ReCore review: One girl and her robots

Meet Seth, Mack and Duncan.

They’re Corebots and the co-stars of the Xbox One/PC game ReCore, a game from Japanese game developer Keiji Inafune, the man behind the Mega Man series, and a development team that have worked on a variety of games, including Metroid Prime.

Seth, a spider-bot, is good at climbing, Mack, a dog,  is good at headbutting other Corebots and Duncan, a gorilla, is good at smashing pretty much anything you ask him to.

This is Joule, she’s the main human character in ReCore.

Hero Shot of Joule

Hero Shot of Joule

 

Joule has been sent to the planet Far Eden to help set up terraforming operations before humans start colonising the planet. Unfortunately, things seems to have gone pear-shaped and Joule wakes from her cryosleep decades later than she should have and finds the robots designed to help make the planet habitable have turned rogue and Joule has to sort things out.

As she explores Far Eden, Joule must search for things called prismatic cores, glass prisms of light that unlock doors to help her progress through the game world. ReCore is very much an action RPG game, in that Joule has to search dungeons and complete challenges to get enough prismatic cores to progress.

Platforming is the heart of the game, drawing inspiration from Inafune and his Mega Man heritage no doubt, with plenty of double jumping and boosting to grab out-of-reach platforms. Combat, too, is a prime focus of the game, with Joule and her robotic pals having to fight plenty of corrupt robots as they scour the planet.

Joule using Seth to traverse an area

Joule using Seth to traverse an area

Seth, Mack and Duncan can be upgraded and modified to make them more powerful and stronger and Joule herself is a handy scrapper, too, able to zip and jump around thanks to a jet pack and an energy weapon that fires four different coloured charges: Red, blue, white and yellow. Shoot an enemy with the corresponding coloured energy and you’ll do more damage and defeat it quicker.

Destroyed, enemies explode in a satisfying shower of collectible parts but Joule is also able to rip out a vulnerable enemy’s core using a grappling hook. What ensues is a satisfying tug of war between Joule and the defiant Corebot as both battle to hold onto the core.

recore_enviro4ReCore is a fun game with a genuinely interesting dynamic between Joule and her bots but it’s hampered by some incredibly long long load times on the Xbox One and some frustrating platforming sections which will almost have you throwing your controller across the room. At least, I found some of the sequences frustrating.  There’s also a fair bit of backtracking and grind to search for more prismatic cores when you  realise you don’t have enough to progress.

ReCore is also one of the first games in Xbox’s Play Anywhere scheme where if you buy a digital copy on PC or Xbox One, you get another copy for free on the other platform, and it works. To be honest, I played it on PC as it proved more stable than the Xbox One version with improved graphics (there is still some glitching, especially when you quit the game) and much faster load times. I was also impressed that I was able to have the graphics cranked up quite high despite having a few-years-old nVidia Geforce GTX660Ti (I’m sure locking the frame rate to 30 seconds also helped a lot).

Another thing in ReCore’s favour is the price: It’s only around $NZ60, which for a new game is a great price.

I enjoyed ReCore but wonder whether it might have been rushed out of that gate a little early. A bit more spit and polish and it would have been a great game, rather than just a good game. I’m intrigued to see where the franchise goes from here.

 

Microsoft Surface Pro 4 review: the best of both worlds

20160828_171317

My current laptop is a 2011 MacBook Pro.

It used to be my wife’s. It would have been good in its day but now: Not so much. It takes what seems like forever to boot up (I could easily make a cup of coffee and start drinking in the time it takes to finally get itself sorted), I only get about an hour or so on battery before it needs plugging into mains power and it can’t play games very well. It’s past its use by date.

I love to replace it if I could – and I’d replace it with a Microsoft Surface Pro 4. That’s it in the photo at the top of this post.

For the two weeks or so I had the Surface Pro 4, it was my go-to device for my writing work, my web browsing and my digital entertainment consumption – and it ticked all the boxes for me.

20160828_171254Measuring 292.10mm x 201.42mm x 8.45mm, and weighing around 786 grams, the Surface Pro 4 is a laptop/tablet replacement device that I really did love the more I used it, especially with the stunning 12.3-inch PixelSense screen (offering a resolution of 2736 x 1824) that displays colours vibrantly and vividly. The kickstand is a nice change from the usual kickstand that comes with tablets: It’s a solid hinged design not the foldable cover type, so it’s secure and solid, and thanks to the hinges, it means you can adjust it to the perfect position.

Packing an Intel i5 CPU, 8GB of Ram, an Intel HD 520 GPU and a 256Gb Solid State Drive, the Surface Pro 4 will easily do all you need it to and the fact that it doubles as a tablet, when it’s not attached to the Type Cover keyboard, adds to the appeal. The device comes with one USB 3.0 port, a microSD card reader, a mini display port, a headphone jack and is running Windows 10 Pro.

One of the things I loved about the Surface Pro 4 was that I was able to set it up so that I could login using facial recognition software, meaning I didn’t have to type a password to get up and running. All I had to do was look into the front facing camera, the device would recognise my face and I was good to go (a winking face icon showed that all was ready). It was great not to have to enter a password to login into the device.

20160828_171303The Surface Pro 4 comes with a stylus, which attached to the side of the tablet magnetically, but sadly, the Type Cover which is a great keyboard that was easy to touch type on with keys that had a decent amount of travel, is an optional extra, meaning you have to pay for it separately if you want it. C’mon, Microsoft: You’ve got a great tablet/laptop replacement here just include the Type Cover as standard. Everyone wins.

 

FreshPaint-8-2016.08.10-12.41.35I loved that I could use the stylus and the touch screen to sign documents for my accountant and scribble notes for this review.

I also loved that I could use the stylus and tablet format to use sketching software app Fresh Paint to get back into drawing. I did a quick sketch of the view next to my desk at work, which you can see here. I loved that the Surface Pro 4’s stylus could be used like a pencil, paint brush or pastel, meaning it’s ideal for creative thinking and ideas people.

The Surface Pro 4 isn’t designed as a game player but I thought I’d test it out with some of my favourite PC games, anyway (this is a gaming website, sort of) so I installed the Tomb Raider reboot, Portal 2 and Batman Arkham City.

Using bench marking software PC Mark 7, the Surface Book Pro posted a score of 5025, which while not stellar and wouldn’t threaten any dedicated gaming laptop, it’s a respectable score for a device not considered a gaming platform (I understand there is a model of the Pro 4 that has a nVidia graphics option). The Surface Pro 4’s aluminum chassis has grills along its edges that help dissipate heat when it gets too hot and I could definitely feel the heat coming off it while testing the games out.

The device managed an average of 54 frames a second on Tomb Raider (at a resolution of 800×600) and Batman Arkham City. Crank the resolutions higher and frame rates plummeted, which shows the Pro 4 isn’t a out-and-out gaming device, and wouldn’t handle more graphically demanding games such as the recently released Deus Ex Mankind Divided for example, but as far as I was concerned, it didn’t embarrass itself when it came to playing some of my favourite Steam games.

I loved my time with the Surface Pro 4 and if I had any niggles about it, it would be that I would liked to have seen another USB port on it so that I could plug in, say, a USB drive AND a mouse (or wireless controller, perhaps).

When I get around to replacing my ageing MacBook Pro (and the way things are going it won’t be too long), I’m definitely adding the Surface Pro 4 into the mix. At around $2439 for the specification I had, it’s probably not too badly priced for what you get, although you can get comparable laptops for cheaper when they’re on special.

Look, I loved that the Surface Pro 4 was powerful enough to act as a laptop replacement yet offers the portability of a tablet when I need it. The best of both worlds, right?

 

What the feck is Baba Yaga? It looks scary, that’s what

I liked Rise of the Tomb Raider. I actually liked it much better than the 2013 reboot (I liked them both, but I liked Rise better).

Last week, at The Game Awards, Crystal Dynamics revealed some story DLC that’s coming out in early 2016 and, frankly, it looks as freaky as shit, dropping Lara Croft deep in something called the Wicked Vale, somewhere deep in the wilds of Siberia.

Croft’s mission is to find a missing man, presumably part of a Soviet expedition that went missing,  but, according to information, what she finds is much, much worse: A witch called Baba Yaga.

According to Slavic legend (thanks Wikipedia), Baba Yaga is a supernatural being who appears as a deformed and/or ferocious-looking woman. The legend says Baba Yaga flies around in a ,mortar, wields a pestle and lives deep in the forest in a hut usually described as standing on chicken legs or sometimes a single chicken leg. That’ll be the creep hut that we see stalking the forest.

Apparently, though, it’s ambiguous whether Baba Yaga is out to help visitors or scare the shit out of them.

Crystal Dynamic said Baba Yaga: Temple of the Witch, will have see Lara face off against deadly new adversaries, exploring a new puzzle-filled tomb and solving a decades old mystery, all culminating in a “showdown with an ancient and mythic evil”

I don’t know about you but I’m getting the creeps already, and that’s just from watching the trailer. The add-on isn’t due until sometime next year, which means I’ve got plenty of time to get worked up about it.

Halo 5 Guardians review: One more for the road

Trying to punch two Promethean Knights to death in Halo 5 Guardians  is never going to end well.

Believe me, I found out the hard way.

Two of these guys kicked my Spartan arse several times in Halo 5.

Two of these guys kicked my Spartan arse several times in Halo 5.

It was in the closing battle of Halo 5’s campaign when things went terribly wrong. Finding myself suddenly surrounded by two advancing Knights, the incredibly tough Promethean mechanised warrior, I realised that both my weapons were out of ammo and, sadly for me,  there were no discarded weapons nearby to pick up.

I  had two choices: Run or punch them in the face. So that’s what I did. I punched them.

What was I thinking? Probably that my augmented Spartan punches would crack the Knights carapaces, exposing their vulnerable AI core inside.

So, how do you think it went? It went as well as could be expected. Meaning it didn’t go well at all and I was knocked to the ground, my life force draining from my tired Spartan body.

Thankfully, one of my squad mates was close enough to revive me (that’s one of the new features in Halo 5) and, some how, I managed to sprint clear of the area, find some fully loaded Promethean weapons (I love the boltshot) before delivering swift, sweet justice to the Kinghts. It was frantic and full-on.

Master Chief: Ready to Rock.

Master Chief: Ready to Rock.

Now, I’m not  a Halo player who knows the canon off by heart and can recite it word for word. I don’t know all the weapon stats and what works best in certain situations. I also  found some of the earlier Halo games a little boring at times. Sorry, but I did. I enjoyed Halo 4, though, and really, really enjoyed Halo 5.

Guardians lets players take the role of two protagonists: Master Chief and Spartan Jameson Locke. It’s two heroes for the price of one game. Each man is supported by three other Spartans.

H5G_Render_Locke-Close5Throughout the length of the campaign you swap between Master Chief and Locke as you take on the Covenant and the Prometheans, which first appeared in Halo 4.

Hey, look, here’s me playing through the first mission of Halo 5 Guardians, including cinematics leading into Mission 2. I do die, but only to show you the revive mechanic. Really.  🙂

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I won’t dwell on Halo 5’s story for fear of, well, spoiling things for people but it deals with Locke hunting Master Chief, who has seemingly, gone AWOL. Go get him, soldier!

You’re squad mates are a competent most of the time (other times I bled out because their pathfinding proved difficult getting to me). They’ll provide cover fire, distract larger enemies and in the case of Edward Buck (who has now been promoted to Spartan after his fine work in Halo Reach) provides a wise crack or three (He also promises to buy everyone a drink at one point). The one thing I wouldn’t trust Buck with is driving: During one level, he seemed to just want to drive up rocks or take the long way home.

I did feel strange having three companions with the Master Chief, though. I’ve always felt the Master Chief was a lone wolf figure, taking on foes single-handedly, so it took a while to get used having three limpets (sorry, companions) but when the going gets tough, it’s great to have a helping hand. Like when you’re facing off against large groups of enemies or, say, two Hunters..

Graphically, Halo 5 looks nice with some impressive set-pieces and varied locations but – and I may be in the minority here – it didn’t blow me away visually all the time. I guess 343 Industries was always going to face a tough battle when it came to the look of Halo 5 given how good Halo 4 looked on the 360. Don’t get me wrong, when you stumble across scenes with a lot of action going on and vehicles flying all over the place and lasers everywhere, it looks great.

The frame rate remains rock solid at 60 frames a second most of the time, which was impressive given how many enemies can be on-screen at one time, and its in-game cinematics are fantastic, with great looking character models and atmospheric lighting.

Gameplay is the tried and true that Halo veterans will know but  if you’re after something revolutionary, look somewhere else: You won’t find it here. I also felt that the closing missions suffered too much from repetition and rinse-and-repeat game play. The finale disappointed me a little, too. I was expecting something a little more epic.

With Halo 4, 343 laid the ground work for what it could do with the series. With Halo 5, it has shown it knows how to respect the franchise and has created a game that, for me, was one of the most enjoyable of the series, even if the campaign has a few missteps near the end and it left a lot of questions.

The bottom line is that Halo 5 Guardians is a great game that will fuel your inner Spartan but where the franchise is heading to from here I’ve no idea. It’s clear from the ending that  there are more stories to tell, but whether Master Chief is a part of those, I’m not sure. He is getting on, isn’t he? Plus, I may have counted wrong, but I’m pretty sure you play more missions as Locke than as Master Chief. That might mean something.

I guess we’ll find out in Halo 6.

Note: I haven’t tried out the multiplayer of Halo 5 Guardians in real-world conditions yet, just what I’ve played at a preview event a few weeks ago. I’ll update the review with my thoughts on MP play when I can join some games. I’m also keen to play throught the game in co-op.

I played through the single player campaign of Halo 5 Guardians on normal difficulty from start to finish using a downloaded retail copy of the game provided by Xbox NZ

XONZ 2015 in pictures: A mini, mini E3, of sorts

Last Thursday, I was kindly flown to Auckland (a city in New Zealand in the North Island) by Xbox NZ to check out XONZ, an Xbox One-dedicated showcase of upcoming games and some hardware for the Xbox One console.

The event was open to invitees today but I attended the media day on Thursday.

While there weren’t a huge number of games on display, it was a nice, intimate event where I got to show how badly I suck at Halo MP (there were a couple of rounds of one of Halo 5 Guardian’s 24-player MP modes), I got to play through a level of the soon-to-be released Rise of the Tomb Raider, ate some popcorn chicken and some Mac ‘n cheese balls and then chat with Chris Bishop (Forza 6), Kevin Franklin (Halo 5 MP) and Mike Brinker (Crystal Dynamics/Rise of the Tomb Raider).

My interviews will be up when I’ve transcribed my interviews (I’m still yet to decide whether I just publish the audio of the interviews as is, with all the noise and stuff, or transcribe them and write a story from each one. If you have a preference, let me know in the comments)

I thought, though, to tide you over until I get the interviews posted/written up, I’d post some photos I took from the event. Caveat: The photos were taken with my smartphone (an HTC One M8) and it the venue was mood-lit (translation: It was dark with lots of Xbox green) so they’re not that great but I hope they capture the event nicely.

Disclaimer: A big thanks to Xbox NZ, which flew me from Christchurch to Auckland to attend the event. I paid for my bus fare from the Airport to the city and back again, though.  I was too cheap to pay for a taxi to get me there. 

Sharp looking: The hands belong to Xbox NZ chief Steve Blackburn and he's holding the new Elite controller. It's highly customisable and in high demand, even before it's launched.

Sharp looking: The hands belong to Xbox NZ chief Steve Blackburn and he’s holding the new Elite controller. It’s highly customisable and in high demand, even before it’s launched.

Lego Dimensions

Lego Dimensions

Vault Boy: This fine chap was guarding a presentation from Bethsda for Fallout 4.

Vault Boy: This fine chap was guarding a presentation from Bethsda for Fallout 4.

Bird's eye view: The main area at XONZ was where the Halo 5 Guardian's MP matches took place.

Bird’s eye view: The main area at XONZ was where the Halo 5 Guardian’s MP matches took place.

XONZ: Bathed in Xbox green, XONZ showcased upcoming Xbox One games.

XONZ: Bathed in Xbox green, XONZ showcased upcoming Xbox One games.

XONZ: Microsoft to showcase Xbox One titles at dedicated event this month

XboxLogoNew Zealand is at the bottom of the world so we don’t get the opportunity very often for the public to get their hands on upcoming games at special gaming events.

Well, this month XboxNZ  is hoping to change that with XONZ, a chance for Xbox fans to play upcoming Xbox One games at a dedicated event on September 26. That’s a Saturday.

Kiwi gamers will be able to play the latest versions of triple A titles such as Halo 5: Guardians, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Siege, Forza Motorsport 6 and Lego Dimensions among many others.

Fans will also get the chance to talk with developers from 343 Industries (Halo), Microsoft (Forza) and Crystal Dynamics (Tomb Raider), who are flying in especially for XONZ. The local Bethesda team will also be on hand to catch up with fans on Fallout 4.

Content from next year’s highly anticipated Remedy title Quantum Break and Ubisoft’s Tom Clancy’s The Division will be showcased to the crowds, as will a hand-picked selection of Xbox@ID indie titles including Cuphead, Plague Inc. and Wasteland 2: The Director’s Cut.

“XONZ will give 300 of Xbox’s biggest Kiwi fans a rare chance to see and play our greatest line-up of games ahead of their launches in the run-up to Christmas,” said Steve Blackburn, Xbox New Zealand Lead. “Having developers fly in to New Zealand to meet local Xbox fans is an opportunity not to be missed. Not many New Zealanders get to travel to international gaming expos like E3, Gamescom or PAX, so we’re delighted to be able to bring a slice of that to them.”

Attendees will also be able to get hands on with the highly anticipated Xbox Elite Controller ahead of its New Zealand release in November, as well as check out the latest Xbox Hardware including the Xbox One Forza Motorsport 6 Limited Edition and Xbox One Halo 5 Guardians Limited Edition.

You will have to register, though, to secure a place at the XONZ so head over to the Xbox NZ Facebook page (facebook.com/XboxNZ), check out the XONZ Event and be one of the first 300 fans to register your Gamertag to secure your place at this year’s event. Note, gamers must be at least 16 years old to attend XONZ.

The details:

What: XONZ

When: Saturday 26 September

Time: 10am-3pm

Where: The Studio, 340 Karangahape Rd, Auckland

Age Rating: Participants must be at least 16 years old to attend X0NZ

What’s on show: Halo 5: Guardians (Warzone), Rise of the Tomb Raider, Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Siege, Forza Motorsport 6, Lego Dimensions, Gears of War: Ultimate Edition, FIFA 2016, Cuphead, Plague Inc., Wasteland 2: The Director’s Cut

Gears of War Ultimate Edition review: “Hell yeah, baby, everybody wants to see The Cole Train play”

The Gears of War series is one of improbables: Improbably large men with biceps and calves thicker than one of my thighs, improbably insane weapons (the chainsaw bayonet, anyone?) and improbably overwhelming odds but from the moment I played the original GOW way, way back in the mid-2000s on my Xbox 360, I was hooked.

Yes, it was a game oozing with bromance between muscle-bound soldiers Marcus Fenix, Baird, Dom Santiago and Augustus “Cole Train” Cole as they took on ugly, ground-dwelling foes known as the Locust on the planet Sera, but it was loud and proud and embraced that bromancing and machismo wholeheartedly. Also, you can chainsaw enemies in half.

Gears of War came out at a time when most action games were first-person shooters but Epic Games eschewed that for third-person and it worked incredibly well. You could almost feel the thud as Marcus and his pals slammed into cover. Frankly, GOW wouldn’t have worked as a FPS.

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Same scene, different console: Embery Square as seen on the Xbox One ...

Same scene, different console: Embry Square in Gears of War Ultimate Edition looks much more battle-worn and decayed than the Xbox 360 version [top]

Developer The Coalition (which is made up of many of the staff who worked on the original Gears of War) has given Gears of War more than just a touch up with a palette knife: This is a game that has received a major graphical overhaul, including completely redone cinematics, and while the remake of such an influential last-generation game may have lost some of the impactful lighting that the original had, GOW is a stunning looking game that properly realises the vision that Epic games had back in 2006.

The original game had an almost blurry look to it [compare the screenshots of the Xbox One vs the Xbox 360 images] and never has Marcus Fenix and the rest of Delta squad looked so human and so emotional [Baird, especially, looks much, much better].

Delta-Xbox360-jpg

More realistic: Delta Squad looks more human in the Xbox One version than in the Xbox 360 one [top]

More realistic: Delta Squad looks more human in the Xbox One version than in the Xbox 360 one [below]

This new-look Gears of War is the exact same game as it was almost 10 years ago: a cover-based shooter where walls and knee-high barricades are your friend, although there is the addition of some content that only appeared on the PC version.

It’s the same story line, the same characters, the same game code, the same kill the right number of Locust so you can progress, the same thrill you get when you nail an active reload. It just looks much, much nicer thanks to the gruntier (I’m sure I just made that word up) Xbox One – and I don’t have a problem with that. This is a game that isn’t afraid to embrace its strengths.

There are some game play tweaks, which are nice additions: It now has drop-in, drop-out co-op play so a player can join in mid-mission when you need some help taking on the Locust hordes and you can now change weapons while you roadie run, which is helpful.

Look at those eyes: Marcus Fenix looks much more human in Gears of War Ultimate Edition.

Look at those eyes: Marcus Fenix looks much more human in Gears of War Ultimate Edition.

That said, you also get the same quirks that the original had. Gears of War was made at a time in video game development when quick saving wasn’t common so GOW Ultimate Edition has the same uneven checkpoint system the original had meaning if you die before you trigger the next one, you’ll be chewing through those same Locust again.

The “You take one path, we’ll take the other” game mechanic also feels a little old, and yes, squad AI is still whacked at times where squad mates will get in your way as your fire your weapon or take a while to catch up when you race ahead. I had to replay the first encounter with a Beserker several times (almost to the point of giving up) because Dom wouldn’t get out of its way, killing him, or the Beserker itself didn’t respond to the noise I was making. That was frustrating to say the least.

As far as re-masters go, Gears of War Ultimate Edition is a mighty fine one that holds up tremendously well despite being nine years old, and it’s testimony to how good a console shooter the original was. It was also a game that tried to mix up the shooter formula of the time – and it worked. I still remember the first time I encountered the terrifying Beserker or came face-to-face with Theron guards in the original. Playing GOW Ultimate Edition bought back those memories for me.

Look, for fans of the original here’s the chance to play the game again on your fancy new Xbox One console. For gamers new to the series, it’s a chance to finally play a game that would go onto to establish itself as a foundation franchise for Microsoft.

*Thanks to Xbox NZ for a downloadable copy of Gears of War Ultimate Edition. Multiplayer servers aren’t online for the public yet so I didn’t test the multiplayer which, to be fair, is probably just as well: I sucked at MP when the original Gears of War came out, I doubt I’ve got much better since then.