LTTP: Gears 5 [PC]

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The Gears of War franchise is now 13 years old. It’s now an awkward teenager trying to grow and establish itself. It’s even going out of its way to shed off its full name and wishes to be referred to as Gears now.  

It’s been a while since the Gears franchise found itself under The Coalition’s stewardship. Gears of War 4 was a safe but worthy modernization of the franchise. After coming to terms with what the franchise had to offer, The Coalition tried a slew of new ideas with Gears 5. Some it was fine but I found a lot of it fell flat. 

The most prominent additions were the giant open chapters where Kait and Del traversed from point to point on the Skiff — a wind surfing sled on skis. It offered Gears 5 a bit more breathing room between the action. We’re exploring abandoned mines, cities, and the like which yielded opportunities for collectibles and world building. I like the tidbits that I picked up about Sera and its history. I also certainly enjoyed seeing the giant vistas. However, I was less enthralled about trekking across these desolate lands for a second time. 

Gears 5 was a looker and was performant on my NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070 powered PC. I only experienced issues with sporadic juddering when I was a passenger on the Skiff. I lowered settings and resolution in hopes to rid of it all, but no luck. An equally irksome issue was the sound mixing that resulted with speech audio coming in way too low. I tried to adjust the audio settings but I kept missing out on key information. As result, Gears 5 was one of the few games in recent memory that I had to use subtitles for.  

I liked Kait in Gears of War 4 and was happy to see her take the lead in Gears 5. She was driven to accomplish her goals but not stupid enough like JD to endanger others. I hope they continue this trend of changing leads and give opportunities to explore other characters. We witnessed Kait’s diplomatic skills and strength in the face of inexplicable (and undeserved) tragedy. Regardless of how events unfolded, I was content with Kait at the helm of it all. 

This franchise offers some of the more satisfying third person shooting action in the industry but when I’ve played 4 games worth of it already without drastic inclusions: it’s going to get stale. There were, of course, new weapons, enemies, and refinements to systems introduced in Gears of War 4 like the stealth mechanic. They even gave Jack new upgradable abilities to influence the battlefield. Unfortunately, it’s a bit cumbersome to coordinate the use of Jack in co-op play.  

It was evident that they were trying to expand horizons but I felt the ideas were hobbled by old habits. It’s about time the Gears were allowed to mantle over cover without having to take cover first. I realize mantle vaulting is a thing but that requires running at cover. And is it not time that the Gears stop roadie running across open spaces? I bought the conceit when we’re in the thick of it with bullets flying and we’re moving cover to cover, but when all the fighting is done? It’s just highlighting an unnecessary clinging to traditions.  

While I’m at it: How is shoulder switching not possible in this game? 

Gears 5 was in its element when bullets were flying, enemies were piling in, and the Hammer of Dawn was online. Things were popping off and I loved it. Unfortunately, we found those moments too fleeting. Glitches or inexplicable insta-deaths were too prevalent. I don’t ever recall succumbing to so many oneshot kills before. I also cannot recall ever dreading the damage sponge nature of some of the enemies. We were playing on “Experienced” difficulty and I found certain enemy combinations like the Bastion protecting Swarms and the Flock the antithesis of fun.  

They were dumb damage sponges when their A.I. routines were working but at least they were moving. My brother and I experienced at least a dozen instances of enemy A.I. breaking down and just standing or hovering around areas oblivious to our presence. We were even able to repeat a specific A.I. bug during an encounter towards the back third of the game.  

I obviously want Gears of War to grow into a modern third person shooter while retaining all the trademarks that give it character. I know there are fans who live and breathe the way it plays, but they will lose fans like myself if they continue to down this path. The next Gears game needs to finally grow up and “get with the times”. It can learn and draw inspiration from its past but it doesn’t need to feel beholden to keeping things the way they are because it’s always been that way. 

Verdict: 
It was okay 

Ratings Guide

LTTP: Resident Evil 7: biohazard

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It took a while but I finally played Resident Evil 7: Biohazard. I haven’t touched a Resident Evil game since Resident Evil 5 for the PlayStation 3. The demo of Resident Evil 6 was ridiculous but reviews scared me off. I didn’t consider either of them horror games – I didn’t even consider Resident Evil 4 a horror game. The last Resident Evil game to unsettle me was the Resident Evil Remake on the GameCube.  

It’s been well over 10 years since I considered a Resident Evil game unnerving and I’m glad they’re back at it with Resident Evil 7: Biohazard. 

A brand new engine, aptly dubbed RE Engine, adorned RE7. It’s a solid engine and ran well enough on my GTX 1070 powered PC but it certainly showed its age when compared to the likes of Resident Evil 2 or Devil May Cry V. Textures were especially grimy looking in daylight. The night is full of terror — or at least — dimly lit and grungy confined spaces are. RE7 was in its element in the opening hours where everything is still a mystery and the imagination is running wild.  

The new first person perspective placed me right in the front row of the horrors. Gruesome faces and brutal attacks that would normally kill any human were directed right at me. I may have been playing as Ethan but I felt those knife and chainsaw attacks. The combination of disturbing faces and spine tingling sounds worked together to unsettle me.  

Resident Evil games were at their most unnerving when they were set in disheveled but familiar places. The creepy houses wrought with cobwebs, dust, and remains that lead imaginations down cynical paths built tension. RE7 had a handful of those houses. I found it a little silly that the Baker family had so many houses on their property. It lead to a couple of excellent areas in which to scare me but its believability unraveled with each passing hour. 

RE7 may have started out as a grounded horror game but it quickly revealed itself to be a tried & true Resident Evil game and all that entailed. Herbs? Knife? Inventory juggling, weird specialty keys, and light puzzle solving all surfaced themselves as the game and story unfolded. Umbrella Corporation, talks of cover ups, and biological weapons testing came back in force by the end of it all. It was somewhat predictable and trite, but it was classic RE fun. 

Fun scares and puzzles but the combat was by far the game’s weakest element. One could argue they’re continuing the franchise’s classic roots but that’s not a valid excuse for lame boss or easily cheesed enemy encounters. It felt like I was supposed to employ lame tactics in order to overcome the adversities. I didn’t enjoy the fact that I was just going through the motion of avoiding enemies or watching some dumb boss attack a pillar in a pathetic attempt to get to me.  

The controls took a bit of getting used to. Years of muscle memory with first person shooters built-up an expectation with regards to speed. There was a deliberate sluggishness to the Resident Evil 7. I was able to pull off everything I wanted but I was forced to play at their pace. Reloading of weapons took longer than I was used to. I also had the turning speed of a tank which could have been remedied by utilizing the classic Resident Evil quick turn, but it rarely came to mind in the thick of it. It reminded me of Red Dead Redemption 2’s first person mode. It felt like they literally took classic Resident Evil and plopped in a first person view. It works but it takes a bit of getting used to. 

After finishing Resident Evil 7: biohazard, I came away rejuvenated with the Resident Evil franchise. It’s fun dumb horror and I’m glad Capcom found their groove with this franchise again. I look forward to playing Resident Evil 2 Remake and the upcoming Resident Evil 3 Remake, but I hope to see Capcom return to a first person Resident Evil game again. They’ve proven it works and they’ve also proven they’re good at it. 

Verdict: 
I liked it

Ratings Guide

Apex Legends Review

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PLAYERUNKNOWN’S Battlegrounds looked intriguing albeit too janky for my liking. 

Fortnite didn’t tickle my fancy either. 

Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII’s Blackout caught my attention but didn’t manage to hold it beyond 3 matches. 

It turns out I was waiting for Respawn Entertainment and their take on the battle royale genre. Apparently, I wanted classes, teamwork, polish, and mobility options. And now that I have all those things in Apex Legends, I cannot put it down.  

It’s the first free to play non-mobile game that I sank both time and money into. I didn’t need the battle pass and what it offered but I felt obligated to pay for the excellent game they hot dropped onto the world.  

Call of Duty: Black Ops III introduced Specialists with abilities reminiscent of other hero shooters like Overwatch. These Specialist abilities were impactful but they didn’t turn the tide of battle like Overwatch’s. Apex Legends’ calls their heroes Legends but they’re essentially Specialists. Certain abilities like Lifeline’s healing bot or Caustic’s debilitating gas traps were useful in specific scenarios but they couldn’t guarantee a win. The same could be said with the Ultimate abilities which will require a bit of an adjustment period for anyone who’s used to Overwatch’s bangers. 

The level of polish and refinement on various aspects of the battle royale experience made Apex Legends very comfortable to play. I wasn’t awkwardly fiddling with menus to manage inventory or equipment. I felt everything was just a simple press away and the entire experience felt frictionless.  

The game wasn’t much of a looker on PC let alone a PlayStation 4 Pro. Performance was also generally sufficient with only the occasional dip below 60 FPS. I wanted better on both fronts but battle royales require a lot of horsepower and that these consoles just aren’t up to snuff. 

Polish, class abilities, and proficient technical chops can only get you so far, so what did Apex Legends do to get its hooks into me? The feel. It feels good to play and it that’s very important. I like the engagement distances in Apex Legends. This game plays at my kind of range. Most firefights take place in the mid to close range with the occasional long range affair to keep people on their toes.  

The brilliant “ping” system enabled a rudimentary but crucial communication between teammates. I feel like it should be in every multiplayer game from here on out because it’s so easy and effective to highlight enemies, suggest destinations and highlight loot. Voice communication is still superior but it is also greatly enhanced with the inclusion of the ping system.   

Apex Legends will likely end up being my most played game this year. Part of it is the battle royale hooks, but I feel a lot of it is the quality fundamentals. I have no idea how they will fare against Fortnite or other games in the genre but I’m firmly behind Respawn’s take on it.  

Ratings Guide

Verdict: 
I love it