Review: Tony Hawks Pro Skater HD

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD is the latest of the Tony Hawk skating boarding games. HD is a 2012 remake of the original Pro Skater 1 and 2 games. The game is available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC (Steam), with the console versions getting extra features such as multiplayer for whatever reason.

2014-04-20_00003HD is definitely aimed at fans of the original Pro Skater series, it features maps, music, skaters and challenges from the early games in a blatant effort to provoke nostalgia from fans like me. The game takes you back to two minute runs with classic career objectives such as getting the secret tape, kick flipping TC’s roof gap and what not. In addition to the Career mode, the game also has a few other game modes such as Big Head Survival, Hawkman and extra Projectives when you finish Career.

2014-04-20_00005Yes, the high school level is back! Yes, the warehouse level is back! And yes you can once again Ollie the Magic Bum 5x. Most of the best levels from Pro Skater and Pro Skater 2 are included as well as three levels from Pro Skater 3 if you purchase the Revert Pack DLC which also adds the revert mechanic which significantly increases your combo potential.

While the game has obviously gotten a huge graphics upgrade, I felt like the physics were a bit… off. Things seemed to feel more realistic in the original games, but in HD it feels like I’m sometimes flying unnaturally through the air. There’s also no animations for stacking/bailing; your character just kinda ragdolls on the spot and spurts out blood.

2014-04-20_00008The PC version unfortunately has a few optimization and other console-porty errors. There’s also no skater creator like there was in Pro Skater 2 and 3, but instead, a decent assortment of uncanny-valley-esque professional skaters from both the older games and current real-life professionals.

Despite its flaws, I really liked HD, I loved the playing the old maps, hearing the old music (the new music was really good too!) and the simplistic game mechanics of the original Pro Skater games before the series let you natas-spin fire hydrants for 10 minutes and walk around off-board whenever you please.

2014-04-20_00001However if you were late to the series you might not find HD as fun as other Tony Hawk’s games, as this is purely a remake of the original Pro Skater games and doesn’t really improve on the old features much, but if you’re looking for a cheap childhood nostalgia trip, I recommend you give Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD a look.

I give Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD 6/10.

Review: Elder Scrolls Online

Elder Scrolls Online takes place during the Second Era of The Elder Scrolls universe, before all of the singleplayer games. Tamriel is world divided, three alliances fight for the throne and right to rule the realm.

Screenshot_20140408_200128Unlike the other Elder Scrolls games, ESO is an MMO and uses megaservers, meaning everyone plays on the same server, but everyone is put into an instance of the zone they are with a few hundred other players. You can join your friends in their instances whenever you wish.

I fully came into ESO expecting it to be nothing like the single player games, as to not be disappointed, but they have really nailed the TES feel when it comes to the stories, quests and exploration parts of the game. During some of the quests I felt very emotionally attached to the NPCs, a feeling I’ve only gotten from other TES games.

Screenshot_20140406_154812ESO is not like other MMOs, there are no quests that have you retrieving 50 bear asses, or killing ‘X amount of Y’. Every quest is highly story-based and usually has some kind of interesting twist or decision the player needs to make. You really feel like part of the game world, even though there are thousands of other players.

Never once did I feel like I was grinding to try and level up, I got immersed in quests and explored around and found I was being rewarded for it, I didn’t have to worry about where I should be at my current level or what gear I should be using, I was able to just immerse myself in the game world and play without thinking about the meta all the time, like you are forced to do in other MMOs.

Screenshot_20140406_162353However when it comes to the other factors that go into making a great TES game ESO doesn’t quite make it. You cannot be a murdering psychopath and kill everyone in each town, you cannot steal every single plate and cup and dump them all in your house. Obviously as an MMO, ESO has it’s limitations and it will never be able to embody all the greatest things from the single player series, but it really is a masterpiece in its own way.

As most Elder Scrolls fans know, the games have been getting more and more casualized and simplified with each release… Morrowind had a huge amount of skills, weapon types and gameplay systems, then Oblivion had less and Skyrim had significantly less. ESO does follow this pattern with having only 6 weapon ‘skill lines’ and 4 different classes. Its only redeeming factor regarding this is that it’s an MMO and things need to be kept simple to be properly balanced.

Screenshot_20140406_020851I felt that the character development, despite there only being 4 unique classes, was very good. You can build your character however you want, even if you started as a Sorcerer, you can still be a very good tank by assigning skill points appropriately. The skill points you spend on your class skills are the very same skill points you use on your crafting, armor and other skills, meaning you can make your character however you like and play your own way. Want to be a Nightblade that uses a healing staff and heavy armor? Depending on how you spend your skill points, this could be a very good combination!

The crafting system was also very nice, a bit complex but once I figured it out I really enjoyed it. You can craft your gear in a variety of different racial styles and with different traits depending on what styles you have learned and what traits you have researched from other items.

Screenshot_20140406_205504The only way to PvP in ESO is in the Alliance War, which plays very similar to Guild Wars 2′s World versus World system. The three alliances fight each other and capture castles, camps and forts in an effort to take over Cyrodiil. Players can buy and build seige equipment to attack castles and other fortifications. I found the large scale battles to be very enjoyable, but the actual zone is a bit to big for those that just want to jump into some PvP and fight other players straight away.

Depending on what kind of person you are, you will either love or hate Elder Scrolls Online… you might hate that the game isn’t enough like the previous TES games to be enjoyable, or you might be happy you have finally found something that is close enough to TES and can be played with your friends. I am the latter.

Elder Scrolls Online brings a very refreshing change to the MMO scene with story-driven content and highly immersive experiences, while it doesn’t play exactly like the rest of the series, it definitely tries embody much of what The Elder Scrolls is about into an online experience.

I give Elder Scrolls Online 8.5/10.

Morrowind Overhaul

Recently I reinstalled Morrowind and thought I’d try the popular Morrowind Overhaul. Last time I tried it I had lots of issues getting the majority of the mods installed properly, however there is now a nice fancy all-in-one installer that does most of the work for you.

Morrowind Overhaul is a large collection of graphic and gameplay enhancements that make Morrowind a much more enjoyable experience while still preserving the spirit of the game. It also makes the game easier to play for people who enjoyed the later TES games and wanted to try Morrowind for the first time.

I had seen pictures of the overhaul before but I have to say I was extremely happy to be able to play it for my self with such beautiful graphics at a decent frame rate (100+ indoors and 50+ outdoors), the characters in particular were very impressive.

As for gameplay changes, the overhaul introduces a few tweaks that really make the game more user-friendly and fun to play. For example, one of the worst things I remember about Morrowind was collecting alchemy ingredients; you had to activate the plant to open the loot window, then click and drag the ingredients to your inventory, then close the window. The overhaul makes it so you activate the plant, the model disappears and you get the ingredient in your inventory just like in Skyrim.

Below are some screenshots I took of my current adventure in overhauled Morrowind as a Dark Elf mage.

MGE Screenshot 007 MGE Screenshot 010  MGE Screenshot 003MGE Screenshot 011

Free-to-Play vs Subscription

Free-to-play business models have become very popular as of the last few years, not just for MMOs, but for other genres too. We’ve all seen games that we once paid for become available to all.

During the ESO beta I read literally thousands of complaints about the game not being free-to-play, I’m actually amazed that people have already come to expect their games to just be free by now.

Personally I am still a fan of subscriptions for MMOs. I would rather pay monthly to not have to worry about paying to get ahead of other players with microtransactions – cosmetics, XP boosters, etc. Most companies don’t adopt any kind of pay-to-win microtransactions but the pressure is still always there to buy the better or prettier items from the cash shop.

WoW_Store

WoW’s infamous in-game store.

Some subscription games offer a cash shop as well as having to pay monthly for the game which I find completely unnecessary. I agree with having to pay for account services such as character name change, character re-customization, but people shouldn’t be extorted with an in-game shop if they are already paying monthly.

Subscription games also keep out undesirable players such as troll accounts, gold sellers and cheaters, no one wants to pay and subscribe to a game just to be banned or ignored by every player.

The need for games to change from subscription to free-to-play is something that has affected all games, in all genres and I’m sure it will keep happening until there are no more subscription models – just look at Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning; the only big-name western MMO (besides WoW) to refuse to go free-to-play and now it’s shut down forever.

Guild Wars 2 is pay once, but supported by microtransactions.

Guild Wars 2 is pay once, but supported by microtransactions.

One of the key features that I think free-to-play has going for it is that people with little money can play the game for free because rich people subsidize them by buying microtransactions which make their game experience better. Where as subscription games have all players paying an equal amount regardless of their economic background, no one gets extra items or an advantage just because they have more money to blow – and personally, this model shares my political ideals; I’d prefer to know that everyone is on a level playing field.

However, free-to-play games are free of the mental stress of knowing you paid for game time and now you feel pressured to make the most out of it.

I think subscriptions for popular MMOs will still be around a while longer, but many new games from other genres will continue to adopt free-to-play/microtransaction models upon release.

Review: State of Decay

State of Decay brings a new style of gameplay to the zombie game scene, incorporating third person action, RPG and community/resource management into a nice open-world zombie survival game.

2014-03-06_00020In the game, you control a single character at a time and can switch to others when you become friends with them. Each character has their own inventory and stats and traits that may help your community. For example, some survivors might of been a vet or doctor before the outbreak and can use the communities medical supplies more efficiently.

Your community is a collection of survivors who have banded together and found a defendable home to live in, you can upgrade your home base using resources you scavenge in the world and find new survivors to recruit into your community as well as help other established communities and organize resource trades with them.

shedfightThe game is entirely single player but the developers have tried to give the game a more dynamic feel by making events happen in your game while you’re not playing it. I’m not too sure how I feel about this, it does make things more interesting but I don’t like having that lack of control in a single player game.

Lily, your communities’ radio girl, will advise you about current events and distress signals that are happening in the world. These may include; nearby hordes that need to be wiped out, a survivor in trouble, a community member that needs help with a task, a sighting of an infestation that needs to be dealt with or even a friend at home base that needs help with their depression or anger issues.

missionWhile not completing tasks and story missions you will usually find yourself exploring and looking for resources to take back home. Food tends to disappear the quickest, especially when you have a large home population, so building a garden at home or finding a reliable source of food and building an outpost there is a must.

Characters can also specialize in certain fields such as blunt weapons, edged weapons or rifles, etc. Some characters will naturally be better at certain weapons or abilities depending on their traits… the main character I used was an alcoholic and she could not increase her ‘Wits’ stats at all because of that.

2014-03-02_00001Cars are also a big part of the game, after a while of gameplay you will notice that you eventually run out of cars if you don’t start returning them to your home base after you use them. Vehicles can be an amazing zombie killing tool but can get damaged easily after running down a few hordes, so it’s always good to build a proper workshop at home and have a mechanic to repair the good cars you find.

When your community gets too large you will tend to have more problems with survivors not getting along with each other and various mental problems some survivors are having, offenders can be evicted if you don’t feel like having to deal with them and sick or dying people can even be mercy killed before they turn. Finding a bigger and better home is always something that should be on the smart survivalist’s mind when exploring.

uiThe currency of the game is influence and can be spent at community homes to buy items out of their supply locker as well as support while outside of home such as artillery strikes and car delivery. A community with well built facilities will tend to produce more items in their supply locker each day.

When your character dies, you will have to play another character back at home whom you have made friends with – if you have no other player characters you respawn as a new recruit to the community with a few starting items.

2014-03-06_00003My biggest issue with the game would have to be the graphics. It’s not the overall quality that annoys me, but in certain locations with certain lightning I find it very hard to see which was really off-putting for me. I also had quite a few bugs that made my game’s story behave very weird, luckily I was still able to finish it.

The game also has a DLC called ‘Breakdown’ which adds a never-ending gamemode that allows the player a bit more freedom than in the original game, however it should be played after you have finished the main story.

I enjoyed the originality of State of Decay, I felt like I really got attached to the characters I found in the game as well as my own which is rare for a sandbox-type game and I enjoyed being able to play with a community/home management system while also getting to play in an immersive third person action RPG. Unfortunately the graphics were bad enough to make me feel ill at times.

I give State of Decay 7.5/10.

Review: Shadowrun Returns

If you’re unfamiliar with the Shadowrun universe, it’s set in future earth and incorporates both cyberpunk and fantasy elements. Before now, Shadowrun has been a very popular tabletop game, an action RPG on the Sega Genesis and even a team-based multiplayer FPS.

Thanks to Kickstarter, Shadowrun has returned as a traditional isometric-style RPG that plays very similar to the old Fallout games, with combat that feels like it’s out of the XCOM games.

2014-03-25_00005Character creation involves choosing your class and race, in the Shadowrun universe you can be a Human, Elf, Troll, Orc or Dwarf, each of which have their own unique restrictions and perks associated with them, for example, Trolls and Orcs tend to make terrible Deckers or Riggers because of the high intelligence required, however they start with more HP and are better at strength-based abilities.

Your class choice has a huge impact on how you will be playing the game in combat situations. The classes include;

  • Street Samurai, master of weapons, both melee and ranged.
  • Mage, master of magic and magical support.
  • Decker, master of the matrix (cyberspace).
  • Shaman, master of the spirits, summoning and magical support.
  • Rigger, master of mechanical drones and engineering.
  • Physical Adept, master of unarmed and chi magic.

2014-03-19_00001Regardless of which class you choose at the start of the game, you can always later specialize in a different field of skills, your class mostly just affects your starting stats.

Gameplay outside of combat is in real time, you control your character by clicking where you want to move or what you want to interact with, if you have companions they will automatically follow you.

During combat, the game becomes turn based. Each character in the fight has a certain number of action points they can use during their turn. For example if you have 3 AP you could choose to run to cover, fire a burst of bullets with your SMG and then cast a heal spell on one of your friends.

2014-03-25_00006Rather than having a leveling and experience points system, Shadowrun Returns simply rewards players with karma points for completing tasks which they can spend on leveling up their skills.

Although Shadowrun Returns is an RPG, it doesn’t quite incorporate all of the elements of freedom that most RPGs have. For example, you cannot go back to areas you have already been or choose what order to do certain tasks in. The main campaign follows quite closely to the story with very few side missions.

While on an actual mission you are given a fair amount of freedom in regards to how you accomplish your tasks… will you open the door by jacking into the matrix, battling security programs and finding the door controls, will you fight your way in meatspace to the door switch, leaving a trail of destruction in your wake… or will you simply get your break down the door because you’re a giant troll with ridiculous strength?

2014-03-25_00003The game has a lovely soundtrack with a real cyberpunk feel to it. There is no voice acting though, so if you aren’t a big fan of reading dialogue you may find that off-putting.

I found the story to be absolutely amazing! It was probably the best story I’ve experienced in an RPG thus far. My only issue is that it ended after 10 hours of gameplay and I felt like I had not fully developed my character yet and that there was still a lot of things I wanted to try. But I suppose 10 hours of gameplay isn’t bad considering the game comes with a built in module/map editor and there are loads of modules on the Steam Workshop.

If you’re looking for a more freedom-based experience with this game, I recommend getting the module ‘Shadowrun Unlimited’ from the Workshop.

Overall, I really liked this game, it has just about everything I look for in an RPG. It lacks a bit of freedom in the default campaign, but makes up for it with modding tools.

I give Shadowrun Returns 8/10.

Elder Scrolls Online Beta: Alliance War

Last ESO beta weekend I got to try out the Alliance War PvP. Currently it’s the only way to PvP in ESO.

It plays very similar to Guild Wars 2′s ‘World versus World’ where three factions battle for control of castles, resources and other strategic locations in Cyrodiil only with a much bigger map.

This time I played an Imperial in The Daggerfall Covenant faction.

Adventures of an Altmer Sorceress

The Elder Scrolls Online held another beta test this weekend. This time they have allowed beta testers to release game information, screenshots and videos. Here are some screenshots of my adventure through the Aldmeri Dominion starting area thus far for those who couldn’t participate in the beta.

Female Avatars in Games

Since the recent release of Call of Duty Ghosts, one of the first big-name competitive FPS games to feature female avatars in multiplayer, people have been asking me about my thoughts on the subject.

First of all – as a long time gamer of all genres I obviously have no problem playing as a male character in games. Especially in an online FPS where everyone is just a generic solider. But as soon as a game adds avatar customization but leaves out the ability to choose your character’s gender I get frustrated.

Why would I want to customize my online avatar if I can’t even get in touch with or immersed in my character’s shoes because it is not my gender? Give me a reason to want to care about my character, but no option to make it female, then we’re gonna have a problem.

There are some exceptions to this though, some games have what I consider ‘character locked’ player characters, for example, if you want to play the Siren class in Borderlands, you have to play a female character because she is the Siren. They designed the player classes to have strong characters relevant to the game.

Avatar customization isn’t the only that bugs me about this either; if a game focuses on strong development (ie; any RPG or MMO) and doesn’t allow you to play as the gender of your choice then I also find it hard to want to care about and develop my character.

Again there are exceptions to this with story driven RPGs such as The Witcher; the game is about Geralt of Rivia, a very strong character crucial to the story of the series. The reason there are so few story driven RPGs with female player character is obvious – there are generally less female gamers than males.

Another part of this subject is historical or geographical accuracy. Why do World War II games have no female American soldiers? Obviously because there were no female American soldiers in World War II. We all know this, but does this make the game sexist in any way? Of cause not, but the premise on which the game is based is sexist and that should not be ignored.

There is one last thing I’d like to mention as well – games that have female avatars only as a purchasable DLC. As you can imagine this annoys me to no end! Some of the offenders include Killing Floor and Infestation: Survivor Stories (formally The War Z).

Warframe is borderline in this regard; yes, you need to pay for the female characters (or spend dozens of hours farming in game), but the classes are kind of character-locked. But they barely have any kind of back story or personality to give the developers any reason to force people to play certain classes as certain genders.

Some games that have my utmost praise for going to extra mile to appeal to female gamers as well as male gamers:

  • The Elder Scrolls series
  • Fallout series
  • Saints Row series

These are few of the titles where the developers could of easily released these games without the option to play as a female character and pleased the majority of their player base, instead they not only went out of their way to add loads of customization for female characters, but all of them have some kind of separate content based on the gender you are. Bravo to the developers, would love to see more of this in the future as well.

Oh, by the way, Call of Duty Ghosts is a great game, loads of new features in the multiplayer such as contextual lean, improved score streak system, dynamic maps and care package/field orders system make it one of my favorite Call of Duty games to date.

F2P Spree!

Over the last month I’ve been checking out some free-to-play games that have been on my list for a while now;

Warframe (Co-op RPG)Warframe
A very pretty sci-fi shooter with impressive ninja-style gameplay. Levels are randomly generated so if you replay a mission it’s different every time, this can get a bit repetitive when the same room or corridor is used 4 times in the same level though, but hey, it’s space, efficiency in ship design is crucial. My only issue is that I had to fork out $20 to buy a female warframe as all the default ones are male – say what you like, but in a game that promotes heavy character development and avatar customization I find it difficult to enjoy playing a male character. Gotta love that female-tax on gaming. :/

TERA (MMORPG)
Mother of god. This game…
I can’t tell if the developers were trying to go for a Western style or Asian style MMO here, either way the result is a strange semi-serious fantasy MMORPG with unique gameplay that rewards player skill a little bit more than the average MMO; you have to aim and attack rather than auto-attack. It has a decent selection of races and classes and graphically looks very nice, if you like MMOs and have no problem downloading 35gb, give it a go.

Rift (MMORPG)Rift
Recently made free-to-play, Rift has been out for a few years now. It has some nice features for an MMO, huge class selection and a nice take on faction vs faction (something I think we don’t see enough of in MMOs these days). Rift is a well polished game and I highly recommend it to all MMO players.

Neverwinter (MMORPG)Neverwinter_screenshot_WhatisNeverwinter_022213_jpeg27
Based on the D&D forgotten realms universe, loosely utilizing D&D 4e rules/spells/abilities/skills; Neverwinter is a nice action-based MMO with dodge rolls, click-to-attack gameplay and a pretty impressive dungeon editor. There really isn’t much freedom for D&D players that are used to being able to do virtually anything in their game; at the moment there are very few classes, not so many races and no alignment (everyone is unaligned), it plays nice and looks nice though.

Firefall (MMO Shooter)firefall-the-game04
A wonderful, vibrant (and semi-cel-shaded) third person shooter. Easily one of my favorite MMOs of all time, the developers have really created something unique here, in terms of both the game world and gameplay. It’s recently come into open beta and I highly recommend giving it a go.

All of these games are completely free-to-play, what’s your excuse? :p