High Hell Review

High Hell is a first-person shooter developed by Terri Vellmann and Doseone. The objective is to burn through levels as fast as possible, by completing a set of objectives. These objectives range from collecting/destroying something or killing someone. Every five levels, a boss fight occurs. Additionally, you can find dolls, burn money and kill enemies to help max out your top score. Finally, you are racing against the clock to complete levels as fast as possible.

Visually the game is great, with its cell-shaded graphics. There’s also a level of silliness to the environments which is rather charming. That said I found the look to get repetitive, even with the game’s short runtime.

I also enjoyed the music. It’s the kind of electronica-dubstep stuff that I assume robotic people listen to in clubs as I stay home and play violent video games such as High Hell. It’s high energy and perfect for this game.

There’s just one problem: High Hell can be beaten under an hour in your first playthrough. The idea is that you’re supposed to play through over and over again, completing the game as fast as possible or getting a high score.

I’ve played through this game twice, and both times after beating it I just shrugged my shoulders and said: “Okay then.” I feel no need to play through it again and it’s a shame because I think this game is one element away from being brilliant. If the campaign had multiple paths that lead to different levels or needing to complete different objectives, it’d be so much more engaging. Failing that, a level editor or a random level generator of some sort would add so much more to this game and elevate it to something I could easily recommend.

It’s a shame too because the actual gameplay is solid. The AI is aggressive, and also duck to avoid your attacks. The player needs to keep moving and hit accurately to be successful. That said it’s very minimalist. The game only has one weapon and although I can understand the need for some simplicity, I feel a few additional elements would be nice. Something like a grenade that you can only use once per level would really add an extra layer to the game.

Unfortunately, the developers seem to feel that the game is completed. This game is one step away from being an indie gem, but as it is, it will only appeal to a niche audience. To be fair it’s priced right at $10 US but I could only recommend this if you’re a perfectionist.

 

Advertisements

The Later Half of 2017

With the year coming to an end, I’ve decided to compile all the new releases I watched/played that were not mentioned in my post The First Half of 2017.

Movies:

I No Longer Feel At Home In This Word:

I didn’t even bother to review this one. As I watched this movie I just kept thinking of how much Super did a similar premise better. Watch Super instead. Super is love, Super is life.

Dunkirk:

With a fantastic score from Hans Zimmer, seemingly random bombings and artillery strikes and gritty camera work, Dunkirk, despite not being very violent, is an intense war movie that is well worth a watch. The only fault I have is the out of order editing that doesn’t really add anything to the movie.

Atomic Blonde:

A thriller with no tension, overbearing music, a boring story, and mostly bland characters. This type of MacGuffin plot has been done better so many times before. Director David Leitch can put together a good action scene, but everything else around said action falls flat. Ronin is a fantastic example of a similar premise in a spy film that does it so much better. Watch Ronin. Ronin is love, Ronin is life.

Marvel’s Defenders:

Although much better than the trainwreck that was Iron Fist, Defenders has done little to restore my faith in the Defenders series. The Hand organization is an unengaging antagonist and the Iron Fist still comes across as a whiny asshole. Despite that, the rest of the cast does a good job, and their respective series all still have potential.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle:

Another unnecessary sequel that tries to one-up the previous film, but just falls flat on its face. I’m honestly going to pretend that this one never happened and I’d advise you do the same.

The Wheelman:

Drive without the style. Locke without the good writing and amazing lead performance. Victoria without the whole movie being filmed in one take. Collateral without the brilliant main performances and awesome gunplay. Take your pick of movies with similar premises, and I ensure you The Wheelman will pale in comparison every time.

Blade Runner 2049:

It’s a little slow at times, but Blade Runner 2049 was a very engaging film with fantastic visuals. I enjoyed it more than the original, and it’s probably the only movie from 2017 I can’t wait to watch again. I’d highly recommend this one if you have the patience for it.

The Punisher (2017):

Despite the perfect casting of Jon Bernthal as Frank Castle, this series was a real dud in my opinion (which admittedly seems to be in the minority). The story was bland and by the numbers. The characters were unengaging and the action was uninspired. This type of ‘one soldier/ secret agent in a conspiracy’ premise has been done a thousand times before, and it’s been done much better. At least the Iron Fist wasn’t in it.

If you’re looking a good Netflix series based on the premise of a soldier in a conspiracy, I’d highly recommend you seek out Nobel instead.

BoJack Horseman Season 4:

A fantastic continuation of what is becoming one of my favorite shows. I feel Season 4 added a storyline that helps separate it from the previous three. With plenty of laughs and emotional moments, BoJack Horseman is an easy recommendation for me to make.

The Killer (2017):

To think that if this had been made a few years ago, I would’ve probably never of heard of it. It’s really cool that Netflix is bringing foreign films like this to a wider audience. The Killer isn’t perfect, but I found it rather entertaining despite the large amounts of CGI blood and somewhat odd pacing.

Longmire Season 7:

I didn’t review this season in fear of giving away too much of the previous seasons. That said I felt this was a solid ending to a show that’s a bit hit and miss. Like always the portrayal of Native-American issues has always been done maturity and respect, without ever feeling like it’s trying to pander to a certain audience. I’d also say the lead performance by Robert Taylor is spot on. In fact, it’s so good I was surprised to learn he was from Australia. That said there times where people act irrationally to a level that goes beyond ‘dramatic license’, and some plotlines got a little too convoluted. I’d give a cautious recommend to Longmire if you’ve run out of shows to binge watch on Netflix.

Ozark Season 1:

Combining a constant sense of dread with superb performances, Ozark is certainly off to a good start. Although I had a few minor faults with some plot elements, none of it was too distracting to take away from my overall enjoyment.

Bright:

With a heavy-handed social message, unlikeable characters, and terrible writing, I found Bright to be an absolute chore to watch. There are some decent action scenes but that’s about it. There are plenty of better buddy cop films which may lack orcs, but make up for it in quality. Where’s director/writer Shane Black when you need him?

Castlevania (2017 Netflix Series):

This one almost missed the list because I completely forgot about it. That should say enough about how I felt about the show.

Games:

Pyre:

Whilst visually appealing with fantastic audio, Pyre‘s repetitive gameplay unfortunately holds it down.  That said I respect what they tried to do, and I can see this game clicking for certain people, just not me. I’d still recommend checking this one out if nothing more to experience it.

Ruiner

Despite great visuals and a solid soundtrack, Ruiner had potential to be so much more. The story lacked depth despite the possibility for interesting themes, and the short length of the game did not compliment the high learning curve.

Battle Brothers:

I haven’t reviewed this game either, although I may do in the future. Battle Brothers is a turned-based tactics game where you manage a group of mercenaries in a medieval low-fantasy setting. Although I can’t say there’s anything outright wrong with the game, I found it to lack personality compared to games such as Jagged Alliance 2 and Silent Storm. I am also not a big fan of procedural generation which Battle Brothers relies heavily upon. Despite that, if you’re a fan of turned-based tactics games, there’s a good chance you will enjoy Battle Brothers and I’d still recommend it.

 

 

 

Ruiner – Ruin’meh’

Ruiner is a twin-stick shooter where you play as a man who is controlled by a hacker only referred to as ‘Her’ to go rescue his brother. You’ll spend the rest of the game fighting through waves of bad guys and bosses in a dystopian cyberpunk world that’s visually similar to Ghost in the Shell or Akira.

I found this one to be bit of a mixed bag. There are certainly some great ideas, but I feel these ideas have not quite been expanded on.

What I can say is the soundtrack is perfect for the setting. I’m not sure if I’d buy it separately, but it works. The voice acting, however, is missing completely. Don’t get me wrong, I know this is an extra expense, but I felt this game could have done with it, rather than awkward silence.

Visually this game is incredible. The environments look great, and there’s this very horrifying look the characters. Most of them are cyborgs who have lost the ability to control themselves.

Unfortunately, this idea isn’t used at all storywise. The idea of losing your free will is really unsettling. Being the toy of a hacker with their own agenda could have been brilliant. To begin with, the game could have started with you killing the bad guys, but as the game goes on, the morals become murkier. Your character could stop seeing his opponents as people, and more as just another target to kill. You could force the player to do things that make them uncomfortable, much like Spec Ops: The Line did.

There’s also no real characters to follow or care about. I found it really hard to invest myself in the story. Villians seem disposable and just come and go. I predicted part of the end twist right away, and it ends with a cliffhanger. The developers have promised the story will continue with future DLC, but this was pretty disappointing considering Ruiner took me five hours to complete.

This game is also brutally hard, especially to begin with. There’s also a certain point in the game where enemies start teleporting, to which I suffered many deaths. This isn’t a bad thing, but I found the game ended right as I was getting the hang of things.

This can be a visually busy game with a lot going on and at times I just had to stop playing. Those who suffer from motion sickness should avoid this one.

Not helping this is the fact that this is another game that feels the need to have RPG elements. Honestly, this just made the game needlessly confusing. For example, there are two skills you can map to the ‘Q’ button. This can either be a health regeneration skill, or a skill that ‘hacks’ enemies. I found the health regen skill to be more useful, but whenever the game would start up, the game would default to the ‘hack’ skill. You can imagine my frustration of thinking I was going to heal yourself, only to end up doing nothing.

There are plenty of weapons to use. The main character can carry both a melee weapon and a firearm. You have a default weapon in each slot, a pipe (that later is upgraded to be a sword) and an automatic pistol. Certain firearms are probably better in certain situations, but the fact is you’ll probably just use what you can get. I found automatics and shotguns to be the most effective, but just about everything was an upgrade over the base weapons.

Overall I think Ruiner is okay. I can’t say the gameplay grabbed me, but that doesn’t mean it’s terrible. I can see certain people loving it. That said I think the story is a missed opportunity for a truly captivating narrative. I’d recommend checking this one out when it goes on sale. That said there is a good chance that there will be new content which may expand on the elements I felt were lacking.

 

 

Why Max Payne 3 is a Fascinating Sequel

Drastic Times Call for Drastic Changes

Max Payne 3 takes place nine years after the events of the second game. Without getting into spoilers, the events of the previous games have left Max a broken man who’s wasting his life away in dive bars drinking alcohol and slamming down painkillers. He then befriends Raul Passos who offers him a job in Brazil working as a bodyguard for businessman Rodrigo Branco and his trophy wife Fabiana. From there, things go from bad to worse.

The game makes a lot of changes from the original games. Aesthetically the game is much more colorful than the previous two, owing that to its new location of Sao Paulo, Brazil. Instead of comic style cutscenes, all cutscenes are rendered with the in-game engine. A lot of the game also occurs during the daytime, rather than at night like the previous games.

Max is also somewhat more limited than he was in the previous games. He doesn’t take anywhere near as much punishment and can only carry around three weapons. To make up for this Max can now take cover and perform his signature shoot dodge maneuver even when his slow-motion bar has been depleted. Finally, he is also able to perform a ‘Last Stand’ where if he is to take a fatal blow whilst retaining a painkiller, he can shoot the last enemy who wounded him and recover.

I feel a lot of these changes were made for two reasons. The first is obviously to appeal to modern gamers. The cover system is similar to that popularized by the Gears of War series, and many modern games force the player to use a limited amount of weapons.

The other reasons is a response to action movies at the time. Around the time of Max Payne 3’s development you had the release of movies such as Taken and Elite Squad, both gritty, and somewhat more down to earth action flicks. Story-wise this is the most down to earth Max Payne game and is also the most brutal. With that said, this game would easily have the highest body count of any of the games in the series. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but there’s certainly a lot more enemies you have to deal with which does clash with the new tone to a degree.

Overall I think these changes make Max Payne 3 an incredibly interesting game. It’s stuck between the past of its previous games and more modern mechanics.

Bring the Payne

The shooting in this game is incredibly smooth. Shooting is responsive and feels powerful. Enemies will stumble and fall in pain as their wounds ooze blood, and the bullets that miss will often spray glass or concrete around once it impacts with the environment. Once you fire the final shot, you’ll get a slow-motion display of your target’s demise.

2017.11.10-21.59.png

Weaponry wise, Max has access to various pistols, machine pistols, shotguns, submachine guns, and rifles. As mentioned before Max can only carry three weapons, two pistols and a rifle. He can also dual wield but this means he’ll have to drop his long gun.

Unfortunately, the balance isn’t ideal. See to be the most effective in Max Payne 3, you really need to score headshots, especially once enemies begin donning body armor. As most weapons are quite accurate, machine pistols prove to be extremely effective. Pistols are also quite useful although the limited capacity can be an issue. Submachine guns aren’t bad, but share the same ammo pool as machine pistols, so an assault rifle is much more effective. Shotguns, unfortunately, suffer from an extreme lack of range and even at short range require multiple shots to kill enemies.

That being said the variety of weapon models is impressive. Every weapon is modeled with a high level of detail. There are also some fairly unique weapons such as the .38 revolver which is challenging and fun to use, and the sawed-off double barrel shotgun which whilst ineffective can be dual wield which is a lot of fun. A lot of weapons are also unique to Brazil such as the PT-92 pistol and MD-97 assault rifle.

To begin with, you’ll be dealing with low-level thugs armed mostly pistols. As the game goes on enemies will begin to don body armor and tool up with high-powered weapons. This forces the player to be quick and accurate in combat, less they want to die.

The challenge enemies present really makes the gunplay intense. They aren’t afraid to get aggressive and they know they have superior numbers. Combined with the smooth controls and powerful feeling guns this makes for one hell of a shooting experience.

It’s Just Like the Movies

I’d define Max Payne 3 very much as a cinematic shooter. This is a very linear game driven by action set pieces and lengthy cutscenes. There are many moments where Max is diving through the air or doing something ridiculous as the game goes into slow motion and you begin nailing headshots.

Visually this game is amazing. Not only does the game look great, but the animation is fantastic. The way Max manipulates weapons, recovers from a shoot dodge or the way enemies take injuries adds a dynamic flair to the game that has yet to be matched.

Accompanying the visuals is the fantastic audio. Guns shots are beefy and enemies shout and swear at the player. Every character is voice acted well, although being fair I’m no expert on Brazilian accents as the closest I’ve ever been to Brazil is a food stall at a country fair.

The soundtrack is composed by the rock band Health and is for the most part very effective. The only time I felt the soundtrack didn’t quite work is when during the final level the song ‘Tears’ begins to play. Don’t get me wrong it’s not a bad track, but I feel the vocals clash against the mayhem that’s occurring. I think if the vocals kicked in during a more quiet moment it would have been much better. That said that’s really a minor complaint on an otherwise great soundtrack.

But At Times It’s Also Like Watching a Movie…

One of the biggest complaints leveled against this game is its lengthy cutscenes. These are used to conceal the load times, but it definitely can be a drain at times. What doesn’t help is the fact that some of them don’t really drive the plot forward, or force you to watch Max’s interactions with some of the most obnoxious characters ever. Much like Grand Theft Auto V, I find a lot of Rockstar’s attempt at ‘humorous’ characters come across as annoying and tedious. The character Marcello is the biggest offender in this regard.

With that said, the story itself is still very engaging. What makes it is Max himself. Without spoiling anything watching him trying to save a situation that is rapidly getting worse is extremely engaging. As much as it’s hard to like the characters around him, Max himself is very enjoyable with well-written dialog. You want to see him succeed, if only just once, no matter how small that victory may be.

2017.09.22-22.46

The Worst of the Worst

Setting wise, Sao Paulo is a drastic change from the rainy nights Max spent in New York City during the first two games. I have to say the setting is one of my favorite parts of Max Payne 3. There’s something so grimy about the environments that give this game an authentic feel. This is most apparent in the seventh level ‘A Hangover Sent Direct From Mother Nature’, where Max is stuck in a favela and ends up in a seedy strip club.

Many characters also have a very low value for human life. Not only does Max kill enemies by the dozen, but civilians are often on the receiving end of violence. In a lot of ways, this is an extremely violent game. Sure a game like DOOM (2016) or Mortal Kombat might have over the top blood and gibbing, but Max Payne 3 is rather brutal in it’s own way, showing how low humans can go to serve their own self interests. The more realistic setting also makes it that much more gruesome, considering a lot of what happens in this game probably happens all over the world in poorer countries.

Conclusion

Max Payne 3 is an atmospheric experience that is a white-knuckle ride from start to finish. It may have done things differently than it’s prequels and to some that makes it the black sheep of the series, but in my opinion, that’s what makes it so interesting. It’s by no means perfect, but I’d highly recommend it as I would the other two games.

 

 

 

 

Replay: Max Payne

The Game

Max Payne is a third person shooter developed by Remedy Entertainment. The game revolves around the titular character, a police detective whose life is turned upside down after the murder of his wife and infant child by some junkies who are under the influence of the designer drug ‘Valkyr’. Three years later he’s deep undercover, working for the DEA until one fateful night, he finds himself framed for the murder of a fellow agent. On the run and with nothing left to lose, Max blazes his way through the criminal underworld whilst unearthing the truth behind his family’s murder.

What I think has really helped this game stand the test of time is the game’s story. The game takes place during a freezing night in New York City, which is the perfect setting for the Noir-style story telling. It does get a bit cheesy at times, but the story is still engaging. Most of the plot is portrayed in graphic novel style cutscenes which are effective and stylish.

2017-09-28-19-01.png

Max himself is an enjoyable character, even if he often looks like he’s constipated. That being said a lot of the supporting cast isn’t expanded on much. I feel this works for the most part but it would’ve been nice to get bit more of a background on some of the antagonists.

Visually the game might look a bit ‘weird’ by today’s standards, but for the time it’s pretty impressive. The environments, although dark and drab, are fitting for the setting. The animation is very good, with enemies and Max clutching wounds and changing faces when severely injured.

Weaponry-wise the arsenal is effective and enjoyable to use. Every weapon serves a purpose and is effective in certain situations. For example, the pump action shotgun is better in a sustained fight compared to the double barrel sawed off, but the sawed-off allows the player to get two shots off whilst shoot dodging due to its rate of fire. Learning how and when to use weapons is critical for success.

Although not the first shooter to introduce slow motion (Requiem: Avenging Angel to my knowledge has that honor), Max Payne was the game to popularize it. Using Bullet Time and Shoot Dodging (where you dodge through the air in slow motion) is the key to success. During slow motion the player can aim as fast as they can in real time, allowing them to rapidly engage targets. Bullets in this game are physically rendered, rather than hitscan. What this means is that it’s possible to dodge projectiles and avoid taking damage, so long you are Shoot Dodging or are in Bullet Time. My only complaint is that at times the camera angle can be awkward when Shoot Dodging against walls, but this is a rare occurrence.

2017.10.10-21.44 (2).png
And trust me, shoot dodging never gets old

You’ll certainly need this leg up during fights, as this is a very hard game. Max doesn’t have a lot of health, and even enemies wielding weaker weapons can quickly kill you if you’re not fast and accurate. Enemies aren’t exactly smart but due to clever placement can often outmaneuver you if you’re not careful. With all that said it rarely unfair and even the areas I would call unfair are only slightly so.

So Should You Play It?

I’d highly recommend the entire Max Payne series if you haven’t played the series before. Some people might find them difficult to begin with, especially if they’re use to easier shooters of the modern day, but if you ask me challenge is a good thing.

If you don’t own the respective console (PlayStation 2 or X-Box for Max Payne 1 and 2, PlayStation 3 or X-Box 360 for 3) the games are fairly easy to get running on modern PCs. You will have to install some fan-made patches for the first two games to get them running and maybe run them in a compatibility mode (I’ve found running both games in Windows 98/ME to be effective). I only ran into one bug in each game, and only one required me to restart the game.

Legacy

Max Payne spawned two sequels, Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne and Max Payne 3. The second game is mostly the same, although it adds new weapons and bullet time has been changed so the player moves and fires in real time rather than in slow motion, and can now perform this silly ‘spin-reload’ trick that instantly reloads weapons. That combined with some story elements and the over the top physics (which admittedly are impressive for the time) gives the game bit of a cartoony feel. That said it’s still a fine game and like the previous game has great gunplay and a fantastic story.

2017.10.10-21.53.png
Just don’t ask me how this is supposed to reload your weapon faster.

The third however made some pretty extreme changes, having been developed roughly nine years later than it’s prequel by a different dev team: Rockstar Studios. This one’s pretty divisive among fans as it makes plenty of changes, including the addition of a cover system, a three weapon limit and a much different setting of Sao Paulo, Brazil. In my opinion, I think the changes aren’t too drastic and the core gameplay still remains similar enough to the previous titles, especially considering the time between the previous installment.

That said Max Payne 3 does have its issues. The biggest one would be the lengthy load times, concealed with cutscenes. A lot of the side characters are also really unlikable and obnoxious. Despite that, Max Payne 3 has a lot going for it, including its smooth gunplay, impressive animation, and Max’s dialog.

2017.09.22-22.46
Seriously, Max is the king of cynical one-liners

Max Payne also got it’s own movie, directed by the same guy who directed A Good Day to Die Hard. As I somewhat value my time I have decided to spare myself from watching it.

Slow motion would also be a core mechanic of the F.E.A.R. series, a horror based first person shooter. It also certainly has a movie like flair to it, combing American Sci-Fi with Japanese Horror and Hong Kong action. If you like the Max Payne series you’ll most likely enjoy F.E.A.R.

2016-03-25_11-54-40.jpg
There’s also plenty of the red stuff if you’re into that.

Finally, there’s the game Stranglehold. Most interestingly this game is intended as a sequel to the movie Hard Boiled, which is not only one of the big inspirations behind the Max Payne games but is even directly referenced in the game, as are it’s director John Woo and lead actor Chow Yun-Fat. Stranglehold has a more arcade feel to it, but is a solid, if somewhat short experience. Of course, it’s also funny to watch influences go full circle.

2015-10-16_16-44-41
There’s also one level where you have to defend a jazz band from attack, which is pretty cool.

Lessons For Modern Games

I find a lot of modern shooters focus on overwhelming the player with hordes of dumb enemies. Don’t get me wrong the enemies in Max Payne aren’t exactly smart, but they are smartly placed throughout the level. This forces the player to be careful and to listen out for audio cues such as grenades landing.

Another problem I have with shooters, especially military shooters such as Call of Duty and Battlefield, seem to think they need to have five assault rifles that all basically play the same, rather than weapons that have a purpose. Max Payne‘s arsenal might not be massive, but all the weapons serve some sort of purpose and are effective in the right situations.

Finally, creative presentation will overcome limited graphics. Max Payne’s fantastic graphic novel cutscenes, engaging story and trippy dream sequences are going to withstand the test of time. A creative story and art style counts for more than a game that only has visually impressive graphics.

 

 

 

Doorkickers – The Top Down Tactics Masterpiece

Kit Up

Released in 2014 by Killhouse Games, Doorkickers is a seemingly simple game. The objective is to lead a SWAT team through various missions, giving them checkpoints as they move through an area. With those checkpoints you can decide where they move, where they aim and if they need to deploy stun grenades or other gadgets. You can either attempt to plan out an entire mission or have some level of improvisation. With the ability to pause in real time and plan your next move, it’s easy to control the action if something you didn’t account for catches you off guard.

There are five classes available to select for your operators. Pointmen are the fastest, but only wield a pistol. Assaulters are great all rounders who can take a submachine gun or assault rifle. Breachers provide the fastest way through a door with their shotguns which are also devastating at close range. Stealth have silenced weapons that can be useful for gaining the element of surprise. Finally Shield operatives carry a shield that can stop incoming rounds and provide cover for other officers, at the cost of movement speed and accuracy. Each class is useful in certain situations and no one class can do everything.

On top of the classes, there are dozens of weapons, armour and gadgets for each class. As the developers have been adding in many weapons since the initial release, there’s plenty of equipment at your disposal.

Unfortunately you do have to spend a lot of time unlocking this gear. To begin with you only start with the Pointman with only one body armour and one sidearm. For every mission you complete you gain 1-3 stars which are used to unlock equipment. Considering some weapons can cost up to 40 stars there’s a lot of grinding to do. I’ve found the best way to get stars is to complete the campaigns, as you get double the amount once you complete one. You also have to level up to unlock the other classes. Initially this does limit your options, but at the same time helps keep the game streamlined whilst you learn it.

The big problem with the unlocking system is the balance. Some weapons are extremely effective and aren’t nessecarily scaled to cost. The P90 submachine gun for the assaulter is a good example of this, as it only costs 15 stars yet is an absolute beast in close quarters and highly effective against armour. Many weapons that cost twice as much struggle to keep up with it. Additionally many weapons fulfill the same purpose and just come across as unneeded.

On top of this you also have to worry about leveling up. Completing missions grants experience for both your squad and individual troopers. Leveling up the squad allows you to unlock new classes and doctrine in the skill tree. These doctrine can be absolutely critical and include abilities such as Hold Fire for Stealth troopers or the Mozambique Drill that makes pistols practically instantly lethal at short range. Individual troopers can improve their ability to shoot at close, at distance and their speed with using equipment. I’ve honestly never noticed the difference between troopers no matter their skill levels. That being said, if they die during the campaign they will be replaced with another trooper who will start at the lowest level.

I really wish that the leveling wasn’t part of the game. I just think it adds an element the game doesn’t end. That being said, it probably takes five to six hours at most to fully level up so it’s not a deal breaker.

On the Streets

As mentioned above, how you complete a missions is up to you. You can plan every move or improvise the entire thing. On top of that you can chose to be stealthy, or use sound to lure enemies into kill zones.

To begin with, missions only require you to kill all enemies on the map. Soon enough hostages are introduced. Later missions involve preventing executions, defusing bombs, escorting VIPs, arresting certain targets or collecting evidence before it’s destroyed.

Visually the game is simplistic, but effective. This might not be as artistic as Bastion or Pyre, but everything is functional and clear, plus the menu art is fantastic. It’s easy to understand what is going on both visually and audibly. Environments are also effective in portraying their locations and audio is atmospheric.

The only minor complaints I’d have visually is that there is no variety among the hostages, which would have been nice and that sometimes flashbangs will hit corners even when the line indicated they wouldn’t. As for audio, I wish there was more variety in the voice acting of the troopers. There is only one voice for them, and that means that the few female troopers have male voices. Neither are a big deal but they would’ve been nice to have.

Like many puzzle games the game starts off easy enough, but as things go on missions start getting more complicated, with larger maps, timed objectives, multiple storey buildings and more suspects that are better equipped. Figuring out what to do will most likely come down to trial and error, so expect to be repeating levels over and over, especially if you want high scores.

The only levels I dislike are some that are found in certain campaigns where once the mission start your officers are thrown into a gunfight instantly. This is frustrating as injuries carry over for one mission and taking injured officers into a mission makes them more likely to die. This is even more problematic when playing Iron Man mode where you cannot restart levels.

Additional Reinforcements

If you get bored with the campaigns and single missions, you also have the random mission generator, which will give you a random mission to do in either one of the levels from the single missions, or a completely random killhouse. It’s not the most balanced mode, but it’s a fun addition. There’s also a level editor where you can make your own missions. It’s a fairly easy to use tool if you’re willing to put in the time.

The game also has it’s fair share of mods. These include adding even more weapons, levels and even some total conversions. It’s pretty cool to see a fairly active modding scene on a small indie title.

Debriefing

Overall Doorkickers is a very solid first outing from Killhouse Games. I’ve been following this game since it’s late alpha state and it’s only gotten better. With a sequel and a spin off in the works, there’s certainly gonna be plenty of door kicking in the future.

 

 

Shadowrun: Dragonfall – Indie Cyberpunk Goodness

Dear Reader,

My history with the Shadowrun franchise began with the 2007 first-person shooter which has little to do with the actual Shadowrun universe. Still, 13-ish year old me loved the idea of sci-fi meets magic.

Originally released as DLC for the game Shadowrun Returns, the so-called director’s cut of Dragonfall was released by Harebrained Schemes as a standalone game in 2014. This review will be covering this director’s cut. A lot of what I say in this review could also apply to both the previous game Shadowrun Returns and it’s sequel Shadowrun: Hong Kong. I also have little concern how this game’s rules line up with the original tabletop game as I have not played said tabletop game.

It’s All About the Atmosphere

Dragonfall takes place in Berlin in a future where magic has returned to the world. You play as a Shadowrunner (mercenary) who joins a team headed by Monika. During your first mission, things go sideways, Monika ends up dead and your team is forced to deal with a conspiracy involving an event that happened years ago known as the Dragonfall.

I find the best element of Dragonfall is the worldbuilding. The game allows you to build just about any character you want, picking from five races and multiple skill trees. Wanna be a ten-foot troll cyborg who wields assault rifles and a katana for close quarters? What about a hotshot Dwarf drone rigger? Or maybe you want to sling spells as an Elf? The only thing you have to remember is that this is a game that focuses on specialists, so trying to create a jack of all trades will end in tears. The only real problem I’d say is that once you make your character you’re stuck with it. This means you won’t really be able to experiment with what playstyle you like unless you start over again.

On top of your character, you also have your team of colorful Shadowrunners. There’s Dietrich, the middle-aged punk rocker turned shaman, Eiger, the former special forces soldier who has series trust issues when it comes to the player and Glory, the withdrawn, stoic combat medic sporting old cybernetic body parts. There’s also the potential to recruit Blitz, a cocky decker (hacker). Blitz is the only character I don’t find particularly interesting. He feels like more of an afterthought added so the player had a decker always available. That being said Dietrich, Eiger and Glory are all very compelling characters.

There are also many characters you encounter during the game. Even the various merchants and side characters are interesting with their own backgrounds, fleshed out personalities and conflicts. Everything is brought to life via the vivid descriptions given. Writer Andrew McIntosh deserves serious props as his writing easily propels this game into being something special. There is a lot of reading to do in this game, but it’s all for the best.

trial run.png

The music is appropriate, but at the same time isn’t exactly amazing. I don’t feel you’d lose much listening to your own choice of music rather than that in game. Combat sound effects also lack a sense of impact, and everything useful is communicated via text anyway.

Visually this game is a mixed bag. Sure the backgrounds and character portraits look beautiful, but unfortunately, some of the worst character models have been jammed on top of said backgrounds. To be fair there are a lot of various assets for different armours, weapons, drones, computer decks etc, but the models just look so jarring compared to the rest of the visuals.

But Then There’s the Combat…

I’d best describe this game as Mass Effect meets X-COM. There’s a focus on building and socializing with your team as you work towards an objective. Gameplay wise this plays very much like the X-COM reboot, with turned based combat.

There is a ton of combat in this game, and unfortunately, it has its fair share of issues. First of all, I’m not a big fan of the turn-based system. Like X-COM you have 2 (later 3) Action Points. You can move a certain distance (say a max of 10 tiles) for 1 Point. If you want to move 11, you have to use 2. This might not seem like a big deal, but I find the problems start to arrive when you’re trying use melee builds. A character can move and attack, but you can’t choose the exact path that character moves. This can leave characters outside of cover, which is still in the 1 AP movement range, making them vulnerable. I prefer the system seen in Jagged Alliance 2 or Silent Storm, where the player has a lot of AP, where step takes a certain amount of AP.

20170916143515_1.jpg
The blue path would cost the same AP movement wise but would put my character in cover from the other two enemies on the right.

I’d also say the cover system is a bit basic. Characters can get behind objects of varying strength to protect from incoming attacks. To counter this, you can either use melee or throwing weapons to weed enemies out of cover or attempt to flank enemies. Being on a target’s flank increases hit and critical chances massively. Sometimes I find the logic of this system rather inconsistent.  There are plenty of times where I think my character should have an easy line of sight that’d allow for a clear shot.

in cover.png
Yes, apparently the mercenary (left of the red line) right in the open there is ‘in cover’ from my sniper (right of the red line)…

Another problem I have is how hit chance is calculated. As the game goes on, enemies seem to be able to avoid a lot of damage, even at very close range. This increases when the player sets the difficulty to higher levels. On the highest difficulty I had a shotgun specialist point blank, flanking an enemy and somehow they only had about a 60% chance to hit. I’d recommend the player sticks to Normal/Hard to avoid being put at the mercy of the random number generator

To be fair, the hit chance does probably compensate for the weak AI. With the said flanking mechanic, the AI seems to get stuck on trying to flank the player, rather than their own safety. This at times leaves them in the open, allowing the player to cut them down.

Finally, although the game in it’s current state is practically bug-free, I’ve still encountered a game-breaking bug when decking. At random the game has locked my ability to perform a move or end the turn whilst decking. Granted this has only happened twice, both during separate playthroughs but I feel it’s worth mentioning.

With all that said, the combat isn’t too difficult, and I’m a sucker for turned based games like this. Building up a team and using their abilities to turn the tables on a superior number of enemies is always a lot of fun and considering the variety of builds the player can go for, every playthrough ends up being different combat wise.

Play Your Way

The missions themselves are also quite engaging. Again the writing team deserves a lot of praise here for the effort they’ve put into it all. Not every mission the player participates is necessarily morally acceptable. How you execute a mission is also up to you and your team. Having a Decker on hand can be handy to hack computers, having a strong character can allow for you to break down walls or move heavy objects, and a charismatic main character can talk their way out of many situations.

A single playthrough would take about 20 hours. Considering the multiple options you have for building your character and paths that are available during missions plus multiple endings, there’s a lot of replay value when it comes to Dragonfall. Considering the low price of $15 US it’s certainly good value for money.

Conclusion

Dragonfall leads the player through an engaging world where characters and choices matter. The writing and world building are about as good as it gets. The combat might be a bit basic compared to other turned based games, but otherwise, this is a very strong outing. I’d highly recommend Shadowrun: Dragonfall, and also Shadowrun Returns and Shadowrun: Hong Kong.

Regards

Your Writer