Monthly Archives: April 2016

Deus Ex Mankind Divided new trailer

Umm, I’ll just leave this here, shall I? I watched it a few times, I must admit. I’m hyped for this game. HYPED!

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is out on PC, Xbox One and PS 4 on August 23 and you’ll be able to buy just the game itself (that’ll do me nicely) or two boxed versions. The Day-One edition which features an extra in-game mission (this sort of thing pisses me, to be honest: Why not give the level to everyone who paid for the game??),  Covert agent packs which contains a compilation of in-game items, including various weapons, re-skins, and upgrades, a digital copy of the original soundtrack (this would be most excellent as it is being done by the most excellent Michael McCann) and digital copies of a mini artbook, novella and comic book.

Then there’s the collectors edition (I bought the Batman Arkham Knight Collectors edition and after that, I’ve decided I’ll never buy a collectors edition again. I just don’t think they’re generally worth the money you pay) which comes with all the Day-One edition content, a 9-inch Adam Jensen figurine, a black and gold prism-shaped box, a 48-page art book and a steelbook.

Samsung Galaxy S7 review: The smartphone to beat

IMG_20160407_084159 [71761]

“Hello, HTC One M8 my old friend” (Sung to the tune of Simon & Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence)

“I’d found a new phone. For you this is the end.””

OK, so apologies to Simon & Garfunkel but after spending the best part of the last two weeks using the Samsung’s new Galaxy S7 smart phone, my almost-two generations old HTC One M8 looks like it’ll be confined to my bedside cabinet when it’s time to be replaced. The Galaxy S7 has just wiped the floor with it – and the M8 is still a bloody good phone.

When I was offered an S7 for review the PR woman asked a simple question during our email exchange: “What colour would you like? Blue or gold?”

I’d owned a blue S3 in the past and it looked nice but it’s was, you know, blue. Blue’s everywhere, right? There’s nothing special about blue, but gold? Gold’s a great colour. It screams of affluence, status and power [OK, probably not the power one]. So I went for gold – and it looks sick.

It’s a subtle gold colour, too, not loud. Sometimes, depending on the light, it almost looks a coppery gold.  It’s a nice gold.

OK, so that enough paragraphs devoted to the colour of the S7. What’s the phone like? After using it every day for the past two weeks, it’s a fantastic phone. It’s responsive, it looks good and it’s probably the best Samsung phone I’ve ever used. Seriously.

To the naked eye, the S7 doesn’t looked profoundly different from its S6 sibling – and that’s not a bad thing. The S7 seems a tad thinner to me and it feels comfortable in the hand. It’s crystal-clear 5.1-inch Quad HD AMOLED screen displays things vividly but the phone’s metal and glass back means it’s a real fingerprint magnet. The S7 also has a microSD slot, which is a nice addition, and the always-on screen feature means I could see if I had a message or what the time was without having to touch the phone. The phone has a 3000mAh battery.

Talking of the glass and metal back, I was nervous about what would happen if I dropped the phone on the ground. A few days I found out: It dropped out of my bag as I was picking it up and the S7 dropped onto a tiled floor. It wasn’t far but it was enough to make me nervous. It was fine but I’m still extra careful with it.

Transferring contents from my HTC One M8 was painless using Samsung’s Smart Switch application (the S7 also comes with an adapter that will let you use the USB cable to transfer data) and before long I was up and running, and thoroughly impressed with the S7. I set up the fingerprint scanner so I didn’t have to faff about with a PIN number lock code – and it’s snappy from thumb read to unlocking the phone. It might not be as quick as the fingerprint scanner on the Nexus 6P (my son has one and he showed me how quick that one is) but it quick enough for me.

The S7 has a 64-bit Octacore processor, 4GB of RAM, 32GB of memory, a dual pixel camera (12MP back, 5MP back) and the S7 (and its brother/sister the S7 Edge) has an IP68 water rating, which means you can submerge the phone in up to 1.5m of water for 30mins and it’ll still working when you’re done. I just squirted it with a bicycle drink bottle (as Samsung has done in an ad for it): It’s nice that you don’t have to worry about spills on your phone.

One of my gripes with Samsung phones in the past is the amount of bloatware that came pre-installed on its handsets, much of it apps that couldn’t be uninstalled. Well, I’m pleased to say that the S7 handset  came without the bloat that past S model phones came with. I’m happy with that. Clearly Samsung have been listening. Battery life was great, and while I still had to charge it every night, a full charge would get me through a heavy days use.

The S6 had a great camera (I had a review unit when it came out, too) – perhaps one of the best I’d used on a smart phone –  and Samsung has delivered the goods again on the S7, with a camera that produces bright and vivid images and surpasses what the S6 was able to do. The phone has a nice selection of shooting modes (including a food mode. That’s for people who really like taking photos of food, I suppose) and a Pro mode that should keep keen photographers busy. I was impressed with the low light camera, too, and used it to take some photos of my dog in a dark room (which you can see here). There’s also a focus mode which lets you focus on a particular object in a photo. There’s also a variety of options when taking video, too, so it’s got you covered.

20160420_174155

20160420_174043

It’s Autumn and we’ve still got roses in our garden!

 

20160418_222406

Using the Galaxy S7’s low light camera to capture this photo of my Samoyed, Drew. Good boy!

 

20160418_222249

 

Samsung is also targeting gamers with the S7 and it comes with software called Game Tools which lets gamers fire up their favourite mobile game (currently mine is Alto’s Adventure and Lara Croft Go!) and do things like turn off notifications while your playing or record game play footage and take screen shots. The video below shows it in action. You can also add commentary using the phone’s  external microphone if you want. I didn’t.

If you’re the sort of person who likes to post game play walk-throughs or Let’s Plays of your favourite mobile games, Game Tools is a great feature.  Samsung’s Game Launcher app also manages all your mobile games in one spot (I don’t have that many as I don’t tend to do a lot of mobile gaming and I refuse to allow Candy Crush or any of that ilk of mobile game anywhere near me).

Look, you can probably tell by now that I really like the Galaxy S7.  It’s a fantastic looking phone, it has a brilliant screen that is vibrant and sharp, it’s snappy, the fingerprint scanner works well, and it handled everything I threw at it. So far the only fault I have is the phone’s metal and glass body  is a fingerprint magnet!

I guess it’s a ringing endorsement, too,  on how good the S7 is when your teenage son, who worked hard over the summer to get enough money to buy a Nexus 6P, contemplates (briefly) selling that phone and buying an S7. It says a lot about the quality of the Galaxy S7 and tells me that it’s has set the benchmark that other smartphones have to live up to.

 

 

Gears of War 4 MP beta

I was lucky enough to get early access to the Gears of War 4 MP beta which is happening now.

I tried to get some game time in on Sunday afternoon but there was literally no-one playing. I had better luck last night, NZ time, though, as obviously more Americans were awake and joined in.

Coming from The Coalition (much of the team worked on previous GOW games), Gears of War 4 takes place 15 years after GOW3 ended and stars JD Fenix, who is the son of GOW main character Marcus Fenix. The full games is scheduled for release on October 11.

I’m not great at MP games (regular readers will have read my piece on how my fingers just can’t keep up these days) but I played a few rounds of MP Team Deathmatch on Sunday night and my lack of MP skills didn’t disappoint but a nice touch is that once all you’ve used up all your allocated spawns you can’t rejoin the game so eventually it just becomes one against those on the opposing team (if they’ve whipped your team’s butt). The beta has three maps: Foundation, Dam and Harbour,  two game modes: Team Deathmatch and Dodgeball and there will be an open beta from April 25 to May 1.

New features include active reload all the time now, not just when you need to reload, and if you get it right it gives you a nice little XP bonus and you’re also able to pull an enemy from behind their cover and shank them. I didn’t manage to do any of that: I was too busy remembering what buttons did what on the controller it’s been so long since I’ve played any GOW MP matches. The full game will match players with a similar skill level, which suits players like me, and weapons in the beta include the lancer/hammerburst, gnasher shotgun, snub pistol and combat knife (useful for stabbing things). Chainsaw duels are here, as are the executions.

Here, watch this five-minute clip of me dying a bit but actually get a kill (or two, I think) in.

Ratchet & Clank giveaway

ratchet-clank-ps4-boxThanks to the folks at PlayStation NZ, I have one (1) disc copy of the game Ratchet & Clank on PS4 to giveaway.

The competition is open from now until midday, April 20 and will be drawn sometime later that day. The new Ratchet & Clank game is a remake of the original R&C game and is, I guess you could say, a game based on a movie based on a game (there is an upcoming Ratchet & Clank movie, too).  How you enter is simple: Tell me whether you’d rather be Ratchet or Clank and why. Easy, right?

You enter by either emailing your answer to gamejunkienz@gmail.com or posting your answer on the Game JunkieNZ Facebook page (feel free to like the page also). I will select the winner based on who I think gives the best answer and then mail the game to the winner once I have received it from PlayStation NZ.

There are some terms & conditions, of course: The prize is one (1) disc copy of the PlayStation 4 game Ratchet & Clank, one entry per person (be that via email or Facebook post), the competition is only open to people living in New Zealand, my decision is final and I’ll email the winner.

So, go to it.

Shawn Ashmore interview: Bending time and having fun doing it

Canadian actor Shawn Ashmore is a man playing with time.

maxresdefault

The digital Shawn Ashmore as Jack Joyce.

OK, Ashmore can’t actually manipulate time in real life but thanks to his starring role as Jack Joyce in the Xbox One game Quantum Break, he’s able to bend time to his will – and he couldn’t be happier about it.

The Canadian actor, who is probably more well-know for playing Iceman in the X-Men movies and appearing in TV show The Following, was brought into Quantum Break a fair way into its development cycle (a game play trailer from E3 2014 shows a different actor playing Joyce) and he said as soon as he heard that Remedy was making the game he jumped at the chance to be involved.

“I got a phone call from my agent who told me that Microsoft Game Studios was developing a new IP. When he pitched the story I thought ‘Wow, this is bold. I’m interested” but when he told me Remedy were making the game, I instantly said: “I’m in”. I felt that the narrative was well suited to my acting style.”

shawn-ashmore-1

The real Shawn Ashmore.

Ashmore said doing motion capture for his character in Quantum Break was a challenging but a “magical” experience but he said realised early on that Remedy were doing something special with the game. He divided his performance between motion capture work in Los Angeles with co-stars The Wire and Game of Thrones Aidan Gillen (who plays Quantum Break’s villain Paul Serene and The Wire’s Lance Reddick) and facial capture work at Remedy’s headquarters in Helsinki, Finland. He said Quantum Break was double the workload for working on a movie or TV show.

“The first few days were quite strange. I was outfitted with a head rig and I felt, at first, a little out of my element but I got used to it. Doing the mo-cap felt very pure, in a sense that you had more time to rehearse scenes, go over scripts. I felt that I was a little freer to work scenes than if shooting on a movie. It wasn’t a constant shoot: Because of the nature of the work, we’d shoot a week in LA doing mo-cap then a month later I’d be in Finland.”

The actor said the biggest challenge with the mo-cap was remaining completely still while capturing his performance. “It was hard, though, as Jack goes through things that are emotional and I had to go through all that emotion while remaining still.”

Ashmore says he loved that Remedy was taking a chance by making Quantum Break,  and that the developer was open to suggestions he had about how to portray Jack Joyce.

Quantum Break_REVIEWS_Screenshot 18“I’ve got a brother [twin brother Aaron Ashmore] so I kind of drew on my relationship with him in how I thought Jack would relate to Will [Jack’s brother, Will, is played by actor Dominic Monaghan]. I tried to bring a part of me into Jack.”

Since finishing the game, Ashmore said he was pleased with the end result. “I’m happy how it played out. It was exactly what I’d wanted.”

His digital likeness in Quantum Break has also had an unexpected effect on his wife, someone who doesn’t normally play video games.

“I played QB with my wife, who’s not a gamer, and I gave her the controller and she wouldn’t give it up. She was so into it. That was a good sign: That someone who wasn’t a hardcore gamer liked it, that the narrative could pull people in.

Ashmore said it was inevitable that a game like Quantum Break, which blurred the lines between video game and TV, was made. “People want to experience things like this. Remedy has taken the best narrative parts of a video game and combined it with the cinematic style of TV. It’s not the type of game that every developer will make, though.”

“I’ve been blown away by the game. I tell people that my inner 10-year-old is jumping up and down! Seeing my likeness in the game was a really emotional experience, especially for my wife, who told me ‘This is something we’re going to be able to show our kids when you’re 60’.”

Quantum Break is out now on Xbox One and PC

** Thanks Xbox’s awesome NZ PR man who, despite me emailing him after business hours on Monday requesting a possible interview with Ashmore if he had time in his schedule, found a time for me to chat to the X-men and Quantum Break star. Big thanks, Gavin!
***  Ashmore also told me that while his QB tour was his first trip to New Zealand he has ties to the Land of the Long White Cloud. “This is only my first visit but my parents lived and worked here before I was born. They still have friends here.”

“The times they are a changing”: How gaming less has made me appreciate it more

gamepad_318-48332.pngI’m sure I’m not alone in this but I’ve found the amount of time I have to game these days seems to be getting less and less – and the times I play those video games has changed, too. I guess, when I look at it, it’s the natural progression of getting older, having more responsibilities (partner/children/work/other interests) and prioritising things –  but, surprisingly, gaming less is not necessarily a bad thing, at least  not for me.

When I was in my early 20s, I was pretty much able to game when I wanted to, apart from while I was at work, of course (although when I picked up a job doing game reviews for a NZ newspaper that shall remain nameless I was able to convince my non-gamer wife that the hours I was spending on video games was legitimate work: It worked most of the time). If I wanted to play a game on a Saturday afternoon, I could but as work became busier and children came along, my priorities changed: Gaming took a back seat for a while, especially when the children were still up.

If I wanted to game while the children were up I had to be selective on what I played, too: I rightly couldn’t play violent first- or third-person shooters in front of them, which was fair enough. There was a silver lining, though, as the children got older I started reviewing more child-friendly games, meaning I could get them to play the game with me: Win-win. Of my two children, my son is the one who games these days. My daughter hasn’t shown an interest in it apart from The Sims from time to time.

As I got older, time to game didn’t become so much of a priority: Other things took precedence. I’m sure many of you have found yourself in a similar position: By the time you get home from work, do the things around the house that need doing, sort dinner, take the dog for a walk (or go for a bike ride) and spent time with the family, it’s almost bedtime! Well, not quite, but it seems I don’t have the energy or time to spent four or five hours gaming in a single session anymore these days. I’m also not usually gaming until after 10pm, which means if I’m too late I’m pretty tired in the morning.

I guess it’s natural for the time you spent on things to change as your life changes but I’m now finding that now I’m in my mid-40s (I know: Old man, right?) while I don’t have a lot of time to game, I’m finding that I’m enjoying it more because it’s more focused. I’m doing it in bite-sized chunks and that suits my life now. I’ll play a mission then go to bed.

Another thing I’ve noticed, too, is that I’ll often be quite happy sitting watching my avid gamer teenager son him while he plays multiplayer COD or a few rounds of zombies on Black Ops 3. I don’t have to be gaming myself to find enjoyment in it. Watching my son is a fascinating exercise in seeing how a young, agile gamer tackles particular  situations or scenarios (it’s also great in seeing how he handles when things go wrong). Sometimes, I’ll just sit, transfixed as he racks up another kill or jump boosts his way through a map, taking down a horde or zombies with a bow. He’s young so has quick reflexes and reactions, unlike me. I don’t play MP games anymore  these days: My hand-eye co-ordination just isn’t up to the task anymore and my eyesight is starting to get worse (I had to buy a cheap pair of glasses from a chain store the other day just so I could read the fine print on a bottle of something)  and I’m not old (at least I don’t consider that I am) but my reflexes aren’t as quick as they used to be. I’ll stick to my campaign/story-based games, thanks.

That fact that I game less now isn’t a bad thing: I think it’s actually made me appreciate gaming more. I think it has helped that I don’t review as many games as I used to. When you review dozens of games a year I think you start to lose the enjoyment factor and the reason why you started playing games in the first place. As a critic, you’re no longer playing games for fun, you’re playing them to find fault. Now that I’m reviewing fewer games and buying more games myself, I can sit back, take as long as I like to finish it, and enjoy it. I’m liking that.

I’m also not so obsessed with collecting Achievements/Trophies as I was as a younger gamer. Now, I want to experience the game for all it can give me and I’m not wanting to blast through it, missing details in the narrative or all it has to offer. I’ve got no problem taking 10 hours to finish a game that Gamer X took six hours to complete. I have less time to game these days so I want to savour every moment.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is if you’re gaming less now than you used to don’t see it as a negative. Embrace it and enjoy it. You might find,. like me,  you start enjoying games a little more.

 

« Older Entries