Deus Ex: Mankind Divided – A Mirror of Reality?

Posted in The Latest on September 24, 2016 by Rabidgames

Once in a while, we come across games that transcend their medium, that do more than “just” entertain us … While Life is Strange asks us to just relax and do nothing for a few minutes once in a while (and does so in the game itself, too) or Red Dead Redemption makes us see the dying West and the end of an age through John Marston’s embittered and wisened eyes, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided puts the finger in the festering wound of our era – discrimination.

When Eastern Europeans get attacked in Britain after the Brexit disaster, when black people get killed by cops in the US, when islamophobia is running rampant across the world and right-wing hatred rears its ugly head once more, Mankind Divided dares to tell a story of segregation, discrimination and fear-mongering exactly at the right time.

Even more so, while the game shows discrimination openly, you’ll get to experience it yourself throughout the game up to a point where you start hating every asshole shouting “clank” at you, that cop shouting at you to not take the “naturals'” carriage or every time you have to present your papers to show you have the right to be where you are despite being an augmented sub-human “hanzer”.

In fact, the title Mankind Divided sums up today’s world perfectly, a world where division, suspicion and prejudice reign and split societies and peoples, fuelled by hate-filled diatribes in too many tabloids reaching far too many people. Just like in the game – you can read newspapers from the opposing ends of the spectrum, you find propaganda from all sides lying around and you feel the tensions between rich and poor, between freedom and security, between the cold truth and comforting lies.

A key moment of Mankind Divided is when you transit from the open word-ish streets of Prague to the linear corridor of Golem City – a perfect way of using gameplay to establish the experiences and the hardship of the “human waste” in the ghetto where rampant police violence and lawless gangs both thrive without consequences.

Where the game excels is not painting everything in black and white – there are augmented terrorists, some cops are actually just looking for the greater good with bad methods, and making all information available to everyone might involve risks as well. The world of Deus Ex has always tried to be morally grey, and Mankind Divided has nailed this even better than Human Revolution – not necessarily through missions or objectives, although it can be seen there as well, but rather covertly by listening to conversations, during conversations, reading e-books, papers and mails.

Mankind Divided follows the footsteps of GTA V by transporting dark themes of our reality into a game, although there a key differences – while the sun-kissed San Andreas is a garish, bright and satirical take on capitalism and the rotting American Dream, Prague’s dystopian vision shows a bleak world of oppression and decay. While GTA is a tale of utter amorality in a hopeless and corrupted world of mass stupidity and pretty much character is nothing but a massive bodily orifice of your choosing, Deus Ex is a world of morals with a twist, as a seemingly good deed potentially leads to disaster. But both games reach their greatest narrative height not in their storylines (they both are arguably not the strongest stories of their series), but rather in portraying worlds where behind .

Rabidgames muses: It’s a shame that when we talk about progress in video games, we’re mostly talking about shiny graphics, screen resolutions or processing power. Hardly do we ever read about narrative heights, deep stories or new ways how games can tackle serious matters. It’s a shame, but maybe it’s the strange thought that games should be only fun without us having to think, or maybe it’s also the fact we’re not used to games tackling serious issues.

Whatever the reason, we should laud games such as This War of Mine or Spec Ops: The Line, we should discuss the undertones of games like Deus Ex instead – if we’re instead in the medium evolving into more than a mere pastime. This decision is up to each of us, and we can decide with our wallet if we want another stupid patriotic shooter or a different game that challenges not only our hands and eyes, but also the brain.

F1 2016 or Poles, Crashes and Glory

Posted in Played & Explained with tags , , on August 23, 2016 by Rabidgames

Great games always use their engines as backdrops for the stories we can write. F1 2016 tells a lot of stories, and yes, even the first racing weekend of the season can include all the twists and turns Formula 1 has to offer. But let’s cover the basics first, let’s come back to that race later.

Remember F1 2015, the tech demo lacking content? While last year’s instalment felt like a crash just after the start, F1 2016 easily goes the full distance, although there are a few safety car sessions in there as well …

First of all, content-wise, there are no more previous season or classic modes any more, but F1 2016 comes with a massive career mode at its heart, making you really feel like a F1 driver – and you’re not just living the triumph and victories, the crashes and technical failures, you’re also having to work hard for it to make your success happen. Oh, and sometimes, spectacular, yet physically not absolutely correct crashes happen:

If you’re like Rabidgames and you pretty much suck at racing games, the game actually poses quite a challenge even on easy and with all driving assists activated – you really need to focus throughout the circuits, and in races, one tiny mistake can mean ruined tyres and being 10th instead of on the podium! F1 2016 is a game that asks you to study the tracks hard before you can reap the rewards.

While you can create your driver, the creation suite is a rather sad state affairs – maybe 12 face models with hardly anything to change, a few helmet designs, and that’s it … a bit sad for 2016. But hey, at least you can lead small countries such as Luxembourg or San Marino to their first ever Formula 1 victory! Afterwards, you can choose your team freely now in F1 2016 – but be careful, a top team Mercedes expects you to become world champion while Manor is happy with you grabbing perhaps a point or two …

But as soon as you created your driver and go through the first tutorials, the depth of F1 2016 shines through – while you can simply jump straight into your first free practice session to get to know the track, you can also play around with the settings to get to know which car settings suit your playstyle best. As a nice and well-integrated bonus, you can also earn points by fulfilling certain conditions throughout the weekend – from learning how to get your tyres working to outracing your dedicated rival, those points will help you developing your car throughout the season, so it is highly recommended to do so.

Back to the first race weekend of the season – after using the free practice sessions to get accustomed to the circuit and the gameplay of F1 2016, and after noticing the AI drivers have never heard about making way for faster cars the hard way, Rabidgames managed to qualify the Toro Rosso on the pole – which is quite easy with a somewhat decent lap on easy difficulty.Choosing 25% of the original distance, which equals 15 laps in Australia, felt long enough for the first race.

The formation lap went a bit wrong though after getting overtaken by a few cars that didn’t make way which is part of the regulations, yours truly failed at the start and ended up 4th … Only to get back to 1st within a few laps, unfortunately damaging the front wing so when boxing after lap 8, the front wing had to be changed which kicked Rabidgames’ Luxembourgian driver back to 7th. After a few overtakings and a few cars boxing though, it was back to first place.

But then came the rain. Visually beautifully looking rain, and rainy conditions is where F1 2016 looks stunning. Problem is, rain and old tyres aren’t exactly a fun combination, and while Ricciardo could be fought off after he made a mistake and left the track after a collision, Räikkönen felt comfortably fine with the rain. Fortunately, the rain became so hard that the box recommended putting on intermediates in the final lap, which was insane as Räikkönen didn’t pit so with both cars struggling, Rabidgames managed to somehow slide the car to the chequered flag, meaning a historical first race victory for Luxembourg!

Truth be told, doing all of that on easy and with most assists activated might diminish the feat, but for a racing noob, it still felt hard and challenging. F1 2016 asks quite a lot from inexperienced racers on easy difficulties, where mistakes are punished quickly. Yes, you can rewind to before the accident, but that’s really cheating now!

As you can see, lots of things can happen in F1 2016, and that was just one race! However, the A.I. is far from perfect and while you pretty push a car off the tracks, sometimes you get punished for leaving the track although lost time and positions … which seems odd.

Apart from the career mode, there’s a season mode with all current drivers (feeling kind of superfluous), a custom race/season mode, time trials which let you race against others players’ online times, and then F1 2016 also offers multiplayer (single races or an entire championship, that’s up to you) with up to 22 drivers. One weird thing is that A.I. cars become transparent during online races, which is a very weird design choice … But apart from this and some lag that can appear at times, it is actually lots of fun to just watch online races, too, as quite a few pan out like the one below:

So, who should play F1 2016? The obvious answer is Formula 1 fans, of course! What better way to start into a race weekend than power on your console and get to know the track yourself so you can laugh at drivers making mistakes later? Or maybe just spend a few races crashing into that one driver that always gets you mad?

Furthermore, the game should also be suited to racing pros who prefer Assetto Corsa, Forza or Gran Turismo, but then again, it’s hard to say how hardcore F1 2016 is when you’re not a big racing fan yourself, and it’s also difficult to judge the flaws of this game (A.I., punishment system, online lags) against the competition.

One thing is for sure though – for the best experience of F1 2016, a racing wheel is almost mandatory – while it is okay in the dry with new tyres, as soon as you have wet conditions and/or older tyres, the controller just feels inaccurate. Obviously, you should be a die-hard racer who keeps playing racing games for a long time …

Rabidgames admits: For amateur console racers, F1 2016 offers a lot, but it may offer a bit too much as well – if you don’t really know the tracks and just want to play the game in short bursts, you won’t go too far with the game. If you have patience and you’re willing to learn every nook and corner of the F1 business though, this game and the drama, the victories and the defeats of Formula 1 should be yours. And please, for the love of Ayrton Senna and the other greats, let’s have another team but Mercedes win races!

 

 

Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness or What a Shame

Posted in Played & Explained with tags , , , , on August 22, 2016 by Rabidgames

Sometimes, games can feel like friends indeed. Some, you’ve known for decades, and some always stay close, some however, grow distant or disappear. And while Star Ocean: The Last Hope was the first sign that this friendship was changing, Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness emphasises that sometimes, friendships can be hanging by a thread.

First of all, Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness … wow, what a title, right? What poetry, how philosophical. Yet after finishing the game – wow, what a pompous, vain, almost flatulent title! It’s meaningless. Utterly devoid of meaning. Two words combined just because. True, some characters show more integrity than others, but faithlessness? If you look deep, you might find a hint of it somewhere, perhaps. But you could do so with each and every game. For instance, Trevor feels betrayed by Michael in GTA V, or just remember the end of Red Dead Redemption. See? But at the end of the day, it’s a meaningless title.

Sadly, the characters are entirely meaningless and forgettable, too. You have two guys with swords (this time, no teenagers at least), two girls with magic powers, one space dude with a cross-bow or a laser gun (yep, both, and no one seems to care) and a female martial artists fighter, and then, there’s a little girl hanging with you most of the time who is the key to the events of Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness. The problem – there is hardly any character development going on, and the bit that is happening is mostly happening in Private Actions, a series staple that has never felt that meaningless before: You have to circle the hubs to talk to your party members, and mostly, it’s small talk about trivial shit. Perhaps it’s an allegory on how small talk is a waste of time, but come on, it shouldn’t literally feel like you’re wasting your time in the game! Why do them, you ask? Well, after some random Private Actions, new roles can get unlocked. Hooray!

And then, the story of Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness is as hollow – there is exactly one nice twist that took Rabidgames by surprise around the middle of the game, but the rest of it is foreseeable, dull and often boring. It doesn’t help most of the cutscenes just is the characters talking in-game, with horrible lip-sync from the 90s and an adjustable camera that hardly captures any emotions or importance.

But hey, there are emotes you can unlock to comment on the things said. No one wanted it, and yet it’s there. 95% of all the cutscenes in Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness are just fluff and too long, and guess what – there is no fucking way to skip them! Honestly, this game expects you to play it several times in different difficulties, but with these shitty cutscenes that last way too long too often, no fucking way!

So, we have a meaningless title, hollow characters, dumbed-down non-skippable cutscenes and a flat story – and the world design is as bad! There are around 10 maps you constantly have to run through back and fort, forth and back and back and forth. The amount of backtracking in Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness is utterly ridiculous! The maps are okay though, enemy variety is alright (they change as the story progresses), but graphically, some environments clearly look last-gen. And the handful of hubs aka towns are tiny and lifeless as well. Furthermore, there’s a huge in-game glossary you can read … or you could if it was any useful. (Hint: Assassin’s Creed is the prime example how in-game info can be provided in a humorous way.)

So far so bad. Thankfully, fighting in Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness is fun. It’s more Till the End of Time than The Last Hope, but that’s fine. Having up to 7 characters on-screen can be a bit hectic when there’s explosions and flashes all over the screen, but it’s still fun, the kind of fun battle system Star Ocean is known for.

Plus, there is some depth to customising and upgrading your characters’ equipment, levelling up roles and finding out which work well together will keep you busy for hours, and as in every other Star Ocean title, crafting and synthesising are well worth experimenting and satisfying. The game gives you plenty of room to find out many things for yourself, which is a nice change.

The playtime is also alright, albeit a bit short if you’re used to the 100+ hours of the past just for the main story. For RabidgamesStar Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness the clock showed 45 hours when the final boss fell, and there still the obligatory and pretty tough post-game dungeons to explore.

It’s clear by now there are a shitloads of cons and only a few pros when it comes to Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness, but it’s still worth checking out if you have an itch for a JRPG; not for the story obviously, but for the gameplay, which keeps things interesting! But unless you’re big fan, don’t buy it for the full price, or you’ll be disappointed.

Rabidgames wonders: After completing the game, it just feels like this friend might get another chance – while times have changed and it falls flat in many regards, you can still see why you wanted to hang around with that friend in the first place. But after two disappointments, it’s now Last Chance Hotel for Star Ocean! Which is a sad thing to say if you once thought you’d love Star Ocean Till the End of Time …

 

No Man’s Sky or Infinite Worlds with Finite Wonders

Posted in Hands On with tags on August 12, 2016 by Rabidgames

After a long wait and much anticipation, the space faring survival exploration discovery crafting inventory management game No Man’s Sky has been released. Time to jump into a galaxy far, far away!

First of all, No Man’s Sky is fucking addictive! Imagine a line from A to B, which should take you 3 minutes. But in this game, it turns out to be 3 hours, on a focussed day! There’s much to be discovered, explored, catalogued and mined on the line, and oh so many glittering and twinkling things nearby, and also interesting silhouettes in the distance. But let’s face it, getting sidetracked is part of the fun in games like No Man’s Sky.

Second, the title is a lie! It’s all YOURS! It’s your universe to explore and play with. Barren and frozen moons, planets full of life with critters or weird dinosaurs wanting to have you as an exotic lunch, scorching deserts or radioactive swamps, there are tons of things you can find and name in your unique version of No Man’s Sky. True, while the number of planets is incredibly high, the forms of life start to look alike after the tenth planet so it remains to be seen if the game stays fresh after 50 planets – but then again, that’s what we’d expect from evolution, right?

Third, No Man’s Sky is perhaps the ultimate sandbox. You can follow the story or decide not to  to care about it, you can mine resources to get rich quickly or you can find alien artefacts to master the language of a mysterious race, you can try to get the biggest and baddest ship to rule the galaxy or you can spend hours to fully catalogue one planet. The choice is always yours. If for any reason however you need a dense story or structure in your games, No Man’s Sky might not be your cup of cosmic tea.

After perhaps 10 hours (or maybe 15), the centre of the galaxy is still far away, but it’s already clear No Man’s Sky has one enemy – time. Time flies by when you play the game, and it is time well spent on exotic planets. This game should be your game if you ever imagined how awesome it would be to fly to the stars, to discover planets and to just be an explorer in uncharted territories. And the fact that it’s all yours only makes the game even greater!

Rabidgames goes back to reaching for the stars. Over and out.

PES 2016 or Fuck Konami!

Posted in Gaming these days ... with tags , , , , , , on July 14, 2016 by Rabidgames

You know what is the dumbest thing you can do these days? Buying a game blindly! Rabidgames did this with UEFA Euro 2016 / PES 2016, and fucking hell, that was bloody damn stupid!

Why you ask? Konami’s “Euro Edition” of Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 doesn’t include all stadiums, and not even all dresses are correct doesn’t feature the actual Euro squads. Right, Konami patches in some menus, some graphics, and that’s it. Fuck off, Konami!

Remember the FIFA World Cup games? You know, where you could play the qualifiers with the likes of Luxembourg or Vanuatu, where the current and actual tournament squads were patched in? Haha, forget it. PES 2016 is stuck in the playoff stage – you can try to play with Scotland or Denmark, even with the Netherlands (big team and such), but that’s it. No leading Luxembourg or San Marino to glory! It’s one hell of a lazy job, done by assholes who don’t give a shit.

Then again, why would you expect more from Konami? Their despicable handling of Metal Gear Solid and Kojima, their idiotic predictions about gaming and now this say it all – fuck the customer, rip him off, hope he’s bloody stupid to keep buying Konami’s cheap products. It’s safe to say Metal Gear Solid V was the last title from Konami worth buying.

But what about the gameplay? Well, after seeing only a few stadiums, the lack of the option to set the weather or the time of kickoff, the actual gameplay is still fun. Nothing special and not up to the lofty heights of PES 6, but still enjoyable. However, let’s face it, FIFA offers pretty much the same these days.

This lazy attempt of Konami does nothing to convince Rabidgames they care, on the contrary, that Euros travesty with zero care or passion just ensures that Konami is worth shit these days, and that they should simply go fuck off and die.

Rabidgames sighs: Oh Konami, once you were great. Remember when we could play with dinosaurs, or the legendary fake names such as “Slinslizel“? We used to love PES, Konami, but after years of getting rid of features, a generation starting without rain and now this shitty job, we’ll part ways now – sincerely, fuck you, Konami! Fuck you!

Dead Island or A Real Definitive Edition

Posted in Hands On with tags , , , , on June 14, 2016 by Rabidgames

Oh yes, Dead Island was one of Rabidgames’ guilty pleasures on last generation’s consoles. A pleasure because the hacking, slicing and maiming was very satisfying, but guilty because it was an unpolished game where potential was let down by bugs, freezes and the occasional crash. Or sometimes, you were stranded in an area too high level for you …

But the core gameplay – in both Dead Island and its successor Riptide (see Rabidgames’ opinion here) – was refreshing – and brutal. Cutting of limbs, smashing heads, throwin explosives around was all good fun. Add to that Dead Island’s Borderland-style RPG light mechanics and the loot, and you could have fun for hours.

In case you’ve never bought a Dead Island game but feel that the melee fights in Dying Light were too bland, check out the precise controls of Dead Island – make sure to change the controls to analog, and with a bit of practice, you can slash at a zombie’s head and the head might not just roll, but even fly.Tearing apart zombies this way is proper bloody and gory fun, and the joy when finding – and modding a powerful weapon feels even better than it did in Dying Light!

But should you buy this Definitive Edition when you had plenty of fun with the original games? Well, revisiting the world of Dead Island on the next generation is actually a journey worth travelling – not only are most of the bugs gone and the game runs on smooth 30 FPS, but Dying Light’s dynamic lighting system makes Dead Island shine even sunnier and more vibrant than the original!

So what’s new? Apart from including all DLC packs for both games, the new lighting system, a more stable running experience and a minimally streamlined and unified menu and UI in both Dead Island games, not much. There’s the hilarious One Punch mode; activate it when you start a new game, and one kick makes zombies fly dozens of meters! Obviously, trophies and challenges are disabled, but it’s fun nonetheless.

Then, there’s Dead Island Retro Revenge, a rather uninspired 2D sidescroll beat ’em up game that gets stale quickly if you’re not a fan of that genre. But it’s a bonus anyway, so whatever.

For once, we have a game that really deserves the “definitive” moniker. It feels like Dead Island is what Dead Island should have been in the first place – technically sound, Riptide included and stunning graphics make a good package for 20 pounds, that’s for sure. If you can’t get enough of the thrill of zombie killing and the idea of finding just another weapon sounds like a good way to spend an afternoon, Dead Island is your game.

Rabidgame smiles: Dead Island proves there is justification for remasters when the price and content are right. Now let’s just hope there will be more of it in the form of Dead Island 2!

 

Homefront: The Revolution or A Broken American Dream

Posted in Hands On with tags , on May 29, 2016 by Rabidgames

First of all, kudos to Eurogamer’s Homefront: The Revolution review subtitle “It’s always gunny in Philadelphia”. The perfect headline … although Paddy’s Pub hasn’t been found yet in this war-torn version of Philadelphia, which sounds like a strange omission.

So, Homefront 2 – well, it’s not the offical title per se, but whatever, so yes, the story is flatter than then Netherlands and the setpieces are just there – then again, after being spoilt by Uncharted 4, hardly any setpiece might be enjoyable. You have an invasion, the good American lads fight back the alien invaders, standard stuff. Here, the “Norks” (check what norks means in Australian English to have a laugh) are pretty much like portrayed like the nazis – mass-murdering, camp-building villains hidden behind full-face helmets so you actually never see their face. The heroes however, they’re all assholes, too – psychopaths, hypocrites, college bros, stereotypes.

Half in the story … fuck, there is hardly any story, so the trailers just set up expectations until you realise a 3 minute trailer has more story than the entire game! And then, the black and white portrayal worked perfectly fine in the last Wolfenstein, but sadly, The Revolution fails to either attach you to the heroes or to exaggerate the villains, and there is hardly any humour as well. There are some pretty violent scenes and atrocities to be discovered, but since you hardly build a connection to anything or anyone it’s just like “meh, let me keep playing”.

Enough philosophy … your question probably is rather how bad Homefront: The Revolution actually is, right? Technically, it is shit-awful! Framerate crashes, a 5 to 10 second freeze during each and every auto-save (at times you get shot during saves so the game seems to be only freezing for you), falling through the floor of the world (and failing missions that way), incorrect hitboxes not recognising headshots, side-missions not registering you doing stuff you’re told to do, and good luck trying to win the lottery of getting hold of an edge after jumping (and during the campaign, you have to jump and grab edges a few times). And that’s just the campaign of Homefront 2 – the co-op multiplayer is utterly broken (crashes, freezes, connection failures, lags, name it)!

Technical failures aside, the gameplay is quite repetitive, and the missions are more of the same; take out this, take over that, defend this, find out that expected plot twist. Taking over territory feels a bit like the Far Cry games; if you liked that aspect there, you’ll like it here as well – it varies between taking them over by force, by side missions and by a bit of platforming. But juggling between yellow and red zones can keep you entertained for quite a while. The red zones in Homefront: The Revolution are all about open warfare and regular fire fights in ruins, and you can get hunted down by massive enemy zeppelins. You can traverse these areas quicker with a motorbike, which must also be used to find ways to take over a few Strikepoints (just a fancy word for different kinds of outposts). These zones play like most shooters, and here you can also recruit up to 4 AI comrades for bigger firefights.

The yellow zones in Homefront 2 are more interesting – at first: You get spotted instantly (even if you turn your back to enemy soldiers, they can identify your ass it seems) and need to run for cover then because you can hardly fight off the hordes of Norks hunting you down. By taking over territory (same as in red zones), assassinating or blowing up targets (pretty damn cool) or helping civilians (rather boring) you start conquering the hearts of the population until they start an uprising – from that point, the enemies magically disappear from most areas. Narrative dissonances aside, by that point the yellow zones are boring, so there’s only fun to be had there for a limited time which is a shame because playing cat and mouse with the Norks, frantically trying to find a hiding space and then striking again is very fun.

The shooting in Homefront: The Revolution is wonky and feels very unpolished, even when compared to Uncharted 4. And yet, there is the underlying feeling that the game has some good potential, raising the question if there is still a place in today’s gaming universe for games such as Mercenaries, The Saboteur or Dead Island, just to name a few not quite AAA productions which still brought hours upon hours of fun after fighting through questionable technical issues and unusual or unintuitive gameplay decisions. In the past, we could have fun with these games

But what about Homefront 2? Well, 40 quid seems expensive for not finished game, so unless you’re a fan of guerilla warfare, better wait until the bugs are fixed. Once they are fixed, you get an almost AAA game … but released between Uncharted 4 and Overwatch, and thanks to the justified bad press because of the unfinished state of the game, well, not many people will buy the game now, that’s for sure. But if you’re a fan of open-worldish shooters, or if you like guerilla tactics, you should have Homefront on your watch list for gaming droughts. Yes, modifying your weapon on the spot can make for interesting choices in tight situations, the hit and run guerilla warfare can be fun – and let’s face it, any game where you can drive a RC car full of explosives can’t be that bad!

Rabidgames sighs: There’s a wrong time and a wrong place for games at times, and Homefront 2 was released at the wrong time in two regards: First, it’s not finished, that’s clear. Second, such a game cannot expect to beat any big guns, and that timing was awful. But at least the place is right – Philadelphia might not be that sunny here, but the ingredients are there. And when/if the time comes for the game to run fine, it might well deserve another chance. For the time being though, the sad truth is Homefron: The Revolution simply isn’t up to today’s standards, which means this revolution failed in its cradle.