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Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 Review

Satisfying stealth and shooting make Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 a notable improvement over its predecessor.

The Good

  • Great enemy AI presents a real challenge
  • Mostly realistic stealth mechanics
  • Well-balanced difficulty settings
  • Atmospheric presentation ramps up the intensity.

The Bad

  • Checkpoints are too spread out
  • Some level design quirks
  • Multiplayer is an afterthought.

Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 is a superior shooter when compared to its predecessor. Granted, that isn’t saying much. Said predecessor suffered from terrible artificial intelligence, absurd bullet physics, and an overall level of difficulty on par with solving a Rubik’s Cube while navigating white-water rapids blindfolded. This time around, however, developer City Interactive has addressed virtually all of the sore points that made the earlier game miss as often as it hit. This is an accomplished stealthy shooter, with smarter enemy AI, more-realistic sniper physics, and scaled-down difficulty that provide a challenging, not maddening, sniping experience. Only miscues like the spread-out save checkpoints and throwaway multiplayer keep it from achieving greatness.

A ghillie suit is no protection from the wrath of the sniper.

A ghillie suit is no protection from the wrath of the sniper.

Most of your time with Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 will be spent with the three-part campaign. You play as Cole, a special-ops sniper helping out assault teams in hot zones ranging from the Philippines to Sarajevo to Nepal. You come to care for Cole and his buddies through this seven- to eight-hour saga of betrayal and revenge that begins today, bounces back to 1993 for a look at the civil war that ravaged the former Yugoslavia, and then jumps to the present to wrap everything up along the border between Nepal and India.

A well-written, well-acted script give the game a great action-movie vibe, as do authentic-looking visuals and animations powered by the CryEngine 3. Excellent sound effects do a wonderful job of pulling you in. Weapon noises, the shouts of enemy voices, the far-off rattle of weapon fire in war-torn Sarajevo, and various atmospheric sounds like the background hum of the Philippine jungle are all handled extremely well and enhance the tension as you line up each careful shot.

Who needs air support when you can pick soldiers off one at a time?

Who needs air support when you can pick soldiers off one at a time?

The presentation isn’t the only thing that excels in Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2. Almost every aspect of the first game has been refined for this sequel. Enemy AI is much more cunning now. Where bad guys tended to run around mindlessly and freeze in place before, now they smartly respond to fire by taking cover. Foes react like real soldiers. First they hunker down so they don’t get their heads blown off. Then they peek out to look for who is shooting at them. And then they return fire appropriately or rush your position, which makes firefights feel natural rather than staged.

If you’ve got a good spot on high ground against a small number of enemies, the baddies generally grab cover and snipe back. But if you’re in a more vulnerable position, or are taking on a large number of foes, you can expect to be rushed and shot down like a dog. Either way, you need to be patient. Enemies sit back and wait you out at times. If you get antsy and leave cover, they generally make you pay for it.

Some poor soul is fated to be that bullet's final destination.

Some poor soul is fated to be that bullet’s final destination.

Shooting is also much more enjoyable, whether you’re using a mouse-and-keyboard setup or a gamepad. In the earlier game, bullet drops were extreme, slight winds significantly affected shots, and your heart rate caused the scope to carom all over the place. Here, the physics here are just right. As a result, it’s easier to gauge shots on your own without relying on the little red dot showing shot location that’s offered in the lower two difficulty settings. Now you can play on the advanced setting and feel as though you are lining up shots like a real sniping pro. Before, shooting without the interface aid felt like guesswork.

Gamepad controls deserve a mention for being easy to use, too. Playing on the consoles is a little more challenging than on the PC, due to the superior accuracy of a mouse. But it isn’t that much more difficult, because you have fine control over scope movement even with the right stick. It’s only a little annoying when shooting right after running, since your speedy heart rate bounces the scope around so much that it seems like you’re atop a mechanical bull.

Satisfying stealth and shooting make Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 a notable improvement over its predecessor.

By Brett Todd on March 19, 2013 4:13PM PDT Satisfying stealth and shooting make Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 a notable improvement over its predecessor. The Good Great enemy AI presents a real challenge Mostly realistic stealth mechanics Well-balanced difficulty settings Atmospheric presentation ramps up the intensity. The Bad Checkpoints are too spread out Some level design quirks Multiplayer is an afterthought. Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 is a superior shooter when compared to its predecessor. Granted, that isn’t saying much. Said predecessor suffered from terrible artificial intelligence, absurd bullet physics, and an overall level of difficulty on par with solving a Rubik’s Cube while navigating white-water rapids blindfolded. This time around, however, developer City Interactive has addressed virtually all of the sore points that made the earlier game miss as often as it hit. This is an accomplished stealthy shooter, with smarter enemy AI, more-realistic sniper physics, and scaled-down difficulty that provide a challenging, not maddening, sniping experience. Only miscues like the spread-out save checkpoints and throwaway multiplayer keep it from achieving greatness.

Fuse Demo Hits Xbox 360, PS3 Next Week

Fuse image

EA has confirmed that a demo for Fuse will be available on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on May 7th. The demo will allow online co-up for up to four players, or split-screen play for two.

According to EA, “in the demo, players will take on the role of four elite operatives – Dalton Brooks, Izzy Sinclair, Jacob Kimble and Naya Deveraux. These special agents are out to protect mankind from Fuse, a deadly alien energy source which has been stolen by the rogue paramilitary organization, Raven. Each of the characters delivers a unique gameplay experience, as they have their own individual and unique ‘Xenotech’ weapon and specialized skills. Players will use these abilities as they track down the Fuse source in a snowy secret weapon depot.”

Fuse is the first multiplatform game from Ratchet & Clank developer Insomniac. It will hit stores on May 28th in North America and May 31st in Europe. For more, read all about the game’s main characters.

Andrew Goldfarb is IGN’s news editor. Keep up with pictures of the latest food he’s been eating by following @garfep on Twitter or garfep on IGN.

By Andrew Goldfarb

Grand Theft Auto V: It’s all in the Details

GTA 5 image

Above everything else, Grand Theft Auto V is a game about scope.

It’s more than just the sheer physical size of the environment. Sure, the land mass in GTA V is three-and-a-half times the size of Red Dead Redemption alone. In fact, it’s bigger than Red Dead Redemption, GTA IV and GTA: San Andreas combined. But there’s more to GTA V than square miles.

It’s more than Rockstar North’s ambitious new approach to the main narrative thread. Sure, managing a trio of co-leads rather than a single central character adds a considerable layer of complexity for the development team to navigate. But there’s more to GTA V than multiple main characters.

It’s more than the missions. It’s more than the mini-games. It’s more than the side activities. It’s more than the base jumping, or the hitchhikers, or the golf, or the ATM robberies, or the triathlons, or the hunting. It’s more than the yoga. It’s more than all of these things.

Or rather, it’s the sum of all these things. When you say GTA V is large, it’s large in every sense of the word. It’s enormous in size, it’s fat with content and it’s big in ambition.

As with GTA IV, it’s the marriage between incredible girth and granular detail that impresses first. With GTA V, however, there have been exponential improvements to both. The demo, as you may have already read, begins with Franklin – one of the game’s trinity of protagonists – perched on the skid of a helicopter thousands of feet above the rolling landscape of Los Santos’ surrounding countryside. Directly below, trees dot the undulating hills. To the right, a sprawling military base backs onto the Alamo Sea. A cargo plane is taking off from the airstrip, slowing clawing its way into the sky. In the distance ahead, tucked behind a slight rise and a soft haze, lies the city of Los Santos. The scale. It is immense. Everything else Rockstar has done is dwarfed by GTA V. But it’s more than just big. It is alive.

Franklin steps off the chopper, freefalling for a few moments before deploying his parachute. He’s now coasting a few hundred feet above Blaine County. A wild cat slinks along a ridge below as Franklin steers his ’chute down the slope before landing on a trail running parallel to a stream. Deer graze. A pair of hikers trudge by. Ahead sits an RV and a gaggle of fishermen. An ATV or three hum past on a nearby track. We’re just minutes in and the ways in which the excellent Red Dead Redemption has informed how Rockstar North tackles the challenge of making Los Santos’ surrounding countryside a living, nuanced environment are abundantly clear. The world beyond the Los Santos city limits may be a lot less dense but, like Red Dead Redemption, it’s overflowing with fastidious attention to detail and subtle signs of life everywhere you look.

A little bit country, and a little bit Western.

The incredible detail doesn’t stop when the demo switches to the other characters, either. Off-mission you’ll be able to swap between characters more or less at will. After a Google Earth-style transition we find Trevor coming to on a deserted beach, far from Franklin and the forest. Wearing naught but underpants and a pair of hiking boots he’s surrounded by the bodies of several bikers; they’re members of The Lost MC. What went down is as unclear to us as it likely is to Trevor. He’s got blood smeared on his chest.

Boarding a rigid inflatable boat, or a Zodiac as they’re commonly dubbed, Trevor is quickly streaking across the ocean. It’s here Rockstar North’s completely new water systems are laid bare, and they’re really nothing short of amazing. Waves, large and small, roll under and around the boat; they’re capped with white froth as they slosh and curl. The larger ones become ramps for the nimble Zodiac, launching it above the spray to crash down into the next wave. After a spell, Trevor cuts the engine and brings the boat to a halt. Some boats in GTA V will come with SCUBA gear, so a few moments later Trevor is over the gunwale clad in a shiny black wetsuit. As Keza has described, the underwater environment is gorgeous. Swords of sunlight stab through the water’s surface. Fish shoal. There’s wreckage lining the ocean floor begging to be explored; a destroyed oil platform, perhaps. The speckled water darkens as you peer into it. A shiver of sharks quickly takes an interest in Trevor, however, and he surfaces to a clutch of dorsal fins knifing through the ripples.

rsggtavscreenshot203jpg

The entire world is open from the beginning; you'll be able to start exploring immediately.

Leaving Trevor to an uncertain fate it’s here we switch to Michael, the third and final character. We catch him leaving Vinewood’s Von Crastenburg Hotel. He emerges on a street perpendicular to Vinewood Boulevard. It’s at this point that Rockstar’s intense dedication to detail goes into overdrive.

It’s night in Vinewood, GTA V’s gaudy proxy for Hollywood. Stars line the sidewalk. A blue and yellow cab, synonymous with LA’s Checker Cab Co. taxis, hooks a U-turn in front of us. Car stereos thump. A former celebrity – Pamela Drake is her name, we’re told – is standing at the intersection, desperate to tell her story to anyone who’ll listen. Everything’s lit by the glow of the coloured lights illuminating the signs protruding from the low-rise buildings and stores lining the street.

Bright yet grimy, just like the real thing.

If LA Noire was a time machine to transport you back to a Los Angeles long lost to progress, GTA V is a window into a slightly-twisted parallel world. Like its real-world inspiration, Los Santos’ Vinewood is a glossy, bustling, but thoroughly lived-in place. Rockstar North has stocked it to the brim with eye-catching stuff from every angle but has made equally sure to coat everything with that layer of grit and grime no city can shake.

The details don’t stop. A tourist minibus sits idling on the kerb; you know the kind, they’re like little human aquariums on wheels. We’re told Michael could hop aboard and take a Los Santos star tour, complete with an earful of pithy, GTA-style commentary on the area’s resident celebrities. Michael ambles past a tattoo parlour where we’re told he could get ink if players were inclined. Avatar customisation is back. Clothing can be changed, obviously, but you can also get haircuts.

Michael eventually pauses amongst a handful of cosplayers milling around a popular Los Santos tourist trap. He takes a snapshot of one, dressed as a Republican Space Ranger, with his phone. Mobile phones have come quite a way since 2008′s GTA IV; Michael’s new ‘iFruit’ reflects that progress. It doesn’t just have a touchscreen – you’ll be able to access the in-game internet from it, utilise the game’s social network features and more.

rsggtavscreenshot156jpg

Expect the weather to be just as remarkable as Red Dead Redemption.

What speaks volumes about the depth of the world Rockstar North has created here is that there are few other games that could be demonstrated in the same fashion. The demo’s heist, described here, hasn’t happened yet. In fact, very little has happened. A walk. A swim. That’s it, really. But GTA V’s world is so vivid, simply being in it is enough to be engrossed. You get an instant appreciation for the potential of a world as fertile as this. The whole place feels like a coiled spring, just waiting to explode as soon as you begin interfering.

Surprising is the wrong word for Rockstar North’s dedication to minutiae. There didn’t need to be butterflies hovering around the bushes in the front yard of a Hollywood starlet’s Vinewood Hills luxury home; it’s unlikely anyone would’ve mourned their absence. But they are there, and it’s not surprising. Rockstar’s commitment to layers upon layers of detail in the games it publishes is widely known and well-documented.

Admirable, perhaps, is more apt. It’s admirable that, in spite of the vast increase in proportions, there don’t appear to have been any concessions when it comes to that granular detail that defines a Rockstar Games world.

What’s more is that this attention to detail that defines the very DNA of GTA V is about more than what you can see. It’s about what you can hear, do, and feel.

The subtle use of an original music score in the background while out of a vehicle, or at dramatic moments during the game’s missions, smacks of Rockstar’s hugely-successful Western. Combined with the usual in-game radio content, GTA V’s aural offering could be something truly special.

Vehicle customisation, last seen in GTA: San Andreas, is returning after being honed by Rockstar’s own Midnight Club: Los Angeles. That extends beyond simply visual options like paintjobs, wheels, tints, grills and spoilers too; performance upgrades will significantly improve your car’s power and handling characteristics.

For improvements to the game’s shooting, Rockstar has looked no further than Max Payne 3. Cover shooting is improved, and the reticule will now switch from white to red to identify enemies (a small cross will flash over it when your targeted enemy is killed, also). There even a new evasive roll, the ability to run-and-gun from the hip while maintaining complete aiming control and what Rockstar is describing as a ‘combat jog’ (which will allow you to move at speed with a weapon drawn, but not raised).

I single these out to illustrate that GTA V has not evolved in a bubble. Rather, inside of GTA V awaits a Voltron of proven components from its quality stable mates. Combined with its sheer size and the smorgasbord of gameplay, this is what I mean when I talk about scope. This is the kind of scope you get from years of gestation. You get a game that doesn’t feel like it cares about boundaries.

Grand Theft Auto V stands in stark contrast to an industry increasingly focused on carefully rationed experiences released once every 12 months, and for that I am extremely grateful.

Luke is Games Editor at IGN AU. You can find him on IGN here or on Twitter @MrLukeReilly, or chat with him and the rest of the Australian team by joining the IGN Australia Facebook community.

By Luke Reilly

Xbox Surface Tablet Rumors Floating Around Again

Somehow, nearly a year has passed since Microsoft revealed its first foray into the tablet market with the Surface. Back then, an alleged internal document leaked online, discussing a 7-inch Xbox-branded Surface. As mentioned by The Verge, the Surface and Xbox teams are supposedly still working together toward — well, something.

Sources speaking to DigiTimes are claiming the next generation Surface will be unveiled during Microsoft’s Build developer conference, taking place June 26-28. Allegedly, the new Surface — or Surfaces, plural — will have a scaled-down display size, available in “7- to 9-inch” models. If those sources are legitimate, this seems to indicate Microsoft is planning to release more than one version of the second-generation Surface.

And the mention of a 7-inch Surface has, understandably so, led back to the Xbox tablet speculation of 2012. The Verge reported speaking to “multiple sources” back in November, claiming initial planning for an Xbox Surface was already underway at Microsoft.

Microsoft will reveal its next-generation Xbox console during a May 21 event.

Matt Clark is a freelance writer covering the world of videogames, tech, and popular culture. Follow him on Twitter @ClarkMatt and MyIGN at Matt_Clark.

By Matt Clark

Daily Fix Headlines for May 3, 2013

The weekend has arrived, so you can now make up for all those times you couldn’t play games this week. Great! Although if that’s not the case for you, here’s something to at least make you feel like you’re gaming (except, not really).

Oh Twitter, what would we do without you? A tweeted photo gave away TMI on the new Borderlands 2 DLC. Marvel’s Phase 2 of movies kick off today with Iron Man 3 so do yourself a favor and get the latest on the next batch of upcoming superhero flicks. Also a new Mario HD game is expected to arrive sometime soon. Finally, our Friday giveaway this week has you choosing between two of the biggest games out right now . Watch today’s episode to find out which ones along with one sweet David Hayter cameo!

Here are the stories we covered:

Borderlands 2 Tiny Tina DLC Revealed

Title details, expected release, and the strange image that gave it all away.

New Marvel Phase 2 Movie Details

Want the latest on Captain America: The Winter Soldier? How about Guardians Of the Galaxy? Well, Marvel head Kevin Feige is offering up a few key hints about both and more!

Mario HD Coming This October?

Another day, another rumor and this time coming from some “retail chains at executive level”. When and what can we expect with this new lead? Details are in the linked html code.

IGN Daily Roundup


Need more to satisfy your video game informational needs? Here’s a quick list of things you might also find interesting.


Cheech and Chong’s Far Cry 3 Experience

Shadow of Darkness Teaser Trailer

Get Minigore 2 For Free!

Naomi Kyle is IGN’s news host and on-camera personality. You can find her every day on The Daily Fix, kicking ass and taking names. You can follow her on Twitter @NaomiKyle.

By Naomi Kyle

Searching for Clues in the Call of Duty: Ghosts Trailer

At long last, Call of Duty: Ghosts is official. After weeks of rumors, leaks, and speculation, Activision took the wraps off the next installment in the Call of Duty franchise this week with the debut of its title, launch date, and a cryptic live-action teaser trailer. And while we may have to wait until Microsoft’s next-generation Xbox event on May 21st to see more of the forthcoming shooter, there are subtle hints in the debut trailer that could offer insight into the game’s plot, setting, and mechanics.

Ghost: Gone But Not Forgotten

While Activision and Infinity Ward are trumping up the game’s “all-new” setting, characters, and story, the title and use of Ghost’s mask suggest a clear link to the previous Modern Warfare titles. For those unfamiliar, Ghost was a masked member of Task Force 141, the special operations team featured in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and its subsequent spin-off comic series, Modern Warfare 2: Ghost. (WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD) However, Ghost was killed in action while attempting to locate and capture Vladimir Makarov, the primary antagonist of Modern Warfare 2. While it’s possible that Call of Duty: Ghosts could attempt a soap opera-esque return of the character, the chances are seemingly slim. Ghost was not only shot at point blank range, his body was doused in gasoline and set ablaze along with fellow squadmate, Roach.

Ghost’s role in the upcoming title, however, seems more likely to be that of an icon or martyr, whose visage is being used by the game’s protagonists. In its pre-reveal promotions, Infinity Ward and Activision used the tagline “The Ghosts are Real” and in the live-action trailer we can see a squad of soldiers wearing hand-painted masks similar to Ghost’s. Could the Ghosts have adopted the symbol because of the character’s sacrifice in the line of duty and his pursuit of justice? Or, maybe there’s a more significant link between this mysterious new team and Ghost. Only time will tell.

Black Ops or Guerilla Faction?

The live-action trailer features a scripted narrative focusing on the use of masks by warriors throughout time, culminating in the reveal of an unidentified squad of soldiers wearing the Ghost mask. Although the narrator’s words could be little more than dramatic filler, they could also hold clues to the significance of the mask and the background of this mysterious team.

There are those that wear masks to hide. And those that wear masks to show us what they stand for. To inspire, to unite, to defy, to strike fear into the hearts of their enemies, and hope in the hearts of their followers. There are those that wear masks to protect themselves, and there are those that wear masks to protect us all.

It’s possible that the squad in question is a special operations team within the allied forces, but the specific emphasis on inspiring hope amongst the public, protecting anonymity, and displaying unity seems to align more with that of a militia or Fawkesian faction. Are the Ghosts an elite team operating under the orders of an established government or are they a militia or insurgent fighters in the game’s yet-to-be-detailed conflict? Modern Warfare 3 left the story at the end of World War III, and if Ghosts occurs in the same universe, the story could be set in a world where nations and borders are still being reconstructed, and subsequently, contested.

Current-Era Weaponry. Current-Era Setting?

In the brief glimpse of the Ghosts squad, we can see what appears to be modern-day weaponry, including an M16A4, Dragunov, AK-class rifle, M14 EBR, and a silenced M4A1. The use of current-era firearms suggests the game will be set in the present, but a purported leak from March claimed that the story would instead be set in the future, with the characters resorting to current-generation weaponry as part of an unknown “plot device.”

Unfortunately, there are no other easter eggs in the trailer to suggest one way or the other.

Dogs: More than a Scorestreak?

With a cursory glance, you might throw the squad into the generic “dudes with guns in dramatic poses” category, but what about their furry friend? One soldier is conspicuously accompanied by a German Shepherd wearing a tactical harness and plenty of gear. Dogs are no stranger to the Call of Duty franchise — they first appeared in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare as AI enemies in the single-player campaign and later became a devastating kill/score streak bonus in online multiplayer and spec ops modes.

It’s possible that the inclusion of a dog in the trailer could be merely a continuation of the existing game dynamics, or it could allude to a larger tactical role in single-player and multiplayer, perhaps even giving players direct control over a canine companion.

What do you make of the Call of Duty: Ghosts reveal trailer? Share your impressions and theories in the comments section below.

Scott Lowe is IGN’s resident tech expert and an all-around Call of Duty nut. You can follow him on Twitter at @ScottLowe and on MyIGN at Scott-IGN.

By Scott Lowe

Daily Fix Headlines for April 30, 2013

We’ve paid attention since the beginning, Rockstar, and now you’ve blown our minds with three amazing new trailers (and phenomenal music)! How can we ever repay you? That’s right, Rockstar has done it again – links to the trailers down below. Oh and are you ready to get playful with some Ghosts? Because Activision seems to think you are. Finally, BioShock Infinite DLC may come packin’…a new companion. Watch the Fix to see me wearing nothing but blue because clearly my goal here was to resemble something out of an Eiffel 65 music video.

Here are the stories we covered in today’s Fix:

New Grand Theft Auto V Trailers

Rockstar Games has unleashed three of their most gameplay-filled, cinematic trailers for Grand Theft Auto V yet. They are full of character goodness and waiting for your intake.

Call of Duty: Ghosts Confirmed, Dated

The rumored Call Of Duty: Ghosts game is no longer a rumor. A new promotional poster and confirmed release date might be to blame.

BioShock Infinite DLC Adds New Character?

The first DLC for BioShock Infinite may have you playing alongside a new AI companion. Where did this speculation begin? Click the link to find out and tell us who you’d like to see be your new partner in crime.

IGN Daily Roundup


Need more to satisfy your video game informational needs? Here’s a quick list of things you might also find interesting.


Grand Theft Auto V Trailers

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon Video Review

LEGO Marvel Super Heroes Sneak Peek

Naomi Kyle is IGN’s news host and on-camera personality. You can find her every day on The Daily Fix, kicking ass and taking names. You can follow her on Twitter @NaomiKyle.

By Naomi Kyle

Bethesda’s ‘Endless Summer’ Outed by Aussie Classification Board

The Evil Within image

The Australian classification board has just outed what looks like a brand new video game from Bethesda, currently listed as ‘Endless Summer.’

The game has been classified by the board MA15+ and described as featuring “strong horror themes and violence.” Specifically, strong impact violence and themes, mild impact language and sex, very mild impact nudity and zero drug use. As Kotaku correctly notes, the name ‘Endless Summer’ could be a place-holder at this stage; it could be code for the recently announced The Evil Within, although that’s an early classification for a game due for release in 2014.

 

That’s all we know right now, so speculate away in the comment section below. In the meantime, check out our coverage of The Evil Within.

Thanks, Kotaku.

Lucy O’Brien is Assistant Editor at IGN AU. Follow her ramblings on IGN at Luce_IGN_AU,or @Luceobrien on Twitter.

By Lucy O’Brien

New Life for Gears of War Movie

The feature film version of Gears of War may not be as dead as it seemed.

Variety reports that Ted and Battleship producer Scott Stuber has come aboard to produce the long-gestating screen version of the Epic video game title.

The trade says no writer, talent or distributor is attached at this time, although Stuber has a pre-existing deal with Universal. Stuber and Epic will reportedly start shopping Gears of War to studios soon.

Gears of War was previously set up at New Line where Len Wiseman was attached to direct from a script by Stuart Beattie.

Since Stuber also recently produced Identity Thief, let the “Oh, great, I guess now Melissa McCarthy’s going to play Marcus Fenix” comments commence!

By Jim Vejvoda

A routine beating.

If mediocrity needed a video game poster child, I’d nominate Sacred Citadel for the position. Everything about this three-player side-scrolling beat-’em-up exemplifies the word: the combat, the overall presentation, and the dialogue. It neither disappoints nor inspires, and serves as a middling diversion best kept for co-op nights when it doesn’t particularly matter what you’re playing.

Like the neighborhood dive bar, Sacred Citadel provides many of the essentials but little else. There are four acts to work through, a villain to foil, four characters to outfit with levels and loot, titles to collect, achievements to complete, a few genuinely spectacular boss battles, and the requisite herd of enemies to cull. It’s the whole nine yards, and that’s also one of its biggest problems: it’s only nine yards, and it could’ve really used a few more.

The most telling thing, perhaps, is the approach Sacred Citadel took with the quartet of characters. You’ll never mistake the Shaman for the decolletage-baring Mage, but the cast still feels utterly bland despite their colorful cel-shaded art style. No attempt has been made here at providing some semblance of personality to their gameplay. It doesn’t help that everyone is, for no apparent reason, a dual-wielding dervish or that, outside of the off-hand weapon abilities, their basic moves are visually different but effectively nigh-identical, and the standard assortment of equippable swords, maces, giant hammer, unisex armor and what-have-yous barely does anything to mix it up.

Though limited and vaguely unsatisfying to perform, the repository of moves is both easy to execute and decently animated; you’ll be hard-pressed to not maintain a maxed-out combo tally. Having said that, however, the combat is another example of what went not-quite-right with Sacred Citadel. It isn’t terrible, it’s just kind of humdrum. There’s enough to it that you won’t immediately quit in exasperation, but little beyond that.

Over bland the four-act story you’ll cut through wave after wave of acid-spitting dragonets, wolf-creatures, miners, ghouls, and more. To their credit, they all come with their own attack patterns, but the enemy A.I is suicidally atrocious. It’s distressingly easy to stun-lock them into annihilation or to crowd them into a corner where they can be slowly pulverized. Most of my playthrough consisted of repeatedly mashing the knockback combo and, from time to time, diversifying with an uppercut. It’s a cheap tactic, but an effective one, and the fact that you’re also vulnerable to the same stun-lock death makes it often necessary.

At least, at first. Getting through the first act was a slog, but things began opening up around the time I encountered the first boss, a gargantuan creature that had me waking up from my ennui in delight. Like some sped-up reenactment of a raid encounter from World of Warcraft, the boss battles had me spamming that dodge-roll button and scrambling to keep ahead, ever-hounded by the seemingly endless supply of common rabble and the boss’ attacks.

It’s a toss up as to whether the boss fights or the vehicles are the most appealing aspect. Enormous in every respect, the drivable war machines and mounts will let you wreck localized apocalypse on your surroundings. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as crunching across Grimmocs with one of their own tank-like contraptions.

Sacred Citadel remains one of those games that just could have been more, you know? Much like the underachieving student who is happy to coast by on just-passing grades, it seems content at being satisfactory, and nothing more.

The Verdict

A dispirited attempt at marrying the best of old-school brawlers like Streets of Rage with the obsession-inducing trappings of an action-RPG, Sacred Citadel had the potential to be so much more than it is. Plagued by a ho-hum delivery and combat occasionally interrupted by redeeming boss fights, it fails to distinguish itself.

By Cassandra Khaw