Video game review: Splinter Cell: Blacklist

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If you have patience, tactfulness and persistence, Splinter Cell: Blacklist is a blast from beginning to end. If those qualities don’t come naturally, you’ll have a bit of a learning curve – but it’s worth every second.

Blacklist delivers the perfect mixture of tension and excitement through varied gameplay, stunning environments, and a fantastic single player campaign.

Storyline

A terrorist organization called The Engineers initiates a series of attacks, both inside and outside of the United States. They promise the attacks will continue until the U.S. removes their troops from all the countries where they’re stationed. Once again you’re the stealthy, shadow-loving Sam Fisher and you need to systematically shut down The Engineers.

The plot in Blacklist is fairly standard. It’s structured to support gameplay, and that’s about it. You never feel emotionally involved. Sam’s relationship with his crewmates aboard the Paladin (headquarters for the Fourth Echelon) seems superficial at best.

But this game isn’t about story. It’s about gameplay. So as a mechanic to support the style of gameplay that Splinter Cell is known for, the storyline in Blacklist works just fine. Don’t expect emotional jaw-dropping moments like those in The Last of Us or Bioshock, but it’s a solid story that comes together in a nice package. Tension is built through gameplay, not narrative.

Gameplay

Blacklist is a stealth game and you’re encouraged to creep in the shadows, but it’s not your only option. You can customize three different loadouts and manage your style of play based on mission briefings, preference and what works best for each situation.

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Loadouts allow you to customize stealth, armour, weapons and gadgets.

Weapons, gadgets and tactical suits are purchased with money earned by completing different missions. Each piece of gear will either increase “armour” or “stealth.” You can jack up your armour and become less vulnerable to enemy attacks, improve your stealth and try and avoid enemy contact all together, or build a cocktail of each and experiment with different styles.

New boots silence your footsteps, gloves improve weapon handling, and silenced weapons keep gunfire hidden from enemies. Using a variety of gadgets will also help you complete each mission:

  • Scout ahead with the remote flying tri-router and shock your enemies,
  • lure them into the shadows with a sticky noisemaker and dispense of them quietly, or
  • launch a sticky camera to scope the lay of the land, distract enemies, detonate them with a powerful explosion, or release gas to knock them out.

Experimentation is fun and helpful. Different weapons, upgrades and attachments will also support your preferred style of play.

Stealth is a big part of the game, but there’s still room for running and gunning. Sometimes it’s even a necessity. However, the difficulty increases once you give away your position, and in most cases you’ll earn more money and points with less enemy contact.

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Your last known location for enemies is detailed with a white outline of your character.

A white, ghost-like silhouette of your character appears when you’ve been made. It represents your last known location. This is one of my favourite mechanics. You can surprise, distract and flank enemies once they think they’re on to you. As long as that white silhouette is on the screen, that’s where they think you are. It adds an exciting tactical layer to gameplay and helps keep things interesting.

Presentation

Next to gameplay, the overall presentation compliments the action in a functional and aesthetic manner. Set pieces are purposefully placed to provide a variety of cover, levels are multidimensional to encourage vantage point exploration, and the detail and textures are phenomenal. Blacklist is truly an achievement of level design.

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Different missions allow you to capture a “high valued target” or use an enemy as a human shield

Although Blacklist isn’t an open world game, missions give you a feeling of freedom. Similar to the Crysis franchise, you approach each set and decide how to proceed. I encourage you to experiment with different styles and enjoy all the game has to offer.

Characters models look good, but the star of the show is the environment. Detailed textures make your surroundings come to life. The rocks look crumbly and fragile, the shadows are deep and expansive, and the lighting can either blind or help you.

There was controversy surrounding Ubisoft’s decision to replace Michael Ironside with Eric Johnson as the lead for Sam Fisher. I’m new to the franchise, so I don’t have a point of reference. I did a little research and found this interview with Ironside:

I enjoyed Eric Johnson’s performance, but the emotional care that Ironside seems to have built into the character of Sam Fisher has definitely persuaded me to try other games in the series.

Verdict

Blacklist is a triumph. The gameplay goes beyond fun and forces you to be patient and cognitive of each situation. You need to think on your feet and adapt to different styles of play. It was very frustrating for me at the beginning, but once I settled down and found my groove, I couldn’t put the controller down.

 

Watch Adam Sessler’s fantastic and intelligent review:

Read other reviews around the web:

Purchase Splinter Cell: Blacklist

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Video game review: Assassin’s Creed

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Will this bridge the gap between video game and art?  Not with gameplay like this

Assassin’s Creed is one of the prettiest games on this generation of consoles. Detailed landscapes, meticulous textures, and realistic lighting bring vibrant, illustrious settings to life. The stage is set for a mind-blowing experience. But Assassin’s Creed falls short. Poorly executed gameplay mechanics and animation issues are the biggest downfall of Assassin’s Creed.

Main storyline

You start as Desmond Miles and you’re forced into a machine called the animus; a machine used to explore the memories of Altaïr, a demoted assassin tasked with killing the nine Knights Templars. The story is a little disappointing. Tracing the ancestry of a line of Assassins from the early 1200’s is a unique idea, but it falls down during the execution. It’s a little slow to move, and there are some breaks in the storyline reapeatedly stop the action.

Gameplay

Characters are touchy, and often misguided. On many occasions, I found myself jumping off walls for no reason while trying to scale a tower or local structure. It would break my momentum and also cause alarm from guards I was trying to avoid. In the same breath, I’d also struggle to move from point A to point B while scaling a wall and my character wouldn’t jump when I wanted him to.

There were also inconsistencies with non-player characters (NPCs). Assassin’s Creed is a stealth game, and one of the mechanics is to blend into a crowd by holding the ‘x’ button. It enables you to slowly walk past a guard and eventually out of his sight. But guards would be unnecessarily alerted to my presence, and I’d have to start the sequence over again. A few times I passed it off as “I must have been too close,” but after a while I knew it wasn’t me.

Chasing an enemy is challenging, but not by design, rather by design flaw.

Some missions required you to run after a target. The beauty of your surroundings should make this an enjoyable (and challenging) task. Altier’s movements, in terms of animation, are pretty smooth, but from a functional standpoint, didn’t really work.

Chasing an enemy is challenging, but not by design, rather by design flaw. You run by holding R1. When you want to climb a wall, or jump over an obstacle, you simultaneously hold ‘x.’ But this frequently caused my character to start climbing a wall that wasn’t intended, causing me to lose my target, and restart the mission. For me, this was one of the most frustrating flaws in this game.

Occasionally my viewpoint and objectives would also disappear from the map, causing me to wander around aimlessly. There were also technical issues with my map, because climbing large towers is supposed to unlock different areas, but some of my areas would remain locked.

I do like the ability to train with your new moves and weapons as you collect them. It gives you an opportunity to get used to the controls, but since the they’re so choppy and inconsistent, it remains a challenge.

Presentation

I was very impressed with the graphics and the world as a whole. Assissin’s Creed is pretty, and that’s its saving grace. There were some technical glitches with pop-ins. I saw an entire group of people just pop-in before my eyes. My biggest distraction in terms of presentation was the voice acting. Altier’s is the worst. It’s forced, over pronounced and some lines are a little cheesy.

Assassin’s Creed 2 apparenlty addresses many of these issues. It’s in my backlog of games, and I’m looking forward to seeing what they’ve done to correct the problems from the original.

Are you a fan of the Assassin’s Creed series?  Which game is your favourite?

 

UPDATE: I appreciate different points of view, and I found a post on Forbe’s from Carol Pinchefsky called 8 Reasons Why ‘Assassin’s Creed 1′ Is Still the Most Awesome Game in the Series. She brings up some great points (and she’s a good writer). Give it a read and see if you agree!

Video game review: Far Cry 3

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As an open world adventure game, Far Cry 3 is a lush, tropical paradise. It’s brought to life with animals roaming the countryside, pirates who’ve taken over local camps and a cast of characters that create a vast and populated environment.

It isn’t without its hiccups though. The looting system is dodgy, autosave and spawning are unpredictable, and some of the character development was unrefined. However, despite these flaws, Ubisoft has created a quality game.

Storyline:

You play as protagonist Jason Brody. You’re on vacation with a handful of over-privileged friends on a tropical island when things go wrong. And things go wrong fast. Your friends are kidnapped by a pirate named Vaas and you must scour the island to rescue them.

But Far Cry 3 is more than a “search and rescue” narrative. It’s an evolving journey of self discovery that pushes man’s emotional and mental limits. Jason is forced to take on a role that he clearly isn’t ready for, and that’s what makes things interesting.

However, some of Jason’s voice acting feels a little forced. The initial shakiness and insecurity fit for the first third of the game, but as Jason grew, I wanted more strength and confidence in his voice. It felt a little disjointed later in the campaign.

The story takes some psychedelic twists and turns that give it a uniqueness that’s both fun and attractive. The overall story can feel a little stereotypical and far-fetched, but remains entertaining throughout.

Gameplay:

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Crafting system in Far Cry 3

Far Cry 3 is an open world, action/adventure, first-person shooter with RPG elements to add depth and variety. Experience points let you build a skill tree with new and exciting techniques. the heron skill set allows for mobility, speed, and takedowns. The shark skill set improves healing and combat. And the spider skill set develops stealth, takedown variations and survival techniques.

You can choose a well-rounded path or compliment your own combat style by concentrating on a specific style. As you move through the map, you unlock new territory by climbing radio towers, which also help get free weapons from depots. Weapon selection can be integrated with your prefered combat technique, as can weapon attachments. Bows for extreme stealth, extended magazines for more readily available ammo, and sniper rifles for long distance attacks.

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Radio tower in Far Cry 3

Unlocking the radio towers also reveals items on the map like treasure chests with cash, new missions delivering medicine to different camps, and hunting grounds to kill animals and craft different sacks to carry more ammo, inventory, and syringes. You collect red, blue, green, and yellow herbs for crafting syringes for medicine, heightened senses, and increased hunting ability.

Overall:

You can rush through the campaign and complete the story in approximately 30 hrs or so, but to do so would ignore the wonderful things Far Cry 3 has to offer. Take your time and unlock as many radio towers as you can; it means unlocking the map and exploring new terrain, liberating pirate camps by experimenting with different strategies, and taming the wildlife that surrounds you.

Despite some of its technical flaws, Far Cry 3 is an excellent game game that will keep you busy for many hours. Check it out, play through the campaign and let me know if you agree!

Already played Far Cry 3?  Have a different opinion?  I’d love to hear it!  Comment below and tell me what you think.

Will Grand Theft Auto V live up to its lofty expectations?

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UPDATE: I was working on this post before IGN released their GTA V review. I’m pleased to say the game addresses all the issues I mention below. But since I worked on it, I thought I’d post anyway. Enjoy!

Grand Theft Auto (GTA) V will be released on September 17, 2013. With gameplay videos featuring a robust, three person narrative, an insanely massive sandbox to play in, and a diverse multiplayer that promises unlimited hours of gameplay, it’s promising to deliver on all levels.

But there’s one fundamental issue that Rockstar needs to address before GTA V it can live up to its full potential.

And that’s the controls.

The controls of GTA IV compared to other games are weak. They’re not intuitive, they feel forced, and frankly, really clunky. The cover system is awkward, the auto-aim is frustrating and the combat is unresponsive and flaky. Couple this with a pieced-together, fragmented storyline, I don’t think GTA IV was that great. But I’ll leave the storyline out for now.

What’s wrong with the controls?

My primary issue with GTA IV is how the automatic camera steers your head straight when you want to look in another direction. It’s detrimental to an open world game that prides itself on choice. It’s hard to get a sense of your surroundings and feels like a hinderance.

I often found myself feeling disoriented and lost, even in minor gun fights because I felt like I wasn’t in control.

Auto-lock was another cause of a few mock “controller-through-the-TV” moments. When enemies are attacking you from multiple levels, having your character lock-on to an NPC that’s not part of the action while others riddle your body with bullets is enough to make your head explode.

And finally, the cover system. Ouch!

The cover system in GTA IV is sparratic to say the least. Trying to get in postion behind cover, my character would often do the following:

  1. Stand there.

  2. Duck behind OTHER cover. (Usually within full sight of the enemy.)

  3. Duck behind the cover I selected, but shoot blanks (ie. I’m pulling the trigger, no bullets firing.)

GTA IV should be my style of game; it’s got gangsters, guns, and some pretty cool characters. But the controls took me out of the experience every time. It’s something I hope GTA V fixes, because the more I learn about this game, the higher my own expectations are.

Did you find any problems with GTA IV?  Do you think GTA V will live up to its expectations?

Will the Bioshock Infinite DLC: Burial at sea live up to its return to Rapture?

The original Bioshock stands at the top of my list as my favourite video game. The story is absolutely incredible, the gameplay is as exciting as it is varied, and the detailed character and environment designs bring everything to life. It’s a must play for ALL gamers. Period.

The reason I’m so excited about Bioshock Infinite: Burial at sea is one I’m sure fans of the franchise will understand — the return to Rapture.

Rapture was the crumbling, water-logged wreck of an attempt at complete utopia, and the brain-child of Andrew Ryan. It’s citizens were characterized by an addiction to gene-altering plasmids, and it also happens to be one of the best settings in video game history.

The city of Rapture

The city of Rapture

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Surgeon from Bioshock

The reason I’m so excited to see what Ken Levine and the folks at Irrational games have in store with this piece of downloadable content, is because it takes us back to Rapture, before its fall from grace.

“The story takes place on New Year’s Eve, 1958, which is the night that the bombing happened in the original Rapture and the revolution started.”

According to Ken Levine in an interview to Eurogamer, “The story takes place on New Year’s Eve, 1958, which is the night that the bombing happened in the original Rapture and the revolution started.” I recommend you read the whole interview. It’s great.

Preview for Burial at Sea:

No doubt this DLC will be a must play. It’s just a matter of what goodies are in store for us.

Do you think there will be a Bioshock title for next-generation consoles?