Monthly Archives: November 2016

Watchdogs 2: Hacking in San Francisco

Let’s get this out of the way first, shall we?

Marcus Holloway can take selfies around the virtual city of San Francisco.

Marcus Holloway can take selfies around the virtual city of San Francisco.

I get the feeling that Watchdogs 2 is the game that Ubisoft wishes the first Watchdogs was.

The first Watchdogs was massively overhyped by Ubisoft and I think that was its downfall, to be honest. It was never going to live up to the massive expectation Ubisoft heaped upon it.

I bought Watchdogs on PC but stopped playing it after a handful of hours (I was part way through a mission where main character Aidan Pearce had to infiltrate an inner city prison) because, frankly, I lost interest.

WATCH_DOGS® 2_20161130182756Watchdogs 2, by comparison, is a complete contrast to the original. Instead of being dark and gloomy, Watchdogs 2 is popping with bright colours and sprinkled with popular culture. Its lead character Marcus Holloway is a much more personable and likeable character than Pearce ever was, too.  Holloway is a genuinely interesting character,  even if the underground hacker group that he joins is a little too clichéd and seems like the game’s writers watched too many ’80s movies to get inspiration. Marcus is quite with a witty response and has a swagger about him that just fits with the more jaunty vibe of Watchdogs 2.

With a narrative tightly focused on Marcus’ hacker group using the power of social media and popular media to bring down the conglomerate behind the increasingly pervasive ctOS, Holloway can hack just about everything in the city, from scissor lifts and control panels to garage doors and other people’s phones. It’s intuitive and works nicely and there’s something satisfying about being able to blow up an underground pipe after you’ve driven over it, causing issues to anyone pursuing you. Doing that never got tired.

WATCH_DOGS® 2_20161130180820Marcus has a few gadgets at his disposal, too, to help hack the world, with an airborne drone and small motorised drone, a RC jumper that he can deploy  to infiltrate tricky environments, places, highlight enemies and even remotely hack computers to make things easier as he skulks through enemy territory.

Like all open world games these days, Watchdog 2 is overflowing with an abundance of activities to do but I almost wondered at times if there were too many things to do. Marcus’ phone seemed to be constantly buzzing with a new quest or side mission. The story takes pot shots at popular culture (Scientology for example) but as nice looking and vibrant as Watchdogs 2 is something kept nagging at me while I was playing it, gnawing at my brain.

Then I realised what it was: I kept on comparing Watchdogs 2’s game world to that of GTAV – and Rockstar’s open-world masterpiece just kept on trumping Ubisoft’s San Francisco. GTAV just seems to do open-world so much better than the others. It’s cities looked lived in and populated. Look, Watchdogs is a great game but I guess if you put any open-world game up against GTAV, its shortcomings are always going to come to the fore.

You can pat dogs in Watchdogs 2. Nice.

You can pat dogs in Watchdogs 2. Nice.

The main story missions are the standard “Go here, do this/collect this/talk to this person then move to the next one” variety but I found Watchdogs was a lot more enjoyable and at its best when you go off the beaten track and forget about the main story missions. Doing things like using your phone’s Scout app to track down landmarks dotted about San Francisco and take a selfie in front of it to gain more followers, petting dogs, eavesdropping on conversations. Watchdogs 2 doesn’t take itself too seriously and I like that.

It has some things that niggled me. The police force in particular is really, really aggressive (in fact, I found the security forces in the game in general really aggressive). Once, I slightly grazed a police car as I negotiated a two-lane road. Instead of the minor reaction from the police I was suspecting, suddenly I was being chased by five police cars, complete with a police woman yelling at the top of her lungs for me to pull over. When I eventually stopped, I was expecting a telling off and to get arrested. Nope: Two cops pulled out guns and started shooting. Talk about over reaction, fellas.

I haven’t touched on any of the multiplayer because, frankly, I don’t really play multiplayer but there is something called seamless multiplayer which I’m guessing is when another play can enter your game and attempts to hack your phone. This happened to me twice and  you have to find the person before they download your data and escape.

The first time I didn’t find the guy (he was on an overpass above where I was) but the second time I found the guy hiding behind a bush nearby. He took off and I gave chase, trying to hit him comically with taser bolts: It didn’t work. He hijacked a motorbike and drove off. It was interesting, to say the least.

WATCH_DOGS® 2_20161130180552Watchdogs 2 is a fun game that has a lot of charm and it’s much better than the dark original and it shows that Ubisoft has learned some things as it refines its open-world games. Sure, the narrative is  a little too bogged down in clichés for my liking but I grew to (kind of) like Marcus’ fellow hackers the more the game progressed.

Watchdogs 2 isn’t my favourite game of the year and it doesn’t do anything innovative to move the open-world genre along – and if you’re bored with open-world games that tick all the required boxes, then this isn’t the game for you – but its fun for a bit, and worth a look if you want a game that has an upbeat vibe and plenty of content to keep you occupied for a while.

  • Thanks to Ubisoft for the PS4 review copy of Watchdogs 2.

Dishonored 2 thoughts: Two for the price of one

Here are some impressions of Dishonored 2. I’ve sunk about 10 hours in so far but thought I’d give some thoughts before it’s too late and the game has slipped from the end of year radar. If you’re wanting a review that delves into minute features of how the movement is or how the controls feel, go elsewhere: You’re not going to find too much of that here.  Thanks for reading.

I really wish I had the far reach power that Emily Kaldwin in Dishonored 2 has.

Far reach gives Emily the ability to reach high obstacles or cover distance in a short space of time. Once it’s upgraded, you can also grab objects and generally cause havoc around the cities of Dunwall and Karnaca.

Dishonored 2_20161124204212I’ve already thought long and hard how I’d used far reach. SHAZAM! I’d far reach to the kitchen from the longue to turn on the coffee machine; KAPOW! I’d transport up to the roof to clear out the gutter beside the garage that I should have done months ago;WAP! I’d transport myself to the front of queue at the coffee van outside work. Sure, far reach is great for stealthing into buildings through high open windows or out-of-reach doors but, man, imagine the possibilities during the normal work day.

Actually, now that I think about it Domino (a power that lets Emily link up to three people together, delivering the same fate) would also make an amazingly good power to have when I’m stuck in a conversation  at a social gathering I can’t get out .

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Emily Kaldwin and Corvo Attano, the two main characters in Dishonored 2. You can play as both, this time (not at the same time, obviously).

OK, domestic use of Dishonored 2’s powers aside, the game is set 15 years after the events of the original and long story short centres around the player having to reclaim the throne of Dunwall after a usurper – Delilah – suddenly appears and seizes control. Expect a tale of supernatural powers to soon follow as you play either as Emily Kaldwin, the deposed monarch of Dunwall, or Corvo Attano, the assassin from the first game and Emily’s father and protector.

Veterans of the first game will know that there two play styles you can take with Dishonored 2:  Low chaos, where you try to be as stealthy as possible, generally strangling people unconscious and hiding the bodies; and High chaos, where it’s hell be damned and woe betide anyone that gets in front of your blade/pistol/grenade/spiritual form as you leave a bloody mess in your wake.

Like the first Dishonored, I intended to play low chaos and after the first mission all was going well: I’d killed no-one and made sure I’d hidden unconscious bodies. Sadly, as it did with the first game, everything turned to custard at the Addermine Institute and my low chaos plan went out the window. From there, it was a mixture of both play styles.

Dishonored 2_20161124204915

The heart of Emily’s dead mother, Queen Jessamine, helps locate runes and bonecharms that can be used to upgrade abilities.

Part of what I like about the Dishonored games are the supernatural powers that are fuelled by magical runes and bonecharms dotted about the game world.  Corvo’s powers include Blink, which teleports him to a chosen point; Devouring swarm, which conjures up rats that dispose of dead bodies; and Bend time, which lets him slow down time, while Emily’s powers include Far reach, which propels her to another point; Shadow walk, which turns her into a shadow, and (personal favourite), Domino, which lets Emily link up to three enemies together so they share the same fate. Sure they can make Corvo or Emily overpowered at times, but hell, they’re fun.

I decided to play through as Emily as while I like Corvo, I felt that Emily was the chance to play as a new character that I hadn’t played as before. When I have a spare 20 hours or so, I’ll play through again as Corvo.

Far reach and domino were without a doubt the best powers for me while playing as Emily, and played with a mix of the two and dark vision, a sonar-like power that shows the location of nearby enemies, I was able to generally make my way through the game world without too much trouble. I really like that using a combination of the powers means you can find routes to objectives that aren’t immediately obvious. I like that about the Dishonored series: I you think about things you can usually find a couple of ways to reach a destination.

I played the PlayStation 4 version (I was keen to play the PC version but, frankly, my GPU wouldn’t be able to play the game well anyway. Plus, the issues with the PC version are well documented) and visually,  Dishonored 2 looks nice, with the rustic artistic style of the original that looks realistic in places (faces, water) but stylised in others (buildings, the general world). Karnaca also feels more a city than Dunwall did in the original game, with far more citizens going about their business

The clockwork soldiers freaked me out. Seriously.

The clockwork soldiers freaked me out. Seriously.

Enemy AI is much smarter this time around, almost to the point sometimes of being overly alert to your presence if one of them spots you, as my son found out on his way to the Clockwork Mansion during his play through and had to restart multiple times after being spotted by an overzealous guard (which alerted every other guard nearby). The clockwork soldiers in the mansion, too, are a pain in the arse if you get cornered by one.

On the technical side, load times on PS4 are noticeably long, and are long when the game has to reload after you die. I wonder whether a faster drive would help load times but I’ve no idea. I also noticed frame rate drops during periods of intense melee combat where sometimes you’ll have to fend off three or four attackers. That’s not ideal when you want to block and fend off foes.

karnacadishonored2There is the odd graphical glitch every now and the odd weird thing every now and then: In one mission, an enemy that I was about to stealth knockout suddenly disappeared from view (she was also floating in mid-air instead of the railing she was supposed to be sitting on) & in the same mission, I was suddenly informed that a key character had been eliminated while I was heading towards her office – to eliminate her.  Thanks a lot, game!

I haven’t had a lot of time to play this week (plus my son is hogging the PS4) but I’ve got about three missions left until the game’s finale. I’ve enjoyed what I’ve played so far but is it as good as the original, which I played on PC? I’m really not sure yet. I’m enjoying it but I don’t think the narrative is as strong as the original game’s was.

Only three “missions” to go till I’ve really made up my mind, eh?

If you’ve got any questions about the game, ask away in the comments section and I’ll do my best to answer them.

PlayStation VR: my verdict

Despite being in its infancy, for many gamers, VR is the future.

Oculus, HTC, Samsung and now PlayStation have an entrant in the virtual reality market but is it the second coming of gaming? After spending a considerable amount of time with PlayStation’s VR headset, I’m not convinced we’re there yet.

Yeah, that's me using the PSVR at Sony NZ's headquarters in Auckland.

Yeah, that’s me using the PSVR at Sony NZ’s headquarters in Auckland.

I’ve already blogged about my first hands-on with the PSVR: At a controlled event while I was up in Auckland last month. I was wanting to test the headset in a normal home environment where things wouldn’t be perfect so thanks to PlayStation NZ, I got the option late last month when it sent me down a review unit PSVR for a week or so (it has since gone back to Sony).

Set up was probably about 20 minutes, all up from unpacking from the courier box to switching it on,  which I didn’t think was too bad.

I really didn’t appreciate how many cables are involved with the PSVR There are a lot of cables: HDMI cables from the TV to the PS4; cables from the processing box that decodes the signal from the PS4 to the headset; the cables from the processing box to the headset.

Just keep in mind there are cables when you’re “in the zone” and using the headset. You can flick the cables out of the way so you don’t trip over them but I demoed the PSVR to a group of 12 and 13 year olds at my wife’s school and a couple of times children almost got tangled in the cables. Just be aware.

A close up of the PlayStation VR headset.The headset is comfortable but, for some reason, it just didn’t feel as comfortable as when I wore a headset at PlayStation. At home, I had to have the back part up quite high on the back of my head, meaning at times light crept underneath the front of the unit.

Something I did notice using the headset at home that I didn’t notice during my hands-on with PlayStation was a quite pronounced screen door effect when transitioning between scenes and waiting for games to load. I’ve read the PSVR doesn’t have a screen door effect but I definitely saw it here.

After a couple of weeks using the PSVR the question is: Would I rush out and buy one? Not right now, no, and here’s why.

My reasoning for that is because while the headset is comfortable and PlayStation is making VR accessible to a mainstream audience I still think the price is higher than it needs to be, especially given that in New Zealand you have to buy (or already own) the PS4 camera and Move controllers. There isn’t a pack that contains everything you need. You don’t need the Move controllers for all the games, though,  so you can save some money by not buying any, I guess.

Personally, thought, I don’t think there are enough good games/experiences to make it worth purchasing right now. Eve Valkyrie is a great space sim that really draws you in with its visuals but it’s MP mostly.

Until Dawn: Rush of Blood a surprisingly good VR game on the PSVR.

Until Dawn: Rush of Blood a surprisingly good VR game on the PSVR.

batmanarkhamvrBatman Arkham VR also worth a look (but it’s not long). Job Simulator was a lot of fun but I got bored with Battlezone quickly. Until Dawn: Rush of Blood is probably the most impressive experience, and it is genuinely scary and a nice extension of Until Dawn.

The PSVR does come with VR Worlds, but it’s just seemed to be a disc of demos that you can buy to unlock the full experience. It’s a good tech demo of what VR is capable of but won’t keep you occupied for long.

I also played Hustle Kings, a pool game, but for some reason, I had to use the PS4 controller rather than the Move controllers to play. It just didn’t seem right using the controller for a pool game.

After about a week, I was using the PSVR less and less: I was getting less enthusiastic about the games. Until the big titles start appearing, I don’t see the PSVR, as good as the technology is, as a must-have for gamers. It’s good fun, for a bit, but then you’ll put it down and go back to your traditional gaming formats.

Look, give PSVR a year and I think the price would have dropped and there will be an awesome selection of games to show off what it can really do, but right now, I wouldn’t buy one and it’s not going to replace me gaming with my consoles or PC anytime soon.

 

So … I’m sticking with my GTX660Ti and here’s why

gigabye-3gb-geforce-gtx-660-ti_boxA while back, I wrote about contemplating upgrading my current GTX660Ti graphics card with either the GTX950, which I’d won in a YouTube competition (yeah, I know right?) or something like  GTX1060 or a Radeon RX480. I’m getting back into my PC gaming and, rightly or wrongly, I didn’t think my current GPU was up to the task.

Sounds like a simple thing, right? Well, not really, as things worked out.

I’ve swapped out graphics cards before – it’s one of the easiest things you can upgrade on a PC: You simply remove the old card from the PCI-E slot on your PC’s motherboard, slot in the new one,connect the power then boot up your computer. Easy.

Well, not as far as installing the GTX950 went. Long story short, I didn’t get a signal to my monitor with the new card installed (the fans on the 950 didn’t even power up, either) but put my 660Ti back and things were sweet. It seems that the original GTX950 was faulty so after months of emails with MSi support I eventually got a replacement card and installed it, crossing my fingers in the process.

This new GTX950 didn’t work either. I visited the nVidia ANZ forums with my problem. It’s a great community and I got a lot of good suggestions but none of them worked. Someone suggested looking for a new motherboard, which was an option but I was hoping this was a simple fix. So, I swallowed my pride and did what many PC enthusiasts wouldn’t want to do: Took it to  my local computer repair guy.

Long story short, again, after being with the technician for a couple of days it seems that my Intel DZ77ga 70K motherboard – a four-year-old motherboard that is now no longer supported by Intel: Thanks for that – just won’t accept the newer GTX950.

The GTX 660Ti is based on nVidia’s Kepler Maxwell architecture, as is the GTX950, but it seems that my Intel board can’t be updated to accommodate the newer card. Frankly, that sucks on Intel’s part. How hard would it be for them to issue a BIOS update that accepts the newer card (I’m not a programmer or computer scientist so I’ve no idea how hard it would be or not)?

It’s frustrating but I don’t have the funds to upgrade my motherboard – which would also mean new RAM, a new CPU (because the current CPU won’t work on the new board) – as well as buy a new GPU. So, at this point in time, so I’m sticking with the GTX660Ti. I think I’m happy with that, too.

It’s a great card: It’s got 3Gb of VRAM and is four years old but it’s just not considered cutting edge anymore.

titanfall2-sngplyr-c_pdp_screenhi_3840x2160_en_wwThat said, I picked up Titanfall 2 the other for PC (I took a punt) and, you know what? I can run it on my GTX660Ti on medium to high settings (most on high) and am getting consistently frame rates (I haven’t run FRAPs or anything to determine what FPS I’m getting but it’s running as smooth as butter.

The minimum recommended nVidia GPU is a GTX660 while the recommended nVidia GPU is the 1060, so I’m not far off the minimum but it’s all running mighty smooth to me. Sure, I’ve had a couple of crashes to the desktop but that’s part and parcel with PC gaming, right?

I also completed Gears of War 4 last month with a mixture of mostly high settings and it was sitting around the 45FPS mark (the PC version of GOW4 is amazingly customisable, which helps). It seems my four-year-old card might still have a little bit of life in it yet.

I’m now contemplating whether my PC would actually be up to Dishonored 2 but I’ll think about that one. It might be one for the consoles, perhaps, and one that pushes the GTX660Ti one step too far.