Gears of War review: Time to rev up that lancer!

Please note, dear readers, this is a review of Gears of War 4’s campaign and not any of its MP modes. If I get time to play any of them, I’ll post my thoughts, but that said, I like single player campaigns more than MP so that might be a while …

I’ve always been a fan of the Gears of War video games.

Son of a gun: JD Fenix

Son of a gun: JD Fenix

In fact, I’ve always liked the series much more than Halo, to be honest. Maybe it’s  the over-the-top characters with larger than life calves and that it has a gun that has a freaking chainsaw attached to it, but I always liked the dude bro chemistry between original Gears characters Marcus Fenix, Dom Santiago, Damon Baird and Augustus “Cole Train”Cole as they battled the Locust.

Set 25 years after Gears of War 3, you fill the combat boots of James Dominic (JD) Fenix, the son of Gears legend Marcus Fenix, and this time around the COG (Coalition of Governments) that Marcus and his pals Dom, Cole and Baird fought for so long ago are now the enemy, with JD and colleagues Kait and Del sort of revolutionaries fighting against the machine that is now the COG.

This is a much more vibrant Gears of War game, at least compared to the dark, gritty colour tones of previous games in the series, and while it’s not unicorns and rainbows it’s nice to see colour that isn’t various shades of brown and grey.

Gears of War 4 Drone BattleGOW4 takes a while to warm up and much of that is down to the fact that for the first couple of hours all you battle are COG robots called DeeBees. Don’t give up, though, as once you start fighting the Swarm – the new enemies – things pick up for the better.

Despite a new developer, Gears of War 4 feels like a Gears game and by that I mean it’s a tightly scripted affair where rooms are combat arenas full of knee-high walls and barricades that you can hunker down behind and pick out the horde of enemies, one by one. JD smacks into walls with a satisfying thump (you can almost feel the masonry crumble as a shoulder slams into it) – and there’s always plenty of cover to move to as you advance. There are new weapons too, to mix things up a little so you don’t have to reply on the faithful lancer all the time: One that fires saw blades, while another fires projectiles that drill into the ground then explode.

Gears of War has always been about arenas where you enter a room, clear out the enemies then move towards the objective. It’s never been about open-world exploration where you can wander off the beaten track.

Narrative has never been  a strength of the Gears games and it’s pretty average here but JD Fenix is a likeable character that grew on me the more I played the game and in a nice nod to the previous Gears titles, it was nice that Marcus Fenix becomes part of the team during the latter stages of the game.

A welcome return: Marcus Fenix makes a welcome return in GOW4.

A welcome return: Marcus Fenix makes a welcome return in GOW4.

It was nice seeing The Coalition give us an older, more grizzled (could he get more grizzled?)

Marcus Fenix, a military man who has lived life as a civilian for 25 years and now lives on a farm, growing tomatoes and generally leading a quiet life (there’s a nice sequence where JD, Marcus and co make their way through Marcus’ tomato plants and Marcus complains that his plants are being destroyed).

The Coalition hasn’t reinvented Gears of War here, and I don’t think anyone expected that they would, but I felt that the middle sagged a little, with the game becoming bogged down with traipsing through Swarm-infested lairs. As you’d expect, the ending has set us up for Gears of War 5.



Gears of War 4 looks wonderful on Xbox One – it could be the best looking game on Xbox One right now – and on PC, and it’s the third game to be released as part of Xbox’s Play Anywhere scheme where if you buy a digital copy on PC or Xbox One, you’ll get a free copy on the other platform and despite having a four-year old graphics card, I played most of the campaign on my PC. It’s incredibly scalable and my PC managed solid frame rates of close to 60 frames a second at 1080p using a mix of medium and high graphic presets. I was pleasantly surprised.

For a fan of Gears of War, I found number 4 in the series (let’s just forget that Judgement ever happened, shall we?) incredibly satisfying. It delivered all the things I wanted in a Gears game.

Now that The Coalition has got its first album out of the way, let’s see what direction the series heads in the future.



Entering the world of Virtual Reality, PlayStation styles

For a few minutes this week, I was The Batman. The Dark Knight. The Caped Crusader.

I threw batarangs through the shadowy streets of Arkham City, I used a forensic analyser to search a crime scene for clues, I tinkled the ivories before descending into the bat cave. I was inside The Batman’s head – and it was awesome.

Me being Batman.

OK, confession time:  I wasn’t really Batman, and I’m not likely to replace Ben Affleck/Christian Bale/Michael Keaton anytime soon,  but thanks to PlayStation NZ and its soon-to-be released PSVR headset (which releases this week), I got to pretend that I was Batman playing Batman Arkham VR from developer Rocksteady, and that’s good enough for me.

I’m no  stranger to VR headsets – I own a Samsung GearVR – so I knew what to expect in terms of comfort and experience, but despite its somewhat bulky appearance, the PSVR headset is comfortable and super adjustable, so it shouldn’t be a problem getting a good fit. It’ll also accommodate eye glasses, which most other VR headsets don’t cater for.

I did notice that I did sweat a bit while wearing the headset. Maybe that’s a result of all the padding, so keeping a cloth handy would be useful.

A close up of the PlayStation VR headset.In my hour or so hands-on with the PSVR, I played Driveclub VR (it was probably my least favourite VR experience),  watched my son’s friend Charlie play Rush of Blood (the on-rails shooter from the makers of the PS4 sleeper hit Until Dawn), watched my son Mitchell shoot pursuers in The London Heist, and I, of course, got to be The Batman, the game that sold me on PSVR being a viable VR platform.

It wasn’t a completely immersive experience: It was slightly disconcerting seeing my hands floating in space in front of me, cut off at the wrists, and when I looked down instead of a body I saw an empty space with a utility belt wrapped around it, but Rocksteady have pulled it off. Pulling the Move controllers triggers clenched my virtual fists, too, meaning that fighting games look a definite possibility with PSVR in the future.

Perhaps the most heart pumping demonstration, though, was Ocean Descent, part of the VR Worlds demos that come with the PSVR.  Putting you in a shark cage as it descends the depths of a tropical ocean, it’s a serene scene at first: A turtle swims past, then sting rays glide past, impressively.

The cage descends further,  the wreckage of a submarine suddenly appearing into view, resting on sea bed. I turn my head and realise that moving my head moves the headlamp attached (I’m assuming) to my dive helmet. Suddenly, a shadow looms into view: It’s a great white shark.

The shark circles the shark cage, it’s metal frame swaying as the creature buffets it in its wake. The creature disappears then suddenly it reappears, slamming into the shark cage, ripping a section of the door off. I take a step backwards towards the rear of the cage.

Now, let’s examine that statement for a minute: I’m in a room with five other people in an Auckland suburb near the city’s CBD, wearing a VR headset projecting me into a virtual world, yet my brain told me to take a step backwards because a VR shark attacked the VR cage I was standing in. Crazy.

img_20161005_111346I came away impressed with PSVR after the short time I spent with it. Ultimately, though, I’d like to spent more hours with it to get a real impression of how it is in a real-world environment (ie not in a controlled space).

Would I buy a PSVR based on my short time with it? Perhaps, but part of me still isn’t convinced quite yet that VR is the next big thing in gaming.

Besides, I’m never really a first-adopter of technology so I’d like to see how PSVR does once it’s out in the wild and user feedback comes through before I lay down several hundred dollars on hardware.

I did come away impressed with PlayStation’s answer to VR and I think will be the  most accessible mainstream VR platform available but time will tell whether it becomes a must-have VR platform for console gamers. From what I’ve seen so far, it’s half way there.

This week, plenty of PlayStation owners will get the chance to see what it’s all about.

*Thanks to PlayStation NZ for letting me, my son and his friend enter the world of VR using the PSVR.  It was much appreciated.




Video Friday: Call of Duty Modern Warfare Remastered launch trailer

Happy Friday, dear readers.

Call of Duty Modern Warfare is, in my humble opinion, the best COD game of the series, and the mission titled All Ghillied Up is, again in my humble opinion, the best mission of the series to date. It is, seriously.

Today, Activision have released the launch trailer of COD MW Remastered, which you’ll get if you buy the Legacy and Deluxe editions of the next COD iteration coming out soon, Infinite Warfare. Sadly, there is no standalone version of the remastered Modern Warfare, which is a real shame as I’m pretty confident it would sell thousands of copies (perhaps more than  Infinite Warfare itself will?) How about it, Activision?

Here’s hoping that Activision see sense and bring out a standalone version of MW Remastered at some point in the not too distant future. It wouldn’t be that hard to sort out and I’m pretty sure it’s something that they have an inkling that fans would like to see.

Anyway, the Remastered version is looking pretty good, if the trailer is anything to go by, which you can watch at the top of this post.

So, who’s buying Infinite Warfare?


Forza Horizon 3 review: Vroom, vroodm, vrooom, screeeeeech, vrooom, vrooom

What did you do over the weekend?

Me? Well, I drove a Mercedes AMG C 65 to Australia’s famous Twelve Apostle’s landmark, nestled in Sydney’s Byron Bay. I drove a Lamborghini Urus 4WD around a whole lot of wrecked ships off Silver Sands. I raced a Fiat  Arbarth across dirt roads (it was hardly a contest): I won easily. I admired the amazing Parkes Satellite Arrays, taking in the wonder. I drifted a Holden Maloo ute around an outback road. I saw fireworks in the skies of the Gold Coast.

getphoto-ashxI also took out several wire fences when drifting around corners went awry, sideswiped a few cars and had some near misses with cars as I screamed through Byron Bay. Oh, I also drove to the Gold Coast (from Sydney. In a few minutes!) and unsuccessfully tried to drift through a car park. I loved every minute of it.

Ok, confession time:  I didn’t really do all this in real-life, I did it in Forza Horizon 3, the best racing game I’ve played in a very, very long time.

It helps that Forza Horizon 3 is stunning, too The car models and environments are gorgeous, but it’s at sunset and night-time when the visuals really step it up a notch.

I crashed into a tree more than once just because I was distracted by the stars in the night sky. Forza Horizon 3 looks so good, so inviting, that It made me want to be right there, right now driving along the Great Ocean Road, taking photos with the Twelve Apostle’s in the background, looking for those shipwrecks. Trans-Tasman rivalry aside, fair dinkum, Forza Horizon is essentially a tourism promotion for Australia (although, to be fair, I still don’t like the Gold Coast much).

Forza Horizon 2 was a fantastic racing game and was always going to hard to beat but, personally, I think Playground Games has done it with Horizon 3. It builds on what made Horizon 2 so wonderful and sets in the giant playground that is Australia. For us Antipodean gamers, too, it’s nice to be driving on the left hand side in a racing game for a change!

Forza Horizon 3 starts out with a crazy stunt that sets the scene for the mayhem you’ll experience throughout the game: It’s you, driving an ATV buggy against another driver. Nothing unusual in that – except the other driver’s buggy is dangling from an Australian Air Force helicopter and you have to beat him to the finish line!

Like Horizon 2, the game revolves around the Horizon festival, with you festival boss tasked with growing the fan base and the size of the famed car festival so it attracts the best drivers in the world. Frankly, like I did with Horizon 2, I often just drive and drive and drive, exploring the game world and seeing what  can find.

Apart from visiting fantastic locations, you’ll be doing things like racing against the clock, recruit rivals to your ranks and competing against Drivatars, AI-controlled avatars (many of them based on your Xbox Live friends) that you can challenge.

forzahorizon3_review_01_jungleroad_wmThere’s a lot of freedom with Forza Horizon 3 (as there was with Horizon 2): Your GPS will often tell you the fastest route to reach a destination but often it’s much more fun to go off-road, plowing through fields and weaving through trees, than it is sticking to the tarmac. You won’t get penalised for doing that either: You earn XP by passing too close to cars and smashing fences and signs as well as driving safely and arriving at your destination with your car in tact.

Back is the rewind mode, which comes in handy if you take a corner too sharply in a race, causing your expensive supercar to side swipe a solid rock. I have to admit I did use it quite a bit in racing but I didn’t feel guilty about it.

forzahorizon3_review_05_traincrossing_wmForza Horizon 3 has something like 350 cars and they’re stunning to look at – and they have an audio soundtrack to accompany the good looks. As I do with all racing games, I turn off the in-car radio stations so that I can hear the signature notes of the cars I’m driving. Having the thundering tones of an American muscle car filling the lounge room is a thrill to the ears!

I could rabbit on about Forza Horizon 3 for many more hundreds of words but frankly, if you own an Xbox One (or PC, as the game is part of Xbox’s Play Anywhere scheme) it’s a game that you need to experience for yourself.

And like Horizon 2 before it, Forza Horizon 3 it has the ability to keep you busy because there is just so much to do.

So, climb into your dream car, settle in and start driving.


New GPU or stick with the consoles for a bit longer? My gaming dilemma

I’m facing something of a gamer’s dilemma.

Let me explain.

I started my gaming life on a PC. A ZX Spectrum to be precise, that wonderous squishy keyed computer born from the mind of British inventor Sir Clive Sinclair.

zxspectrum48krevI loved the Spectrum, cutting my teeth on classics like Maniac Mansion, Knight Lore, Ant Attack, Sabre Wulf, Robocop and Dayley Thompson’s Decathlon, then graduated to an Atari 2600, playing games like Space Harrier and Outrun.

At some point during my teenage years, my dad bought a 486 PC, and I was in gaming heaven. I was introduced to Doom and Duke Nukem, and some flight sim that had to be installed six or seven 3.5-inch floppy discs. I was hooked on PC gaming (If you too young to know what a floppy disc, ask someone older than you).

When I left home and got married, the first PC I bought had (for the time) a blisteringly fast Intel Pentium 90 CPU and a graphics card (I think it was an S3 Virge?) with 2Mb of memory (that’s not a typo: It actually had 2Mb of graphics memory). I played classic  games like Dark Forces, the Jedi Knight series, Magic Carpet, Blade Runner, System Shock 2 and Shiny’s MDK and Messiah (I still have the discs of all those games, too).

Microsoft's Xbox One console.

Microsoft’s Xbox One console.

Sony's PlayStation 4 console.

Sony’s PlayStation 4 console.

Fast forward to 2016 and these days, the bulk of my video games are played on consoles hooked up to my Yamaha AV receiver and a 55-inch Samsung TV.

I like the convenience of consoles games and the fact that I know every game will work right out of the box – but I’m having somewhat of a dilemma at the moment: I’m torn whether to keep playing most of my games on console (and upgrade next year to something like Xbox’s Project Scorpio) or upgrade my current PC’s GPU and start playing more on PC. I know it’s not a first world problem but I really am in a conundrum.

I’m not one of these people who sees console gaming as inferior to PC gaming: We’re all gamers so I don’t have a problem with playing on either PC or console and something I really like about console gaming is that I can lie back on the couch, relax, and play games on a big screen. I like that about console game.

I only have a 23-inch monitor attached to my PC I’m obviously I’ve got smaller screen real estate to play games on but I really like that PC games can be tweaked so they look graphically better than a lot of PC titles. My PC also comes in handy when the main TV is being used, too. That is a big plus.

gigabye-3gb-geforce-gtx-660-ti_boxThe reason I’m toying with a graphics card upgrade is my PC currently has a few-years-old now nVidia Geforce GTX660Ti, which is still a great card (kind of) and plays games like The Witcher 3 well (obviously not at ultra graphics presets) but I just know that its lifespan is coming to an end and if I want to play cutting edge PC games then the  660Ti just isn’t going to cut it.

I do also have an nVidia GTX950 which I won in a competition (I’ve actually sent it back to MSi in Australia as it never worked so I’m getting a new one under warranty), and I’m tempted just to stick with that and it seems a good card, but it’s a budget priced card that is really aimed at MOBA games, which I don’t play. See my problem?

I’m the sort of person who tends to “ummm” and “ahhh” about things too much, fearing that if I do buy a new GPU I won’t actually notice the difference between my console games, then curse that I spent the money. It’s a catch-22 situation really: I’ll be damned if I do, damned if I don’t.

Put is this way: Buying a new GPU won’t change my life at all. It won’t make my quality of life any better or worse. It’s an upgrade that I absolutely don’t need but would be nice, especially with games like Dishonored 2 coming along soon, but is that enough of a reason to upgrade? Maybe I should just be satisfied with the card(s) I have and just be done with it, saving my money for something else further down the track?

I don’t see any point upgrading to the PlayStation 4 Pro or the Xbox One S  – the PS4 I have does a great job as does the Xbox One – but perhaps I should wait until next year and see what the pricing will be for Xbox’s E3-announced Project Scorpio console?

On paper, it sounds like it will be powerful but, of course, the specs could change dramatically between now and when it’s likely to be released late next year. Perhaps I should save my money for a new cutting-edge console next year rather than upgrade my GPU?

Decisions facing the first world gamer, eh?

Dishonored 2 creative kills trailer

I loved Dishonored  (or Dishonoured as it should be spelt where I live).

While it was a game where you could go full noise or creep around, I played it stealthily as much as I could: Creeping along roof tops and ledges, climbing through windows, silently taking out foes, to reach my objective. My teenage son is playing it at the moment and he’s  going all chaos, it seems,  triggering alarms and taking on Dunwall’s military in hand-to-hand combat.

Each to their own, I suppose.

Anyway, Dishonored 2 is out in November and this time you get to play master assassin Corvo Attano, who took the central role in the first game, as well as Emily Kaldwin, who was a little girl in the original game but is now all grown up and Empress of Dunwall.

Things have turned to custard, though, and the throne has been seized by a mad witch named Delilah, and it’s up to Emily and Corvo to travel to the coastal city of Karnaca and get rid of those responsible and reclaim the throne.

The game is out on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC on November 11 but maybe I should brush up on my assassinating skills before I tackle the streets of Dunwall again, eh?


ReCore review: One girl and her robots

Meet Seth, Mack and Duncan.

They’re Corebots and the co-stars of the Xbox One/PC game ReCore, a game from Japanese game developer Keiji Inafune, the man behind the Mega Man series, and a development team that have worked on a variety of games, including Metroid Prime.

Seth, a spider-bot, is good at climbing, Mack, a dog,  is good at headbutting other Corebots and Duncan, a gorilla, is good at smashing pretty much anything you ask him to.

This is Joule, she’s the main human character in ReCore.

Hero Shot of Joule

Hero Shot of Joule


Joule has been sent to the planet Far Eden to help set up terraforming operations before humans start colonising the planet. Unfortunately, things seems to have gone pear-shaped and Joule wakes from her cryosleep decades later than she should have and finds the robots designed to help make the planet habitable have turned rogue and Joule has to sort things out.

As she explores Far Eden, Joule must search for things called prismatic cores, glass prisms of light that unlock doors to help her progress through the game world. ReCore is very much an action RPG game, in that Joule has to search dungeons and complete challenges to get enough prismatic cores to progress.

Platforming is the heart of the game, drawing inspiration from Inafune and his Mega Man heritage no doubt, with plenty of double jumping and boosting to grab out-of-reach platforms. Combat, too, is a prime focus of the game, with Joule and her robotic pals having to fight plenty of corrupt robots as they scour the planet.

Joule using Seth to traverse an area

Joule using Seth to traverse an area

Seth, Mack and Duncan can be upgraded and modified to make them more powerful and stronger and Joule herself is a handy scrapper, too, able to zip and jump around thanks to a jet pack and an energy weapon that fires four different coloured charges: Red, blue, white and yellow. Shoot an enemy with the corresponding coloured energy and you’ll do more damage and defeat it quicker.

Destroyed, enemies explode in a satisfying shower of collectible parts but Joule is also able to rip out a vulnerable enemy’s core using a grappling hook. What ensues is a satisfying tug of war between Joule and the defiant Corebot as both battle to hold onto the core.

recore_enviro4ReCore is a fun game with a genuinely interesting dynamic between Joule and her bots but it’s hampered by some incredibly long long load times on the Xbox One and some frustrating platforming sections which will almost have you throwing your controller across the room. At least, I found some of the sequences frustrating.  There’s also a fair bit of backtracking and grind to search for more prismatic cores when you  realise you don’t have enough to progress.

ReCore is also one of the first games in Xbox’s Play Anywhere scheme where if you buy a digital copy on PC or Xbox One, you get another copy for free on the other platform, and it works. To be honest, I played it on PC as it proved more stable than the Xbox One version with improved graphics (there is still some glitching, especially when you quit the game) and much faster load times. I was also impressed that I was able to have the graphics cranked up quite high despite having a few-years-old nVidia Geforce GTX660Ti (I’m sure locking the frame rate to 30 seconds also helped a lot).

Another thing in ReCore’s favour is the price: It’s only around $NZ60, which for a new game is a great price.

I enjoyed ReCore but wonder whether it might have been rushed out of that gate a little early. A bit more spit and polish and it would have been a great game, rather than just a good game. I’m intrigued to see where the franchise goes from here.