Monthly Archives: November 2017

Assassin’s Creed Origins: The video review

OK, I’m trying something new here: A video review rather than a long-form written one.

It’s not perfect – word from pre-screening audiences say that the game volume is quite loud in the beginning (so you’ve been warned) – and I likely bumble a few words here and there (thanks nerves). Also, at times it sounds like I’m reading from a script, which, funnily enough, I was.

I’ve taken a while to take the plunge to do video interviews: As a former newspaper and online journalist, I hate the sound of my own recorded voice, after years of hearing it while transcribing audio interviews, so have tended to stick to what I felt safest doing: Written word reviews where I can express my opinions without anyone hearing what I sound like.

So, have a listen, prepare yourself for slightly loud game audio, and leave a comment below. I’d love to hear your feedback, and who knows? If it’s positive enough, I might do more of them.

As always, thanks for visiting.

Skyrim on Switch: Take an arrow in the knee, anywhere you like

You can now play The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – henceforth known as Skyrim – on the toilet.

Think about that for a second: You can now play one of the most well-known RPG games from Bethesda while sitting on the porcelain throne. Is this the future of gaming?

Skyrim on Nintendo’s machine is the remastered version that was released on consoles in more recent times and it’s the real deal, although if you’ve played the remastered version – or the original game itself – you’re not going to find anything that you have seen here before. Make no mistake, though, this is Skyrim through and through – and it feels like Skyrim.

The Switch outputs Skyrim at 1080p when in docked mode and 720p in portable mode and to my untrained eye, it looks pretty damn good, although you can tell it’s a six year old game, graphically at least, when you look at the character models especially: People look slightly rough around the edges but textures are generally sharp and clear. Again, this is Skyrim in portable format.

The Switch version makes use of the consoles unique control system, too: You can use the Joycons for melee combat, casting spells and firing arrows, like you could in Breath of the Wild. It felt natural when firing a bow but combat felt a little sluggish when using the motion control system, so I tended to use the more traditional control scheme.  You can also use the motion controls for lock picking, and it works extremely well, with a gentle rumble indicating you’re making progress.

Really, there’s not much more to say, though: This is Skyrim on the Nintendo Switch. It doesn’t reinvent the game and doesn’t bring anything new to it. Interestingly, though, I’ve found myself playing more of Skyrim on Switch than I did when I played it on console: Maybe it’s the portability – and being able to play on the toilet if I want. It’s also one of those games that if you’re the type of gamer who likes to explore every nook and cranny, picking up as much loot as you can, crafting armour and weapons and generally poking in every corner of a gameworld, you’ll find hours and hours of content here.

If you’ve played The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim before don’t expect new content in the Switch version because you won’t find it here – and the price for the Switch version is a less than wallet friendly: Sorry, Bethesda, but $100 for a six year old game is crazy money, even if it is on a modern piece of hardware.

Hopefully in time, that price will come down as Skyrim is absolutely worth playing on the Nintendo Switch as it’s a competent and engaging visit to Bethesda’s world, quirks and all, and another example of how strong a platform the Nintendo Switch is.

Thanks to Bethesda’s PR team in Australia for the review code

 

Doom Switch review: Rip & tear on the go

Doom.

It was the game of a generation.

It was also one of the first first-person shooters I played on my dad’s 486 PC when I was a teenager (a long, long, long, long time ago). That was the days when DOS was a thing and games came on floppy discs (young people: Ask an adult what they were).  Doom was a game that kicked off FPS gaming for a whole generation.

Fast forward lots of years and Doom has seen several iterations, on several platforms, each one founded on iD’s tech. Last year’s, Doom was a smash hit – and now it’s on an unlikely platform: Nintendo’s Switch. It works:  Yes, there are some compromises but, frankly, when it’s played in portable mode, it looks bloody good to me.

Of course, to get Doom running on the Switch, developer Panic Button has made serious compromises: Graphically, things are a lot blurrier and lower resolution than on its console and PC counterpart, and at times, the frame rate drops are noticeable (the game tries to reach 30 frames per second all the time, and seems to mostly achieve that, according to tech reviewers who know more about that thing than I do) but this is the full 2016 Doom experience. On the Switch. Something that is essentially a tablet when compared to the other platforms.

Sure, graphics downgrade further when in docked mode – and I can’t imagine anyone wanting to play the game in docked mode on a 55-inch TV – but Doom is a much better experience when played in portable mode. This is a version that is for the bus ride home, the long drive to that holiday destination or the plane flight. The Switch’s 6-inch screen means that the graphical compromises aren’t as noticeable and the game works because Doom is the type of game that is meant to played fast-paced, with the player moving swiftly from location to location. It’s not designed for camping and hiding behind cover while enemies search for you.

Doom on the Switch can’t compete with the version on Xbox, PlayStation and PC. It just can’t and I don’t thing it’s fair comparing it to other formats, which have much more power and graphical capabilities (especially on PC, where with a top-end GPU you can crank everything up to 11). I don’t think the point of porting Doom to the Switch was to compete with the other version. I think the point was to show that, actually, a fast-paced, first-person shooter can work on Nintendo’s handheld console. The glory kills are here, the gore is here, the atmosphere is there: This is Doom.

There are purists who will say Doom on Switch doesn’t compare with the Xbox/PS/PC version and people are just cutting it slack because “It’s incredible that it’s on a portable platform at all” – and they’d be right to a certain degree (on how it doesn’t compare to versions on more powerful platforms) so they should steer clear of it, but for me, I determine a game on how fun it is, not whether it has cutting-edge graphics and how it compares to versions of it. Bottom line for me: Doom on Switch is a hell (pun intended) of a lot of fun on the Switch and frankly it look bloody fantastic.

Something that was a pain for me – and again it’s probably due to my eyes – but on-screen text was painfully small and hard to read: Even with my glasses on. Actually, even my son, who has 18 year old eyes, said the text was hard to read. He liked it but reckoned it could have looked better.

It’s good to see that major publishers are supporting the Switch but one concern I have with Bethesda’s strategy is that Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is coming to the Switch in early 2018 – and I’m not convinced that game is going to work as well as Doom. I haven’t played it but it’s a graphically stunning title that I’m not sure the Switch can do justice without some serious compromises. I guess we’ll find out next year.

Look, I might have old eyes but, man, this looks bloody good to me.

Horizon Zero Dawn The Frozen Wilds: A review in pictures [plus a few words]

Aloy, the Nora brave from Guerilla’s PlayStation 4 exclusive Horizon Zero Dawn, is a breath of fresh air when it comes to video game lead characters.

The game is exquisite, too, with stunning visuals (I have a bog standard PS4 and the game looks amazing: I can only imagine how great it looks on a PS4 Pro) and set in an post-apocalyptic wilderness where robotic machines outnumber humans. The game play might not have differed much from games of similar ilk but with a likeable lead character, great visuals, and an engaging narrative, Horizon Zero Dawn was great fun.

The Frozen Wilds is the first piece of story DLC and Aloy must battle new and unknown creatures in a frozen landscape called The Cut inhabited by a race called the Banuk. If you liked the original game, chances are you’ll jump at the chance to guide Aloy through new adventures and it’ll be worth picking up. Alternatively, if you didn’t like the original game, I don’t see any point in picking this up: It’s more of the same.

The new DLC brings new costumes, robo enemies and weapons and it’s recommended you start it when you’re a fairly high level as some of the new monsters are incredibly aggressive. The Frozen Wilds also brings new enemies called Towers, which, I guess, buff nearby enemies, meaning they regain health and you can’t override them so it’s a good idea to destroy the tower at the beginning.

I thought, though, instead of a bog-standard review with hundreds of words I’ve illustrated The Frozen Wilds in pictures. So here it is, my review of Horizon Zero Dawn The Frozen Wilds using pictures captured from the game’s fantastic photo mode. Enjoy. Thanks to PlayStation for the review code.

 

Super Mario Odyssey: Super fun times with Mario

Super Mario Odyssey is the best fun I’ve had playing a video game in a long, long, long time.

In fact, I’ve had so much fun with it could well be my game of the year <thinks about that for a minute>

Yep, Super Mario Odyssey is my game of the yea. Tough luck other games from 2017: You were beaten [soundly, in my opinion] by Nintendo’s long-standing mustachioed plumber Mario who stars in a game that is unashamedly cartoony and dripping in fun.

The Odyssey – from the title Super Mario Odyssey – is the name of the vessel that Mario uses to fly around a planet in search of that dastardly Bowser who has, yet again, kidnapped Princess Peach and intends to marry her. Trouble is, the Odyssey needs moons – which are found hidden around various kingdom – to power its engines so it’s up to Mario to chase Bowser, from kingdom to kingdom, uncovering moons (crescent moon shaped, really)  that can lead him closer to Princess Peach.

“What’s so fun about that?”, I hear you ask (you probably didn’t but it adds effect to my narrative). Well, the fun part comes from the opening kingdom when Mario is introduced to Cappy, as his name suggested a talking hat that at the flick of the right JoyCon allows Mario to possess just about every living thing in the game world: Goombas, Koopa Troopas, Cheep Cheeps, Piranha Plants, Bullet Bills … the list goes on. Imagine the possibilities of that: It means that Mario can navigate the kingdoms so much easier now, using the skills of the relevant world to collect moons and move to the next kingdom. It’s rather satisfying possessing a chain chomp then using it to defeat one of the Broodals that is using it against Mario!

Mario can use Cappy to give him boosted jumps and collect coins dotted about each kingdom, which can then be used to buy anything from health hearts and moons to new outfits and stickers (and not a loot box in sight!!)

Mario starts each kingdom with three hearts in his life bar and there is effectively  no Game Over with this game as when the three hearts are depleted, Mario loses 10 coins (which are used as in-game currency) every time he dies. Keep collecting coins (and they are plentiful) and all is sweet.

Each kingdom is themed very differently from the last: One takes place in a world covered in sand, another takes place in a wooded world, one takes place in a land made up of vegetables and pink boiling lava. New Donk City in the Metro Kingdom is clearly based on New York City and probably my favourite kingdom.

Each kingdom has a show down with one of Bowsers crew – the Broodals  – (hired as his wedding planners) but what I liked about these mini-boss battles is that a) they aren’t difficult and b) they’re generally a three-stage pattern. Even an old man like me had no trouble defeating them. Once you’ve defeated the boss, you can explore the kingdom collecting as many moons as you can find before heading back to the Odyssey to fly off to the next kingdom. There’s one particular boss in the water kingdom that had to be defeated by Mario possessing an octopus that squirts water and uses it to propel itself upwards and forwards. Craziness!

Another really, really nice touch – and a throwback to Mario’s earlier appearances – are the green pipes that we’re all familiar with that transport Mario into an 8-bit, side-scrolling world. It’s so well done that it made me smile.

Until Super Mario Odyssey came along, I’d never really been that taken with a Mario game. Sure, I’d played them but none of them captured my attention like Super Mario Odyssey has. I think the possession ability has had something to do with that – and the fact that the game is just so much darn fun (it also has a really neat photo capture mode). It looks fantastic, too, especially given that the Nintendo is incredibly under-powered when put alongside the consoles from Microsoft and PlayStation.

I’ve pretty much played Super Mario Odyssey every night since I got it and I’ve loved just about every joyous minute of it (it’s not perfect: the camera isn’t the best at times, and can make jumps onto moving platforms difficult at times) .

For me, Super Mario Odyssey is my game of the year already, and frankly, it just cements another reason to own a Nintendo Switch.

A big thanks to Nintendo Australia for providing the review copy of Super Mario Odyssey. Cheers, guys.

 

Why I’m not buying an Xbox One X right now

Microsoft’s new console, the Xbox One X, launches next week – November 7, I think – and by all accounts, it’s a powerful machine that will swing the “most powerful console in the world” title back to Microsoft – but I’m not buying one, at least not yet.

I’m not buying an Xbox One X for several reasons.

Firstly, my current Xbox One sits unused most of the time. It does. I turned it on most recently for Cuphead (which, frankly, I didn’t like that much) and Forza 7, but before that, I hadn’t used it since Gears of War 4. That’s a long time to be collecting dust. The most used console in my house? The Nintendo Switch, thanks to games like Super Mario Odyssey, Death Squared, and Mario Kart 8. For me, the Switch is the killer console of the year, despite being woefully underpowered when put alongside the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4.

Secondly, I don’t own a 4K TV – and I’m not planning on buying one anytime soon – so I’m not going to get the visual boost the Xbox One X offers. Frankly, I have bigger priorities for my money and a new TV isn’t one of them. I’ll happily make do with my 1080p HD TV, thanks until it becomes obsolete, like the CRT, and I’m forced to replace it.

Probably the biggest reason I’m not buying an Xbox One X yet, though, is the lack of exclusive games that make the console a must buy. For me, it’s fine having kick-arse hardware but what’s the point of showing off games – granted they’ll look prettier and run better on the beefed up Xbox One X – that I’ve already played on my other consoles? I don’t want to fork out $700+ on a new console only to play games that I already played on a console that I don’t play enough as it is. I want to play new franchises on my shiny new piece of hardware not games that I’ve already put countless hours into.

Microsoft is touting how many “Xbox One X enhanced” games will received updates for its new console but frankly, I don’t want updates for old games just so they look better and run faster: I want fresh new games. I want games that were developed specifically for a new console and games that I can’t find on a competitor’s platform. Besides, if a game was average to start with, displaying it in 4K with HDR isn’t going to make it a better game now, is it? And Backwards Compatibility support is really great but again, it’s just playing games I’ve already played on a new console.

To me, Microsoft should be launching the Xbox One X with one or two “Xbox One X only” titles that serve as a powerful carrot to potential buyers, games that trumpet to people “Hey, look at these two games. You can’t find them on any other console. They really show how powerful the Xbox One X is.” I think Microsoft made a mistake in not having a least a couple of exclusive titles to entice new buyers to the Xbox One family.

If you bought the Xbox One S, an upgrade over the original Xbox One, I don’t see any point in upgrading to the Xbox One X but if you don’t own an Xbox One console and want to see what console gaming is all about then I’d say the One X is perfect for you and the right place to start.

Maybe I’m missing the point of the Xbox One X, or maybe I’m not the target market for it, and I’ll be keeping an eye on the Xbox One X, but until I’m convinced it has must-play, exclusive games that I  can’t find on any other platform, I won’t be forking out the cash for Microsoft’s new console, even if it is the “most powerful” in the world. just yet.

 

Nest launches security products in NZ

I’ve always wondered what our dog gets up to when we’re at work and he’s alone at home: Does he chill on the lawn? Does he dig holes? Does he run around flat out for a bit?

Well, it’s probably all of the above but the Nest line-up of camera and alarm systems could just be the ticket for me keeping tabs on my four-legged friend, especially the Nest Cam Outdoor.

Nest is the sister company of powerhouse Google and its range is now available in New Zealand. Products include:

  • Nest Protect (NZD$219): a smoke and carbon monoxide alarm which doesn’t just yell at you, but talks to you when there’s something important you need to know. A product like no other in New Zealand.
  • Nest Cam Indoor (NZD$359): the market leading camera which helps you not only monitor what’s happening in your home, but talk to it. Always on, think of it as your very own security guard.
  • Nest Cam Outdoor (NZD$359): sometimes we keep our valuables outside. The weatherproof Nest Cam Outdoor takes care of those too. The proven most effective deterrent for would-be burglars.
  • Nest Cam IQ Indoor (NZD$549): instead of just showing you what’s happening, Nest Cam IQ is smart enough to differentiate between a person and your cat, automatically zooming in on and tracking the person in the frame and alerting you accordingly.
  • Nest Aware (from NZD$16): advanced cloud algorithms that kick in to give your camera smarter alerts and video history. Think of it like putting an entire supercomputer into your Nest Cam.

The products will be available online, in-store and through Meridian Energy from now.