PlayStation Plus: Subscription-based gaming library

For the past couple of months, thanks to PlayStation NZ, I’ve had the chance to check out the Deluxe tier of the revamped PlayStation Plus, which launched here in late June.

PS+ is now made up of three tiers: Essential (pretty much the original PlayStation Plus), Extra and Deluxe, with Deluxe differing from the other two in that it features timed demos of selected games, access to classic games from a variety of PlayStation formats (PlayStation 1, 2 and PSP) a catalogue of old and more recently released games and access to some of the best selling PlayStation 4 games of all time.

In essence, it’s PlayStation’s answer to Xbox’s phenomenally successful Gamepass subscription service. It comes with some caveats in our region as we (and our Australian mates) don’t get access to the PS3 library and game streaming functionality that other regions do. This means no Killzone 2 or 3, no inFamous, no Motorstorm Apocalypse and no Ratchet and Clank: Tools of Destruction.

The Deluxe tier will set you back $NZ24.95 a month, while the Extra and Essential will set you back $21.95 and $13.95, respectively.

I have to say that over the past month, the service has grown on me, especially with the games added to the service in the past day or so for Deluxe and Extra subscribers, including indie cat game Stray and just about every Assassin’s Creed game known to man.

Since the revamped service launched in our region, I’ve played games from the Deluxe tier’s game catalogue and its classics section. Much like Gamepass when I first started using it, I’ve found myself playing games that I likely wouldn’t have bought outright but have taken the risk because they’re part of a subscription service and I can delete it if I hate it for no major loss.

Case in point: The Tour de France is currently on so I downloaded Tour de France 2021 and have tootled around with that; I’m toying with golf (I’m not very good) so I’ve been plying the fairways of Augusta in PGA 2K 22 and I’ve done some laps in the most recent Formula 1 game.

They’re not necessarily games I would buy outright so Netflix-like game subscription services like this let me download, play, then delete to my heart’s content all for the cost of a monthly subscription price and without the outlay of paying full price for a game that potentially I may grow tired of but be stuck with. In that respect, the service is a winner.

However (and there is always a however), I feel that the classics section in our region has huge room for improvement. It only has 85 games and personally, not of them are classics in my eyes.

For example, we have no gems like Monkey Island 2 Special Edition, Enslaved Odyssey to the West, God of War 2, the original Red Dead Redemption, The Force Unleashed and the Sam & Max series. Here was a chance for PlayStation to showcase some of its all-time classics to a new generation of gamer and in our region, I can’t help but feel that it’s fallen short a little. Hopefully, the selection will expand and grow as the service matures.

I had great fun replaying God of War 3, thanks to the Remastered version, and it’s as I remember it being (and the remastered version here looks much nicer, too) but sadly, some of the classic titles like Ape Escape 1 are less than smooth experiences, having been made for consoles that came out generations ago and don’t always play nice with the modern PlayStation 5.

Jax and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy, for example, downloaded and fired up but just refused to let me play it, failing to acknowledge any button presses. I never got passed the “Press start” screen. I don’t know if it was just me having issues but it was frustrating, to say the least.

One game that I was very pleased to see on the service was Red Dead Redemption 2, a PlayStation 4 game that for some reason continually refuses to install on my PS5 using the game disc. While the game is visually no different from the PS4 version – this isn’t a remaster, after all – it’s great being able to play it on PS5 with what seem quicker load times.

Final verdict

When PlayStation launched the new PlayStation Plus in our region at the end of June I was, honestly, a little underwhelmed by what was initially on offer but as this month’s new additions have shown, they service can only get better as it matures and new games are added to the roster.

For someone who has just picked up their first PlayStation, the new PS+ represents pretty darn good value while they get a feel for what’s available, but for gamers who have been part of the PlayStation family since the early days, and have played many PS games over the years, I can see then perhaps doing what I do with Xbox’s Gamepass: Stop and start when the mood takes me and new games appear that pique my interest.

Oh, and if you get the chance to play Stray, do it. It’s charming, touching and delightful – and I’m a dog person through and through.

GAME REVIEW: GOD OF WAR PC: “It’s good, boy.”

A new year and another PS4 console game has made the jump to PC, with Santa Monica Studio’s God of War now available to PC gamers – and what a beauty it is.

When the game came out on console in 2018 it quickly became the poster child for how a talented development team could make games on Sony’s console sing and on PC the graphical fidelity has been turned all the way up to 11 – and it looks bloody fantastic.

I’ve completed God of War – or Dad of Boy as some like to call it – twice on the PlayStation 4 I liked it so much. The PC version will be my third play through. To this day, it is still one of my most beloved games of the last console generation. I just loved the intricately detailed narrative and the development of a character that has been a PlayStation staple since the days of the PlayStation 2.

Inspired by Norse mythology, the 2018 tale chronicles the journey of gruff Kratos and his son Atreus as they honour the wishes of Kratos’ second wife Faye to scatter her ashes from the highest peak of the nine realms. It’s a journey of discovery as Kratos learns to be a father to his son and Atreus learns more about himself and of his father’s “interesting” history.

God of War is the third high-profile PlayStation game to come to PC, with Day’s Gone and Horizon Zero Dawn already having been launched on the PC previously. There has been internet chatter that porting Sony titles to PC isn’t a good thing but it is: It means more plays get to experience great console games. Microsoft has done it for years without an uproar.

Sony says the PC version offers unlocked framerates, “enhanced” graphics (higher resolution shadows, improved screen space reflections, GTAO and SSDO, and “much more”), Nvidia DLSS and Nvidia Reflex, built-in support for DualShock 4 and DualSense controllers and ultrawide 21:9 support.

While Santa Monica Studio, the makers of God of War, oversaw the PC version, it was ported by Jetpack Interactive, a relatively unknown developer to me, but have no fear: Jetpack has done an outstanding job in porting this game to PC. It’s a straight copy: It doesn’t have new cutscenes or new missions. This is the same great game that appeared on the PlayStation 4 in 2018.

Where the PC version shines is the ability to customise things, especially graphical options, to suit the rig you have. God of War comes with four graphic presets: Low, Original (around the equivalent of settings on the PS4 version), High and Ultra. You can, of course, also run a mix of settings using the Custom option.

I started playing the game prior to Christmas and there were two updates in that time: One prior to launch and one post-launch, which seemed to have dramatically stablised the frame rates.

I played the game on an Alienware M15 R6 gaming laptop (Intel i7 CPU, 16Gb memory, RTX3080 laptop GPU) – a highly capable laptop – and on my desktop PC (i5 10600K @4.1 Ghz, 16Gb memory, 8Gb AMD RX580 GPU).

I spend a fair few hours wandering the game world of Midgard, battling Dragr, large trolls, undead people & floating tentacled things and loved the hell out of it. I also found that the optimised settings from Digital Foundry’s Alex Battaglia (timestamped in the linked video at around 16 minutes, 08 seconds) are worth their weight in gold, giving more consistent results especially with the RX580 given how highly detailed the world and characters are.

Alex Battaglia’s optimised settings (captured from my desktop PC).

I was surprised at the performance of the M15 R6’s laptop RTX3080, to be honest, as I was getting noticeable stutter from time to time but I do understand the 3080 I had is running a lower TDP (how much power it consumes under load) for the 3080 at 125W so this would have likely had something to do with that. That said, frame rates sitting in the mid to high 60s much of the time running the high preset.

Given the current state of modern GPUs in terms of pricing and availability, I really wanted to see how God of War fared on an ageing but perhaps more commonplace GPU, which is why I wanted to see how it ran on the old but trusty RX580 with its 8Gb of VRAM, a highly capable card but lacking modern finery like ray tracing & DLSS.

I was pleasantly surprised at how well the game played on my RX580 paired with my PC’s i5 10600K (running at 4.10Ghz). I didn’t notice any noticeable stutter or slowdown during game play nor cut scenes.

It seems a good CPU is the key to good performance here, and using Alex’s optimised settings – with ultra textures – I was averaging around high 40sFPS, dipping to mid 40s during heavy combat.

At times, I was getting over 60 frames per second during exploration and outside of combat encounters but it’s clear the RX580 is the handicap here. I’d achieve far higher frame rates and visual fidelity with a more modern GPU, something I hope to upgrade this year, stock and prices dependent.

Dropping textures to high, garnered a more consistent frame rate for my setup, sitting above 50FPS pretty much most of the time, even during combat heavy sequences. I could have played the game on the low graphics preset, of course, which would have given more frames but, frankly, I wasn’t going to do that, given the degradation in visual quality.

The game also has a stunning photo mode and all the images in this review were captured using the mode. The high level of detail, especially in character models, is really apparent in the photo mode.

Also – and I’m not sure whether my eyes were playing tricks on me – but I swear in some places while playing the PC version, I noticed details I didn’t remember seeing across my PlayStation play through. I’m sure it’s my eyes playing tricks but the PC version is a looker, make no mistake.

Simply put, God of War PC is a spectacular port of one of the PlayStation’s most celebrated franchises and being able to play it on PC is a win-win for all gamers.

I mean, Microsoft has made many of its best games available on both PC and Xbox series consoles day one (Halo Infinite and Forza Horizons 5, for example) so Sony making God of War available to PC gamers means more gamers get to experience fantastic gaming experiences and that has got to be good for gaming in general, right?

A huge thanks to PlayStation NZ PR for the early copy of the game.

Shadow of the Beast review: side ways hack ‘n slash

SOTB_PS4_Final_05_1462868539Meet Aarbron. That’s him on the right. He’s the chap lifting some poor sod up in the air. He’s a vicious killing machine that likes nothing more than slashing things to pieces with his razor-sharp talons. He’s the main character in Shadow of the Beast, the re-make of a game of the same name made waaaaay back in 1989 and originally appeared on the Amiga. This new one’s on the PlayStation 4.

Aarbron wasn’t always like that, though. He used to be a normal man. With a normal life. He probably did the gardening every weekend. Took the recycling bin out on Wednesday nights. Took the dog for a walk. That was until Maletoth came along. Maletoth isn’t a nice chap. He turned Aarbron into, well, a blood-crazed monster with razor-sharp talons.

This new Shadow of the Beast is made by Heavy Spectrum Studio, a small seven person team. I never owned an Amiga so I never played the original. I hear it was quite tough, although the music was great. The remake follows the same storyline as the original, though: Aarbron was captured as a child and turned into a vicious monster through magic and becomes the servant of an evil creature called Maletoth. The game deals with Aarbron chasing down Maletoth in an effort to make him pay for what he has done.

I’d like to say Shadow of the Beast is purely a side-scroller game, but it’s not. Not really. In some levels, Aarbron is able to teleport forwards and backwards but the bulk of the action happens on a horizontal plane with Aarbron moving left to right. Encounters with enemies involve a small area being blocked off by laser barriers, forcing Aarbron to fight the materialising hordes before moving forward. In his quest to defeat Maletoth, who conjures up enemies by throwing his green blood about the place, Aarbron faces off against the dark lord’s foes using a variety of attacks using his razor-sharp blades. There’s plenty of blood on the ground, that’s for sure. There are buckets of blood. Pints of blood. Oodles of blood.

SOTB_PS4_Final_01_1462868539Aarbron can block enemy attacks, he can stun enemies, he can order spikes to rise out from the ground, impaling enemies. He can even, if you time it right, jump onto enemies and stab them repeatedly with his razor-sharp talons, spewing forth precious health. You have to pound the controller’s square button to do this move. Aarbron can also do a rage attack when his three-bar blood meter is full. The rage attack is a mini Quick Time Event where if you press the square button at the right time Aarbron slices and dices enemies. Chain attacks together and you earn more mana points which can be used to unlock special moves or the original version of the game and soundtrack.

I’ve got mixed feeling about Shadow of the Beast. On the one hand, it’s a marvellous effort from the seven-member Heavy Spectrum Studios, with great visuals and production values. It’s a reasonable price, too: It’ll set you back $NZ23.95. On the other hand, I found the combat got tiresome rather quickly and the combat doesn’t often flow as nicely as I’d like it to. If you time things right, thought, the combat is visceral and brutal.

Shadow of the Beast is entertaining and it’s a passion project for the small development team that have done a masterful job in re-imagining the game for the modern age – I take my virtual hat off for that – but I just can’t see it holding your attention for too long. I’d imagine that many fans of the series would play it just so they could unlock the original game and listen to its pretty neat soundtrack.