Monthly Archives: February 2018

Astroneer: The game in Alpha that just gets better & better

I haven’t backed many games through things like Kickstarter. Maybe four or five in total.

I backed Tim Schaefer’s Broken Age, which in hindsight I wished I hadn’t as it took far too long to arrive and then I didn’t actually end up playing it (I think it took so long to get finished that I just  gave up on it completely.

I obviously haven’t lost faith in Schaefer completely as I’ve also backed Psychonauts 2. Hey, the original game was underrated and bloody good – and I have to admit, progress on number two is looking really good (I hope it isn’t fool me twice, shame on me with this one).

Late last year, I backed mountain biking game Lonely Mountains. I think it appealed to me because a) It has a really appealing low-poly look to it and b) I like mountain biking so it seems like a win-win for me, really.

Last year, I also backed Astroneer, from System Era Software and I have to say I haven’t regretted it for a second. The game is still in its Alpha stage but, man, the team behind it is knocking it out of the park with new features and support.

Long story short: You’re an astronaut on a proceduraly generated planet that must craft and mine to survive. It sounds simple but, actually, it’s quite complex.I guess it’s kind of like Minecraft but in space and with 3D printers that you can print buggies and a backpack that lets you craft dynamite and power generators.

The most recent update – the biggest update yet – has dramatically changed the opening moments : Instead of a simple capsule habitat, you  know have a wonderful, large base. Oh, just watch this video, you’ll see what I mean.

This is one game that I’m glad I dropped the cash on.

Let me know what you think about Astroneer in the comments.

Samsung T5 SSD: Pint size storage

Think about this for a minute: Samsung’s T5 SSD is smaller than my work business card.

At 74mm x 57.3mm x 10.5mm, the T5 can fit in the palm of my hand. It can slip into a jean’s pocket without any problem.

It might be small but this pint-sized aluminum-clad SSD (solid state drive) packs a whallop when it comes to storage space. Available in three flavours – 500Gb, 1Tb and 2Tb – the portable drive is reported to have a transfer speed of up to 540Mb per second (through a USB 3.1 Gen 2 10Gbps connection), which is blazingly fast for a portable drive. The aluminum body means things are kept nice and cool and it’s sturdy, too, claimed to be able to withstand falls from up to 2m.

Look, there’s not much I can really say about an SSD: It’s not as if it’s like a phone and it has multiple applications. The drive does one thing: Let you store stuff and access stuff – and it does it extremely well. I used it to store work content and  a couple of (legally owned movies (John Wick and Star Wars The Force Awakens) that I watched during a two-day work trip, and it does what it says on the box. It’s Windows/Mac/Android compatible, meaning you can use it to transfer content from your Android smartphone to help free up space.

The T5 will set you back close to $400  (I found it ranged from #+$344 to $379 online in NZ), so it is on the pricey side, but the T5 is a great all round portable drive that will take care of all your storage needs for some time to come.

Just make sure you don’t forget where you put it: It might take a while to find it, considering it’s so small.

Monster Hunter World diary Part 1: Where I have no idea what I’m doing

Part 1

While not a complete Monster Hunter newbie (I played a Japanese version on the PSP that I bought in Akihibara in 2008) but I’d be foolish to say that I went into Monster Hunter World having a clue on what I was supposed to be doing. That said, I thought I’d chronicle my adventures in MHW with a diary of sorts that describes how as a newbie I found things. I’ve also included a 15 minute video of me hunting a Kula-Ya-Ku bird. The video also features me climbing vines, opening my map a bit, swinging a giant broadsword, possibly eating some mushrooms and then, true to form, fainting and being carted back to my campsite. OK, here we go …

It’s me with my Palicoe buddy. Isn’t he cute?

I’ve only played about two hours of Monster Hunter World but this place is massive. I stuck with a fairly standard looking character, trying to get him to look a little like me, although I don’t have the rugged stubble on the chin that my hero does. I’ve got a cat companion called a Palicoe. I called him (I’m assuming he’s a he) Drew, after my dog. He’s a good companion so it seemed a good fit.

After completing the opening tutorial-like mission, I got to the hub world, and just like the environments, this place seems to sprawl on for ever and ever, another surprise around every corner. I followed the tutorial so I’ve learned how to (I think) upgrade my weapons and armour by going to the smithy and, importantly, how to fuel up before a big quest by gorging my face with food. I just love going to the canteen, ordering a vegetarian meal (I’m not vegetarian) and being served up a huge platter of cheese, drink and a whole fish! Cooked by Palicoes! This place is crazy.

On my first quest, which was really just exploring the world, I took down some low-level dinosaurs (I can’t even remember what they were) and hit in some undergrowth. I stumbled across some footprints that my scoutflies (is that right?) discovered. Apparently there is a big Jagras in the forest somewhere that I need to take down, if I’m up for it. Well, I decided I was up for it, despite not really knowing how combat works and still struggling with my great sword and its slow swing rate.

I followed the Jagras footprints till I eventually came him and what followed was a three-stage battle, with me mashing wildly at the action buttons on the controller, every now and then accidentally sheathing my sword when I thought I was swinging it. The Jagras puffed his chest out a lot and he reminded me a lizardy bullfrog. After a bit, he ran off, leaving me lying on the ground, having to eat mushrooms and smack flying bugs that replenished my vitality. What is this madness?

I still had to defeat the Jagras and the scoutflies lead me to his cave lair, where I found him sleeping – so I did what any good hunter in my position would likely dowould do: I whacked him in the back, hoping to injure him. It didn’t seem to work. Actually, I just seemed to make things worse. Long story short: After a lengthy battle that included hitting explosive flying things that stunned the Jagras, he was down. I was victorious!

I went back to hub world, fuelled up, upgraded my weapons (I still have no real idea what I’m doing but I’m not sporting a rather fetching outfit with armour fused with Jagras skin), chatted to my handler and was told I had to establish a hew camp deep in the forest. A flying monster picked me and Drew up, dropping us at the forward base camp. My handler tells me I have to establish another camp so off I head.

I stroll past some docile monsters, pick up some berries and other plants, and talk to a fisherman. I also collect some mucus, some dung and examine some piles of bones. I think the fisherman tells me he’s the best fisherman in all the land. Who am I to argue?  There’s a researcher woman standing a little bit further up the track. Doesn’t she know there are monsters roaming? I didn’t see if she had a weapon: I think she had a pen and clipboard, thought.

Suddenly, a Jagra appears so I hide in a bush. It walks past me then suddenly a tyrannasauraus-like monster appears. My handler tells me that I’m not to attack it as it is too strong for me. I don’t argue with her.

I eventually find the field leader who was waiting by some climbable vines that I missed completely. I think I walked past him a couple of times before realising I was supposed to talk to him. We climb up the vines, finding a flat piece of ground that will be suitable for a camp – but there’s a Kulu-Ya-Ku bird there, throwing pottery at us. I have to kill it as the camp won’t be safe if he’s wandering about.

I follow the Kulu-Ya-Ku’s phosphorous footprints, finding some doodles along the way, and eventually find him. I start swinging my giant sword at him. He picks up a bolder in his claws and throws it at me. I whack him with my giant sword, it clangs off his tail. What is is made of? Steel? The Kulu-Ya-Ku runs off but I lose track of him. I look at the map. Oh, he’s miles away. I eat some berries and carry on. Eventually, I find him, swinging my sword at him. He whacks me with his tail.

I hit some flying bug: It explodes, stunning the Kulu-Ya-Ku. I rush in for a charged swing but realise I’m facing the wrong was so watch my on-screen character swing wildly nowhere near the Kulu-Ya-Ku. My health is dropping so use the D-pad to scroll through my inventory. I find some raw meat, picking the button that I think will let me eat it. It doesn’t: The meat drops on the ground. I try again: The meat drops on the ground. The Kulu-Ya-Ku throws another rock at me.

Suddenly, a screen prompt tells me to waggle the left stick back and forth: I’ve been stunned. I frantically try but suddenly, I faint. That’s not very hero like, to be honest.

A cut scene suddnely appears, showing a palicoe tipping me off a cart back at the base camp. I decide I’m done for the day and quit the mission. I’ll try again tomorrow, once I’ve eaten a bit and licked my wounds. I’ll get you funny looking Kulu-Ya-Ku bird. I’ll get you yet.

To be continued …

Shadow of the Colossus review: An emotional rollercoaster

Thanks for PlayStation NZ for the review copy of Shadow of the Colossus. (The game was reviewed on a PS4 Pro, mainly using the performance mode but sometimes I switched to the cinematic mode just to check it out. Please note, the two videos included in this review show how to take down two colossi, so if you don’t want to know, don’t watch them.)

If a game is considered a success because of the emotions it arouses in a player, then, for me, Shadow of the Colossus is one of the best games of all time.

Despite its simple premise of a boy on a horse, traversing a vast, empty wasteland in search of 16 giants that he must kill in order to bring back his dead love, Shadow of the Colossus struck an emotional chord with me, so much so much so that I felt guilty about slaughtering some of the colossi, especially the ones that seemed to be minding their own business.

I took no pleasure in hearing their painful moans as I plunged a sword into their skulls, black liquid shooting from the gaping wound (each colossus has one or two glowing marks that must be repeatedly stabbed to kill them).  These massive beasts had done nothing to me but here I was, snuffing out their existence for my own selfish desires. I was feeling guilty about killing virtual giants, most of them shaking the earth as they crashed to the ground, lifeless.

I played the original Shadow of the Colossus on the PlayStation 2 then the remaster on the PlayStation 3 but for some reason, the game didn’t capture me then like it has now. I think I defeated the first two colossi, maybe. It could have had something to do with the less than friendly control scheme, which made for frustrating times and has been remapped here and is a vast improvement (ie it uses the R2 button for grab/hold, which is a much more ideal situation than the original game’s R1). Make no mistake, this is a re-make not a remaster. Be clear on that.

Apart from Wander (our hero), his horse Agro (is this the most wonderfully animated horse in all of video games?) and the colossi, the world is devoid of other life (apart from the odd lizard scurrying about and an eagle that follows Wander): There are no NPCs to converse with, no enemies that jump out from behind a rock to attack you, no traders to upgrade weapons,  and I think the game is all the better for it: It is singularly focused on what you have to do: Kill the colossi and not be distracted by side missions.

I started the game full of vigour and bravado, searching out the lumbering first colossus, and by the mid-point, I was starting to question that perhaps I was the monster, and not the beasts wandering the land. It tugs at your heart-strings and continues plucking as each colossus falls. Most of the colossus aren’t even aggressive towards you.

If you own a PlayStation 4 Pro, you’re in for a treat with Shadow of the Colossus, as the wizards at Bluepoint Games (longtime Sony collaborators) have given you a couple of nice options to play it in: A performance mode, which locks the framerate in at a buttery smooth 60 frames per second or a cinematic mode which pretties the graphics up but locks the frame rate at 30FPS. I played most of my play through using the performance mode: I mean, why wouldn’t you? With a game like this where jumps and perfect timing matters a lot,  a locked 60 frames per second is what you want, and guess what? The frame rate stays at that locked rate. I can’t say I noticed any hiccups or dips while playing. Sure, things look a little nicer in the cinematic mode but I don’t have a 4K TV yet, so I’ll save that mode for when I do have a newer panel.

The soundtrack deserves a mention, too. From the frantic orchestral pieces for each colossi to the quieter moments, the soundtrack is one that I could listen to time and time again. It’s fantastic. The game also has a pretty nifty photo mode, which I used to capture the images that accompany this review. Nice.

Shadow of the Colossus has faults: The camera goes wonky from time to time, obscuring your view of things and trying to climb onto Agro at times can be comical. I was also frustrated by a simple jumping puzzle against the third colossus, Gaius the Knight, for far longer than I should as Wander can’t sprint so I was forever missing the jump, plummeting to the cold water below, forcing me to try again and again and again until I got it.  Wander also can’t swim very well, which means the fight against the colossus that lives in water – Hydrus – extremely frustrating and more difficult than it should have been. I also felt that some colossi weren’t as impressive as others, for example, Gaius’ fight was awesome, Hydrus’ and Phaedra’s not so much.

Ultimately for me, Shadow of the Colossus is a game that evokes emotions –  whether that’s the intention or not by the game’s creators (I’m sure that is the intention) – both over what the player is doing throughout the course of the game and whether it’s all worth it. When a game makes you question what you are doing as a hero, as Shadow of the Colossus does, and makes you think whether you’re doing the right thing, it’s hitting all the right notes. Shadow of the Colossus hits all those notes for me.

 

 

Shadow of the Colossus: The Knight & the next one after that

I’m making my way through Shadow of the Colossus, the PlayStation 4 remake of the 2005 game which originally appeared on the PlayStation 2, but until my review appears, I thought I’d share a video of the game’s third colossi, the Knight, and the game’s fourth colossi, which I can’t remember the name of. Whatever its name is, it took far too long to defeat as I kept falling off (plus it took a long time to get into the right position). Review before the weekend, hopefully.

Enjoy the videos.