Monthly Archives: March 2017

Oh, look, it’s a Nintendo Switch!

A few weeks ago I was invited by Nintendo to attend a hands-on session with its then-yet-to-be released Switch. Sadly, I had to decline the invitation (it was in Auckland and I live in Christchurch, which is in New Zealand’s South Island) but Nintendo’s PR company in Australia kept in touch over the following weeks.

Last week, I got the good news that Nintendo was going to send me a Switch to look at for review. The console arrived today (after being held up by Customs for a couple of days). It came with a copy of Zelda: Breath of the Wild & 1-2 Switch as well as spare JoyCon controllers (red & blue).

The last Nintendo home console I played was the Nintendo GameCube (which I still own) so I’m looking forward to having a good look at the Switch over the coming days, especially trying out the portable mode. I’ll document my thoughts in the next week or so.

Set up was easy enough and I managed to connect the JoyCon controllers the right way to the tablet body (I read on social media that some people  slid them on wrong, causing them to get stuck). As I write this, the Switch is charging the tablet.

Zelda: BOTW will also be the first home console Zelda game I’ve played (I’m not counting the Nintendo 3DS version) so I’m looking forward to it.

In the meantime, here are some images of the un-boxing process.

The tablet of the Nintendo Switch. It’s has a nice reflective screen, as you can see by my reflection.

The rear view of the Switch’s tablet. Note the bananas in the background. Our dog likes bananas, too.

The Switch in docked mode. It’s not plugged in yet, obviously.

The Switch in docked mode, with the JoyCon controllers attached.

 

 

 

Styx: Shards of Darkness review: A little goblin goes stealthy, stealthy

Styx, the goblin and star of Styx: Shards of Darkness, is proof that not all heroes video game lead characters need to be overpowered space marines or covert operatives with high-tech gadgets up the wazoo.

He’s no oil painting but Styx is a likeable enough character, despite the rough edges.

 

 

Some heroes, in fact, can be green, pointy eared, foul-mouthed goblins who work for whoever is offering the most gold, like to vomit poison into someone’s food and that can conjure up a clone of themselves pretty smartly.

In some weird, twisted way, I enjoyed being a goblin for a change, rather than the usual character we get to play in stealth games, like Sam Fisher or, I guess, Ezio from the Assassin’s Creed series. Styx is a goblin with attitude and the game isn’t afraid to take a jab at other stealth games or have a bit of fun.

A sequel to Cyanide Studio’s 2014 game featuring the same character, which I didn’t play, Styx is a master thief: Able to get anything, from anywhere, but this time, he must infiltrate a dark elven city to find out why dark elves have formed an alliance with dwarves.

At one point, when Styx is on a roof top, he quips where is the bale of straw for him to jump into, which is clearly a dig at the Assassin’s Creed series. One post-death animation shows Styx’s arm descending into water, a la Terminator, but instead of giving a thumbs up flips the bird as it disappears. That made me smile a little.

At its heart, Shards of Darkness is a stealth game with RPG elements (there’s a skill tree that lets you use skill points to ramp up Styx’s skills) and that’s where it shines: Skulking through the shadows while observing the patrol patterns of guards, finding alternative routes to objectives, silently taking out guards then hiding their bodies in wardrobes and chests.

To be honest, Styx isn’t much when it comes to open combat and will die fairly quickly so stealth is always the best option here. If you are spotted and have to do a little melee hand-to-hand, the game has a rudimentary parry QTE which, if successful, which knock a guard off guard, allowing Styx to stab him but most of the time, hand-to-hand combat is a death sentence so this is not a game to go all out Rambo and go in through the front gate.

Thankfully, locations have plenty of places that you can use to stealth your way through to objectives, with torches that can be extinguished, barrels to hide in and ropes to climb. Enemy AI is pretty good, most of time, with guards patrolling set patterns and some re-lighting torches once they’ve noticed they were out. It made things a little more tense and I had to think about the best route to reach the end goal.

Styx: Shards of Darkness isn’t the perfect game, (but no game is) but I think it’s frustrations can be overlooked, given its price and that it’s a lot of fun.

The biggest niggle for me was the controls, which frustrated me a little, especially when I tried to escape from guards and had to take evasive manoeuvres. Sometimes what should have been a leap onto a railing then hang off that railing often turned into a leap and accidentally stand up, enabling the guards to see me, or a straight fail and Styx plummeted to his death.

I played Styx on PC and while it’s not going to win any prizes for Best Looking PC game of the Year  neither will it melt your PC with its recommended specs. Minimum recommended hardware is 8Gb of RAM, and a Radeon R7 260X or nVidia GTX560, so hardly cutting-edge hardware. I ran everything on Epic settings and my PC’s packing an nVidia Geforce GTX660Ti, a 3Gb card that some (including me) would say is past its use by date.

Look, if you’re a fan of stealth games and want something that has a good sense of humour and doesn’t take itself too seriously and brings the stealth back to stealth games, Styx: Shards of Darkness is well worth a look.

 

Thanks to Five Eight Distribution in Auckland for the review copy of Styx: Shards of Darkness

How a pear-shaped organ in my body ruined my entire week

My gall bladder – a pear-shaped organ underneath your liver, apparently – isn’t an organ in my body that I’ve thought much about over my 45+ years on planet Earth.

At least not until two weeks ago when I got a searing pain just underneath the right side of my ribs. I thought I was dying (looking back it seems melodramatic but at the time I really did think I was dying).

The pain started as a dull ache at first but soon radiated across my entire rib cage. If you can imagine someone wrapping a belt around your chest – then putting a foot on your rib cage and cinching it tight. That’s what it felt like. A constant pain that makes you think, initially, you’re having a heart attack. I actually thought I was having a heart attack at first but an ECG showed otherwise: My heart rate was sitting at 54bpm at rest, so it wasn’t my ticker.

After pacing the house from 3am to 7am, I convinced my wife to take me to an after hours doctor and he diagnosed gall stones fairly early on. An ultrasound that day confirmed what he had suspected: Gall stones.

The gall bladder. An organ in my body that I had taken for granted – until last week.

The gall bladder filters fat using bile produced from your liver and many people have gall stones and they don’t cause them any issues, but for me, it appears those ducts in my gall bladder were blocked, causing searing pain. Apparently, the butter chicken curry I’d had the night before had aggravated things. No more butter chicken from now on.

I went home, prescribed pain killers, and rested up for the weekend. I saw my GP on Monday who said he’d start discussions with surgeons to get the gall bladder removed. I also had to have a CT scan as ultrasound had indicated an “indeterminate mass”on a juncture with my right kidney, which, thankfully, turned out to be nothing but had me panicking for a few days (the woman doing the ultrasound had also told me that she’d had no end of trouble getting good pictures of my kidney, though).

The pain seemed to have settled down so I didn’t think about things much. Until Thursday, that was, when I went home early from work – something that is highly unusual for me – with the same pain again.

Later that evening, I got my wife to take me to Christchurch hospital’s emergency department – part of me kept telling myself to harden up and just live with it – but after blood tests, I was admitted. It was definitely gall stones and the gall bladder which was going to come out at some point was likely to come out in the next few days.

Admitted to a surgery assessment ward, I was in so much pain I had to “try”and sleep on my back, not something that is easy to do. I say try to sleep: Anyone who has been to hospital will know that getting  a good night’s sleep in a hospital is near impossible as nurses have to take two-hourly observations. It was a rough night.

Friday rolled around, my eyes bleary though lack of sleep, a collection of doctors visited to assess my condition and said, yes, I would be having surgery to remove my gall bladder but, as was to be expected, as it wasn’t life threatening there was potential to be bumped from the list if a more serious case presented itself. At 5pm, when the surgeon came to see me again,  I knew it wasn’t happening today. I remember turning to my wife and saying, “I feel like I’m going to die.” Perhaps in the scheme of things a tad melodramatic but that was how I felt.

On Saturday morning things looked more promising and while the surgeon told me there were no guarantees that surgery would happen on the weekend, he was hopeful. He was right.

At midday, I was wheeled off to surgery. The last thing I remember is the anaethetist telling me he was going to give me something that would make me feel like I’d have “a couple of beers”. My next recollection is waking up in recovery, groggy and bleary eyed with an oxygen hose in my nose, being asked if I’d like a lemonade iceblock. Yes, please, I said.

The surgery was done via keyhole surgery, which means four small cuts are made in your abdomen – one of them in your bellybutton – then a camera is inserted and the gall bladder removed. It’s all very clever. My daughter wanted me to request the gall bladder for us to keep. I don’t know why but she did. I was pretty rotten, according to the surgeon, but I guess we’ll see when we get it back. She suggested I could put it on my desk as a reminder. I won’t be.

I’ve spent the last week at home, recovering with a sore belly that throbs one minute and is OK the next. I’m still on painkillers but have discovered great shows on Netflix like The Expanse and watched Batman vs Superman again. It was better second time around, although still an hour too long.

I’m back at work tomorrow – a desk job so I should be OK – and easing back into things. If I have one piece of advice, it’s this: If you get pains under your ribs, get them checked out. It might be your gall bladder. A pear-shaped organ that can cause you no end of bother.

Believe me, I know.

*The blog will now return to its normal programming. Thanks for reading.

 

Horizon Zero Dawn: A review in pictures

I’m enjoying Horizon Zero Dawn a lot. A great big lot, actually. The world is beautifully realised, leading lady Aloy is a great character and the narrative is intriguing. I hope this is the start of a great series.

Horizon Zero Dawn is developer Guerrilla Game’s first open-world action role-playing game after a history dominated by tightly controlled first person shooter Killzone and it’s far from the perfect game, but it’s clear with HZD that Guerrilla has taken inspiration from other games  – Far Cry, Tomb Raider, Assassin’s Creed – but added its own small touches. .

There’s no doubt Aloy is the focus here, and rightly so, but the game’s beasts, mechanical machines based on real life animals, are stars in this game, too, each with weaknesses, smarts and vulernabilities.

Snapjaw (crocodiles), Longleg (ostriches), broadhead (cattle), sawtooth (tiger): Mechanical beasts made from metal, cable and glass  –  you can shoot off individual components, provided you have the right weapon, which will slow them down, revealing weak points. They’re roaming the wilderness in HZD and nine times out of 10 they want to eat you. That’s when you hot foot it out of where they are, or take them down – or die trying.

Horizon Zero Dawn treds familiar paths that gamers accustomed to open-world games have walked before, but I don’t have a problem with that: It does it so well, so stylishly and with stunning visuals, that Id rather play Horizon Zero Dawn than Assassin’s Creed 95 or Far Cry 12. Sure, the game has flaws: fighting the human enemies isn’t as nearly fulfilling as the beasts, the voice acting is hit and miss at times,  and some of the NPC AI is questionable, but the side quests are entertaining and Aloy is a genuinely interesting character.

So to that end, Horizon Zero Dawn is a game that deserves a special kind of review, so that’s what I’m going to give it. I’m not rabbit on for paragraph after paragraph telling you what I did, how I did it and what happened. I’m not going to write clever prose. I’m going to show you the world in pictures, taken using the game’s photo mode.

Enjoy.

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Aloy caught mid-rappell down a ravine.

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A fire bellow back so, so close to Aloy (you can just make out her head in the foliage). This is one of those time the AI is a little wonky: I’m actually surprised the creature didn’t spot me – He was pretty much on top of me.

The same image as above but using the photo mode's sepia filter.

The same image as above but using the photo mode’s sepia filter.

 

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Aloy atop a longneck, Horizon Zero Dawn’s version of Far Cry’s towers. Once overridden, the map opens up a little bit more, revealing a little bit more.

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The photo mode lets you adjust things like camera position, colour balance, time of day and even remove the HUD.

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One of my favourites. The game world is littered with remnants of  the “metal age” when man was dominant. Times have changed.

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