The last blog post of 2013: the year that couldn’t end soon enough

Merry Christmas to you!

Merry Christmas to you!

Note: This blog post may ramble more than usual as I’ve had a couple of bourbons during the evening and a glass of wine. Compliments of the season to you!

2013 is a year that I’d be quite happy if it ended right now. Today.

It’s been a year where my wife had three months off work because of a broken arm and nerve damage to said arm and a year that my position at a metropolitan newspaper in Christchurch was disestablished and I made the difficult decision to take voluntary redundancy and move on to challenges ahead.

And what challenges they have been. I naively thought finding a full-time job would be easy. I assumed I’d send out my CV, attach a cover letter  and within a few weeks I’d have a job. Well, four months, I’m still looking. Oh, I got down to the final two for a communications job in September but it seems the person who got the job – a  former colleague of mine who took redundancy at the same time  I did – was better than I was. That knocked my confidence for a six, to be honest.

I have to say, too,  over the past couple of weeks, when I was finishing up my last freelance writing contracts for the year and waiting for a couple of organisations to send me an “After reviewing your application we’ve decided you have been unsuccessful at this application”  email, I was pretty low, mentally. If it wasn’t for my wife, family and friends I think I’d have sunk pretty low. I feel for everyone who is out of full-time work and is trying to find something: It’s not an easy process. I feel your pain.

I’ve come to the realisation that despite a long and varied journalism career, the likelihood of me continuing in that field now is next to zero:  good journalists aren’t in demand any more, at least not in print, and besides, why would someone want to hire an experienced,  old hack like me when they can probably hire a young graduate for half the price? I think I’m a good writer but maybe I’m deluding myself and am a talentless hack?

I’ve been lucky enough to secure regular blog work for the Media Design School, which has been a godsend, and I’m hoping that NZ Gamer, a New Zealand video game website, will let me continue my blog with it. I’ve been on a four-blog trial period so if it hits its numbers (I’m not sure whether it has, to be honest) they’ll hopefully let me continue. I hope so. I’ve enjoyed writing the blog and the last two have generated some good traffic and comments. I’ve got my fingers crossed on that one.

Then there is this blog, which I neglected for a couple of years but rejuvenated once I became redundant. It’s been my go-to outlet for all my writings and game content and while I know it’s hardly read by anyone most of the time, I hope, in some small way, I’ve still got something to say in the field of games journalism. I haven’t got youth, but I’ve got experience, and I hope that counts for something. Maybe it does, who knows?

Since becoming redundant, and becoming more of an independent voice,  it’s become more noticeable to me that games journalism is often essentially nothing more than free publicity – mostly good, sometimes bad –  for games publishers and hardware manufacturers. It amazes me  how many game sites publish the same press releases verbatim or make out they’ve got exclusive video trailers (when everyone else has got it also). I don’t want my site to turn into one that has the same news as every other site does: What’s the point in that? I want to be a site that does something different, offers opinions that other sites don’t. I’m not sure if I succeeded over the past few months but I hope I did.

In terms of gaming, it’s been an interesting year, with some blockbuster games like Bioshock Infinite. Tomb Raider and GTAV released and some new consoles released onto the market, but to be honest, the most fun I had gaming this year was with games like The Stanley Parable, Gemini Rue on my tablet, games I’ve bought through the Humble Bundle and Tearaway on the PS Vita and Luigi’s Mansion 2 on the Nintendo 3DS.  Those are the games I’ve remembered most, despite sinking hundreds of hours into the big games (I’ve also been spending much of tonight installing Mac version of Humbe Bundle-purchased games onto my new second-hand MacBook Pro so I can take it away with me on holiday.)

In terms of the new generation of consoles, Microsoft have given me a loaner Xbox One console, which I’m incredibly grateful for,  but I’m not completely in love with the new-generation just yet.  The games just aren’t there yet, despite some pretty graphics in games like Ryse Son of Rome and Need for Speed Rivals. And over the past week or so, I’ve actually gone back to finishing games I’ve started on my Xbox 360 and PS3 until the real games start appearing for the Xbox One and PS4. When that happens then we’ll see what those consoles are capable of.

I’ve still got outstanding review of Gran Turismo 6 and Fifa 14 to write-up but they’re going to have to wait until I’m back from holiday (January 13) but I just want to say I’m incredibly grateful for you, the reader, who bothers to visit this site and read my waffling prose. I appreciate it a lot. I’m mulling over ideas to move the blog forward next year (a podcast maybe) but I’ll keep you posted. Alternatively, the blog may just self-implode due to my lack of posts and die an unnatural death. I really don’t want that to happen.

To you, the reader, I have this simple message: Have a great Christmas and New Year with your famlily and friends, enjoy and relax,  and let’s see what exciting things video games bring us in 2014.

Dead Rising 3 review: shuffling zombies and weird weapons

New character: It's mechanic Nick Ramos' turn to take on the zombie hordes.

New character: It’s mechanic Nick Ramos’ turn to take on the zombie hordes.

I bet Rick Grimes, from TV’s The Walking Dead, would have loved to have had a sledgehammer combined with a circular saw in his battle against the undead hordes like Nick Ramos of Capcom’s Dead Rising 3 does: It’s very good at clearing out a path through a crowd of slobbering, shuffling and moaning zombies.

The third in the Dead Rising series (I guess the 3 gives it away, huh?) and an Xbox One exclusive,  we now have a new protagonist Nick, a mechanic (rather than Frank West and Chuck Greene in the  other two games), and a city – Los Perdidos – under lock down after a zombie outbreak. Ramos has a few days to get out of the city before the government nuke it out of existence.  It’s nothing new when it comes to zombie conventions but part of the Dead Rising series’ charm has been the ability to craft weird and wacky weapons out of just about everything and use them against the undead.

All around the game world are potential weapons: Cinder blocks, scissors, chairs, wrenches, robotic teddy bears (combine it with a cardboard box and you have a neat distraction for zombies) … and you can also eventually combine vehicles to make awesome machines of death!)

Where Dead Rising 3 has changed for the better in terms of weapon crafting is that once Nick has discovered blueprints for weapon combinations, he can actually make them on the spot rather than having to find a work bench in maintenance rooms  like in DR2. It makes for much smoother gameplay and means you can make new weapons on the spot. Ramos can only carry four items in his inventory but if he clears out safe zones he can use lockers there to store unwanted weapons.

As well as the main story, there are other survivors to save (and they’ll decide whether to join you or try to make it on their own) and side missions to complete but much of the fun is guiding Nick – dressed just in a pair of blue underpants – into a vehicle – a steamroller is particularly good – and driving around the streets, running over zombies and earning experience points. And there are lots of zombies on the streets to run over: thousands, I’d say.

Dead Rising 3 isn’t re-writing the book when it comes to zombie games so if you’re expecting something completely new, you’re not going to see it here, but something that is a neat feature is that if you have the Smartglass app installed on a smart phone and activate it while you’re playing, you can receive phone calls from NPCs and access information using the app. It’s quite neat, actually.

Excuse me, coming through: You'll have zombies hanging from your vehicle as you make your way through the streets of Los Perididos.

Excuse me, coming through: You’ll have zombies hanging from your vehicle as you make your way through the streets of Los Perdidos.

Criticisms I could point at Dead Rising 3 are that I didn’t it looked particularly next-generation (current generation?), either, apart from the number of zombies on-screen, and sometimes I felt as if I was playing an Xbox 360 game.

All in all, though, Dead Rising 3 is an entertaining romp through a zombie-infested open-world that while not taking any real risks with the series it’s a solid entrant that will suit zombie-killers and those who like making weird and wonderful weapons out of everyday items.

Rick Grimes needs to play this to get some tips on creative ways of zombie slaying.

Need for Speed Rivals review

Need for Speed Rivals Aston-Cop-in-pursuit---Iconic-web (1)In EA’s Need for Speed Rivals, the  next generation seems to feature a lot of things blowing about: leaves blow in the wind, spray from the sea splashes onto the road, dust whips up as you drive through dusty canyon roads.

There’s also a lot of crashing in Rivals, at least there was for me: I crashed a lot in this game, especially into road barriers and other cars while I was pursuing errant youth driving at speed, all in the name of serving and protecting the public.

In Rivals, you’re either the “Uphold the law” police or the “Entitled generation” of youth racers – and the aren’t the best of friends. It’s a world of street racing and insane speeds around the open world of Redview County where the police have to stop and apprehend the racers and the racers have to out run the police. It’s simple. Racers drive as fast and as slippery as they can to avoid the police, the police use souped up cars and a variety of tools (shock rams, road spikes) to ram racers off the road. A fun angle is that you can swap sides if you want when you’re at their respective bases/command centres.

It’s an arcade racer through and through and it’s bloody good fun. It’s probably one of the most fun racers I’ve played in a long time, and I think part of the charm is that it’s not a driving simulator so it doesn’t have to adhere to the rules that a driving simulator does (it’s not trying to be Gran Turismo 6 or Forza Motorsports 5). Is your police car busted up because you’ve hit too many trees? Simply drive through the forecourt of a garage and your car’s repaired!

Need-For-Speed-Rivals-1024x576Rivals has something called AllDrive, which essentially means that every time you load up a game it pops you into a live map which has both AI-controlled cars and, I think, five other real-life drivers. Apparently, the game’s makers see it as a way of blurring the lines between online and single player games and it’s a good idea but I didn’t really hook up with any of the other drivers to complete challenges or take down rivals. You can turn the feature off, though, if you want to drive the roads of Redview County.

Rivals uses the Frostbite graphics engine from DICE and things look pretty sharp, especially all the stuff that’s blowing about as you drive. Car models are detailed and shiny and the lighting and weather affects are impressive. Sure, Forza Motorsports 5 on the Xbox One might look prettier (it’s an exclusive for that format) but Rivals is no slouch in the visuals department.

At the end, though, games like Need for Speed Rivals are all about fun – and Rivals is a hell of a lot of fun. It’s arcadey in its racing and that’s fine with me.

Well worth a look if you’re a fan of the series and fast arcade racers.

My thoughts on the PlayStation 4


PlayStation 4 is quite a different beast to the Xbox One, most noticeably in its design.

Sony sent me down a PS4 for a week to get some hands-on time with it and where the Xbox One is very boxy in it’s shape  – it keeps reminding me of an old VCR player from when I was a young person – the PS4 is a lot more futuristic in its design, with a slanting front panel. It’s as if Sony took a rectangle then squished the front and back into its current shape. I actually think I like the PS4 design better than the Xbox Ones if you’re going off looks alone.

The PS4 is smaller than the Xbox One, and just as quiet when it’s on, but it doesn’t have as many inputs as Microsoft’s console does (at the back there’s one USB, ethernet, optical audio and power; on the front there is two USB ports). And it doesn’t have an HDMI in, like the Xbox One does (it’s used for a set-top or cable box). Whether that’s going to be a costly omission for Sony, I don’t know but I guess time will tell.

One thing did confuse me though when I took the PS4 out of its box: How do I turn it on? Did it have a capacitive on-off button like the Xbox One? If it did, I couldn’t find it, despite just about pressing every inch of the consoles jet black surface.

I pressed the PS logo: Nothing. I pressed the PS4 logo: Nothing. So I just turned it on using the PS button on the Dualshock 4 controller, which is what I do with my PS3.  (Update #1: Earlier this week, I just pressed the front area a whole lot – and it turned on. Update #2: Oh, I see there are tiny buttons next to the drive slot with an on/off logo and eject logo. Hey, Sony you need to make those a bit bigger so people with old eyes like mine can see them better).

PS4controllerblogTalking of the Dualshock 4 controller, it’s vastly improved on the PS3’s Dualshock 3 controller, which I thought couldn’t be beaten. It’s a lot more organic than the Dualshock 3, and feels more comfortable to hold, with L1, L2, R1 and R2 buttons feeling firm and responsive. It has a touch pad above the two sticks, which you can use for games (it’s used in Killzone Shadowfall to control your OWL). and a sensor bar on the front, which can change colour depending on the game (in Killzone it shows green meaning your health is good but red if you’re close to death).

The only issue I had was getting used to the fact that the controller now has options and share buttons (share lets you post video or screen shots to social media) rather than select and start. All in all, it’s a great controller.

Turning the PS4 on and you’re greeted with a new user interface (UI), which looks much better than the PS3’s cross-media bar, which while functional was a little too clunky and cluttered. It’s been replaced with a much more user-friend two-level, with notifications, settings, chat, messaging,trophies that sort of thing  in the top line, and details about the games you’ve played, your library and an internet browser in the other line. It’s tidy, uncluttered and pleasing on the eye.

Ultimately, though, the PS4 is a machine aimed at gamers so what are the game like?

The review unit came with Killzone Shadowfall, Knack, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, Lego Marvel Superheroes and Call of Duty Ghosts (I’ve already played ACIV and Ghosts on last-gen Xbox 360 so I’m not going to waste column inches discussing those here. For what it’s worth: ACIV is much better than ACIII and Ghosts is pretty much like every other COD game, except it has a dog in it this time).

Killzone is definitely the pick of the PS4 exclusives in terms of showing what the PS4 can do – and it really does look stunning, pumped out at 1080p.

A couple of times I actually just sat back and took in the surroundings: rocks looked so real I could touch them, god rays streamed through windows, dust particles hung in the air. It looked great. Shadowfall’s game mechanics don’t deviate much from previous Killzone games, apart from this time the game’s hero is accompanied by a flying robot called an OWL, which can be ordered to attack enemies, hack turrets and fire a zipline from point to point. It’s a handy gadget but I felt at times it turned the odds in our hero’s favour too many times: Send in the OWL to clear out the enemy then our hero comes in an mops up the remnants.  Peel away the stunning looks, though, and  Shadowfall is an entertaining yet by-the-numbers first person shooter. It doesn’t re-invent the wheel, which is perhaps what I was hoping for.

Knack is an interesting platformer where you control a creature made out of magical relics that he can bsorb to make him bigger and more powerful. Sometimes he’s small, other times he’s large, depending on how many relics he absorbs. It’s fairly standard fare, though, but it’s got a pretty nice cartoony look to it, especially compared to the realism of Killzone Shadowfall. Knack sort of follows along similar lines to other past Sony characters like Sly the Racoon or Crash Bandicoot in that when you defeat enemies there’s no blood: So it’s pretty family friendly. Sadly, thought, Knack becomes boring pretty quickly, and there are only so many times you can bash enemies and jump about avoiding electrified platforms.

Something that I really liked and something that shows the PlayStation 4 is definitely aimed at gamers first and foremost  is the remote play feature using the PS Vita. Once I registered my Vita with the PS4, I was able to play Killzone Shadow Fall on my handheld: What my TV screen showed was displayed on my Vita’s screen. It’s a great feature, especially for those of us who have our main TV in a lounge where it’s used for nightly TV watching by the other half!

I haven’t even had time to look at the PlayStation camera, which is an optional extra. I’ll try to get around to that over the next few days.

I’ve rambled on for long enough, I think, but I’m impressed with what Sony has come up with in the PS4 and it’s definitely geared towards gamers rather than multimedia enthusiasts. There are a few niggles regarding multimedia playback but I’m sure things will be sorted out over time.

The PS4 has had a successful launch and I can see why. I love the controller but the launch games, like those on the Xbox One,  are a bit of a mixed bag. Still, it’s a solid launch and like the Xbox One things will improve with time.

it’ll be interesting to see how the console war pans out between the two new consoles, with things surely kicking into high gear next year.

The Game Junkie week: Tearaway & Ryse: Son of Rome

Tearaway: the game this is making me use my PS Vita lots

2013-11-08-134142I’ve already mentioned Tearaway on Game JunkieNZ 2.0 before, in a preview,  but I’ve been playing the full version quite a bit lately, and I can say without a doubt that it’s one of – if not the – best game I’ve played on the PS Vita. I’ve played it during the day and I’ve played it during the night.

If you’re  a fan of platform games then I can recommend Tearaway wholeheartedly, from its cute world made entirely out paper, to its endearing lead character, its great soundtrack and not forced use of the hardware’s touch capabilities. Tearaway should be played by everyone who owns a PS Vita but sadly, I think that the game will be overlooked a little as it was released around the same time frame that the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4. Part of me can’t help but feel that Media Molecule’s next big amazing game will be ignored by many gamers because they’re too busy Xbox One-ing and PlayStation 4-ing.

I’m not going to ramble on about Tearaway apart from say if you want an amazing game for your PS Vita that will make you smile and laugh then buy it. Just buy it.

Ryse Son of Rome (Xbox One)

RyseSonfRomeRyse is definitely one of the Xbox One’s showcase launch games thanks to its amazing graphics. It look freaken fantastic. It really does but it’s been getting a lot of mixed reviews, mainly because of  about it’s one-note combat and short game length.

It’s true that the combat is repetitive, made up of blocks and heavy strikes, but dammit, I enjoyed the game.

Detailing the rise of Roman general Marius Titus and his revenge against the barbarians that murdered his family, Ryse is, for the most part, an enjoyable romp, despite the fact that the story is a little ham-fisted at times. The game’s maker Crytek isn’t going to win any Oscars for story telling.

Yes, it takes liberties with history but what game hasn’t done that in the past? The voice acting is for the most part superb, with Titus voiced with conviction. Part of me can’t help but feel that perhaps many people are critical of Ryse because it hasn’t reinvented the wheel, which is what they were expecting. I don’t know. I’m probably wrong but apart from a few frustrating moments near the end, I wanted to finish the game.

Key to the success in Ryse’s combat  is blocking incoming attacks, which leaves enemies open to attack where Titus will hack and slash until a red skull appears above their head. When the skull appears, pressing the right trigger activates  the game’s cinematic execution sequences where you have to press the corresponding coloured face button (either X or Y) to match the coloured outline that has flashed around the enemy. Get it right and the executions are brutal: slow motion arms chopped off or swords through the chest. If you miss the prompts, Titus still kills the enemy anyway – you just don’t earn as many experience points.

Ryse is a linear affair – there’s chance for exploring the environment – and squad mate AI falls flat at times. Sometimes I thought Titus was the only Roman soldier fighting the barbarian hordes. During one “Stop the siege towers mission” I had to almost single-handedly take on the enemies while some of my fellow Romans just stood there. It didn’t lessen my enjoyment of the game but it did make me raise my eyebrows.

Every kill earns experience points, which can be used to upgrade Titus’ skills (health, focus, combat), but something that made me raise an eye brow again was that you can use real money to purchase gold that can be used to upgrade skills. While you’re not forced to buy gold –  you can still grind your way through killing foes – this sort of in-game micro-transactions just doesn’t sit right with me.

Ryse: Son of Room doesn’t re-invent the wheel and it can be repetitive, and it seems I’m in the minority, but I really enjoyed it. I really did.  I guess that’s what makes us all different as gamers.

Next on my list of Xbox One games to finish are Dead Rising 3, Forza Motorsports 5 and Zoo Tycoon. I’ve played NBA Live 14 and it’s not worth playing, believe me. 2K’s NBA series has nothing to worry about.

Game JunkieNZ unboxes an Xbox One

OK, I’m trying something new here at Game JunkieNZ: videos.

I haven’t done a lot of videos in the past – and this is the first unboxing video I’ve ever done – but I thought I’d test the waters with it and see what the feedback was like.

The editing is a little rough near the end and the camera angles perhaps not quite right but I thought I’d post it and see whether videos were something people wanted to see more of. It was filmed by Game Junkie junior using my Samsung Galaxy S3 smart phone but I’ve got a Flip HD camera lying around the house somewhere and I’d rather use that.

If you like it and want to see more, I’ll do more. If you thought it was lame, I’ll go and cry in a corner but won’t do any more.

Let me know what you think: Are videos something you’d like to see more of on the site, be it to camera pieces or game play footage (although if it was game play I’d have to work out a way to connect my Kaiser Baas Game Recorder to the Xbox One as I think it’s HDMI-only, unlike the Xbox 360 which let you plug an adapter in so you could use red/white/yellow connectors).

Anyway, let me know what you think.