Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (PC) Impressions

For whatever reason, I had inadvertently forgotten about Metal Gear Solid V’s release date as well as the fact that it was a simultaneous console and PC release. I guess I had just assumed that it was going to be out on consoles first then PC 6 to 12 months later ala GTA, etc. So much to my pleasure, Phantom Pain has occupied much of my free time as of late  as I slowly savor making my way through the main missions in between fulton extracting all the things. Metal Gear Solid has always been a game series that I hold dear. It has a combination of drama, humor, and ludicrous, over-the-top action that I just relish. Oh, and it is primarily a stealth game, which are sadly few and far between.

Phantom Pain is a fairly big departure from the traditional Metal Gear Solid formula in that it is structured in an open-world mission based fashion instead of being linear action/stealth narrative. The game is comprised of three main pieces: Main missions, side-missions, and base-building/fob etc. The side-missions allow for open world exploring whereas the main missions occur in a smaller subsection of the map. Changes made to the world during the side-missions though, persist during the campaign. As always, Snake has a wide variety of weapons and tools to choose from. Obviously, full stealth is the most difficult and rewarding route, though it is hard to resist unloading your full arsenal from time to time.

Phantom Pain is still a Metal Gear game, so there are quite a few cut scenes. I would say that roughly half of the introductory mission is either a cinematic or dialog, but that tapers off greatly when you get past the tutorial and into the meat of the game. If you aren’t caught up on the Metal Gear Solid series’ story, it’s no big deal; The gameplay stands on its own merits and is enjoyable to play even if the Metal Gear lore isn’t your thing.

If there is any one thing that I greatly dislike about Phantom Pain it is the saving system. I really wish that the game save system wasn’t checkpoint based. The game only saves when you zone in and out of a new area or very specific checkpoints on the map/mission, which is fine for a linear game but it doesn’t really work in an open world environment in my opinion. Quite often, being able to save at all, including situations while free roaming on a side-mission, requires exiting the area via helicopter or zoning into certain subsections on the map to trigger a checkpoint. It feels limiting and kind of defeats the purpose of a single player game. Some of the hotkeys and menu navigation in general is a bit irritating; The menus particularly since they are keyboard only with odd bindings (navigate tabs by using ‘1’ and ‘3’ not left and right).

The build-a-base aspect of the game is a lot more engaging than I had thought it would be. Much of my evenings seem to be spent indulging my mild game completion fetish by systematically fulton extracting every single valid resource on the map as well as meticulously scanning and extracting enemy soldiers with valuable skills to join the fold. In short, gameplay elements such as new and upgraded weapons are unlocked by researching them at motherbase. Each weapon blueprint has a minimum set of requirements in the form of resources and the level of your R&D team. Upgrade your team by recruiting folks or by…well…whisking them away from the battlefield via balloon.

I am 56 hours deep into the game and about somewhere between a third and half way through the game. To say that I am having fun would be an understatement.

The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt

So the Witcher 3: Oh my God it has been so long since I have binged on a game this hard. Nowadays I will typically play computer games in short spurts of about an hour or two; So it is somewhat rare for me to soak up entire evenings and weekends playing one game. In fact, I don’t actually recall the last (non Sims) game that I have been this engrossed in. It may have actually been Skyrim.

The Witcher 3 has a healthy mix of magic, fantasy tropes, and political intrigue with a dark and grisly unforgiving overarching tone. If you were at all disappointed by how linear and on-rails the first two titles felt, fear not: The Witcher 3 takes place in an open world environment. The map is absolutely massive and painstakingly detailed, without feeling like the game’s world was artificially enlarged for the sake of having an open world.

You do not technically need to have played any of the previous titles to enjoy The Witcher 3, but it would help immensely with the back story and characters. Besides, both The Witcher as well as The Witcher 2 are fantastic games. At minimum, I would recommend reading a quick summary of the main characters and story thus far (most of of the major gaming blogs have posted several decent articles).


The combat system is simple and fluid but precise. It’s a combination of physical melee attacks, dodging, rolling, and the use of magic signs to stun/burn/trap/etc. It is fairly unforgiving to key mashing and will punish careless hacking and slashing harshly. In the Witcher 3, having a good defensive plan seems to be key to success. Extremely fun but yes, there is a lot of rolling and quen spamming.

In that regard, several blog posts and threads recommended playing the game at the 3rd level of difficulty, Blood and Broken Bones so that is what I am rolling with. The difficulty curve is rough at lower levels but I have heard that at lower difficulties, the game is too easy at some point. Either way, you can change the difficulty at any time (which I had admittedly had to do once).


They brought back the potion toxicity system. In the Witcher 2 however, toxicity only governed the cap on potion buffs. If you reached 100% toxicity, you simply could not drink any more potions until you had meditated. There were no real negative effects. In the Witcher 1 as well The Witcher 3, you begin to suffer from negative effects if your toxicity rises too high. I don’t think the game will outright let you kill yourself via potion overdose but if the bar is too full your health will start to drop.

The potion system by the way, is WAY less tedious than the previous titles. You only really need to gather ingredients and craft the initial potion (which is good for several uses before it empties). As long as you still have the empty potion bottle in your inventory, Geralt will automatically refill all potions after meditating for at least an hour. A potion refill costs one bottle of alcohol. I like how integral consumables are to The Witcher 3’s gameplay. It is also nice seeing anti-potion spam mechanic in place that is more original than adding a 2 to 5 minute cooldown.

I find the movement system in this game to be somewhat awkward because of my personal preference in movement keybindings. In the Witcher 3, the ‘a’ and ‘d’ keys are bound to turn left and turn right. My preference is to have the ‘a’ and ‘d’ keys bound to strafe left and strafe right. Unfortunately, there isn’t any in game way of rebinding the movement keys, which is sort of bummer for a PC game. If I recall correctly, you should be able to manually change the movement keybindings by editing a .ini file but at this point I have become accustomed to having to keyturn.


The inventory system however, is pretty godawful. There are tabs for gear, consumables, crafting items, quest items, and other stuff. Aside from those tabs there really isn’t any way to search your inventory or further organize items, so everything just ends up in one giant tab of crafting crap.

There is also no non-personal inventory storage system. So if you want to stash something for later, it needs to be dropped on the ground. On the other hand, items that you drop on the ground don’t seem to ever disappear. So as a workaround, what most people seem to be doing is choosing a specific place to drop items for later use; Usually a spot next to one of the fast travel points.


Graphically, the game is gorgeous and is being hailed by many as the “new Crysis.” Facial expressions, voice acting, and character animations are pretty good. The Witcher 3 doesn’t seem too taxing on my system. I am able to play it on high and retain a decent framerate, which is what I would expect from my system I guess.

All-in-all: The Witcher 3 is exactly what I was hoping it would be.

Sims 4 Get to Work Expansion Pack Initial Thoughts

The amount of gameplay content in Get to Work is at least on par with, if better than Open For Business. It not only adds the ability to open businesses, but the interactive base careers (ala Ambitions), Aliens, etc. One of the great things about the new career paths is that you are given the option to either join your sim or not. If you want to interactively partake in their career, you can or if you feel that it’s just too much micro management or have other things in mind, just let them vanish for most of the day like any other sim job.

There are a couple of irritating differences between Open for Business and Get to Work. First and foremost, it is not currently possible to create a true home business because the residential and retail lots are separate. In order to purchase a retail lot, you must own a residential lot. If is possible to add a bed, fridge, and all living necessities on the retail lot but the game still does not consider it your own. It’s not that big of a deal, but my original plan was to start a home business themed legacy challenge. Not being able to start a business on the legacy lot puts a small wrench into my plans. Doors are also not lockable. Even though you can create a bedroom, employee kitchen/bathroom, customers will still wander behind the counter.

All that said, it’s a pretty solid expansion pack.

The Sims 4: Review and First Opinions

The Sims 4, from what I can tell so far is pretty stable. I played for several hours on Monday evening, about an hour Monday morning, and all of last night without even a single crash, hang, or game breaking glitch, which I find fairly impressive based on my experience with the previous games. I know that clipping was a huge concern to many people who have been watching the pre-release live streams, but to be honest I haven’t noticed it all that much. If a sim absolutely cannot find a path around an obstacle, they will clip slightly. I don’t really see it as all that of a big deal as it does not really break game immersion for me.

The load times don’t suck: I know that there was a lot of buzz about having to between areas but honestly, it is not that big of a deal given that loading and saving takes all of about 3 seconds to do (in comparison to The Sims 3 where loading quite frequently would take over 5 minutes for large neighborhoods…). From desktop to playing a saved game takes about 1 minute tops. Awesome.

WINDOWED. FULL. SCREEN. MODE. All games that don’t explicitly need to be locked into one monitor (first person shooters primarily) need this option. I prefer playing most games in windowed full screen mode so that I can access my second monitor without having to tab out and minimize the game. At the same time, I really don’t like seeing bordered windows, particularly when there is no option to maximize them.

Good Things That I Liked

  • I really like the new look and art style. It’s smooth, vibrant, and polished. As mentioned before though, my tastes lean in the favor of stylized cartoony aesthetics and away from pseudo creepy realistic character designs.
  • I like the new UI, it is slick and unobtrusive even though it does take some time to get used to. Also, being able to finally search for items in build mode is a very useful feature.
  • Gameplay is pretty solid. Multitasking is fantastic and plays a huge role in not having to constantly cancel actions in order to engage in specific social interactions with people. An entire group for example can sit at a bar, watch TV, drink, and talk amongst different group members all at once.
  • The genetics are better than The Sims 3. The children produced, at least in my opinion, look quite a bit better.
  • The emotions are a great addition and really do add personality to the sims in my opinion. It feels more realistic and natural playing with a sim’s emotional state in mind and working around that. By the way, don’t mind the marketing. The emotional doesn’t really make sims all that smarter in the AI sense, but it does add an extra layer of strategy and depth to the game, which is really what I wanted from it.
  • Build mode and create-a-sim tools are fantastic. I won’t go into too much detail because I am sure everyone has seen them by now.
  • I like the overall early game difficulty: bills have teeth, if something breaks you have to repair or replace it before using it again  (such as the toilet), pregnancy test vs instant indication jingle

Not So Good Things

It’s difficult to judge a new sims game based off of the number of items in the new base game in comparison to its predecessor, mostly because it’s been so long since The Sims 3 was released that I do not remember what was or was not in the base game; And it is very much a base game, so if you are judging this game based upon the fact that it did not come preloaded with seasons or supernatural content, that is an unrealistic expectation.

All that said, there really are quite a few basic items missing from the game. Despite all that is good about this game, as I play it is pretty apparent that many features aren’t present most likely because the game was rushed out. It is not only the much aforementioned toddlers and pools, but also the fact that there are for example, no dishwashers in the game in addition to just about all NPCs are mysteriously absent from the game: No firefighters, babysitters, firemen, policemen, robbers, etcetera. Independent of not having any expansion pack content, The Sims 4 does feel stripped down and partially finished to a large extent.

The towns are nice, but they do feel small and limiting. Genetics are improved but they are still not true genetics as there are no dominant or recessive traits for hair, eyes, etc. At least none that are passed down through create-a-sim genetics based off of limited testing.


In any case, the general flow of gameplay and design of The Sims 4 is inherently different than The Sims 3. In truth, it is probably safer and more accurate to view this game as a sequel to The Sims 2 than the 3rd installment in this series. There is a taste of open town gameplay in the form of being able to explore each neighborhood (if you visit a neighbor’s house, it will incur a loading screen), but the game is obviously designed with rotational gameplay in mind whereas The Sims 3 was more geared towards one family per town. Even though this change aligns rather well with what I was specifically looking for from The Sims 4, it may not align well with what you want. So in that sense, The Sims 4 is and will most likely remain a polarizing game amongst fans, at least until it has a few expansion packs under its belt.

As a side note, if they release an Open For Business expansion pack along the same lines as The Sims 2 expansion, then all transgressions will be forgiven.

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

I feel mildly ashamed that I let Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons sit in my Steam library for over half a year, fully knowing that it was a very good title that does not consume too much time (it is about 4 hours in length). Brothers is a third-person adventure game developed by Starbreeze Studios; It follows the journey and adventures of two brothers as they struggle to find a cure for their ill father. You can play technically Brothers with either a keyboard or a controller but I would highly recommend using a controller.

Single player co-op is probably the best wording that I can use to describe the gameplay: You control two brothers simultaneously to solve puzzles and progress within the game. The left stick and left trigger are used for one brother, the right stick and right trigger are used for the other. It is a control scheme that feels unique and is used to full advantage narratively to the point where Brothers is probably one of the few games to offer a near perfect marriage between narrative and gameplay.

One of the beautiful aspects about this game is that it tells a story with zero dialog. There is no flavor text, there is really no user interface, and all voices in the game are spoken in a fictitious language (ala Simlish). Aside from 2 or 3 diagrams showing the player how to use the controller, there are no in-game explanations and very little plot exposition; The entire story is dictated through action, body language, and tone of voice.

It is a gorgeous looking game with a stylized cartoon aesthetic, meaning that it probably run on just about anything. I guess if I had any criticisms it would be that the puzzles are satisfying to complete but not entirely that difficult, probably at least partially due to many of the puzzle mechanics being repeated quite often, such as the climbing puzzles, and the lever puzzles, etc. The controls are a bit awkward when the camera shifts around or really, any situation where you are forced to use the left stick to control the brothers on the right side of the screen and visa versa. I did not feel that the this detracted from the game experience, but it is worth noting.

If you can catch it on sale, Brothers literally costs a couple of dollars at most. It is still well worth picking up even at full price.

Clash of Clans [iOS]

After hearing about Clash of Clans on and off for about a year or so, I finally gave in and downloaded it (free-to-play). I guess what I expected was something akin to Rage of Bahamut or Guardian Cross, in that I was assuming it would be yet another thinly-veiled in-game purchase money making scheme with mechanics no more complicated than tapping one or two buttons every x seconds/minutes. I was pleasantly surprised with what I found instead: Clash of Clans is a decently polished and well fleshed out free-to-play resource management/base building strategy game. It’s kind of like a multi-player tower defense game.

There are 3 resources to manage: Gold, elixir and gems. The latter of which is available for in-app purchase (also obtainable in small amounts via unlocking achievements). Units, buildings, and upgrades cost a x amount of either gems or gold to build on top of a build time. Gems can be used to refill your gold and gems or to complete buildings instantly; That is, at least to my understanding based off of 3 days worth of play, the extent of the monetization in this game. There’s no invite referral bonus and there really isn’t any player tradable in-game currency or economy. I also don’t feel like I am being pushed to buy gems since everything within the game at this point is easily achievable by just playing the game or waiting for upgrades/buildings to finish. I guess, the mere fact that I felt compelled to dedicate an entire paragraph to basically say that this game doesn’t feel like a scam says something about the state of mobile gaming, but whatever.

I don’t know what the Clash of Clans end game is like since I have not yet joined a clan. As of now it’s a pretty fun game. So if you are looking for something like this, I would highly recommend giving Clash of Clans a try.

Transistor (PC)

Two new games that I have been interested were released recently: Transistor and Watch Dogs. Transistor was cheaper so I picked it up on Steam. It is an action role playing game by Supergiant Games, the studio behind Bastion. Transistor and Bastion share a lot of common denominators and at the surface level, appear to be fairly similar: Same colorful isometric stylized cartoon aesthetic, same genre (action roleplaying), very little exposition, same style of narrative style in that much of the story is dynamically narrated but this time in the form of an actual character (err talking word).

Transistor diverges from Bastion in terms of gameplay and overall tone. Though they share a similar aesthetic, Transistor is more technological noir in contact to Bastion’s apocalyptic wild west vibe if that makes any sense. Bastion was more or less, twitched based action whereas Transistor is fairly strategy oriented. Combat gameplay is split into two parts: There’s a real time combat aspect typical to any action game and then there is a planning mode that allows you to pause combat, queue up actions and moves, then resume combat to execute your plan.

As a whole, it’s a great game so far. But that said, it’s just not a game that grips on to me and makes me yearn to play it for more than about 30 to 45 minutes at a time. I am unsure if it is the game or of it is just me and my increasingly small game attention span/free time. I don’t know. Regardless, definitely worth a play.

Thief: Flirting With Average

I caved in and ended up purchasing the new Thief game at release. I am actually having quite a bit of fun with it (despite having put it down to fawn over Diablo 3 once again). So in other words, it’s not the gaming anti-christ as portrayed elsewhere. However, I can’t quite shake the feeling that Thief is merely a shittier version of Dishonored, which is kind of ironic given that Dishonored was influenced by the Thief series. I am pretty sure though that this feeling stems from the blink-like swoop mechanic (hit the space bar to move rapidly from shadow to shadow) and the fact the world that thief partakes in is quite different; It’s more Victorian than steampunk if that matters all that much to anyone. Graphically the game looks and performs nicely, but is aesthetically lacking and probably one of if not the most ‘brown’ game that I have played to date this year.

The levels are way less open to the point of being literally scripted in a few portions of the game. The parts of the game that are fairly open are based off of a path based design reminiscent of Deus Ex Human Revolution in that the multiple points of entry are presented in the form of conspicuous pathways (conveniently placed wooden overhangs shootable by rope arrows, vents that you can unscrew, ladders that can fall down, etc). The problem is that these points points of entry are WAY too conspicuous to the point of being blatantly highlighted and pointed out to you even when you are not using the focus skill. There’s not a whole lot of room for creative thinking there.

Between missions, different parts of the game are accessed through a hub world, which aside from a few guards who patrol the street level is more or less dead. I mean, I can see why there wouldn’t be many people out and about in the middle of the night in shit town amidst a plague ridden city, but the odd thing is that it is as if absolutely no one lives in the city. The hub world has lootable houses and areas strewn about the city but they are all for the most part, generically decorated rooms that are absolutely void of life and personality. I think the greatest challenge that I faced thus far in this area was one or two traps? There’s just not a whole lot of fun sneaking around if there’s no one to hear or no threat for that matter.

Thief however despite its flaws, is probably the crowning jewel of all PC ports in terms of what the game allows you to change. It’s seriously the one place in which this game shines above virtually all others is the sheer amount of customization that you can make to the game settings. If there is a UI element or a game mechanic that you dislike, odds are that you can just turn it off. This includes but is not limited to the focus system, navigation waypoints, the light meter, etcetera.

If you are expecting a modern rendition of Thief the Dark Project then you are most likely going to be sorely disappointed. Yes, it does fall way way short of its predecessors. So is it a bad Thief game? Undoubtedly so as it doesn’t really add anything positive to the series and arguably detracts from it. Is it a bad game overall? Not really. Completely ignoring the Thief tag, I would probably rate it as a decent average game. Oh by the way: I would recommend playing on the highest difficulty with the waypoints and focus system turned off right off the bat. These are the settings that I feel are as close the spirit of the previous games as possible.

Grand Theft Auto V

I am about a quarter of the way through Grand Theft Auto V so far. In all honesty, the only Grand Theft auto game that I have ever played the main storyline through completion was Vice City. I will usually play the storyline most of the way through, at least up until the point at which all areas and weapons are unlocked, and then screw around until I burnout on the game. I thoroughly enjoyed San Andreas, but it too a large extent felt like one giant mini-game. GTA IV was more focused on the main storyline, which was part of the problem: Once the novelty wears off, the core missions for the most part are repetitive (Drive to point A, shoot someone/pick something up, go to point B) in addition to Liberty City lacking interesting things to do that aren’t bowling with Niko’s cousin.

The core missions in GTA V are structured quite different because of the new featured gameplay element: Character switching. Each character has a distinct personality and social situation (to say the least) and each character also has his own strengths and weaknesses thanks to the new stat system. Michael for example, is a skilled marksman, Franklin is a superb driver, and Trevor, an expert pilot, is pretty decent all around. Each character also has a special ability that can be activated while in combat (Franklin for example, can slow down time bullet-time style while driving). Stats can also be improved by engaging in relevant activities: Driving more will increase your driving skill, running will increase your stamina and so forth. I have a feeling that the stats were designed to be leveled up naturally as you play through the missions given that it is fairly trivial to max out most of them by spending a minimal amount of time at the gun range, flight school, etcetera. In all honestly, I don’t think I’ve really noticed that much of a difference in gameplay in regards to each character’s skill. So whatever effect skills have seems to be minimal at best.

Back to character switching: Dividing the storyline 3-ways mitigates some of the repetition. Tired of Franklin’s storyline? Switch over to Michael or Trevor. I do worry that having 3 main characters will make it easy to dilute the storyline or make it easy to lose track of characters by favoriting another. But so far, that hasn’t really been an issue in fact, I’d say that being able to switch characters does make the game more engaging, so in that sense, it is a success. If I do have any criticism though, it would be that so far, being able to switch characters within the same mission has been grossly underutilized and I do worry that this gameplay element will not live up to its full potential. But as mentioned before, I’m only about 25% into the game. I do wish that the game made it more clear as to who can do what missions. I know the game color codes them, but it’s a little hard to see without zooming in. It would also be nice to know exactly where each character is at any point by looking at the map, but I suppose part of the joy in switching characters is not knowing exactly where they are and what they will be in the middle of (such as spooning another man in pink pajamas…) when you switch over.

Also new to the game are heist missions (I love a good old fashioned heist). So far these missions seem to be broken up into 4 stages: Observation (stakeouts, recon), planning (choosing what approach and who to bring), preparation (gathering necessary supplies), and execution (heisting). You can choose what type of approach and who you want to bring. Team members vary in skill level; highly skilled members will obviously ask for quite a bit bigger cut than low skilled members, so that’s the trade-off. For example in my case, I chose a stealthier approach to breaking into a jewelry store. I had a fair number of hackers that I could choose from, but I took a risk on a guy that I had met earlier in the game during a mission. He wasn’t as skilled as the other guys, but Michael had a good feeling about him and he was only asking for 4%. Ultimately, that decision may have been a poor one but hey. We got away with the cash, everyone learned something. All around successful heist.

I am very impressed with GTA V’s graphics quality and level of detail, especially considering the PS3’s age and especially especially in comparison to its predecessor GTA IV. It’s clearly pushing the upper limits of what the system can do. Anti-aliasing is pretty lacking to say the least, but I haven’t really had any issues with pop-in (I have the physical copy, heard that there are quite a few technical problems with the digital copies) or framerate drops, with an exception for situations where say, about 20 cars are exploding within 10 meters of each other. What an astounding level of detail. It really does feel like LA down to the specific neighborhoods and minor landmarks, food chains, buildings, etc.

Overall: Looks good, fun missions, controls feel tight, love the customization and the weird social media aspects when Rockstar’s servers aren’t on their knees. Oh and no more bowling.

BioShock Infinite

Not so much gaming lately, but of the games I have picked up, BioShock Infinite stands out as one of the best and certainly most interesting games that I have played in recent memory. I didn’t know too much about BioShock Infinite other than it had received high remakes all around, as it was kind of an impulse purchase. I guess personally speaking, I enjoy playing most game types of more when half the game isn’t spoiled by trailers, previews, etc. If at all possible, I would highly recommend playing this game with a fresh perspective, before the Internet spoils it too much (though I guess it’s a little late for that).

Thematically and narratively, BioShock Infinite offers depth that is seldom seen in a game. A lot of the story is told without explicitly being said. The environment is littered with clues and puzzle pieces; Not only the voxophones (be sure to listen to these as they explain much of the story), but details placed about Columbia; A pristine 19th century classical American city contrasted by ugly dark undertones. Elizabeth is a good companion who is around just when you need her and not when you don’t. Which is nice, otherwise BioShock Infinite could have been the most irritating and longest escort mission ever. I am pretty sure that she is explicitly programmed to never ever stand in front of you during combat or in the line of fire. She cant die in combat and her pathing is pretty solid as well so you don’t really have to worry about her.

The actual gameplay the weakest part of the game in my opinion. BioShock Infinite is extremely fun to play, but not mechanically groundbreaking in any way. The weapon choices for example, were decent in that they were sufficiently varied, but the upgrade system was sub-par and the gunplay was so-so for a triple A game. The vigors were also introduced too fast during the later half of the game. The first 2 or 3 or so were fine, but past that I swear that new vigors were basically shoved in your face at the pace of about 2 or 3 per hour of play. The gameplay isn’t bad by any measure, but it feels pretty average, which is kind of an shame because the weak gameplay elements were the difference between a very good game and what could have been an exceptional game.

I think a contributing factor to the original BioShock’s appeal was how unique it felt in regards to the narrative and environment were integrated into the gameplay experience as a whole. BioShock infinite treads on the same ground, but it does so gracefully. Highly recommended.