Detroit Become Human review: Android unrest

Ever wondered what happens when robots become tired of their human masters and decide to push back?

French game maker David Cage has, and that’s the core idea behind his latest PlayStation 4 game Detroit Become Human, and for me, it’s his best one yet. It’s a game clearly steeped in themes of slavery, segregation (androids have to ride buses in an android-only compartment) and civil rights.

Detroit was first revealed to the gaming public through the Kara tech demo back in 2012 (which, as a nice nod to the foundations for the game, is an unlockable in the game’s Extra’s section) and I enjoyed Heavy Rain, a noir-style detective story despite the clumsy way it handled some things. However, I wasn’t a fan of Cage’s  Beyond Two Souls.

Fast forward to 2018, and Detroit Become Human shows that Cage has learned from the criticisms pointed at his previous games. Cage seems to have a love-hate relationship with gamers and critics alike: You either like what he does, or you don’t – there is no in-between.

With Detroit, Cage wisely decided to step down from the sole writing role and was part of a team that developed and narrative, and it shows, with a more grounded, more believable narrative than in his previous games, with characters I actually became invested in as the story developed. I’ve never felt like that with any of Cage’s previous games as I found his writing in games like Fahrenheit and Beyond Two Souls was clumsy, meaning I didn’t give a monkey’s about most of the characters.

Of the three androids that take the lead rolls in Detroit’s narrative – Kara (a domestic android who looks after a young girl Alice and her abusive father, Todd), Markus (works for a kind, well-known painter) and Connor (the world’s first android detective hunting for androids that have gone rogue against their human masters) – which ponders what would happen if Artificial Intelligence actually pushed back against its human masters, Connor was the most intriguing for me. I think it had a lot to do with the fact that Connor’s story seems to have more complex layers but also because he’s partnered with a human detective (voiced wonderfully by Highlander/Starship Troopers/The Shawshank Redemption actor Clancy Brown), and the two just have this wonderful developing relationship as both try to work together, learning the intricacies of the other and trying out how the other ticks.

Connor able to gather clues at a crime scene then reconstruct the events. Once an event has been reconstructed, you can use L2 and R2 to forward and rewind through the recreation to time stamps, which can be scanned to open up new information. While t his mechanic isn’t new to games (a similar one was used in DontNod’s rather good Remember Me), it adds a nice layer to Connor’s detective abilities.

After each character’s chapter has finished (the game follows the Kara, Markus and Connor throughout the course of the game), there’s a flowchart that shows how the decisions you made at one juncture lead to the final outcome. In many of the flow charts, there were many more paths I could have taken so there’s definitely replay value here for the completionist gamer who wants to see how different behaviours or actions can change the outcome of a particular story thread.

Cage is clearly using the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” train of thought when it comes to the control scheme as he’s used the familiar scheme from his previous games where you use the right thumb stick to trace patterns that will get the character to interact with his or her surroundings or perform actions (thankfully, there is no ridiculous scenarios like “Press X to Jason” like there was in Heavy Rain)

The dialogue in Detroit is just so much better than in both Heavy Rain and Beyond Two Souls that conversations between characters feels more natural and believable, and giving the right answer or asking the right question will often unlock another dialogue branch, allowing the narrative to go deeper.

The game is still quick time event heavy, though (hey, it’s a David Cage game), and I still managed to bumble some of the fast-paced QTE sequences in the latter parts of the game, especially during fight or chase sequences, but I blame my ageing old-man fingers. I did wonder sometimes, though, how my failure at some of the QTEs had impacted on the storyline.

Technically, Detroit Become Human really does sing on the PlayStation 4, too, with highly detailed environments and character models, and at times, the in-game graphics actually look better than the pre-rendered in-game cinematics, which is generally the opposite in most current generation games.

Detroit Become Human might miss the mark a little in its comparing the plight of long-suffering android to be akin to the civil rights movement in the United States, but  I enjoyed it and while still stumbling from time to time, it’s a nicely paced narrative-driven drama that I can see myself wanting to play through again to experience the multi-branching story threads.

 

 

Old Man’s Journey review

Old Man’s Journey, from indie developer Broken Rules, is a game for those moments when you want to contemplate and stop and smell the roses.

It’s a game for quiet times when you want something soothing and non-confronting.  It looks like a child’s water- colour book, full of pastel colours and memories of a younger time that make you smile.

The game starts with the titular Old Man receiving a letter from the postman than seems to concern him so he dons a backpack and starts on a journey. A long journey that sees him traverse hills, mountain villages, sea ports and everything in between by foot, boat and train – and have to avoid the odd flock of sheep along the way!

The quirk with this game is that you can re-shape the landscape to make paths for the old man to traverse. Can’t get across to that bridge? Just gently drag that background hill closer, enabling the Old Man to jump the gap and continue on. There are limits, though: You can’t re-shape the “line” the old man is standing on and you can’t stretch a hill further than it is capable of going.

Despite its shortness, Old Man’s Journey is punctuated by delightful moments: During a train journey as the locomotive races along the countryside, you have to join the track beneath the speeding train. If you click the bell in the lighthouse of a sea-side town, the Old Man reminisces about a wedding years ago (I’m guessing his wedding?)

If I had one criticism with Old Man’s Journey,  it would be the inclusion of “handcrafted, pressure-free puzzles (the developer’s words)”. An example of these puzzles is sometimes having to move on a flock of sheep that are blocking your path: It just felt a little unnecessary.

Old Man’s Journey is a delightful game that manages to evoke an emotional story without the spoken work just by using hand-drawn art and the emotions they conjure up.

Old Man’s Journey is available on Nintendo Switch ($US9.99), Windows PC, Mac and iOS/Android. Thanks to Broken Rules for providing a review code for Old Man’s Journey.

State of Decay 2 review: Brains, machetes & zombies

Image supplied

I’ve decided that when push comes to shove  I’d be useless when the zombie apocalypse strikes.

Of course, I’ve decided this after playing Undead Labs’ State of Decay 2, the new zombie survival game on the Xbox One (and Windows 10 PCs), but let me explain: I’d be fine when it comes to actually killing the aforementioned zombies.

I’ve got using machetes, chef’s knifes, baseball bats and tyre irons  to cave in zombie skulls and lop off zombie limbs down to a fine art but it’s the other stuff that you need to survive that I might struggle with. The keeping other people alive part.

You see, State of Decay 2, like the game before it (Unfortunately, I couldn’t find my original review of State of Decay but I don’t think I rated it that highly, to be honest. I remember it was quite buggy), is a zombie survival game where you have to not only ensure your survival but also that of a rag-tag bunch of colleagues that have banded together to ensure the survival of the human race from the zombie scourge.

Success in the game not only revolves around killing the aforementioned zombies but by establishing bases, scavenging for food and resources and generally ensuring your fellow survivors are well fed, well rested, happy and, importantly of all, have all their limbs at the end of each day.

The game opens with you having to turn a ramshackle property into a fortified base: It means climbing cellphone towers and billboards, using the vantage points to search for anything that can provide supplies: medical centres, petrol (gas) stations, hospital, shopping malls and military barracks for anything – and everything – that will help in your survival. Scraps of metal can be used to build stronger fortifications and work benches that can be used to upgrade and repair weapons, and scavenged seeds can be used to grow crops for your fellow survivors.

State of Decay 2 is a zombie survival game where killing zombies is just part of it. Oh, and it also has permadeath. Let that sink in for a minute: If you or one of your squad mates dies, they’re dead for good. There’s no respawning: They’re dead, gone, kaput, six feet under, sleeping with the fishes …

Image supplied

State of Decay 2 brings some tension to the searching for supplies front as often you’ll be looking over your virtual shoulder for imminent zombie attacks as you sift through a chilly bin or a bookcase for stuff. You can do a fast search but it makes so much noise that you might as well yell at the top of your lungs “Hey, zees. I’m over here. Come and get some!

Something I learned early on was to survive for any length of time you need a vehicle but unlike other games, cars aren’t blessed with infinite amounts of petrol to keep them going. Some cars have a 1/4 tank, some will have 1/2 a tank. It depends – so you’ll often have to scavenge more fuel.

You can’t carry limitless amounts of supplies in your rucksack, either. Eventually, you’ll realise you can’t always take everything you want so sometimes it becomes a internal debate with yourself on whether you should take the boom box or the medicine (I’d take the medicine any day but that’s just me). I’ll say again: Getting a vehicle early on is extremely helpful as it means you can transfer backpack contents to the vehicle, freeing up inventory space.

State of Decay 2 has some promise as it’s much, much deeper than a zombie-fest game like,  say Dead Rising, and the spectre of character permadeath hanging over it means you tend to be more tactical in situations  rather than rush in all guns blazing but not all is perfect in this zee-infested world.

The game is buggy.  I played the game before and after a mid-review period 6Gb update was made available. At one point, a character I was talking to had no head. He just sat there on a bench, talking, with no head on his shoulders. It was quite disconcerting.

Character models are rough (with a couple of early characters that I met being downright scary looking) and for a current current generation Xbox One  game, I felt it look pretty last generation at times, to be honest, with flat and lifeless textures.

I lost count of the number of times I got a vehicle stuck on a rock that frankly it should have cleared easily, too. None of the bugs I came across were game-breaking  but it seems to be a worrying trend this generation of some publishers releasing games in a less-than-ideal state then patching out all the problems later. It’s a trend I’m not a fan off.

It’s also frustrating that if you want to swap to another character because you need another skill set or materials your current characters doesn’t have, you have to quit the current mission as you can’t do it on the fly.

No doubt, State of Decay 2 will find favour with fans of the series like the original did, and the inclusion this time of a co-op mode will widen its fan base (my son didn’t want to play co-op with me so I was unable to test out the mode for this review)  but personally, I’d wait until the inevitable patches start coming  to iron out the bugs before venturing forth into these zombie-infested wastelands.

Review code kindly supplied by Xbox New Zealand.

 

Nintendo launching new adjustable stand for the Switch

I love my Nintendo Switch: Until God of War came along it was my go-to gaming console when I wanted to relax with some digital delights.

I have to admit, however, I’ve been frustrated sometimes with the tiny kickstand that props the Switch up when you want to do some tabletop-gaming: It’s never seemed that stable to me (although, I’ve never had any catastrophes of the Switch tipping over type with it).

If only there was a stand of some sort of stand for the Switch that lets you tilt the viewing angle while using the console in tabletop-mode while at the same time letting you charge it.  Well, it’s as if Nintendo has listened to me, because  it’s launching a new adjustable charging stand on July 13. 

Priced at $AU29.95 (so I’m expecting about $NZ40), the adjustable stand has a port for an AC adapter on the side, letting you charge and play at the same time.

Nintendo says that the angle of the stand can also be adjusted to create the best viewing angle.

Nice one, Nintendo.

A bit late to the party: Mad Max (2015)

A bit late to the party is an occasional series where I play a game that came out some time ago that other people say is worth playing. First up, is Avalanche Game’s Mad Max which came out in 2015.

I never got around to playing Mad Max, the game, when it first came out.

I remember seeing the movie and thinking it was “Alright” but it didn’t blow me away like other people so when the game was released I wasn’t that interested in playing it. Maybe it’s because I’m a Kiwi and the movie is set in Australia and I wasn’t invested in the country.

Strangely, though, I remember watching some YouTube You Plays of people playing Mad Max and being captivated by the game mechanics and the game world. I still didn’t play the game, though. A few weeks ago a few people I know were posting on social media how Mad Max is an underrated game that more people should play. That piqued my interest and recently, thanks to Xbox NZ which has provided me with a year subscription to its Xbox Game Pass service, I decided to download Mad Max which is offered through the service.

And you know what? The game is growing on me, despite seemingly having a focus on car customisation of Max’s vehicle – the Magnum Opus – and driving, and a control scheme that at times seems less intuitive than it should.

I’m only an hour or so in but the narrative is developing nicely (featuring a nasty chap called Scarborus Scrote): Max, the main character, has met hunchback mechanic Chumbucket, who acts like a portable car repair shop, crouched in the boot of Max’s car as it roars through sand dunes and shipwrecks. Chumbucket lives in the rusting hull of a giant container ship and refers to it as the tabernacle. He worships the car like it is sacred, his language interspersed with references to car terms. This game is a petrolhead’s wet dream.

The game seems to draw nicely on the themes and characters from the Mad Max movies (both the most recent one and the ones featuring Mel Gibson) and it seems that the game has a rather deep car  (and Max) customisation system. I’m really enjoying the harpoon that you can install on the Magnum Opus and use it to rip out the fuel tanks – and drivers – of other vehicles, as well as parts of enemy fortifications. You can also customise Max with a beard, if you like.

I’m going to try to play a little more of Mad Max this weekend but from what I’ve played so far, I think I’ll enjoy exploring the dune wastelands of apocalyptic Australia!

Have you played Mad Max, the game? What did you think?

 

Pint-sized powerhouse: JBL Flip 4 review

JBL Flip 4 bluetooth speaker (from $105 online)

The Flip 4 retails at a price closest to the UE Wonderboom and the UE Roll, both of which I have used a lot and are fantastic speakers.

Being a longtime fan of the UE series, I was somewhat skeptical about the so called “Boom killer” Flip 4 and its ability to outperform my beloved Wonderboom. I was however, pleasantly surprised.

The Flip 4 delivered stunning lows and highs, which is something that is pretty rare with bluetooth speakers these days, with manufacturers often favouring one at the expense of the other.

A good example of this is the Beats Pill, where the low-end (bass) is over emphasized and the mid range suffers. This is not the case with JBL’s newest addition to the portable speaker market. In fact it is probably the best sounding portable speaker in its price range I’ve ever used, period.

The design of the Flip 4 hasn’t changed too much from its predecessor. With JBL opting to pour more focus on what’s under the hood, with improvements aimed towards better sound quality and battery life, as well as full waterproofing.

New additions include speakerphone capabilities and a more durable fabric covering. It still can’t float though, so if you drop it in the ocean, you can kiss it goodbye, but it does have a waterproof fabric cover.

As we all know, Africa by Toto is the greatest song of all time, so naturally it was the first song that I played on the Flip 4. It has quickly become my go-to testing song for both Bluetooth speakers and headphones. You will be pleased to know that your Toto listening is a pleasant experience on the JBL Flip 4.

Review by Mitchell Campbell

 

A video of me playing God of War on PlayStation 4 Pro for several minutes

The new God of War is out now on PS4 and if you’re sitting on the fence on whether you should buy it for your PlayStation 4, let this 13-minute or so video of me playing the game help you out.

You can also read my review here (but I was assuming you’d read it already, anyway) if you want more convincing God of War is a great game.

The video doesn’t spoil anything as it’s from the opening hour of the game so enjoy.

God of War: All hail to the king

At its heart, God of War on the PlayStation 4 is a road trip featuring an angry God trying to bond with his son and forget his past, and a son who wants to be a warrior like his father but doesn’t know how.

As road trips go, this is a helluva ride, as Kratos and his young son Atreus trek to a formidable mountain to bury the ashes of the warrior’s recently deceased wife, but as fathers go, Kratos has a bit to learn and is, quite frankly, a bit of a dick to Atreus.

During an early hunting trip when Atreus misses a shot at a deer and tells Kratos he’s sorry, the bearded God simply replies: “Don’t be sorry. Be better.” Several times, Atreus frequently calls Kratos “Sir”, rather than father or dad.

Not that Kratos doesn’t try to work on his relationship with Atreus: There are  moments when Kratos wants to connect with his son – a comforting hand on the boy’s shoulder, a word of encouragement – but Kratos is clearly unsure of what it means to be a good, caring father so those fleeting moments are brief and his gruffness returns.

As the journey to the highest mountain in the realm progresses, Kratos tries to be a father by telling (rather bad) stories to Atreus as they row a canoe across a giant lake and it’s clear that the relationship between the two evolves and ever changes (Kratos becomes a little softer at times, Atreus pushes back a little) .

Kratos and the relationship with Atreus isn’t the only major change here: The scenery, too, is different, moving from Ancient Greece to Midgard, home of Norse mythos and the mighty vikings. The change in location is welcome and it’s littered with lush forests, ice-covered mountains and deep caverns and, of course, it’s all steeped in Norse legend.

Combat is dramatically changed from previous games in the series but, in my opinion, for the better. Kratos no longer has the blades of chaos that he swings from chains wrapped around his bandaged forearms (although, as if a nod to the past, he still wears the bloodied bandages) , instead he has the leviathan axe, a mystical weapon forged by two dwarfs who also created the mighty hammer of Thor. The axe can be hurled at enemies  then snapped back to Kratos like a boomerang, adding a new dimension to the combat.

The combat is still as bloody as ever, with brutal finishing moves that will cleave an enemy in half, and Atreus is  on hand to unleashing a barrage of arrows on foes as well as choke them with his bow’s string.. The combat feels satisfying and visceral although, at times it seems like it takes cheap shots by throwing in smaller enemies to the mix as you battle larger foes.  I’m not really that keen on being attacked from behind while I’m trying to avoid the fiery breath of a soul eater!

Beginning its life on the PlayStation 2,  the God of War series has always been about spectacle and Kratos’ place in the world, and this new GOW has spectacle aplenty but in previous games, Kratos was often dwarfed by his surroundings (remember the opening fight in GOW3 on the earth mother Gaia? The camera pulls back and you see Kratos is miniscule compared to his surroundings), now, Kratos is given real stature in the world,  real gravitas.

He’s now no longer dwarfed by the world as dramatically. Shifting the camera to behind Kratos’ shoulders as he moves, too, helps with this scale and shows you just how big he is. He dwarfs Atreus, who is wiry and small.

Kratos can upgrade everything from his armour and skills  to his weapons  using items found in the game world and a currency called hacksilver, and you can also upgrade Atreus’ kit as well. Quick time button presses are here but they don’t overstay their welcome, and now when you open chests you do’t have to mash buttons furiously like you used to do. The environmental puzzles won’t have you scratching your head and have you stumped for ages, either, but are clever enough that you’ll murmur a quiet “Ahhh …” when you solve one.

If you’re playing on a PS4 Pro, like I am, you’re in for a treat: God of War looks fantastic, even on my 1080p HD 55-inch TV, with amazing attention to detail and jaw-dropping vistas, and the game is bursting with colour and vibrancy.

The game world is filled with small details: Glowing particles float in the air from fires, muscles twitch underneath Krato’s skin as he moves, his beard is flecked with grey hairs, bark hangs from tree trunks. This is the best looking God of War ever without a doubt.

PlayStation 4 Pro can also chose either performance mode, which will give a better frame rate, or resolution mode, which will output at a resolution of 2160p checkerboarded. I played most of the game on the resolution mode as I like things to look purdy and the frame rate stays pretty rock solid. You’ll can also select a less intrusive UI (user interface), which means less screen clutter but personally, I like to see how much health my enemies have left.

The PS4 might not be the most powerful console in the world, but you know what? God of War is proof of what can be done when a publisher establishes a development studio like Santa Monica Studio then backs it and allows it the creative freedom to go wild and do what it does best. God of War is the result.

Ultimately, Santa Monica Studio has brought us a tale featuring a boy and a man trying to get to know each other in some pretty trying circumstances but, my word, what an adventure it is.

Simply put, God of War is one of the best games I’ve played this generation. Pure and simple.

Thanks to PlayStation NZ for an advanced copy of God of War, which is out on PlayStation 4 on April 20.

 

Tuesday Teaser: God of War media kit

Let’s not beat about the bush, eh: Chances are you knew this was coming, given I’ve talked about media kits before.

It’s no secret that PlayStation does some of the best media kits in the business and I’ve been lucky enough in my writing career to have received a few PlayStation media kits in the past.

So, without further ado, I present to you, the God of War (PS4)  media kit in all its glory. It’s another stunner from PlayStation.

There’s a review embargo on God of War until 7.01pm on Thursday, April 12 so who knows I might post some impressions when the embargo lifts. I might even capture some video footage if you’re keen to see what it looks like running on the PS4 Pro.

Feast your eyes!

Far Cry 5 review: Open-world shennanigans

Far Cry 5 is the game that has made me realise that perhaps my reflexes aren’t up to scratch when it comes to modern first person shooters.

I’m fine with the shooting. In fact, I’m a dab hand with the game’s hunting bow, a weapon that lets me pick off enemies silently and one-by-one. It’s a great feeling to sneak into an enemy encampment and clear it out without setting off an alarm.

No, the part of FC5 that is causing me issues is the driving. Once I put the pedal to the metal, things become all slippery and slidey and I tend to get up close and personal with trees. During one optional mission, where I had to drive a race car through a circuit of flaming checkpoints, I lost control so many times  on tight corners and hit so many trees that I gave up.

Far Cry 5: It seems your driving may be the death of me (and yes, I realise admitting this will open me up to criticisms of “You suck, at games!)

My journey with the Far Cry series started way back when the original Far Cry came out on PC from developer Crytek (and Ubisoft wasn’t even in the picture). Set on a lush, tropical island, it was a PC-destroying game that was great fun, despite losing its way a little when the mutant monsters appeared. The Far Cry series has seen it visit Africa and Nepal and this time we’re in Hope County, Montana, where cult leader Joseph Seed – named The Father by his followers  – reigns and doesn’t take kindly to outsiders.

Like the most recent Far Cry games, Number is open-world, meaning there is a plethora of stuff to do when you’re not dealing with the main story mission. Sometimes, like Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed series, I feel as if the series suffers from too much bloat at times, with almost too much to do.

Narrative-wise, Far Cry 5 is perhaps more relevant for the modern age – a religious Middle American zealot named Joseph Seed is preaching the end of the world for sinners  – but it’s nothing original: Bad guy out to rule the world, good guy has to stop him (but must first stop Seed’s crazed siblings as well.

The game play in numero 5 feels familiar and while Joseph Seed maybe not as memorable as say,  Vaas Montenegro, from FC3, or Pagan Min, from FC4, he’s suitably crazy. One early mission, though, summed up for me all that’s  frustrating with open-world games from time to time.

In it, you have to retrieve the Death Wish, a souped-up and heavily armed off-roader owned by Merle and which has been hijacked by the resident cult. The Death Wish is being driven around by a VIP cult member, so he is a little tougher than your run-of-the-mill cultists.

Stop and retrieve sounds easy, right? Well, yeah, but what seems like a simple mission is hindered by the fact that the cultist is driving the Death Wish on a road, which means that as you wait in ambush to capture it or grab a vehicle to try and ram it off its pre-programmed route, you’re spotted by other cultists as they drive past, meaning the mission is continually punctuated by chaotic fire fights as more and more vehicles drive past and more and more cultists join the fight.

After dying for the umpteenth time because things just got too chaotic and my AI-companion managed to get himself pinned between a truck and a power pole, I re-spawned in a field, not far from the main road the Death Wish was driving on. Unfortunately, I had spawned next to a group of rather pissed off wild boar, which proceeded to gore me  to death. Oh, at one point, a cougar suddenly appeared, mauling my AI companion while a gun fight was going on. Madness!

Eventually, I managed to hijack enough cultist vehicles (including a tractor) that I was able to block the road, cornering the Death Wish and its rather hardy driver. Mission accomplished, I proceeded to drive the Death Wish back to Merle, after which we proceeded to attack a cult compound.

I’d actually like to travel from point A to point B in my car, on a road,  without every few moments turning into a gunfight because the enemy AI in every car that drives past spots me and opens fire. Friends told me to drive off-road to avoid that but, really, should I have to drive off-road just to avoid other AI?

I think, too, sometimes in FC5 there is so much going on, it’s almost a distraction. There are Hope County residents to liberate, animals to hunt and skins to sell, compounds to seize, stashes to raid, things to explode but at times I almost wish it was a bit more linear and wasn’t so “go where ever you want, do what ever you want, when you want”.

At the end of the day, Far Cry 5 is competent at what it does without setting the world on fire, which isn’t a bad thing if you like playing open-world games that throw you onto the landscape and say “Go to it, lad”.It’s a lot of fun at times.

Oh, and if I can offer one piece of advice, it’s this: Watch out for the turkeys.