The Infinite Zenith

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Crysis Remastered: Returning to Lingshan With Ray-Tracing and A Reflection of Improved Reflections

“All problems in computer graphics can be solved with a matrix inversion.” –Jim Blinn

Thirteen years after Crytek released their breathtaking Crysis, they would produce a remaster to one of the most iconic first person shooters of the 2000s, adding new lighting and shadow effects, upgraded textures and support for real-time ray-tracing. Crysis Remastered was launched to cold reception back in 2020; based off the console port, Crysis Remastered suffered from significant performance and optimisation issues that meant even the most advanced computers struggled to run it, and bugs from the console version, which hadn’t been present in the original PC game, were also degrading player experience. Being based off the console port, Crysis Remastered has inferior physics behaviours compared to the original, and the enemy AI behave poorly – sometimes, they will manage to find the player with perfect precision even when one’s got their cloak engaged, and at other times, they will ignore one even if they’re directly in front of a squad. To round things off, an unintuitive control scheme and the omission of an entire level, left players feeling thoroughly disappointed. Crytek, however, stuck to their guns, and over the course of a year, they polished Crysis Remastered, ironing out the larger bugs and restoring the VTOL mission. Although still not quite as polished asd smooth as the original Crysis, Crysis Remastered is presently in an acceptable state, bringing modern visuals and rendering techniques to a classic game whose visuals have aged remarkably well. While this speaks to the original Crysis‘ extreme level of ingenuity and innovation, Crysis Remastered‘s biggest improvements over its predecessor come through real-time ray-tracing, which produces more realistic and dynamic lighting effects. These are most apparent in the early missions, where Nomad traverses the coastal areas of Lingshan Island and is able to wander the island’s beaches. The interaction between light and water is far more detailed than it’d originally been, and the beaches look even more stunning than they had originally, which is no small feat. Thanks to real-time ray-tracing, light interacts with everything with an unparalleled realism: if were possible, Crysis Remastered looks better than real life, and one can practically feel the tropical humidity as they explore these maps. Although critics suggest that the original Crysis, at maximum settings, looks almost as good as Crysis Remastered with everything set to “Can It Run Crysis™”, the newfound detail in Crysis Remastered is such that it felt like I was playing the game new, for the first time. However, because Crysis Remastered was based on the console port, there are several, key artistic differences. Lingshan is generally more saturated compared to the original, which feels distinctly drab in comparison, and during the fifth mission, players fight under sunny skies, whereas the original had been overcast. The shift in mood doesn’t impact gameplay in any way, but it does feel as though the stakes are different; in the original, the humid, grey skies coincide with the American forces’ push up the valley to capture critical positions ahead of reaching the mountain where strange events are unfolding, and by swapping this out, the fifth mission suddenly feels more like a tropical vacation.

Changes to the aesthetic in Crysis leads to the question of how tightly coupled a game’s aesthetic design is to its experience, and this is something that different individuals will have different answers for. Remasters thus represent a case where it’s possible to see for oneself if a game’s visuals contribute greatly to the experience by altering the game’s atmosphere. In Halo: Combat Evolved, for instance, the Library is one of the most famous levels. The original level features dark, labyrinthine corridors swarming with flood, and being dimly-lit, the Flood can lurk in said corridors, lying in wait of their quarry. Lack of any features on the monotonous walls could cause players to get lost, and coupled with the overwhelming presence of the Flood, this contributes greatly to the tensions in the mission as players must fight through wave after wave of Flood to reach the Index. However, when Halo: Anniversary, added additional lighting elements to the library that made the walls more detailed, and increased the lighting, the sense of tension is lost. Foes become more visible, and one’s mind can focus purely on slaughtering Flood, versus how in the original, one could never be too sure of what lay in wait around the corners. When remasters overhaul the visuals to an extent where the original vibes are lost, players tend to react negatively. On the other hand, with Halo 2: Anniversary, 343 Industries took a more restrained approach, upgrading the lighting and details in each level without altering the aesthetic, and as a result, Halo 2: Anniversary looks precisely like what one expects Halo 2 to look like if it released in 2014. Here in Crysis, the increased saturation improves the game’s aesthetic. Warmer, richer colours reiterates the fact that, minus the Ceph and North Korean invasion, the Lingshan Islands are a tropical paradise, a sandbox that beckons one to explore. In this way, Crysis Remastered can be said to be how I remember Crysis looking back when I first played it a decade earlier. Playing through Crysis Remastered now brings back memories; from the incredible graphics, to the fact that my computer’s fans will immediately spin up the moment the game loads, I vividly recall the experience I had a decade earlier, when I had built a new desktop that was powerful enough to handle the game; shortly after finishing Battlefield: Bad Company 2, I turned my attention to a game that was legendary for giving even the best-built PCs trouble, and while my machine’s fans would spin up whenever I loaded Crysis, I marvelled at the fact that my then-new desktop, a mid-range budget gaming setup, was able to run Crysis with everything cranked up, at the 1080p resolution and a smooth 60 frames per second. Nowadays, although I’ve got a computer that outstrips what I’d previously had, Crysis Remastered still puts my current machine and its GPU through its paces, although just like ten years ago, my machine runs the game without trouble, achieving about 80 FPS at 1080p when everything is cranked up to the “Can It Run Crysis™?” settings.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Crysis‘ first sunrise is an iconic moment in gaming, equivalent to when players storm the beaches in Halo‘s Silent Cartographer: as night recedes and the sun rises, players in Crysis are treated to the first light of day filling the landscape and throwing everything into sharp relief. By having players hit Lingshan before dawn, Crysis simultaneously maintains some authenticity by having a Delta Force team insert under the cover of darkness and also, gives players a chance to acclimatise to the controls before blowing them away with the visuals.

  • I first played Crysis in 2010, when I’d been an undergraduate student: one of my friends had a copy of the game because he’d been itching to see what his then-new Alienware M17x could do: having struggled with a custom desktop and its 8800 GTX SLI, the Alienware had proven to be a more portable and powerful machine in comparison, boasting an i7 processor and a single GTX 280M, giving him the ability to play at 30 FPS. Upon borrowing the game and installing it to my XPS 420, I was able to run the game at 30 FPS with everything set to medium, and in this way, I ended up completing the game.

  • My initial impressions of Crysis were that the first half of the game was iconic, with the sandbox-like environment really allowing the game to accentuate its visuals and giving players quite a bit more freedom in choosing how they’d complete their objectives. For instance, in this first mission, one could hijack a boat and completely bypass the KPA patrols, allowing them to reach the other side of the island without getting into any firefights. After enter the alien ship, Crysis nosedives in quality and becomes a more run-of-the-mill, linear first person shooter with limited options for exploration. In spite of this, I still enjoyed the game greatly, and after finishing for the first time, I was quite pleased that my desktop could run Crysis to some capacity.

  • I would return to play Crysis at 1080p three years later: after completing my undergraduate degree in health sciences, my parents bought me a new PC as a graduation gift, and I immediately found myself wishing to see if this machine was powerful enough to run Crysis. By then, Crysis had been six years old, and despite being an impressive-looking game even then, by 2013 most mid-end computers could run the game at 1080p and 60 FPS without much difficulty. In the present, fourteen years have elapsed, and Crysis isn’t quite as visually impressive as it’d been back then: here, the differences between Crysis and Crysis Remastered are apparent.

  • As the story goes, I began playing Crysis after Otafest had concluded, and made some headway before my convocation ceremony. By this point in my summer, I’d finished putting together our undergraduate yearbook with contents my classmates had provided, and in the days leading up to convocation, things had been quite quiet, affording me some time to begin seeing how my new PC was handling. Equipped with an i5 3570k and the GTX 660, this desktop was built to be a light gaming machine with an expected service life of about six years, but in 2016, I upgraded the GPU to a GTX 1060: with performance comparable to that of the GTX 980, my old desktop ended up in active service for nine years in total.

  • In retrospect, the fact that my previous desktop hadn’t broken a sweat running Crysis at full settings was a good sign of its longevity, speaking to how even with a mid-end build, one can still configure a computer in a way that is both economical and capable. All too often, I notice that a lot of people out there tend to over-build their PCs by buying the most expensive components, reasoning that bigger numbers and more features will justify the cost and help them to future-proof their machines. I find that, more often than not, the 10-20 percent increase in performance isn’t usually worth an extra hundred to two hundred dollars; how powerful one’s computer needs to be is strictly determined by what one intends to do with it.

  • For instance, if one intended to use their computer to browse the internet, watch videos and pay bills, then even a tablet will suffice. On the other hand, someone involved in heavy video or graphics editing will need the best hardware money can buy. For most people, the quality of the parts they need will fall somewhere in the middle, and the best way to build a computer is to start out with one’s intended budget, as well as an understanding of what they need to do with the computer. Typically, gamers tend to be the trickiest demographic to build for, since games vary so greatly in terms of what they need, and for these users, I always start by picking out lower-to-mid end parts for the power supply, motherboard and SSD. This is because the more expensive options usually have more features but won’t otherwise impact performance by too large of a margin.

  • Once that’s done, I move onto picking out a CPU. With the CPU, gamers will find that the i5 and Ryzen 5 line of CPUs are more than adequate – while i7s and Ryzen 7s are superior, the cost-to-performance improvements aren’t so significant they warrant an upgrade. On this note, if one is an intermediate content creator who games, an i7 or Ryzen 7 is easier to justify, since their improved multi-threaded performance makes things like using photo and video editing tools easier. Once a CPU is picked out, the next exercise is determining what GPU one needs.

  • The choice of GPU is usually the trickiest for most consumers, although in the present, I would argue that the resolution one intends to play at, and the refresh rates on their monitor, should be the biggest factor in determining what one gets. Players who want to game at 4K will benefit most from the high-end GPUs (e.g. NVIDIA –80 series or AMD’s -800 series), while 1440p players should, if their budget allows it, go for a mid-range video card (–70 series for NVIDIA cards, and -700 series for AMD). For most players, 1080p remains a dominant resolution, and so, the mainstream cards (e.g. NVIDIA –60 series or AMD’s -600 series) will get the job done. Players looking for a little more framerates at lower resolutions may benefit from picking GPUs from a tier higher, although using higher-end GPUs for 1080p60 gaming is generally overkill and won’t yield any appreciable gains.

  • Finally, RAM and non-volatile storage can round things out. In the present, 16 GB of RAM is still adequate, although heavy gamers and content creators would benefit from 32 GB of RAM. This is the decision-making process I follow for laying out the hardware I’d need for a computer, and in this way, I’ve been able to build long-lasting computers that strike a balance between performance and cost. Besides machines for my personal use, I’d also advised my first start-up on recommended machines for Unreal Engine 4 development, and when that company dissolved, the machines still sold for a decent price. Similarly, I’ve also given suggestions to friends who’ve wound up with builds they were happy with.

  • Back in Crysis, I’ve returned to a scene I’ve been careful to replicate every time I come up here: after reaching a KPA site at the top of a hill, I collect a precision rifle with a high-powered optic as the sun begins setting. The scene had looked quite different at medium settings in the original Crysis, and here in Crysis Remastered, things look a shade sharper and better-polished. The precision rifle and SCAR are my two go-to weapons in Crysis: the former is a bolt-action rifle with impressive stopping power for long-range combat, and the SCAR is a versatile assault rifle that’s more accurate and hard-hitting than the FY-71, the KPA’s service rifle. Although ammunition for the FY-71 is plentiful, I prefer using the SCAR on single-fire mode.

  • With the high-powered scope, the SCAR turns into a makeshift sniper rifle. Crysis was revolutionary for introducing the ability to dynamically change weapon attachments on the fly, and this feature wouldn’t make it into a mainstream first person shooter until Battlefield 2042. Throughout Crysis, players have access to a fair array of firearms, from assault rifles to shotguns, and one can also pick up guided anti-tank missile launchers and C4 explosives along the way, plus a range of grenades. However, Crysis‘ most iconic element is the Nanosuit, which enhances the player’s abilities. By default, armour mode absorbs incoming damage and allows the suit to recharge quickly, while strength mode enhances one’s ability to throw things, jump vertically and stablise their weapons.

  • Speed improves movement speed, as well as reduces weapon switch and reload times. Finally, cloak renders players invisible to foes, allowing them to sneak past entire areas without instigating a firefight. The tools available to players make the first half of Crysis an open world sandbox that lets one to approach things in any manner they choose, and this creates much of the game’s memorable moments. In Crysis Remastered, the main gripe I had about the game was the fact that the key bindings are optimised for the console and set up similarly to the Nanosuits in Crysis 2 and Crysis 3.

  • While it is possible to reset the controls to their classic setup, there are a few moments where the changed bindings threw me off. This was about the only gripe I had about Crysis Remastered – beyond the occasional bit of muscle memory causing me to carry out an unexpected action, I had fun revisiting familiar locations given a new coat of paint. It suddenly hits me that I’ve not written a Crysis game for quite some time: according to blog archives, the last time I wrote about Crysis was a final reflection on Crysis 3, dating back to December 2015.

  • The last time I set foot at the harbour where the North Korean cruiser is docked, it was 2013. By this point in the game, Nomad and the other operators have discovered there’s more to the artefacts on Lingshan Island than initially thought, and the American armed forces subsequently deploy with the aim of securing things before the North Koreans do. This results in allied forces appearing, and players suddenly have support from friendly forces. However, the KPA have dug into the island and placed anti-air emplacements in a few areas, requiring one to clear them out.

  • Crysis Remastered is so visually impressive that I caught myself stopping to admire the scenery on more than one occasion, and I found that the remaster looks its absolute best whenever one is around a body of water. With lighting effects being computed via real-time ray-tracing, Crysis Remastered requires a GPU with dedicated ray-tracing cores in order to really shine, and at present, I’m definitely glad to have purchased my RTX 3060 Ti when I did. I had originally been planning to buy an RTX 4060, but changed my mind after a flash sale in September saw the card going for 110 CAD off. The rationale behind my decision was simple: the RTX 3060 Ti was a card with known properties and was available in that moment, whereas the RTX 4060 is slated for release in July and has unknown performance (I’d expect it to provide 3060 Ti-like performance for the 3060 price tag).

  • The biggest deciding factor, then, was the choice between waiting a then-indefinite amount of time for the newer card, or paying a little more for a card I knew was going to perform well. In retrospect, my decision stands because, having now seen the Lovelace lineup, it becomes clear that any performance gains in the RTX 4060 would swiftly be offset by the fact that I could begin using the RTX 3060 Ti right away: having nine more months of enjoyment with a reasonably powerful GPU far outweighs the minor efficiency and performance increases the newer GPUs offer. As a result of this extra time, I was able to experience Modern Warfare II and get back into Battlefield 2042, as well as do this reflection on Crysis Remastered a full ten years after I played the original Crysis.

  •  The lesson here, then, is that sometimes, it is better to action something when things are close enough to one’s requirements and work with things from there, versus, waiting for something perfect or better to come along. This approach allows one to get the most with their time, and work with knowns, versus going without something in the hopes for an uncertain future. The same approach, surprisingly, also applies to potential relationships – all too often, people turn others down because they’re holding out for something perfect, and in doing so, they continue to deny themselves even the possibility of turning what’s in front of them and cultivating something that could exceed all expectations.

  • The idea is that, if one is reasonably confident about a relationship, there is no loss in stepping up and seeing where things go: taking a good relationship and maturing over time will allow one to grow it into something much bigger, whereas clinging to the idea that there’s “always better” means one isn’t even allowing for the possibility of this growth. I find it amusing that it took a well-timed GPU flash sale to make me realise this: at the time of my convocation a decade earlier, I was also guilty of holding out for better, and ended up paying the price for it. This is a story I will recount in the near future, but I can say that, in the present, I am now able to make snap decisions and make the most of what I’ve got in front of me, versus dreaming about what could be and then never even having a chance as a result.

  • Crysis‘ tank level is the most iconic for me, and admittedly, I actually do prefer the sunny weather of Crysis Remastered over the overcast, gloomy weather of the original Crysis. I vividly recall that, on the day I reached this mission, I was speaking with my parents about finding a suitable barber for a haircut ahead of convocation, and while I’d originally been planning to go to the barbershop on campus, they recommended one a little closer to home. After this conversation, the fact that I was graduating suddenly hit me with the subtly of a freight train. I had spent the last four years of my life as an undergraduate student, and all of this effort had now culminated in my satisfying the programme requirements for a health science degree.

  • Surprise soon turned to excitement, and I remember how, in the week following, things had become busy as I began preparing for things, from getting all of my photos taken, to submitting the last of the paperwork. I started Half-Life 2 at this point, and had gotten into things enough so that I put the brakes on playing Crysis – I ended up continuing after the Great Flood of 2013 swept through the area, and after campus was closed, I found myself with unexpected free time, so I was able to start the missions of Crysis that I was least looking forwards to, and finished the game before campus reopened. Observant readers will have noticed there that the tanks I’m operating have unlimited ammunition for their main cannon, whereas in the original Crysis, tanks only have thirty rounds available to them.

  • According to the blog archives, after finishing Crysis in June, I started writing about the game on a per-level basis, and stopped in July, before resuming in September. Nowadays, I try to write about a game while the thoughts are still fresh before I move on: if I finish a game at breakneck speed and move on, I may forget about my experiences. Here, I take a moment to admire the world-space reflections in one of the ponds before proceeding to the final step of the secondary objective, to destroy the AA emplacements in the valley: the blue skies of Crysis Remastered make everything in this level pop, a far cry from the gloom of the original, and now that I’ve had the chance to go through Crysis Remastered, I am glad that I made the call to go through this game, as it allowed me to experience Crysis from a different perspective.

  • In the end, I can happily conclude that yes, I did get value out of Crysis Remastered and the RTX 3060 Ti. Value is ultimately something that determines how I make decisions for my purchases. I define value as the ratio of utility to cost and time. Something has more value if it offers good utility at a reasonable cost or its utility saves me time: in this case, buying the RTX 3060 Ti the time that I did gave me more utility, and in this way, paying a little more to save time was worth it. On the other hand, I picked up Crysis Remastered during a sale for 5 CAD: for me, five dollars to revisit a game which is tied to my memories of the June from a decade earlier isn’t a bad value in my books.

  • Frugality and cost-effectiveness is ultimately why I tend to buy most games on sale, and why when I build PCs (or recommend builds to people), I always keep costs in mind. When it comes to building computers, I tend to build according to the “what you need right now, plus a 10-20 percent overhead depending on your budget” approach. In my case, a computer with an i5 and a slightly-improved mainstream GPU was satisfactory for my needs and fit in my budget, so it was a no-brainer. On the other hand, I have heard stories of folks who end up with expensive builds that are under-utilised. For instance, a local sliding pin maker was boasting on Twitter about their new PC, which is a pre-built machine with an i7 13700k and a RTX 4070.

  • However, this individual’s computing is limited to watching anime, running their online store and engaging with people on Twitter, and from their Tweets, they’re barely making ends meet on the essentials. From a rational perspective, one does not need an RTX 4070 to watch anime and use Twitter, so this machine is going to be under-utilised.  At the end of the day, I do not have the authority to tell people how they ought to manage their finances, but I am allowed to have an opinion on folks who buy pricey computer hardware without considering their other expenses: if one commits to such a decision, then they cannot complain about the consequences, or expect others to bail them out, either.

  • Buying a powerful PC and not fully utilising its capabilities is akin to buying a super car and only using it to drive to the local grocery store. While I’m not one to tell people how to spend their money or use their possessions, this does seem wasteful – I am reminded of Ali Al Saachez’s comment to Setsuna in Gundam 00, that the power of a Gundam is wasted on Celestial Being since they pull their punches during combat engagements and usually avoid unnecessary casualties while carrying out their armed interventions. In Saachez’s hands, the Throne Zwei goes from being a threat to being a near-unstoppable terror. This is a common theme in most Gundam series, where the performance of a machine is dictated almost entirely by pilot skill. Graham Aker and Char Aznable both go toe-to-toe with Gundams while piloting inferior machines, mirroring how even a weaker computer is still useful in the right hands.

  • The Witch From Mercury appears to challenge this, suggesting that a machine’s characteristics is also a factor in determining the result. However, I disagree: the reality is that giving an inferior operator a superior machine won’t make much of a difference in terms of performance. From the computing analog, the typical Twitter user likely won’t know how to even begin getting the most out of an RTX 4090, but a skilled user can make even a lower-end computer produce magic, using nothing more than a text editor and the terminal. For a gamer like myself, I don’t use enough processing power to justify purchasing top-end parts: I still game at 1080p, so the mainstream GPUs and CPUs are more than enough for me in the foreseeable future.

  • Here, I remark that while this is a Crysis-themed post, and I’ve talked a great deal about computer hardware, as well as my process, the idea was that since Crysis Remastered was so demanding, it was worth considering how I go about deciding on how to build a machine that would, in my case, let me run Crysis Remastered and my other games without devastating my finances. With this being said, everyone has different priorities, and while I favour cost-effectiveness over future-proofing, other people may suggest that one should build their computer in accordance with what they want to do in the next six years, as opposed to what they want to do in the next twenty-four months.

  • Back in Crysis Remastered, I’ve skipped ahead to the evacuation of Lingshan Island – I’ve already covered the tips and tricks of these later missions in posts written a shade less than a decade earlier, and therefore have no plans to revisit those specifics in this discussion. Once the aliens appear, Lingshan Island freezes over, and allied forces are overwhelmed. There’s no more sandbox as the focus turns to getting out, and while while Crysis was immensely fun in its first half, the second half is more linear and monotonous. The visual upgrades between Crysis Remastered and its predecessor are less apparent here, although in places where there’s still free-standing water, reflection effects are present to remind players that they’re playing Crysis Remastered.

  • In the interest of not creating a monstrosity of a post that is already likely boring readers, I’ll wrap up with a still of me piloting the VTOL. In the original console port of Crysis, this level was cut, and therefore, it was originally absent in Crysis Remastered. A patch would later restore this mission, allowing Crysis Remastered to finally offer a complete update to the original, providing a full experience of the game that had given computers trouble for years after launch. By the time I got around to playing Crysis Remastered, the VOTL mission had already been restored, and I was able to enjoy it in all of its visually remastered glory, which is a fitting way to experience things a full ten years after I first began playing Crysis at full settings and found myself marvelling at the capabilities of my then-new desktop, only this time, I’ve got a more demanding version of Crysis and a computer that has similarly risen up to the challenge.

When it released in 2007, Crysis became infamous for its exceptionally demanding system requirements: in order to run everything at maximum settings, one required a dual-core CPU with a 2 GHz clock speed, 4 GB of RAM and a GeForce 8800 GTX (which retailed for 600 USD when it launched back in 2008). At full settings, Crysis was a gorgeous game that ushered in a new era of mainstream computer graphics, and for years after, the online communities would always ask individuals who were especially proud of their latest computer build: “Can It Run Crysis™?” Within the space of six years, computer hardware would improve to the point where a midrange gaming PC, armed with a third-generation i5 processor and the significantly more affordable GTX 660, could run Crysis. The constant advancement in computer hardware has meant that for game enthusiasts, it’s never been easier to build a suitable computer for the express purpose of exploring virtual worlds at unparalleled fidelity, and of late, it does feel as though the hardware has now outpaced graphics technology. Games of the present generally look consistently good, but at the same time, today’s games don’t look too much better compared to the games of five years ago, whereas a decade earlier, games released five years apart looked dramatically different. However, this doesn’t mean that progressed has stopped: the best-looking games from five years earlier used pre-baked lighting and shadows to achieve some impressive results, but today’s games make more use of real-time methods. This results in less work for artists, instead putting more stress on the computer hardware, and as games become increasingly sophisticated, there are tradeoffs that need to be made. However, as these technologies continue to advance, games will continue to push the boundaries for what’s possible, and in the present, thanks to the sophistication of game engines like Unreal Engine 5, independent developers have been able to produce games that look life-like, as though they were footage taken from a body camera. Bodycam and EXP: War Trauma are examples of games that take a certain aesthetic and capitalise on Unreal Engine 5’s capabilities to produce new experiences. Things have come quite far for gaming graphics, and while in the present, there are a host of impressive-looking games out there, Crysis still remains a milestone title for players; for console players curious to see what all the fuss is about, as well as for PC players who wish to see if their build satisfies the age old question of “Can It Run Crysis™?”, Crysis Remastered is a solid way of checking out one of the most iconic titles in the world of games. On my end, watching my desktop effortlessly pushing out pixels while real-time ray-tracing was present is a reassuring reminder that for me, what I’ve got can run Crysis.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II – Reflections on Quad Feeds and the John Wick: Chapter 4 Loadout

“What can a first impression tell us about anyone? Why, no more than a chord can tell us about Beethoven, or a brushstroke about Botticelli.” –Amor Towles

For the longest time, my impressions of Call of Duty‘s multiplayer were predominantly negative – it was a space dominated by “squeakers” (people who are, strictly speaking, too young to be playing M-rated games) and players who believed that landing 360º no-scope shots were the height of excellence. Coupled with an aging game engine, what I felt to be a lengthy progression system that demanded commitment, and close-quarters maps that bred chaos, Call of Duty‘s multiplayer did not appear to appeal to me: I had cut my teeth with the modern military shooter in Battlefield and much preferred the slower, methodical gameplay that accompanied the large-scale modes like conquest. However, these impressions were based off the aging Call of Duty titles of the late 2000s and early 2010s, a time when the Call of Duty franchise were on the backfoot. With the release of 2019’s Modern Warfare, Infinity Ward had turned things around and produced a title that was engaging, immersive and modern. By Modern Warfare II, it’s quickly become clear that my thoughts on Call of Duty‘s default multiplayer modes were off by a wide margin, and in the present, I find myself playing Modern Warfare II more frequently than I do Battlefield. The primary reasoning for this is simple. Battlefield‘s large-scale experiences require a fair block of time to properly play; on average, a match of conquest lasts around half an hour. On the other hand, a round on Shipment will run for no more than ten minutes. The shorter intervals are hugely important to folks who do not have a great deal of time on their hands – ten minute rounds mean on days where time is short, I am able to hop into a match, level up some weapons, and leave with a feeling of progress before turning my attention to other tasks. If time is something I do have more of, I can join a game of invasion and sate a desire to snipe with the game’s long-range weapons. By exploring more of Modern Warfare II‘s traditional multiplayer modes, my perspective of the Call of Duty multiplayer environment have improved considerably; games are now enjoyable to play, win or lose, and one is assured of a solid experience if they turn their global voice chat off. In this way, I’ve now sunk about 98 hours of time in Modern Warfare II and have reached Prestige 4. As a result, I’ve unlocked all of the gear, most of the game’s weapons and a sizeable collection of attachments, enough for me to begin exploring the depths of Modern Warfare II‘s gunsmith system, but at the same time, when the first season of content ended, my interest in Modern Warfare II slowly began waning. Of late, however, circumstances have motivated me to return to the multiplayer.

After watching John Wick: Chapter 4 in the theatres during the first weekend of this month, I was highly impressed by the exceptional cinematography during the sequence where Wick picks up a Genesis Arms Gen-12 semi-automatic shotgun loaded with the incendiary “Dragon’s Breath” rounds. What follows is one of the most gorgeous moments in recent film history, in which the camera takes up an overhead position and pans over the carnage as Wick single-handedly destroys an entire group of foes on his own. A thought occurred to me: Modern Warfare II‘s gunsmith system is among the most sophisticated in first-person shooters out there, and I recall seeing that shotguns did, in fact, have access to the Dragon’s Breath ammunition. However, up until now, I’d never really run with shotguns before, and in order to unlock the Dragon’s Breath rounds, I needed to get the Expedite 12 shotgun up to level 28. Fortunately, Modern Warfare II‘s “Shipment 24/7” mode is still on rotation: this close-quarters map was tailor-made for shotguns, and in the space of a few weeks, I fully finished levelling the Expedite 12 and next turned my attention towards unlocking the KV Broadside, a semi-automatic shotgun that is based off the Vepr-12 shotgun (a shotgun built around the RPK receiver). With this, and Modern Warfare II‘s extensive gunsmith system, I was soon able to build my own makeshift Genesis Arms Gen-12. T fact that Modern Warfare II provides enough flexibility for me to customise a firearm to match a weapon seen from a film was immensely enjoyable, and in my case, I found that the iconic shotgun from John Wick: Chapter 4 could be produced by modifying the KV Broadside with the XTen modified choke, Velocious 40 barrel, SZ Lonewolf optic, FT TAC-Elite stock and of course, the 12-Gauge Dragon’s Breath ammunition. Taking this shotgun into combat, I found an immensely amusing (if somewhat inconsistent weapon) that proved exceptionally fun to use. The gunsmith is where Modern Warfare II really excels, and the versatility allows one to create some highly unique weapons. With the right attachments, one could turn a light machine gun into an assault rifle, or a submachine gun into a battle rifle. While these options may not always be optimal or viable, it can make some assignments easier to complete. In this way, Modern Warfare II‘s gunsmith system is something that makes the game especially standout.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • For me, Invasion quickly became my favourite mode of Modern Warfare because it offered a sandbox-like environment for larger scale combat, where human and computer foes and allies could duke it out in a space where the stakes aren’t terribly high, and where players can rejoin the fray if they’re taken out. This makes the mode a great place to pick up a sniper rifle and get comfortable with its mechanics. Warzone 2 and DMZ provide an even larger scale experience, but the modes are more unforgiving, and correspondingly, quite unfriendly for most solo players.

  • During one match of Invasion, I managed to go on a 14-streak, which is my current personal best. I still remember that particular match – I had joined to have fun and hadn’t been focusing on anything in particular. In that same match, I walked away with 41 kills and 4 deaths, for a KDR of 10.25. I jokingly thought to myself that the skill-based match-making (SBMM) system would punish me harshly for this accomplishment, but at the same time, it did show that I was able to do well enough to enjoy Modern Warfare II. Early on, I focused on levelling the marksman rifles and sniper rifles – Invasion is the perfect place to use the longer-range options, and sniping a foe from a distance is immensely satisfying.

  • Here, I managed to land a kill at 206 meters with the Victus XMR, which had been a sniper rifle that unlocked as a part of the first season’s worth of content, and even two seasons later, the weapon is still competitive. Generally speaking, I configure my sniper and marksman rifles for improved accuracy and damage at range, as well as bullet velocity where applicable: the idea of a sniper rifle being a mid-range weapon with good ADS speed and quick rechambering is quite unnecessary, as one can bring the “Overkill” perk with them and equip a good secondary for close range engagements.

  • For a while, I also focused on levelling the Signal 50 up. The Signal 50 has a slightly faster firing rate compared to the Victus XMR at the expense of damage per shot, and players will generally find that whereas the Victus XMR excels against human opponents, situations where there are a lot of AI opponents make the Signal 50 a better choice. The Signal 50 is something I find useful as a makeshift measure for quickly dealing with killstreak vehicles – an enemy helicopter can be shot down relatively quickly if one’s got the armour-piercing rounds for the Signal 50, since the high rate of fire allows one to deal damage quickly.

  • Earlier this month, Modern Warfare II put on a special event where players could unlock trophies by playing the game, and then trophies could be redeemed for various rewards. Although I had originally intended to sit things out, intrigue about the “Venom Strike” M13B and “Nightsting” TAQ-V blueprints led me to try and see if I could unlock them before the event ended. In the end, I managed to get both of the blueprints, plus some weapon charms and calling cards. Playing this mode is actually what ended up getting me back into Modern Warfare II, and inspired me to unlock enough of the weapons so that I could re-create the John Wick: Chapter 4 Dragon’s Breath shootout.

  • The first time I got a covetted “quad feed” was actually during the Modern Warfare II beta, where a lucky break meant I was able to fill the kill feed with four consecutive kills without said kills being interrupted. I’ve heard that this is “an accomplishment to be proud of”, since getting four kills in rapid succession is a difficult ask as a result of the TTK in Modern Warfare II. In the retail game, my first quad feed came in a match of invasion when I used a stealth bomber (picked up from a supply drop) to rain explosives down a path, eliminating eight players in a single stroke. The first time I achieved this, I was also trying to pick up a supply drop, but luckily, I did manage to get another one to show that yes, I’ve achieved this feat at least once. In this post, I show off a few more quad feeds, accomplished using various means like the SAE air strike and cruise missiles.

  • With the new seasons, I think a few more Invasion maps were added to the rotation, increasing the variety that Modern Warfare II provides to players. Most of the YouTubers I’ve subscribed to play DMZ exclusively, citing the excitement of fighting hordes of AI bots and human players alike to pull out contraband weapons as being the premiere draw of the mode. On the other hand, Warzone 2 has been stated to be a bit of a disappointment for most because of noticeable bugs and a lack of incentive to continue playing on top of the Battle Royale mode becoming a monotonous one. On the other hand, DMZ has become the new mode of interest because it strikes a balance between PvE and PvP, provides a consistent stream of content to engage players. Firefights keep players guessing because one could be up against skilled human foes, or an unfair number of AI, but the thrill of successfully completing an assignment or grabbing a new contraband weapon encourages players to press on despite the threat of losing one’s equipment.

  • On paper, DMZ is an innovative implementation of The Division and its successor’s Dark Zone, one which is more accessible (one can hop right in, versus needing to pick up a large pool of gear first as is necessary in The Division), but I personally stick with more traditional mode simply because the solo DMZ experience is remarkably unforgiving – the mode doesn’t scale, and players who join with a full squad of four will face the same number of foes as they would if they joined as a solo player. The end result is that a solo player would be at a severe disadvantage even if they had put in the requisite amount of time to learn how to play effectively.

  • The solution for this is actually quite straightforward, and The Division 2 provides an example of what this might look like. Raids are an eight-player mode where two teams of four must cooperatively complete objectives against exceptionally tough opponents, and the standard mode is gruelling. In exchange, completing raids gives players access to excellent gear. To provide players with a better sense of what they’re squaring off against, The Division 2‘s raids also have an “expedition” mode which lowers the enemy difficulty and allows players to explore the maps. In this mode, the rewards are not provided. The only issue is that even on expedition mode, raids cannot be soloed: foes take so much damage that this isn’t feasible.

  • If expedition mode had removed the rewards outright and simply gave players a chance to explore the map, it would still be valuable in providing them the means of familiarising themselves with things before attempting a standard raid with other players. Modern Warfare II‘s DMZ mode would benefit from a similar approach: solo players looking to just explore Al Mazrah or Ashika Island on their own should be given the choice to do so. This mode would still provide an appropriate amount of AI bots to fight, but aside from a small amount of experience points, the mode should not contribute to one’s weapon levels or provide the same unlocks as the standard mode. This way, players would still need to play DMZ normally, but if they so chose, they’d now have a way to explore the DMZ maps.

  • Back in late December, I had been looking forwards to giving DMZ and some of the co-op modes a shot. My best friend picked up an MSI Katana GF76 laptop on a sale, and back then, Intel was doing a promotion where every eligible Intel processor was subject to a Modern Warfare II giveaway. The GF76 sports an i7-12700H and a laptop version of the RTX 3070 Ti, giving it about 90 percent the performance of my desktop machine, and with this, my best friend would’ve been able to play all of the games in the past five years without any difficulty, as well as possessing enough hardware to make it capable of running new games in the upcoming few years.

  • However, owing to a communications SNAFU between Intel and BestBuy, neither company were willing to give my best friend the access code needed to redeem a copy of Modern Warfare II. Both Intel and BestBuy insisted it was the other party that gave out the codes, and refused to help my best friend out. In this way, a month passed, and the window for the offer expired, leaving him completely (and understandably) disappointed. All it would’ve taken was for one customer support representative from BestBuy to take a few moments and get in touch with Intel to secure a code, and my best friend would’ve been on his way. Instead, both parties dragged their feet, and in the present, I’ve not been able to play any co-op or DMZ with my best friend.

  • In the months after, my best friend did end up picking up The Division 2 and Ghost Recon: Wildlands, but since he’s still getting through nearly a decade’s worth of backlogged games, especially mods, I don’t anticipate we’ll be starting any time soon. In a manner of speaking, my best friend not getting Modern Warfare II might also be seen as a blessing in disguise, preventing his backlog from growing further and giving him some time to get to much older titles, and in fact, I am looking forwards to being able to co-op with him in both The Division 2 and Wildlands. Contemporary games and their battle passes actually make gaming a little less enjoyable, since there is an obligation to stick around and unlock things, so for my best friend, unlocking enough stuff in Modern Waarfare II to make things fun would represent a bit of a slog. Here, I manage to advance the season three battle pass far enough to unlock the FJX Imperium, a sniper rifle modelled after Modern Warfare 2‘s Intervention.

  • I’ve also begun to unlock the gold weapon cameos for some of my loadouts, and here on one of the new invasion maps, I score a double kill with a gold-plated M4. Having the Union Guard made it straightforwards to start getting my weapons’ levels up so I had a decent collection of attachments, and in the present, while I don’t have all of the attachments needed to make the so-called meta setups, I do have enough attachments available to me so that I can kit weapons out to make them better suited for my play style. While I don’t particularly like the battle pass and live service model gaming publishers are using in general, games still thankfully offer enough to do for players who prefer taking things at their own pace.

  • This is ultimately what makes Modern Warfare II a shade more enjoyable than Battlefield 2042 for me at the moment: the latter’s all-out warfare modes are gorgeous and immersive, but at the same time, they also require a bit of time to play through. On the other hand, Modern Warfare II provides players with options. If I’m short on time, a few rounds on Shipment 24/7 will still be enough for me to rank a weapon up once or twice. When time is more plentiful, I can sit down to back-to-back matches or join a game of invasion. Shipment 24/7 has, together with Shoot House, proven to be the perfect way of power-levelling everything that isn’t a sniper or marksman rifle, and by dropping in for a few matches every evening, I’ve brought more weapons to their maximum level than I would’ve previously imagined possible.

  • Of course, having access to some custom weapon blueprints helps: unlocking the M13B and Victus XMR blueprints, for instance, allowed me to begin unlocking attachments for these weapons before I unlocked them, and so, even if I couldn’t run a custom version of these weapons yet, I still had their attachments available for other weapons. In this way, I’m now able to start creating more interesting weapons for my own enjoyment: players define meta loadouts for Warzone or DMZ that give players a clear advantage, but in the multiplayer, I’ve found that even the worst weapons can still be useful in some situations.

  • The KV Broadside is such an example: shotguns are extremely situational in Modern Warfare II and for most situations, are completely outclassed. In the narrow confines of Shipment, though, shotguns are devastatingly powerful weapons that can instantly delete foes with the press of a mouse button if all of one’s pellets land. For me, I found that irrespective of which shotgun I was running, having the barrel and muzzle attachments that increased the damage range and tightened pellet spread would improve handling across the board.

  • In practise, the Dragon’s Breath ammunition decreases direct damage but adds incendiary damage over time: from a practical standpoint, it is inferior to standard buckshot. However, the merits of using the Dragon’s Breath ammunition is purely for the reason it’s flashy and fun. Just like the shootout from John Wick: Chapter 4, using Dragon’s Breath turns a match on Shipment into a spectacular fireworks show, and like Wick, double-tapping is sometimes necessary to put an opponent down for good. The KV Broadside’s semiautomatic fire makes this possible, and so, while this gun might not be exactly the same as the Genesis Arms Gen-12 seen in John Wick: Chapter 4, I was able to bring it quite close. The journey to unlock the Dragon’s Breath rounds meant I got comfortable with using the Expedite 12 (itself modelled after the Benelli M4 Super 90, which Wick uses in John Wick: Chapter 2), and this helped me to reacquaint myself with a class of weapons I’ve not used frequently since my Battlefield 4 days.

  • It goes without saying that, while the spawns on Shipment can be terrible, and bugs with weapons not firing can be frustrating, I’ve also had great fun running around with the John Wick loadout. The same spawns that led me to die seconds after returning to the game mean that my opponents’ also experience the same, and there have been moments where I’m sure my opponents’ weapons have jammed up, letting me fire my two shots off. Overall, while perhaps not viable in modes like DMZ or Invasion, the John Wick setup still remains incredibly bombastic and fun, perfectly suited for the claustrophobic layout that is Shipment.

  • To round this post out, I score a 10-streak on Shipment, which was something I certainly didn’t think I’d do – Shipment is pure chaos, and it’s quite hard to remain alive since there are so many angles other players can come from. During this match, it did feel as though my opponents were just standing around, oblivious to my presence, and I ended up unlocking the Chopper Gunner scorestreak while running the Venom Strike M13B. I immediately hopped in and got another ten kills with it before rejoining the match. I realise this post comes out of the blue and isn’t related to my usual anime-related topics, but I figured now was a good time as any to share some of the moments I’ve had in Modern Warfare II before things get a little busier: I’ve got a talk on Uma Musume Pretty Derby: Road to the Top lined up, and then to kick June off, I plan on writing about the latest Oregairu OVA, which was released with a bundle accompanying the corresponding game for Nintendo Switch and the PS4 a few weeks earlier.

While returning to Modern Warfare II, I’ve managed to generally have a fun time of exploring the new maps, and in the process, I’ve also managed feats that I thought would be outside of my skill level – scoring kill-streaks in close quarters maps, hitting a 14-streak in Invasion or 10-streak on Shipment, and scoring the covetted “Quad-Feed” have been achievements that I once imagined to be beyond my ability. That I’ve managed these suggests that even now, I still retain a modicum of skill in first person shooters despite the dulled reflexes and diminished skill that accompany adulthood; I may no longer have the time to sit down and game quite like I did back when I was a post-secondary student, and I’m certainly nowhere nearly as skilled as the folks who make a living off their Modern Warfare and Battlefield prowess, but as far as having fun goes, I can hold my own well enough to make progress towards attachment unlocks each and every match. The new engine ensures that movement and weapon mechanics are smooth and responsive, and in fact, the only complaint I have is the fact that weapons will inexplicably jam on some occasions. This happens often enough to be noticeable, but not so often that my gameplay is diminished, and overall, I am having much more fun in the Call of Duty multiplayer environment than I had originally expected. Readers will have noticed an emerging trend, where upon revisiting something, I manage to get a more comprehensive and holistic experience than my initial impressions would have suggested. Turning off voice chat allows me to avoid the overly-vocal players in a lobby, and my reflexes remain satisfactory to help me hold my own against the 360º no-scope practitioners. If I tire of close quarters engagements, Invasion is an inviting option, but if time is short, there’s always room for a few rounds on Shipment. Modern Warfare II, being the first time I’ve played a Call of Duty multiplayer while the game was still actively supported and possessed a healthy player-base, ultimately has proven to be an enjoyable experience that is yet another reminder that sometimes, there is merit in going back and giving something its fair chance before passing judgement. The benefits of doing so are numerous, and here in Modern Warfare II, it means I was able to briefly feel like John Wick during the fourth film’s now-iconic Dragon’s Breath shootout.

Sunsetting Battlefield: Bad Company 2 and Reflections A Decade After The First Otafest

“The Russians…they’re invading. Not here, they’re coming in through Alaska!” –General Braidwood

When it launched in March 2010, Battlefield: Bad Company 2 became DICE’s most acclaimed title, with critics praising the game for being a fantastic continuation of 2008’s Bad Company and improving on its predecessor in every way. In subsequent years, Battlefield fans had hoped for a sequel to Bad Company 2, in the form of Bad Company 3, and then-general manager of DICE, Karl-Magnus Troedsson, stated that Bad Company 3 was not in development because the studio hadn’t quite understood why Bad Company 2 was as successful as it was. This was ultimately unconvincing, as Bad Company 2‘s success boils down to one simple fact: both its single player campaign and multiplayer experiences were solid, essential parts of the experience that drew players in. The campaign was engaging because it offered a novel alternative to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Back then, modern military shooters possessed very grim and serious campaigns that accentuated how gritty and unglamourous warfare was, telling a dark tale of reluctant heroism before sending players into the high-paced sandbox of multiplayer. By bringing in a cast of colourful characters, Bad Company 2 stepped away from this. From the world-weary Redford, cautious Sweetwater and loud-mouthed demolitions expert Haggard, Bad Company 2 allowed the members of the 222nd Army Battalion’s B-Company squad to bounce off one another. During lulls in firefights, or while gamboling through South America, the members of B-Company crack bad jokes at one another and may wax philosophical. Even when under heavy fire, Haggard may make wisecracks about their situation. The levity amongst members of B-Company made difficult situations seem more manageable, and even when all hope seems lost, B-Company member Marlowe encourages Haggard and the others that they should keep on fighting, if only to save the Dallas Cowboys and their iconic cheerleaders, giving Haggard the motivation he needs to continue kicking ass. Coupled with the fact that Bad Company 2‘s campaign takes players to South America, a region of the world that games often ignore, Bad Company 2‘s single player campaign was remarkably entertaining and endlessly replayable. Bad Company 2 had ended with B-Company successfully destroying Aguire and his Scalar Weapon, but as it turns out, the Russians had allowed Aguire to carry out his plan as a distraction for their invasion of North America, coming in through Alaska.

The multiplayer in Bad Company 2 was an even greater hit than the campaign: with its emphasis on destruction and superb map design, players found an experience unlike any other period game. Players using buildings as cover and sniper nests needed to be cognisant of the fact that opponents could shell the buildings into the ground, and maps provided players plenty of options to move around, allowing them to play in the manner of their choosing. The progression system in Bad Company 2 is deep enough to encourage replay and earning unlocks, but at the same time, it’s not so complex that one is overwhelmed by the number of available options. The interplay between classes meant that players needed to rely on teammates to be successful, but at the same time, players who mastered the classes could adapt to fit any situation and perform for their team. On top of this, the Vietnam expansion provided all-new environments and guns for dedicated players to further their experience. The variety in gameplay, balance between scale and focus, and unpredictability of a sandbox environment meant no two games were alike; DICE would eventually push the envelope and build Battlefield titles around a 32-versus-32 experience, but Bad Company 2‘s 16-versus-16 players provided the “Only in Battlefield” moments without creating excessive chaos. Overall, Bad Company 2 became an integral part of the Battlefield franchise, and while Troedsson was probably speaking out of caution, the reality was that Bad Company 2‘s successes had come from providing players with a very tight, focused and purposeful game that was simultaneously challenging, rewarding and hilarious. A Bad Company 3 would have been successful if it was able to continue on in the footsteps of its predecessor, finding a way to continue incorporating large-scale destruction into things while offering the 64-player experience and deeper progression system that Battlefield 3 provided. In fact, one could say that, if Bad Company 3 simply consisted of Battlefield 3‘s multiplayer with a continuation to B-Company’s story, that game would’ve proven to be a smash hit.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Bad Company 2 was my first-ever Battlefield game: it was a rainy day in late August, and my best friend had invited me over to check the game out, along with the then-new web series, Marble Hornets. I found myself hooked on the gameplay, and three years later, after I built a new desktop, I finally had the computational horsepower to play the game for myself. I started shortly after my term finished, and through the month, I incrementally made my way through the game, enjoying the experience at 1080p for the first time (at my best friend’s place, I believe we were playing at 1280 and 1024, since he was running a CRT monitor). Bad Company 2 proved to be a remarkable experience, and no Battlefield campaign has since come close to being quite as engaging.

  • I subsequently wrote about my experiences as I progressed through Bad Company 2 – these posts are written in an older style with the tone of a walkthrough, and for the first time, I wrote about a game on a level-by-level basis. This was made possible by the fact that at 1080p, I was able to showcase the visuals in a game at hitherto unprecedented detail, motivating me to write about games in depth and in the process, eventually led to my writing more extensively for this blog. At around this time of year a decade earlier, I would’ve reached the Sangre del Toro mission in Bad Company 2, and I recall this mission best as having played it after returning home from my first-ever Otafest.

  • If memory serves, I decided to bite the bullet and finally attend the local anime convention, having sat out previous years on account of scheduling conflicts. It was on a cool, overcast morning that I set out, and shortly after arriving on campus grounds, I met up with a friend from the health sciences programme who was also attending. After browsing through the exhibitor hall and all of the vendors, we would catch our breath at a screening of Full Metal Alchemist before going for lunch. The afternoon was spent in an autograph session, and after one last sweep of the exhibitor hall, we parted ways. Along the way, we took in the sights and sounds of the anime convention and the cosplayers.

  • My first convention experience was a bit of a mixed bag: while I wasn’t able to find any K-On! merchandise outside of Figmas (I’d been hoping to pick up a few keychains), and I later learnt that there’d been exclusive pins that I needed to trade for, attending my first convention also was great fun, allowing me to see cosplayers and their ingenuity, as well as take in the positive energy in an environment that celebrated a shared love for Japanese popular culture. Attending Otafest in 2013 also introduced me to the Red Wagon Diner food truck and their Montreal Smoked Meat Hash. In the end, I left my first attendance at Otafest generally satisfied, and mostly exhausted.

  • Armed with this first experience, I was able to plan a bigger and better return a year later; with ten attendees in tow (myself included), my second Otafest experience saw our group visit the reservations-only maid café and sit through an autograph session with Yū Asakawa (Azumanga Daioh‘s Sakaki, Makoto Aoyama of Love Hina, and K-On!‘s Norimi Kawaguchi) and Brad Swaille (Gundam 00‘s Setsuna F. Seiei and Light Yagami of Death Note). Thanks to superior planning and exploration, I also was able to pick up an HGUC Full Armour Unicorn (Destory Mode). I left Otafest 2014 immensely satisfied, and in later years, as Otafest continued to grow, they eventually made the Telus Convention Centre as their new home.

  • My time as an attendee of Otafest have been overwhelmingly positive, although at this point, I had also felt that I’d experienced everything the local convention had to offer. Generally speaking, the main draw of any anime convention is are the special guests, usually voice actors and actresses, although in some cases, staff from studios or larger companies like Sunrise and Kyoto Animation may also make an appearance, giving fans an unparalleled chance to learn ask questions about the industry. In the anime conventions of the late 2000s, this was a big deal, since bloggers like Dark Mirage could take insider information from these panels and share it on their blogs for internet credit.

  • Besides industry guests, anime conventions also appeal to visitors because they may offer exclusive merchandise as a result of large companies being in attendance, and the largest anime conventions, like Anime Expo and Anime Asia Singapore, also would screen anime films in advance of their Japanese première (e.g. in 2016, Anime Expo pre-screened Your Name to attendees who were lucky to secure a ticket into the screening room). These bonuses are only available to the largest of conventions, which draw tens or even hundreds of thousands of visitors. Smaller conventions like Otafest have a correspondingly smaller operational budget and are unlikely to be able to bring in more notable special guests (Ayane Sakura, Ai Kayano and Nao Tōyama come to mind).

  • In days past, the exhibitor hall and screening rooms were also a major draw at anime conventions, and even smaller conventions like Otafest could draw in viewers, since they were the only time of year where fans could purchase anime merchandise and check out the latest shows. Since the advent of ubiquitous broadband internet, however, these aspects of an anime convention have become less significant: it is possible for people to buy anime merchandise easily from places like and CD Japan, and streaming services allow people to watch any show of a given season from the comfort of home, meaning that screening rooms, unless they show something that is not otherwise available (e.g. Your Name), are not as relevant as they once were.

  • Similarly, the exhibitor hall can be a hit-or-miss depending on what one is looking for. Fans of more well-known series will have no trouble finding what they’re looking for, but folks who like more obscure works will be hard-pressed to find merchandise related to their favourite series. These factors, coupled with my own travels to Japan some years earlier, have diminished my interest in visiting anime conventions as an attendee: I’m no cosplayer, I don’t play the same games that most anime fans do and panels don’t offer me much in the way of learning about anime or Japan. However, as a non-profit event, Otafest donates their proceeds to a local charity, and this makes the local convention commendable.

  • Because Otafest is a volunteer-run event, one that simultaneously celebrates a love for Japanese popular culture and gives back to the community, it is worthwhile to contribute and help out as a volunteer. This is why in more recent years, I’ve looked at being a volunteer, and while my first application was unsuccessful on account of my signing up a little too late, back in 2019, I was brought on to help out. Volunteering allowed me to experience Otafest from the other side of the fence: it was fantastic to help attendees having the best possible time while at the same time, exploring the convention freely (this is one of the perks about volunteering, and in fact, volunteers are encouraged to check things out when they’ve got a moment).

  • This year, Otafest celebrates its twenty-fifth anniversary, and it is quite fitting that I will be returning to volunteering, precisely a decade after I first attended – in the past ten years, a great deal has happened, and the circle is now complete. The fact that the local convention has endured for a quarter of a century speaks to the commitment and dedication of those who run the show, and having volunteered previously, it’s easy to see why this convention has the same level of energy and excitement surrounding larger conventions while at the same time, possessing the intimacy and friendliness of a small convention. Locations and staff may have changed over the years, but the convention remains an iconic part of Calgary.

  • Back in Bad Company 2, I’ve returned to the “Crack the Sky” mission, one of my favourite missions in the game for introducing the M95, a 50-calibre rifle with unparalleled damage. Although counted as being inferior to the Type 88 in the campaign, since both rifles are a one-hit kill, and the Type 88 is semi-automatic, the M95 is better suited for extreme long range combat, since its bullet drop is less pronounced than that of the Type 88. Over the past decade, I’ve beaten the game three times from the first mission; after my original play-through in 2013, I would move on to Battlefield 3 and newer iterations of Battlefield. However, in 2021, circumstances pushed me to upgrade my previous desktop to Windows 10 from Windows 8, and the process saw me lose all of my campaign progress in Bad Company 2.

  • Since moving to my current desktop, I would lose all of my save data again – Bad Company 2 doesn’t have any cloud save capabilities, and so, if the game is ever uninstalled, all of the progression disappears with it. In 2021, while the global health crisis was still going on, I spent the May Long Weekend playing through Bad Company 2 again: I was able to blaze through the game on standard difficulty over the course of a few hours as a result of knowing where everything was. While Bad Company 2‘s mechanics are dated, the game still handles remarkably well.

  • All of the screenshots in this post date back to January – I’d had my new desktop for a little more than nine months by then, but I hadn’t found the time to sit down and beat Bad Company 2 again, ahead of the ten year mark to when I’d first completed the game. Here, I operate an M1A2 Abrams Tank during a mission to reach a rural South American village and capture a person of interest, but Russian forces stand between B-Company and their target. Bad Company 2‘s story falls apart upon scrutiny (if Americans overtly authorised direct action against Russian forces, a war would certainly begin), but the game more than makes up for this through the characters.

  • Later Battlefield games, while still being enjoyable experiences, lack the same tenour and spirit that Bad Company 2 possessed, and this is why to this day, Bad Company 2 is so beloved. As memory serves, after I completed the campaign, I occasionally dabbled in the multiplayer subsequently: unlike the campaign, the multiplayer offers more weapon and customisation options, as well as maps set in different parts of the world. What had made the multiplayer so iconic was the presence of unparalleled destruction; buildings could be destroyed in the campaign, and in fact, one of my most memorable moments when starting out was taking refuge in a building while trying to get away from enemy armour.

  • The tank had done so much damage that the building collapsed, killing my character instantly. In the campaign, destruction was a gimmick, but in the multiplayer, it was a part of the strategy one could use to alter a map’s layout, forcing other players to adapt and giving one a brief advantage to press forward or retreat. While Bad Company 2 might’ve been a tough act to follow, I feel that if Bad Company 3 had released with improved visuals and mechanics from Frostbite 2, while at the same time, kept the destruction, it would’ve already been a home run. The campaign would, of course, deal with the Russian invasion, but even this could be tempered by Haggard and Sweetwater’s bickering, offering an alternate look at war in ways that more serious games, like Modern Warfare 2, do not.

  • For the most part, modern military shooters have very linear campaigns, and Bad Company 2 was no different. However, for the ninth mission, Sangre del Toro, players are tasked with driving to three relay stations to help triangulate the location of a missing freighter, which is rumoured to contain a component vital to the Scalar Weapon’s operation. Players can visit the triangulation stations in any order, and the vast desert environment gives players a more sandbox-like environment. This is one of the most unique missions in any Battlefield campaign, and while Battlefield 3 and 4 did not offer similar missions, Battlefield 1 and V would incorporate such missions into their stories.

  • Battlefield campaigns have been quite divisive, and most players hold the belief that DICE would’ve done better to skip over the implementation of a single-player campaign in favour of multiplayer, hoping that more effort directed towards the multiplayer would improve the quality of game mechanics, as well as the quantity of content. Battlefield 2042 shows that these sentiments may not necessarily hold true; the game’s launch was extremely rough even though the game did not feature a campaign, and the absence of a story diminished all of the fighting that players were participating in.

  • With this being said, if the absence of a campaign is what led to a more extensive support for single-player modes in a multiplayer setting, it’s is a tradeoff I am willing to accept: Battlefield 2042‘s single-player mode allows one to play alone (or invite up to three friends) on a server where it’s just them, and AI bots. The absence of other players means, one can use the environment to practise flying or getting used to new weapons without disrupting their team, or being disrupted by aggressive enemies. In this way, when one feels reasonably confident about their loadout, they can step into PvP modes, ready to help their team out.

  • This was a longstanding gripe I had about earlier Battlefield titles: the inability to practise flying without a half-dozen Javelins or Stinger missiles locking onto me meant I never did master the art of operating planes and helicopters, and there are some days where I wish to explore the maps and fire cool guns without other players around. Battlefield has a host of wonderful maps, and I do wish that older games would have featured the same single-player modes that Battlefield 2042 has, as this would’ve permitted exploration of these spaces in peace.

  • The lighthouse here would form the basis for Valparaiso’s central landmark. Battlefield Portal brings back several maps from Bad Company 2, all remastered for the present, and this does allow players to revisit. If Battlefield Portal could get more maps and weapons, it would be one way of keeping the older titles alive after they’ve been sunsetted. While the technology’s improved, the nature of modern games makes their preservation significantly more difficult – older games mirror the times that resulted in their development and therefore provide insight into society and technology of that time, as well as offering inspiration for current and future titles.

  • On the whole, improving technology has made it easier to preserve older games, and services like Steam, in offering older games, makes it possible for folks to share in older experiences. Looking back is an immensely valuable exercise, and playing older games offers inspiration as well as an opportunity for introspection. Here, I reach the container ship in the Atacama Desert. I’ve never understood how this phenomenon is possible – it makes sense for ships to be found in former lakebeds and the like, but this segment of desert in Sangre del Toro is hundreds of kilometers inland. When I reached this point back in 2013, I was at a loss for solutions, but the trick is to shoot the explosive barrels, which creates a blast that shifts the containers into a makeshift ramp.

  • The last segments of Bad Company 2 become increasingly high-paced as the hunt for the Scalar Weapon becomes more desperate. The game returns B-company to the jungles of South America, and here, I recall memories of the last days of the August during my first year of summer research when, on a return trip to my best friend’s place, I was invited to play what he considered to be one of the more hectic missions in Bad Company 2. Admittedly, I do miss those times – we lived within walking distance of one another, and when my summer research had wrapped up, I had nothing but spare time on my hands. Going over to his place to play Bad Company 2 and watch Marble Hornets had been a fun way of spending the remaining days of the summer.

  • By the time I reached my final undergraduate year, a chance Steam Sale allowed me to pick up Bad Company 2 for five dollars. Back then, however, my desktop would’ve just been able to handle the game – the Dell XPS 420 I had sported a Core 2 Quad Q6600, 3 GB of DDR2 RAM and an ATI HD 2600 XT. With that machine, I would’ve been able to run the game on minimum settings, but at the same time, I decided to hold back, knowing that playing Bad Company 2 would’ve distracted me from my thesis preparations. In the end, I ended up waiting until May, after I’d built a new desktop, to play Bad Company 2, and within moments of starting the game at 1080p, I knew my patience was well rewarded.

  • According to the blog archives, I spaced out walkthroughs of the missions in Bad Company 2 throughout the summer of 2013 – my research project, a distributed biological visualisation system that ran different simulations on different computers and used network calls to send information between different systems, had progressed reasonably well that summer. While this work wouldn’t influence anything I would work on in graduate school, and it didn’t result in anything publishable, it did show that game engines could, theoretically, be used to construct highly detailed models of biological systems. There had been a certain melancholy about that project; the NSERC USRA did not have any attached conditions to it, and since I was now done my undergraduate program, there was no obligation to go back and do a poster presentation on it at the Faculty of Health Sciences, either.

  • My supervisor believed in allowing students to explore the capabilities of technologies, even if they didn’t lead anywhere meaningful: in subsequent years, our lab acquired a HoloLens and Oculus Rift. My thesis project was ported into both in an experimental capacity, although neither became full-fledged enough to become publication worthy. In the end, my distributed modelling approach never quite reached maturity, and the idea was discarded entirely a little less than a year later – by April 2014, Unity had become free, and my supervisor was intrigued to know if it was capable enough to replace our in-house game engine. Within a week of learning Unity, I had put together a viable prototype of what would become the Giant Walkthrough Brain.

  • Owing to the ease of things, my supervisor decided to sunset the in-house game engine I had worked with during the whole of my undergraduate degree, and with it, all of the work I did in the summer of 2013, along with the other graduate and undergraduate student’s previous projects, were shelved as the lab began exploring Unity (and later, Unreal Engine). Technologies constantly change, and as things improve, they also leave behind incompatibility: while it is important to maintain backwards compatibility, there are also times where it is no longer economical (or technically feasible) to do so. This is why, as saddening as it is to see Bad Company 2 sunsetted, I also see it from the other perspective – the game’s had a fantastic run and remained available to players for the past thirteen years.

  • In a discussion with my best friend, he expressed confidence that some resourceful fans of Bad Company 2 will get their own servers up and running, allowing those with the game to continue playing it. As of April 28, however, Bad Company 2 was removed from digital storefronts like Steam and Origin, along with Battlefield 1943, and servers are scheduled to shut down fully in December. With this turn of events, I’m glad to have purchased the game when I did, but this also a sobering reminder that EA Games won’t always be around, and that generally speaking, support for always-online games can be arbitrarily dropped at any time, so one must consider their decision to purchase a game carefully.

  • My style has been to pick games up years after their release, and so far, I’ve been quite lucky: The Division 2 and Ghost Recon: Wildlands‘ servers are still online, so I was able to finish them in whole and get my money’s worth from them. Generally speaking, I am satisfied if a game offers me a dollar per hour. That is to say, if I spent 10 dollars on a game and get 10 hours of enjoyment, that game has been a good use of money. According to my Steam account, I’ve spent about 60 hours in-game (presumably, 40 hours in the campaign and 20 in the multiplayer): since I bought the game for five dollars, this corresponds to about eight cents per hour.

  • Here, I storm the Antonov AN-124 carrying the Scalar Weapon in Bad Company 2‘s final mission. With this, my reflection comes to a close: I remark that this reflection’s been a bit of a fun one, and with Otafest beginning tomorrow, I am looking forwards to both helping out as a volunteer, seeing if there’s anything in the exhibitor’s hall that catches my fancy (I am hoping to buy a Yuru Camp△ Nendoroid and pick up some Otafest 25 Anniversary swag, like pins) and meeting up with my best friend, who’s attending to get some pointers on Gunpla painting. Although I do not doubt it will be a fantastic day ahead tomorrow, it’s also going to be a long one, so it will be prudent for me to catch some rest ahead of things.

A few months earlier, EA had announced that they would be removing earlier Battlefield titles (Battlefield 1943, Bad Company and Bad Company 2) from their online storefronts on April 28, and by December 8, all online services for these games will be permanently shut down, rendering their multiplayer components unplayable. The sunsetting of these older Battlefield titles is a disappointment and serves as a warning to what can happen with always-online games: classic experiences may be shut down at any time, and this leaves players without a legitimate, safe means of playing their favourite games. This was always one of the hazards of online games, and while it is undoubtedly disappointing for many, especially in light of how modern games do not always offer consistent, tight experiences compared to their predecessors, there remains a glimmer of hope. Battlefield 2042 is the first Battlefield game to offer offline modes and the ability for players to customise their modes to a satisfactory extent. Through Battlefield Portal, one can create a private experience for themselves, allowing them to replicate classic experiences like 1000-ticket TDM on Noshahr Canals, or a custom rush match at Africa Harbour. Although Battlefield Portal‘s implementation is still dependent on DICE’s servers, the existence of these tools and the possibility for players to spin up their own servers creates the opportunity for games to have increased longevity. Call of Duty has, historically, been further ahead of Battlefield in this area, allowing players to create private offline matches against AI bots, and here, if DICE could implement a self-contained means for players to either play offline with AI bots or host their own serves, this would give their Battlefield titles increased value. For the present, I will be sad to see Bad Company 2 go: while I’ve not played on a server for almost a decade, I do vividly remember having fun with both the online matches I played on my then-new desktop, as well as going through the campaign at my best friend’s place on a rainy day prior to the start of my second year of university. There is a small consolation: Battlefield Portal does offer three classic Bad Company 2 maps, and despite the servers being offline, I still have access to Bad Company 2‘s excellent campaign, having bought the game on a sale a few weeks before my undergraduate defense exam.

Receiver 2 – Reflections Ten Hours in, Celebrating Ten Years of Wolfire’s Receiver and A Retrospective on Ethics in Media

“You have seen the signs around you – the gradual creeping decay and dysfunction. You have realised that something is wrong with the media and the people around you. You know that you are different. This is why you’re ready to become a Receiver.”

Back in 2012, the Wolfire team released Receiver, a game originally made for the 7-Day FPS Challenge back in 2012. Armed with only an M1911A1, players needed to master the art of smoothly executing pistol reloading as they made their way through a procedurally-generated world in search of special tapes which, when listened to, help the individual to reach enlightenment in an age where mass media has infiltrated every aspect of everyday life and controls how people think and act, resulting in a Mindkill event. Wolfire submitted Receiver to the Steam Greenlight programme, and Receiver itself became available on Steam ten years ago on this day. With this release, the Wolfire Team added the Glock 17 and the Smith & Wesson Model 10 revolver. Besides its sobering message about the dangers of placing faith in the media, Receiver also proved to be the epitome of what games are about: players must learn how their pistol works to stand any chance against The Threat’s kill-drones, but even proficiency is no guarantee of survival, as kill-drones and tapes spawn randomly in the world. This came together to create an unparalleled experience where skill and luck came together in a true test of the player’s patience and knowledge. By late 2019, Wolfire announced a long-awaited sequel to Receiver: Receiver 2 would simulate all elements in a gun, and in conjunction with more evolved mechanics, also greatly expanded on the elements seen in the first Receiver. Receiver 2 is broken up into ranks, and as players level up from collecting tapes, the difficulty increases as The Threat makes handling firearms increasingly dangerous, and new enemy types are introduced. Along the way, the tapes collected introduce players to what it means to become a Receiver, the history behind the different firearms in Receiver 2, the importance of gun safety and most importantly, the significance of mental health and an alertness to the mass media’s techniques in obscuring the truth and increasing discord. With more involved mechanics and modernised visuals, Receiver 2 is a worthy successor to Receiver. One of Receiver 2‘s most surprising mechanic is the existence of the Threat Echoes, tapes containing recordings of individuals who commit suicide. Finding these tapes causes The Threat to briefly take control of the player, and it takes swift action to render a gun safe so one can survive this moment of a loss of control. As players acclimatise to Receiver 2 and grow familiar with the mechanics, collecting tapes and levelling up reveals an even deeper warning about contemporary society and the role of mass media in eroding an individual’s mental health. At the same time, Receiver 2‘s message is one of cautious optimism: despite the prevalence of media and its impact, people can still prepare themselves and overcome things with sufficient preparation.

When the Wolfire team set out to create Receiver, developer Aubrey Serr recorded the tapes’ dialogue with the intention of mirroring how cults and religions use techniques to displace one’s knowledge and replace it with another set of beliefs. By controlling information that one accesses, promises of enlightenment, reducing complex issues to black and white and demanding use of specific jargon, religions and cults seek to fundamentally change the way people think such that they lose their agency and submit wholly to that group’s control. In a curious meta-experience, Receiver also suggested that the key to undoing indoctrination was as grim as it was effective: to be indoctrinated by something else. Although the Receivers spoken of in-game also follow a cult-like set of beliefs, they are said to be enlightened, prepared to do what’s necessary and practise gun safety, giving them the tools to resist other forms of indoctrination. The irony, then, is that the Receiver has already been indoctrinated. In this way, Receiver raises interesting questions for players, prompting them to re-evaluate the world around them and in the process, become more aware of the techniques that are used to control people. Through Receiver and Receiver 2, it becomes apparent that the mass media is also complicit in thought control, employing a wide range of means to spread fear and misinformation in a bid to retain their benefactors’ position of privilege. Politicians and corporations alike have specific interests, and to ensure they retain their control over wealth and influence, use the media as a means of placating the masses. By selectively reporting on current events and reiterating specific angles, they can persuade viewers into accepting a truth. Per Receiver 2, the solution here is simple enough: one cannot allow themselves to believe the media, and must always operate with a combination of critical thinking and skepticism. Although Receiver and its successor both warn of the dangers of mass media, the lessons here also apply to social media. Originally envisioned as a means of democritising the transmission of information, social has only served to increase misinformation, polarising people further. Originally, the intention was that notable or interesting content could be promoted by means of things like “trending”, “upvotes” and “retweets”. In this way, content meritorious of being shared would become more visible, and individuals could become heard if they shared helpful, truthful content. However, in practise, extremist and polarising rhetoric spreads through social media with greater speed, and undeserving individuals accumulate more followers, karma and retweets as a result. Owing to the speed of propagation, social media ends up being even more harmful than more traditional forms of media. As people become demoralised by a constant stream of lies, memes and insults, their mental health declines. Receiver 2, however, suggests that even then, one can still find means of resisting the media’s harmful impact and improve their mental health amidst an endless stream of media. Much as how players drill constantly to master the skills they need to survive in Receiver 2, in reality, one can find merit in eating and sleeping well, exercising and practising mindfulness. When faced with political content on social media, it is healthier to approach with a skeptical and dismissive mindset, rather than accepting or responding to it. Invalid opinions shouldn’t be retweeted, but it’s also unnecessary to argue against it. In this way, Receiver 2 continues on in the footsteps of its predecessor, encouraging people to think for themselves, master what they can in their lives and using mental fortitude to critically examine claims people make – competence with Receiver 2‘s controls and mechanics will help one to advance through the ranks and learn more about the story, but the learnings also provide one with increased resilience in real life.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • According to the blog archives, the last time I wrote about Receiver, it was October 2015. Back then, I would’ve been in graduate school, in the middle of the most relaxed term I’d had in the whole of my programme – that semester, I had no courses and therefore was free to wholly focus on my research project. I was very deep into Receiver, and it became my go-to game whenever I had a free moment, allowing me to become proficient with the game’s remarkable mechanics. When Receiver 2 was announced in December 2019, my curiosity was piqued. However, while the sequel looked compelling enough, the price tag was a bit of a deterrent because at the time of its release, my second start-up hadn’t been doing so well, and I felt it wasn’t a financially prudent decision to buy any new games.

  • While finances would eventually be a lesser concern, I remained reluctant to buy Receiver 2 because the game had a known issue: Receiver 2 is built around a levelling system, and leaving the game would instantly cause one to rank down, wiping one’s progress. In this way, Receiver 2 was put on the back burner, and I resolved to wait until the game saw a better discount. To my great surprise, one of my friends wound up gifting me a copy of Receiver 2 during the previous Christmas, remarking it was for being there for him through some difficult times and hearing him out. I am very appreciative of this gift, and having now started the game, I am of the mind that perhaps the game was worth picking up, even at full price.

  • In the present, Receiver 2 has been updated so players only lose ranks upon death, and leaving the game will automatically save the player state correctly. With this critical issue fixed, I was able to begin my journey without the fear of losing progress. The game opens with a brief tutorial, and once players collect two tapes, they are allowed to formally start things. Right out of the gates, I found myself returning to familiar locations, firing familiar firearms. A few small changes have been made: firearms will now have a probability of discharging when holstered or unholstered quickly if their safeties are not engaged, and the firearm’s capacities are restricted compared to their predecessors: revolvers almost always spawn with a blocked chamber, and magazines for semi-automatics will almost always have reduced capacity.

  • Some magazines will also have weaker springs, causing them to fail to push a new round into the chamber. All of these elements demand utmost focus from players, and this was a straight upgrade from the original Receiver, where pistols were always in perfect condition and never misfired. The element of randomness is initially an impediment, and muscle memory resulted in me shooting myself more often than I cared to count. However, unlike something like Kantai Collection, where randomness is meant to punish players, the randomness in Receiver 2 is a valid mechanic, and with a bit of common sense, mishaps can be mitigated.

  • The opening tutorial starts players off with the Colt Detective Special and requires they collect two tapes after learning the basics. Once the tutorial is completed, Receiver 2 begins formally, and players are given free reign to explore the map. It becomes clear that iconic locations from the original Receiver make a return in Receiver 2, except this time, everything’s been given a complete overhaul, and everything in the game looks astoundingly detailed. The apartments have always been my favourite part of the map, and here in Receiver 2, they are portrayed as comfortable, well-appointed luxury condos that I wouldn’t mind calling home.

  • Receiver‘s condos had been minimally furnished and the simple visuals left much to the imagination, so seeing all of the visual improvements to Receiver 2 was the surest sign that Wolfire had put in all of the effort to ensure that this sequel was a straight upgrade over its predecessor. Upon exploring the maps further, it turns out every single section in the game’s been given an upgrade. The sections still flow into one another smoothly, but this time, there’s a small bit of variability as sometimes, doorways are blocked off, forcing one to explore alternate routes.

  • Of note is how the lowest floor of the apartments now has a proper bedroom. In the original Receiver, the bedroom had been host to a very strange-looking tent, but this has now been replaced with a comfortable-looking queen-sized bed. Similarly, the floating bathtub has been properly addressed now. Beyond familiar areas, Receiver 2 also introduces an arcade and hospital, whose unique layout compels players to move cautiously through them as one searches for tapes.

  • The tapes of Receiver 2 are more expressive and varied than their Receiver counterparts, but like Receiver, which claimed that repeated listenings are important towards learning the message and becoming an Awakened Receiver, over time, players will become very familiar with the tapes and their contents. To this point, I’ve ended up memorising all of the original tapes and can recite them from heart as a result of having played Receiver for the past decade. I’ve beaten the original on two occasions (once with the Model 10, and once with the M1911).

  • I originally received Receiver as a complementary gift for having purchased Overgrowth, and while Overgrowth was still in development, I played the heck out of Receiver. After beating the game twice, my interest somewhat waned as I moved on to other games, but in 2019, Wolfire announced that they were going to give Receiver an overhaul, updating the game code so it was compatible with the latest version of Unity. This allowed Receiver to use the lighting effects that were only available in newer versions of the engine and showed Wolfire’s commitment to their game. I did find that following the update, Receiver became significantly more difficult as the game began spawning more kill-drones.

  • Since 2015, I haven’t been successful in collecting all eleven tapes, but I have dropped in here and there to play the game on occasion, and this has allowed me to retain my ability to reload weapons swiftly here in Receiver 2. For the most part, the key bindings are the same, so I’ve had no trouble reloading the Detective Special and Model 10. After ranking up, I also unlocked the original game’s M1911A1 and Glock 17C. The M1911 was my favourite weapon in Receiver owing to its reliability and ease-of-use: it hits harder than the Glock 17 but has a higher firing rate and capacity compared to the Model 10. The Receiver 2 incarnation is a bit of a loose cannon: lacking a safety, the gun is prone to discharging when holstered and unholstered if one isn’t cautious.

  • Learning the techniques for safely handling each pistol means that over time, the starting weapon becomes less of a impediment: if I were to use the Glock, holding the key for holstering a weapon allows it to be put away or pulled out without a risk of misfire, and at higher levels, removing the magazine and ejecting the chambered round will render it safe. In this way, although Receiver 2‘s randomness may still present some challenge, having skill (in the form of knowledge) mitigates some of the risks, similarly to how in reality, where luck may always be a confounding factor in one’s endeavours, but in spite of this, the presence of skill allows one to tip probability in their favour.

  • This is, incidentally, my definition of luck and skill. For a given situation, skill refers to the set of variables one can control for in a reliable fashion through experience and knowledge, and luck refers to the set of variables outside of one’s control. A situation that is skill-dependent is one where, the better one’s knowledge and experience are, the better their odds of success are, and a luck-dependent situation is where probability dictates the outcome, independently of one’s knowledge and experience. In complex, real-world scenarios, luck and skill both come into play. I hold that sufficient skill can offset poor luck, and at the same time, good luck is no substitute for skill.

  • Receiver 2 and its predecessor become excellent examples of the interplay between luck and skill. Luck is where the resources and kill-drones spawn, while skill is how well one can manage their weapon and operate safely. A skilled player will be able to adapt to the stochasticity in where kill-drones and tapes spawn more effectively, improving their odds of completing a rank. Although some spawns will definitely tilt things against the player’s favour and even result in death, a skilled player simply has reduced odds of dying to a kill-drone.

  • Befitting of a sequel, the HUD in Receiver 2 is more refined but otherwise has the same layout. In the original Receiver, inventory is displayed on the lower left hand corner of the screen, and the tape count was shown in the upper right. However, depending on spawns, one could carry as many magazines and flashlights as there were number keys, and this sometimes resulted in a row of flashlights stretching out across the bottom of the screen. Receiver 2 limits the players to five items, minimising screen clutter. Tape counts are now displayed in the lower right-hand corner, and there is a clearer indicator of when a tape is being played.

  • Originally, weapons were holstered into the inventory, but Receiver 2 moves the holster to the right-hand side, giving the pistol its own slot. Help is rendered by means of a menu on the upper right hand side, just like Receiver, but here in Receiver 2, the game helpfully displays a text overlay if something unexpected comes up during the earlier levels. Recommended keystrokes are overlaid on the screen if one’s weapon runs out of ammunition or jams, giving one insight into what they can do to unstick themselves from a problem.

  • The earlier iterations of Receiver 2 did not display an indicator as to what stage one was on, but later versions include an icon. Here, I’ve started out at the Baseline rank, and in the screenshot below, I’ve been promoted to “Asleep”. Ranks break Receiver 2 up into a more manageable state: the original game simply required players collect eleven tapes in a single sitting, and this made the game remarkably difficult. Moreover, because one couldn’t save, one had to complete sessions all at once. Conversely, Receiver 2 allows players to now break their sessions up, and with the save feature working, it’s possible to collect half the tapes at a given level and exit the game to do something else, then return later.

  • Altogether, while Receiver 2 is more involved than its predecessor and features more complex mechanics that can prima facie prove frustrating even to Receiver veterans, Receiver 2 is a direct upgrade that adds many quality of life improvements to balance out this difficulty. Being able to save mid-session is the feature I most value; during graduate school, I often had to give up a perfectly good session in favour of other obligations, but in the present, I can hop into a level, collect one or two tapes and exit to tend to other tasks, then return exactly where I left off later.

  • Here, I make my way carefully through the mechanical room filled with tanks. Receiver‘s rooms were seemingly arbitrarily designed, and in Receiver 2, all of the classic spaces make a return. However, with improved art direction, Receiver 2‘s spaces are logically designed and give a greater sense of purpose. One is making their way through an intricate labyrinth of interconnected buildings, some of which are under construction, and thanks to clever design, all of the spaces flow together better. Outside, Receiver 2‘s skybox and environments have also been overhauled.

  • Here, I’ve managed to spawn in with the Desert Eagle, which is unlocked for being promoted. Players universally agree that, between the small magazine size (only seven shots with a good magazine), heavy recoil and low fire rate, the Desert Eagle is one of the most difficult weapon to use in Receiver 2. However, the Desert Eagle’s limitations are offset by the fact that, on a per-shot basis, it’s the most powerful pistol available in the game: a single shot will be enough to disable a turret, and the .50 calibre rounds have enough energy to knock turrets over. In fact, the in-game tape describes the Desert Eagle as a pocket assault rifle.

  • While careless players will instantly die when the weapon misfires if not holstered/unholstered properly, the Desert Eagle does have a safety, so flipping the safety and holstering the weapon will eliminate any chance of ending one’s round prematurely. Here, I collect five tapes and take a breather to let the tape play; when all of the requisite tapes for a rank are collected, players are transported to a new rank, given a different weapon and go through the process again. However, ranking up means encountering new enemies, reduced available resources and more challenging spawns. The shock-drones make an appearance at the “Asleep” level, and beyond this, foes like armoured turrets and ceiling turrets begin showing up.

  • In classic Receiver, the skybox of the city surrounding the game world is a modified image of Hong Kong. In the skybox, buildings like the Jardine House and Bank of China Tower can be seen. I imagine from an art standpoint, being a glittering, futuristic metropolis, Hong Kong made sense from an aesthetic perspective. In a bit of irony, a year after Receiver was released to the Steam Store, protests in Hong Kong, motivated by electoral reform, paralysed the city. When the original protests did not have any tangible change on the city’s government, dissatisfaction from this would create the very scenario that Receiver describes; following a proposal to implement an extradition bill, some people acted on the cult-like belief that violence was the only way to affect positive change, resulting in the 2019 riots.

  • Receiver 2, on the other hand, is set in a generic metropolis with buildings of a North American design. However, Receiver 2’s backgrounds are rendered with 3D objects now, rather than using a skybox. This creates a greater sense of immersion in the game, since the surrounding city now feels more tangible. The improved visuals also allowed Wolfire to add new effects: at the lower ranks, it’s nighttime, but a fog begins rolling in as one levels up. Lightning and thunder soon appear, and by the time players reach the penultimate level, the city has fallen into decays as fires rage in the buildings.

  • Here, my Desert Eagle has jammed after a cartridge failed to eject. Clearing it is a simple matter of removing the magazine and pulling the slide back, although in some cases, it is possible to clear a jam by pulling the side back and dislodging the cartridge. After weapons are unlocked, players will retain them, and that means even at lower ranks, unlocks persist. In the baseline level, the most common tape players will find deals with how anyone who is aware of the problems with the media is on the first step towards becoming a Receiver.

  • I am very fond of this tape, since there is truth in the statement: there is definitely a problem with the media, and for this reason, any time I hear about international current events, I regard the media’s interpretation of an event with a grain of salt and stop to consider what the implications are if the media was, in fact, being truthful (nine of ten times, their opinions fall apart when a bit of logic is applied). People are generally aware of media bias and untruths, but what is truly disturbing is that adults under thirty nowadays report that they regard all news from social media as having equal or greater trustworthiness than news from traditional media. While these people report that the “unfiltered” nature of Twitter and Reddit news makes it more trustworthy, there’s absolutely no way to easily verify if something is true or not.

  • By their nature, social media is not anything approaching reliable or trustworthy precisely because it is unfiltered. Social media is singularly responsible for increasing polarisation and ignorance in society, partially because anyone can create an account, use underhanded means to accumulate followers and gather retweets to give the impression of trustworthiness. Groups of coordinated individuals can also game visibility algorithms to push lies long before verification can be done, creating mass panic. In response to this stuff, I regard all social media trends as false until later proven correct, and I never share anything that’s remotely related to politics.

  • I am of the mind that Twitter’s “retweet” feature should be outright disabled for political content: originally meant to let people share content quickly, retweets have become the self-proclaimed political pundit’s most indispensable weapon – allowing people to effortlessly share what amounts to political opinion is precisely why misinformation has become such a pandemic. The very presence of retweets significantly degrades Twitter, since they’re treated as a social currency of sorts: quite simply, someone with more retweets is regarded as being more trustworthy, and as a result, people will go to extraordinary lengths to accumulate retweets, even if it means saying something incendiary and untruthful. On the other hand, non-political content should not be penalised in any way: there is nothing wrong with sharing artwork, release dates, relevant blog posts and travel photos.

  • When one judges trustworthiness of political content on the merit of reputation and retweet counts alone, they are more prone to be misinformed. In this way, those that say they “do their own research” aren’t usually any better informed than those who watch the news – there are some folks out there who read into things on their own and place their trust in a source simply because they appear reputable, then end up drawing wrong conclusions. AnimeSuki’s “ramlaen” and “mangamuscle” are both examples of this – the former continues to believe the 2020 election was “stolen”, while the latter argues that, because his knowledge of the conflict in Ukraine surpasses those of military experts, NATO should consider a nuclear exchange as a means of sticking it to Vladimir Putin, even though such an action would result in mutually assured destruction and do little more than highlight mangamuscle’s ignorance.

  • Towards the end of my time at AnimeSuki, I noticed that the political discourse was running out of steam. At the height of the global health crisis, people like ramlaen and mangamuscle were posting multiple times a day, reminding other forum-goers that everyone besides them were wrong about everything constantly, but by the end of last year, these individuals began posting with decreased frequency. This is because the effort of trying to convince people of untruths is an exhausting and unrewarding one, and I imagine that even for those with unlimited leisure time, thinking about politics constantly must be nastily exhausting. I’ve never bothered to stoop to their level and argue against them on the grounds that my time is worth a great deal more than theirs.

  • One interesting statistic I noticed was that more highly-educated individuals actually tend to make more mistakes as far as understanding foreign policy is concerned. This is because individuals with more knowledge and exposure also tend to be more confident in their ability to parse and handle information. In the realm of science, for instance, repeatability and sample size is a critical part of all research. If a pattern or observation is made repeatedly, then there might be merit to supposing there is a correlation, and if the evidence is particularly strong, claims of causation might become possible. Applying this in the context of parsing political information, if all one hears on the news is the same message, then the rational part of the mind would be inclined to say, since all of the sources make the same observations, then the claims must have some merit.

  • In reality, media collusion exists, wherein media outlets will agree on a single narrative behind closed doors so that a specific message is conveyed. This is why when news becomes available at different outlets, they often contain copy-pasted text, and the end result is that even educated individuals would fall into the trap of believing the media (or social media). More knowledgable individuals are actually harder to convince of their wrongness because they have more faith in their cognitive and reasoning, and in the case of AnimeSuki’s two self-proclaimed political pundits, both are in the IT industry, the same as myself. However, both allow their own prejudices and conviction in their superior intellect to render them oblivious to the fact that the information they’ve gathered could have significant flaws, whereas I am aware of the limits to my own knowledge and are respectful enough not to add to the noise.

  • Receiver 2 suggests that making good decisions is not a matter of intelligence, and instead, comes down to a matter of common sense. If one pauses to ask about the consistency of a given claim, it may be the case that the claim is self-contradictory or falls apart. Rejecting the media’s claims and refusing to agree with them in the absence of consistent, solid evidence is something we should be permitted to do in a free society. Seeing organisations like Anime News Network disagree is actually quite telling. In one tweet from their editorial director, it was claimed that “attacking ‘the media’ – even tiny niche publications like ANN – as some kind of monolithic evil has, historically, been proven to get you a whole lot of likes and subscribes…but…you’re demonstrably going to get one of [their number] killed”. In this case, said editorial director hid behind journalistic integrity as a shield to deflect criticisms surrounding Anime News Network’s modus operandi, and when I challenged him, I was swiftly blocked.

  • This action proved to me, beyond any doubt, that Anime News Network’s goal is, first and foremost, to control what people think about anime. It struck me that, if a “tiny niche” outlet couldn’t be trusted to talk about something as trivial as anime in a fair manner, then larger publications certainly had no trustworthiness when it came to things like foreign events (especially where special interests are involved). Back in Receiver 2, I’ve managed to rank up. Observant readers will have noticed the level logo becoming more detailed as I rank up. Ten hours into the game, I’ve become a little more familiar with where things spawn, and one of my favourite cues is how the game uses audio to indicate a tape’s location. Tapes now spawn anywhere, and one can hear vocalisations that become progressively louder as one becomes closer to the tape.

  • On my best run, I ended up making it all the way to the final rank, “Awake”. Along the way, I unlocked the Beretta 92/M9. This pistol’s slide design is such that cartridges are less likely to jam (resulting in what’s known as a stovepipe malfunction), but the magazines are of a poorer quality, so the weapon will sometimes fail to feed. While all of the 9mm semiautomatic pistols work on similar principles in Receiver 2, there are nuances that need to be learnt, and depending on one’s knowhow, some guns will initially appear to be more reliable than others.

  • During one particularly challenging segment, the Beretta I was using suffered from a faulty magazine spring that caused rounds to constantly fail to be loaded. This meant after almost every shot, I needed to tap the magazine and pull the slide back to manually chamber a round. In moments where I only had a lone kill-drone to deal with, this wasn’t a problem, but in later levels, the shock drones begin appearing. Unlike their Receiver counterparts, shock drones can now be shattered by individual rounds, and while they are still dangerous, leaving them immobile and giving them distance is a good means of conserving on ammunition.

  • Receiver 2 introduces the idea of hacking turrets and drones. If one’s weapon is holstered, they can disable a  kill-drone by hacking into it. This fully disables a drone and is an excellent means of conserving on ammunition, as well as minimising the risk of discharging a firearm at close range. Bullets can ricochet off surfaces and injure the player, and firing through windows can cause shards of glass to fall that can cut the player. While one is at full health, these hazards are survivable, but carelessness will result in failure. Here, I manage to collect four tapes and rest in one of the apartments while letting the tape run to completion. A reassuring piece of incidental music plays on every successful rank up, giving players a chance to decompress before the next level is loaded.

  • As one progresses, the environment in Receiver 2 subtly changes. A thunderstorm grips the map, creating a grim atmosphere, and towards the end, it does feel like the apocalypse, as fires rage through the city and the skies glow red. At the penultimate level, I’ve unlocked the SIG Sauer P226, Domovoi Butler’s preferred weapon. SIG Sauer is also John Clark’s preferred pistol brand: in Tom Clancy’s novels, Clark typically carries the P220, which is chambered for the .45 ACP round. This weapon is generally reliable, but differs from the other semiautomatics in that it uses a lever to de-cock the hammer. Once the weapon is de-cocked, it is safe to holster.

  • The high stakes of the later levels comes from the fact that, even though there are fewer tapes to collect, the amount of danger has increased. The Threat’s presence is far stronger, so there’s more kill-drones around, resources are more limited, and firearms are more prone to malfunction or misfire. On my first run of the penultimate stage, I somehow managed to make use of the SIG Saucer and managed to reach the end of the level. Along the way, some of the tapes I picked up contained content that was a callback to the original Receiver.

  • Although Receiver never specified what a fully-awakened Receiver is like, the game offered enough detail to suggest that in an Awake state, Receivers are able to differentiate between fact and fiction and can make their own decisions to affect positive, effective survival. Here, I collected the last of the tapes needed to reach the final rank, and for players who get this far, Receiver 2 will lock them to the Colt Single Action Army (SAA). The Colt SAA is the single most difficult gun to use in Receiver 2, since rounds can only be loaded and extracted one at a time. On my first playthrough, a lack of knowledge in how to operate the Colt SAA meant my run didn’t last long, and even though there’s only three tapes to collect, kill-drones are now so numerous that I wasn’t comfortable in entering a situation with the tool at hand.

  • In the end, I entered one of the apartments, pulled back the hammer, took aim and pulled the trigger, only for the gun to fail to fire. I was spotted, the turret fired, and I was instantly demoted. A series of unfortunate mistakes would then send me all the way back to the baseline rank. Of course, now that the Colt SAA is added to the pool of weapons, I’ll have a chance to train myself on how to use it, and return to this top level in the future, ready to win. My initial thoughts on Receiver 2 are extremely positive, and for me, the Receiver games represent the sort of game that I respect: with a high skill ceiling and a remarkable narrative that covers firearm safety, mental health and maintaining a healthy skepticism of all forms of media, Receiver 2 is a worthy successor that acts as the thinker’s game.

  • What makes Receiver 2 so enjoyable is precisely because it is able to disempower players through the skill curve to create challenge, but at the same time, encourage players to train and improve so that there will come a point where skill can help even the odds, allowing one to prevail. In short, Receiver and its sequel, Receiver 2, rewards effort while saying something meaningful at the same time, making it a frontrunner in what games should strive to do for their players. For now, I’ll wrap the discussion up here; I do have plans to write about the mental health aspects Receiver 2 strives to convey in the future. Next August will mark the ten year anniversary to the release of Depression Quest, which had no business in calling itself a game and found itself entangled in all sorts of controversy as a result of unwarranted praise. Receiver 2 does everything this title could not, and I expect that by then, I’ll have completed Receiver 2 at least once to unlock all of the tapes and their messages, leaving me in the best possible position to discuss what Wolfire succeeds in doing with Receiver 2 when Depression Quest had utterly failed.

Ten hours into Receiver 2, I’ve become more comfortable with operating the new pistols that join the roster. Receiver originally had three weapons available to players, but here in Receiver 2, the Colt Detective Special, the Desert Eagle Mark I, the Beretta M9, the SIG Sauer P226, the Hi-Point C-9, and the Colt Single Action Army all become available. Different weapons have different handling traits, and because of the dangers The Threat poses, players are encouraged to learn weapon safety as soon as they begin. Whether it’s removing the magazine and ejecting any chambered rounds for weapons lacking safeties, leaving the hammer un-cocked for revolvers and flipping weapon safeties on for some semi-automatic pistols, small actions taken can go a long way in keeping one alive: weapons will now misfire when mishandled, and this can end an otherwise solid run. Some tapes will remind players of how important it is to check their targets before firing, never flinch in anticipation of a gunshot, and treat every firearm as though it was loaded. This primer on gun safety, as well as how to render a firearm safe (or armed) from any state, is a reminder of how dangerous they are. With this improved knowledge about Receiver 2‘s weapons, which do indeed simulate every part of a weapon (shell casings may occasionally fail to eject properly, and rounds may fail to load), it’s become possible for me to advance further: I’ve managed to reach the Awake level in a relatively short amount of time, and while I was helped by a prior knowledge of Receiver‘s mechanics, there’s enough going on in Receiver 2 so that returning players will need to spend a bit of effort to familiarse themselves with the additions to the game. For folks who’ve put in the hours, Receiver 2 becomes a superb extension to the first game, and since Wolfire has long addressed a critical bug, in which players level down if they quit, Receiver 2 has become a very enjoyable title that simultaneously informs players of the importance of weapon safety, mental health and the media’s efforts to brainwash, as well as providing a game that genuinely challenges one’s skill. Contrasting multiplayer games, where players can install software to gain an unfair advantage over other players, there is no substitute for skill and competence in Receiver 2; every smoothly-executed reload, and every level cleared en route towards reaching an Awakened state, is satisfying, reminiscent of how in real life, preparation and knowledge can turn a life-threatening situation into a manageable one.

Metro Exodus: Sam’s Story – A Review and Reflection

“A warrior is not a person that carries a gun. The biggest war you ever go through is right between your own ears. It’s in your mind. We’re all going through a war in our mind, and we have to callus our mind to fight that war and to win that war.” –David Goggins

Ranger Samuel “Sam” Taylor had joined Artyom and the Spartan Order on a trek across Russia to find a new home. When the group had arrived in Lake Baikal, Sam decides to separate from his old companions, feeling his journey was not yet completed – he desires most to return home to San Diego, and to this end, Sam ends up travelling to Vladivostok, which had escaped the nuclear war but was ravaged by a tsunami some time later. Here, he encounters Captain Eduard Baranov, former captain of a nuclear submarine and wanted by Tom, a former arms dealer who seeks out the fuel rods to the submarine so he may use its nuclear payload as a bargaining chip for his own ends. Sam ends up helping Eduard out and gains his trust. After Sam defeats the batwing, a massive creature maligning Vladivostok, the two end up retrieving the fuel rods from a heavily contaminated warehouse and returns to the nuclear submarine. In this time, Klim (Tom’s second-in-command) has organised an uprising: Klim had originally worked for Tom and helped to drive the bandits back, but his methods proved questionable even to Tom, who agrees to eliminate Klim once the fuel rods are recovered. Hearing this, Klim and his men rebel against Tom, planning to seize the submarine and use its payload on targets. With Sam’s help, Tom and his remaining supporters defeat Klim’s forces. Sam subsequently reaches Klim and offers the latter a chance to surrender, but ends up falling into the harbor after attempting to attack Sam one last time. With the fuel rods loaded into the submarine, they prepare to set sail, but Eduard remains untrusting off Tom. He reveals to Sam that he’d wired the submarine with explosives and hands him a detonator. As the submarine leaves the harbor, Sam must make a difficult choice and decide whether or not to destroy the submarine, his only ticket out of Vladivostok. Sam is only limited to two choices: either allow Tom to set sail with a fully-functional arsenal of nuclear missiles and return home to San Diego, or destroy the sub to prevent Tom from potentially using these nuclear missiles at the expense of being able to leave Russia.

At first glance, there should be a host of other options – some players have wondered why it was not possible for Sam to have detonated the charges and destroyed the submarine after reaching San Diego. Such a outcome, they reason, would allow Sam to both return home, and at the same time, prevent Tom from utilising the submarine as a weapon of terror. In their haste to pass judgement, however, those players have failed to account for a central thematic element in Sam’s Story: decisions have to be made on the spot at times, and people must take ownership for the choices they make because more often than not, there isn’t time to look at everything and mull things over. In this case, if Sam had elected to do as players suggested and boarded the submarine with the intention of destroying it later, there was always the possibility that the crew could discover the detonator or charges. In the case of Sam’s Story, then, Sam has two certainties: respect Eduard’s wishes and prevent the possibility of another nuclear exchange, or put his needs first and allow the submarine to leave for San Diego. The moral duality here is meant to accentuate that regardless of whether or not one decides their needs, or the collective goals, matter more, there will be advantages and disadvantages. Sam can either reach America with the knowledge that there may be yet another nuclear war, and no certainty that he finds his father, or he can destroy the submarine and eliminate a known threat, leaving himself stranded in Russia for the foreseeable future. There is no easy answer here, but in my case, I found that the selfless decision proved more satisfying overall: yes, Sam’s now stuck in Russia, but as he states in the epilogue, seeing people surviving despite the destruction means there’s hope yet, and Sam can at least rest easier knowing his decision did not just result in the return of nuclear weapons to a world that has already been ravaged by war.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • For this play-through of Sam’s Story, I am on Metro Exodus‘ “Enhanced Edition”. Released in 2021, the Enhanced Edition brought overhauled real-time ray-tracing to the table, along with support for DLSS 2, ultra-resolution textures and optimisations to make the game run better despite the new improvements. As a result of these changes, the RTX 2060 was capable of running the Enhanced Edition with playable framerates, and folks with the RTX 2070 (or better) will have an optimal experience.

  • As memory serves, the last time I played Metro Exodus, it was 2019 – back then, I’d been excited to see what Metro Exodus brought to the table, and upon finishing the game, I found myself thoroughly impressed. Previous Metro games had been purely set Moscow, primarily in the underground tunnel networks of the Moscow subway, so when Metro Exodus pushed the Spartan Order on a cross-country journey to find a new home for survivors, there was a chance for the developers to flex their creative muscles. The end result was especially impressive, with the game being set across all four, visually distinct seasons.

  • On my original play-through of Metro Exodus, I managed to nail the good ending. The original Metro games had proven quite difficult in that earning a good ending required one to embrace a stealth-oriented approach. Patience is key to this, and it takes a bit of tactical thinking to move through areas undetected. The trade-off about stealth is that it offers little chance to actually try the weapons out, and in this area, Metro Exodus was a cut above its predecessors. Beyond providing a much more powerful means of weapon customisation, the game offers more opportunity for combat.

  • In Sam’s Story, there’s even more opportunity for engaging in firefights. The only foes around are bandits, mutants and various creatures. The bandits aren’t aligned with Tom’s faction, so there’s no penalty for engaging them directly (beyond the occasional risk of taking return fire), and there’s never been a problem with blowing mutants and monsters away. As such, Sam’s Story really represents a chance for players to shoot things. In the beginning, however, ammunition is extremely limited, and every firefight left me wondering if I would have enough reserve bullets to survive what was next.

  • I actually encountered this scenario early in the mission: after entering an abandoned school, hordes of mutants caused my assault rifle and pistol rounds to run dry, and this forced me to fall back on the throwing knives. In the end, I managed to survive, and upon reaching a crafting station, I immediately set about topping off on ammunition. I found that against mutants, the Ashot shotgun was especially effective – a single shell is enough to blow a mutant away, whereas with the assault rifle and pistol rounds, only headshots are ammunition-effective, and it takes two to three rounds to down a mutant.

  • After meeting Eduard a second time, Sam has a chance to learn more about his distrust of Tom – Tom had seemed like a fairly affable and reasonable fellow upon Sam’s arrival, so I initially thought that it’d be a simple matter of convincing Eduard to help with the fuel rods. Once the truth about the nuclear submarine and its death-dealing missiles comes out, however, Sam has more incentive to listen to Eduard and his concerns about what might happen if Tom were to decide the missiles could act as a powerful bargaining chip. What followed was one of the most enjoyable bits of character building I’ve seen in a game, as Sam and Eduard swap drinks well into the evening.

  • As soon as Eduard and Sam begin drinking, all seriousness evaporates. The pair manage to somehow get Eduard’s generator back online, and as more drinks are consumed, Eduard mistakes a dead mutant for Sam. The next morning, Sam awakes to a frightening sight, but it turns out he’d been sleeping on his stomach. Once Sam and Eduard clarify on what needs to be done, it’s time to head off again. From this point onwards, Sam will encounter both bandits and mutants, as well as the odd giant shrimp. Ammunition is of a secondary concern, but fighting mutants is generally a bad idea, since their movements or defenses mean it takes a large amount of firepower to down one, but at the same time, mutants and monsters don’t drop any useful resources.

  • The seamless combination of storytelling and gameplay in Metro games are one of the highlights, bringing to mind how Half-Life had similarly dispensed with cutscenes to fully immerse players in the game. One small detail I noticed was that in Sam’s Story, cups actually contain a drink in them. In Metro: Last Light, whenever Artyom took a drink, the cups were always rendered as empty. As memory serves, Metro Exodus similarly didn’t render the liquid in a cup, and I’m therefore left wondering if this detail was changed by the time Sam’s Story was released.

  • Having not played Metro Exodus in quite some time, I admit that it was hard to tell whether or not the visuals I was seeing on-screen was touched up – the original game had looked amazing, and to play everything on high settings, a GTX 1070 was recommended. However, players have remarked that since lighting in the original was pre-baked rather than computed, the original Metro Exodus was darker because this had been a deliberate artistic choice, and Enhanced Edition was much brighter by comparison because light was being simulated more realistically.

  • For my part, I found the lighting in Sam’s Story to be spot on, with dark interiors being just dark enough to convey the intended aesthetic. Prior to leaving Eduard’s apartment, I helped reset all of the traps, and earlier, I offered Eduard some food, as well as helped him to move the wooden board. Earlier in the game, I also lowered my weapon upon meeting Eduard for the first time. I had been thoroughly convinced that this should have been sufficient to earn the best ending, but since I ended up missing the part to search for some of Eduard’s men, this was enough to deny me the top prize of a perfect ending.

  • The Seraph is one of the toughest foes in Sam’s Story, and early in the game, one will have precious little to deal with it. Conversely, once Sam acquires a Valve sniper rifle, the Seraph becomes much easier to deal with: the Valve’s high damage and accuracy means it is the preferred means of fighting it. With any other weapon, one must expend a large number of bullets in order to achieve the same, and here, during the second confrontation, the Seraph will fly off after taking enough damage. The Valve is Metro Exodus‘ sniper rifle, and early on, one will only be able to fire one round at a time.

  • For most of Sam’s Story, the Sammy is best run as an assault rifle: although it’s slightly less accurate than the Kalash, sports a lower firing rate and cannot equip a suppressor, the Sammy remains versatile enough to function as a mid-range automatic weapon. With the Sammy being my general-purpose rifle, I equipped variations of the Stallion and Valve as my other weapons, occasionally switching out to the Ashot if I felt there’d be a large number of mutants and monsters to fight. Throughout my run of Sam’s Story, I didn’t get around to finding the green laser for the Sammy early on, but I was able to locate a red laser. The different laser sights offer similar performance gains, but the increased brightness of a green laser makes it much more valuable.

  • I had heard there was a green laser sight in the derelict police station, but hadn’t found anything there. On my quest to gather more weapon attachments and customisation options, I ran into two brothers who were feuding over a jointly-owned car dealership. Out of curiosity, I wound up helping both out, whereupon they realised that they were duped and subsequently reconciled. Aside from world-building and showing that people were managing to eke out survival in the ruins of Vladivostok, I’m not too sure what in-game bonuses are conferred by helping the brothers out. With this being said, it was rewarding to see the two brothers sort things out.

  • In the end, I never did find that elusive green laser pointer or the drum magazine for the Sammy. However, my other weapons were eventually kitted out more completely as a result of my exploration – I found a drum magazine for the Stallion, along with an array of sights that turned it into a pocket sniper rifle. Similarly, I would find the long barrel and suppressor for the Valve, although for most of my time in Sam’s Story, I didn’t have a magazine. The plus side about a single-shot Valve was that I was compelled to make every shot count.

  • Upon reaching the boatyard, there is no turning back and exploring previous areas, so I decided to push on ahead in Sam’s Story. I originally purchased the expansion content to Metro Exodus back in November during the Black Friday sale, during which discounts brought the price down to five dollars. I had been intending to return to Metro Exodus at some point to see how well my GPU could handle the Enhanced Edition, and the expansion acted as a fantastic opportunity to revisit the game and give it a whirl.

  • Throughout Sam’s Story, the ruined Zolotoy Bridge can be seen. This bridge began construction in 2008, and when finished four years later, became the world’s fourteenth-longest cable-stayed bridge. Today’s Vladivostok is a vibrant urban centre of around six hundred thousand residents, and being the terminus of the Trans-Siberian Railway, the city is the cultural and economic centre of the Russian Far East. Sam’s Story presents a reasonably faithful recreation of the city: the game’s events are situated on the northern banks of the Zolotoy River.

  • While exploring, I came into an area that was radioactive and therefore, demanded the use of a gas mask. The gas mask was an integral part of all Metro games, allowing one to move through contaminated areas so long as the air filter was periodically swapped out. In Metro 2033 and Metro: Last Light, filters were pick-ups only, but Metro Exodus introduced a crafting mechanics that allows one to make filters on the fly. It’s helpful in Metro Exodus, but in Sam’s Story, there actually aren’t too many areas that need filters early on. One touch I’ve always loved about the gas mask was that drops of water would be rendered on screen to really give the impression one was wearing a mask, and muck could accumulate on the gas mask, requiring one to wipe it down with a stroke of a button.

  • Here, I managed to find a crafting station, and I subsequently capitalised on the moment to top off on filters, ammunition and first aid kits. Interspersed throughout Vladivostok, crafting stations typically also have a bed or chair one can use to rest. This heals up any damage taken, and allows one to dictate what time of day they’re out and about. Similarly to Ghost Recon: Wildlands, I most prefer to venture out during mornings, and with the sun setting here, I opted to take it easy for the night. While going out at night usually means foes are less alert, in Metro Exodus, mutants tend to come out in larger numbers.

  • The day/night cycles in Metro Exodus were impressive, and the same level of effort went into level design and visuals for Sam’s Story. Here, I watch a sunrise with the sun’s first rays peeking through the ruined skyline at Vladivostok: for my play-through of Sam’s Story, I have everything set to the highest settings possible. Ray-tracing is enabled, and with DLSS set to favour quality, the game runs at 60 FPS. My monitors are old, so to prevent screen-tearing, I enabled v-sync in games wherever possible. Without DLSS, the improvement to visuals is negligible, and I saw a slight hit in performance: the game still averages 60 FPS, but there are a few moments where framerates drop to 48 FPS.

  • While DLSS 2, which comes with the Ampere line of NVIDIA video cards, has been excellent, I have heard that DLSS 3 offers superior performance overall. However, the caveat is that all of the Lovelace GPUs’ benchmarks are done with the assumption that DLSS 3 is enabled, and while improvements to architecture mean the Lovelace series offers tangible benefits with its flagship GPUs, the prices do not justify the upgrades: the RTX 4070 Ti, for instance, offers RTX 3090 level of performance with lower power consumption, but the 4070 Ti has less memory and costs only 400 dollars less at my local retailer. The gains are, in short, not worthwhile from a price-to-performance standpoint, and the mid-range cards will presumably command similar pricing.

  • All of this translates to my being doubly pleased about having made the decision to pick up an RTX 3060 Ti when I did. While this card isn’t anywhere near the performance of NVIDIA’s best cards, it is more than adequate for my needs. Back in Sam’s Story, I ended up finding a suppressor for the Stallion, and this meant I now had a near-silent weapon, perfect for sneaking around. I managed to clear out an entire bandit camp in this way, marvelling at how one could dispatch one foe without a nearby foe even noticing.

  • Somewhere along the way, I found a five-round magazine for the Valve, and this gave me increased DPS with the sniper rifle. This came just in time for the final fight with the Seraph, and fortunately, I had the foresight to craft additional sniper rifle rounds ahead of this segment. For folks who aren’t prepared, bodies scattered around this grove provide additional ammunition. The Seraph itself is relatively easy to fight, but the swarms of bats it controls can deal considerable amounts of damage. I ended up evading them and returning fire on the Seraph, but some players have noted that a single shotgun shell will disperse a swarm and prevent them from injuring the player.

  • With the Seraph beaten, Sam meets up with Eduard, and the two head into the submarine pen to retrieve the fuel rods. Here, Sam’s Story introduces the electric spiders, which can disable electronics and possess above-average durability. Eduard helpfully mentions that these spiders are vulnerable to fire, so incendiary ammunition and Molotov Cocktails become an asset for this segment of the game. I had wondered when spiders would appear in Sam’s Story, as spiders are a core part of the Metro experience, and seeing the spiders return brought back old memories of being swarmed by these grotesques monsters in the underground tunnels.

  • The combination of darkness and a highly-damaging foe resulted in some gripping moments of gameplay, and this change of pace in Sam’s Story was quite welcome. In a manner of speaking, Sam’s Story represents the entire Metro experience condensed down into a six hour experience, and this lets players experience familiar gameplay elements with an all-new story. Here, once Sam powers the generators back up, the electric spiders show up in force, and the time has come to put my stockpile of incendiary ammunition to use.

  • In most games, I tend to save my most powerful resources and assets for when I really need them, and this approach means that whenever unexpectedly challenging segments appear, I have an easier time of getting through them. The sheer number of electric spiders here meant I burned through my entire inventory, but by the time I ran out of incendiary rounds, I’d also whittled the spiders down enough so Molotov cocktails and standard rifle fire was enough to deal with things. Here, Eduard uses the crane to lift the fuel rods onto his barge, and with the prize in hand, it’s time to finally return to Tom.

  • Tom has a full-scale rebellion on his hands: Klim’s overheard Tom’s deal with Eduard, and now intends to take over the submarine. In order to cast off, the hostiles must be downed, and Tom promises to commit his men to fend off Klim’s forces. However, Sam ends up decimating Klim’s forces on his own. It is here that players can unload with their weapons. The close quarters of the map meant I ended up discarding the Valve and picking up the Bastard SMG. Similarly, since I had no more need for stealth, I swapped the Stallion out for the Ashot.

  • At close and medium ranges, having the Ashot and Bastard allowed me to cover off most ranges. In place of the Valve, I reconfigured the Sammy with a semi-automatic trigger, a 6x scope and optimised it for accuracy over handling, transforming it into a marksman rifle with a thirty round magazine. For this last part of the game, I managed to find a green laser, and with this loadout, I smashed a path through Klim’s men, sparing them no quarter. The weapon mechanics in Metro Exodus are satisfying, and one thing I’ve come to notice is that there are a number of first person shooters with technically excellent mechanics, but whose gameplay and story favour stealth to the extent that players are punished for going loud, versus giving players options to approach a situation in their own manner of choosing.

  • The Bastard submachine gun has very limited utility in Metro Exodus owing to the fact that it fires pistol-calibre ammunition, and one has a cap on how much pistol rounds can be carried. Weaker damage makes the Bastard less useful against mutants, but here, ammunition is plentiful, and a well-placed headshot is enough to neutralise any threat. When I first picked the Bastard up, I thought it was a heavily customised Stallion; it wasn’t until one moment, when I was caught flat-footed, and emptied out half a magazine in a moment of panic, that I realised I was holding an automatic weapon rather than a semi-automatic.

  • A thrilling firefight was a pleasant way of wrapping up Sam’s Story, and once Sam reaches Klim, a brief fight ensues. Sam reveals that he has a strong sense of morality: after overpowering Klim, he decides that Klim’s fate must be decided by trial, but Klim seizes the pause to attack Sam. Sam ends up kicking Klim into the harbour, and at this point, all that’s left is to make the decision of whether or not Sam should accompany Tom back to the States, or detonate the charges and preclude the possibility of Tom using the nuclear missiles as a bargaining chip.

  • I ended up choosing to destroy the submarine on the grounds that it was more valid to make a decision where the possibility of war was lessened, even if it came with a personal cost. Sam’s Story gives players more insight into Eduard’s thought process and background, and in this way, it becomes easier to make the call. I do get why players might see merit in having Sam return home, too: there is no right or wrong answer in this case, and people with different priorities will gravitate towards different endings. With Sam’s Story in the books, I do have plans to play through the other expansion, Two Colonels, in the near future. Originally, I hadn’t planned on playing the Metro Exodus DLC missions, but a good sale and a curiosity to finish the Metro Exodus experience has led me to reconsider. I am glad to have done so, as Sam’s Story was highly engaging, and if Two Colonels is similar, I am very likely to have a swell time with things.

From a gameplay perspective, Sam’s Story is identical to that of Metro Exodus: this is, after all, an expansion to the original content. However, the self-contained nature of Sam’s Story allows this excursion to offer players with an unparalleled experience. As Artyom, there is incentive to stick with a stealthier, non-lethal playthrough. However, because Vladivostok’s foes are mutants and bandits, Sam is free to go loud: Sam’s Story is a traditional first person shooter experience, where the option of firing one’s weapons is not met with the caveat of incurring a moral penalty. This allows players to really let loose and make full use of the available firearms. Sam’s Story introduces two new weapons: the Sammy is a custom assault rifle modelled on the AK-12 and owing to its superior craftsmanship, can fire incendiary rounds. It is a versatile weapon that can be converted into a makeshift marksman rifle or light machine gun. By kitting the Sammy out with standard options, it is a serviceable all-around performer, leaving one to equip other weapons in their loadout. The other new weapon is the Stallion, a modified .45 ACP Stallion Special chambered to fire .44 magnum rounds. In its base form, the Stallion behaves as an ordinary pistol, but it can be outfitted with a suppressor that gives it unparalleled utility in stealth scenarios. On the other hand, fitting the Stallion with a long barrel, drum magazine and optics transforms it into a pocket marksman rifle. Metro Exodus‘ weapons customisation system allows for creative combinations, and in Sam’s Story, players are given an environment to use said weapons and experiment with different setups draws out the best aspects of Metro Exodus and its combat system – it was a refreshing experience to be able to go loud and engage in firefights which, while possible with Artyom, is nonetheless discouraged thanks to the moral system. Here, a self-contained story means a better chance to try out some of Metro Exodus‘ weapons with more freedom, and together with the narrative, which challenges players to consider whether or not individual or collective goals are more important in a given moment, Sam’s Story becomes a worthwhile addition to Metro Exodus.