Author Archives: Gamejunkienz

Black Friday is almost on us!

 

Black Friday is fast approaching –  the day following US Thanksgiving and generally the busiest shopping day of the year in the US  – and price and comparison site PriceSpy, has told me that  the number of Kiwis searching out Black Friday discounts is growing exponentially, increasing for a second year running.

Black Friday sales must becoming more popular in NZ these days as I’m seeing more and more retailers pimping their sales.

Liisa Matinvesi-Bassett, New Zealand country manager for PriceSpy, says Black Friday is fast becoming a serious sales shopping day for Kiwis who are looking to buy products at a more affordable price ahead of Christmas.  In 2016, PriceSpy witnessed a 61 per cent per cent year on year increase in visitor numbers on Black Friday and last year, this number grew a further 14 per cent.

PriceSpy reckons based on historical data, Black Friday is now three times larger than any other Friday during November.

It’s not all bargains, though, as Martinvesi-Bassett says for the last two years PriceSpy’s figures show 10 per cent of all products listed on the site actually received a price hike on Black Friday. Similarly, 17 per cent of the top 100 products listed on our site last Black Friday, also increased in price by an average nine per cent.

“We therefore couldn’t recommend strongly enough that consumers need to do their research ahead of time, as there’s nothing worse than making a purchase to later find you could have bought it cheaper on another day,”she says.

PriceSpy is also predicting that the most popular NZ stores for Black Friday shopping will be PB Tech,Expert Infotech,Harvey Norman, Mighty Ape and Heathcote Appliances. PriceSpy also predicts the most popular items will be Sony’s WH-1000XM3 headphones, Samsung’s Galaxy S8 smart phone, Ultimate Ears UE Boom 2, Apple AirPods, Apple iPad 9.7” 32GB, LG’s 65-inch OLED TV,Dyson’s V8 Absolute vacuum,Fitbit’s  Charge 2 sport watch,Sony’s  Playstation 4 Pro console andGoPro’s  Hero 7 sports camera.

I guess we’ll see whether it was right next week, won’t we?

So, anyone got anything they’re planning to pick up on Black Friday?

Bite sized reviews: Forza Horizon 4 and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

Forza Horizon 4 (Microsoft Game Studios) Reviewed on Xbox One

What is it: It’s a car racing game, where you, well, race lots of different cars (buggies, trucks, sports cars, muscle cars) around some gorgeous English countryside.

What can you do in it and what I liked:  Simply put, you drive cars around roads but look, while I’ve never been a huge ‘fan of racing games, there’s something pretty special about driving a virtual car through a quaint village – taking out road signs, trading paint with other cars and then crashing into stone walls. You can race against AI controlled vehicles or just sightsee along back country roads. I also like that there aren’t loot boxes anywhere to be seen and the addition of seasons really showcases the visuals.

What can’t you do in it and what didn’t I like: Well, you can’t drive your car into lakes and abandon it. Believe me, I tried. Several times but the car just kept warping back to the road side. Disappointing, Microsoft. Jokes aside, the AI for other cars is pretty stupid at times, and the loot boxes might be gone but the wheel spins that are used to dish out rewards just seems a little tacky.

Verdict: Forza Horizon 4 is a dream for motor racing fans and Playground Games have scored another hit with its automotive monster. It could also be the best looking racing game on the planet and if you’re a diehard racing game fan, this could be just the ticket for you and your Xbox One.

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey (Ubisoft) Reviewed on Xbox One

What is it: The latest installment of the AC series where characters relive the memories of ancestors from the past using a device called the Animus. This time we visit Ancient Greece.

What I liked: Like previous AC games there’s a lot of climbing and stealth and killing. Lots and lots of killing. I like, though, that Ubisoft has tried some new stuff here with things like dialogue options during conversations and the combat is deeper than previous titles (although it took me a little time to get the perfect parry).  You also get to explore ancient Greece which is pretty cool (I liked the Egyptian setting of the previous AC game, too, but Greece is a nice touch).

What I didn’t like: While I enjoyed the opening Spartan battle scene, involving  King Leonidas  (it reminded me a lot about the movie 300. There’s even an achievement called 300), my poor launch Xbox One seemed to be creaking under the strain of all the on-screen enemies . There were also a few visible stutters during cut scenes and during game play . 

Verdict: Look, it’s an Assassin’s Creed game so if you’ve played one, you’ll know what to expect. This one, though, relies a lot more on RPG mechanics where you have to make smart choices about equipment and skills so there’s more brains to this one than previous titles, which I liked a lot. AC Odyssey is a solid game but, sadly for it, I played Red Dead Redemption 2 before it and  Rockstar’s game spoiled my enjoyment of Ubisoft’s latest. Make no mistake, I will go back to ancient Greece once I’ve finished exploring the American frontier.

XO18: I’m underwhelmed

Today, Xbox held its XO18 showcase in Mexico and, being completely honest, I was a little underwhelmed. I was looking for a compelling reason to keep playing games on my Xbox One on, and, sadly, I didn’t find one after watching XO18.

I sort of feel that Xbox could have saved itself some money and just tweeted its announcements rather than hold XO18, which would have no doubt costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to put together.

To my eye, the bulk of XO18 was dedicated to Game Pass – Xbox’s monthly subscription service where you can download a great back catalogue of games, and new releases – and that’s not a criticism of the service: It’s a great platform for Microsoft. Sixteen new titles are coming to the service (including Ori & the Blind Forest, Kingdom: Two Crowns and Thomas Was Alone), as well as additional content for already released Xbox games like Sea of Thieves (which is getting a “fast-paced” standalone PvP mode called The Arena), Forza Horizon 4 (which is getting a new off-shore location called Fortune Island) and State of Decay 2  and  … not much else. At least, nothing that interested me. I’ve played a lot of the games on Game Pass.

I’m not into PUBG so I couldn’t care less that it’s coming to Game Pass this week, Crackdown 3 has been in development for so long that I just can’t muster up any enthusiasm for it, which is a shame as I loved the original Crackdown. It’s nice that the original Crackdown is available on Game Pass now (I haven’t checked the NZ store so I don’t know if it’s there or not), but I have zero interest in the third edition in the series. One highlight was that Hellblade Senua’s Sacrifice is coming to Game Pass next month, and if you haven’t played Ninja Theory’s latest then, please, please, please download it when you get the chance. It’s a cracker.

I wasn’t expecting hardware announcements at XO18 but while Xbox said there wouldn’t be Halo news here, it would have been nice for those gamers who are pining for news on the Master Chief’s next adventure. Where were the new IP that will generate hype and sell consoles? It wasn’t there and I feel that was a lost opportunity for Xbox.

There’s no denying Game Pass is a great service and well worth the monthly fee but I kind of feel that, deep down, Xbox have given up on this console generation and is now looking to the future, laying the foundations for the next generation consoles. I mean, why else would it  invest in studios like Obsidian Entertainment and inXile Entertainment unless it had grand plans for the next generation and are laying the ground work now?

There is also no denying that the Xbox One X is the most powerful console of this generation and one that is best for playing multi-platform titles on. That’s a documented fact , as is the Xbox One X’s ability to play games at 4K at a stable frame rate, but I don’t feel that Xbox have leveraged that hardware’s superiority against the PlayStation.

Maybe developers are still coming to grips with the intricacies of the Xbox One X hardware, and that’s understandable, but I don’t see the point in having “The world’s most powerful console” if you don’t have exclusive titles that will convince gamers to buy your console over that of the competition. It might play multi-platform titles the best but, you know what? I want exclusive games on my consoles, not just prettier versions of ones available on the competition.

I was hoping for so much from XO18 but I was left wanting more.

Why I was wrong about Red Dead Redemption 2

Note: I will not be doing a review of Red Dead Redemption 2, and not because I bought my copy and didn’t get a review copy from Rockstar. I want to enjoy the game for what it is and not have to pick it to pieces for a review. I also haven’t read a single review: I don’t want to spoil the story for me. What follows, though, is some thoughts on why my initial opinion about the game was wrong.

“Hindsight is  a wonderful thing,”so the commonly uttered phrase goes, and in my case, it is entirely appropriate for Rockstar’s Red Redemption 2, a game I initially criticised on social media but now, with hindsight, and several hours of game play under my belt, I’ve changed my opinion.

Here’s the offending tweet here:

OK, so it’s clear from that social media tidbit that I didn’t enjoy the game’s opening couple of hours, which, to be far, are rather pedestrian. Well, they are: Most of it is tutorial stuff spent in a snowy landscape (the snow does look fantastic, though) and the controls don’t make sense at times.

If I had a dollar for every time I pressed a button that I thought would do one thing (get on my horse) but  did something completely different thing (punch said horse in the neck), I’d probably have at least $10 by now. The controls seem stuck in the past, initially making no  sense. I’m still trying to get used to the dead eye mechanic that slows down time during duels (I’m not talking about standard dead eye: I’ve got that sorted, by the way):  It took me about 10 attempts to defeat one opponent, as I just couldn’t work out how to manage it. He killed me every time.

RDR 2 is gorgeous, by the way. It is probably the best looking game I’ve played in a long time. I’m playing on a PS4 Pro on a Samsung 1080p TV with super sampling enabled & it’s jaw-dropping at times, especially as dusk falls, casting shadowy light across the landscape or when you’re caught in a rain storm, lightning striking in the distance.

Problematic controls aside, I’ve stuck with RDR2 for two reasons: 1), because I paid $94 of my own money for it and I want to see if through to the end & 2) the more I play it, the more I realised it isn’t the fast-paced game I was trying to make it. The last few games I’ve played have been fast-paced action games – Spider-Man, God of War – so  my muscle memory is used to the in-your-face, fast-paced action. RDR2 isn’t like that: It’s deliberately slower paced, actually forcing the player to methodically work their way through it, step by step, piece by piece..

After a few hours, I  realised  Rockstar has deliberately slowed down the pace of the game at times so that you actually soak in the game world its countless developers have created [Oh, and yes, I’m well aware of the furore surrounding Rockstar’s crunch period around the game and fully support the criticism around overly long work hours. I hope those responsible for RDR2 are fairly compensated for the hours they have put into it. They deserve it .]

I realised that RDR2 isn’t about racing from point A to point B, ignoring what is happening around you: It is about meandering from one town to another, taking in the small details that bring the game and its main character Arthur Morgan to life.

Things like when Arthur gets snow on his jacket, and he goes into a house, it slowly melts.  Like when he wants a cup of coffee at the camp, he rustles into his satchel, pulling out a mug and pouring coffee into it (then discarding the dregs before putting the mug back into his satchel). Like the ruts and corrugations created by horse’s hooves and wagon wheels as they plow through mud. Like how dead bounty hunters leave impressions in the mud where they’ve fallen after a gun fight. Like the lively banter that goes on during a party around a camp fire. RDR2 is a game full of small details that make the world seem alive more than any other Rockstar game before it.

Heck, when you save the game and come back to it, I’ve found Arthur asleep against a rock or leaning on his saddle, atop his horse, contemplating what is going on.

Red Dead Redemption 2 is unapologetically slow-paced and almost RPG-like in its management system where you have to make sure that both Arthur and his horse are well rested and nourished before embarking on major adventures. I loved the random encounters in the original RDR but they’re stepped up a notch in RDR2.

I changed my tune in my social media posts, too, proving to me that perhaps I need to think first, post later:

 

 

 

I think I also posted on social media that I was going to go back to Spider-Man, but I haven’t: I’ve played nothing but RDR2 since I bought it a week ago. I should be playing Assassin’s Creed Odyssey for a review but I haven’t even installed it on my Xbox One yet. Red Dead Redemption 2 is taking my every waking gaming moment (and sometimes my dream time, too, as I seem to be going through missions in my head, working out how I could have handled something better).

Look, RDR 2 has its faults – it’s not a 10 out of 10 game for me, – and the attention to detail at times can be a little too much:  Arthur is beautifully animated compared to John Marsden in RDR2  but that means that if you want to stop suddenly mid-run, you have to wait for a slow-down animation to play   but the more I play it, the more entwined I become with Arthur Morgan and his world. I guess what I’m saying is while RDR2 isn’t going to suit everyone, stick with it through the first few slow hours: You’ll thank me for it.

While I didn’t think this at first, I’m now knees deep into RDR2’s narrative and world and I want to know where Arthur’s story goes and what sort of man he becomes.

And you know what? Red Dead Redemption 2 could really be the game that defines this console generation.

 

 

 

 

 

Late to the Party: Spider-Man review

Selfie courtesy of the game’s photo mode.

Late to the Party is a n infrequent feature when I review a game that has been out for a while but I haven’t been able to review it at launch. Today, I’m looking at Spider-Man, on the PlayStation 4, which arrived a day after I had left for vacation in Canada. I was gone for a month.

For me, the Peter Parker in Insomniac’s Spider-Man isn’t the youthful Tom Holland from the most recent Avengers movies (inexperienced and unsure of his abilities), nor Toby Maguire’s Peter Parker (new to the superhero lark), but Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker, a superhero that is comfortable with his abilities and wearing the red-and-blue suit, but a little socially awkward at times.

In Insomniac’s Spider-Man, Peter Parker has been spinning the web for a while now, so he’s come to grips with his abilities and what he is capable of and the narrative features an ensemble cast of well-known villains and characters from Spider-Man lore, including Doctor Otto Octavius (Doc Oct), Martin Li (Mister Negative) Scorpion, Tombstone, Electro, (love interest) Mary Jane, Aunt May and Norman Osborn. The story has Peter defeating crime kingpin Wilson Fisk in the opening moments of the game,  putting him behind bars, only for another crime lord to rise in his place in the form of Martin Li, or Mister Negative.

As I write this, I’ve been back from  Canada for almost a week and have completed about 55 per cent of Spider-Man’s main campaign, collected 50 of the 55 backpacks and done about half a dozen research missions.I’ve also taken on thugs patrolling construction sites, tried to (unsuccessfully) capture wayward pigeons and had my arse kicked (a few times) by men armed with electric whips.

One of the first things that I noticed with Spider-Man is that Insomniac have nailed the swinging mechanic perfectly. Before too long, you’ll be performing acrobatics between skyscrapers towering above the traffic and pedestrian-filled streets and zipping through the air. In fact, the swinging mechanic is so good I didn’t feel the want (or need) to use the game’s fast travel system: It was more fun getting to the location using the old-fashioned Spidey way.

Melee combat is integral to Spider-Man and it’s top-notch, reminding me a lot of the combat in  Rocksteady’s Batman Arkham series, and once I’d got to grips with the plethora of moves and combos, combat was fast and fluid, with me being able to guide Spidey from foe to foe seamlessly, filling up my suit’s focus meter which then let me unleash brutal finishing moves on hapless foes.

I watched my son, who has completed the main story (yeah, yeah, it’ll ruin the story for me. I know), and there were some hallucination sequences that, again, reminded me a heck of a lot of Rocksteady’s Arkham series (you know the segments where a tiny Batman has to sneak around while a giant Scarecrow taunts him). I’m saying that as praise, not a criticism, by the way.

There’s a lot to do in Spider-Man when you’re not doing the main story mission, from collecting backpacks that Peter has left dotted around the city and doing research for Harry Osborn using laboratories he has left around the city to unlocking corrupted communications towers (which is a game mechanic that I think has been done to death in video games) and taking selfies at famous New York landmarks. While some of the busy work seems formulaic, a lot of it was a good break from the hectic moments of the main story.

There’s a benefit to that busywork, too: The more collectibles and side stuff  you complete, the more weapons, gadgets, skills and suit mods you can unlock so there’s a real incentive to do the busy work: The results are well worth it. I mean, what’s not to love about a bomb that explodes, showering all around it with web or electric web that shocks enemies.

One thing I wasn’t a fan of is the wave-based enemy system used when you want to take down construction sites under Fisk’s control and demon bases ruled by Li but defeating bases is essential to unlock in-game Spidey suits, so I tolled away at them, but it was  my least favourite aspect of the game.

Spider-Man doesn’t  invent the wheel when it comes to third-person action games – plenty of other games have done the same thing and Spider-Man does fall into the formulaic overused video game tropes at times  – but Insomniac’s Marvel superhero game is so much bloody fun, with an engaging narrative, well-fleshed out characters and great game mechanics that it’s another reason why, for me, PlayStation is simply owning this console generation hands down.

Now to see if I can complete it before Red Dead Redemption 2 drops this week (I’ve pre-ordered the game: I’m not getting review code). I don’t like my chances.

Reaching for the stars – Starlink: Battle for Atlas review

Ubisoft might be a little late to the party when it comes to toys-that-appear-in-your-games peripherals but with Starlink: Battle for Atlas, the company could have a hit with pint-sized space explorers who like to play with toys as part of the game they’re playing.

Starlink: Battle for Atlas treads the commonly told tale of an evil entity wanting to take over the solar system and it’s up to you to save the day but central to Ubisoft’s space game are the plastic spaceships and figures that use a special mount that fits to your controller then brings the ships to life in-game.

Fox McCloud’s famous starship & the special base that the Joycon’s slot into and the spaceship toy locks into.

I played the Nintendo Switch version (it’s also available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One), where you slide a Joycon onto each side of the mount then attach the spaceship toy/ you have. Each craft and pilot has different abilities and weapons. The toy feels a little heavy on the controller to start with but you soon get used to it. As a bonus for Nintendo Switch players, the Switch version has a toy based off  Fox McCloud’s Arwing spaceship and the wily fox himself – and it’s a beauty of a craft, and Fox plays a major role in the game, with Switch exclusive missions focusing on the Star Fox team.

Fox McCloud in the flesh. Well, plastic. Alongside him is pilot Mason Rana.

  If you’re something of a toy collector then things could get expensive if you decide to buy as many ships as you can afford. The starter pack costs around $118 with additional ships setting you back about $58 a pop for a spaceship. Additional weapons packs cost around $30. You snap on the attachments, which appear in-game and you can swap out weapons and modify them on the fly, depending on the enemy you’re squaring off against.

Some of the other spaceships that you can buy for Starlink: Battle for Atlas.

That said, the toys aren’t necessary to actually play the game so you don’t have to buy them if you don’t want to: You can play it without spending a cent on the ships and weapon attachments, if you want. The game takes place on a variety of planets with different fauna and flora, as well as the Atlas star system, and while there is a bit of a grind where you have to explore planets for clues to help you in your missions, mine for resources, form alliances with other alien races and do busy work for locals to move the story forward,  I was surprised how much of a smile it put on my face. Maybe it was the fact that I was controlling the on-screen spaceship with a controller that looked like the on-screen spaceship. The combat is fast and fluid enough, and it seems to hold a pretty consistent frame rate on the Switch, something that is vital for a game that relies on fast reflexes. It’s a lot of fun, too,  swapping out weapons mid-battle when you realise your initial arsenal isn’t up to scratch, but young players might find the intricacies of weapons management mid-battle  a little daunting, though. Starlink: Battle for Atlas is a lot of fun, even with the grinding busy work and some repetitive missions, but the toys add a different dimension to the game play that will appeal to spaceship fans. Parents, just keep in mind that the cost will mount up if your game fan wants more and more ships and weapons. Heck, 10-year-old me would have danced with delight if I’d been able to play a game like Starlink: Battle for Atlas with its snap-on space ships and weapons. Thanks to Five Eight Distribution for the review copy of Starlinke: Battle for Atlas and the toys.

No blog for a while: I’m on holiday

Morning.

I was hoping to have a review of Spider-Man for you before I left for four weeks holiday in Canada – but, alas, the review code has not appeared. If it does, it’ll after I get back in mid-October, before I kick into Red Dead Redemption 2 (which I’ve pre-ordered).

As the title says, I’m on holiday for four weeks, touring around Canada and its locales. I won’t be updating the blog during that time.

Thanks to those of you that still stick around: I do appreciate your loyalty.

If you follow me on Twitter, I’ll post photos of my Canadian adventures.

See ya.

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