No Man’s Sky Next: Is Hello Games’ space game worth a re-visit?

What a difference two years makes, eh?

In 2016, Hello Games (with, let’s not forget, considerable marketing support from PlayStation) launched procedurally generated space exploration game No Man’s Sky on the PlayStation 4. Hello Game’s  leader Sean Murray touted all the amazing things players would be able to do in the game and the hype just flowed.

Turns out, though, a lot of the stuff that Murray mentioned you would be able to do, you actually couldn’t. No Man’s Sky was a game that gave me conflicting emotions when it was launched. Here’s a quote from my review:“No Man’s Sky is probably one of the few games that I’ve really been conflicted about it. I like that you can explore a huge galaxy – and Hello Games have done a nice job of making you feel you are in a huge universe – but I’m not really big on the fact that after a few hours the game becomes a grind and, frankly, a little tedious.
Hello Games is an indie studio – despite the fact that PlayStation handled all its PS4 marketing – and should be applauded for trying something risky and ambitious, but I can’t help but think that because of the massive hype heaped upon it by both PlayStation, games media and gamers themselves, it was never going to live up to expectations.”

Looking back at my coverage of No Man’s Sky, it seems I, too, was caught up in the hype surrounding the game. I posted quite a few videos before release, and my review wasn’t overly critical, closing with “I’m sure in a few months No Man’s Sky will be a much different game to the one that it is now (a new patch was released for PC and PS4 on Friday) and chances are I’ll revisit it sometime in the future just to see to see what has changed.

Well, two years [and some other updates] later, and No Man’s Sky is the game it should have been at launch thanks to the recent Next update and it’s a great update (all the images here are captured using the game’s photo mode)   but it begs the question: Should Hello Games have just waited two years to release the game in a more complete state rather than release it when they did, half-finished ?

The answer is, of course, yes. The original game was rightly pilloried by gamers and critics alike because it wasn’t what Sean Murray at Hello Games promised it was. It also wasn’t what Sony hyped it up to be in the flashy trailers it sent to games writers like me. Gamers around the world bought it based on all these promises , and were swept up in the hype that only the games industry seems to be able to generate. Gamers thought they could do all these amazing things but were disappointed  when they found much of what they were promised was untrue.

I think it’s admirable that Sean and Hello Games have stuck with No Man’s Sky, despite all the criticisms and negative press, and kept updating it. I take my hat off to him and the studio. They could have easily said “Ok, game is launched, we’ve got our cash. Let’s jet off to a tropical island somewhere and hunker down” but they did. They stuck it out and supported the game.

I’m making my way through the game again thanks to the Next update and it feels like a completely different game from launch –   planets are more detailed and varied, crafting has been tweaked, there’s a third-person view for ships and your avatar, plus dozens of other tweaks – but the grind is still there. If you weren’t a fan first time around, I doubt new graphics and changed game play features will convince you to stick this out.

Sadly, though,  part of me feels that no matter how impressive the Next update is – and it is impressive, especially compared to the original game  – the damage has already been done for No Man’s Sky and a lot of gamers have already been burned by the launch state of the game.

It’s a sad indictment on the gaming industry that two years later, No Man’s Sky is now the game it should have been. As gamers, we shouldn’t  be content with paying for games then hoping they’ll get fixed into something better sometime down the line but it seems to be a worrying trend that is becoming more and more common these days.

If you haven’t played No Man’s Sky before – and Xbox One players can now see what all the fuss is about – then now is probably the perfect time to do it: It’s the game that it should have been at launch, and newcomers haven’t been burned by what happened before. That said, I’m sure owners of the original game (if they still have it) in their droves are revisiting the game thanks to the Next update, as I have done, but I think No Man’s Sky is a lesson for the entire games industry to take note of:  Don’t ship a game that promises things it will never deliver on.

Here’s some simple advice for game developers and (perhaps, especially, publishers/marketers): Delay the game until it does what you say it does. Don’t bow to publisher pressure to release a game way too early just because it wants the sales revenue.

As a gamer, I’d rather wait a few more months for a better game, and be satisfied, than buy a game that is half-finished and doesn’t let me do what you’ve hyped it up to do, and will never deliver on those lofty expectations.

Gamers will forgive you for a game that’s late but does what it says on the box.They’re  not so forgiving when you promise them the moon and all you hand them is a pebble.

OK, so to answer the question I put in this blog post’s title: Is Hello Games’ space game worth a revisit? Thanks to the Next update, yes, it is. I’ve still had the game crash on me since after a post-update patch (funnily enough, changing my PS4’s internal clock to Pacific Standard Time seemed to fix it), but the game is much improved on the original. It’s just a pity it took two years for that to happen.

 

Captain Toad Treasure Tracker review

A question to start off just because it popped into my head while I was playing Captain Toad Treasure Tracker: Why is a character that looks a bit like a mushroom called Captain Toad? Is it because he looks kind of like a toadstool? (Update: I just Googled it and it’s because he’s a toad. So ignore everything I just said)

Anyhoo, Captain Toad Treasure Tracker originally appeared on Nintendo’s Wii U and is an action puzzle game based off the Adventures of Captain Toad levels in Super Mario World 3D. The Switch version also contains four levels based on Super Mario Odyssey.

Players control the titular Captain Toad  around an isometric viewpoint which you can rotate around, navigating obstacles to collect a golden star at the end of every level. Manipulating the viewpoint with the right stick reveals secret rooms and hidden areas, many holding collectibles. When you’ve completed a level, you can do it again to find the pixel Toad hiding somewhere.

Captain Toad can’t jump, especially when he’s wearing a backpack, but he can pull up turnips that he can toss at enemies to stun them. The game also lets you manipulate platforms and the like by touching the Switch’s touch screen.

Look, I’m an adult in my late 40s, haven’t played the original on Wii U, and can pretty much guarantee I’m not the target audience, but I found Captain Toad Treasure Tracker the perfect antidote from the pressures of daily life when I had a few precious moments spare to play something lighthearted. Each level will take only a few minutes to complete so with many of us time poor these days due to general life demands, it’s just the bite-sized gaming that the doctor ordered – and it suits the Switch portable nature perfectly.

Praise aside, Captain Toad presents more of a dilemma for those gamers who have already played the game on the Wii U, though, as if you’ve already played it on that console – or own it on that console – I don’t see much merit in you double-dipping just because it’s on Nintendo’s latest console (especially given it’ll set you back between $55 and $70, according to Pricespy).

For gamers like me, who hadn’t played Captain Toad Treasure Tracker before, this is a good introduction to the adventures of the cute little toad, and is just the ticket if you’ve got a few minutes spare for some light-hearted puzzle action.

Thanks to Nintendo for the review copy of Captain Toad Treasure Tracker (Nintendo Switch). The game is also available on Nintendo DS, as well.

King Tide: Battle Royale with bite

 

Thanks to games like Fortnite and PubG, the Battle Royale genre has grown hugely in popularity over the past few years with gamers, each essentially following the same format with land-based kill-under-your-killed game play.

I’m not a Battle Royale player because – and let’s not beat about the bush here – I suck at multi-player games but New Zealand development studio Digital Confectioners is hoping its watery take on the genre will take it to, ahem, new depths with its new game, King Tide, a Aquatic (Battle) Royale game that places players in scuba suits swimming around the Deep Blue, having to face off against sharks as well as each other, rather than on land.

King Tide seems to be continuing Digital Confectioner’s nautical-themed games – its last one was Depth, where players were either a shark or a diver – and pits 100 players against each other, having to avoid depth charges, aforementioned sharks and forces players to scavenge for weapons in locations such as sunken ships, reefs and underwater labs.

The game is planned to go Early Access on Steam in August this year, with the developers reckoning it’ll be in that state for at least a year, with version 1.0 anticipated to launch around July, 2019. According the game’s FAQ, King Tide will set you back $US14.99, it won’t contain loot boxes (but perhaps sunken treasure chests?) and additional game play content will be through free game updates.

Time to sharpen the spear gun (not that I have one, that is)?

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Objects in Space: Old-school space adventuring

I first met Leigh Harris, the Australian behind indie game developer Flat Earth Game‘s Objects in Space (now in Early Access) during the early 2000s when he did PR for Rockstar and Take Two Interactive for Australia and New Zealand.

Leigh was an instantly likeable and pleasant PR man who, importantly, understood  how gamers and journalists thought, and more importantly, did whatever he could to accommodate me, a then-kind-of-full-time-games writer across the ditch in New Zealand.

Little did I know that years later, I’d be closely following Leigh’s fascinating journey as a game developer and co-founder of Flat Earth Games  after a career spanning PR and video games journalism.

Flat Earth’s first game was a crafting and city building game called Towncraft (2011), which I remember playing, I think, on my iPod Touch. Next came Metrocide (2014), a top-down stealth action game that had strong vibes of Blade Runner and Deus Ex to it.

When Flat Earth announced Objects in Space, I sat up and took a little more notice. Here was an open-world, stealth trading game set in a huge universe where you’re the captain of your vessel but have to manage everything yourself, managing multiple screens and controls to ensure success, taking on contracts to earn coin and generally be a jack of all trades out in space.I just seemed like an intriguing take on the space genre.

Think of Objects in Space as strategic management of space travel and adventuring where you have to take contracts, deliver goods, upgrade your ship and outrun pirates  rather than dog-fighting through the asteroids, barking orders at Mr Chekhov to set deflector shields to full and pointing photon torpedoes at fast-approaching enemies, threatening to blow them to smithereens.

In fact, combat is more akin to submarines waging a stealthy battle underwater than toe-to-toe laser battles (in fact, I think Leigh likens the combat to that between submarines and Objects in Space is complex and deep (very, very complex and deep)  but strangely satisfying, keeping me up at night when I’d told my wife I was going to bed in “10 minutes after I’ve done this thing.” (As you probably guessed, I didn’t go to bed in 10 minutes)

I bought Objects in Space for two reasons. One: It was genuinely fascinated in what Leigh and Flat Earth Games was doing here (and for around $20 I had nothing to lose) after following its progress over the past few years, and two: I wanted to support an indie developer/studio that I genuinely felt deserved to succeed.

I’m enjoying it far more than I expected I would as it has an old-school feel about it to the games that I grew up with as a child, especially the low-poly graphics. I grew up on Lucasart point-and-click games, games like Magic Carpet from Bullfrog, Ultimate Play The Game stuff on the ZX Spectrum. Objects in Space just appeals to that old-school gamer in me where game play was king and graphics took second place, and I love that about it..

I can’t say I really know what I’m doing most of the time (and what have the screens do) and must admit that I have no confidence in my abilities in how to successfully navigate the universe of Objects in Space but so far, my time with this space sim has been nothing but a joy.

 

 

 

Wolfenstein: The New Colossus (Switch): Panic Button has the Reich touch

Think about this for a minute: I can now play a current-generation first person shooter while sitting on the toilet. Not that I did for this review but, you know, if I can if I want to.

Or in bed while my wife reads on her iPad. Or during my lunch break at work. What a world we live in, eh?

I have to say I’m impressed with what Panic Button have done with Wolfenstein on the Switch.

Sure, if you want the most graphical superior version of the game then the Switch version isn’t for you and if you’re the type of gamer that will balk at lower resolutions then, again, the Switch version isn’t for you.It’s for gamers like me who haven’t played the game on another platform and it’s for gamers who want to play Bethesda’s latest Nazi-killing simulator on the go, filling the well-worn combat boots of BJ Blazkowicz in a story of what the world would be like if Nazi’s had won WW2 and invaded the US of A.

Wolfenstein 2 is the second Bethesda shooter from Panic Button that has appeared on the Switch and right off the bat, the port seems a much smoother experience right off the bat than the port of Doom, which took a few patches to sort its frame rates out.

Make  no mistake, this version is the real deal in terms of content: It’s the same game that appeared on the PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 last year but, as is to be expected for a portable machine that has a fraction of the processing power of its rivals, Panic Button has made compromises to get the game working on the Switch.

As you’d expect, textures are much lower in resolution (mostly noticeable on faces and clothing), it uses a dynamic resolution to adjust the pixel count on the fly and the game is locked at 30 frames a second.To my old man eyes, I thought the game ran smoothly in both docked and portable mode (looking slightly better in portable mode given the smaller screen) and I had a blast.

One thing I did notice  due to the lower resolution and blurrier textures, was every now and then textures would pop in a few moments later, and at times,  picking out enemies and power ups in some locations was much, much harder than it should have been, especially when in portable mode.

Can you see the subtitles? No, I can’t either.

I found the text size of subtitles was too small for my old man eyes. Even with my reading glasses on, I struggled to read them. Dear Panic Button, perhaps an upcoming patch might address that issue?

The latest adventures of BJ Blazkowicz is a battery hog, though.  I started the game with 79% battery & by the time I’d completed the first mission and a few minutes of the second mission, my Switch’s battery was down to 42% – and the wee thing’s internal fan was working overdrive.  Wolfenstein is working the Nintendo Switch to within an inch of its life but, frankly, I can see why.

Look, Wolfenstein: The New Colossus is going to have its detractors but I tip my hat to Panic Button: The developer has knocked it out of the park with this portable version and I’m glad I waited until now to play it, to be honest.

It’s just an added bonus that I can also now play Wolfenstein The New Colossus on the toilet, if I’m that way inclined, of course. I’ll keep you posted.

Thanks to Bethesda in Australia for the review copy of the game.

 

 

 

Huawei P20 review

Huawei’s P20 is the (slightly) cheaper sibling of the Chinese company’s flagship P20 Pro.

And like the Pro model, it’s clear Huawei has put a lot of effort into the camera on the P20, as it has two Leica Summilux lenses on the back and a neural processing unit in the handset that Huawei says will help you become a better photographer (the P20 Pro has three lenses).

Now, I can’t vouch for whether the P20 will help me become a better photographer but I was impressed that the camera’s software instantly recognised my dog (the tag dog appeared on the phone’s screen) when I pointed the phone at my dog.

Here’s a photo of my dog, Drew, taken with the P20. There’s one of the view out the window when I flew to Queenstown for work the other day and another one I took at night using the night mode. (The camera’s AI wasn’t infallible, though: I pointed at my wife and it briefly flashed up the tag cat – before quickly changing to portrait!)

Woof woof!

Nice view!

Less than starry night.

The P20 is a smart-looking phone, too, with a glass back that screams quality (but is also a finger print magnet) and a great screen.  The power and volume up/down buttons are on the right hand side and the P20 sports a USB-C connection on its base.

Huawei’s unit has gone the way of the latest iPhones and forsaken the 3.5mm headphone jack (so bluetooth earbuds/earphones only) and unfortunately, doesn’t have a slot for a microSD expansion card. Just like the iPhone X, the P20 has a “notch” at the top of the screen but it wasn’t too distracting, to be honest. The battery life seemed pretty good in normal day-to-day usage.

The P20 is fast and responsive, thanks to its 2.4Ghz Kirin 970 chip, and comes with 4Gb of memory and 128Gb of storage, which is handy. All in all, it’s a competent phone that ticks all the right boxes but here’s the thing:  I think Huawei has shot itself in the foot a little as I don’t think  that priced as it is (ranging in price in NZ from $900 to $1129), the P20 can compete with Huawei’s own P20 Pro, which offers more features for only a few hundred dollars more.

I mean, if you’ve got the money, it’s a no brainer to go with the more powerful unit, right? I know I would.

Thanks to Huawei for the review unit

Win God of War/Detroit Become Human thanks to GameJunkieNZ & PriceSpy

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Pre-E3 press conferences: Day 1

Microsoft held its traditional pre-E3 press conference today and I think Phil Spencer must have read my blog from the other week saying I thought Xbox had lost its way a little, as today’s pre-show presser showed that the company has realised that the Xbox One needs good games for people to play.

The show opened with a teaser trailer for Halo Infinite (then that was it for the show, which I found strange) and Xbox claims to have showcased more than 50 games, including “18  console launch exclusives and 15 world premieres”.

Games that got my attention were Ori & the Will of the Wisps, Devil May Cry 5, Gears Pop! and Gears Tactics, Tunic, Metro Exodus, From Software’s Seiko Shadows Die Twice and CD Projekt’s Cyberpunk 2077  (see the trailers below).

Another game that looks mighty interesting is The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit, a free game from DontNod Studios, the team behind Life is Strange.

Another interesting announcement from Xbox was that it had acquired five new studios, including Hellblad Senua’s Sacrifice developer Ninja Theory, Playground Games (Forza Horizon 4) and Undead Labs (State of Decay).

I also watched Bethesda’s pre-show presser between doing work and while full of a few cringe moments, Todd Howard was the standout presenter and nailed it when he presented Fallout 76, an online game set in the Fallout universe.

PlayStation & Nintendo tomorrow (Nintendo at the ungodly hour of 4am so I might wait for the highlights package later in the day).

Let the nights of broken sleep begin!

D-Link Covr C1203: Enveloping your home in Wi-fi goodness

D-Link Covr C1203 seamless Wi-fi system ($599,99)

D-Link’s Covr C1203 system is the solution for when you have shit Wi-fi around your home.

I have shit Wi-fi in my house and chances are, if your house is anything like mine, the further you get away from the router  (mine’s located behind my TV in the main lounge at the front of the house), the shittier the wi-fi connection gets. Heck, before I installed the Covr C1203 system I was struggling to pick up a decent wi-fi signal from the kitchen, which is maybe 8m to 10m away from the router in the lounge.

After countless calls to the ISP’s helpdesk and tweaking of settings, things didn’t improve much: Sometimes we’d be watching Netflix using Apple TV over wi-fi and the picture quality would suddenly degrade to SD for a few minutes before cranking back up to HD. It was less than ideal.

D-Link’s Powerline solution.

Now, being the techie that I am, I’m not happy with sub-par wi-fi so before the Covr C1203 system, I bought a D-Link’s Wi-fi boosting Powerline solution, which you plug into a power socket and it boosts the internet signal using the electrical wiring in your house.

While adequate, speeds were pretty flakey at times and it wasn’t all that reliable, with the signal dropping out from time to time, I was still able to surf the web and watch Netflix easy enough using Wi-fi but couldn’t watch a streaming service like SkyTV’s Neon, which just refused to load.

D-Link’s Covr C1203 claims it’ll give up to 1200Mbps Wi-fi and each unit has three receiving antennas, which means it’ll detect the Wi-fi signal easier and provide a consistent signal. Set-up was easy enough using D-Link’s Android app. You can either use the default network name or create your own and you connect the base station to you router then dot the secondary stations around your house (the kit came with two secondary stations).

Once powered on, a  flashing white Covr logo on top of the base station means a weak wi-fi signal and a solid white logo means a solid Wi-fi signal. I had to move the around the house until I was happy with the signal.

D-Link’s Covr C1203 solution in its natural environment.

The Covr C1203 is what is called a mesh system, meaning it envelopes your house in a wi-fi, um, net, meaning there are no dead spots and you’ve got consistent coverage between the base stations. I was now getting Wi-fi all around the house: No more flakey speeds, no more buffering streams.

I took a few days to find the right placement for the secondary nodes. I originally had one in the kitchen and one in the laundry but the signal wasn’t the strongest so every day or so I moved one or two to another location: laundry, bathroom, my bedroom. I finally settled on one secondary node in bedroom 1 and the second in bedroom 2. If you measured a line from the base station in the lounge to the node in bedroom 2, you’d pretty much have a straight line from point A to point B. Each node has two ethernet ports as well.

My house is, I suspect, a pretty typical one of its time period: Build in the late 1990s, it has timber framing with a brick exterior. It’s around 225sqm in size but has a few walls between where the router is and the bedroom end of the house. I tested the wi-fi signal from three points around the house before I installed the Cover C1203.

Pre Covr testing: Lounge: 256Mbps down, 350Mbps up; bedroom 1: 69.1Mbps down, 19.5Mbps up; My bedroom: Failed the test (no signal)

Post-Covr installation: Lounge: 334Mbps down, 248Mbps up; bedroom 1: 81.2Mbps down, 102Mbps up; My bedroom:52.9Mbps down, 63.8Mbps up.

I’m impressed with the Covr C1203. Now, I can watch Neon on my iPad in HD in my bedroom and not skip a beat: It’s seamless and buffer free. We get strong wi-fi speeds right around the house now, which is something we didn’t get when both my children were at home – and they constantly complained about it.

Thanks to D-Link’s Covr system, I’m now getting decent Wi-fi speeds all over the house, which I’m really stoked about, especially during those cold winter nights when I can stay in bed and watch movies or early-morning E3 press conferences.

One thing that would have been nice to be able to do with the smartphone app is turn off or turn down the brightness of the illumination on the base station’s cover: It can easily light up an entire room when it’s pitch black. Apparently you can do that in the system’s web-based menu system but try as I might, I just wasn’t able to access it either through the covr.local website or the router4’s IP address.

Thanks to D-Link and its Covr solution, I’m a happy chappy.

Thanks for D-Link ANZ for the review unit.

Bite-sized review: Little Nightmares Complete Edition (Nintendo Switch)

Little Nightmares Compete Edition (Version reviewed: Nintendo Switch, review code kindly  provided by Bandai Namco)

What is it? Little Nightmares Complete is a side-scrolling  horror/puzzle game from indie game developer Tarsier Studios that tells the tale of a mysterious girl called Six who must negotiate a vessel called the Maw through three story chapters: The Depths, The Hideaway and The Residence. This complete edition also includes  all the DLC that was released for the game, including the story of The Kid (a second playable character) and the Secret of the Maw expansion storyline. Little Nightmares can best be compared to games like Limbo or Inside as all three games have a creepy, unsettling undertone to them that might just well have you having nightmares yourself.

The Janitor in search mode. Time for Six to hide.

So, it’s a horror. Is it scary? Well, it’s not blood and guts scary, but it’s more creepy, uncomfortable scary, with nightmarish creatures inhabiting the Maw, doing unspeakable things. The game succeeds in creating a tense atmosphere that’s unsettling at times. Making things more uncomfortable are the Maw’s creepy residents, which often force Six (and The Kid) into a game of hide and seek as they skulk around quietly, careful not to draw the attention of the grotesque beasts such as The Janitor, who has incredibly long arms and bandages wrapped around his eyes, or The Lady, the proprietor of The Maw who just seems a little … not quite right.

This is Six exploring The Maw. Quite unsettling, isn’t it?

Is there anything else I need to know about? Little Nightmare’s does a great job of creating tension and has a great visual style, which is really suited to the Switch but the experience is marred a little by the long loading times after you die, and you will die a lot, thanks to at-times-clumsy controls and at times hard-to-judge jump puzzles. The game is also quite dark visually when played in portable mode but holds up well when played in docked mode. Both run at 720p, 30 frames a second.

So, what did you think overall? Tarsier Studios does an excellent job in creating a macabre and creepy narrative with a nice twist in that one of the lead characters turns out to be more than she initially appears. If you’re a fan of games that create creepy tension in unsettling environments, then Little Nightmares is worth a look but just be prepared for some frustrating jump puzzles and long load times between deaths.

Thanks to Bandai Namco for the review code