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  Too long it has been, since a gaming post graced DWR.  The Battle Royal first person shooter game PlayerUnknown’s Battleground (PUBG), still in early access, has made its way on to my gaming list.

First and foremost, like all early access games, there is a dire need for optimization and stability as frame rate and connectivity to the game servers can sometimes be quite questionable.  When things are going great though, watch out, this is one of the games in which you say to yourself, ‘Okay, just one more before bed…’ and then suddenly it is 4am.

The concept is quite simple.  I’ll let Wikipedia do the talking:

“The game is based on battle royal-style game mods previously developed by Brendan “PlayerUnknown” Greene for other games, but expanded into one standalone game under Greene’s creative direction. In the game, up to one hundred players parachute onto an island and scavenge for weapons and equipment to kill others while avoiding getting killed themselves. The available safe area of the game’s world decreases in size over a match, directing surviving players into tighter areas and forcing encounters. The last player or team standing wins the round.”

And that’s it.   Throw 100 avatars onto a 8km island and see who comes out the winner.  It is the chaos that comes with each round that brings me, and others back again and again.  What makes the game so darn replayable is a series of risk/reward decisions must be made in every phase of the gaming experience.

Firstly, where does one jump out of the plane?  Choosing a city or hamlet will increase your chances of getting the guns and gear you need to survive but then twelve other people have that exact same idea and are heading to the same area.  So then it becomes a frantic race to see who can arm themselves first and have the advantage over their unarmed opponents, or do you go more out of the way, with less chance of the good loot, but also less people.

Secondly, layer on top of the loot vs people decisions, the geographical considerations involved in having a good run.  The available playing area cordons off after five minutes, what happens is that a large circle appears randomly on the map and after some time an ominous blue forcefield slowly closes around that circle effectively shepherding the players into a new smaller playing area.  Being far away from where the circle is drawn is never a good thing and forces you to make decisions that e often not tactically sound.  Thus, dropping toward the middle of the island is generally a fairly good idea because you will never be too far away from the initial circle boundary.

Thirdly, add to the mix the randomness of the gear available; sometimes you just cannot find a scope, or enough ammunition, or armour and you have to make due with what is available.

Of course, on top of all these points is the fact that you are playing against people who will be as conniving and opportunistic as humanly possible as everyone is trying to win the match.  You can bet your bottom dollar that people are lying in ambush waiting for the likes of unwary players who are not being careful.  Every corner must be checked, wide open spaces avoided, tree lines inspected, ridges surveyed – because the bastards are out there and will unhelpfully remind you of their presence, and your misfortune, with gunfire.

PUBG allows the option of teaming up with either a squad of 2 or 4 people, the new caveat being that rather than dying outright when injured, members of your team can revive you if they get to you before you bleed out.  Thus, more dynamics are added as then people tend to stick together and fight together leading to nasty 4 v 4 firefights and ambushes.

Playing this game has brought back some of the early pulse pounding experiences I’ve had with first person shooters when they first made their appearance on the market.  Running that flag in Soldier of Fortune 2, or being the last team member alive in Counterstrike were all heart rate quickening good times.  PUBG has brought those sorts of experiences back in a new setting that I’m finding most enjoyable.

 

When you get what you ask for and realize it wasn’t what you were asking for.  In this case dudes wanting cultural legitimacy for their hobby, but of course, unwilling to but up with critical scrutiny of what their hobby actually entails.

  I like the replication of toxic patriarchal in my video games and death to those bitches that would criticize what I like…  Pretty much the whole Gamer Gate fiasco in a nutshell.

 

Impotent dude rage...

Impotent dude rage…

Fun fact: Morgan Ramsay, founder of the Entertainment Media Counsel, did an objective study of how much of gaming journalism talks about sexism or social justice.

To do this, he downloaded 130,524 articles from 37 RSS feeds of 23 outlets, including The Escapist, Rock Paper Shotgun, CVG, Edge Online, Eurogamer, Gamasutra, Game Informer, GamePolitics, GamesBeat, GamesIndustry International, GameSpot, GamesRadar, IGN, IndieGames, Joystiq, Kotaku, Massively, MCV, NowGamer, PocketGamer.biz, Polygon, Shacknews and VG24/7, published over a period of twelve months. He then did a search on how often these games articles mentioned sexism, feminism, or misogyny.

The result? Over a period of one year, 0.41% of 130,524 articles referenced feminism, feminist, sexism, sexist, misogyny, and misogynist explicitly.

That’s less than half of one percent.

So next time you hear someone whining that “feminism is taking over video games journalism”, what they’re actually whining about is that feminism exists in video games journalism.

“This episode examines the general lack of female representation among standard enemies as well as in the cooperative and competitive multiplayer options of many games, and the ways in which, when female enemies do exist, they are often sexualized and set apart by their gender from the male enemies who are presented as the norm. We then highlight a few examples of games that present female enemies as standard enemies who exist on more-or-less equal footing with their male counterparts.”

The part that got me was the argument that it was unrealistic to portray women as combatants in video games; the very same games that allow you to refill your health bar by eating a hot-dog.

 

This game has a long title, it is called Warhammer:Endtimes – Vermintide.  Vermintide is a four player cooperative survival game, set in the Warhammer fantasy universe.  People familiar with Valve’s Left4Dead series will be familiar with the play-style and challenges to be encountered in Vermintide.

The plot of the game resolves around the actions of the five playable heroes as they travel around the besieged city of Ubersreik.  As this is a first person melee combat game all missions will revolve around you introducing the sharp end of your sword into the assorted Skaven rat beasts that serve as the enemies in Vermintide.   Certainly, there is variation in theme, as there a missions where supplies are gathered or objectives are required to be destroyed, but make no mistake of where the focus lies in this game.

v2

The focus of Vermintide is melee and the developer, FatShark, has done an excellent job of making rat smashing an exciting and challenging experience.  Each character has a range of melee weapons that require different strategies adding a fair bit of depth to the game – for instance, choosing a two handed hammer versus a sword and shield combination will effect how the the player interacts with the levels.

The interaction with enemies is modelled very much on the Valve’s Left4Dead series with the Skaven hordes standing in for the zombie hordes that swarm the players.  Being swarmed in game encourages the players to stick together and use the environment to their advantage to minimize the damage hordes can do.  Facing down hordes would become stale quite quickly though, fortunately special classes of Skaven exist to only to wreck havoc and break apart tight knit groups of player characters.

  1.  Skaven Gutter-Runners are agile, teleporting assassins that leap onto a player from medium distance.  Assassins knock down their targets and require another player remove them.
  2. Skaven Globadiers or Gas-Rats throw area of effect poison clouds that break up the group.
  3. Skaven Ratling Gunners bring a mini-gun to the party and focus fire one of the members of the party.
  4. Skaven Packmasters bring are armed with a medieval man-catcher and will drag their victim away from the party.
  5. Skaven Rat Ogres – Huge, Durable, Uber-Rats that will punch or pound the players into submission.

The special Skaven force players to make quick tactical decisions as these specials are all high priority targets and always seem to show up with the party knee deep in regular Skaven.

V1   Knee deep in regular Skaven and constant besieged by specials – this formula keeps the pressure high through most maps.  The difficulty level in Vermintide is quite challenging.  This is one of those games where skipping the ‘easy’ and ‘normal’ levels is not a good idea.  Without a firm grasp of Vermintide’s blocking and dodging mechanics novice players quickly succumb to the ravages of the Skaven horde.

Vermintide can be a grind, as better weapons are awarded only at the end of a completed map.  Wiping halfway through a map grants only a small pittance of raw materials, and this barrier to progression can be frustrating at times.

Optimization issues still plague Vermintide as this game will put a heavy load on your CPU and GPU.  Scaling down the graphics helps, but much work still remains for Fatshark when it comes to streamlining their code.

I’ve had a great deal of fun with Vermintide and if you have a beefy CPU and some friends who like cooperative action I would heartily recommend this game.

v3

So many rats…

 

 

There is no secret that video games are a big business, grossing more each year that Hollywood and growing each year. In fact, video games have largely replaced television for me. To that end I wish to start honoring what I consider to be the best of the best each year. This may turn into a more regular feature if enough interest develops. That said, lets just get right to it with this year’s winner.

Simply put, Life is Strange is a stunning game. It has incredible depth of writing, compelling and believable characters, and story hooks and twists of a mystery that kept me up far too late far too frequently trying to figure out what’s going on. It is sold in an episodic fashion, of which I have always been skeptical, but in this case makes the pacing of the game down into 5 acts that follow very much like a Shakespearean  play. Finally the soundtrack for the game fits the milieu of the North-Eastern Coast, particularly the hipster state of Oregon.

You play the game as the non-silent protagonist Maxine Caulfield who is attending the prestigious Blackwell Academy in her senior year of High School to hone her budding talent of photography. However, after witnessing a tragic event she discovers she has the power to rewind time and stop this tragedy before it happens. This starts a cycle of where Max has to continually use her power to overcome the new obstacles put in her way to uncover the dark secrets that Blackwell Academy and it’s host town Arcadia Bay hold.

What I really loved about this game is just how believable the story is. It follows many coming of age themes, overcoming and standing up to bullies, self discovery and discovery of love, and forming the bonds of lifelong friendship. However it also addresses many other issues such as how you help a depressed friend or how you react when you find out someone has had an abortion. It was truly refreshing to see the women in this game not acting as objects that move the plot forward for the men in game but instead as fully actualized adults. While there is some women on women conflict and women talking about dates with boys this does seem to secondary in your interactions with them. You primary interactions with the other women, whether friendly or adversarial, are about your relationship with that person.

Ultimately this is the game I enjoyed the most in 2015 and I recommend it to everyone. I hope you choose to give it a try.

 

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