Tag Archives: Ubisoft

Valiant Hearts: The Great War can bloom even on a battlefield

valiant hearts gd early impressions

I don’t know much about war, but I suspect I’m more knowledgeable when it comes to details related to World War II than World War I. Mind you, this is not me saying I’m knowledgeable at all. Just more familiar with how things went down from 1939 to 1945. Blame it heavier on popular entertainment media than my limited history school lessons, as I probably absorbed more from things like Band of Brothers and The Saboteur than anything else. As for World War I…well, I know it was one of the deadliest conflicts, with some absolutely terrifying weapons of war used. Like severe mustard gas.

So, naturally, there’s not a plethora of games based on this happy-go-lucky time period, though I did recently puzzle my way through Covert Front‘s alternative take on World War I. Ubisoft’s Valiant Hearts: The Great War is also a puzzle adventure game, released in summer 2014 and developed by Ubisoft Montpellier, and walks the path of being both fun to play and educational. Evidently, the game was inspired by actual letters written during World War I and focuses on four different characters: the Frenchman Emile, his German son-in-law Karl, American soldier Freddie, and Belgian nurse Anna. It’s a heart-twisting story of love and survival, sacrifice and friendship. There’s also a dog you can continuously pet.

Valiant Hearts: The Great War is divided up into four chapters, and each chapter is split into several sections. Most of these sections you to clear an objective in order to progress through the story, like solving environmental puzzles or acquiring specific items related to the situation. Other sections mix the action up, such as surviving heavy gunfire, stealthing past enemies undetected, and, my personal favorite, rhythmic car chase scenarios set to classic songs where you have to avoid obstacles in the road. Also, each of the four characters is able to interact with the world based on who they are, such as Emile shoveling through soft ground, Freddie cutting barbed wires with his shears, and Anna treating patients’ injuries through a mini QTE. When available, the characters can order the dog to carry objects and push levers.

Despite the tone and horrific historical details, I’m really enjoying my time so far in Valiant Hearts: The Great War. It’s got a fantastic, cartoonish art style, and the puzzles have not gotten too complicated to the point where I’d want to throw the controller away. Even if they do, there’s an in-game, timer-based hint system, if you need an extra clue on what to do with the dog or how to sneak by that watchful sniper in the tower. Toss in some relaxing piano tunes for when you are reading up on days past, as well as a soothing narrator, and this is a strangely tranquil gaming experience amidst all the explosions and mortar shells. I’m somewhere in the middle of chapter two currently, so I don’t expect this to last that much longer, but that’s okay. It’s bite-size, but so far quite filling.

Lastly, I keep thinking from its title that Valiant Hearts is somehow related to Vandal Hearts, a PlayStation 1 tactics RPG that I regret trading in back when I was young and dumb (but haven’t written about yet). Alas, the two are no more related than…well, I tried for the longest time to think of some witty war comparison here, but came up empty. Germany and Canada? Meh. If you’ve got a killer line, drop it in the comments.

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The Division’s straightforward formula has been activated

tc the division further impressions

I’ve been playing Tom Clancy’s The Division–from here forward more succinctly written just as The Division, because, really now, I don’t think Tom Clancy the author man had anything to do with it–for about two weeks now, plugging away at keeping virus-laden Manhattan, New York as safe as one possibly can during these tough times. I’ve also given a lot of bottles of water to those in need for clean, sometimes trendy, attire, and I’ve also done my fair share of shooting “bad” dudes in the fleshy bits while hanging back to heal my teammates and distract enemies. It’s a cover-based shooter, for better or worse, and good fun with a group of friends.

The story has promise, banking on at least my fear about both chemical warfare and the mass hysteria that unearths during the annual Black Friday shopping event, which, with every new year, begins to expand and trickle into the Thursday prior. Maybe even starting on Wednesday night for some greedy stores. Anyways, a smallpox pandemic called “Green Poison” is spread on banknotes and then circulated around, forcing Manhattan to be quarantined by the government. The U.S. government jumps into action, activating sleeper agents in the population who operate for the Strategic Homeland Division to assist emergency responders, now called the Joint Task Force (JTF), in restoring order. You play as one of these agents, doing things like retrieving important personnel and combating criminal groups, like the Rikers, which are escapees from Rikers Island.

To be honest, and I don’t know if this is because I’ve played the majority of story missions cooperatively with a group of chatty souls, where it is often hard to pay attention to cutscenes and ambient dialogue, but the story seems like all premise and nothing truly substantial. I’ve rescued people, but they aren’t interesting or important to much else that happens afterwards, and every scenario is built around getting the Division agents into a room full of low barriers and red, explosive barrels to have a chaotic shootout. That’s fine and all, considering the shooting gameplay is solid and enjoyable, but a lot of the action doesn’t feel very purposeful. Especially when you walk away from a story mission with only a new weapon blueprint and some XP.

I completed the last main story mission a few nights ago, and the reason I know it was the last main story mission is because a screen pops up afterwards, telling you about going into the Dark Zone and promising more content in the future. I don’t really even know what happened. I hid towards the back while my higher level teammates shot down a helicopter. I thought we were looking for a cure or a means to get there, but I don’t know why we did this, and why the plot ended here. Seems like it stopped too short, and the rest of any story bits can be picked up via the hundreds of collectibles scattered across the map. I’d like to tell you that I won’t go and get them all, but this is me…I love setting a waypoint and heading to it to grab a thing.

If anything, The Division has a fashion problem. Which is unfortunate, because it’s the aspect of the game I’m drawn to the most. Yup, you read that right. I’d rather play dress up than shoot up. I love dressing up my avatars in games like The Sims or Animal Crossing: New Leaf or Fallout 4. It helps bring out both my personality and theirs, and getting a new piece of clothing to try on is exciting. Not in real life, but digitally…yes. I can’t really explain it. Alas, the clothing drops in The Division are drab and dull and barely contain any character. I’ve mostly leaned toward outfits that feature sharp oranges or blues to at least stand out a bit in this colorless world. Thankfully, your clothing inventory is separate from gear and has no limit, but it can still be overwhelming to sift through in search of a new hat or pair of hiking boots.

I hit the level cap of 30 last night, which now unlocks daily missions–basically the same story missions you’ve already done, but at a higher difficulty with the promise of good loot–as well as high-end gear. Which means a gun that does more damage, a backpack that provides more health, and so on. You know, numbers going up. I haven’t experienced much of the Dark Zone yet, with intentions of entering it after checking off most of the story-central stuff. Unfortunately, I still have like three hundred different collectibles to get, not an exaggeration, as well as two more wings to upgrade back at my main base of operation. I suspect I’ll keep playing, certainly to get all these items, but also because I bought the game’s season pass, and there’s more content down the road. Hopefully it’s more than just a bunch of generic-sounding missions that force you to aim a gun at someone who is also aiming a gun at you.

Overall, I’d say that The Division is a pretty good game, with some severe weaknesses when it comes to its story and mission variety. It is at its most enjoyable when playing with friends, telling stories, making jokes, and occasionally paying attention to the dangers that actually lay ahead. Running to and fro across the map by myself reveals just how lonely of a time one can have in Ubisoft’s diseased New York City, and getting into firefights along the way results in either being amazingly easy or the most difficult struggles of your career as a secret agent. I prefer a crew and playing a part in said crew, which, for me, is to toss out a turret to distract enemies while running around and ensuring everyone is healed up. I’ll also occasionally fire a bullet at someone. It’s camaraderie that keeps The Division together, keeps me navigating through less-than-impressive menu UI. Without that, the sickness will win.

2016 Game Review Haiku, #25 – Tom Clancy’s The Division

2016 gd games completed tom clancy the division

New York very sick
You have been activated
To shoot bad humans

Here we go again. Another year of me attempting to produce quality Japanese poetry about the videogames I complete in three syllable-based phases of 5, 7, and 5. I hope you never tire of this because, as far as I can see into the murky darkness–and leap year–that is 2016, I’ll never tire of it either. Perhaps this’ll be the year I finally cross the one hundred mark. Buckle up–it’s sure to be a bumpy ride. Yoi ryokō o.

Meet me in the Dark Zone in Tom Clancy’s The Division

gd impressions TOM CLANCY THE DIVISION BETA

You can’t see my face, but my eyes are both blurry and extra droopy today, and that’s because I put about four hours straight into Tom Clancy’s The Division last night, only stopping once to grab a glass of water. Specifically, it’s free, open beta thingy, happening from February 18 through the weekend. Xbox One owners got to get in a day early, which is better for me, since I’ll be traveling and visiting family over the weekend. Either way, this is actually my first experience with a beta/early access kind of game, and I’m coming away from it with a better understanding of what The Division is about, and maybe what it might become down the line. All in all, I think I’m in.

Story details are not the focus of the open beta, but here’s what I know so far about The Division. A smallpox pandemic, transmitted by a virus planted onto banknotes, spreads on Black Friday, throwing the United States into mayhem and panic. The U.S. government swiftly collapses in five days, and basic services follow after that. Without access to food or water, the country quickly descends into chaos. You play as an agent of the Strategic Homeland Division (SHD), or “The Division” for short, which is a classified stay-behind force of self-supported tactical agents under direct orders from POTUS to prevent the fall of society.

The Division‘s core mechanics are similar to other action-based third person-shooters of the last generation or so, like Gears of War and The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, in which the player character can carry multiple firearms, grenades, and equippable skills that create effects on the playing field, like dropping a mini turret or pinging the area to highlight enemies from allies. Players can take cover behind objects during firefights, like cars and barriers, to avoid taking damage from enemies and provide a tactical advantage when attacking. Or you can do what I do often, which is forget to hide behind cover and stand right in the lines of enemy fire, taking shot after shot to the chest and wondering why I’m bleeding out so fast.

There’s also loot, which is where this begins to be more of an RPG like Diablo than a straightforward corridor crawl of just shooting fleshbags and moving on without a care to their corpse. First, there’s customizeable gear for your person, like new coats, shoes, breathing masks, and such, which are cosmetic only. Then there’s actually new pieces of armor and backpacks, as well as different types of weapons. You can carry two larger weapons, as well as a pistol-sized gun, switching between them with the press of a button. Naturally, there’s also a ton of mods to loot or purchase, which provide new grips, scopes, and muzzles. I’ve been focusing on using the pistol and Ballistic Shield ability, hanging back to heal myself and others via the First Aid ability.

Lastly, let me talk about the Dark Zone, since there were only two story-based missions in The Division‘s open beta, one of which was a surprising amount of fun, but they are over rather quickly. Basically, the Dark Zone, besides being the name of my forthcoming new wave death-metal band, is a player-versus-player competitive multiplayer mode, where a lot of high-end weapons are left behind when the military retreats in the game. It is separate from the main campaign and even has its own progression system, represented as a purple experience bar that fills up as you do stuff. Basically, players can discover contaminated loot inside a Dark Zone area, and these valuable items can be stolen by other players in the zone; the only way to permanently add this gear to your inventory is to extract them via a helicopter, which arrives after a timer countdowns. Other players can join you in hopes of extracting their loot, but both A.I.-controlled enemies and agents gone rogue will attack in hopes of performing a successful robbery. This means that every new non-lethal agent that pops up in the area has the potential to be a threat, which raises the tension of extracting higher.

Visually, The Division is extremely sharp, with dynamic weather effects and time of day changing somewhat unnoticeable…until you notice it is dark out. I’ve only been in NYC a few times, but the recognizable areas are there, and the map seems to correlate directly to real life, which is both cool and staggering. I played with a buddy of mine, and that definitely made for a more enjoyable–and learned–experience as he taught me some of the systems and lead the way. I do worry that if I can’t team up with people that The Division will be less fun to grind through solo, and even more tough to survive out in the Dark Zone.

Either way, I’m looking forward to playing a bit more during the open beta, and then we’ll see if I’m committed or not to The Division next month when it actually releases to all. This could be addicting, or it could be like Diablo III: Reaper of Souls was for me, addicting for sure, but only for a little bit.

Forget pirating, there’s shanties to chase in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

Assassins Creed IV Black Flag gd early impressions

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag was given out to Xbox 360 players for free as part of the Games with Gold program back in…oh my, late April 2015. For some reason, I thought it had been sitting in my digital library for longer than that. At some point, it was also given out to peeps on the Xbox One, but I didn’t have the console yet and wasn’t smart enough then to know that I could still click download and tie it to my account for future use, which means I’m stuck playing the previous generation version. It is serviceable, though I’m sure facial expressions are a bit more lifelike on the newer consoles.

A reminder for any new readers here at Grinding Down on my history with the Assassin’s Creed series, which I enjoy from a somewhat casual perspective. Once I’m into one, I’m into it, unable to not climb to every rooftop and take care of each icon on the map until all that is left is a clutter-less picture. I got into the series like many did at the start, finding the first Assassin’s Creed impressive, but repetitive. Then, for some reason, I next played Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood and absolutely loved it, both the single player campaign and the multiplayer, which is an aspect of gaming I generally steer clear of. Last year, I went back and played Assassin’s Creed II, which helped to make more sense of story details in Brotherhood though that’s on me for playing them out of order. And now here we are, skipping Assassin’s Creed: Revelations and Assassin’s Creed III to do some hardcore pirating. Fine by me.

Black Flag‘s main story is set in the 18th century Caribbean during the golden age of piracy, people being smarmy, and lots of ships sailing to and fro. The plot follows notorious pirate Edward Kenway, the grandfather and father of Assassin’s Creed III protagonists Ratonhnhaké:ton and Haytham Kenway, respectively, who stumbles into the conflict between assassins and Templars after he is shipwrecked. In the present day scenario, you are a new employee working at the Montreal offices of Abstergo Entertainment—a subsidiary of Abstergo Industries—exploring its cubicles, eavesdropping on conversations, and hacking computers to uncover secrets about the sinister company. To be honest, I don’t care a lick about the storyline so far, in both realms; thankfully, the gameplay provides plenty to draw enjoyment from, and never demands you get on with the ruddy campaign.

In terms of gameplay, there’s all the usual elements from previous Assassin’s Creed games here: climbing, stealth assassinating, syncing, looting, running, hiring groups of people to hide among, trailing guards, and so on. The new stuff is mostly ocean-bound, with Kenway able to sail a ship, plunder and loot other ships, and explore numerous islands on the map that may house treasure and other goodies, like rare animals to murder for your fancy pouches and outfits. By far, my favorite advancement in this series is that everything is now available on your map after syncing a high view point, and then you can spend the next hour or so collecting each and every thing before moving on to do the actual story mission. Or collecting more from another synced view point. There’s little hand-holding, with the game treating you as an actual, capable adult–these decisions are yours to make. Plus, to catch shanties for your pirate crew to sing while sailing the ocean blue, you have to chase them down in the environment, which is way more fun than simply chasing a dude down in a race or for a few coins.

Still, it’s another Assassin’s Creed game from Ubisoft, and some stuff never changes. Like having your character leap from a building’s rooftop and lose half his health when really you meant for him to move a little to the left and travel along that rope tied to another rooftop. Also, and I want to do some more research into this, but the subtitles follow a strange style related to capitalization, where most words in a sentence are uppercase, but not all of them. Like so: “Avast, Kenway! Do you have Time to Make your crew a Large Plate of Scrambled eggs? We are Totes Hungry.” I don’t know, it’s very strange and hard to not notice since I enjoy reading words. Missions where you trail dudes and have to maintain a specific distance with them, but not be spotted return, though at least you can rate them one star at the end through Abstergo’s feedback forms. I still think combat is fairly button mashy and annoying, which is why I try to go for the stealth kills if I can.

The stats screen at the start says I’ve completed 15% of Black Flag so far, and in terms of story, I’m somewhere in sequence 3. That’s fine. I’m in no rush, especially when there are so many glyphs, treasure chests, and shanties to grab, as well as assassination targets and pirates to rescue and kitty cats to pet. Did I not yet mention you can press a button to pet a cat as it moves between your legs? And that it purrs affectionately? The best Assassin’s Creed game yet.

Hunting the West’s most notorious outlaws and making it up as I go

call of juarez gd impressions screenshot

Sixes and sevens! Did I really beat Call of Juarez: Gunslinger over a month ago and have still not officially written more than a haiku about it? Grrr. That’s summer for you, when I can only keep my head down, power through games, scribble a slimsey attempt at Japanese poetry, and move on to my next conquest. Makes me wonder when I’ll get around to finishing that post on The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, but enough of that–today is all about one cowboy’s quest for revenge after his life became a cropper. Yes, I looked up a bunch of Western slang for this intro post; did you know folk used to call onions skunk eggs? Makes sense to me.

Fortuitously, Call of Juarez: Gunslinger arrived in my PlayStation Plus library a day or two after I rewatched Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, which is not necessarily a Western, but does star some bounty hunters and pistols being quickly drawn. Plus intense and over-the-top violence. The big difference between those two properties is not just that one is a game and one is a film, but rather Tarantino’s work is a train-driven narrative, and Call of Juarez: Gunslinger openly and playfully skirts the edge of a reliable narrator and plot. Without that uncertainty, it would be another ho-hum first-person shooter with little to it, as other entries have dabbled in similar mechanics and visual styles.

The story is as so: legendary old bounty hunter Silas Greaves enters a saloon in Abilene, Kansas, in 1910 and regales the patrons with tales of his adventures in exchange for free drinks. The patrons–Steve, Jack, and a teenager named Dwight–are amazed at first, but grow increasingly incredulous as the ludicrous stories go on and on and on, in which Greaves takes credit for the killings of numerous legendary outlaws, including Butch Cassidy and Newman Haynes Clanton. See, Greaves likes to embellish where and when he can, and this plays into the gameplay, where scenarios and events will change on the fly based on what is being told and what is being questioned. The first time it happens, mid-action, I couldn’t help but smile at the swift change of course.

I’ve never touched any of the other Call of Juarez titles–namely the first one, Bound in Blood, and The Cartel–but they sound like they share similar elements. Gameplay in Gunslinger consists of completing linear objectives to progress, and these usually involve shooting dudes who are shooting at you until they stop shooting at you because you shot them down. Occasionally, you’ll have to dodge bullets via a quick time event or act honorably–but deadly–in a traditional gunslinger duel. Those duels are a ton of fun, as you have to pay attention to multiple aspects and timers, like heartbeats and the location of your hand, and not draw too early or else you’ll be labeled a dastardly varmint. Thankfully, all villains were shot down honorably in my playthrough.

Other than that, there are collectibles called “Nuggets of Truth” to find, of which many are easy to spy as they sparkle in-game. If that’s not enough, you can unlock a perk to have them play a jingle and vibrate your controller when nearby. Still, I missed a few, but they offer some interesting tidbits about the multiple characters and legends of the Wild West. In an action-driven game, I found it difficult to steer off the main path in search for shiny doodads and playing cards.

Call of Juarez: Gunslinger does a fantastic job at dumping you into an ever-changing world and giving you all the abilities to be an unstoppable force–without actually making you unstoppable. Even on the standard difficulty, I ran into some trouble, though most had to do with the few boss fights and figuring out the best way to approach them over a handful of tries. The game’s tone is outlandish in all the right ways, keeping the action frenetic and unpredictable, and my only complaint is that I wish the ending had been more profound instead of simply a twist, one played far too straight for a man like Silas Greaves.

2015 Game Review Haiku, #34 – Call of Juarez: Gunslinger

gd 2015 games completed call of juarez gunslinger

Story of Silas
And the bad men he’s hunting
Listen up, Old West

From 2012 all through 2013, I wrote little haikus here at Grinding Down about every game I beat or completed, totaling 104 in the end. I took a break from this format last year in an attempt to get more artsy, only to realize that I missed doing it dearly. So, we’re back. Or rather, I am. Hope you enjoy my continued take on videogame-inspired Japanese poetry in three phases of 5, 7, and 5, respectively.