The Infinite Zenith

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Valkyria Chronicles: Exploring the Enter the Edy Detachment and Behind Her Blue Flame Campaigns

“Hear me, loyal son of The Empire! Shore up your defenses and ready for their attack!” –Selvaria Bles

In Enter the Edy Detachment, Edy Nelson and her squad are separated from Welkin’s group. While moving their way back, they come across a village held by Imperial force. Lacking armour and more firepower, Edy decides to have her group hold the Imperials off long enough for the villagers to evacuate, and after learning that Rosie needs assistance, Edy moves towards helping her out. Edy’s mission is short, simple and provides a bit of fun for players. Selvaria’s Behind Her Blue Flame campaign, on the other hand, follows her operations with Imperial engineer Johann Oswald Eisen, a timid soldier whose experiences lead him to become more capable. Here, Imperial forces make to capture the Ghirlandaio Citadel from Gallia. Because Selvaria is adverse to Ragnite weapons, Johann works with her to advance, allowing them to take Ghirlandaio. General Damon is shocked and orders the use of chemical weapons, which disable Selvaria. Johann comes to her aid, and fully recovered, Selvaria again lends her considerable skills in combat towards an Imperial victory, driving off the Gallian forces and General Damon to secure Ghirlandaio Citadel. In the aftermath, Selvaria shares a meal with Johann as thanks, and Johann decides to become a scout, inspired by his time fighting under Selvaria’s command. The full-fledged campaign in Behind Her Blue Flame will award players with the Ruhm, Selvaria’s personal weapon, and the tenacious can also unlock an additional level, in which they can play as the Imperial Alliance’s most lethal soldier with her Valkyrur powers unlocked.

Enter the Edy Detachment offers very little by way of story, save a bit of humour, but Behind Her Blue Flame is quite the opposite, providing players with a profound experience from the Imperial Alliance’s perspective. Having long played for Gallia, it was very refreshing to play Valkyria Chronicles as the Imperials. The nameless soldiers that Squad Seven had slaughtered wholesale during Valkyria Chronicles‘ campaign are given human attributes and backgrounds – they are no longer nameless and inhumane. Valkyria Chronicles presented Maximillian as a despot bent on conquering Europa without a concern for his subordinates, but Behind Her Blue Flame illustrates that Selvaria, despite her Valkyrur origins and utmost devotion to Maximillian, is as human as anyone else, caring about those under her command and constantly striving to accomplish whatever goals are assigned to her. In her downtime, she cooks and maintains her appearance, and is not immune to moments of embarrassment, either. Similarly, while players have long seen Gallian forces as the protagonist, watching General Damon’s incompetence and reliance on WMD show that Gallia’s military also has immoral elements. Consequently, it was superbly entertaining to destroy his tank and watch as he loses composure while Selvaria and Johann best him. The Behind Her Blue Flame missions excel at presenting Imperial soldiers as people and that wars are ultimately fought by human beings: in providing players a chance to see things from the antagonist’s perspective, things in Valkyria Chronicles no longer seem so black and white.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • There’s a fun aspect about Edy’s character, and I personally found her to resemble Kantai Collection‘s Zuikaku in appearance and manner; both share the tsundere personality. Edy’s mission is a simple one: hold off Imperial Forces and then reach the marked point before one exceeds a certain number of turns. This mission, however, proved much more difficult than the campaign missions in that orders are not available.

  • Before we continue further, I remark that I played through the Edy Detachment campaign back during January of 2017 – I am very bad when it comes to recreation, so it takes me forever to finish something. With this being said, once I start something, I will finish quite quickly. The Edy campaign (not to be confused with her challenge missions) is a short one that offers no unlocks, but offers players a chance to see how the show is run when Welkin and Alicia are not around.

  • I ended up beating this mission with a B rank: not particularly impressive, but I note that at that time, I had not played Valkyria Chronicles for upwards of six months. The reason why I did not have a separate post for Edy’s mission was because it was comparatively short, and so, there was not enough content for me to do a separate talk on things. As such, I decided to merge the post together with Selvaria’s missions.

  • Selvaria’s missions, unlike Edy’s, features exceptionally strong writing and solid character development despite its short runtime. Players will have access to Selvaria, a veritable one-woman army, and several Imperial units to command. The gameplay is identical, although as one of my readers mentioned in a comment I can’t quite find, the Imperial soldiers are not particularly durable and should be used with caution. By comparison, Selvaria is a beast: Ruhm is Valkyria Chronicles‘ equivalent to Halo‘s pistol, a weapon so infamous that it has been more or less immortalised in gaming history as one of the greatest overpowered weapons of all time.

  • I loved Johann’s story – a timid soldier, his time with Selvaria transforms him into a determined soldier devoted to his duty, and he also changes roles from the support-oriented engineer to a scout. Most of my strategy in Selvaria’s missions were to move Selvaria forward, and then move Johann up to provide support for her. I was therefore able to finish the first mission on short order, and decided to not go for Damon’s tank on the far corner of the map.

  • Even without demolitions boost, the Ruhm is powerful enough to ruin the Gallian tanks in one action. Gallian light armour is actually quite powerful against the light tank players are given, being able to take out most of my health in one shot, and as a result, I’ve had a few attempts that saw me lose my tank. Selvaria might not have demolitions boost, but her orders to increase defense are immensely powerful and allow the otherwise fragile Imperials to survive interception fire more easily.

  • Besides providing a solid bit of background for Selvaria, the fact that she’s not fond of Ragnite-based weapons means that she’s also unable to wield grenades and break down the barricades blocking her path. This forces players to use Johann to support her: as an engineer, he has access to three grenades per turn, which are utilised to clear barriers. The result is a very unique dynamic between Selvaria and Johann: as powerful as Selvaria is, she simply can’t clear the barriers on her own and is entirely dependent on Johann to help her. Other soldiers, though capable of carrying grenades, do not carry nearly as many.

  • The DLC missions show that the Gallian army is not above using WMDs to accomplish their aim: while Valkyria Chronicles presents the Imperials as soulless invaders, the DLC illustrate that the host of soldiers Squad Seven wade through are also people, with families and dreams of their own. It was therefore a bit unexpected to see Damon deploy Ragnite Gas, a nerve agent, against Imperial Forces. This leaves Selvaria immobilised, and so, on the second mission, the goal is to get Johann to her: he’s carrying an antivenin to Ragnite gas.

  • Because I did not destroy Damon’s tank on my first run, I ended up with “Rout of the Gallian Forces”, where the central gate is closed. The left flank on the map is weakly defended, and after I captured one of the bases to prevent Gallian forces from storming in, I managed to reach Selvaria in two turns. Fortunately, by eliminating nearby hostiles, Gallian forces were not able to capture her, and once I had Selvaria back in commission, it was a simple matter of boosting her defense with an order and sprinting to the end of the map to capture the base.

  • While the other Imperial units besides Selvaria are very weak defensively, their offense is acceptable, and they should not be ignored: they can be used to capture bases, eliminate hostiles and provide additional command points to make the missions easier. Beating any two of Selvaria’s missions will unlock the Ruhm for use in the full game, and this weapon, like the Federov Avtomat, is a game-changer, turning any shocktrooper into an assault rifle-wielding beast. Specialising in close quarters engagements, shocktroopers usually wield submachine guns, fast-firing automatic weapons that fire 9 mm pistol cartridges. Because the Ruhm is chambered for the 7.62 mm round and is characterised as a versatile, infantry-portable weapon, it handles more similarly to an assault rifle.

  • Against all but the most distant of foes, and foes behind cover, the Ruhm is able to dispose of enemies with ease. After completing Behind Her Blue Flame once with any score, on either of the two possible second missions, will unlock the Ruhm for use in the campaign, but there’s a reason why I went through things again. On my first run, I was not particularly focused on destroying Damon’s tank, since I simply needed to get the second mission done.

  • While guides maintain it’s a bit tricky to get Damon’s tank in three turns, Selvaria and Johann can be moved quite far. The trick to eliminating Damon’s tank is to know where it is located, and once found, it’s a matter of clearing all Gallian forces out and pulling one’s lancers back to keep them alive for the next turn, redeploying them at a capture point closer to Damon’s tank. Eliminating Gallian units also reduces their number of command points, so once their turn ends, and the player’s lancers spawn in, it’s a simple matter of running around the corner and smashing Damon’s tank with a single shot to the thermal exhaust port radiator.

  • Once Damon’s tank is destroyed, he will pull back, and it’s a quick finish as Selvaria and Johann push forwards to capture the required objective. Taking out Damon’s tank causes him to retreat and order a strike on Ghirlandaio: this has a tangible effect on how the second mission turns out, and in my opinion, this actually results in an easier second mission: the main gate is opened, and while Damon will use artillery to try set off ammunition stored at the facility, this won’t occur early on in the mission.

  • The first action is to move the Imperial tank up, and subsequently eliminate the Gatling guns. Keeping the tank up here at close range also allows for Musaad the Mole to be eliminated by Gallian interception fire alone. I’m not sure if this is a bug or feature, but it does allow players to take out a Gallian elite unit without much difficulty. Some patience will be required, since the interception fire won’t deal a high amount of damage, but it’s worth the wait.

  • Pushing through the remainder of the mission is very straightforwards once the tank is moved ahead: after Johann reaches Selvaria, it’s game over for the Gallian forces. As such, I will now go on a tangent and consider Girls und Panzer: Dream Tank Match, which prima facie has a very similar set of mechanics to Valkyria Chronicles. Unfortunately, despite having a full English version, it’s only for the Playstation 4, and as such, is something that I won’t be able to experience unless I drop some coin for a console.

  • This is a bloody shame, and as far as I’m concerned, a terrible business decision: locking out a PC version isn’t going to convince PC gamers to cough up for a Playstation 4 and reduces sales overall. I have long been waiting for a chance to apply my own brand of strats to schooling the Nishizumi Style, and to be denied this is somewhat disappointing. Of course, if a PC version ever does become available (likely, after Half-Life 3 is released), I would not hesitate to buy Dream Tank Match at full price, if only so I could take proponents of the Nishizumi Style to school.

  • There are other games to be enjoyed in the meantime, so I won’t worry too much about the fact that I probably will not be playing Dream Tank Match without a Playstation 4 for the present, and return to Valkyria Chronicles, where I’ve been given access to Selvaria’s Valkyrur powers, having beaten all of the other missions with A-ranks. As a Valkyrur, Selvaria has access to the incredible powers afforded by a Valkyrur lance. In addition to a Gatling beam mode, which she made use of during the Barious mission, Selvaria’s lance also has a single-shot beam that can eliminate anything.

  • The beam weapon is capable of of melting multiple tanks in a single shot, putting it on par with Halo 3‘s Spartan Laser: with this much firepower, and the object of the final mission being simply to eliminate all Gallian forces, Selvaria’s final mission is remarkably straightforwards and perhaps the very best definition of what proper fanservice is, being something that appeals to the viewer in some way. While Selvaria’s assets might just be why she’s so favourably viewed, I personally enjoyed her story and in-game performance to a much greater extent. I’m glad that Selvaria was not implemented with deformable object physics. Beyond being a visual distraction, ill-implemented approaches can also be resource intensive.

  • It’s been a shade less than three years since I write about Valkyria Chronicles for the first time : back then, I had just finished setting up an upgraded computer ahead of my work with the Unreal Engine and spent the afternoon eating a fried chicken poutine while talking about a seminar I’d attended with my supervisor. Presently, I’ve enjoying a quiet evening following a dinner with an extra-crispy, spicy fried chicken, and it’s the middle of tax season. Some things have changed in the three years that’ve passed, such as my volunteering as a judge for a local city-wide science fair, and others have remained the same.

  • So, about a year and a third after I began the DLC, I’ve finished the campaign segments of Valkyria Chronicles, and I might return to the main game to beat it a second time as time allows. Of course, seasoned readers will know by now that whether or not this will happen is entirely up in the air, to be determined as time allows. With this being said, however, there are some things that are not so uncertain; I will be writing about Comic Girls and Amanchu! Advance after their respective third episodes have aired, and I have tenative plans to review Fireworks, Should We See It from the Side or the Bottom? (Uchiage Hanabi, Shita Kara Miru ka? Yoko Kara Miru ka?) once its home release is available.

Having completed the campaign-driven DLC missions of Valkyria Chronicles and unlocked the Ruhm, I’m now back into Valkyria Chronicles‘ new game mode, which allows me to replay old missions and make use of all of my unlocks. It’s been nearly a decade since Valkyria Chronicles first released in Japan for the Playstation 3, and despite its age, Valkyria Chronicles has aged very gracefully. The pencil sketch-like visuals, made possible by the CANVAS Engine, gives the game a timeless feel, as does the setting, and as such, even against modern giants like Battlefield 1 and Far Cry 5, Valkyria Chronicles continues to look and feel amazing. While the gameplay has become a bit dated (movement and aiming is a little unwieldy), the mechanics largely feel smooth and responsive. My story with Valkyria Chronicles began with watching the anime some years ago: after Girls und Panzer ended, I was looking for an anime that provided similar armoured combat, and Valkyria Chronicles was one series that seemed to fit the bill. I left the anime largely impressed and picked the game up for PC once it became available, and since then, Valkyria Chronicles has become one of my favourite games of all time for its superb narrative, world-building and gameplay, representing the a game that has found the perfect balance between Only In Battlefield™ moments and story. The DLCs further bolster the game’s enjoyment factor, breathing additional life into a well-written world, and my procrastination abilities notwithstanding, I’m glad to have taken the time to take a look at Valkyria Chronicles‘ campaign DLC missions.

Wolfire Overgrowth: Review and Reflection

“At my last job, the tools had no Ctrl-Z, so I learned to be perfect on first try.” —Aubrey Serr, Wolfire Team

Set after the events of Lagaru, Overgrowth follows Turner after he defeated the alpha wolf and the corrupt monarch, Hickory, avenging the death of his family. Since then, he has wandered Lugaru seeking a new purpose. After bandits begin ravaging the island, Turner decides to investigate and help dispossessed find a new home in a mythical island in the sky. Turner reluctantly help those in need, finding himself entangled in a much deeper conflict involving slavery. Fighting his way through frigid glaciers and distant swamps, Turner is captured by the cats and proves his combat prowess in the arena, before killing off the leader of the cats. Turner eventually reaches the island and after ascending its sheer walls, reaches the top, where he kills its leaders. No longer denied homes, the rabbits aiding Turner find a new home, and Turner himself sets off, continuing to seek his purpose. This is Overgrowth‘s main campaign; clocking in at around four hours, it’s concise and accompanied by a remastered version of Lagaru, Overgrowth‘s predecessor. The game’s defining feature is that its development started around a decade ago, and in its finished form, the title very much feels like a demonstration of Wolfire’s Phoenix Engine, which is a technically impressive system; the main campaign showcases the different physics aspects available in Overgrowth, as well as a highly-evolved combat system. However, with only a pair of short campaigns and a few modes beyond this, Overgrowth comes across as being much more limited in content.

Overall, the combat and parkour system in Overgrowth are the game’s greatest strengths. The context-based fighting system is quick to learn but has a remarkably high skill ceiling: like Receiver, Overgrowth is very punishing. As Turner, players are able to hold their own on skill, but brute force will quickly result in death. Overgrowth‘s campaign rewards players who strategically make use of the environment to survive, as well as those who’ve taken the time to learn the fighting system. Consequently, every successful kill in the campaign is a satisfying one, and the game reinforces this by slowing things down on each kill. It is incredibly satisfying to survive a fight against large groups of opponents, whether they be other rabbits, rats, dogs, cats or the nigh-unstoppable wolves. Each of the different opponent types require a unique approach: Turner can stand toe-to-toe with other rabbits and rats, but cats, dogs and wolves involve strategy in order for Turner to survive. Turner can also make use of weapons to bolster his survivability in a fight, and against superior opponents, the terrain becomes an ally, as well – I’ve won most fights against wolves simply by kicking them off ledges. Similarly, Overgrowth has a particular emphasis on navigating vertical landscape features to reach a destination. While the controls are a bit challenging, once mastered, players can scale sheer walls and jump across vast distances. It is as satisfying to climb to the top of a structure as it is to survive a fight, and on both counts, Overgrowth‘s central features are well-implemented. With a narrative tying things together, it was superbly enjoyable to see the game exit the beta stage and become a full-fledged, if somewhat short, title that could form the basis for a much more content-rich game: it’s clear that the Phoenix Engine is quite powerful, and with the basics finished, I would like to see Wolfire use this engine to its full potential with a game that has a more detailed story.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • It’s been just a little less than four years since I bought Overgrowth during a Steam Sale while the game was still in its alpha stages: I experimented with the game only briefly and did not have too much to say about it, but now that Overgrowth is technically finished, with two campaigns, the game’s worth returning to, and returning for the first time since 2014, I’m impressed with the lighting effects and visuals.

  • While Overgrowth‘s textures are a bit dated and the lower polygon count is visible, the lighting effects and sense of scale in the maps have seen considerable improvements since the early days of the alpha. Missions in Overgrowth‘s campaign are usually broken up into two types: ascension and combat. Ascension missions involve parkour to reach the top of a map, and combat missions entail fighting a large number of enemy combatants.

  • As a rabbit, Turner can jump great distances, an ability that is useful for both parkour and combat as a defensive tactic; being able to escape swarms of enemies is especially important, since Overgrowth lacks a HUD: Turner will go down every quickly to large numbers of enemies, and against certain kinds of enemies, will die in a single blow. Thus, a large part of the gameplay is picking one’s engagements wisely and making use of the environment to assist in combat.

  • In conjunction with punches, kicks and blocks, Turner can silently dispatch enemies by means of stealth take downs to avoid alerting nearby enemies. The AI in Overgrowth has been meticulously designed and will begin investigating if players are not careful in their approach: once combat breaks out, all stealth goes out the window, and fighting multiple opponents simultaneously is difficult, so like most stealth games, if one can commit to not being spotted, missions in Overgrowth become much more straightforwards to complete.

  • Weapons in Overgrowth come in two varieties: two handed weapons that deal massive damage at the expense of mobility, and one-handed weapons that can be employed very quickly. Weapons can be thrown, although the AI will pick up any missed weapons and use them against Turner, block them with weapons of their own or even throw them back. When used properly, weapons can one-shot most opponents.

  • A Chinese-style junk is visible at this port city: Turner visits a vast range of locations in his travels, and while Overgrowth‘s narrative is constrained by a lack of cohesiveness, it does allow players to see a variety of locations. Wolfire only has four employees, all of whom have backgrounds in programming, development and 3D modelling: Overgrowth is by far their largest title, and so, it is understandable that Overgrowth does not have a more powerful story or voice acting.

  • Water effects in Overgrowth are impressive, but there’s no opportunity to go swimming in Overgrowth: if Turner falls into deep water, he will die instantly. Overgrowth states that rabbits cannot swim to explain this mechanic: while rabbits can in fact swim to escape dangers, this is an action they are absolutely not fond of, since they become waterlogged very quickly. The resulting cold and panic can lead to drowning, and since rabbits can be literally scared to death by a shocking change in conditions (by the way, this is the correct way of using ‘literally’ in a sentence), rabbits avoid swimming where possible.

  • With a pair of swords in hand, I effortlessly decimate all of the crew on board the junk, including the boss that comes out. Blood effects and ragdolls in Overgrowth are fun, adding satisfaction to finishing each fight. Besides swords and knives, spears and staffs are also available. Weapons can be sheathed when not in use, and there are occasions where it’s better not to have weapons drawn, since they can be knocked from one’s hands during the heat of combat.

  • Besides other rabbits and mice, Turner will also encounter dogs, cats and wolves in Overgrowth. Having weapons allows Turner to even the odds out somewhat, but Wolves, being the most powerful animal in the game, can absolutely tear Turner apart. Getting up here from the ocean was no cakewalk, involving all of my resourcefulness to find spots on the shear walls to parkour up. I ended up beating the wolf by using the jump kick, an overpowered move that propels enemies back, and kicked it off a ledge.

  • The jump kick is a fantastic move for creating space and dealing massive damage to enemies, but because it propels Turner back a large distance, as well, there are risks to using it. Wolfire has since patched Overgrowth so that AI will respond more effectively towards jump kicks by evading: it proved incredibly effective against wolves, who could be insta-killed if they were kicked over ledges and fell great distances.

  • I spent a portion of Christmas Day and Boxing Day playing Overgrowth; the cold, snowy environments perfectly capture the feel of a frigid Canadian winter, and I recall the many attempts it took to sneak past the dogs and lure them into single combat. I eventually managed to best them, and savoured the victory: if there’s anything Overgrowth excels at, it’s creating a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment with each fight won.

  • Like ReceiverOvergrowth is very unforgiving with its gameplay, and this is compounded by the lack of a UI; to counteract this, Overgrowth allows for near-instant respawns that put players right back into the things. This feature allows one to experiment with different approaches towards a problem until a solution is found.

  • I recall a six-on-one fight in one of the glacier missions where the ability to instantly respawn proved to be superbly useful: guards travel in pairs in this mission, and taking one out while the other is not looking is not possible. I ended up using stealth to take one out before going loud with a weapon with the other. The combat system in Overgrowth is very complex, and while easy to learn, mastering the controls is another story.

  • Turner goes from fighting in the cold glaciers to fighting in a fetid swamp. While lacking the steep drops of the glacier missions, the swamp is a dreary place that is quite easy to get lost in, and the lack of a HUD forces players to keep an eye on visual cues in the environment in order to figure out where to go next. They can be subtle, especially under low light conditions, and so, players might be forced to backtrack and explore.

  • Fighting rats in the swamps turned out to be relatively straightforwards: rats aren’t particularly challenging as a foe. Looking back, Overgrowth‘s development timeline was probably the biggest impediment the game had during its developer cycle. People wondered if the game would ever exit the alpha stage, and while the developers were constantly pushing updates, the game remained in alpha and beta stages for a few years.

  • One aspect of Overgrowth that sees very little discussion elsewhere is the game’s soundtrack. Composed by Mikko Tarmia, the music of Overgrowth is majestic, brooding and fits the game’s setting of a post-apocalyptic world. I would absolutely love to see a soundtrack, which, unfortunately, is not available for purchase at the time of writing. I recall listening to the game’s main theme frequently while writing Objective-C code, and because of our lab’s yearly excursions to Canmore, the soundtrack also reminds me of the mountains and valleys on the way leading into Banff National Park.

  • It attests to how much time has passed, now that Objective-C is being phased out in favour of Swift; when I began my time as an undergraduate researcher seven summers ago, I was a volunteer. My initial applications for funding were unsuccessful, but I decided to stick it out, since my goal was to learn, and two months in, I managed to build a simple model of blood oxygenation and deoxygenation in the lab’s custom game engine. Impressed, my supervisor switched me over to a funded programme, and I began work on a fluid flow model using agent-based approaches.

  • The mission to climb to the top of a tree and reach that glowing bucket proved to be an exercise in patience, and like the ascent to the top of a snow-covered mountain, it was immensely rewarding to actually reach the top and finish the objective. This is probably the “sense of pride and accomplishment” that all game developers want their players to experience; while the way to the top is marked by bioluminescent fungus, Overgrowth offers few other cues and suggestions, leaving players to work out how to get to the top.

  • By my second year, I managed to win the OCSS, a small scholarship for students enrolled in the Health Sciences program to do summer research. That summer, I continued on with my flow model after implementing a selectively permeable membrane system. Work on the flow model proceeded into June, and after spending many summer days tuning it, I was surprised to see my entities moving in a convoluted vessel without being stuck in the walls. I subsequently tried the algorithm out on a nephron model that we had, and it proved successful, so I spent the remainder of the summer trying to mimic renal flow and reabsorption, making use of the selectively permeable membranes in the process.

  • The camp in the swamp is such a visually impressive level with its lighting effects, and while quite difficult to nagivate, it was worth exploring every corner of this map to find the exit after all enemies had been eliminated. During this level, the intense fighting meant that I lost my weapons, but Overgrowth‘s jump kicks are overpowered to the point where they can be used if one lacks weapons. On a map with no ledges, this tactic is not a particularly dangerous one.

  • During my third summer in my undergraduate program, I did not return to the lab until August, having been entangled with the MCAT, but once that finished, I helped get a paper submission off the ground. By my fourth year, my old work with the nephrons eventually led me to build a multi-scale renal model in our lab’s in-house game engine, and I returned to this project that summer with an NSERC USRP award, building a distributed model that allowed different computers to share information with one another. In this implementation, I had one computer handle the renal calculations and the other handle cardiac functions. As they shared data, their visualisations, run locally, would be updated.

  • As we reach the end of Overgrowth‘s campaign, the levels become much more ominous in nature, featuring lavafalls and hellish environments. I fight in an arena here against increasingly difficult opponents, until at last, wolves are introduced. Wolves are terrifyingly powerful – Turner is no match for one in a straight-up fight, so I utilised hit-and-fade techniques, making use of distance to my advantage and waiting for the right moment to jump-kick a wolf into the lava below, which is an instant death. There was an occasion where I mis-timed one of my jumps and took myself out, but in the end, I managed to secure the win.

  • Turner is tasked with retrieving something whose value I cannot quite remember, but what I do remember of this mission is that it involves ascending ever-higher. It was quite the achievement to reach the top of the map and make my way back down: the way down was actually quite tricky, and even with the bioluminiscent markers helping, there were a few occasions where I overestimated how much falling damage that Turner could take.

  • Turner is later pitted against opponents of varying difficulty in another arena, and it was here that limitations in the pathfinding for some of the AI became visible. I exploited these limitations to win all of my matches, and during one match, managed to wrench a weapon from an opponent and turned things around instantly. While the organisers of the match are impressed, Turner will have none of this and proceeds to masacre all within the arena, including the cats running the event.

  • After killing off everything in sight, Turner must escape the cat’s desert city. The streets are unusually quiet, and it’s a good idea to hold onto any weapons one may have for the upcoming fight ahead: a number of cats stand between Turner and freedom, but compared to the fight in the arena, this one is relatively straightforward in nature.

  • Unlike the Wolfire Team, who continued to develop their Phoenix Engine until its reached the level of sophistication that it’s at today, our lab slowly phased out the in-house game engine once Unity made their engine freely available. While our own engine was robust, powerful and extensible, its biggest constraint was that it was not optimised; even simple simulations only ran at around 30 FPS, and more complex simulations would drop down to 10 FPS. This coincided with the arrival of The Giant Walkthrough Brain, and when I managed to build a functional prototype within two weeks, Jay Ingram and my supervisor were impressed with the engine’s capabilities. Since then, my old lab has used both Unity and Unreal.

  • While I’ve remarked that Overgrowth reminds me of Canmore and its surroundings, one should not expect to find such a structure in Canmore. This is the legendary country in the sky that was being referred to throughout Overgrowth. This is the culmination of all of the parkour and ascension skills that players have accumulated over the course of Overgrowth, and even then, climbing up here is no walk in the park. There are long jumps and tricky catches to make: any mistake will send Turner falling many metres into the water below, resulting in an instant death.

  • With the Phoenix Engine in a good state, one wonders if the Wolfire team will hire script writers and voice actors for any titles they might choose to make in the future. Since Overgrowth, I’ve not heard any news that the Wolfire team will be moving onto new projects, and from the looks of things, they will continue improving Overgrowth. In the time since I completed this game, two patches have come out to improve the AI and game performance.

  • I stop for a few moments to admire the scenery up here before continuing on. Once reaching the top, a brief fight awaits Turner. Beating down the tower’s leaders will bring an end to Overgrowth, and while the campaign was very short lived, it was quite entertaining. The fights are easily the best aspect of Overgrowth, especially with respect to how things slow down when a zone is cleared.

  • Overall, while I cannot say I recommend Overgrowth as a game, I can say that the game is a very pleasant reminder of my days as a university student. I bought the game mainly as a token of thanks for the Wolfire team, whose efforts and updates motivated me to delve further into the world of biological visualisations. With this being said, if people do not mind the shorter campaign and somewhat unoptimised performance, and they have a greater interest in all of the map tools than I did, then Overgrowth is not a particularly bad purchase, especially if on a sale; there are a host of worse ways of spending 33 CAD.

Having been in development since 2008, Overgrowth definitely feels dated with respect to its visuals, but the Wolfire team’s efforts have resulted in a superbly mature game engine that handles Overgrowth‘s fighting and parkour system well. The campaign is quite short, and it appears that the flexibility of Overgrowth‘s game engine stems from a desire for the community to create their own content. Work on this engine is why Overgrowth‘s development has spanned the greater part of a decade: I learned of Overgrowth during my first summer as an undergraduate researcher – my old research lab had developed its own game engine in-house to provide a 3D space in which to model and visualise biological systems. The lead developer on this project drew inspiration from Overgrowth‘s map editor, especially the transformation, rotation and scaling tools, to make it easier for objects to be placed in 3D space. This in-house game engine powered my thesis, and while it’s been replaced by commercially-available game engines like Unity, it formed the basis for the work that I would end up doing for my Master’s Thesis. Consequently, while Overgrowth might not be an impressive title from an entertainment perspective, there are features in Overgrowth that directly inspired the work at our lab. Improvements to our in-house game engine’s ease-of-use and navigation eventually led me to build a visualisation of the renal system at different scales, complete with a mathematical model to depict responses of my virtual renal system to various stimuli, for my undergraduate thesis. I watched the map editor demonstration and its accompanying humour eight years ago and found it deeply inspiring for my work; I ended up buying Overgrowth in its early access stage to support the development as a bit of thanks in 2013, after I had successfully defended my undergraduate thesis.

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.