Call of Duty AW: Ascendance DLC Review

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Whether you love or hate it, one thing cannot be denied. This game is a juggernaut. The sheer volume of DLC and customisation is enough to make the most cynical fan-boy cave in and purchase something. Be it a season pass – which many would argue is not worth its full cost, or just a weapon skin.

This brings me neatly to the second of Activision’s planned expansion packs for COD. Ascendance. Boasting of four new maps, a new zombies experience, and a new weapon, The Ohm LMG/Shotgun (What?!).

There is a lot of glitz and glamour around these releases, with the addition of new unlockables, helmets, armour, Exo equipment, and the promise of several days of 2x Experience. Quite often it is very easy to get a game as the online attendees swell the gaming ranks.

The Maps:
Following in its usual business model Activision/Sledgehammer have given 1 old map a shiny makeover, and presented three new maps to boost around whilst attached to a metal exoskeleton and carrying weaponry enough to destroy a small army..

Perplex:
This my favourite map out of the four. Based in Australia, battle commences around an apartment complex built out of sections that slot together like a modular PC. Awash with bright colours and brilliant verticality it often leads to race to control the top floor, as the team which can manage this best of all tends to win the day. That’s not always a perfect choice though, as the top of the complex is very open and can be attacked for ALL sides. The environmental change takes place halfway through a game when nearby cranes begin to move some of the modular buildings to new positions, exposing some camping spots and creating new hidey holes.

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Comprising of a three lane battlefield, fighting around the crashed hulk of an alien space craft in the shadow of Mt Rushmore.  This gives some excellent vantages points for snipers to make use of. There are a lot of intersecting tunnels and paths to allow you to traverse the map quickly whilst avoiding the majority of fire.  In my experience it’s best to stay mobile, the longer you remain static the quicker you will be flanked. There is no environmental event on this map.

Climate:
My least favourite of the maps. This takes place inside a Biome entirely controlled by nanobot technology. Fighting takes place around a small circle in the very centre of the map and there is little place to hide. Expect the enemy team to be waiting for you when you run around a corner and adjust accordingly. The middle holds a pool of water, when a klaxon alerts the whole map halfway through the level advising that the nanobots are malfunctioning, avoid the water at all costs as it turns to extremely caustic acid killing you very quickly. Happily to make sure you are aware of the change the water turns a putrid green colour.

Chop Shop:
This is the redux map. Modernised to reflect the future, this symmetrical industrial complex is the site of an exoskeleton black market, selling and removing exo suit parts. Fighting tends to clump in the central corridor, and is a very efficient way of controlling the game. However this leaves the side walkways mostly clear of enemies, meaning ambush attacks are relatively easy to spring if the opposing team is much less cohesive than yours.

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Zombies is still a lot of fun if you have friends to play with, suffering only when you solo cue and play with randoms. With a further selection of armoury collectibles dependent on progress through the Burgertown level and the weirder weapons found in the pack a punch boxes.

The last thing i will speak about is the new weapon. How they managed to pull off a machine gun shotgun hybrid is beyond me. The weapon in its base form is very heavy, meaning it’s slow to aim down sight. Changing from LMG to shotgun is not overly rapid either, but fast hands mitigates this somewhat. Shooting down sight for anything longer than a second renders the weapon really inaccurate, but with little recoil. I struggled with this weapon, having to resort to being a sneaky bastard and pouncing on campers with the shotgun, which to be fair, is extremely powerful within 5 feet. Unlocking a sight for this gun and the fore-grip turns the LMG into a death laser. The improvement is markedly different, making achieving the no mods camo unlock MUCH more difficult with this gun.

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Pros:
-New maps are fun and fast
-New weapon choice
-Extra unlockables for even more customisable character
-Perplex really is awesome

Cons :
-Expensive to buy individually
-Even more purchasable skins and stickers for ludicrous prices
-New maps not added to hardcore Team Deathmatch rotation, Hardcore fans miss out unless they play Mosh Pit – which is always empty as a game lobby
-Re-used old maps is still not popular with fans across any FPS game

Score 7/10

 

Evolve Review

2K_Evolve_StudioTour_TeamC_Pose ReviewEvolve capitalizes on a lot of different elements from successful franchises and combines them into a solid little game, while it struggles to really excel at any one thing, it does build an experience from the pieces and finds its own niche to survive in, as it puts players in a 4v1 battle.

Evolve pits man against monster, as players take on one of five different roles in arena battles across a number of different maps. As the hunters you’ll fit into a number of well travelled MMO-style stereotypes, The Assault, Medic, Trapper and Support classes band together to form a coherent team to hunt the monster. Each class has its strengths and a very specific role to play during the match and depending on what role you’re thrust into, dictates the pace at which your game will progress and how much that progress will become the crutch (or success) of your team.

The Assault is pure and simple Tank class. He is designed to run in, smash the monster for major damage and divert the monster’s attention away from other team mates. Often he can be used as bait if played correctly, to lure the monster into a trap and can also lay mines down to really hit the monster hard. The Medic doesn’t only heal up your team (very similar to the Medic in Team Fortress 2) but also acts as your team Sniper. The sniper creates a weak point for others to attack which provides double damage buff when hit. In later iterations the Medic can even raise fallen hunters from the dead, which becomes an invaluable skill when faced with a fully leveled up Monster. The Support class offers a Shield buff to targeted team members, they can also call in an orbital barrage against the Monster which can be an excellent tool if you manage to pin the monster into a corner and can hit them successfully. Finally the Trapper, who can cordon off the monster into a dome and can also fire harpoons into the monster to slow their attack down. The trapper acts also as a tracker and initially she comes with a pet Trapjaw that will quickly follow the monsters trail if they ever lose you.

2K_Evolve_StudioTour_TeamC_Abe_Shotgun_BurstThe Monster is much easier to get to grips with in the early game. As a solo player you’re not relying on anyone playing their class properly and can focus on your own game-plan of setting false trails, luring the hunters into a trap and waiting patiently as you level up to maximum power and make your final assault against those pesky hunters. The third person perspective used when playing the monster feels jarring and clumsy when darting through narrow corridors, or caught up amongst scenery while trying to battle four hunters.

The hunters weapons feel completely outmatched against the monster and something akin to shooting a potato gun into an oncoming freight train thinking it’ll make a difference. There’s no punch to any of the weapons, even as you climb through the skill tree to unlock new hunters that come equipped with a shotgun, it simply feels impotent against the hulking mass that approaches. Unfortunately the methodical feel to the game often negates any speed or momentum you start to gather. As your weapons all hit their cooldowns in the middle of the heated final battle and you’re stuck simply watching from afar as your teammates battle on without you, you’re left watching a timer tick down as you wait to use your class power and get back in the fight. While you’re never completely segregated from the fight, as you’ll always have a weapon you can use, it just isn’t exciting or fun when the majority of a fight is spent jamming on a button hoping for the cooldown to end.

4-hank-v-goliathEvolves’ maps are varied and offer a lot of different locations to fight in although when boiled down they’re all reasonably similar – a maze of corridors that wind around a centralized point. This central point is the focus for the monster and one of the winning conditions to destroy the power station (and the Hunters main objective is the defence of said object).

Evolve is a Multiplayer game. The meat of the game is spent in the Hunt mode which simply pits Man against Monster and, although the game has a sort-of story mode, it is simply a derivative of this mode that you’ll be playing, but with some additional dialogue thrown in for good measure. This is Evolves biggest problem, you’re relying on others coming to play and engage their class. When people do this you’re going to have a great time fighting against the monster, but when this doesn’t happen, and someone comes in to simply play around and not follow team orders, then you’re going to get wiped out incredibly quickly.

The lack of variety is a problem in Evolve, the elongated method of unlocking additional members of each class feels like an artificial way of stretching gameplay. To unlock the next member in each class (for a total of 12 hunters) you have to upgrade every weapon in the current hunters arsenal. This became increasingly frustrating as I was forced to play against the style I had naturally found and had a lot of success with. It took me over 8 hours to unlock most of the additional hunters and monsters. While the additional monsters were a lot of fun (and the Wraith, in particular, feels extremely overpowered) there still feels like a lack of them to really keep me coming back time and again. Trying something new and the lack of ability to build your own class feels like a missed opportunity.

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It’s hard to talk about Evolve without addressing the DLC controversy. And although I can see what has got everyone riled up, ultimately the DLC currently on offer is simply cosmetic in nature (outside the Season Pass) however, the argument becomes valid when paired with the simply lack of variety in the main game. It seems almost that Evolve was designed as a free to play experience that also comes with a full game price tag.

Evolve is successful in building in the tension during a match, this isn’t a run and gun shooter but something slower that burns under the surface during a match, that cultivates in a very sporadic back and forth in the last few minutes to ultimately decide the outcome of a match. The early parts of a match are where Evolve truly succeeds. When everyone is playing their class and you’re closing in on the monster to get that first hit before it tries to hide away and evolve away in peace. The chase feels fantastic and the game has developed its player base over the past week. It’s interesting to see the amount of people who keep coming back and are now settling into their roles and, as a fellow Frugal Gamer told me recently when I took up playing BF4, playing the objective and team orders.

1-lazarus-v-krakenEvolve does some things right, however this is far outweighed by the lack of variety in the games and development of the classes. I can see the game developing a very solid player base who pride themselves on being able to fulfil certain roles in a team however this, in turn, will turn away a lot of new players. The daunting tutorial takes a long time to clear and doesn’t even begin to teach you the basics and strategy involved in truly being successful in the game. The game is designed to keep you playing by locking away additional content behind a lot of awkward and annoying hoops. I could see Evolve growing into something solid with balance patches and additional content down the line, but right now feels rather bare bones and lacking in the excitement the concept had promised. I was hoping for something akin to Gears of War but instead found something lacking in the same punch and versatility.

Score: 7/10

Destiny Review Part 2

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Welcome to part 2 of the Frugal Gaming Destiny review! As Destiny’s content differs the more you play, our review is in 3 parts. At this point I’ve just reached level 20, completed the story missions and have spent a good few hours with it’s competitive multiplayer modes. And the main problem I’m having? I want more.

It seems the main criticism Destiny is receiving is from a lack of content, but I disagree with this. On the surface, it might seem that 4 worlds and 20-ish missions is a little light. But as I progress, the replay factor is becoming more and more apparent. Heroic Strike missions where difficutly is ramped up. Random world encounters that band together everyone currently in that zone. Weekly and daily specialised missions to earn special loot. There’s always something to do, and as the DLC inevitably starts to roll out, Destiny will only continue to expand and grow.

No, when I say I want more, it’s because Destiny is so satisfying to play. I simply don’t want it to stop. I’ve battled every alien race now, and each one is different and challenging. You can’t get close to the Cabal. Don’t aim for the Vex’s heads. These little nuances and AI differences make for a real variety, and keep the gamer constantly on his toes. An MMO is always going to be repetitive in it’s nature, but the gameplay is so satisfying and balanced here that this isn’t an issue. Bungie have spent their years refining the FPS, and it shows all throughout Destiny.

I would have liked to have seen more variation and enemy types within each species, but then I stop and think. If there’s 4/5 enemy types for each faction, then we’re already looking at more enemy types than any of the Halo games. Once again, I want more. Not because there isn’t sufficient content there already, but because it’s so good, I don’t want it to end.

Mars_patrol_01_1410173760The story (or complete lack of it) is undoubtedly a disappointment. I can’t recall any of the characters names, or indeed anything that happened during my playthrough. I love narrative in games, so this was especially disappointing. The game does well in setting the scene and tone through the design of the levels and of the warring factions, but it still felt like a large part of the game was missing due to a lack of narrative.

Another complaint I have is the complete lack of instruction or explanation the game gives to almost all of it’s mechanics. I’ve found myself collecting Spinmetal or Spirit Bloom, with absolutely no tips on what to do with them. It’s often the case that games these days hold a player’s hand far too much, but it feels that Destiny is trying to establish it’s own game language and methods without including the player. As time has passed I’ve found out processes and techniques from perseverance and other players, but it would have been nice if the game was able to show me these things from the start.

Moon_Story_Sword-of-Crota_02_1410174326As you can see, these criticisms are all fairly minor, as the game is fantastic. It’s deceptively complex in it’s scope and ambition, something for which perhaps it’s not given the full credit it deserves. As it’s combining the best bits of already great games, it’s hard to see Destiny as a new entity, rather a collection of already-done features. But Destiny IS doing something new, as this kind of game hasn’t been seen before. World of Warcraft has this kind of scope and world environments, but lacks the engaging gameplay and graphics. Call of Duty has this kind of graphical prowess and gunplay, but it’s nowhere near as in-depth and open-ended. As I continue to gain gear and delve further into the Crucible deathmatches, I see a game that still has a lot to offer, 20 hours in. I’ll be concluding my review in part 3, after I’ve played more of the higher-level level content and advanced further.

Destiny has started something that will only get better. Along with Titanfall and Watch Dogs, the next generation of gaming is off to a slower start than we initially expected, but the potential we are seeing is truly exciting. And I can’t wait to play more.

Score: 8/10

Metro: Redux Review

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As your gas mask fogs up, you look down at your watch. You have 3 minutes of air left. You’re 5 minutes away from safety. You have 1 magazine of ammunition left, and your torch has just run out of batteries. You see a creature in the distance running towards you, and the light goes out. If games are about atmosphere and tension, Metro: Redux is in a league of it’s own.

Originally 2 games, Metro: Redux is a reworked collection of both Metro 2033 and Metro: Last Light, with improved graphics and general tweaks to make the experience better. I really enjoyed the games the first time round, so it was great to get another chance to delve into the tunnels of post-apocalyptic Moscow once again.

With the upscaled graphics and improved lighting, the game feels more claustrophobic and grimmer than ever. In terms of atmosphere, Redux absolutely nails it. Every single part of the world you’ve been plunged into feels authentic, from the train-car cities, to the condensation forming on your mask. The world is unpleasant, dank and utterly gripping.

Both games in the series are intriguing because of where they’ve come from, and the different outlook an international developer brings to it’s games. Ukraine-based 4A games approach things in a different way to most teams, and it’s refreshing to see. They just feel different, like you’re playing something fresh and exciting. An American or British developer could have easily fallen into the trap of making this a Fallout-clone, or pandering to the ‘dude-bro’ Call of Duty crowd by amping everything up. 4A stays firm, and makes a game that is slightly off-the-wall in terms of narrative and approach, and completely better for it. It’s an unsettling world, and the story and design decisions make this even more apparent.

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Metro Redux is wildly ambitious, and there’s times when the game can fall a little flat. Jarring animations or scripted events sometimes get stuck or feel wooden, and there’s balance issues between the weapons. I never once used the pressure-operated Ball Bearing rifle due to it being cumbersome and fiddly. But talking about the workings of the games is missing the point. They play well enough that these are only small issues. The real point of these games is just how unique and interesting they are.

It’s the different approach in storytelling and scenario that make this game something worth playing. Especially the first game, which although isn’t as advanced or as well-polished as Last Light, it’s story makes for a completely unique and exciting adventure. The game doesn’t take the turns your expecting, and it doesn’t try and instil this into the story by predictable plot twists. From the ground up, this game is built differently. It feels familiar, yet somehow different. This unsettling nature of gameplay and narrative marries with the nature of the game so well that it’s hard to think of how this game could work if tackled by a more mainstream developer. It’d be too fake, too polished, too normal.

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The Metro series will always have a hard time in getting a reputation, as it will inevitably (and incorrectly) be compared to games so different from what it’s aiming for. If we look at the post-apocalyptic, earth-has-gone-to-shit genre, it’s positively brimming with some of the best games you can buy. Metro:Redux is always going to have Fallout and The Last of Us hot on its heels, whether it likes or not. And although it doesn’t reach the emotional impact of TLOU, or the seemingly infinite scope of Fallout, the Metro games carve out a niche all of its own. They never try to be anything other than Metro. In doing this, they earn a place at the table, more than capable of delivering a rich, deep experience, totally different in approach and tone than anything currently out there.

The Metro series deserved the remastered treatment. We’re in an age of computer games where developers and publishers play it safe. They want to hold your hand. They want you to feel empowered. They want you to win. Metro: Redux doesn’t want any of this, but it demands your attention. In a world of safe-bets and sure-things, the Metro series stands apart, giving you an experience unlike anything else. You need to venture into the unforgiving depths of the Moscow Metro. You’ll be glad you did.

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Developer: 4A Games

Publisher: Deep Silver

Cult of Call Of Duty: A Franchise For The Unhinged?

N-Gage_Call_Of_Duty_logo_hi_psd_jpgcopyAs Activision start getting ready to dish out this year’s Sledgehammer Games flavoured Kool-Aid to their millions of quick scoping, rage quitting, energy drinking, stupid glasses wearing, jerky eating, modded controller wielding fundamentalists. It felt like a good time to have a deeper look at phenomenon that is Call of Duty and the lengths that the most ardent players will go to for the highest K/D ratio.

Call of Duty started life on PC back in 2003. Created by the now much diminished Infinity Ward, the original title and its expansion by Gray Matter Interactive; United Offensive, had a heart and soul that has been M.I.A since the first Modern Warfare. With most of the team coming from the once great Medal of Honor franchise, the first game, and the second numbered entry had a gravitas that can only be found by being based on the real world horrors of the Second World War.

1, 2 and 3 came over as an opus to the truly heroic and courageous men from all sides of the war…. Hell, even the Russians who are increasingly used as the go-to bad guys had a starring role. Sure, the chisel jawed American GI’s played a part as did the pithy Brits but they were not alone in their valorous endeavours. Polish, Canadian, French and Dutch all played a major part in the campaigns for the first 3 games, and the campaigns were all the better for it.

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I’m not going to go on about what has happened to the franchise since those heady days, the people that care will already know, and those who don’t wouldn’t be interested. Call of Duty, just think about those words and try to forget the games for a minute. The fact that they still use the name has become an insult to the games that came before and, more importantly the people and ideals the first few entries originally venerated. Team America saves the world really has been done to death now, the franchise if rife with cheese, plastic American cheese that comes in a squirty can, super-sized.

Much has been written about the declining stands of the games, and with each new instalment the complaints get louder, even from their dedicated fan-base. Believe me having played all of the games to date I truly understand these complaints. I hated COD Ghosts and, once I completed the campaign and had my fill of multiplayer after 10 or so hours, I haven’t touched it again. But the fans, oh the fans, instead of just not playing it and perhaps giving Activision pause for thought as the online numbers dwindle, they continue to play it! Sure, making constant YouTube videos about why it’s so bad for their 5 viewers, but they just can’t seem to kick the habit, if that’s not addiction I don’t know what is.

Whilst they might not be mugging grannies for their pension money just yet, being a follower of the Call of Duty fashion is becoming increasingly expensive. With the explosion of so called E-Sports and the Beetle mania that surrounds the “top” players, the faithful have to spend a pretty penny to emulate their generally foul mouthed, rather obnoxious idols. With modded controllers that give them an advantage over the everyday COD player like you and me, costing upwards of £100, that’s knocking on for £200 by the time you’ve got the game, the increasingly bizarre maps and expansions, not forgetting subscription fees for wherever you game. This is just the beginning of the craziness.

With pro-players being endorsed by just about everything from controllers, energy drinks, fancy sunglasses, headsets, snack bars and even beef jerky. Businesses are cropping up left right and centre to push unnecessary twaddle on the millions of players whose brains must surely be lacking some vital components to be taken in by such blatantly unnecessary cash consuming crap.

 

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Whilst the controllers might actually give the zealots some actual gaming advantage the same cannot be said for everything else. Nearly £100 for a set of glorified sunglasses that you can pick up from your local £1 shop is mind boggling. Supposedly used to reduce eye-strain, there is of course a free alternative, put your controller down and step into the real world for 15 minutes every hour, controversial I know but it really works!

Fruity caffeine laced drinks that cost £1 a pop, but don’t forget the special £10 drinks bottle so that the two people watching your Twitch stream know that you only drink the best! Hungry? How about one of the vilest culinary inventions ever known to man? It tastes like shit but all the cool kids eat Jerky. There is no limit to the way that clever businessmen will make money from simple minded fools.

From the Koresh like Kotick, leading his flock to rapture every November, to the other business men and women who peddle their wares to the unthinking masses rubbing their hands with glee. Call of Duty is undoubtedly a billion dollar franchise, but it’s everyone who is earning millions on the periphery who are laughing all the way to the bank. Year after year internet prophets predict the demise of Call of Duty, and yet like some vast behemoth, incapable of correcting its course it thunders on, sweeping up a new crop of weak minded noobs, fresh fodder for the capitalist kingpins who mastermind this great machine.

Call of Duty died a long time ago in my eyes, and for the first time since the series began I won’t be buying this year’s entry or any others in its undoubtable long future that lies ahead. It’s time to let it go, let it rest in peace. I’ll be re-watching Band of Brothers this November instead of playing a rehashed 8 hour campaign, and instead of stumping up cash for map packs I will only play for a few hours I’ll be donating to Help for Heroes.