PC · PlayStation 4 · Uncategorized · Xbox One

Prey impressions: Did that coffee mug just move? DID IT JUST MOVE??

Here are my thoughts so far on Prey, the first-person shooter set in space from Bethesda. I haven’t finished the game yet but thought I’d let you know what I thought from what I’ve played. I’m playing on Xbox One using a code supplied by Bethesda

If Prey has taught me one thing, it’s this: Be wary of coffee mugs.

You heard me right: Be wary of coffee mugs. And office chairs. And globes. And bath towels. You see, in Prey, sometimes items aren’t what they seem. They could be the game’s alien life form, called a mimic, that’s out to eat your face.

Set in the year 2035 on the Talos 1 space station (in an era when John F Kennedy wasn’t assassinated and Russia and the US are working together to build the first space station), Prey is, I guess, a re-imagining (of sorts) of the original Prey, with the player controlling Morgan Yu, a scientist/test subject who has to find out what has caused a breakout of the alien mimic life form. As we’ve seen in many games before Prey, Yu can’t remember what has gone before so as he explores the Talos 1 things and events become a lot clearer.

Prey has a real Bioshock/Half Life/Dishonored feel about – and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Half Life because, well, the first weapon Yu finds is a wrench, Bioshock because Yu can upgrade his abilities (through a skill tree)  using augmentations called neuromods and Dishonored because the studio behind the Dishonored games – Arkane Studios – is also the developer behind Prey.

What follows is exploration and fetch quests as Yu wanders about Talos 1, trying to get to the bottom of what caused the mimic containment break. It’s an amalgam of several games, wrapped up into one. The mimics are the game’s enemies and smaller ones are black, spider-like creatures that can suck the life force from humans, causing them to multiply. They’re also incredibly fast and can often jump at you from nowhere. The wrench comes in handy with the smaller mimics but weapons like shotguns, a gun that fires blogs of glue and a pistol is handy against larger humanoid enemies like phantoms, which often have powers of their own and move incredibly swiftly. A nice touch are the service robots – called operators – that can be fabricated to repair your suit and heal you up. Another nice touch is that you can recycle all the junk you’ll inevitably pick up (lemon peels, scraps of paper, alcohol bottles) using recycling machines and turn them into materials, both organic and synthetic, that can be used to create equipment and weapons.

I have to admit that I jumped a few times while playing Prey. It’s not because it’s overly scary, because it’s not, but it’s because I just seem to wuss out when it comes to horror/survival games. I can watch horror movies no problem but horror video games? Man, I need to keep a spare pair of underwear handy. I guess it’s because with horror movies it’s easy to see what’s going to happen. With horror games, I genuinely find I have no idea what’s going to happen.

With no word of a lie, I stood outside the doorway of a room that was bathed in darkness for 10 minutes, not wanting to go into it, because I was worried some mimic was going to transform from a coffee mug into a spidery alien and try to eat my face. My fears are real, people. My fears are real.

I spent countless times – wrench at the ready – inching forward towards desks with coffee cups resting on them, worried one of them was a mimic. Someone I follow on social media said they found a desk with two coffee cups on it – and one of them rolled to the side, disappearing somewhere in the room. I would have lost it right there.

Eventually, Yu is able to scan the environment for mimics from a distance but, yeah, not knowing whether a coffee cup – or some other object – is actually what it appears to be is quite unnerving.

Missions are what you’d expect – go here and get a keycard that will open a door to another area, go to this room to recover something for someone who will give you a code for something – but there are  some interesting side quests that add to the back story to what happened on the Talos 1 before the mimic containment break. Talos 1 is also an interesting setting, too: It’s a living  space station with crew quarters, kitchens, reactors, medical rooms, cargo bays and nooks and crannies to explore. Prey’s story is an interesting one as well, set in a place where nothing is as it seems.

While nothing like the sequel to the original game (which came out last generation in 2006) that Human Head was working on before Bethesda canned it, so far Prey is a lot of fun that really has a Bioshock/Half Life vibe to it.

One thing is for certain: It’s made me look at coffee mugs in a whole different light.

 

PC · PlayStation 4 · video games · Xbox One

Mass Effect Andromeda thoughts so far

I’m not 100 per cent sure what it is but Mass Effect Andromeda just isn’t geling with me like previous Mass Effect games did.

Sure, it’s been a while since I played and finished Mass Effect 3 (and don’t shoot me but I didn’t have a problem with the way it originally ended before fans made a noise about it and Bioware changed things), so things might be a little fuzzy in my old man brain, but I can remember the narrative and dialogue in ME3 being much better than that in Andromeda. Much, much better.

I don’t what it is with the dialogue in Andromeda. It just feels off. It doesn’t feel right. It feels forced and cliched at times. It feels clunky, too, often delivered unemotionally so I didn’t get invested in the characters and what was happening.

I tried to see if I could find my review of ME3 I did when I wrote for Fairfax NZ but I can’t find it anywhere but I know it was a game that I couldn’t put down as I guided my Commander Shepard to the final battle against the Reapers. Andromeda, which is set 600 years after Mass Effect 3, involves new characters, new situations and new enemies as you guide Pathfinder Ryder through the Andromeda system to find new worlds to inhabit.

Mass Effect Andromeda just isn’t capturing my attention like previous Mass Effect games did. I just don’t want to spend hours playing it like I did Mass Effect 3 and Mass Effect 2. Sure there are a shitload of side quests and while some are genuinely fun, most, sadly, are uninspired.

Since I started playing, the game has been patched, so some of the freaky walking stuff and creepy faces has been removed but things still look a little off to me in the character department. Environment wise, especially planet-side, things look really nice. Andromeda is generally a nice looking game – as some of the screen shots show – when it comes to planets and environments but I’m just not finding it as enjoyable as previous Mass Effect games.

I thought some of the voice acting was flat as well, with some of the voices sounded unemotional and uninterested in what was happening around them.

There’s depth to Bioware’s latest game, though, with a deep skill tree for players to customise their Pathfinder to exactly the type of hero they want. Those gamers who love tinkering with stats and the like will find much to keep them busy here as Andromeda has a lot of boosts, buffs and augments to experiment with.

Does her face look a little odd or is it just me? It’s the lips, right?
This guy’s standing just a little too close: Like bisecting my Ryder a little too close!
This NPC is called Angry Woman. Yes, Angry Woman.

The combat was solid enough, with the upgradable biotic powers useful in close quarters combat, depending on the skill tree you were going down. One thing I didn’t like, though, was a Sudoku-like puzzle that has to be solved when you tackle the game’s vaults.

I’ve never been good at Sudoku so these really frustrated the hell out of me (It wasn’t helped by the fact that most of the time you’ were forced to fight remnant forces every time you got the puzzle wrong).

The in-game menu system was confusing to navigate easily and graphical glitches abound: From NPCs doing weird things to stuff just sinking through other objects. I don’t know whether it was just my game but every time Ryder initially excited the Tempest (his spaceship) he wasn’t wearing a helmet but a split second later, he was wearing a helmet (Funnily, enough, Ryder’s squad mates weren’t wearing helmets, though). Personally, I feel as if the game could have done with a few more months in the oven, to polish things up a little.

Look, glitches aside and less-than-inspiring dialogue,  Andromeda isn’t a bad game and I’ll likely stick it out for a few more hours just to see what happens but for me, it’s just not a great, must-buy-right-now game, and that’s kind of sad when you think about it.

 

 

 

PlayStation 4 · video games

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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PlayStation 4 · video games

Horizon Zero Dawn: The world of Aloy in pictures

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Horizon Zero Dawn is out tomorrow on PS4 – and it’s good. Very good.

I’ve played for a few hours in the Nora shoes of main character Aloy, an outcast who must save the people who abandoned her from a robotic evil, and the game looks stunning. It’s probably one of the most visually arresting games I’ve played on a console.

So, to make the most of those sumptuous visuals, developer Guerrilla have included a rather neat photo mode that lets you tweak a whole lot of settings so you can get that perfect screenshot (including determining the time of day, moving the camera up or down as if on a crane and, nicely, an option to remove the HUD and characters from the scene).

I’ve played around with the photo mode so thought I’d post a few of the images I’ve captured so far. Horizon Zero Dawn is a game that makes you want to stop and take screenshots.

Enjoy.

Thanks to PlayStation for the review copy of Horizon Zero Dawn.

 

PlayStation 4

Horizon Zero Dawn developer interview: Making a world full of robotic dinosaurs

Senior producer on Horizon Zero Dawn Joel Eschler.
Senior producer on Horizon Zero Dawn Joel Eschler.

Joel Eschler, a senior producer on Horizon Zero Dawn, the PlayStation 4-exclusive third-person action RPG from Dutch video game developer Guerrilla, readily admits he’s a control freak but it’s a trait that he believes helps make better games.

On Horizon Zero Dawn, Joel oversaw the game’s environment art which included managing the teams responsible for the game world, lighting and the creation of assets for the game. “My general day-to-day is managing the team at large and managing our goals and making sure we’re shipping the game on time and having it looking awesome. He joined Guerrilla at the beginning of 2016, having worked for 2K in Australia.

Joel says he’s a naturally organised person and a “control freak so a lot of what I do in my day-to-day sort of comes from that OCD side of you that something’s not being done in the best way and you need to correct that. I mean, that’s the most basic level of my job.”

Aloy confronts a watcher.
Aloy confronts a watcher.

Before starting work as a tester with 2K 10 years ago, Joel was studying astrophysics in Sydney. He agrees that it was quite the career shift. “Yeah, I guess it goes to show that when you’re growing up as a kid and you think you know what you want to be that you have no idea. I always grew up playing and loving games but never really thought about having a career in them. I always thought I wanted to study the universe but I had a gap year in university and started work as a tester at 2K and I kind of got sucked in and it’s 10 years later, still going and enjoying it more and more.”

Joel thanks his astrophysics background for helping in his game industry career.

“I think that logical way of thinking and being organised and driven towards certain goals and looking at things as a puzzle to solve maybe, and also being able to recognise patterns, if you drill mathematics down to its basic looking for patterns , I think it has helped. Making games you need to be creative and passionate but you also need someone to be organised. When you kind of put all those things together, a game comes out.

herd_1434425337Asked if making a game like Horizon Zero Dawn was a big risk for Guerrilla, a developer more known for its first-person shooter Killzone series, Joel agrees, adding it was a huge risk for the Dutch development company.

“Not only for the scope of the project, but there was also an existing risk of playing it safe as well. I don’t know what the size of the studio was when HZD started but I think if you make the same kind of game, even if you layer on new features and make it look better and everything, sometimes, I think, people start to look elsewhere for bigger changes and differences so  I think there was difficult for the studio staying on the same track but at the same time the pitch for HZD was so huge and open world.”

Joel says while Killzone Shadowfall added a lot of colour to that universe that the previous ones didn’t have, Horizon Zero Dawn was on a “whole different level, going from that muted pallette to the huge amounts of colour”.

“I think it sparked that interest and that passion within the team really early on and when the pitch was made, I think people really wanted to make it happen. It had all the risks [technically] but it was managed really well with the planning and hiring externally with people who had experience with chained quests and open-world story  building.”

Making the game wasn’t without its challenges, says Joel.

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Aloy and Rost from Horizon Zero Dawn.

” I think Guerrilla had skills in building tactical games but it was all very linear and you knew what to expect:  If you had the player come around this corner, you could have this event happen but going from that to building a world where the player can almost do anything and everything, and to make it fun, I think that was definitely a challenge for the designers. ”

As the game progressed, Joel says the development team had to build a system that took into account the way the ecology was in the world, how the machines moved around, the skills that Aloy had in it.

“That was a challenge and I think that’s been solved by a number of different systems interacting together. On the technical side, there were a lot of challenges, especially the building of a world of this size and populating it with foliage and interesting landmarks. We didn’t have time to hand place every tree and every bush so they had to build a procedural system that would interact with the location in the world, that would determine what the weather would be, that would tell them what type of trees and bushes would be there. The programmers had a real field day testing themselves and coming up with systems that could build a world that didn’t need any hands to touch it. I thought that was really cool.”

scouts_1434425345So, why robot dinosaurs in Guerrilla’s new game?

“I think in its simplest form the original pitch for HZD given within the studio was the post-apocalyptic world which had been overgrown by nature. Aloy and the machines, and the concept art, that was enough for people to start think ‘Why wasn’t society around anymore?’,  ‘Who is this character?’, ‘What happened – and what the hell are these machines?’  It all sparked from there, with people speculating about the world narrative. It was a snowball that kept on growing.”

Guerrilla games hasn’t been know in the past for its ground-breaking narratives so with Horizon Zero Dawn the development team pulled out all the stops, recruiting John Gonzales, the writer who penned the story for Fallout New Vegas, to head the narrative team.

” Aloy’s story was one that was worked on really hard and Guerrilla did a big recruitment drive to expand out the narrative team. We have John Gonzales, who is our narrative director, and we recruited other people as well who had experience doing immersive narratives within open-worlds. The approach to the narrative was kind of two-fold: There was the world building, which was the tribes that are around Horizon’s worlds, their history, their beliefs, their political structure, that sort of thing, and then there is Aloy’s story, and then on top of that the more personal stories of the inhabitants of the world. So there was definitely a huge focus on building the narrative.”

aloy_village_logo_1465873567Joel says the game’s lead female character, Aloy, was part of the game since inception and the narrative was written as a coming of age story with her having to discover the world and her purpose in it. “I really hope when people get the game that they really latch on to her. We’re really happy with the by-product of having Aloy as a character and showing that anyone can be a hero, that anyone can be interesting and you don’t have to limit yourself to bold, space marines.

“We tried to create this living, breathing world and  think about how they would see their place within it and Aloy is our hero in the traditional video game sense but really as you start out the game she’s actually an outcast from society as a child and you find out pretty early on in the game how that happened so it’s more her trying to prove to herself and prove to the world that she’s living in that she is worthwhile she works on making herself invaluable in the world.”

Now that the game is almost in shops, Joel says the team has lived up to their expectations. ” People were leaving other studios to come and work at Guerrilla. A lot of team are really happy and having a chance to play the game at length for the first time. They’re talking about machines that they ran into on the world that they didn’t know we created, and quests that they didn’t know were there.”

Horizon Zero Dawn is out on the PlayStation 4 on March 1. I’ll get a review up as soon as humanly possible.

PlayStation 4 · video games · Xbox One

Dead Rising 4 review: Jingle bells, jingle bells

Many of you may know that I have a teenage son, Mitchell, who is a pretty dab hand at stringing a few words together as well as a fine gamer (he can kick my arse when we play co-op). He’s a long time fan of the Dead Rising series so I thought who better to give Dead Rising 4 to than him. So I did. Enjoy.

 

In Dead Rising 4, you return to Willamette, the setting for the first game.
In Dead Rising 4, you return to Willamette, the setting for the first game.

Video games have come a long way from when they were first developed over 40 years ago. What was once a simple principle involving sending a little white ball from one side of the screen to the other between two white slabs, has now become a multi-billion dollar industry. The term “video game” is incredibly broad and continues to expand every day as new games that break the barrier of what is considered to be a conventional video game are developed.

However broad this term may be, zombies and video games go hand in hand. Raise your hand if when you think of video games, you think of zombies?( If you did in fact raise your hand, you probably shouldn’t blindly follow the instructions of an article.) All jokes aside, you wouldn’t be alone if you did put zombies and video games in the same basket. In fact, I probably would, too.

The Dead Rising series is potentially the most successful zombies franchise to date, ruling out Call of Duty zombies because technically it’s a game mode, not a primary franchise.

The Dead Rising series was the first zombie, beat ’em up game that I truly delved into and continue to thoroughly enjoy to this day. The fourth installment of the main series brings us back to its origins somewhat, as the original protagonist, Frank West, a photojournalist looking for his big scoop, is brought back with more badassery than ever before.

Dead Rising 4 is set in Willamette, just like the first game, but the world is immensely bigger. Unlike the first Dead Rising, you are not just limited to the confines of the mall the entire time, which is a welcome change, as you can explore the chaos that has unfolded in Willamette since the first outbreak. That’s right! I said the FIRST outbreak. Willamette has had a pretty unlucky run. DR4 is set sixteen years after the events of the first game, during the Christmas period, and one year after the events of Dead Rising 3, though feeling as if it acts as a soft reboot of the series. The Christmas theme does get a little irritating after a while though, I’m not going to lie.

I can’t help but feel as if Capcom have gone for style over substance in DR4, which is a real shame. For longtime fans of the series like myself who have been playing since the first game will feel a slight hint of nostalgia when entering Willamette’s Parkview mall, which was the primary setting for the first Dead Rising.

Willamette Mall in its Christmas livery.
Willamette Mall in its Christmas livery.

However similar the new Parkview mall appears visually, the flow just isn’t the same – something just doesn’t feel right. Perhaps it’s the fact that not as much focus was put into the mall itself in DR4 because it only acts as a transition point from getting one from one side of Willamette to the other, rather than the setting for the whole game like in the original.

It appears as if the mall’s main focus is pointless areas like a lacklustre go-kart track and a shipwrecked pirate ship. I feel like this primary focus on these nonsensical areas took away the nostalgic feeling from the first game and didn’t add any memorable personality. Capcom really missed out on massive opportunity to capitalize on the nostalgia and bring back an iconic classic to excite the fans. Instead the new Parkview mall just doesn’t feel the same.

What I love about Dead Rising 4, though,  is that, yes there is a clear story to follow, (a fairly decent one too, I might add) but if you just wanted to mess around and free roam, there is nothing to stop you from doing so.

If you’re feeling so inclined as to “chop till you drop” without thinking too much, you can, which is a really awesome thing. I won’t say too much about the ending because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone if they decided to purchase DR4, but I will say that it pissed me right off (but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.)

If you’re a longtime fan of the series, this is a definite pick up, as it brings back that classic Dead Rising feel into a whole new story. I wouldn’t say that the story is amazing in comparison to some other big titles of 2016, but as far as a beat’em up story goes, it is pretty great. I do not believe that anyone would be disappointed or regret their decision in purchasing Dead Rising 4, as long as they go into it treating it like a whole new game and not some direct comparison to the original.

Nostalgia is a funny effect that often leads us to believe that what we have experienced in the past is far superior to what we have now, even if it wasn’t. So my advice is, do not play Dead Rising 4 and find every single flaw or gripe with the game and constantly think that it is sub par because they changed a few minor details. Entering with an open mind guarantees that you will enjoy the game. I think that’s where most reviewers have gone wrong. They treated it as a direct sequel to the original, rather than a series reboot.

What Capcom have managed to do is recreate the same sense of absurdity through the game’s crafting system. The crafting is still hilariously fun. There are so many different combos that make absolutely no sense whatsoever but still make for a truly enjoyable experience, there is no denying that Dead Rising 4 is fun. I can’t remember the last game that I played where it was possible to have so much fun by doing absolutely nothing. There is nothing better than coming home after a long, hard day at work, putting your feet up and slaying hordes of zombies with big hulk fists.

A Christmas wreath + a car battery = a whole lot of carnage!
A Christmas wreath + a car battery = a whole lot of carnage!

To this day, the Dead Rising franchise is the only series in which I can think of, where a player would trade an assault rifle for a knife and a pair of boxing gloves. That’s what makes the game so enjoyable. The fact that you can have so much fun with something so stupid as a Christmas wreath and a car battery is an incredible thing and really speaks wonders about what Capcom has been able to achieve with the series.

Dead Rising 4 was played through to completion on Xbox One using a code provided by Xbox NZ.

PlayStation 4 · video games

The Last Guardian: A boy and his dog/cat/eagle thing

The Last Guardian™_20161130214145The Last Guardian is about a boy and the dog/bird/eagle he finds himself with and their journey together.

It’s beautiful, it’s heart-warming, it’s charming, it’s emotional, but it’s also yell inducingly frustrating at times and shows the strain of it’s almost 9 year development cycle – but I love it to bits.

The game starts with the unnamed boy, covered in weird tattoos, lying next to the  wounded dog/cat/eagle, a shackle around his neck, chaining him to the ground. It’s rocky relationship to start with: The boy has to gain the trust of the creature by removing spears from his feathery hide and find him food, but as the relationship develops, the pair find they need each other to negotiate the game world and escape. Before too long the pair are inseparable, relying on each other to survive. It’s a story of survival and friendship.

Trico is undoubtably the star of the show: He’s a marvellous creation that exhibits behaviour unlike any video game animal I’ve seen before. He behaves and acts like you’d expect  say a cat or dog to: He cautiously puts a paw forward as he enters a room he’s not sure about, his eyes glowing brightly and wide open; He’ll suddenly scratch behind an ear, feathers fluttering around; He’ll jump backwards and forwards across towering pillars as he tries to keep an eye on you as you negotiate a puzzle; He’ll jump up and down in excitement after wiping out a troop of the game’s glowing eyed, armour-wielding warrior dudes out to get you.

He bellows and roars when he’s hungry and agitated, his eyes glow depending on his mood.  He cowers in fear when confronted by strange glass “eyes” until you’ve smashed or destroyed them. Trico is remarkable, remarkable beast and one that I quickly became very fond of.

The Last Guardian™_20161205231119But like my real-life Samoyed Drew, though, Trico can, at times, be too realistic, not doing what you want him to or go where you want him to. Just like my dog Drew.

At times, Trico is stubborn and unpredictable. Just like my dog Drew.

“Trico is like a real animal, ” people will say, “they’re unpredictable. He’s unpredictable. That’s part of his charm”.

Well, that might work in the real world where I accept I have to deal with my dog’s stubbornness,  but I play video games to escape the real world, not to face the same problems I face with my dog in real-life.

Trico’s stubbornness really came to the fore in two puzzles in the game involving water: Both took multiple attempts to solve – and a couple of complete restarts of my PS4 to kickstart the AI – before Trico actually decided to play ball and do what he was supposed to do.  I was literally yelling at him to do what I was telling him. These two puzzles became a frustrating trial-and-error scenario where he just refused to do anything I told him. Frankly, it shouldn’t be this hard to control a video game animal.

Look, situations like this didn’t make me like the overall experience of the game any less, but it did mar the experience at little and frustrate the hell out of me.

The Last Guardian™_20161130221348One of the other annoyances in the game is the camera.  Frankly, at times it’s a bastard, often obscuring your view so you can’t actually see what’s going on or where you have to go, especially in a tight spot where a jump is required, or zooms in so close to the action that your screen turns black, blocking your view.

For a game that has been in development for so long, there was plenty of time to get the camera right. Again it didn’t ruin the overall experience for me,  but I’d be lying if it didn’t frustrate me a lot and have me  yelling at the screen sometimes because I just couldn’t see what the hell was happening, especially when I was trying to guide the boy back onto Trico’s back while being attacked by armour-wielding warrior dudes that wanted nothing more than to kidnap me and pull me into the walls.

It’s strange: For every frustration The Last Guardian threw at me, something wonderful and magical happened next to calm me down.

The Last Guardian is a flawed game, there’s no denying that, and at times it shows its age and PlayStation 3-designed root (especially in some of texture work), but despite all of that, I can look past those flaws because  The Last Guardian is a beautiful game that tugged at my heart-strings with its telling of an incredibly emotional journey of boy and dog/bird/eagle thing. The more I played, the more I loved Trico and his mannerisms, frustrations and all.

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Something that took my breath away  was the sheer scale of the game, too: You can’t help but be impressed with director Fumito Ueda’s direction when you look at the size of the structures and environments of the game, especially when the boy is standing at the top of a massive tower and you see what lies beneath you.  The sense of scale is immense and you really do feel as if you’re clambering about a massive centuries-old forgotten city with crumbling towers, delapidated buidings and ruins.

Animation of Trico and the boy are also impressive, too, with Trico’s mannerisms so lifelike that you’d think you were watching your own animal (if you have one). It’s those little touches that give Trico and the boy those real-life qualities.

The Last Guardian is a flawed game, and I’d be lying if I said you won’t get frustrated playing it, because you will, but play it for the amazing story of friendship and adversity between a boy and a dog/cat/eagle thing and you’ll find a game that has a lead character that will capture your heart like it did mine and take you on a rollercoaster ride that will have your emotions on edge.

PC · PlayStation 4 · Xbox One

Watchdogs 2: Hacking in San Francisco

Let’s get this out of the way first, shall we?

Marcus Holloway can take selfies around the virtual city of San Francisco.
Marcus Holloway can take selfies around the virtual city of San Francisco.

I get the feeling that Watchdogs 2 is the game that Ubisoft wishes the first Watchdogs was.

The first Watchdogs was massively overhyped by Ubisoft and I think that was its downfall, to be honest. It was never going to live up to the massive expectation Ubisoft heaped upon it.

I bought Watchdogs on PC but stopped playing it after a handful of hours (I was part way through a mission where main character Aidan Pearce had to infiltrate an inner city prison) because, frankly, I lost interest.

WATCH_DOGS® 2_20161130182756Watchdogs 2, by comparison, is a complete contrast to the original. Instead of being dark and gloomy, Watchdogs 2 is popping with bright colours and sprinkled with popular culture. Its lead character Marcus Holloway is a much more personable and likeable character than Pearce ever was, too.  Holloway is a genuinely interesting character,  even if the underground hacker group that he joins is a little too clichéd and seems like the game’s writers watched too many ’80s movies to get inspiration. Marcus is quite with a witty response and has a swagger about him that just fits with the more jaunty vibe of Watchdogs 2.

With a narrative tightly focused on Marcus’ hacker group using the power of social media and popular media to bring down the conglomerate behind the increasingly pervasive ctOS, Holloway can hack just about everything in the city, from scissor lifts and control panels to garage doors and other people’s phones. It’s intuitive and works nicely and there’s something satisfying about being able to blow up an underground pipe after you’ve driven over it, causing issues to anyone pursuing you. Doing that never got tired.

WATCH_DOGS® 2_20161130180820Marcus has a few gadgets at his disposal, too, to help hack the world, with an airborne drone and small motorised drone, a RC jumper that he can deploy  to infiltrate tricky environments, places, highlight enemies and even remotely hack computers to make things easier as he skulks through enemy territory.

Like all open world games these days, Watchdog 2 is overflowing with an abundance of activities to do but I almost wondered at times if there were too many things to do. Marcus’ phone seemed to be constantly buzzing with a new quest or side mission. The story takes pot shots at popular culture (Scientology for example) but as nice looking and vibrant as Watchdogs 2 is something kept nagging at me while I was playing it, gnawing at my brain.

Then I realised what it was: I kept on comparing Watchdogs 2’s game world to that of GTAV – and Rockstar’s open-world masterpiece just kept on trumping Ubisoft’s San Francisco. GTAV just seems to do open-world so much better than the others. It’s cities looked lived in and populated. Look, Watchdogs is a great game but I guess if you put any open-world game up against GTAV, its shortcomings are always going to come to the fore.

You can pat dogs in Watchdogs 2. Nice.
You can pat dogs in Watchdogs 2. Nice.

The main story missions are the standard “Go here, do this/collect this/talk to this person then move to the next one” variety but I found Watchdogs was a lot more enjoyable and at its best when you go off the beaten track and forget about the main story missions. Doing things like using your phone’s Scout app to track down landmarks dotted about San Francisco and take a selfie in front of it to gain more followers, petting dogs, eavesdropping on conversations. Watchdogs 2 doesn’t take itself too seriously and I like that.

It has some things that niggled me. The police force in particular is really, really aggressive (in fact, I found the security forces in the game in general really aggressive). Once, I slightly grazed a police car as I negotiated a two-lane road. Instead of the minor reaction from the police I was suspecting, suddenly I was being chased by five police cars, complete with a police woman yelling at the top of her lungs for me to pull over. When I eventually stopped, I was expecting a telling off and to get arrested. Nope: Two cops pulled out guns and started shooting. Talk about over reaction, fellas.

I haven’t touched on any of the multiplayer because, frankly, I don’t really play multiplayer but there is something called seamless multiplayer which I’m guessing is when another play can enter your game and attempts to hack your phone. This happened to me twice and  you have to find the person before they download your data and escape.

The first time I didn’t find the guy (he was on an overpass above where I was) but the second time I found the guy hiding behind a bush nearby. He took off and I gave chase, trying to hit him comically with taser bolts: It didn’t work. He hijacked a motorbike and drove off. It was interesting, to say the least.

WATCH_DOGS® 2_20161130180552Watchdogs 2 is a fun game that has a lot of charm and it’s much better than the dark original and it shows that Ubisoft has learned some things as it refines its open-world games. Sure, the narrative is  a little too bogged down in clichés for my liking but I grew to (kind of) like Marcus’ fellow hackers the more the game progressed.

Watchdogs 2 isn’t my favourite game of the year and it doesn’t do anything innovative to move the open-world genre along – and if you’re bored with open-world games that tick all the required boxes, then this isn’t the game for you – but its fun for a bit, and worth a look if you want a game that has an upbeat vibe and plenty of content to keep you occupied for a while.

  • Thanks to Ubisoft for the PS4 review copy of Watchdogs 2.
PC · PlayStation 4 · video games · Xbox One

Dishonored 2 thoughts: Two for the price of one

Here are some impressions of Dishonored 2. I’ve sunk about 10 hours in so far but thought I’d give some thoughts before it’s too late and the game has slipped from the end of year radar. If you’re wanting a review that delves into minute features of how the movement is or how the controls feel, go elsewhere: You’re not going to find too much of that here.  Thanks for reading.

I really wish I had the far reach power that Emily Kaldwin in Dishonored 2 has.

Far reach gives Emily the ability to reach high obstacles or cover distance in a short space of time. Once it’s upgraded, you can also grab objects and generally cause havoc around the cities of Dunwall and Karnaca.

Dishonored 2_20161124204212I’ve already thought long and hard how I’d used far reach. SHAZAM! I’d far reach to the kitchen from the longue to turn on the coffee machine; KAPOW! I’d transport up to the roof to clear out the gutter beside the garage that I should have done months ago;WAP! I’d transport myself to the front of queue at the coffee van outside work. Sure, far reach is great for stealthing into buildings through high open windows or out-of-reach doors but, man, imagine the possibilities during the normal work day.

Actually, now that I think about it Domino (a power that lets Emily link up to three people together, delivering the same fate) would also make an amazingly good power to have when I’m stuck in a conversation  at a social gathering I can’t get out .

throne-610
Emily Kaldwin and Corvo Attano, the two main characters in Dishonored 2. You can play as both, this time (not at the same time, obviously).

OK, domestic use of Dishonored 2’s powers aside, the game is set 15 years after the events of the original and long story short centres around the player having to reclaim the throne of Dunwall after a usurper – Delilah – suddenly appears and seizes control. Expect a tale of supernatural powers to soon follow as you play either as Emily Kaldwin, the deposed monarch of Dunwall, or Corvo Attano, the assassin from the first game and Emily’s father and protector.

Veterans of the first game will know that there two play styles you can take with Dishonored 2:  Low chaos, where you try to be as stealthy as possible, generally strangling people unconscious and hiding the bodies; and High chaos, where it’s hell be damned and woe betide anyone that gets in front of your blade/pistol/grenade/spiritual form as you leave a bloody mess in your wake.

Like the first Dishonored, I intended to play low chaos and after the first mission all was going well: I’d killed no-one and made sure I’d hidden unconscious bodies. Sadly, as it did with the first game, everything turned to custard at the Addermine Institute and my low chaos plan went out the window. From there, it was a mixture of both play styles.

Dishonored 2_20161124204915
The heart of Emily’s dead mother, Queen Jessamine, helps locate runes and bonecharms that can be used to upgrade abilities.

Part of what I like about the Dishonored games are the supernatural powers that are fuelled by magical runes and bonecharms dotted about the game world.  Corvo’s powers include Blink, which teleports him to a chosen point; Devouring swarm, which conjures up rats that dispose of dead bodies; and Bend time, which lets him slow down time, while Emily’s powers include Far reach, which propels her to another point; Shadow walk, which turns her into a shadow, and (personal favourite), Domino, which lets Emily link up to three enemies together so they share the same fate. Sure they can make Corvo or Emily overpowered at times, but hell, they’re fun.

I decided to play through as Emily as while I like Corvo, I felt that Emily was the chance to play as a new character that I hadn’t played as before. When I have a spare 20 hours or so, I’ll play through again as Corvo.

Far reach and domino were without a doubt the best powers for me while playing as Emily, and played with a mix of the two and dark vision, a sonar-like power that shows the location of nearby enemies, I was able to generally make my way through the game world without too much trouble. I really like that using a combination of the powers means you can find routes to objectives that aren’t immediately obvious. I like that about the Dishonored series: I you think about things you can usually find a couple of ways to reach a destination.

I played the PlayStation 4 version (I was keen to play the PC version but, frankly, my GPU wouldn’t be able to play the game well anyway. Plus, the issues with the PC version are well documented) and visually,  Dishonored 2 looks nice, with the rustic artistic style of the original that looks realistic in places (faces, water) but stylised in others (buildings, the general world). Karnaca also feels more a city than Dunwall did in the original game, with far more citizens going about their business

The clockwork soldiers freaked me out. Seriously.
The clockwork soldiers freaked me out. Seriously.

Enemy AI is much smarter this time around, almost to the point sometimes of being overly alert to your presence if one of them spots you, as my son found out on his way to the Clockwork Mansion during his play through and had to restart multiple times after being spotted by an overzealous guard (which alerted every other guard nearby). The clockwork soldiers in the mansion, too, are a pain in the arse if you get cornered by one.

On the technical side, load times on PS4 are noticeably long, and are long when the game has to reload after you die. I wonder whether a faster drive would help load times but I’ve no idea. I also noticed frame rate drops during periods of intense melee combat where sometimes you’ll have to fend off three or four attackers. That’s not ideal when you want to block and fend off foes.

karnacadishonored2There is the odd graphical glitch every now and the odd weird thing every now and then: In one mission, an enemy that I was about to stealth knockout suddenly disappeared from view (she was also floating in mid-air instead of the railing she was supposed to be sitting on) & in the same mission, I was suddenly informed that a key character had been eliminated while I was heading towards her office – to eliminate her.  Thanks a lot, game!

I haven’t had a lot of time to play this week (plus my son is hogging the PS4) but I’ve got about three missions left until the game’s finale. I’ve enjoyed what I’ve played so far but is it as good as the original, which I played on PC? I’m really not sure yet. I’m enjoying it but I don’t think the narrative is as strong as the original game’s was.

Only three “missions” to go till I’ve really made up my mind, eh?

If you’ve got any questions about the game, ask away in the comments section and I’ll do my best to answer them.

PlayStation 4 · VR

PlayStation VR: my verdict

Despite being in its infancy, for many gamers, VR is the future.

Oculus, HTC, Samsung and now PlayStation have an entrant in the virtual reality market but is it the second coming of gaming? After spending a considerable amount of time with PlayStation’s VR headset, I’m not convinced we’re there yet.

Yeah, that's me using the PSVR at Sony NZ's headquarters in Auckland.
Yeah, that’s me using the PSVR at Sony NZ’s headquarters in Auckland.

I’ve already blogged about my first hands-on with the PSVR: At a controlled event while I was up in Auckland last month. I was wanting to test the headset in a normal home environment where things wouldn’t be perfect so thanks to PlayStation NZ, I got the option late last month when it sent me down a review unit PSVR for a week or so (it has since gone back to Sony).

Set up was probably about 20 minutes, all up from unpacking from the courier box to switching it on,  which I didn’t think was too bad.

I really didn’t appreciate how many cables are involved with the PSVR There are a lot of cables: HDMI cables from the TV to the PS4; cables from the processing box that decodes the signal from the PS4 to the headset; the cables from the processing box to the headset.

Just keep in mind there are cables when you’re “in the zone” and using the headset. You can flick the cables out of the way so you don’t trip over them but I demoed the PSVR to a group of 12 and 13 year olds at my wife’s school and a couple of times children almost got tangled in the cables. Just be aware.

A close up of the PlayStation VR headset.The headset is comfortable but, for some reason, it just didn’t feel as comfortable as when I wore a headset at PlayStation. At home, I had to have the back part up quite high on the back of my head, meaning at times light crept underneath the front of the unit.

Something I did notice using the headset at home that I didn’t notice during my hands-on with PlayStation was a quite pronounced screen door effect when transitioning between scenes and waiting for games to load. I’ve read the PSVR doesn’t have a screen door effect but I definitely saw it here.

After a couple of weeks using the PSVR the question is: Would I rush out and buy one? Not right now, no, and here’s why.

My reasoning for that is because while the headset is comfortable and PlayStation is making VR accessible to a mainstream audience I still think the price is higher than it needs to be, especially given that in New Zealand you have to buy (or already own) the PS4 camera and Move controllers. There isn’t a pack that contains everything you need. You don’t need the Move controllers for all the games, though,  so you can save some money by not buying any, I guess.

Personally, thought, I don’t think there are enough good games/experiences to make it worth purchasing right now. Eve Valkyrie is a great space sim that really draws you in with its visuals but it’s MP mostly.

Until Dawn: Rush of Blood a surprisingly good VR game on the PSVR.
Until Dawn: Rush of Blood a surprisingly good VR game on the PSVR.

batmanarkhamvrBatman Arkham VR also worth a look (but it’s not long). Job Simulator was a lot of fun but I got bored with Battlezone quickly. Until Dawn: Rush of Blood is probably the most impressive experience, and it is genuinely scary and a nice extension of Until Dawn.

The PSVR does come with VR Worlds, but it’s just seemed to be a disc of demos that you can buy to unlock the full experience. It’s a good tech demo of what VR is capable of but won’t keep you occupied for long.

I also played Hustle Kings, a pool game, but for some reason, I had to use the PS4 controller rather than the Move controllers to play. It just didn’t seem right using the controller for a pool game.

After about a week, I was using the PSVR less and less: I was getting less enthusiastic about the games. Until the big titles start appearing, I don’t see the PSVR, as good as the technology is, as a must-have for gamers. It’s good fun, for a bit, but then you’ll put it down and go back to your traditional gaming formats.

Look, give PSVR a year and I think the price would have dropped and there will be an awesome selection of games to show off what it can really do, but right now, I wouldn’t buy one and it’s not going to replace me gaming with my consoles or PC anytime soon.