The Infinite Zenith

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Category Archives: Noteworthy Games

Stay! Stay! Democratic People’s Republic of Korea! Review and Reflection

“Just a small game that I sponsored; simple, short, and hilarious in a silly and campy way. Oh, and I’m also a guest character.” –Akeiko “Daigensui” Sumeragi on Stay! Stay! DPRK

Battlefield 1′s In The Name of the Tsar DLC has only been out for five days, but aside from spending enough time in the DLC to unlock the Fedorov Avtomat Trench and the Parabellum MG14 Suppressive, I’ve got a bit of a confession to make: I’ve been playing through DEVGRU-P’s Stay! Stay! Democratic People’s Republic of Korea! (which I will truncate to Stay! Stay! DPRK! for brevity’s sake) in my open time. An overt parody of Go! Go! Nippon! My First Trip to Japan, Stay! Stay! DPRK! follows the adventures of an American soldier in the Hermit Kingdom; in a manner similar to Go! Go! Nippon!, the protagonist visits North Korea and learns his pen pals are in fact ladies. What follows is a refreshing and hilarious take on a familiar set-up: the player accompanies Jeong or Eunji in touring locations of North Korea, but with more restrictions and jokes. The tour culminates in a visit to Mount Paektu for a soak in North Korean-style hot springs, but things go awry when it’s revealed that Jeong and Eunji are under investigation for harbouring a foreign agent. Depending on what decisions players make, they will either survive or be executed, a darkly humourous take on bad endings in the visual novel genre. During my playthrough, I opted to go with Jeong and see about unlocking her ending first – she’s Stay! Stay! DPRK!‘s equivalent of Makoto, so I figured it’d be appropriate to start here, and after two hours, I’ve completed the Jeong route, which sees the protagonist go at it with Jeong before escaping North Korea and landing in Syria, of all places.

It is worth mentioning that Stay! Stay! DPRK! is by no means an accurate North Korea simulator, but in spite of this, the title ends up providing a fairly informative background on the locations players can visit. On my run of Stay! Stay! DPRK!, I visited Mansudae, Kaesong and Yanggakdo, learning of the details and history of the areas while cracking the occasional joke with Jeong or Eunji (and often, watching the player suffer the consequences of doing so). Minor elements, such as random brown-outs, the extent of state-controlled media, reverence for the Glorious Leader and depiction of antiquated infrastructure and technology in North Korea also add to the atmospherics, although the adventure players experience is quite far removed from the undisclosed human rights violations and recent nuclear tests that have shaped the news. Books, such as Blaine Harden’s Escape from Camp 14, offer a much more sobering insight into what conditions at political camps are like, while news of North Korea’s fledgling nuclear weapons program continue to remind the world that the Hermit Kingdom hides a great deal behind closed doors. In spite of this, or perhaps because of this, Stay! Stay! DPRK! represents a light-hearted opportunity to simulate a tour of North Korea without any risk beyond the initial price of admissions, and ultimately, succeeds in entertaining audiences with its parody.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I remark that, in this collection of twenty screenshots, I do not have access to the usual 1080p images on ultra or near-ultra settings as is the usual standard for my other posts on games. As a visual novel, Stay! Stay! DPRK! does not have different graphics settings, or even different resolution settings. Some of the images may also appear a little fuzzy on high resolution displays.

  • I recall photographs from textbooks depicting empty shelves in department stores and the like in the old Soviet Union owing to shortages of consumer goods as the USSR placed greater emphasis on developing heavy industry. In North Korea, I imagine that there are always shortages of consumer goods, and grocery stores almost certainly would not look like this. The protagonist comments on this and gets a stern talking to from his “tour guides”, but mistakes are generally forgiven very quickly, befitting of the atmosphere in the game.

  • My first destination of Stay! Stay! DPRK! was Mansudae Art Studio, which is located in the Pyongcheon district of Pyongyang. The artwork of Stay! Stay! DPRK! excels at creating a highly peaceful atmosphere that is certainly absent in the streets of Pyongyang. I’ve got no intentions of actually visiting for myself – North Korean authorities have detained visitors in the past before for various offenses that seem trivial here, but owing to the severity of the penalties (which may involve sentencing to hard labour), the risk simply exceeds the values of visiting.

  • The Mansudae Art Studio is the largest art centres in North Korea and is home to upwards of four thousand artists; founded in 1959, numerous North Korean monuments are crafted here. Because the artwork here is officially sanctioned by the North Korean government, artists live in better conditions than most North Koreans, and works from the studio have been exhibited in other museums around the world.

  • While I have no plans to visit North Korea in the foreseeable future, I have visited South Korea some eleven years ago, and true to the depiction in Stay! Stay! DPRK!kimchi is a very common element of the Korean diet. Consisting of pickled vegetables seasoned with chili, ginger and garlic, kimchi has a very distinct, potent flavour that I enjoyed eating. One of the things about kimchi that I find a riot is that, owing to the gases resulting from fermentation, kimchi jars can explode if improperly stored or handled.

  • The Mansu Hill Grand Monument depicts North Korea’s previous leaders, Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il as 22-meter high bronze statues, and as described in Stay! Stay! DPRK!, visitors must capture the statues in full if they photograph them. Kim Il-sung’s statue was completed in 1972, and Kim Jong-il was added in 2011. Unlike the protagonist of Stay! Stay! DPRK!, my first destination in Seoul during my visit was a ginseng chicken soup restaurant: after the long flight across the Pacific, ginseng proved to be a nice boost to my spirits.

  • On the second day in Stay! Stay! DPRK!, I set my sights on Kaesong, a city close to the border with South Korea and so, hosted a special industrial district. However, I’m not sure if there’s anywhere in North Korea that looks quite like this: Jeong is standing in front of the Namdaemun here (which is written in Hanja as 南大門 and phonetically sounds similar), but this landmark is located in the heart of Seoul. One wonders if this is a deliberate or accidental oversight.

  • I note that I’ve not gotten all of the possible locations available for Stay! Stay! DPRK!, so at some point in the near future, I will need to go back and play through the destinations that I did not visit earlier. I’ve said this before for Wolfenstein: The New Order before, and despite having beaten the game once two years ago, I’ve actually yet to go back through and play the second campaign. I probably should do that ahead of the upcoming release of Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus.

  • Between “dates”, the protagonists lodges with Jeong and Eunji. Their time together is characterised by particularly bad jokes, flirting and a bit of physical violence. Of the two sisters, Jeong is a carbon copy of Go! Go! Nippon!‘s Makoto: gentle, versed in English and mature, while Eunji is the North Korean counterpart of Akria, being tsundere, ill-tempered but also a good cook. These moments are set in more or less the same rooms, and I note that visual novels do tend to rely a good deal on one’s imagination, with the artwork merely acting to prompt the mind’s eye.

  • The odds of accidentally entering the wrong room, seeing this and coming away in one piece are probably the inverse of the odds of successfully navigating an asteroid field (i.e. I will get away with this once in 3720 attempts). There was a similar pair of moments in Go! Go! Nippon, and in both cases, the older sister is walked in on mid-shower, while the younger sister is walked in on mid-change. Stay! Stay! DPRK! presents itself as the unauthorised parody of Go! Go! Nippon, and it is moments like these that accentuate the influences the latter has in the style and tone of the parody.

  • While I could have gone to every conceivable spot with Jeong, it felt as though it might be more appropriate to diversify the characters at least a little, so I went on the last tour with Eunji, who takes players to the Yanggakdo Stadium in Pyongyang. With 30000 seats, it eclipses the Scotiabank Saddledome by around fifty-five percent in seating capacity, and in Stay! Stay! DPRK!, is where the player watches “football” with Eunji. From a technical perspective, “football” makes sense, since the sport is played predominantly with the feet. “Soccer”, on the other hand, developed out of the shortening of the phrase “Association football”. While us North Americans think of it as soccer, the rest of the world calls it football.

  • The outing with Eunji is actually quite nice, as she takes the player to a fancy revolving restaurant inside the Yanggakdo Hotel. This hotel is the second tallest building in North Korea, after the Ryugyonh Hotel, but unlike the latter, which remains unfinished to this day, the Yanggakdo Hotel is complete, being the only luxury hotel in all of North Korea. There’s a secret floor in the hotel that consists of propaganda-filled hallways and locked doors, although visiting this floor is not the best of ideas, especially considering how tourists have been detailed at this point in time.

  • If memory serves, players also get a lunch date with Akira in Go! Go! Nippon!, rather similar to how players spend a lunch with Eunji in Stay! Stay! DPRK!. By my admission, I’ve actually not beaten Go! Go! Nippon!‘s DLC yet: I have completed the original game and maxed out the Steam badge for it, as well. In the time since the DLC for Go! Go! Nippon! came out, apparently, there’s also a 2016 version as well as the 2015 version, which features animated characters.

  • The final destination in Stay! Stay! DPRK! is Mount Paektu, and if I had to draw the comparison, the mountain is most similar to Japan’s Mount Fuji: both mountains are sacred in their respective cultures, and are formed from volcanic activity. Both mountains are surrounded by dense forests, as well; Kim Il-sung organised resistance forces here against Japanese forces and later, propaganda claims he was born in this area.

  • While Go! Go! Nippon! was ostensibly a dating simulator disguised as a Japan tour simulator, it was devoid of moments such as the ones found in Stay! Stay! DPRK! Folks may find it unusual that Stay! Stay! DPRK! has an onsen chapter to it, although there are indeed hot springs in North Korea. With this being said, I imagine folks would prefer visiting hot springs elsewhere. I further remark that folks may claim Eunji to be “best girl”, although I’m more of a Jeong person, myself.

  • I’ve seen players wonder what the point of including Sumeragi in Stay! Stay! DPRK! was, and the answer to that is simple: she’s allegedly an NOC investigating North Korea. The character was included after an individual made a “Glorious Leader Tier” pledge, which features a cameo appearance for anyone who commits 500 USD to the game. Scuttlebutt has it that this donation was made by one Akeiko “Daigensui” Sumeragi, a rather unpleasant figure reviled in the World of Tanks community, being quite sectarian towards China and advocating revisionist views on history. Fortunately, the Sumeragi seen in Stay! Stay! DPRK! is very pleasing on the eyes, being a source of drunken comedy and perversion.

  • The romance elements of Stay! Stay! DPRK! come out full force late in the game, and the player character compares the two sisters to a beautiful waterfall in the area. Starting with the hot springs trip, decisions players make can actually affect the outcome of the game. Making some decisions can result in what the community refers to colloquially as a “bad end”, and as a parody of the dating sim genre, every ending in Stay! Stay! DPRK! is a bad end to some extent.

  • It is to my understanding that there is a patch for Stay! Stay! DPRK! that lets inquisitive (or insane) players experience the game at a whole new level, one that transcends all known existence. However, I’m not quite ready to transcend this blog into violation of whatever Terms of Service I agreed to when I signed up, and so, for this discussion, I’ve opted to feature only screenshots from the base version of the game on Steam.

  • Of course, Stay! Stay! DPRK! wouldn’t be quite as entertaining without a bit of a plot twist; it turns out Jeong was distracting the player in order to drug him, knocking him out. The player reawakens in a North Korean holding facility and is informed of Jeong and Eunji’s fate, having been branded a traitor by the North Korean government. However, since I did not make any bad decisions earlier, I get to the ending where players manage to escape.

  • With Stay! Stay! DPRK! in the books, I certainly had a few good laughs playing through the game, and I have a feeling that we’ll need these laughs very soon, especially considering recent news of Kim Jong-un’s progress towards developing a miniaturised warhead capable of being outfitted on an ICBM. I’m certainly hoping that negotiations and diplomacy will prevail, although anti-ballistic missile systems will likely be needed to prevent any missiles from reaching North America should things devolve into a shooting war. It is improbably that North Korea will be able to deal extensive damage to North America or triumph in any war to take South Korea, but there will be unacceptable casualties should this happen. For now, however, one hopes that these events will not come to fruition, and that we may continue to poke a bit of fun at the Hermit kingdom even as governments work towards addressing the problem that is North Korea’s weapons programme.

Remarkably enjoyable overall with its narrative, the question that is raised then becomes whether or not Stay! Stay! DPRK! becomes worth the price of admissions. From a strict value perspective, it offers a maximum of around six hours of gameplay assuming several play-throughs, and technically, is a solid visual novel – the artwork is appealing, if somewhat minimal, and while the soundtrack is very limited, it does convey the game’s intent as a parody. The writing is also deliberately chosen to create a sense of hilarity in the game: I’ve only spent two hours in the game, but the entire run was completed with a smile on my face owing to the presence of bad jokes in the game. I’m well familiar with the notion that “North Korea is Best Korea”, for instance, and seeing this thrown into the game, in conjunction with several “accidental” references to the fact that Stay! Stay! DPRK is a visual novel, only serve to bolster the comical value of the game. While immensely unrealistic, the game proved to be much more entertaining than expected; it’s certainly not a bad use of 11 CAD to purchase what is essentially a collection of jokes about North Korea bundled with some visually appealing artwork, although folks interested to try Stay! Stay! DPRK! out might get more value if they should choose to wait for a sale: I bought the game for 20 percent off, which equates to having spent eight dollars for it. Eight dollars is the equivalent of two coffees, and since I’m not particularly fond of coffee, I think that Stay! Stay! DPRK isn’t the worst way to spend eight dollars in the world.

Far Cry 4: Remarks and Reflections at the halfway point

“When the gods want to punish you, they answer your prayers.” —Karen Blixen, Out of Africa

Set in Kyrat, a fictional country in the Himalayas region, Far Cry 4 is the fourth title in the Far Cry series, following Ajay Ghale as he is caught up in a civil war between Pegan Min, the country’s despot, and the Golden Path, a resistance movement, shortly after arriving to scatter his mother’s ashes. Inspired by the Nepalese Civil War, Far Cry 4 is an open-world shooter with RPG-elements: looting, crafting and skill advancement drive much of the game. Shortly after escaping Pegan Min’s palace, Ajay escapes with one of the Golden Path’s leaders, Sabal, and joins forces with them in undermining Pegan Min’s rule, carrying out activities ranging from simple acts such as delivering supplies to Golden Path forces and hunting wildlife in Kyrat to improve his gear, all the way up to direct action involving assassinating key figures in Min’s regime and storming facilities under Min’s control. By the game’s halfway point, players punch through into North Kyrat after having liberated much of South Kyrat and relinquished control of key locations from Min to the Golden Path, bolstering their presence. During this time, I’ve unlocked almost all of the upgrades through crafting, and have acquired some of the most effective weaponry in Far Cry 4. This journey has been incredible insofar, but was initially stymied by a lack of motivation to play the game. Having purchased Far Cry 4 back during the Steam Winter Sale, I opened the title on Christmas Day and liberated my first bell tower shortly after, but the prospect of an open world was admittedly intimidating, and after Christmas, I did not venture into Kyrat. My track record with open-world games is not particularly good: I’ve still yet to beat the main story to Skyrim despite having owned the game for upwards of four years.

This all changed after I began exploring Kyrat, capturing bell towers and liberating outposts. My first goal was to max out my weapon holster, and with the capability to carry more weapons, a world of possibility opened up. I began carrying out more side missions to gain currency and experience. The additional resources bolstered my ability to survive firefights, in turn opening up more missions. Far Cry 4‘s learning curve is not particularly steep, and past the initially imposing task of learning the game mechanics, Far Cry 4 has been an exceptional experience: stealth and brute force are both viable options, with weapons in the game for achieving both. Players are given nearly unlimited freedom in exploring Kyrat and completing the game in any order of their choice, allowing them to optimise for their preferred play-style. Players driven by completionism will naturally unlock most of, if not all the skills, weapons and crafting upgrades in the game eventually, but being able to play according to one’s preferences is a very important factor in retaining the player’s interest. Aside from its fluid gameplay and compelling visuals, Far Cry 4 also has an interesting plot; Ajay has a connection to Kyrat’s dictator, and there’s a fine balance of comedy with drama. Together, these aspects make Far Cry 4 incredibly captivating to play, and over the past two months, I’ve spent upwards of twenty hours in the game. I’ve now reached North Kyrat, and are eyeing the Buzzsaw, which should allow me to even the odds against Pegan Min’s elite soldiers: I’m playing Far Cry 4 solo and so, have no assistance for more challenging missions beyond powerful weapons and performance-enhancing syringes.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Shortly after escaping Pegan Min and acquiring a kukri, Ajay’s adventure begins. I note that I am well aware of the secret ending, that is, what any reasonable person in real life would do, and will mention it in greater detail later – while the most realistic course of action, it precludes my shooting any guns, so on my first playthrough, I’ve decided to focus on a game where I could actually shoot things. The kukri is a capable melee weapon for stealth take-downs and despite the presence of firearms, its usefulness remains throughout the game as Ajay can invest in skills that make him more proficient with the weapon.

  • The AK-47 (actually an AKM variant) is the first assault rifle players have access to in Far Cry 4. An average and unremarkable weapon in all regards, it is one of the most common weapons in the game, and ammunition for assault rifles is never in short supply. I’ve noticed in retrospect that I’ve got a large number of screenshots from the game’s opening moments, and it is because the visuals are impressive, from the water effects to the use of diffuse lighting.

  • The size of Kyrat, in conjunction with how beautifully everything is rendered means that Far Cry 4 is quite demanding when it comes to GPU requirements – the recommended requirements for GPU are steep, being a GTX 680 or equivalent. I originally was running the EVGA GTX 660 SC in my tower prior to last year’s upgrade; this GPU would have been capable of running the game on high settings with acceptable frame rates. A quick glance at these screenshots also show a frame rate counter in the upper left hand corner, and for the most part, I’m getting 75-80 FPS on ultra settings.

  • I had been eyeing Far Cry 4 for quite some time, but it wasn’t until I purchased a new GPU that I decided the time was ripe to give the game a shot. Performance no longer a concern, I began playing the game on Christmas Day prior to the traditional dinner of turkey, stuffing, ham and all of the trimmings accompanying Christmas dinner. As of late, the family Christmas tradition has become spending the day relaxing at home; we had a white Christmas last year and so, it was very welcoming to unwind without having to step into a cold winter’s evening as we were wont to do in previous years.

  • I approach the bell tower here with the goal of capturing it. Bell towers in Far Cry 4 work similarly to their counterparts in older games – the goal is to negotiate with the tricky ledges, ladders and narrow walkways to reach the top, where a radio broadcasting unit is transmitting propaganda. When a bell tower is captured, the fog surrounding it fades away to reveal locations for exploration. Besides bell towers, Ajay must also liberate outposts, which act as hubs for resting, trading and starting missions.

  • One of the earliest missions I did after liberating an outpost was a hostage rescue operation. At the time, I only had one slot for a primary weapon and decided to go with the bow, which was the quietest weapon available at the time. I immediately found it to be inadequately powered against the soldiers, and took to sneaking around the site, performing take downs on everyone before setting the hostages free. Weapon options remain limited in the beginning, but as Ajay completes more for the Golden Path and various other characters, his armoury diversifies.

  • One of the biggest joys about Far Cry 4 is the ability to explore Kyrat in great detail, even if fast travelling between outposts is usually how I prefer moving about to start missions. Unscripted events can happen during these travels, ranging from karma events which require a quick trigger finger to save Golden Path fighters or stop Royal Army elements, to unexpected animal attacks: I’ve been waylaid by rhinos before while driving to a mission, totalling my ride and very nearly killing me. I would’ve died there had I not been near a mounted gun, which I used to annihilate the rhinos.

  • When it became available, I upgraded to the recurve bow, which is a straight upgrade from the standard wooden bow. It can be fitted with a sight (although the elevation markings are just for show) and highly effective as a stealth weapon for longer ranges. Killing animals with arrows will yield bonus karma points and double skin, making it an excellent tool for gathering the necessary skins to upgrade Ajay’s carrying capacity.

  • I unlocked the M-79 break-action grenade launcher during a Kyrat Fashion Week mission, which entailed killing a rare fish with explosives. It is unlocked when players liberate nine bell towers, although the Fashion Week or armed escort missions also will provide the weapon. It is easily the best side-arm Far Cry 4, and despite its low rate of fire, can deal incredible damage, effortlessly destroying enemy vehicles and even helicopters if used correctly.

  • Just how effective is the M-79? This image speaks volumes about what this simple grenade launcher is capable of. Early in the game, it is limited only by how many grenades one can carry, but the results are undeniable. Here, I finish off a propaganda centre mission, which involves destroying a propaganda manufacturing installation and then fending off the hordes of Royal Army soldiers that appear afterwards. Far Cry 4 involves a combination of missions that require stealth and those that necessitate players going in loud, so one of my earliest priorities was getting my weapon holsters up to speed.

  • The final skins required to fully upgrade the holster are from honey badgers, which, despite their small size, are incredibly ferocious and can output damage similar to a bear, tiger or rhino. In fact, their size makes them harder to hit, making them one of the toughest enemies in the game to deal with initially. I recall getting the five skins by driving a technical into an area with honey badgers, throwing down some bait and then levelling takers with the mounted MG. Once I had the holster, I could now carry three primary weapons at once, and for the most part, I prefer having an assault rifle, one suppressed long range option and one specialised weapon.

  • The rationale is simple enough: assault rifles excel at medium range combat and have a good firing rate that allows them to be competitive at close ranges. On top of that, ammunition for an assault rifle is commonly acquired, so there’s very little fear of running short of ammunition. I like having suppressed sniper rifles, as they can be used to dispatch distant foes without alerting other enemies, and the special weapon usually depends on the mission (I usually carry a shotgun). The M-79 rounds things out, being an incredible one-handed anti-vehicle measure that I can employ even while driving or flying. This balanced loadout allows me to be effective in all ranges, although different players have different preferences for loadouts, and some folks will recommend having a bow on them at all times.

  • Here, I am doing a mission for Sabal during a Balance of Power mission. These missions can impact the storyline and decide whose influence amongst the Golden Path increases. By this point in the game, I’ve unlocked and purchased the Warrior, the signature version of the AK-47. Standard AK-47s cannot be modified with optics or barrel upgrades, so the Warrior is an improvement overall, featuring a suppressor, red dot sight and extended magazine. The difference was immediately noticeable, and it was here that I really began enjoying Far Cry 4.

  • The M700 became my sniper of choice once I unlocked it: more accurate and powerful than the SVD, it can be fitted with a suppressor that makes it useful for silently dispatching targets from range. While it is a bolt-action rifle and quite slow to fire compared to the semi-automatic SVD, I prefer it for its firepower and used it to great effect in capturing outposts, as well as for hostage and assassination missions.

  • With my loadout now figured out, the entire world lay ahead in Far Cry 4, and I began exploring with more confidence, knowing I had the tools I needed to survive. There are various items and locations scattered throughout the game that confer experience points and other bonuses, including contributing to new weapon unlocks, so it is well worth it to spend some time and explore locations thoroughly in Kyrat.

  • Besides honey badgers, the other enemy of Far Cry 4 that has little purpose beyond being a total aggravation are eagles. These monstrosities are capable of killing Golden Path soldiers and even carry entire pigs into the air, although thankfully, they are not durable. A single well-placed shotgun blast or assault rifle rounds will be enough to stop them from terrorising Ajay: they can attack out of the blue, but can also be escaped by entering vehicles.

  • Because I opted to go with Sabal’s mission initially, I was given a flamethrower. The flamethrower in Far Cry 4 is a splitting image of its predecessor in Far Cry 3 and is a powerful close range weapon: ignited enemies are quickly taken out of the equation, running around in a panic until they burn to death. While powerful, it is stymied by its high fuel consumption and low range, which has the additional risk of potentially burning the player if they’re not careful.

  • I recall a memorable hostage rescue mission where I had outfitted myself with the MS16 battle rifle. When I opened fire, however, I was shocked to learn of the weapon’s report. It turns out I had not equipped the suppressor as originally thought, and hastened to right things, although I’m not too sure if I succeeded, or if I failed the operation. A reasonably effective weapon at longer ranges, the Ms16 uses assault rifle ammunition and fulfils the intermediate role between that of a sniper rifle and automatic assault rifle, although I generally prefer engagements at closer ranges and so, have not made extensive use of this weapon.

  • One of the biggest challenges in Far Cry 4 up to this point was unlocking the Bushman by competing in the arena. It took me around a week to reach level ten, and while the grind was quite tedious, I did pick up a few tricks by playing the arena; the most useful was the knowledge that Molotov cocktails can essentially one-shot heavies in the absence of other weaponry. I concede that the atmosphere and sound effects of the arena (especially the sound of the doors opening before a round) were fun, and in the end, it were the animals that proved to be the greatest nuisance to defeat.

  • The resulting unlock, the Bushman, was well worth it. It’s an upgraded P416, modelled off the Patriot Ordnance Factory P416 assault rifle, intended to be an upgrade to the M4A1, and despite sharing a very similar name, is quite unrelated to the Heckler and Koch HK416 assault rifle. In Far Cry 4, the base P416 is a slight upgrade from the AK-47, dealing more damage. It is not found until players unlock North Kyrat, but having the Bushmanwith its extended magazine, suppressor and ACOG renders the P416 a moot point: the Bushman is easily the best primary in the game: with a good firing rate, damage model and magazine, it has the additional advantage of being easy to find ammunition for. There are more powerful weapons, but ammunition is less common.

  • The vegetation can be ignited by flamethrower, the Molotov cocktail or even the repair tool: small wildfires can be started that quickly eliminate enemies and wildlife using these weapons. There is one disadvantage: careless fires can also destroy vehicles, and I recall one occasion where I blew up my buzzer because I set the forest on fire trying to take out some soldiers. The buzzer is a helicopter that is the best vehicle for getting around Kyrat bar none: while it will refuse to fly above certain altitudes, its high speeds make it an incredible way for moving from point A to point B.

  • I progress through Kyrat to the City of Pain in order to apprehend de Pleur in his headquarters. That mission proved to be quite an exercise in patience, since I could not simply go weapons loud. After a few attempts using stealth, I succeeded and extracted de Pleur. When the mission was finished, I learned that his fortress was weakened and took it without too much difficulty.

  • The Bull is an upgraded M133 shotgun featuring a reflex sight and suppressor, making it an effective stealthy close-quarters option. I got quite a bit of mileage out of the Bull after unlocking it: it’s capable of dropping most targets with a single shot and was remarkably useful on hunting missions where the goal was to hunt honey badgers. This moment also showcases the beautiful lighting in Far Cry 4: I’ve opted against screenshots of Kyrat by night because it’s actually quite dull-looking.

  • The mission to take back the brick factory and capture a drug scientist proved to be a remarkably entertaining one as Ajay gets drugged up breathing fumes inside the factory. It’s a surprise that would only be surpassed by the first mission to Shangri-la. The Shangri-la missions are quite distinct from Kyrat, and the name will bring to mind James Hilton’s description of a fictional paradise in his 1933 novel, Lost Horizon, although Shangri-la in reality refers to a city in Yunnan.

  • Kyrat fashion week missions involve killing rare animals with a weapon type. Far Cry 4 is nice enough to give players the required weapon, although if one happens to have a weapon of the type specified, the mission can very quickly become a walk in the park. When I reached Far Cry 4‘s halfway point, I had every crafting upgrade completed except for the explosives bag and loot bag. Most guides advise going for the loot bag first, but I personally would upgrade the weapon holster first.

  • The Bushman’s only downside is that the ACOG can be a little tricky to aim with its chevron crosshair, but subsequently, this is the premier weapon to utilise. One thing I’ve neglected to mention up until now are the syringes, which come in five varieties. The most useful one is the healing syringe, which restores health. The hunting syringe is one of my favourites, allowing Ajay to immediately spot enemies and animals without leaving cover. The others, I’ve made less use of despite their powers: the focus syringe allows Ajay to move faster, the overdose syringe somehow doubles weapon power, and the survival syringe is useful for close quarters combat.

  • I’ve made it to Noore’s Fortress after eliminating her in the arena, and armed with the Predator, an upgraded M700 with improved accuracy and magazine capacity. However, it’s got a low rate of fire, and does not hit as hard as the Z93, a powerful rifle firing .50-calibre rounds whose standard version can be equipped with a suppressor and extended magazines. However, it’s still a major upgrade from the M700. I managed to defeat Noore’s fortress quite quickly, picking off distant targets with the Predator and eliminating the rest with the Bushman.

  • The time had finally come for me to complete the missions based out of Kyrat’s “International Airport”, really a landing strip. There are several missions set deep in the Himalayas Mountains, instigated by Willis, an American OGA who appears in Far Cry 3 and is necessary to advance the narrative. He deserts Ajay at the end of his mission line, leaving Ajay to be captured by Yuma and Pegan Min. The subsequent missions proved to be one of the trickiest I’d encountered in Far Cry 4 since the mission to capture de Pleur, and I was most relieved to finally escape the Himalayas camp.

  • Upon returning to Kyrat, the time has finally come to blow open the concrete barrier and punch through into the North. Apparently, my actions have placed Amita in power, so I had to steal a fuel truck while it was still moving. I was unable to gain enough momentum to drive the truck into the barrier, but my immense arsenal allowed me to destroy the barrier anyways. After this came one of the most entertaining firefights I’d ever had in Far Cry 4: with Royal Army soldiers coming from the North, the mortar emplacement proved to be an incredible asset.

  • After a pitched battle, the way North is finally open, which means it’s time to go clearing out the bell towers so I can get my mitts on the Buzzsaw. It’s not a bad place to be, considering that Battlefield 1‘s In The Name Of the Tsar is coming out in September, which corresponds with more Battlefield 1 in favour of Far Cry 4. While we are on the topic of wars being fought in the Eastern front, I will be looking to write about the Brave Witches OVA very soon. My copy’s arrived, and while I’m quite busy, the upcoming long weekend should offer a brief respite that will allow me to take a look at the OVA I’ve been waiting for since December last year.

My impressions of Far Cry 4 are unlikely to change too dramatically as I continue through the game, and I will be returning once I’ve completed the game to discuss a more serious topic, using Far Cry 4‘s narrative as a backdrop. There’s a topic that’s been on my mind for quite some time, dealing with ignorance in issues surrounding nations and the resulting call to action in the absence of a more well-developed understanding of the topics at hand (as well as the usual tendency for discussions to devolve to ad hominem attacks). This will be the basis for the discussion I have in mind for Far Cry 4 once I reach the end-game, and as a fictional experience, I’ve found that Far Cry 4 does a fantastic job of capturing a hypothetical situation where a call to action manifests as direct action. Having said that, it’s largely fun and games as Ajay fulfils the role of a one-man army in Kyrat insofar, blowing up Pegan Min’s armed forces in a hilarious manner and listening to the entertaining radio programmes of Kyrat. While things appear quite easygoing for the most part, the Golden Path’s leaders, Amita and Sabal, express a willingness to go to any lengths to achieve their goals regardless of what implications their approaches entail. This element forms the darker, grittier side of Far Cry 4 that will be explored as I move into North Kyrat and begin liberating facilities, as I’ve done in South Kyrat. Of course, the first goal will be to get the remainder of the bell towers and unlock the Buzzsaw.

Thoughts of Metro: Exodus while crossing the Flood-Stricken Bridge in Metro: Last Light

“If you’re on the fence about buying this game, I was reading that the PC version uses a lot of power…I know that some people have the most monster computer, and I can’t even run this at a hundred percent.” —TheRadBrad on Metro: Last Light

Motivated by the recent E3 announcement of Metro: Exodus, I returned to the mission that I played through the day that campus had been closed owing to the Great Flood of 2013, and as the rain continued to fall outside, I reached this point in the campaign, following the young Dark One as he guides Artyom to his destination. Artyom’s pursuit of the young Dark One takes him back to the surface, where he intends to travel to Polis and make known the truth at a peace conference. As Artyom begins making his way across the bridge, a ferocious rain storm picks up, obfuscating the large number of enemies. In my original playthrough and a second one during the following summer, I went loud in this mission and immediately found myself against hordes of mutant animals. Fun it may have been to shoot my way through things, to acquire the screenshots for this short talk, I decided to go with a different, quieter approach: I made use of the throwing knives and carefully moved across the bridge. Firing exactly zero shots right up until the zip-line, it proved much more effective to be sneaky. Some of Metro: Last Light‘s best moments are set in the ruins of Moscow above the metro tunnels, and after starting out in yet another tunnel, the E3 demo brought viewers to a beautifully-rendered village above-ground. Artyom removes his mask, suggesting the air is clean, and equips a crossbow before preparing to board a train in the Ural Mountains. The sequel to Metro: Last Light, Metro: Exodus follows Artyom and Anna as they move with other Rangers to the Far East. Exodus will feature a new crafting system and dynamic weather, as well as a greater degree of open-world elements compared to its predecessors, and is set for release in February 2018.

  • One of my favourite aspects about Metro: Last Light after all this time is that droplets of water and mud that can accumulate on Artyom’s gas mask, requiring that players wipe it off with a stroke of the “G” key. There’s a Valve bolt-action rifle with a holographic RDS for close quarters engagements, but my old save files had me start out with a customised Valve equipped with a longer range scope, so I did not switch out my weapons here. After climbing out of a stairwell, players will find themselves on the lower deck of a bridge.

  • It would appear that during my last playthrough of Metro: Last Light three years ago, I had access to the Kalash 2012 and the Saiga-12 in addition to a Valve outfitted for long range engagements. In short, I was well-equipped to continue on with the game at this point, having weapons that draw from a different ammunition pool to ensure that I would never be without some options even if one of my three weapons were depleted. During the course of my playthroughs of Metro: Last Light and Metro 2033: Redux, I never used my military grade rounds in combat. Made with pre-war technology, these rounds hit incredibly hard and will emit a brighter muzzle flash as a result of their increased power.

  • To walk across the bridge again evokes many old memories: prior to my undergraduate convocation in June four years ago, the weather had been quite unassuming. It was not until the day of my graduation banquet with the Faculty of Health Sciences that rainfall had intensified: a light rain had been falling in the morning, and as I sat down to play through Highway 17 and Sandtraps in Half-Life 2, rainfall had intensified, continuing well into the evening. I still vividly recall shooting my way through the Overwatch Nexus the Monday after the flood waters receded, making a substantial donation to the flood relief efforts before pushing through with the mission.

  • I finished Half-Life 2 and Metro: Last Light closer to the end of June. By this point, I had completed Crysis and Battlefield: Bad Company 2, as well. Owing to the disruption to transportation services resulting from the Great Flood of 2013, I was not able to go out to the mountains or even downtown, and so, spent a fair portion of early July wondering which titles could occupy my interest. I decided to give Vindictus a shot, and while it was fun to play through the first few missions, it became clear that this game was meant to be played with friends. After reaching level nine on a quiet, hot Canada Day, I felt that the game had lost most of its appeal.

  • Because the Steam 2013 sale had not commenced yet that year, I dropped Vindictus and began exploring Tribes: Ascend at a friend’s recommendation. While a fun experience, the learning curve and community made it difficult for me to really get into Tribes: Ascend. I had many great matches on beautifully-made maps (Crossfire and Dry Dock were my favourites): though nowhere near as detailed as something like Battlefield 1 or Crysis 3, there was definitely a charm to the visuals in Tribes: Ascend, continuing to play even after the 2013 Summer Sale occurred.

  • While remarkably entertaining and quite able to fulfil my original expectation of being a space shooter for replacing Halo 2, offering diversity in gameplay between Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Alan Wake, the prospect of a long progression ahead, coupled with the fact that I purchased Battlefield 3 later meant that my time spent in Tribes: Ascend dwindled. Even today, I’ve not found an equivalent for Halo 2 for PC as a space shooter, but Battlefield 4 and Battlefield 1 have proven to be exceptional multiplayer shooters that have since fulfilled the role of my online experience.

  • On my original playthrough, I opened fire and drew the ire of every living thing here; I’ve become a bit more cautious in the four years since then. Using just the throwing knives and the cover the storm provides, I managed to clear the entire bridge without altering the mutants to my position. It’s a little extreme as to how much of a difference being stealthy can be – even in other games, like Deus Ex and Crysis, a little stealth can turn the highest difficulty setting into a walk in the park.

  • While my filters are slowly being depleted, I looked around at the scenery in of the bridge. Armed with the GTX 1060, I am playing the game at full settings without any difficulty – previously, I played at “merely” high settings. With the slew of new titles announced at E3 (Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown, Wolfenstein IIMetro: Exodus and Far Cry 5), I’m actually quite curious to know if the 1060 will be able to run these games on recommended settings: it’s done remarkably well for Battlefield 1, and DOOM, so it’ll be insightful to learn where the card’s limits lie.

  • I imagine that the GTX 1060 will be able to perform admirably for most games released in 2018: even if I cannot get 60 FPS at ultra settings for 1080p, I’m generally okay with running on very high or high, since the differences usually require careful inspection to discern. This screenshot here of me with the Valve is an example of why I am so fond of the above-ground sections of Metro: Last Light, and I’ve heard that Metro: Exodus will be a cross-Russia journey, beginning in Moscow and concluding in the easternmost reaches of Russia.

  • My reminiscences about the games of summer 2013 draw to an end here, and for the remainder of the post, I consider some of my expectations for Metro: Exodus. Having played through this mission for the first time four years ago, and having made mention of the Great Flood of 2013 here, I will be returning very shortly to discuss the flood in a bit more detail, in conjunction with a revisitation of Makoto Shinkai’s The Garden of Words – I feel the time has become appropriate to look at the movie again with a different perspective.

When I first played through Metro: Last Light during 2013, I was impressed with the narrative and visuals of the game. Delving into things, I became more familiar with the Metro franchise as a whole, and it was therefore a pleasant surprise to learn that a continuation was being made. From the E3 footage and new information, the game is becoming closer to the title I was anticipating after watching “Ten minutes in the swamp” to learn more about the game I received with my old GPU. With its greater emphasis on crafting, and open exploration in conjunction with superb visuals, I am excited to see what directions Metro: Exodus will take. Further to this, the fact that Metro: Exodus is set in the Eastern reaches of Russia, with the eventual goal of reaching Siberia, Kolyma or even the Kamchatka peninsula, has greatly elevated my interest in the game. I’ve long been drawn to the mysterious nature of Russia’s far east beyond the Ural mountains, and a game set here provides a fantastic opportunity to explore a virtual interpretation of this side of the world. Cold, vast and desolate, it is here that some of Stalin’s most infamous Gulags were situated, and even today, the remoteness of the area means that populations remain very low. The area’s history means that, even though the terrain and biome is quite similar to the forests and tundra of Canada, there’s a sense of history in Russia’s far east that is simply absent in Canada. As such, I look forwards to learning more about Metro: Exodus, although it is most likely that I will, as I have for numerous games previously, pick it up once I learn more about the system requirements and game length, before making a definitive decision to buy the game shortly after launch or otherwise wait for a sale.

Looking ahead to Star Wars Battlefront II and thoughts after the E3

Do it.” —Sheev Palpatine

Following the reveal of Star Wars Battlefront II footage last week, general excitement surrounding DICE’s latest Battlefront title has increased substantially. In its first trailer, Battlefront II showcased a promising new single-player campaign. From the perspective of an Imperial special forces soldier in the aftermath of the Empire’s defeat over Endor as they strive to continue serving Emperor Palpatine and execute his will against the triumphant Rebel Alliance. It’s an uncommon storyline, as most Star Wars games take place from the Rebellion’s perspective – akin to playing as the Third Reich’s Wehrmacht or Imperial Japanse Army in a World War Two shooter, Battlefront II is taking a bold new direction with its campaign, which was noticeably absent from its predecessor. Accompanying the announcement of a single player mode in Battlefront II was the fact that the game’s DLC will follow the Titanfall model: new content will be released free of charge to all players (I imagine that micro-transactions will take the forms of cosmetic items and weapon/equipment unlocks) to avoid dividing the player base (a prevalent problem in Battlefield 1, where They Shall Not Pass servers are often empty). With such a strong start, the EA Play event showcased some multiplayer footage of how the game will look and feel: the match is set in Theed of Naboo.

From the gameplay footage, Battlefront II is certain to deliver a visual and audio treat from a cinematic perspective: like its predecessor, Battlefront II has reproduced the sights and sounds expected of a Star Wars game. Whether it be the distinct report of a Clone Trooper’s blaster or the gait of a Trade Federation B1 Battle Droid, elements from the movie are faithfully portrayed in Battlefront II, along with the environments. Theed is intricate, and designs from the royal palace are incredibly detailed, from the patterns of the floor to the play of light through the building windows. The game mechanics appear to have been given an overhaul: while the UI and handling appear quite similar to those of its predecessor (weapons still overheat, while action cards determine what additional loadouts player have), the game has been modified so players gain more accuracy while firing from first person. Access to vehicles, power-ups and hero classes are now based on performance: players earn points for playing objectives and contributing to their team’s efforts, and points can be used bolster one’s class, spawn into a vehicle and, for the patient player, spawn into battle as a hero. Gone are the days of awarding players randomly the hero class: this is something that is earned, which means there will be no more need to aimlessly wander the map for the hero pickup in place of helping one’s team out. All in all, I look forwards to seeing more of the game: similar to Titanfall 2, it appears that Battlefront II has taken on a formula its predecessor implemented and improved upon it in every way.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • The screenshots in this post were sourced from my time in the Battlefront trial that EA offers: a year ago, on the Friday entering the Victoria Day long weekend, I spent much of the day playing the trial to obtain a better idea of whether or not the game would be worth my while. There’s around ten seconds left in my trial, and after concluding, I switched over to writing about Gundam: The Origin‘s third episode, which had just released. While perhaps not as exciting as the years where I attended Otafest, it is nonetheless nice to have a quieter long weekend, and last year, I was gearing up for the thesis defense.

  • The screenshots I have here are of me playing through the Heroes and Villians mode against bots: my lack of time spent in the game meant that playing against human players would certainly make it difficult to obtain good screenshots, and even on higher difficulties, the heroes can cause destruction against the AI opponents without much difficulty. These screenshots have been sitting on my hard drive for the past thirteen months, but with the recent Battlefront II announcement, the time has come to put these images to good use.

  • The presence of a single player campaign in Battlefront II immediately caught my attention: I purchased Titanfall 2 for the campaign alone (albeit during a sale) and will give the multiplayer a whirl, if only to try and unlock the Tone Titan. I heard there’s a multiplayer mode against just AI opponents, so that could prove to be a nice way of becoming more familiar with the mechanics. If Battlefront II similarly features more AI multiplayer modes on top of the campaign, I could see myself getting more excited about the game.

  • The gameplay footage shown last weekend confirms that Darth Maul, Yoda and Rey will be included as heroes in Battlefront II: the heroes work similarly to how they had previously in Battlefront, able to utilise three powerful abilitie in addition to having increased damage output and resistance. One thing that could be quite nice is the ability to switch up one’s preferred hero abilities, allowing them to customise the hero to their preferences.

  • Another aspect that was not shown but would be a further incentive to buy and play Battlefront II is customisation to almost the same level as seen in Battlefield 3 or Bad Company 2 – being able to modify weapons to fit one play style would both be a powerful incentive for players to explore their options, as well as provide weapon accessories and attachments that one could work towards unlocking. Being able to really fine-tune weapons is what made Battlefield 3 and 4 such a blast: this is noticeably absent in Battlefield 1, and it is the combination of superbly-designed maps with exceptionally fun sniping that keeps me in the game.

  • Whereas my Battlefront beta discussion features posts of me operating exclusively in first person, I’ve heard that players have a much larger advantage if they play in third person owing to improved spatial awareness. In Battlefront, there was no difference in performance in first-person; players merely have a more immersive experience. In Battlefront II, playing in first person will confer superior accuracy: weapon spread will decrease. I imagine that players will remain in first person when shooting at longer ranges and switch out to third person for closer engagements as required.

  • DICE is advertising Battlefront II as a battle across different eras, and while footage of only Theed were shown, I’m hoping that classic maps (Endor, Hoth, Cloud City and Tatooine) are included along with Couruscant, Geonosis, Kamino and Mustafar. Battlefront II‘s 2005 incarnation is long held as the best Star Wars game around: its plot followed a Clone soldier in the elite 501st, and multiplayer featured full-on space combat, split into the Clone Wars and Galactic Civil War periods. If Battlefront II can include these features in conjunction with the events of The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, it will be one of the biggest Star Wars games since Battlefront II (2005).

  • I am certain that the initial release of Battlefront II will not feature the same amount of content as 2005’s Battlefront II, but as DICE has promised that DLC will be free, it is very likely that the sum of DLC in conjunction with the base game will offer as much, if not more, content than Battlefront II‘s 2005 version. This is quite exciting, although there is one caveat: I imagine that the full game could very well require upwards of 100 GB of storage space.

  • One aspect that was not shown and remains unknown is the presence of full-scale space battles in Battlefront II: besides the Rogue Squadron series, Battlefront II has some of the most extensive space battles of any Star Wars game. To bring that kind of scale into the modern era with present-generation visuals would be a dream come true for many, offering immersion into the Star Wars universe hitherto unparalleled.

  • Looking back at some of the features and gameplay of Battlefront II in 2005, the game was incredibly ambitious and executed its functions quite well, being a marked improvement over its predecessor. Games during this age are characterised by exceptional sophistication far beyond what is par the course for most modern games. Deus Ex (2000) comes to mind: with a detailed combat and stealth system, as well as for placing a large emphasis on player choice, the game runs rings around modern titles despite its age. One of my friends has expressed a wish to see the game remade with modern visuals.

  • Battlefront II will retail for 80 CAD at launch, a non-trivial amount of money. Launching within a month of Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, my decision to buy Battlefront II will largely be influenced by my experiences in the beta (which also allows me to know if my hardware can run it reasonably smoothly), as well as videos from my favourite YouTubers (TheRadBrad for the campaign, while LevelCap and JackFrags will guide the multiplayer). What I am looking for in the campaign is a story of reasonable length (ten to twelve hours of gameplay on standard difficulty, with eight hours being the absolute minimum) with diverse level settings and display of features in the game, including flight and space battles.

  • In the multiplayer, I will be looking for a compelling progression system so that levelling up is a journey rather than a chore, that there’s plenty to do while pursuing this journey, and that the time taken to level up is reasonably determined. Battlefield 1 is an example of reasonable levelling times: players who PTFO and contribute to their teams will earn experience reasonably quickly (even without experience boosts). Playing lots of conquest has certainly been why I’ve surpassed my Battlefield 4 level in Battlefield 1, and hopefully, levelling up in Battlefront II will both be of a reasonable rate, while at once offering players with milestones to look forwards to.

  • Assuming Battlefront II satisfies most of my personal requirements, I will be inclined to buy the game. I’m generally quite busy (as evidenced by my extreme tendency to procrastinate whenever entertainment is concerned), so scheduling is another thing on my mind: Battlefield 1 will likely still be going strong for me well into next year.

  • Depending on how things turn out, I may end up waiting for a sale to happen before buying Battlefront II: if the player base has declined too substantially, the game’s core value will lie with its single-player aspects, and a sale will probably net a better value for the game’s single-player. On a somewhat related note, I have a confession to make here: I play Call of Duty games for their campaigns alone and have not touched their multiplayer components at all.

  • This may be a Star Wars post, but I will use the remainder of the screenshots to consider Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (from here on out, Wolfenstein II for brevity), which was showcased at E3 and set to release this year, as well. Because it releases around a month before Battlefront II, and because I’ve seen games published by Bethesda Softworks go on sale as early as the first Steam sale after launch, it is possible that I could get Wolfenstein II before the year is over at a reduced price. This is how I got DOOM: it was forty percent off during the Steam 2016 Summer Sale despite having launched only a month earlier.

  • The trailer for Wolfenstein II is done in the typical Wolfenstein style, being quite entertaining to watch. Near the end, it showcases Blazkowitz dealing with American resistance members skeptical of his affiliation, and some gameplay that suggests Wolfenstein II could have a new dual-wielding system similar to that of Halo 2‘s, allowing players to pair different combinations of weapons together to wreck havoc on Nazi soldiers. Some folks have taken it upon themselves to express outrage that we’re killing Nazis in this game, but tough beans for them: this is merely a game depicting players challenging a Third Reich in power, and the option to not play the game is always on the table.

  • Chances are that I will buy Wolfenstein II during the Steam Winter 2017 sale if it is indeed discounted. Looking towards other games that caught my eye during the E3 event, Far Cry 5 is definitely on my radar for its Montana setting, and Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown looks amazing. In the latter, I cannot wait to fly the skies of Strangereal on PC for the first time. Both these games are coming out in 2018, and only time will tell as to whether or not I buy them at launch, or else wait for better prices.

  • The release of Battlefront II is set right before The Last Jedi premieres in theatres come December. Having seen the cast list and hearing news that some filming could take place in the Calgary area, in conjunction with trailers, I’m quite excited to see where the latest trilogy will go with its plot. I found The Force Awakens to really be a modernised version of A New Hope, even though the film was overall quite fun to watch.

  • In a way, I enjoyed Rogue One a bit more because it showed the story behind how the Rebels acquired the first Death Star’s plans and the origins of the thermal exhaust port weakness. Having said that, it’ll be interesting to see if the new trilogy will take things in a new direction. For now, December is still a ways off, and aside from Star Wars, there’s also Girls und Panzer: Final Chapter on the horizon. Because it is releasing in six movies, I am hoping that it will follow the Washio Sumi Chapter path and sell Blu-Rays at the theatres, otherwise, the wait to actually watch Final Chapter would be quite considerable.

  • A glance at the calendar shows that it’s been six years since I’ve qualified for my operator’s license, and five years ago, it would have been a month to the release of the K-On! Movie. Time flies, and it never fails to amaze me just how quickly a year’s passed by. With this post, I’ve finally found a use for those Battlefront trial screenshots I’ve taken last May, as well, and I will be returning to scheduled programming in the upcoming week: my plans to revisit The Garden of Words has not changed.

It has been mentioned that Battlefront II could very well suffer as Titanfall 2 did: Titanfall was an excellent game in terms of mechanics, but lacked content, leading player counts to dwindle as there was little incentive to continue playing. While Titanfall 2 surpassed Titanfall in every way, adding a campaign on top of additional content and providing free DLC, player counts remain relatively low because there is an uncertainty amongst consumers as to whether or not the game is worth it. Battlefront II might suffer a similar eventuality, but with a bold new approach to its campaign and a promise to ensure new content is available for all players, in conjunction with the Star Wars brand, it is also likely that Battlefront II will be much longer lived than the 2015 incarnation of Battlefront. My ultimate decision as to whether or not Battlefront II will be worth a purchase will be made once the game’s come out – once I’ve seen some gameplay of the campaign and learn more about the progression system and game balance, it will be easier to make a decision. An open beta could also help provide more information to determine if the game is one that will join my library. With a release date set for November 17, 2017, I look forwards to seeing more about Battlefront II, and in the meantime, it’s also time to get excited about Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus. Set to release on October 27, I am almost certain I will buy the game. The only question remaining for Wolfenstein II is whether or not it will be a game worth getting at launch price (guided by the story, gameplay and replay value), or if buying the game during a sale would be a superior choice.

Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands: A Compare and Contrast with The Division Beta

“There is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast. Nothing exists in itself.” —Herman Melville

It should be quite plain that Wildlands and The Division are completely different in terms of their base mechanics; The Division is an MMO-style game where loot and progression dominate gameplay, while Wildlands is intended to be a third person cooperative shooter. However, with a design far more accommodating to folks who prefer to play solo or only with a small group of friends, Wildlands initially does seem more in line with the sort of title that I might be interested in. With this in mind, however, there are some elements that are worth considering now that the Wildlands open beta has concluded: in this post, discussion will center around differences between the two games’ betas (I’ve not purchased The Division since its release). We begin with the elements that Wildlands does better than the Division, and this is the presence of random events that can make a mission unexpectedly challenging or straightforward. During the raid on a training camp, I had successfully eliminated the first of three instructors when the rebels arrived and began lighting up the place, causing Santa Blanca and UNIDAD helicopters to show up, fighting one another. In the ensuing chaos, I entered the camp’s other compound and eliminated the two remaining instructors. Previously, I had attempted an all-stealth approach but was discovered and died even after shooting down the Santa Blanca helicopters. Similarly, some of the convoy missions can become more interesting (and challenging) with the presence of traffic and UNIDAD patrols. Understanding that Wildlands is a tactical shooter, I also enjoyed the gunplay: one well-placed bullet is sufficient to down an unarmoured enemy, and even enemies with body armour do not require more than a few bullets to neutralise. Moreover, Wildlands provides an abundance of choice: after finishing the first mission, players can take on the provinces in any order of their choosing to eliminate a central member of the Santa Blanca cartel, giving a sense of freedom that stands apart compared to the more structured story missions of The Division.

While Wildlands proved to be quite entertaining, there are some aspects of The Division that are superior to those of Wildlands. The first is the user interface: The Division‘s unique, augmented-reality HUD remains one of the most innovative I’ve ever seen, projecting just enough information onto the screen to provide vital information at a glance. Seamlessly integrated into the world, it’s unobtrusive while at once being useful: two features I particularly liked were the pathfinders for highlighting a path to a destination, and the point-cloud renderings for the ECHO mechanic. The interface elements for the menus are also simple to navigate, making use of tiles to quickly show all of one’s items. Besides the amazing user interfaces, The Division also had a more intriguing premise. The fun in blowing up drug cartels notwithstanding, the idea of a bioterrorism act involving banknotes infected with smallpox cripples New York, forcing the activation of the stay-behind unit known as The Division to assist responders and investigate the cause of the disaster. It’s a terrifying thought to imagine such an event occurring, and presents a fantastic immersion into a speculative world where one has the opportunity to explore the deserted streets of New York. The Dark Zone was also an interesting component of the game, adding an additional sense of danger and uncertainty that resulted in some interesting emergent social interactions forming amongst the players. This is noticeably absent in Wildlands, which plays the much more familiar cooperative approach. Ultimately, owing to their differences, both titles do have their own merits, and so, for players like myself, the question ultimately boils down to which game is more single-player friendly.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • The routine in Wildlands is a very familiar one: any point of interest is almost certainly to have a group of bad guys, patrolling, and blowing cover will make the battle substantially more difficult. This seems to be the case for stealth-driven games, where players who exercise good patience can get through areas very easily, whereas those who prefer going loud will find things a lot more tricky.

  • After arriving at the enemy encampment, a rainstorm blew in. In Wildlands, clothing can become wet when exposed to the elements and will dry out over time. In most games, dynamic wetness is usually not rendered, so players can walk through a rainstorm or wade through water, coming out as dry as before they went in. Although water-logged clothing will not slow a player’s movements down substantially as one might expect, it’s nonetheless a nice touch to the game.

  • As it turns out, one only really needs a good long-range weapon for a stealthy engagement: I managed to pick off more or less the entire camp with the M40A5 from a distance, before walking in and lighting up the mortar shell crates with my sidearm. As it turns out, my referred loadout (an assault rifle and sniper rifle) is the preferred one for stealth. There’s another that places a greater emphasis on LMGs, SMGs and shotguns, but those likely require a good team in order to be effective.

  • The mission to take out the Santa Blanca training instructors proved to be a difficult one: on my first few attempts, I set off the alarm, causing Santa Blanca helicopters to show up. On these first tries, I located a mini-gun emplacement and blasted them out of the sky, but eventually died when the UNIDAD showed up. On subsequent efforts, I decided to go with the stealth approach once more, disabling alarms, and generally being sneaky to minimise detection.

  • The later attempt proved more successful, and I managed to take out two of the three instructors before I was detected. The helicopters rolled in, as did the UNIDAD, but as these two factions began firing upon one another, I took advantage of the chaos to shoot out the last of the instructors to complete the mission. For amusement’s sake, I then found an armoured personnel carrier, sat myself in the gunner’s seat and decimated the UNIDAD helicopter before taking off for the next mission.

  • One of the more interesting gameplay mechanics that make death seem inconsequential in any Wildlands mission is that a mission will be completed whenever the goals are satisfied, independently of whether or not one makes it out alive. I remember one mission in the Itacua, I entered an encampment, took out the target and died seconds after the mission was completed, and when I respawned, the mission was complete. The implications of this are that it is possible to sneak into a heavily fortified area without dispatching anyone, take out the target or grab the intel, die and still finish the mission.

  • The mission where the goal was to search the communications outpost was an amusing one: I commandeered an APC and used it to clear most of the camp before walking in and taking the objective at a very casual pace. Close inspection of this image finds that I’m equipped with the 805 Bren A2, with a red dot sight and magnifying optics. Wildlands offers a very versatile mechanism that switches the player’s perspective from first to third person when aiming down sights; with automatic weapons, aiming over-the-shoulder is excellent, providing a greater field of vision.

  • Conversely, sniper rifles are best fired from the first person to maximise accuracy. Here, I close in on an aggregation of individuals of interest on a mission. Carelessness with the AI teammates led this mission to fail the first time I tried it, since they opened fire too early and allowed the target to escape, but I figured out that the individual of interest would try to flee in a vehicle and had prepared a pursuit vehicle.

  • I’ve never actually tried to swim across the large lake at the center of the Montuyoc province, but out of curiosity’s sake, I hopped into this smaller pool near the lake to see what would happen. The steam effects suggest that it’s a warmer pool, and some cursory searches find that there are indeed hot springs in Bolivia as a consequence of the tectonic activities that forged the Andes mountains.

  • Extracting the informant was probably one of the trickiest and most tense missions I played through: moving him a “mere” 1.4 kilometers proved to be an unexpected challenge when both the Santa Blanca and UNIDAD forces appeared with helicopters, and I had such an amount of open ground to cover. I made it by hiding behind large boulders and evading the helicopters, which eventually began attacking one another, buying me enough breathing room to reach the extraction site.

  • The last obstacle I encountered was a Santa Blanca patrol, and while some shooting with my side arm rectified that issue, my AI teammates finally caught up and provided enough covering fire, allowing me to complete this last mission. With four of five story missions completed in Montuyoc, I decided to go for some exploration and collect all of the different weapons in this region before continuing on with the final mission.

  • As heavy clouds roll over the region, I close in on the weapon case. By the end of the beta, I found all of the weapons, which include the Shorty 12G, TAR assault rifle, and two more sniper rifles, as well as the different weapons accessories. While the accessories are useful and allow one to fine-tune weapons to fit with their play-style, in general, the muzzle attachments tend to be mixed bags, reducing recoil at the expense of preventing a suppressor from being mounted.

  • The sharp-eyed reader will have noticed that my equipment was a little more diverse during the first of the Wildlands posts that I wrote, but I eventually decided to stick with one set of equipment. The options for customising one’s appearance is varied and can be used to create some interesting-looking characters, but I chose to outfit my character in a versatile manner to explore different settings without looking out of place.

  • Unlike some games out there, which suggest that less clothing confers more armour, Wildlands thankfully sticks to the realism route and ensures that players can only choose from clothing that make sense for special operations. I recall titles such as Vindictus, which I’ve only played briefly, where some of the better armour in the game does not actually involve more armour for defending against attacks, and some challenges require players to complete missions without any armour at all.

  • It’s been quite some time since I played Vindictus — if memory serves, the last time I ran it was back during 2013. Since then, my Steam library’s grown dramatically: prior to the summer of 2013, I had an older computer whose upper limits for gaming included Team Fortress 2 and Portal 2. However, after I built a new computer to replace this older system, I picked up Bad Company 2 and Crysis. From there, the number of games I could run expanded, and I’ve gone through a variety of titles over the past several years.

  • Over half of my Steam library consists of shooters (first person or third person, tactical or run-and-gun). The other games include strategy games like Sim City 4 and DEFCON, as well as some visual novels (including CLANNAD, Go! Go! Nippon! and Sakura Angel) and puzzle games. As is evidenced by this blog, I’m a huge fan of shooters: this is not unique to me, and from what I gather, the innate drive to make decisions that early humans utilised in finding food remain hardwired into our brains. These days, finding food involves sitting at an office and then earning money to hit a grocery store or restaurant, but our biological circuitry remains.

  • This evolutionary rationale would account for why first person shooters are so popular, and contrary to popular belief, they do not cause violence. Instead, I’ve found them remarkably cathartic; studies have found that populations with a proportionally large number of gamers correlated with a reduced number of violent crimes. Back in the Wildlands open beta, I’ve made it to the mine where Carl Bookhart is hiding out. There’s a sniper rifle case in this mine, the MSR, that can be picked up.

  • After reaching Bookhart, I cleared out the room with the AI teammates and shot him in the head with an assault rifle to complete the mission, unlocking the M4A1 tactical, which comes with a foregrip and optics. The illustrious weapons are fun to use, although in the beta, only assault rifles could be unlocked, and I predominantly play with the sniper rifle.

  • Here, I wrap up a side mission involving the delivery of communications parts to rebel forces, giving me a large amount of communications points. Besides communications, medical, fuel and food supplies can also be delivered. In addition, small caches are found throughout each map. Besides the skill points and levels needed to unlock skills, the skills also have a supply requirement — the side missions, although optional, contribute greatly to assisting players in unlocking new skills.

  • With all of the main missions complete, I returned to Itacua to explore and see if I could find a plane to fly, as well as locate the remaining weapon attachments and the one weapon I’d not bothered to find while I was here last while rolling through the story missions. The scenery at this rebel outpost is impressive, and I found myself staring at the water effects.

  • Here, I fire the TAR-21 assault rifle at Santa Blanca forces. A Coyote RDS is visible, and this is also one of the few images I have where I’m actively firing. The TAR-21 is the assault rifle variant of the IWI Tavor, firing 5.56 mm NATO rounds, and while it is absent in Battlefield, its smaller form, the MTAR, can be unlocked as a carbine. It’s a reasonably fun weapon to use in Battlefield, having a high rate of fire that makes it most useful for closer engagements (the recoil on the weapon is quite high).

  • I return to the UNIDAD base armed with the MSR sniper rifle, picking off sentries so that I may sneak into the facility undetected and find the weapon case, as well as the attachment. Similar to the HTI, it initially comes with a five round magazine and packs a bigger punch than the M40A5; it is effective up to 1.5 kilometers in reality.

  • The results of exploration is the unlocking of the 12G Shorty, which is the only shotgun I managed to find during the course of the Wildlands beta: this stockless shotgun is sixteen-point-five inches in length and has a capacity of two shells. Despite packing a wallop in extreme close quarters, its low capacity and short range means that the weapon was highly impractical even in close quarters, where one can run into several opponents.

  • The first time I visited the town in Itacua’s northeastern corner, I ran into a UNIDAD patrol and only just escaped. Here, I’ve commandeered a buggy armed with a minigun from the UNIDAD compound that I was exploring earlier, and if I order an assault, as I did here against Santa Blanca goons, the minigun will tear them up on short order. As far as I can tell, there aren’t any shoulder-fired anti-air or anti-tank options, although in some videos, I’ve seen folks use explosive drones to instantly destroy helicopters.

  • I’ve outfitted my assault rifles with an under-barrel grenade launcher attachment for fun: while going loud is not the smartest thing to do in most missions, with no more story missions left to complete in the beta by this point, I figured it was time to go and mess around with some of the different weapons: this grenade launcher is excellent for taking out crowds and destroying unarmoured vehicles.

  • One aspect of Wildlands that was hilarious was the fact that vehicles could automatically right themselves when flipped over, and when using the motorbike, I could hit objects at obscene speeds, and the bike would merely bounce into the air. I’ve only died once while on a vehicle, and that came from hitting another vehicle head-on in a collision because it was so tricky to steer the bike.

  • After clearing out Santa Blanca patrols, I finally come across the plane and a short landing strip. The mission: steal the plane and its supplies, then land it safely somewhere to deliver said supplies. However, immediately after takeoff, the unusable controls reared their ugly heads, and I crashed immediately, landing on the hillside. As planes require a flat surface to take off from, there was no way I would be completing this mission, so I flattened the plane with a grenade to fail the mission.

  • While I’ve not shown any instances of my usage here in this post, Wildlands does offer a night vision mode by default, excellent for those night missions where spotting enemies can be next to impossible in the darkness. I also unlocked thermal vision in the skill system, but did not play nearly enough to reach rank 14, which would allow me to unlock a special kind of suppressor that allows a weapon to deal full damage even when the suppressor is mounted.

  • After collecting a laser sight for my sidearm here, I decide to take another shot at flying. I was modestly more successful, but was shot down by anti-air missiles. Despite this, I bailed out and survived, but the plane was totalled, failing yet another mission. Side missions will become available again, so there’s no big concern for failing these, but main missions will cause the game to end if failed. Speaking of failures, I note that yesterday was the tenth anniversary to Five Centimetres per Second‘s theatrical première, but even such an occasion apparently does not merit any mention of when Your Name‘s home release will be. Toho has been remarkably secretive about things, and one wonders if it would take a Tom Clancy-style operation just to learn when the BluRay disks hit the market.

  • In the last moments in the Wildlands beta, I travelled to the southwestern corner of Montuyoc, which I’d not explored, and found a desolate, snowy mountainside that provided a beautiful view of the province. Now that both Wildlands posts are done, looking ahead into the future, I will be detailing my initial impressions of Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, as well as covering the Yuyushiki and Kiniro Mosaic: Pretty Days OVAs. I remark that I also picked up Titanfall 2 during the EA Publisher Sale for sixty percent off, which means that I will be experiencing the campaign to this one, as well.

Ultimately, I think that, while I had a bit more fun with The Division‘s beta, Wildlands ended up being a bit more friendly for solo players, with its inclusion of AI teammates and vehicles. However, Wildlands does feel like a game whose value is most apparent when playing with a group of friends: I’m predominantly a solo gamer, and seeing as I never did end up purchasing The Division in spite of how enjoyable the beta was, it’s safe to say that I’m unlikely to purchase Wildlands in the future. Readers may have noticed that for Wildlands, I’ve got a bit more criticisms than I do for other games. This beta also had noticeably more issues than the previous games, ranging from the poor vehicle handling to one instance where I fell through the map. In general, I only purchase games that I am convinced that I will likely enjoy, so the chance that I’ll play through and complete a game I’m not enjoying is very small. With that being said, even if the vehicle controls are rectified by the time Wildlands launches, the game does not appear to be my cup of tea at full price; perhaps a good discount may lead me to change my mind, but with how Steam Sales and Ubisoft titles have worked, I imagine it will be quite some time before a good sale price may be found. In the meantime, it’s time for me to push forwards with Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare‘s Remastered edition.