Thursday, November 6, 2014

Early Impressions of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

Played a bit of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare today, Single Player portion. The graphics are much improved have to be said, finally a new engine and it looks good. It is a little bit more open than previous COD games because the exo suit opens up new traversal routes, but still, very scripted. The AI, well, just like previous game, I don't think they deserve the I word, they just follow script but don't react outside it. Oh well, at least its a progress.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Alien: Isolation - Review

Before we begin, a word of warning: This game is not for the faint of heart. I have been a fan of the horror genre all my life, read many books, watched tons of films, but none managed to pull my fear strings as hard as Alien: Isolation.

So with that out of the way, let me tell you why this review is different compared to all the reviews I have done before. I wrote fragments of my impressions and thoughts on a notepad as a played through the game and used them as the basis of my review. It breathes more life into the review in a sense. Hope everyone finds it interesting!

This game, Alien: Isolation, is based on the late 70’s cult classic sci-fi horror flick: Alien. There have been numerous games based on the franchise, but only by name, which is pretty much the case for all movie licensed games sadly. However, Isolation is a different beast entirely. Where previous Alien games used the license just as a name to cover a lackluster game, this however is the most faithful recreation of the Alien universe or any film to game for that matter. It flawlessly manages to capture the very essence of the Alien franchise while harnessing the power of this interactive medium to further suck you into Ridley Scott’s sci-fi nightmare beyond the proficiency of films.

You play as Amanda Ripley, the descendant of Ellen Ripley. Amanda has been working for a mega corporation called Weyland-Yutani for a while now. Her main purpose for working with them was because the corporation had ties with the disappearance of her mother some 15 years ago. She finally gets a break which hopefully will shed some light to the answers she is looking for.


When it comes to gameplay, there is just one important thing the game emphasis more than anything else: is to Survive. All the impressive sound and visual design aren't just there for the sake of immersion, finally, they actually serve as very important gameplay systems. You need to keep your senses in full capacity because of the all the different kinds of dangers that are lurking all around the space station. Because of the desperate situation, many of the people over there who managed to keep themselves alive formed various groups in order to work together and try to survive. Unfortunately, that means they tend to keep it to themselves and will consider anyone outside of their group hostile, like yourself. It is suicide to go head to head against them if they outnumber you, so you need to carefully plan out what you are going to do. Will you take them on all by yourself? Will you try to sneak past them with the help of your gadgets and wits? Or will you take the help of the Alien by throwing a noise bomb which as expected emits a lot of noise for the Alien to swoop down from above and kill everything in the vicinity. You can also manipulate the machines in the station to give you an edge by hacking into the systems. The hacking mini-games are fun very well grounded to the world design around you.

Then there are creepy androids or better known as Working Joe. They are basically a very simple version of synthetic humans in the Alien universe. Now, you never can trust robots no matter how friendly they appear to be at first, the same rule applies here. Some of the Joes are malfunctioning which is causing them to savagely kill any human that is not obeying the exaggerated rules planted into their head. What is even worse, they robots don’t go down easily and can take some serious punishment before it kneels over and dies with the same hollow look as if nothing happened. Yes, the Joes are perhaps the creepiest thing you will encounter in the game, more so than the Alien I felt. Something about their dead emotions, their stern attitude and the way they look at you with those dead eyes and talk in equally empty voice is very unsettling!

Going further up the top of the food chain we have, the Alien: it is unbeatable, unkillable and once it sees you there is a very good chance you are dead. So it is very important to make sure such a situation never even happens in the first place. In order to do that, you need to stay hidden as much as you can. Ripley is an engineer and just like her mom, a true survivor who can make the best out of the given situations. She can hide in lockers; hack terminals to alter some of the security systems around the space station to make new escape routes; use her extensive engineering skills to craft tools and gadgets like flash bang, Molotov cocktail, etc. to give her a better fighting chance and make it through. Despite all this help, it does not make your time any easier with the Alien lurking about, because the thing is…you are never safely hidden. For example when hiding inside the locker, the Alien can sniff you out at times. You quickly then need to it react by holding your breath and lean back for a few seconds – you can’t always do that though as it slowly eats away your health. Early in the game you find a motion tracker which gives you a small opportunity to sniff out danger few feet away from you. As with all things, you are not completely safe with the motion tracker either. It is one directional in accuracy; it interferes with the metal around you when confined under closed spaces (where more than likely you will be going regularly to hide). The Alien is a lot smarter and just all around better than you. I know it sounds unfair and it is supposed to be. Moments where a giant white light appears on the radar followed by a big thumping sound constantly reminds you of its presence.

You are constantly being haunted most of the game by this vicious, hideous, merciless creature. That is 20 hours of constant tension and that is not even the only thing you need to worry about, the environment is very unpredictable and changes in hostile ways as the story progresses. So take a deep breath and hope you won’t break while you playing.

Save System

You need to pay close attention to your environments as much as possible. Focus on scoping out escape routes and hideouts as you explore you enter new rooms. The game encourages you to memorize some of the key codes that unlock doors and such so that you can input them quickly. It only takes a few seconds for all hell to break loose and trust me, it just does not feel right when you get killed just because you lapsed concentration for a few seconds there and teleported to the last save station. Save station? Does that mean the game does not automatically save progress? Yes and there is a good reason why – As much as I can appreciate the simplicity of auto save system in modern games, it takes away a great deal of care and thought process when you deal with situations. That is because you always have the luxury of knowing that you will be able to restart somewhere near your death; however, with the save station system, there are long stretches when you have to play without the confidence of knowing you can load back somewhere near. This system plays well with the cautious approach the developer want the players to take.

Visual Presentation

The presentation can be summarized in one word: outstanding! The gorgeous lighting effects are some of the best I've seen and most effectively utilized like a horror game should. The way lights reflect when you point your flashlight around metal constructs like ventilation shafts, and further reflects back and radiates by bouncing off the surrounding metal plates, an effect called radiosity, is very hard to pull off in video games. This further gets complicated very easily when the surrounding surfaces where the light bounces off each other is made up of different materials, as different materials absorb light in different ways thus radiates differently. As you can you imagine, it is very computationally expensive to calculate such variables and thus many game out there do their best to fake this effect. However, the smart folks at Creative Assembly wouldn’t settle for anything less than realistic. They managed to find ways to achieve realistic light scattering and reflecting without bogging down hardware using a very impressive engine they made in-house for the game. Where there is light, there is shadow and the engine handles them dark regions of our world as authentic as the lighting. With shadows realistically defuse and sharpen depending on the source of light, distance of the object and the material it is cast upon. The engine also uses a new form of texture compression that allows the developers to add crazy amount of detail all over the world without sacrificing any texture quality as well. The particle effects like the fires and explosions take a massive leap forward as well. The first time I saw a flame bursting out of the ground below made me fixated towards it for a few seconds, it looks incredibly realistic! What is even more impressive is how easily you can make this fantastic graphical showcase of a game to run with very modest systems, an incredible technological achievement. If you want to learn more about the impressive technology fueling the game, read this article from AMD. All these graphical advancements are in full force to make you believe that you are in an actual space station. The station is not just made of pretty shiny metal, but it is complete with displays utilizing the CRT monitors with bumpy mechanical keyboards scattered across the desks to the punch card system which serves as a save point. When this technology and art combine, it creates the perfect retro sci-fi vibe the game is going for.


According to science, even though visual memory is the most prominent form of memory, it is the memory that is recorded through sound that evokes the most powerful of emotions. So for a horror game, audio is incredibly important, if not more than the visuals. Well then, lucky for us, Creative Assembly completely nailed it here. This game has probably the most advanced sound design I've heard in gaming. It is there not just to create the hollow atmosphere, but it is probably the best tool at your disposal to survive. With you being inside of an aluminum shell, every sound is more pronounced than it normally is. The sound of thudding metal of something big and hulking by the vents and ceiling right on top of you can be very scary, but at the same time it gives you the opportunity to hear you're foes and make decisions: which is to either fight or flee (just flee when the sound is too heavy!). Word of massive caution though, Ripley is no soldier. She has not much experience with fire arms and nor covering herself with armor. The game has a solid ambiance-heavy soundtrack that feels very inaudible most of the time, but you can still sense its presence. The rhythmic hum of the machines working away for no one, Amanda’s silent breath as she clears a room to the radio garble by the communication hubs, all which combine to create the best spooky soundtrack a game can ever make.  If you ever been holding out for high quality headsets for a game to properly utilize it, wait no further.


One of the few drawbacks of this outstanding game is the hostile human AI. Oddly, they feel more robotic in nature than the Working Joes (synthetic human gone psycho). Their combat routines and walking patterns are very simple in nature, so does the human allies which I think is even worse in this regard. I think the issue is probably because CA was so much focused on the AI of the Alien that they had to make some cuts in the human AIs. The good thing is there are only very a few encounters with the humans in the game. The human AI is not terrible by any means, it just that it sticks out like a white paint on a black wall considering how well done the AI of Alien is. So how good are we talking about? Very good. The Alien is a truly a living, breathing hunter which reacts smartly to every situation happening around it, whether by the hand of the player or the environment. The Alien seeks you out like the expert human predator it is: It checks around every room, around corners, vents, underneath the tables and it can even can hear the smallest of noise you make or the scent out your location if you’re too near it. Clearly, a lot of work has been gone through Alien and I am very happy with the results, CA made the right decision here. The Alien is impressively detailed, it definitely is very faithful recreation of the movies. I can’t stop thinking how realistically its tail slivers across the floor, stuff of the nightmares I tell you!

Minor issues

Nothing is perfect, but Isolation comes closer than most games out there. I had some issues with the game highlighting the interactive elements of Sevastopol. Being a sci-fi ship, everything is littered with lights, however only with few of them you can interact with obviously. The game usually denotes the interactive parts with a bright shade of green. Now for the most part it works just fine, however, there are times I can't tell how much I lost time just for looking for a proper console to interact with. Upon pressing the action button on every console in the room, I finally triggered the right console. It turns out, this console was not green. Similarly I got stuck for almost an hour figuring out where to go next, the answer appeared to be right below me; it was hard to notice that because the green light was not very noticeable. These visual cues sometimes made it annoying for me to figure what I can interact with. Especially with a game like this when every second counts and timing has to be precise. Also there is a small immersion breakers here and there like nothing happens when you hit the environment with your wrench or anything. Early on the game, I was cornered to a spot by some pissed off Working Joes just because I tried to beat one of them with a wrench. I had no ammunition or any sort of gadget, all I had was my wrench. I thought of breaking some of the glasses on the tray near me to cause a distraction while I slip pass them by the other side, sadly, my wrench completely goes through the glasses. It could have opened up the game even more, oh well. There is finally the awkward lip-sync during cut scenes, I feel it just does not feel natural as the lip movement does not match to what the characters are speaking. Again, there are very small and mostly nitpicking issues in otherwise a fantastic game.


It is amazing to think a lifelong RTS developer like Creative Assembly managed to make a survival horror game in the truest of the definition. At times it feels like Alien: Isolation takes the best elements of Dead Space and Outlast and creates an awesome experience. But that would do nothing but injustice to the game as a whole, it is stands out on its own.  I would like to end by saying that I loved every bit of my time at Sevastopol. I would love to return to it again but…definitely not anytime soon!

P.S. I actually documented my entire journey through Sevastopol by Twitch streaming and recording the entire thing from start to finish, complete with my own facecam(and scares). If you are interested, you can check it out from my YouTube playlist for the videos. You can also follow me you on Twitch, I really focus on interacting with the people more than playing games when I Twitch steam. I would appreciate the company so join in!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

My Favorite GPU of all time

The first GPU I got was...

Nvidia Vanta!

I have fond memory of getting this card for my very first computer build: Pentium III 933MHZ. The very first game I fired up to test this beauty was the game I was addicted to like hell and still is one of my favorite games of all time: Need For Speed: Porsche Unleashed / NFS: 2000.

My favorite GPU of all time is...

ATI Radeon 9800 PRO - 128MB (1st party)

Leading up to the day when I finally got the card, I remember going online every few hours and reading everything about this card. The fiery red PCB weren't just for the looks, it had the power to match: Besting Nvidia GPUs of it's era by a longshot in terms of performance, but also another area which mattered a lot during that time: Visual Quality.

ATI Radeon 9800 pro outputted better color and cleaner image compared to their Nvidia counterparts. Not only that, it was an exciting time all around because Half-Life 2 was all at buzz  and was about to hit the store shelves.The ATI cards performed not only faster, but I also got a coupon post launch for a free Steam copy of Half-Life 2; making it the first game I digitally downloaded to my computer.Took me a week to finish it because of the poor internet infrastructure we used to have back in the day (even still today being left in the dust here compared to the others). 

We didn't have top of the line GPUs in Bangladesh back in the day. My uncle would come and visit us regularly from the States so I asked him to snag me this card straight from ATI. 

The packaging was beautiful, I could feel the power just by holding it! The red PCB was extraordinary to look at, especially back in the day when everything was mostly a shade of bottlegreen. I was expecting this card will require a direct connection to the PSU, and so I was not surprised when
I saw the power connector bundled with it. I won't lie though, I was a bit nervous as I never had a GPU or any PCI/AGP card which warranted a direct PSU connection as opposed to just slot it into the PCI slot; but I was able to install into my computer without any problems whatsoever.

Even before I started any game, I immediately noticed the difference. My computer desktop looked much nicer, it had much higher depth of color compared to my Vanta card: everything just popped out right in front of me with the color grading being exquisite with no noticeable inconsistency between the ranges of color, it was just..perfect. 

The first game I booted up to test this monster was the game which gave my computer Hell: Far Cry. I loved that game, but I had to play it at low with all the good stuff like vegetation, advanced lighting and especially..water reflections turned off. I flipped on every single setting to the max and booted it

I went from here

To here

It was hard for me to find proper screenshots for comparison as it an old game and I don't have the game with me at the moment. Hope to buy this game from Steam and update this with proper comparison between the graphical settings in the future.

So, I will leave it at that for now. After getting the GPU, I started to read more and more about video games and tech reviews. I got more and more knowledge about the gaming and hardware industry as time flew by. I soon started to build my own computers from scratch, from there I went on to help my friends and family with it. My interest only grew by the time I finished high school. It only felt natural that I seal the deal and choose Computer Science and Engineering as my major at college.

At least for me, it won't just be just a tongue-in-cheek way of saying that the ATI Radeon 9800 pro was a Catalyst of my life.

Hope you guys enjoyed it and I would love to read about your stories as well!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Broken Age - Review

I always thought that I started gaming while playing the platforming genre like Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog being one of my favorite series of all time. As I thought about it for a minute, I remember I used to play a certain type of game even earlier than that. It involved using the mouse to click on parts of the environment to move your character, interact with it and solve puzzles. I never knew the name of the genre until a few years later when it peaked my curiosity enough to Google it. The genre was appropriately called 'Point and Click adventure games'.

So why it was so hard for me to pinpoint the genre? Well, gaming between now and then exploded in a ton of different genres, which further splintered into a variety of subgenres. Between all this chaotic explosion of genres, one got caught in the crossfire and badly wounded to the point it almost got killed, yes you know what genre I am talking about.

After more than a decade after that incident, the folks at Double Fine used their powers of necromancy to Kickstart the Heart of the genre back to life. They had to tap into the power of hundreds and thousands of souls to make it happen. Ok, I am very dramatic here but it kinda works doesn't it! The crowd funded Kickstarter campaign was a huge success, not only they greatly exceeded the funds to make their original vision of the game possible, but they kept on breaking all kinds of Kickstarter records in the process. The additional capital went further into making the game we all deserved but never asked for...or something like that.

So how is the game? Double Fine crafted a beautiful imaginative world with colorful characters while some carrying surprisingly muted intentions. It tells a story about a boy and a girl from two entirely different environments, yet facing the exact same problem: being captive in one's fate, as they both try to defy the fate placed upon themselves.

The world looks hand-drawn and reminds me of the story books I used to gross over as a child with the smallest of details carrying the biggest impressions. What is brilliant is how Double Fine lays down such a mature tale through the light hearted visuals and very simplistic and pleasing audio cues.

As someone who played a lot of adventure games when he was a kid, but sadly gone out of touch with it - because of lack of such games out in the market. I got stuck in a couple of  puzzles, some of them took more than hour for me to figure it out!  I took about 6 hours or so to finish the first act. Your milage may vary depending on how good you are at solving the puzzles.

If I had a gripe with this game, it is how much you are limited in solving the puzzles: I wish the game was a bit more open to clever to players out there. At times I felt I had the tools to handle a situation in an alternate way, but the game never really responded to such ideas. I know the game is playing it to it's well documented traditions, but I wish the game explored a bit further out the boundaries of this genre like this without taking away it's heart.

For the asking price of 25$, it might put off a lot of people off considering the short ride they are getting. The ride may be short, but it is a much more memorable. They could have easily went the road most other games take by stretching the length with filler content, but they didn't. Not a single time in the game I felt it was wasted, it is even more true for games of this class as any sort of filler content will distract it further from it's puzzle solving elements. So what are you waiting for? Hop in the Double Fine express for a beautiful journey that you won't be forgetting anytime soon!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Wolfenstein The New Order Review: Hail to the Lord

First Person Shooters has been around since decades, it is one of oldest gaming genres that hasn't much evolved since it first came out.  The foundation of it was so solid that despite with relatively minor tweaks here and there, the genre still sells millions and millions of copies annually with likes of Call of Duty and it provided one of the key platforms for competitive gaming through the likes of Counter Strike for example.

Leading up to the release, I thought it was going to be just another shooter trying to market itself using the franchise's legacy. For the case of Wolfenstein, the legacy of being the first one there - thats right, the original Wolfenstein from id software is pretty much the first game that let you see through the eyes of the protagonist as you go from room to room, clearing enemies while wielding a gun on the bottom of the screen. Yep, it was the very 1st FPS in history.

The story takes place during the high point of World War 2 in Europe, you crash land into a Nazi occupied castle, accompanied by a small group of soldiers scattered from various regiments, you have a clear task of cutting the head of the snake and end this war. The game captures the agony of defeat at your most vulnerable time -  just when you thought you had it won. It carries a very powerful and emotional punch to the gut itself, but what transpires during those darkest hours will haunt you throughout the rest of the game. It further connects you to the game on a very personal level. The characters that you meet to help you fight against the Nazis aren't just there to move the story forward, they aren't your typical forgettable characters you find in most shooters, oh no, they feel like real people going through real hell thanks to the New World Order of the Nazis. Everyone here lost something dear and precious in the 'Old World' to the Nazis and hence have very personal vendetta against them. While on the other side of the fence the cruel and horror nature of the Nazi is brought to life through very well written, well designed and I can confidently say, well hated antagonists in the game. You just don't want to save the people around you, but you also really want to hurt the Nazis and give them no mercy of a quick death.

First impressions are always going to be the visuals, and this game looks good, very good. Not just id tech 5 looks amazing here, from ultra crisp textures, great attention to detail in every corner to bring the world to life. What really caught my attention was the cinematography and the art style of the game: The game uses colors and their contrast to great effect, combined with the sheer attention to detail I mentioned before, it creates a visually orgasmic experience! The environments are very distinct and crafted with a lot of care and thought just like the rest of the game, no two places ever feels the same. Another thing to note, not only the game takes you to a wide variety of places across the world, but across the time as well. The art style, the condition of the world and it's inhabitants reflect this brilliantly.

The level design also gives the player a lot of options in dealing with situations and change tactics on the fly, which the game actually forces you to do so when playing in harder difficulty modes, which I suggest. The weapons are mostly standard you would expect from a sci-fi shooter with some cooling alternate firing modes and there is something incredibly satisfying when you can dual wield weapons like assault rifles, shotgun and even...rocket launchers..thats right..dual wield rocket launchers.

What really stood out for me is also the main reason I will continue to come back to this game long after I finished it is how precise and satisfying the shooting mechanics felt. It is just pure joy to point your gun and just shoot. Further, the weapons feel solid, distinct and carry satisfying feedback all of which combine to make one of the best shooting experience possible . It is the most basic mechanic for a shooter, but you would be surprised that most fail to deliver here. Modern shooters have made great strides in graphics and other enhancements through this medium, but it also came at a price of deteriorating the key functionalities which made this genre timeless. A lot of the essence of the genre is getting lost with modern 'refinements' being made into the genre. It is very pleasant to discover that Wolfenstein have gone back to basics with their approach to shooting. I found the firefights challenging without being frustrating most the time on the 2nd highest difficulty mode I played. The AI was definitely smart to box me in, flank and even find higher ground to get a upper hand during combat situations.Oh yeah one more thing, the game doesn't even have regenerating health, Win!

There really isn't much negative I can think off to be honest, I guess I have to really nitpick and can I fine just one - some of the textures are oddly of low resolution which really catches the eye because they are at times placed right next to the usual high resolution textures of the game, making it a bit distracting. Also I am not sure why, but the game doesn't have proper anti-aliasing support on the PC, kinda shocking really as it is a standard feature of PC Gaming. Not that the aliasing is too distracting or anything, but it is always nice to clean those jaggies when you have the power at your disposal.

Wolfenstein is very likely not just my game of the year, but it is one of the most important games to come around in my opinion with a clear message: sometimes you have to embrace the past to guide you a better future.

Editor's note: Since Bethesda also acquired the rights to another legendary shooter, DOOM. If they give that game the same level of treatment they gave to Wolfenstein, we can safely anticipate for another solid good comeback!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Toxic Nature of Gaming.

I am a big PS3 fan, but I never failed to see it's short comings or notice things Sony did wrong or the competition did better. Ever since I switched to PC as my primary platform, it opened my eyes even further, I really don't care about platforms and their fanboy 'wars', I just care about the games. With this new outlook in my gaming life, I never been any happier while playing.

Today, I went to see (a reddit like page where gamers post news stories) and realized the mess I left behind. The fanboys, used to be run by xbox fans in comments when it started several years ago, but for the past 3 years or so its completely run by Sony fanboys. What I find really fascinating and disturbing at the same time is their mindset, if something remotely legitimately negative comes about the PS brand or Sony, the poster gets thumbed down, yelled at for hours. Their common 'attack' right now against Xbox for example is they talk resolution and frames per second, granted, many of them have no idea what it is. Double standards seems to be a fully fledged weapon they use frequently: Talk about Drive Club's 30fps limitation, suddenly it doesn't matter anymore. If you talk about PC, they bring their list of exclusives and attack the PC by mentioning how you need a 2000$ PC to best the PS4, which is absurd obviously and no amount of logic does anything to help them.

Really, the fanboy atmosphere is extremely toxic. I will admit I myself love certain brands, but I love to equally criticize them. They don't own me nor I own them. Really wish this sort of cult disappears, as long as they are active, gaming will never flourish and will be treated as a poor man's entertainment industry.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Clearing one of the Myths surrounding PC Gaming.

I think I should clear the misunderstood fact that people think they 'need' to upgrade PC almost annually in order to play the games at full graphics. First of all, what is full graphics? I mean, I am running a game at full settings at 1080p and 4X anti aliasing, is that full graphics? To me it is. However, another person might be running the same game at 4K, to him that is full visual experience. While a crazy dude somewhere is running at 8k!

What I am trying to say is, there is nothing called full graphics in PC gaming, it improves over time mostly as technology advances allows you to push to greater definitions.

However, if you only mean by just the graphical details handled by various sliders and checkmarks in the game settings, then yes, people can claim they are running at maximum graphics.

However, the reason I made this post is because some people (the less informed console gamers) think somehow the GPU and CPU, almost mysteriously degrade overtime and they need to upgrade it to run latest games in full graphics. In PC gaming, the visual ceiling doesn't exist, it moves up very fast- every several months or less. What you are achieving by running a game in ultra setting, for example Battlefield 4, likely will give you the same graphical quality if you run Battlefield 5 under lower graphical setting the next year. Even if in BF 5, the graphical preset is High instead of Ultra, that is because the ceiling has moved up again.

Battlefield 3 running in Ultra Graphics on PC

Battlefield 4 running in High Graphics on PC

I don't know about you guys and girls, but from the given visual quality, the 'High' quality of Battlefield 4 looks much better and performs better than the 'Ultra' ceiling quality of Battlefield 3.  

So yeah, you don't need to upgrade regularly at all, unless you want to reach the very ceiling of visual quality all the time.