Anno 2205 Review

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The latest instalment in the Anno series moves the game further into the future, but does it move forwards in terms of gameplay? The basics of the game are pretty much the same, you build houses to build up a population to generate you money, and you also need to produce consumables for your population increasing the amount of money they generate and allowing them to progress. You still need to produce power to keep all your buildings working just like in 2070, but the ecobalance system has been removed completely. Early game energy generation is much the same as 2070 with wind farms and wave generators being your main source of power, later on in the game you get to build fusion power plants on the moon and transfer the power to other sessions on earth much like the deep ocean dlc in 2070.

 

The biggest change to the game is the use of sessions, what you end up with is a series of sessions which each contain a map in one of the three areas (temperate, tundra, moon). The maps contain fewer islands than in previous anno games, but the areas are larger so you don’t feel clustered. Transport units are also gone, the transportation system has been simplified in that you simply choose which product you want to transport, which sector it’s coming from, where it’s going and how much you want to send. No more ships and balancing multiple islands and resource requirements, it’s all handled by the game.

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As mentioned above, there are three areas available, temperate, which is the usual green grasses and mountains, basically the same as 2070, Arctic and moon, which as you’ve probably guessed is set in the Arctic and on the moon. The gameplay is pretty much the same in these new areas, but with one major change, which sort of replaces the loss of the ecobalance system. In the Arctic environment your factories produce heat in a radius around themselves; your houses must be built within a heated area. On the moon, you must build everything within the protection of a shield generator to protect the buildings from asteroid strikes. The heat system in the tundra is very nice addition in my opinion, it restricts you in a different way to previous anno games as you’re housing and production must be built together.

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Another reasonably large change is the removal of the construction areas, in 2070 you could only build your houses within the range of a city centre and production buildings had to be built within the range of depot. This is now gone, and you can place any building anywhere on the map right from the get go. The only stipulation is that the building must be connected to a road which is connected to your warehouse. The island based transport units that picked up goods have also been tweaked, now you have a session wide transport count, the further a production building is from either your warehouse or a transport centre, the higher the transport cost of the building. In addition to this construction change, production buildings can now be upgraded with modules by using the rare materials which can be collected by doing missions or entering combat zones. The modules available can boost production, reduce manpower cost, reduce energy cost, reduce transport costs and energy generating buildings have a module which cuts down maintenance costs.

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Combat is now conducted in a designated area/map now, you have a fleet of ships and your mission is usually just capture some points, with the difficulty level changing how many points you need to capture. It’s pretty boring and feels like it was just tagged on at the end, the only reason for really doing the missions, apart from to progress the storyline, is to get the rare materials.

Balancing of resource production has also been simplified, you no longer have to watch the amount of resources available and frantically build more when it starts dropping, you’re now presented with a menu bar that shows every resource and whether it’s increasing or decreasing. If it’s negative you simply build more factories until the value becomes 0 or positive. This takes away some of the classic anno gameplay and oversimplifies things too much.

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Story wise, both Anno 1404 and 2070 had a reasonable story led campaign that gave quite a lot of playtime. 2205 however feels just like a continuous game from 2070 with a few scraps of a storyline shoved in afterwards. You’re basically a new corporation, and you have to build it up to be better than the other corporations, through doing this you’ll unlock the other environments with travelling to the moon being the sort of end-game story goal. After that you’re just left to keep building, unlock other sessions in the various environments and that’s it. There’s not even any research stuff like in 2070 to put your time and resources into. Completing the main storyline doesn’t even take that long.

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The graphics look very good again, whether they’re actually any better than 2070 is hard to say, detail when zoomed in is increased a bit with more going on in buildings, the heat shimmer from factories in the arctic and the shield strikes on the moon look great though, and these areas are where the best changes from previous games are found. The soundtrack works well with the game again; much like 2070 it makes for enjoyable listening in and out of the game.

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Overall, there are some nice improvements over 2070, the extra prettiness of the graphics and the heat/shield building restrictions, but overall, a lot of the changes feel like they’ve over simplified the game to the point where it gets hard to come back to once you’ve reached space and unlocked all the buildings. I can’t see myself putting much more time into 2205 but I can easily see myself going back to 2070 to continue some of the continuous games that I started at least two years ago. There is some DLC planned for 2205, both free and paid for, which will add new sessions and new environments, but I don’t really see these improving the game, as it’s the basic fundamentals of the game that have made it boring rather than the environments. I was rather disappointed after spending £50 on the collector’s edition, I’ve had much more value out of the £20 collector’s edition of 2070 and 2205 hasn’t justified the extra cost so far.

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Grand Theft Auto 5 on PC?

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So, Amazon seems to be hinting quite heavily that there is a port of GTA5 coming to PC.  A listing for the game popped up on the German and French sites for pre-order, but then was promptly removed from the latter, with the game staying active on the German page a bit longer.  It does now seem to have gone from the German site, although direct links will still get you to a GTA5 PC page, with no price and an email notification button.  But, will I be buying it?

I got GTA5 on release for the PS3, as it was looking like it was going to be something quite special, and having not played a GTA game on a console since San Andreas on PS2, I thought it was time to head back over there.  I spent nearly the entire first day playing, and then most of the first week, only pausing to pace myself so I didn’t complete the game too quickly and get bored.

I thoroughly enjoyed it, it was classic GTA, which may be the reason why I’m not sure if I’m going to bother with it on PC, it’s not different enough from the previous GTAs to make me want to buy it twice.  Sure, there’s some differences, like the three playable characters, and … erm, see what I mean, oh wait, there’s the sports, golf, which I can do, but tennis I suck at and lose every time, although GTA 4 had darts and bowling, so maybe even that’s not strictly a new feature.  With GTA3, Vice City, San Andreas and 4, I kept coming back to them, and spent hundreds of hours on them, especially VC and SA, but five hasn’t kept my interest, I completed the main story once.  Then went through again so I could do the assassination missions after the main story to get lots of money, then bought a load of properties, then sort of got bored, and I’ve not been on it for at least 2 months.  Maybe that’s where I went wrong, by acquiring tons of money, although I did that in San Andreas at the betting shop, and I still kept coming back to that.  Maybe it was the PS3 controller, which I can’t stand at all, as it just doesn’t fit in my hands properly.  Why didn’t I get it on the Xbox I hear you cry.  Well, I prefer the PS3 as a console, mainly due to the fact that it doesn’t sound like there’s a Hoover running under my TV whenever I use it.

If it had come out on the PC at launch, that would have been perfect, the right gaming system, and a choice of controllers.  I might be tempted to pick up GTA 5 on PC when it’s on sale on Steam some time, but I don’t think I’ll be getting it at launch, especially after what happened with the GTA4 PC port, although I didn’t have too much trouble running it, but it seems to have gained a reputation similar to that of Crysis.

War Thunder : First Impressions

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War Thunder is a F2P online multiplayer warfare sim, is probably the best way to describe it, or rather, what it will eventually become.  Currently, the game only allows players to fly planes, but tanks and ships are also going to be added.  You might now be thinking, “hold on, that looks just like World of Warplanes”, true, it does, originally it was even called World of Planes, but that was later changed to distinguish it from World of Warplanes and due to the fact that it wasn’t only going to be about aviation.  Micro-transactions are used in the game, allowing you to buy premium planes and convert free research points.  The costs aren’t too expensive, with prices ranging from 182 eagles per GBP to 262 eagles per GBP with a premium plane on average costing between 1000 and 2000 eagles.

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The game looks great, with a selection of graphics options, including modes for making in game movies and screenshots (which gives a warning not to use for gameplay), there should be a setting for everyone to run the game at a playable FPS.  One the highest setting, the planes look incredible, with highly detailed surfaces and textures, along with special effects such as engine fire and tracers.  You’ll also see your plane deteriorate as it’s shot, with holes appearing all over the body, and you’ll also feel it, depending on where you’ve been shot, you may lose control of an aileron, or an entire wing may become so full of holes that it can no longer produce any lift, sending you into a downward spiral.  The game also provides a well detailed cockpit view for even more realism, although I’ve just been using the 3rd person view so far so I can droll over the planes.  The environments and ground/naval units are also relatively well detailed, with individual people being visible in the boats or APCs.

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The default control system uses the keyboard and mouse, with throttle, roll and yaw controlled using the WASD keys, with the mouse controlling pitch and also assisting with roll and yaw in more extreme manoeuvres.  Speaking of extreme manoeuvres, don’t ignore the excessive G force warnings that pop up when you’re flying, if you keep a high G manoeuvre going, your pilot will black out.  You can increase your pilots ability to cope with G forces by increasing his skill in that area using the pilot skills options.  As you get more hours in the sky, your crew will gain more skill points, these can be spent on pilot skills (vitality, stamina, G force resistance, and view range), gunner skills (for the planes with turrets) or ground crew skills (reload time, repair time).  Some of these options, such as the ground crew skills, will most likely be of more use in the realistic and simulation battles, where you may have to land at an airfield to rearm and repair, but in the arcade battles, they’re pretty much redundant, as you won’t be landing very often, unless your engines destroyed or your fuels all leaked out, and you won’t be landing on an airfield if that happens.

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There is a wide variety of planes to choose from, with British, American, Russian, German and Japanese nations to pick from, each with a selection of fighters, light bombers, naval bombers, ground attack aircraft, torpedo bombers and heavy bombers ranging from pre-WW2 to early Korean war eras.  For each nation, you can own a number of planes.  As you accrue more planes though, the cost of hiring a crew for them increases, retraining an existing crew for a new aircraft isn’t as costly though.  When you enter an arcade game, you are able to use each plane in your hangar from the nation you selected, so you should have at least 3 lives per match, giving you more flying time per match.  Most matches seem to have around 32 players, 16 per side, which gives you plenty of airborne targets if you get bored of destroying the currently NPC ground targets.  The tier 1 games all require you to destroy enemy ground units and bases, with higher tier games offering other objectives.

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So far, I’ve only played arcade games, but from some research, I have found that in historical battles, you can damage your plane from excessive speed for G force, like ripping off a wing.  A more realistic bullet trajectory is used with gun convergence (allowing you to focus fire from multiple weapons into a smaller area).  You also start each game on the ground and have to take off, you must also land at an airfield to reload and repair.  Arcade games do not have these features and use mixed nation teams.  The full-real/simulation mode, is much the same as the historical mode, but locks you to the cockpit view and gives you full use of all aircraft controls.

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War Thunder is a superb combat sim, allowing you to choose how seriously you want to play with a choice of game modes with varying realism.  The aircraft models are exquisite and the gameplay is highly entertaining.  With the promise of controllable ground and naval units, it can only get better.  I haven’t come across any major game killing flaws yet, which considering the game is still really in BETA, is very promising.

World of Warplanes : First Impressions

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Ok, so it’s not strictly first impressions, as I did play World of Warplanes before it was fully released, so this is the first time for me in the release version of the game.

World of Warplanes (herein WoWP) is a F2P flight sim set in the “Golden Age of Flight”, WW1 to late WW2 sort of era.  The game is made by the same company that produced World of Tanks, and as such follows the same basic gameplay principles as World of Tanks (WoT), destroy all enemies or take over their base.  The base stuff is slightly different in WoWP, as obviously you can’t sit in a capture circle when you’re flying, so what you have to do instead is destroy enemy ground targets (AA and various buildings) and their runway.  There’s the same sort of upgrades/research available for the aircraft as you get in WoT, and consumables and equipment are present too.  A nice surprise is that each of the starting planes gives you a pilot at 100% basic training, meaning you won’t have to grind as much to get skills as you do in WoT.

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I think WoWP is more difficult than WoT, mainly because you can’t hide anywhere when you’re in the air, at least it WoT you can go and cower behind a wall, but in the air, there’s nowhere to run.  This means that unless your an Topgun pilot, the matches won’t be as long as in WoT.  I would imagine it’s using the same matchmaking system as WoT, so you’ll probably do ok for a bit, then it’ll put you up against better opponents and you’ll be dead within 5 seconds.

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From the research points required for anything over Tier 3, it looks like it’s going to be quite a grind to unlock the better planes, more so than WoT.  There’s a wide range of planes to choose from, from a variety of nations, including British, which is the main reason I came back to it.  There’s three main variants of aircraft, fighter, heavy fighter and attack aircraft.  Fighters are your usual single engine planes such as Spitfires and Mustangs etc.  Heavy fighters are the bigger, more durable planes such as BF110 or Mosquitoes and will generally have a turret.  Attack aircraft are the most heavily armed and armoured and are specifically for taking out ground targets, they’re slower and less manoeuvrable than other aircraft.

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The graphics look great, much the same as WoT, it also runs smoothly despite there being much more movement than in WoT.  The special effects such as fuel leaking, engine fires and tracer fire look great.  The sound is also pretty good, whether it’s 100% accurate I can’t say, but it sounds good enough to me.

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The control system when using the mouse works well, you point your crosshair in the direction you want to move, and the plane turns towards it, with another reticule for where the guns are pointing.  The standard controls don’t give you any keyboard based control of the directional controls, which means you can’t roll or yaw as easily.  I’ve yet to explore the control system, but I’m hoping there’s a way to get at least roll control onto the ‘A’ and ‘D’ keys, as this will make more advanced aerial manoeuvres possible.

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Overall, I like it, there haven’t been many classic combat flight sim games in recent years, so it’s nice to be able to finally fly around in a Spitfire or Messerschmitt with other people.  It looks great, sounds great, and the planes react well, probably not realistically, but it’s not trying to be a hardcore flight simulator, so it’s not really a problem.  It does have a steeper learning curve than WoT, and at times will leave you frustrated when you’ve died almost instantly, or been crashed into by a friendly plane, but when you get a kill streak going, it’s ace.

Anno Online

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It’s Anno for your web browser!

Anno Online is essentially a web based F2P version of Anno 1404, it’s set in the same time period and uses a lot of the same buildings and core game mechanics.  There is no combat in the game, the idea is to just satisfy your populations needs, through building of production facilities and shipping goods between islands.  For a web based flash game, it looks very good, the textures are well detailed and the animations look good, this however does mean that it’s quite a resource heavy game, I see 25-35% CPU usage and 700MB of RAM usage while playing.  It also means that it takes quite a long time to load initially, sometimes with you having to wait up to 5 minutes for it to fully load everything, it can also lag out quite badly sometimes.  The game is still relatively new though, and with the regular updates and patches from the devs, it should hopefully get better and better.

Anno3As usual, the game includes micro-transactions, like Goodgame Empire (GGE), in the form of rubies.  The cost of these is more than double that of the costs in GGE, and the price of items you can buy with rubies also seems more expensive.  You do get a starting bonus of rubies, and levelling up will reward you with them too.  A recent feature introduce is a ruby pit, which you use to convert uncut rubies into rubies, at a rate of 2:1, you’ll get uncut rubies from daily login bonuses, or buying them in game.  As there isn’t really any competitive aspect to the game, the pay to play aspect is even less important than in GGE, as you won’t be at any disadvantage by playing for free, you might just have to put a bit more time into the game.

There are a few changes from Anno 1404, the first of which is the time progression in game, production of goods takes much longer than in 1404, the consumption of goods by the population is also matched to this time scale, so goods will last a lot longer than in 1404.  This means that if your population is consuming more than you’re producing, you’ll have time to rectify this without the citizens becoming unhappy.

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The tax system has also been removed, money is now generated based on the produce your population consumes, you still have an income indicator to show how whether you’re money will be going up or down.

One of the best features in my opinion, is the ability to move buildings after they’ve been constructed.  In 1404, if you wanted to change the layout of your town, you’d have to delete buildings and rebuild, costing money and resources, in Anno Online however, you can move buildings around and alter your layout without having to remove anything.  This is great, as you don’t have to worry about getting the most efficient layout to start with, as you can tweak things later on.

The social aspect of the game is a bit lacking, there’s a general chat box, a help chat box and you have a friends list.  You can visit friends islands, and can apply boosts to their production buildings but that’s it as far as cooperative game play goes.  There is also a guild system, but I haven’t get explored this aspect, so can’t say much about it, although from my reading, it would appear that all you get is a specific guild chat area and a tag next to your name.  I would imagine that as the game progresses more features will be added to the guild system.

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Anno Online is not without problems though, apart from the slightly laggy nature of the game.  The shipping routes are the main issue, once a route is setup, you can’t alter the load or destination/origin of the route unless you cancel and recreate it, which takes time as the ship has to finish its current run and return to your main island.  The most annoying point though, is that the maximum cargo capacity for a shipping route, is spread across both the outgoing and incoming voyage.  So if your ship holds a total of 50 units, you can have either 25 in and 25 out, or 50 in and 0 out (and vice versa), which seems kind of pointless and counter intuitive.  The point has been raised with the developers by many players it would seem, so hopefully this will get fixed at some point.

There’s not much more to say about Anno Online, it’s a very simple and easy to play management game, it doesn’t suck your spare time away as much as the fully fledged Anno games, but then it has been cut down to function better as a more casual game.  If you like the Anno series, you’ll probably enjoy Anno Online, it allows you to get your fix of island development without having to dedicate several hours to the process.

Goodgame Empire

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Goodgame empire is a free to play multiplayer castle building game.  The game runs on flash, so at times can get a bit laggy, and is quite resource intensive, I see 40% CPU utilisation on one core and 300MB RAM usage when playing.  As with most F2P games these days, micro-transactions are used in the form of rubies.  The cost ranges from 1515 rubies per GBP to 2120 per GBP so they’re not too expensive, and 1500 rubies will buy you a fair bit of the basic stuff in game if your careful with what you buy, it can get expensive quickly though.  It is entirely possible to play the game completely for free though, you won’t be at much of a disadvantage to P2P players and you won’t be constantly being nagged by the game to spend real money.

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You start off with a simple castle consisting of a keep and wooden wall.  A tutorial system will guide you through the early stages of the game, explaining what each building does and what you should construct.  It works well and doesn’t overload you with information.   To level up you must complete quests which will reward you with XP, each new player level will unlock more buildings or building levels.  You also have quest which will reward you with some rubies.

The game feels less competitive than Tribal Wars, which is the same kind of game, as you won’t be constantly receiving attacks from players who are much larger than you.  The attacking system is thought out quite nicely.  Each player has a level and also an honour points value, honour points are gained or lost when attacking or defending.  Attacking a player who has more honour points than you will net you a large amount of honour, whereas attacking a player with much less can take honour points away from you.  This means that you will usually only receive attacks from other players who are at roughly the same level as you, making the fights much fairer.

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There are a few issues I have with the game.  Firstly, an alliance’s notice board, which works like a forum, can only hold 10 topics, each of which has a rather small limit for replies.  Obviously this can make communicating and organising an alliance rather tricky and is something that most other games of a similar style have sorted fine.  There is an update coming soon though which sounds as though it will improve this.

Another issue, is that in the mid sort of levels, around 30ish, it can become quite tricky to find suitable targets to attack, due to the large number of high level players or high ranking alliances, you don’t want to pick a fight with someone who can reign death and destruction down on your castle afterwards.

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Also, the restricted view can sometimes make clicking on buildings awkward, thanks to the recently introduced planning mode, which just lays out the buildings as 2D shapes on the ground, this problem is largely solved, although being able to rotate the view might be a nice feature to have.

Overall, it’s a pretty good competitor in the MMO castle building genre.  I have come to prefer this over tribal wars due to the slightly more relaxed play style and not having to pay to be able to compete at any reasonable level.  You don’t need to be on for every minute of every day, I log in a few times a day and am progressing well, and the fact that the micro transactions aren’t stupidly expensive is a welcome change.

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Far Cry 3 PC Singleplayer

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After loving the original Far Cry, and eagerly awaiting Far Cry 2 only to find out it was more buggy than the forest it was set in, I hoped Far Cry 3 would improve upon the dismal FC2.  Fortunately, I am pleased to say that Far Cry 3 is a huge improvement over FC2 and makes for a very enjoyable game.  The open world environment is massive and highly detailed, with lots of lush green foliage and various animals populating areas of the world.  Molotovs and Flamethrowers have been kept from FC2, allowing you to have great fun burning large areas and watching it spread and consume enemies.

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There are a number of things you can do around the island when you want to take a break from the main story line.  There’s a number of little side quests, most of which are quite easy.  There are also hunter and assassination quests available from safehouses, the former tasks you to kill a specific animal at a specified location, the latter requires you to kill an enemy.  This may sound easy, but you have to kill them with the knife, meaning you have to quietly deal with any sentries and then sneak up on the target.  Outposts and communications towers are spread around the island, the outpost require you to eliminate all enemies to take the outpost.  If you can do this without raising the alarm or being spotted, you’ll get a nice XP reward and it’ll save you some bullets.  The comms towers you must climb up and remove the scrambler from the box at the top (basically just keep hitting space, don’t fall off, then press ‘e’ in front of the box).  Doing this reveals a sector on your map and will also unlock a weapon, so you no longer have to pay for it at a shop or safehouse.

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There is a reasonable selection of weapons, including pistols, SMGs, assault rifles, LMGs and sniper rifles, which gets expanded later on in the game with a few more added to each class.  Weapons are bought using cash at the gun shops or safehouses, some have various upgrades available too like extended magazines, scopes and silencers.

The AI no longer has radar and x-ray vision like in Far Cry 2, so you’re safe hiding in a bush when a patrol drives by on the road a mile away.  This is a good thing too, as the amount of ammunition you can carry at the start of the game is quite small, so if you were getting chased by every patrol you’d probably be out after the second.

The various types of animals around the island can be hunted, you then use their skins to craft upgrades for your various bags, like your loot sack, ammo pouch, weapon holsters and so on.  It’s a nice touch, and once you’ve got the bow, it’s great sneaking through the jungle hunting boars or komodo dragons.  However, once again, it feels rather easy, and once you’ve crafted most of the upgrades, which again can be done pretty early on in the game, the hunting aspect becomes rather redundant.

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The diamonds from FC2 have been scrapped, and upgrades are now chosen via a skill point system.  The various skills affect the max health you’ve got, weapon accuracy, stealth and gives you access to various takedown moves.  These takedown moves are quite satisfying, as you have to sneak up behind an enemy or charge an enemy from the front, and then hit a key, and you’ll perform some sort of silent knife kill.  With the skill upgrades, you can also then steal the enemies knife and throw it at another enemy, or use their pistol and shoot others.  Again, it’s just “hit this button when we tell you to” set pieces, but they work nicely and add another element to the way you can play.

One thing caught my attention as I was playing through, at a certain point, you’re captured by Vaas, tied to a chair and left to die.  This is all part of a cut scene and once you’ve escaped using some more key presses, and you get full control back, you still have all the weapons you had before you were captured.  So it seems Vaas certainly is insane, if he’s willing to tie you up and leave you without taking your guns away.  Whether this was a glitch or not I’m not sure, as the next time I got captured but escaped, I had no equipment at all and had to scavenge from enemies.

This is the only real hole I’ve found so far in the story line/event sequence.  The story isn’t the most riveting, it’s enough to give you a direction through the game, rather than just being a huge sandbox.  At some points, you’ll know what’s coming before it happens, and you’ll be thinking “Why the hell did he just do that”.

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Overall, I think Far Cry 3 redeems the series from the poor show Far Cry 2 was.  The game is so much more enjoyable to play, it looks great, runs smoothly and has a few little touches to make it a bit different from your average open world exploration game, although now I come to think about it, it’s quite similar to the Tomb Raider reboot in a way, not that that’s a bad thing.  Some people will undoubtedly say that all the button mashing is just console port rubbish, but I think it works well, and it involves the player in what would otherwise just be a cut scene.

What have I been playing?

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I got a few games over Christmas. The one I’ve been putting almost all of my time into is Far Cry 3. I loved the original Far Cry, and also kind of enjoyed Far Cry 2, although I don’t think I ever finished it due to the keyboard smashing idiocy of the AI. Far Cry 3 is a huge improvement over 2 and I’ve been having great fun, the open world is great, the visuals are stunning and the AI is no longer unstoppable-Terminator-esque. Yes there may be quite a few set pieces/button mashing, but they work well and I don’t think they detract from the gameplay.
Expect a review soon.

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I also got Kerbal Space Program after playing the demo. This is a hilarious but also pretty serious space simulation. You basically build a rocket and try to launch your Kerbals into space and explore the universe. It’s the sort of game that when you first see it, you think it’ll either be boring or impossibly difficult, but then you find yourself spending days trying to get a craft into orbit around a moon, or rescuing a stranded Kerbal after you ran out of fuel.
I’ve only really scratched the surface of this game so far, and it’s still in beta, so it’s developing all the time. A mini review may come soon.

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Some of the other games I got hold of are Max Payne 3 and Bioshock Infinite. I remember spending far too much time on the original Max Payne in my early days of gaming, and after having seen a few reviews praising the third installment, I decided to try it out. The same goes for Bioshock, although I never really got into the first game, and haven’t played the second at all, but after watching the ZeroPunctuation review for Infinite, I thought I’d snap it up at the steam sale price.

I’ve also got quite a few games from some of the recent humble bundles to get around to playing, but as with a lot of other PC Gamers, my steam library is full of games I’ve yet to even start, so it might take me a while to get around to all of these.

Dirt 2 Single Player

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Dirt 2 Single Player

Dirt 2 in my opinion is a less serious, more fun version of the original Dirt.  I’m currently at about 80% completion with just a few landrush/raid races left.  I’ve been playing with the Xbox Pad for Windows and had no problems whatsoever with controls.  Once you understand where and when to use throttle or brakes, the handling becomes quite predictable allowing you to use the inertia of the car to your advantage by using the previous turn to assist with the next one.  Scandinavian flicks and big power slides are both possible, with the rallycross cars allowing you to reach silly angles and still recover.

mk2 escort-960The choice of cars is adequate, although there doesn’t really feel like there’s much difference between any of them, the RWD cars will oversteer a bit easier than the 4WD cars, but that’s about it, with the trucks and buggies, the differences are a bit more noticeable, but still not massive.  The addition of a few classic cars such as the mk 2 escort, Metro 6R4, Ford RS200 and Colin McRae’s 95 Subaru are nice and gives a bit of variety to the very similar standard cars, but again, there doesn’t seem to be much difference in how they actually react.  The career menu is nicely laid out and works smoothly, having the option to walk around the paddock style area is a nice touch, and the fact that it doesn’t take too long to move between areas means you’re not sat waiting and getting frustrated.  The flashbacks are a good feature, allowing you to rewind time a couple of seconds when you make a mistake and try again.

Main Menu-960The graphics are superb, with bright and vibrant colours and surroundings.  The water effects are excellent and add to the realism and excitement by obscuring your vision through the windscreen temporarily.  Other effects such as muck getting thrown up from the wheels and tyre marks in soft surfaces are well modelled and look realistic.  The detail of the vehicles is very good, and being able to see parts like the suspension moving and the tyres deforming is very satisfying, even just seeing your car getting filthy in the muddier areas can put a smile on your face.  The damage you can inflict on yours and your opponents cars is also excellent with large portions of the car either coming away or deforming.

dirty scooby-960The AI is pretty good, but can occasionally do something stupid, which if you can avoid can be a benefit, but if you’re not quick enough you can end up totalled, especially with the big jumps in the Raid races.

finish-960The sounds are excellent, the vehicles sound realistic and make some glorious noises, particularly the Impreza hatchback which spits and crackles on the overrun and has a great rally car soundtrack; and the V8 buggies for V8 greatness.  Each vehicle has its own sound and represents the different engines very well.  The in game music is also good, the tracks seem to match the feel of the game nicely, although this is obviously a more personal thing.

tyre crumpling-960There are only a few issues I have with Dirt 2, none of them are really game breaking.  The first is the difficulty, the jump between Serious and Savage feels far too large.  On Serious I can win a rally by 10-15 seconds, but on serious, I could be 5 seconds behind the leader, and in the Raid and landrush races, the opponents seem to have much more grip on the loose surfaces meaning it’s extremely difficult catching up without having to resort to smashing your way through.  In Rally stages, I could probably concentrate a bit more and win on savage, but in trucks  I think it would just annoy me.

dirty scooby-960The other slight issue is the pace notes given by your co driver in rally events, they’re just not quick enough sometimes and you’re on the bend before the co-driver has finished telling you what it is, usually resulting in a shout of annoyance and the consumption of one of your available flashbacks.  Once you know your way along the stages this becomes less of an issue, and due to the smallish number of stages, this happens quite quickly.  Yes there’s around 8 locations, but each one only has two or three stages, so you usually just end up going one way down the stage, then going the opposite way, so it doesn’t take many races before you know every bend on the course.

wet screen-960Overall it’s a great game, with predictable handling and smooth looks.  You can tailor the experience with the difficulty options, depending on whether you want a quick blat down a muddy track for fun, or a proper hair raising, seat of your pants challenge.  Despite being nearly 4 years old I think it can still hold its own against the newer titles, and it also means you can turn all the graphics options up to full and get a decent framerate.  On my Q6600 and GTX460 I’m running everything at full and haven’t noticed any slowdown.  The need for ‘Games for Windows Live’ might put some people off, but it’s not noticeable once you’ve signed in, all it really does is keep track of the achievements.

Need for Speed World Review

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NFSW

Need for Speed World is a MMO racing game set in an open world, released in 2010 it’s now 3 years old and has gone through a few improvements since its release.  There are currently four ‘shards’ to choose from, two US based and two European based.  The game is free to play, but includes micro-transactions in the form of Speedboost currency.  It’s very much an arcade racer, but it doesn’t go over the top with unrealism.  The game is fun to play and doesn’t feel too much of a grind with regards to the levelling system.  Levels seem to go by in a timeframe that feels about right, especially the earlier levels.  The choice of cars is quite varied, there are imports, muscle cars, super and hyper cars from various manufacturers.  A lot of the cars however can only be purchased using speedboost.  There are regular sales on speedboost cars and there is an in game cash (IGC) car rotation.  Cars are split up into classes E being the lowest, through D,C,B,A and S being the highest.

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Vehicle handling and controls have got to be the most important aspect in a driving game.  If it’s right and it works, it’ll probably get overlooked and nobody will think about it, but that’s good, when it’s wrong, it’s noticeable.  If everything feels natural and does what it’s expected to do the game will be much more enjoyable.  NFS Worlds controls are spot on for the style of racing, you can control the cars very easily, even at high speeds, pushing the stick results in a predictable turn in and small adjustments can be made by small flicks without having the car ending up in a wall.  The cars also respond well at slow speed.  Part of this is obviously down to the handling model used in the game, which is definitely more arcade than simulation, but this suits the game perfectly, the cars have just the right amount of grip to be able to be driven quickly and not crash all the time, but also allow the occasional drift.  Some cars have very unrealistic handling which makes it feel more like your driving a boat than a car, but if you pick wisely and do a bit of research before buying, you should be able to avoid these.  If not, you can usually use them as pursuit cars to speed down highways with when you don’t need to worry about getting on the podium.

If you want to win, you do need to know how a car should be driven and how to take the best lines, if you just try to floor it and ignore the brakes, you’ll come last every time.  Skill behind the wheel will reward you, and due to the handling model, this can be picked up pretty quickly with some practice and watching what other drivers do, carrying speed through the corners is one of the most important points, especially on twisty tracks.

Hacking is currently a big problem in the game, speedhacks and autofinish are the most common.  It doesn’t detract too much from the experience in my opinion, yes it’s annoying, but it doesn’t take long to report the driver and find another race.  There has been a recent announcement stating that the developers are going to start clamping down on hackers more, so hopefully things will improve.

Vehicle customisation is an area where a Need for Speed game should shine the most, the original NFS Underground had a myriad of options for customising the look of your car, and these options improved with later games, such as allowing you to sculpt the body kit yourself to make it even more unique.  NFS World isn’t quite as comprehensive as these, each car will have maybe four body kits to choose from, only one of which can be bought with IGC, a selection of spoilers, most of which must be bought through micro-transactions and a few hoods, again most of which require micro-transactions.  There are also a reasonable selection of wheels, each offering different sizes, again, a lot of the wheels require micro-transactions, but you will win wheels as rewards or through completing achievements.  You can also paint standard wheels, which means you may be more likely to keep the standard wheels.  There are also Neons, Window Tints, Lowering kits and license plates.  All of these require micro-transactions to buy, but they are also won as rewards for racing and by completing achievements.  The lowering kits consist of three kits, Level 1, 2 and 3, with Level 1 giving the smallest drop and Level 3 dropping it on its floor.

The choice of paints and different paintable areas  is very good, allowing you to paint different body panels in different colours.  The finish of the paint can be matte, gloss, metallic, flip, pearlescent or candy, each being distinctly different from each other.

The choice of vinyl’s is very comprehensive, ranging from simple shapes to stripes, flames, tribal and numbers.  Not all of these are available immediately, each group must be unlocked by attaining a certain driver level.  The choice of vinyl’s certainly makes for easy personalisation of your car, with no two cars ever looking the same, unless of course they’re copies of cars from films such as The Fast & the Furious etc.

Each car has three stats, Top Speed, Acceleration and Handling, the combination of these stats determines the performance index of the car and what class it is in.  Tuning the performance of your car is limited to selecting upgrades for 6 key areas, engine, forced induction, transmission, suspension, brakes and tyres.  Every upgrade is rated from 1 star to 4 stars, the higher the rating, the more performance increase you’ll get from it.  Parts will give a percentage increase to one or all three of the car stats, with higher rated parts giving a larger percentage boost.  1 star parts can be bought using IGC, higher rated parts must either be won as rewards for races or achievements, or bought using speedboost.

Graphics are a controversial area in racing games.  On the one hand, you could argue that once driving, you won’t be paying much attention to the surroundings, so the detail of these areas isn’t as important as say making the game run smoothly, but on the other hand you could argue that a lack of detail, sparsely decorated and dull environments will detract from the immersion.  NFS World sits somewhere in the middle.  The vehicle models are highly detailed and look great and the special effects when using power-ups are a nice touch.  The textures on the buildings aren’t that great, but once driving, the surroundings become slightly blurred anyway, so this isn’t really a problem.  The design of the world has been laid out carefully, it seems to try and hide any wide panoramic views, it does this very well mainly through the use of trees but also through the elevation of the roads.  Inside the cities there are areas which are brightly lit with neon signs and billboards which works very well at drawing the eye away from the dull skyscrapers and buildings behind them.  Nothing about the graphics of NFS World will make you go wow, but there’s nothing really to complain about either.  The game runs smoothly on moderate hardware too at the higher settings, at the lowest setting the game does look worse, but it’s still playable.  With a Q6600 and a GTX460 I can run the game at the highest settings at 1920×1080 with not lag whatsoever.

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Overall, I’ve found it to be a great game, yes the hackers are annoying, but when you get a lobby full of proper drivers, you can get some really close and exciting racing.  The fact that it’s free to play makes it even more attractive and the price of Speedboost isn’t too extortionate if you wait and buy cars when they’re on sale.