OXCGN’s Batman: Arkham Knight Review


To say that I had high expectations for Batman: Arkham Knight would be an understatement. The Arkham series is one of my favourite franchises, and after having platinumed both Asylum and City (I would have platinumed Origins as well had there not been online trophies) I felt prepared to take on the Dark Knight’s final chapter. Arkham Knight is one of the prettiest, most enjoyable games to play that has thus far appeared on the next-gen consoles, and offers perhaps the tightest gameplay in a series renowned for exactly that. However, some odd story choices and lack of challenge maps hurt the overall product, as well as a number of audio and visual glitches that hampered my time with the game. I will note that I played the digital version of the game on PS4 which may have affected how the game plays when compared to the game reading from a physical disc – keep that in mind if you are considering downloading from the PlayStation Store. Since the game has been out for a week or so now, I am not going to shy away from spoilers when discussing story content, though I will relegate that section to the end of the review so that those who do not want anything spoiled for them can read my thoughts on the rest of the game. I will clearly mark when spoilers begin. That said, let’s dive in.

The Arkham series is known for it’s tight and fluid gameplay, and that legacy continues in Arkham Knight, with both Combat and Predator sections receiving just enough new kinks to totally change the experience while remaining incredibly familiar to anyone who has played the previous games. New gadgets, such as the ability to order guards to perform a specific action by mimicking the voice of their leader through a voice shifter, really change up the freedom of Predator encounters – though I still found myself relying on silent takedowns more than anything else.

The new fear-takedown mechanic is a massive addition, as you can instantly incapacitate between 3-5 guards (depending on how you have levelled up the skill) which can completely shift the balance of power in a room filled with armed enemies. It can be a bit difficult to activate, and alerts all other guards to your position. However, it balances the immediate threat with this new mechanic by overpowering the others Batman has at his disposal.

Combat is fantastic, with a multitude of new enemy types appearing for the first time in the series which totally change the balance of fights. Medics can revive fallen comrades, and can give other thugs an electric charge which makes them harmful to attack unless taken down in a specific way. Huge, bulking enemies laugh off your attacks, becoming imposing threats on the battlefield which beg to be defeated last, since they can only be attacked while leaving yourself open.

When a number of these new additions appears in a single fight, the combat becomes less about attacking everything until it is unconscious, and more about ‘which order do I need to defeat these guys in’. It’s an awesome addition, and one that left me defeated in a number of combat scenarios despite 3-starring every combat challenge in the previous games.

Yet, there is a third main pillar of gameplay introduced in Knight that doesn’t hold up nearly as well: The Batmobile.

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Over all, I think the way the Batmobile handles is totally awesome. Zipping through the dark, dank streets of Gotham in a jet black car-tank is something I wouldn’t trade for the world, but Rocksteady seemed to be a little overexcited by the car’s inclusion. There are an absurd amount of tank battle missions in the game, with most (if not all) of the large scale boss fights being some variation on Batmobile vs. Drone Tanks. It’s a shame, considering how good the boss fights have traditionally been in the previous games in the series, that they were done away with in this game. There are a few supervillains that appear who would have lent themselves to awesome one-on-one fist fights, but instead are relegated to stealth-tank fights (which barely makes sense in the first place). It’s a huge missed opportunity – both in that it forces the Batmobile on you and doesn’t capitalize on the strengths of the villains.

The PC version of Arkham Knight has received a lot of flack over the last week, with it launching in an almost unplayable state, and while the PS4 version is definitely head and shoulders above the PC version, I still managed to run into some problems. While soaring around the city, my audio would cut out unexpectedly for about a second, before coming back – not the end of the world, but frustrating. Then, during big tank battles with a lot of explosions and particles my frame rate would drop – again, frustrating considering how often tank battles would appear, but certainly not game breaking.

The biggest problem I ran into was a key character model simply not appearing in a scene it was supposed to be in. For a moment, I thought ‘is Batman going insane? Is he talking to nobody?’, but when a second character began responding to the invisible person I realized it was actually a bug. It has only happened once, and was only active for one scene (a pretty important and emotionally resonant scene, mind you), and afterward the character was visible and able to be interacted with, but it’s just a shame a little more polish time wasn’t taken as it could have completely transformed the game into something far better.

While we are still talking about gameplay, let’s discuss the amount of content that is in the game. The main story is pretty lengthy, and does some awesome things with Gotham City – over the course of the game you will see the skyline of Gotham change multiple times, which is an incredible feat considering the size of the map. There are, in total, 14 side quests – most of which require multiple steps, though some require only one interaction, and others may require over 10.

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Are the side quests as good as in previous games? Not really. There are a few stand outs, the quest to catch a serial killer at large probably being the best one in my opinion, but most of them feel like open-world filler. I would have preferred less ‘destroy the mines around Gotham’ style missions, and more ‘investigate this crime scene and track down the killer’ style quests. But to me, the most glaring omission is the overall lack of challenge map content. Asylum, City and Origins all launched with more challenge content than the last, yet Knight has launched with the least amount of the entire series. While I feel that there was potentially too much content in Origins, I think City had the most balanced amount of content you could realistically get through. Not only that, but each challenge could be undertaken by any unlocked character – also not true in Knight. Some characters can’t even be used in the challenge maps, despite being in the main game, which is incredibly strange and, in my opinion, a really stupid oversight.

Challenge Maps have been confirmed to be in the Season Pass, but really, it’s pretty unacceptable to be expected to pay extra to play as characters that appear in the main game. Red Hood and Harley Quinn, I would understand, as they are already DLC characters, but why aren’t there any challenges for Robin or Catwoman?The music in the game is incredible, as it has been in the preceding titles. The satisfying instrumental score that serves as the backdrop to the game’s predator encounters is beautifully realized, and always kicks in and fades out at the right moments. Audio glitches aside, the game sounds great, with many hilarious lines of dialogue from random thugs and some truly great voice acting by some of the main characters – I still think the Riddler is one of the best voiced characters in video games.And now, we come to the story. For those of you who still wish to remain unspoiled, feel free to scroll down past the text below: I’ll leave spoilers out of the final paragraph where I’ll post up my final thoughts. For those of you who have finished the game, or just don’t care, read on.

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SPOILERS BELOW

I think, when compared to Arkham City, Knight’s story stands out in some ways as far better, and in some ways as far worse. The fact that it is centered mainly on 3 villains, with the occasional appearance by another being a short diversion, or serving to more fully flesh out those main 3, is a welcome change as it allows you to really focus your efforts on defeating these enemies and makes the main narrative thread far easier to follow.

This main story thread is certainly the most ambitious Rocksteady has attempted, particularly the areas where Gotham is bathed in fear gas, and you view it from both above and below the noxious cloud. This moment is amazing, as it shows you how serious Scarecrow is in his mission, when compared to the villains of the previous games who never really achieved anything quite as horrible. I found the ending that, essentially, all the mental and physical issues that Batman had been struggling through the entire game suddenly don’t matter and he can just will his way through them to be pretty disappointing. I’d just spent 20 hours watching Batman, little by little, eroded away in front of me, so for him to just decide that everything he feared no longer scared him was a bit of a cop out.

Moving on, the moment Barbara Gordon was killed off had a huge amount of emotional weight. Seeing Batman kneeling down before her corpse was striking, and set the tone for what I thought was to be a far more brutal game going forward. Instead, the story backpedals on this move a few hours later, showing that even in a self-contained comic book universe main characters will never die: Except for Joker, of course.

I can’t stress how great it was that Joker didn’t get magically revived somehow, though the concept that his blood is somehow infecting a few people – Batman included – slowly turning them into him is one of the goofier things I’ve ever seen. Some cool scenes came out of it, but ultimately it was a pretty stupid idea.

Where I believe the game has it’s biggest story misstep, however, is with the side quests. Considering there are so many opportunities to tell interesting stories about the other villains of Gotham who have apparently joined forces against the Batman (I can’t remember a single moment where this alliance was important or noticeable in the game), it is disappointing how the majority of these side missions play out. Most of them have to be unlocked organically across the city as you play, a great idea in theory that gets bogged down with you, realizing how hard it is to find a single building with a flaming bat atop it, or a random murder victim crucified on the side of a different one.

Penguin and Two Face have pretty meaty side quests, with one focusing on combat and the other stealth, but for some reason these super villains never collaborate. Why couldn’t there have been one side quest, where each stage jumps from combat to predator, and you are hunting down the united criminals and dealing with their combined forces? Instead, you get to hear them have a few lines of dialogue together after you’ve already brought them both to the GCPD, which essentially amounts too saying ‘I never should have trusted you’ to one another for the rest of time. A wasted opportunity, yes, but that is nothing compared to how disappointing Hush is.

In City, Hush was easily the most interesting part of the entire game: A maniacal serial killer who has stolen Bruce Wayne’s face in order to enact some kind of revenge against him? Awesome. Waiting years to find out what kind of huge plan he had in store was excruciating, and that it turned out to be ‘walk into Wayne Enterprises, beat up the CEO and take him hostage while trying to rob them’ is just… what? For someone who, in the comics, was a criminal mastermind to have a one part quest where you literally talk to him, and hit a single QTE was a terrible choice by Rocksteady, in my opinion.

One last thing: The Arkham Knight’s identity is telegraphed for hours before the reveal, which was a let down for me. I think Jason Todd is an awesome character, and would have been fine with the Knight being him, if only he didn’t take off his mask and then whine for the entirety of his ‘boss fight’, only to change his mind and not want to kill Batman anymore after an entire game where that is all he will talk about. Comic-book logic, I guess, but there are so many ways this character could have been handled better.

END OF SPOILERS

In the end, I really want to like Arkham Knight more than I do. It brings a lot of new things to the Arkhamverse, which is great, even when some of them don’t work 100% of the time. The overuse of tank battles in lieu of actual fist fights is frustrating, especially considering how polished the combat and predator sections of the game are. The lack of challenge maps sting right now, and I think it’s unfair to ask people to pay extra for something that has been a series staple until now.

However, there is a lot to like in this game, and after a few patches it’ll probably be even better. The combat is tight, soaring through Gotham feels fantastic, and hunting down criminals from atop a gargoyle is still one of my favourite things to do. It’s just a shame that between those parts there are many, many tank missions.

7/10

Note: Arkham Knight was reviewed based on a PSN code supplied by Warner Brothers

OXCGN’s Project Cars Review


Project Cars is the ultimate racing-simulator for the current generation. It’s racing expectations hit you in the face from the moment you ‘press start’. And it is definitely not a game for everyone.

From the very beginning Project Cars feels like it assumes players come from an automotive background and would know their way around its complex menu’s. The lack of explanation provided in some areas can offer a confusing experience. I’m afraid that many people may form their own opinion on Slightly Mad Studios game before they have even pulled the right trigger to accelerate.

Take Career mode for example, players are immediately given access to the entire range of career modes on offer, from Go-Karting to Formula One, the freedom here is greatly appreciated.

However, many players will be completely lost as to where they want to begin, because Project Cars’ menus can explain things very poorly. The career modes offer no explanation besides a small logo/graphic of the type of race they will be involved in, so hopefully you can decipher them.

Once you think you have it right and press that A button – you’re locked into that Career type. No back button to change your mind.

But the good news is that you can run multiple careers at the same time. The downside is you’ll need to fill out your driver profile details for every time you want to investigate a new career mode. This may get quite tiring if you’re a naive car gamer just looking to find a race with a Nissan GTR.

Did I say Nissan GTR? Sorry, it doesn’t exist in the world of Project Cars. Nor do many other popular brands that you would imagine would exist in racing games of today. No Lamborghini, no Ferrari, no Subaru and no Nissan are just examples off the top of my head.

I feel this is a huge deal breaker for any car enthusiasts wanting to race in a similar car that they own in real life.

One great piece of news for Australia is the Bathurst track is featured here, but don’t expect any Australian cars. I image the latter part just caused you to slide your Forza disc back into your disc tray. By the time you make it into your first race hopefully you’ve left all your Forza knowledge locked up outside. Forget it all. Project Cars is a true test of skill, and by far it is the most unforgiving and raw racing experiences on the current generation consoles so far.

Project Cars is like learning to play an instrument, it’s a frustrating test of willpower until one day when you just pick it up and it just works. Along the way you will get penalised for touching the grass, love tapping other cars and just general loss of control. The game offers an insane level of customisation for your driver preference. From its difficulty, to tuning your car, to even the location of everything on your heads up display. For those true racing-sim fans – paradise. But everyone else, I must ask, how long do you want to be in menu’s compared to actually driving the cars?

There is so much driver preference customisation you may feel disadvantaged by just wanting to come home from a long days work and have a few quick races before dinner.

Forgetting Career mode, I found a much more enjoyable experience simply using the quick race feature found from the home screen. Simply pick any car and any track and off you go. I felt this was a great way to experience all that the game offered and was a much quicker learning process than from career mode.

In the brief time I’ve spent in multiplayer a large portion was waiting for matchmaking to work. Finding a specific game type with a similar class of car was a test of patience.  After waiting for 10+ minutes I finally was placed in a match that was already in progress and lasted 30 seconds before ending.

After that test, I used the quick match option featured from the home screen. Which was not quick at all, but substantially shorter than the earlier 10 minute wait. The result was a race against a completely random collection cars and classes. Was it a race? not really, in fact it was more of a test of who could stay on the track for the longest.

Multiplayer is a testament to the difficulty of this game. Forget the battle to the podium simply trying to reach 1 lap with no major incident is hard, whether your fault or not someone will stack and crash into you. In fact in one match, I had a player stack their car right at the pit lane exit and every player crashed one after another.

If you’re the type of enthusiast who hears the title ‘Project Cars’ and thinks of Dad working on his rusty 69′ Camaro for years until it’s restored to glory. Think again. In fact there is really no vehicle customisation available in the game at all, the cars are all already at ‘race spec’. If that type of project is your thing then walk away right now.

Graphically the cars look fantastic and very realistic, the amount of different camera angles to choose from is appreciated and really suggests they have thought about exactly what this niche group of gamers would want. Slow the car’s down and look at the environments and perhaps they’re a bit blurry but who cares you’re supposed to be going fast!

TL;DR

Project Car’s is a raw racing-simulator experience. And expect just that. This game is for the niche that have been dying for a true  racing simulator. If you can overlook the lack of vehicle-customisation and lack of cars on offer there may be a home here to truly test your skills. If you have the patience and invest the time you will find a considerably strong racing-sim that I’m sure will grow stronger as the months go by.

Project Cars is available now on Xbox One, PS4, and coming soon to Wii U and PC.

Pros:

  • Ultra Realistic Racing
  • Realistic Physics
  • Graphics
  • Niche game many have been wanting

Cons:

  • Ultra Realistic Racing
  • Lack of cars to choose
  • Matchmaking needs improvement.

For the casual racing gamers:

6/10

For the racing simulator fans:

8.5/10

OXCGN’s Schrödinger’s Cat and the Raiders of the Lost Quark Review


Now I could begin this review going on about what Schrödinger’s Cat is and how it reflects the chaotic nature of this game but I’m definitely not a science person and any definitions of the theory screws around with my brain. It also is unnecessary knowledge (as is anything else to do with science) that doesn’t affect your gameplay experience besides missing a couple jokes, so if you are an arts student like me there’s no need to panic. You can play this game and try to find enjoyment in this simplistic, repetitive, and mostly boring puzzle platformer.

The game begins with just an ordinary day at The Particle Zoo. The many zookeepers are exchanging their morning greetings when a CODE HEISENBERG roars around the building. The zoo has gone AWOL with nasty particles set loose by some mysterious shadowed figure and it’s Schrödinger’s Cat’s job to return the particles back to their cages. Schrödinger’s Cat can’t do this alone though so he collects Quarks to do his bidding.

There are four types of Quarks – red, blue, yellow and green – and they all have unique abilities combined together in a group of three. Yellow quarks can make you fly, red produces jumping platforms, green lets you roll around in green goo without receiving damage and blue breaks down the floors below you. These quarks can also be combined together to create up to fourteen abilities, all unique and essential for different situations.

Using these quarks you navigate across the rooms as you hit down the bad guys, overcome obstacles and collect charm quarks, a special type of quark used to progress the story. The quarks are an interesting game mechanic that works quite fluently whilst you travel across the levels. It becomes second nature knowing exactly what combinations create what and it works well in chase sequences where you only have a couple seconds to use up your quarks and avoid death.

The world you explore is bright and colourful but uses only a minute colour palate that makes each room feel like it’s the same thing over and over again… of which it kind of is. The puzzles aren’t very challenging and you will see yourself using the same combination of quarks to get over the same obstacle that will lead you to the next area that disappointingly is the exact copy. This is what perplexes me because one of the appealing factors of the game is that you can replay the whole thing and the levels will be regenerated with completely different structures. Why would you have this feature if there’s not enough variety within one playthrough?

The humour – yet another selling point – falls flat the majority of the time. Of the science jokes I did understand, I just sat there staring at the screen bewildered by how simple you would have to be to laugh at that. They also try to use Schrödinger’s Cat as comic relief with his (un)witty lines and one-liners that caused me to mute the television. I don’t ever want to hear that voice yell out “Slabam!!” again.

There also were some technical issues with the game, in particular with its inability to register that I was punching an opponent. There were times it would take ten or more tries to land one simple hit on them and in many situations it ended with an unnecessary death.

Schrödinger’s Cat and the Raiders of the Lost Quark lost me in every way and in the end it just wasn’t fun. Shotty level design, boring landscape and its failing jokes all resulted in an unpolished and unspectacular game.

TL;DR

Schrödinger’s Cat and the Raiders of the Lost Quark is a puzzle platformer that has simple solutions that become overused. The levels all feel similar which is disappointing because it uses a great mechanic, combining quarks together to gain new abilities, that didn’t reach its potential. The humour is stale and overall it’s not an enjoyable experience.

Pros:

  • Combining Quarks is an interesting mechanic

Cons:

  • Bad jokes
  • Repetitive levels and puzzles
  • Boring level design and art

5.5/10

This PlayStation 4 review copy was conducted by a digital download code provided by Surprise Attack. 

OXCGN’s The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Spoiler Free Review


The Witcher 3 is what I would happily call the near epitome of next gen gaming right now. A gorgeous look, indescribably in-depth storytelling, rigorously challenging combat (Both mentally and physically), minigames that could stand alone and make millions, and way too damn much content to cover in what short time I had with this game. Everything is not just a step, but a giant leap with a vaulting pole above the previous game. Geralt’s hair looks more like hair and less like a crust grey bedsheet, combat flows seamlessly from parry to strike to counter, and every character has a story to tell or be meddled with. To try and cover everything this game plates up in a single review would be a gross injustice.

As such, this review will cover gameplay specifics, including a final score. A review of the story, characters, and world lore will be upcoming shortly.

Witcher 3

From the remnants of a fallen Temeria to the sprawling cities of Novigrad, The Witcher 3 boasts a huge and densely populated world. Every crossroad carries an opportunity to flex your moral compass or rake in some gold, and every city is brimming with targets, contracts, missions, and story. The Witcher 3 is beautiful. Unlike previous titles that have personally looked a little odd to me, The Witcher 3 is bright, detailed, and colourful. Previous titles felt like they were overstepping the limits of technology; trying to look beautiful but using knock-off brand make-up to do it. They were dark, grungy, and the textures were, let’s face it, ugly.

The Witcher 3 accomplishes what 1 and 2 could not, and the result is a beautifully colourful world in both textures and character models. In this massive and colourful world, there is a lot of ground to cover. To remedy this, they’ve given us Roach, Geralt’s trusty steed. Horse mechanics are a godsend and a curse simultaneously. Sprinting along roads does not drain your horse’s stamina, and it will steer itself along the path… for the most part. It does a good job 70% of the time, but you will sometimes find him stuck on a cart or fence, or even just running straight off the road at a sharp turn. He also struggles to heed your call. Roach spawns too far away, and often has trouble finding his way to your side. It’s no major downfall, but it does show the teething problems of many a new feature. Probably one of the best improvements from games’ past: Geralt’s goddamn hair.

Every time I booted up The Witcher 2, I was reminded how grossly cringe worthy the hair animations were. His hair looked like a plastic bag of moldy kraft cheese singles. However, now his porcelain white locks flow in the breeze like silk drapes by an open window. In saying that, his longer hair style is still a little shaky, but a trip to the barber to get some shaved sides and a ponytail results in some beautiful witcher hair ready for battle. Unfortunately, NPCs suffer a little bit of… ‘bioware’ syndrome; many of the NPCs tend to look near identical due to their shared hairstyles, especially young girls. This becomes a problem come quests that feature these young girls, whose apparent doppelgangers start popping up everywhere.

Within The Witcher 3’s beautiful world resides many… many monsters. All ripe and ready to swing a sword at. Model animations are smooth and crisp, alongside the gloriously fluid combat system. Finally, Geralt is swinging around his silver blade like a true student of the Wolf should. Parrying, countering, striking heavy or hard, and casting signs all flow together perfectly. The Witcher is no strategy series, but the complexity of NPC’s in combat offers itself to needed some forethought.

Enemies will not wait around for you to hit first, they will come at you hard and fast, they will block, and they will gang up on you in high numbers. Timing Quen signs with parries, finding an opening for a counter and follow up attack, knowing when to roll out and reset with an Axii… I’ve not had so much fun ending countless, incessant bandits every single time. Monsters are rather varied from species to species, but some creatures like wyverns and bears tend to have rather similar combat mechanics. It is not the case with many monsters, but alas some, though visually and stunningly unique, share similar strategies: stay away from the claws. Boss monsters are another beast all together (get it?)… they range from terrifyingly fast alpha werewolves to giant mutant deer ready to gouge Geralt clean through.

They all have a strategy, but sometimes they learn. While fighting a griffin early on, after dealing some hard hits with my silver sword, it quickly took flight and refused to land until I’d punctured it with a few crossbow bolts. Alongside this, every creature has a bestiary entry worth reading; it details their explicit weaknesses to particular sword oils, bombs, or signs, as well as describing their habits in a completely lore friendly, almost textbook excerpt. To close: read the damn bestiary.

Character progression and enhancing is a clear step above The Witcher 2. No Witcher of the Wolf should have yet to learn how to parry and counter, that’s basic swordplay, and also my biggest gripe with the previous game. Now, Geralt starts with all the skills needed to protect the innocent and slay the grotesque. Leveling up and spending skill points is more about developing and improving Geralt’s currently existing skills. Gaining the ability to deflect arrows, improving stamina regen and attack power are all the bonuses you will be striving for. Alongside his swordplay skills, Geralt can also improve the effectiveness and additional affects of his signs. The Quen (shield) sign can explode when it breaks, and Axii (repel) can slam your opponents into the ground ready to be deftly finished. In conjunction, there are ‘alternate signs’ that can be unlocked. These include turning Igni (fire) into a searing beam rather than a flamethrower. The alternate signs, when equipped, offer a whole new layer to the magic gameplay and increase the depth of combat further than it already has delved.

Mutagens have also hit an upgrade; now, of the abilities you have equipped, you can apply mutagens to groups of three skills: the more of those three skills of the same colour as the mutagen, the better the effect of the mutagen. This creates a strategic requirement on what skills you take in to battle, to get the most out of Geralt’s powers. Potions are also, in my opinion, much better this time around. Rather than making individual concoctions and then mulling over your life choices for a few hours while drinking power ups, you collect the ingredients and create a poultice once. From that point on, through meditation you can replenish a stock of 3 of each potion. Each potion still carries a toxicity, but now rather than lasting 15 minutes, each potion will last between 15 and 30 seconds. It’s a welcome take on the unnecessarily complex potion system of the Witcher 2. Overall, the progression and enhancement systems have been satisfyingly enhanced and even remade; all for the better.

Let’s talk meta. Within the gorgeous and dangerous world of The Witcher 3 lies a deceivingly simple card game called Gwent. A curious bar-goer teaches you the basics early on and you get a starter deck to begin with. You will quickly want to set out on improving your decks, and you will quickly become addicted. The concept is simple enough; take turns placing cards and building strength, at the end of a round: highest strength wins. It’s when you take into account weather cards, double strength cards, heroes, special abilities, and the fact that you only have 10 cards (excluding extra draws from abilities) per game. That is up to 3 rounds on only 10 cards. It’s a deceptively simple game, and your first few matches should go rather smoothly. The best part of Gwent, is that it allows for the development of a personal playing style, there’s no particular “best” way to play.

Certain factions (Northern Realms, Novigrad, Scoi’atel, and Monsters) have certain strengths and weaknesses, and different card combinations within those factions also have pros and cons against one another. I personally found the monsters deck the hardest to defeat… I’ll let you figure out why. Unfortunately, I often felt helpless in some games. You need to defeat the best to get the best cards, but you need the best cards to defeat the best. Hey look, it’s good enough to get it’s own paragraph in the review, no?

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The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is ridiculously complex in so many ways. It is most certainly a positive complexity. It hearkens back to the moments we spend describing our perfect RPG: “It needs to have this, and this, and I want that too, but if that’s there we need this.” For those that ask for everything and are often left disappointed, the Witcher 3 takes a damn good shot at answering all your desires. In saying this; it is too damn massive. To reiterate; assuming to cover all content in this single review would be an injustice. As above, this review covers most of the gameplay aspects. Later on, OXCGN will be posting a Story, Character, and Lore review to follow up on this massive title. As for now, the score given to The Witcher 3 is an accurate representation of what it deserved, we merely need some time to collaborate the massive content load.

TL;DR

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is gorgeous, dark, brutal, and goddamn massive. In a beautifully rendered world that stretches beyond and conceivable size is an immensely enjoyable experience the likes of which the gaming world has not yet seen. Combat is ridiculously fluid and deceptively complex, and Geralt’s progression and enhancements have been drastically improved since their last iterations. Gwent, the in-game card game is complex enough that it could stand on its own; it starts off simple, and quickly becomes almost too engaging. Despite it’s grandeur, a game so complex and downright colossal has a few teething problems that are enough to notice, but not enough to kill the experience.

Pros:

  • Huge, beautiful, complex.
  • Combat is incredibly fluid and greatly enjoyable.
  • Gwent is a surprisingly complex and enjoyable attachment.
  • Progression and enhancement systems have been overhauled for the better.
  • Monsters are rightly terrifying, and offer fantastic challenge alongside your average bandit.
  • Geralt’s hair.

Cons:

  • Horse mechanics in particular have a few hitches.
  • Though few and far between, there are bugs, and they are noticeable.

9.7/10

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt on PS4 was provided to OXCGN by Bandai Namco Australia for review.

OXCGN’s LA Cops Review


(Ed Note: Please welcome Chris Hansen of the Pro Evolution Soccer Australian crew, PESAUS to the ranks of OXCGN.com, with his first review for us being LA Cops on the PS4. Once Chris accepts the invite for the site, he shall be officially attached to the review as the author.)

On first sight of LA Cops the one thing that jumps out at you is the clean almost water colour palette of colours that the developers have used. It’s very bright and easy on the eye but lacks full detail. If you’re a designer and you’ve delved into the world of vector graphics before then you’ll immediately see.

Upon first play of LA Cops it’s quite quick to jump into a game. But before you do, you need to choose your characters that you want to play the campaign with ranging from characters reminiscent of 70s-80s cop shows. Even the music suggests this game gets its inspiration from the above mentioned era. It’s repetitive and recognisable.

But let’s talk about the story. LA Cops seems to have taken popular American 70s-80s TV or movie cop scenes and put them in a series of levels for the player to kill the bad guys and rescue the hostages. It’s set out like a strategy game with a top down birds eye view allowing you to zoom and pan the camera to gain the best tactical advantage before you breach a room.

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The mechanics of the game are very simple, left stick is move your playable character, right stick acts as the direction in which your cop is aiming his weapon. R2 to shoot and triangle switches between cops. Oh and when you shoot the bad guys, get ready for the blood splatter, the developers haven’t held back on that.

But this isn’t your usual run and gun game. There is actually a bit of thinking and patience involved and there are certain tactics that you can use, for example:

You can set up your cops to bust into a room full of goons tactically. Here’s a breakdown, position cop #1 just outside of one door then with cop #2, move him to the second door and  immediately bust in, but quickly switch back to cop #1 who’s patiently waiting on his next command. As soon as you gain possession of him, bust him in, whilst this is happening, the goons attention are focused on cop #2 who has now started automatically firing on any goons in his sight. This takes the attention off cop#1 who you now have control of busting in and raining fire from behind.

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In essence you are flanking the goons. Trying to get in behind them for a tactical advantage and most times it works but the enemy is relentless and very sharp so you’ll find yourself trying again and trying something different each time.

After each level you’ll have the option to level either one of your two characters allowing you to increase their abilities so you can gain an even better advantage over your enemies.  That little element of RPG adds to the game and the replayability that keeps you wanting to better hone your skills.

TL;DR

Overall, if you’ve got some spare time on your hands and you’re waiting for a big game to come out (such as The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, like, who isn’t!) then it’s a good time killer and thinking game coupled with a nostalgic cop story reminiscent of the 70s-80s.

Pros:

  • Tactical advantage by control and placement of two cops on any given map.
  • Colour palette brightens up your playing experience without the use of bland, dark colours.
  • Fun nostalgic feeling of old school cop show.

Cons:

  • Can get repetetive as each level is essentially the same just on a different scale/difficulty
  • Isn’t much esle to the game as opposed to the placement of players, move and shoot.
  • Enemies are quite dumb, shooting in other rooms doesn’t alert enemies that are in the adjoining rooms.

5.5/10

Note: You can also catch Christopher over at his personal blog, The Part Time Gamer, to read more of his work.

 

OXCGN’s Battlefield Hardline Campaign Review


Playing the police in a video game removes some of the core conflict resolution strategies first person shooters have come to rely on; when killing everything that moves is not your first option and the notion of playing the ‘good guy’ informs the decisions you must make game designers have the potential to change the dynamic of a shooter and favour a more nuanced approach to conflict. Battlefield Hardline is not the game to do this. What EA has delivered is a 5 hour snore fest devoid of any real personality or memorable qualities.

Hardline begins with Nick Mendoza, an ex-cop dressed in a prisoner’s uniform as he travels back to jail. Conveniently, we are given a flashback detailing the events leading to this point. Spoiler alert Nick hasn’t has the best luck whilst on the job, but with his new partner Khai Minh Dao how could anything else go wrong?

The story is separated into ten episodes with a “previously on” montage to refresh your memory as you head into the next episode. I always enjoy these little refreshers and it would be good to see this mechanic used more often in video games.

During each episode, buddy-cop movie and detective-show clichés are used instead of an original or imaginative story making the whole campaign dull. The dialogue is atrociously simple and each line is delivered with little to no passion. The characters are bland and lack any ounce of personality beyond their poorly constructed and stereotypical shells. The only time a little emotion was shown was when they randomly mention that Nick’s mother had died, after a brief and I stress brief moment to reflect on this loss we are thrown back into the action and his mother is never mentioned again.

Since it’s just a Battlefield campaign I thought that at least the action and gameplay would make up for a dull story… but I was dead wrong.

Car chases, explosions and shootouts provide little stimulation, as they all feel completely artificial. Each scene is extensively choreographed and you act like a puppet moving on to the next scene whilst you sacrifice your own enjoyment. I’ll even admit that, sometimes, I would just run past groups of bad guys to start the next cut scene so I could get past all the tedious, boring fights.

It also feels weird that the game encourages you to be super-stealthy all the time. You gain zero experience running and gunning but this is what you’d typically do during a Battlefield game! I understand it adds to the authentic police story experience but I just wanted to feel my blood pumping, not snooze while I subdue enemies with my infinite amount of handcuffs.

There is no way I could recommend playing the Battlefield Hardline campaign. It tried to be original but succumbed to the tedious clichés and stereotypes found in an average police drama. It had no “wow” action moments and makes me wish I didn’t waste the five hours of my life it took to complete it.

TL;DR

Battlefield Hardline suffers from bad writing, clichés and stereotypes as well as dull gameplay that will bore you to sleep. The campaign offers nothing special and nothing fun, overall this is a  negative experience that just felt like a waste of time.

Pros:

  • It tried

Cons:

  • Simple dialogue
  • Riddled with clichés and stereotypes
  • Boring action and gameplay

5/10

This Xbox One review copy was provided by EA Australia. 

OXCGN’s Mortal Kombat X Review


Mortal Kombat X… what can I say? You make me cringe. You make me scream. You make me want to throw up. You made me love you. The newest installment of Mortal Kombat deserved a lot more fanfare than it received. It is bloody, smooth and engaging combat that drags you in for hours before kicking your head off of your body in the most satisfying of ways. Alongside a complex and detailed combat system is more personality and story than you can soak with the brain juices of your enemies. Mortal Kombat X delivers on its promises and devours the face off your days, afternoons, and nights faster than you can scream “Mileena.”

MKX brings with it a roster of fighters both veteran and new. A literal next generation of characters including the children of Sonya Blade, Johnny Cage, Jax, Kenshi: Cassie Cage, Jacqui Briggs, and Takeda respectively. Also new to the lineup is Kung Lao’s cousin Kung Jin, “bug-lady” D’vorah, Kotal Khan, cowboy outlaw Erron Black and “symbiotes” Ferra and Torr. Other staple favourites return and many characters make cameos in the main story. MKX combat has a twist: Variations. Every fighter comes in three unique flavours that can drastically affect the fighter’s style and tactics. For example, Cassie Cage comes in the Hollywood, Brawler, and Spec Ops varieties. Hollywood gives her a similar feel to her father Johnny Cage; Brawler makes her fast and hard-hitting; Spec Ops gives her Special Forces related abilities. The differences may seem minor in text, but a fighter’s variation can drastically change how they play. Brawler Cassie is very close quarters and uses lots of long, chaining combos to achieve victory. Spec Ops Cassie has access to more long ranged, ‘keepaway’ attacks. Both play very differently.

The variation system is a very welcome addition; it just plain takes longer for each character to feel “used.” It also allows you to find an enjoyable aspect to every character… it makes you want to play across the whole roster, rather than sticking to a few favourites. No matter what move set your fighter has, it would mean less if the combat weren’t so damn smooth. There is rarely a moment of model jarring or awkward stillness; combat flows and it always feels like when you press a button, something happens. However, something I did notice is that this game is HARD. Even on easy mode, I found myself gasping for breath at the end of a round, and at first even lost a few times. I’m no master of fighting games, but normally I can pull off enough flawless victories on easy mode. The computer AI can also get into the habit of spamming a particular move. However, this was only really prevalent when versing Jacqui and Corrupted Shinnok. Why this happened, is because every character is so much more in depth, and each has a ton of basic combos. The game is harder, because with a little practice, every character is a much more comfortable play. You never feel completely helpless when playing as certain characters, something past games have been painfully guilty of.

I said it before; this game is bloody. Fatalities are brutal, and brutalities are fatally awesome. The flawless transition between the final blow and a violent end to your opponent via a brutality is endlessly satisfying. Playing with a friend for the first time, a brutality left him quickly confused; yet equally impressed. They’re quick, violent ends to matches that vary in difficulty from simply executing a particular move, to connecting a certain number of other attacks in order to make it possible. Fatalities are… gross. They’re ridiculous, Final Destination level finishers that should have the development team put into psychiatric care; especially the sound guys. The gurgling and frothing that comes from my TV sounds like the witches from Hocus Pocus brewing up a potion in my bedroom. It is unpleasant, yet it’s a fatality.

MKX has character. Each fighter has more personality than I’ve felt any other fighting game has presented. Each fight starts with a completely personal exchange between the two opponents that speak volumes of their story and personality in a few short words. It’s skip-able, and most people will probably do just that, but every line brings more character to the fighters and the world they’re in. Alongside the short exchanges that carry so much weight, is, for once, a damn enjoyable story. MK9 was okay. It wasn’t a bad story; it was a fighting game story. It understood that people came for the fights and not the chatter. MKX, however, gives you reason to sit back and listen. The characters are wholesome; they have background, personality, and relationships that resonate with the story and each other. It’s a story of comrades among chaos, and follows the next generation Special Forces unit: Cassie Cage, Takeda, Jacqui Briggs, and Kung Jin, as they set out to defend Earthrealm, and the Universe, from scorned Elder God Shinnok. It’s a short story, yes, but it is an engaging, emotional venture worth the attention.

Rather than having minigame rounds of defeating grunt enemies or completely baseless test your might challenges, small sections of the story use quick-time events. The quick-time events sit on an odd precipice; I enjoyed them and they added to the story over taking away from it… yet they were used only a few times in the first half of the game, never to be seen again. It almost felt like they’d forgotten they were doing it halfway through. They feel tacked on; not in a “they don’t need to be here” way but rather a “they’re only kind of here” way. I wouldn’t ask for one in every cutscene, but there were a lot of moments where I expected one where there wasn’t.

Speaking of expectations, I’m not sure what ones I held for faction mode. It’s the one promise MKX falls a little behind on. They didn’t exactly give false hope, but it definitely doesn’t have the impact they seemed to expect it to. Beyond getting some ‘koinage’ should your faction win an invasion, and the faction kill fatalities… there’s not much else there. It also seems terribly balanced towards the Lin Kuei faction, who completely dominated the first invasion I experienced. Whether it was an oddity, or an issue they need to address with unbalanced faction numbers, it’s not quite the beast it was hyped up to be. Living towers, however, live up to their name. They are different towers that change periodically and have different goals, and in the future will supposedly allow one to try out a DLC fighter. They offer a consistently changing objective to work toward, something very few fighting games offer bar achievements.

One of the biggest surprises for me was the Krypt mode. I went in expecting to wander through a grid of graves, or corpses, or anything gruesome, and spent my accumulated Koins on alternate costumes, music, and concept art. What I got was a smaller game in itself. The area is huge, and broken up into a bunch of different themes, that are all somewhat of a puzzle. Certain areas are locked off via one of the fighter’s items such as Raiden’s staff or Kung Lao’s hat. Finding these items will allow you into the barred area where more unlockables await. There is also a passage of time in the Krypt, measured by a clock on the HUD. Different times coincide with different events, such as special golden chests appearing, which are significantly cheaper than normal grave unlocks. However, hidden items and golden chests aren’t the only surprises the krypt has hidden in it’s shadowy halls.

Pros:

  • Fighters are varied and as complex as they are welcoming.
  • The story is engaging and well worth the experience.
  • Variations offer a welcome twist to each fighter.
  • Living towers offer consistently fresh goals to achieve.
  • The Krypt is surprisingly in depth and exciting.

Cons:

  • Faction mode does not live up to its hype.
  • The game can feel slightly difficult on first play.
  • Some AI can get a little “spammy” at times.

TL;DR

Mortal Kombat X surprised me. Its characters are well thought out and its story is remarkably enjoyable. The combat is beautifully fluid, satisfyingly gory, and incredibly complex when mixing in the new variations and returning brutalities. Faction mode didn’t quite deliver on its hype, but the ever-evolving living towers bring new goals at least every hour. Mortal Kombat X was an unexpected gem in my personal 2015 games collection, but it’s sure to stick around for a while yet.

9.5/10

OXCGN’s Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires Review


Dynasty Warriors 4: Empires was always one of my bigger console loves. I did my daily chores until my fingers were worked to bone just so I could afford to buy it. That was 10 years ago. Now we have the eighth installment of Dynasty Warrior’s Empires line, and to be perfectly honest, at first I was disappointed. Then 6 hours later I looked at the clock and realized I was still playing. I can’t tell exactly where this game hooked me, be it the annihilation of hundreds of enemies within seconds, or the micromanagement of your officers and Empire, but it definitely grabbed me. It looks, feels, and plays like a Dynasty Warriors game, infamous for being impressively unchanging over time, yet this installment has an undeniable charm to it. Extensive edit modes, hundreds of fighting styles, and a sprawling Empire mode leaves lots to work with in this particular reiteration, and I couldn’t be more excited.

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Starting with graphics… they’re nothing impressive. Textures meet at weird edges and the game generally looks very dated, as have many reiterations of Dynasty Warriors. Unfortunately, the particle and lighting effects of your many, many attacks also suffer from the same dated look. With the recent, explosive success of Hyrule Warriors, though stylized, it showed the potential for Dynasty Warriors to really pull out all the stops. DW8: Empires feels like the same engine I played in 10 years ago. Sure, the textures themselves look more like stone than rotten custard, and circles are made of more than 6 corners, but that isn’t what makes a game pretty. The same game in a brand new, modern graphics engine would tear into the consumer market like a flaming bull in a straw china shop. The game is fun, fast-paced and satisfying… but the dated look and feel pulls it back dramatically when compared to other games that were released over a year prior.

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Although it looks 10 years old, DW8: Empires gives you incredible creative freedom. The edit mode allows the customization of your own officers, units, armies, warhorses, and empirical banners. With 83 completely unique weapons, each with their own attacks and specials, there are already 83 totally unique move sets to choose from, not including the 50+ diverse costumes that male and females have… EACH. Each of the many costumes can be worn in its entirety, or you can mix and match the hats, gloves, boots, chest, and legs in any way you wish, even individually colour them for a majestic rainbow officer. I also found a surprising about of control over my officer’s face. Being accustomed to Japanese MMORPGs, I expected a selection anywhere between 3 and 5 faces and no more. In officer edit, you can use sliders and presets to create your own truly unique character, and it was a very welcome surprise.

There are limitations, of course, like few skin colours and ridiculously unrealistic eye colours, but the options are there, and you don’t really see those often enough to worry too much. This mode also allows you to group your custom officers into a unit of up to 10, for the custom Empire campaign, as well as design your custom empire’s banners, soldiers and your Emperor’s own warhorse. Clothing choices for the soldiers isn’t as extensive as the officers, but there’s enough that your army differs from your enemy’s in more than colour.

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Empire mode consumed my life for a whole week. Building up from another Empire’s lowly lieutenant, to the leader of a powerful vagabond unit that reigned terror over the land, and then raising my own flag to unite the world was a journey I won’t soon forget. At first everything seems a little slow, if you begin as a free officer, you don’t have too many options aside from questing for other officers, raising some money or troops, or integrating yourself fully into a larger empire and serving its ruler. It quickly picks up the pace, however, once another officer decides to take up arms with you, after which questing and recruiting can soon lead to raising a flag and taking your home region for yourself. The game does little to explain all of this, however. There are some basic and annoying tooltips that don’t explain a lot, and often do not appear at all for one reason or another.

Following the lack of explanation led to my first empire crumbling as fast as it grew. I forgot to consistently upgrade my weapons, buy new items, and level my officers. When my empire grew to about 50% of the land unified, I found the difficulty of battles increase exponentially very suddenly. Where in my last battle enemy officers fell in a few short swings of my blade, the following encounters had their health bars stretched across the screen with my measly toothpick of a weapon barely leaving a mark. Once you learn how everything works, the game is keeping a careful balance of happiness among your people and officers, growth rate of resources and your army, improvement of your items and weapons, and domination of your enemies. Forget one of the above, overbalance in favour of something, and your empire will fall. This is not to say you cannot focus on army growth, but focusing too much will lead to your demise. On the surface, it all seems very simple, but as the game stretches on, you will encounter a depth in the micromanagement and a balancing act that other games fail to achieve.

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Conquest and online modes are simply single battles or short scenarios played alone (conquest) or with another player online. These are typical Dynasty Warriors hack-and-slash affairs that offer no real greater reward. They’re great for testing your new officers and trying different strategies, however. Battles in DW8: Empires give you the power to summon strategems, renewable resource based powers that can rally your troops, make yourself and nearby officers faster or stronger, or even summon a rain of fire down on your enemy’s fortresses. These strategems can also be employed by your fellow and opposing officers, and have surprisingly powerful impacts on the flow of battle. As well as strategems, you can also order your unit of soldiers (whose size is dependent on your officer’s level) to defend their position or charge forward… a decision that can also determine a battle. Playing aggressive could lead to the quick fall of your bases, and playing defensive could lead to no progress and a time-out loss. Mid-battle objectives give your mindless slashing some basic purpose, but you can often find yourself meeting these goals accidentally. Battles can be mindless affairs or surprisingly complex strategic showdowns, and it’s a great move for the franchise.

TL;DR

Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires was a surprising gem for me. Opening it up for the first time, I saw the graphics, felt the engine, and sadness started to form. Then the complexity and depth of the customization and empire modes really shone. Battles too brought a new layer of strategy and thought beyond to mindless slaughter and every decision felt like a major win or loss. The biggest flaw of this game is the graphics and the engine. Graphics don’t make or break a game most of the time, but we’ve seen all of this before. I can ignore the graphics and have an absolute blast, but the engine is painfully dated. Koei… wait a few years, build a new engine, and deliver us a game that will shock and awe your dedicated fans. I want to give this an 8 out of 10, but despite the complexity of the game and how engaging the experience is, there’s that nagging voice telling me that I played this game over a decade ago.

Pros:

  • Addicting empire gameplay is engaging and surprisingly complex.
  • Battles require strategy and thought; your decisions make real, visible impacts on battle.
  • Customization is extensive and offers millions of combinations.
  • Gameplay overall is very enjoyable and engaging.

Cons:

  • What dialogue there is, is cheesy and poorly performed.
  • Graphics and engine are incredibly dated, pulling back appeal and leaving behind a few glitches and bugs.
  • Poor Empire Mode explanation and tutorials can lead to easy failures on the first few attempts.

6.5/10

Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires for Xbox One was provided to OXCGN staff by Koei Entertainment for review.