The Infinite Zenith

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Half-Life 2- Downfall: A Reflection

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

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

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

Screenshots and Commentary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enter The Matrix Review and Reflection

“All I’ve ever asked from this world is that when it’s my time, let it be for something, and not of something.” –Ghost

Released in May 2003, Enter The Matrix was developed by Shiny Entertainment and intended to line up with the release of The Matrix Reloaded, providing further exposition for the events of the film. After Ghost and Niobe retrieve a package containing a message from Zion that provides information about an impending Machine attack. They coordinate a meeting, but first, stop the Agents from moving Axel at the airport. The captains of each Zion ship meet to discuss the best course of action in the Matrix’s sewers, but when Agents interrupt the meeting, the rebels escape into the sewers. Niobe and Ghost move through the sewers and manage to escape, assisting other rebels along the way. They encounter the Keymaker, who saves them from an Agent and reveals that Neo must be given a special key. However, Cain and Abel make off with the key; Ghost and Niobe pursue the two into the Merovingian’s Chateau and recover the key. They later join in on the Freeway chase to assist Morpheus, and agree to destroy the power plant after the Keymaker reveals Neo’s path. Niobe and Ghost later receive a request from the Oracle, and after their conversation, must fight off the hordes of Agent Smiths, making their way down a half-constructed office tower and through Chinatown. Escaping back into the real world, Niobe pilots the Logos through the tunnels of the real while Ghost holds off the sentinels long enough for the Logos to use its EMP against them. Long considered to be an incomplete game and an attempt to cash in on the Matrix brand, Enter The Matrix nonetheless remains a fantastic game in my books for being able to augment on The Matrix Reloaded‘s events.

The biggest strength in Enter The Matrix is the game’s ability to capture the atmosphere of The Matrix, allowing players to fight inside The Matrix to very nearly the same extent that was seen in the movies. In doing so, players would become immersed in a fully-fledged experience that gave the same sense of exhilaration that Neo first experienced upon understanding what the Matrix is – the gameplay in Enter The Matrix is surprisingly sophisticated, giving players plenty of martial arts options against their opponents. Using a context-based system, Enter The Matrix captures the intricacies of fighting in the movies to give the sense that players have entered the Matrix. Supplementing the complex and fully-fledged fighting system is a diverse arsenal of weapons, ranging from sidearms to anti-materiel rifles that, in conjunction with bullet time, enables players to survive even the most unfavourable situations. Featuring complete cutscenes directed by the Wachowski brothers, Enter The Matrix adds over an hour of new live-action footage that augments the experience conferred by The Matrix Reloaded. The sum of these elements together make Enter The Matrix a superb game that is the perfect companion to The Matrix Reloaded; while the mechanics and visuals have not withstood the test of time, the game still handles quite well and is a thrill to play. Enter The Matrix is about the closest one can get to emulating the badass feats seen within the Matrix films, and this is a game that does a remarkably good job of bringing this experience to life.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • The first thing to note is that screenshots from Enter The Matrix will appear much darker than those from other games. Most of the events in Enter The Matrix are set at night or in large interiors, with the exception of a few missions. The first mission involves visiting a central post office to recover a package from the Osiris. Enemies in this mission are lightly armed, with only the .380 Colt Mustang, the weakest sidearm in the game. By default, Ghost is equipped with a pair of P229 Sig Sauer pistols.

  • Most of the enemies in the post office are weak enough so that they can be dealt with using martial arts alone; this is the perfect time to become familiarised with the fighting system in Enter the Matrix: standard attacks consist of kicks and punches, as well as throws. However, additional commands and contexts allow Ghost and Niobe to execute more complex moves, while the use of Focus allow them to hit harder and move faster than normal.

  • Focus is a limited and powerful asset: the consequence of being aware of the truth, its effects in Enter The Matrix are to slow time down, allowing players to dodge bullets, run on walls, and jump greater distances. Here, I’ve managed to find the package and are engaging in Enter The Matrix‘s equivalent of The Matrix‘s lobby shootout. I may not have the M-16 or 870 MCS, but the MP5 and Colt RO635 9mm SMG, in conjunction with focus, are more than enough to deal with the cops that come into the lobby. A subtle but clever touch is that shooting at the columns will cause their marble cladding to become damage and come off, as seen in The Matrix.

  • The music in Enter the Matrix is solid, conveying a sense of urgency as players make their way across the city rooftops to the hard line, the way out of the Matrix. Despite the game’s low texture resolution and primitive lighting, there’s a charm about the graphics that make Enter the Matrix a distinct instalment in The Matrix.

  • The airport mission is one of my favourites in the game for the level design and set pieces. Police SWAT units become introduced here, and they’re more powerful adversaries than the cops seen in the previous missions, being armed with superior equipment and armour. The best tactic for dealing with them is to close the distance using Focus and disarming them, then beating the tar out of them using martial arts. Notice the Pentium IV advertisement on the wall to the left: computer processors have advanced to the point where the i5 inside my MacBook Pro is upwards of 300 percent more powerful than the fastest Pentium IV processors of the day.

  • The fight against the SWAT helicopter represents the first boss fight of the game, occasionally dropping SWAT units to fight players. The best trick for beating it is to use Focus and aim slightly above the SWAT helicopter using the MP5. MP5 ammunition can be replenished from attacking SWAT units. Once the helicopter is downed, players enter the monorail tunnels and will encounter the armoured military SWAT, the second-most lethal enemies in the games only to the Agents. Attacking them with weapons is usually a waste of ammunition, but martial arts will work well against them.

  • The revolving restaurant section of the airport requires a bit of patience, and once all enemies are cleared, the goal is to climb on top a piano and wait for the ladder to swing around. I’ve been to several revolving restaurants in my time, including the one in the Calgary Tower and CN Tower (brunch at the former, and a spaghetti dinner at the latter); they’re usually placed in towers so patrons have a nice view of their surroundings as they enjoy their meals, but the location at an airport is less likely to provide good scenery.

  • The Barrett M82A1 .50-calibre anti-materiel rifle is the single most powerful weapon in Enter the Matrix, being able to neutralise any enemy with one headshot. It is used for an incredibly long-range shot against the private jet that’s carrying Axel to take the tire out and prevent it from taking off. Unlike its real-world equivalent, the M82A1 in Enter the Matrix is mislabeled as the M95 and has an eighteen-round magazine, which doesn’t make much sense considering the size of each bullet; the real M95 is a bullpup rifle.

  • One of the SWAt will drop an SG-552 rifle, which is probably the best all-around gun in Enter the Matrix. Blessed with a high firing rate, pinpoint accuracy, high damage and a large magazine, the weapon is completely inaccurate against its real-world counterpart – the SG-552 is the carbine form of the SG-550 assault rifle and is chambered for the 5.56 mm NATO round. However, in Enter the Matrix, it is so powerful it can blow the Agent helicopter apart on very short order. The PC controls are a bit stiff, so it took me a bit longer to move into position and open fire.

  • Aside from the airport, the sewers were also a fun set of missions, giving a sense of just how labyrinthine the sewers of the Matrix are. The close quarters environments in the sewer tunnels make the Mossberg 590 (known as the Entry Shotgun in-game) a viable option: the high damage makes it well-suited for encounters with Sewer SWAT, which are second only to the armoured military SWAT in lethality.

  • The sewers are relatively linear, but there are a few places where some ancient machinery must be destroyed to allow progress, or else similarities in the scenery make it easy to get lost. There are some sections in the sewer that have impressive design: the sub-section of the level “Breathing Room” takes players through a room filled with large fans on a platform over a deep passageway. The fans can be shot at and destroyed.

  • Enter the Matrix was the first game I played that involved a large sewer system possibly surpassing Tokyo’s G-Cans system (known formally as the “Metropolitan Area Outer Underground Discharge Channel”). Since then, games like Metro and Wolfenstein II have come close to replicating the experience, but there’s no substitute for the original.

  • This is one of the few places in Enter the Matrix where it’s possible to use the M16A2 rifle, a good all-around weapon that hits harder than the MP5. There is the option to dual-wield weapons, as well: doubling the firepower of weaker weapons, it’s called “two fisting” in Enter the Matrix, and while I referred to the simultaneous use of two weapons as such after playing Enter the MatrixHalo would lead me to call the process “dual wielding” – “two fisting” apparently refers to the practise of holding an alcoholic beverage in each hand, and in gaming, quickly fell out of usage in favour of “dual wielding”.

  • During the trek through the sewers, players must defend fellow Rebels against hostile forces, and allowing any of them to die will result in an instant game over. The mission itself doesn’t depict the foggy caverns of the sewers seen in the preview image for Malachi and Bane, a sniper mission where players are provided with the HK33, an assault rifle fitted with a heavy barrel, bipod and sniper optics to act as a marksman rifle. Using Focus makes it much easier to hit difficult targets before they can damage the rebels.

  • If one were to click on these screenshots and look at the dates, they would find that most of them actually date back to 2015: at this point in time, I was entering my second year of graduate school and during the autumn term, had no classes, allowing me to focus entirely on my thesis paper (I’d already finished off most of the implementation to my project during the summer). As such, I had a bit more free time than previously, and spent some of that time gaming. Of course, procrastination is why I did not write about Enter the Matrix earlier.

  • The Chateau mission entails a new gameplay style: inhabited by the Merovingian’s vampires and dobermen, enemies here can only be killed by driving a wooden stake through them after melee combat. Players will also find a crossbow for launching wooden bolts, but these are quite rare, making it imperative to save them for boss fights. Firearms in this mission are ineffectual for permanently stopping vampires and dobermen, but they can be used to buy some space.

  • The stairwell where Enter the Matrix‘s infamous Chateau fight happens has been replicated in full and in fantastic detail, but unlike the film, there’s no fighting here. Instead, players will enter the Chateau’s basement for a fight with Cujo, head of the dobermen. Once beaten, players move towards finding the Keymaker and also encounter Cain and Abel, two exiles who will continue to malign players unless kicked against the prison cells, where prisoners will hold on to them and buy players enough time to make their way out of the level. A vehicle chase involving the Twins soon follows: I’ve chosen not to depict any of the vehicular levels in this post: while immensely fun (Ghost has an MP5 that can turn any vehicle into a pile of flaming wreckage in seconds), the PC version has a few graphical bugs.

  • If Enter the Matrix was to be redone in a modern game engine like Frostbite 3 or even The Division‘s Snowdrop engine, it would definitely bring the Matrix to life. Such a game would keep the narrative and two campaigns as in the original, but levels could be redesigned to be even more immersive, making full use of modern rendering and visuals to really capture environments within the Matrix. If such a game did come out, I would buy it in a heartbeat. Of course, they’d have to fix the weapons so they’re more faithful to their real-world counterparts and add better bonus arena modes, but other than that, it’d be a title worth playing through again.

  • Apparently, the transformer field was the toughest level in Enter the Matrix; the close quarters maze and swarms of SWAT units made it easy to make a wrong turn and die. However, players also are provided with a halo-alkane launcher, which fires canisters of oxygen-depriving gases that are ostensibly used for firefighting but also asphyxiates anyone who breathes the gas in. It’s highly effective, and in conjunction with the Striker shotgun (called the Street Sweeper in-game), allows careful players to pick their way through this labyrinth. Following the goal tracker is essential, as is backing up if lost.

  • The nuclear waste sector was one of my favourite parts of Enter the Matrix, being filled with bottomless chasms and massive fuel tanks that go off with a large explosion when shot. Here, I’m wielding the G36 with a beta-C drum magazine. The weapon is rare, but quite effective: it’s second only to the SG-552 in terms of effectiveness and the strategy guide suggests that its lower rate of fire allows it to be more efficient with ammunition. The cover system in Enter the Matrix was a bit tricky to use, so I ended up making extensive use of Focus to get through most parts; if Enter the Matrix were ever to be remastered, the cover system should also be improved slightly.

  • Ghost will need to provide covering fire for Niobe once he reaches the control room, fighting off waves of SWAT units. This mission is quite demanding, forcing players to switch from the role of being a precise sniper to a close-quarters brawler, and the UMP-45, which was near-useless in the Chateau mission, is actually quite good for dealing with SWAT units here. Eventually, Niobe will reach the top of the reactor and prepare the bomb that will blow the nuclear power plant to pieces to facilitate Neo’s meeting with the Architect.

  • I’ve seen a lot of complaints from contemporary reviewers and conformists from Tango-Victor-Tango that the game is really an unfinished beta. Interviews with the staff reveal that the game was indeed rushed into deployment in order to coincide with The Matrix Reloaded‘s theatrical première, and while I concede that textures in some part of the game are plainly placeholders, such as the muzzle on the HK33. However, I’ve never gotten stuck on walls or run into any collision detection issues on my end despite having completed the game on at least five different occasions.

  • Even if the game was rushed, it’s evident that a great deal of effort was directed towards making the game as authentic to the Matrix as possible: interviews with the developers and Anthony Wong, who plays Ghost, shows this effort, which I definitely appreciate. Here, I fight an Agent and are tasked with killing him in order to buy enough time to escape – Agents can only be killed in special circumstances, and here, the Agent is defeated by kicking him into a server cluster, electrocuting him. Agents normally cannot be defeated and will make short work of Ghost and Niobe, but in the City Rooftops level, I’ve managed to kill an agent by kicking him off the side of a ledge.

  • Like Neo, who must fight Seraph to gain an audience with the Oracle, players must also prove their worth by defeating Seraph. This fight represents a turning point in the game: if players succeed, they will meet the Oracle and learn more about what’s to come, while failing that will send them back to the Logos. Of course, I wasn’t content to miss out on a few missions, so I sparred Seraph with a high intensity and managed to beat him.

  • The last two missions of Enter the Matrix have players escaping from Agent Smith after speaking with the Oracle. Ghost narrowly manages to escape the Industrial Hallway and into a half-built skyscraper: Agent Smith presented a challenge even to Neo in The Matrix Reloaded, so there’s not a ghost of a chance that Ghost can fight Agent Smith on even footing. The only focus is to keep running, following the goal tracker until the end of the level is reached.

  • The last mission is set in Chinatown, and there’s a siu aap (roast duck) shop visible on the left. Chinatowns, or districts with a high population of Han Chinese are located around the world; the oldest Chinatown is located in Manila in the Philippines, and the Chinatown back home is largest in the province, featuring the continent’s largest Cultural Centre. I visit every weekend, since my dojo is here, and there are some specialty shops in the area. While folks I know go to Chinatown for the dim sum, the best places are actually located outside of Chinatown.

  • Besides police officiers, the other enemy in this level as Agent Smith. Players will pick up the Milkor MGL, a 40mm grenade launcher that deals massive damage. It only appears here, can kill players if they’re careless and appears a bit too late to be useful against the armoured military SWAT seen earlier. However, against the hordes of Agent Smiths relentlessly pursuing players, it can be used to buy some breathing room.

  • My first desktop computer had a 600 MHz AMD Model 3 Spitfire processor with 64 MB of RAM and 15 GB of hard drive space. Enter the Matrix required a minimum 800 MHz processor, 128 MB of RAM and 4.3 GB of storage, recommending at least a 1.2 GHz processor and 256 MB of RAM in conjunction with 64 MB of dedicated graphics memory. As such, I stuck with the GameCube version of Enter the Matrix initially, but since then, I’ve upgraded computers several times, allowing me to go through the PC version.

  • Of course, uninstalling the game would allow me to save 4.3 GB of space, but on today’s hard drive, 4.3 GB isn’t too much to worry about, and as time permits, I should go back and beat the Niobe campaign, as well. The end goal of the Chinatown mission is to reach the church in the distance, where the hard line is located. This allows red-pills to exit the Matrix, and while rebels will disappear once out, the game doesn’t depict this process.

  • The last mission for Ghost involves shooting at Sentinels while Niobe pilots the Logos deep into the tunnels of the real. It’s actually quite dull, and before long, the Sentinels will spawn a tow bomb. Keeping it at bay with the Logos’ guns will end the mission and the campaign. While I would love to recommend Enter the Matrix, chances are that the game’s going to be quite difficult to find now. I’ve heard rumours of a Matrix film is in the works, and while there’s been very little information on the project since rumours began circulating in March this year, if it results in a new game being made, players may finally have a Matrix game made with modern-era technology. For now, though, this brings my reflections of Enter the Matrix to a close.

The biggest draw about Enter The Matrix was its ability to really immerse players in the Matrix universe. Whether it be the gun-fu, bullet-time combat or setpieces, the game has definitely recreated the atmosphere and tenour seen within the Matrix. The game has no shortage of content, featuring two full campaign missions, in conjunction with a hacking game that lets players learn more about the Matrix universe and even modify the way the game itself plays. I first played through Enter The Matrix on a GameCube during summer break years back; I initially had the PC version, but lacked a PC with the requirements to run the game. The title impressed me, and I developed a stronger interest in the Matrix, as well as its philosophical underpinnings about reality, existence, and yin and yang. Few works have since succeeded in leading me to contemplate these things, and subsequently, when I built a more powerful PC, the time had come to give the game another go. It’s definitely aged from a mechanical and technical perspective, but besides itself, there are only two other games: The Matrix Online, and The Path Of Neo. Of these games, The Matrix Online is no longer playable since the servers shut down, and The Path of Neo lacks the same finesse and polish from what I’ve seen. That leaves Enter The Matrix, and from a personal perspective, it’s the definitive Matrix game to experience.

Call of Duty: WWII- A Reflection on the Open Beta

“Hot today, forgotten tomorrow. I’m not buying anything.” –James Marshall

Activision has stated that development on Call of Duty: WWII began long before negative reception to the franchise’s shift into future warfare began. The full title will release on November 3, and during the last weekend of September, an open beta was available for Steam players to try out. Offering five maps and four game modes, the beta was an opportunity for players to test the game out prior to its release. After installing the beta initially, I found myself unable to run it; the game would not load, and it was not until I reinstalled the title where the game would open. After entering my first few matches, it became apparent that the game has not been optimised fully for PC yet: frame rates dropped, the game stuttered, and death followed. When frame rates stablised, I began my own boots-on-the-ground experience, making use of the different divisions to get a feel for the gameplay. Call of Duty has always been more about small maps and fast-paced combat, as well as kill-streak rewards over the slower, more methodical and large-scale gameplay that characterises Battlefield 1. Maps feel like closed-off sets designed to give the sense of a well-designed paintball arena, rather than the wide-open spaces of Battlefield 1, and the numerous corners and hallways encourage a very aggressive, forward style of gameplay that rewards reflexes over strategy. Filled with details, from aircraft flying overhead and artillery, to muddy and damaged set elements, maps definitely exude a WWII-like atmospheric that, in conjunction with traditional movement systems, looks to return Call of Duty back to its roots. However, well-designed set pieces and premise can only carry a game so far, and the major deciding factor in whether or not a game is worth playing lies with its gameplay and handling.

During moments where the Call of Duty: WWII open beta was running with optimal frame rates, the game feels modestly smooth, although the Infinity Ward engine is definitely feeling dated. Movement is a little jagged and uneven, feeling somewhat sluggish. In a game where the goal is to move around in a high-paced environment and play the game aggressively to score points, the movement system is not particularly conducive of this particular play style, as I found myself getting stuck in geometry on more than one occasion, leading to death. Inconsistencies in movement and hit detection meant that the Call of Duty: WWII open beta felt like one protracted match on Prise de Tahure. I was dying to players coming from unexpected angles and places. Exacerbated by lag, I would open fire on players first, only for them to whip around and instantly nail me, suggesting that I had in fact been firing at air when my client put a player on screen. Performance issues aside, the chaotic nature of Call of Duty multiplayer environments and an emphasis on twitch reflexes with a high RPM weapon over finess means that Call of Duty: WWII‘s multiplayer certainly isn’t for me. This beta reminds me of my advancing age – long ago, I enjoyed close quarters combat for the rush it brought. With age comes decreasing reflexes, and I’m not able to keep up with the whipper-snappers out there now. The kind of gameplay I might have preferred a few years ago no longer feels fun to me compared to methodically picking off distant enemies and moving cover-to-cover.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Call of Duty: WWII introduces a new game mode called “War”, which is a close-quarters objectives-based match. On the “Operation Breakout” map seen in the beta, Allied Forces must capture a German outpost and then build a bridge, allowing their tanks to destroy an ammunition depot. German forces must prevent the Allies from succeeding. The game mode is admittedly similar to Battlefront 2‘s Galactic Assault, albeit a much smaller-scale version.

  • I’m not sure if this were the case in earlier Call of Duty multiplayer games, but in Call of Duty: WWII, there are different classes players can spawn in as, from the jack-of-all-trades infantry class, to the more nimble airborne class that emphasises high speed gameplay. There’s also an armoured class that can equip heavy weapons, the mountain class that is suited for long-range sniping, and the expeditionary class that dominates in close quarters.

  • Here, I equip the Bren LMG, Perrine’s weapon of choice from Strike Witches. However, despite its WWII-setting, I do not feel that Call of Duty: WWII is able to capture the Strike Witches atmospheric and aesthetic anywhere nearly as effectively as does Battlefield 1, despite the fact that the latter is set during World War One. This further stems from the very static, arena-like maps as opposed to the larger, more natural-feeling maps seen in Battlefield 1.

  • I’ve heard folks complain that the STG-44’s sight to be completely inauthentic: while it is true that modern electronic red dot sights with LEDs were developed during the 1970s, the concept of a reflex sight has been around since the 1900s. Earlier sights either depended on ambient light to function or else had a built-in light source whose operational time was constrained by limited battery life.

  • I only spent two hours in the Call of Duty: WWII open beta on account of a cold that saw me sleep most of the weekend that the beta was running, but I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on too much. By comparison, when I played through the Battlefront 2 beta last week, I had largely recovered and so, put in closer to nine hours over the Thanksgiving Long Weekend. During the moments where I was feeling a little better, I hopped into a few matches and found myself outplayed at every turn.

  • Averaging a KD ratio of less than 0.25 in almost all of my games, I’ve found the movement and handling in Call of Duty: WWII to be very poor. This is especially problematic, considering that Call of Duty: WWII is meant to be a fast-paced shooter where reflexes and high sensitivities are king: slow movements and aiming made it difficult to aim and fire, taking away from the run-and-gun style of play that Call of Duty emphasises.

  • I’ve heard that client-side modifications were widespread during the open beta, allowing people to one-shot other players with instant headshots, or else gain awareness of where all of the other players were. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I would prefer a hardware ban for folks caught cheating as Blizzard has implemented in Overwatch: this forces all but the most resourceful of cheaters with deep pockets to think twice before using tools to bolster their in-game performance.

  • On my end, I do not believe I encountered any cheaters. The biggest enemy ultimately ended up being the game performance itself: my hardware, while four years old, is no slouch with respect to performance. Nonetheless, I saw the game dip below 15 FPS during some moments, and I could only watch as other player lined up their sights and pasted my face into the walls. The lag, coupled with the fact that the beta did not even open made the Call of Duty: WWII‘s beta a little difficult to enjoy; the Battlefield 1 and Battlefront II betas were characterised by a straightforwards setup process where I activated the installer and then joined matches without any difficulty.

  • From a visual perspective, Call of Duty: WWII looks average at best, especially when compared with some of the other titles available. Textures are a bit dull, and lighting isn’t terribly complex: in fact, I feel that the graphical fidelity of Infinite Warfare and Modern Warfare: Remastered to be superior. While this is just a beta, Call of Duty: WWII does not inspire me to give the game a go, whereas Battlefront II‘s beta convinced me that, provided the loot crate system doesn’t completely suck, the game might merit a purchase shortly after launch.

  • I saw some footage of Cr1tikal playing through the closed beta a month ago, and recalled his use of incendiary shells in the expeditionary class. In his video, Cr1tikal criticises the map design, and ultimately, makes extensive use of the shotguns to squeak by in a match before switching over to mountain class briefly. I was hardly surprised by the expeditionary class’ efficacy with incendiary shotguns and found myself doing much better than I had in previous rounds.

  • Stationary weapons in multiplayer shooters are always a death-trap, leaving users exposed to attack from behind and snipers, but here, I use one of the mounted weapons to defeat another player from a distance. Despite the splintered wooden poles, shattered concrete bunkers, muddy ditches and remnants of sandbags, the maps in Call of Duty: WWII simply do not feel as though they are World War Two settings, but rather, feel like World War Two-themed settings.

  • The under-barrel grenade launcher in older Call of Duty games was counted the “n00b tube” for its ease of use. Under-barrel grenade launchers are gone in Call of Duty: WWII, but the incendiary shells of the expeditionary class are probably going to be regarded  as fulfilling a similar vein: despite dealing the same damage as a conventional shotgun shell, the incendiary shells apply damage over time by means of burning opponents hit, and because they replenish fully on death, they are an appealing weapon for beginning players who can gain a kill even after they are killed.

  • During my time in the beta, I did not hear any complaints about use of incendiary shells and so, like Cr1tikal, I used them during the later period of the open beta. I’ve heard that the release version of Call of Duty: WWII will see several changes, and one of the top-most changes proposed will be reducing the damage dealt by incendiary ammunition.

  • During one particularly lucky short, my pellets outright took out one opponent and burned another to land me a double kill. One feature in Call of Duty that I’ve never been fond of is the killstreak system, which rewards players purely based on how many kills they’ve gotten before dying. The most infamous killstreak bonus is the tactical nuke, which instantly wins a game for the team that the player triggers it on. Overall, I prefer Battlefront II‘s system, where playing the objective and actions helping teammates will unlock battle points that can be spent on perks.

  • Despite the closed, arena-like maps, the Operation Breakout map has long, open avenues that are well-suited for sniping. The Commonwealth rifle proved fun to use: it’s a one-hit kill bolt action rifle, and coming from the likes of Battlefield 1, where I’ve acclimatised to bolt-action rifles lacking a straight-pull bolt, this weapon wasn’t too far removed from my usual play-style. I never did get around to learning the performance attributes of the different weapons, and I didn’t make it far enough to unlock most weapons. Instead, I looted weapons from other players to give them a whirl.

  • Medals are earned in Call of Duty by performing specific actions or scoring kills in a particular manner. They will confer a boost in XP, and are similar to the ribbons of Battlefield, appearing at the top of the screen. I believe they were introduced in Black Ops II, although as mentioned earlier, I’m only vaguely aware of game mechanics in Call of Duty titles and I find the game engine to be quite out-dated.

  • Some folks have asserted that Call of Duty: WWII is a blatant rip-off of Battlefield 1 for featuring similar features, including the bayonet charge and for returning things to a World War setting. At the opposite end of the spectrum, others claim that Call of Duty: WWII will cause Battlefield 1 players to switch over on account of limitations in the latter’s gameplay. Quite honestly, while Call of Duty: WWII is quite unique in both game mechanics and time period, I found that I have more fun in Battlefield 1. After one particularly tough match, I returned to Battlefield 1 and perform considerably better than I did during the Call of Duty: WWII open beta.

  • My last match during the Call of Duty: WWII beta was spent in a match of domination with the airborne class and the starting M3 submachine gun. I attached the suppressor to it and snuck around the map to get kills. Capture points trade hands numerous times during domination, and one thing I noticed is that in Call of Duty: WWII, the submachine guns do not appear to have an improved hip-fire accuracy.

  • One of the most infamous constructs to come out of Call of Duty is the notion of a “360 no scope” and “quick scope” moves. While considered to be trick-shots with little practical advantages in a real game, folks on the internet suggest that people of middle school age take the move quite seriously and consider it a viable tactic. Regardless of whether or not this is true, one thing is for sure: until the PC version of Call of Duty: WWII is optimised, trick shots will be very difficult or even impossible to pull off.

  • After this match ended, I decided to call it a day and went back to sleep with the aim of fighting off my cold. Two weeks later, I’m back to my usual self, although an occasional cough continues to persist. I usually get sick twice a year: once before winter appears in full, and once before spring completely displaces winter weather. I’m hoping that this means winter is upon us; it’s certainly been colder as of late, although forecasts show pleasant weather over the next while. Overall, I would say that I had much more fun with the Battlefront II beta than this one, and while the campaign looks interesting, I’ve got no plans to purchase Call of Duty: WWII at the moment.

Playing through the beta reaffirms the reasons behind my decision in not playing Call of Duty multiplayers, but having tried the Call of Duty: WWII open beta, there are a few things that Call of Duty does well; my favourite is the instant spawning back into a match after death. The quick time to kill is also great for high-speed engagements, even if it is hampered slightly by the movement systems. However, compared to Battlefield, which has a better movement system and larger maps that accommodate all styles of gameplay, I cannot say that I’m won over into Call of Duty‘s multiplayer aspects. The single-player elements are a different story: until Battlefield 1 introduced its war stories, Call of Duty games had consistently more entertaining campaigns, and I am looking forwards to seeing just what Call of Duty: WWII‘s story entails. From what has been shown so far, it’s a return to the European front in the later days of the Second World War, featuring a modernised take on the D-Day invasion. Overall, I am not particularly inclined to purchase Call of Duty: WWII close to launch, or at any point soon, for its multiplayer content. If the single-player campaign is impressive, I might purchase the game some years later during a Steam Sale – the game certainly does not feel like it is able to offer the value that would make buying it at full price worthwhile, but I’m always game for a good war story, even if it is a shorter one.

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

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

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

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

Screenshots and Commentary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

007 Nightfire Review and Reflection

“I’ll credit you with persistence Mr. Bond. Persistence and failure. There are NATO launch sites on Earth which could challenge the arsenal on my island. Those bases will be incinerated…by turning these defensive missiles into massively offensive ones.” —Raphael Drake

007 Nightfire is an appropriate way to kick off a new class of posts under the “Ye olde Arcade” section, where I will review older games for old times’ sake. Released in 2002 for Playstation 2, Xbox and GameCube, 007 Nightfire is the first-person shooter I owned — at the time, I only played shooters at a cousin’s house during Christmas dinners, and I only had the Super Nintendo console. Enjoying GoldenEye 64 and Agent Under Fire thoroughly, I was thrilled to receive 007 Nightfire as a birthday gift. An original story, 007 Nightfire follows James Bond through his investigation of Phoenix International, a multi-national corporation who is suspected of weapons smuggling. Coming head-to-head with its owner, the industrialist Raphael Drake, Bond learns that Phoenix International has been clandestinely stockpiling nuclear materials for Operation Nightfire: the reorganising of the world under Phoenix International in order to create a world ruled by Drake’s corporation. Fighting through Drake’s private paramilitary groups on a secluded Pacific Island and in an underground launch facility, Bond infiltrates a shuttle, boards the US Space Defense Platform and destroys the nuclear missiles to save millions of lives before taking Drake on in a one-on-one in a space battle that was crafted and honed well before Call of Duty: Ghosts would return to a similar environment some eleven years later.

Possesses a 007 with Pierce Brosnan’s likeness, a novel narrative, its own theme song and is ultimately one remarkably well-executed adventure, making it perhaps the best 007 game ever made; coupled with its excellent graphics and smooth gameplay, this is an excellent instalment in the series that acts as a worthy successor to GoldenEye 64. Aside from technically solid elements, 007 Nightfire is also rifle with callbacks to older James Bond films. Bond’s switch from combat gear to an evening suit to infiltrate Drake’s party is inspired by From Russia With Love. The Aston Martin is clearly the same vehicle from Die Another Day. When Bond visits Tokyo to obtain information from Alexander Mayhew about a missing guidance chip, he visit Mayhew’s Japanese mansion and Phoenix’s Japanese branch, in a manner similar to that of You Only Live Twice. The Aston Martin’s ability to transform into a submarine is from The Spy Who Loved Me, and the ultimate showdown between Bond and Drake is reminiscent of Moonraker. Other elements, such as Fort Knox and the Golden Gun (Goldfinger and The Man With the Golden Gun), also make a return in the multiplayer: this game is packed with references to older James Bond films and is an absolute blast to play through for existing James Bond fans.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Until I review DOOM, I believe that 007 Nightfire will be the oldest game I’ve ever reviewed on this blog. Playing through 007 Nightfire brings back plenty of memories, and as such, the figure captions for this post will be one long trip down memory lane for me. I will offer some suggestions on the gameplay here and there, although how useful those bits of information will be will be up for discussion, since I do not imagine this game is played with any great frequency.

  • The first thing that made 007 Nightfire so enjoyable were the atmospherics: after a chase through the streets of Paris in the first mission, the second mission has Bond infiltrate a party at Drake’s castle in Austria. The snowfall and castle by night evokes a plainly Christmas feeling, even though there is a total absence of Christmas decorations at Drake’s castle.

  • Here, I wield a suppressed Accuracy International AWM with a winter camouflage (Winter Covert Rifle), one of two bolt-action rifles in the game. I imagine that these long-range weapons are outfitted with a straight-pull bolt, since Bond never zooms out in order to chamber a new round after firing. It’s an excellent weapon for long-range combat, and can be used to pick off Drake’s guards without drawing too much attention to oneself.

  • The Walther PPK (Wolfram PP7) is Bond’s starting weapon on most missions. Firing 7.65mm rounds, it deals little damage and has a low capacity, meaning that it will often be replaced by other weapons that are found. However, it’s not entirely ineffective — one of the PPK’s advantages is that it can be suppressed, making it useful for dispatching lone enemies without drawing attention to oneself. Beating the game will unlock the Walther P99 (Wolfram P2K), a more powerful weapon with a larger magazine capacity chambered for 9 mm rounds.

  • Special actions, known as “Bond Moves”, can be performed in 007 Nightfire (as was possible in its predecessor, Agent Under Fire). These actions allow Bond to move through areas more easily, or dispatch a large number of opponents at once in an ingenious fashion. When performed, they confer a scoring bonus that contributes towards the end-of-mission medal, which unlocks multiplayer skins.

  • The interior of Drake’s castle is well-designed, featuring warm lighting and an aristocratic atmosphere befitting of an industrialist such as Drake. It’s the perfect place for a Christmas party, and I’ve often spent time exploring, wondering what such an area might look like by day. Subtle attention to detail in the different levels make the game highly pleasant from a visual perspective, giving it a very polished feel.

  • After retrieving the guidance package and meeting up with Zoe Nightshade (a character returning from Agent Under Fire), it’s time to leave the party. I’m wielding the Heckler and Koch MP5K (Deutsche M9K) with a 21-round magazine, and later, I’ll pick up the AT-420 Sentinel, a fictional shoulder-fired multiple rocket launcher with TV-guided missiles to take on Rook’s gunship. To avoid self-inflicted damage, it’s advisable to shoot out the windows of the gondola first.

  • The gameplay in 007 Nightfire was incredibly diverse for its time, featuring both rail-shooting and driving missions in addition to first-person shooting. The third mission is the escape from Drake’s castle via heavily armed snowmobiles. Armed with both heavy machine guns and rockets, this mission is highly enjoyable, standing in stark contrast with the PC version of 007 Nightfire, which I’ve also played and is an inferior game in every way to the console versions.

  • While it seems a little strange, vehicles can also pick up Kevlar vests to become armoured. After a harrowing chase down the mountain side, Nightshade pilots the snowmobile through a mountain lodge filled with guests before destroying one of the pursing helicopters to end the mission.

  • Equipped with smoke, EMP rounds, boosters, guided missiles, unguided rockets and forward-facing machine guns, Bond’s Aston Martin is a fantastic vehicle to drive. The upgraded missiles can lock onto up to four targets at once, allowing for Bond and Nightshade to reach the extraction point with relative ease. Civilian police cars participate in the chase, although harming them will result in an immediate mission failure.

  • I lock onto one of the helicopters and prepare to blow it away with the guided missiles in order to clear the extraction site here. While an excellent vehicle in all regards, one of the features that I missed from Die Another Day is the adaptive camouflage (in effect, a cloak for the vehicle). It’s explained as making use of cameras to project an image they see onto the other side of the vehicle to give the sense of invisibility. I imagine that adding this ability to the vehicle would make it overpowered, and furthermore, isn’t strictly necessary in terms of gameplay.

  • The fifth mission, set at Mayhew’s Japanese home, is another example of the excellent level design in 007 Nightfire: subtle details, such as the furnishings in the interior or the layout of the gardens outside, are simply spectacular. Here, I’m equipped with a Desert Eagle (Raptor Magnum) chambered for the .375 calibre round. Compared to its .5 calibre counterpart, this one is more accurate and has a slower rate of fire.

  • 007 Nightfire is where I first encountered the SPAS-12 shotgun in a game, and it could alternate between pump-action and semi-automatic fire. Excellent for close quarters combat, it’s particularly effective in the narrow corridors of Mayhew’s mansion.

  • Here, I wield the Ruger MP9 (Storm M32), which offsets its weak bullet damage with a high firing rate and magazine size. How did I take the screenshots for this post? A magician does not reveal all of is tricks is all I have to say on the matter. I did try to make some of these screenshots consistent with those from my old website’s review, and have since replaced them. I’ve discontinued updates for the old site, although the 007 Nightfire images merited a return: I believe they are the only images that remained that I did not capture myself, since I lacked the means to capture screenshots when I wrote that post.

  • The mission to infiltrate the Phoenix International building in Tokyo gives the game a feeling similar to those of the older Metal Gear Solid games, and for this mission, Bond is initially to make his way to the top floors of the building to plant a worm into the computer servers. Only civilian security guards are encountered, and the mission will end if they are killed. To aid players, Bond is equipped with a specially-modified Heckler and Koch P11 (the Korsakov K5 Dart Gun) that fires tranqualiser rounds. To conserve on limited ammunition, it’s also possible to stun guards with the key fob or simply punch them out.

  • The offices for the Japanese branch of Phoenix International feels like the headquarters for Konami, Square Enix or other Japanese game publishers: both missions set in the Phoenix International building in Tokyo give the sense that they were designed and published by Japanese developers with respect to the level design, feeling like something straight out of older PS2 games, such as Metal Gear Solid, despite the fact that Eurocom developed the console version of the game.

  • The seventh mission deals with a derelict nuclear power station undergoing decommissioning along the Japanese coast. It marks the first time I’ve played a shooter set in a haikyo, and the abandoned area serves as a fantastic location for Drake to conduct illicit research on prototype weapons even as he leads a group of reporters in a tour of the area, suggesting that his goals are philanthropic in nature.

  • The standard AWM (Winter Tactical Rifle) is the best weapon in 007 Nightfire for long-range combat. Chambered for the .308 round, it’s well suited for taking out distant enemies in the seventh mission: enemy snipers are prevalent on the map, and can deal serious damage to Bond. The best tactic is to stay hidden and pick off enemies one at a time, always keeping one’s back to a wall. Later, armour piercing rounds can be equipped.

  • The eighth mission sends Bond back to the Phoenix International building after his capture at the nuclear power plant, and is a backtracking mission that places emphasis on going loud. I’ve got the SG-552 carbine here: there’s a suppressed variant of it in the second mission, but here, I’ve got access to a full automatic version equipped with optics. The go-to assault rifle in 007 Nightfire, ammunition for it is reasonably common.

  • I’m wielding the AT-600 Scorpion rocket launcher against an endless horde of enemies in the Phoenix Building’s lobby. With the objective being to escape, it’s also the perfect time to boost one’s stats at the end of the mission: unlike the Sentinel, its rockets are heat-seekers. There’s also a Mikor MGL (Militek MGL) in the level with twelve available 40mm grenades (six in the chamber, six in reserve) that can be likewise used to unleash explosive chaos. Exiting the lobby completes the mission and leads to the introduction of Alura McCall, an Australian operative.

  • The ninth mission entails piloting Bonds Aston Martin as a submarine to infiltrate Drake’s island facility. I never could get past this when I first played the game some twelve years ago, but of late, perhaps armed with the wisdom and experience of a graduate student, I’ve managed to beat this level now. A combination of a steady piloting and caution will allow for this level to be completed, and it was very enjoyable to delve deeper into a well-designed facility I’d not seen previously.

  • Aside from avoiding patrols, making use of guided torpedoes to damage surveillance infrastructure, and deploying limpet charges on the underwater missiles, there’s also a section in the ninth mission where Bond must destroy an active submarine. Its torpedoes are devastating, but one trick to make this fight easier (if lengthier) is to stay in the shadows and hammer it with guided torpedoes until it is destroyed.

  • The tenth mission is another driving mission, and I recall watching The New Woody Woodpecker Show during this time period. Produced from 1999 to 2002, it was well-animated and rather comical; Woody Woodpecker himself is voiced by Billy West (Futurama‘s Phillip J. Fry). I rather miss the show, and English-language releases have been even more rare than Kevin Gillis’ The Raccoons.

  • Consisting of three distinct acts, the tenth mission of 007 Nightfire is one incredible ride through a tropical island. After commandeering a heavily-armed SUV and destroying automated turrets en route to an airfield, Bond and McCall take to the skies in an ultra-light armed for a rail-shooter. The pulse weaponry and rockets are superbly effective against ground-based and air-based targets. I prefer using the rockets for harder targets, switching to the D1400 pulse weapons to finish other opponents off.

  • The final act of this mission is in a stationary turret, armed with a powerful anti-tank cannon and what appears to be a directed energy pulse weapon for anti-air targets. The enemy tanks, aircraft and a submarine will always spawn in the same order, making this section of the game reasonably straight forwards to complete. Coming up next in “Ye Olde Aracade” will be a talk on Enter The Matrix, which I played for both GameCube and PC. I have an opinion on that game contrary to most reviewers, and will be looking to write about that one as time allows. Regular programming resumes with the sixth episode of Brave Witches, which I will aim to publish by Thursday or Friday.

  • The penultimate mission through the interior of Drake’s facility is downright epic. The initial goal is to follow Kiko stealthily through the facility to reach a server room, and Bond is equipped with a crossbow for ultimate stealth. Disabling the alarms and cameras helps greatly, and subsequently, once the servers are offline, it’s time to settle a score with Rook, Drake’s henchman. Rook is incredibly durable and can tank direct hits from the M29 OICW’s high-explosive 20mm grenades. Known as the AIMS-20 (Advanced Individual Munitions System) in-game, the OICW (Objective Individual Combat Weapon) is the best assault rifle in the game, firing 5.56 mm rounds in bursts and also mounts an integral grenade launcher, as well as an infrared scope.

  • The OICW’s best feature are its grenades: smaller than those of the MGL, they are not affected by projectile drop to the same extent and can be used to deal serious damage even at a distance. After defeating Rook, the Phoenix Samurai Laser Rifle can be acquired. The most powerful weapon in the game, it has unlimited ammunition and is quite lethal, although I prefer the OICW for this mission owing to how plentiful ammunition for it is.

  • The final stage of the penultimate mission is to survive two consecutive shuttle launches and fend off two waves of attackers, including two ninjas. At the end of the fifth mission, a ninja shows up to assassinate Mayhew, forcing Bond to engage him. I found that a single headshot (or two body shots) with the AWM would work quite well, but in this mission, the under-barrel grenades can eliminate the ninjas on very short order. Once they’re down, Bond sends Kiko to her death and boards the shuttle for the final mission.

  • 007 Nightfire got the concept of space missions down before Call of Duty: Ghosts existed, and the final mission, titled “Equinox”, is a superb exercise in aiming and persistence. Players must destroy the coupling on the missile gantries, which will send them off course, while simultaneously fending off soldiers who are also armed with the Phoenix Samurai laser rifle. The weapon has good optics and an alternative fire that compresses energy into a powerful ball: its firing sound is identical to the Photon Cannon, a multiplayer-only power weapon available in Agent Under Fire.

  • Once all the missiles are sent off course, Drake himself comes out to fight Bond mano-a-mano. He’s wielding a Scorpion rocket launcher and can tank several laser shots: the heat seeking missiles makes him quite devastating, so it is imperative to keep moving. The first time I beat this mission, I managed to push Drake into the Space Defense Platform’s laser, killing him instantly, although now, my aim is sure enough for me to hit him using the Phoenix Samurai laser rifle. Even after he’s dead, one must keep moving to avoid any missiles still in the area, but once Drake’s lifeless corpse is shown in a cutscene, players can breathe easy, having finished 007 Nightfire‘s campaign.

As far as I am concerned, 007 Nightfire is the greatest James Bond shooter ever made: even today, the gameplay and design of the game is quite solid when compared to some modern shooters. Clearly, 007 Nightfire has stood the test of time, and I’m finding that the game is just as fun now as it was when I played through the game during a lazy summer vacation during my time as a middle school student. Back then, I had a tremendous amount of difficulty beating the submarine mission, and only completed the game recently. The reviews on the campaign’s short length are spot on: it does come across as being quite short, although there is plenty of replay value in trying to collect all of the medals and unlock all of the multiplayer skins. In an ordinary review, I would give 007 Nightfire a strong recommendation and suggest that players check this game out. However, 007 Nightfire is fourteen years old now, and picking up the game for a Playstation 2 or GameCube could be quite tricky. With that being said, it is nonetheless a solid game, and anyone with the game for an older console could probably find it quite entertaining, if a little tacky, by contemporary standards.