Dark Matter

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Perhaps Dark Matter was destined to fail. It generated a lot of hype pre-release, because why shouldn’t it have? Cross Metroid with Castlevania with Dead Space, and you’ve got Dark Matter. A survival horror castleroid with fresh enough game mechanics to differentiate it from your standard 2.5D platformer.

At the time, there were other games like The Bridge and The Swapper and Teslagrad being shown off or already out, and interestingly enough all of them – including Dark Matter – seemed to stand on their own merits. Dark Matter implements some more modern mechanics from third person shooters and other games – chiefly, ammunition types. Most enemies don’t take damage worth a damn from standard ammo, so the game allows you to craft cryo, fire, and acid rounds which burn, freeze, or dissolve them – pretty much like Resident Evil. Other than that, and the ability to craft medkits, you can also craft weapon upgrades from blueprints you pick up. Who knows where these blueprints are, considering how thoroughly I searched the ship and never found one except for fire rounds. Other than that, the game is a standard Castleroid platformer, but it seemed very promising. The atmosphere is spot on. In fact I actually yelled “Holy shit!” exactly one time, the first time a scavenger rushed me out of nowhere in the dark and almost killed me. The story is as good as your typical System Shock/Dead Space/Aliens amalgam can be, considering it’s all been done before. The gameplay seemed unique enough.

So, when Dark Matter released in 2013 and customers crucified what was an unfinished game, it seemed best to just stay away for a while. As of October 2013, the “new” ending had been introduced into the game and it was considered complete.

After ignoring those issues – easy if you bought the game but never even played it until after it was “finished” – there are plenty more problems with the game itself, the portion that was probably there at the time. I frequently found placeholders that were obviously not supposed to show up – like text labels for camera change triggers or enemy spawns. The biggest problem, game wise, is that it does not natively support the 360 or any controller. It says that it does in the options and has already pre-mapped the buttons, but the thing is, the game’s menu system is all but inoperable with a controller, literally and figuratively. Once you use a crafting station, you must use the mouse or you won’t be crafting anything – nor escaping the menu. The same applies to all interactions, so save points, crafting stations, and elevator buttons. Sometimes the A button works, sometimes it doesn’t. When it doesn’t, you must right click and sometimes even then that doesn’t work so you have to fuck with it for a while. All the points this game deserves for being different go right out the window because of the control problems. A castleroid that plays better with mouse and keyboard? Excuse me, but no, that’s not acceptable.

Dark Matter is a broken mess at worst, and a mildly frustrating backtrack fest at best. You’d think a spaceship with the technology to cryogenically freeze people for 70 years would also have multiple god damned elevators or jeffries tubes to get around. More frequently than I would like to acknowledge, there are switches, doors, save points, and even ladders that simply don’t work. When a ladder is literally the only way to progress in an area and it doesn’t work, it’s a pretty game-breaking bug. I even tried reloading the save repeatedly and one time that fixed it, one time it did not. I tried disabling the 360 controller entirely and operating by keyboard, but that accomplished nothing. One time the ladder works, the other 15 it does not.

That's as far as you go, ensign.

That’s as far as you go, ensign.

I’d love to finish the game and include that in the review, so maybe one day I’ll try again and be willing to put up with interminable ladders again. Obviously people have beaten the game, and therein lies the problem. Dark Matter, while it has merits and is enjoyable when it functions as intended, presents itself in an entirely inconsistent manner. Aside from Fallout 3, Dark Matter is one of the most manic depressive bug-fests I’ve personally ever seen. Here’s hoping maybe one day the dev studio re-opens and fixes it.

Army of Too Frustrating

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While the premise of this game is interesting and its story is surprisingly enjoyable for what many would discount as just another bro shooter, Army of Two is a franchise that got off to a rocky start due to a plethora of technical problems that make the game almost unbearable.

Obviously, this is a co op shooter. The gameplay revolves entirely around two players – who’d have thought, considering it’s called Army of Two? While I can say nothing negative about the game if you are playing it with another real person – as the last time I did was not at all frustrating – you can no longer play Army of Two via on-line because the servers are gone. Playing with the AI or playing locally with a friend is your only option now, and the game is borderline unbearable with an AI partner. My Virtual Friend, the achievement for doing so, should be worth 1000 points on its own on Xbox Live to make up for that in some way.

I wish I had a game recorder set up to show videos of this but there have literally been times when I’ve gone in to dying mode, and the AI partner dragged me for a solid 2 minutes around the map without once even trying to heal. The AI has no ability to determine what is and is not proper cover, apparently. Once the AI actually dragged me directly in front of an enemy – one of Clyde’s bodyguards – with an RPG. Guess how that ended. Clearly, the game was never intended to be played single player, so single player literally should not be an option.

As far as other technical issues, the difficulty of the game is absurd due simply to one thing: the AI never misses, ever. It doesn’t matter where an enemy is, or if they can even see you – even if you are behind solid cover – they will always hit you if they shoot. The bullets evidently spawn at a point in the map and the only thing they can possibly do is hit you. At times I actually saw floating muzzle flashes that were not attached to enemies, and ran towards them to investigate, only for there to be no enemy. Its this type of primitive game design that often causes these titles to get overlooked.

Army of Two has a story full of conspiracy, intrigue, and references to real world issues such as privatization of the military. It hasn’t happened yet but it is certainly real – such as the Blackwater mercenary company. Private security firms exist and though they aren’t realistically represented in the game, it isn’t far from the truth. There actually comes a point in the game where you get tired of shooting people and only want to proceed so you can hear the next bit of story.

For anyone interested, or for completionists, it’s unfortunate that you must play the original game in order to get the full backstory and familiarization with the characters in it – because without a real partner, it’s a dreadful trek through the same levels over and over again as the AI gets you killed, or gets themselves killed, but it is at least worth a play through so that you can get to the sequel, which is leagues ahead.

Fallout 3 GOTY Edition – PC

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In the eyes of some, Fallout is a franchise that lived its entire lifespan and died with Interplay in the 90s. As far as die-hards are concerned, this game is not Fallout -it lacks the sophistication in gameplay, the freedom, and most importantly it lacks the “dark” sense of humor present in the first two games. Simply put, these are nothing but the rose-tinted sight problems of nostalgics. Fallout 3 took one of the most popular cult classic games of the 90s and transferred it almost perfectly into a format that gamers can more easily appreciate

Whereas the combat in Fallout 1 and 2 was turn based, and consequently quite frustrating from start to finish, the Elder Scrolls 3+ type combat Bethesda applied to the game makes the gameplay much more fluid, and much more immersive. Rather than asking yourself why your vault dweller – a character who had no personal backstory even despite their character description and no overall narrative, beyond your quest to replace the Vault’s water chip, that you can become involved in emotionally – is willingly letting three radscorpions try to kill him/her without flat out running for their lives, you would frequently find yourself in a situation where you would get a random encounter map, then be forced to run one turn at a time for your life as they hounded you across the map and potentially killed you. While that wasn’t game-breaking, the fact that Fallout 3 puts you in control of your fight or flight instincts makes it far more user friendly. On top of this, it’s a hybrid FPS where you control your aiming, rather than generically shooting a radroach or molerat or what have you until it dies.

The one major flaw with the first person shooter style of combat in Fallout 3, lies in the V.A.T.S system which was introduced to try and retain some of the nostalgic, turn based feeling of the original games. Essentially, if you’re bad at aiming, you can enter V.A.T.S and have the game calculate your hit chance, based on what target zone you choose on an enemy, by crunching the skill numbers for your guns against the enemy’s HP and their stats, which are affected by level. Once you level up and approach level cap, much less once you reach level cap, shooting any enemy without using V.A.T.S becomes an exercise in tedium. Enemies will always die easier if you let the cinematic autoaim do it for you – even if your skill with that gun type is 100 and that gun does 300 damage or whatever. So, after a certain point in the game you’ll start using VATS more, and more, and more – especially if you use the perk that refills your Ability Point bar if an enemy is killed while in VATS mode. Normally, this wouldn’t be such a problem, except that with the DLC, you easily reach level cap before doing even a third of the content in the game.

Fallout 3 will make you kill tens of tons of enemies at every opportunity, at almost every location on the map. Combine that with the dreadfully short main quest line and some of the more accessible side-quests you’ll likely do along the way, and you’re probably going to hit level 30 before you even finish Broken Steel. In a game with so much content, it becomes somewhat frustrating that during the course of completing it, you’ll spend the majority of your time fighting the highest tier enemies possible – like Super Mutant Overlords, Deathclaws, or Tesla and Hellfire troopers. Broken Steel specifically has a bad habit of replacing most enemy types with the “new” enemies, rather than maintainng variety, so you’ll be using a lot of stimpaks and a lot of ammo.

One of the most common complaints about the new game is that the tone, the dark sense of humor is gone. The fact is, the game is just as dark as its progenitors. Nearly everyone in the Wasteland is a scumbag or will show a propensity for being one. Many NPCs will have requests or missions that seem innocent, and will turn out to be requests to kill themselves – or, for example, an NPC will ask for a drug you have and that they are able to get on their own. They’ll take it and immediately overdose and die. One quest will ask you to set off a nuclear bomb in a city and erase it from the map – just because an old WASPy bastard doesn’t like it being on the horizon when he sits on his balcony. You may even be manipulated into killing and torturing people just for an NPCs amusement. The writing and sense of humor are still there, as long as you play the game to actually find out.

Starring the talents of Liam Neeson, Malcom McDowell, and the now unforgettable Erik Todd Dellums , the storyline is a quite normal though solid tale of trying to save the world – in this case the wasteland – and then deciding whether or not to even do it once the responsibility falls on your shoulders. Ultimately, you need not ever even do the main storyline, and you only have a few choices what ultimately happens with the main story, However, piled on top of that are dozens and dozens of quests that reveal the post-apocalyptic world and introduce you to interesting dilemmas, characters, and adventures on the way. Frankly, it’s a lot more fun than finding a water chip.

My one and only feature complaint is regarding vehicles in this game. Admittedly it doesn’t make much sense to be driving a vehicle around the downtown area, not only because there is rubble absolutely everywhere, but because there’s so much to explore that you would miss it. However, Bethesda made the game that way on purpose. You have to follow all kinds of tunnels and convuluted routes to get anywhere in the downtown area, sometimes following a winding tunnel or sewer for a mile just to get to a building located literally 100 feet from that very sewer entrance. To that end, there are dozens of motorcycle parts laying around the wasteland – used for crafting weapons or just selling. There are even cars and motorcycles laying around that seem in perfect shape. What’s worse is that the majority of those cars will burst into a nuclear fireball if you shoot them – so clearly, they still work. Oblivion had horses and the game world was a similar size, maybe even smaller. It didn’t detract from you exploring everything. It would just be a nice option to have rather than only fast travelling or running across the wasteland.

Looks pretty functional to me.

Looks pretty functional to me.

As for this version of the game, on Windows, this is one of the reasons Bethesda has become infamous for buggy games. I first played this on PS3 and the game froze when it came time to take the G.O.A.T, forcing you to restart the game if you hadn’t manually saved before that. That pales in comparison to the amount of problems with the PC version. Fallout 3 was released in October 2008, eight months before Windows 7. It does not natively support multi-core processors and even if you manually edit the configuration file to use more than one thread, there are still issues.

Ergo, the game barely works on anything newer than Vista if you have the retail, original Games for Windows Live version. Even the Steam version, which is the same game with no changes, has plenty of problems. There was a bug, for example in the pre-patch game, where it would crash every single time the game auto-saved. You had to manually save always. In addition to various driver problems, the game has problems on Windows 7 where the audio codecs the game uses to play MP3 files – meaning all the music on the radio stations – cause stuttering and you have to use a mod to tell the game to use the .wav versions of the songs, which are what it uses for the actual set top radios. Add to this a lot of oversights such as a specific quest that you have to use console commands to access if you don’t do it before you finish the main storyline, and the game is nearly unbearable when it isn’t working correctly. Bethesda can’t be blamed entirely for the game not working on Windows 7, but considering even Vista supported multi-core processors which were the norm at the time the game came out (Core 2 ring a bell, people?), there was no excuse for the way the game was designed – which was for consoles first.

Despite those technical issues on modern Windows systems, Fallout 3 is one of the best games of the seventh console generation and its technical failures are nearly overlookable for PC gamers, when considering the available mod support and debugging options. The GOTY package is a must have, hands down.