Hitman: Absolution is an absolute hit indeed!

Today’s game review is a favorite series of mine, made by Eidos Interactive in the older years, this series is now under Square Enix and IO interactive. This is of course, Hitman : Absolution.

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Hitman : Absolution is the latest installment to the series that follows on the story of Agent 47, a genetically enhanced super assassin with perfect finesse and to the point professionalism.

For those unfamiliar to the game, this is a 3rd Person Stealth Action game, while the emphasis is to prioritize on stealth assassinations and leaving the environment completely untouched, the option to go guns blazing and all out gun fighting is available. You can take the slow route or the fast route. Its greatest strength is in the multitude of choices available to players in taking down their targets, you can snipe them from a vantage point, poison their food or drip gasoline on an area they’ll walk upon and start a fire with a well placed shot, the choice is yours.

The game runs on the Glacier 2 Engine, and its a real treat to see just how detailed and lovingly made each level is. Character models too have been given a much deserved treatment making cinematic sequences that more engaging, coupled with very good motion capture that displays facial emotions very realistically and an amazing group of voice actors that absolutely drew me into the game when the action picks up. The engine also has the ability to create crowds of people to populate levels, as many as up to a 1000 or more people as seen in the Chinatown game play demo below.

Now as amazing as this game looks, there were a a few minor points which I didn’t quite like, mostly to do with the color. Some cut scenes had some odd color schemes that felt out of place and actually gave me some flashbacks to Max Payne 3 which used very off tone colors and also threw around some shocking bright lights. But these are very few and aren’t headache inducing.

The art style of the game is realistic and serious in tone, but don’t let it fool you, there are plenty of funny moments found within the game ‘s environments and from ‘accidental’ eavesdropping. Its the familiar kind of dark humor found in nearly every Hitman game, which balances the serious story line,  giving a very enjoyable giggle or two in between missions. Like in the very first mission, a guard gets some good news and is having the best day of his life, nothing’s going to rain on his parade, until I came along and thew him off a cliff. Don’t look at me like that, he was in my way.

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Environments range from secluded villa hideouts with lush gardens, a strip club, a shooting range and a small township stuck in a 50’s era feel, giving the game a lot of variety.  Also in between the larger map missions, there a smaller ones that can be completed in mere minutes, but even these short sections showcase parts of the Hitman back story which are actually interesting to play through. There are a total of 20 levels to play through, and while most can complete the game within 15+ plus hours, many will be replaying the levels, not just to collect every weapon or disguise available, but to complete the Challenges unique to those levels only. Completing the challenges unlocks abilities for 47, which are generally just minimal improvements such as faster reloading or quicker knock outs. These abilities remain active upon acquiring them, so there is no customization at all for Single Player. That includes the pre-mission load up of choosing your weapons and gear from your safe house. I always loved that feature of walking around your home base and testing your weapons before starting a mission, sadly this was taken out completely.

What is a great thing though is the fact that each mission and level is so well done. I found myself coming back to replay those missions at least three to four times. This is because at the end of every mission, a check list is shown next to your score and rating, showing all the possible items you can find and disguises as well as Challenges that act as clues to a specific way of killing your target. This actually compelled me to replay each level over and over again, until I got everything I could, or when I got stuck trying to complete them.

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Game play wise,  47’s movements and gun wielding abilities and tight  and easy to execute. Also, when aiming with guns, lightly squeezing the trigger actually focuses the cross hair, improving accuracy before taking the shot. Bringing in more fun to this is the addition of an Instinct Meter. This is 47’s “Eagle Vision”, when activated, all targets and henchmen are highlighted in a red or yellow silhouette and items of interest, such as key cards, switches, hiding spots and weapons are shown. The Instinct Meter is only used up in two ways, to slip by enemies of the same outfit 47 has on and when using “Point Shooting” which slows down time and allows the player to manually mark any enemy within sight and which area on their body 47 will shoot at (head shots, or crotch shots if you feel like it…), which when done or when the meter runs out, 47 will then do as planned in one swift motion automatically, with the dynamic camera zooming in and going slow-mo on killing hits, it is truly a sight to behold. This mechanic is a beautiful addition, and is easily my favorite thing to do, as it not only helps in a rough gun fight, it is also a surefire way to making sure a silent shot will make its mark. This ability does not work with sniper rifles though.

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Without spoiling too much of the story, in Hitman Absolution, Agent 47 opens up the game with a prologue where he has been assigned to assassinate his former handler, one which many veterans of this series will recognize, Diane Burnwood. Agent 47 later discovers why he has been tasked to do so and rescues a young girl, who holds a secret which forces the Agency to track them down, and along for the ride is a well organized team of very menacing cowboy-esque mercenaries and a top kingpin, who’s only goal is to get the girl and hold her ransom. The story is a chase, and a very engaging one at the that, but like many great titles out this year, its ending tends to be rather generic and does just enough to close up, its an appropriate ending, but I can’t help but feel that more could have been done.

Despite some characters having little to no exposition or growth from the entire story, the voice actors do an amazing job in displaying each character we see on screen. Each voice is just a perfect blend into the character models and expressions, and this makes a really absorbing and cinematic experience for players and viewers alike. Even the henchmen who chat and complain about their less than stellar employers add to the setting.

This is also the first game in the series to include multiplayer. This mode is called Contracts mode, and what it is, is essentially a worldwide challenge mode. Players can opt to go online and tackle assassination contracts for in game money which can be used to purchase more weapons and disguises as well as compete to be the richest assassin out  there. The coolest thing about this is the ability to create your own contracts, and this is done in such an easy way. How do you make a contract? Well, just play the game like your normally do, only this time, you can choose your targets and decide what disguise and weapon is to be used on said target. You can mark up to 3 targets and use anything found within the level or whatever you chose to bring for the mission from a very simple load out screen of whatever weapons and disguises you have unlocked. You then write in a mission brief if you want and then its saved online to be taken on by any and every player around the world.

This makes the game very competitive, as your high score is shown on every level along with the average high score for your country and worldwide. Placing not only you as an individual to outperform your friends, but as country to country as well.

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Suffice to say, I loved this game. It took away a few things, but it gave back so much more. Veterans and fans will find this game does justice to its predecessors and new comers to the series get to see and know just how bad ass Agent 47 is. As a whole, this game stands very strongly on its own, it does not call too much from its past lore to confuse new players, at the same time it does offer very little to long term followers. Nevertheless, its a very fun game to play, has a decent story despite its short and generic ending, a good amount of challenges to complete in Single Player and a good host of online levels to play through. This is a solid game to buy and to keep in your library.

Hitman: Absolution is available for purchase in your local game store for RM 189 and on Steam for USD$49.99. Free DLC is included  with full game if pre-ordered in certain outlets.

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XCOM returns! This is how you remake a game!

XCOM Enemy Unknown has been on my watch list since the day it was announced. I have always been a hardcore fan of the game, ever since playing it for the first time on the old Atari computer. Now, after waiting for so many years, playing its less than attractive spin offs and agonizing over the risk that it may never come to be over the earlier debate that turn based strategy games are no longer in focus, it is finally here, and I can sum the game up in one word: Glorious!

Firaxis really does love this game, and they prove it by giving us a near EXACT replica of the very game we know and love, with improved graphics and personal touches that add even more to an already stellar game. Veterans of the series will appreciate the new additions that include, an enhanced Geoscope, customization of troops and armor, a satellite up link to control and monitor alien activity in other nations and a bonus reward when you have complete coverage of a continent. Besides that base construction is made more streamlined in an ant farm style, choose and place, UI.

The largest stand out however is the new squad limit. In the earlier XCOM games, a small battalion of soldiers could be deployed, in the newest revival, we start out with only four squad members, upgrades will allow a maximum of only six members. This makes strategy and planning integral, as the limited number of soldiers can only offer so much to get the job done, especially early game when you go up against aliens with much deadlier weaponry and technology. As you complete more missions and your survivors gain veterancy, you will start to learn and counter develop the alien tech and soon will be producing better weapons and armor to battle them back with, giving them a taste of their own medicine! But…

That being said, the Aliens aren’t a soft bunch either. Just as you study about them, they study about you too. As you advance in the game with newer toys to fry them up, they too start deploying more deadlier enemy types, such as the Berserker, a heavy melee enemy that takes a ton of damage and every time it get targeted, hit or miss, it gains a free move, getting ever closer to your Sniper or Assault troop. And that’s not all, mechanical enemies that have weapons which can easily obliterate a badly placed group of soldiers in one turn, soon emerge among the shadows. What was once an advantage for you, soon becomes nothing, so planning and execution is crucial to survival.

As the Commander of the entire XCOM initiative, its is your responsibility to ensure all the nations in the world are kept safe from the alien abductions and acts of terror. Missions range from mass rescue missions, extraction of VIP’s and Alien UFO landings\crashes. All of which are varied and unpredictable as the situation of missions can change just after one turn. One mistake could cost you the life of a valuable veteran or even worse, total annihilation. Every move must be considered and every advantage must be used, the efforts of one are nothing to the work of many and the heroes of today may very well be the casualties  of tomorrow.

Hence before every mission, it is important to go through each soldier and equip them with the essentials, Support troops should have med kits, Snipers are with the S.C.O.P.E attachment and Assault troops with Chitin add on armour, or if you want to go for more damage, bring grenades. Those who enter the battle relying purely on chance, will likely not return at all. This is why XCOM holds such a special place in my heart, its a game that has the challenge curve designed to be just enough to always keep you on your toes. The soldiers you control and command, will grow and soon a silent attachment is formed between you and them, you start to imagine how their personalities are like and what it would be like if they were real and how they would interact as a group.

And the heartache you would feel, should they fall in combat. Just as I felt when my very own Major Shinji “Shadow” Yamada took a critical hit from a enemy grunt. When his digital body hit the floor and my next soldier panicked, I panicked with him for a little while. I had to stop the game and just sit for a moment. I needed to realize that the tables have been turned again, my laser weaponry was barely cutting through the new enemy type and that I needed to rethink my strategy. After a quick drink, I jumped back in and this time, Shinji made it out alive with the rest of the squad.

It was only a matter of time however until more enemies started showing up, Shinji and his squad were put to the test. Having new squaddies get mauled and turned into zombies before chrysalids burst out from them, taking what survivors I could, to get them strong enough in time before the invasion got worse. Time is running out, my research team just alerted me that the alien weapon has been researched and we can start manufacturing the very same weapons they’ve been killing us with since the beginning. Its time for some payback.

XCOM Enemy Unknown digs deep into its roots and brings out the very best it has to offer to both old and new players. I highly recommend getting this game. If the turn based tactical strategy genre looked to be fading out of existence, XCOM definitely knocks that assumption out of the park. Get it and play it, either on PC, PS3 or XBOX, the people of Firaxis have made it easy to play for any and everyone.

Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked, Yet

ImageWe return once more to the expansive planet of Pandora! (not the one with giant, blue, rat people, the “other” one). Gearbox’s beloved FPS + Loot-a-mania game makes a comeback with a bigger world, larger bosses and guns, guns, GUNS!

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Fans and players of the first Borderlands will understand when I say most share a love\hate idea with the previous game. It captured so many people with its colorful art style, smooth and responsive gun play, addictive randomized loot and of course its uniquely charming and witty characters. The major downside of it all was the less than stellar ending. (Still gives me bad flashbacks…)

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L -> R : Zer0, Brick, Lilith, Axton, Maya, Roland, Mordecai & Salvador.

However, all this is made up for with Borderlands 2, as they mesh a great story with the old vault hunters and the new ones, as they pitch in to bring down the game’s major bad guy, leader of the Hyperion Weapons Manufacturer, Handsome Jack. Players choose from any of the 4 classes, Commando, Assassin, Siren and Gun-zerker, each with their own skill tree’s which offer varying play styles. For those who pre-ordered or are a member of the Gearbox Club, you’ll get to enjoy the new DLC character class, the “Mechromancer” for free, otherwise its available in the Playstation Store for a reasonable sum.

Image After starting Borderlands 2 and laughing my head off to the opening title sequence, I dug right into the good stuff. I knew immediately which class was the best for me, Commando, and Axton was his name. I used Roland before and knew how to handle myself with my trusty turret, so you can imagine my reaction when I learned that Axton not only could recover his turret anytime he wanted for a faster, skill cool down (AWESOME!), and his skill tree allowed me to upgrade my turret to have a shield, a second barrel for double the damage and rocket pods with explosive damage to boost! 

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Maya, the siren has a different ability unlike Lilith, she doesn’t Phasewalk around, instead she has Phaselock, which traps an enemy in a bubble and lifts it up in the air for a few seconds, upgrades include the ability to draw opponents into the bubble like a black hole, additional elemental damage and the ability to cause health orbs to explode out from an dead enemy which will home on to Maya or her allies. This makes her an indispensable support character who can also act as a medic.

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Salvador the Gun-zerker, offers players what Rambo never could, the ability to duel wield ANY gun you have equipped. That includes rocket launchers, snipers, machine guns, anything, he can mix and match em. His abilities also aid in keeping his Gun-zerking mode to last or continue as long as possible AND also ensure his ammo never runs dry! Zer0 is a robot(?)/android(?)/cyborg(?) who is a master assassin and his skill, Deception, allows him to drop a decoy and turns him invisible, allowing quick getaways or a surprise attack as the next attack he does after using Deception is increased dramatically.

Zer0This game is bigger and better! The world is so expansive, offering more than just sand dunes and rocky cliffs. I’ve gone through snowy ice plains, desert ruins, lush green out lands and many a urban\mechanized city. The world is so much more vibrant and colorful, and the characters, are just hilarious! Just watch the intro title card when you first meet Marcus, what he does, basically sums up the kind of humor this games has. And the side missions are so much fun to do! I used to tire quickly from the first game, where they were basically, go here and kill “x” number of stuff or go on a scavenger hunt for gun parts, here the side quests have stories of their own and each one hints at a popular reference, like this sidequest titled  “The Good, The Bad and The Mordecai” which I found so awesome! It really made me want to search and complete every side quest I could find before continuing with the main quest.

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Borderlands 2 offers a much more solid story line, beloved characters return with new ones; which are just as hilarious, the new playable classes and their skills offer plenty of replayability and strategy (you can respec for a couple of bucks in game), battles are tougher, and the amount of fun you get by playing solo is amazing, which becomes even more so when played in multiplayer. This is THE game to get to play with friends online this year and in my opinion is worth every penny spent, and soon to be spent on its DLC.

ImageTo all you vault hunters out there, times a wastin’. Get yourself a gun, grab your friends and get out there! All the loot in Pandora is yours for the taking, and getting revenge on Handsome Jack, is at the top of your list!

Vanquish your enemies! With a super cool suit!

Its been a long time and with a long, LONG break. Its time to get back into the rhythm of things. More game reviews and daily life updates are back on track. Lets get back into it with the first game review. Its an old release, but I haven’t played it, so this review will count. Lets get to it.

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I have to say, this game is a ton of fun. The moment I booted it into the PS3 and finished the training mode, I was glued to the TV for at least 2 hours. The game play is smooth and chaotic  at the same time. Not to mention it looks jawdroppingly beautiful. Dave (main character) is in suit which is amazingly gorgeous to look at, and his gun is just as detailed. not to mention when you swap guns, he doesn’t put it away, it freaking TRANSFORMS right into the different gun!

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It makes good use of the Havok Engine which creates a very streamlined feel. I never felt confused or lost control of the action despite the chaos of bullets, rockets and lasers exploding all around. The scoring system where players who perform amazingly, can place themselves on an online competitive list.

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And the suit does so much more than allow you to oggle at. Instead of your typical dashing movement, the suit gives you the ability to drive around the map. By holding down onto the L2 button, Dave crouches down and stretches out where the suit then blasts out a jet like engine allowing him to maneuver around the battlefield with ease. Add in a dash of bullet time as well. This ability is very useful in many battles and in some boss fights it becomes absolutely necessary.

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Weapons are somewhat limited, but not so limited that you’ll get bored. For example, you have your standard fare, machine gun, shotgun and sniper rifles, but then they showcase some more sci-fi type guns such as multi-tracking lasers, Razor disc gun and a Light Frequency Gun (LFG) which fires an orb of gravity that devastates everything in a moving radius. Only two types of grenades, Frag and EMP’s. Did I also mention that all these guns are up-gradable? That’s right, throughout the game, there are upgrade drops which are collected and automatically upgrades your currently equipped weapon. Upgrades can range from extended ammo clips, greater firepower and additional attributes.

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And enemies are varied quite well to keep you on your toes. Never usually just groups of the same type, the game gives a decent challenge by mixing most enemy groups with 2 to 3 types of enemy types, ranging from mass made grunts, to sniper\shock trooper and large powerful mechs, Tougher difficulties will push you to maximizing your abilities and making full use of all weapons at your disposal with bullet time.

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Overall I find this game VERY satisfying. It was fun, challenging, exciting and just the thing if I ever get in the mood for a sci-fi 3rd person shooter. Boss challenges are varied, large in size and well made. Weapon choices are entertaining, offering me upgrades makes me like playing with all of them, rather than stick with just a few favorites. Story is decent and the voice actors are just barely acceptable, it is first and foremost a shooter aimed at action rather than becoming the next space opera, and I’m ok with that.

There are a few quirks that I found slightly distracting, but its not game breaking. One example is the full melee attack sucks up your energy, which is used for dashing around and bullet time, which when depleted causes an overheat, where Dave travels much slower and is a sitting duck to enemy fire. So full melee attacks and movement are critical in use, but are meant to be used sparingly.

Definitely a game to play and one to keep in your library. Its been well received for action and detailed graphical models, but it ranked lower due to its story and lack of multiplayer. Pick this game up or rent it, if you can’t find any more copies for sale.

Pent up thoughts.

Don’t really have the time of the energy to go full out on a post tonight, or even to summarize what I’ve been up to since my previous post. So I’ll let out a few quick quips about whats been going on in my mind the past few weeks. Here goes:

1.) Its been fun living and working in Singapore. While it may seem similar to home, (having a vast potpourri of races and cultures, foodie joints, some habits) with time, the truth is, its not. Its almost entirely different. For one, things are really proper here and the people actually abide by rules so strictly placed, that to a Malaysian, you would be dumbfounded at such discipline they have. The public transportation system works like a charm and is dependable to a fault, branded goods are aplenty and there is never an opportunity to not do nothing. Which may be a blessing to many, but to some a curse. Time here moves way faster that it seems, and what would take 15 minutes or less at home, happens in mere moments. Efficiency is without a doubt an accepted and well practiced culture here, but to some degree still maintains a hint of humanity within, though moving with machine like precision and speed, there is some heart in it.

2.) I miss home. Truly I do. There are so many things back at home that I am so used to. There are counterparts available here, but nothing can compare to the original back at home. I am of course referring to the food and my family I miss them like a how a  puppy misses its master when he’s away at work. I wait for opportunities to free up in my work schedule just so I can plan a short trip home, but the management is anything but willing to even consider it. Despite my pleading and polite recommending, the message never seems to hit home, and its only a matter of time before I put my foot down on it. Everyone else in my group has had a return trip, its high time I got mine, and I do not want to wait any longer.

3.) I am out of balance. Not only with myself but with the things around me. Recently, my work performance is illogically terrible. I got overwhelmed and over stressed, tensions rose between me and my colleagues. Work seemed to be nothing more but a dreary trial to endure daily. This attitude fazed me for a moment and I was adamant to get back into my usual routine, accepting and loving my work as well as making the best of what i could do while I was there. But the harder I tried, the worse I seemed to get, leading up to the last stage of defeat, acceptance. Therefore, I only worked for what it was worth and never seemed to see the lighter side of things. I did the most basic of things to be expected of me, and stayed safe. Hopefully by the next month, as I am scheduled to be in another department, things can lighten up and get me back up on my feet.

I am winded and thoroughly defeated inside, and its going to take some serious work to spring myself out of this vortex of disillusionment. Got to keep on moving, and keep on smiling. Life’s a game, so have fun, and bend the rules.

Moving to a whole other country, technically.

Future plans include:

Moving to Singapore this Friday at 8.00am by bus. Will be travelling by FirstCoach, on a 5 hour journey down.

Then check into my temporary lodging for the night when I arrive. Take the weekend to mooch around and get familiar with the places as well as the area I will be working in, Jones the Grocer in Mandarin Gallery and\or Dempsey Hill.

After which I can then meet up with some Uni mates who are also training in Singapore and followed by my parents who will be coming down the following week to pay a visit to Singapore, which according to my dad has been long overdue.

Really looking forward to this internship, as it will be my first time actually going into Singapore.

One ending is another new beginning.

Its over.

From the moment, I put down my very last word and dotted it with a full stop, my time with the trial of Final Examinations have ended. It was quite a rush, not as in excitement, but quite literally a rush, since the paper had us go through 6 individual questions for part A to be answered in full paragraphs, then part B a case study and finally part C which was a summary of our report. And within 10 minutes in the paper I had achieved what may be considered ‘the zone’ of writers. As the words poured out, my hands keep on writing and writing, words in mind travelling as fast as the speed of thought, each sentence crafted right before me by my steady hand. There was no pause for remembering, just doing.

And after that we celebrated. The whole gang of HR 3 gathered at the nearby petrol station in our cars, full of our classmates and friends. As the hour struck 7.30pm, we departed in a convoy of cars, with happy laughing faces and joyful banter all around as we relate our times in Taylor’s University together. The good times and the bad times, the things we all used to do as groups, the lectures we enjoyed\endured, and the fun times we had with each other outside of class. In those moments as we drove towards the party, the memories that flooded our minds, kept us warm and hopeful for our undetermined futures.

At the party, we shared a wonderful dinner, thanks to our lovely host and her family. Her house was beautiful and really set the scene for a wonderful gathering. As each of us arrived, we welcomed and greeted each other warmly and settled down to feat and share our plans. With the flowing of alcohol, we loosened our nerves and laid back to the progressing night. I sadly, had to leave early on account of preparations for my trip down to Singapore. It was rather sad to have to go so soon, but I have a feeling we will all meet again one day, I have faith in that.

BD 30 HR 3 Graduating Class of 2011

Whatever path we choose in life, where ever in the world we end up in, or however we grow in our lives, for one special part in ourselves we have been together and created many amazing memories to treasure forever. I wish all my friends of BD 30 HR 3, the very best in everything and anything you do, and may we cross paths with each other again someday.