The Infinite Zenith

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Category Archives: Noteworthy Games

Far Cry 4: A Lesson on Patience and Applicability in Contemporary Movements

“If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience.” –George Bernard Shaw

After pushing through into North Kyrat, Ajay liberates the remainder of the provinces and ultimately is made to choose to make Amita or Sabal the leader of the Golden Path. In my playthough, I ended up choosing Amita and shot Sabal. In a titanic assault on Pegan Min’s stronghold, the Golden Path are successful in toppling his regime. Finding Pagan Min, Ajay learns of his family history, and Min allows him to place his mother’s ashes inside a shrine. Min leaves on a helicopter, leaving Kyrat to Ajay. With Amita in control, Kyrat becomes a drug state. Had I opted to go with Sabal’s ending, he would have turned the nation into a theocracy. Regardless of which ending one chooses, the ramifications are less than optimal – this is the core lesson in Far Cry 4, that regime changes very nearly always have unforeseen consequences owing to the complexity of even the more disagreeable political systems. Far Cry 4 thus becomes a thought experiment to illustrate what might happen when one is given the means to destablise a regime and introduce change through force of arms, bypassing activism and protest in favour of violence. While Ajay is given enough background to make decisions and carry out his actions, the constraints result in Kyrat being oppressed by a new regime. In my case, having chosen Amita to lead the Golden Path, Kyrat’s citizens are now entangled in the production of narcotics, which will create problems for other nations, as well as internally. A leadership under Sabal would see oppression of at least a similar calibre to Pegan Min’s rule: given that we know what the outcomes are now, it might have been preferable to leave Pegan Min in control because at the very least, what to expect from his regime is known. At the end of Far Cry 4, the game succeeds in conveying the message that supporting a cause to bring about change, without full awareness of what that cause is trying to accomplish, may result in system equally or more undesirable than what was already present.

The events of Far Cry 4 provide players an opportunity to experience a war from the perspective of someone who has the capability to make a tangible impact, and the endings warn players that it is possible that, when folks supporting a cause achieve what they’d set out to accomplish, the end result may not be what they were expecting. The setting and thematic elements of Far Cry 4 give the impression that the game is another perspective of the Tibet 2008 uprisings, deliberately coinciding with the Beijing 2008 Summer Games. Ubisoft gives power to the player, acting as an external third party who is free to explore Kyrat as they will and do as they choose. By shifting power into the players’ hands, Far Cry 4 imagines a scenario where that the folks supportive of the complete and total removal of the Chinese presence in Tibet are given the means to do so. As players move through Kyrat and whittle away Pegan Min’s power, the authoritarian regime weakens and crumbles. However, the end result was rather undesirable: Kyrat’s residents end up trading one hell for another. Far Cry 4 thus suggests that, had the Tibet Uprising accomplished its goals of removing the Chinese presence, they might have encountered additional difficulties afterwards – there is no guarantee that the new leadership would bring about the change that people sought, and that a third party intervening may simply create more problems. The parallels bring to mind organisations that conducted a widespread campaign to promote an independent Tibet during the 2008, and through its narrative, Far Cry 4 implies that organisations or groups could be doing more harm than good, if they are not fully aware of the consequences of rapid change and nonetheless continue to push their agendas forward.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • The Buzzsaw is a signature MG42 that has double the ammunition capacity of a standard MG42 with the extended magazine, and coupled with its pointpoint accuracy and high damage resulting from the 7.92×57mm Mauser rounds, the mere fact that I have the weapon means that for all intents and purposes, I’ve beaten Far Cry 4. The weapon will kill all enemies in less than three rounds, can rip ground vehicles and helicopters apart in seconds and even force the largest of wildlife to yield.

  • Unlocked after liberating all of the Belltowers, the Buzzsaw is so powerful that there is no game to play: Ajay can clear out entire outposts without ever reloading, and reinforcements sent to support Royal Guard soldiers become victims of the weapon. To balance the Buzzsaw out, it would have been more appropriate to give the weapon increased recoil so it cannot be fired for sustained periods of time on full automatic. This way, other LMGs could be given superior automatic fire accuracy and make them more useful.

  • Of course, things are what they are, and having the Buzzsaw made many missions trivially easy. Most of these screenshots for my second Far Cry 4 post date between late August and November of last year – I was pushing to finish Far Cry 4 towards the end of 2017 so I could begin Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus and The Division.

  • I previously mentioned that vegetation can be set ablaze with any incendiary weapon or even the repair tool. I recall an evening where I spent running around Kyrat, lighting up Royal Guard soldiers with the repair tool and setting them on fire for comedy. Repair tool kills have been something I’ve not made a point of getting since the days of Battlefield 3, where it was bloody hilarious to force a reaction from other players who were killed by the repair torch. In Battlefield 1, the Kolibri is the equivalent weapon for humiliating other players.

  • Here, I run with the Kriss Vector, one of my favourite weapons in The Division: I’ve outfitted the Vector with a similar configuration here that I felt I would most likely run with in The Division (at the time, I did not have The Division), mounting the medium range optics in conjunction with a suppressor. While a fun weapon to use against groups of lightly-armoured opponents, the Vector is stymied by a lower range, and is not as versatile as an assault rifle in Far Cry 4, so I did not run with the Vector with any great frequency during the main missions.

  • By this point in Far Cry 4, I accumulated enough cash to buy all of the weapons and their signature counterparts. Having good weapons makes the mid and late game a far cry from what things were at the beginning: while the basic AKM was a weak weapon with poor accuracy, having access to the full spectrum of guns in Far Cry 4 made the game much easier to play. Stealth operations became straightforwards to perform, and in a stand-up firefight, all enemies fell before the might of the Buzzsaw.

  • I realise that this post comes a ways later than expected: I beat Far Cry 4 back in early November prior to starting my journey in Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, and remark that I actually began my journey in Far Cry 4 on Christmas Day in 2016. During Christmas Day of 2017, I pushed further into Wolfire’s Overgrowth, and finished the game; the campaign is a bit short but quite fun. The fighting mechanics are solid and satisfying, and having beat the Overgrowth campaign, I will aim to get a post out for the game at some point in the future.

  • After finishing all of the Longinus missions, players unlock the LK-1018, which can fire laser-guided rockets similar to the rocket launcher of Half-Life 2. More powerful and effective against air vehicles than the RPG, I ended up using this weapon only when free-roaming the world: on missions where my goal was simply to finish them, the Buzzsaw and AMR are superior anti-vehicle options.

  • I chose to write about Far Cry 4 now, rather than earlier because of the fact that we’re very nearly about to see Far Cry 5‘s release on March 27. Having taken a look at the system requirements, I’m a bit surprised that Far Cry 5 can in fact run on my current computer on acceptable settings – I’m a 1080p60 gamer, and this requires an Intel i5 clocked at 3.4 GHz, a GTX 970 and 8 GB of RAM. The requirements aren’t too steep at all, and I might just pick the title up as a summer shooter: history suggests that Far Cry 5 might just see a 20 percent discount during the summer sale.

  • For 56 CAD three months after the launch date, Far Cry 5 could be well worth the price of admissions if Far Cry 4 was anything to go by: overall, I put in 48 hours into Far Cry 4, and ended up with a 80 percent completion rate, so if I were to spend a few more hours, I could probably wholly do everything in the game. My metrics for determining whether or not a pricey Triple-A title is worth it is whether or not the game costs six dollars per hour or less, which is roughly what it costs to watch a movie.

  • The AMR (Anti-Materiel Rifle) is the ultimate single-action rifle in Far Cry 4: being the signature form of the Z93, the AMR inherits the exceptional damage and slow rate of fire of the Z93, while introducing a HEIAP (High-Explosive Incendiary/Armour Piercing) round that can make short work of anything. Vehicles explode when shot, while large game are so grievously damaged that skins cannot be recovered from them. The main downside to the AMR is that as a signature weapon, it cannot be outfitted with a suppressor, limiting its effectiveness in a long-range role.

  • I’m not particularly fond of shotguns in Far Cry 4, since they do not always guarantee a one-hit kill on enemies. However, there are some missions that require one to kill HVTs or wildlife with specific weapons, which encourages players to try new weapons and make use of novel strategies to make these weapons work. I normally pick off all of the guards in an area from afar, before attempting to finish off the HVTs using the required weapon.

  • There are a few points in Far Cry 4 where Ajay either falls under the influence or where the narrative slips into an alternative plane known as Shangri-La, a mythical land where the gameplay mechanics are completely different. They’re quite distinct and memorable for their unique designs, but overall, I did not end up playing through all of the Shangri-La missions, only doing enough of them to unlock all of the weapons.

  • In the end, the best long-range weapon is the semi-automatic SA-50, which, while having a lower damage per shot compared to the AMR, offers a much higher firing rate and can be customised. This means a suppressor can be added to the weapon, making it the perfect choice for clearing out fortresses and outposts without alerting anyone to my presence. Clearing outposts without being detected and without any alarms being set off provide experience bonuses, and while players initially must choose between defensive and offensive upgrades, completing the game will allow Ajay to unlock more or less everything.

  • With every available skill unlocked in Far Cry 4, Ajay can survive three times as much punishment, move faster, reload more efficiently, perform more powerful takedowns, carry more gear and so on. While Ajay was quite weak as Far Cry 4 begins, at the game’s conclusion, the skills, weapons and player familiarity with the perks allow Ajay to be a veritable one-man army. Even the superior Royal Guard of North Kyrat stand little chance against Ajay.

  • I’ve not been too fond of the bows for their projectile drop and low firing rates, so I never made extensive use of these weapons for stealth or hunting. By comparison, the automatic crossbow is easy to use, featuring a high projectile speed and firing rate: it is perfect for close-quarters stealth engagements with multiple targets and the ideal hunting weapon, swiftly dealing with wildlife without damaging their skins. Where stealth is necessary, the automatic crossbow is the top sidearm for the job, and I found myself switching to this from the M79.

  • While most of Kyrat has a verdant, vibrant landscape, some parts of North Kyrat have a more distinct feel to it, with browning vegetation that evokes a sense of autumn. It is here that Kyrat’s toughest enemies are faced, and I take a few moments to look back ten years ago today, which was when an anti-China rally was set to go forwards. Some of my classmates were ardently trying to encourage fellow students to participate in rallys downtown in front of the Chinese Consulate to protest the Chinese government’s response to events in Tibet during the 2008 Summer Games. I antagonised them by declining to participate, feeling that it was unreasonable to expect that immediate change was realistic, and that all actions required consideration to avoid the sort of thing that might arise in Far Cry 4.

  • The argument devolved very rapidly; while I attempted to present the arguments outlined in this post as the basis for why I would not commit to their protest, one of the individuals backing the other party immediately resorted to ad hominem attacks. Claiming that “some of the things [that I] have written are incorrect”, and that I “should only respond if [I] want to discuss issues respectfully towards [my] opponent”, they concluded with the demand that I “owe [them] an apology for being inconsiderate to [them]”. The unique situation in Tibet means that what they sought (an immediate and complete removal of the Chinese presence) may have potentially created new social problems that would have not benefited the people in the area: my mere suggestion that change should be slow if it is to persist was somehow offensive to them.

  • I stress that I am not opposed to the idea of human rights, nor do I hold that China is blameless, but rather, I oppose actions and organisations who are so focused on one goal that they neglect the bigger picture, and the fact that change must be gradual. In the decade that has passed, I remark that the Dalai Lama has stated that his goal to be what is called the Middle Way: rather than full independence, he calls for cooperation and coexistence, understanding that an extreme course of action will similarly have extreme recourse on the people. Slow, methodical change is evidently preferred. Consequently, I owe this individual no apology – it is not my responsibility to be concerned that their feelings are hurt because of the realisation they cannot contribute to a change within the span of their lifetime.

  • The individual above asserted that opposing them constituted as harassment, and so, can be seen as being the precursor to the modern-day virtue signallers, folks who play the victim or take offense on the behalf of other groups for the sake of improving their own image. This is an issue that has become more prevalent, and as of late, such groups have protested everything from video game journalism to democracy in Hong Kong as conducted by one Joshua Wong and his cronies. The former sparked a massive internet war that ended being of little consequence to those seeking to change the industry, and the latter, while ostensibly promoting democracy, created major disturbances in Hong Kong, blocking traffic and damaging property that undermined the movement’s credibility.

  • As a consequence, I believe that Marco Rubio’s nomination of Joshua Wong and the Umbrella Revolution’s participants for a Nobel Peace Prize to be, for the lack of a better word, a complete and utter mockery of what the Nobel Peace Prize to be about. The folks who participated in the Umbrella Revolution amount to little more than entitled youth who do not understand what hard work entitles. In the knowledge of the unreasonable real estate market in Hong Kong, which makes it difficult for Millennials to buy a house, it is understandable that there is dissent. However, throwing the equivalent of a tantrum, as people Yau Wai-ching did, is unacceptable. Her story is that she refused to take an oath that would have allowed her to join the Hong Kong legislature.Wai-ching showed willful disrespect towards the system and discarded a chance to potentially help her fellow Millennials out. These actions are contrary to what individuals deserving of a Nobel Peace Prize might do.

  • Positive change in society is built on the shoulders of the hard-working, not the vocal – activism and protesting has its limits compared to sustained hard work and a clear game plan, so I’ll leave the topic aside and return to Far Cry 4. Here is another segment of Far Cry 4 set in Shangri-La: as an ancient warrior, players only have access to an enchanted bow, but also gain a powerful tiger companion. Enemies take the form of mysterious spirits, and these missions allow players to learn more about the mythical aspects of Kyrat. I prefer these missions to the psychedelic, drug-fuelled chaos of the Yogi & Reggie missions, which gave me a headache in trying to complete them. Humourous characters they were, their impact on gameplay was much less enjoyable, and I only did enough of their missions to advance the story.

  • The Shangri-La missions are quite linear in nature, and end with players reaching large bell that they must cut free and allow to toll. The real-world location is a city of 130 000 people in Yunnan Province of China, but when the name is mentioned, James Hilton’s description of a paradise in his novel, Lost Horizon is what comes to mind. In his novel, Shangri-La is a Himalayan paradise far secluded from the world, where the residents were immortal and eternally happy.

  • A glance at some of the beautiful scenery up in the Tibetan Plateau, Sichuan and Yunnan will speak volumes as to why Hilton set his fictional paradise up here. From colourful pools of Huang Long, to the vast salt lakes in the most remote corners of Tibet, the landscape up here is beautiful beyond measure, and one of my dreams is to visit this part of the world for myself. Kyrat features none of these landscapes: its design is more similar to the terrain found in Bhutan, a small nation that reports a very high social development index and happiness despite its status as a least developed country.

  • I ended up choosing Amita’s path for fun: at the end of the day, one’s choice is not particularly relevant, and one of the things I’m wondering about Far Cry 5 is whether or not it will create a more impactful ending based on the decisions that players make. With this being said, the strengths in Far Cry seem to be the exploration component, so even if Far Cry 5 does not have a true user-chosen ending, I’m sure the game itself will be solid from a technical perspective.

  • We come to it at last: the final assault on Pegan Min’s fortress. There’s hardly a need for stealth here: equipping the loudest and most powerful weapons in the game, I accompanied the Golden Path on a full-scale siege of his fortress. With the Buzzsaw, AMR and LK-1018 in my inventory, I struck the facility with guns ablaze and very quickly cleared out all resistance without any difficulty. Golden Path forces will assist Ajay in his siege, but my superior firepower meant that this was quite unnecessary.

  • Far Cry 4‘s co-operative component and guns for hire: the latter can be called in to assist with operations to take on liberation of outposts and fortresses, but during my run of the game, I relied on neither to help out. While they could add a bit of amusement to the game, I prefer running missions without computer-controlled NPCs so I can fully control my approach towards completing an objective – there’s always a chance that they might break stealth and set off an alarm prematurely.

  • Officially, my journey in Far Cry 4 ended eleven months after I began the first steps to the campaign back on Christmas Day of 2016. Throughout the summer of 2017, I continued to play through the game with a non-trivial frequency and wondered why I did not play it sooner. For the most part, Far Cry 4 is superbly enjoyable – there are only a few repetitive elements. Besides the animal hunting missions, I was not a particular fan of the arena mode; I needed to reach rank ten to unlock the Bushman, the best assault rifle in the game, and after I finished this, I continued on my way with the campaign.

  • Destroying Pegan Min’s solid gold statue will bring the main campaign to an end. I chose to spare Pegan Min and sat down to dinner with him, listening to his final speech before he leaves Kyrat to Ajay. I’m well aware of the secret ending and will give it a go in the near future. With this post in the books, I’m going to look at doing posts for Wolfire’s Overgrowth and Sansha Sanyou for my Terrible Anime Challenge series before we reach the end of this month, which will see the Yuru Camp△ and Slow Start finales. My schedule over the next few weeks will be a bit chaotic, so posts will be written and published on a best efforts basis: I anticipate that things will settle out in April

From a gameplay perspective, Far Cry 4 proved to be remarkably entertaining, and a sobering theme aside, the game itself is actually quite light-hearted and humourous in nature. There is no shortage of activities to participate in within Far Cry 4, and the world of Kyrat is fun to explore, even if most of the map is repetitive in design. One of the most notable elements in Far Cry 4 is the fact that Pegan Min’s Royal Guard speak Cantonese; it was hilarious to hear enemies insult my family and demanding that I drop dead. The weapons in Far Cry 4 are also immensely satisfying to use – there is an impressive array of weapons Ajay can equip and use. While the gameplay is reasonably straightforwards, Far Cry 4 offers an incredible array of modifiers: from weapon customisation and skills, to syringes that impart benefits, Far Cry 4 allows players to approach any situation in any manner of their choosing. The world-building in Kyrat is also top-tier: from Shangri-La missions to random journal entries and design elements in the environment, Kyrat is highly immersive. All of these gameplay aspects, in conjunction with a narrative relevant to current events, makes Far Cry 4 both entertaining and thought-provoking. The game is very much worth the price of admissions, and also sets the stage for the upcoming Far Cry 5, which is set in Montana – although the core mechanics of Far Cry 5 look similar to those of Far Cry 4, I’m curious to see what a virtual Montana looks like, and the prospect of fighting off a fundamentalist doomsday cult is also enticing. Releasing later this month, I will be keeping an eye on Far Cry 5; if I can run the title, there is a chance that I may pick up Far Cry 5 as a title to experience during those days where the weather is not conducive towards being outside.

Half-Life 2- Downfall: A Reflection

“Prepare for unforeseen consequences.” —The G Man, Half-Life 2 Episode 2

Gordon Freeman is tasked with retrieving a resistance weapon capable of destroying Combine Citadels in a mission whose timeframe relative to the other events of Half-Life 2 are not known. After arriving at a sawmill, Freeman fights his way through hordes of zombies to reach a derelict mine guarded by a veritable armada of Combine soldiers. Entering the mine, Freeman begins his descent into the bowels of the earth itself in search of this weapon. Released earlier this year as a Half-Life 2 mod, Downfall is an excellent fan-made addition to the Half-Life 2 universe that remains highly faithful to the mechanics and visuals of the Half-Life 2 games. Set in the White Forest area, the atmospherics and visual effects are top-tier, matching those of Half-Life 2 Episode 2 in most areas and surpassing it in others. The mod is incomplete at present, and two more chapters are planned. The first chapter is a ways longer than Half-Life 2: The Lost Coast. The mod is comparable to a single chapter in a Half-Life 2 episode, taking around three-quarters of an hour to beat on standard difficulty, but it’s an immensely thrilling ride, being the next best thing to a proper announcement about the likely non-existent Half-Life 2 Episode 3 and Half-Life 3 itself.

What makes Downfall such an entertaining mod is the fact that, while the level design is structured consistently with what is seen in the actual Half-Life 2 titles, Downfall introduces a new twist on things: players are only equipped with the legendary Zero-Point Energy Manipulation Device (Gravity Gun) to begin with. Upon arriving at the sawmill, zombies begin appearing en masse to attack the player, forcing players to get creative with the objects available in the environment. Even after a crowbar is found, things remain quite tricky – clearing an area of zombies and moving onwards is an especially rewarding feeling. One of the more exhilarating moments was fighting a poison headcrab zombie in one of the houses: I’m accustomed to having some heavy firepower in the form of under-barrel grenades and a good stockpile of hand grenades when taking these monstrosities on, but Downfall only provides players with a pistol at this point. Running out of ammunition will occur before one can take down the poison headcrab zombie, so players are forced to bait the zombie into throwing the poison headcrabs at them, and then dispatch each individual poison headcrab with the crowbar. As players acquire more weapons, the gameplay in Downfall begins feeling more like a traditional Half-Life 2 mission; engaging Combine soldiers and other enemies become rather more straightforward.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Downfall opens with a casual Sunday drive to a location where a beacon signal is transmitted, under what appears to be the setting sun. Downfall could hypothetically be set in the moments following Episode 2, after Eli Vance is killed by a Combine Advisor; Freeman must then regroup with additional members of the Resistance before they set off for the Borealis. Once players reach the sawmill, the muscle car must be abandoned.

  • There’s a definite calm in the atmosphere as Freeman begins exploring the area, and there’s an abandoned boathouse adjacent to a lake. Of all the existing instalments in Half-Life 2Episode 2 stands out as having some of the most memorable scenery, being set in the remote forests of Eastern Europe rather than the close-quarters of City 17. I’ve heard that Episode 2 was inspired by forests of Oregon.

  • The moody skies in Episode 2 bring to mind the mood of my area shortly after the Great Flood of 2013. The Royal Family visited the area shortly after, and I recall listening to a news programme covering the event while I was fighting my way through the White Forest Inn ambush. The quiet beauty of the area is offset by the fierce onslaught, so after the fighting died down, I spent a few moments exploring the area.

  • Because players only start out with the Gravity Gun and find a crowbar early into Downfall, the first segments of the mod handle similarly to the Ravenholm mission. To encourage creative play, Valve implemented an achievement called “Zombie Chopper” for using only using the Gravity Gun. While seemingly a difficult task, ammunition was already quite scarce in Ravenholm, and bullets are actually less effective against zombies than large objects.

  • The crowbar is a fantastic weapon against leaping headcrabs and can kill one in a single hit, including poison headcrabs. A large number of zombies, including zombines, appear here, but the abundance of objects that can be thrown means that there are no shortage of options for dealing with zombies. The tire swing on the left of image can be used to great effect; it is hilarious to send conventional zombies flying with it, but there is also a risk: I lost thirty points of health because the tire swing swung back at me after one use.

  • In the sawmill’s attic, players will come across the control panel for opening the flood gate, allowing Freeman to move into the next area. There’s also a large ammunition cache here, plus several computer terminals, indicating that the sawmill was probably used as a Resistance outpost before the Combine overwhelmed them. For the time being, there’s no way to actually get into the ammunition cache, which is present purely for aesthetic purposes.

  • The house here is infested with poison headcrabs and a poison headcrab zombie: while I’m accustomed to using heavy firepower to deal with them (burning them with explosive barrels, or otherwise using a combination of hand grenades and the MP7’s under-barrel grenades), these are not options in the house. Instead, Freeman must bait the poison headcrabs into leaping off the zombie, and then beat them down with the crowbar. After all of the poison headcrabs are expended, the zombie itself can be pummeled to death using physical objects, and the cinder brick found in the cellar of this house is particularly useful for that task.

  • A quick glance at the calendar shows that it’s been five days since Christmas, and six days since I posted anything. This is because it’s been a bit of a relaxing, if somewhat busy Christmas: on Christmas Day this year, the day began with a fantastic breakfast of fried eggs, bacon, hash browns and Belgian waffles. After the opening of gifts, I took a walk on the nearby hills by afternoon despite the -20°C weather, where I found some Christmas ornaments hanging on one of the aspen groves, and then spent the rest of the day playing Overgrowth. We finished the day with prime rib and the remarkably flavourful beef bones.

  • They definitely aren’t kidding when the say that the Icefields Parkway is a remote stretch of road with reduced maintenance in winter. The drive back home was as treacherous: a blizzard had began in earnest when we began making our way back. Last evening, temperatures reached a low of -31°C before windchill and a fresh snow had fallen. It’s expected to be -32°C later tonight (-43°C with windchill), making me extremely appreciative of being able to rest in a warm place. I’m sure readers are not here about the cold, so we’ll return to Downfall, where the mines are warm, even if inhabited by barnacles.

  • Upon exiting the first of the mines, Freeman comes across a rail line covered by a Combine Sniper. There’s practically no cover leading down the tracks, and while there is another path that allows Freeman to close the distance between him and the sniper, I chose to make use of a log and well-known limitation in the AI to close the distance more quickly. The sniper will throw back the first grenade, but will not do anything about the second grenade Freeman throws at them.

  • The Colt Python pistol, for all of its incredible power, is constrained by a small ammunition pool, and I’ve typically not run into situations where I’ve required it. It’s best saved for Combine elite soldiers and Hunters; in Downfall, these enemies do not appear and so, it can be used to quickly deal with the first wave of Combine soldiers Freeman encounters. Here, I look back at the train tracks and the scenery.

  • With the sniper now cleared out, I take a look around at the setting and marvel at the details of the mining structures. This mine forms the setting for the only firefight against Combine soldiers in Downfall, and while players are armed with only the pistols at this point, use of cover and a little bit of creativity will allow for the first wave of soldiers to be cleared out in a relatively straightforward manner.

  • I finally acquire the MP7, which is probably my most-used weapon in all of Half-Life 2 and its episodes simply because of how plentiful ammunition for it is. The weapon is used extensively by Combine, and ammunition crates for the weapon are easily found. While ineffectual at longer ranges owing to its spread, its large magazine capacity and carrying capacity makes it a solid all-around weapon for most close range engagements.

  • I cannot quite put my finger on what it is about the lighting and assets that give Episode 2 environments such a unique feel to them, but overall, the presence of open wilderness as opposed to urban build-up meant that, had Half-Life 2 Episode 3 ever come out, I would have been hoping for more rural settings. With the story hypothetically set to take place in the arctic, it seems that players would have had the chance to explore non-urban settings.

  • There’s a restrictor here that keeps the Antlions away. These insect-like aliens can spawn indefinitely and overwhelm players with their numbers, but they can be kicked back using the gravity gun. Enough hits from the gravity gun will kill them, although their numbers makes the technique viable only with solitary antlions.

  • The elevator here leads to the control room with the energy orb powering the Combine defenses here, and disabling it will lower the force field covering the path Freeman needs to take. Antlions begin swarming the area, although now that Freeman’s got the MP7 and SPAS-12 Shotgun, taking them on becomes a bit more straightforwards.

  • While there’s been no official news of Episode 3, some dedicated folks have begun working on an unofficial continuation using the Unreal 4 Engine, which powered my Master’s Thesis project. This continuation, titled “Project Borealis”, is being undertaken to build a game from the story that Marc Laidlaw provided back in August, outlining what Episode 3 would have entailed. The project’s lead manager has industry experience and seeks to create the best possible experience for fans of the series and presently, the story is around half finished.

  • Some interesting concept art has also been provided for Arctic headcrabs and a new model of Strider. Enemy AI and weapon concepts are also entering testing; while no news of when Project Borealis’ release was provided, the team did mention that they will be keeping the community updated as they continue with the project. This is quite exciting, and it seems that, even if Valve has no interest in continuing the Half-Life franchise, dedicated and devoted community members can and will keep things going. I’m curious to see where things will end up, and with the Unreal 4 Engine driving things, the game could look quite refreshed once completed.

  • After entering the main mine shaft and descending deep underground, Downfall comes to a close. The bitterly cold winter evening is upon us, and after a warm dinner of fried chicken, I’m watching the mercury plummet. The weather is expected to warm up as we enter the New Year; before 2018 sets in, I’ve got one final post for 2017, dealing with Nekopara‘s OVA. 2017’s been a bit of an interesting year for the blog, and while I can’t say that my numbers are particularly strong a motivator for continuing this blog, a strong reader-base and the associated discussion means I’m not quite ready to call it quits fully yet.

It typifies Valve’s ability to create suspense and horror in games whose aim is not solely horror, and Downfall makes excellent use of Valve’s techniques to create a mod that feels as though it is a proper instalment in the Half-Life 2 universe. While faithful to Half-Life 2 in design and concept, subtleties in the gameplay show that there remains some room for improvement still: besides cleverly forcing players to adopt different strategies, there are other minor surprises in store for players, with the most notable being the Combine Sniper that returns a grenade players throw at them, requiring players use a second grenade to defeat the sniper. This moment was completely unexpected and shows that the Source Engine, in spite of its age, can still be made to throw off players to create refreshing moments. While there’s been talk of Half-Life 3 and Half-Life 2 Episode 3 sporadically in the years since I first beat Episode 2, my intuition tells me that the expectations for these two items is one of the contributing factors to why Valve is not actively pursuing a continuation of Episode 2. With this being said, Downfall isn’t quite finished yet, and it will be interesting to see as to whether or not its continuations will come out as the modder has suggested – if there are indeed to be future instalments of Downfall, I will definitely be interested in seeing where things are headed.

Star Wars Battlefront II: A Reflection of Starfighter Assault and Space Gameplay in the Open Beta

“It’s no good, I can’t manoeuvre!”
“Stay on target.”
“We’re too close!”
“Stay on target!”
“Loosen up!”

–Gold Leader and Gold Five, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

If I had been active as a blogger back during the early 2000s, Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader would certainly have been featured as a game I would write about. Featuring ten single player missions and several bonus missions spanning the original triology, Rogue Leader boasted some of the most sophisticated visual and gameplay effects that could be run on the Nintendo GameCube, allowing players to relive the most famous moments in Star Wars. From the first attack on the Death Star to the Battle of Hoth and the Rebel Alliance’s final attack on the Emperor’s Death Star II, the game’s technical sophistication and enjoyment factor led many critics to remark that this game alone was worth buying the GameCube for, and indeed, even fifteen years after its launch, only Pandemic’s Star Wars: Battlefront II in 2005 can even hold a candle to Rouge Leader. However, this year’s reinterpretation of Battlefront II comes the closest to bringing back the sort of magic that was available in Rogue Leader, for in Battlefront II, there is the Starfighter Assault game mode that pits players against one another in beautifully written space battles. In the Battlefront II open beta, players are assigned to the Rebel Alliance or Galactic Empire over the shipyards of Fondor. In a multi-stage battle reminiscent of the Rush and Operations game modes of Battlefield, Imperial pilots must deplete the Rebels of reinforcement tickets and defend a Star Destroyer in dry dock, while the Rebels aim to take down the Star Destroyer. Players get their pick of three different classes of starships: the balanced all-rounder fighter, high-speed dogfighter interceptors and the slower but durable bombers, each of which can be customised with star cards to fit a player’s style.

The epic scale of ship-to-ship combat in Starfighter Assault is quite unlike the infantry-focused Galactic Conquest: the space battles of Battlefront II were developed by Criterion, of Burnout and Need For Speed fame. I jumped into a game and attempted to steer my X-Wing with my mouse, but promptly crashed. After switching over to the keyboard, I began learning my way around the controls, and within minutes, was pursing Imperial TIE fighters and firing on objectives. Unlike Battlefront, where starships had the manoeuvrability of a refrigerator, the controls in Battlefront II are responsive and crisp. As I became more familiar with the ships available, I began climbing scoreboards, shooting down more enemy starships and playing objectives more efficiently. The sheer scope of Starfighter Assault and the easy-to-pick-up-but-difficult-to-master design of this game mode makes it incredibly fun and with nearly unlimited replay value. While playing the Imperials, I focused on shooting down Rebel ships, and as a Rebel, there was the challenge of finishing the objectives without being shot down. Regardless of which team I played for, there was always a great satisfaction in landing killing shots on enemy starfighters and going on kill-streaks that I never was able to manage in Galactic Assault. It got to the point where I improved sufficiently to have the chance of making use of three of the four Hero ships. Automatically locking onto an enemy starfighter à la Battlefront is gone – aiming and leading shots is entirely a skill-based endeavour now, and while Criterion provides a helpful reticule to assist in aiming, it ultimately falls on players to learn how to best move their ships around. These elements come together to provide a game mode that is exceptionally entertaining to play, rewarding skill and encouraging new-time players to try their hand at flying.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Shortly after spawning into my first Starfighter Assault match, I started to use the mouse and promptly crashed into the radar dish; there’s no option to reset or centre the reticule, so if the mouse is moved slightly, it causes the vehicle to drift in one direction. Once I left the mouse alone and began flying with the keyboard, the controls became much more simple to use. Unlike Battlefront, where vehicular handling as as stiff as molasses, the controls of Battlefront II are much smoother. It took a grand total of ten minutes to become accustomed to the system.

  • There are plenty of AI-controlled fighters flying around the map so that players have no shortage of things to shoot at, and here, a seismic charge from the Slave I goes off. They were first seen in Attack of the Clone and create a devastating shockwave that can punch through asteroids. The weapon is fantastic against starfighers, and edges out Battlefront‘s thermal imploders for having the coolest sound in Star Wars; the silence and delay before the full weight of the bass creates one of the most interesting sound effects ever engineered.

  • With their powerful blasters and high durability, bombers are balanced by their lower speeds and manoeuvrability, as well as for the fact that they require more reinforcement tickets in order to spawn into if one is playing as a Rebel. The TIE Bomber makes its first appearance in a modern Star Wars game and I use it to great effect; they’re most useful against the Blockade Runners that appear to reinforce Rebel fighters, but can most certainly hold their own against X-Wings and A-Wings.

  • TIE Bombers were first seen in The Empire Strikes Back, seen dropping proton bombs on the asteroid where the Millennium Falcon was concealed. Players do not have access to the proton bombs for assaulting ground targets, but bombers get access to dual proton torpedoes and missiles. While they have a guidance system that can lock onto enemy ships, secondary weapons can be fired dumb by double-tapping on the button, making it possible to rapidly use them against slow moving or stationary targets.

  • The Rebellion’s workhorse bomber, Y-Wings have been in operation since the Clone Wars, being acquired by the Rebel Alliance before the Empire could scrap or decommission them. The last time I flew a Y-Wing was in Rogue Leader during the “Prisoners of the Maw” mission. In Rogue Leader, the Y-Wing is equipped with proton bombs rather than guided torpedoes, and the ion cannons were forward-facing, only affecting targets in front of the Y-Wing. In Battlefront II, they’re fun to fly, but the cost of spawning in makes it imperative that one focuses on objectives rather than dogfights.

  • TIE Fighters reflect on the Empire’s adherence to Soviet military doctrine: they are inexpensive to produce and the engines are incredibly effective despite their simple design. Lacking shields, a hyperdrive, life-support systems and landing gear, TIE Fighters are incredibly lightweight, and in Star Wars, are shown to be quite fragile compared to Alliance starfighters. However, the TIE Fighters of Battlefront II have a bit more durability and can fire proton torpedoes, making them remarkably fun to fly. TIE Fighters are equipped a laser barrage function that allows the cannons to be fired rapidly to deliver a blistering hail of blaster fire.

  • The Slave I requires only 2500 battlepoints to unlock; it is armed to the teeth, as all of its abilities are offensively driven: besides a concussion missile and seismic charges, it also has access to ion cannons, which slow down enemy ships. Somewhat hard to manoeuvre, it is nonetheless quite durable, and here, I managed to get a kill using the seismic charges. The blast wave is not visible, as I’ve flown from it, but the effects are clear.

  • Light and agile, the A-Wing is the fastest starfighter available to the Rebel Alliance. It is capable of extreme speed, can maintain unbreakable locks onto enemies and is armed with concussion missiles as its secondary armament. I ended up playing the interceptor class far more than I’d expected: the speed of the A-Wing and its Imperial counterpart, the TIE Interceptor, make them incredibly effective in dogfights. Overall, each of the classes have their own merits and are fun to play: they’re versatile to be used in every role, but their abilities and unique strengths allow them to excel at particular tasks.

  • X-Wings gain access to an astromech droid for providing repairs and the power to fire all four laser cannons at once in addition to the standard proton torpedoes that Luke used to destroy the first Death Star in A New HopeBattlefront II brings back the fun I’ve had flying X-Wings in Rogue Leader: for their general all-round performance, I would choose the X-Wing as my preferred starfighter in the game.

  • The visual effects above Fondor are absolutely stunning: space battles haven’t been this immersive since the days of Rogue Leader, and with the Frostbite Engine driving Battlefront II, I find myself wishing for a remastered version of Rogue Leader more than ever. Criterion has done a fantastic job with Starfighter Assault, and looking at the other maps available, it appears that rather than re-living the most famous moments of Star Wars, players will be treated to campaigns set around familiar locations for other Starfighter Assault modes.

  • The battle around Endor will be set in the ruins of the Second Death Star, and players will have a chance to fly Republic and Separatist starfighters in battles set during the Clone Wars. As well, the skirmishes between the First Order and Resistance will also be available in Battlefront II. One of the things I’m hoping to see in Battlefront II will be the appearance of Darth Vader’s TIE/x1, whose innovative designs would lead to the development of the TIE Interceptor and TIE Bomber. One cool feature from Vader’s TIE/x1 would be the inclusion of cluster missiles seen in Rogue Leader, which can lock onto and attack multiple targets.

  • The second phase of Starfighter Assault over Fondor involves Rebel ships attempting to drop the shield generator around the Star Destroyer. Rebel players must fly into a narrow passage way where the generators are held and bombard them. Imperial forces have a simple task: prevent the Rebels from getting into this corridor and damaging the equipment. In the close quarters, I’ve had considerable fun locking onto Rebel ships and, in a manner reminiscent of A New Hope‘s trench run, blowing said Rebel ships away with the TIE Fighter.

  • It suddenly strikes me that I don’t get very much time off elsewhere in the year, making me very appreciative of the extended break. The long weekends also allows me to enjoy a quieter day at home: I spent the morning drafting this talk and reading about overflights in the Cold War, before settling down to a home-made burger with lettuce, tomato, pickles and cheese, along with freshly-made oven fries. Unlike last time, we were more careful with the cooking process, so the whole of the upstairs does not smell like grilled burger. By afternoon, the weather remained acceptable, if somewhat windy, so I spent it hanging out with a friend. After enjoying some cheesecake when I concluded the walk, I continued with my quest to get all the intel in Modern Warfare Remastered.

  • Dinner tonight was a tender and juicy prime rib au jus with mashed potatoes. The pleasant smell of prime rib persisted into the evening, which saw the Calgary Flames best the Anaheim Ducks 2-0 at the Honda Center, bringing a 25-losing streak on their ice to an end. Earlier today, in speaking with a friend, we’ve now set aside some tentative plans to watch The Last Jedi: a new trailer has come out, and I’m rather curious to see what the film will entail, for Rey, who will begin training with Luke, and also for Kylo Ren. At this blog, I don’t usually talk about Star Wars, but it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that I’ve got passable knowledge of Star Wars lore. I’m quite fond of the films even if the dialogue can be a little poor (especially in the prequel trilogy, where it was downright atrocious) and if the narratives are a bit thin: the scope and scale of the special effects are always fun to watch.

  • While they never co-existed, having disappeared while being transferred to the Jedi Council for investigation, Darth Maul’s Scimitar is included at Fondor. Its most novel ability is being able to cloak and conceal itself from all enemies: I recall shooting at a player with the Scimitar, only for them to disappear. When reappearing, its blaster cannons gain a boost in power. In the thirty seconds I flew it (the match ended shortly after with a Rebel victory), I did not make use of its abilities to shoot down any players. However, the fact that I was becoming sufficiently proficient in Starfighter Assault to acquire the top-tier Hero ships shows that the game mode had been very immersive.

  • This was probably one of the best runs I had in Starfighter Assault: after spawning in as a Y-Wing and going on a seven-kill streak, on top of helping damage the Imperial Cruisers and equipment, I amassed an obscene number of battle points. I was blown out of the sky shortly after but had accumulated enough battle points to spawn in as the legendary Millennium Falcon, Han Solo’s signature ship throughout Star Wars.

  • Being Han Solo’s highly modified freighter, the Millennium Falcon is one of the most recognisable ships from Star Wars that goes on to play a major role in helping the Rebel Alliance toppling the Empire. Besides an afterburner that proved fantastic for escaping pursuing fighters and concussion missiles, the Millennium Falcon’s other ability is called “special modifications”, which temporarily boosts weapon damage and reduces overheating. Incredibly durable and agile for its size, the main disadvantage about the Millennium Falcon is that its large profile makes it a highly visible target on the battlefield.

  • One of my favourite features about the Millennium Falcon is not its combat performance, but for the simple fact that after some kills, Han Solo will say something amusing, reflective of his hot-headed, confident personality. The planet and its shipyards were first introduced in a novel for the Extended Universe and accepted as cannon with the 2015 novel Tarkin, although the name Fondor is, amusingly enough, also a brand of German vegetable seasoning.

  • Late was the hour when I managed to spawn into Poe Dameron’s Black One, a T-70 X-Wing that acts as the successor to the T-65B that the Rebel Alliance operated. Requiring more battle points than the Millennium Falcon, I had not intended to fly this, only doing so when I realised I had enough battle points to do so and because the Millennium Falcon had already been taken. Only a few minutes remained in the match, but I made use of Poe’s X-Wing to score a few kills on other players before the game ended. Similar to the standard X-Wing, players can instantly repair with BB-8, and mirroring the T-70’s upgraded weapons, Black One has access to dual torpedoes. There’s also a Black Leader ability, but I never looked into what it does.

  • The Battlefront II open beta ended this morning: it’s a quiet Thanksgiving Monday, and while it would’ve been nice to play a few more rounds of Starfighter Assault, I ended the beta off on a high note: I’ve flown all of the Hero ships in this game mode to some extent. With the open beta now over, regular programming resumes, much as it did two years ago: there’s no GochiUsa to write about, but there is Gundam Origin‘s fifth instalment, which I greatly enjoyed. We’re also a entering the fall anime season now: with Yūki Yūna is a Hero‘s Hero Chapter airing in mid-November, the only shows I really have on my radar for the presernt are Wake Up, Girls! Shin Shou and Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou. I also should write about the Call of Duty: WWII open beta, which, I should note, was note quite as enjoyable as the Battlefront II beta.

The words “pure fun” are the most suitable for describing the Starfighter Assault game mode of Battlefront II: the mode feels a great deal as though Criterion applied the lessons learned from Rogue Leader. The game modes are well-structured into distinct phases, but seamlessly woven together. Instead of purely AI opponents, players now have a chance to engage one another, adding a new degree of challenge; gone are enemy fighters that can be shot down, replaced with superior AIs and human opponents, the ultimate challengers. Because players can be assigned to different sides of the story, there is a fantastic opportunity to explore “what-if” scenarios. While I don’t think any of the most iconic missions from the trilogy or prequel appear in the full Starfighter Assault, the concept has proven remarkably fun in the open beta, coming the closest since 2005’s Battlefront II to re-creating the experience that players experienced in Rogue Leader. Coupled with authentic aural and visual elements from Star Wars, Starfighter Assault has proven to be the remastered experience of Rogue Leader that I’ve been longing to experience again since the days when I played the game on a GameCube: I am greatly looking forwards to seeing how the other maps play out, and through the open beta, it is evident that Battlefront II has made a serious effort to bring a critical component of Star Wars into the modern age. If the version we’ve seen in the open beta is an accurate representation of how the game mode will handle in the full game, this is a very compelling reason for buying this game closer to the Christmas season, when the spirit of Star Wars will be in full swing as Episode VIII: The Last Jedi premieres in theatres.

Star Wars Battlefront II: A Reflection of Galactic Assault and Infantry Gameplay in the Open Beta

“Roger roger” –Any B1 Battle Droid, Star Wars

Compared to its predecessor, Star Wars Battlefront II is said to feature substantially more maps, weapons, vehicles and a more involved progression system. In addition, Battlefront II also revisits the Clone Wars in addition to the Galactic Civil War and the latest conflicts between the Resistance and First Order. Having caught my eye back in June, the open beta became available during the Canadian Thanksgiving Long Weekend, and I’ve put in some hours into the game’s available modes during the beta. The first of this is arcade, a simple primer into the game mechanics. I subsequently jumped into the incredibly entertaining Starfighter Assault, before switching over to the two available infantry-focussed game modes, Strike, and Galatic Assault. Strike is similar to Halo’s Bomb mode, which pits two teams against one another; one team must grab an objective and carry it to a destination, while the other team must stop them. Galatic Assault is a variation of Battlefront’s Walker Assault mode: two teams slug it out in a larger, objective-based game mode. In the open beta, the Republic clones fight the Separatist droid armies. The latter are aiming to capture Theed Palace on Naboo to force Amidala to sign another trade agreement, while the Republic must stop the MTT from reaching the palace, and failing this, drive off waves of battle droids. Like its predecessor, Battlefront II possesses a different set of mechanics compared to the shooters I’m familiar with. Blasters do not handle as projectile weapons do, and their low damage results in a longer time-to-kill (TTK) than I’d like – players can duck behind cover once I open fire on them to regenerate their health, and overall, getting kills in Battlefront II feels more difficult than it did in Battlefront for folks starting out: I’ve heard that star cards can boost one’s ability to score kills immensely, but I’ve never been too fond of the system.

Looking past the difficulties I’ve had in scoring kills, Galactic Assault turned out to be much more enjoyable once I understood that kills do not seem to matter in Battlefront II compared to other shooters. In the open beta, Battlefront II certainly seems to be emphasising team play over kills, and it seems that kills are less relevant compared to helping one’s team out. In the scoreboard, the number of deaths a player accumulates over the course of a match are not shown. Assists count for as many points as kills, and the simple act of spotting can yield a large number of points, as is playing objectives. Thus, with this knowledge, I took to the specialist class regardless of which team I was with. Armed with a longer range DMR and a pair of macro-binoculars capable of revealing enemies even through physical obstructions, I settled into a pattern of starting Galactic Assault matches with the specialist class, spotting enemies for my team and picking off the occasional foes from a distance. Once the MTT reaches the Theed Palace, I would switch over to the heavy class, which is equipped with a repeating blaster that is excellent for close quarters engagements, doing my best to either push onto the capture point in the throne room (as a Separatist) or defending the throne room from the droids (as a Clone). By sticking close to my teammates and playing objectives, Battlefront II becomes significantly more fun: towards the end of the beta, I was doing much better, but I find that matches always seem to end too quickly before I can spawn in as a hero. The Strike game mode is oriented around closer-range combat, and I’ve found it modestly enjoyable, similar to drop zone in Battlefront II‘s predecessor, although the mode seems to favour the Resistance: I’ve never lost while playing the Resistance, and I’ve never won as the First Order.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • My immediate impressions of Battlefront II are that it runs surprisingly smooth: I did not configure my game and used the automatic settings, which set everything to the “ultra” preset. Even with everything on full, the game ran at around 80 FPS: considering that my machine’s four and a half years old now, this certainly isn’t bad. Like my original experience with the beta, the first few hours in the game were met with a bit of a learning curve, as I was trying to figure out the game and scoring mechanics.

  • The specialist class is Battlefront II‘s counterpart to Battlefield 1‘s scout class, equipping a semi-automatic marksman rifle and being able to spot enemies with macrobinoculars that can see through walls. These long range weapons are the only viable weapons for engagements beyond 50 metres, and Battlefront II definitely does not reward long range precision shooting over playing the objective with respect to how points can be earned.

  • On the other hand, assists are worth as much as kills, so throughout my time in the Battlefront II beta, I got numerous points for damaging an enemy that was subsequently finished off by a teammate. Battlefront II takes the “Assist counts as kill” mechanic and goes one step further: kills don’t seem to matter as much, and I recall an instance where I got 1200 points simply by helping clear one of the control rooms and then proceeding to unlock the palace doors. I got maybe one kill from it: the grenade I threw slightly damaged the players inside. Here, I sit inside the composite laser turret of the LAAT/i gunship and managed a lucky kill on someone down below: the weapon’s surprisingly challenging to use owing to the laser’s pinpoint precision.

  • I’ve long wished to fly a Naboo Starfighter in a game that isn’t the Nintendo 64 incarnation of Rogue Squadron: after taking to the skies above Theed, I saw an enemy fighter and spent a good three minutes dog-fighting with them before taking them down. The MTT reached the palace shortly after, and the game kicked me out of the Naboo Starfighter elegantly, re-spawning me as a heavy class driod.

  • I’m not sure what the powerful medium range weapon that specialist classes can equip while using infiltration mode is called, but it is quite capable of close range engagements, offering specialists a fighting chance at ranges where faster-firing blasters dominate. The only class that I did not make use of extensively was the officer class: armed with a blaster pistol and able to buff players, it’s a style of play that I’ll need more time than the open beta has available to become familiar with.

  • While providing an infinitely smoother and more enjoyable experience than the Call of Duty: WWII open beta, there are still a handful of UI issues that linger in Battlefront II. The first is that the score feed sometimes displays that I’ve killed a player twice even though I know there was only one target to shoot at, and secondly, the heat metre can sometimes persist after death and not accurately reflect the weapon’s state. Beyond these two minor issues, Battlefront II‘s open beta has been silky smooth to get into.

  • The heavy class gains access to repeating blasters (Star Wars terminology for “automatic weapon”), which are fantastic for clearing out rooms and dealing out a large amount of damage quickly. Accompanying their base loadout is an impact grenade, a turret mode that exchanges mobility for firepower, and a front-facing shield that can absorb incoming fire. It’s the perfect choice for close-quarters combat inside the palace, and the heavy class is surprisingly effective even outside the palace.

  • Here, I manage to shoot a clone trooper off the AT-RT he was piloting to bring his killstreak to an end. The Battle Point system in Battlefront II is a straight upgrade from the battle pick-ups of Battlefront by removing the random chance of finding a power up on the battlefield. Instead, playing the objectives and skill is how to get to the upgraded abilities. However, my gripe with the new system is that matches do not always last long enough for players of decent skill to get to the hero unlocks before the game ends.

  • Over Theed, the amount of detail in the cityscape is incredible, and if this is how Theed looks, I am very excited to see how the rest of the maps look: besides Naboo, Battlefront II will feature Kamino, Takodana, Yavin IV, Kashyyyk, Starkiller Base and even the Second Death Star. Returning from Battlefront are Tatooine, Endor, Hoth and Jakku. I wager that Bespin, Geonosis, Utapau and Mustafar could also come with the DLC.

  • While great for laying down destruction against the MTT and strafing infantry, air vehicles in Battlefront II move a bit too quickly to be effective in a close-air support role. It would make sense to lower the minimum speed for some starfighters to make them slightly more effective for an anti-ground role; care must be taken here to ensure that they do not become too effective, otherwise, game balance would evaporate.

  • The Strike game mode is set on Takodana in and around Maz’s castle, which was destroyed during the events of The Force Awakens. However, I’ve never been able to replicate the First Order victory in this game mode: every game I’ve played with the Resistance, I won. Here, I’m equipped with a faster-firing blaster for the assault class, which has access to a thermal detonator, shotgun and a tracer dart gun. While Battlefront II has proven enjoyable, I sorely miss Battlefront‘s thermal imploder, which has one of the coolest sounds of anything in the Star Wars universe, second only to the Slave I’s seismic charges.

  • I soon jumped over to the specialist class when it became apparent that First Order soldiers would always be coming from the woods and so, I could sit back a distance and put down pot shots. Strike is an infantry-only game mode, and battle points go towards unlocking more powerful infantry units, rather than heroes of vehicles. Like Naboo, Takodana is beautifully rendered. While fun from the Resistance perspective, Strike has been less than amusing when I’ve played as the First Order, whose white armour causes them to stand out from the forest, and whose spawns leave them open to attack from the Resistance.

  • Scope glint is still very much a thing in Battlefront II, helping players quickly ascertain the presence of an enemy sniper and duck for cover. In the long, open spaces in Theed, the specialist class is a great way to open things, allowing one to spot other players and put them on the mini-map. Overall, I’m not too fond of the way the mini-map in Battlefront II works: it highlights the general direction an enemy is in if they fire or sprint, requiring a specialist to manually spot opponents. One of the things that I succumbed to frequently in this beta and the Call of Duty: WWII beta was accidentally mashing “Q” trying to spot enemies.

  • Most players will suggest playing in third person mode, as it offers a bit of a tactical advantage with respect to spatial awareness and in allowing one to peek their corners. For the purposes of discussion, I’ve chosen to stay in first person so that the weapon models can be seen. Iconic weapons, from the Battle Droids’ E-5 blaster, to the Clone Trooper’s DC-15 series, appear in the beta, and one must marvel at the detail placed into rendering them.

  • Frustrations gave way to fun once I slowly began learning Battlefront II‘s mechanics, and what was originally an “unlikely to buy” verdict turned into a “I’ll buy it if there is plenty of content available at launch”. Looking back, I similarly had a bit of a learning curve going into Battlefront‘s beta back in 2015, and it was only after I unlocked the repeating blaster that the gameplay changed. Battlefront II is a bit more skill-based than its predecessor, and after some eight hours with the beta, I’m a bit more comfortable with all of the functions and controls.

  • The MTT assault on Theed is only one of the galactic conquest game modes, and one of the things I’, most curious to see is if iconic battles from the original trilogy and prequels made it into Battlefront II: while Battlefront was stymied by limited content and a low skill ceiling, walker assault proved to be immensely fun, allowing players to re-live the most famous battles of Star Wars in an environment that was of the same scale as those seen in the Battlefield franchise.

  • The only thing left on the schedule for tonight is chocolate cheesecake, and Thanksgiving Monday will afford me with a rare opportunity to sleep in. The Battlefront II beta ends tomorrow morning, which marks a return to Far Cry 4. For Thanksgiving this year, I give thanks for great food and family, warmth, and the fact that there is good in the world worth preserving. Things do look quite grim, but it is my aim to work my hardest and contribute in what manner that I can to things that are for our benefit.

  • With a bit more familiarity in the game, I switched over to the assault class and performed moderately well during one of my last matches, earning enough battle points to unlock Darth Maul. The match ended before I could spawn in, however, and one of the things I’ve noticed while taking on Hero classes is that they’re noticeably weaker than they were in Battlefront. In the close quarters frenzy of Theed Palace, I’ve encountered both Darth Maul and Rey before. In a blind panic, I opened fire on them along with my teammates, and they promptly died before they could retaliate: their lightsabers are no longer one-hit-kills.

  • I feel that the Heroes should have at least fifty percent more health, but the health should not regenerate, and the Heroes with lightsabers should be able to one-shot opponents since they are entering melee range (whereas Heroes like Boba Fett and Han Solo can stay back to engage in ranged combat). Overall, the Battlefront II beta’s infantry combat isn’t terribly difficult to learn, and there are some fantastic set-pieces. I look forwards to seeing what the full game will entail, and wrap up by remarking that the other game mode, Starfighter Assault, was so exhilarating that I’ve got a separate post on it.

The infantry gameplay in Battlefront II is above average on the whole: movement is quite smooth, and I’ve had fun playing in both third and first person mode, but the long time to kill and dependence on abilities over steady aim means that Battlefront II is ultimately less about good shooting and more about who can best manage their abilities, using them effectively during the right times to turn the tide of battle in their team’s favour. The larger maps and spawn system also can make getting back into combat after death a frustrating experience: one can go for long periods without seeing anyone, then die unexpectedly and be sent back to a far corner of the map, resulting in yet another long walk into things. With this in mind, the walk certainly is a visually impressive one: the graphics in Theed, from the large piles of leaves blowing about, to the fantastic architecture and colours, are breathtaking. On several occasions, I’ve wasted some of my battle points spawning in as a fighter for the sole purpose of flying over Theed just to admire the cityscape. One thing is for sure about Battlefront II: it captures the sights and sounds of Star Wars as effectively as its predecessor did. While an absolute audio-visual treat, perhaps even more so than 2015’s Battlefront, the multiplayer infantry gameplay seen so far, while entertaining, alone does not inspire a purchase of Battlefront II at launch price. However, it is still early to be making a decision – we’ve not seen some of the other modes available yet. In addition, the beta does not provide a chance to try out the campaign or single-player arcade modes; if these turn out to drive replayability to a reasonable extent, Battlefront II could very well be worth the price of admissions at launch.

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.