TitanFall 2 PS4 Review

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Respawn Entertainment somehow squeezed together Super Mario, Super Meat Boy, Mecha and the sweet sweet feel of their first person shooters into one brilliant package. I was all but ready to write TitanFall 2 off after the less than stellar Tech Test; it wasn’t terrible but its incomplete state muddied the message Respawn were trying to convey. Movement felt off and the time spent in the Titans was far too infrequent. I wasn’t too keen on the Bounty Mode either. The brilliant Gauntlet was included but as a wall running novice, I failed to appreciate its nuances and potential. By the end of the second week of testing, I was left wondering if Respawn had lost the plot. I knew there was a campaign but with little to no word about its quality, I was struggling to find reasons to purchase the game at full price. 

As the release date approached and reviews began to roll out, positive word began peculating across gaming outlets and forums. I saw games like Portal 2 and Super Mario were associated with the the campaign. The multiplayer also received similar praise by the community at large with many claiming Respawn listened to the feedback and made necessary changes. After hearing so much positive buzz, I couldn’t ignore it and decided to pick it up on day one.

I started with the multiplayer which was indeed a superior experience compared to the earlier Tech Test. Framerate was much improved (but not perfect on the standard PS4) and the feel of the wall running was less mushy than before. I was also introduced to Attrition — team deathmatch with A.I fodder — for the first time and began to understand why people enjoy this mode so much. Straight forward team deathmatch with Titans would have felt empty without the A.I. They acted like fodder and a source of “food” for my Titan meter but towards the end of a match, they posed a threat to real player Pilots and Titans alike with the tougher Reaper class A.I roaming the battlefield. 

There are 50 levels of progress to go through and it took me about 25 – 30 or so before I came to grips with what TitanFall 2 was actually about. Call of Duty: Black Ops III and Overwatch (by way of Lucio) had wall running but they failed to properly train me to the intricacies and possibilities of jump jets, slide dashing and wallrunning. Black Ops III featured wall running and the maps reflected that. They had spots clearly marked for wallrunning but it didn’t feel like it was baked into the DNA of the maps. TitanFall 2’s maps were larger in both horizontal and vertical sense. Successful movement maneuvers enabled Pilots to traverse the majority of a map quickly and get to spots that just weren’t considered as possible in other games. In many ways the maps felt like Battlefield style maps where just about every roof, ledge and building was accessible within a set boundary; I wasn’t repelled off surfaces by invisible boundaries.

Gun unlocks, scorestreaks and perk analogs were to be expected in a game by the makers of Modern Warfare. What was unexpected, however, was the manner in which I unlocked said multiplayer staples. The Merit point system replaced XP points giving fixed rewards for completing simple objectives during a match such as inserting a battery into a friendly Titan or killing a couple of Pilots. They’re such simple objectives that I didn’t bother to review them prior to each match and just played the game. Winning obviously netted  anadditional Merit point but losing while successfully escaping during the Epilogue sequence also netted one. This system rewarded me for playing the game the way it was meant to be played and, as silly as it may sound, I have to credit Respawn for it. Other systems put players through tedious grinds for progress which dulled their appeal to me, TitanFall 2’s did the exact opposite. 

The way TitanFall 2 managed clans was innovative and encouraged group play. Being able to swap between multiple clan networks, create a party and open up to all clan members within a couple of button prompts is fantastic. It was only held back by the inability to join parties in progress and the instability of said parties. The number of times where one party member is left out in the cold while the rest of us successfully join a match is a growing concern. 

The single player campaign was a first for the franchise and while it was easy to picture a Call of Duty styled campaign filled with set pieces and explosions, it would be a disservice to a studio that has a knack for shaking things up. TitanFall 2’s campaign featured many one-off ideas and concepts packed into a six hour adventure. Nothing was particularly outrageous or mind bending if you’ve played Portal 2 or Super Mario Galaxy before but in the context of a first person shooter featuring talking mechs? It was refreshing. The story was predictable but the progression of levels was anything but — I never knew what to expect next.

The Super Meat Boy comparison stemmed from my time with the Gauntlet. Like Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare’s obstacle course, TitanFall 2’s Gauntlet was put in place to test the player’s skill and recommend a difficulty setting. It’s easy to fumble through it and choose my own difficulty setting but challenging for the “…Becomes the Master” Trophy gave me a newfound appreciation for the TitanFall 2’s mechanics and design. Placing in the top 3 was tough and I didn’t think I had the patience to shave off those seconds required to place. Thankfully super quick restarts and responsive controls kept me coming back and after about 2.5 hours across 3 sessions of play, I cobbled together this narrow victory. I have a lot of work to do if I wanted to challenge for the world record though.

It’s been quite sometime since I’ve played a game that was genuinely enjoyable from top to bottom. I would either love the multiplayer but find the single player campaign a let down. Or I would enjoy the campaign but absolutely zero interest with the multiplayer. Respawn Entertainment nailed the entire package and they should be commended for it. My favorite shooter campaign is still Doom but when the only reason I played the multiplayer was for Trophies alone, that speaks volumes about it. It also says a lot that every time I boot up the game, I find myself wondering if I should hit multiplayer or revisit single player (for Trophies but still). There may be meaty campaigns (Doom) or more engrossing multiplayer experiences (Overwatch) out there but there’s only one game that features strong efforts on both fronts and that’s TitanFall 2.

Verdict:
I love it

Ratings Guide

Doom PS4 Review

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Doom II: Hell on Earth was one of the first video games I’ve ever played. I’ve gone back to the original Doom on several occasions but never completed it. It’s also important to note that I played both games without music which turned the game from a bad ass demon shooter into a sci-fi horror game of sorts. I may have taken it more seriously than intended at the time but I loved it all the same.

I enjoyed playing Doom III more than the other long awaited first person shooter sequel, Half-Life 2 (it was nauseating in spots). In many ways it lined up with what I experienced with Doom II; it was a serious and more unsettling take on Doom. I have no idea how it holds up but something tells me following that formula would have produced lukewarm results.

After the utterly boring R.A.G.E which I started but never finished, the departure of John Carmack and years of silence from id Software, a reboot of Doom sounded like a Hail Mary play for the once industry leading studio. What could they possibly do to bring what made Doom enjoyable into 2016? It has to be fast paced. It has to be infused with satanic nonsense. It has to be gory. Mars and key cards need to have some influence as well.

Doom (2016) had all those trademark characteristics and stitched it altogether with modern gameplay advancements that other games and genres have been doing for years. A little Bayonetta? A little Geometry Wars? A bit of both can be seen hidden in there if you squint.

The original Doom was a fast paced shooter where the player was zipping around at nearly 80 KM/H at default speeds. I don’t know how fast the 2016 version has the player running but it’s undoubtedly the fastest moving shooter in the modern era. Fast paced shooters feel right at home on the PC with its keyboard and mouse – many will undoubtedly say it’s a return to form on that platform. But a fast paced shooter on consoles and the controller is a relatively foreign thing. Amazingly the clever folks at id Software managed give us precision and speed without relying on an overly aggressive aim assist.

Doom doesn’t believe in regenerating health but it also doesn’t rely on hunting for health packs either. The novel solution was to hide health orbs behind “glory kill” finishes which required me to mash the melee button near a staggered demon so I can brutally murder it. A headshot or gib didn’t yield anything worth while, only their patented glory kills.

The combat was fed with a number of upgrade and challenge systems. There were per mission challenges, per weapon challenges and optional rune (perk) related challenges as well. They all encouraged me to play in different ways and improve my skillset. I played on “Ultra Violence” difficulty and as I discovered in my second playthrough: I can skip or blast my way through most of the game with ease. It was only when I paid attention to these challenges that Doom’s magic shone through.

The Rune challenges reminded me of character action games like Bayonetta and its Alfheim portals. One challenge asked me to defeat a slew of demons without getting hit. Another had me running through a platforming course within a set time. The objectives were straightforward and while the load times were just a tad too long, I found it an enjoyable break of pace.

So combat was solved but what about the map design? The original Doom featured sprawling maps with players seeking key cards to unlock areas to find more key cards that would eventually lead to an exit. That’s back for 2016’s Doom but thankfully I wasn’t asked to juggle the trio of key cards like 1993. I was asked to backtrack for keys but I was also incentivized to explore to unlock suit upgrades. The location of the secrets were often revealed to me but how to get to that power-up was a mystery. I enjoyed that process of deduction and was glad they didn’t ask me to hump walls in hopes of triggering a hidden door.

Doom established id Software as a technical powerhouse that would eventually lead them into the middleware licensing business. Their might waned since the glory days of Quake III’s engine but I think they could have made a roaring comeback with 2016’s Doom. It’s by far the best looking and performing 60 FPS title on consoles. It has its issues with the occasional texture pop-in and sends the PlayStation 4’s fan into a frenzy but what is on display is unmatched in the console space. I’m trying to imagine what Call of Duty would look like if they were able to license this engine.

I spoke of the fact that I have very little reverence for the Doom franchise’s soundtrack and it remains the same here. Mick Gordon’s industrial metal fits the game’s motif like a glove but I don’t want to listen to it outside of the game’s context. I feel the exact same way with Devil May Cry 3’s and Metal Gear: Revengeance’s soundtrack.

I felt the sound mixing was obnoxious. They leveraged bass disgusting degree by blasting it as deep and as low as it possibly could. I turned down the music just to get it under control. I also felt many of the weapons lacked pop like the early games. As gory and brutal the chainsaw was, the pistol was a laughable pea shooter. The double barrel shotgun lacked a strong punch and the rocket launcher sounded like it was fired through a pillow. I did find the sound of the movement and other interactions was full of weight and purpose though. I just wished the firepower followed appropriately.

With Wolfenstein: The New Order breathed new life into the Wolfenstein franchise. MachineGames brought the core values of Wolfenstein to a modern audience. With this installment of Doom, id Software rose from seemingly out of nowhere to pull off the exact same feat and then some. I was blown away with what they did, it’s Doom for a modern audience and it’s absolutely wonderful. Even more amazing? They proved to everyone that fast paced arcadey first person shooters have a place in the console space in 2016. Bravo, id Software.

Verdict:
I love it

Ratings Guide

Overwatch PS4 Review

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Companies such Apple, Nintendo and Blizzard were cut from the same cloth. Their ideas aren’t unique or original but the way they re-imagine and implement those ideas is what makes them special. As such, Blizzard’s latest game, Overwatch isn’t an original idea; it’s a culmination of many ideas formed into one of the best multiplayer first person shooter experiences to date.

Blizzard brought their their production values and their creative flair to the Team Fortress 2 formula. Instead of nine characters filling specific roles, Blizzard expanded the roster to 23 heroes categorized into one of four roles. Many heroes shared similarities to those found in Team Fortress 2 but their game changing Ultimate abilities allowed each of them to impose their identity onto a match.

Most (if not all of) Team Fortress 2’s success was on the PC. Team Fortress 2’s console counterparts were abandoned after Valve couldn’t update as frequently or as their Steam version due to the console manufacturer’s red tape. But times have changed and companies like Blizzard can now update with more regularity. This is important because Blizzard are offering characters, maps and other items for free. Aesthetic items such as skins and emotes can be found in chests aka Loot Boxes as Blizzard calls them. The only form of monetization from Blizzard thus far is the opportunity to buy additional Loot Boxes for cash. I don’t mind this kind of monetization if it keeps the community together.

There are 23 heroes and only a handful of maps and modes but it’s the heroes that give the game its dynamism. The maps are fixed and lack game changing alterations opening opportunities for players to commit them into memory. Knowing the location of a health pack can determine life and death. Different heroes offer different mobility issues which could mean the map that I knew inside and out from one hero’s perspective is incomplete as another.

People will approach the heroes differently. Some will focus on one that they like an attempt to master it while others like myself have picked one or two for each role. I will switch roles and heroes as the situation dictates. I’ve found stubbornly trying to will a certain hero into every situation may not work with every team composition or situation. Being adaptable has its benefits in this game.

Voice chat is available on consoles but finding people using it in public matches is a rare occurrence. Thankfully, informative automated callouts warn teammates of enemies behind them and even the presence of a teleporter (which I argue is too helpful for teams and narrows the opportunity of the teleporter’s usefulness too quickly). A built-in radial menu contains additional voice callouts like “Need Healing”, the status of Ultimate abilities and the request to “Group up”. It was surprising how little voice communication was necessary to function as a unit in public games. Voice chat will undoubtedly help with the speed and accuracy of calling out flanking enemies or more complex situations but I felt Blizzard did a remarkable job facilitating team play without voice chat. In fact, I’ve played in games where voice chat actually hurt a team where arm-chair Generals try to dictate team compositions or too many people responded to a single flanking enemy.

Overwatch is the first Blizzard title that I see myself following from its launch and onwards. (I played Diablo III early on but fell away until the PlayStation 4 release.) Ongoing free support is ingrained into Blizzard’s DNA and witnessing the rollout of Competitive mode, a new character, balance changes and a seasonal event like the “Summer Games” has been very interesting. I don’t always agree with their implementation or decisions but Blizzard have done a stand up job communicating intent and delivering on those intentions.

What makes Overwatch stand out from its competition in the shooter space is the art direction; it’s lighthearted and colorful with a style that will age gracefully with time. The game runs at 1080p and 60FPS on the PlayStation 4 but there’s still room for improvement in texture quality that I would like to see. But those graphical criticisms fade into the back of my mind in the midst of the action.

For me, the most surprising aspect of Overwatch was its controls and how customizable they were. Each hero has his or her set of abilities. Some were straight forward with a standard outfit of two abilities and their Ultimate while others featured weapons with alternate fire modes on top of the standard outfit of 2 abilities. I quickly realized Overwatch was a game that benefited from mapping the jump function to L1 (aka Bumper Jumper configuration). Being able to jump/float and shoot was crucial to playing the rocket pack wearing hero, Pharah. I don’t know how effectively play as her otherwise. Being able to customize each hero’s button configuration was essential to learning each hero played and how they best fit my style.

Blizzard de-emphasized the kill-death ratio metric prevalent in so many multiplayer first person shooters. I love how the end of match screen highlights contributions by healers, defensive units along side eliminations and elimination participation. Healers may have a negative kill death ratio but it doesn’t matter when they’ve healed away a third of the opposing team’s damage.

Overwatch is a feel good shooter. There is a tough and deeply competitive team based shooter buried in it as well but it’s possible to never interact with that side of the game. Blizzard spends time trying to matchmake players of a similar skill level so that players can just hop in pick one of the nearly two dozen characters that I resonate with them and not get destroyed on a regular basis. It feels great to play, it looks and runs fantastically but so do many other games out there. What I appreciate most about Overwatch: the sense that Blizzard cares about making a game that embraces quality over quantity.

Verdict:
I love it

Ratings Guide

Wolfenstein: The Old Blood PS4 Review

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Wolfenstein: The Old Blood was billed as a standalone expansion to MachineGames’ Wolfenstein: The New Order. With that in mind, I expected more of the same with a few little twists and additions to the core gameplay and story. They delivered exactly what I expected with glimpses to the events leading up to The New Order and introduction of the Nazi’s occult obsessions.

Where The New Order featured the science fiction angle that Wolfenstein, The Old Blood gave a nod to the occult angle. In this expansion, B.J was tasked to find a folder which detailed the whereabouts of The New Order’s antagonist, Deathshead. His mission lead him to Helga who was in Wulfburg trying to unearth a supernatural super weapon. Seeing how this was before the Nazi victory in The New Order, it was interesting to see the methodical and scientific minds approach something uncertain like unearthing an undead super monster.

A few new weapons like the bolt action rifle, pistol grenade launcher and a sawed off shotgun were amongst the additions to weaponry. The bolt action rifle was the highlight for me. I fell in love with it as a hip firing headshot magnet which proved itself extremely useful in the newly added score attack Challenge mode. Every major encounter in each of the game’s nine chapters were turned into a challenge mode where headshots and quick actions were rewarded. Like all score attack challenges, it wasn’t necessarily about stringing kills as quickly as possible. There was clearly a puzzling element where I had to pick my battles and not only rack up the points but find the best position to hole up and rack up said points.

The beats and pace of Wolfenstein: The Old Blood was like a collection of The New Order’s most memorable moments. There was a tense face to face meeting where B.J played a waiter to a Nazi commanding officer, there was a torture scene where B.J was impaled with a broken lead pipe and of course, stuff fell on top of our hero’s noggin numerous times. I’m tempted to say that if you The Old Blood was a short and sweet version of Wolfenstein: The New Order but that would be selling The New Order short.

I will say that if you were looking for more of MachineGames’ excellent shooter then I recommend picking up Wolfenstein: The Old Blood. It’s more of what made Wolfenstein: The New Order great. If you weren’t a fan of The New Order, then I don’t know what to say. It’s one of the best first person shooters in recent memory and in an age of open world or corridor shooters, having a superb blend like this not only uncommon but down right impossible.

Verdict:
I love it

Ratings Guide

 

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