Far Cry 3 review

If there is one thing the Far Cry series has given gamers over the years, it is stunning locations beautifully realised by the CryEngine, then in Far Cry 2 on the Dunia engine. Yet it wasn’t just the visuals and locations that stood out, Far Cry tried to do things a little differently.

In Far Cry 2, the generic HUD that can be seen in 99% of modern games was replaced by a more realistic and immersive way of checking vital things like a map. Players would have to pull an actual map out of the pockets and view it while still in the game world. Meaning if under attack, that wouldn’t stop while looking at the map. There was more to the survival aspect, as the main protagonist also had malaria which had to be treated every thirty minutes (in real time) before he would become sick and eventually die.

Yet both Far Cry and Far Cry 2 did have their faults, re-spawning enemies, AI that would instantly spot you no matter how well hidden you were and various little bugs. They both played great games though and it was easy to become lost in the vast world as you played through for many, many hours.

So Far Cry 3 then, another location, another main protagonist, another set of features that offer up a brand new experience. Aside from the name and that it is a sandbox, open world, story driven game, there is nothing in common with previous Far Cry titles. The stories don’t overlap, they do not share anything with characters, each is standalone. Which is ideal, as it allows developers to really try new things in each game and not be shackled by previous iterations.

The story is based around Jason Brody, who along with a bunch of friends is captured by the quite insane Vaas (we know he is insane, as he tells us, he tells us what insanity is). Jason along with his brother manage to escape Vaas, however things take a turn for the worse and when Jason is rescued by Dennis and taken to his village, he is tasked with helping them, so they will, in return, help him find his friends.

As usual the story in a game like this, is they as an engine to encourage you to explore the massive open world and play around in its glorious surroundings. It’s fairly well written and acted, the pacing is just about right and will take a good few hours to complete, should you ignore everything else. That isn’t Far Cry though, Far Cry is all about exploration and experimentation.

A major new addition to Far Cry 3 is the ability to actually hunt and kill animals. This was left out of Far Cry 2 due to moral decisions. These are digital animals, in a game aimed at adults, it isn’t teaching children that it is fine to slaughter their pet kitten in cold blood. Most of the animals you will kill are either hunters, so you do so to survive, or because you need to use their hide to craft items. It isn’t just hunting for the fun of it. It is fun though and depending on the animal they vary in difficulty to kill.

They also add to much more to the game, in one mission Gamestyle had just done a re-con on an enemy outpost, used out camera to tag the enemy positions and were starting out attack. Sneaking past one guard before silently taking him down. Then on to another on a watch tower. It was here that all of a sudden a rattlesnake came from nowhere and struck, this caused us to fend it off, which caused noise and all of a sudden the outpost was on full alert.

It was one of those moments in a game where despite your character dying and needing to return to a previous checkpoint, you sat back and had to take in what had just happened. It’s not Fallout 3 levels of amazement, like stepping out of the vault for the first time. It was however a moment of realisation at how far games have really come. Our whole planning was taken down, not by an overly bias enemy AI, but by a random wild animal, just think about that for a second.

It’s not just here that the wildlife has an effect, as you navigate the island, you’ll see Tigers chasing prey, leaving their remains for you to scavenge from, goats along the hillsides, sharks and various fish in the water, boar which will be fairly timid until it feels threatened and much much more. The variety here is just so vast. It is stunning just how well integrated this is.

Aside from the odd scripted battle, how you approach each mission is totally up to you. Whilst it is possible to go in all guns blazing, which is perfectly acceptable and really affective, you can also go for a stealthy approach, by planning ahead, then silently taking out enemies one by one. Or even mixing the two, taking down the main threats, then opening up to clear out the rest. It is even possible to do some missions without taking on the enemy at all.

The stealth in Far Cry 3 is so well done, it can be difficult to not use it at times. The enemy in Far Cry 2, was too efficient and should you attack they would home in on your position. Here though should you break your stealth cover, an alarm will be raised and the enemy will be on high alert, which doesn’t all of a sudden stop after a few seconds, they are ready and alert until they know you are dead. However, they won’t instantly find you, so if you do make a noise by firing a weapon, it is possible to then move to another area and attack from another angle during the confusion, However, should you remain in the same spot, firing your weapon, the enemy will find you. It feels so much better than previous titles and the way stealth is integrated, feels better than many games whose main feature is just that.

As said previously, you can collect the hide from the wildlife you hunt, which can be then crafted into items which will prove useful as you progress. Bigger rucksacks to carry more items, wallets to carry more money, weapons holsters to carry more weapons, etc. It is a really clever technique, which allows the player to learn to survive and adapt. The wallet idea whilst initially feeling frustrating is actually a fine idea. A game that is trying to have a degree of realism, cannot have the player carrying around obscene amounts of money, as where would you put ten thousand dollars on your person? So limiting the amount you can carry by the size of the wallet works rather well, the same with weapons and ammo.

Players can level up too, by earning XP for completing missions, killing enemy, successfully doing side tasks, all the usual ways in a game like this. Every time you level up, you earn a skill point, which can be used to gain a new (magical) tattoo, this allows Jason to learn new skills, or become more enhanced to skills he already has. Not only do you need to earn the skill points to learn the skills, you need to complete objectives and side missions, to unlock the skills before you can learn them too.

In fact, pretty much everything this game does, encourages you to explore, to do more than just run through the story and toss the game aside. It actively wants you to play everything and it is hard to resist, with many ways to navigate the island, on foot, by road, by water or through the sky, it is much more than just a simple game, there is so much more than the story and the side quests, you would be doing the game a great injustice if you didn’t take in everything it had to offer. It would be like going on a safari and just looking up the facts on wikipedia while riding the off road vehicle.

Far Cry 3 is not only one of the games of this year, it is one of the games of this generation. There was nothing about it that ever came close to ruining the fun, it is a true sandbox experience and all the faults from the previous games have been ironed out. Simply put, you must buy this now!

Hitman Absolution review

The Hitman series is held in very high regard by fans. Blood Money is seen as the pinicle of the series. It is six years since the release of Blood Money and fans have been desperate for a fresh dose of their favourite hired hitman, Agent 47. Since then, there has been a film based on the game, but that was awful, so when a new title was announced the hype machine was in full flow, IO Interactive, on new hardware, it was hard not to get excited.

As with previous titles, the story is well written, rather than being a reboot for the series, like other games tend to do, it fits in with the previous titles, therefore offering plenty of subtle material for those who have stuck with the game since the first in 2001. Agent 47 has been sent to kill former handler Diana Burnwood, who has taken the agency to its knees. At the point of the assasination attempt, which unfortunately is pure cut-scene, Agent 47 is told of a young girl, who he must save. This one moment turns 47’s world upside down, as he then becomes hunted by those who once he trusted. There are plenty of twists as players progress and the acting along with the writing offer a fairly mature story that doesn’t insult the intelligence of the player.

Hitman games excelled at being a sandbox game, but not in the same sense as a GTA or Saint Row, instead players were given objectives then the levels were full of the tools to complete that objective. How you did it, was completely up to you. In Absolution, IO Interactive have tried to offer the same experience, yet a few of the new features make the whole experience feel a bit more linear.

Instinct Mode is the biggest new introduction, which allows Agent 47 to highlight enemies and points of interest, similar to the ideas in the recent Splinter Cell, or Batman Arkham City, in doing so, the game loses the sense of discovery and exploration that made the earlier games a joy to play. Pressing the right shoulder button activates instinct mode and enemies, weapons and tools are highlighted in yellow. This isn’t just limited to those in sight of Agent 47, as he can also see where enemies are before he has even had the chance to spot them himself. This works in a similar way to the mini-map in older games, the map which is still there in this very game. A silver lining though, is that this can be turned off in the options. Also in the harder modes the usefulness of Instinct becomes less and less, right through to purist mode, where you get no hints, or interface at all.

There is still a range of ways to take out targets, it still has the sandbox way of playing. It is even possible to get through without killing anyone, bar the targets and depending on the difficulty level the time taken to find a way to a target can take a short time, or prove to be a tense slow progression , again depending also on how you choose to approach the task. It won’t be uncommon to spend more time tracking the movements of targets and enemies, rather than sneaking past, or taking them out. There is an awful lot of planning as you access the situation, before deciding on the best course of action.

Of course you can just go in all guns blazing, that is the beauty of a Hitman game, it may not be the best way to do things, nor is it playing the game in the spirit it should be played, however it can be done. What is introduced too, is a scoring system, that grades how each section is tackled. Points are awarded for getting through areas undetected, or by taking down an enemy without arousing suspicion. Whereas points are lost if 47 is spotted, or even not as clean with a kill as he could be. Going in all guns blazing will see players ending a scenario deep in the minus figures.

It’s not just a scoring system that encourages you to vary your play style, there are also a lot of challenges on offer, that if completed will unlock various bonuses, such as new weapons. Again, whether you want to play through and complete the challenges, is totally up to your own discretion. It does encourage multiple play through attempts, which again was something that stood out about the previous games, no matter how many times you played, you could find a new way to complete an objective.

On the surface, Hitman Absolution does lots of good things, but something just doesn’t sit right with the game, yet this will only be an issue for veterans of the series. All the tools seem to be included to create a true sandbox experience, but it never really lives up to the lofty heights of Blood Money. There are too many cut-scenes mid action, or quick-time-events, which serve to make you feel that some areas are simply sending you into a bottleneck, so it can give you the outcome the story desires. As mentioned, there are a number of cut-scene executions, however these do become less prominent as the game moves forward.

Stepping away from the main story, there is the Contracts mode, which allows players to pick any level, pick the weapons and pick the target, creating your own objectives, which can then be shared for other people to download. They then try to match you objective and are scored on how close they get to how you approached the level. The beauty of this is that you are not confined to only making the main target the same one that was set in the story mode. This is Hitman at it almost best, taking away the limitations from the story mode and allowing players to create something of their own. This mode alone has a lot of potential and could have been an entire game in itself. This is real Hitman. If enough players get on board and new maps and targets are created, this could be the defining mode of the game. To the point where if the game was purely this, it would be something outstanding.

Forgetting this is a Hitman for a moment, as a standalone game, it is fun to play, offering up some decent writing, acting and some solid gameplay. The difficulty levels are well integrated, allowing those of different skill sets to get the experience they need. It is challenging and engrossing and would be a perfect fit as a new IP.

Overall, Hitman isn’t a bad game, in fact it it is hard to find fault. The main issue is that it is a Hitman game and the main new mechanics and the structure of the story mode take away that feeling you had when playing an earlier Hitman game. If you are new to the series then you will love what is on offer, but fans will be left with a bit of a bitter taste in their mouth.

Same old Gamestyle, fresh start.

Unfortunately, for the second time in Gamestyle’s history, we recently fell victim to hackers. The Gamestyle server was the target and it resulted in losing everything; the website source code and the database of content and users.

Of course, like any sensible website owners, we had backups of all our content and our code on a separate server. Alas, that was targeted too. Unfortunately for us, we didn’t have a local copy of the database — only the source code — so we saw, overnight, around 13 years of video game reviews, previews, interviews, articles, and discussion wiped.

For those of us who have concentrated so much time and effort into making Gamestyle, it’s absolutely heart-breaking to see this happen. We don’t write about video games for money. Gamestyle is non-profit and stands as an ad-free alternative to the convoluted gaming journalism industry that exists today; a source for an impartial voice in the video game community, written by aspiring writers. It’s a shame that someone would want to try to destroy our efforts.

If you’re reading this as someone who is familiar with the website, thank you for supporting us throughout the years. Please be patient with us, as we sit here scraping the cache of Google, Bing, and the Wayback Machine, whilst we attempt to salvage what data we can from the past iteration of the website and restore what we can of the Gamestyle name.

Thanks to our friends at Thunderbolt Games — a site that stands on the same underlying principles of Gamestyle — for offering help when needed. Thanks also to all the previous writers from years gone by, for coming out of the shadows and offering up copies of content that was written for the site. With the collective team effort, together with a little time and elbow grease, we hope to have the site back on track once again.

It may not look like the Gamestyle you’re familiar with, but it will be made with the same passion and dedication of the past 13 years.

Call Of Duty: Black Ops 2 review

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 screenshot (Xbox 360)

Another year, another Call Of Duty. It seems that the Call Of Duty games are as much of a yearly franchise as all the major sports titles. Gamers can almost pinpoint a release window for the next title, from the moment the previous has been released. So it is no surprise then that Call Of Duty: Black Ops II has found its way to a November release.

This time development is handed back over to Treyarch, as it was for the original Black Ops on 2010, as they look to carry on the roaring success of the previous titles. Call Of Duty is a juggernaut franchise these days, so much so that like certain actors, musicians and sports stars, it stands above its own field as a name in its own right. Often referenced by the media whenever a story breaks about the gaming industry, good or bad. It heaps a fair amount of pressure on the teams working on the games, just because of the name.

Here in Black Ops II there is the usual mix of single player campaign, online multiplayer action and Treyarch’s own stamp on the series, the zombie mode. It is once again quite an impressive package, that offers plenty of content across the various modes on offer. Is there anything new to bring to the table, or is it just more of the same?

The single player part of the game takes place across a campaign mode and no matter what you think of the story, no matter how convoluted it is, it is impossible to argue with the way it is putt together. It is incredibly linear, a far cry from the classic shooters of yesteryear. However, Call Of Duty isn’t about options, it isn’t about choosing how you play. It is all about playing out scenes of all out action, set piece after set piece, with action that would make even Michael Bay feel a bit dizzy.

Just like top Hollywood blockbuster action films, the campaign is made of pure action, with segments of story interjected in between. The story parts are told via cut scenes which essentially just set the scene for the various fire fights you’ll find yourself in. As with previous efforts in the series, the story isn’t exactly told in a linear fashion either, as you play different character in different times, taking you from the eighties, to the near future. Everything is loud and the action is non-stop. There seems to be an assumption too that those who will be playing have played a Call Of Duty before and starts off with a bang and never lets up.

It does work though and while it can be easy to look back at the campaign and pick holes in the story and moan about the shooter essentially being on rails compared to other FPS titles, such as Doom, it is an experience that does leave you feeling satisfied during your time with it. However, the campaign in a Call Of Duty is pretty much the warm up act, as it is in the online multiplayer where the core fans will spend most of their time.

For those who are veterans of the series, then they will be familiar with what is on offer. Various modes including, Team Deathmatch, Free-For-All, Domination, Kill Confirmed, Capture The Flag and Search & Destroy are all there in core mode. For those who prefer something a bit more challenging, some of the variations are also included in a hardcore mode. Where it takes less to get a kill, or be killed, players no longer feel like bullet sponges. In fact, it actually feels like it offers a better balance to the game than core.

For those new to Call Of Duty, or that find online a frustrating experience, getting killed all the time, without getting the kills, there is Combat Training, that offers players the chance to play with other newcomers and less skilled players. While you can still earn XP here, the challenges that can be earned in other areas cannot be obtained here. Hopefully working in a way to stop better players preying on the supposed lesser players for easy gain.

Playing online is what you make of it, just as it is in any online game, especially one like Call Of Duty. If you are willing to put in the time and effort, you’ll get better and have a much more enjoyable experience. That being said, despite the Combat Training mode, it can become a frustrating time for new players, as players seem to learn the maps inside out very quickly. Call Of Duty online still has a lot to learn from Battlefield, where you can get be part of a team, with a set of skills other than being a good aim.

It is very well put together though and in all the games played so far, there hasn’t been any noticeable lag, even when things get frantic. You know that your own deaths and the kills you earn are down to your skill, rather than some lag or a dodgy glitch. Which apart from preferences to how online should be, you cannot ask for more than that.

It’s not just the action online where there is plenty to be found, there are the options for League Play, which adds a level of competition to the game beyond just levelling up. There will be various series across the games lifespan, where you compete to earn you place in a league, then finish as high as possible by getting wins and kills. It is an excellent addition for those who find themselves getting bored with simply turning up to games and levelling up with no real end goal.

Making another return to a Treyarch game is the zombies mode which sees players either team up online, or play alone to take on hordes or zombies. Staying true to the previous zombie modes, this is a wonderful side distraction from the campaign and online modes. It is simply kill to survive, for as long as humanly possible. There is more of a Left 4 Dead feel to zombies this time around, as you can team up with up to three other people to take on the various maps. There is even a bit of a story type affair thrown into the mix. Even though it is influenced (putting it kindly) by Left 4 Dead, it is certainly a welcome influence.

This is Call Of Duty, nothing more, nothing less. Fans of the series will lap it up, those who didn’t like the previous games will not be swayed by anything it does. It has a target audience and Activision know what they want. Black Ops II doesn’t disappoint, it just doesn’t push the series on any further.