Gran Turismo 7: Get your motor running, head out on the highway

The Gran Turismo series has a long pedigree with Playstation.

It’s long been a mainstay series that has pushed the boundaries on whatever PlayStation it has appeared on. This year, the franchise celebrates 25 years of the racing simulator appearing on Sony’s gaming machine.

Twenty five years longevity is a massive achievement so it’s fitting that Gran Turismo 7 is perhaps the series’ most impressive & accessible yet. It’s not perfect but it’s close.

Before you even start racing proper, there’s Music Rally, a surprisingly addictive mini-racing game where you race around a track, against the clock, while a musical soundtrack plays in the background. The timer counts down in the beat to the music with Music Rally kicking off with Hooked on Classics 1 & 2 (performed by Royal London Philharmonic Orchestra, an album I actually own on vinyl), blasting from your speakers while you drive a Porsche 356 Speedster ’56. It’s insane.

Every time you pass through a checkpoint the crowd cheers & claps and time is added to the clock. Race ends when the song finishes. Once you run out of time, you can watch the replay. While watching the replay, I realized I gave a fellow competitor driving a Mazda MX5 a good ole shunt in the rear while rounding a corner!

After Music Rally comes the controls set up section. You can pick from three control schemes. Traditional, which uses the left stick to steer; Using the D-pad or using the PS5 controller’s motion controls where you tilt the controller. This was my preferred control scheme. I don’t have a steering wheel and pedal set up so using holding the controller like you were gripping a steering wheel just felt natural.

I need to talk about the Dualsense controller’s motion controls some more.

Frankly, it is brilliant and adds a level of immersion to a driving game that I’ve not experiences before. I found myself instinctively holding my controller in front of me, arms outstretched, hands gripping the controller like it was an actual steering wheel. As I turned my hands into each corner, I actually also found my body position shifting slightly, mirroring the position of my hands. I hate using the word game-changer – I cringe every time I see it and every time I use it – but honestly, the motion controls with GT7 is just that: A game changer.

Accelerate and braking is controller by the R2 and L2 buttons, respectively, R1 changes your view and other buttons control various other functions. You can have as many or as few driver assists as you like, with difficulty starting at beginner, which has every assist activated, to expert which has every assist off. I’m not a seasoned Gran Turismo professional so I stuck with intermediate difficulty but turned braking assist off.

Graphically, Gran Turismo 7 comes with Performance mode, which targets 60 frames per second at a native 4K, and Ray Tracing mode, which isn’t full ray tracing: It’s just implemented in race replays, demo scenes and the ‘scapes photography mode.

I stuck with performance mode as quite frankly GT7 looks so freaken good that I didn’t miss the ray traced features.

Perhaps one of the most impressive features of GT7 graphically is the often at times simply mind-blowingly stunning time of day cycle, especially when the sun is starting to set in the distance and the landscape is bathed in the orange glow of the disappearing sun.

As is the way with Gran Turismo, your road to greatness starts at the bottom, giving you just enough entry credits to buy a used car from the local car dealership.

Cars range from the Honda Fit Hybrid and Maxda Demio XD to Subaru Impreza WRX Type E to a Lamborghini Murcielago LP 640 – but, sadly, you only have 20,000 credits so you’re restricted to the Fit, Demio or a Toyota Aqua S. I went with the 2014 Honda Fit Hybrid.

Then there is the Car Cafe, a seemingly strange destination at first but it soon turns out to be a rather interesting location. Owner of the Car Cafe, Luca, issues you challenges through “menus”. It’s all very high brow, and the challenges generally task you with completing a series of races in order to collect, say, three European classic cars or three Japanese compact cars by placing in the top three. The cars are the prize for winning the series (if you can’t be arsed racing you can always just buy the car, of course).

The first race I took part in was the Sunday Cup at Northern Isle Speedway: I won a zippy Mazda Demio. In my second race, I won an impressive Toyota Aqua (I genuinely think the Aqua is a neat week car).

My first car collection was obtained, I’d completed the first “menu” and I was sold on Luca and his Car Cafe.

With Gran Turismo 7, the basic fundamentals haven’t changed: The more races you compete in, the more credits you earn, the more of “locations” you unlock, the more cars you can buy.

Before too long you’ll be putting in the miles obtaining a new category licence, you’ll be taking photos at the ‘scapes photo centre, you’ll be upgrading forks, brakes and engines to eek as much performance as you can from your current pride and joy and you’ll be … pressing your nose against the glass at Brand Central as you drool over the luxury cars that will take you most likely a lifetime to afford (or hours and hours and hours of driving)!

Gran Turismo 7’s music is a strange mix, too. at times that almost clash with each other. It’s a real eclectic mix with races having at times quite poppy, modern tunes while menus have more orchestral scores, with grand pianos and saxophones. The soundtrack selection is quite odd at times and forgettable, to be honest.

One thing I didn’t like was that races were the old rolling start – and you’re always at the back. Why, oh why, do racing games insist on doing this? Why place me last out of 12 cars and force me to fight my way through to the front of the pack? I’m not Lewis Hamilton, for goodness sake.

I lost count of the number of times in my career that I busted a gut in, say, my little Citroen Clio, screeching around corners on tracks like Alsace, the occassional touch of bumpers, trying to make up ground lost by starting last to end up 4th by a lick of paint.

There’s definitely a grind with Gran Turismo 7, though, the more you progress but that has always been the way with the series: You have to put in serious time tuning, practicing and racing to achieve greatness.

That said, there is an incredible amount of depth here, there’s so much minute detail that dyed in the wool car afficionados will be positively salivating as they tune their race cars to the nth degree just to gain that crucial extra horsepower. It’s not a racing game, remember, it’s a driving simulator.

GT7 also has a rather splendid photo mode and all of the images with this review were captured with it. I’m especially fond of the ‘scapes photo mode which lets you place cars into images of iconic world location. The Mini and Corvette were photographed in front of the New Zealand South Island’s stunning geography, including Lake Pukaki.

It’s inevitable that Gran Turismo 7 will get comparisons to the Forza Horizons series – that’s just what some gamers do, right: Compare a game on one platform with a similar one on the opposition platform.

For me, though, I’d liken the Gran Turismo series to an avid collector with a stable of classic cars that they polish on weekends and take out for Sunday outings. Forza Horizons 5 is the young, enthusiastic racer with the Subaru Imprezza with lowered suspension who loves nothing more than cruising as fast as they can on a warm Summer’s night, tunes blasting from the eight-speaker Bose sound system. Both games are brilliant in their own right but both appeal to very different audiences.

I’ve yet to check out the multiplayer – the servers weren’t online yet – and the game seems to have micro-transactions embedded in it as I noticed a few pop ups when the game’s roulette-style reward system was in play that linked to the PlayStation Store, clearly allowing players to top up their in-game credits balance with real-world money. Frankly, I wish games would just stop this micro-transactions bollocks.

Twenty five years on, Gran Turismo is still a cracker driving game and it’s rather fitting that Polyphony Digital’s latest creation is such a finely tuned experience that just sings on the PlayStation 5.

Horizon Forbidden West (PS5 version)

It’s said that the second album is often the most difficult but with Horizon Forbidden West, Guerilla has built on the foundations of its original creation and created a sequel worth playing.

Taking place six months after the events of Horizon Zero Dawn, Aloy must once again, save the earth from a catastrophic threat by re-activating Gaia, the powerful AI that helped her defeat the ruthless Hades in the first game.

I played Forbidden West on the PlayStation 5 and diving into the settings menu sees the PS5 version offering two key graphics modes: Favour Performance and Favour Resolution.

Performance provides a higher frame rate but a lower resolution (1800p upscaling to 4K) while resolution runs at 4K but at a lower frame rate (30FPS). I played most of the game on performance mode, wanting better performance given the game’s constant combat, but it looks damn fine in both modes to my untrained eyes. Frame rates in performance mode seemed pretty rock solid, too.

Central to the Horizon series is the machines that wander the game world, a veritable zoo of robot animals bellowing flame, bellies full of flammable fuel and mouths full of razor-sharp teeth.

This time around, though, Aloy not only has to contend with a menagerie of new machines, she also has to content with Regatta, a rebel Tenakth warrior who has tamed the machines and seeks revenge on her people. There is also a new group of enemies that present a much stronger human challenge than Aloy has ever faced before.

The Forbidden West is a big world with desert plains, snowy mountains, rivers & lakes & lush forests, and the environments really are diverse. It’s a land littered with the metallic corpses of human tanks and enemy machines from the events of the first game.

Guerilla says it has listened to player feedback and I believe them here. The climbing mechanic feels much improved over the original game and the narrative is much tighter this time around. Voice acting, too, is more natural, especially for the main ensemble cast, and the visuals, especially underwater, are quite honestly wonderful. Character facial animations are some of the best I have seen in a long time, with highly expressive faces.

One thing Guerilla hasn’t done is change the fundamentals with Forbidden West: Aloy still creeps through lush forests and decaying buildings, hiding in shoulder high grass, avoiding  patrolling monsters but it all takes place in a much, much bigger and more detailed world than that of Zero Dawn, which already was impressive on the PlayStation 4.

I’m just over 30 hours in Horizon Forbidden West so I think I’ve got a pretty good handle on things and I have to say it has captured my attention much more than the original ever did, which I just didn’t gel with. It’s great to see that Forbidden West has improved on Zero Dawn – but it’s not without its faults.

Taken using Horizon Forbidden West’s photo mode.

As in the first game, Aloy scans machines for weak point points using a device called a focus. Machines might have an un-shielded component that can be sheared off and used against it or a component that she needs to complete a weapon build.

There are now hub villages where Aloy can stock up on resources, upgrade weapons using work benches, get side quests (like collecting the ingredients for a chef’s famous stew) or meet up with old friends. She also has a much larger skill tree that in the original game which can be upgraded to improve things like her hunting, stealthiness and combat prowess.

Aloy also has some new gadgets this time to help in her quest to save humanity: The pullcaster will not only let Aloy reach high vantage points but lets her pull open vent covers or drag crates that can be used to access facilities and buildings. She has an arm-fitted sail that lets her glide from high points or from a tall structure onto a tall neck. It’s a nice way to quickly descend from a mountain top and you’re able to cover a fair bit of ground this way.

In more than 28 hours with Forbidden West (which is seemingly only around 25% of the game’s overall completion), I have collected three key components of Gaia, defeated countless rebels and machines, traipsed through the sandstorm-ravaged remains of Las Vegas, swum in crystal clear waters, ascended high peaks and recruited new team mates to help the fight.

So far I’ve completed 12 main quests, three side quest, killed 189 machines killed (91 by critical strikes), overrode four machines (mainly chargers), killed 100 human kills, collected two relics from ruins, lit 78 campfires (I like to save often), ate 437 medicinal berries and obtained 20 legendary items, including all four special gear items.

I climbed tall necks, took on giant machines, saved some miners from certain death and wander countless kms by foot because I forgot to override a charger every now and then.

OK, criticisms.

I felt at times the game world just had too much stuff to do outside the main quests. This is something that all open-world games seem to suffer these days and I think at times Forbidden West suffers from it, too. Pull up the game map and there is almost a bewilderingly huge amount of icons dotting the landscape of things to find: It often became a mass of campfire icons, question marks indicating unexplored features, rebel camps to clear out and undiscovered machine grazing grounds.

Talking of rebel camps, I honestly couldn’t be bothered clearing out the rebel camps as it didn’t really seem to make much difference to the main quests – and fighting the human enemies most of the times was just, well, not fun.

I also felt that at times the game fell into the tried-and-true video game tropes space and I encountered the odd graphical glitch, too. Nothing major but enough to notice. Generally it was pieces of buildings that were missing as Aloy approached the structure then suddenly loaded into view when she got close enough. The HDR also did weird things from time to time, especially when I transitioned from the map screen back to the game, with all the game particles popping a brilliant white before settling down.

Taken using Horizon Forbidden West’s photo mode.

I’d also suggest playing on normal or above difficult as testing it out on Easy mode for a bit proved no challenge at all, even when facing against some of the most fearsome machines. If you want a challenge, stick with the higher difficulty levels.

Horizon Forbidden West builds on the solid foundations laid by Zero Dawn and while it doesn’t reinvent the wheel here, this sequel gives us a more expansive world and a much stronger narrative. I have enjoyed my time with it immensely and highly recommend it.

Horizon Forbidden West is also a technical showcase for what Sony’s PlayStation 5 is capable of with a truly talent development team.

What a time to be a gamer, eh?

A big thanks to PlayStation NZ PR for the early game code.

Taken using Horizon Forbidden West photo mode.

HARDWARE REVIEW: PNY XLR8 2TB NVME M.2 drive & SSD cover with integrated heat sink

This will be the last post for Gamejunkie for 2021. What a year it’s been, eh? I want to thank all of you who took the time to visit and comment. I really do appreciate your support. Here’s to 2022!

Those of us that own a PlayStation 5 are going to face, at some point, the prospect of the paltry available storage space on the console running out. It’s an undeniable reality.

There’s only something like 667Gb of storage available on the PS5’s 1TB drive once the operating system and associated system files are taken into account, so if you plan on expanding your PS5 game library then you’re going to eventually have to buy more storage space.

PlayStation has updated the PS5’s software to let you install third-party SSD drives that will expand the available storage and today, I’m looking at Taiwanese tech company PNY’s XLR8 gaming series 2TB M.2 SSD drive and its PS5 cover with integrated heat sink. The SSD, which can also be used to upgrade the storage in your PC, is an excellent option to boost your PS5 storage capacity, providing ample storage for games.

PNY claims the M.2 2280 form factor PCIe Gen 4 x4 NVMe drive can provide a sequential read of up to 7500MB/second and a sequential write speed of up to 6550MB/second. The drive comes in capacities of up to 4TB of storage and according to PNY exceeds PlayStation’s speed requirements of 5500MB/second for an SSD drive. It comes with a 5 year warranty.

PNY’s SSD cover and integrated heat sink doesn’t come with the SSD drive – you’ll need to buy it separately – which I suggest you do for use in your PS5 as it’ll help dissipate the heat that is generated inside the console. PlayStation recommends a heat sink for any SSD upgrade to your PS5.

The aluminum heat sink attaches to the SSD via a thick adhesive thermal pad and has a rather fetching finish with the XLR8 logo etched into the left hand side. Another nice feature is that the heat sink is big enough that you won’t need to use the PS5’s stock (and rather flimsy) heat sink cover (that’s it in the photo below).

Removing the PS5’s heat sink cover that reveals the SSD bay.

Installation of the SSD and heat sink themselves was super simple and probably the toughest job was actually removing the PS5’s cover to access the SSD drive bay (you have to lift from one corner and slide from another to pop it off).

Once the PS5 cover is off, you use a screw driver to remove the SSD cover and the M.2 holding screw and spacer. You insert the SSD drive carefully into the mounting bracket (it’s a little fiddly), screw it down using the M.2 screw and spacer, press on the SSD heat sink then secure that using the supplied screw from PNY. You then replace the PS5’s side cover.

The PNY XLR8 CS3140 SSD installed in the expansion bay of the PS5.
The XLR8 PS5 SSD cover & integrated heat sink fitted to the SSD drive.

Powering on my PS5, it immediately recognised the new SSD and advised me that it needed to be formatted. Once formatted, I was told there was 2TB of usable storage space available. The PS5 did a speed test, returning a read speed of 6346MB/second, exceeding PlayStation’s minimum required minimum read speed.

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I copied four games from the PS5’s internal storage to the XLR8 SSD: Ratchet & Clank Rift Apart, Kena Bridge of Spirits, Death Stranding Director’s Cut and Ghost of Tsushima. In total, 181GB of data was transferred from the internal SSD to the PNY drive, taking 2 minutes 30 seconds.

Overall, I am really impressed with the load times and speeds that PNY’s XLR8 CS3140 SSD offers. While I haven’t checked internal temperatures, the drive is doing what it should and at times load times on the XLR8 drive actually seem faster than that of the PS5’s own internal drive, which is definitely a win-win in my book (the XLR8 actually offers a faster read time than the internal PS5 drive, too).

Prices weren’t available at time of posting so I will update the post when they become available. I’ll also keep you updated on the reliability of the drive over the coming months.

A big thanks to PNY’s Australian PR for supplying the review units

A conversation about: Kena Bridge of Spirits

Kena Bridge of Spirits is a new PlayStation IP that has players control the titular character, Kena, a young spirit guide, as as she works to rid an evil corruption from a once-beautiful land & restore balance back to the world.

The game comes from first-time game developer Ember Lab, a creative studio more well-known for its animation and digital content work than video game making.

Thanks to Ember Lab, I got to play Kena Bridge of Spirits and I thought it was a good opportunity to have a chat about it with my gaming colleague Guy (Twitter: @nzBrowncoat), who also had a crack at it.

Here are our thoughts.

Guy: So, Kena Bridge of Spirits. First impressions in a nut shell?

Gerard: I like it. Right of the bat I just want to mention how damn gorgeous it is. It’s got a real Pixar-like visual style about it – and it’s not surprising, really, given that the developer Ember Lab have a background in animation. They’ve managed to really imbide emotion and feeling into her face, which is impressive. Game play wise, look, it’s not reinventing the wheel as it’s uses a lot of the tried-and-true platformer mechanics but a nice twist is the Rot, little spirit creatures that can Kena finds as she explores the world. They help Kena during combat and help solve puzzles around the world. What are your thoughts?

Guy: I am pleased I stuck with it. As after my first 30 minutess I was worried. It seemed very safe. Pretty…but safe but after I ticked over the hour mark I was totally sold. The combat is simple yet fun, the environments a stunning and the “Rots” scream plushy toy cute. Totally agree on Ember Labs, too. If this is their first ever game, man, what will they do next!

Gerard: Oh, yeah, they do. I love that cheeky grin when Kena discovers another Rot. I think safe is a good word there. It’s not trying anything too dramatic but it does things really competently and the game just has a feel good feeling about it. I liked how the backstory of the tormented spirits that Kena has to free is done through cinematic moments. They’re incredibly well done and I could quite happy watch a full length movie of Ember Labs’ animation work.

Guy: I think it takes too long to get to a complexity in both puzzles and combat, so that every encounter/environment is fun. For an eight hour game, I would say the first two hours could have been compacted down but I get that this game is catering for all ages, so younger gamers need a bit more of a slow burn into mechanics. What are your thoughts on the boss fight difficulty spikes?

Gerard: I agree that the combat is definitely a slow burn in that it introduces the enemy types gradually so that it doesn’t overwhelm the player too quickly but it might frustrate seasoned gamers. That said, some of those tougher enemies can really pack a wallop and I was floored a few times by some of the more aggressive ones. The boss fights up the ante, too, so you’ll definitely be challenged the further you progress. What did you think about the puzzle elements? I think it’s just the right mix of not “mind-numbingly easy but not pull-your-hair out hard”. I did like the mechanic where Kena could manipulate glowing rocks using exploding orbs, allowing her to create paths to higher points on the map.

Guy: I liked the puzzles. Chaining the energy to open doors, using the “Rots” to move items to pressure pads felt very Pikman. Sort of anyway LOL.

Gerard: Yeah, it is very Pikman-like. Nicely put.

Guy: I so enjoyed the aesthetic. Friendly, fun, inviting and just nice to be around. Its the same feeling I got playing Sack-Boys Big Adventure. So many games especially in this high-production space, are so dark and brutally violent. It was nice to play something that even for me (a 40yr old gamer) to exclaim aloud, “Ooooooh, man, that it cute right there.” LOL.

Gerard: Yeah, it totally is, right? It’s just got a fantastic feel good vibe about it and Kena is so wholesome and the Rot are amazingly cute. I smiled every time I found another one and it made that cheesy grin. Plus you can buy hats for them. Hats that look like mushrooms. Hats with horns on them. They look super cute. I can’t want to see what Ember Lab come up with next.

Guy: Haha, the hats!! I have two teenage kids who dragged themselves away from Reddit due to the beautiful graphics and ended up very vocal helping me choose and buy the hats for my “Rots”.

Gerard: Any gripes? I sometimes thought the jumping was a little floaty, and perhaps it’s because I’ve got used to having it in other games, but some kind of aim lock when Kena is using the bow and arrow – especially if you’re target shooting – would have been really helpful. I gave up on a few of the target shooting mini-games because it just proved too hard to line up the shots.

Guy: The aiming thing on the bow… the camera sensitivity is wrong. I almost doubled it from ‘default’ and it was waaaaay better. Then when I unlocked slow-mo the mini games were a breeze. Gripes? I would say the combat is not tuned enough for the punishment it dolls out. That window for ‘parry’ felt a tad inconsistent, so risking a missed parry was, too, well risky. So I tended to roll in bash-bash, and roll away. That would be my only gripe. What are your thoughts on the characters and voice work?

Gerard: Oh, yeah, the slow-mo. That works really nice in combat when you have a few foes or you want to got for a sensitive point on one of the larger enemies. In terms of voice work and characters, I thought it was well done but I would have loved to have learned more about her backstory. Overall I thought it was an amazing first effort from Ember Lab.

Guy: Overall very hard to find fault. Awesome price for the production level and level of polish on offer. Very “done-before” in terms of actual Nuts and Bolts game play mechanics and skill trees…like I said “safe”. But I loved it. It was a joy to play, the “Rots” are cute as hell and it was a perfect length for a weekend game. Nicely done Ember Labs.

Gerard: Looks like we both had a blast and highly recommend this to anyone after a nice chill-out PlayStation game (it’s on PS4 and PS5).

Kena Bridge of Spirits is out now for PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5.

Death Stranding Director’s Cut review: A triumphant return

Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding, like many of the Japanese game maker’s titles before it, is a game that polarised people when it came out on PlayStation 4 in 2019.

Placing players in the work boots of Sam Porter Bridges (played by The Walking Dead’s Norman Reedus), a delivery man working to re-establish a broken and fractured post-apocalyptic America, many heralded the game as the second coming. Others saw it as a grind-laden walking simulator.

I’ve always found Kojima’s games a little bizarre. I didn’t play the early Metal Gear Solid games & only bought Metal Gear Solid V because of all the praise it received from everyone. I hated it. I sold the game disc to a friend pretty soon after I bought it.

Last year, however, I played the PC version of Death Stranding for the other website I write for (to see how it fared on PC) and for the most part, I enjoyed it, concluding “I’m not sure whether it’ll completely win me over but I’ve found myself kind of enjoying creeping through BT (Beach Things)-infested plains and silent valleys.”

For the uninitiated, Death Stranding is a game where you walk from point A to point B then generally back to point B but sometimes via point C and E. There’s stealth thrown in every now and then where Sam has to avoid the BTs – floating remnants of dead people – which can cause events called “voidouts”. If caught by a BT Sam will have to face off against animal-like creatures made out of a tar-like goo that would like nothing more than to eat him if they got the opportunity.

They explode in a shower of a chirrilium, a gold coloured compound that sprouts from the ground in the shape of a hand when the boss is defeated.

The story involves people with names like Fragile, Deadman, Heartman and Die-Hardman and Sam carries an infant in a portable incubator called a Bridge Baby attached to his suit. It can sense BTs. There’s also a protagonist called Cliff, a former special forces solider who is searching for his lost BB, which just so happens to be Sam’s BB. It’s confusing and complicated.

Fast forward to September 2021 and I’m playing the PlayStation 5 enhanced version of Death Stranding thanks to a review copy supplied by PlayStation NZ and I think that the changes made to this version have actually made the game more enjoyable and accessible and I’m enjoying it much more the second time around.

Sure, it still has the incessant grind where one minute you could be delivering underwear to a base somewhere high in a mountain range while the next you’re transporting old parts to a junk man, but the refinements in the new version have made it a less frustrating experience and a, dare I say it, more enjoyable experience.

The Director’s Cut brings a few quality of life improvements: For starters, you gain access to equipment like the wearable power skeletons (which makes you walk faster or through rough terrain) and new weapons much earlier on now.

There’s also the cargo catapult that is, as the name suggests, a canon that that sends cargo into safer areas, avoiding zones that might put it at risk from at the best MULES and at worst BTs. Being able to use those things much earlier on makes things so much easier to traverse the environments – and makes the grind less of, well, a grind.

There are also new story missions and a racing track – and the Monster Energy drink found in Sam’s living quarters has now been replaced by another game-specific brand!

The Director’s Cut of Death Stranding brings a performance mode which up scales to 4K (from 1800p) & targets 60 frames per second and a fidelity mode that offers native 4K but slightly reduced performance. It also has faster load times thanks to the PS5’s SSD & uses the haptics and adaptive triggers of the PS5 controller remarkably well.

Another new feature is that you can replay the boss battles through the figurines on display in Sam’s private room & you can even use a Buddy Bot – an automated delivery robot – to give Sam a lift when he’s tired of walking. They’re small quality of life changes but they’re welcome.

What hasn’t changed here is Hideo Kojima’s movie-like treatment of the game: It’s still incredibly cut-scene heavy but thankfully you can skip them, which is a god send. I really don’t need to sit through four cut scenes every time Sam goes to his private quarters or takes a shower. It’s just a little too much.

As weird as the story is, though, to its credit it’s delivered so masterfully by the ensemble cast that I found myself strangely engaging with what was going on. I mean, I was still confused half the time but it was presented so well that I just went with it.

Death Stranding is also intriguing in that it’s a persistent online world too which means that one morning you’ll step out from your safe house to find overnight while you’ve slept, someone has built a bridge over a nearby ravine or a shelter that will protect you from the acidic timefall rain.

So far, I’ve sunk around 21 hours into Death Stranding Director’s Cut & I’ve just finished Episode 7 (there are 14 from what I understand ). It’s a long, long game with a few of the episodes chocked to the brim with the weird shit that you’d expect in a Kojima game.

Here’s the thing, though: On paper, Death Stranding isn’t normally the type of game that would capture my attention but here we are, more than 20 hours in and I’m still happy to strap a antimatter bomb to my backpack and drudge 2000m through rocky terrain (and possibly deep snow) to deliver the item to some doomsday prepper way in the back of beyond.

Or take on a bunch of enemies to recover a camera for a photographer just because it has sentimental value. Or continuously slide down an icy cliff face, determined to get the winter clothing required for a mission-critical delivery.

The Director’s Cut of Death Stranding has something pushing me forward that the game couldn’t do when I played it on PC. I also found that completing one or two deliveries then putting the game down – sometimes until the next day – worked well. It broke up the trudging from point A to point B into more digestible chunks.

Even with the new additions, Death Stranding will still divide gamers but personally, after spending time with both the original Death Stranding and now the Director’s Cut, I believe that if you’re on the fence over whether you should dip your toes into Hideo Kojima’s weird but kind of intriguing world, then the Director’s Cut is definitely the way to go. I also appreciated the soundtrack more this time around, especially when a tune kicks in when you’re mid-delivery. It’s calming.

Who knows: Like me, you might find some solace wandering alone through a post-apocalyptic landscape with nothing but the cargo on your back and a baby strapped to your chest for company.

PSA: PS5, graphics card demand outstrips supply

Data from product comparison site PriceSpy has confirmed what many gamers still trying to get their hands on hardware like a PlayStation 5 or a new nVidia 3000 series graphics card already knew: A global shortage is leading to high demand and inflated prices.

The illusive PlayStation 5.

Liisa Matinvesi-Bassett, New Zealand country manager for PriceSpy, says: “Our data shows Kiwis have never been more into gaming goods than now, with the PS5 a clear winner that many want in their homes. In fact, the console is currently the most-popular product on our website, above some 139,337 other indexed items. Since the start of this year, we’ve seen significant growth across the shopping category of graphics cards both in New Zealand and globally.”

PriceSpy’s key findings:

  • In New Zealand, popularity for graphics cards doubled on PriceSpy, compared to the same time in 2020 (up 111 per cent)*
  • Globally, popularity for graphics cards increased 276 per cent, compared to the same time in 2020****.
  • Consumer buying interest for gaming products, such as the PS5 and graphics cards has skyrocketed this year*;
  • Kiwi shoppers could struggle to find stock availability due to global supply shortages;
  • Whilst the launch of two popular gaming consoles in November last year may play a contributing factor to the shortage of supply, so too is the fact that more people than ever are staying home globally – and these people want to keep entertained;
  • The recent rise in the price of the cryptocurrency, bitcoin, is also driving up consumer buying interest globally for graphics cards, which are required to mine bitcoin currency;
  • Covid-19 has continued to globally affect manufacturing, supply chains, distribution channels and demand;
  • All of these factors are impacting the overall price of goods. The new PS5 for example can only be purchased second-hand, with prices reaching as much as $1650 on Trade Me. And, according to PriceSpy’s price index, the indexed price point for graphics cards has risen, up nine per cent year-on-year since the start of the year.

As a result of Covid-19 impacting manufacturing processes, supply chains, distribution channels and consumer buying interest rising, PriceSpy warns, many shoppers may struggle to physically get hold of these in-demand items from retailers due to global supply shortages.

Matinvesi-Bassett continues: “Since the PS5 first launched, consumer buying interest for Sony’s latest flagship console quickly skyrocketed. In fact, before it was even released in November 2020 last year, it was already the most-clicked on product on PriceSpy, above thousands of other items.

“But, with global supply chains affected by Covid-19, stock soon ran out – and popularity quickly dropped off. However, since the start of February, even though stock levels have not yet returned, consumer buying interest has once again peaked – with the PS5 ranking again as most-clicked on product on PriceSpy.”

The lack of product availability also appears to be driving up the price of the PS5 on the second-hand market, with prices on Trade Me reaching as much as $1650, $831 over its RRP**.

And it’s not just the PS5 that’s increasing in popularity and price…

“Graphics cards may not be an item that appeals to everyone, but our data shows popularity has peaked, increasing 111 per cent year on year*, which is extremely high. We believe this additional demand is driven by a number of reasons,” says Matinvesi-Bassett.

There are several reasons why graphics cards are sold out:

Supply issues
Firstly, there’s the production aspect.
Many Chinese factories stopped manufacturing graphics cards during the onset of the Covid-19 outbreak. The graphics card manufacturer, AMD, has probably also needed to use a significant part of its production capacity to provide the new gaming consoles with graphics cards. All this means that manufacturers have not been able to produce as many cards as required.

More time at home
Covid-19 has seen us all spend more time at home, which has resulted in an increase in popularity of all types of entertainment, including gaming consoles – up by almost a third year-on-year***.
Similarly, more may be looking to upgrade their gaming equipment, as consumer buying interest on PriceSpy for CPUs grew 58 per cent* and graphics cards up 111 per cent*.

The rise in price of Bitcoin
The price of Bitcoin has risen exponentially over the last three months, further increasing consumer buying interest for graphics cards which are used for mining.

Supply levels demand – driving up the price of goods
For the PS5, it is only available ‘second-hand’ via Trade Me and is being sold at a much higher price than its RRP.

With availability of graphics cards now scarce, the indexed price point for these items on PriceSpy has risen almost nine per cent since the start of this year.

“Without a doubt, Covid-19 continues to affect the retail sector. From manufacturing, supply chains, distribution, consumer buying interest and price. It’s therefore more important than ever that consumers carry out important price research before they buy, to make sure the price they are purchasing at is fair and reasonable and not over the odds,” says Matinvesi-Bassett.

*Kiwis’ buying interest between 1 January and 1 March 2021 vs 1 January and 1 March 2020.

**Prices correct as of 2 March 2021

***Between 1 January and 1 March 2021, Kiwis’ buying interest for gaming consoles increased 30 per cent year-on-year. Source: PriceSpy

Spider-man Miles Morales review: A new generation, a new hero

In Spider-man Miles Morales, the latest Spider-man game from longtime PlayStation darling developer Insomniac, we have a new hero for a new [console] generation.

Regular Spider-man [Peter Parker] has headed off on holiday with Mary Jane so Miles Morales is left in charge and has to protect New York city from the bad people – and guess what? Bad people come a-knocking in the guise of renegade revolutionaries the Underground and shady corporate figurehead Simon Krieger and his energy company Roxxon.

Miles was in Insomniac’s last Spider-man game and is the star of Netflix’s rather excellent Spider-man Into the Spiderverse animated movie and there’s a nice “Previously” feature at the beginning of the game that fills you in just in case you haven’t played the original game – or just plain forgot.

Right off the bat, Miles Morales looks fantastic on the PlayStation 5, with a much busier and detailed New York than the original Spider-man on PlayStation 4 [which has, incidentally, been remastered for the PlayStation 5, by the way]. Texture work is just insane on Miles and his spidey suits and Insomniac really have nailed, again, the swinging through the city streets mechanic.

The biggest thing that has impressed with with Miles Morales, though, is the super quick load times off the PS5 SSD. From pressing “continue” on the game’s menu screen to being in-game, it’s a scant four seconds. Four seconds. I know it’s four seconds because I counted every single time I played just to make sure that I wasn’t dreaming.

The PS5 version comes with two visual modes: Fidelity, which runs at 30PFS, 4K with all the graphical bells and whistles [impressive ray tracing, particle effects] and Performance which drops the resolution down [a bit] and removes the ray tracing and other things that will impact on high frame rates, delivering a pretty solid 60 frames per second.

With my eyes, I found it visually really hard to tell the difference between the two modes when I was zipping around New York. Sure, the fidelity mode looks a little bit prettier, especially with its ray tracing, but I played mostly in performance mode as movement just feels so much smoother as does combat which feels slower when dropping back to 30FPS. In fact, it’s quite jarring going back to 30 FPS with the fidelity mode, which I did sometimes only because I wanted to take some neat photos with the sweet ray tracing action.

As is the norm these days, Miles Morales has a pretty robust photo mode – although getting to it is a bit of a pain, especially when you’re mid-swing [You have to hit the pause button then scroll down to photo mode]. There must be a better way of accessing it that I don’t know about. All the photos in this review were taken from the game’s photo mode.

Spider-man Miles Morales is the game to show off to your friends and family just what the PS5 can do in terms of graphical grunt and speedy load times. It’s also a game that shows off what a talent development studio like Insomniac can do: I can only imagine what the company will be releasing with a few more years PS5 development experience under it’s already impressive belt.

I wait in anticipation.