Shadow Warrior (2013) Review

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After the disappointment that was Hard Reset, I decided to give Flying Wild Hog another chance to impress me by playing one of their more recent games, Shadow Warrior. Shadow Warrior is a re-boot of a 3D realms game released in 1997 which was also named Shadow Warrior. Shadow Warrior strives to be a blast from the past, allowing players to relive that old school FPS experience.

After watching one of the most badass opening cutscenes of all time (featuring Stan Bush’s “The Touch”), you are quickly introduced to the swordplay of Shadow Warrior. At first the only moves you have are a basic slash attack and a delayed slash attack but later on you can unlock more interesting special attacks you can use by double tapping specific directional keys and pressing the left mouse button. You can also press the right mouse button to use magic powers though I find the restoration power to be the most useful as it can be used to heal yourself mid battle whereas the other abilities specialize in crowd control and damage reduction.

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As cool as it is to have such a flexible close quarters weapon, I can’t help but wonder why the katana needs to have a delayed slash attack. You will almost never use this attack as it feels completely pointless to use considering the fact that there are so many better attacks you can use with your katana. This wouldn’t be a problem if it wasn’t for the constant necessity to double tap the directional keys to input these special attacks.

Having to double tap directional keys in the middle of a huge fire fight is a pain to do as it takes a bit too long to execute. Sure you can double tap the directional keys quickly but doing so will still leave you immobile for a split second which is never a good thing in games like this as all old school FPS games are built around mobility and this is ultimately what I consider to be lacking in this game as the movement in this game feels sluggish and this can be a major hindrance when you’re trying to avoid enemy attacks.

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So it has shurikens… but where’s the lightning?

Now this could be considered a personal bias but I absolutely loathe the dodge function in this game, yes there is a dodge function much like in Hard Reset Redux but this time there is a stamina meter that governs how many times you can use it, so you cannot abuse it. In my Hard Reset Redux review, I praised the dodge system for existing and as such I will give credit to the developers for considering the necessity of movement in FPS games but to be perfectly honest my experience with Shadow Warrior has conditioned me to detest this dodge system for numerous reasons.

The biggest issue I have with the dodge system is that it just isn’t adequate for this kind of game. You are constantly swarmed with enemies, sometimes in areas where there is lots of clutter. Games like Painkiller get away with this by having bunnyhopping, why doesn’t Shadow Warrior have bunnyhopping if it’s trying to be an old school FPS? This is ultimately the biggest issue I have with Flying Wild Hog’s games. They are trying to make old school style games on a modern framework and this never works. Being able to bunnyhop would make it possible to jump over some of the clutter and could also allow you to hop between platforms, the extra air time from bunnyhopping is crucial to these games for so many reasons.

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Much like in Painkiller where the player is constantly tapping the space bar, you will often be tapping the alt button repeatedly to dash. You can also hold down the alt button to sprint but there’s no point in doing so as it doesn’t flow naturally with the pacing of the combat. You’re supposed to be gunning down enemies on the move and you can’t do that then you are sprinting so adding a sprint option was a waste. The stamina gauge will constantly be limiting your movement and you’ll eventually return to Lo Wang’s sluggish walking if you tap the alt button too much, as such the game encourages players to dodge only when the enemy is attacking which makes movement in Shadow Warrior an absolute pain in the ass.

Being a first person shooter, you’d expect to have some powerful firearms in your arsenal but Shadow Warrior’s weapons are pretty varied in their usefulness to the point that some of the game’s weapons feel misplaced or unnecessary. The revolver’s slow fire rate really doesn’t fit the pacing of the game all that well at all, so much so that you’re just better off using the katana, not only that but the revolver itself is rendered completely useless later on in the game once you encounter tougher enemies.

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Then you have weapons like the PDW and the Flamethrower, both of which feel inadequate. Sure the PDW is the only automatic rifle in the game but does it really have to feel this weak? Oh well, at least it’s not as bad as the flamethrower which is completely fucking useless. Seriously what is the point in giving players a weapon with absolutely no stopping power in a game where enemies are charging towards you and you move at a snail’s pace? Painkiller Battle Out Of Hell’s flamethrower was at least decent and could kill most enemies quick enough to be of use.

Finally there’s the rocket launcher which is quite possibly the worst rocket launcher I have ever seen in a videogame. This weapon does absolutely bugger all in terms of damage to most enemies later on and the velocity of each rocket is so slow that it’s near impossible to land a well placed hit with it as enemies are constantly moving. The splash damage it nothing to write home about either, it may kill some minor fodder but that’s not saying much, it’s definitely better than the flamethrower but not by much.

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As for the other weapons, the crossbow feels pretty decent despite having a low fire rate. I think they did a fairly good job with this weapon all things considered, it’s powerful without being completely imbalanced. It’s better than the revolver in pretty much every single way if you ask me. The crossbow can also shoot remote bombs at enemies which is pretty cool. The shotgun is also pretty decent for the most part as it deals fairly decent damage to enemies at close range which is a considerable improvement from the shotgun in Hard Reset.

You better enjoy the shotgun, crossbow and the katana because they’re the only 3 weapons worth a damn in this game. The PDW has its uses but only in certain situations is it really all that useful. I get that Shadow Warrior wants to focus primarily on its katana combat but does it really need to make more than half of the game’s firearms completely fucking useless? Satisfying weapons are important in any FPS, particularly the fast placed single player ones. Sadly the majority of the game’s weapons just aren’t effective enough to want to use them.

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The shotgun outclasses just about every other firearm in this game.

Part of this is due to the later portion of the game’s constant bombardment of hit point sponge enemies and believe me, there are going to be some long ass firefights in this game enough to tire out even the most hardened of FPS veterans. I don’t think it’s bad to have the occasional mini-boss enemy with more health than the average foe but ultimately I would argue that glass cannon enemies are arguably more fun to fight as you have to react fast before they can damage you. Hit point sponge enemies remove the thrill of killing enemies before they kill you, instead you have to keep blasting away till they fall over.

In addition, shooting enemies in Painkiller causes a stagger effect so if you manage to shoot an enemy once but didn’t get the finisher, you get a second chance to make a finisher. You can also use the freezer to freeze an enemy in place allowing you to shatter them with a single shot regardless of how much health they have. This makes the gameplay feel more aggressive and less passive as rather than trying to back away from the enemies, you’re chasing them down. This whole “run away” mentality is what made me detest Serious Sam and Shadow Warrior does this to some degree mainly due to the hit point sponge enemies. As such you will often find yourself playing more passively in Shadow Warrior than you would in games like Painkiller.

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The dodging system does make this a little bit less problematic than games like Serious Sam and I will acknowledge that its existence allows you to play a tad more aggressively but there is very little incentive to do so as dodging wastes stamina which could be used to help you escape from the enemy, therefore playing passively is simply more efficient than it is to play aggressively and I consider this to be a huge flaw in the game’s design.

Now sure, Painkiller had moments where keeping your distance was the best option, particularly in trauma. However the option to play aggressively was always available and was encouraged. The ability to pick up enemy souls gave players an incentive to stay closer to the enemy than to keep their distance. Shadow Warrior has a similar mechanic but unlike Painkiller, health drops from enemies are very infrequent as unlike Painkiller where soul drops are guaranteed, Shadow Warrior’s health gain system uses RNG to decide whether or not the health will appear which is a stupid idea.

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Be sure to max this out quickly, you’ll be using it a lot.

This brings me to a point that I neglected to mention in my review of Hard Reset but I will mention it here instead. Now the reason why I didn’t mention this before in my review of Hard Reset is because I was willing to give this idea another chance to see if it could actually work. Shadow Warrior proves otherwise as many of the game’s problems are related to the needless RPG elements that plague the gameplay. Like with many modern FPS games, Shadow Warrior allows players to upgrade their weapons and learn new skills. Unfortunately this is to the games detriment for so many reasons.

Now lets take a look at Painkiller again. In Painkiller you have 5 weapons that have been tightly balanced to give players an incentive to swap between them. Each weapon has a secondary function, some even have 3 functions. Each weapon serves a specific purpose and as such the weapon you’re using often depends on the situation you are in. The shotgun is used to deal with enemies at close to mid range, the stakegun is used to deal with enemies at mid to long-range, the electrodriver is used against large groups of enemies at close range and the rocket launcher/chaingun is used against large groups of enemies from afar. The painkiller on the other hand is a very flexible weapon that can do pretty much anything the other weapons can but isn’t as efficient at dealing with enemies as the other weapons are making it the perfect side arm weapon.

 

“You better enjoy the shotgun, crossbow and the katana because they’re the only 3 weapons worth a damn in this game”

 

In Shadow Warrior you have 7 weapons, one of these weapons being the katana. Much like the painkiller, the katana is a very flexible weapon that can do anything the other weapons can do. The problem is that the other weapons do not give the katana a run for its money. While some weapons like the crossbow, the PDW and the shotgun end up being more efficient later on in the game, at the start of the game they are pretty weak. This is because of the game’s upgrade system. Each weapon starts off as an unfinished weapon in which you have to spend money to complete it.

Now I can see what Shadow Warrior is trying to do, it’s trying to give players the incentive to explore to find valuables that reward players with growth. As good as all of this may seem on paper, it is actually damaging to the gameplay due to the fact that the weapons aren’t worth using until they are fully upgraded which requires players to accumulate resources. This takes time to do and as such you will spend a large portion of the game with a very weak arsenal of weapons, aside from the katana of course.

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The sad thing is that it really didn’t need to be this way. Painkiller’s tarot card system required players to gather gold coins to purchase new cards. This gave players an incentive to explore in order to find secrets like holy items which are worth 100 gold each. This allowed Painkiller to keep a strong emphasis on growth and some minor exploration without compromising its weapon balancing. Now I realize that I’m comparing Shadow Warrior to Painkiller a lot here but bear in mind that the creators of Shadow Warrior also worked at People Can Fly and were involved in the creation of Painkiller. As such the fact that their more recent games are so inferior to Painkiller worries me greatly.

One issue that never ceases to infuriate me in most modern first person shooters is the constant need to reload your weapon. Not only does it bring the gameplay to a standstill for 3-5 seconds but it also adds more busywork for the player. Sure it makes sense in a more realistic game but in a game like Shadow Warrior, it just feels misplaced. I cannot count how many times I had to cycle through every single weapon at the end of each battle just to reload them just so that I would have a full clip for the next fight, it’s tedious and it is just bad game design.

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This kinda sucks…

Sure you could argue that the need to reload adds an extra layer of challenge considering the fact that you have to be more careful with your ammo usage but let’s be real here, you have 7 weapons to swap between, if your ammo runs out, you can just swap to a new weapon so technically the reload feature doesn’t add any extra challenge, it just brings the pacing of the gameplay to a stand still which is never a good thing in a fast paced first person shooter. When will developers learn to stop assuming that realism is essential in games? Because it isn’t.

While Shadow Warrior tries to bring a solid single player experience to the table, it really doesn’t feel like an old school style first person shooter at all, rather it feels like your typical modern FPS with a premise that differs from the usual military warfare. I really like the oriental setting they went for with this game, the levels are very colorful and being a lot of flavor to the experience, that is until you reach the more industrial themed levels where the game starts to become a bit too generic for my tastes. As such I’d say that the visuals are a mixed bag. While some levels look really great, other levels are pretty lackluster to say the least.

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I get that the game wanted to give us something different and it does to some degree. The first few levels are bright, colorful and filled with tonnes of Japanese architecture, later on you encounter a cool urban setting with a similar style to the first few levels. Once you reach the industrial levels however, the game starts to look bland and believe me, there’s no shortage of these levels and they seem to go on forever. Personally I think the industrial levels should have been shortened a little as I find them to be quite monotonous in comparison to the other levels for the simple fact that industrial settings tend to lack color and while they’re good in small doses, I think they overstayed their welcome in this game.

Speaking of things that overstayed their welcome, the boss fights leave much to be desired. Every single boss fight in Shadow Warrior feels like a needless ordeal and a time waste. Why on earth do you give the boss a health bar when the bosses health doesn’t decrease until you drain another health bar? The whole point in giving bosses a health bar is so that players are able to tell how much damage they need to do to the boss before it dies. Unfortunately the bosses in Shadow Warrior cannot simply be shot at, you have to instead shoot their weak points but in order to do so you have to break the shard of armor protecting that weak point.

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This is the exact same issue I had with Hard Reset. The developers have clearly learned nothing when it comes to boss fights. Now to be fair, I’ve yet to play a single first person shooter where the boss fights are all consistently good. Even Painkiller had problems with its boss fights but at least it had a few good ones like the Necrogiant which was as simple as “shoot it till it dies”. Plus the bosses in Painkiller could be killed quickly by using tarot cards and players are encouraged to do this in order to unlock new tarot cards. In Shadow Warrior however, boss fights take ages and none of them are even remotely challenging, they’re just a tedious ordeal for the player to get through.

Another issue I have is with the hit detection of the bosses weak points. The hit boxes are way too small and as such you are limited to weapons such as the PDW and the crossbow to deal with every single boss fight as accuracy is everything. Plus if you have to reload in the middle of the fight, guess what? The armor regenerates and you have to do it all over again. This is quite possibly the pinnacle of shitty boss design in a FPS… or it would have been if it wasn’t for Hard Reset which was even worse in this regard. Why can’t I just shoot the boss and kill it? Why do I always have to shoot the weak points to damage the boss? It’s so annoying.

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Except it’s not just the boss fights that have hit boxes. In the later portion of the game you are introduced to a new enemy known as Berserker. Berserkers are immune to all forms of damage from the front and will constantly charge at you. Basically imagine an over sized Kleer from Serious Sam with heavy armor at the front and lots of health. That’s basically what the Berserker is. These enemies are hands down the worst enemies I have ever encountered in a first person shooter and for good reason. The only way to kill them is by shooting the weak point on their back. Not only is it difficult to get behind them but when they charge you, you have only a split second to shoot their back before they turn around.

You would think that fighting just 1 of these guys is bad enough but in later levels they throw even more at you and you are constantly dodging around the map trying to avoid them. If you try to shoot one of them in the back, the other one will hit you with their charge attack. Because it’s impossible to focus on just 1 enemy at a time, adding 2 or more of these enemies in a single fight is downright criminal. I get that the developers are trying to make the game more challenging later on in the game but this just isn’t the way to do it, there are plenty of ways to make challenging enemies without having to make it such a needless hassle to kill them.

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Will you just die already!?

Another of my biggest gripes with this game is the level design. Much like in Hard Reset, Shadow Warrior likes to fill each level with explosives and clutter except there’s no real thought put into their positioning. Not only does serve to hinder the player’s mobility but it can be potentially fatal if a player accidentally triggers a chain reaction of explosions. Many of these explosives are positioned in places where enemies are not likely to go making them nothing but a hindrance to the player. Compare this to Painkiller where most of the explosives are positioned in places where they can be put to good use such as the barrels that appear on the staircase on snowy bridge which can be used to blow up enemies that come down the stairs.

Speaking of explosives, later on in the game you will encounter these weird green orbs scattered across the level. This is probably the developers attempt at trolling the player by adding a form of trap to the game. I hate games that do this and I wish that developers would just stop. While some of these orbs are easy to see, others are not. Some of these orbs are placed near doorways or which aren’t in the player’s line of vision giving them a nasty surprise if they walk in, others are placed behind crates or even in bushes and can be a real pain to deal with.

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Eventually you will encounter an enemy known as Mother, these enemies like to create more of these green orbs and send them rolling towards you. The only way to avoid these is by shooting them. I tend to use the revolver for this as it is a completely useless weapon for just about everything else so it’s not a waste for me to use it on these orbs. The worst part about all this is that the orbs can reach you from literally anywhere, they can even roll up staircases… I’m dead serious. You would think that in a game where reloading exists, the laws of physics would also apply. Sadly this doesn’t seem to be the case.

On the plus side there is plenty of ammo to be found in each level so you don’t often find yourself low on ammunition. If for whatever reason you do, there is a way to buy extra ammo from the upgrade shop if you need it. In addition there’s plenty of money littered around for players to find in order to give players some breathing room between fights as well as secrets to find. Despite all this, I feel that many of the games levels overstay their welcome. Some levels are way too short whereas other levels are way too long. One level in particular took nearly 2 hours for me to finish which is inexcusable.

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Nearly an hour and a half? Are you freaking kidding me!?

While the game does give players the ability to save anywhere, I think that the developers should have spread the levels out a bit for the sake of encouraging break periods, especially since players are graded at the end of each level. Gamer psychology dictates that players are more willing to drop a game upon completing a level or upon reaching a certain milestone. As such it is important to have a bite-sized level structure, particularly in first person shooters. Shadow Warriors failure to do this is quite possibly its most damaging flaw, especially considering the rest of the issues that plague this game.

It doesn’t help that the music adds basically nothing to any of the levels, none of which are particularly memorable and makes you wonder why they even bothered with music in the first place. None of the music is adrenaline pumping nor does it go towards building a strong ambiance… it’s just there. I really have nothing to say about the music at all, it’s just forgettable. It’s like they weren’t even trying.

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Music is shit… but at least it has rabbit sex…

All the negativity you have seen so far may lead you to believe that this game has absolutely no redeeming qualities. Is the game really all that terrible? Yes and no. You see when I started the game, I was actually having a lot of fun playing it. I really enjoyed using the katana to chop foes to pieces and at first the upgrade systems appeared to be a nice touch. I really liked the emphasis on exploring for secrets and I also liked the level aesthetics. That all changed when I reached the half way mark where the game started to become a tedious slog, enemies started to get more and more irritating to fight due to having way too much health and I started to lose interest in the level aesthetics once they went towards a more industrial setting.

Shadow Warrior is a game I wanted to like… a lot. While I didn’t expect it to be as good as Painkiller, I still wanted to have some fun with it and I did for a while but then the game began to stagnate in its later sections so badly that I couldn’t help but write a harsh critique on this game. In baseball, when you get 3 strikes, you’re out. This isn’t the way I do things however. If they get 2 strikes from me, they’re out. As such I can’t see myself wanting to give Shadow Warrior 2 a go, or the new Rise Of The Triad. Flying Wild Hog have failed to impress me twice now, they’re not the developers they once were back when they made Painkiller, they’re different now. It’s difficult to come to terms with my dislike for this game but I’m afraid sometimes you just have to accept the truth.

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In any case if you’re thinking of buying this game, I’d say that it depends on how tolerant you are of the bullshit most modern FPS games. If you somehow managed to enjoy games like Serious Sam 3, I think you’ll probably find a winner here… but I despise Serious Sam for so many reasons and Serious Sam 3 is the first game in the series to implement a reload feature. It’s also interesting to note that the first Serious Sam makes a cameo appearance in this game which is quite fitting if you ask me. If you can tolerate games like Serious Sam 3 then you’ll most definitely enjoy Shadow Warrior. If not then spare yourself the ordeal and avoid this game.


Visuals: Satisfactory
Music: Forgettable
Gameplay: Mediocre
Lifespan: Decent Length
Would You Replay? No

Overall: Mediocre

 


So the question is, which game is better? Shadow Warrior or Hard Reset? Well if I was basing my opinions on the start of the game, Shadow Warrior wins hands down. As a complete package however I’d argue that Hard Reset does a far better job.

Value: £5.00

Purchase Shadow Warrior (PC DVD)

Thanks to Hypno Coffin for gifting me a copy of the game. Saved me wasting my money on this.

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Tales Of Symphonia Review

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I don’t talk enough about the Tales series, maybe because the series has burned me out. I’ve been seeing more and more Tales games get shoveled out every year and each time I see them I kinda get a bitter taste in my mouth. Ever since the release of Star Ocean 5 and Exist Archive, my interest in the Tales series started to dwindle to the point where I had just lost interest in it.

However there’s nothing like a great Tales game to satisfy one’s JRPG cravings and Tales Of Symphonia is the first game that comes to mind when It comes to playing a good old-fashioned run of the mill JRPG. You see, Tales Of Symphonia doesn’t present itself as anything new. At first sight it’s easy to be misled by the game’s slow pacing but I’d advise you not to judge a book by its cover. Tales Of Symphonia is definitely a must play for any JRPG fan, particularly those who enjoy action RPG’s over the conventional turned based.

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As and action RPG, Tales Of Symphonia is often seen as a benchmark and rightfully so.  It was the first 3D Japanese Action RPG to give us a deep and engaging combat system and ultimately served as the demise for the Star Ocean series as a whole. If it wasn’t for Tales Of Symphonia, I don’t think the Tales series would have lasted as long as it has. The series has had a pretty huge legacy and Tales Of Symphonia serves as the pillar that holds it all in place.

Tales Of Symphonia might not seem much at first glance but as a game released in 2003 it has aged magnificently… most of it that is. A lot of people question the popularity of Symphonia, often comparing it to other games in the series. While the Tales series has evolved considerably, there have been a lot of changes to the series that have improved on the formula set by Tales Of Symphonia. As good as this was, future games in the series failed to stand out from its predecessor. While I won’t deny that there were some solid Tales games released after Symphonia, Symphonia kinda feels different from those games.

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There is something about Symphonia that keeps me coming back to it and I think I’ve found out what that something is. For starters, one of the things that made Tales Of Symphonia so iconic is its diverse array of content. There’s no shortage of things to do in this game as the main story has a pretty sizable length and there are plenty of sidequests to experience as you progress through the story and many of them offer some great rewards, usually in the form of titles.

The title system allows players to collect special titles that will alter the character’s stat growth. These titles can be carried over in a new game plus which allows players to customize their character’s growth in future playthroughs. Knowing that nearly every sidequest you complete contributes towards each playthrough gives you more of an incentive to complete them, when it comes to rewarding players, Tales Of Symphonia has a lot to offer.

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This alone would be a mere novelty. What truly makes Tales Of Symphonia a memorable experience lies in its gameplay and story. While the story of Tales Of Symphonia might appear quite generic at first glance, it manages to stay fresh with its strong themes. The characters themselves are very much the same, on the surface they are cardboard cut outs but each of them has their own place in the game’s story and play their role well enough. Rather than focusing on the characters individually, the game uses them as a means to portray the strong themes the game’s story revolves around. I don’t want to go into too much detail on these themes for fear of spoilers.

I’m not going to lie, Tales Of Symphonia’s story isn’t going to blow you away, it’s pretty bog standard for today’s standards but it was executed well enough to create a memorable experience. So long as you don’t set your expectations too high, you might be pleasantly surprised by the game’s story. If you do want to get the most out of the game’s story though, you’ll want to engage in some of the game’s many side quests as a lot of the story is hidden behind them. There are also skits which can help shed a light on some of the characters too.

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What makes this game truly stand out from other games in the series is its affection system. Tales Of Symphonia steals borrows this idea from the Star Ocean series which allowed you to partake in special events known as private actions which allowed certain scenarios to influence variables. These variables would affect the ending the player would obtain and each character would have their own adjustable variable value. As such the player may opt to avoid certain scenario’s or backtrack for specific scenarios in order to build up their desired variable.

In Tales Of Symphonia the way you interact with characters is different from the Star Ocean series. While lot of the choices you make throughout the game will affect the amount of affection each character has for the main character Lloyd, the actual process of acquiring these affection points is a lot more streamlined for the most part often forcing choices onto the player as they make progress though the game’s story. That’s not to say that there aren’t any optional interactions. Many of the sidequests can also affect a particular character’s affection for Lloyd. There are also optional skit points where you can engage in a skit conversations with other characters in which the player’s choices affect the character’s affection for Lloyd.

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Sadly this feature never made it into any of the future Tales games which is a shame. Unlike the Star Ocean series however, the affection system doesn’t affect the game’s ending, rather it changes up many of the game’s cut scenes. Once you reach a certain point in the main story, the characters with the highest affection will be able to partake in a cut scene with Lloyd, this scene will solidify that character as the one with the highest affection for Lloyd, essentially replacing the multiple character endings the Star Ocean series has. As a fan of the Star Ocean series I really enjoyed the inclusion of this feature as it allowed me to get more invested in the story and characters. Plus it allowed me to personalize my experience more which is always a good thing.

The Tales series is known for its fast paced real-time action battle systems and Tales Of Symphonia is no exception. Even today, Tales Of Symphonia holds up well despite it being rather basic. If you’ve played any other Tales game then you’ll know what to expect here. Tales Of Symphonia uses a side scrolling battle system in a 3D battle arena. This means that by changing targets you are able to spread your party out. So despite the fact that it is a side scrolling action RPG, it really feels like a free moving combat system.

Tales Of Symphonia was the first game in the series to offer serious competition to the Star Ocean games and for good reason. Rather than simply having players barrage foes with attacks, Tales Of Symphonia focuses on chaining hits to build up combos. While the ability to combo was somewhat prominent it still felt rather unrefined. Tales Of Symphonia’s combat offers a more refined combo system allowing players to chain up to 3 techs and alternate between 6 different techs per character at a time. This was a big deal back then as ARPG’s often lacked variety back in their early years. Tales Of Symphonia was one of the first ARPG’s that added a considerable amount of depth making it capable enough to rival that of a turned based RPG.

The combat focuses on synchronizing your attacks with the AI (or other players) in order to build up a combo. This idea would later be used in other games such as Valkyrie Profile 2 which allowed players to take control over all four characters in battle, managing them all simultaneously. Tales Of Symphonia was one of the first to focus primarily on combo focused gameplay and offers a wide variety of options in battle.

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Unfortunately like in all real-time action RPG’s with AI controlled party members, the combat suffers from having a lack of control over multiple characters. This is a problem that is not exclusive to Tales Of Symphonia but is worth bringing up considering the fact that Tales Of Symphonia is one of the pioneers that established the more modern style of real time action RPG’s and as such it is important to keep in mind that relying on the AI is essentially a big part of the gameplay.

For this reason, playing the game with a friend is probably going to be a far better experience than playing alone. Much like Secret of Mana was a more co-op orientated game, Tales Of Symphonia appears to be very similar. However players managed to enjoy playing Tales Of Symphonia as a single player game so it’s not impossible to enjoy playing it alone, rather there are some flaws to be aware of in terms of the AI. I will say though that for the most part, the AI aren’t all that bad in Tales Of Symphonia and if you can learn the AI’s patterns, you can really build up some awesome combo’s.

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Still, my philosophy on these type of games is that they were actually built with co-op in mind originally but the early games in the series along with all of the Star Ocean games seem to have forgotten this. Regardless, I judge these types of games in four different categories: flexibility, intuition, smoothness and AI behavior and considering the time this game was released, Tales Of Symphonia is above average in all four of these categories making for a very well-rounded combat system. Like I said before, you have 6 attacks at your disposal and they can all be mixed up in any order you choose as well as several regular attacks to mix things up more. While that may not sound like much today, back in 2003 this was a pretty big deal in terms of flexibility.

Now I never had the chance to play the original Gamecube release (which is quite ironic since the Gamecube is my favourite console) but based on the PS3 release, the controls are very simple and easy to use. You can guard and dodge using the square button, use normal attacks with X and artes using O. Comboing is simple enough, using a combination of normal attacks and artes as well as the AI’s attacks you can build up some crazy combos which are still really fun to pull off today and it’s easy to build up those hits, you never feel like you have to do too much busy work to pull them off like in Star Ocean Till The End Of Time which required the player to constantly swap characters in order to juggle their enemies.

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To add to all this you also have unison attacks. This was cool because you got to stop the enemy in their tracks while you get to perform any move of your choosing. Performing certain moves allows you use a compound special attacks which were a combination of two different artes with two different characters. It was a flashy and cool way to finish off enemies. I really liked the unison attack system and building the unison gauge was never too much of a hassle. It just gives you more control over battles and adds some extra flashiness to the combo’s.

To make things even crazier, the PS3 version (based on the Japanese PS2 version) adds mystic artes which are an alternate finisher that allow specific characters to pull off a unique special attack much like the purify weird soul attacks in Valkyrie Profile. These are used as finishers but unlike Unison Attacks they are pretty hard to pull off and can sometimes be completely forgotten about. This is due to the fact that the overlimit gauge didn’t exist yet and overlimits were built up over time much like trance in Final Fantasy IX in the sense that you cannot trigger it at will. Since most mystic artes required the character be in overlimit or at low hp, they were difficult to pull off.

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Regardless I can easily say that Tales Of Symphonia’s battle system stands the test of time, while other games in the series may be better in some areas, few games come close to the polished smoothness of Tales Of Symphonia’s combat. It is one of those combat systems that keeps you coming back for more due to how simple yet polished it is. To put it more accurately Tales Of Symphonia’s battle system is the benchmark of any real-time action JRPG combat and is what all real time action JRPG’s should aspire to be.

Aside from combat you do get a little bit of character management here, while not as deep as it is in the Star Ocean series, Tales Of Symphonia offers the player a few choices in regards to character management in the form of EX skills. These skills alter several different properties of each character giving them special passive abilities or allowing them to be played in a unique way. Sadly in future games such as Tales Of The Abyss, EX skills were learned in a more linear fashion and rather than picking and choosing, you get given all the EX skills over the course of the game which ruined the whole point of having EX skills. Regardless this was a great addition which adds a little bit of experimentation to the game.

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Other than that however, character management is very basic, learning new artes can be quite complicated as there are two different combat styles to learn: strike and technical. Each style has its own set of artes and is influenced by the player’s EX skills. Strike artes are mostly powerful attacks which focus on knockback. Technical artes focus more on delivering more hits and are usually a lot flashier than strike artes. Then you have magic which is completely different depending on the character. For example, you could have Raine be a strong party healer and teach her technical moves like Revitalize. On the other hand you could teach her stronger single target healing abilities and the ability to give your characters an auto-revive buff.

You can mix between strike and technical artes by changing your EX skills to favor the opposite style just before you learn a new move, you can also forget certain moves and swap them for their alternate move should you wish. Or you could just stick with either style and see what you get. This makes the game more interesting as there are so many different combinations of moves you can have at your disposal, some may see it as limiting but that’s kinda the point, by limiting the player, you are making them choose between two variants of moves based on which they prefer.

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Do they want to focus on dealing raw damage and knockbacks or so they want to focus on building up more hits? By limiting your game for the sake of choices, you’re actually providing a more rewarding experience since the choice the player makes equates to that of rewarding players with personalization. This is what many of the other Tales games failed to realize, by breaking these limits and just giving all the abilities away to the player, they are essentially removing that element of choice which made Tales Of Symphonia feel so rewarding… at least in terms of personalization.

So Tales Of Symphonia does a lot of things right with its gameplay and while the story starts off quite slow, it picks up later on. In theory this alone should provide a highly engaging experience and it does… for the most part. You see Tales Of Symphonia may be the series’ benchmark but it isn’t without its flaws. For starters, the dungeons of Tales Of Symphonia tend to really bog the game down in monotony as there are plenty of dungeons in the game that just flat-out suck. Why is this you ask? That’s simple, puzzles and when I say puzzles I mean hours upon hours of tedium.

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The puzzles in Tales Of Symphonia are quite possibly some of the most irritating puzzles I have ever seen in an RPG. While the first few dungeons have very simple, yet boring puzzles, later puzzles can become quite tedious and annoying to do. One puzzle in particular literally has you moving blocks of garbage and dropping it off a catwalk for no other reason than to pan out game time. To make things worse you have the sorcerers ring with its many functions. I absolutely loathe the inclusion of this feature because there are times where you have to switch between ring modes to accomplish certain tasks the game gives you to do like shooting braziers and shooting a bomb to blow up a rock.

Maybe this is just a personal issue but I honestly do not see how anyone can enjoy slogging through such horrendous dungeons. The most infamous of dungeons require you to guide several blobs to a certain position. These blobs will follow you but it is a nightmare to keep them all together. All you do is run around the area aimlessly pushing switches and trying to find all the blobs and trying to keep them altogether. To make things worse pushing in certain switches pushes other switches out. It’s a nightmare for people like me who want to get straight to the action. Even if I were to like puzzles, I cannot see myself not getting frustrated in that horrendous place.

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The dungeons are the biggest problem with this game and they are one of the few things that hinder the game’s replay value. However there is also another problem that many games released back in 2003 suffered from, unskippable cutscenes. That’s right one of the most irritating parts of replaying a JRPG is to have to press X/A to keep the text moving so you get back to the action. I wish that players could just skip the cutscenes and move on. Why this isn’t a thing in the PS3 port I cannot fathom.

Despite all this, I managed to slog through another playthrough and while it did have its annoying parts, the amount of rewarding content this game offered convinced me to play through it again and once I reached the second half of the game, my engagement levels rose a ton. Tales Of Symphonia offers a new game plus feature. By spending grade you are able to unlock certain perks which you can carry over to each playthrough. After unlocking the combo’s perk the game felt extremely rewarding to play in terms of growth as it rewards you with experience based on the highest combo you perform in the fight. This made every boss fight feel different and added an extra layer of depth to the game.

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It was this second playthrough that convinced me to review this game as I felt that being able to play through a game such as this a second time alone is something worth noting since I don’t normally do such things in videogames. I will say though that the second playthrough did have its annoying moments, particularly in the dungeons but I believe if you are truly willing to give the game another shot, by all means do so.

This game has a lot of replay value to balance out the horror of having to slog through those painful dungeons again and as someone who dislikes replaying videogames in general, I can confirm that there is some value to be had in doing so, it just takes a bit of patience because Tales Of Symphonia is quite a lengthy ordeal as it can take around 40 – 50 hours to finish the story. I assure you, once you endure the first half of the game, the game opens up fairly quickly and you feel like you’re playing through a whole new experience entirely. There are still the painful moments but if you are willing to endure some of that pain, it’s definitely worth playing through this game multiple times.

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As far as music is concerned, the game’s soundtrack does a reasonable job of keeping players engaged in the experience but doesn’t go the extra mile to deliver something particularly noteworthy. There are some good tracks here and there, ironically the best tracks tend to play in some of the most tedious dungeons, kinda fitting considering the fact that you’ll be spending a lot of your time in these places. Some tracks are better than others but for the most part I’d say that the soundtrack does its job reasonably well.

In terms of art direction, Tales Of Symphonia takes a very vivid approach depicting a bright, colorful cel-shaded world. While some may find this kind of contradictory to many of the game’s themes I feel that it serves to make the world more likable and makes the locations more memorable due to this distinct art style. After all, sometimes you want a break from the more darker styled games and you want something bright and colorful as a refreshment. As such I feel that the art design fits this game rather well, it really fools you into believing that the game is very plain and simple at first but when things start to get more interesting as the story clashes with other themes, the art direction really stands out.

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When it comes to choosing whether or not to play Tales Of Symphonia, ask yourself what exactly you are looking for in a JRPG at this point? While I do believe that every JRPG fan should give this game a shot at some point, I don’t think this is a game people should rush towards for the sake of it. If you’re going to play Tales Of Symphonia then you want to be in the right mood for it.

If you’re tired of the more conventional RPG and want something different, Tales Of Symphonia can be quite difficult to get into. On the other hand if you’re looking to escape from more modern, avant-garde JRPG experiences then you should definitely give Tales Of Symphonia a go. I do think that the game starts off quite slow and it can be an arduous task to get to the meaty stuff but when you do I believe that you will enjoy what you see.


Story/Plot: Good
Visuals: Good
Music: Satisfactory
Gameplay: Great
Lifespan: Quite Long

Overall: Great

Value: £40.00

Purchase Tales of Symphonia (PS3)

Painkiller Review

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Have you ever had those moments where you are just fed up with the ever-growing complexity and heavily story driven titles of the modern era? Do you want something which goes back to the roots of gaming and revitalizes the simplified formula of the FPS genre? Luckily for you, the gaming gods have brought fortune upon you this day. Big guns, big bosses and big levels filled to the brim with cannon fodder, just waiting for you to bring them pain. This is Painkiller, Painkiller is nothing else. Painkiller is a game where you walk the path to hell and leave no survivors in your wake.

The story of Painkiller is simple, you are a bad motherfucker who has been ordered by god himself to slaughter the demonic generals, luckily for you he gives you a licence to kill so of course you pick the easier option. Total genocide, yes you heard me. You are going to deliver the entire demonic race their last requiem in the form of lead… lots and lots of lead. Now you know the story of Painkiller, you are free to press the “ESC” key with every wonderfully voice acted cut scene to save yourself the needless exposition you so tire of and don’t worry, the story doesn’t even make much sense anyways so you’re not missing much, they just decided to incorporate a free B movie in with the whole package, feel free to watch it if you like but it has nothing to do with Painkiller.

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Eat my shotgun you whore!!!

So with all that aside, with everything Painkiller has to offer, does it manage to deliver a solid ass kicking experience worthy of being a timeless first person shooter? Hell fucking yes! The core elements which make Painkiller so great are not so simply defined in one word. After all, a game such as Painkiller cannot possibly have a straightforward explanation as to why it is one of the greatest shooters of all time and quite frankly there is a lot for me to cover in just the gameplay elements alone.

For starters, one of the first things you will notice almost immediately in Painkiller is the movement… that is if you have played an old school first person shooter before. If you haven’t, don’t worry you’ll master the technique in no time. It’s called bunnyhopping. Bunnyhopping is the ability to essentially increase movement speed by jumping allowing you to dodge bullets and weave through your enemies as you gun them down. Now bunnyhopping is very easy to learn but difficult to master as players will have to constantly re-position their reticule when they are airborne in order to maintain accuracy. This is what separates the men from the boys in Painkiller. You see in Painkiller, bunnyhopping is a big deal.

 

“Painkiller is a game where you walk the path to hell and leave no survivors in your wake”

 

Unlike most first person shooters, Painkiller takes bunnyhopping to the next level as it pretty much doubles your movement speed. This means that as long as you are moving, you are nigh untouchable. Of course you will still have a lot of enemies to contend with and you will still get hurt… a lot but bunnyhopping effectively will minimize the pain you receive allowing you to deal more pain in return. This leads to some crazy looking gameplay which is a feast to the eyes and is without a doubt the most satisfying experience you will ever have in a first person shooter.

The game starts off quite simple as you are pitted against only melee enemies who are harmless from a safe distance, however they will pose a threat to you if they get close. The levels will slowly become less open and more closed in forcing you to manage your movement more diligently. As such, movement is the key to success in Painkiller, as you’ll be using your increased level of agility to avoid the enemy’s lethal attacks, get behind them and introduce them to your makeshift barrel blaster.

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Each level has its own unique set of enemies, presenting new challenges for the player to overcome. As such, it’s not long before enemies start hurling projectiles at you. This is where things begin to get tricky. Most enemy projectiles can be avoided by stepping/hopping out of the way, though some enemies use automatic weapons which can be pretty difficult to avoid. This time you will need to fight fire with fire and bring out the trusty stakegun taking them out from afar before they get a chance to gun you down. Best of all, after you’ve stuck their corpse to the wall, you can pull out your trusty painkiller and launch it at them repeatedly in order to mug them of their demonic riches in the form of jewels which come flying out of their ass each time you pull the trigger.

As you can see, the arsenal of weaponry available to you is far from the conventional military apparatus. You are granted weapons worthy to only the most fearless of genocidal psychopaths, each with their own unique function which allows you to take those pesky demons by surprise. The Painkiller is a weapon which you can always rely on. At first glance it is almost identical to Link’s iconic Clawshot from the Zelda series but then… wait, hang on a minute, Painkiller came out in 2004, Legend Of Zelda: Twilight Princess came out in 2006 so technically the Painkiller came first so suck it Nintendo and suck it hard.

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Anyone up for some laser tag?

Of course there’s more to the Painkiller than meets the eye, sure you can launch it just like the Clawshot in Twilight Princess but it also doubles as a portable blender which you can use to slice and dice your enemies and make delicious demon smoothies. OK, I lied, they’re not delicious, they’re disgusting and that’s why they all need to die.

Naturally like any first person shooter, you’re going to need a real gun and boy do you have some serious firepower in your arsenal. The first being your weapon of choice for a huge portion of the game, the shotgun or as I like to call it a double-barreled massacre device designed with the sole purpose of deporting demons straight to hell. As an added bonus, this double-barreled recipe for disaster comes with a buckshot duplication device allowing you to shoot a single shell out of two barrels. Better yet your destructive double barrel slinger of doom is fitted with liquid nitrogen so that you can shatter them in a single shot.

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Later on you will acquire the legendary stakegun, a weapon originally used to kill vampires. Well guess what? It kills demons just as effectively if not more. You can use the stakegun from any range and impale their worthless bodies with a pointed stick burning as it approaches them at an insane velocity which will cause so much shock and pain towards the enemy that their limbs will come flying off the moment the hit connects. If you’re lucky, you can also impale them to the nearest wall and keep them as trophy’s. In addition, your makeshift stick launcher is fitted directly onto a grenade launcher so that you can bring fireworks to the party, just fling it in the direction of the nearest group of demons and watch their body parts soar.

Of course there are other weapons available to you but I will not spoil the fun for you, have fun discovering them for yourself. All you need to know is that you’ll be well equipped for your journey along the borders of heaven and hell which spans across 24 levels filled with dozens of enemies, destructibles and secrets for you to discover. Though these secrets serve as a distraction from all the intense action you will be facing, they only go towards helping you increase your body count within the realm of purgatory. Put simply if your finger isn’t constantly tapping the lmb and the space bar, you aren’t playing it properly.

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With all that said however, purgatory is home to some iconic landmarks that you will pass through on your journey. Purgatory is home to many historic locations which have found themselves sealed within due to their connection with implications that were caused there in the realm of the living. You will pay a visit to many forsaken lands and bear witness to the remains of the terrifying tragedies which partook there. Other locations will have you gaze in awe as you embark across forbidden and unholy lands of grandeur. Every place has its own story to tell, a story left unwritten, a story that guides you along a linear path and to your destiny. You cannot control the path destiny has weaved for you, you can only control the field of battle. That is the fate of all who pass on to the realm of Purgatory. It is up to you to piece this story together… that is when you aren’t fighting for your life.

You will find yourself isolated in these desolate lands as very few are fated to walk the path to heaven or hell and many of those who are misfortunate enough to do so often fall into damnation. With only you and your destructive arsenal at your disposal, you are left with no other choice but to keep on killing because everything is your enemy in this game and everything must die no matter what. How you go about doing these deeds is up to you. Though the demons are greater in number, the odds are in your favor. The path will open up with every foe you slay and it will guide you to your next destination, you will never lose your way in Purgatory… but there is no escape.

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Uh oh… looks like we angered the locals…

Every demon you slay makes you stronger. Every soul you consume gives you life. You will kill your enemies and devour their souls to become stronger and when the time comes, they will become the prey. If you just happen to acquire 66 souls you will receive the ultimate power known as demon morph. A power which will grant you with a powerful scream, an echo which tears apart all the unfortunate victims who dare to oppose you. To add insult to injury, you are also granted temporary immortality so the more that oppose you, the more devastating your powers will become.

Did I forget to mention that Painkiller is accompanied with a badass heavy metal soundtrack? Of course it is, what else are you going to listen to as you gun down masses of demonic fodder? The music is quite possibly the lifeblood of Painkiller, together with the endless, chaotic and downright sadistic gameplay it makes for an exhilarating experience. There are countless metal tracks to listen to with many different styles to choose from. I am no expert but I’m pretty sure any metal-heads out there will be able to appreciate the level of diversity in the music of Painkiller.

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The music is so good it makes me wanna do this.

As you can see, there is a lot to like about Painkiller, most would say that is perfect in every way. Unfortunately, as good as it is, Painkiller does have one notable flaw. The boss fights in Painkiller are huge and very powerful… too powerful. While some bosses are great, others are too great. Certain bosses are immune to bullets and require you to find their weakness.

Some bosses can also deal a lot of damage to you which can sometimes be difficult to avoid. This can often be troublesome when you are low on health and as it is impossible to acquire souls in boss fights it can result in a lot of cheap deaths. Nobody said Painkiller would be easy… this is purgatory after all. Luckily for you, tarot cards give you superhuman strength enabling you to kill most bosses is under 2 minutes.

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I think I’ve found your weakness buddy

To walk the path of Purgatory is to walk the path of judgement, your only hope is to kill everything that moves but no hope will ever be enough, you will never find the true path to heaven, the only known thing that lies in wake is your demise but how long will you survive the endless gauntlet of purgatory? Will you ever find a way out of here? Or have you been subjected to eternal damnation? Though you may never find an answer to these questions there is one thing for certain, many demons will be harmed in the process and you will keep on fighting till every last one of them is dead. This is Painkiller, this is your destiny, our destiny, we must all walk this path in life, the only question is, when will you walk the path of damnation?

Quite frankly there isn’t a better time to start, pick up your copy of Painkiller right now, whether it be a physical retail copy, a digital Steam copy or a DRM free digital copy. It matters not how you approach it, all routes lead to the same path and you will follow that path until the very end. Will you survive? Or will you be damned forever? One thing’s for sure, if you don’t start now, it may be too late for you, you must play this game and you should play it as soon as possible for everything is at stake, this game is the definitive fast paced, adrenaline inducing first person shooter and if that sounds even remotely interesting to you, it should be illegal for you not to play this game.


Plot/Story: Wait, Painkiller had a story? Sorry I completely forgot, what is this story?
Visuals: Exceptional
Gameplay: Exceptional
Music: Excellent
Lifespan: Decent Length
Would you replay? Hell yes (I put emphasis on the word “hell” for a reason)

Overall: Exceptional

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For a more serious, in-depth analysis of the game, watch this video.

Value: £40.00+

Purchase Painkiller (PC DVD)

Duke Nukem Forever Review

It’s been 20 years since Duke Nukem 3D and as such Gearbox have decided to re-release it. However the Duke Nukem series hit an all time low as far as ratings were concerned with it’s latest installment Duke Nukem Forever. As such I thought I’d dive straight into it, yet another Humble Bundle game that came with The Darkness II.

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Now I haven’t played much of the Duke Nukem series. I remember only playing a demo of Duke Nukem 3D which was a pretty sizable demo. Should I have picked it up? Maybe… however I ended up getting this instead. Regardless I had fun playing it back then. It had some cleaver secrets and some pretty well designed levels for its time with lots of iconic venues. Of course I didn’t get to play all of it but I just loved using weapons like the Ripper to mow down enemies, those were my best moments playing Duke Nukem, shooting things and exploring the levels. The same could be said about all FPS games really.

So when I picked up Duke Nukem Forever I wondered to myself “How bad could it possibly be?”. I dove straight in and was almost immediately introduced to a boss fight who couldn’t even hit me because I was constantly circling him as he repeated the same attacks over and over again. This is when I realized that Tryptych didn’t really give a fuck about the game’s AI, they added very little variation with the boss fights so much so that they felt stale and uninspired.

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That was the first thing that stuck out like a sore thumb to me, that and the simple fact that each time the bosses health bar reaches zero, you had to perform a quick time event execution sequence to finish them off. Needless to say, I didn’t know this at the time and as such I kept fighting it and fighting it till I finally realized what I had to do.

Then the game immediately dropped all of the action in favor of some walking simulation nonsense which exists solely to show just how much of an egomaniac, narcissist Duke is and how everyone and their mother knows and worships him as if he is some kind of god. Funnily enough, I actually enjoyed these sections more than I did the actual game. Why? Because of the level of interactivity in each of those sections. I swear I spent hours just drinking soda out of a vending machine just to see how much of a mess I could make on the floor. That and I love vending machines. Why couldn’t they make the ones in DOOM do something?

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Honestly I felt like I was playing two different games at some point. Watching Duke fanny around with pretty much everything is ironically far more satisfying than anything the combat had to offer, so much so that it appeared that the developers knew this and as a result they reduced the level of combat to a minimal. This time instead of fighting tonnes and tonnes of enemies, you are instead thrown into long-ass physics puzzle sections only to encounter brief combat sections every now and again and then returned to the puzzle solving and the occasional walking around and interacting with nonsense stuff. Then you’re thrown into a turret section where you are severely punished for fucking up and finally vehicle sections which were also pretty satisfying IMO.

However the meat of the game, I.E the combat is where Duke Nukem Forever falls flat on its ass. Now the two weapon limit is annoying in itself but I would have been able to cope with it if the weapons you were given didn’t have such limited ammo capacity. Honestly this wasn’t an issue back in Duke Nukem 3D due to the weapon carry limit which is arguably the biggest complaint this game received simply because each weapon has such limited ammo that you are forced to swap between new weapons every so often. This wouldn’t be so bad if they didn’t make so many of the weapons situational. The railgun for one is near useless in a game like Duke Nukem Forever as it is a single shot sniper in a game where you supposed to be up close and personal with the enemy. Even Painkiller’s sniper rifle managed to adapt to this style of gameplay but the railgun feels misplaced.

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Other weapons such as the Freeze Ray and the Shrink Ray feel needless, those weapons were originally designed for experimentation purposes to go alongside the huge roster of weapons at your disposal in Duke Nukem 3D but would I seriously swap one of them with the Ripper/Shotgun? Hell no. To add insult to injury, most bosses are immune to bullets and any other non-explosive weapon so it’s important to keep an explosive weapon with you at all times.

In addition you also have access to Pipe Bombs and Trip Mines. Trip Mines are basically useless in most encounters because the enemies just appear and you often end up blocking your own routes. there are even times where the enemy has walked directly into the laser and still lived and in the end I have to shoot the mine to trigger it manually. Pipe Bombs are still useful thankfully and can pack quite a punch against regular enemies. They can also bounce off of jump pads which look like a combination of a flytrap and a rotten cucumber.

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Movement in Duke Nukem Forever is pretty standard, you can dodge most bullets and avoid most melee attacks with ease. Explosives however are near impossible to avoid completely. I find that explosive attacks often end up being in a Leningrad esque scenario in the sense that it’s kill or be killed. Now this would have probably been more acceptable if it wasn’t for the horrible regenerating health mechanic that this game shoehorns in. I mean seriously did you need to cover at all in Duke Nukem 3D? No you just shot your way through everything and dodged everything. In this game however you are hit with high AOE blast radius attacks which deal a fuck ton of damage.

Octobrains are the worst for this because they have way too much health and deal way too much unavoidable damage with their explosive breath attack (or whatever it is) which deals insane damage. There really isn’t much balance in terms of the enemy strengths and weaknesses from what I have seen. Octobrains are pretty resistant to the Ripper, the Shotgun is useless because they like to stay as far away from you as possible, rockets and grenades are useless because they fire them back at you and the Shrink Ray is useless since you can’t squash them and makes an already small, fast moving target even harder to hit. Plus the Freeze Ray lacks the range to even reach them.

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Most enemies on the other hand will die to pretty much anything except bosses which to me feel all the same. Shoot them get into cover, shoot their minions, leave cover, shoot them again, rinse and repeat. Sure they try to mix them up with certain fights but the lack of cover makes these fights really annoying and the way you are forced to play against these bosses is just nonsense, especially in a Duke Nukem game. The new alien weapons on offer feel rather gimped in comparison to returning weapons and many of them have limited ammo capacity.  Some of them are pretty strong but  you’ll never rely on them because it’s difficult to find ammo for them and other weapons do the job better in general.

It seems what they were trying to do is make it so that certain weapons are better against certain enemies but the two weapon limit ruins this completely. It they didn’t have this two weapon limit I believe the enemy encounters wouldn’t be so uninteresting because there would be so many ways to experiment with lots of different weapons at your disposal and you’d be encouraged to try them all.

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I made a point of trying to stick with the Ripper and the Devastator for as long as I could because there would occasionally be ammo crates littered around which gave you access to infinite ammo, you would keep these two weapons around for this reason. However I found myself trying to conserve as much ammo as possible in most sections which was a pain, even trying to melee certain enemies to try and kill them. Yes that includes meleeing an Octobrain.

It just doesn’t feel right, I want to put my finger on the LMB and mow enemies down fast but instead I fire the ripper in short bursts which was not as it was intended to be used for. I didn’t get any satisfaction from any of the weapons for that reason which is a huge problem in a first person shooter like Duke Nukem Forever.

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The Level Design is decent for the most part… if a bit linear. A lot of the locations felt uninspired as opposed to that of Duke Nukem 3D. You find yourself in the same bland offices with the same bland tunnels and wreckage for most of the game, it likes to throw the same at you a lot and there isn’t as much variety as I would have liked. Granted Duke Nukem 3D has a lot of levels that look very samey the levels are only that way because of their thematic style and it is consistant. However when you are on the Duke Dome mission in Duke Nukem Forever, most of that mission is spend wandering around wastelands of wreckage and construction sites and it gets old seeing these areas when in reality you want to see what’s going on inside the Duke Dome that the level is supposed to revolve around. Funnily enough once you finally reach the Duke Dome, the level ends.

The biggest annoyance for me was the puzzles. I could cope with the rest of it but the puzzles were just boring. Some of them were straightforward and simple but just took time to do such as filling up a crane with barrels to re-balance the weight. I find that the game threw way too many puzzles at you and it’s just needless. They weren’t even that hard and quite frankly I’m pretty thankful for that. Nevertheless it’s more busywork the player has to do to reach the next shooting section and even that wasn’t much to look forward to.

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Quite frankly I had the most fun playing through the walking sim sections and funnily enough I was looking forward to see more of them but eventually there comes to a point in the game where you no longer have any of these interactive moments kinda like in Bioshock Infinite, heck It’s as if most 2K games just love to have these walking sim sections in them. This wouldn’t have been so bad if the actual gameplay wasn’t so monotonous. The sad thing is that the best level in the game turned out to be nothing more than a dream which is hilarious as it just goes to show that even Duke himself is getting bored with this game and it shows.

I spent hours playing the snooker minigame trying to get that ego boost and I ended up getting more engaged in that and all the other minigames on offer than I did with any of the shooting sections. I had a lot of fun playing air hockey and the pinball game was intense and pretty cool. There was also the whack-a-mole game in which I used far more reflexes than I did in any of the shootouts. The dream section only lasted so long though and you couldn’t revisit it or any other area like it for the rest of the game.

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Occasionally there were a few other distractions littered around levels and the odd restrooms where you could piss about in (literally) but aside from that is was just walking through repetitive levels, solving puzzles and shooting baddies, trying to keep your ammo stocked up. I swear that I spent the vast majority of the game searching for Ammo for my guns simply because I wanted to keep my Ripper in my inventory and didn’t want to swap it for anything else.

Visually speaking, the bright lighting kinda felt a mid misplaced, unlike in Duke Nukem 3D where it was always night time which added this cool lit up city vibe, Duke Nukem Forever is brightly lit outdoors 95% of the time  and it made the visuals feel lacking in the variety department. A lot of the visual appeal shown to us in Duke Nukem Forever’s original trailer showed this dark urban environment that I felt was lacking in Duke Nukem Forever.

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Bright lighting and a dark cloudy sky… not the best combination.

Only inside buildings did you ever see any dark lighting which was a shame. Regardless the visuals aren’t as bad as people make them out to be, there are some nice locations and some dull locations. I find that later on in the games the levels become really dull and samey though.

Additionally the game also seems to have a few minor characters and I mean minor characters. It’s a shame you didn’t really get to see much out of them though as Duke was the central character of the game and even though I understand that they were trying to get that one man army vibe that Painkiller gives, these minor characters just feel as if they were shoved in there in order to take the piss out of modern shooters when it only serves to make them the same… if not worse.

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It wouldn’t have been so bad if there was some banter between Duke and Dylan but a lot of the time, Duke just stands there and listens, he doesn’t ever communicate with his team when he is battling alongside them. If anything it’s a missed opportunity on Gearbox’s part.

It would have been cool to have given Duke a cool side-kick who would have given Duke someone to natter to during some of his missions rather than just nattering to himself which is quite amusing to be honest. I guess deep down, Duke isn’t much of a sociable person, if fact despite being an alpha male stereotype he appears to be socially awkward in most situations… unless he’s talking to one of his “babes”.

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Dylan seemed like a cool guy to me. Shame he was completely shadowed by the Duke.

The music in the game is pretty forgettable minus the theme song of course which never gets old. There are a lot of tense tracks that appear at random in certain sections but for the most part there is nothing but silence. There are also remixes of the Duke Nukem theme song in the ambiance as well as some classic jingles which play in the elevator which anyone who played Duke Nukem 3D will remember.

All in all as a shooter, Duke Nukem Forever works… it just doesn’t work very well. It feels like a very watered down shooter with minimal satisfaction. To be fair I can see the appeal die hard Duke fans can get from this game as Duke is still for the most part the same Duke, you’re still facing the same enemies and you still get the same legendary quotes. They just threw it all into a very bland modern FPS which tries to function more like an old school FPS at times. However it fails due to the use of modern mechanics which leads to the game being a clusterfuck at times. Still if you want more Duke Nukem, there really is no harm in playing this. It’s not the worst FPS out there and is definitely far better than the horrendous Red Faction was IMO.

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Tough choice…

I recommend trying it only if you’re a die hard Duke Nukem fan as you will get something out of it so long as you keep your expectations low but even then I really mean it, the game still feels very sterile even to the most die hard fans however I do honestly believe that die hard Duke fans will be able to appreciate this game and will definitely enjoy the many throwbacks this game has especially the walking sections since a lot of it is pretty much a tribute to Duke himself and the game still works as a shooter. For everybody else, just wait for the 20th anniversary remaster for Duke Nukem 3D.


Story/Plot: Decent
Visuals: Decent
Gameplay: Mediocre
Music: Decent
Lifespan: Quite Short
Would you replay? No

Overall: 20160920201056_2

Value: £5.00

Purchase Duke Nukem Forever (PS3)

The Darkness II Review

Well I didn’t expect to be playing this game. The Darkness II was a random punt of mine, I got it from Humble 2k Bundle so it was dirt cheap and the game looked interesting enough to get me to pick it up.

Anyways, The Darkness II is a First Person Shooter based on a comic book series which I don’t know anything about, despite all this, I didn’t have too much trouble following the story, even if it was a little crazy. The story sets you as a guy named Jackie who suffered a traumatic experience and became possessed by a powerful force known as the darkness. Naturally this makes him a badass anti-hero and like all good badasses, he is practically the Godfather of the local Mafia.

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Unfortunately for him, the darkness inside him attracts trouble and as such he has to deal with an enemy faction known as the Brotherhood who seek to harness the powers of The Darkness for themselves.

Now the only issue I have with the game’s storyline is that they don’t really build on the whole “mafia” family thing, perhaps they did in the original game but if you jumped into this game without playing the original the pacing of the game is very concise and this is very much to its detriment for newcomers trying to experience the complete story but those who played the original game might appreciate this since they don’t need all the extra exposition.

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Despite this the plot itself is very straightforward and easy to follow but for newcomers such as myself it may lack a certain level of depth that you come to expect from most games. Still, I don’t think story is particularly important in these types of games however, it’s easy to tell that The Darkness II tries to deliver a solid narrative experience and while the narrative does its job, it feels kinda rushed. Even those who are fans of the original may realize this pretty quickly as the game doesn’t last that long to begin with.

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You will frequently encounter these monologue sections where Jackie talks about himself and The Darkness. It doesn’t really connect to the story in any way though.

Visually, the game is pretty good, there are lots of vibrant colors in this game similar to that of the Bioshock series, if you have played any of the Bioshock games then you will know what to expect here. Needless to say, the game still has that dark tone in order to reflect on the whole “darkness” theme this game is going for. You can tell that the developers wanted to make you feel like the darkness and not just some random dude with a pair of handguns.

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In a way you could say that The Darkness II opts for a similar visual style to Shadows Of the Damned in a lot of ways and you wouldn’t be far from wrong. You could also say that it feels similar to Painkiller in a lot of ways however because of the focus on the narrative, the visuals don’t give the game the same feeling as Painkiller as they were opting for a completely different approach. Still I do like this visual style and it really befits the comic book world that they’re trying to replicate.

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There really isn’t much to say about the music, it was just… forgettable I guess. It’s mostly just ambient sound which doesn’t really work with a narrative driven game like The Darkness II even though I saw the reasoning behind it, it just doesn’t do anything for me, nor does it stand out. Then again, that’s just my opinion so make of that what you will.

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The game does have a few ambient quirks in its hub area, the mansion. While exploring the mansion is somewhat enjoyable, a lot of the characters that you meet there are mostly irrelevant to the game’s story which is a shame as the characters themselves are interesting and it feels a waste not to tie them in to the story. Still, exploring the mansion offers a nice change of pace after shooting up tonnes of baddies.

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Gameplay wise the game is rather innovative though this is sometimes to the game’s detriment which I will get to later. Regardless there are lots of different ways to mow down your enemies. Not only do you have guns which can shoot enemies but you also have powerful demonic tentacles coming out of your body. These can be used in all kinds of different ways and it adds a lot of variety to the game and allows you to play in all kinds of different ways.

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Like with most modern FPS, there is a leveling system in the form of skill trees which you can use to put points into each of your skills. I do think the skill trees work quite well in this game as the darkness allows you to experiment with different playstyles and as such the skill trees allow you to enhance these playstyles based on personal preferences, that being said, while the skill trees do let you focus on a specific set of powers, it doesn’t take away from the experimentation the game has to offer.

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Of course the game likes to throw different types of enemies at you and each one responds to each playstyle differently, certain playstyles work better than others in certain situations. Some encounters can be dealt with quickly when the right tools are available, some can be quite tricky if you don’t know how to approach them. There is a lot of thinking on your feet in this game and this would have been great if the game wasn’t so incredibly clunky.

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First of all I’d like to talk about the controls. If you are playing the PC version, by all means play with a gamepad, the keyboard controls are poorly optimized and it shows. This game is almost as complicated to play on a Keyboard as Freespace, there are so many keys you will need to press spread out all over and this can make things chaotic in the heat of things.

This game loves to overwhelm you a lot but unlike the story, the pacing of the gameplay is actually quite slow. Jackie himself moves at a snail’s pace and though there is a sprint button, the controls are so bad that you’ll never use it effectively.

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Additionally there are a few annoying features that this game brings to the table. The first one being the heart consumption system. While this is a wonderful idea in concept, it doesn’t work very well simply due to the fact that you have to constantly press E to consume souls *cough* hearts (sorry, I’ve played too much Painkiller) and doing this in the heat of battle is essential if you want to stay alive. This means you are constantly mashing keys aimlessly to keep up with the overwhelming gameplay.

The second and quite possibly the biggest annoyance is the light system. Basically if you approach any light, your screen will blur out and you will lose literally all of your abilities (including the ability to eat hearts) for as long as you are in it. This gets even more frustrating when they throw in enemies which have torches to completely disable you. The worst part of this is that to kill them effectively you have to shoot out the tiny little torch in their hands, this can be rather irritating when you’re in the middle of a huge gunfight as you need pin point accuracy to do it.

The light! the liiight!!!

The light… the liiight!!!

The biggest problem with it though is that it causes some severe pacing issues.  There are so many lights illuminating the path it’s ridiculous. At times it feels as if there’s a light in every corridor which can get quite irritating. It’s often difficult to tell what is a light and what isn’t which can also get quite annoying as the game’s lighting isn’t completely pitch black making it difficult to tell the difference between the general lighting and the actual lights themselves. Some lights can only be destroyed by destroying generators, some lights can’t even be destroyed at all. The worst part is trying to locate all of the lights as they can sometimes be in very hard to find places and of course not all of them can be destroyed anyways which is extremely frustrating since you are constantly searching for them, even in the middle of battle.

I mean sure, I do get the gist of the whole “light” idea, it fits the concept perfectly but it isn’t executed all that well in the gameplay. A lot of the times you will find the game to be a bit too overwhelming for these reasons. Jackie’s slow movement speed makes dodging bullets a pain and it usually comes down to an “act before you think” scenario, similar to Leningrad in Painkiller, the only difference being that whereas Painkiller’s gameplay is very fast paced and fluid, The Darkness II’s gameplay feels very sluggish. and this can often make the game very frustrating.

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However these flaws are still outweighed by the game’s strengths and I do think The Darkness II was an enjoyable romp for the most part. The darkling sections were a nice change of pace as they favored a more stealthy approach which I personally think that this game befit better to be honest and the game’s variety makes it really fun. if you consider yourself to be a fan of games Like Shadows Of The Damned, I’d give this a try as it has a very similar style going for it. Though the game may be sluggish and frustrating at times it manages to keep the player engaged through its variety, if you can get past its annoyances, you will probably enjoy The Darkness II’s gameplay a lot.

All in all, The Darkness II is an enjoyable romp that will last you for about 4-5 hours, its short length may be off-putting but if you can pick it up for under £5.00 it’s definitely worth a punt. I personally wouldn’t spend any more than £20.00 on this though due to its short length bit I do think you will find some enjoyment out of this.


Story/Plot: Satisfactory
Visuals: Good
Music: Forgettable
Gameplay: Satisfactory
Lifespan: Too Short
Would You Replay? No

Overall: Satisfactory

Value: £10.00

Purchase The Darkness II (PS3)

Why? Why is Painkiller my favourite First Person Shooter of all time?

I have been debating on what video content to do for the site and as such I came up with this idea. Why is a series of videos that I may release on the odd occasion about particular games and their mechanics. I will usually talk about why videogames are designed the way they are and why they appeal to us and many more.

Considering the nature of this series, It may take some time to see some uploads, there is no exact schedule or anything. This is just a way for me to discuss things vocally rather than in writing when I need to get something off my chest.

Of course I will still be doing written content that doesn’t fit in with the “Why” theme but I do this in hope that it will give the site more flavor and will allow people to see things in action as I talk.

In this episode I talk about Painkiller and why it’s my favorite FPS to date. The bulk of the video cues in at around 5:00 so skip to that point if you are wanting to see some actual gameplay.

I hope you enjoy this new format and if not feel free to leave feedback.

Apologies for my desktop fan… something you’re going to have to put up with i’m afraid :/. And yes I say “you know” a lot, I didn’t exactly have a script, just a bunch of notes so I tend to say it a lot as a means of connecting things.

Gggmanlives’ Youtube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCKlUrYO3i9MDlL45Ia6j5EA

Painkiller Playthrough

Painkiller Playthrough

Here is my playthrough of the legendary Painkiller, easily my favorite first person shooter of all time. I uploaded this to Youtube a while back so that I could keep a record of it because I just love looking back at this awesome game. Feel free to watch it if you’re interested.

This isn’t so much of an in-depth guide moreso a playthrough for fun, I have every tarot card available so I cannot show you how to get them. However I may find secrets in the game that you may or may not know about.

Cemetary

The first level starts you off with the basic group of enemies, nice and easy, i do like the atmosphere too. Funnily enough this level has some very unique enemies for the most part which are never seen again throughout the entire game and don’t reappear until Overdose.

Atrium Complex

A bit of a boring level :/ But it serves it’s purpose, gets you used to dealing with so many enemies at once ald lets you practice a little with the Stakegun too. Still it’s easily one of the least impressive levels in the game and it just feels randomly put there as if it’s some kind of training level. The level design is similar to another level later on but not as good in my opinion.

Catacombs

I have a love hate relationship with this level. As much as i love the music and the simple yet detailed underground burial tunnels, a concept that is a staple of games such as this, the enemies in this level can prove quite annoying and theres an annoying glitch where the game crashes due to being unable to pop in the bridge. Plus the so called miniboss of this level can be quite tricky though since you’re watching this, you’ll probably know how to deal with him. This will probably be the first level you’ll ever want to use your cards in as it can get quite overwhelming later on though since i brought vitality with me, i didn’t have much problem. In any case, the super health below the bridge can help out a lot otherwise.

Cathedral

If you pay close attention, you’ll recognize the main hall from the intro cutscene. If the general is this close all along then why did Daniel go all the way back to the cemetery and through atrium complex and catacombs? You know what? Screw the story, this is Painkiller!
There’s a fair bit of everything in this level, you have a wide variety of enemies, mostly the same ones you fought in atrium complex but this time they’re tougher. There’s also a miniboss thrown in there too. I like the ambiance music of this level but i didn’t waste time listening to it as you’ll be able to hear it in the next video anyways.

Enclave

(Contains nudity)

This is the only uncensored cut scene I recorded besides the ending because I decided that my censorship skills are absolutely terrible. I censored them due to Youtube’s nudity policy but then I looked at the videos and thought it looked awkward… so yeah, sorry about that

(Censored version, though kinda unnecessary since kids shouldn’t be watching this game anyways)

This level isn’t really much of a level, it’s actually the first boss of the game and is easily my second favorite. The Necrogiant is huge, has spikes for feet and has a wide variety of powerful attacks. The main difficulty of this boss battle is the variety of attacks he has at his disposal, he has more attacks than any other boss in the game and can devastate you if you’re unprepared. The tarot card condition, despite what many people say is possible on your first playthrough so long as you have the haste tarot card. Gold tarot cards will make this big headed fool a joke, that’s why i’m not going to use them, in his second phase, you can hide under the grave markers where the armor and ammo is to avoid the tornado and there’s health in the middle if you need it so he’s not that tough.

Prison

This level is considerably more difficult than the last levels as you are introduced to mp40 wielding hell angels and they will put up quite a fight if you’re not prepared. Try to stick to the corners and snap them with the shotgun before the have a chance to barrage you with bullets. If you’re playing on insomnia/daydream then this level will be unavailable to you.

Opera House

Ninja’s in an Opera House? What am i missing here?
In any case i take way too long bopping around in this level and die a lot too so i had to nerf the quality so i could upload faster. If you’re playing on insomnia this will be the first level of chapter 2 and unlike prison which has many corner’s to take advantage of, opera house is naturally very open but it has it’s own fair share of nasties. In any case you can’t help but take time to appreciate the aesthetic design of this level, it even has a few easter eggs.

Asylum

(WARNING: If you’re easily frightened, don’t watch this video)

This level is supposed to be a breather level but how the hell could you consider a level like this to be easy going? The disturbing ambience of this level is impressive nonetheless. Keep an eye out for useful fire hydrants to use to your advantage (if you’re going for the tarot card) and watch out for lurkers behind corners, they hurt a lot.

Snowy Bridge

I hope you’re ready for more ninjas because there’s plenty of them here. Despite it’s name, there’s more to this level than you might think. There’s even a nice cable car ride thrown in there allowing you to take in the beautiful alpine views. They really thought of everything when designing this level. It also introduces the series’ most iconic weapon (besides the Painkiller itself) the electrodriver but i was having too much fun using my stake gun that i completely forgot it was there.

Town

I always love these themes. This level reminds me of running through Stratholme back when i used to play World Of Warcraft only with less rat traps, where’s the rat traps!? Watch out for Leper Monks who throw corpses at you, they can also hit you when up close with an invisible magic attack.

Swamp

This guy will deal 50 damage on nightmare (forgot how much he does on trauma but makes very little differrence) His tentacles deal 50 damage each, this can total to 100 damage i.e one hit ko unless you have blessing/vitality. This battle is the reason why i used Vitality for this run because it’s a serious pain in the ♥♥♥ boss who can 1 shot you in the cheapest way possible. Oh and by the way the shining ball attack does 100 damage so if you’re not using tarot cards, it’s a one shot kill. To kill “Swamp Thing” (how original…) you have to shoot the bubbles next to him until he turns solid, then you shoot him until he turns into a liquid again. Then you have to shoot the bubbles around the map which shoot other bubbles. Try to shoot the bubbles when they’re near him to weaken him until he goes solid then finish him with your shotgun.

(Swamp Bloopers)

As you can see, I failed multiple attempts at this guy

Train Station

Next stop… the most infuriating level so far… I swear, this level is NEVER easy. Getting the tarot card is hell on this level as you cannot collect a single soul. Now if you see the enemy count, you’ll realize how punishing this level is. The secrets also become a pain to get to as well, so much so that i skipped them all. I also missed the one carriage secret and checked all the carriages making me feel like an idiot. Thankfully I’m not doing a tarot card run, if I was, this video would take hours to record.

Abandoned Factory

Now this is my kind of level, 100’s of enemies in large packs swarming at you with tonnes of explosives littered everywhere and an awesome metal theme playing in the background. That’s what Painkiller is all about and this level illustrates that very clearly. Time to put that rocket launcher to good use…

Sadly i missed every single secret because i was way too busy having fun blowing up skeleton soldiers. God why don’t they make FPS like this anymore?

Military Base

I had to record this twice so expect a few jump cuts.

Despite the seemingly limitless amount of ammo you will get throughout this level, it is considerably less chaotic than the last level. Yes there’s tanks and mortars to watch out for but for the most part the enemy waves are a lot easier to manage. Nevertheless, it’s an enjoyable level but with a lot of recycled enemies you’ll have fought plenty of in the last level which might get a bit anemic.

In theory you would think this level to be a chaingun level but it felt more of a shotgun level for the most part (mainly due to those Maso Commando’s). Thankfully, Military Base combines both interior and exterior areas giving it a little more variety than the other two levels, tanks included. It just takes forever to get through which can get a little tedious.

Ruins

The Guardian does more damage to the actual level than he does to you, filling the level with debris blocking your path making it difficult to move around. His weakpoint is his massive hammer but afterwards pretty much anything goes. So long as you stay back and can weave your way through the wreckage, this boss will be a breeze. His only attacks are melee (though his hammer attacks can shake the ground so you have to be jumping to avoid them but that’s what bunnyhopping is for) so he’s pretty easy to avoid, the difficulty of the battle is moving through all the rubble. Put simply, if it wasn’t a ruins before, it’ll definitely be a ruins when this guy is done.

Castle

This level was a tad disappointing, I imagined it would be bigger but it wasn’t what I quite had in mind. Perhaps I’ve played too many fantasy games. Thankfully Painkiller Overdose’s Haunted Valley has a much bigger castle, in fact the entire level is 3x the size of this one. Probably one of the few things Mindware improved on.

In any case I forgot to cut this video and to be honest I fail so much that there is little point in hiding it. This level is a breather level for the most part. With the exception of the dogs and the annoying kleer-like enemies, the enemies for the most part are quite easy tbh. I show all the holy items required to get the tarot card.

The Palace

As much as i love this level which i really do, the platforming sections never cease to annoy me every time. I skipped the super health because not only was it near pointless for me to get it (as i already had super health) but it would have taken hours to get it. To get it, you have to use the yellow ladder and jump round to one of the balconies and then you have to pray and jump onto the pillar. This level introduces a lot of new enemies including the ever annoying templars, be sure to take them out first or they’ll ruin your day.

Babel

This is quite possibly the hardest level in the entire game overall. Sure Factory on Trauma can get quite tough simply due to the sheer ton of enemies as is Forest if you count the tarot card condition but Babel without Tarot cards is simply put insane on Trauma. Thankfully there are a few cheap tricks you can pull off to avoid those damn templar barrages such as covering behind pillars and you can use Tarot cards which possibly makes it slightly easier than the next level but still the enemies of the next level are weak, if a tad annoying. In any case this and the next level are arguably the toughest levels in the game overall, this being tougher overall since it’s hard on every run be it Trauma or Nightmare, though considerably more easier on Nightmare if you’re not doing a no gold tarot run like i am.

Forest

Lots and lots of enemies… and they’re all weak, surely this must be easy… unless you’re going for the final tarot card. Doing so is pointless unless you’re a completionist but to do so you cannot use ANY tarot cards, not even Vitality (which i am using) so i make this level look a little easier than it actually is as you are stuck with 100 health and have to survive against the massive clusters of weak enemies. quantity over quality comes to mind here to pull out the rocket launcher and go crazy, try not to blow yourself up though.

Oh and by the way in case you are wondering, this level is only accessible via Trauma. If you’re playing on Nightmare difficulty or lower you will skip straight to the final boss… only the game isn’t over for you yet for you. Essentially this is the penultimate level of the game if you choose to brave through the Trauma difficulty.

Tower (Nightmare Difficulty)

Alastor is the final boss of the game (unless you’re playing on Nightmare difficulty) and he is no pushover. I’d say he’s easily one of the most overlooked boss fights in a FPS i’ve ever fought. The hard part of the battle is the fall damage you receive in between sections and dodging his attacks can be a nightmare with all the debris spread out all over.

Alastor has 4 phases, the first phase he will pop out and attack you from the air, he is really weak in this phase but you have to watch out for the falling rain of fire. His second phase gives you an armor and a super health. IF YOU ARE PLAYING NIGHTMARE/TRAUMA, ARE NOT USING GOLD TAROT CARDS AND DO NOT PICK THIS UP, YOU’RE DEAD.

(The following levels are inaccessible on Trauma difficulty)

City On Water

Chapter 5’s levels consist of mostly water themed environments so you’ll want to be careful not to accidentally fall in as Daniel can’t swim. On the other hand the water can prove to be quite amusing as you can push enemies in and watch them drown. City On Water is no exception and it’s very easy to fall in when you’re bunny hopping everywhere.

This level has wonderful architecture, very much like Venice except there is a deep red aura in the sky which possibly symbolizes that the gates of hell are very close by. All i can say is, god must really hate Venice. In any case, it’s concepts like this which keep this game fresh and exciting.

This level has some of the most annoying secrets to get, i show all the easy ones but the hard ones are a pain to get…

Oh and I killed one of the enemies with a weapon normally unavailable in Painkiller’s base game simply because it’s a pain to hit but you’re supposed to use the chaingun.

Docks

Another water themed level, unlike the previous level however there is plenty of space for you to move around, this convenience is soon thrown out of the water when you encounter the well armed enemies this level throws at you (see what i did there?).

This is probably the toughest level on Nightmare difficulty. Babel being the hardest overall, especially if you choose to use tarot cards on Trauma. The enemies have nail guns and even rocket launchers here, so you will have to outgun them before they get nasty.

There are also a hell of a lot of secrets here with platforming to boot making this an interesting level as there are multiple routes to take depending on your platforming skill. The easy path allows you to completely skip an arena should you wish to, the hard path which yields you holy items at the cost of ones time gives you another area you must get through. I skip a lot of the platforming due to time constraints and there are a lot of cut points in this video.

Old Monastery

Time to meet some familiar faces… but this time they have a few tricks up their sleeves. This level is quite unique as it is a collect-a-thon level, your goal is to collect all the pentagrams to open the gates of hell (The gates of hell located in a monestary? Oh the irony) and there are multiple routes to take (though one pentagram requires collecting another to access it and if you choose the long route, you have to save it for last). There’s quite a lot of platforming here. There is also a lot of water but it’s thankfully shallow. I will show you the quickest and most straightforward path to take but if you want to get the pentagrams in a different order, have fun wasting time. Do note that the one in the small building with the bell is only accessed after grabbing the pentagram on the hill (the one the game intends you to go for first).

If you want to take the alternate route for whatever reason, go into the water, jump through the stalagmites in the middle until you reach the other side, there is a rock here that you could theoretically jump over to reach the other side but you can’t instead you have to go in the water and jump up the rock face, you’ll know you’re in the final room when you see a giant maw and a pentagram symbol etched in a rock with a bunch of rock columns used as a path down to the final area, jump up the rocks and you’ll eventually be in the penultimate arena and encounter enemies. After that there is a gap to jump over which is hard to jump over from this side but if you jump up the edge of the wall, you can cross that gap and you’re free to explore the rest of the level… backwards. Of course once you get all the pentagrams inside, the door to the monastery will still be locked so you will have to go all the way back to the beginning of the level the way you came to collect the other pentagrams and then jump back into the water to the final area and finish the level. Then you can question yourself on why you bothered with this needlessly complicated route.

Hell

War. war never changes… especially when it’s frozen in time.

Honestly this level feels like a war museum… only with endless waves of demon souls who all want you dead. An interesting take on Hell. Easily my favorite level in the game. I love how the ambiance changes from demonic chants, to clashing swords, to WW1 comm chatter (shamelessly ripped from military base) and finally the sound everyone fears…

Lucifer is basically a puzzle boss, he’s practically invincible but he’s pretty easy when you figure out how to kill him, if you don’t you might spend a while wondering what to do. Lucifer will attack you with his sword and will sent meteorites at you. To beat him you have to shoot your morph shots at the meteors to stun him after he is stunned he will throw his sword, a single morph shot at this sword kills him instantly.

After he’s dead, have fun exploring the now hostile-free hell… or you can just watch the video the whole way through.

Tower (Trauma Difficulty)

When you beat hell (the final level of the game) you unlock Trauma difficulty. This requires you to play chapters 1 – 4 again but with tougher enemies and no souls to heal you. This is the REAL final boss of the game and this time, he means business!

This boss is near impossible without tarot cards, I’ve tried and tested, the final fall deals 135 damage (possibly more) on Trauma, even with the super health which gives you 100 extra health after the first fall isn’t enough. My new set up is Vitality and Last Stand, last stand gives you 33 life after death. This way I can make the fight more enjoyable to watch than just gunning him down with iron will abuse. In any case, the battle is exactly the same as last time, only harder, Alastor has much more health than he does on Nightmare and he loves to breath fire, you want to stick close to him with your shotgun to prevent that from happening.

If you want to beat him without tarot cards at all, you will have to get lucky and land on the pillars to minimize fall damage.

Bonus:

Out Of Snowy Bridge

Train Station (Hell And Damnation Xmas DLC)

Multiplayer

Just a sneak peek at the multiplayer experience of Painkiller. It was cut short because the other player disconnected.

 

Grandia 2 Anniversary Edition Review

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Of all the many games to be re-released, Grandia 2 Anniversary is the only time I’ve ever forked over money for a game I have already played. My reasons for this were simple. Grandia 2 Anniversary is available solely on PC. Now considering the fact that PC is my main platform for games these days (subject to change) I chose to purchase the game for convenience reasons, in other words no more plugging in my PS2 to play it. I could now play through this game in all its glory once again and I’ll tell you one thing for sure, the second visit to this game alone was worth every penny… even though I could have done so for free. Grandia 2 is worth another playthrough without a doubt.

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At least they didn’t call it “The Battle Of Good And Evil Anniversary Edition”

Now before we discuss the remaster itself, lets talk about the game. Grandia 2 is the sequel to Grandia 1 and is set in a completely new setting with new characters. Basically the game is completely different from Grandia in a lot of ways. I haven’t played the original Grandia but based on the knowledge I have of the game, it seems to function very differently.

So all in all, Grandia 2 feels like a standalone title and doesn’t require any experience of the first game to enjoy it. If you are looking to jump into the series or are just looking for an amazing JRPG, you could do far worse than Grandia 2. If you’re a newcomer to JRPGs I highly encourage you to start with Grandia 2 as it is quite possibly the most definitive JRPG experience you will ever experience. Only trouble is… you’ll feel a bit spoiled by the end and may struggle to appreciate other JRPGs which fail to meet the same standards in which this game set.

The story of Grandia 2 is straightforward for the most part. It is best described as “A run-of-the-mill JRPG experience with an unexpected twist of satire coated in dozens and dozens of euphemisms to keep things clean”. As such, the characters of this game aren’t the usual bunch… save for maybe two.

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Enter Ryudo, the snarkmeister.

The protagonist, Ryudo is what you’d expect from such a satirical-driven game. Ryudo is a lovable, yet sarcastic bastard (that’s an understatement) who takes pleasure in being an asshole. His dark past has led him to become rather cold and pessimistic but his cynical disposition gifts him with a unique, dry sense of humor… often at the expense of others. His unorthodox vocabulary may lead some confused… but others amused, nevertheless the delivery of his lines is priceless. Worth the price of admission in itself. Ryudo is without a doubt the best written protagonist in a JRPG and if you disagree, you probably hug too many trees.

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Personality aside, Ryudo is a geohound (euphemism for a mercenary). Accompanied by his talking pet bird Skye (dubbed by the legendary Paul Eiding), he takes on numerous jobs for cash, usually involving monster slaying among other things. He is renowned for his trade which often invokes resentment among the populace but rather than being bothered by their hateful remarks, he shrugs it off… usually accompanied with a snide gag to put them in their place.

Despite his rough upbringing, Ryudo, unlike most JRPG protagonists doesn’t tend to distance himself from others, rather he tolerates others so long as they don’t get in his way. He is highly sociable though his crude mannerisms tend to turn others away. As a result, Ryudo spends most of his life as a social outcast, save for his partner Skye, he is a lone wolf.

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Bird is the word!

Ryudo later meets Elena, a pious songstress who’s on a mission to perform an exorcism. Elena is literally the definition of a goody two shoes… So much so that she comes across as both obnoxious and frustratingly naive towards Ryudo. Ryudo is tasked with escorting her to an exorcism and takes every single opportunity he can to poke fun at her for her lack of caliber.

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This offers a unique dynamic rarely seen in JRPGs these days and its this dynamic that surprisingly many JRPGs lack. Banter… though not always the pleasant kind. It’s this which makes Grandia 2 so memorable and the characters strong. As more characters join the group, more banter unfolds.

Speaking of unique dynamics, unlike standard JRPGs where the NPC’s talk to you and you walk away, Grandia 2 makes the NPC’s relevant by adding character interaction whilst talking to them as opposed to them talking to what might as well be a brick wall. This gives more life to the world and more personality to the characters and setting. It’s a truly unique experience that cannot be missed.

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In addition, the game has dinner scenes offering even more character interaction, these just simply cannot be missed… unless you’re not interested in JRPG storytelling in which case, you can skip over half the game’s dialogue. They are essentially the skits from the Tales series done right and are usually far more relevant in comparison.

To feed your curiosity, I made a video to showcase one of these dinner scenes:

(Playstation 2 footage)

Overall the story manages to stand out from other JRPGs despite its common approach to storytelling. If you’ve played other JRPGs you’ve likely seen it all before… but just not in the same way. Though Grandia 2 is mostly lighthearted, it can be surprisingly dark at times, sometimes too dark. Despite all this the characters hold everything together so well that you almost forget about the archaic plotline (though if we consider its release date it was pretty unique for its time).

“A run-of-the-mill JRPG experience with an unexpected twist of satire coated in dozens and dozens of euphemisms to keep things clean”

I really like the whole campy feeling this game has. It really makes it feel surreal, in a good way. The characters, particularly Ryudo approach dangerous situations without blinking an eye, usually saying something awesome or witty like a classic 80’s action movie. Sure it isn’t realistic and all… but its a JRPG and I tire of the constant melodrama among JRPG casts, especially if it follows a conventional plotline (White Knight Chronicles anyone?). Despite this, the story is written in a way that it manages to make a huge impact in the latter half of the game and though there’s a tiny bit of melodrama in there, its cut short by the “getting shit done vibe” before it gets out of hand… I’m looking at you Edge Maverick.

It’s this reason that I consider Grandia 2’s story to be purely satire, it doesn’t take itself seriously half the time and when it does, the game still feels like a barrel of laughs due to how generic everything is but you can’t help but love every minute of it. It makes a mockery of generic RPG stories with it’s campy yet well written dialogue which doesn’t hesitate to add some cheesy lines in there to further intensify the satire, it works so well that it makes for a great JRPG story in itself.

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The core gameplay of Grandia 2 could be considered mildly archaic to todays standards but it still manages to stand out from other JRPGs of its time with its unique style of combat. Grandia 2 combines the ATB system from Final Fantasy and mixes it with the turned based style of older JRPGs and instead of using the ATB system to apply tension, it uses it to apply strategy.

Gameplay video:

(Playstation 2 footage)

Grandia 2 is a very easy game to master once you know the mechanics and when best to use them. As such I couldn’t recommend this game any more to newcomers, its one of the best JRPGs to start with. The combat is rather satisfying and never outstays it’s welcome.

Battles follow a simple mechanic called the “cancel” mechanic which allows you to push enemies back along the “IP gauge” (the game’s ATB gauge) to essentially cancel out it’s turn. The IP gauge may appear confusing at first and if you don’t pay attention, you may get hammered pretty quickly but once tamed, you will find yourself controlling every battle.

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One of the complaints I made about the original Grandia 2 is that it was too easy. The gameplay on normal difficulty doesn’t punish seasoned JRPG veterans and it led to the game feeling like a cakewalk. Grandia 2 anniversary edition attempts to rectify this with the game’s new hard difficulty. What are my views on hard difficulty you ask? I personally believe it is falsely advertised as “normal” but it does manage to add some extra challenge to the game and I did have a few moments where the bosses nearly kicked by ass but I still never saw a single game over screen. Nevertheless I still found the game to be of a reasonable challenge on hard difficulty and I recommend all JRPG vets to play it on hard right from the get go.

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“Expect an early winter… with lots of snow”!!!

On Hard difficulty the enemies move along the IP gauge much faster, so you have to think more. I enjoyed this challenge a lot more and the game definitely rectified itself in this department. Overall though I’d say the gameplay is still a fun romp, it’s very simplistic but unique. I couldn’t recommend this game any more to newcomers in this department, veterans should play on hard mode like me to get the most out of it.

“The IP gauge may appear confusing at first and if you don’t pay attention, you may get hammered pretty quickly but once tamed, you will find yourself controlling every battle”.

Now in my previous review I talked a lot about the character management but after a bit of research, I found out that a lot of the information I gave was false, sorry about that. In any case, hard difficulty has opened me up to new strategies and has made the character management much more essential than normal which is refreshing.

Sure there are still a lot of imbalances (lotus flower anyone?) but I found that a lot of the moves that I claimed to be useless actually came in useful whilst playing hard mode. Sure there are still a lot of useless moves and spells (I never found much use for freeze at all in this game) but I find that hard mode has opened up new possibilities. As such I can safely say that character management serves a greater purpose than it did in the original game.

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Now for those unfamiliar with the character management of Grandia 2, I’ll explain. Grandia 2 offers total freedom over your character progression. This may turn off some people but it is definitely inviting to those who love freedom. Of course with freedom, there are exploits so I strongly recommend (and this goes for any game which focuses on freedom in character management) that you avoid all guides, forums or any form of conversations over gameplay so that you are not spoiled the fun of character management.

You are given 2 different currencies to develop your character’s skills, much like Star Ocean, you can spend these to put points in skills, moves and spells. These two currencies are special coins and magic coins. Special coins develop moves and general skills, magic coins develop spells and skills relating to spells. These coins are dropped by enemies along with experience so you’re able to break the monotony between battles by developing your character on the fly… not that battles are monotonous to begin with (dat battle theme never gets old).

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Spells are developed separately from characters. Instead of binding spells to each character, there is a pseudo materia style item called a mana egg. These mana eggs can be equipped to any character and whoever equips them gets access to its corresponding spells. Mana eggs are developed exclusively with magic coins and are completely separate from characters. There are several eggs each with their own set of spells. Each egg has 3 pages of magic and to learn them all, you must first master lesser spells and by doing so you will unlock new ones. This makes things a little trickier as you don’t know the spells available in each egg so you have to be careful what spells you want to develop.

Now here we get to the bad stuff. Grandia 2 is an excellent game without a doubt and please note that the vast majority of these issues are found in the anniversary edition and I will notify those issues which are found in said edition. The Playstation 2 version is constantly ridiculed by people for being a bad port. I disagree, the Playstation 2 version worked perfectly fine for me. However I own the PAL version which is said to lack the problems of the NTSC version. Ultimately though, if you live in Europe or the UK, the PS2 version is the definitive version as it doesn’t have any major issues like the NTSC PS2 version has and it’s really cheap. Alternatively you could pick up the anniversary edition if you’re looking for more of a challenge but overall the experience is better on the PS2.

If you live in the US, I would encourage getting the anniversary edition… unless the problems I state would prove really troublesome for you, if so then…*sigh* I’ll have to recommend the Dreamcast version (I hate SEGA and it pains me to recommend anything involving that company).

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H..hey, don’t fall asleep on me just yet, there’s still more to cover in this review.

Now before we look at the anniversary edition exclusively, lets look at the issues Grandia 2 has. For starters Grandia 2 has the tendency to lock you out of areas during certain points in the story and force you along a linear path. Though there is some backtracking to be done, the game loves to block out areas of the map you’ve been to previously, preventing you from returning. This can be quite aggravating if you’re deeply invested in the game’s narrative as there are optional dinner scenes and missable NPC dialogue that you can be locked out of and some of this is worth witnessing. Thankfully there are very few missable items in this game… though there are quite a few. Put simply, if you thought Legend Of Dragoon was linear, you’re in for a nasty surprise. Grandia 2’s linearity feels very similar to Legend Of Heroes: Trails In The Sky… heck the game itself is very similar to Legend Of Heroes Trails In The Sky but superior in pretty much every single way in my opinion.

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Only 2 areas available on the map? Linearity at it’s finest…

Put simply, if you’ve played and enjoyed Legend Of Heroes: Trails In The Sky and haven’t played Grandia 2… what are you doing with your life? Get this game right now! Anyways let’s get back on topic. Grandia 2’s biggest flaw is its lack of optional content. Inability to backtrack aside, I would have loved to have seen some side quests here and there. Sure there are a few minigames (i’ll get to those later) and a few diversions but not enough to truly divert myself from the main story. I would have loved to have gone back to Agear Town and rebuild it back to its former glory like Luin in Tales Of Symphonia but sadly it was not to be I guess.

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My final complaint with Grandia 2 in general is the annoying compass which replaces the conventional minimap making traversing certain field sections a nightmare. Seriously Game Arts, why subject us to this torment? Can’t you just put in a conventional minimap like everyone else?

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Anyways I’ve covered all of the issues with Grandia 2 in general, lets look at some of the issues with the anniversary edition. Before I do lets talk about the visuals. Grandia 2 anniversary edition improves the visuals slightly. The lighting is improved, the terrain looks a lot more polished and there are some other small details that have been improved too. That aside we’re finally going to discuss the issues with this port.

First of all I have noticed numerous crash issues throughout the game (PC gaming as it’s finest ;)). I can’t count how many times I’ve been forced to replay certain sections due to crashing. It’s frustrating. Thankfully there is a great abundance of save points in this game which helped out a lot (even if their ability to fully heal your party is exploitable as hell). Still these issues are inexcusable. There have been a few patches here and there so many of the crashes have been fixed though there may be a few un-patched ones still lingering.

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Aside from the random crashes, the other major issue of Grandia 2 anniversary edition is the music synchronization. This has been acknowledged by the developers who claim it is due to framerate issues. Battles in Grandia 2: anniversary edition have the option of running at 60 fps but the rest of the game runs at 30 or lower. Put simply, the framerate is all over the place, certain scenes run at 25 FPS, others at 30, it all depends on how long each scene is played out. As a result, the audio synch is messy so you may not hear certain tracks when you’re supposed to and vice versa.

That’s not to say improvements haven’t been made, there have been several fixes made to the game, including music loop issues. Those are patched now as well as a few major crash bugs.

Aside from all that there are a lot of awkward scenes where parts of the terrain are cut out or certain objects are see through or completely disappear altogether. Funnily enough these issues tend to show up in the game’s more cornier sections which adds some amusement to what would otherwise be an insipid melodrama.

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“We have to ruin this scene… how can we possibly ruin this scene”? ~ GungHo

Finally I’d like to touch on a few more things. The music of Grandia 2 is very dynamic, lighthearted and catchy. The battle music in particular is a real treat to the eardrums. I cannot get enough of the game’s battle music. The music also enhances the emotional investment of the game’s cutscenes in its own unique 80’s cop movie style which Noriyuki Iwadare just loves to display and it gives the game more personality. All in all, the music does it’s job really well and is really memorable, it might not be Valkyrie Profile 2 caliber but it certainly manages to stand out from the rest in this department.

On a final note I’d like to touch on Grandia 2’s minigames. Grandia 2’s minigames are unlike any other game (they’re awful). Grandia 2’s minigames will give you an unforgettable experience (one that will haunt you for the rest of your life). Grandia 2’s minigames are innovative and offer a lot of depth (if you consider incessant button mashing to be depth).

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The first minigame you will encounter pits you in a 1 on 1 contest of strength that will test your skill (ha, more like test your patience). You are given two buttons, one button applies power, the other button applies endurance (just tap the power button 3 times then tap the endurance button, rinse and repeat) it can be quite difficult to manage your power and your endurance (if you have no brain). The rewards for completing this arduous task are worth all the effort (if you like collecting junk that is).

Next up is the nut grabbing minigame, if you thought the arm wrestling minigame was difficult, the nut grabbing minigame proves to be an even greater challenge (challenge? more like ordeal). You are tasked with grabbing nuts from moving pillars before the pink insects drop down and stun you (sounds like a bad Snickers commercial).

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Great minds think alike eh Ryudo?

With all that aside I can say with great confidence that Grandia 2 was worth the second look and that playing the anniversary edition was enjoyable despite it’s shortcomings. I managed to find a lot of new things that I previously missed in my first playthrough. All in all, Grandia 2 is a game that should be cherished and I’m glad it is finally immortalized as a digital classic on Steam so that future generations may too appreciate this legendary RPG.

As for whether you should fork over your hard-earned money for it… If you really loved Grandia 2 and haven’t played it to death, I’d say yes, if you’ve played it to death already, I’d give it a miss. If you’re new to the series (or the game) or haven’t played a JRPG at all, the anniversary edition would be worth checking out. All in all, the port has it’s problems (like many of its previous ports) but it also improves on a few things which were lacking in the previous versions. Regardless of which version you get, Grandia 2 is a must play for all JRPG fans and a great game to get invested into the genre. If you’re curious and haven’t tried a JRPG before, I’d say give it a try, you’ll either love it or hate it and if you hate it, at least you’ll know where you stand.

“Grandia 2 is a game that should be cherished and I’m glad it is finally immortalized as a digital classic on Steam so that future generations may too appreciate this legendary RPG”.

Personally I think Grandia 2 is the perfect example as to how a traditional JRPG is executed to cater to all audiences. I would even go so far to recommend it over Valkyrie Profile 2 (my favorite game of all time).

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That may be so… but I feel that this review has gone on long enough…

—————————————–
Story/Plot: Exceptional
Presentation: Great
Music: Exceptional
Gameplay: Great
Lifespan: Decent Length
Would you replay? Yes
—————————————–
Overall: Exceptional

silver-star-of-awesome sized

—————————————–

Value: £40.00+

Mount And Blade: Warband Review

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I’m a bit late with this one, too busy playing Mount And Blade Warband to make this review but alas, the time has finally come to review this awesome… if unpolished game. Mount And Blade Warband is the best WRPG ever made, it’s better than Skyrim, Dragon Age, Gothic and pretty much every other WRPG on the face of the earth, I say this loosely because Diablo 1 exists and whilst that is a timeless classic, this game does so much more than Diablo ever did. Put simply, if you want an RPG where you can truly forge your path in an epic medieval world, you’ve found the right game.

Now Mount And Blade isn’t a fantasy game… so it loses a few points for that… oh wait, no it doesn’t, there are fantasy mods, heck there are even Sci-Fi mods. Mount And Blade Warband is everything you could ever want in a WRPG… but there’s more. Mount And Blade Warband is more than just an RPG, it’s a simulation… should you want it to be.

Everybody line up for your beating!

Now sure, pretty much everything about the game centers around war but you can do pretty much anything you want to in this game. Enjoy getting bored trading goods from town to town if that’s what you enjoy, heck you can also be a cattle farmer and heard them to the nearest village where you can sell their meat for a profit. Nevertheless, there is obviously more to Mount And Blade Warband than just that. Mount And Blade Warband is all about gathering a huge fucking army and raiding villages, killing armies of bandits, joining one of the many factions as a vassal/mercenary or even saying “Screw you guys, I’m making my own kingdom and if you try to stop me I will fuck you up and throw you in my dungeon bitches!”

Welcome to my bitch dungeon motherfucker!

Of course war is the centralized feature of Mount And Blade Warband and eventually you’re going to be at war no matter what but there are plenty of other things to do on the side too should you want a change of pace. Admittedly though, you will typically find that this can become a tad repetitive over time but to me, war never gets old. That being said, I can easily recommend this game to anyone who enjoys medieval warfare, go get it right now, you are seriously missing out. For the rest of you… keep reading.

Shot through the heart… and you’re to blame!

Where Mount And Blade excels at is it’s intricacy. Ruling a kingdom is no simple task, let alone being a vassal and you are encouraged to do so only late on in the game. On the other hand you could just choose to stick with your chosen faction… if you want to be a hipster, go ahead. Should you choose to become a ruler, you need to pay attention to your right to rule. Not just anyone can rule a kingdom, you have to be a renown adventurer who has proven him/herself worthy of leadership.

One interesting factor of Mount And Blade Warband is it’s character creation. Upon creating your character you select your gender, facials, character background and base stats. These are secretly the game’s difficulty rating in disguise. The difficulty of Mount And Blade Warband can be customized to your liking. Personally I turned saves on and fight easy ai with reduced damage but I played as a commoner who grew up as an iron smith. The next minute I’m riding off into the wilderness taking bounties and working my way up the ladder, eventually becoming a vassal of the Nords.

Riding on into the sunset…

I spent many years fighting with the company of the Nords… however things started to get out of hand when the Rhodocks, the Sarranids and the Kherjits declared war on the Nords simultaneously due to the Nords recklessness, I thought I could do better, so i rebelled against the Nords and set up my new faction, The Brotherhood Of Arms and though it was a difficult ordeal at first, my past experiences had developed me into a strong ruler that managed to conquer many of my former faction’s lands.

Now of course I make it sound easy, I was playing on the lowest difficulty which just happens to be the default difficulty. I didn’t bother turning it up because I enjoyed the thrill of charging into battle and just wailing my sword around like a mad man. Of course if that’s not your scene then you might choose a harder difficulty or even to remove saving completely so you cannot reload the game. Should you choose to do this though you will really have to think about your actions considerably because if you make one wrong move, you’ll screw everything. Taking over Calradia may seem like a simple feat on the easy difficulty but if you’re playing on the hardest difficulty with no saves it can be nigh impossible. Of course even on the easiest difficulty it’s no free ride but I could play more aggressively as a result which suited my play style.

Once you start the game, you will need to enlist new men into your army. You will be able to hire companions along your journey who can level up and develop as you do (well it is an RPG after all). Character management is a huge part of this game as you don’t just level up your main character, you need to level up your entire army. Of course, leveling up your units is simple enough, they generally start off as farmers with pitchforks/hatchets but they can grow into powerful warriors, archers and even mounted knights. This is where the character management comes in, as your character develops, they will be given multiple branches which can develop them into a completely new type of unit.

Body Surfin’

In other words you can develop your army however you want. Of course the customization for regular units is limited and this is where companions come in. Companions are essentially party members who level up conventionally as your main character does. This means they can have skills which you don’t making up for your character’s weaknesses. Choosing the right companions makes a huge difference, it all depends on your character’s build. If you chose to be a strong, powerful dumbass, you might want to hire a medical companion to heal your troops after battle, you may also want to hire an engineer for raiding enemy castles easier.

Siege towers… the bane of my existence… they take forever to build and once they’re built you have to wait till it reaches the walls…

Of course it’s not that simple, you see some companions just don’t get along and will leave you if you put them with someone they don’t like. This is why it’s important to choose your companions wisely. Worse comes to worse, you can send them on other jobs for a while such as spying on enemies and stuff to calm things down. You can also persuade them to stay if your persuasion skill is high enough.

As a ruler, you will need more than just a single army. Most rulers have several armies in their own faction, so taking them on solo won’t be efficient, especially if your leadership is low. You need to hire other leaders to help you lay claim to Calradia. Upon starting your own kingdom, you will want to hire lords to fight at your side. However, lords won’t fight for you without a cause and you must persuade them to join your cause.

In addition, you will also need to grant them feifs (villages, towns, castles) that you own in order to reward them for their efforts and show your appreciation. That being said, in some cases the tongue is mightier than the sword. Talking your way into people’s recognition for you can often yield great results. One time i approached Knudaar, a nordish lord. Our past endeavours together back when i was a vassal of the Nords had made us close friends… in a bit of a tricky situation, we were on opposite sides. Instead of just lopping his head off, which I could have done, i asked him if he would like to join my new order.

See that red text on the map? Those are feifs, the red text indicates feifs I own… which is all of them. Beat that!

After some careful consideration, he chose to join me against the Nords and with it, all the feifs he had acquired through his efforts as a vassal of the Nords, effectively giving me more territory than the Nords as a result. This just happened to be my turning point in the game. Whilst I barely survived the Nords onslaught on my measly kingdom, by bringing one of their men to my side, I had taken nearly half their nation, essentially becoming equal in power to the Nords.

However, as a result, you must bear in mind that the same can happen to you. Vassals come and go and only the most trustworthy vassals should ever lay claim to a town/castle should you want to keep hold of your territory. Trust works both ways though. If you grant feifs to someone else, a vassal will dislike you more. Once you find yourself with a lot of vassals, this can become difficult to manage so you don’t always want to have so many vassals, sometimes a small team of trusted comrades can become a juggernaut in itself which can lay siege to countless fortifications at your command. On the other hand, recruiting lots of lords can outnumber enemy lords and you can send them on other tasks whilst you’re pounding them in their castle.

It all depends on the lord’s personalities and the only way to test them is by experimenting. As dangerous as this can be, you don’t need to panic as it’s usually pretty easy to tell the greedy lords from the content ones just by seeing which lords get mad when they don’t get a feif. At the start, most lords will want feifs for themselves so it becomes really difficult to balance things, later on however these lords tend to nominate other lords who they deem worthy of claiming a feif. This makes things a little easier. At some point you will find a lord that begins to dislike you. At this point you have the option of either keeping him in your army and pray he stays, grant him a feif or indicting him for treason. The latter will make all the other lords dislike you more so it is only used as a last resort. If you only gave them villages, the first two options are the best choices. Whether or not you should give them a feif depends on their worthiness and greed. Do they have a powerful army? If so then you might want to consider giving them more feifs, if not then just leave them to rot.

 

“Screw you guys, I’m making my own kingdom and if you try to stop me I will fuck you up and throw you in my dungeon bitches!”

 

There are multiple ways to recruit lords. One way is by recruiting exiles, I generally opt to keep exiles in my court. The problem with this is that your court will get full and you won’t be able to get bonus relation gains with current lords when you host feasts. On the plus side, these lords are incredibly patient and leaving them in your court makes other factions considerably weaker. You can also recruit companions, I thought this was a cool idea. Companions are a mixed bag but better than exiles imo.

Begging for scraps at the emperors table? I think not. Executioner, to the dungeon with them!

Instead of begging to join your faction, companions have no intention of holding a feif until offered. Some companions are satisfied with this, others let the power go to their head and get greedy. Oh and companions can betray you as well so be careful. It’s also important to recruit noble companions as common companions will make other lords hate you yet should you want to be a king who values equality, you may choose to do so.

Ok guys… time for a cleanup

There are so many different intricacies to ruling a kingdom and I’m not going to cover all of them but I think you get the picture. Mount And Blade is more than just a simple action game and even the mightiest warrior can lose to politics. Then again a politician with no fighting skill will find their lack of leadership and weakness in battle to cause them great losses in the long run.

Now as i said, there are so many mods for Mount And Blade Warband and whilst native (the vanilla version) takes place in a fictional medieval setting, there are many mods which take place in real life historic settings, fantasy settings and more. If you’re into history and want to experience historic warfare, you might be interested in these mods.

Should you choose to stick with native, there is a diplomacy mod which has a lot of other features which improve the intricacy of ruling, personally i stuck with native but I’m not going to rule out any conversion mods in the future.

Gameplay Video:

Now Mount And Blade Warband isn’t without its issues. It’s not the most polished game out there. There are a few glitches such as the siege tower not moving, clipping and a few other issues here and there. The graphics aren’t the best either, visually the game is ok but nothing special. The heart of the visuals comes from watching the epic battles. There can be 100’s of enemies on-screen which can also make the framerate drop a little, though you can decrease the battle size should you need to fix that.

The AI are godlike… literally

One of the biggest issues with Mount And Blade Warband however is memory leak. After a while, the game hits a massive slowdown and there are also graphical glitches everywhere. This often happens when you’ve had the game on for so long. The best thing to do is to restart the game to recover from this. Aside from that, the game runs fine.

There ain’t nothing a good boot to the balls can’t solve

The combat is very simple. You basically press RMB to attack and LMB to block, basically like Skyrim but you can also press E to kick people. If you’re not using a shield, you have to time your blocks precisely as your weapon can only block one direction. You can attack in different directions based on how you move the mouse. if you move the mouse forward, you will do an overhead smash, moving the mouse left you will do a cleave to the left, moving the mouse right will cleave to the right and moving the mouse backwards will stab the enemy. Guarding is very much the same in this regard so be careful which direction you’re blocking (though in single player, well-timed blocks are automated to block in the direction the attack is coming from). On horseback, combat is slightly different, you will either slash to the side or stab to the front. I never really grasped the controls very well, this is just the gist of it.

Using a lance however is different. The animation is slow and it does 0 damage however if you hit an enemy directly at high speeds with this motherfucker, they will get shafted and likely die instantly. Lances are great for killing mounted units… but not much else. They’re only viable for mounted combat though.

Get off yer high horse knave!

Archery is quite difficult but satisfying to pull off, you have to time the shot just right to avoid reticule bloom. At early levels you will suck at it badly. Later on, you will be more accurate. Throwing weapons have less accuracy but deal more damage. Crossbows have a long loading time but don’t have reticle bloom (from what I can recall).

The soundtrack can be best described as contagious. I can’t help but hum to every tune in battle. The music really gets you pumped up for battle. I personally challenge myself to synchronize my kills to every beat of the music. No other game manages to capture the intensity of battle with it’s music as well as Mount And Blade Warband

There is also a multiplayer mode, i haven’t played much of it because i get killed all the time. I have no comment on it other than it’s totally inaccessible for new players simply due to the huge skill gap. As such i never really enjoyed it personally but others may do. If you have friends and can convince them to play the game, it might be a good idea to try it.

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Whoops…

Ultimately, Mount And Blade is an experience like no other, it manages to capture the feeling of medieval warfare perfectly. If you’ve ever wanted to lead an army into battle, Mount And Blade Warband is the game for you. If you’re not into medieval warfare, you might not enjoy it as much as others. Still if you’re an RPG fan and find this game cheap on steam buy it!!!

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Story/plot: As good as you make it
Presentation: Mediocre
Gameplay: Great
Music: Great
Lifespan: Infinite (though it can get repetitive)
Would you replay: Yes

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Overall: Excellent

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This game doesn’t need conventional scores, it’s the concept itself which makes the game so fun. Mount And Blade is in a league of its own so I highly recommend it if you’re into medieval warfare.

Value: £40.00+

Purchase Mount and Blade: Warband (PC DVD)

Warcraft 3 Reign Of Chaos/Frozen Throne Campaign Review

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Since this review is for both the main game and the expansion, I’m going to focus on the campaign. In any case, the online multi player component might as well be considered dead at this point due to it’s utterly toxic community among other things. Just stay away from Warcraft 3 battle.net at all costs.

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So you say you’re a fan of RTS? But you also like RPG’s? Well this is the closest you’ll ever get (besides maybe Mount and Blade which is more of an RPG than an RTS, Knightshift and Spellforce) Warcraft 3 is at its core a Real Time Strategy with a twist. It presents itself in a similar manner to most RPG’s in the sense that there is a huge focus on storytelling, narrative and also leveling up. All these factors are what make up Warcraft 3.

It’s predecessors, Warcraft 1 and 2 were vastly different from the series’ third installment as they focused on more traditional RTS elements and was possibly an attempt to rival the Warhammer series. It wasn’t until Warcraft 3 where the series’ roots extended beyond what was merely a knock off Warhammer game and became a game of its own.

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Warcraft 3’s game play is similar to that of the tabletop game Chainmail In the sense that you are given powerful units called Heroes. Heroes are the backbone of your army and they plays a huge role in battles as they have many unique abilities which aren’t usable by regular Units. In addition, Heroes are able to level up and learn new skills, just like in an RPG but despite this, there is a level cap reminding you that this is still an RTS at it’s core. As such, you will need units to assist your hero. Units have basic upgrade trees which are very easy to figure out so you shouldn’t have too much trouble in strengthening them.

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Like many RTS, micromanagement is a huge part of Warcraft 3. Micromanagement is a fancy term for multi-tasking. Basically you will periodically have to build buildings, get upgrades and spend your resources as well as controlling your entire army. Picking the right units is easy. Controlling them on the other hand is far from simple. If you have an army of ghouls and you charge into an army of archers, your ghouls are history. Why? Because their armor is so weak. How do you avoid this? That’s simple, by moving your units back when they’re hurt… and that’s easier said than done.

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A good strategy is to surround enemies with your units so they cannot escape

Put simply, if clicking back and forth between your workers, units, buildings and hero’s isn’t your cup of tea, you’ll probably not enjoy the game play of Warcraft 3. Personally I hate multi-tasking, I’d much rather control my units with vocalized instructions than with a mouse and keyboard. Hence the reason why I’ve always wanted a Mount and Blade crossover with Warcraft.

But before you decide to bugger off, Warcraft 3’s campaign is still fun for newcomers to the genre and it gets you used to the basics very easily as well as putting RPG fans such as myself in familiar territory, despite it’s genre, Warcraft 3 managed to design the campaign in a way that it’s enjoyable for both RTS and RPG fans and I strongly recommend that if you’re a fan of RPG’s to give Warcraft 3 a try for two reasons.

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You can play capture the Illidan!

First of all, Warcraft 3’s format is similar to that of an RPG in the sense that you have creep camps. Creep camps are groups of neutral/hostile enemies that will attack anyone on sight and are not affiliated with the enemy. “So why should I go for them?” you say? Creeps usually carry valuable items on them, as well as gold and XP. Basically in the early stages of game, you will often find yourself battling creep camps to strengthen yourself against the enemy.

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In each campaign, your hero’s stats and inventory get carried over to the next chapter so you will want to scavenge high and low for better items to help you out in battles later. Some items are hidden in crates/barrels which you must destroy to get them. Others are quest rewards, yes there are quests in Warcraft 3, how else did World Of Warcraft become an MMO?

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Quest Complete!

Questing in Warcraft 3 can make either a huge or small difference though sometimes it’s almost essential to do them, particularly if you aren’t a very good player. As such, Warcraft 3 offers many different approaches which doesn’t give it too many merits considering it is after all a RTS and as such it is expected to have multiple “strategies” to winning campaigns, quests are merely one of these.

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In addition, there are some levels, usually interior levels which give you a small group of units and a hero and send you into a more RPG style environment where there is no base to help you and you instead have to rely on your hero and units. If your hero dies it’s game over. These sections are usually quite innovative and as an RPG fan I quite enjoyed them, even if they are a little too easy as you are mostly battling through creep camps. There is one in particular near the end of the game which is actually quite challenging.

This is where the game makes use of puzzles to get from place to place. You will find many circle’s of power, these are used to interact with certain things. In addition, there are switches too, kind like pressure plates which can be used in a similar manner. Some missions meld both traditional and RPG style levels together. For example, one level requires you to send out workers to repair some observatories and you are given limited units and workers to repair with and as such you have to make your way through creep infested areas with limited units, eventually you find a gold mine and are expected to build a base. From here on out you are able to build more units to bolster your forces and you will need to, because the undead have already noticed you and are attacking.

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Put simply if you’re looking for a more innovative RTS, Warcraft 3 is definitely worth checking out as it has a lot of interesting levels which each require a different approach and the pacing of the game makes sure that you are not fed up with the constant base building and warring and provides small-scale RPG sections to break things up so there’s plenty of variety.

In addition, Warcraft 3 has many easter eggs that give the game that extra charm. Units and heroes each have their own dialogue whenever they’re clicked on, click on them multiple times though and they’ll start breaking the forth wall and start bringing up movie references among other things.

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By Elune, it is huge!

There are also many hidden easter eggs which are easily missed. For this reason I highly encourage exploration in each level as there are many secrets to be found. There is even a bonus level to unlock that is easily missed. You can also utilize your abilities to traverse certain areas. Sometimes hidden items can be found in inaccessible areas which require a certain ability to reach. Warcraft 3 might be in real-time but sometimes it never hurts to stop and think.

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All that aside, it’s time to talk about the meat of the package. The second reason why I would recommend Warcraft 3 to fans of RPG’s is the story. Oh boy is the story of Warcraft 3 excellent. It puts most RPG’s to shame. If you’ve played games like Fire Emblem, you’ll probably feel right at home with Warcraft 3’s story… although it’s a lot less Japanese and has a lot more depth and lore.

——–Spoilers for Warcraft 1 and 2——–

Warcraft 3 offers 4 main campaigns (7 if you count Frozen throne) each with its own story line. Campaigns are split into 4 factions. First being the humans, a proud (somewhat too proud), self-righteous old race that has thrived in the Eastern Kingdoms for many years… until the orcs came. In Warcraft: Orcs and Humans (the first game) the orcs ravaged their lands one by one and the humans were pushed back towards the northern kingdoms of Lordaeron. In Warcraft 2, the humans were invaded once again by the orcs but barely managed to push them back and defeated their leader, Orgrim Doomhammer, imprisoned him and sealed his people in internment camps (similar to the concentration camps in WW2).

The orcs appear to be a savage and violent race but in truth they were once a peaceful, honorable race, guided by the elements (AKA the spirits). Despite their peaceful nature, orcs have always been boorish fighters and they are a highly competitive race. Battle is everything to them, it practically rules their entire society, the strong are revered, the weak are shunned. The shaman on the other hand were also revered for their guidance and the orc’s sense of honor kept them in check.

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However, certain events caused the orcs to become bloodthirsty savages. After being imprisoned in the internment camps for many years, they were rescued by an orc named Thrall and were united once more to stand against the humans. The orcs seek to return to their former ways and bring peace back to the lands of Azeroth, though their past provocations had not been forgotten by the humans and the hostility between the two races continues to rage on.

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Aside from the orcs and humans, two new races enter the fray. These are the undead and the night elves. These two new races bring their own lore to the story line to set up an even deeper world. Furthermore, the Burning Legion, a race of powerful demons have returned to the world of Azeroth intent on destroying all existence. Who will survive? Will the mortal races make amends? Who is this legion? All these questions are answered in the story and I strongly recommend playing it yourself.

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One thing I personally enjoy about Warcraft 3’s story line is the ambiguity surrounding good/evil in each faction. Due to the story being presented in multiple perspectives, it’s easy to empathize with each of the four races (except maybe the undead). In fact there’s more to it than just racial perspectives. Certain campaigns put you into the perspective of a sub faction. These perspectives are usually found in Frozen Throne and give you a completely different hero to play as. These factions may or may not be opposed to their own race but they act independently from the main racial factions.

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Put simply, the characters in Warcraft 3 each have their own sense of morals but no one is truly good or evil (except maybe the dreadlords who are pure evil). Each character has their own demons to contend with (some more than others) and in doing so they may find themselves in situations where their demons influence their actions in a negative way which usually leads to many conflicts between characters among other things.

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Join the dark side, we have cookies!

This makes the characters of Warcraft 3 feel real, they aren’t just cut/paste heroes/villains, they’re just people with strong convictions who are willing to fight for them with their lives. Thus begins the terrible warfare that decides the victor and we love it. That’s what Warcraft is about after all.

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Then again, there is the undead campaign which is somewhat different from the other 3 campaigns. In the undead campaign, you play the bad guy, that’s right, you play as the main villain and you slaughter everyone in your way for nothing more than pleasure. Unlike most games, Warcraft doesn’t have protagonists or antagonists, instead each side is both a protagonist and an antagonist at some point (besides the Burning Legion, which I would just love to play as but sadly Varimathras is the closest we get :/).

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Varimathras is just too damn cool

“Human names all sound the same to me” ~Varimathras

The ability to experience both sides of the coin is something video games should embrace more. I’m tired of games only showing one perspective in their story. We need more games like Warcraft which allows us to experience multiple perspectives for ourselves. As such i find Warcraft 3 to be the greatest storytelling I’ve ever experienced in a video game and it encouraged me to get the books to read more about the lore and having read several of them, I’ve come to the conclusion that Warcraft 3 has some of the deepest lore a video game can offer. Seriously, the lore doesn’t end with Warcraft 3, read all the books and watch the Warcraft movie when it comes out to experience one of the greatest stories established by a video game ever.

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Now with all that aside, time to talk about the little things. The visuals are a notable improvement from the previous games in the series though I would have liked to have seen a bit more detail from a 2003 game, I believe they did a reasonable job considering the time this game was made. The cinematics on the other hand are absolutely stellar. I mean it is Blizzard after all, they do make the best cinematics. It’s like you’re watching a movie.

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The music is done by Glenn Stafford and though his Warcraft 2 music was catchier, Warcraft 3’s music is a lot more epic and orchestrated, particularly in the cinematics which are really well done. It’s hard not to get goosebumps when you’re watching the human campaign ending. The voice acting is also fantastic, particularly the dreadlords. There are also many fantastic lines of dialogue to match making for some epic quotes such as:

“Save your breath human, you’ll need it to scream when I start tearing off your limbs!” ~ Grom Hellscream

Now if you haven’t already realized by the title, Warcraft 3 has online multiplayer but do yourself a favor and stay away. It’s really awful and I’m not going to review it. If you want to know more about Warcraft 3’s Battle.net, I highly encourage you to read this article I made back on the Destructoid C blogs as it will tell you pretty much everything you need to know:

Warcraft 3 Battle.net Blog

Overall, Warcraft 3’s campaign is definitely worth purchasing the game by itself, just be sure to get the expansion with it as well, you can’t just get one of them. Be sure to get both to finish the story. Trust me, Frozen Throne is even better, especially if you liked Reign Of Chaos. I also highly encourage you to try out the books too. As for World Of Warcraft, I have played it and I will say right now that it killed the entire series, don’t play it. I don’t play it anymore, in case you haven’t already gathered.

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Story/Plot: Exceptional
Visuals: Good
Gameplay: Great
Music: Good
Multiplayer: Awful (just putting that out there)
Lifespan: Quite Long (ROC) Decent Legnth (TFT)
Would you replay? Maybe
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Overall: Excellent

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Value: £40.00+

Purchase Warcraft 3 – Gold Edition (PC DVD)