Games http://www.maximumpc.com/taxonomy/term/122/ en The Walking Dead: Season Two Review http://www.maximumpc.com/walking_dead_season_two_review_2014 <!--paging_filter--><h3>We would have befriended the cat instead</h3> <p>We reason there are a number of you who have heard of The Walking Dead, but have never gotten a chance to exercise your mouse fingers in this quasi-game. This has led us to wonder: Is the second season of Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead compelling enough to make one go through the entire series up until this point? Could you even jump back in if you had a peek at Season One but never quite got around to finishing it?</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/1_small_38.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/1_small_37.jpg" alt="Heavy Rain, it’s not, but The Walking Dead: Season Two does incorporate a few gesture-based actions." title="The Walking Dead" width="620" height="349" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Heavy Rain, it’s not, but The Walking Dead: Season Two does incorporate a few gesture-based actions.</strong></p> <p>We’ll make this decision easy: Yes, you should buy the second season of The Walking Dead.</p> <p>If the thought of investing roughly 13–15 hours or so to catch up in Season One doesn’t sound all that appealing, Telltale has you covered. Since the game is based on choices, Season Two can automatically import the key decisions you made in the game’s previous season. Even if you only finished a chapter, your decisions can have an impact on your Season Two life—anything you didn’t get to in the first season is automatically randomized by the game for you.</p> <p>That said, it’s important to realize that The Walking Dead is good at giving players the illusion of choice. For example, you’re going to get attacked by a dog in All That Remains no matter how you interact with the beast. It’s rare that your actions will have a significant, Choose Your Own Adventure–like major impact on your future. You’ll still go through the same overall plot, it’s just some of the details might vary based on your actions.</p> <p>A word about that: We love the game’s interactive storytelling, and there’s no doubt that it does force you to make some fairly emotional choices. We even found ourselves empathizing in different ways and varying our character’s mood depending on how an NPC was treating us. Still, the general pacing within these episodes feels a bit formulaic: You have a larger exploration section where you click a lot of stuff or talk to a lot of people, typically followed by a dangerous scenario that requires a reflexes-or-death reaction, followed by a larger “pick one of two big things that happen” section. Wash, rinse, repeat.</p> <p>Your character, Clementine, struggles to survive in a zombie-infested world—a gripping, gritty narrative featuring a great balance of quick-timing interactive elements and passive (albeit simplistic) exploration. The action bits feel more vivid and natural in Season Two, and we want to kiss the designer who thought it best that the interactive clues you point-and-click on disappear once you’ve performed the action (they persist in Season One, leading to much description repetition).</p> <p>The Walking Dead is more of a sitcom than a game (humorously enough, given the game’s roots can be found in a TV series). What it lacks in clickable depth, it more than makes up for in story and narrative delivery. The Walking Dead isn’t very complex; you can guess how the story will be told, but the game’s twists—dictated in part by you, the player—keep it fresh and engaging.</p> <p>Astute Maximum PC readers will note that we have yet to devote a paragraph to The Walking Dead’s plot, unlike the style of most of our game reviews. It’s not just because you control many elements of the story—no, you owe it to yourself to enjoy this survival adventure to the spoiler-free fullest, however you decide to do it.</p> <p>$25, <a href="http://www.telltalegames.com/">www.telltalegames.com</a></p> http://www.maximumpc.com/walking_dead_season_two_review_2014#comments March issues 2014 maximum pc Review season 2 walking dead Software Games Reviews Tue, 10 Jun 2014 09:03:18 +0000 David Murphy 27972 at http://www.maximumpc.com Dark Souls 2 Review http://www.maximumpc.com/dark_souls_2_review_2014 <!--paging_filter--><h3><img src="/files/u166440/dark_souls_2_009.jpg" alt="Dark Souls 2 009" title="Dark Souls 2 009" width="200" height="125" style="float: right;" />Fun, yet frustrating</h3> <p>I’m fighting against a skeleton wielding a large greatsword. I roll out of its way to dodge its first attack and immediately parry a second one with my shield. With my enemy off balance, I quickly get in a couple of slashes with my broadsword and get his health down significantly. At this point, I’m feeling confident that the fight is almost over as I roll out of the way of the skeleton’s next attack. But, to my horror, I anticlimactically&nbsp;fall off a cliff and die which forces me to lose all the souls I've collected.</p> <p><em>Mouse flies in one direction, the keyboard flies in the other, and somehow there is a fist-sized hole in the monitor.</em></p> <p>It seems to us that frustration is the currency that From Software likes to deal in when it comes to the Dark Souls franchise and Dark Souls 2 is no exception. There were many times we became frustrated as we played the game. But perhaps not for the reasons many who have played, or will play, the game will expect. But we’ll address that soon enough.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u166440/dark_souls_2_005.jpg" alt="Praise the Sun!" title="Dark Souls 2 005" width="620" height="388" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Praise the Sun! The graphics are good!</strong></p> <p>There are various reasons to like Dark Souls 2, with graphics being one of them. The game’s visuals are pleasing to the eyes with great lighting and shadow effects. The scenery looked good and is certainly a cut or two above its console counterpart. PC gamers will certainly appreciate the fact that they can go into the video settings and adjust resolution, texture, water surface, effects, and shadow quality, among other options. However, we are disappointed by the game’s limited character creation. To be fair, there are a lot of awesome-looking armor sets that will cover your character up anyhow.&nbsp;</p> <p>Coupled with the graphics is the tone of the game which is depressing, foreboding, and scary. We never knew what was going to happen whenever we stepped through a door or walked around a corner. As if fighting all the undead, monsters, and bosses in the game aren't hard enough, there are traps and ambushes in Dark Souls 2 that kept us on our toes the entire time.&nbsp;</p> <p>In addition, there are a plethora of secrets and hidden areas to be found that are not immediately noticeable. This made the journey through the land an enjoyable one since we liked to explore and discover things that would go unnoticed to the casual eye. It also added to the mystique and terror we felt as we pondered the risks and rewards of straying off the beaten path in hopes of finding useful items and souls.</p> <p>Those souls you collect are the currency to the game. Not only are souls needed to purchase gear and level up, but it also helped our undead Knight maintain his humanity. As an undead character, there is a curse that slowly erases our hero's memories unless they can collect these souls. So we are tasked to collect many souls throughout the game. While the reasons for the soul collecting eventually become unraveled through the game, it ends up being an almost forgettable and uninteresting story.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u166440/dark_souls_2_007.jpg" alt="Dark Souls 2 007" title="Dark Souls 2 007" width="620" height="388" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Excuse me, can you tell me where I am?</strong></p> <p>Yet, while the game looks good, has a great atmosphere, and kept us occupied and challenged the entire time, there are many frustrating components to the game. Reasons beyond us dying over and over again, which is an experience that, for those who play challenging roguelike games, will be familiar with.&nbsp;</p> <p>One aspect we were really annoyed with were the button prompts. All button prompts in the game are for a controller setup rather than for mouse and keyboard combo. For example, we often found ourselves having to open up the menu to see what something like the "A" button was (shift + left click, in case you were wondering). Considering we're confident many keyboard and mouse users will also be bewildered by this, it's a major oversight.&nbsp;</p> <p>As for the M/KB layout, reconfiguring will definitely be required for a better gameplay experience. That is, unless you were born with three hands because the button layout ranges from the WASD keys, to the “O” button if you want to lock on to an enemy during combat, to the arrow keys for scrolling through equipped items. We were also left scratching our heads at the fact that the developer hadn’t even utilized the number keys above the QWERTY keys. If that isn't enough, we couldn’t even bind any actions to the fourth and fifth buttons on our mouse.</p> <p>This means that Dark Souls 2 is only partially optimized for the keyboard and mouse. While the game may work better with a controller, there is no reason to alienate PC enthusiasts in this fashion. There is simply no excuse, especially not when other third-person action games such as The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy (which can be played first-person as well), and Clan of Champions can do a good job of utilizing the versatility of the mouse and keyboard.&nbsp;</p> <p>Then there is the issue we had with the game’s combat, a key selling point for the franchise and its acclaimed difficulty. For a game that requires perfect timing to parry an enemy’s attack, or land a blow of our own, we noticed about a half-second delay between mouse clicks and attack executions. While this might be attributable to the fact that the light (one click) and strong (two clicks) attacks are bound to the same key, it once again shows the developer’s error for not properly utilizing the control scheme. Especially since a special attack like Bash requires the player to press “W” and the light attack button (left mouse button) at the same time.&nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u166440/dark_souls_2_006.jpg" alt="Dark Souls 2 006" title="Dark Souls 2 006" width="620" height="388" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Dashingly handsome undead Knight reporting for duty!</strong></p> <p>Another reason for our frustration is a glitch we encountered in our very first attempt at playing the game. At the time we thought nothing of this glitch, or even considered it such. But eventually we discovered that we could only equip the starting weapon in our left hand and that, whenever we would try to do the same with the right, nothing would register and we would fight with our bare hands. The weapon would be equipped but, as far as the game was concerned, there was nothing there. So when we finally found a shield several hours later, we discovered that we could equip the shield in our left, but couldn’t equip a weapon in our right.&nbsp;</p> <p>Suffice it to say, we had to start the game all over.</p> <p>While at first this seemed to be a glitch that happened at the start of a new game, we discovered that this is not the case. During another playthrough, we recreated the same glitch simply by equipping a shield in our right hand and trying to equip a weapon in the left. Then, when we switched both items, the glitch returned. Which meant we had to start all over again if we wanted to play as a sword-and-shield-wielding Knight.&nbsp;</p> <p>(We’ve also heard that quite a few players have experienced crashes with the game. However, we never experienced a single crash during our playthrough.)</p> <p>Finally, we come to Dark Souls 2’s limited combat system. At first, we disliked it. It felt contrived to create an unnecessarily difficult experience. We also didn’t like&nbsp;the fact that you need to carry two different types of swords: one for open environments and one for enclosed spaces. Seems a bit contrived to us, but maybe we’re just being nitpicky.</p> <p>However, we will admit that as we continued to play through the game, we became attuned to the way combat works. Maybe this is a case of Stockholm Syndrome because we did get to a point where we did appreciate Dark Souls 2's combat. But, it is nowhere near the best we have ever experienced. Not when we compare it to the aforementioned combat systems of The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings and Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy. But it is hardly the worst combat experience we've had.&nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u166440/dark_souls_2_002.jpg" alt="Dark Souls 2 002" title="Dark Souls 2 002" width="620" height="388" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>We got so frustrated by the combat that we smashed this guy into the wall!</strong></p> <p>Those who enjoy the combat system, however, will certainly like Dark Souls 2 for both its singleplayer and multiplayer campaigns. We were able to work together with other players to fight the game’s bosses and even invaded someone elses' game and fought them.&nbsp;</p> <p>Overall, Dark Souls 2 is a fine game. But it will be frustrating for many PC gamers who use a mouse and keyboard to play (unless modders or the developer itself improves it). It will also be frustrating for those who might not have the patience to learn the ins and outs of the game. But those that enjoy it will find that they will be spending a lot of time in the land of Drangleic.&nbsp;</p> <div><strong>$60</strong>, <a title="From Software website" href="http://www.fromsoftware.jp/en/" target="_blank"><span style="color: #ff0000;">http://www.fromsoftware.jp/en/</span></a>; <strong>ESRB: Teen</strong></div> http://www.maximumpc.com/dark_souls_2_review_2014#comments Dark Souls 2 review from software maximum pc Software Games Reviews Wed, 30 Apr 2014 23:00:14 +0000 Sean D Knight 27718 at http://www.maximumpc.com Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag Review http://www.maximumpc.com/assassin%E2%80%99s_creed_iv_black_flag_review2014 <!--paging_filter--><h3>How much rum can one possibly plunder?</h3> <p>If you’ll allow this prospective pirate to get personal for a moment, we really didn’t want to like Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. Having spent far, far too long killing this and that in the ol’ Animus throughout the five previous major titles in the six-year franchise, we’re starting to get the feeling that Assassin’s Creed is borrowing a page from the Call of Duty franchise—it refuses to just up and die.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/5_small_11.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/5_small_10.jpg" alt="It wouldn’t be an Assassin’s Creed game without the requisite “talk to the guy you’re about to kill” cutscenes." title="Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag" width="620" height="349" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>It wouldn’t be an Assassin’s Creed game without the requisite “talk to the guy you’re about to kill” cutscenes.</strong></p> <p>Back out from the game’s minutia, and there’s nothing wrong with Black Flag’s overall concept. You’re an assassin sort of tasked with dispatching a number of antagonists, collecting a crap-ton of hidden items, and running the equivalent of eight ultra-marathons per gaming session as you traverse the various historical landscapes while donning the stereotypical assassin “hoodie outfit.”</p> <p>Since it’s Assassin’s Creed—and since the developers, we suspect, always want to add some sort of additional gravitas beyond one’s pincushion-prone adventures—there’s a side component of Black Flag that functions as the game’s main quest. Yes, you read that right.</p> <p>The entire plot is an Inception-like romp into one’s ancestral consciousness, and your “real-world” persona in Black Flag is a not-so-impressive, unnamed employee at the fictitious gaming firm Abstergo Entertainment. To us, the infrequent warping between the game’s two environments is the series’ seventh-inning stretch: You have to slowly stand and sing the familiar tune, even if you don’t want to do it. You have no way out.</p> <p>Thankfully, Black Flag balances out its real-world boredom with the series’ most refined and engaging mix of quasi-open-world gameplay to date, set in a gorgeous environment that makes us yearn for a 15-minute trip on a watery Disney ride. If nothing else, we commend developer Ubisoft Montreal for finally understanding that pirates are way cooler than the American Revolution (Blackbeard: 1; Benjamin Franklin: 0). This simple hook alone should be enough to wet the whistles of many a gamer who has felt otherwise let down by any pirate-themed game that doesn’t start with the word Monkey.</p> <p>Our problem? It takes too long to get there. Tutorials are tutorials, but Black Flag is one of the first games in the franchise—at least, that we can remember—that had us scratching our heads a bit as to how everything works. It’s partially the fault of the game’s early missions, which do a decent, but not-so-perfect job of detailing everything that your character (or ship) can do. Case in point: We had to look up how to fire our ship’s heavy shot. One of the most powerful weapons in one’s watery arsenal… and we had to Google it.</p> <p>Wrapped within that is the odd combination of the game’s painfully slow progression and quasi-open-world motif. We dislike how Black Flag presents a giant, explorable world, but locks much of it behind strange, shimmering, digital curtains until you progress to certain points in the game’s main quest. The same holds true for all of your weapons and ship upgrades; you don’t even get the tried-and-true staple of the series, the trusty hidden blade, until after the game dumps you into the wide-open world for a bit of time.</p> <p>We get it; Ubisoft really wants you to play the Animus-based plot. Here’s the problem with that: It’s not that interesting. The storyline, as we’ve noted, is a bit out there, and the primary missions don’t offer up many challenges or much diversity. You’re encouraged to be stealthy merely as a part of an overall achievement unlock. Otherwise, there’s no real penalty for crossing your Jack Sparrow with your Rambo within missions, which are, themselves, getting fairly standard within the overall Assassin’s Creed universe. We’d be perfectly OK to never have to spend minutes eavesdropping on someone ever again.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a href="/files/u152332/6_small_16.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/6_small_15.jpg" alt="Half the fun of Black Flag comes from exploring your way to new (and super-pretty) locations." title="Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag" width="620" height="821" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Half the fun of Black Flag comes from exploring your way to new (and super-pretty) locations.</strong></p> <p>Curiously enough, there’s no actual progression for your character skills—you start off as a fairly formidable assassin with the ability to kill just about anyone quite quickly. We might have preferred an RPG-like upgrade system whereby one’s talents, purchasable or otherwise, were a bit more customizable or upgradable. It could also serve as an excellent tutorial for the myriad moves and techniques one’s assassin can do. Any of the recent Batman games gives a good example of what we’re referring to. Black Flag borrows a simplified crafting/upgrading system from Far Cry 3, but it’s not really enough.</p> <p>Black Flag, like previous titles in the series, focuses much on your ability to free run, climb, dodge, and stab your way through levels. It’s still a bit clunky to do so—akin to driving a large truck in an obstacle course instead of a more dexterous motorcycle. We can forgive that, however, because Ubisoft has finally managed to create open-world aspects that are fun regardless of how repetitive they might feel.</p> <p>Yes, the ship combat does become a bit rote after a while, but the game delivers a thrilling joy after you successfully survive a close battle against an enemy convoy by the skin of your teeth. We thought we’d get bored shooting and boarding ship after ship after ship; to our surprise, we didn’t. We almost wish the game went one step further and gave you some additional ships to play around with—a convoy of your own that you could command in some kind of quasi-real-time-strategy-like fashion. As it stands, there’s great fun in blasting and boarding. We smiled each and every time we rope-swung out to an enemy ship to deliver stabby surprises.</p> <p>Sailing around the map bombarding ports, evading waterspouts (yes, waterspouts), and chasing down giant treasure fleets that your online friends can identify on your map for you—to name a few activities—is a thrill. You can even cycle through songs for your crew to sing while you’re sailing (and unlock others by finding them within the game) and, should you find yourself running low on patience, make use of the many fast travel locations that Ubisoft litters throughout the game’s landscape. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Walker, this is not.</p> <p>We’re running low on space to cover all the side activities you can undertake in Black Flag, and it behooves us to touch on one of the game’s super-eye-opening features: companion apps for both Android and iOS, which deliver some of the best cross-platform interaction we’ve yet seen in a PC game. We absolutely love that we can fire up our tablets, load a free app, and have a real-time feed of our character’s progression on the world map, quick access to our mission statuses, and even a means for interacting with Black Flag’s game-within-a-game “Kenway’s Fleet” trading system.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/2_small_22.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/2_small_21.jpg" alt="Yes, the game sends watery tornados into your path. No, you do not want to be in their path." title="Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag" width="620" height="349" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Yes, the game sends watery tornados into your path. No, you do not want to be in their path.</strong></p> <p>That said, we sure wish we had some easy means of pulling our existing online friends into Uplay—either those from Steam, Facebook, or any of the other big social or gaming networks. It would certainly help the title’s multiplayer efforts, which feel pretty similar, if not identical to, that which we’ve already seen in the series. It could also boost the single-player game a bit, given the curious (but engaging) social tie-ins that Ubisoft has built right into the core campaign. We love this blend of online and “offline” gameplay; give us more!</p> <p>What we don’t want more of, however, is bloat; Black Flag’s title screen feels a bit clunky with its many advertisements and links to external websites. Tone those parts down a bit, Ubisoft, please.</p> <p>As for the game, definitely play Black Flag, but we’d argue that it’s more fun as a pirate romp than a full-fledged simulator of silent deaths. Far Cry 3 handled some of these stealthy, lone-gunman mechanics more interestingly; Assassin’s Creed borrows a little bit from the best, but none can currently rival the fun it brings to the high seas.</p> <p><strong>$60,</strong> <a href="http://assassinscreed.ubi.com/en-GB/home/index.aspx">assassinscreed.ubi.com</a><strong>, ESRB: M</strong></p> http://www.maximumpc.com/assassin%E2%80%99s_creed_iv_black_flag_review2014#comments Assassin’s Creed IV black flag review february 2014 games Software Software Games Reviews Fri, 25 Apr 2014 14:43:00 +0000 David Murphy 27691 at http://www.maximumpc.com Batman: Arkham Origins Review http://www.maximumpc.com/batman_arkham_origins_review_2014 <!--paging_filter--><h3>Rocksteady proves a hard act to follow</h3> <p>In 2009, expectations for Batman: Arkham Asylum were not high, since movie tie-in games have a pretty sketchy track record. Developer Rocksteady was also relatively unknown back then, and Christopher Nolan’s Batman films had become landmark cinema, making them a hard act to follow even for celebrated game designers. But this determined gang delivered a faithful and entertaining romp (having the talented voice actors from the cartoons take on their roles didn’t hurt, either). Fast-forward to 2013, and an unrelated, newly formed studio is at the helm—and Batman and Joker have new voices. We also have potentially tacked-on multiplayer now. It sounds like cause for concern once again, and this time the worries are more justifiable, though not in the ways you might expect.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/batmanorigins_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/batmanorigins_small.jpg" alt="There’s a $50 million bounty on Batman’s head, which apparently doesn’t need to remain attached to his body." title="Batman: Arkham Origins" width="620" height="349" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>There’s a $50 million bounty on Batman’s head, which apparently doesn’t need to remain attached to his body.</strong></p> <p>The gameplay is largely unchanged. Batman still glides and grappling-hooks his way over the gritty, crime-infested streets of Gotham, overhearing conversations and finding collectibles. You still beat the snot out of hundreds of thugs using the same combo system. You get a smaller window to respond to an attack, so your combo chains are broken more often, which makes the truly interesting maneuvers less accessible. The more time you spend evading, the longer the fight takes. Toward the end of the main storyline, you will be fighting literally dozens of dudes at once, all with differing abilities and tactics. It can be downright grueling sometimes.</p> <p>Speaking of the story, it’s also not as tight. Though you have a $50 million bounty on your head, and eight or so assassins are after it, you largely have the city to yourself, unless you decide to confront them. Four of them are optional, or you can deal with them after the main plot has concluded. On the other hand, defeating the assassins unlocks certain combat abilities. But other than that, they don’t actually try to hunt you down or lure you in. You don’t have to worry about innocents getting caught in the crossfire, because ordinary citizens are nonexistent. They’ve apparently barricaded themselves in after hearing about this $50M scavenger hunt, and there’s also something about martial law, but you don’t see any police or military personnel patrolling the streets.</p> <p>One can’t help but wonder what might have been if developer Warner Brothers Montreal had not divided its efforts between single-player and multiplayer. The latter is a novel experience: Two teams of thugs must fight off Batman and Robin while fighting each other for territory. But the two hero characters are largely vertical attackers, so someone playing a gang member is getting attacked from all angles, making death frequent and frustrating.</p> <p>Aside from multiplayer, the overall sense of déjà vu throughout Origins is so regular that the game feels more like a game-length flashback set within the previous installment, rather than a distinct experience. Granted, Origins is modeled after the very satisfying experience of the previous game, Arkham City, so it never strays into the outright regrettable. But it never fully emerges from that long shadow, either.</p> <p><strong>$50, </strong><a href="http://www.batmanarkhamorigins.com/">www.batmanarkhamorigins.com</a><strong>, ESRB: T</strong></p> http://www.maximumpc.com/batman_arkham_origins_review_2014#comments Batman January issues 2014 maximum pc Review Software Games Reviews Mon, 14 Apr 2014 15:44:10 +0000 Tom McNamara 27632 at http://www.maximumpc.com Nvidia Takes on Mantle with Enhanced DX11 Driver http://www.maximumpc.com/nvidia_takes_mantle_enhanced_dx11_driver_2014 <!--paging_filter--><h3>Nvidia releases enhanced DX11 drivers</h3> <p><img src="http://www.maximumpc.com/files/u302/geforcegtx_titan_3qtr1a_medium.jpg" alt="GeForce" title="GeForce" width="250" height="188" style="float: right;" />Today Nvidia is releasing an all-new driver for customers of its Fermi, Kepler, and Maxwell GPUs that it claims offers significant performance gains in DirectX11 titles. It told us this driver is reminiscent of its "Detonator" drivers from back in the day, and it's claiming the driver can provide "<strong>up to 64 percent faster single GPU performance</strong>" as well as "up to 71 percent faster SLI performance."</p> <h3>The Driver</h3> <p>The <a href="http://www.geforce.com/drivers/results/74636">driver</a> is labeled 337.50 Beta and it's an "optimized DX driver." Interestingly, no details were given by <a href="http://www.maximumpc.com/tags/nvidia">Nvidia</a> on what specifically was optimized or different from previous drivers, which is a departure for Team Green. Usually big updates like this include a white paper of some sorts, but for this particular update it just provided general terms like "Dramatic Improvements." This is clearly a driver aimed at AMD's Mantle though, as the majority of the presentation we received from Nvidia pointed out how a DX11 GeForce card and this new driver is faster than AMD cards running Mantle. It then provided these specific numbers comparing a GeForce 780 Ti vs. an R9 290X on Mantle:</p> <p>StarSwarm - 16% faster</p> <p>Battlefield 4 - 12% faster</p> <p>Thief - 7% faster</p> <p>In other words, Nvidia is saying, "We don't need a custom Nvidia-specific API, we can optimize DX11, which a lot of games already support," unlike Mantle which is only supported in StarSwarm, Thief, and Battlefield 4 currently. Here's one of the slides Nvidia offered to us:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u302/bf4_337.jpg" alt="BF4 337 Drivers" title="BF4 337 Drivers" width="650" height="414" /></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In addition to being faster than AMD's Mantle API, Nvidia is also claiming that its driver improves SLI performance. Since a CPU can easily bottleneck a multi-GPU setup this makes sense, but let's look at the numbers Nvidia has provided.</p> <p>As you recall, earlier Nvidia claimed "up to 71 percent faster SLI performance." In the accompanying chart, it showed one game receiving that level of improvement, and that game is Total War: Rome 2. On the other end of the spectrum is Call of Duty: Black Ops II, which received around 15-20 percent improvement. Here is that slide:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u302/sli_337_driver.jpg" width="650" height="410" /></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Unfortunately, none of those games are in our testing suite. In anticipation of this, and taking pains to hit AMD where it hurts, it also presented a slide showing multi-GPU scaling in Thief, which is now AMD's poster child for Mantle and TrueAudio support. Here is that slide:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u302/thief_gpus.jpg" width="650" height="404" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;">&nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: left;">But that's not all. Nvidia also pointed out that this driver is just plain faster in many titles, including the same ones it pointed to before, such as CoD: BLOPS2, Sleeping Dogs, Alien vs. Predator, Total War: Rome 2, and finally Sniper Elite v2.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">None of these games are in our testing suite, so hit the next page to see how the new driver fared on two different test systems, and on dual GTX 780 cards in SLI.</p> <hr /> <h3>Benchmarks</h3> <p>To begin, we tested an Nvidia GTX 780 reference card on our standard video card test bench, which consists of an Asus Rampage IV Extreme motherboard,<strong> Intel Core i7-3960X Extreme Edition 3.3GHz CPU</strong>, 16GB of DDR3/1600 memory, and Windows 8 Enterprise. We tested using the current 335.23 driver as well as the 337.50 beta driver. Here are the results:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u302/780_benches.jpg" width="308" height="127" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>Tests done with a single GTX 780 reference board at 2560x1600. Best scores are bolded.<br /></em></p> <p style="text-align: left;">As you can see, not much difference at all between drivers in this config and on these games. Since we weren't sure we'd ever see a difference, we moved to a different setup that consisted of the following: A&nbsp; Gigabyte Z77X-UP4 motherboard, a slower and easier to bottleneck <strong>Intel Core i5-3470 3.2GHz CPU</strong>, GeForce GTX 780 Ti, and 8GB of RAM. Here are those results:</p> <p style="text-align: left;">&nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="http://www.maximumpc.com/files/u302/780ti_337.jpg" width="309" height="155" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>Tests done with a single GTX 780 Ti reference board at 1920x1080. Best scores are bolded.</em></p> <p style="text-align: left;">Once again, we didn't see much of a difference between the old driver and the new one, except for on two games -- Battlefield 4, and Thief. That is odd, because what is special about these two titles, aside from being AMD's flagship titles for Mantle support? Obviously Nvidia is very interested in hitting AMD where it hurts, and whatever they have done has worked, at least in this particular configuration.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">Finishing up, we also tested a two-card SLI configuration at <strong>4K resolution</strong> using dual GTX 780 cards on the <strong>Intel Core i7-3960X</strong> machine. Here are those results:</p> <p style="text-align: left;">&nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u302/4k_337.jpg" width="345" height="210" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>Test done with two GTX 780 cards in SLI at 3840x2160. Best scores are bolded.</em></p> <p style="text-align: left;">And once again, we didn't see much of a difference using two GPUs at 4K res, but this was also with a hefty CPU. We did see a massive boost in Hitman: Absolution though, which is also an AMD-sponsored title.</p> <h3 style="text-align: left;">Final Thoughts</h3> <p style="text-align: left;">In the wake of Mantle's release nobody was really clamoring for Nvidia to respond since people consider its drivers to be generally very good, but we're glad to see that it has. Unfortunately, in our tests the result is very similar to what we've seen with Mantle in that it can offer a boost but only on very specific configurations and in certain games. In other words, anyone hoping these drivers would instantly give them a 20 to 50 percent boost in every game they play is in for a rude awakening, because that's not what we saw. Admittedly our testing didn't run a gamut of 20+ games, but all this dropped when we were in the final push for our June issue, so our time with the new driver was very limited. That said, based on what we did see we expected more, especially with lofty claims of "up to 64% faster single GPU performance." We didn't see anything close to that, and as always your mileage with this new driver will vary depending on the game you play and the specs of your PC. It is heartening to see Nvidia achieving somewhat dramatic improvements in certain games with no changes to hardware though.</p> <p style="text-align: left;">The driver is supposed to be out by the time you read this, and <a href="http://www.geforce.com/drivers/results/74636">here</a> is the 64-bit Win7/Win8 driver. You can download other flavors <a href="http://www.geforce.com/drivers">here</a> and <a href="http://www.guru3d.com/files_details/geforce_337_50_beta_download.html">here</a>. Please let us know in the comments if you're seeing what we're seeing, or if you're gaming experience has been transformed by the 337.50 beta driver.</p> http://www.maximumpc.com/nvidia_takes_mantle_enhanced_dx11_driver_2014#comments 337.50 driver nvidia Games Gaming Videocards Mon, 07 Apr 2014 14:42:01 +0000 josh norem 27575 at http://www.maximumpc.com Call of Duty: Ghosts http://www.maximumpc.com/call_duty_ghosts_review_2014 <!--paging_filter--><h3>Immaterial, indeed</h3> <p>Talk about a disappointing ghost.</p> <p>We don’t mean the holes-cut-in-a-sheet, Charlie Brown–style Halloween-costume-gone-awry. That actually sounds pretty fun. We’re talking about the weird, ski-mask-wearing group of quote-unquote stealth operatives who personify Infinity Ward’s newest title in the Call of Duty franchise—you know, those guys wearing the spooky logo over their faces who look as if the developers read a bit too much Punisher during crunch time.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/4_small_0.png"><img src="/files/u152332/4_small.png" alt="No, this isn’t a trailer for Gravity. Yes, you can apparently go Rambo on a person (or an installation) in space." title="Call of Duty: Ghosts" width="620" height="349" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>No, this isn’t a trailer for Gravity. Yes, you can apparently go Rambo on a person (or an installation) in space.</strong></p> <p>We’ll give Infinity Ward credit: It’s trying just about everything it can to spice up Call of Duty: Ghosts, the first double-digit entry in the 10-year franchise. But we can’t help but wonder if it wouldn’t have been a wiser decision for the group to kill the series while it was on top.</p> <p>Why’s that? We got bored.</p> <p>First, an explanation. When reviewing games at Maximum PC, we do our best to stick with a title all the way through to the bitter end. Rare is the game where we find ourselves ready to “verdictize” after a shorter timeframe, but Call of Duty: Ghosts is just that special, skull-emblazoned snowflake. Right around mission seven of the game’s 18-mission single-player campaign, we were ready to call it quits.</p> <p>It’s not that the campaign is poorly constructed, per se; it’s very Call of Duty, for better or worse. You, Logan, warp through time and space (literally, though you play as someone else during your little Gravity-like trip through the heavens) in your somewhat-clandestine attempts to stop a superpower called the Federation (really?) from winning a land war against the good ol’ US of A. You hang with your brother and his dog a lot; you meet up with some of the “ghosts” you’ve oh-so-heard about; and you quickly acquire, lose, and re-acquire the Federation’s main bad guy.</p> <p>It’s not that the story isn’t exciting on its face; it’s the way it’s delivered—and the gameplay. We find it quite disjointing the way Infinity Ward sometimes treats the plot. For example, you start out at home, 10 years prior to the main storyline, trying to avoid the sweet kiss of death while your town gets blasted by the space-based weapons platform ODIN. You then warp to said platform, 15 minutes earlier, to take up the role of Random Astronaut Guy (or girl) who is attempting to stop the evil Federation from taking control.</p> <p>The thing is, you already know how this brief spurt of weightless combat ends, which makes the entire exercise seem a bit moot. While your astronaut burns up in the atmosphere, you warp back down into the perspective of Logan once again. You escape death, flash-forward 10 years, and the story churns forward through a Butterfly Effect–like smorgasbord of times and locations. The adventure can, at times, feel a wee bit schizophrenic.</p> <p>Infinity Ward does sprinkle in some intriguing gameplay elements—tried-and-true as they might be—to spice up Ghosts’ extremely linear action. Sometimes, you get a fun weapon to play with (we do love rockets). Other times, you’re controlling a remote sniper rifle or an A-10 Tank Killer (somewhat fun). You even get a chance to control your freakin’ dog companion, which officially wins this year’s award for “least believable in real life” element of a military-themed shooter.</p> <p>However, these little moments feel more like the palate-cleansing cracker between a series of banal courses. They’re hardly engaging or challenging—at one point, we watched enemy fighters run out of nowhere to stand, stiff as flagpoles, in nearly the exact spots where we had just remote-shot their peers. Gripping AI there, Infinity Ward.</p> <p>And if you think anything changes in Ghosts’ pew-pew gunfight parts, you’re mistaken. The game’s linear routing turns most gunfights into an Old Western–style “cover, pop up, and blast to pieces” kind of a fracas. Even playing on the game’s second-highest difficulty setting, Hardened, we only found ourselves dying from the occasional misstep related to running away from grenades. As far as bullets go, there was absolutely nothing that our red-dot weaponry couldn’t handle—our weapon, our patience, and, when we got bored, our dog.</p> <p>For a game that practically screams “shooter Assassins Creed” on its cover, we feel that it lacks some of the core, stealth mechanics that one might find in a game with the word “Ghosts” right in the title. They exist a little bit, sure, but this isn’t a Far Cry 3 kind of a deal where you spend agonizing minutes plotting your way through an enemy encampment in such a fashion as to cause maximum carnage with minimal chance of alarm-raising. The “stealth” bits of Ghosts are predominantly event-based and, to us, feel overly simple, if not few and far between.</p> <p>Infinity Ward has almost become too good at the Call of Duty formula, we’d argue; we’d also give just about anything for a little more variety in the actual construction of the individual missions themselves. The setups, situations, and scenery are all lovely and beautifully presented, but it’s hard to feel like you’re doing much more than taking part in a giant shooting gallery most of the time. The exciting add-ons Infinity Ward tosses into Ghosts—brief tank combat, anyone?—can’t carry the game on their own.</p> <p>Of course, it’s also arguable that most people buy Call of Duty titles nowadays for the multiplayer, not the single-player campaign. This time around, Infinity Ward packs three different variations into the multiplayer version of the game—two too many.</p> <p>The standard Call of Duty slugfest serves as the game’s multiplayer core, for better or worse. Yes, the maps are still horribly imbalanced in a “spawn and die within seconds” kind of a way, which hampers much of the strategy one might otherwise want to employ when shooting one’s peers. A plethora of different game modes opens up your creative options a bit, but they’re all very shooter-driven—ain’t no base-assaulting in Call of Duty: Ghosts, much as we’d like the multiplayer to pack in a little more creativity (the maps’ dynamic events notwithstanding).</p> <p>New to the series are tweaks to the game’s “earned experience” in multiplayer, where you now customize your character by spending “squad points” to buy all kinds of new models, guns, perks, and other fun. Creating clans and squaring off against others is similarly simple. The game’s “operations,” or milestones you perform within multiplayer, are not—they first have to be selected in order for you to contribute to them, a fact we learned only after sinking quite a few hours into shooting others.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/1_small_35.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/1_small_34.jpg" alt="Though easy, there’s a certain joy that comes from killing simple AI soldiers in Squads mode." title="Call of Duty: Ghosts" width="620" height="349" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Though easy, there’s a certain joy that comes from killing simple AI soldiers in Squads mode.</strong></p> <p>A new Extinction mode in Ghosts feels like a simplistic Left 4 Dead, an addition that could have just as easily been farmed out to a third-party modder (or two) and released as an after-the-fact (free) DLC. This rehashing of Call of Duty’s Zombies mode is about as intriguing as Ghosts’ new Squads mode, a means by which you—and human or AI teammates—can square off against another person’s AI-created squad. It’s an overly complicated setup that feels more like an easily exploitable multiplayer training mode than anything else. We’re confused by its necessity, especially when resources for that—or Extinction—could have been better spent beefing up the game’s primary multiplayer components.</p> <p>Here’s the deal: If you love everything Call of Duty stands for, this review is meaningless. You’ve already bought Ghosts. If you’ve never played a single game in the franchise, then you’ll get a fine Call of Duty experience with Ghosts, though you might want to check out its predecessor, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, for a more engaging (and inexpensive) single-player campaign.</p> <p>However, if you’re on the fence, just go ahead and stay there—buy a real dog, instead.</p> http://www.maximumpc.com/call_duty_ghosts_review_2014#comments call of duty January issues 2014 maximum pc Review Software Games Reviews Mon, 07 Apr 2014 11:53:35 +0000 David Murphy 27576 at http://www.maximumpc.com Battlefield 4 Review http://www.maximumpc.com/battlefield_4_review_2014 <!--paging_filter--><h3>Epic battles. Epic bugs, too</h3> <p>Stop. Any review you previously read about Battlefield 4 was flat-out wrong. Wrong, we tell you. That’s because any short review based on near-gold code or just a few hours or even a day’s worth of play can’t be complete. In fact, we don’t even consider this review anywhere near done yet, even though by the time you read this, we’ll have logged days of in-game play. To pronounce a verdict on a game this sprawling, this complicated, this organic—and this frakking bug-filled—would be irresponsible.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/commander_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/commander_small.jpg" alt="The Commander Mode is back, with a tablet version promised for the loneliest job in the game." title="Battlefield 4" width="620" height="388" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The Commander Mode is back, with a tablet version promised for the loneliest job in the game.</strong></p> <p>This shouldn’t be news to anyone who has been a fan of the Battlefield series, though. It’s hard to believe, but it’s been almost 12 years since Battlefield 1942 hit the store shelves with its unique blend of first-person and vehicle combat that revolutionized military-themed shooters. Unfortunately, there was this little game franchise called Call of Duty released a year later that minted money faster than, well, the US Mint, and the two have been competing ever since.</p> <p>The last couple of versions, Battlefield has been chasing CoD and it’s no different here. Developer DICE again invests resources into a CoD-like single-player storyline that we honestly think few will ever play. We can burn a paragraph or two describing the plot but it’s easily summed up as a bad Michael Bay action movie seen through the eyes of South Park: “Booosh!” “Fwraaash!” “Craaaw!” “Kraaaaasssshhhh!!!” Slow-motion helicopter crash. “Caawwwshhh!!!”</p> <p>To be fair, the single-player’s graphics are fairly stunning and more polygons are expended on single-player than multiplayer. The AI is passable and the save-points less offensive to us than they were in Battlefield 3, but we don’t really care about the single-player mode and we’d guess the vast majority of long-time Battlefield fans don’t either.</p> <p>We actually suspect that DICE is finally acknowledging that too, so it’s good to see that multiplayer gets some nice buffs that help justify the franchise’s reputation for being the thinking man’s CoD.</p> <p>Battlefield 2 players belly-ached for years when squads got whittled down from six to four, and Commander Mode and voice com were axed in Battlefield 3. With Battlefield 4, DICE ups the squad size to five, which gives them a little more effective fire teams. Squads are also helped with the return of voice com and a Commander Mode, too.</p> <p>No review of Battlefield 4 can go without mentioning the Levolution feature—which means a lot of things crumble and fall apart. It’s the natural evolution of the already destructible environments first tested in select Battlefield 3 maps, and it’s quite impressive. We’ve been in matches where the fighting practically stops while players rush out to get a glimpse of the towering skyscraper crumbling to the ground. Don’t be fooled, though—not everything can be flattened. We’d also be remiss if we didn’t mention the stunning water and weather physics DICE has implemented, which are reminiscent of the epic sea battles of the original.</p> <p>It goes without saying that Battlefield 4 is an intense game on hardware resources. The min spec is a dual-core Core 2 or Athlon X2 with 4GB of RAM and Radeon 3870 or GeForce 8800GT and up, or— get this—Intel HD4000 graphics with a 512MB allocated for the frame buffer. The recommended spec is a quad-core Intel or six-core AMD part, 8GB of RAM, Radeon HD 7870 3GB or GeForce GT 660 3GB or better. Our experience says that if you want to play on Ultra at 1080p with a constant 60fps, you’ll want an eight-core AMD part or Hyper-Threaded Intel quad-core part with a current-gen $300-tier GPU, and even then, you’ll hit patches of 40–50fps in multiplayer on some maps. Let’s just say you need real hardware to play this game in all its glory.</p> <p>Of course, it’s hard to say what game hardware works best, as you need a fairly stable platform to even get a feel for it. And right now as we go to print, Battlefield 4 hasn’t been stable.</p> <p>And that gets right into the most controversial part of Battlefield 4: the bugs. Of course, no release of Battlefield has arrived without bugs, but Battlefield 4’s launch has been particularly rough. At launch, players were beset with crashes, lost stats, as well as annoyingly constant server crashes and disconnects. Others complained of poor “netcode” failing to register hits on opponents and being shot through walls. Our own experience initially resulted in crashes and disconnects every other match or three. Multiple server-side patches reduced that to the point where we could play for maybe two hours without a crash or disconnect, but they still occurred on occasion and we were victims of the shot-through-the-wall-problem on occasion.</p> <p>DICE has since patched the server code again and issued a 1GB client patch to address the crashes. Unfortunately, that patch caused more issues, including more crashing, server disconnects, an inadvertent blurring effect, and lower performance for some players. For what it’s worth, our experience with the patch was a big improvement in server disconnects and crashes. We played a solid four hours with but one game crash and one server crash. We did, however, get the annoying blur.</p> <p>We won’t even get into the minutia of the odd weapons balance. One grenade upgrade, for example, gives you three smaller grenades that have a smaller blast radius than the single basic grenade you start with, but we’d swear the smaller grenade actually has a larger blast radius. Two engineers repairing the light helicopter make it invulnerable to direct multiple long strings of anti-aircraft fire, too. And many of the weapons seem to be chosen straight from Jane’s Compendium of Obscure Small Arms of the World rather than the familiar armory from Battlefield 3.</p> <p>So, where does that leave us? Kind of torn, honestly. From the hours we’ve logged, we do love the game. It’s fun and the immense three-dimensional battle space is everything a Battlefield player wants and needs. Let’s just say we won’t be playing much Battlefield 3 from now on. But that’s contingent on Battlefield 4 working—and often it isn’t.</p> <p>Yet we have faith that DICE will make it right. Battlefield 4, after all, isn’t about getting your $60 today and moving you along PT Barnum–style. No, it’s about getting your $60 today, and another $50 for the DLC, plus $28 for all of the weapon-unlock packs—right up until Battlefield 5 comes along. Call us suckers, but we’ll probably be there too, lined up with our 60 bucks in hand.</p> <p><strong>$60,</strong> <a href="http://www.battlefield.com/">www.battlefield.com</a><strong>; ESRB: M</strong></p> http://www.maximumpc.com/battlefield_4_review_2014#comments battlefield 4 January issues 2014 maximum pc Review Software Games Reviews Fri, 04 Apr 2014 13:43:38 +0000 Gordon Mah Ung 27564 at http://www.maximumpc.com Battlefield 4 Review http://www.maximumpc.com/battlefield_4_review <!--paging_filter--><h3>Epic battles. Epic bugs, too</h3> <p>Stop. Any review you previously read about Battlefield 4 was flat-out wrong. Wrong, we tell you. That’s because any short review based on near-gold code or just a few hours or even a day’s worth of play can’t be complete. In fact, we don’t even consider this review anywhere near done yet, even though by the time you read this, we’ll have logged days of in-game play. To pronounce a verdict on a game this sprawling, this complicated, this organic—and this frakking bug-filled—would be irresponsible.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/commander_small_0.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/commander_small.jpg" alt="The Commander Mode is back, with a tablet version promised for the loneliest job in the game." title="Battlefield 4" width="620" height="388" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The Commander Mode is back, with a tablet version promised for the loneliest job in the game.</strong></p> <p>This shouldn’t be news to anyone who has been a fan of the Battlefield series, though. It’s hard to believe, but it’s been almost 12 years since Battlefield 1942 hit the store shelves with its unique blend of first-person and vehicle combat that revolutionized military-themed shooters. Unfortunately, there was this little game franchise called Call of Duty released a year later that minted money faster than, well, the US Mint, and the two have been competing ever since.</p> <p>The last couple of versions, Battlefield has been chasing CoD and it’s no different here. Developer DICE again invests resources into a CoD-like single-player storyline that we honestly think few will ever play. We can burn a paragraph or two describing the plot but it’s easily summed up as a bad Michael Bay action movie seen through the eyes of South Park: “Booosh!” “Fwraaash!” “Craaaw!” “Kraaaaasssshhhh!!!” Slow-motion helicopter crash. “Caawwwshhh!!!”</p> <p>To be fair, the single-player’s graphics are fairly stunning and more polygons are expended on single-player than multiplayer. The AI is passable and the save-points less offensive to us than they were in Battlefield 3, but we don’t really care about the single-player mode and we’d guess the vast majority of long-time Battlefield fans don’t either.</p> <p>We actually suspect that DICE is finally acknowledging that too, so it’s good to see that multiplayer gets some nice buffs that help justify the franchise’s reputation for being the thinking man’s CoD.</p> <p>Battlefield 2 players belly-ached for years when squads got whittled down from six to four, and Commander Mode and voice com were axed in Battlefield 3. With Battlefield 4, DICE ups the squad size to five, which gives them a little more effective fire teams. Squads are also helped with the return of voice com and a Commander Mode, too.</p> <p>No review of Battlefield 4 can go without mentioning the Levolution feature—which means a lot of things crumble and fall apart. It’s the natural evolution of the already destructible environments first tested in select Battlefield 3 maps, and it’s quite impressive. We’ve been in matches where the fighting practically stops while players rush out to get a glimpse of the towering skyscraper crumbling to the ground. Don’t be fooled, though—not everything can be flattened. We’d also be remiss if we didn’t mention the stunning water and weather physics DICE has implemented, which are reminiscent of the epic sea battles of the original.</p> <p>It goes without saying that Battlefield 4 is an intense game on hardware resources. The min spec is a dual-core Core 2 or Athlon X2 with 4GB of RAM and Radeon 3870 or GeForce 8800GT and up, or— get this—Intel HD4000 graphics with a 512MB allocated for the frame buffer. The recommended spec is a quad-core Intel or six-core AMD part, 8GB of RAM, Radeon HD 7870 3GB or GeForce GT 660 3GB or better. Our experience says that if you want to play on Ultra at 1080p with a constant 60fps, you’ll want an eight-core AMD part or Hyper-Threaded Intel quad-core part with a current-gen $300-tier GPU, and even then, you’ll hit patches of 40–50fps in multiplayer on some maps. Let’s just say you need real hardware to play this game in all its glory.</p> <p>Of course, it’s hard to say what game hardware works best, as you need a fairly stable platform to even get a feel for it. And right now as we go to print, Battlefield 4 hasn’t been stable.</p> <p>And that gets right into the most controversial part of Battlefield 4: the bugs. Of course, no release of Battlefield has arrived without bugs, but Battlefield 4’s launch has been particularly rough. At launch, players were beset with crashes, lost stats, as well as annoyingly constant server crashes and disconnects. Others complained of poor “netcode” failing to register hits on opponents and being shot through walls. Our own experience initially resulted in crashes and disconnects every other match or three. Multiple server-side patches reduced that to the point where we could play for maybe two hours without a crash or disconnect, but they still occurred on occasion and we were victims of the shot-through-the-wall-problem on occasion.</p> <p>DICE has since patched the server code again and issued a 1GB client patch to address the crashes. Unfortunately, that patch caused more issues, including more crashing, server disconnects, an inadvertent blurring effect, and lower performance for some players. For what it’s worth, our experience with the patch was a big improvement in server disconnects and crashes. We played a solid four hours with but one game crash and one server crash. We did, however, get the annoying blur.</p> <p>We won’t even get into the minutia of the odd weapons balance. One grenade upgrade, for example, gives you three smaller grenades that have a smaller blast radius than the single basic grenade you start with, but we’d swear the smaller grenade actually has a larger blast radius. Two engineers repairing the light helicopter make it invulnerable to direct multiple long strings of anti-aircraft fire, too. And many of the weapons seem to be chosen straight from Jane’s Compendium of Obscure Small Arms of the World rather than the familiar armory from Battlefield 3.</p> <p>So, where does that leave us? Kind of torn, honestly. From the hours we’ve logged, we do love the game. It’s fun and the immense three-dimensional battle space is everything a Battlefield player wants and needs. Let’s just say we won’t be playing much Battlefield 3 from now on. But that’s contingent on Battlefield 4 working—and often it isn’t.</p> <p>Yet we have faith that DICE will make it right. Battlefield 4, after all, isn’t about getting your $60 today and moving you along PT Barnum–style. No, it’s about getting your $60 today, and another $50 for the DLC, plus $28 for all of the weapon-unlock packs—right up until Battlefield 5 comes along. Call us suckers, but we’ll probably be there too, lined up with our 60 bucks in hand.</p> <p><strong>$60,</strong> <a href="http://www.battlefield.com/">www.battlefield.com</a><strong>; ESRB: M</strong></p> http://www.maximumpc.com/battlefield_4_review#comments battlefield 4 January issues 2014 maximum pc Review Software Games Reviews Fri, 04 Apr 2014 13:43:34 +0000 Gordon Mah Ung 27563 at http://www.maximumpc.com Foul Play Review http://www.maximumpc.com/foul_play_review_2014 <!--paging_filter--><h3>Mash all the buttons</h3> <p>Going for a spin or two in the indie title Foul Play takes us back to our youth. Specifically, a time before we had deep knowledge of fighting-game moves; a time when the fabled art of the button mash often proved successful against our lesser-equipped (grade-school) friends.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/1_small_32.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/1_small_31.jpg" alt="Master the art of the air combo and you’ll be nigh-unstoppable in Foul Play." title="Foul Play" width="620" height="343" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Master the art of the air combo and you’ll be nigh-unstoppable in Foul Play.</strong></p> <p>Foul Play slaps a decently creative premise over a genre classic: This game is a 2D, button-mashing, side-scrolling slugfest, pure and simple. So much so, that we’d almost prefer to play it on a handheld controller instead of our keyboard. While the game does an admirable job of straddling console and PC platforms with minimal frustration, it’s pretty clear it was developed with consoles in mind. A quick, refreshing jaunt through one of the game’s 22 separate “acts” feels like the kind of thing you’d do to relax while waiting for a friend to come over (obviously, to join you in some Foul Play co-op.)</p> <p>The game’s story isn’t all that interesting, we admit: Set in an environment that’s aesthetically reminiscent of Gangs of New York, you’re a demon-hunter, retelling stories of your accomplishments through each of the game’s five plays. That’s right—plays. The intriguing bit of Foul Play is that the entire slugfest is set within the world of theater. You’re not running through caves or climbing mountains, so much as you are acting out your exploits on stage—beating up actors costumed as baddies, throwing enemies through set pieces, and stringing together wicked fighting moves for approval by the ever-present audience that’s watching the carnage unfold from the lower-half (or so) of the game’s screen.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/2_small_20.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/2_small_19.jpg" alt="Foul Play does an excellently cute job of maintaining the game’s “stage show” aspect." title="Foul Play" width="620" height="351" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Foul Play does an excellently cute job of maintaining the game’s “stage show” aspect.</strong></p> <p>In fact, you don’t even have a health bar. In this beat-’em-up, it’s audience approval that dictates whether you “live” or “die,” as it were. Dodge your way around a level and generally act boring, and you’ll start to get booed (and ultimately have to restart your brawling from the last checkpoint); string together a 50-hit combo, and the crowd will throw their hats into the air with approval and your special move meter will start to shine like a Tony award.</p> <p>Foul Play isn’t itself all that challenging; we found ourselves rarely succumbing to any of the game’s fights while rampaging through its three-to-four-hour storyline. What’s challenging, however, are the game’s… well, challenges. Within most of the game’s levels, Foul Play gives you the optional task to accomplish three varying things. One might be something like, “achieve a 75-hit combo,” or “throw three people into one another”—things like that.</p> <p>These challenges are relatively achievable and, honestly, much-needed aspects of the core game given that the endless fighting does start to get a bit lukewarm after a while. However, we wish Foul Play’s combo system was a bit more lenient; we often found ourselves losing our multi-hit combo—and our patience—simply because it took too long to jump to an enemy halfway across the screen. Boo, indeed.</p> <p>Additionally, we wish the main character himself simply had more he could do. We’d much prefer a crazy amount of Arkham City–style combos, move-stringing, and general insanity versus Foul Play’s simplified setup, which made us feel as if we were mashing the same button over, and over, and over—about as fun as it would be to play Street Fighter II and jab all the challengers to death.</p> <p>Foul Play is cute, fun, and quaint, but it needs a shot in the arm to maintain interest until the big eleven o’clock number.</p> <p><strong>$15,</strong> <a href="http://mediatonicgames.com/games/foul-play">http://mediatonicgames.com/games/foul-play</a><strong>, ESRB: E</strong></p> http://www.maximumpc.com/foul_play_review_2014#comments 2013 foul play games Holiday issues 2013 Review Software Games Reviews Mon, 24 Feb 2014 09:11:13 +0000 David Murphy 27323 at http://www.maximumpc.com Total War: Rome II Review http://www.maximumpc.com/total_war_rome_ii_review_2014 <!--paging_filter--><h3>We hope you have some chores to do between turns</h3> <p>It didn’t take long, but we soon came to a point within our <strong>Total War: Rome II</strong> empire-building where it would have been much nicer to just build a big wall around our smattering of conquered lands, put up a “Go Away” sign or two, and live out the rest of our days in boredom and serenity. After all, the game had already taken us pretty far toward the former.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/3_small_22.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/3_small_21.jpg" alt="While we’re big fans of “starving them out,” you can also employ fun rock-chuckers to encourage enemies to vacate a city." title="Total War: Rome II" width="620" height="349" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>While we’re big fans of “starving them out,” you can also employ fun rock-chuckers to encourage enemies to vacate a city.</strong></p> <p>It’s a shame, too. We can recall spending (too much) time playing many of the predecessors in the Total War franchise—moving around armies and special units as if we were playing a hybrid of Risk and chess, and jumping into absurdly fun, sprawling battles reminiscent of the opening scene of Gladiator. That’s all still present in Total War: Rome II, but the game itself just isn’t all that compelling.</p> <p>For one thing, it’s huge. Starting off any of the offered campaigns (which is the closest you’ll get to a “story mode” within this strategy title, save for its “prologue” trainer campaign) presents an overwhelming amount of factions and lands for you to deal with. That doesn’t sound so bad at first, given that the game is called Total War and you should really arrive expecting to dance with a number of lesser folk. However, just getting through a simple turn or two is a battle unto itself.</p> <p>We were rocking a fairly beefy system to play this title—even going so far as to install the game on an SSD—and we still found ourselves waiting around 45 seconds or so just to get through the turns of our campaign’s many, many other players. Worse, that was just in our campaign’s early game when not all that much is happening around the map. Best of luck to you if your computer is a little slow on the uptake; you might want to go make a sandwich (or mow the lawn) while the AI does its thing.</p> <p>If you like to turtle—sitting inside your borders and building a lovely little civilization while everything else around you burns—this might not be the title for you. There’s simply not that much to do within the game’s city-building component, save for carefully managing the balance between your provinces’ public order and food. Want to make a building that gives you more food? More unrest! Want to quell the unrest so you can make more food or other buildings that confused us as to their usefulness? Insert random building here!</p> <p>There’s also a growth-rate mechanic that allows you to increase the size of your cities, assuming you’re even allowed to add more buildings—some will be limited to just a few. In other words, Total War: Rome II ain’t Civilization; don’t expect to be able to take every city of yours through some kind of masterwork plan to transform it into the next Rome; expect to do a lot of minutia calculating as to whether your simple upgrades will make or break your faction’s food surplus (or start a decrease in public order). Spoiler: You really don’t want to break your provinces’ careful balance.</p> <p>Unless you have armies on the move, the city/cultural aspects of the game contribute to its boredom, thanks to the aforementioned overabundance-of-factions issue. If you find yourself with a few turns where you’re just taking care of business at home instead of marching around and sticking pointy spears through everybody, you might very well be waiting five minutes for the 20 seconds’ worth of action that you’ve taken. Do this enough, and you’ll turn yourself into a warlord if for no other reason than to give yourself a bit more to do.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u152332/2_small_18.jpg" alt="We’re almost afraid to uncover the entire map, lest it lead to turns that each take five minutes to resolve." title="Total War: Rome II" width="620" height="349" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>We’re almost afraid to uncover the entire map, lest it lead to turns that each take five minutes to resolve.</strong></p> <p>Similar to previous Total War titles, there’s a whole micromanagement aspect behind your faction’s “characters”—your generals, thieves, nobles, and other “special” units. As they grow, you can assign them skills and upgrade their abilities and statistics. You can marry them off, promote them, kill their wives, and even attempt to kill them off, depending on how their growing influence factors into your faction’s politics. If that sounds confusing, if not antithetical, don’t worry; we didn’t have much of a clue what we were doing in this element of the game, nor is it quite clear what you should be doing on the political field (nor is this level of micromanagement all that much fun).</p> <p>We partially blame the game’s “throw you into it” mentality. Admittedly, Total War: Rome II does come with a lovely “prologue” campaign that’s designed to get newbies up to speed on the game’s various parts; we recommend you not skip that, even if you’re a fairly accomplished Total War player (and will no doubt find yourself unchallenged in the campaign’s actual battles). At the end of the day, however, there’s just a lot going on within Total War’s “map mode,” for lack of a better way to phrase it, and it’s not exactly thrilling work.</p> <p>That brings us to the battles.</p> <p>We greatly enjoy the raw, physical fighting of the Total War series, and Total War: Rome II spares no expense in that regard. While the computer still remains fairly out-thinkable, there’s just a delightful joy that comes each time you fire up your cavalry’s special abilities and run them right through enemy archers—and that’s just the beginning.</p> <p>Total War: Rome II ups the ante by throwing naval combat into the mix, and it’s every bit as beautiful as it is tactically interesting (even though we wish there were a way to move one’s troops from land to ships, and vice versa, within the general campaign). You’ll smile with delight the first time you zoom in to watch your troops leaping over from your ship to an enemy vessel; disembarking a huge chunk of whoop-ass in front of a garrisoned city within a battle is even more glee-inducing.</p> <p>However, Total War: Rome II’s prettiness comes with a price. We didn’t quite expect to see frame-rate issues, thanks to our system’s Nvidia GTX Titan card, but our battles definitely got choppy when we cranked the game to its highest graphical settings. The developer has since patched the game, but after our deadline had passed. Bummer.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/1_small_29.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/1_small_28.jpg" alt="It’s no Saving Private Ryan, but sailing toward a garrisoned city (full of painful archers) does feel a bit awe-inspiring." title="Total War: Rome II" width="620" height="349" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>It’s no Saving Private Ryan, but sailing toward a garrisoned city (full of painful archers) does feel a bit awe-inspiring.</strong></p> <p>Total War: Rome II puts us in the precarious position to say that the game’s a half-success: The rock ’em, sock ’em battles are fun and engaging (albeit imperfect), but the game’s larger strategy elements make us want to retreat back to the pleasantry of Civilization V. Unless you want to throw down every turn you get (which you might very well do, should you opt to enslave your beaten foes), Total War: Rome II is a tough, strategic slog to get through.</p> <p><strong>$60,</strong> <a href="http://www.totalwar.com/en_us/">www.totalwar.com</a><strong>, ESRB: T</strong></p> http://www.maximumpc.com/total_war_rome_ii_review_2014#comments 2013 december issues 2013 games maximum pc Review rome II total war Software Games December 2013 Reviews Mon, 10 Feb 2014 11:08:25 +0000 David Murphy 27227 at http://www.maximumpc.com Company of Heroes 2 Review http://www.maximumpc.com/company_heroes_2_review_2013 <!--paging_filter--><h3>Company of Heroes 2 Review: ‘Reveille’ for the multiplayer; ‘Taps’ for the solo campaign</h3> <p>To be honest, we really wanted to dislike <strong>Company of Heroes 2</strong>. As is tradition whenever we have a new strategy game, we immediately fired up the game’s skirmish mode and cracked open a delicious can of soda to accompany (what we assumed would be) a short march to victory.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/5_small_8.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/5_small_7.jpg" alt="When in doubt, park your zerglings—er, troops—behind concrete and let them watch you mortar the surrounding area into oblivion." title="Company of Heroes 2" width="620" height="349" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>When in doubt, park your zerglings—er, troops—behind concrete and let them watch you mortar the surrounding area into oblivion.</strong></p> <p>Although we weren’t playing as the Germans in this match, it sure felt that way. Specifically, German soldiers at the turn of the 1940s, whose bravado-filled failure march into Russia as part of Operation Barbarossa so greatly opened up the Eastern Front that the Russians would be a-knockin’ on Berlin’s door—Hell March–style—within four short years.</p> <p>In other words, Germany got its ass kicked, and so did we. And thus began our descent into the steep learning curve that is Relic Entertainment’s Company of Heroes 2. A zerg rush, this game is not—at least, not in its multiplayer matchups. In its single-player campaign, the game comes just shy of throwing medals at you for sending countless waves of cheap soldiers to their untimely death—an odd mechanic, given the “unit veterancy” feature that’s designed to encourage soldier longevity.</p> <p>The game’s single-player campaign offers up a mix of its dullest and most interesting moments. A design imbalance permeates its 14 campaign missions worse than a Russian winter on a poor conscript—which isn’t just a lame metaphor, it’s also a game mechanic.</p> <p>As was the Russian style at the time, some missions task you with simple survival: Hold a position while the Germans send countless waves of pain your way. Move to a new position. Hold that. Move to a third position. Hold that. In these instances, you’ll find yourself focusing less on strategy, more on prayer (and ample use of the hotkey that tells your guys to heave-ho a grenade).</p> <p>This can be fun, to an extent. Sometimes, it seems as if the game’s in-mission reprieves arrive the split-second before you Ctrl+Alt+Del your frustrations away. Other times, the “survival” element transforms into a rousing game of, “How long can I watch my monitor until I get bored?” The AI seems to get a real kick out of sending battalions right into sustained mortar and rocket fire for no obvious benefit.</p> <p>Relic likes to occasionally grant you an extreme amount of firepower—World War II whoop-ass, as it were. We like carnage, but it almost seemed a little unfair to pepper German bases with Howitzers and BM-13 Katyusha rocket launchers that reach an ungodly distance across the map. We’d prefer a happy medium—decent, non-frustrating challenges that you can use creative tactics to overcome, but a bit lighter on the “weapons of mass destruction”–like add-ons that can imbalance the gritty fighting.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/2_small_13.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/2_small_12.jpg" alt="You’ll start skipping the ugly cutscenes faster than you can say “Russian winter.”" title="Company of Heroes 2" width="620" height="349" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>You’ll start skipping the ugly cutscenes faster than you can say “Russian winter.”</strong></p> <p>To put it another way, Company of Heroes 2 makes you feel like a god among RTS players at times; an inept newbie at others.</p> <p>Relic does try to spice things up by peppering the campaign with uniqueness, like the mission that forces you to spread your forces around campfires and (warm?) bunkers, lest they freeze to death in the cold Russian winter (Relic calls this “ColdTech;” you can even sink a vehicle by destroying the icy river it’s sitting on.). There’s also the fun mission-turned-puzzle where your motley band of infantry has to take on a tank all by itself. Spoiler: The tank shrugs off your wussy little bullets; you do not shrug off the tank’s shells.</p> <p>The game’s general storyline is every bit as hard to follow as it is pointless. We dislike the overall “flashback” motif enough as is. It gets downright annoying when you realize that your mission is set in a flashback within a flashback (with nary an Inception-like “bahhhummm” noise to keep you awake).</p> <p>We’ll spend as much time praising the game’s story as Relic put into its cutscenes; which is to say, barely any. These are some of the uglier movies we’ve seen in a modern title, almost as bad as the not-so-infrequent “AUTOSAVE” box that often accompanies in-game events within the single-player campaign.</p> <p>The raw mechanics of Company of Heroes 2 are mostly unchanged from the game’s predecessor: Capture points to gain a steady tick of resources, which you use to build various kinds of infantry and armored units. New to the game is an awesome line-of-site mechanism that prevents your soldiers from seeing anything that terrain blocks; unfortunately, it’s still a bit tough to move grouped units behind effective cover en masse.</p> <p>You’ll be doing a lot of micromanaging if you want to maximize your army’s positioning, and you’ll want to hit your head into the desk when you see enemy infantry skillfully running right past the firing arc you just spent three minutes setting up for your machine gun squad. What we’d give for a unit upgrade that would allow automatic turning of the “BFG.”</p> <p>Don’t take our frustration for displeasure; Company of Heroes 2 is a challenging strategy title, which almost adds to the game’s enjoyment once you begin to master troop manipulation, rock-paper-scissors unit matchups, and general war techniques. As is often the case with sequels, if you loved the now-7-year-old Company of Heroes, you’ll find much to appreciate within its follow-up.</p> <p>As you unlock more upgrades within the game itself, you can better customize your commanders and special bonuses within the game’s engaging Theater of War mode and multiplayer matchups—both areas we found ourselves sinking more time into than the game’s single-player campaign. Achievement nuts will love the 362 different ways this game gives you to show your friends your Eisenhower cred (though we find that, and the “unlock” system, a tad excessive).</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/1_small_21.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/1_small_20.jpg" alt="Cover is your friend until a not-so-friendly grenade comes a-bouncing in." title="Company of Heroes 2" width="620" height="349" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Cover is your friend until a not-so-friendly grenade comes a-bouncing in.</strong></p> <p>If that’s not enough boasting, you can also use Company of Heroes 2’s built-in support for Twitch.tv-based streaming to show your friends that you’re Patton incarnate. All you have to do is type in your user name and password; the game takes care of the details (which you can tweak, if you prefer), and flicking your stream on and off is as easy as hitting a button on the top of your screen.</p> <p>The single-player’s no Starcraft II, and the tricky multiplayer is likely to frustrate newcomers and strategy fans at first, but there’s a lot of gritty enjoyment to be had in Company of Heroes 2. Don’t give up on this title if it feels tough; you’ll miss out on some engaging gameplay. That, and this game will shoot you in the head if you try to run away.</p> <p><strong>$60,</strong> <a href="http://www.companyofheroes.com/en_us/">www.companyofheroes.com</a> <strong>ESRB: M</strong></p> http://www.maximumpc.com/company_heroes_2_review_2013#comments 2013 Company of Heroes game October issues 2013 October 2013 Software Games Reviews Thu, 12 Dec 2013 08:51:42 +0000 David Murphy 26871 at http://www.maximumpc.com Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition Review (2013) http://www.maximumpc.com/baldurs_gate_ii_enhanced_edition_review_2013 <!--paging_filter--><h3>Spend lots of gold for minimal tweaks</h3> <p>Brief personal confession: I’ve been a huge Baldur’s Gate fan ever since I was a kid. I used to ceremoniously dump CD-ROM after CD-ROM into my not-so-impressive desktop PC in an effort to digitally recreate some of the crazy fun I used to have in ol’ Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2nd edition — you know, that real-life geek game that nobody ever admitted to playing (I swear, I didn’t.)</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u16580/bgii_big.jpg" alt="Time to make some characters! Goodbye, afternoon." title="Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition" width="620" height="460" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><span style="font-weight: bold;">&nbsp;Time to start creating a character. &nbsp;Goodbye, afternoon.</span></p> <p><a title="baldur's gate" href="http://www.baldursgate.com/" target="_blank">Baldur’s Gate</a> was, quite simply, a fairly sprawling title for its time. It allowed those who didn’t always care for figuring out what <a title="thac0" href="http://dungeons.wikia.com/wiki/THAC0" target="_blank">THAC0</a> was to still have an enjoyable, D&amp;D-themed experience without having to lug around five different tomes of rules, maps, and critical hit charts (my personal favorite).</p> <p><a title="bioware" href="http://www.maximumpc.com/tags/bioware" target="_blank">BioWare</a>’s isometric Infinity Engine presented some pretty visuals, the storyline was compelling and constructed in such a fashion as to draw players in without overwhelming them with options for equipment and powers, and you got to fight alongside a “miniature giant space hamster” and his larger, rage-filled companion.</p> <p>What’s not to like?</p> <p>Now that the <em><a title="bg2 enhanced edition" href="http://www.baldursgateii.com/" target="_blank">Baldur’s Gate II: Enhanced Edition</a></em> has finally seen the light of day, we have a better answer to that question. And it’s as we feared: The game is exactly what you expected it to be. It’s <em>Baldur’s Gate II</em>, done up fairly well to play on even the most advanced of modern-day systems (no small feat, we’re sure, given how difficult it was to play legacy titles on one’s souped-up PC prior to the rise of sites like <a title="gog.com" href="http://www.gog.com/" target="_blank">GoG.com</a>).</p> <p>Therein lies the problem, though. Even in a perfect world, which the <em>Enhanced Edition</em> comes close to presenting (minus some bugs here and there), there’s not all that much that’s actually “enhanced” about this title. Sure, you get some additional characters to play as — which you could conceivably roll up yourself, were you so inclined. Yes, you get the combination of both <em>Baldur’s Gate II</em> games (<em><a title="shadows of amn" href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baldur's_Gate_II:_Shadows_of_Amn" target="_blank">Shadows of Amn</a></em>, the primary title, and the <em><a title="throne of bhaal" href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baldur's_Gate_II:_Throne_of_Bhaal" target="_blank">Throne of Bhaal</a></em> expansion). That’s helpful. And, hey, some bonus combat questing in the form of an integrated side campaign called <em>The Black Pits 2: Gladiators of Thay</em>. Neat-o.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u16580/bgii_bug.jpg" alt="One of our favorite Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition bugs: The &quot;Where the Hell is the text that says what this spell does&quot; bug..." title="Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition" width="620" height="328" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>One of our favorite <em>Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition</em> bugs: The "Where the Hell is the text that says what this spell does" bug...</strong></p> <p>We don’t mean to sound overly dismissive. If you’re a fan of the series, you’ll absolutely love the <em>Enhanced Edition</em> — which is a bit like saying if you like 1950s music, you’ll love a new classic station on the radio. Maybe. The problem with said game is that it commands a pretty high asking price as of this article’s writing ($25) for what amounts to the exact same game you played right around the turn of the century.</p> <p>For that kind of cash, roughly half the price or so of a modern, graphics-blasting title (or more than double that of similarly awesome role-playing games like <em><a title="avernum" href="http://www.avernum.com/avernum/" target="_blank">Avernum: Escape from the Pit</a></em>), we expected a bit more. For starters, we were hoping for a game that’s completely free of any and all bugs (especially given that the Baldur’s Gate modding community <a href="http://www.gibberlings3.net/bg2fixpack/">is almost fanatical</a> about these fixes themselves). Beyond that, we looked for a better multiplayer experience than what the <em>Enhanced Edition</em> delivers — a simple online games listing with every single game password-locked in some capacity (so much for joining up random games, strange as the concept might be for a title like <em>Baldur’s Gate II</em>).</p> <p>The Infinity Enhanced Engine — now tweaked to support resolutions of all kinds out of the box — still presents a classic Baldur’s Gate look and feel. Interface? Resized, but still Baldur’s Gate. Gameplay? Baldur’s Gate. Menus? You get the idea. Firing up the <em>Enhanced Edition</em> worked seamlessly on our fairly formidable system, but that’s about all this title really has to offer. You’re basically paying $25 to ensure that you don’t have to mod the game, nor fiddle with annoying settings, just to get it to work.</p> <p>We did have fun running our way through some of the game’s more iconic opening scenes (oh, Irenicus, you Cowled Wizard-killer you). We also found ourselves a bit frustrated by the overall Baldur’s Gate experience which, as overemphasized, remains the same. Your characters feel as if they’re moving at a bit of a snail’s pace throughout <em>Shadows of Amn</em>. Arranging your party on screen over, and over, and over can be a bit annoying, even with the tried-and-true “formations” that one can pick from.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u16580/bgii_angel.jpg" alt="Baldur's Gate Survival Tip #14: Don't piss off the giant angel that can one-shot you and your friends." title="Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition" width="620" height="388" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Baldur's Gate Survival Tip #14: Don't piss off the giant angel that can one-shot you and your friends.</strong></p> <p>Inventory management continues to be a tedious process for power gamers (there’s still no “pick up all” button!). Even figuring out the weapons your characters are best at wielding requires you to frequently jump and scroll between multiple screens’ worth of information. Heaven forbid you don’t memorize icons for your wizards, priests, and the lot, lest you have to hover, and wait, and read the appearing names of each of your spells or abilities whenever you might need to use them.</p> <p>Since <em>Baldur’s Gate II: Enhanced Edition</em> is a wee bit different than the other iterations of <em>Baldur’s Gate II</em> that exist (including the more typical version one can find on GoG.com), the onus falls upon mod-makers to update their tweaks for the new title. That’s a wee frustrating, especially if a particular mod you care for isn’t one that’s being actively worked on any more (or hasn’t been for quite some time).</p> <p>Do we love <em>Baldur’s Gate II</em>? Yes, yes we do; more as a result of the sheer nostalgia we have for a game that, at one point, sucked up a considerable amount of our free time (and increased the creativity of our curses whenever we were one-shotted by a lich, dragon, or mind flayer). And we’d greatly enjoy the no-fuss gameplay that the <em>Enhanced Edition</em> brings to the table; we just can’t justify the price.</p> <p>At $10, recommending this classic game would be a no-brainer (we’d trade in a space hamster to be able to purchase it once and play it on all of our devices). Even $15 isn’t that bad of a deal, given that you’re plunking down $5 more than Gog.com’s version for an experience that’s much, much more seamless. At $25, however, we start to think that modding the version of the game from Gog.com doesn’t sound like that bad of an idea — there are plenty of installation guides for the comprehensive number of mods that work for the game, and all you’re really missing out on is the skippable Black Pits business.</p> <p>Heck, Gog.com even tells you <a href="http://www.gog.com/news/enhance_the_gameplay_in_your_edition_of_baldurs_gate_from_gogcom">how to mod the game yourself</a>. That’s pretty good service for a $10 asking price.</p> <p>Our recommendation? If you really need to relive your classic AD&amp;D days, then you’ve already stopped reading this review and you’re halfway toward rolling up your character stats. If you’re on the fence, or have no idea what Baldur’s Gate even is, go pick up GoG.com’s title. Unless Beamdog’s remake makes it to a Steam sale — which it surely will — you’ll be more frustrated by how much you spent for an experience that's survived the test of time, but doesn't have all that much to show for it.</p> http://www.maximumpc.com/baldurs_gate_ii_enhanced_edition_review_2013#comments 2013 baldur's gate baldur's gate II beamdog bg2 d&d rpg shadows of amn throne of bhaal Games Reviews Fri, 06 Dec 2013 19:48:27 +0000 David Murphy 26830 at http://www.maximumpc.com The Swapper Review http://www.maximumpc.com/swapper_review_2013 <!--paging_filter--><h3>You got your puzzles in my quantum mechanics</h3> <p>Writing a review of <strong>The Swapper</strong> by <a title="facepalm games" href="http://facepalmgames.com/" target="_blank">Facepalm Games</a>—a studio surely named after the gesture you’ll perform when you finally solve the tougher challenges in this space-based puzzle scroller—is a bit like trying to talk about <a title="the prestige" href="http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0482571/" target="_blank">The Prestige</a> to someone who’s never seen the film. If that’s you, it’s best you just go ahead and skip this review. Our guilt would be too great if we accidentally spoiled your cinematic enjoyment.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/1_small_18.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/1_small_17.jpg" alt="One light blocks clone-creation, the other disables swapping. Welcome to the bane of your puzzle-solving existence." title="Swapper" width="620" height="349" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>One light blocks clone-creation, the other disables swapping. Welcome to the bane of your puzzle-solving existence.</strong></p> <p>If it sounds a little odd to be mixing movies with gaming, we counter that it would be odder still to not bring up an obvious inspiration behind The Swapper’s mechanics and storyline—of which we’re a bit loathe to spoil too much, given the precision behind its grand reveal.</p> <p>You’re not a magician in <em>The Swapper</em>; rather, the game starts you off as a nameless space explorer who’s been (unwittingly) jettisoned from orbiting Research Station Theseus onto the surface of the planet Chori V. Once you’re done basking in the loveliness of the game’s cinematic opening—get used to it, because The Swapper’s atmospheres only get prettier—you quickly come across the game’s Portal mechanic. Enter the (appropriately named) Swapper device.</p> <p>The Swapper—the gun, not the game—is a handheld version of <a title="duplicator" href="http://calvinandhobbes.wikia.com/wiki/Duplicator" target="_blank">Calvin and Hobbes’s Duplicator</a> with a fun twist. You create copies of yourself (that mirror your every move) by holding down the right mouse button, painting an outlined target of your body over a particular area, and releasing the mouse button. The “swapping” portion of the deal relates to the gun’s secondary capability, which allows you to jump around between the five different copies of yourself that can simultaneously exist (if you have line-of-sight to shoot them)</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><iframe src="//www.youtube.com/embed/2eEibo-8XYc" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0"></iframe></p> <p>In Prestige terms (<strong><span style="color: #ff0000;">Warning:</span> some Prestige spoilers ahead</strong>), it would be akin to Hugh Jackman’s character being able to transfer his “active consciousness” from clone to clone as he sees fit, thus sparing him the unpleasant aftermath of having to drink so much water following a successful performance of his Transported Man “illusion.” Of course, that explanation makes an assumption about where Jackman’s core consciousness exists when the trick goes off, a fact that’s hardly ignored by The Swapper’s increasingly philosophical plot.</p> <p>To Facepalm Games’s credit, the game doesn’t beat you over the head with Stephen Hawking–like displays of metaphysics—all those clones notwithstanding. The Swapper feels evenly paced as its story devolves from “simple puzzle game” to a push to discover who you are, who the game’s antagonists are (if there even are any), and how a bunch of giant intelligent rocks littered around the Theseus fit into the grand picture.</p> <p>Rocks, we note, that take over your screen with their telepathic thoughts. Hey, we never said this game was that straightforward.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/3_small_17.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/3_small_16.jpg" alt="You’ll be hard-pressed to find an environment in this game that isn’t downright beautiful." title="Swapper" width="620" height="349" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>You’ll be hard-pressed to find an environment in this game that isn’t downright beautiful.</strong></p> <p>To borrow Prestige language once again, the turn eventually comes; we won’t tell you when, but we will note that the game’s dénouement actually does wrap up the story in a manner that’s hardly displeasing. Save for, perhaps, the game’s ultimate ending—you’re going to feel a great compulsion to play The Swapper again. Or, at the very least, you’re going to find it difficult to avoid YouTube once the credits start rolling.</p> <p>We love that Facepalm Games does such a good job of easing you into its story’s complexities, because the raw mechanics of this five-to-seven hour game (nine, if you’re that bad at puzzles or really try to find the 10 hidden achievements) don’t demand nearly as much of a leap. We’re not criticizing; if anything, we think The Swapper is ideally timed for what it expects and delivers. We didn’t feel any tedium during our puzzle-solving, unlike <a title="portal 2" href="http://www.maximumpc.com/portal_2_review" target="_blank">Portal 2</a>’s seemingly endless test levels and murky behind-the-scenes tours.</p> <p>While The Swapper (mostly) confines its plot to the Theseus and uses a bit of creative backtracking to avoid trapping players in a strictly linear map progression, the game’s frequent inclusion of teleportation portals allows you to travel sans headache to areas you’ve previously discovered. Solving the puzzles of various rooms, mostly split off from key sections by The Swapper’s Super Metroid–style doors, allows you to obtain Trigon Orbs. Collect enough orbs and you unlock new sections of the ship to progress through.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/4_small_8.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/4_small_7.jpg" alt="The Swapper seamlessly zooms in and out to give you a better sense of scale during your jaunt through the Theseus." title="Swapper" width="620" height="349" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>The Swapper seamlessly zooms in and out to give you a better sense of scale during your jaunt through the Theseus.</strong></p> <p>Our only real criticism is that the game’s setup still makes you feel like a train on a single track, as you aren’t given much creative flexibility to go beyond the confines of the formula: unlock area, solve branched puzzles, unlock new area, etc. There are no bonuses in The Swapper; there are no extras. You must pick up every single orb in the game to get to the big ending, all of which makes The Swapper’s framing feel a bit restricted.</p> <p>The puzzles themselves follow the Portal formula: Introduce a concept, let the player master it after one or two iterations, then introduce another new concept. <strong>[<span style="color: #ff0000;">Warning</span><span style="color: #ff0000;">:</span> Swapper spoilers below]</strong> These can be new mechanics, like colored lights that prevent you from using the various traits of the ol’ Swapper gun in critical areas, or reinvented ways of thinking—our personal favorite, given all those times we had to kill ourselves to perform simple tasks.</p> <p>Yes, kill ourselves.</p> <p>To bring The Swapper full circle, much of the game’s core centers on the question of consciousness: Who are you? When you swap, what happens to “active you”? What happens to your soul? Do you even have a soul? Who’s in the Prestige box?</p> <p>To craft a gameplay mechanic around this very question—forcing you to constantly send an army of clones to their deaths to complete puzzles, survive falls, or, in a moment that made us cackle when we first realized it, navigate up and down through the ship—is just plain brilliant.</p> <p>Facepalm Games intertwines its plot and its mechanics perfectly. By the time you’ve fully jumped into The Swapper’s philosophical rabbit hole, you’ll be killing enough copies of yourself to make an army. You might find yourself questioning your clones’ fates—whether you just broke the legs of you, as your clone, or whether your clone is you and you just sent a useless husk of yourself on a 75-foot free-fall. You might even start to feel bad.</p> <p>Absolutely beautiful visuals, excellent voice-over work (over a soothing soundtrack), and the frustrating creativity behind some of the game’s puzzles make The Swapper a must-try as-is. Consider the primer on human mortality an added bonus—an extra clone, if you will.</p> <p><strong>$15,</strong> <a href="http://facepalmgames.com/">facepalmgames.com</a>, <strong>ESRB: Pending</strong></p> http://www.maximumpc.com/swapper_review_2013#comments 2013 2d platformer maximum pc portal puzzle game Sci-fi September 2013 space Steam the prestige the swapper Games Reviews Tue, 26 Nov 2013 21:05:17 +0000 David Murphy 26690 at http://www.maximumpc.com Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine Review http://www.maximumpc.com/monaco_what%E2%80%99s_yours_mine_review_2013 <!--paging_filter--><h3>Steal all the things</h3> <p><strong>Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine</strong> could really just be called Monaco: What You Make of It.</p> <p>It’s not that Monaco’s gameplay is overly complicated. At its core, this is one of the more simplified crime-themed titles you’ll likely ever get your hands on. You need to master all of three buttons or so in this top-down, pixilated “heist game” that developer <a title="pocketwatch game" href="http://www.pocketwatchgames.com/" target="_blank">Pocketwatch Game</a> has released via Valve’s <a title="steam" href="http://www.maximumpc.com/tags/steam" target="_blank">Steam</a> platform.</p> <p>Monaco isn’t Rainbow Six. In many ways, it’s difficult to pre-plan for some of the twists and turns the game’s AI throws your way. Sneaking your way through a level works wonders until a random, nearby phone starts ringing and guards start a-rushing to answer it. The game’s unique “fog of war”–like effect perfectly renders exactly what you can and cannot see within a level based on where you happen to be hiding. You can even stop and listen for nearby guards; the game highlights their walking paths with footsteps directly on your map.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/2_small_10.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/2_small_9.jpg" alt="We love Monaco’s line-of-sight mechanism, even as much as it ruins our stellar planning." title="Monaco" width="620" height="349" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>We love Monaco’s line-of-sight mechanism, even as much as it ruins our stellar planning.</strong></p> <p>Invariably, though, something will hit the fan in Monaco: Your planning will go awry, you’ll sneak into a room from a tight corridor only to find a guard or civilian staring directly at you, or perhaps you’ll just get tired of stealth and opt for a little run-and-gun burglary. And that’s where Monaco truly shines, especially in the game’s more frantic multiplayer mode.</p> <p>You and three of your fellow cronies—found over the Internet, your local LAN, or via hot-seat gaming using a single monitor with multiple keyboards/controllers/etc.—all pick a character class and work your way through the level using voice chat (we recommend) or text (you’re crazy). The classes and characters can complement each other. For example, when one of you picks The Lookout, all can then see the footsteps of nearby guards in adjoining rooms.</p> <p>And, naturally, when one of you screws the pooch and raises alarms—which in turn, raises the franticness of the game’s lovely 1920s-themed piano score—it’s a mad dash for guns, exits, hiding places… you name it. Hello, survival-at-any-costs.</p> <p>While we generally enjoyed our criminal career, we think that Monaco could be improved a bit by more directly tying use of the game’s characters to its levels. We liked being able to just stick to our favorites to beat the game’s single-player campaign, but Pocketwatch could better incentivize the use of underused or ill-fitting characters via achievements or other unlockables.</p> <p>We would also love to see a bit more variety in the missions themselves: Perhaps a more spy-themed Monaco spinoff could make us feel like the Tom Cruise we’ve always wanted to be, instead of just a mere cat burglar who occasionally punches through walls while collecting hundreds of items scattered around a map (to unlock additional levels). Monaco’s multiplayer is absurdly fun; its single-player campaign feels like someone stole the wind from the game’s sails just a wee bit.</p> <p><strong>$15,</strong> <a href="http://pocketwatchgames.com/">pocketwatchgames.com</a><strong><a href="http://pocketwatchgames.com/">,</a> ESRB: T</strong></p> http://www.maximumpc.com/monaco_what%E2%80%99s_yours_mine_review_2013#comments 2013 August 2013 august 2013 games Monaco review Software whats your is mine Software Games Reviews Fri, 01 Nov 2013 18:18:44 +0000 David Murphy 26492 at http://www.maximumpc.com Metro: Last Light Review http://www.maximumpc.com/metro_last_light_review_2013 <!--paging_filter--><h3>Metro Last Light review: You won’t eat fresh in this subway, but it’s still pretty tasty</h3> <p>When <a title="metro 2033 review" href="http://www.maximumpc.com/article/reviews/metro_2033_review" target="_blank">Metro 2033</a> came out about three years ago, it didn’t make much of a splash at first. The name and cover art didn’t explain much, and its publisher did not have a Call of Duty–size ad budget. By the time we understood that it was set in a post-apocalyptic Moscow where everyone had to live underground (to avoid radiation sickness and hideously mutated beasties), Metro 2033’s moment had passed. However, probably thanks to aggressive and frequent discounts, it gained enough of a following to bring us a sequel.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/3_small_14.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/3_small_13.jpg" alt="Just your usual Moscow traffic congestion." title="Metro: Last Light" width="620" height="349" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Just your usual Moscow traffic congestion.</strong></p> <p><strong>Metro: Last Light</strong> is a direct continuation, picking up right where 2033 left off: The main character Artyom has discovered an enormous underground complex called D6, presumably made by the government as the ultimate fallout shelter, stocked with enough supplies to sustain everyone for years and years. Naturally, some people want to control this supply now. And naturally, they are not very nice. Artyom must figure out how to deal with that, while also wrestling with killing off the Dark Ones, a group of mysterious humanoids whom he perceived as a threat to humanity in the first game. But the theme of Last Light is that humanity’s greatest enemy is usually itself.</p> <p>If this sounds like heady stuff, there is a lot of straightforward stealthy action, as well. The game’s achievements even reward you for non-lethal approaches (at least more so than killing everyone). You can approach patrols and guards with a variety of weapons and tactics, and your opponents are somewhat varied, too. They’ll occasionally lob a grenade at you to flush you out, notice bodies and call for help, turn lights back on, activate headlamps and laser sights to hunt you down, and even call on elite troops for backup. However, human enemies do tend to wander alone into the darkness a lot, and they’re not as alarmed as they should be when the power suddenly goes out.</p> <p>And, of course, there are the mutants. Neither 2033 nor Last Light ever explain how these creatures evolved so quickly. It would be easier to believe that they were somehow transported from a different planet or dimension. That would create some story issues, but it’s arguably better than pretty much ignoring how evolution works. That said, the muties present some engaging challenges, because they take a lot of punishment, move rapidly, and behave unpredictably. Sometimes they’ll ignore you if you don’t make much noise, and other times they will converge on you regardless.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/6_small_11.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/6_small_9.jpg" alt="Mutants are not the only thing standing in your way this time." width="620" height="349" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Mutants are not the only thing standing in your way this time.</strong></p> <p>In either scenario, Last Light does not have many difficulty spikes, which plagued the first game. On normal difficulty, an experienced FPS gamer should usually die only when they make a mistake, rather than because they are simply overwhelmed. Speaking of difficulty, the challenging Ranger Mode from 2033 is available at launch this time; it removes onscreen indicators, makes resources less plentiful, and will cause you to die after taking a few hits.</p> <p>Officially, you can only get it if you either pre-ordered the “Limited Edition” or paid $5 to unlock the mode after launch. But we found copies of this version available at Amazon and Best Buy after launch, for the same price as the base game. The publisher said that “retailers” put pressure on them to issue pre-order DLC, but GameStop appears to be the only one in North America that stopped offering the Limited Edition after the game’s release. We guess the other guys didn’t get that memo.</p> <p>The more common choice is to include some weapons and currency as pre-order DLC. Last Light’s Ranger package does that as well, but it’s not really needed. The base game has a variety of guns, customizations, ammo, and money. “Military-grade” ammo is still the coin of the realm, but it and everything else is a lot more plentiful than in 2033. The availability of weapons and ammo is not noticeably different from a standard shooter, despite the post-apocalyptic “scavenger” setting; the lack of scarcity sometimes breaks immersion. You need to use a gas mask to breathe on the surface, but we never wanted for oxygen canisters, undercutting the tension. They were strewn everywhere, as were spare masks with unused canisters pre-attached. Experienced FPS gamers should probably go straight to the game’s built-in “Hardcore” difficulty, or even Ranger Mode if available.</p> <p>Although the supplies issue is kind of ugly, the visuals are not. Metro: Last Light is an undeniably pretty game, even in its depiction of a dead city and decaying train system underneath. (Moscow’s station architecture is actually quite beautiful in real life, making the contrast especially stark.) This beauty is not without cost. The game is arguably more demanding than <a title="crysis 3" href="http://www.maximumpc.com/crysis_3_review2013" target="_blank">Crysis 3</a>; Deep Silver recommends a <a title="GeForce 690 benchmarks" href="http://www.maximumpc.com/article/features/geforce_gtx_690_nvidias_dual-kepler_videocard_benchmarked" target="_blank">GeForce GTX 690</a> or <a title="Titan benchmarks" href="http://www.maximumpc.com/article/features/nvidia_geforce_titan_%E2%80%93_benchmarks2013" target="_blank">Titan</a> for an “optimum” experience (the game is branded by <a title="nvidia" href="http://www.maximumpc.com/tags/nvidia" target="_blank">Nvidia</a>), a quad-core CPU, and 8GB of system RAM.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><a class="thickbox" href="/files/u152332/2_small_8.jpg"><img src="/files/u152332/2_small_7.jpg" alt="This game can look pretty slick, if you have the horsepower." width="620" height="349" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>This game can look pretty slick, if you have the horsepower.</strong></p> <p>By default, the game uses an antialiasing method called FXAA. You can’t disable it, and its presence is not announced, but its performance impact is fairly minor. You can enable super-sample antialiasing on top of it (which generates an ultra-high-res frame and squishes it to fit your display resolution), but the impact may kill your frame rate. The highest level of tessellation (a technique to round off blocky objects) may also punish your system. There is also no option or even a hack to adjust the field of view, which is set to a relatively narrow 70 degrees; this is known to cause motion sickness in some people.</p> <p>Though Metro: Last Light is fundamentally a shooting gallery, it also knows how to pace itself and tell a story. You can go through tense stretches on the surface, encountering little more than the howling wind and spooky shadows, or listen to extensive conversations between Metro residents. The plot doesn’t always make sense, but there’s a certain “just go with it” mysticism that starts to click toward the end. Sometimes things are ambiguous, and that’s OK. It pays to stick with Last Light and just see where it leads you. Were this an open-world environment, we could see ourselves spending a lot of time here, bloodthirsty mutants and all.</p> <p><strong>$50, </strong><a href="http://enterthemetro.com/">www.enterthemetro.com</a><strong>,</strong> <strong>ESRB: M</strong></p> http://www.maximumpc.com/metro_last_light_review_2013#comments 2013 August 2013 2034 apocalypse dystopian future game maximum pc metro last light review pc games Software Games Reviews Thu, 31 Oct 2013 20:59:28 +0000 Tom McNamara 26479 at http://www.maximumpc.com