bit foreign to me, but after about an hour it became second nature. Standard playing is smooth. Sometimes the car races seem to feel a bit loose, but this seems to vary depending on vehicle, so I think this is by design.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – Top notch game. I was pleasantly surprised by this game and I’ve decided as a result to spend some more time with modern games in the near future. This game was such a good experience that I’m also rethinking my preference for console gaming. This title proved how good of a time I have with a non-mmo game on my PC. Sleeping Dogs is a title that recommend to anyone who enjoys a good story and a very interactive environment.

Available on: PC, Xbox 360 and PS3