Games Review Round-Up - 19 October 2014

While we are a little short of new reviews this week, we have the new PC version of Ryse: Son of Rome from Crytek to contend with, released originally on the Xbox One last year. We also have some very brief Driveclub news and our Blast from the Past - The Thing on the Xbox.

Ryse: Son of Rome
Version Reviewed – PC (Xbox One available)
Price: $49.99

When Crytek first released Ryse on the Xbox One last year at the consoles launch it had a lot of mixed reviews. There was no doubt that technically it looked very good, it is just that along with a number of bugs it was very linear.

Almost a year later the PC version has been released and with it comes a host of technological advances just for top-end PCs. Oh and they have dropped any of the micro-transactions that are the bain of console life.

The gameplay hasn’t changed at all, although the PC version does come with all of the DLC that was released on the Xbox One version. These include the Colosseum pack with comes with two character skins and two arena maps. The Mars chosen pack, with another character skin, four new arena maps and a new survival mode. The duel of fates pack with two character skins, two arena maps and one new survival map. Finally there is the Morituri pack with has three new arena maps, two survival maps and five solo arena maps.

Although these extras don’t add much to the gameplay itself, they do expand on the multiplayer side of the game which improves it quite a bit. Although I haven’t had the chance to play through all of the maps, the PC servers have seemed very popular since launch.

The single player game is fun, if a little short. During my 2nd playthrough of the game on the PC, I managed to complete it within 5/6 hours, not too surprising of a game that is very linear throughout.

Graphically I can find very little to fault in the PC version of the game, the addition of higher resolutions really show off the excellent texture work that the game has and some of the smoke and particle effects are superb. I’d still like to see more variety in animations for death kills, but we can’t have everything.

Performance is better on the PC I have setup than on the Xbox One, I can retain around 45fps in 1440p compared to the 900p on the Xbox One which retained a solid 30fps. That isn’t knocking the Xbox One version which still looked superb though.

There is a little issue though that irritated me, the cutscenes which are pre-recorded looked excellent on the Xbox One version, possibly due to the Blu-ray space, on the PC however, they look very pixilated at times, especially if you are running the game at anything above 1080p.

The game also suffers from the repetitive enemy characters which crop up over and over, it is something that I had hoped Crytek might have improved in the PC version, as it couldn't have taken too much more work to add at least some new faces to the game.

Voice work is a real plus point in Ryse: Son of Rome, with nearly ever piece of voice acting coming across as superbly spoken. The even better news is that the facial motion capture is excellent too, with it managing to convey many emotions throughout the game.

Overall I enjoyed Ryse on the Xbox One and my views haven’t changed when playing through the PC version. The game is easy to get into, has a decent set of multiplayer maps and is one of the best looking PC games released at the moment. I would have liked to see it a little cheaper than it has retailed at but I really enjoyed it.

Overall: 8/10

Version Reviewed – PlayStation 4

I planned to review Driveclub on the PlayStation 4, but as many of you may have heard, the game hasn’t had an easy ride since it launched. To give you an idea of the troubles. I played through the first opening race and then I couldn’t connect online at all. Currently it seems to have a one in-one out system happening for online play, but that is all very well if you have time to sit there waiting to connect.

At the moment I can’t recommend the game at all in its current state, certainly not for the price you could pay. If you hold off, not only will the game connect online it is likely to be almost half the price, especially after the poor word of mouth that has been happening for the title.

Overall: Nothing so far

Blast from the Past: The Thing – Xbox
Release Date: 2002
Review originally written in: 2002

Back in 1982 John Carpenter remade “The Thing from another World” and arguably produced a superior version of the film in the form of “The Thing” starring the underrated Kurt Russell. Despite being only 5 years old in 1982 “The Thing” manages to remain my favourite film ever even to this very day.

Carpenter's remake tells the story of a team of scientists doing research out in the depths of Antarctica, along the way they find out that a group of Norwegian scientists have discovered an alien who's been frozen in the snow for thousands of years. The alien thawed and the rest well is history. So what is “The Thing”, well it is an alien creature mixed in with human genes, It can infect people, they won’t know they have been infected unless they take a blood test or unless they turn into “The Thing” over time.

When Universal announced that they were planning to create a computer game based on the movie I was very excited by the prospect, the movie leaves open a lot of potential for a computer game, fear, action, good dialogue and some great set pieces. When I heard that Computer Artworks were behind the title I was even more excited, their last release – Evolva, managed to be a bit different to a lot of other titles released at the time, and kind of had a hint of “The Thing” going on with DNA and character manipulation.

After the enigmatic deaths of an American scientific expedition in the uncharted and frozen wastelands of the Antarctic, a military rescue team is sent to investigate their deaths. Within these inhospitable surroundings the team encounters a strange shape-shifting alien life-form that assumes the appearance of people that it kills. The game brings fear and suspense to unimaginable levels, with a compelling plot and unique gameplay elements based upon action, evasion, trust and fear. Forget everything you ever learned about obliterating alien species simply with a barrage of violent ammunition - this monster is difficult to see, hard to kill, and seemingly impossible to evade.

  • Taking place shortly after the events seen in the 1982 film - The Thing takes us back to the Antarctic base and familiar locals from the film for a terrifying, new chapter of isolation and paranoia.

  • Advanced trust/fear interface adds a new dimension to the genre - How you influence non-player characters (NPCs) psychological state determines whether or not these characters will cooperate with you. Amazing lighting, weather and particle effects complemented by subtle sound cues and scripted events create a new level of suspense and terror.

  • Unique combat system that allows weapons to be customized and scratch built in many cases.

  • Puzzle Solving can be accomplished by a multitude of scenarios - there is never just one way to accomplish an objective.

  • Varied pace of gameplay throughout the game, blending action, puzzles, horror and human interaction.

Computer Artworks have tried something a little different with “The Thing” compared to other third person survival horror titles that have come out recently, like the excellent Silent Hill 2 and the brilliant new Resident Evil on the Gamecube. They have tried to add a trust/fear interface to this game, supposedly to determine whether or not Non-Player Characters will cooperate with you depending on things you do such as, not shooting at “The Thing” while others do work, how scared they get at seeing dead bodies and how they react if they are not given a weapon to use.

This idea is great in theory, assuming it works as it should do. We are led to believe that any one of the NPC’s that we have around us in the game can be “The Thing”, this means that at any point in the game they could change from human into “The Thing”, so for instance I could be walking down a corridor and then suddenly my friendly guy on the right of me could change into “The Thing” and start to attack me. This part works, well it does assuming you haven’t played through the game a few times, because the NPC’s seem to change into “The Thing” at set points in the game and you don’t seem to have any control over when they do.

You are given blood test kits to use on yourself and the other NPC’s in the game, this could really add to the games atmosphere (and does to an extent if you haven’t played through it once or got a long way into the game), but this is where one of the problems with the game arises – If say I test one of the NPC’s blood and it shows up as being clean, 10 seconds later they can still, for no apparent reason, without any chance of the character being infected as there were no creatures around, turn into “The Thing”, this brings down the idea that the game’s NPC’s could change into the alien at any time in the game, not at a set time during a set piece.

The rest of the trust/fear interface actually works very well, your NPC’s can get scared when you shine a flare or torch over a dead body, or if they see aliens attacking around them, they complain about the cold, they complain that they feel unsafe and they also lose their cool if you take a weapon away from them in fear that they could go mad with it. But I can’t say that I ever felt scared that one of my NPC’s would go so mad that he would kill me, yeah they go around firing off rounds of ammo when they start to lose it, but I have never been in the situation while playing in which I am actually attacked so much that I could die.

Some NPC’s tell you to stay away from them, but going near them doesn’t cause them to attack you at all, a let-down in an otherwise pretty good game. You can tell how an NPC is reacting by checking out icons that appear above them or via the in-game interface. There icons let you know when they are worried, don’t trust you or when they would like more ammunition for the weapon that they are carrying.

So now after all these complaints what do I like about the game (I am an avid fan of the movie so please understand that I feel I may be critical). The game has a very good atmosphere, resembling being there in the movie; it manages to show off the settings of the film pretty well, the story is good, and the action can be intense. The action side of the game is well done, when creatures start to attack you, you face towards them and a crosshair goes round the nearest enemy, this allows you to shoot them with ease depending on what difficulty level you are playing at.

While the smaller creatures can be taken out with basic gunfire – larger bosses can only be taken out via a flamethrower or some similar fire-like weapon. This means bosses are much harder to kill. The flamethrower is very reminiscent of the ones used in the movie because as a default attack – the flamethrower fires at the ground to cover the floor in flames to protect you from the oncoming creature. You have to switch to the static first person mode to actually fire the flamethrower directly at the creature in question.

The game play is in my view close to that of Max Payne more than any survival horror title – it plays in 3rd person view most of the time, although you do need to switch to a static FPS perspective sometimes to take out creatures and to destroy vents to get into. Another problem (I’m sorry), why can’t we look up and down in the 3rd person view, it couldn’t have been that hard to add this option.

So why does it play like Max Payne? Well after the first few levels there is far more action than I expected there would be, I expected more fear and tense locations, more adventure than action, instead we get wave after wave of little aliens similar to those face huggers seen in the Alien films – since when did we see that in “The Thing”? I can forgive this fact though as I know the majority of people who will buy the game will be expecting more action than adventure – but as someone who thrives on atmosphere in a game I expected something more.

I know I’ve complained lots but I have to say the settings in the game do ooze atmosphere, there is the right amount of darkness, flickering lights and snow and when a creatures popping up from behind a smashed table or off a roof directly in from of you to give people a fright. The story is well written and flows quite well with the action in the game.

The cutscenes are also well done – they are all done in the in-game engine and don’t slow down the actual gameplay for too long, although I would have liked a little more interaction with the people around me than what we have here. The adventure aspects are not really very advanced though – they are really just walk up to a broken switch and either fix it yourself by pressing a key or use the NPC interface to get one of them to fix it if you can’t (which is why I guess most of the characters turn into “The Thing” at set points in the game otherwise you would be stuck). There are also keys to be found and barrels to be blown up.

Graphically “The Thing” was very good – it’s not on the level of other FPS coming out soon such as Unreal Tournament 2003 or perhaps even that of Max Payne a year ago (although the characters here are far more detailed) but it does do the job of showing off the atmosphere that the movie excelled in. There is some good use of textures in places, bump mapping and some pretty good lighting (again not all the time); torches shining in the dark, flares look impressive – but sometimes your torch can look a little feeble and is fiddly to use as you have to switch to the static first person mode to move it around to look into different areas. If this could have been done with you staying in 3rd person mode like Silent Hill, it would have been much better.

The designs of the creatures in the game are excellent and they really do look similar to those used in the film, there are of course some new and original designs used in the game and these again are very well done and are almost as good as the ones Rob Bottin produced for the movie.

So what problems do we have - well for a start the framerate isn't as good as it should be, it gets very choppy during some parts of the game, also even more unforgivable is the fact that there is a skipping of frames in cutscenes which again should never have happened. It brings down the game.

The sound in the game is very good, the various creatures you come across in the game sound exactly like they did in the movie, and the voice overs are well done with a few “Well known” actors doing some of the voice work in the game. The best sound effect in the game though has to be the crunching of snow when you are walking or running over it. The only downside is that the musical score by Ennio Morricone was not used in the game, it was one of the main parts in the film that added that eerie atmosphere.

There does however seem to be some dodgy sound problems - sometimes when new bosses appear there is little or no sound accompanying their cutscene.

Don’t get me wrong from this review – I did enjoy the game, If I didn’t love the movie so much I would still like the game, but because I did love the movie I have to complain about the aspects of the game that didn’t go well with the way the movie was. The Trust/Fear interface doesn’t work as well as hoped, there is probably too much action over atmosphere and adventure for my liking too. But the action that is there is very good, if a little on the short side and the choppy framerate and the dropping of frames in cutscenes is unforgivable. If you are an action adventure gamer then get “The Thing”, if you are a fan of the movie then get “The Thing”, just don’t expect it to be as perfect as the film was.

Next Week: We have hope to finally have a full review of Driveclub on the PlayStation 4, Wings! Remastered Edition, The Evil Within and Styx Master of Shadows on the PC.

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