METAL GEAR SOLID V : THE PHANTOM PAIN
There’s a long and fascinating history surrounding the Metal Gear franchise. Metal Gear V: The Phantom Pain (full review here) changes the stealth game, elevating it to a new plateau, with several brilliant design choices. Long time fans, as well as new players to the series, will find a well crafted game brimming with memorable cinematic moments, and riveting tension filled missions to last for weeks of gaming.
Stealth game tropes have been stuck in third gear for years now. Then again, open world games like this year’s Grand Theft Auto V, seen intent on sticking to the same old conventions. Metal Gear V: Ground Zeroes (prequel chapter) and The Phantom Pain does to stealth games what first person perspectives did to action titles. Disposing of linear environments in lieu of fully open towns, outposts, and military bases.
There are no glowing spots on the ground to start missions. Dodging behind furniture, walls, and shadows, is just a small scope of the espionage portion of this game. There’s careful reconnaissance that must be invested before entering a guarded location. Gathering intelligence is completely up to you, but can be achieved through a logical approach. You are rewarded accordingly for your approach to each mission.
The game world operates as a single entity to create a more realistic experience. Guards change shifts meaning trucks will arrive and deposit replacements at key intervals throughout each day. Alerted bases will double up on defenders. Rely on night vision and sniping and you will also see an increase in enemies with NV goggles and laser sighted sniper rifles. Lose patience and go in gun’s blazing repeatedly and you will notice enemy locations become more heavily armored. Enemies radio each other to converge and flank your location if you are spotted. They may even radio neighboring outposts to be on the lookout.
For all the challenges these bases, outposts, and towns bring, being able to surgically destroy them without raising an alarm is a satisfying thrill. One can spend an hour canvassing a highly defended location. Isolating soldiers and extracting the most skilled, one by one, until the base is barely defended. Setting traps, decoys, and other distractions to confuse enemies and slip by unnoticed is a stealth genre mainstay – but by offering such vast freedom to players on their approach, it feels new and unique.
Metal Gear V is hampered by some mid-game slow downs in creative mission design and heart pounding cutscenes. However it is easily forgivable due to how well everything is designed. In addition, some of the slower moments lead to a climactic build up as another mysterious chapter unfolds in the story. The Phantom Pain wields tension over it’s head like a spinning mace. One moment it’s upon you, running from the horrors in the mist, the next you’re calm pondering your next move, and then it’s on you again.
A PC release alongside console was a brilliant decision by Konami (and a first). The Phantom Pain PC version achieves the best resolutions and highest graphical settings for the best aesthetic presentation to this intelligent espionage game. While an easy entry into any “best of 2015” PC game discussion, in time it could prove to be one of the best stealth games ever made, and the title that forever changed the entire genre.
SHADOWRUN: HONG KONG
Do you like to refer to party members in your rpgs as chummers? Have an undying love for William Gibson? Like to upgrade your deck and battle ICE in the Matrix while your meatbag partners twiddle their thumbs? Then you’ve probably already played at least one of Harebrained Scheme’s entries in the Shadowrun franchise. Based on the pen and paper roleplaying franchise that started in the 80s, rose to prominence in the 90s, faded out of popular mention in the 2000s and rose from the ashes again with a successful Kickstarter campaign to bring the setting to the PC as a turn-based roleplaying game in 2012.
Here’s the lowdown: The first game, Shadowrun Returns, was greeted with a warm reception, even though there was legitimate criticism in regards to bugs, campaign length, and uneven writing. Much of this was addressed in a subsequent retooling. The second entry, an expansion to the first title, Shadowrun: Dragonfall came out next, with an even warmer reception, despite the continuation of game-breaking bugs. Shadowrun: Hong Kong landed in 2015 after another Kickstarter campaign, and it’s the best entry into the series to date…even though it also launched with game-breaking bugs. The easiest way to sum up the series so far is: excellent cyberpunk rpg, great turn-based mechanics, relatively short campaigns and game-breaking bugs at launch that are often not completely resolved until several months down the road.
I was going to review Shadowrun: Hong Kong for Gone With The Win, and loved my playthrough of it, except that at the very end…and I do mean the final-mission-very-end…I ran into a game-breaking bug that prevented me from finishing the game. Several bug-patches later, it still wasn’t fixed, and I was forced to move on due to timeliness and not wanting to have to give an ultimately bad review for a game that I otherwise enjoyed very much. At this point in time, the bugs have been exterminated, and that’s a good thing, because Shadowrun: Hong Kong is definitely the strongest game of the three.
The writing is superlative, the quests are generally very engaging, despite an abrupt transition from a series of side-quests into the final portion of the main campaign. The setting is extremely well done, from the neon-highlighted urban decay to the flavor text that abounds in dialogue and log entries. Combat is a strong point as well. It’s rewarding, at times difficult and provides a meaningful challenge that helps move the game forward. It didn’t receive the media hype that games such as Fallout 4 and Witcher 3 did, but at it’s core Shadowrun: Hong Kong is a tightly woven, engrossing rpg that deserves to be played and it’s one of the best games and rpgs of 21015…now that the bugs have been fixed. – Zach
A couple of guys watched and adored the much beloved Firefly TV show, some years later they sat around a table and said “Hey! let’s make Firefly into a game! But we’ll call it Rebel Galaxy!”(full review). Is this vision what really happened many moons ago when this game began development? Considering how this game feels identical to a season of that hit show, I couldn’t see it coming about any other way. But aside from the popular cult show resemblance, the game is an action filled adventurous blast across the cosmos.
Much of Rebel Galaxy is revolves around the naval broadside combat on a singular plane, with fighters, cruisers, and immense awe inspiring capital ships. Enemy AI formations and tactics become quite formidable as you progress. Your ability to conduct hit and run tactics, or evasion based approaches can be taken away from you by the more advanced enemy ambushes. Forcing you to hustle for every credit and fill your ship with the utmost in combat technologies to counter.
While not a game to be missed, be sure to clear over 100 hours on your calendar, and while you’re at it play Rebel Galaxy atop a toilet to save time. This is a long game, with a choice driven story, that never lets its foot off the warp drive. Did I mention the dusty southern rock infused soundtrack? It’s awesome. It mirrors the rebellious, cutthroat, and chaotic environment you are trying to survive in. Sit back, forget about shaving, and let Rebel Galaxy own your soul for the next few months. – Leo
When you look at the tortured and controversial development path of Star Citizen, with its insane crowd-sourced funding and astronomical budget, the fact that Rebel Galaxy was developed by TWO people makes an already impressive game look even more so.
Like Darkest Dungeon, this is another game from a small development team where all the pieces are so well-crafted and joined together that the end result is a masterpiece. The Firefly inspiration is front and center, from the western-tinged score to the the conceit of a lone weathered ship travelling the badlands of the ‘verse from one job to the next, hoping to earn enough income and resources to make it to the next journey. But there are also strong hints of influence from games like Freelancer and the X series, with an open universe, side quests and exploration that reward you with upgrades, credits, and trade, adding depth to the game beyond the well-made campaign.
Combat is almost naval in nature, with the focus on using “broadside” tactics and the challenge of out maneuvering enemies. Rebel Galaxy has a strong arcade feel, versus the more complicated and sluggish feeling of other space sims, with the end result of engagements that are exciting, filled with tension and as reliant on reflexes and timing as they are on loadouts and upgrades. Want to play the best game released by a two-man studio in 2015 and one of the best games of 2015 in general? Then play Rebel Galaxy and blaze your trail to fame in a universe full of action and adventure.