The Infinite Zenith

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Category Archives: Noteworthy Games

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.

Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands: A Reflection on the Beta

“These drug cartels represent a clear and present danger to the national security of the United States.” —POTUS, Clear and Present Danger

Developed by Ubisoft Paris and announced in 2015 at the E3 event, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands is the tenth title in the Ghost Recon series. Set in the near future where the drug cartel Santa Blanca becomes the most dominant narcotic supplier in Bolivia, players will take on the role of a fictional special forces operator inserted into the nation to cripple the drug cartel, whose expanding influence begins to concern the United States government. After entering Bolivia by helicopter, the operator meets up with their CIA contact, Karen Bowman, and is given an assignment once they arrive in the Itacua province: to locate Amaru, an old man who founded the resistance group Kataris 26. Once Amaru is found, players can subsequently take on the Santa Blanca cartel in any order and manner of their choosing. Intelligence is collected to determine which locations of Itacua are worth locating — as more assignments are completed, the local commanders’ locations are revealed. In an intense firefight, both are killed, leaving me to continue the hunt in the neighbouring Montuyoc province. Standing in sharp contrast with Itacua, whose landscapes were dominated by verdant greenery, Montuyoc is an arid desert with only one large lake at its centre. Here, the enemies proved to be much more challenging, requiring more creative means to take out, but in the end, after some nine hours of time in the open beta, I finally reached the abandoned silver mine and neutralised Carl Bookhart, completing all of the eleven story missions available in the Wildands open beta.

I first heard about Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands (Wildlands for brevity in the remainder of my post) through one of my favourite YouTubers, TheRadBrad, who played through the first several missions in the Itacua province, acquired the M40A5 sniper rifle and wrapped up his mini-series of the closed beta with the mission where one must steal a sports car to acquire its GPS data from one of the local cartel lieutenants. My adventure continued on from here; I completed some side quests to gain access to support from the rebels and also managed to defeat the two bosses of the province. The beta shows that Wildlands is a beautiful game: the different provinces are fantastic places to explore, filled to the brim with details in the landscape. Dynamic weather adds variety to gameplay, prompting players to change up their tactics. While the Bolivia of Wildlands looks beautiful, the game’s narrative is not quite as captivating as that of The Division: inspired by Tom Clancy’s Clear and Present Danger, where John Clark and Domingo Chavez infiltrate Columbia on a covert operation to destroy a drug cartel, Wildlands‘ storyline is more familiar, more grounded and more derivative. Players do not feel a particular curiosity towards seeing what’s next because it’s a simple matter of killing everyone of note in the cartel. Missions very quickly settle into a formulaic process — I arrive at the location specified in the intel, send my drone up to look around, then blow some bad guys away. If all has gone well, I clear the area out and complete my mission, otherwise, the alarm goes off and things devolve into a firefight I’ll lose, since the control mechanisms in Wildlands are not quite as smooth as they should be. Even then, moving around on foot is acceptable compared to the lack of controls the vehicles offer, and the AI-controlled companions bring to mind the sort of behaviours seen in Halo: Combat Evolved whenever I tried to enter a vehicle. While the controls are tricky to master, Wildlands delivers solid gun play — weapons feel very powerful, and I absolutely enjoyed downing enemies with a well-placed headshot from my suppressed sniper rifle, or firing a quick burst from an assault rifle to dispatch even an heavily-armoured enemy.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Immediately after touching down and sneaking up a mountainous path to locate a cartel lieutenant who has information on where Amaru is, I am greeted with a plethora of vivid colours, from the deep blue sky and the greens of the jungle, to the mahogany of the muddy ground. Colours in Wildlands stand out, and is easily one of the most impressive aspect of the game. The number of vistas in Wildlands means that I could easily make this post with thirty screenshots to showcase some of the different places I visited during my trek through the beta. It doesn’t end here: this post only covers the first half of my journey, and I will be returning in the near future to discuss the second half of my journey, as well as comparing Wildlands with The Division.

  • In combat, players can choose between a traditional first-person view while aiming down sights, or switch back to the over-the-shoulder system seen in some tactical third-person shooters. For weapons with higher magnification optics (anything 4x or higher), this is the better way to play, while for weapons with red dot or iron sights, shooting with the over-the-shoulder camera perspective allows one to retain situational awareness in close quarters engagement.

  • Here, the skies are grey as clouds roll in, but later, the clouds begin dispersing. The sharp contrast between light and dark means that the clouds grow much darker while light floods in, similar to how the play of light results in very dark skies when the sun breaks through the sky in reality. In Wildlands, much of my screenshots will feature weapons equipped with suppressors: intended to be a tactical shooter, enemies will go down in only a few bullets, and while suppressed rounds are much weaker, they allow players to take out enemies without being detected.

  • The driving in Wildlands takes some getting used to: controls are very loose and imprecise, so what one initially intends to be a small adjustment in course will result in a wide, uncontrolled turn that can send the player careening off the road. This lack of control makes driving quite unenjoyable, and is compounded by the fact that the camera swings while reversing to face the back of the vehicle. I have free control of the camera while driving, so I expect to turn the camera myself if I need extra visibility in the back, rather than have the camera do it on my behalf.

  • In a small town in the north-east corner of Itacua, I encounter the UNIDAD for the first time. These private military contractors are a rogue branch of the Bolivian army in Wildlands, are denoted as purple on the map and are much tougher than the Santa Blanca enforcers, wearing heavy armour into combat and bringing superior weapons, as well. On my first encounter, I fought them and managed to elevate my patrol status to two chevrons, only just getting away when they began pursuit. Subsequently, I learned to avoid UNIDAD patrols.

  • Players start Wildlands with the P416 assault rifle (based off the Patriot Ordinance Factory P416), which has reasonable accuracy, firing rate and damage, the Heckler and Koch MP5 and the P45T pistol. All of these weapons can be outfitted with suppressors that lessen their damage but also increases one’s stealthiness. It is generally advisable to keep one’s suppressors on at all times, since enemies do not take more than a handful of hits (if unarmoured) to go down.

  • One of the earlier missions involved activating a radio transmitted and defending it from attacking Santa Blanca forces. By this point in the beta, I’ve unlocked the M40A5 sniper rifle, and despite its lower zoom optic, the weapon proved to be an indispensable asset throughout most of the game, allowing me to silently dispatch enemies without drawing attention to myself. However, there are parts of the game where it’s necessary to go loud, and here, I use a fragmentation grenade to destroy a Santa Blanca vehicle.

  • When I first heard news of the open beta and its start date, I realised that it would conflict with some of my other commitments. In order to maximise the time I could play through the beta and complete the main missions (which is my goal for any beta involving a campaign), I planned things out ahead of time so blog posts were done, and time was blocked out accordingly. By 25 Saturday, I had largely finished the first province and was getting set to visit the second — I was set to meet up with coworkers for a pizza and poker night, so a fine balance and time management allowed me to thoroughly enjoy both.

  • It’s been quite some time since I’ve made a pizza, and so, presented with the ingredients, I added different pepperonis, bell peppers, mushrooms, tomatos, jalapeño, and even shrimp to mine, on top of the default cheeses. The end result was a bit messy but turned out delicious: I dumped a generous amount of hot sauce onto my pizza and savoured it. After the pizzas were demolished, the evening turned to poker and chocolate cake: it was my first time playing Texas Hold ‘Em, and the buy-in was 20 dollars. After a few practise hands to warm up, I surprised myself with how quick it was to learn the basics, and so, we set off into the main game.

  • Some two-and-a-half hours later, the last hands were played, and I managed to break even. It’s true that poker is more about psychology than probability, and that one’s current state is by no means indicative of what the end result is: I was quite close to elimination, but two successive wins with a full house and three pairs, respectively, brought me back into the game. Back in Wildlands, I drive a truck while trying to catch up with a convoy carrying supplies. When convoys, choppers or planes are stolen and delivered, they can bring vast quantities of supplies to the rebel forces. The points one gains for doing these activities go towards unlocking skills and equipment.

  • The scenery here reminds me of the scenery I encountered when travelling in Taiwan back during 2014, and a part of me would like to return to the Eastern side of the nation to explore the Huatung Valley, a beautiful region surrounded by mountains on both sides. The majesty of this area brings to mind the sort of emotions evoked by the Titanfall 2 soundtrack, which is absolutely amazing, and at some point this year, I plan on picking up Titanfall 2 if it goes on discount, to play through the campaign.

  • Stealing El Politio’s race car was a particularly fun mission: after sneaking into the garage, I simply took the vehicle and enjoyed its performance en route to the destination.  This is the last mission that TheRadBrad played through, and so, having done both this mission and acquired the M40A5 as my second primary weapon, I’ve now gone through everything that was presented during the closed beta, which ran some three weeks ago.

  • Here, I drive into a village in a mini-bus. While the driving system in Wildlands leaves something to be desired, one feature I did enjoy is that players can command their AI squad mates to begin opening fire on enemy positions, minimising my own exposure to their fire. In this manner, I cleaned up the village on short order and began making my way to the mission objective, to free a prisoner with some intel.

  • Unlike last year, where I was working on a conference publication during The Division‘s beta, there are no academic-related tasks this year to deal with. I’ve mentioned this with some frequency, but every time I think about it, it’s always a bit of a shock to learn just how quickly time flies. It only seems like yesterday that I spent a day at the lab, working on course material before coming home to play through The Division‘s beta.

  • For much of this post, which represents the first half of my experiences within Wildlands, I ran exclusively with the P416, M40A5 and the P45T. I would on some occasions, pick up weapons taken from enemies, which allowed me to fire the M4A1, 805 Bren A2 and the 6P41 (PKP Pecheneg, for us Battlefield fans). On the whole, the other weapons proved to be fun to use, especially considering how they were equipped with the 4x optics, allowing them to be used at greater range.

  • For much of the Wildlands beta, the M40A5 suppressed was probably my favourite weapon for stealth engagements: it packs a good punch, has a good-sized magazine capacity and can be used to pick off enemies at longer ranges in a reliable manner. Here, I storm a UNIDAD facility to interrogate a commander to acquire some intelligence that sets in motion the final main mission in this province. On my first visit, I neglected to explore and did not find the weapon attachment or weapon at this site, so I returned after completing all of the missions.

  • Knowing where the province’s bosses, La Yuri and El Polito, I commandeered a helicopter and flew towards my destination as the skies began to darken. The helicopter is a good way of getting between destinations, but the controls were quite tricky to become accustomed to. However, I eventually got the hang of it and made my way to a farm house on a hill to complete the last of the missions in the Itacua province.

  • Unlike the bosses of The Division, who soak up bullets like a sponge, the bosses of Wildlands go down in a few rounds. The challenge is not gunning down the bosses, but rather, getting to them: the entire room was full of their cronies who filled the air with hot lead, and I was downed once during the fight, forcing one of the AI teammates to revive me. By the time I got back up, the AI teammates already took out one of the bosses, but I swung around and managed to get the kill myself before they could vulture my kill to end this mission and acquire two illustrious AK-47s.

  • I found a helicopter equipped with dual mini-guns and set about picking fights with the Santa Blanca helicopters in the sky, blowing one up here in a spectacular fashion. While fun to fly, aiming the primary weapons on the helicopter proved to be surprisingly tricky, and with the vehicle bobbing this way and that, it proved difficult to point the guns down towards the ground to strafe enemy positions.

  • The dynamic weather patterns in Wildlands meant that I would be able to stop and admire the sunrises and sunsets in between missions. With the major story missions of Itacua complete, I set about visiting the weapon caches to pick up new weapons. The intel to locate these spots were found by exploration, and after looking through the weapons menu, I was disappointed to learn that the Vector .45 ACP would not be available in this province to unlock.

  • While seemingly frivolous, the collectible medals offer enhancements to skills unlocked. Similar to the weapons caches, they can be unlocked by looking through intel scattered around the various settlements, and here, I find a medal near a rebel-controlled farm. More than ever, I am reminded of the mountainous regions of Eastern Taiwan, and I entertain notions of an open world game set in Taiwan during the 1940s under Japanese occupation, where players can play as the Taiwanese resistance.

  • I decided to go reach a spot to hunt down the MG121 before taking on a supply drop mission. Ideal for laying down a large amount of suppressive fire, LMGs also deal excellent damage but have a longer reload time. One of the elements in Wildlands that I initially assumed to be a bug was that picking up weapons from defeated enemies would automatically add them to my collection, and that weapons would persist after I left the game and returned.

  • Here, I fire the MG121 at enemy forces hiding behind a helicopter carrying medical supplies. Missions involving the theft of a helicopter proved to be fun and also the most straightforwards to complete, although there have been cases where one of the enemies will make a beeline for the helicopter and fly off with it: destroying the helicopter will result in the mission failing, although in the beta, the game is forgiving enough to re-issue the mission if it had been failed earlier.

  • With more or less all of the areas explored to a satisfactory extent, the time had come for me to make tracks for the Montuyoc province to continue with my journey. Having played through several time-sensitive games such as Battlefield 4 and Titanfall as a part of Origin’s GameTime programme, as well as several betas, I’ve developed a methodology to enjoy these titles as fully as possible given my limited time in playing them: for multiplayer games, I simply play as often as I can and spread my time out to experience things in the greatest breadth possible, while for games with a set of campaign, I’ll begin by completing story missions first.

  • This town here is located on a snowy cliff-side on the boarder between Itacua and Montuyoc. A far cry from the jungles and greenery of Itacua, I reached this location by means of a motorbike. Unlike World of Warcraft, the different regions smoothly transition into one another: this is stated to be the consequence of gods forging the world, and magical elements contribute to the dramatic change in terrain between the different locations: the Searing Gorge and Burning Steppes are two locations sandwiched between Dun Morogh (a snow-covered land) Elwynn Forest, a temperate, green setting.

  • After clearing out this town, I proceeded by motorcycle to the first of the checkpoints in Montuyoc. One of the fastest vehicles in the game, the motorcycle is also one of the easiest to use for the Montuyoc province, allowing players to cut across the desert plains quickly. There are large boulders strewn here and there, but those can be avoided. The main disadvantage about the motorcycle is that it only seats one. Pickup trucks and mini-buses allow players to bring their mates, but this limitation is only constrained to co-op: the AI teammates seem to be able to spawn on the player’s position after they exit the motorcycle.

  • The large lake at the center of Montuyoc reminds me of Namco Lake in Tibet; this salt lake located in the Tibetian plateau is the largest salt lake in Tibet and counted as one of the most beautiful in China, with deep blue waters beneath treeless mountains covered in snow. The weather up here is harsh and subject to frequent snowstorms, making it difficult for vegetation to take hold, and in Wildlands, one can surmise that conditions are only slightly more hospitable, as grasses can be seen in some parts of Montuyoc. I’d love to visit Namco Lake, although for the present, I’ll enjoy the fact that I got to explore a virtual version of the lake in the Wildlands beta.

  • Upon entering a new province for the first time, the first goal is to hit up locations where the intel is located, and acquire it so that the first set of story missions unlock. At these locations, there will be Santa Blanca cartel enforcers hanging around, and they must be eliminated before anything else can be done. I imagine that the same will hold true for each of the twenty-one provinces in the game.

  • All told, I’ve heard an estimate of around seven to eight hours of total time could be spent in the Wildlands beta to complete the story missions and side missions: this is more or less true, so a bit of computation suggests the final game will take roughly 73.5 to 84 hours to complete in total. Conversely, The Division clocks at at an average of 30-36 hours to complete in full. That’s a vast amount of time to be spending in one game, and to put things in perspective, I’ve got around 63 hours in Receiver, 51 hours in Skyrim, 43 in Valkyria Chronicles and 32 hours in Deus Ex: Mankind Divided.

  • Here, I overlook a small settlement and the lake at the center of Montuyoc province as the sun sets. Besides playing through the Wildlands beta this weekend, I also picked up Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare Legacy Edition for a third off — I discovered the deal while waiting for my appointment at the bank, and despite the overwhelmingly negative reception for the game, I have been looking to buy both games for some time. This is so I could give Infinite Warfare a shot and see if it’s as bad as people make it out to be, and to play through Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare‘s Remastered Edition. The latter is associated with my memories of the MCAT exam nearly five years ago, and it will be quite nostalgic to go through Pripyat again with the improved graphics for old times’ sake.

Having played through the game as a solo player, Wildlands beta proved to be reasonably entertaining and also showcased the scale of what Wildlands offers. However, although spectacular in the scale and details of Bolivia, as well providing a fantastic experience with respect to how the different weapons handle and perform, from my experiences with the open beta, Wildlands does not look like a game I would pick up: travelling between the different locations turned out to be a bit of a chore, and missions unwound almost with the same sequence of events each time. The combination of (albeit a very impressive and well thought-out) open world elements with a derivative narrative means that Wildlands ultimately becomes very familiar: Far Cry 4 provides a similar experience in the first person and has different nuances that encourage exploration, while Just Cause 3‘s taste for wanton destruction far outclasses that of Wildlands (it does not seem that one can destroy buildings with missiles, sustained mini-gun fire or cannon rounds). Despite the fun I’ve had in sneaking around enemy positions and a shooting everyone in the head with a suppressed sniper rifle, as well as the joy in watching shifting weather patterns, Wildlands is a game that I do not see myself considering picking up in the foreseeable future: getting around can be a bit of a challenge, and the nature of the narrative raises one additional question: what is left to do in Wildlands once the cartel is completely defeated?

Alien Isolation: Final Review and Reflection

“I’d like to say I got this part figured out, but I know the moment I say that, I’m going to get killed. Fucking Facehuggers, man.” —TheRadBrad on Alien Isolation

After two months and eighteen days, over the course of around nineteen hours, I’ve finally crossed the finish line for Alien: Isolation. When I left off last time back in late June, I’d just acquired the flamethrower and was getting ready to lure the Xenomorph into a trap such that it could be ejected from the station. That part of the game was quite tense, and I succeeded without too much difficulty. With the Xenomorph gone for a bit, there’s a respite in Alien: Isolation; the Working Joes and other human hostiles are not particularly scary, so I was able to enjoy the relative peace and quiet on Sevastopol station as I made my way to the Apollo core to try and reset the androids so they’d cease their hostilities. However, this is unsuccessful, leading to the single most tense mission in all of Alien: Isolation: Ripley learns that there is a vast Xenomorph hive in the bowels of the reactor and must overload it, all the while contending with Facehuggers and multiple Xenomorphs. Despite succeeding, several Xenomporhs escape, and Ripley must board the Anesidora to rescue Taylor. She learns her mother’s fate but only narrowly escapes the Anesidora’s destruction. With Sevastopol critically damaged, Ripley makes her way off the station after detaching it and back on board the Torrens, she finds herself confronted by yet another Xenomorph. She escapes through an airlock and drifts in space before being awakened by some searchlights.

While Alien: Isolation may be named after the Xenomorphs, having completed the game now, I conclude that the Xenomorph is, surprisingly, not the most frightening aspect of Alien: Isolation. Instead, the title for this covetted spot goes to the Facehuggers. These chelicerate arthropod-like sorganisms are the second stage of a Xenomorph’s life cycle: resembling spiders with bony appendages and a tail, they propel themselves at high speeds towards their victims’ faces. After they wrap their appendeges around the victim, they implant the Xenomorph embryo that matures into a Xenomporh. Small in size, capable of moving quickly and announcing their presence with a shriek, the Facehuggers are downright terrifying and can result deaths out of the blue. They are easily dispatched with any ordinance that Ripley carries (a single revolver bullet or a well-placed hit from the maintenance jack will kill them), but the unexpectedness that they can appear and hop onto the screen makes them the ideal means of inducing jump scares even in someone as stoic as myself. Nowhere in the game do I startle or even cry out in response to a death at the Xenomorph’s hands; that the Facehuggers can do this is a sure sign of how well-designed they are as enemies. Unlike the Poison Headcrabs of Half-Life 2, who similarly announced their presence audibly, the Facehuggers can send players back a long way, further increasing their ability to frighten players even compared to the Poison Headcrabs. So effective were the Facehuggers that it took me a week to muster the courage to continue playing the reactor basement mission, and ultimately, were it not for this opponent, Alien: Isolation might have lost its magic. Instead, the inclusion of Facehuggers capable of causing such effective jump scares adds to the enjoyment factor of Alien: Isolation substantially.

Stepping away from the Facehuggers and the fact that they gave me nightmares, the main theme in Alien: Isolation appears to revolve around Ripley’s resourcefulness, determination and adaptability as a character. Although the odds are stacked against Ripley the moment she sets foot on Sevastopol Station, she capitalises on her engineering knowledge and patience to make her way through areas, both to survive and to do what she’d set out to do. It was remarkably fun to be playing a character who is forced to use cunning, rather than firepower, to overwhelm an enemy, and similarly, it was a refreshing experience to capitalise on an unkillable enemy to further one’s goals and survival. Despite being highly linear in nature, almost to that of a kinetic novel, Alien: Isolation is a fantastic experience. This is because the atmosphere in Alien: Isolation is superbly designed, allowing players to vividly experience what Ripley herself is experiencing. Players have some sway over how Ripley’s adventure proceeds, offering a set of tools that can dramatically alter the outcome of an encounter with Working Joes, other humans or the Xenomorph itself. For instance, when encountered with a group of humans in a room, Ripley can sneak past them by triggering a smoke grenade, find a vent and use a different path, or even toss a noisemaker into the mix and have the Xenomorph do the dirty work. These highly immersive approach allows Alien: Isolation to succeed by giving players enough options to allow them a means of matching wits with their environment and enemies. In conjunction with a more linear story, Alien: Isolation provides a fine balance between openness and clearly telling its story about Ripley’s journey to figure out what happened to her mother.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • The flamethrower is possibly the single most useful weapon in Alien: Isolation, and although it is not capable of causing any serious harm to the Xenomorph, a short burst causes it to retreat. Fuel can be quite scarce, and overuse of the flamethrower can cause the Xenomorph to ignore the flames, resulting in death. Besides its utility in creating an opening in which to hide or escape, the flamethrower is highly effective against Facehuggers and can even be used to light the interiors of vents. The page quote is taken from TheRadBrad and his experiences with Facehuggers.

  • If it were not for the fact that Working Joes and a Xenomorph were chasing Ripley through Sevastopol Station, there might actually be some time to take in just how intricately designed the levels’ interiors are. The computers are pleasantly quaint, featuring large CRT displays and buttons from the 70s. Ripley must occasionally interact with these systems through mini-games, and these can be quite fun to complete.

  • Ripley can occasionally encounter other survivors on the Sevastopol Station. Most of them are hostile, but may occasionally give Ripley a chance to retreat into the shadows. Others are benign and so, should be left alone: during one mission, I assumed a group of people were hostile, planted a pipe bomb and lured them towards the device. When it detonated, the game ended and informed me that I’d just whacked civilians. From there on out, I decided to be more careful and assessed people based on their conversational tone.

  • Sneaking through one area of the station, the Xenomorph appeared and was impeding my progress, so I proceeded to unload the flamethrower on it. Lacking the range of a military flamethrower, the flamethrower Ripley has access to is limited by its short range. Firing it too early may result in the Xenomorph charging in, ignoring the fire and possibly result in the player’s death. Despite its efficacy, its still better to hide, since the Xenomorph will adapt to the player’s use of the flamethrower over time.

  • Because the Xenomorph is said to have sophisticated AI, eventually adapting to the players’ patterns, I decided I would respond to this knowledge ahead of time. To ensure that any particular method of escaping the Xenomporh remained viable, I chose to hide in lockers, cabinets, under desks, toss noisemakers or utilise my flamethrower. The Xenomporh’s learner would therefore register that since the player had a relatively even distribution of actions, the Xenomorph would therefore have a similar probability of executing any one particular countermeasure.

  • As such, I never was pulled out of a locker or was caught hiding underneath a desk, and the flamethrower remained effective well into the game. Here, I make my way out of an area after successfully luring the Xenomorph into the lab module and escaped. With the Xenomorph gone for the present, Alien: Isolation became uncharacteristically relaxed, allowing me to move through areas more quickly and with reduced caution. Some individuals consider the Working Joes and humans to be scarier opponents than the Xenomorph, but I digress.

  • One section of Alien: Isolation involves fending off six Working Joes. The most effective way of taking the conventional type out is to make use of the stun baton to temporarily disable it, and then strike it repeatedly with the maintenance jack until it goes down. Against a group, the EMP devices become more useful, disabling several and allowing for each to be dispatched in turn. Here, I’ve got the Henjin-Garcia Model 37-12 Gauge Pump Action shotgun, which is quite effective against humans and basic Working Joes. Ammunition is scarce, so I reserve the weapons only for the most dire of situations.

  • After missing the Molotov cocktail blueprints in the San Cristobal Medical Bay, I would find another set of blueprints for an updated Molotov, which burns for longer. The Molotov makes use of the ethanol bottles found scattered around Sevastopol Station and appears to be composed of a rye whiskey. Some of my friends are fond of rye and coke, but for better or worse, it seems that my liquor of choice now has become rum.

  • I found that distracting the Xenomorph was always somewhat of a gamble, as an improperly utilised flare or noisemaker could easily result in my death. One of my more amusing stories with Alien: Isolation is that until more than halfway through the game, I never did figure out how to replace the flashlight batteries and so, went through most of the game with two-thirds of my flashlight still available. Fortunately, there are only a few places in Alien: Isolation where the flashlight is really necessary, and it turns out that holding down the flashlight button will reload the batteries.

  • Despite the presence of Working Joes, the trek through Seegson Synthetics was surprisingly relaxing and easygoing compared to the rest of Alien: Isolation, and I spent a nontrivial amount of time getting lost en route to Apollo’s core. It turns out that Apollo is under directives to secure a Xenomorph specimen for Weyland-Yutani, hence the Working Joes being instructed to deal with all humans. Ripley is forced to relinquish all of her weapons here, leaving only the stun baton behind. After reaching Apollo’s core and learning about the Xenomorph hive in the reactor basement, she’ll thankfully recover all of her munitions just in time for the most nerve-wracking experience in the whole of Alien: Isolation.

  • The bolt gun becomes an essential tool for dispatching the hazardous environment Working Joes, who can resist EMP devices and the stun baton. Conversely, the bolt gun is capable of taking out the hazardous environment Joes in a single shot (they do require charging in order to be effective). These pneumatically-powered devices are improvised weapons and under normal circumstances, resemble nail guns, being used to drive anchor bolts into a surface.

  • The reactor basement is a dark, moist and downright terrifying environment. With walls covered in organic matter and a clear half-foot of water covering the floor, this area is silent save for the sounds of dripping water and distant echoes. The organic matter obfuscates the motion tracker, and the difficult environment is where the Facehuggers are first encountered. For the first time in my experiences, I became too frightened to continue and took a week of playing Alien: Isolation, even suffering from a nightmare where I found myself in the reactor core. However, I returned, and summoned the courage to overload the alpha and beta cores, finally completing the most challenging mission I’ve seen in a game.

  • It was a relief to take the elevator back to the reactor deck, where the only enemies are the hazardous environment Working Joes. A combination of steady aim and plentiful bolt gun ammunition meant it was reasonably straightforwards to dispatch the Joes, and then follow the procedure required to initiate the reactor purge. While the reactor basement was remarkably unsettling, the reactor itself is a neat location, being held in a room so large the walls surrounding it aren’t visible.

  • Once all of the steps have been taken to trigger the purge, it is shown that there are multiple Xenomorphs hanging about on Sevastopol Station. Several escape into the station, and now, Ripley must contend with multiple Xenomorphs. Fortunately, the strategies that have applied earlier remain effectual now, and so, Ripley must now revisit the San Cristobal Medical Bay in order to reach the Anesidora.

  • There are no enemies on board the Anesidora, save for one Facehugger, and on my first attempt here, I died instantly to one, listening to the gurgling sounds resulting from such a death. Regardless of whether or not I was expecting to die to a Facehugger, seeing the bony appendages and gaping maw. On my second attempt, I failed to equip my flamethrower, and instead, whipped out my revolver. My aim was true enough, and a single shot later, the Facehugger exploded into a puddle of acidic sludge.

  • Upon reaching the Anesidora’s reactor, Ripley finds a computer carrying the flight recorder log she’d been seeking. She gains closure with her mother’s fate, although Alien: Isolation does not end here: Marlowe has set the Anesidora’s reactor to explode with the aim of taking out Sevastopol Station and the other Xenomorphs. Even with Ripley walking Taylor through the shutdown procedure, the reactor explodes, forcing Ripley to beat a hasty retreat. While Alien: Isolation is generally a fantastic game, the voice acting is a little weaker, and Ripley’s scream here in response to Taylor’s death might perhaps be one instance of weaker voice acting.

  • Back on board Sevastopol Station, I use a flamethrower to roast two hostile guards. The flamethrower and Molotov cocktails are highly effective against human opponents, but ignited hostiles will scream, possibly attracting the Xenomorphs’ attention. Note the apostrophe placement: by this point in Alien: Isolation, Xenomorphs are referred to in plural now because there is definitely more than one.

  • The Anesidora’s destruction also damages stabilising structures onboard Sevastopol Station, causing its orbit to decay and spiral slowly into KG-348’s atmosphere. Ripley must escape, but finds that there’s no way to contact the Torrens. This necessitates an EVA out to the transmission dishes, and for the moment, this becomes one of the more easy-going sections of Alien: Isolation. Although the station might be falling apart and there’s a communications dish to get set up, there are no Xenomorphs or Facehuggers out here, so it’s possible to take in the scenery in peace.

  • Once the Torrens is hailed, Ripley must make her way to the Torrens. Ricardo, one of the deputies to Chief Marshall Waits, was the only survivor after the Working Joes killed the other humans, and assists Ripley in her journeys through the bowels of Sevastopol Station. She plans to at least bring him on board the Torrens, but upon returning from her EVA, she finds him taken down by a Facehugger.

  • Expanding this screenshot to 1080p reveals a Xenomorph in the centre of the screen. On several occasions, I’ve escaped the Xenomorph’s attention simply by losing line of sight with it, hiding behind a sign or chair. As soon as the Xenomorph grows bored and leaves, it’s time to push forwards. This late in the game, most of Ripley’s inventory becomes of limited use. Recalling my use of items, I found the flamethrower, stun baton and bolt gun to be the most useful of the weapons. Similarly, for tools, the medical kit, noise maker and Molotov see frequent use.

  • The penultimate chapter returns Ripley to a familiar hallway, and now armed with the ion torch, she’s able to cut through the door and conclude this mission. While Ripley boards Sevastopol Station poorly equipped to make her way through the numerous locked doors and the like, she’ll find the tools necessary (upgrades to the security access tuner and the cutting torches) as they become necessary. There’s no way to miss the essentials, although players who do not explore might miss crafting blueprints.

  • The final mission in Alien: Isolation is to manually detach the Torrens, which has become stuck to Sevastopol Station. The flamethrower becomes an indispensable tool here, marking the first time where Ripley will certainly encounter multiple Xenomorphs at once. Short, controlled bursts will send the Xenomorphs on their way. Once they’re dealt with, Ripley will need to reach the airlock and head back into the void of space, but she’s ambushed by a Xenomorph on the way.

  • When Ripley comes to, she finds herself stuck to the walls of a Xenomorph hive. Facehuggers are common here, and with few upcoming direct confrontations with Xenomorphs in Alien: Isolation‘s final sections, the flamethrower becomes a powerful tool for destroying the Facehuggers (and their eggs). This region appears to be in the process of being transformed into a new hive, and the spread of organic Xenomorph biomass into the area is perfectly disgusting. I failed to mention this earlier, but the eggs can be burned before the Facehuggers come out of them: the resulting effect is quite satisfying to watch.

  • Readers might have noticed that the frequency of screenshots with flames in them increases as the bottom of the post is reached, corresponding with the increasing damage that Sevastopol Station has suffered. After crawling through the damaged areas, I reached some train tracks and carefully made my way across. By the time I got here, I knew I was quite close to the end of Alien: Isolation. With the end so near, I resolved that I would finish the game before the weekend had ended.

  • Last Sunday, I had taken the morning to work on a journal publication, and I spent the afternoon enjoying the sunshine, riding the C-trains around town, reaching the southern edge of the city and returning to the downtown core to enjoy a double-cheese bacon poutine. The weather was fantastic for a summer characterised by an excess of rain and thunderstorms, and thankfully, this year, there were no major floods. After an adventure-filled day, I took the evening and went through the last parts of Alien: Isolation.

  • This narrow crawl-space stands between Ripley and the airlock: there are no fewer than three Facehuggers in here, and I died no fewer than three times here alone trying to clear the area out. At this point in Alien: Isolation, the game automatically saves, so one does not lose substantial progress, and at long last, after dispatching all of the Facehuggers in hear, I finally reached the airlock.

  • I have a little more than fifty deaths in Alien: Isolation in total; this is not quite enough to unlock the achievement for accumulating a hundred deaths in the game. The final objective here is to blow the bolts keeping the Torrens docked to Sevastopol Station, and once that’s done, a long cutscene is triggered, where multiple Xenomorphs are visible. Fortunately, a blast pushes Ripley back into the Torrens, while the station succumbs to gravity and is destroyed in KG-348’s atmosphere. The remains of the station explodes spectacularly, bringing to mind the Shoemaker-Levy 9 impacts; the largest impact hit with the force of six million MT of energy.

  • Being a survival-horror game, Ripley is most certainly not safe even though she’s back on the Torrens. There is no opportunity to rest in the quiet of the Torrens and actually make one’s way to the bridge, since a Xenomorph will have boarded. The quick-time event to end the game is a mercifully straightforwards one, and I finished it on my first try, sending the Xenomorph flying out of the airlock into the voids of space. I’m generally not fond of quick-time events, recalling those of Battlefield 3 where I missed one button and proceeded to die, forcing me to restart a scene.

  • While Alien: Isolation appears to leave Ripley’s fate ambiguous, she’s picked up by another vessel and rescued. She later becomes married, taking on the name of McClaren, and dies at the age of sixty-six. Playing through Alien: Isolation, I’m now interested to watch Alien (the original, as well as Aliens), so if the game also had the aim of piquing interest in the Alien franchise, it succeeded somewhat. With this post over, I’m looking to write about Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and DOOM in the near future. As well, I neglected to mention that I definitely will be watching and reviewing Kimi no na wa (Your Name), a Makoto Shinkai film that will release in two days. I’ve been waiting for this movie since February of last year, and the post will probably be a larger one, featuring some sixty images.

Altogether, Alien: Isolation is a remarkable game that now joins the ranks of Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Valkyria Chronicles as the best games I’ve experienced. With solid atmosphere conferred by the amount of attention put into level design, artwork and soundtrack, Alien: Isolation masterfully creates a truly frightening environment that surprises at every turn. A suspenseful and tense journey, Alien: Isolation‘s joys come in leaving the players guessing what comes next. With that being said, while I did enjoy Alien: Isolation tremendously, I do not imagine that I will be replaying the game in the near future: the single experience is sufficient for me to grasp the game’s strong points, and for the near future, I do not intend on putting myself through such a harrowing simulated experience again. My intererst in the Alien franchise has also been piqued, so I might check out the original Alien movie at some point in the future. For now, with what might be one of my most storied gaming adventures complete, I can turn my attention to DOOM and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided; apparently, the latter is so graphically demanding that it requires a pair of GTX 1080 cards in SLI to run at ultra settings on 4K. I’ll be playing at 1080p, so I imagine that my new GPU should be more than up for the job at high settings.

Returning to Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare- Another Review and Introspective

“It’s quite simple. Either we retake the launch facility or we won’t recognize the world tomorrow.” —Captain Price

When I last played through Call of Duty 4, it was the summer of 2012. I was staring down the MCAT at the time; the preparation courses had just started, and one of my friends had lent me his Steam account such that I could help him idle for items in Team Fortress 2 while he was on vacation (this was back during the era where idling was a functional means of accumulating enough metal to craft hats, and while it lasted, we got some pretty cool stuff out of it). I noticed that Call of Duty 4 was in his Steam library and decided to give that a go while idling. At that point, Halo 2 Vista was the shooter I played the most frequently, and so, Call of Duty 4 was a complete breath of fresh air. Coming from a game where I handled missions on my own and where armour was inconsequential, Call of Duty 4‘s campaign played in a completely different manner. The game presents a tale about the theft of nuclear weapons by Ultranationalists, and the player takes on the role of a variety of infantry units working in a squad to advance further and ultimately, thwart the Ultranationalists’ plans. Although this approach is now formulaic and oft-maligned, it was a completely new direction back during 2007, when the game first released, and for me, Call of Duty 4 marked a completely different experience than something like Halo 2 or 007 Nightfire. Whereas I had been previously used to fighting through locales on my own, Call of Duty 4 placed me in a squad where I could count on support from other allied soldiers to carry out a mission (in fact, Call of Duty 4 is where the notion of player-unopenable doors began). Similarly, whereas I previously disregarded armour as being a credible threat, Call of Duty 4 changed that perspective, since I was no longer a super-soldier capable of independently engaging tanks on my own.

My interests in Call of Duty 4 had been piqued by the Pripyat mission, All Ghillied Up: one of the most iconic missions in first person shooters, All Ghillied Up marked a profound change of pace from preceeding missions. The player assume the role of Captain Price (then a lieutenant), sneaking through Pripya to reach a vantage point and assassinate a terrorist. However, while the name of that mission was stealth, the game also provided some allowances for players who failed to be completely stealthy: unlike modern shooters that give players an immediate game over, being spotted in All Ghillied Up led to firefights with enemy forces, and should players succeed, they would get an admonishing from Captain MacMillian. The mission would still continue, mirroring how real life provides individuals with some tolerance for not adhering entirely to a plan. Thus, I yearned to try this mission out for myself and made my way through Call of Duty 4 for the purposes of experiencing the entire title. When I finished, I found Call of Duty 4 to possess a unique atmosphere: it felt like playing through a political thriller/action film, and the game would forever remind me of the long days I spent studying for the MCAT.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Playing through the original Modern Warfare again was a real treat, and even though the game is now nearing its tenth anniversary, it remains as one of the most iconic military shooters that influenced a large number of games. The biggest thrill, however, is the opportunity to fight through the Azerbaijan countryside near the Caucaus Mountains of Russia: this is what I missed the most while playing through Modern Warfare 3.

  • Call of Duty 4 made widespread elements that continue enduring in present-day shooters, such as aiming down sights to reduce bullet spread. Besides Captain Price and Soap’s side of the story, Call of Duty 4 also depicted the narrative from the perspective of American soldiers fighting in an unspecified Middle East country. One of the most surprising moments in Call of Duty 4 was when an American soldier witnesses the detonation of a nuclear weapon in the Middle East, precipitating the events of Modern Warfare 2.

  • Throughout this post, I will refer to Call of Duty 4 interchangeably with Modern Warfare and note that the screenshots are unevenly distributed towards Soap’s missions. The moody and wistful lighting of the Azerbaijan levels were remarkably fun to play through, while the missions set in the sandy Middle Eastern levels felt a little more pedestrian. It comes as no surprise that playing through these levels remind me of the MCAT without fail.

  • The weapons loadouts in Call of Duty 4 set the stage for how other modern military shooters, such as Battlefield: Bad Company 2, handled things: the starting weapons for Soap are usually an M4A1 SOPMOD (configured with a suppressor, M203 under-barrel GL, reflex sight and infrared illuminator alongside the M21 rifle. These weapons handle exceptionally well and usually do not need to be swapped out: the M4A1 handles quite well at medium ranges, while the M21 is well-suited for longer range combat.

  • Switching out weapons then becomes a matter of personal preference, to experience the game differently: in general, I tend to stick to the starting weapons because they have optics. Most of the weapons enemy forces carry are only found with their default iron sights, and I’ve never been particularly good with iron sights in games owing to how they’re rendered. While RDS and other optics offset accuracy very slightly in reality, in games, they confer a superior shooting experience, and as such, I usually run with either the Coyote sight or holographic sights in Battlefield 4.

  • I was quite excited to hear that Modern Warfare would be getting a remastered edition in November, but that excitement turned to disappointment when I learned that the remastered edition would only be sold in conjunction with the 110 dollar (Canadian) Legacy Edition of Infinite Warfare. I would have easily shelled out 40 CAD or so for a renewed take on Modern Warfare, and Infinite Warfare looks interesting, but I don’t think it’s an economically sound decision to spend 110 dollars on a game until I’m a little more certain as to whether or not I’ll enjoy it.

  • I’m certain that I’ll enjoy the updated Modern Warfare and in fact, look forwards to most seeing what the rejuvenated Pripyat looks like. However, I’m not certain how Infinite Warfare will go, and since I don’t play the multiplayer component of Call of Duty games, it’s better to wait and see. With that being said, I am quite confident that the upcoming Deus Ex: Mankind Divided will be something I will love playing through: I pre-ordered the Day One Edition today, and it’ll unlock on August 23. Speaking of August, observant viewers note that I write posts on the fourth of August every year. This is no coincidence, and tonight, I settled down to a nice homemade dinner with pork chop and freshly-steamed garlic prawns, making the pre-order for  Deus Ex: Mankind Divided while waiting for the prawns to finish cooking.

  • Hopefully, I’ll be able to pick up and purchase the GTX 1060 before then, so I can enjoy both Mankind Divided and DOOM the way they’re meant to be played, at 1080p and 60 FPS with ultra settings. Back in Modern Warfare, my collection of screenshots have finally reached the part where I make my way through Pripyat and the field surrounding Chernobyl. Despite the four years that have passed since I first played this, the sense of immersion in this mission remains unmatched.

  • I wrote two special topics posts about the Pripyat missions to assassinate Zakhaev back during 2012, one for “All Ghillied Up” and one for “One Shot, One Kill”. Both were written in early June, when my MCAT course and physics courses overlapped, resulting in a modestly busy schedule. I learned that taking summer courses was a surprisingly melancholy experience, as I would need to study while my peers were enjoying the summer weather. From there on out, I resolved to work harder from there on out so I could spend my summers engaged in research or working.

  • Armed with my then freshly-reawakened knowledge of projectile motion, I quickly ran the computations to determine that the trajectory of the bullet in “One Shot, One Kill” made sense and subsequently managed to snipe Zakhaev in one shot. In the four years that have passed since then, I’ve become a poorer shot and it took me multiple attempts to successfully blow his arm off, leading to the next phase of the mission. Involving keeping the Ultranationalist soldiers at bay, this part is rather more straightforwards.

  • While the placement of iconic features in Pripyat’s cityscape are not correct, nor is the chronological state of different facilities in Pripyat (the city’s pool, for instance, was still operational as late as 1996), that the developers went to great lengths to craft a compelling, detailed virtual Pripyat is impressive. It is for this reason that the Pripyat missions in Call of Duty 4 continue stand out clearly even in light of the numerous shooters I’ve played through since 2012.

  • There’s a certain melancholy in the mission set after “One Shot, One Kill”: titled “Heat”, the goal is to repel an ultranationalist counterattack and last long enough to reach extraction. On this playthrough, I’ve deliberately chosen to leave all of the intel (collectible laptop computers) where they were even as I found them; I plan on going back at some unspecified point in the future to collect everything.

  • According to the in-game dates, much of the events of Modern Warfare are set in 2011: while the year started a little more unevenly than I would have liked with respect to my coursework, I had a particularly memorable summer once courses ended and research began. During that summer, I developed an agent-based model of fluid flow in a nephron, obtained my basic operator’s license, watched Sora no Woto and spent several evenings at LAN parties on a lazy summer’s night.

  • Back in Call of Duty 4, the final mission of the second act is to chase down Zakhaev’s son in an attempt to learn where Zakhaev himself is. Soap begins armed with the R700 bolt action sniper rifle, the only bolt action weapon in the campaign. It makes up for its low capacity by having high stopping power, although the low carrying capacity means it will soon be discarded in favour of another weapon.

  • Equipped with a reflex sight and sporting a high hip-fire accuracy, the G36C is a common sight in the campaign and is a fine secondary weapon. One aspect of Call of Duty that I found to be enjoyable was the large pool of flash bang grenades and fragmentation grenades: the former are particularly useful for stunning enemies in a room long enough to neutralise everyone, making them a powerful asset on higher difficulties.

  • Here, I’m wielding the W1200 shotgun, having made use of it to clear the building en route to capturing Zakhaev’s son. A pump action shotgun, the W1200 is lethal at close ranges, and I usually chose to equip shotguns where there is a great deal of combat inside a building. During the daytime missions, the age of the graphics in Call of Duty 4 can be seen; at 1080p, the mountain skyboxes look a little blurry, but surprisingly, the textures and assets of the game objects themselves remain quite sharp.

  • The last act in Modern Warfare is to infiltrate a Russian launch facility under Ultranationalist control and thwart a rogue launch. According to the animations, the projected causalities for failure would exceed 40 million, lending itself to the page quote. With this in mind, there’s actually no real time limit to how long one has to enter the facility, so it is possible to play through at a slower, more methodical pace.

  • Here, I reach the power lines that supply the launch facility and making use of C4 to destroy some pylons to take out the power, buying some time for an infil. It suddenly strikes me that on this play-through of Modern Warfare, I completed the game (including all deaths) in around six hours. I can see why the campaign of Modern Warfare and other modern military shooters are considered short, especially considering how Alien: Isolation has occupied around 14 hours of my time, and how DOOM can reasonably be expected to yield a 12-13 hour campaign.

  • However, for the price of admissions, I gauge the value of a game compared against the value of a movie. Since the average movie costs 13-20 dollars to watch (for anywhere from 1.5-3 hours of content), I believe that a game that can deliver six hours of content for eleven dollars is not doing too bad. I remark that while the graphics throughout most of Call of Duty 4 have aged somewhat gracefully, the last two missions, set inside the bunker and on a frenzied pursuit, have not: it was quite tricky for me to get good screenshots for those moments, so I’ve ended the review here on the “All In” mission.

  • The penultimate mission, “No Fighting In The War Room”, feels distinctly like a James Bond shooter — the tight corridors of the facility makes shotguns and PDWs viable here. With Call of Duty beaten a second time and discussed, this post comes to an end. Coming up next will be a talk on New Game after three episodes: having seen enough episodes of New Game, I conclude that it is an anime I will be following this season. However, there’s no trace of the anime glorifying overwork, and some details folks at Tango-Victor-Tango claim are significant are in fact, quite minor. Beyond New Game, I’m actually not too sure what I’ll be writing about this month, but I’ll write about things as they happen.

I wrote the MCAT exam four years ago, and since then, I’ve had the opportunity to go through numerous other shooters, each offering something different and unique with respect to narrative and mechanics. However, despite the time that has passed and experiences that the passage of time confers, Call of Duty 4 remains an intriguing game. Thus, during this year’s Steam Summer Sale, I jumped on the chance to pick up the game on discount and experience it once more. For me, the most enjoyable aspect of Call of Duty 4 remains the fact that half of the game is set in the Caucasus Mountains and the more remote regions of Russia, which have always exerted a strong pull over my curiosity. From the news that’s been present, it appears that Call of Duty 4 will be getting a remastered version, and although I am interested to see how the remastered edition will bring new life to a classic, it appears that it will be only bundled with Call of Duty‘s latest incarnation, Infinite Warfare. Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare itself actually looks quite interesting, but I’ll probably wait around and see how the campaign itself is before I decide on sinking any coin into picking the game up: I’ve got two eyes on Battlefield 1 right now, which feels like Strike Witches in the Frostbite Engine and could very well have an interesting campaign to go with the WWI multiplayer.

Alien Isolation: Impressions at the halfway point

“Let us hope that our presence may go unnoticed.” —Gandalf The Grey, Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Alien: Isolation is billed as one of the scariest games in living memory. Released in 2014, it follows Amanda Ripley and her journey through Sevastopol space station, a mining facility over the gas giant KG348. Her objective is to retrieve a flight recorder that is would help her learn what happened to her mother, Ellen Ripley, fifteen years ago. However, upon arriving at Sevastopol, she finds that the station is damaged and that there is a monster lurking in the shadows, slaying Sevastopol’s inhabitants. I’ve now reached the point where I’ve encountered the station’s marshall, Waits, and have begun the process of trapping the monster, a Xenomorph, with the aim of stopping it. Nine hours in, I’m about halfway through Alien: Isolation, and it’s been a thrilling experience so far, making my way through Sevastopol station in the hopes of completing my objectives without being killed by the Xenomorph, a powerful adversary that cannot be harmed by any craft that Ripley possesses. Even with a diverse arsenal of tools and weapons, Ripley is powerless against the Xenomorph and instead, must make use of the environment and plenty of patience to avoid death, leading Alien: Isolation to possess a significantly different atmosphere than any game I’ve experienced thus far.

While being ambushed by the Xenomorph at the most unexpected times and hearing sudden ambient sounds in the Sevastopol station were probably the most heart-stopping moments of Alien: Isolation, the game’s horror component does not lie in the occasional jump-scares. Instead, the true fear comes from not knowing when death will result, whether it be from encounters with other humans, the synthetic Working Joe androids or the Xenomorph itself. Because Alien: Isolation uses a save system that involves terminals sporadically placed throughout Sevastopol station, players stand to lose a fair amount of progress should they ever die. The fear of losing this progress and the associated causes are enough to keep players on their toes, wondering what’s around the corner or what the strange noises all around are. This is where the true horror comes in: paranoia and doubt start settling in, as the safe spots are very rare on board Sevastopol. Thus, when one does manage to complete objectives, reach a safe spot or even just find a terminal to save at, it feels like an achievement, a great success.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Released back in October 2014, Alien: Isolation would have been a perfect game for Halloween. Normally retailing on Steam for 55 CAD, sales occasionally drive around 75 percent off the price tag, allowing it to be purchased for 13.74 CAD. For the level of quality in this game, this price is tantamount to highway robbery, and I open by saying that it matters not whether or not one is into horror: Alien: Isolation is what a game should be.

  • Players take on the role of Amanda Ripley in Alien: Isolation, Ellen Ripley’s daughter. The game opens up on board the Torrens, and as such, is one of the few moments in the game where it is impossible for death to result. According to the developers, they went through three terabytes of production material from the original Alien, capturing the atmosphere and technological designs seen in the 1979 film.

  • After a space walk goes awry, Ripley makes it on board the Sevastopol station. Derelict and in an unkempt state, the game’s first jump scare occurs when players approach a ruptured gas pipe that suddenly ignites. While jump-scares are present in Alien: Isolation, they do not form a large portion of the fear in the game overall.

  • I utilise a flare here to illuminate the dark corridors where baggage handling occurs. Flares are just one of the many items that can be utilised in-game, and Alien: Isolation features a basic crafting system that allows players to create various gadgets, ranging from medical kits to flash bangs and pipe bombs. These utilities are useful in furthering Ripley’s survival but should be used sparingly, since resources for crafting are uncommon, and Ripley can only hold onto a limited number of them.

  • The Xenomorph does not make an appearance until Ripley meets Axel; promising to help him get off-station, the pair make their way through Sevastopol. Axel is eventually killed by the Xenomporh, and the horror aspect of Alien: Isolation truly kicks in at this point as players realise there is something pursuing them.

  • Ripley encounters a simply-wrought motion tracker that detects whether there are any moving entities in the AO, as well as points roughly in the direction that one must go to carry out the next step of the mission. This device soon becomes the source of much paranoia: while it picks up the motion of anything that moves, its primary application is checking the Xenomorph’s position. Thus, even a human or android moving about can occasionally lead players to hide in the nearest locker.

  • Save terminals are the single most valuable asset in the game and I experience relief every time I see one of these. Over time, a player’s fear in Alien: Isolation is less likely to be caused by the Xenomorph and more likely to result from a fear of losing critical progress. In a game where every step can end with a potential death, progress is measured in inches rather than meters, and so, reaching save points is always a relief.

  • The GTX 660 is the recommended GPU for experiencing Alien: Isolation, although the game runs fine on a GT 430. With all of the graphics settings turned up, players truly feel like they’re at Sevastopol station, making their way through the different regions of the station and hope they remain undetected long enough to complete the objective. Fortunately, crouching, moving slowly and making use of tactical advantages (such as lockers and tables to hide in and under, respectively), coupled with patience, is how to eke out survival.

  • There are some sections of the game, such as when Ripley must retrieve a trauma kit from the St. Christobal medical facilities, where the Xenomorph is solidly present to menace the player. One aspect about the Xenomorph that makes it truly devastating against player progress is the fact that it can make use of Sevastopol Station’s ventilation system to move swiftly between places: although the Xenomorph may have appeared to entered a room on the opposite side of the map, it can, at any time, appear right in front of Ripley using what is functionally equivalent to teleportation.

  • The standard FPS player would think that they can take out the Xenomorph with firearms, but the weapons available to Ripley are lower-powered; they are completely ineffectual against the Xenomorph, but perform well enough against other humans. Here, I’ve got the .375 revolver, a weapon that can be effective against humans but also fires loudly. Using it will almost certainly result in death, as it attracts the Xenomorph’s attention.

  • One of my favourite aspects about Alien: Isolation is the fact that some regions of the station are located on the outer sections; with large windows that let in starlight. These parts of Sevastopol station are awash with the star’s golden light and, despite the general sense of hostility in the station, these areas convey a more calming sense. With that being said, the Xenomorph can show up here, as well, so it’s prudent not to linger too long in these deceptively relaxed areas.

  • Because Sevastopol Station was unprofitable, much of it is derelict by the time the Torrens reaches it. Sections combust and explode from poor maintenance, forcing Ripley to get creative in her pathfinding. To the left of this image are the unnerving iris-vents: I’m a little unsettled by how they move, but entering the vents allow players to rapidly move around obstacles and obstructions. The Xenomorph can enter these systems, so they are not safe havens by any stretch.

  • The Xenomorph’s high lethality can be used to Ripley’s advantage: I place a noisemaker in an area with hostile people and watch as the Xenomorph annihilates them before making a get-away; after killing off everything in the area, the Xenomorph will continue hunting Ripley, so it’s prudent to hide. I’ve experienced a situation where I came under fire from another human, only to have the Xenomorph appear, rush past the other guy and put an end to Ripley.

  • Whereas I typically sprint through most first-person games, Alien: Isolation actively discourages thus; moving around too loudly will draw the Xenomorph’s attention and result in instant death. By putting the player in the shoes of someone ordinary, powerless to take out the Xenomorph, proper horror is achieved. In one of my undergraduate English courses, the professor stated that all horror comes from the fear of a loss of control.

  • Thus, horror becomes lost if players are given powerful weapons that allow them a degree of control. It is this reason that Alien: Colonial Marines proved unsuccessful; player have access to a powerful arsenal that allows them to blow Xenomorphs away as though it were just another day at the office. Conversely, by stripping Ripley of all means to confront the Xenomorph, Alien: Isolation crafts a powerful sense of fear in players. Here, I reactivate the transit stations and will locate a gas torch, useful for cutting through panels.

  • The stun baton is the second of the weapons that Ripley locates in the game: firing an electrical tip, it’s excellent for stopping the androids, or “Working Joes”, in their tracks. These androids can be quite unsettling, but are slow movers and not particularly fearsome unless in large numbers. They can kill Ripley quite easily and deflect her attacks, however, so it’s best to avoid direct confrontation with them. The Xenomorph cannot be goaded into taking them out.

  • The first part of Alien: Isolation where players will truly feel safe is once Marshal Waits’ headquarters are reached. There’s a save point here, and unless I’m mistaken, no chance that players will die to the Xenomorph. Here, Ripley learns of how Marlowe, captain of the Anesidora, found the Xenomorph and inadvertently brought it on board Sevastopol station.

  • For one mission, players can take Marlowe’s shoes and walk through Archeron LV-426, a moon with hostile surface conditions to locate a Derelict vessel after discovering a warning beacon. The walk to the vessel is a difficult one: visibility is low, with a windstorm whipping about debris and gases. As Marlowe, players have access to a direction scanner, although because the path is quite linear, it’s not strictly necessary to use this device too often.

  • Constructed by the Engineer (a race similar to Halo‘s Forerunner), the Derelict houses a vast nest of Xenomorph eggs. One of the eggs hatches here and the newly born Facehugger latches itself to Marlowe’s wife’s face, resulting in her death. It’s been hypothesised that the Engineers were responsible for creating the Xenomorphs for use as biological weapons, accounting for the Xenomorph’s seemingly perfect biological composition.

  • Returning back to Ripley’s perspective, she gains a flamethrower for use against the Xenomorph at the game’s halfway point. With half of Alien: Isolation under my belt, I’ve spent 9 hours in-game so far and have collected just under half of the achievements. There are a total of eighteen missions, and now that I’m past the halfway point, it’ll be interesting to see where Alien: Isolation goes from here: there is still a few more items to collect, and I’ve yet to find the Molotov cocktail’s upgrade blueprints, having missed the first one somehow while moving through the medical sections.

I’ve now just collected the flamethrower and thus, have reached Alien: Isolation‘s halfway point. The game feels solid and handles very well, managing to convey a sense of uncertainty and terror as I move through it. While the Xenomorph is said to possess a sophisticated machine learning algorithm to tune its behaviours such that it matches the players’ style, insofar, I find the Xenomorph’s true power to frighten comes from its stochasticity: at some points, I’ve been defeated instantly from a vent even though I had seen it, from afar, moving into a room at the opposite end of the hallway. I’m definitely curious to see how the story will progress and end, and will continue moving through this horror title that so far, lives up to its title as an inspired horror game that marks a return to the Alien franchise’s roots: Ripley’s total inability to destroy the Xenomorph as the Doom Slayer does his opponents plays on the base human fear of a lack of control, and Alien: Isolation uses this to great effect, creating a game quite unlike the titles I am accustomed to playing through.