Monthly Archives: October 2015

Paris Games Week: Colour me impressed, Sony

Is Paris Games Week a new games show? I’ve never heard of it before (which doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been going for a while, of course).

Anyhoo, PlayStation had a press even 6am this morning NZ time and showed off a whole swag of games for the PlayStation 4and stuff, like PlayStation VR, Uncharted 4 multiplayer, some unseen footage from Guerilla Games’ Horizon Zero Dawn and a new game from David Cage, the guy behind Fahrenheit and Beyond Two Souls. I think it also announced a release date for No Man’s Sky.

I didn’t get up for the briefing (I was cuddling my pillow too much) so I watched some videos when I got home from work. Cage’s Detroit Become Human, which seems to be based on the Kara PS4 tech demo that Cage did, impressed, so did Guerilla’s Horizon Zero Dawn, which I’m also quietly optimistic about (at least from what I’ve seen so far).

Here’s a trailer for Detroit: 

And some footage of Horizon Zero Dawn: 

PlayStation also announced an on-rails game for its virtual reality headset, the imaginatively name PlayStation VR, called Until Dawn Rush of Blood. Here’s a trailer for that: 

There is also a new game coming from Media Molecule, the studio behind Little Big Planet. It’s called Dreams and it continues MM’s wacky game style. Watch it here: 

Then there’s Robinson: The Journey, from Crytek (the developers behind the original Far Cry). It has a futuristic feel to it but there are dinosaurs running around. It’s certainly interesting. Here’s the footage: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AOZtqDhQP44

There’s certainly a lot to digest, isn’t there? I’m a little bummed that it seems like Sony has given up on its handheld, the PS Vita. It’s quite disappointing, actually.

Here are some other trailers to keep your eyes occupied:

RIGS Mechanised Combat League

Gravity Rush (which first appeared on the PS Vita): 

Uncharted 4’s MP reveal: 

GT Sport (from Polyphony Digital, the makers of Gran Turismo): 

Street Fighter V 

Something called Matterfall: 

Some more Star Wars Battlefront: 

Seems like it’s a good time to own a PS4.

Let me know what you think in the comments.

Halo 5 Guardians review: One more for the road

Trying to punch two Promethean Knights to death in Halo 5 Guardians  is never going to end well.

Believe me, I found out the hard way.

Two of these guys kicked my Spartan arse several times in Halo 5.

Two of these guys kicked my Spartan arse several times in Halo 5.

It was in the closing battle of Halo 5’s campaign when things went terribly wrong. Finding myself suddenly surrounded by two advancing Knights, the incredibly tough Promethean mechanised warrior, I realised that both my weapons were out of ammo and, sadly for me,  there were no discarded weapons nearby to pick up.

I  had two choices: Run or punch them in the face. So that’s what I did. I punched them.

What was I thinking? Probably that my augmented Spartan punches would crack the Knights carapaces, exposing their vulnerable AI core inside.

So, how do you think it went? It went as well as could be expected. Meaning it didn’t go well at all and I was knocked to the ground, my life force draining from my tired Spartan body.

Thankfully, one of my squad mates was close enough to revive me (that’s one of the new features in Halo 5) and, some how, I managed to sprint clear of the area, find some fully loaded Promethean weapons (I love the boltshot) before delivering swift, sweet justice to the Kinghts. It was frantic and full-on.

Master Chief: Ready to Rock.

Master Chief: Ready to Rock.

Now, I’m not  a Halo player who knows the canon off by heart and can recite it word for word. I don’t know all the weapon stats and what works best in certain situations. I also  found some of the earlier Halo games a little boring at times. Sorry, but I did. I enjoyed Halo 4, though, and really, really enjoyed Halo 5.

Guardians lets players take the role of two protagonists: Master Chief and Spartan Jameson Locke. It’s two heroes for the price of one game. Each man is supported by three other Spartans.

H5G_Render_Locke-Close5Throughout the length of the campaign you swap between Master Chief and Locke as you take on the Covenant and the Prometheans, which first appeared in Halo 4.

Hey, look, here’s me playing through the first mission of Halo 5 Guardians, including cinematics leading into Mission 2. I do die, but only to show you the revive mechanic. Really.  🙂

:

I won’t dwell on Halo 5’s story for fear of, well, spoiling things for people but it deals with Locke hunting Master Chief, who has seemingly, gone AWOL. Go get him, soldier!

You’re squad mates are a competent most of the time (other times I bled out because their pathfinding proved difficult getting to me). They’ll provide cover fire, distract larger enemies and in the case of Edward Buck (who has now been promoted to Spartan after his fine work in Halo Reach) provides a wise crack or three (He also promises to buy everyone a drink at one point). The one thing I wouldn’t trust Buck with is driving: During one level, he seemed to just want to drive up rocks or take the long way home.

I did feel strange having three companions with the Master Chief, though. I’ve always felt the Master Chief was a lone wolf figure, taking on foes single-handedly, so it took a while to get used having three limpets (sorry, companions) but when the going gets tough, it’s great to have a helping hand. Like when you’re facing off against large groups of enemies or, say, two Hunters..

Graphically, Halo 5 looks nice with some impressive set-pieces and varied locations but – and I may be in the minority here – it didn’t blow me away visually all the time. I guess 343 Industries was always going to face a tough battle when it came to the look of Halo 5 given how good Halo 4 looked on the 360. Don’t get me wrong, when you stumble across scenes with a lot of action going on and vehicles flying all over the place and lasers everywhere, it looks great.

The frame rate remains rock solid at 60 frames a second most of the time, which was impressive given how many enemies can be on-screen at one time, and its in-game cinematics are fantastic, with great looking character models and atmospheric lighting.

Gameplay is the tried and true that Halo veterans will know but  if you’re after something revolutionary, look somewhere else: You won’t find it here. I also felt that the closing missions suffered too much from repetition and rinse-and-repeat game play. The finale disappointed me a little, too. I was expecting something a little more epic.

With Halo 4, 343 laid the ground work for what it could do with the series. With Halo 5, it has shown it knows how to respect the franchise and has created a game that, for me, was one of the most enjoyable of the series, even if the campaign has a few missteps near the end and it left a lot of questions.

The bottom line is that Halo 5 Guardians is a great game that will fuel your inner Spartan but where the franchise is heading to from here I’ve no idea. It’s clear from the ending that  there are more stories to tell, but whether Master Chief is a part of those, I’m not sure. He is getting on, isn’t he? Plus, I may have counted wrong, but I’m pretty sure you play more missions as Locke than as Master Chief. That might mean something.

I guess we’ll find out in Halo 6.

Note: I haven’t tried out the multiplayer of Halo 5 Guardians in real-world conditions yet, just what I’ve played at a preview event a few weeks ago. I’ll update the review with my thoughts on MP play when I can join some games. I’m also keen to play throught the game in co-op.

I played through the single player campaign of Halo 5 Guardians on normal difficulty from start to finish using a downloaded retail copy of the game provided by Xbox NZ

Friday Media Blast: Adam Jensen 2.0 trailer

I’m quietly excited about Deus Ex Mankind Divided, the next installment in the franchise from Eidos. I don’t want to get too hyped just in case, you know, it doesn’t live up to the hype.

In today’s Media Blast we’ve got the latest trailer fresh of the video editing room from DX Mankind Divided that focuses on lead character Adam Jensen and his augments, namely the Titan shield and his new gun-arm augmentations, the Tesla, the Nanoblade and the PEPS.

It all looks pretty good to me. The game is out next year some time.

Huawei P8 Lite review: A good phone but not a great phone

HuaweiThe mid-priced smart phone segment is a hotly contested one, with phone manufacturers trying to capture the attention of consumers not wanting to shell out more than $1000 on a phone.

Keen to roll with the momentum created by its top-end P8 smart phone, Huawei have released the P8 Lite, a budget priced phone that shares a name with its fancier sibling but is essentially a less specced version of the P8

[Note, I haven’t reviewed a P8 yet so I can’t compare the two directly.]

The P8’s 5-inch 720p IPS screen is powered by a 1.5 GHz octa-core processor, 2GB RAM and 16Gb of built-in storage. It’s packing a 13 megapixel main camera and a 5MP front-facing camera.

The P8 Lite is a nice looking phone that feels comfortable in the hand, and it’s solidly constructed with a sleek profile. It looks exactly like the flagship P8 – so Huawei have done an excellent job there – but instead of the brushed aluminum back plate of the more expensive P8, the P8 Lite has a plastic panel with a brushed aluminum look to cut down weight (and cost).

The phone has the normal buttons you’d find on a smart phone and two speaker grills at the bottom edge. For some strange reason, though, only one of the grills contains an actual speaker, which will muffle audio playback, depending on how you hold the phone.

The camera produced good images and video and while call quality was good, colour reproduction just wasn’t as sharp as I’d have liked. The P8 Lite is packing a 720p display which compared to other smartphones on the market is a little disappointing.

The P8 Lite is running Android 5.0.1 (Lollipop) which Huawei has customized with its own Ui over the top. It’s smart looking enough but there’s still slight lag (it’s barely perceptible) when you swipe between screens. It’s not major but I noticed it.

One great thing about the P8 Lite is the price: You can pick it up for around $350 [probably less if you search online] so it’s a good price for a budget smart phone, especially if you want something for yourself or a teenager that looks smart, does what it says on the gox and won’t break the bank.

Huawei’s P8 Lite is segmented into a competitive price point and consumers have a lot of better phones to choose from. The P8 Lite had some things I really liked and some things I didn’t. Overall, it’s a good phone that does the job but it doesn’t do enough to stand out from the crowd.

And now, a case of shameless self-promotion …

As a trained writer by profession (I was a newspaper/online journalist for 22 years), I love writing so I’ll take any opportunity I can to hone my craft and inflict my prose on the ever-suffering world, whether they want to read it or not.

So in this, a case of shameless self-promotion of my own writing, I’d like you to point your browsers to Cake Oven, a great New Zealand-based pop culture/Geek website run by awesome people and has amazingly talented writers that I’m just happy to be associated with and has the balls to run my writing. What were they thinking???

The cast of Until Dawn: They quite like what I've written about the game they star in, too.

The cast of Until Dawn: They quite like what I’ve written about the game they star in, too.

In my first piece for Cake Oven, I’ve written about PS4-exclusive Until Dawn, which I like to think is a horror video game for gamers who don’t like horror video games. Gamers like me, actually.

I’d love you to check it out and let me know what you think. Also, I cannot guaranteed this will be the last time I self-promote my writing on another site. Oh, you’re good with that? Excellent.

Expansion for The Witcher 3

I haven’t played any The Witcher 3 for some time now – I just haven’t had the time to invest into it – but Bandai Namco have released a trailer for the expansion for The Witcher 3. It’s called Hearts of Stone. Here’s the low down:

Step again into the shoes of Geralt of Rivia, a professional monster slayer, this time hired to defeat a ruthless bandit captain, Olgierd von Everec, a man who possesses the power of immortality. The expansion lets you choose your own way through an adventure that includes recruiting a crew of break-in artists, spending a night partying with a ghost and outsmarting the most bizarre creatures Geralt has ever faced.

The expansion launches October 13 and promises more than 10 hours of new adventures and introduces new characters, powerful monsters, unique romance, and a brand new storyline shaped by gamer choices. The expansion also introduces a brand new system of Runewords that significantly affects gameplay. Each Runeword will impact a different aspect of in-game mechanics and will allow the players to experiment with various strategies and tactics.

Who’s keen to check it out?

 

Crystal Dynamics’ Mike Brinker talks Rise of the Tomb Raider

Rise-of-the-Tomb-RaiderLara

 

 

A couple of weeks ago at XONZ, I spoke to Mike Brinker from game development company Crystal Dynamics about Rise of the Tomb Raider, the game he felt was the “quintessential Tomb Raiding experience”. Here’s the interview.

 

Game JunkieNZ: I really liked the reboot of Tomb Raider but do you think Lara Croft has got tougher, more hard-edged over the years?

Mike Brinker: I guess you have to look at what she went through in the last game. A lot of her story was circumstances she didn’t want to be in so she was learning to survive. There were some tough lessons during that survival but what we’re really focusing on in Rise is not just about survival but it’s about she got a taste of those mysteries, those truths that are out there. So now that’s what’s driving her. That’s what she was to uncover and expose to the world. So, she is now going in prepared and is being resourceful about that. All the systems in the game speak to that, right, and that’s about her going after those ancient truths out there.

GJNZ: What have you build on from the 2013 game? Have you built on the foundations of that game or have you tried to push the envelope in terms of game play?

MB: A bit of both. Building a sequel is important because you want to do the things you did well in the last game again – but at the same time you want to do them better – but then you want to get in some of the things that the fans want. Some of the big things we really wanted to focus on was what do the fans want. And the big one was “Bring back the tombs”. [laughs] Really, that was the huge thing. In the small taste we had today [the XONZ Rise of the Tomb Raider demo] we’re going back to those epic spaces and the big grand feel of them. There’s a through-line of history that ties in with the main story for each of them and then bringing back the deadly elements [the guardians] and then the formula for how we actually put the puzzle together, which isn’t just one in one area but multi chambers that solve the puzzle. That’s one of the things that we look at when we think about the evolution: We’re trying to keep what worked but look at what the fans want and what we can expand on. That was one of the key things.

GJNZ: Touching on bringing back more tombs, was that one of the biggest criticisms of the reboot: That it didn’t have enough tombs for people to explore?

MB: I think if you look at what the both the fans and the reviews stated is that they felt that they got puzzles but they didn’t get that sense of an ancient layer of history and that ancient scale, that epic, large unknown spaces that were really more grounded in some of the Yamatai mythos. What we ended up saying was “Sure, that worked for the last game but now we really want to delve into what those history layers are and bring that back”.

GJNZ: How much depth is involved in delving into a story line that contains an historical basis? Do you need to be historically accurate or can you take some creative license?

MB: Those are always great questions in anything creative that you do: Movies, TV, books, whatever. So we take a look to see what gamers grok [understand ] right away – and that’s usually something based in reality. That’s something that there’s a known layer of history, like we look at some of the ancient mythos for stories and characters that are involved in anything that has to do with being invulnerable, or having immortality, right? Those sort of uncoverings that we have when we’re doing our research lead to things like locations and types and styles of architecture. So, we do a lot of research in the historical side but then our creative director, Brian Horton, went to Turkey to do real world research and came back with that, so we bring all those elements in, ground it for a lot of the game, then we start to feel like “What are the elements that make things exciting as a game?”

GJNZ: What sort of philosophy does Crystal Dynamics use for the Tomb Raider game? What is the overarching ethos of the company?

MB: We’re all about being able to tell a very interesting and engaging story with a character that we can understand and relate to and I think that as a company we’re striving to build the best possible Tomb Raider experience through that lens of what’s the historical knowns then what is the interesting and fun aspects of the story.

GJNZ: And a really strong narrative?

MB: Absolutely.

rise-of-the-tomb-raider08GJNZ: In Rise of the Tomb Raider, Lara has Jonah [who appeared in the Tomb Raider reboot] as her, I guess, companion. What was the reason behind choosing Jonah?

MB: Well, when you look at what I was talking about in telling a good story, part of building up a good character is understanding where those strengths and where her loyalties lie and what some of the driving forces are for her about going through these adventures. So bringing Jonah into the picture is really more about understanding the tie to the last game that people who played the last game can understand but also give Lara some grounding because if she were going after all this by herself without having any person to relate this all to, to bounce ideas off of, you lose a little bit of who she is, how she is, as far as a character is concerned so Jonah is really a key part of that.

GJNZ: Tell me a little about Crystal Dynamics’ creative processes

MB: Iteration is one of the things that we look from a design side but also narrative. We have a team of writers that we work with – Rhianna Pratchett is one of those people – and we really focus heavily on iteration. It’s about “Let’s get something on paper, get it going, play with it, let’s poke it then get it in front of users right away” and say “Hey, test this: Let us know what you think”. So, we do that constantly with level design, system design, game design, and even just the story itself. We do a lot of put it out there, poke holes in it, come back, tool it, tweak it. I think one of the beauties about working at Crystal Dynamics on this game is that we have this iterative cycle that we’ve pushed to its limits.

GJNZ: There was a game play trailer that came out, I think, around E3 that was a very action orientated sequence. I think there was a bit of criticism because Lara was a bit too violent and full-on. I now see that there is a new trailer out where you can do that sequence stealthily. Every player is going to play the game differently so does that create a difficulty for a developer where some player might want to play guns blazing but another player might want to sneak over rooftops? What kinds of challenges does that open-ended design create?

MB: Oh, that’s a great one. So one of the big things about Rise of the Tomb Raider that I’m so happy and excited about for both our fans and those that want to play it both ways is that we have all those options available. So a lot of it is we work with our system to work out that problem. Something new is Lost Target. In the last game, if you distracted an enemy with an arrow, you shot it over into the weeds, he go over and look at it. The moment he looked at it he knew exactly where it came from and where you were – and he attacked. So now in Rise of the Tomb Raider we have something called Lost Target which allows the enemy to look at that arrow and say “I think it came from over there. Spread out” then the enemy force tends to go looking for where it has come from, not “There she is”. So now you have an element of the player being able to stealth their way through encounters so you have a lot more choice. You can go in guns blazing, if you want, and you can upgrade your weapons to do that or you can play it the stealth way and not kill anyone. Just distract them and get around them.

2809266-1424111574-11GJNZ: Did you play the original Tomb Raider?

MB: Oh, yeah, absolutely! That’s a good story too. I remember I was in my college [university] dorm room, right, and I remember discovering and playing this game character who was in these amazingly huge and epic spaces with grand puzzles. The way she was animated and the fluid movement … It was such a neat combination of discovery and adventure that I’d never played before so it’s funny looking back on it: Where I was, what I was doing, what I experienced and where I am now and am able to influence that. It’s really neat.

GJNZ: That’s an interesting one, isn’t it? You’ve gone from playing the game to now working on it. Were you a huge fan of the series?

MB: I experienced a lot of the first Tomb Raider on PC but I remember tailing off for 2 and 3 because I was doing other things, but going back to when I was interviewed for the job at Crystal and hearing where the franchise was going and what they were doing, I was really excited. I was super stoked to not only be able to go back and look at what the origins are but the reboot. So to me, it’s more I had that beginning and ending experience, so to speak, and the beginning was the rest of my future in the franchise. I think I’ve had the best of both worlds when I look at it.

GJNZ: Do you think that the hardcore fans of the series are really critical of what you’re doing? Is there an extra layer of pressure on you to make sure you don’t stray too much from canon? What kinds of pressures are there?

MB: Oh, there are all kinds of pressures, and not just what our fans are after. There are fans who have played all the games, they know all the detail and they will definitely remind us every single time of the detail we may have missed or the thing she [Lara] may have done. What I’m also really happy about our fan base is that they’re able to grasp what we’ve been trying to do with the reboot and they’ve really dived in.

GJNZ: Given the games’ historical basis, what are some of the most interesting things you’ve learnt over this journey of the past two games? over the course of the two games?

MB: Boy, that’s a good one. I think for me the most interesting stuff that we’ve learned is that the mythos of having immortality runs in a lot of different directions, not just one ancient religion or ancient version of something. It’s actually in multiple story lines and people, different ages and time periods. That, to me, has been the most interesting “Wow, I didn’t know that” part. To me, it’s been more of a discovery of all the different threads of that mythos.

GJNZC: Lastly, where do you think the franchise can go from here? What direction do you think it will head?

MB: That’s a really difficult one to answer. It’s hard to say because we’ve been so focused on this one but I think the basis for what the story is going to tell is the evolution of her character and what she’s going to be, and also that layer of history that she has yet to uncover. Those are the core elements that I don’t think will ever go away.

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