Category Archives: Xbox One

Observation review: “I’m sorry, Emma, I’m afraid I can’t do that” [PC]

It wouldn’t surprise me if the team behind sci-fi thriller Observation – were fans of movies Alien, Event Horizon and 2001 A Space Odyssey.

The game opens aboard the international space station Observation which is above Earth’s orbit after suffering a catastrophic event. The ship’s medical officer Dr Emma Fisher eventually manages to reboot the ship’s AI Sam [System Administration Maintenance] but Sam receives a strange transmission telling him to “BRING HER”. Fast forward a bit and after a second event, the Observation finds itself above Saturn, Sam’s core functions compromised and the rest of Observation’s crew missing. Emma tasks Sam with finding out what has happened.

Sam reminded me a lot of HAL 2000, the ship board AI from Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C Clarke’s 2001 A Space Odyssey [a movie from 1968  that most young gamers, sadly, will know nothing about]. In that movie, HAL 9000 is the sentient AI on a spaceship heading to Jupiter [there’s also a mysterious black monolith discovered by apes, but that’s a story for another day]. HAL turns rogue, responsible for uttering the chilling line “I’m sorry, Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that”.

Controlling Sam, you’re initially tasked by Fisher to assess any damage the ship has suffered, accessing the on board cameras to survey for problems. Sam opens hatches, when requested, provides feedback on ship-wide alerts and can possess remotely controlled drones which give a rather satisfying degree of movement around the ship’s tight confines.

Hints of Event Horizon started to appear for me early in the game when it became clear that all wasn’t as it seemed and Sam started becoming self-aware. When the words “BRING HER” flashed on the screen and a strange floating artifact appeared, I got chills down my spine. For some reason, the Observation itself reminded me a lot of Alien’s Nostromo and while there are no jump scares and it’s not scary, Observation’s atmosphere is tense enough to keep you on your toes.

I started playing Observation with mouse and keyboard but soon realised it would be easier using a controller, especially when it came to some of the puzzles requiring inputting codes using the left stick. The puzzles tend to be either drawing schematic patterns of the Observation’s old-school wiring so Sam can unlock hatches between the four arms of the space station or are inputting “Simple Simon” type patterns to rectify hardware issues such as jammed external clamps or to activate ship-wide protocols.

Despite being set in a futuristic space ship, Observation actually made me go old school, again, and I found myself falling back to my old trusty red notebook, scribbling down patterns and notes and the schematics needed to unlock and lock hatches [hey, my memory isn’t what it used to be]. I took photos of things I considered important. I scribbled down words like “launch codes”, “strange artifact”, “protocol” and “space station”. I sketched weird symbols and patterns that flashed up throughout the game. Observation is one of those games that you may well find yourself jotting down schematics on a piece of paper.

Look, I loved Observation from start to finish, eager to find out what the strange alien artifact was all about and intrigued to see whether Sam would go full HAL 9000 by the game’s conclusion [I actually stayed up till 1am on a school night to finish the game].

I thought the ending was a little too cliched but a twist about the 3/4 mark was a nice touch that turned things on its head for the better. The ending also leaves the door open for a potential sequel. Maybe.

Observation is a great first effort from a new studio. I’m interested to see where developer No Code goes from here with its next game.

Late in the piece while writing this review I learned that some of the members of developer No Code were actually on the team that made The Creative Assembly’s Alien Isolation so, yeah, I guess they are fans of the movie Alien. 

Thanks to Devolver Digital’s Australian distributor for the review code.

‘Tis the season for E3, hear ye, hear ye … trailers & videos incoming!

As my Twitter feed keeps reminding me, the Electronic Entertainment Expo (or E3, for short) is underway in Los Angeles this week, when [most] of vidya game’s biggest  publishers and developers showcase the games they’ve got coming out in the next few months [and over the next year or so].

A notable absence this year is PlayStation: It decided to forgo E3 for reasons.

I suspect they’ll have a strong presence at the Tokyo Game Show later this year and Gamescom in Germany, which makes sense, to be honest, especially focusing on the TGS which is, after all, in Japan.

OK, so all the major players had their pre-show press conferences yesterday and today [Xbox, SquareEnix, Bethesday, Devolver Digital, Ubisoft and EA], but rather than dissect them frame by frame, announcement by announcement, I’ve had links to trailers and conferences emailed to me … so I’m going to let you do the hard work [is that lazy??]

CD Projekt Red, the studio behind The Witcher series, revealed a new trailer for Cyberpunk 2077 & while it didn’t reveal any actual game play [which is a little annoying], the release date [April 16, 2020] was announced at the show by none other than Bill & Ted star himself Keanu Reeves [who seems to be the “it” guy right now]. He’s also featuring in the game. Here’s the trailer. Keanu appears at the end.

Xbox announced it had acquired Tim Schaefer’s Double Fine Productions [you’d still better look after the backers – including me – of the Fig campaign that actually funded the game, Tim!], the beta version of Game Pass for PC, which I signed up for given I’m a born-again PC gamer, and at $NZ6.95 a month, it seems incredibly good value for money, and already hads a pretty good line-up of games so far [Metro Exodus, Wolfenstein 2, Football Manager 2019, Void Bastards], and like its Xbox counterpart, more games will be added as the service grows. It also revealed Project Scarlett, it’s next next-gen console that is apparently going to be “4 x more powerful than the Xbox One X” [and, according to one Xbox Twitter account it would be the most powerful console it had ever designed, but it did say that about the Xbox One X, right?] Details were light on the ground on Project Scarlett, though, given it’s not releasing until the end of 2020. It also showed a cinematic trailer for the next game in the Halo series.

SquareEnix showed off its Final Fantasy 7 remake, and it looks pretty impressive – and I’m not a fan of the series. Here’s the battle system in action:

It also announced Outriders, a new game from development studio People Can Fly [the company behind the very good Bulletstorm], and a Marvel Avenger’s game, which will come out next year. Here’s trailer for those two, too.

Bethesda showed off, among other things, more of Doom Eternal

Wolfenstein Young Blood

Ghostwire Tokyo

Phew, I’m tired after all that. I don’t have anything about EA or Ubisoft but Ubi announced a new Watchdogs game set in London & another entrant in the Ghost Recon franchise, and EA showed off Respawn’s Star Wars game The Force Unleashed 3 Jedi Fallen Order.

Anything catch your eye?

Update, Wednesday, June 12: Ubisoft have sent through a shite load of emails today but here’s some of the key titles it showed.

Watchdogs Legion 

Assassin’s Creed story creator mode

and God & Monsters

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice review: Where I died more than two times

I won’t be the first person to make this joke, but here goes: I died more than twice during my time with From Software’s farken hard Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. A lot more than twice.

I actually lost count how many times I died but I got very familiar with the death screen. I saw that a lot.

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Sekiro, set in feudal era Japan with samurai, katana swords and … giant chickens, has a lot in common with From’s previous games Bloodbourne and Dark Souls. For one, they all revel in the brutality of the combat.

Secondly, patience is a virtue in Sekiro. Rush in and chances are you’ll get overwhelmed by foes and end up on the wrong end of a spear or crushed to death and body slammed by an angry ogre.

And thirdly, learn how to deflect enemy blows every time. Deflecting enemy strikes is often the difference between life and bleeding out the rough ground of a Japanese temple. Deflecting blows successfully means you’ll have more chances to deliver fatal blows and deliver deadly finishing moves.

While the Souls series has its bonfires, Sekiro has its sculptor’s shrines which do the same thing: You can rest, you can upgrade your skills and you can travel back to the Sculptor with upgrades to your prosthetic arm, practice some combat with an undead ally or teleport back to locations you’ve already visited.

Every enemy you kill earns skill points, which can be used to upgrade your combat abilities, and when you die you sometimes get the option to resurrect yourself to get back into the fight. It’s a good feature but it does come with one caveat: Every time you use resurrect, villagers in the game world get more inflicted with a rot that has befallen the world. Nasty.

As Sekiro progresses, he finds weapons that can be added to his prosthetic arm (installed by the mysterious Sculptor at a run-down temple that acts as a world hub): A shuriken-throwing appendige, a flamethrower and an axe that can splinter enemy shields. You’ll need to all as you work you way through a variety of enemies that range from cannon fodder to downright nasty.

So, how did I get on with Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice?

Look, I’ve never got on well with From Software games. Bloodbourne and Dark Souls just destroyed me and I’ll be completely honest about Sekiro. I got frustrated a lot and while I didn’t once throw my Dualshock 4 controller at my TV, I found myself switching the game off after dying for the umpteenth time while facing the same mini-boss. It is a frustration-inducing game.

Here, watch this video of me getting my arse kicked by an angry chained ogre. Warning: While it’s not really spoilery, and it’s very early on in the game, if you don’t want to see the angry ogre, turn away now (or just don’t play the video)

I found the game bloody hard (I can hear the cries of “Git Gud” ringing out right now) and frequently became overwhelmed by foes, backing myself into a corner and spamming the deflect button. I learned very quickly that doesn’t work too well. You have to time the deflect to perfection: Spamming does nothing. I often found the best defence against multiple foes was actually running like hell and avoiding them until I could find a safe rooftop and jump up and have a rest.

Do you see the bastard chicken in the background?

Sekiro is one of those games that one moment you feel like you’ve got to grips with things, using the prosthetic arm attached to your arm to propel you to the top of temples and high stone walls, locking onto an enemy then jumping and delivering a death-blow (complete with spurting blood!) Then the next, when you thought you’d mastered the skills needed to progress, you’re surrounded by giant chickens, which crow your position to nearby soldiers, which then pelt you with by flaming arrows … then you’re pecked to death by said giant chickens.

I can hear the hordes, yelling in the background now: “Git Gud,” “Git Gud,” “Git Gud”.

The way I’m feeling about Sekiro right now, I’d love to say I’ll stick with the game, but being honest, I don’t really think I have the stamina – or patience – to make it through. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is actually making me feel like I’m a bad video game player, and I don’t think I am.

Fans of games like Bloodbourne and Dark Souls will probably revel in Sekiro, but that’s not me.

Excuse me, while I search for the confidence that Sekiro has robbed from me.

Thanks to Total Interactive in New Zealand for the copy of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. 

 

 

Gaming news: Hot & fresh

Marvel’s Spider-Man most searched for Kiw gamers

PriceSpy got in touch this week, telling me that Marvel’s Spider-Man (PS4) was the most searched game in New Zealand for January.

Insomniac’s rather good swinging simulator was released in September last year but is obviously still a favourite with PS4 games in Aotearoa. I rather liked it, if my late review is anything to go by.

PriceSpy says the game has also had “significant” price drops since it was released, the biggest savings coming in December, 2018 and January this year.

Rounding out the top five most searched games were Kingdom Hearts III (PS4), Super Smash Bros Ultimate (Nintendo Switch), Red Dead Redemption 2 (PS4) and New Super Mario Bros U – Deluxe Edition (Switch).

Star Wars Republic Commando coming to Games with Gold

During a post in January, I lamented that one of my most favourite Star Wars games Republic Commando was a brilliant game but we would never see a sequel. Well, it seems that while we’re not getting a new game or a sequel, Xbox is releasing the original Xbox title (which also supports Xbox One backward compatibility) is coming to Games with Gold during March.

This brings joy to my heart so I’ll definitely be checking it out and see whether the Xbox One ups the graphical fidelity any. I’d still like to see a sequel or remaster of Republic Commando, though, although, given that EA has the license to create Star Wars games and really has no idea what it’s doing with it, I won’t hold my breath.

Meanwhile, over at PlayStation …

The Witness_20160128200456

Not to be outdone, PlayStation Plus members are also getting some digital treats next month, with Call of Duty Modern Warfare Remastered and Jonathan Blow’s pretty but perplexing puzzle game The Witness both coming to Sony’s current console.

Sorry, PlayStation, but Xbox wins this month for me simply because one of my favourite Star Wars games of all time, Republic Commando, is on Games with Gold. Plus, there’s also the fact that I don’t actually have a PlayStation Plus account, either …

Metro Exodus thoughts: Surviving post-apocalyptic Russia

Please note, I haven’t finished Metro Exodus yet but I thought I’d give my impressions after a few hours in the world 4A Games has created. To be honest, though, I’m making my way through parts of this game so slowly, due to all the nightmarish horrors I’m having to deal with, I reckon it’ll take me weeks to finish it.

I often question myself over things I’ve done in the past.

Most recently, after I was scared stupid – again –  by some abomination mutated by years of radiation in post-apocalyptic Russia while playing Metro Exodus, I asked myself: “What the fark was I thinking putting my hand up to review Metro Exodus, a game that features nightmarish creatures hell-bent on ripping my intestines out through my throat?”

Look, I’m a mess at the best of times when it comes to scary moments in video games. Truth be told, I tend to play games that feature any scary moments during the day, when people are at home, with the curtains open. None of this play it in the dark, all alone, with headphones on rubbish. Fark that for a game of soldiers.

The Metro series, as those that have played it will know, is a game that features scary moments and is based on the books written by Russian author Dimitry Glukhovsky. Lots of them, especially when you’re creeping through claustrophobic environments when it’s dark and all you have to light the way is the slowly dimming glow from your head-mounted torch.

I played Metro 2033 and Metro Last Light and so I had a strategy for Exodus: Play during the day when monsters are supposedly less abundant, meaning more human foes and less of the mutated humanoid ghouls and beastly beasts (notice how I highlighted less in that sentence?). Less monsters means less chance of having to deal with aforementioned nightmarish creatures. Well, I’m calling bullshit on that assumption right off the bat.

During one area in the Volga (Exodus’ first location), I decided to hunt for upgraded equipment for Artyom’s attire (upgraded helmet, gas mask, bullet carrying capacity). Three buildings nearby were heavily guarded by bandits so it was risky to take them out during the day – there was more potential for things to turn pear-shaped – but I thought I’d take that risk: It was better than facing the unspeakable horrors that lurked during the night.

One building, an abandoned petrol station, seemed easy enough, although two of the five bandits were heavily armoured. My strategy was to skulk around the outskirts, picking them off one by one, pluck the equipment from the storage areas and get out. Well, things didn’t go quite according to plan.

As I crept around a barrier, two little monster things suddenly attacked me from behind so as I dealt with them the sniper on the roof of the saw me, alerted his friends and all hell broke loose.

I took out two guys out easy enough, advancing on the building, but one of the heavy armoured dudes appeared, forcing me to duck behind a rusted out car. As I took him out, a horde of humanoid monsters suddenly appeared, forcing me to fire randomly, hoping to take them out. It had all turned to custard, royally, but I survived. Just.

And don’t get me started about the monsters during the night, or when you wander through dark locations, or the terrifying electrical anomalies that crackle and roam, setting all matter of things on fire with their electrical energy. In one example of these things, it suddenly appeared in a rail car that I had just finished driving, sending arcs of radiated energy everywhere.

In Metro Exodus, everything is out to get you, literally, be they two-legged, four-legged or multi-legged.

As in previous Metro games, part of the tension came from the scarcity of resources, and that has returned here, with things like ammunition in short supply, forcing you to collect what you can then craft it – bullets, air filters, knives, decoys – either at a workbench or from your backpack. When possible, I’d use stealth, punching an enemy in the back of the head rather than waste a precious bullet on him.

I liked how you can scavenge parts from discarded weapons then cobble together frankenstein-ish armaments at workbenches, creating some amazing variants. Want a sniper scope on a handgun? Sure. A longer muzzle and extended clip on that rifle? No problem.

Exodus’ story is engaging, and I actually became invested in the story as the travellers moved from location to location on the Aurora, and visually, man, the game looks stunning on the PlayStation 4 Pro, especially night-time environmental effects. It looks pretty impressive on PC, I’m told. I also really loved the option of no onscreen clutter and that the in-game map is a clipboard that Artyom can flip around to view mission notes. It’s a really nice touch.

All that data comes at a price, obviously, as Exodus has incredibly long load times, especially when you first fire up the game. At times, it took in excess of 3 minutes, nine seconds to first load up. Load times are quicker if you have to reload a save but initially, it’s “Make a cup of coffee and some toast load times. Hopefully, a patch will remedy those load times.

Also, I don’t think the developers have done a very good job of actually telling you what some of the controls are for certain actions. It wasn’t initially clear to me how I actually took of my gas mask when I didn’t need it (on the PS4 it’s hold down on the D-pad).

I noted that at times people would talk over the top of each other, making it difficult to follow what was going on sometimes (I always have subtitles on so that makes things easier) and sometimes, the enemy AI is a bit brain dead, with foes sometimes forgetting that you’re there.

One thing I would like to see if there are any future games is – and this is just a personal preference – is for Artyom to have a voice. Many times during the game, his comrades would call out to him over a radio and there was no response: Just silence. He grunts and groans when he’s exerting himself and gets injured but Artyom is continuing the long held tradition of many first person shooter heroes being the strong, silent type.

When I first heard that the Metro series was coming out of the tight confines of the previous two games into a more open world environment, I was worried that the series would lose some of its charm. I needn’t have worried. Despite a more open world, Exodus is a worthy addition to the series.

Now, if only I could muster up the courage to face those mutated creatures during the night, I’ll be sweet.

A big thank you to Five Eight Distribution in New Zealand who supplied a code for the PS4 version of Metro Exodus. 

Yes, it’s some more Metro Exodus stuff but with some Sekiro, too

Yes, this is the second Metro Exodus post in as many days but, c’mon, I don’t have any games or anything at the moment. I’m contemplating a nice opinion piece but until that has come to fruition … it’s some more Metro Exodus … also a story trailer for Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, which comes from FromSoftware, the crazy minds behind Bloodborne & the Dark Souls series.

Firstly, though, the third part in the Making of Metro Exodus mini-documentaries. So, without further ado, here’s part three:

Metro Exodus is landing next week!

Also worth having a look is the story preview trailer for Sekiro, a game set in late 1500s Sengoku Japan, said by the developers to have been a “brutal period of constant life and death conflict”. It’s not long – just over a minute – so I’m guessing we’ll see something with a little more meat as the month progress.

You can have a gander at it here:

Artyom’s Nightmare: Entering the world of Metro Exodus

Metro Exodus, the next game in one of my favourite shooter series of all time (it really is), is close, dear readers, very, very, very close.

How close? So close you can almost taste its radioactive source code.

It’s out next week, actually (February 15) and to celebrate its imminent arrival, Deep Silver and 4A Games have released Artyom’s Nightmare”, a 4 minute something CGi short that acts as a prologue to Exodus where it explores main character Artyom’s hopes and fears of a life beyond the ruins of the Moscow Metro.

If you’re a fan of the series, it’s well worth a look and sets the scene for what we can expect in Metro Exodus.

The countdown for Artyom’s return has begun …

 

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