Carlo Carrasco’s Game Review: Gears of War 4 (Xbox One, Single Player Campaign)

Believe it or not, I completely missed out on Gears of War 4 on Xbox One back in 2016. I simply had other priorities and I was unable to raise the money needed to buy the game. A year after that, I downloaded the demo of the game and managed to play

Finally, thanks to a recent sale online at Xbox LIVE, I purchased the game at last and recently managed to finish it. Gears of War 4 proved to be a lot of fun and even until now it still is a gem of game design and visual art.

To put things in perspective, I played the first three main Gears of War games from 2006 to 2011 and those games were mainly designed by the talented Cliff Bleszinski who had NO INVOLVEMENT with the latest game. Gears of War 4, by the way, is the first-ever internally developed game of Microsoft through its studio The Coalition.

The good news is that Gears of War 4 is not only a fun and engaging game. It is also a continued evolution of the game franchise’s design and it is easily the best cover shooter game design to date.

On face value, it looks like the creative team led by Rod Fergusson (The Coalition studio leader) and director Chuck Osieja decided to play safe on game design by retaining the gameplay functions from the past. Quite easily, I managed to reclaim that old Gears of War feel in terms of control, shooting, moving and aiming. Like past GOW games, you must take cover for protection from the bullets fired by the enemies then peak, aim and shoot. Then when possible move forward to take cover at the next protective object and make your way to beat the other side. Then there is the classic reload function which, when well timed, can grant you temporary strong firepower.

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Melee attacks in Gears of War 4 have improved and are more satisfying.

But as the game progressed, the new gameplay features emerged. For the first time, I can finally grab an enemy (who is crouched taking cover) from the other side of a protective object or barrier, pull the enemy and get to do a melee attack (or shoot with the gun). There is also the feature of the knocking the enemy off balance (by means of jumping over cover to kick the enemy on the other side) as well as performing the shoulder charge. Take note however that these new gameplay features – which add a lot of depth on the classic GOW gameplay – can be used by the enemies against you.

And then there are the new weapons like the Buzzkill (watch those flying sawblades ricochet!) and the Dropshot (challenging to use but very satisfying when the target gets hit!) that add new dimension to the gameplay.

More on gameplay, if you are expecting enemy artificial intelligence (AI) to be the same as before (remember all the Locusts?), you will realize that’s not the case at all. The new enemies behave differently in combat and you will be compelled to change your strategies. Expect to see the enemies (which include robots) be more tactical with their movements and attacks, and you will also realize you will need to move out of cover more and search for a new place to take cover at.

That’s not all. The weather effects impact the gameplay a lot this time. There are these windflares that not only blow strongly (watch the environment move) but also generate electricity that you must avoid touching. When the weather changes, you will not only have to take cover but be more strategic moving around as well as adjusting your aim when firing at the enemy (example: strong wind can alter the direction of the Buzzkill sawblade you fire). Lastly, there is a motorcycle chase scene that is quite action packed!

Visuals? This game really looks very great! The art is top-notch. The animation, the textures, the special effects and lighting effects really make a great showcase of the Xbox One, especially the Xbox One X (4K resolution with high-dynamic range). The character faces are very detailed and very photo-realistic! Facial expressions really will convince you into thinking you’re watching real people instead of computer-generated ones.

When it comes to storytelling, Gears of War 4 takes place 25 years after the previous game. You play as JD Fenix (son of hero Marcus Fenix and Anya Stroud) who is accompanied by Del and Kait. In terms of personality, JD is witty, striving to figure out things and he does not carry the cynical mindset of his father. Del and Kait are likeable characters for different reasons. Del is also witty while Kait has the strong, fighting lady personality. The good news here is that their respective voice actors performed nicely.

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Father and Son.

Back to the plot, the Coalition of Ordered Governments (COG) has been reformed but something is not right and right from the start JD and Del deserted the coalition to join the group called the Outsiders. Government leadership is felt in the story and having the COG as the anti-hero element really makes Gears of War 4’s world really look and feel new. Forget about the memories of fighting for the COG in the old GOW games, Gears of War 4 is a whole new world to figure out what’s been happening while fighting to survive. If you are the kind of gamer who has the anti-authoritarian mindset, then this game is for you.

Strangely enough, this game’s story has some notable similarities with the 2015 blockbuster film Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. Without spoiling the story, I should say that Gears of War icons like Marcus Fenix (the central figure of the franchise) return in supporting roles. Instead of being the hero, he is the mentor to his son JD and even to you the gamer.

While the gameplay is excellent and deeper than ever before, the storytelling this time lacks the depth of Gears of War 3 but in fairness, this new game’s story had to show how much had changed in the world and society in general. Gears of War 3, by comparison, is a war story and the resulting build-up from the first two games led to it having a very engaging conclusion.

Back to Gears of War 4, the ending lacked punch and yet it has a lot of intrigue or even shock, especially if you paid very close attention to the small but key details in the previous games. The ending feels underwhelming as it happened following the high-octane, final battle sequence of the game. Although the conclusion lacked punch, I still felt satisfied. By the way, there is a post-credits ending scene to watch out for.

Overall Gears of War 4 is easily the best 3rd person-view cover shooter and is a true evolution of the Gears of War game design. Now that the game costs much less, it is a great bargain! At the same time, it makes sense now to play GOW4 as Gears 5 (Gears of War 5) is expected to be released this year.

Gears of War 4 is highly recommended!


Thank you for reading. If you find this game review engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. Also my fantasy book The World of Havenor is still available in paperback and e-book format. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco and follow me at HavenorFantasy@twitter.com

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Final Fantasy Bonanza for Xbox Fans!

When rumors floated online in 2005 that Square Enix was being attracted by Microsoft to release games on what was back then their upcoming game console the Xbox 360, there were some gamers who just dismissed those rumors claiming that the Japanese company would NEVER release its role-playing games (RPGs) – specifically Final Fantasy games – on a console of an American company.

It was a different time back then for console gaming. Square Enix released Final Fantasy X, Final Fantasy X-2, Final Fantasy XII plus some Dragon Quest and Front Mission games on Sony’s highly successful PlayStation 2 (PS2) console. The company even developed a Final Fantasy spin-off for the GameCube with Nintendo as publisher.

For the original Xbox console, Square Enix made no games for it at all.

Things turned during the time of the Xbox 360. Square Enix published several games for it and to the delight of Xbox fans who love Final Fantasy, the company released Final Fantasy XIII, Final Fantasy XIII-2, Final Fantasy XI and other games.

This year Square Enix released several of their classic Final Fantasy games released for Xbox One gamers via Xbox LIVE – Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy IX, Final Fantasy X and X-2 and a few others.

The other announced game, Final Fantasy XII (The Zodiac Age), will be released on April 30.

Among these games, I’m currently playing Final Fantasy IX on my Xbox One and even though it has been almost twenty years since I last played it, I can say that I am enjoying it again. The game is technically a port of the PC version (which comes with cleaned-up graphics most evident on the character and creature models) and not a remastered version. More importantly, the gameplay is still fun (even though it has those random battles) and the story has a lot of heart.

With the classic Final Fantasy games available via Xbox LIVE, now is the time for Xbox fans (who love Final Fantasy or those who are very interested in Japanese role-playing games) to acquire them while they can. We should be very thankful to Square Enix (and surely to Microsoft’s Xbox team led by Phil Spencer) for those games.

Final Fantasy X and X-2 were remastered for Xbox One while the upcoming Final Fantasy XII has already been confirmed to run at a super smooth 60-frames-per-second on the premium Xbox One X console.

What is missing from the FF classics is Final Fantasy VIII which continues to puzzle gamers to this day.

If more Xbox gamers buy these classic FF games, then perhaps Square Enix will be convinced to release more of their past hits of their other franchises like Front Mission and Dragon Quest. Perhaps they will consider releasing the older, 2D FF games like Final Fantasy IV, Final Fantasy V and Final Fantasy VI.

Apart from enjoying the varied stories, characters and gameplay styles, gamers will also enjoy the music of Nobuo Uematsu.

For your enjoyment, I embedded below Xbox channel videos of Final Fantasy.

 

Resident Evil 2 remake demo observations

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I recently played the 6-gigabyte demo of the Resident Evil 2 remake on my Xbox One downloaded via Xbox LIVE. It was a one-shot demo limited to only thirty minutes of play time.

So how was my experience? I focused mainly on exploration of the Raccoon City Police Station and orienting myself with the game’s controls (and the 3rd-person view on exploration and shooting).

Having played RE2 on PlayStation way back in 1998, I found it stunning that the in-game environment rendered in full 3D polygons the look of the police station from the old game. Of course, not everything is 100% replicated. There are noticeable changes like re-arrangements of the certain furniture, items and even parts of the layout of the interiors. Clear to say, if you are a very avid RE2 gamer who pretty much memorized the placings of items in the 1998 video game, do not expect to find them the same in the 2019 remake.

Regarding controls, in my view RE2 feels very similar to that of Resident Evil 6 which was the last RE game I played. The 3rd-person view approach on movement and shooting are there. That being said, I find RE2’s shooting-and-moving mechanism inferior to that of Gears of War games with regards to response and precision. Not necessarily a bad thing and I do understand that the lack of response and precision is meant to enhance the claustrophobic feel for gamers. Resident Evil 2, after all, is Capcom’s attempt to revive survival horror seriously.

More on shooting, there is a balance between precision, impact and movement. There I was as Leon aiming at an approaching zombie while slowly walking backwards (to keep a distance). I took a shot at the zombie’s head while moving, the shot did not affect him. When I stopped moving, aiming became more precise (I noticed the on-screen target mark adjusting) and my shots hit the zombie better on the head and body.

Speaking of zombies, they are slow moving but are noticeably faster compared to their 1998 counterparts. Once near you, a zombie can take a sudden move forward to grab and bite you.

What I found intriguing is that when I was caught between two zombies, they both grabbed me and attacked me at the same time causing further damage to Leon’s health. I wonder what would happen if, let’s say, Leon got caught between two Lickers in a similar situation.

On exploration, the move into the dark portions of the police station using only a flashlight to see ahead is a nice touch. I ended up moving cautiously as I explored the rooms and other things to search for useful items like a key, first aid spray, etc.

And then there is the discovery about what happened to the police station. One police officer I tried to save died losing half his body as zombies from the other room grabbed him. Then there is another police officer who helped Leon survive from suffering the same death.

Because I focused more on exploration and getting used to the controls, my 30 minutes ran out without reaching the end.

So how do I feel after playing the one-shot demo? Personally I am not keen on buying Resident Evil 2’s release on January 25. I will observe first how the game will perform critically with the game review writers, the bloggers and of course the feedback of the many gamers who play it.

I do remember the overall feel of Resident Evil 2 on PlayStation in 1998. The first part was all about orientation, exploring the police station and finding out how Raccoon City got overwhelmed with zombies caused by the deadly, artificially made virus. Then as the game progressed, locations changed and more characters entered the plot, the pace quickened, the action became more intense and there was that sense of adventure as well. It remains to be seen if such things will happen in the overall narrative of the RE2 remake.

Thank you for reading. Please share this article to your fellow gamers and Resident Evil fans. Feel free to comment below and if you enjoyed this article, please press the like button below. Also my fantasy book The World of Havenor is available for ordering in paperback and e-book format.

 

A look back at Resident Evil 3: Nemesis

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First released in late 1999 on the PlayStation console in America, Resident Evil 3: Nemesis (Japan title: Biohazard: Last Escape) was a notable game of the Resident Evil franchise that not only proved to be a lot of fun but also a memorable experience for fans. To this day the game is fondly remembered.

In recent times, the Resident Evil franchise made waves with gamers worldwide with Resident Evil 7 (which came with a very daring change of style and gameplay) and the Resident Evil 2 remake demo (which I played the full 30 minutes of). The RE2 demo instantly brought back my own memories of enjoying the PlayStation version of early 1998. Granted, Resident Evil 2 in 1998 was truly a great sequel and its concept was epic compared to its predecessor’s. Because that game was a major blockbuster, Capcom had to come up with worthy follow-ups.

Then something happened over at Capcom in Japan. The initial concept for a sequel to RE2 was in the form of a story set on a luxury cruise liner but the company decided it lacked the time to produce a game out of it and this was related to Sony’s unveiling of the PlayStation 2 console.

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After some shuffling of executives and creative people, a team composed of not-so-experienced talents led by game director Kazuhiro Aoyama was formed to produce a spin-off  with a plot penned by company writer Yasuhisa Kawamura. The story was reviewed and approved by Flagship (an internal team that led the creative charge of Resident Evil projects) and RE creator Shinji Mikami worked as producer on the project.

Regarding its status, Resident Evil 3 was developed in tandem with the Sega Dreamcast-bound game that became Resident Evil: Code Veronica which was a bigger project and was the true sequel to RE2. The tricky part was that Capcom decided that its RE games released on PlayStation will carry a number on the title for “consistency” while RE games released on other platforms would carry subtitles.

RE3 followed the exploits of Jill Valentine, who was a protagonist in the 1996 original Resident Evil game. The story begins with her stuck in the middle of Raccoon City surrounded by flesh-eating zombies and she has no choice but to fight, run and escape to survive. Along the way, she discovers that what she learned from Umbrella in the first game was nothing compared to the more sinister intentions of the company she discovers in RE3. Making matters even harder for her was Nemesis, a large walking bio-weapon whose purpose is to destroy members of the city’s police unit S.T.A.R.S. (which Jill belongs to).

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For what started as a spin-off, Resident Evil 3’s gameplay showed notable improvements over that of Resident Evil 2. As a survival horror game, it has the awkward tank-like controls, the static pre-rendered environments with fixed camera angles and challenges of moving from one place to another while dealing with zombies or monsters.

The most notable improvement made was the addition of the ability for players to do 180-degree quick turn-around movements when controlling the character. Not only does this make moving the character easier, it also adds more speed and strategy into the game itself especially when the protagonist is surrounded by many zombies or monsters. The pace of gameplay also quickened with the quick turn-around.

Another addition is the ammunition crafting system that allows you to make more ammo for your weapons by combining the raw material (example: gun powder) into the in-game ammo-making device. This results making different types of ammunition for different weapons. By the time you reached deeper into the game, more powerful ammunition for newer weapons can be made and used.

Meanwhile the game had key moments that compel players to make a decision as that the narrative and gameplay would move forward. The element of choice is a nice gameplay addition and each choice made showed different results as to what happened next. When Nemesis appears, the game’s movement slows down presenting choices for gamers to make. The good news here is the decision making affects the quality of the story’s ending.

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The one addition I find questionable in the game is the dodge which works rather unpredictably in terms of response. There are times it worked and there are times it failed. No matter how you use the controls and time them with the action, the results are always inconsistent.

The biggest addition, not to mention the biggest impact, made in the game is Nemesis himself. Unlike Mr. X in Resident Evil 2, Nemesis is the unrelenting stalker whose presence and action deepened the gaming experience. Not only was Nemesis tough to fight with, he also appeared when gamers least expected and he runs a lot to get to Jill (or the mercenary Carlos who was also controlled temporarily by players). The music accompanying Nemesis’ presence also heightened the fear factor. It is argued that Nemesis himself is the most defining feature of Resident Evil 3 and deserved to have the game’s subtitle made after him.

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In my honest opinion, Nemesis reminds me a lot of the horror icon Jason Voorhees from the Friday The 13th slasher horror movie franchise. Like Jason, Nemesis is heavily disfigured (horrific to look at), stalks his prey relentlessly and does a lot (and anything) to kill his prey. Nemesis’ killing of Brad only shows how deadly he is. Like Jason, Nemesis cannot be reasoned with nor does he feel any pity. He simply won’t stop until he kills you in the game.

In terms of technology, RE3 used the same game engine as RE and RE2. By this time, the technology experts at Capcom improved the visual quality and the 2D pre-rendered backgrounds always felt convincing to me each time I played. Rare are the times when I noticed the 3D polygonal characters or monsters stood out from the 2D environments. With regards to the anti-hero elements, the zombies are more varied and most of all the monsters are creepier to look at. The Hunters made a nice return as well.

In terms of exploration, Resident Evil 3 makes heavy use of the city environment complete with many varied interiors mixed with believable exteriors. There were these alleys, streets (with some stores to enter) and more. The many puzzles as well as machines that required key items to be retrieved provide a good challenge although some may find the backtracking a bit tedious.

The return of Jill

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Jill Valentine made a nice return as the protagonist of the game. Right from the start, it was explained that she had resigned from the police force. Regarding her skimpy appearance (the blue tube top she wore with short skirt and boots), it turned out she was on her way out of town when the zombie infestation of Raccoon City begins in RE3.

More on Jill’s sexy default appearance in the game, I believe that Capcom’s creative team designed her like that in response to the sexy, armed woman charm popularized by Lara Croft of the best-selling Tomb Raider game franchise.

Take note of this. The first Resident Evil was released in 1996 many months before the first Tomb Raider came out. By the time Resident Evil 3 was released, the Tomb Raider franchise already had three games (note: there was a 12-month cycle for releasing sequels back then) that each sold in the millions and Lara Croft was quickly established as not only as a pop culture icon but also as a digital sex symbol idolized by millions of guys worldwide. I have this theory that some members of the Resident Evil 3 team subconsciously came up with the tube top look for Jill Valentine with Lara Croft as an influence. To say the least, both Jill and Lara are brave women capable of fighting with varied types of guns.

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Sex appeal aside, Resident Evil 3’s story is truly a defining tale of Jill Valentine as a character. By connecting her RE3 tale with that of the events of the first game from 1996, I come to realize that her stories made sense. Her becoming disillusioned with the failure of the city police department to go against Umbrella and eventual quitting from the police force was believable. In addition, Nemesis proved to be the ultimate monster she ever faced and all the monsters she encountered in the first game paled in comparison to him.

Alone and without having access to police resources, Jill’s struggle in Resident Evil 3 is a story that won’t be forgotten and the game’s fun and engaging gameplay only made her story even more memorable.

The cinematic “adaptation”

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Sienna Guillory as the cinematic Jill Valentine at the left. With her were Sophie Vavasseur as Angela Ashford and director Alexander Witt. (credit: Screen Gems, Inc.)

In 2004, the second Resident Evil live-action movie Resident Evil: Apocalypse was released in cinemas starring Milla Jovovich. The concepts of Resident Evil 3: Nemesis were carelessly adapted by the movie showing a Raccoon City filled with zombies and a live-action Jill Valentine played by Sienna Guillory who appeared with the tube top, short skirt and boots. In a sequence in the movie, Guillory even tried moving like her character’s video game counterpart.

While attention was paid on Jill’s Resident Evil 3 look, Guillory’s portrayal of her was nothing special and this has a lot to do with the screenplay by Paul W.S. Anderson, the directing by Alexander Witt (not really a prolific director) and notably Milla Jovovich’s dominance of the spotlight.

Whenever I watch Guilloy’s Jill in the movie, I really never felt like watching RE3’s Jill at all. Also the film had Jill being inferior to Alice (Milla Jovovich) on screen. There are two scenes in the movie wherein Jill does something to solve the problem, Alice comes in to do it better than her.

Having seen all Resident Evil live-action movies, which I regret for the most part, it is no secret that the filmmakers treated the concepts, characters and other elements from the RE video games with no real respect and certainly with no care about the concerns of Resident Evil game fans.

If you have not seen Resident Evil: Apocalypse and have been interested to see it for the RE3 elements, better not waste your time. Better play the video game instead.

Conclusion

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Ultimately Resident Evil 3: Nemesis is a classic even though it was never meant to be the big budget sequel to the classic Resident Evil 2. The game deservedly got released on the Sega Dreamcast, the Nintendo GameCube and Windows PC.

Now that Resident Evil mania is back in gamers’ minds right now, I should say that Capcom should consider re-releasing digitally RE3 for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and Windows 10 if ever possible. Even though its tank-like controls are very outdated by today’s standards, Resident Evil 3: Nemesis is a classic that gamers of different ages must enjoy without having to go through the hassle of acquiring old existing copies of it (not to mention having an existing old console to play it). I myself am willing to pay for RE3 to be re-released and play it on my Xbox One. Very recently an enhanced re-release of Onimusha: Warlords was done by Capcom. Making the same treatment with RE3 only makes sense.

Who knows what impact a re-released RE3 would create? Such a re-release could lead to a popular demand for Capcom to make a big budget remake of Resident Evil 3 similar to what they have done with RE2. This will also give today’s gamers an opportunity to experience the one defining story of Jill Valentine.

In ending this article, I posted some YouTube videos of RE3 for your enjoyment.


Thank you for reading. If you find this article to be engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. Also my fantasy book The World of Havenor is still available in paperback and e-book format. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco.