Sekiro Shadows Die Twice is almost upon us

Sekiro Shadows Die Twice, from the same crowd that bought us Bloodbourne and Dark Souls, is out later this month (March 22) and Activision have released a truckload of new screen shots.

Feast your eyes, gamers.

I wonder if Sekiro will be as difficult as the Dark Souls series: Those games kicked my arse severely.

 

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. 

Crackdown 3 review: Punch bad buys and collect the magic orbs

Microsoft’s Crackdown series can be summed up thus: Collect magic orbs then punch bad guys into the air and jump really, really high.

OK, that might be a little simplistic but c’mon, nobody ever played Crackdown for the story. They played it because you didn’t have to think too deeply about what you are doing – and you got to blow stuff up and jump around collecting agility orbs.

The original Crackdown launched on the Xbox 360 in 2007 and fast forward a few years and the latest installment in the Crackdown series is now out, Numero 3 now lets you … collect magic orbs then punch bad guys into the air and jump really, really high.

Crackdown 3, which was first revealed in 2014, has had something of a protracted development cycle, but, surprisingly, after years of reveals and teasing, it was launched last week with little fanfare by Microsoft Games. To me, that’s not a good sign of faith in a game.

Taking place in a cartoonish city dripping with bright neon called New Providence, the story is pretty generic and believe me when I say you won’t be playing Crackdown 3 for the narrative, which involves you – as Super Agent – taking down the leader of an evil corporation called TerraNova, which is masquerading as a good community citizen but is, actually, the complete opposite.

Most of the marketing around Crackdown 3 has been done involving former NFL player and now actor Terry Crews, and its good thinking on Microsoft’s part: Crews is larger than life (with larger than life biceps) so who better to cast as a genetically altered super agent who delivers the smack to wayward robots, mindless goons and organised hit squads and taking the city back, neon-coloured sector by sector.

Like the original Crackdown, the key to increasing your super agent abilities is upgrading them by collecting the glowing orbs dotted around the city. The five abilities are agility, firearms, explosives, driving and strength and you can focus on particular attributes to develop. A definite highlight of the game is that unmistakable “ting” again as you collect an orb.

Want to become a crack-shot marksman? Just use as many firearms as you can. Want to be able to drift and turn and pull off incredible driving feats? Just drive more. Want to be able to stronger? Just pick up stuff and throw it – and punch people. The more you use those particular skills, the stronger you become in that discipline.

There is no denying Crackdown 3’s campaign is fun, but truth be told, after a handful of hours, I found myself losing interest in the generic story and instead focusing on hunting down agility orbs. Truth be told, I found that more satisfying than delivering the boom to goon squads and bosses.

After a few hours of capturing monorail stations, freeing imprisoned citizens, destroying giant mining facilities and hijacking propaganda towers, though, I felt like I’d experienced all Crackdown 3 had to offer.

Some games, for example, are so engaging, so engrossing that I think about them when I’m not playing them. That didn’t happen with Crackdown 3. Not once.

Sadly, Crackdown 3 is a victim of being hyped up to the point that it could never deliver on what it originally promised and the result is a rather average third-person action game. It actually feels like a remaster of the original – which came out 12 years ago – but it’s not. It has nothing that makes it stand out from the crowd, and that’s a shame.

Even Microsoft’s grandiose plans of offering destructible environments where skyscrapers could be destroyed, causing them to topple onto other buildings (all thanks to the power of “The Cloud” ), has been relegated to the game’s multiplayer Wrecking Zone mode, which I haven’t had a chance to check out yet.

Look, Crackdown 3 is one of those games that you don’t have to engage your brain too much when you play it, which is what you want to do from time to time, I get that, but to me, there’s nothing here that captured my attention and wanted me to play it ahead of other games. The formula has stayed the same since the original Crackdown and  in the 12 years between the original and number 3, I would have liked to have seen some innovation and not just the same game with a fresh coat of paint.

For owners of Xbox’s Game Pass service, however, Crackdown 3 is a no brainer as it’s free for subscribers of the service, but for me, it’s an average game that fails to deliver on the lofty hype that was heaped upon it in the lead up to its release.

Xbox in New Zealand supplied a review code for Crackdown 3. 

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 …

 

Oppo AX7 smartphone review

For as budget priced, mid-range phone, Oppo really has pulled out all the stops when it comes to the AX7.

It really doesn’t look – or feel – like a budget smart phone.

Clad in a colour that Oppo describes as glaze blue, the AX7 feels comfortable in the hand, with a nice weight to it, and the attention to detail in the small – but noticeable – details like the camera lens surround means Oppo’s latest phone will get noticed.

Powered by a Snapdragon 450 octa-core CPU, the AX7 comes with a 6.2-inch HD+ display, 4Gb of RAM and is running Oppo’s ColorOS 5.2 (based on Android 8.2) but weirdly, just 64Gb of internal storage space, which in this day and age of digital consumption doesn’t really cut the mustard these days. Thankfully, the storage can be expanded via microSD card (upto 256Gb). A nice touch is the SIM card tray has space for two SIMs, meaning you can use the phone as your work mobile and private number.

The AX7 comes with all the latest bells and whistles you’d expect, including a fingerprint scanner. If I had one gripe about the scanner it would be that I thought it was perhaps positioned a little too high and could be a tad deeper, so that it’s easy to find first time. That said, it’s fast enough when it comes to unlocking the handset.

I was pleasantly surprised with the phone’s battery life, with the 4230mAh battery lasting a good couple of days with moderate use (phone calls, texting, browsing, the odd YouTube video). I’m still not sold on Oppo’s ColorOS operating system, which can be a little slow at times.

Perhaps the star of the AX7, though, is the camera, which sports 13MP and 2MP sensors at the back and a 16MP sensor at the front. It’s a selfie star, according to Oppo, although I’m not big on selfies, to be honest. Sure the customisation options for the camera are limited when compared to more expensive phones but it’s a good, honest shooter that will do what it says on the tin.

Photos taken with the AX7 were clear and sharp, with bright colours and details, although I thought sometimes the images were a little over saturated at times.

Perhaps the best thing about the AX7, though, is the price. Oppo has set the RRP at $399, which means it’s within reach for average consumers. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: Not everyone needs a $1000-plus smart phone (realistically, does anyone, really?) and like Huawei with its budget-priced Nova 3i, Oppo have created a nice-looking, well-performing smart phone that does everything you need without requiring you to mortgage the house, give up a kidney or sell your first-born.

Look, the AX7 isn’t going to compete in terms of lightning fast performance of higher end smartphones and with Oppo’s own rather great R17 Pro, but then, it’s not designed to. It offers great value for money with a battery that will go the distance (I’m still not 100% sold on ColorOS, though).

What’s not to like?

A big thanks to Oppo NZ for providing the AX7 for review.

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