Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Be stealthy. Sneak in, complete your mission and sneak out without anyone realising you were there. Be crazy. Launch some rockets, blow-up stuff and run in guns blazing to get the job done. Be your own “Boss” and do things how you see fit in The Phantom Pain. This feature presentation of Metal Gear Solid V, continues where Ground Zeroes left off and with more of everything.

Pros

The following pro points from Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes also applies to The Phantom Pain: the audio, the AI, the on-rails shooting and the ability to replay completed missions.

The Phantom Pain takes the open world-ness of Ground Zeroes and expands it to gigantic proportions. It might not be Skyrim or Just Cause 2, but there are still very large areas to explore. Main missions have an area that you cannot leave, but outside of missions, can free roam a region and do whatever you want, including completing side-ops.

The introduction is really something. All the cutscenes being skippable can save time if you start again, but you must still play through some very slow moving parts. It is very long, but makes for a very good beginning for the game.

The graphics have improved since Ground Zeroes. Not sure what they did, but everything looks more realistic.

The ultimate in stealth technology returns in Metal Gear Solid V; the cardboard box! I absolutely loved the cardboard box in Metal Gear Solid 2, for the humour and for its effectiveness. The weird thing about The Phantom Pain is, rather than having boxes lying around, you summon them and they drop from the sky, even indoors!

Time flows continually unless you pause the game. Be careful where you check your map or information. A patrolling enemy may bump into you. On the plus side, waiting for nightfall to sneak around in the dark is a workable tactic.

Sneaking around is fun, but stealing a rocket truck to launch rockets at the enemy and rushing in to extract a prisoner makes for more creative fun. Vehicles and fixed weapons provides for more ways to get jobs done.

Learning to play The Phantom Pain is much easier than Ground Zeroes. Everything is explained as you play the game and with greater clarity. For people new to Metal Gear Solid, I recommend learning the ropes with The Phantom Pain before going back to Ground Zeroes.

You get a horse and a dog! What’s not to love. There are also other buddies you can call to your aid and each has different abilities. Animals are cooler though!

There is an interesting online mode of play called FOB missions. You build a FOB (Forward Operating Base) and you can try an infiltrate other players’ FOBs to steal stuff (or people). Other players can do the same with your FOBs. Unlike normal missions, there is a 30-minute time limit and you cannot pause. Plus, aborting the mission before completion means failure and there are penalties that go with it.

Cons

It does not look like anyone plays the Metal Gear Online part of the game anymore. I did not try it out many times, so it could be that I look around at the wrong time.

Other Points

The following other points from Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes also applies to The Phantom Pain: being a points game, having side missions on the same maps, having checkpoint saves with only one save slot and continuing the interesting but confusing story.

Apart from FOB missions, there are also special online tasks and rewards for the single-player component of the game. Unlike HITMAN, if you play The Phantom Pain offline, you still get access to all the single-player missions and side operations.

There is a lot of base management. Research weapons and upgrades, assigning staff to jobs, managing resources. It felt like X-COM. Everything is explained in-game, but I just cannot remember what is what. The system works well and I am sure some people will welcome the extra variety to the game. Personally, I just wanted to quickly get into the action and found the whole management thing a bit in the way.

The Phantom Pain no longer deducts points for kills like in Ground Zeroes. Instead, you get bonus points for not killing anyone.

You can select other people to play missions. It was a bit weird, because all the dialogue still refer to you as Boss or Snake, even when you are not.

There are no difficulty settings for The Phantom Pain. Because of this, I found it to be more difficult than HITMAN 2.

There is no PDF manual for the game. There is an online web manual located here: http://mgstpp-app.konamionline.com/manual/pc/eu/en/index.html

Biases

According to the game, I have only completed 26% of it.

I only played a little bit of the FOB missions component of the game.

I bought Metal Gear Solid V: The Definitive Experience and played Ground Zeroes before starting The Phantom Pain.

HITMAN (2) was the only recent stealth action game I played before MGS V. I did enjoy HITMAN a lot.

A long time ago, I had great fun playing Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty.

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is a third-person stealth action game where you play as an exceptionally skilled soldier known as “Snake”/”Big Boss.” Your mission is to sneak into a military base to rescue a couple of people. Ground Zeroes is also a prelude to the much larger Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.

Pros

Very nice graphics. Everything looks excellent.

The audio is also excellent. It certainly helps since you need to listen in on conversations and figure out enemy movements by ear.

The map is completely open, similar to HITMAN. Where you go and how you go about completing your missions, is up to you. I don’t remember Metal Gear Solid 2 being open like this.

Cutscenes blend seamlessly with the playing sections and really boosts the atmosphere of the game. Some cutscenes are quite lengthy, but they can be paused, or skipped entirely to get straight into the action.

The AI is excellent. It makes for a difficult game, but not to the point that the enemies have super powers.

There is some on-rails shooting. It sure makes for a good break from all the sneaking around. The only bad thing is, you still lose points for kills.

Completed missions can be replayed. So, if you want to try for a higher score or complete other objectives, you can.

Cons

My favourite action in Metal Gear Solid 2, hiding in boxes, is disappointingly missing from Ground Zeroes.

New players to the world of Metal Gear Solid may find it difficult to learn how to play Ground Zeroes. There are hints on how to play, but there are also things that are not explained. The old fashioned learn the keys and experiment procedure is required to figure out everything. Alternatively, play The Phantom Pain first to learn everything, then return to Ground Zeroes.

It only took me 2 hours to finish the one and only story mission. That is very short considering that I was just bumbling around at the start. Not a surprise though, since Ground Zeroes is only a prologue game.

Other Points

The plot is presented with background reading material, cutscenes, general dialogue and cassette tape recordings. There is a lot to digest and can get confusing at times. Confusing, but interesting, just like Metal Gear Solid 2.

There are side missions that take place on the same map, much like how HITMAN works. Not sure if this makes Ground Zeroes worth buying without The Phantom Pain, but it is still good fun.

Also similar to HITMAN, Ground Zeroes is a points game. You will lose points if you alert the enemy or kill non-targets. Of course, if you don’t care for points, the game does allow you to have fun and just go on a rampage.

The game uses automatic checkpoint saves and there is only one save slot. You can only return to the most recent save slot if you die or want to reload. The checkpoints are at set spots and each time you go to those spots, it saves.

Biases

The only other MGS game I have played is Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. I liked MGS 2 a lot.

HITMAN(2) was the most recent stealth game that I enjoyed before Ground Zeroes. HITMAN kept popping into my head while I was playing Ground Zeroes.

I got Ground Zeroes as part of Metal Gear Solid V: The Definitive Experience. I got through the story mission of Ground Zeroes before starting The Phantom Pain, but then went back and forths for a while, before leaving Ground Zeroes.

Grid

Grid, also known as Race Driver: Grid is a racing game from 2008 that is kind of half simulation and half arcade racer. Start as a race driver for hire and work your way up to have the most successful racing team.

Pros

Everything looks good. Not as good as newer games, but it is good enough for me. The car damage looks particularly good.

The car damage model strikes a great balance between realism and fun. With enough damage, your car’s performance will degrade. It is also possible to render your car undriveable, whether that be by continuous damage or crashing too hard. Lucky for me, repairs are automatic and do not need to be paid for. Here is a replay video showing a Ferrari F430 turning into a semi-open-wheeled racer. Unfortunately, the audio failed to record.

The sound is also good. I don’t know how the real cars sounds, but they sound good in the game and each car has its own sound. The speech from the guy that tells you information while you are driving and your business manager also sound good.

To keep things interesting, there are different event types including drifting, demolition derby and even the 24 hours of Le Mans, which only runs for 12 minutes. There is enough variety of cars and tracks for the different events. Just don’t expect it to be as big as Gran Turismo.

Flashback is a nice helper feature for those that want to use it. It allows you to go back in time about five seconds to alter your driving. Avoid a crash or take a corner quicker. That is what flashback is for. The number of flashbacks available are limited by the difficulty setting and there is a cash bonus for not using them, so choose wisely.

Cons

Grid is the most keyboard unfriendly racing game I have encountered so far. I don’t think the driving assists does enough to help digital controls. The steering is also way too sensitive compared to other driving games. I could still win most races on the easiest difficulty of basic, but it still made me feel like playing other racers instead.

The music is downright annoying. Thankfully, there is a separate volume control for music. I turned it down to 0%.

There are some replay camera angles that shakes so much, you cannot see anything. Codemasters are probably trying to give a realistic live TV view of the race, but I think it is just pointless in a game when you can show off the good graphics with pristine clarity.

I have won all events except for the very last head-to-head race. Playing with a keyboard, the only way I could win races was by setting the difficulty to basic. The last race’s difficulty is fixed to the hardest. It does not look like it is possible to win with the keyboard. Some people might say, “go get an analog controller.”  I prefer to say “go get another game.”

Other Points

Outside of career mode, there is the standard pick your track and car and simply race. There is multiplayer capability as well, but I think the online servers are dead and I did not have an opportunity to try out LAN play.

No pit stops, not even in the 24 hours of Le Mans race. Of course 12 minutes is short enough to finish in one play session. As this game is not aiming to be a ultra-realistic racing simulator, I do not hold this as a con point.

You buy cars with race earnings, but there is no buying parts and tuning cars.

Although keyboard driving is terrible, navigating the menus in the game is very well done. There is no mouse control at all.

For some strange unknown reason, the manual is not available from Steam any more. For those that are interested, you can get the English manual from here.

To get the game to display in 1920×1080, I had to manually edit the file hardware_settings_restrictions.xml and remove the lines:

<data>
<res mem=”270″ maxWidth=”1280″ />
</data>

After that I could set the resolution to 1920×1080. The file hardware_settings_restrictions.xml is located in the <Grid install folder>\system\. For more information see this discussion.

I highly recommend playing with the 8 Ball & Prestige Packs DLC mod and the GRID World DLC car mod. The first mod adds extra cars plus the Mount Panorama Circuit in Bathurst, Australia. The second mod makes the extra cars available in career mode.

If you are really game, you can try my [Download not found]. It is a simple mod that adds the Mt Panorama track to the demolition derby event and all the Global Racing League events except for the Drift GP event. The tracks listings do not display properly, but the races seem to work fine.

Biases

I got Grid for free.

Test Drive Unlimited and Screamer are the only racings games I have played recently.

As stated above, I have completed all events except for the last head-to-head race.

Titan Quest Anniversary Edition

Be like Perseus and fight a Titan. But you are not a demigod so you have to work your way to be powerful enough. Welcome to Titan Quest. Having just got off the boat, you find the local town under attack. Save the town and start your quest to discover the origins of the monster attacks. Fight your way through myriads of monsters and level up with better abilities and equipment.

Pros

Being the good action RPG that it is, there are plenty of fights, loot and customisations.

A tutorial help box appears on the right side when you encounter a new feature in the game. The help box does not take up much space so you can try things out while the box is opened. These tutorial boxes can be turned off for experienced players and can also be opened on demand to get help at a later time.

Overall, the audio including the music, sounds good. The ambient sounds are particularly good in my opinion.

There is an automatic pick up items action similar to Sacred. Unfortunately, it only picks up gold, potions and relics. There is no option to pick up everything.

Even with the large play areas, there is plenty of fighting to be had. Each time you load a game, monsters are respawned. This means you can always get into the thick of the action quite quickly.

Once you have finished the game on normal, the next difficulty level is unlocked and you can take your character through the campaign again, but with higher level of monsters and equipment. There are three difficulty levels to get through.

There is a shared stash mechanism between all your created characters, much like Torchlight.

Upon reaching level 2, you get to pick a mastery which determines what skills you get. Each time you level up, points are given for you to spend on acquiring and improving skills. You are also given points to level up your general attributes like health and dexterity. What makes Titan Quest even more interesting is being able to pick a second mastery at level 8, effectively dual classing your character. There are 9 masteries to choose from (10 with the Ragnarok DLC) which gives a great variety to play with.

This is one game where I definitely cannot say “It’s all Greek to me!”. With a name like Titan Quest, I thought the entire game revolved around Greek mythology. That is what I get for buying a game without reading the description. Colour me surprised when I discovered that the game spans four acts with Act I being in Greece, Act II being in Egypt, Act III starting in Babylon and ending up in China, and finally Act IV in the… I won’t spoil it. There are also more acts in the form of DLCs that take you to more locations.

Each act is wonderfully fleshed out with their own environments, monsters and quests relating to their respective localities. I am not familiar with all the stories, but the game feels like it digs deep into each area’s mythologies.

Everything in the game looks good. Not as good as Marvel Heroes, but that maybe just my Marvel bias.

With the very brief time in multiplayer games, I can see that Titan Quest would be great fun with a dedicated group of friends. There are no separate multiplayer campaigns or areas, but the difficulty level adjusts to the number of players in the game, which is good. Loot is shared, so some sort of organisation of who gets what would be good for the party.

Cons

I have no con points for Titan Quest.

Other Points

The story is not spectacular, but it is better than Torchlight. Having an interest in Greek mythology probably made it more interesting for me too.

There is a day/night cycle, but like Sacred, I am not sure if it does anything except being a cosmetic feature.

Titan Quest automatically saves your game when you exit. There is also a manual save feature for just in case the game crashes… I think. You cannot create save game slots to reload later like Sacred, so it is just one save per character. Everything about your character gets saved, except for your current location. Locations are saved at checkpoints called rebirth fountains. Loading a game always spawns your character at the last activated rebirth fountain.

If you die, you leave a tombstone at the location of your death and respawn at the last activated rebirth fountain. As a consequence, you also lose some experience. You can reclaim some lost experience by going back and touching your tombstone.

Titan Quest is not an open world game like Sacred, but it has so many side quests and large play areas that it does not feel so linear like Torchlight.

Biases

I have always liked Greek Mythology. Never studied it in detail, but the stories were fascinating, both the historical ones and the completely new made up ones. No surprise that Clash/Wrath of the Titans movies are on my favourites list, along with The Odyssey (1997 miniseries)

I enjoyed playing Torchlight, Sacred and Marvel Heroes before Titan Quest.

I have completed Titan Quest with a defense/nature character on normal difficulty. For this review I have been mainly playing with a new hunter starting from scratch on normal difficulty.

Euro Truck Simulator 2

I gave up driving Ferraris in Oʻahu to drive Scanias in Europe. That is how much fun Euro Truck Simulator 2 is. Drive trucks, transport cargo and park trailers. And try to do it all without accidents or traffic fines.

Pros

I consider Euro Truck Simulator 2 to be the Falcon 4.0 of truck simulators, although I must admit, it is the only truck simulator I have played. I have not driven a truck in real life (I have not flown a plane either), but the driving in Euro Truck Simulator 2 behaves like what I would expect in real life. The weight of your cargo and the type of truck affects how easy it is to move or stop. Take a corner too quickly and it will easily tip over. Parking the trailer is truly as difficult as it looks. Traffic rules must be obeyed. Fuel and driver fatigue must be managed. There are also day/night cycles, rain, roadside events and different types of drivers on the road to give the real life driving feeling.

Despite all the simulation goodness, Euro Truck Simulator 2 has got a gentle learning curve. Not surprising since starting a truck engine is no where near as complicated as an F-16 ramp start and working the GPS navigation is far easier than operating an AN/APG-68 radar.

To give the game an even easier start, there is also a pretty good tutorial with a short delivery that teaches the basics. It gives a good feel of what is involved, but it is still very much just the tip of the iceberg. The tutorial can be skipped for those that want to get straight into the thick of it.

Even though the roads are not true to life, they are varied and long enough to make locations feel like they are very far apart. This combined with the faster time flow and nice change in scenery really made me feel like I have travelled a great distance, all without the boredom of a long distance drive.

The look of the different locations really blew me away. Individual scenery elements are repeated, but there is enough variety to make different locations look unique. 50 hours into the game and I am still looking around at the scenery. Not good as I am not concentrating on the road! I wish there was some sort of autopilot that allowed me to look around without worrying about driving properly.

The lighting and shadow effects look just like driving in real life. This is most evident as you are driving through shadows cast by trees or other tall objects, and when going through tunnels at night.

The game sounds great. Roaring engines, the sounds of rain, the turning indicator ticking away, other vehicles going past, it all sounds like driving in real life. There are even weird noises that occur when you have damaged your truck too much. One thing though, I cannot say whether the truck sounds are accurate to their real-life counterparts as I am not familiar with them.

Listen to real radio! They may be Internet streaming radio, but they are still real broadcasts including stations like the BBC. It doesn’t get more realistic than driving from London to Reims and hearing more about Brexit over the radio. When you are sick of the news, you can always switch to your own music or another radio station.

The game’s own music also sounds good. It only plays at certain stages so as to not interrupt the whole radio experience, but it does sound good.

Other than being a truck driving simulator, Euro Truck Simulator 2 is also a trucker RPG with some simple transport business management on the side. Earn money and gain experience as you complete jobs. With enough experience, you level up and get a point to spend on upgrading your truck driving skills. Spend money buying new trucks, customising them and expanding your transport business by buying and upgrading garages, then hiring other drivers to work for you.

Almost everything in Euro Truck Simulator 2 is customisable. Customise the difficulty of the simulation. Customise the environment. Customise your truck including paint jobs, decorations, seating positions and mirrors. You can even customise your own trailers.

Mods, mods, mods! There are truck loads of them. Real company names, traffic modifications, truck customisations, custom maps and even a multiplayer mod. So far I have only tried Really Real Company Names from the Steam Workshop, a Hungary map from modland and the multiplayer mod TruckersMP.

The AI of other drivers seem to be pretty good. There are good drivers, bad drivers and really bad drivers that will crash right before your very eyes! Some drivers seem to react to your signalling while others ignore it.

Pause and quit at any time. Progress is automatically saved, even when you are in the middle of the road. The next time you play the game, it picks up where you left off but with your truck at a stand still. Just start the engine and resume driving.

From time to time, there are special events that are provided through the optional online community World of Trucks.  Complete the goals set out for the event and score some freebies!  I have only completed the Goodyear Roll-Out event, but was happy to receive the Goodyear Tyres Pack DLC for free.

The Italia DLC is a worthy addition to Euro Truck Simulator 2.  The scenery looks very much like Italy.  There are plenty of new roads to drive on and some of them are more complex to negotiate.

Cons

The police cars do not ask you to pull over or give chase. They will put on the lights and siren, but they just continue driving as normal. I know this is not Need for Speed or Test Drive, but I expect at least for the police to ask you to pull over rather than just issuing instant fines and driving away.

I understand the game world is scaled down to be less boring and more fun, but the cities feel like very small country towns. A few more blocks with a bit more traffic would make it feel more city like.

Other Points

There are some things in the game that are less realistic. I have already mentioned the scaled down distances and faster time flow. The amount of traffic is definitely less than in real life. There is no need for food, drink and toilet stops. These make for a game that is more fun to play, but I do wish there were options for full realism. I have not placed this as a con as I can see that simulating everything to the level of real life would be a Herculean task.

I know there are real pilots that play flight sims and real race drivers that play racing sims, but are there real truck drivers that play Euro Truck Simulator 2? Would they find it more of a chore or would they actual enjoy the game?

The open world nature of the game reminded me of Test Drive Unlimited. It is not as “open” as TDU though. There are invisible walls preventing you from driving too far off-road. Other than that, you can drive on all accessible roads and discover places of interest.

World of Trucks jobs are a bit unusual in that the time limit you have to complete the job is in real-life time rather than in-game time.  On the plus side, I could take a job with a 10 hour time limit, muck around and sleep in-game a few times before finally reaching the destination to finish it after 21 hours in-game time.  Since the job only took me 1 hour of real-life playing time, I did not get any time penalties.  On the minus side, if I took a job with 10 hours to go, but could only play the game for 10 minutes for that whole day, World of Trucks would flag my delivery as being late when I completed it the next day but only taking 5 in-game hours.

The Heavy Cargo Pack DLC adds cargo types that are extra heavy.  It sure makes for more challenging deliveries, but at the same time it also feels like more of the same.

Here is a montage video of Euro Truck Simulator 2 with Frank Klepacki’s Just Do It Up from the DOS version of Command & Conquer.

Biases

I love simulators, but have mainly played flight and car racing simulators. Euro Truck Simulator 2 is really getting me interested in truck simulation.

I know nothing about trucks except for what I see on the road and in movies, tv shows, etc.

There are other open world driving games out there, but the last one I played was Test Drive Unlimited.

 

Mortal Kombat Komplete Edition

Mortal Kombat (1992). The versus fighting game that caused great controversy for its over the top violence and gore. Mortal Kombat (2011) is the ninth game in the series with the Komplete Edition incorporating all DLCs in one handy package.

Pros

The training modes are wonderful. The tutorial teaches everything from the basics to the stuff special to Mortal Kombat. The actual keys to perform actions are displayed, even if they have been customised. Very useful for absolute beginners or people like me that are not good at versus fighting games. Fatality training only gives guides for one fatality per character, but it can still be used to practise other fatalities. Then there is practice mode where you can set up conditions for battle and fight without health or time limits.

Challenge Tower is a nice single-player mode that puts you in all sorts of creative situations to test your skills. These include Test Your Might button/key pounding to get your metre up for smashing wood, slowly shooting zombies and landing hits for koins. Some challenges also feel like a continuation of the tutorial as they focus on a character‘s specific action.

Toasty! Loved it in Mortal Kombat II and glad to see it in Mortal Kombat Komplete Edition. Babality also made a return from MK 2, but friendship was left behind to die.

I don’t know when tag team fighting came to Mortal Kombat, but it sure is a good addition.

The game looks good at 1920×1080. There are more blood and guts in greater detail than the last time I saw Mortal Kombat (ie MK 2). I don’t know when X-Ray came into the fray, but it sure fits in nicely with the whole ultraviolent nature of the game. Despite all the graphical improvements, I actually miss the old FMV look of the characters.

There are 31 characters to choose from. It is 8 shy of the 39 in King of Fighters 2002, but it still provides plenty of variety. Too many for me to learn up.

As you play, you earn koins which are used to purchase extras. Apart from art works and music, there are also secret fatality directions that can be purchased. Everything is hidden, so you don’t actually know what you are purchasing until after purchasing.

Mortal Kombat Komplete Edition is very keyboard friendly. Keys can be remapped easily, and the game responds well to key presses.

Moves for the characters are easily accessible through the pause menu. They are also shown with the exact key or button mappings that need to be used to execute the moves.

The story mode is great. The introduction shows that everyone is dead except for Raiden. Just before getting hammered by Shao Khan, Raiden sent a vision to himself in the past, in Mortal Kombat 1. Back in MK 1 time is where the game starts. Unlike MK 1, the current game has cutscenes flowing into fights, flowing into more cutscenes and fights if you win. The plot was quite interesting and is not just about fighting in the Mortal Kombat Tournament.

Freddy Krueger. Nice to see a familiar face from the 80s join the crew. Apparently, Shao Kahn annoyed Freddy, pulled him out of the Dream Realm and beat him senseless. Now Freddy wants revenge before returning to the Dream Realm. I am not a Nightmare on Elm Street fan, but his claw thingies sure fits nicely with the whole blood and guts thing.

The game has five difficulty levels and the easiest difficulty of beginner is definitely easier than the likes of the original Mortal Kombat and MK II. Good for players that like versus fighting games but are simply bad at them. With no limit to retries, I managed to complete story mode and also ladder mode on beginner.

Cons

Hardly anyone plays online. Not surprising since there is the newer Mortal Kombat X and soon Mortal Kombat 11 will be released.

When you are part way through story mode, there is no way to restart the story without finishing the whole story or deleting your save files. If you are like me and forgot what happened the last time you played, the only choices are to finish the story and be puzzled by what is happening or delete your saves and lose all your unlocked goodies and koins.

Keys can be remapped easily, but some sections of the game, like character selection and moving around the Krypt, still use the default keys rather than the remapped ones.

An extension of the previous con, there is a Challenge Tower challenge that displays the wrong keys for you to follow. I had to set the keys back to default so that the displayed keys matched the keys to press.

The game does not output audio properly for my Logitech G35 headset on Windows 10. Half the sounds disappear and the other half plays in stereo properly. It may be a driver issue, but so far this is the only game that has such an issue.

Other Points

I have always felt that Mortal Kombat games moved slower than other versus fighting games like Street Fighter. It definitely felt slower than my recent playing of The King of Fighters 2002. Although slower, I still find MKKE just as difficult as all other fighters.

Biases

The only other Mortal Kombat games I have played are MK 1 and 2. I played them a lot back in the day and against other people too.

I did not get to play MKKE against other people.

I have completed the story mode on the easiest difficulty of beginner. I have also played many games of the single-player ladder and the Challenge Tower.

More recently, I was playing The King of Fighters 2002.

The King of Fighters 2002

The King of Fighters 2002 is a 2D versus fighting game from a lesser known franchise. It is no SF or MK, but it does have plenty of fighting action.

Pros

There are 39 characters to choose from. I have enough trouble getting my head around 3, so I have not tried them all. As opponents though, they do behave different enough to be their own characters.

If you lose a match and elect to continue, you get to choose an advantageous adjustment for the next match. You can choose to drop the difficulty level of the AI, lower the health of the opposition or give yourself an energy gauge boost. This continue option is on by default but can be changed in the game options of the starting menu before selecting “launch”.

The default match setting is 3 vs 3 fighting. Each player picks 3 different characters and selects what order they fight in. Each character fights until their health reaches zero or win the whole match. There is no tagging different characters to enter the fight, but it still makes for an interesting match with skills required for different characters and also varying strategies depending on who the opponent is.

Cons

The keyboard control is one massive con point for The King of Fighters 2002. The keys cannot be remapped. This by itself would not be that big a deal except the keys shown in the options are partially wrong. ‘Q’ and ‘W’ do not work. ‘Z’ and ‘A’ are used instead. This makes the game buttons A,B,C,D map to the keys Z,X,C,A, which makes this con point even worse. Who on earth uses Z,X,C,A as fighting buttons? Z,X,A,S, OK. Or Z,X,C,V all in one line also makes sense, but not what they have.

The game does not support my old generic digital USB 2-Axis 8-Button Gamepad. Windows 10 detects it fine, but the game just says bugger off.

Once the game has “launched”, the game options settings cannot be accessed. So, settings like continue options, number of rounds per match and difficulty level cannot be changed after the game has launched.

The audio sounds washed out to me. I wonder if all direct arcade emulation games sound like this or whether this game just sounds like that to begin with.

Other Points

Moving backwards automatically activates block, so more like Street Fighter and less like Mortal Kombat.

The graphics are low resolution, but the game still looks OK with smooth animations. When playing in windowed mode there is no way to resize the window, so the only view choices are full screen or small window.

Biases

I have only played The King of Fighters 2002 against the CPU.

I am not good at versus fighting games with Mortal Kombat (1992) being the only game that I completed and only with one character.

The only other versus fighting games I have played are Mortal Kombat 2, Street Fighter 2/Turbo/Alpha/Zero/Too/Many/Names/Cannot/Remember, Tekken 3, Soul Blade/Edge and Budokan. I enjoyed all of them despite not being good at versus fighting games.

I got KOF 2002 as a freebie when GOG was giving it away.

On the easiest difficulty level I managed to reach the boss (I think it’s the boss) but could never defeat him.

The King of Fighters 2002 is available DRM-free from GOG.com.

HITMAN 2

Assassinate targets around the world in any way you see fit. Then try to do better by completing challenges, escalations and contracts involving different objectives and methods. HITMAN 2 is like a playground for the wannabe assassin inside your soul.

Pros

The main reason this review is titled HITMAN 2 and not HITMAN is because you can play all the story missions you own in HITMAN with HITMAN 2. This means you get to use some nifty new stuff that was not in HITMAN.

HITMAN 2’s “try before you buy” incentive is even better than HITMAN’s. The first mission, Hawke’s Bay can now be played for free in HITMAN 2. A full tutorial plus one complete mission! There is no reason not to try HITMAN 2 for free… Alright there is one reason. Not a good idea if your PC is not powerful enough to run it.

Each mission outside of the prologue takes place in a big open-world map. HITMAN 2 is as much about exploring as it is about stealth and assassinations. There are so many places to explore, which opens up numerous paths to follow and allowing many different actions to be performed. It is up to you to figure out how to string together all you have learnt, to reach and assassinate your targets. Difficult? yes, but also great fun with lots to discover.

If the game is not difficult enough, there is a whole range of gameplay options for turning off hints/guides/aides. Turning them off gives a more immersive experience, so I am sure some people will like having these options. Make sure to set the gameplay options to default before playing the tutorial or else you may not be able to perform some of the actions they tell you to.

HITMAN’s graphics were excellent. HITMAN 2 looks even better. The world is incredibly detailed and everything and everyone in it looks great. I cannot run the game at full specs on my PC, but it still looks excellent.

There is a lot of replayability in the form of bonus missions, challenges, escalations and contracts. Bonus missions are self explanatory. Challenges are basically guides for different tasks to do during story missions. As you complete them you get rewarded, sometimes with experience points and sometimes with equipment. Escalations are missions that increase in difficulty each time you complete them. The difficulty increase is in the form of more conditions to fulfill. Contracts are missions made by other people. The contract creator determines who the targets are and what conditions must be met to complete the mission. They all use the same maps as the story mission, but they are different enough to make things very interesting.

Since HITMAN, they have added an easier casual difficulty. As they say in the description, “You experiment and have fun. Toy with targets, blow things up and take chances. This is about making a general mess, running and hiding to see what happens. And then doing it all over again.”. Wonderful for people like me who are more like Agent 86 than Agent 47.

The AI is very believable. Security guards act like security guards and will try to find you and flank your position if they know where you are. Ordinary people will sometimes be stunned in their place and other times panic and run off.

The audio is top-notch. The dynamic music mixes together very well and adds to the atmosphere of your current situation. All the sound effects sound realistic. The speech for everyone I have heard so far, sound natural.

Cons

An “always-on” connection is required to play the game properly, even for single-player. There is a privacy policy that must be agreed to for this always-on connection. Without a connection the score leaderboards and the mission mastery lists cannot be seen, and the challenges cannot be accessed or completed if you do continue playing. They say that this always-on connection is for a whole host of reasons including the prevention of cheating. You want to stop people from cheating to get a high score, fine. But why prevent challenges and mastery from being available offline? They could have made an independent clone of the challenges and mastery for offline mode. For most people, I guess this is not that big an issue. Alas! My Internet connection is too flaky and it makes me annoyed every time the message pops-up saying I was disconnected and should not continue. Just like any multiplayer game I guess.

Other Points

To get the HITMAN Legacy stuff in HITMAN 2, you must play HITMAN 2 in online mode then exit the game to let Steam install the Legacy stuff DLCs.

HITMAN 2 is a points game. Although the game does not restrict you on who you can kill or how you go about assassinating the main targets, you do lose points for killing non-targets. The cleaner you are at doing the job, the higher points you are awarded. Kill too many people and your score will be zero. I do wish they went into the negative just to see how badly I performed.

There is a story in there somewhere. I have been having so much fun just messing around that I have only completed two story missions. Not enough to figure out what is going on.

There is some content that is in HITMAN but is missing from HITMAN 2. The good news is, the developers appear to be converting the extra content to HITMAN 2.  I do hope all the extras get converted.  If not, I’ll just have to return to HITMAN.

Biases

I was playing HITMAN when HITMAN 2 was released. I was messing around so much that I only just completed Mission One – The Showstopper, Paris when my download for HITMAN 2 – Prologue finished. After trying out HITMAN 2, it was clear that I might as well play the HITMAN missions in HITMAN 2.

This is more of a “HITMAN 2 with HITMAN content” review rather than of HITMAN 2 good and proper. I do not have any HITMAN 2 content outside of the prologue missions, so I don’t know what the new content is really like.

HITMAN was the first Hitman game I played, followed very closely by HITMAN 2. Or should I say HITMAN 1.5?

The only stealth games I have played before HITMAN were Metal Gear Solid 2 and The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena. So far, I have thoroughly enjoyed all the mentioned stealth games.

LEGO Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures

Play as Indiana Jones through Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Temple of Doom and The Last Crusade in one of the most fun ways possible, with LEGO! Build, destroy and whip your way through the scenes from the movies and have a good laugh at the funny LEGO antics.

Pros

Most of the iconic scenes from the movies are in the game. They have been modified to make the game fun to play and funnier, but they are still easily recognisable.

Hear the music from the movies! The quality is not as good as the movies, but good enough for LEGO Indiana Jones to run around. I am not sure whether all the music is taken from the movies or whether there are some original compositions as well. It does not matter though, as all of it sounds great.

There is a lot of different things you can do. There is the usual LEGO building and destroying as well as collecting studs to unlock stuff. Then there is the fighting, digging, driving, fixing, screaming, blowing up stuff, solving simple puzzles, throwing all sorts of objects and of course using Indy’s famous whip. Everything you would expect from Indy and company.

For the intrepid explorer, there are plenty of hidden areas, artefacts to find and more things to unlock.

It is not Monkey Island, but LEGO Indy makes me laugh every time I play, even when I know what is going to happen.

Feeling stuck? Vent your frustration by breaking everything. More often than not, this will reveal the solution to progress the game. Satisfaction and progression at the same time.

Cons

The cutscenes cannot be skipped. Even though they are entertaining, I have had to repeat levels a few times and watching the same cutscene over and over is just a waste of time. Cutscenes only play in story mode, so repeating a level in free roam mode is not an issue.

Sometimes the camera angle makes it difficult to judge how to jump or get over certain obstacles. Or maybe it is just me since I am bad at platformers.

I encountered one progress killing bug in the last level of Temple of Doom. On the bridge fighting Mr Heart-Extractor, some guards are supposed to appear with swords for you to take to chop the ropes. I played for 30 minutes and quit because no swords appeared. A quick search revealed that this is indeed a bug and one way to work around it is to change the game’s screen resolution to 800×600. A big thank you to BrickRaiders for the solution. Note that I would not consider my machine as a “less powerful PC”, but I still encountered this bug.

Between 01 March 2019 and 27 October 2019, an update for Windows 10 or my graphics driver (or both) caused resolution problems for LEGO Indy. I usually play at 1920 x 1080 but have changed resolutions without any issues. Changing to 800 x 600 to address the above-mentioned bug worked painlessly. Now, the game would keep minimising on most resolutions, including 800 x 600. Thankfully, 1920 x 1080 still works. An interesting workaround is to automatically hide the Windows 10 Taskbar.

The resolution can also be set by manually editing the settings file C:UsersAppDataLocalLucasArtsLEGOIndianaJonespcconfig.txt. Just change the “ScreenWidth”, “ScreenHeight”, “WindowWidth” and “WindowHeight” numbers to the resolution you want to use.

A strange side effect of this resolution display problem is that the progress killing bug mentioned above, changed. I have no problems getting swords anymore. Unfortunately, there is a new small problem where the character gets stuck trying to run on to the bridge from the sides. It is minor and not game breaking, but it is still a problem. On the plus side, there is no need to change the resolution to 800 x 600 anymore.

Other Points

The game is very simple to pick up and play. The difficulty is also quite easy, probably helped by the fact that you cannot die as such. Overall, this makes for an easy platformer that even I can reach the end. After that, there is still quite a challenge for those that seek to find and unlock all the secrets.

The Last Crusade starts off in Venice where Indy searches for the tomb of Sir Richard. There is a level with young Indy, but it must be unlocked first.

Biases

A decade ago, I played LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy alongside LEGO Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures on the PlayStation 2. Both games were fun, but I enjoyed LEGO Indy just a bit more.

I have completed the story mode for all three movies. Time to find all the secrets.

I never got to try out the drop in/out co-op mode.

I like all the Indiana Jones movies.

I enjoy platformers but I am not good at them.

The Warlock of Firetop Mountain

Lifted from the pages of an ancient tome penned by the heroes Jackson and Livingstone, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain is a role-playing reading journey of monsters, magic and traps. Choose your hero, enter the mountain and may your stamina never fail.

Pros

Where the book only has dice rolling combat, this game adds an extra layer of strategy with a grid and turn-based combat system. The battleground varies depending on location and the character you have chosen determines how you can attack on the grid. Different opponents have different attack types as well, so you must figure out the best way to attack. The enemy AI is not the best, but the fights are difficult enough.

For those that love the fights, there is gauntlet mode where the reading text is reduced to allow the player to focus on fighting. The characters allowed in gauntlet mode are not the same as story mode so that takes a bit of fun and variety out of it.

The game looks very nice. It does not have state of the art graphics, but the whole figurine hopping around a toylike play area looks very nice to me.

The music is good. Nothing spectacular, but does add nicely to the game’s atmosphere and it sounds better than the music of Fighting Fantasy Legends.

Despite the short main quest, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain has different characters to choose from. Each character has different statistics, skills and sub-quests. All this combined with the multiple pathways through the mountain gives the game a good amount of variety.

Cons

Only ONE game can be played at ONE time. I hated this in Fighting Fantasy Legends and I hate this now in The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. Why must they prevent players from playing multiple games simultaneously?

There are not enough shortcut keys! Sometimes the space bar can be used to continue, but that is it. Everything else must be clicked on with the mouse.

There are a few bugs in the game that rears their ugly heads randomly. In the eleven hours I have played so far, I have encountered one blank screen that required the task manager to kill the process and two instances of no options appearing to progress the game. When the options failed to appear, the only thing I could do was start a new game. Quitting and resuming the game would just continue the game at the point of having no options.

Other Points

There is a lot of reading, much like reading a book which is not surprising. There is a lot more reading in this than in Fighting Fantasy Legends.

The Warlock of Firetop Mountain has some plot points which are identical to the Firetop section of Fighting Fantasy Legends. The rest of the game, I can only guess, are greater details taken directly from the book.

The game has four starting characters to choose from. As you win battles in the game, souls are gained to be used to unlock other playable characters. At the time of writing, there is a total of fifteen characters in the main game and another three in a DLC.

For people that want to cheat there is a free read mode. This mode allows you to automatically win battles, choose options that are usually locked for your given situation and resurrect unlimited times. The downside of free read mode is souls are not gained from winning battles.

This may or may not be considered to be cheating, but during dice rolling it is possible to press ‘space’ to shake the dice some more.  There is a time limit of about one second before the dice stops where you cannot shake them, so it is a bit tricky to try and rig the numbers.

There are artworks that look like they were taken directly from the pages of the book The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. They can be clicked on to display between full colour and outline versions.

Biases

I have read one Fighting Fantasy book many years ago. Cannot remember which one or even what the story was about. I do remember losing every try and eventually just skipped the dice rolling and read through to the end. It was clear I could not finish it properly before requiring to return the book. The journey was enjoyable, despite the losing.

Eleven hours of game time and out of the four characters I have tried, I have only managed to complete the main quest with one character. The game is hard, like a certain book I read many years ago.

I like Fighting Fantasy Legends and have completed it on the easiest difficulty. I have not completed all the side quests though.