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Storm Drain
What I think about...
DOOM Eternal

DOOM Eternal is an odd game compared to its predecessor. I previously wrote a review of DOOM (2016), a game which in many ways left me wanting-- not wanting more , but something else . I suppose DOOM Eternal is that something else I had been looking for-- this game shares very little in common with DOOM (2016) apart from a game engine, as anything carrying over from 2016 has been redesigned in both form and function. This isn’t to say everything on offer is superior to DOOM (2016)-- but enough in the important places is for me to thoroughly enjoy this experience.

Combat in 2016 was perhaps the weakest part of the game compared to what awaits the player in Eternal, as health management was more reminiscent of classic FPS games like Half-Life than what DOOM (2016) was really trying to be. The result was that avoiding damage was vastly preferable to aggressive play, since glory kills alone were insufficient to replenish health and armor. Eternal eschews this in favor of an ULTRAKILL-esque rhythm to combat, with close-range damage providing vital refills of health, ammo, and armor, equipment properly integrated into the gameplay loop for damage and crowd control alike, and enemies and weapons able to complement one another from start to finish. And the removal of 2016's instant-death pits in favor of Sekiro-style pits is also very welcome.

What’s the catch, then? I hardly played DOOM (2016) for the plot, but DOOM Eternal again diverges from its precursor here, spending more time detailing the world and forcing the player into unskippable cutscenes than 2016 ever would have. Moreover, the plot itself is absurd enough to render these changes nonsensical, leading me to wonder what id Software was thinking to begin with. Be this as it may, it wasn’t enough to truly detract from the experience, as the gameplay loop in Eternal is exactly what I was looking for in the comparatively-slow 2016. At the very least, the story cutscenes are also skippable, even if the non-story cutscenes are not.

The music remains well put-together, even if it isn't quite my style, the issues of clarity of visual design in combat and slow pacing have been solved, and even the basic firing modes of the weapons are decent now, leaving me coming back for more. I may not end up playing DOOM Eternal as much as I already have ULTRAKILL, but I'll certainly put in more time with it than I did with DOOM (2016).
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84 Hours played
What Doom Tried To Be

By now my repertoire of retro-throwback FPS games is getting pretty big, and one could be forgiven for thinking that my purchase of ULTRAKILL serves to make that repertoire even bigger. But in reality, ULTRAKILL is something much, much different…

Graphics
The obvious reason for ULTRAKILL being counted among titles like DUSK, AMID EVIL, or Ion Fury – apart from the publisher – is the visual design. ULTRAKILL deliberately evokes the style of a PSX game, with options similar to DUSK and AMID EVIL for pixelating and crunching down the visuals if you should so desire. I prefer something somewhat more playable here, and thus play ULTRAKILL at native resolution with those options disabled – and while the design is simple, there’s an elegance to that simplicity that helps the game play to its strengths. Backgrounds aren’t overly cluttered, enemies are easy to identify, and levels start off visually simple before becoming gradually more complex as the game goes on. The result is an incredibly playable experience which, despite superficial similarities to other New Blood titles, still manages to set itself apart.

Audio
On occasion, I’ll heap overbearing praise on a game that I’m reviewing for something it just does right, and ULTRAKILL has managed to earn such praise. The audio design in ULTRAKILL thus far is utterly outstanding, from the bassy weapon sounds and clear enemy cues to the stellar environmental sounds and music - a medley of metallic post-rock and classical tracks which come together surprisingly well. I felt the audio design in DOOM (2016) was actually fairly weak, particularly the weapon sounds - but ULTRAKILL has no such faults. Far from having weak weapon sounds, the weapons here are so powerful and loud that they occasionally break the game's sound engine, causing the game's audio to go mute for a split-second – and that isn't a bug, as far as I'm concerned, it's a feature.

Performance
While I’ve yet to try running ULTRAKILL on my old laptop, I suspect this game will perform as well as – or better than – DUSK, another title that I was able to easily run on low-end hardware. I only experienced one crash during my time playing, as a result of somehow launching myself out of the map at relativistic speed, but beyond that I experienced hardly any other bugs or glitches throughout. This is a surprisingly well-polished and well-designed title for Early Access.

Gameplay
Most of New Blood’s other titles heretofore have had somewhat conventional retro-throwback gameplay, despite their emphasis on mobility and dodging. DUSK, AMID EVIL, and the like are a selection of very good games, but they still aren’t necessarily groundbreaking in their design principles. Enter ULTRAKILL, a game that has been marketed as Devil May Quake. This is a game that eschews ammo management and health pickups in favor of some of the best movement I’ve seen in a first-person shooter and health regeneration by bathing in the freshly-spilled blood of your enemies. Weapons feature numerous alternate-fire modes which can be chained together, you can parry enemy attacks and projectiles alike, and every enemy attack can be dodged or avoided one way or another.

One of the things that sets ULTRAKILL apart from its predecessors is the inclusion of a style meter and ranking system. More conventional titles would offer end-of-level stats such as enemies killed, secrets found, and time elapsed, but ULTRAKILL offers actual rankings from D to S for time, kills, and style. The more advanced techniques you employ in the course of a level, the higher your style goes, in service of the sometimes-elusive Perfect ranking. There are challenges, secrets, unique enemies, and excellent boss encounters to be found here, and apart from Devil May Cry meets arena shooter, my only other frame of reference for ULTRAKILL would be a Soulslike title – something like Bloodborne or Sekiro. I’ll offer another honorable mention to the parrying functionality, which allows you to not only reflect enemy projectiles, but also to parry your own shotgun shells to make them go faster and explode. This game manages to be novel and engaging throughout, and I love it.

https://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=2360057192

Community Content
For the time being, ULTRAKILL falls into a spot somewhere between AMID EVIL and Ion Fury in terms of support for community content. While it is possible to customize the game’s endless mode (the Cyber Grind) with new textures and a skybox, and while custom endless mode arenas are incoming, there is nothing comparable to DUSK’s SDK available yet. I’m hopeful to see more support for community content in the future, as I think there’s a lot of potential here for user-made maps, but we’ll have to see; the ULTRAKILL map editor is still in testing at the time of writing. Still, it seems that the editor will go beyond the scope of simply designing new levels, as some scripting and trickery is evidently possible, granting map makers even more options in their work.

Verdict
The ULTRAKILL Demo released in Summer 2020 was good, but I still had my concerns about the level design and aesthetics. I’m happy to say, then, that ULTRAKILL in Early Access is nothing short of great, and it manages to improve on all the areas I thought the demo could have done better in. I can safely say that ULTRAKILL is the best title I’ve seen from New Blood yet – and that’s saying something, when ULTRAKILL might have just as well stood in the shadows of DUSK and AMID EVIL. I guess I’ll crib from another review to truly sum it up: ULTRAKILL isn't a retro throwback. ULTRAKILL is everything I wanted the 2016 DOOM reboot to be, and more. It's good. Get it.

I recommend ULTRAKILL.
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21 Hours played
Half-Life: Source Remastered

Black Mesa represents a pretty interesting success story in games development, but that story also rhymes with how many of Valve’s now-flagship franchises got their starts, too: transitioning from lowly mods worked on during free time to full-fledged standalone games published on Steam. All things considered, Black Mesa has earned its seat at this mod-to-game table, and having played Black Mesa in its mod form almost a decade ago, it’s high time that I revisit this title.

Graphics
Black Mesa launched out of early access in May 2020, but one should temper their expectations for the visuals going in: this is a Source Engine game through and through, and while Crowbar Collective has done some impressive work to get more out of this engine visually, it still shows its age in some respects (i.e., lack of ambient occlusion). That said, Black Mesa only has a few fair points of comparison: the other Half-Life titles, now including Alyx - and more appropriately still, the twenty-plus-year-old original Half-Life, which Black Mesa unsurprisingly blows out of the water. This is a mostly-faithful adaptation of Half-Life, and visually Black Mesa accomplishes what it sets out to do. It does diverge more from its source material toward the latter chapters, however, and it arguably does so to great aesthetic effect. At the very least, the game is a technical marvel, pushing the Source Engine to its limits in order to achieve what it does.

https://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=2177937248

Audio
Black Mesa’s audio is a bit of a mixed bag - while it’s generally decent, there are some issues that mar the overall experience. Voice acting is competent if not outstanding, though this is to be expected when most of the voices are that of either generic scientists or generic guards. Crowbar’s attempt at voicing the G-Man is admirable, albeit still somewhat noticeably off, and the HECU Marine voiceovers can’t quite compare to the iconic, bass-heavy lines of the original Half-Life soldiers. Weapons generally sound satisfying, and the new music, while stylistically different from Kelly Bailey’s score, does the job and helps to mix things up - and some tracks are nothing short of stellar. My only real complaint is one which unfortunately affects all aspects of the game’s sound design: treble seems to be overemphasized, giving many sounds something of a sharp, piercing quality to them. It’s fine if you’re using speakers, but it can feel like listening to chalk being dragged across a blackboard if you’re wearing headphones.

Performance
Performance for the release version of Black Mesa is a bit unimpressive, despite the Source Engine’s age. I haven’t had any issues with stability, but my current system makes for a better high-end benchmark than it does an average player’s. I’ve had no performance issues yet with the game settings maxed out, but your mileage may vary - I would suggest a reasonably powerful desktop if you’re intent on playing Black Mesa, i.e., a GTX 960/R9 380 or better if possible, as opposed to the original Half-Life, which could even be made to run on a Chromebook with a Linux distro.

Gameplay
Black Mesa originated as a Half-Life 2 mod, and it retains some of these roots to this day. Still, the gameplay isn’t straight from 2004, even if many of Half-Life 2’s sensibilities punctuate the design of Black Mesa. Some features are standard fare, such as your ability to carry a veritable arsenal of weapons, lack of regenerating health, low-field of view flashlight, and, of course, physics-based puzzles. But Crowbar Collective has also updated some features, including optional toggles in the settings for quality-of-life improvements and alternate movement options. Thus, it’s left up to the player whether they want to deal with crouch-jumping for themselves, or if they prefer to have a sprinting option at all. Beyond that, the game plays like a well-polished Source Engine title from the era of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive - which isn’t a bad thing in my book. This is a fast-paced quasi-old school first-person shooter, with a linear design done right.

https://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=2177937400

Singleplayer
Black Mesa combines two design philosophies together in its campaign: first, it seeks to faithfully recreate and update the Black Mesa Research Facility using the latest version of the Source Engine; second, it aims to improve on areas of the original Half-Life that were lackluster, whether through minor tweaks or more considerable redesigns. Thus, many areas of the game seem familiar albeit larger than they once were, and many encounters are similarly uncanny. But Black Mesa is not content to simply copy what was done in 1998 and redesign the set dressing, so weapons may be acquired at different points in the game than before, new encounters, set pieces, and pathways can be discovered, the research facility staff are considerably more interactive than before, and the player’s goals are more clear than they were in 1998. Moreover, the latter portion of Black Mesa, the formerly controversial Xen chapters, have been rebuilt from the ground up, to largely good effect. There are some occasional pacing issues, difficult encounters, and elements that aren’t quite up to scratch when compared to a Valve title, but Black Mesa’s campaign is largely a story of design success, taking simple moments from Valve’s 1998 classic and transforming them into truly memorable scenes. The singleplayer campaign is far and away the star of the show here.

Multiplayer
The multiplayer component of Black Mesa is, like the campaign, a modernization of what could be found in classic Half-Life - in this case, the classic deathmatch and team deathmatch modes, with a suite of arena-like maps to complement them. This is decidedly a throwback, reminiscent of Half-Life: Deathmatch and Half-Life 2: Deathmatch in both good and bad ways. Unfortunately, there isn’t a sizable community for this multiplayer mode, but as of the time of writing a handful of servers do still have players duking it out, reminding me somewhat of the very small but dedicated following that kept Fortress Forever alive for so long. There are no progression systems, gimmicky game-modes, or similar to be found here, and Black Mesa itself is a fairly niche title compared to mainstream shooters, so I suspect the community for the multiplayer component will remain small.

Community Content
Black Mesa is a Source Engine game, and it comes with Workshop integration as-is. It’s good to see that a game born of a mod remains true to its roots with support for community content, and a number of maps (both single- and multiplayer), weapon/player models, and enemy redesigns, as well as sound packs and bug fixes, can be found on the Workshop within seconds. By all accounts, Black Mesa is a stellar performer on this front, and I quickly found several mods that improved on some of my few qualms with the game.

https://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=2177937562

Verdict
So this is Black Mesa the game, finally released nearly a decade after Black Mesa the mod. Is it worth having a proper price tag on the Steam store, as opposed to the original mod from Mod DB? Well, for the most part, yes - it’s a very impressive piece of work and a testament to the capabilities of the modding community when the appropriate tools are at their disposal. I don’t know if I would pick it up at full price, but it’s on sale often enough, and whether you’ve played the original Half-Life or not, Black Mesa is worth a play through to experience the halls of the eponymous research facility once more, this time through a different, more detailed lens.

I would recommend Black Mesa, but would suggest waiting for a sale.
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Comments
SirOutcast Nov 5, 2016 @ 9:31pm 
Edge Lord
Roob Oct 26, 2016 @ 8:32pm 
Looks like Davos
TEMPLAR TREJORE Jul 16, 2014 @ 2:45pm 
Grilled Cheese