Late to the Party: Spider-Man review

Selfie courtesy of the game’s photo mode.

Late to the Party is a n infrequent feature when I review a game that has been out for a while but I haven’t been able to review it at launch. Today, I’m looking at Spider-Man, on the PlayStation 4, which arrived a day after I had left for vacation in Canada. I was gone for a month.

For me, the Peter Parker in Insomniac’s Spider-Man isn’t the youthful Tom Holland from the most recent Avengers movies (inexperienced and unsure of his abilities), nor Toby Maguire’s Peter Parker (new to the superhero lark), but Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker, a superhero that is comfortable with his abilities and wearing the red-and-blue suit, but a little socially awkward at times.

In Insomniac’s Spider-Man, Peter Parker has been spinning the web for a while now, so he’s come to grips with his abilities and what he is capable of and the narrative features an ensemble cast of well-known villains and characters from Spider-Man lore, including Doctor Otto Octavius (Doc Oct), Martin Li (Mister Negative) Scorpion, Tombstone, Electro, (love interest) Mary Jane, Aunt May and Norman Osborn. The story has Peter defeating crime kingpin Wilson Fisk in the opening moments of the game,  putting him behind bars, only for another crime lord to rise in his place in the form of Martin Li, or Mister Negative.

As I write this, I’ve been back from  Canada for almost a week and have completed about 55 per cent of Spider-Man’s main campaign, collected 50 of the 55 backpacks and done about half a dozen research missions.I’ve also taken on thugs patrolling construction sites, tried to (unsuccessfully) capture wayward pigeons and had my arse kicked (a few times) by men armed with electric whips.

One of the first things that I noticed with Spider-Man is that Insomniac have nailed the swinging mechanic perfectly. Before too long, you’ll be performing acrobatics between skyscrapers towering above the traffic and pedestrian-filled streets and zipping through the air. In fact, the swinging mechanic is so good I didn’t feel the want (or need) to use the game’s fast travel system: It was more fun getting to the location using the old-fashioned Spidey way.

Melee combat is integral to Spider-Man and it’s top-notch, reminding me a lot of the combat in  Rocksteady’s Batman Arkham series, and once I’d got to grips with the plethora of moves and combos, combat was fast and fluid, with me being able to guide Spidey from foe to foe seamlessly, filling up my suit’s focus meter which then let me unleash brutal finishing moves on hapless foes.

I watched my son, who has completed the main story (yeah, yeah, it’ll ruin the story for me. I know), and there were some hallucination sequences that, again, reminded me a heck of a lot of Rocksteady’s Arkham series (you know the segments where a tiny Batman has to sneak around while a giant Scarecrow taunts him). I’m saying that as praise, not a criticism, by the way.

There’s a lot to do in Spider-Man when you’re not doing the main story mission, from collecting backpacks that Peter has left dotted around the city and doing research for Harry Osborn using laboratories he has left around the city to unlocking corrupted communications towers (which is a game mechanic that I think has been done to death in video games) and taking selfies at famous New York landmarks. While some of the busy work seems formulaic, a lot of it was a good break from the hectic moments of the main story.

There’s a benefit to that busywork, too: The more collectibles and side stuff  you complete, the more weapons, gadgets, skills and suit mods you can unlock so there’s a real incentive to do the busy work: The results are well worth it. I mean, what’s not to love about a bomb that explodes, showering all around it with web or electric web that shocks enemies.

One thing I wasn’t a fan of is the wave-based enemy system used when you want to take down construction sites under Fisk’s control and demon bases ruled by Li but defeating bases is essential to unlock in-game Spidey suits, so I tolled away at them, but it was  my least favourite aspect of the game.

Spider-Man doesn’t  invent the wheel when it comes to third-person action games – plenty of other games have done the same thing and Spider-Man does fall into the formulaic overused video game tropes at times  – but Insomniac’s Marvel superhero game is so much bloody fun, with an engaging narrative, well-fleshed out characters and great game mechanics that it’s another reason why, for me, PlayStation is simply owning this console generation hands down.

Now to see if I can complete it before Red Dead Redemption 2 drops this week (I’ve pre-ordered the game: I’m not getting review code). I don’t like my chances.

Red Dead Redemption 2: I am ready

Rockstar dropped a game play trailer of the upcoming Red Dead Redemption 2 this morning, and after watching it today, I pity any other game/s that is/are coming out in October because, seriously, RDR2 is going to leave them sniffling wrecks, crying, curled up in the corner of a room.

Here’s 6 minutes and five seconds of RDR2. I pre-ordered this game two months ago. I usually never pre-order video games. In fact, I’ve pre-ordered only two video games in 40 years of playing video games (this and Batman Arkham Knight).

I have no more words. Just watch the trailer.

God, October can’t come fast enough. My PlayStation 4 is ready and waiting.

God of War: All hail to the king

At its heart, God of War on the PlayStation 4 is a road trip featuring an angry God trying to bond with his son and forget his past, and a son who wants to be a warrior like his father but doesn’t know how.

As road trips go, this is a helluva ride, as Kratos and his young son Atreus trek to a formidable mountain to bury the ashes of the warrior’s recently deceased wife, but as fathers go, Kratos has a bit to learn and is, quite frankly, a bit of a dick to Atreus.

During an early hunting trip when Atreus misses a shot at a deer and tells Kratos he’s sorry, the bearded God simply replies: “Don’t be sorry. Be better.” Several times, Atreus frequently calls Kratos “Sir”, rather than father or dad.

Not that Kratos doesn’t try to work on his relationship with Atreus: There are  moments when Kratos wants to connect with his son – a comforting hand on the boy’s shoulder, a word of encouragement – but Kratos is clearly unsure of what it means to be a good, caring father so those fleeting moments are brief and his gruffness returns.

As the journey to the highest mountain in the realm progresses, Kratos tries to be a father by telling (rather bad) stories to Atreus as they row a canoe across a giant lake and it’s clear that the relationship between the two evolves and ever changes (Kratos becomes a little softer at times, Atreus pushes back a little) .

Kratos and the relationship with Atreus isn’t the only major change here: The scenery, too, is different, moving from Ancient Greece to Midgard, home of Norse mythos and the mighty vikings. The change in location is welcome and it’s littered with lush forests, ice-covered mountains and deep caverns and, of course, it’s all steeped in Norse legend.

Combat is dramatically changed from previous games in the series but, in my opinion, for the better. Kratos no longer has the blades of chaos that he swings from chains wrapped around his bandaged forearms (although, as if a nod to the past, he still wears the bloodied bandages) , instead he has the leviathan axe, a mystical weapon forged by two dwarfs who also created the mighty hammer of Thor. The axe can be hurled at enemies  then snapped back to Kratos like a boomerang, adding a new dimension to the combat.

The combat is still as bloody as ever, with brutal finishing moves that will cleave an enemy in half, and Atreus is  on hand to unleashing a barrage of arrows on foes as well as choke them with his bow’s string.. The combat feels satisfying and visceral although, at times it seems like it takes cheap shots by throwing in smaller enemies to the mix as you battle larger foes.  I’m not really that keen on being attacked from behind while I’m trying to avoid the fiery breath of a soul eater!

Beginning its life on the PlayStation 2,  the God of War series has always been about spectacle and Kratos’ place in the world, and this new GOW has spectacle aplenty but in previous games, Kratos was often dwarfed by his surroundings (remember the opening fight in GOW3 on the earth mother Gaia? The camera pulls back and you see Kratos is miniscule compared to his surroundings), now, Kratos is given real stature in the world,  real gravitas.

He’s now no longer dwarfed by the world as dramatically. Shifting the camera to behind Kratos’ shoulders as he moves, too, helps with this scale and shows you just how big he is. He dwarfs Atreus, who is wiry and small.

Kratos can upgrade everything from his armour and skills  to his weapons  using items found in the game world and a currency called hacksilver, and you can also upgrade Atreus’ kit as well. Quick time button presses are here but they don’t overstay their welcome, and now when you open chests you do’t have to mash buttons furiously like you used to do. The environmental puzzles won’t have you scratching your head and have you stumped for ages, either, but are clever enough that you’ll murmur a quiet “Ahhh …” when you solve one.

If you’re playing on a PS4 Pro, like I am, you’re in for a treat: God of War looks fantastic, even on my 1080p HD 55-inch TV, with amazing attention to detail and jaw-dropping vistas, and the game is bursting with colour and vibrancy.

The game world is filled with small details: Glowing particles float in the air from fires, muscles twitch underneath Krato’s skin as he moves, his beard is flecked with grey hairs, bark hangs from tree trunks. This is the best looking God of War ever without a doubt.

PlayStation 4 Pro can also chose either performance mode, which will give a better frame rate, or resolution mode, which will output at a resolution of 2160p checkerboarded. I played most of the game on the resolution mode as I like things to look purdy and the frame rate stays pretty rock solid. You’ll can also select a less intrusive UI (user interface), which means less screen clutter but personally, I like to see how much health my enemies have left.

The PS4 might not be the most powerful console in the world, but you know what? God of War is proof of what can be done when a publisher establishes a development studio like Santa Monica Studio then backs it and allows it the creative freedom to go wild and do what it does best. God of War is the result.

Ultimately, Santa Monica Studio has brought us a tale featuring a boy and a man trying to get to know each other in some pretty trying circumstances but, my word, what an adventure it is.

Simply put, God of War is one of the best games I’ve played this generation. Pure and simple.

Thanks to PlayStation NZ for an advanced copy of God of War, which is out on PlayStation 4 on April 20.

 

Yakuza 6: The Song of Life: Farewell, Kiryu-san, my old friend

My love of Sega’s Yakuza series has been well-documented on this site. If you haven’t read my last blog post on why I think the series is so great  (and, for goodness sake, why not?), you can find it here but the Yakuza games hold a special place in my heart.

First appearing on the PlayStation 2, the Yakuza games chronicle the life of former (but now disgraced) Yakuza, Kazuma Kiryu. I’ve seen Kiryu grow as a character through the series and while in Yakuza 6, he might be a little older (younger foes constantly refer to him as old man before they inevitably get their arses handed to them on a plate), he might have a little more grey around the temples, but he still carries the presence of a Yakuza  (he was Fourth Chairman, after all), despite insisting to people he is just a civilian.

Yakuza 6 (PlayStation 4 only) focuses on Kiryu returning to Kamurocho after spending time in prison for past crimes, hoping to live out the rest of his days in peace in the orphanage he founded,  with Haruka, the young girl he fostered it’s kind of complicated). On his return, he finds that Haruka is missing and while searching for her in Kamurocho, learns she is in a coma after a hit and run – and she has a new born son. Kiryu return to Onomichi Jingaicho in Hiroshima to find out what happened to Haruka.

While it’s not crucial to have played previous Yakuza games before (there is a good video run down in the main menu that will get you up to date) and Yakuza 6 is probably the most accessible of the series, I feel for a series like this it’s always good to have played at least one other game as you’ll be aware of the backstory and have been introduced to keyl characters such as like Makoto Date, Kiryu’s arch-nemesis Goro Majima, and Kiryu’s once best friend Nishikiyama.

While previous Yakuza games tended to stick to the one location, Kamurocho, Yakuza 6 ventures forth to Onomichi Jingaicho in Hiroshima. Having a new location really adds depth to the game’s narrative, and there’s an interesting dynamic on display as a big city Yakuza gets to grips with how things are in the provinces. Like previous Yakuza games, the towns are jammed pack with restaurants, entertainment venues, convenience stores and bars. As is common throughout Japan, there are lots and lots of vending machines in Yakuza 6, too.

 

Combat has always been an important part of the Yakuza series. In earlier games, Kiryu could mix between four different styles, each one different to the other . Things are slightly different in Yakuza 6 (gone are the variety of fighting styles), but ultimately, combat centres around Kiryu building up his  “heat” meter, which he can then activate (with the R2 button) and unleash a variety of punches and kicks with delivers powerful finishing moves. I thought some of the finishes in Yakuza 0 and Kiwami were over-the-top but in Yakuza 6 they take things to a whole new level.

New to Yakuza 6, is the clan battles, which has Kiryu ordering fighters he has recruited to help fight other street gangs. It’s view from the top-down perspective with Kiryu (you) ordering colleagues who to attack. It has a very strategy game feel to it, with different strength units.

Another thing the series has always been known for is its off-the-wall side missions and Yakuza 6 does not disappoint. To be honest,  they’re the type of quests that you’d only find in a Japanese game. Many of them are just head-scratchingly bonkers but they make you smile and don’t feel out-of-place.

One, for example, sees Kiryu dressing up as Onomichi Jingaicho’s  mascot Ono (which has a head of an orange with a bowl of ramen noodles as a hat) because the normal person who played the mascot just didn’t turn up. Another mission sees him having to stop and sing lullabies to Haruka’s baby son – who he is carrying around with him at times  – while he scours Onomichi Jingaicho after hours in search of baby formula. Speaking of babies, a nice touch is that when Kiryu encounters rivals on the street and it initiates a random fight, if he’s holding the baby, there’s a cut scene showing him handing the infant to a bystander before he launches into the fight. It’s those little details that are reasons why I just can’t get enough of Kazuma Kiryu and the Yakuza games.

There will be some who are put off by the off-the-wall side quests and the countless cut scenes with lines of dialogue that help move the story forward, but for me, that’s all part of what makes the series so great. Visually and technically, Yakuza 6 is  the best of the lot with amazing attention to detail when it comes to facial features of characters and the details of the environments. I also like the fat that (apart from the original Yakuza) the audio is Japanese with English subtitles: It just adds even more atmosphere to the game.

Yakuza 6 is said to be the last game of the series featuring Kazuma Kiryu, w hich will be a shame, but what is also a shame is that the Yakuza series isn’t as popular as it should be in the West: It’s a series that deserves more attention from gamers thanks to its deep narrative and strong character development. I can’t recommend the series highly enough but if you’re still on the fence, Sega has released a timed demo of Yakuza 6 that might whet your appetite.

Sayonara, Kiryu-san, it’s been a pleasure knowing you.

Thanks to Five Eight Distribution for the review copy of Yakuza 6: The Song of Life which was redeemed via digital distribution. 

 

 

Monster Hunter World diary Part 1: Where I have no idea what I’m doing

Part 1

While not a complete Monster Hunter newbie (I played a Japanese version on the PSP that I bought in Akihibara in 2008) but I’d be foolish to say that I went into Monster Hunter World having a clue on what I was supposed to be doing. That said, I thought I’d chronicle my adventures in MHW with a diary of sorts that describes how as a newbie I found things. I’ve also included a 15 minute video of me hunting a Kula-Ya-Ku bird. The video also features me climbing vines, opening my map a bit, swinging a giant broadsword, possibly eating some mushrooms and then, true to form, fainting and being carted back to my campsite. OK, here we go …

It’s me with my Palicoe buddy. Isn’t he cute?

I’ve only played about two hours of Monster Hunter World but this place is massive. I stuck with a fairly standard looking character, trying to get him to look a little like me, although I don’t have the rugged stubble on the chin that my hero does. I’ve got a cat companion called a Palicoe. I called him (I’m assuming he’s a he) Drew, after my dog. He’s a good companion so it seemed a good fit.

After completing the opening tutorial-like mission, I got to the hub world, and just like the environments, this place seems to sprawl on for ever and ever, another surprise around every corner. I followed the tutorial so I’ve learned how to (I think) upgrade my weapons and armour by going to the smithy and, importantly, how to fuel up before a big quest by gorging my face with food. I just love going to the canteen, ordering a vegetarian meal (I’m not vegetarian) and being served up a huge platter of cheese, drink and a whole fish! Cooked by Palicoes! This place is crazy.

On my first quest, which was really just exploring the world, I took down some low-level dinosaurs (I can’t even remember what they were) and hit in some undergrowth. I stumbled across some footprints that my scoutflies (is that right?) discovered. Apparently there is a big Jagras in the forest somewhere that I need to take down, if I’m up for it. Well, I decided I was up for it, despite not really knowing how combat works and still struggling with my great sword and its slow swing rate.

I followed the Jagras footprints till I eventually came him and what followed was a three-stage battle, with me mashing wildly at the action buttons on the controller, every now and then accidentally sheathing my sword when I thought I was swinging it. The Jagras puffed his chest out a lot and he reminded me a lizardy bullfrog. After a bit, he ran off, leaving me lying on the ground, having to eat mushrooms and smack flying bugs that replenished my vitality. What is this madness?

I still had to defeat the Jagras and the scoutflies lead me to his cave lair, where I found him sleeping – so I did what any good hunter in my position would likely dowould do: I whacked him in the back, hoping to injure him. It didn’t seem to work. Actually, I just seemed to make things worse. Long story short: After a lengthy battle that included hitting explosive flying things that stunned the Jagras, he was down. I was victorious!

I went back to hub world, fuelled up, upgraded my weapons (I still have no real idea what I’m doing but I’m not sporting a rather fetching outfit with armour fused with Jagras skin), chatted to my handler and was told I had to establish a hew camp deep in the forest. A flying monster picked me and Drew up, dropping us at the forward base camp. My handler tells me I have to establish another camp so off I head.

I stroll past some docile monsters, pick up some berries and other plants, and talk to a fisherman. I also collect some mucus, some dung and examine some piles of bones. I think the fisherman tells me he’s the best fisherman in all the land. Who am I to argue?  There’s a researcher woman standing a little bit further up the track. Doesn’t she know there are monsters roaming? I didn’t see if she had a weapon: I think she had a pen and clipboard, thought.

Suddenly, a Jagra appears so I hide in a bush. It walks past me then suddenly a tyrannasauraus-like monster appears. My handler tells me that I’m not to attack it as it is too strong for me. I don’t argue with her.

I eventually find the field leader who was waiting by some climbable vines that I missed completely. I think I walked past him a couple of times before realising I was supposed to talk to him. We climb up the vines, finding a flat piece of ground that will be suitable for a camp – but there’s a Kulu-Ya-Ku bird there, throwing pottery at us. I have to kill it as the camp won’t be safe if he’s wandering about.

I follow the Kulu-Ya-Ku’s phosphorous footprints, finding some doodles along the way, and eventually find him. I start swinging my giant sword at him. He picks up a bolder in his claws and throws it at me. I whack him with my giant sword, it clangs off his tail. What is is made of? Steel? The Kulu-Ya-Ku runs off but I lose track of him. I look at the map. Oh, he’s miles away. I eat some berries and carry on. Eventually, I find him, swinging my sword at him. He whacks me with his tail.

I hit some flying bug: It explodes, stunning the Kulu-Ya-Ku. I rush in for a charged swing but realise I’m facing the wrong was so watch my on-screen character swing wildly nowhere near the Kulu-Ya-Ku. My health is dropping so use the D-pad to scroll through my inventory. I find some raw meat, picking the button that I think will let me eat it. It doesn’t: The meat drops on the ground. I try again: The meat drops on the ground. The Kulu-Ya-Ku throws another rock at me.

Suddenly, a screen prompt tells me to waggle the left stick back and forth: I’ve been stunned. I frantically try but suddenly, I faint. That’s not very hero like, to be honest.

A cut scene suddnely appears, showing a palicoe tipping me off a cart back at the base camp. I decide I’m done for the day and quit the mission. I’ll try again tomorrow, once I’ve eaten a bit and licked my wounds. I’ll get you funny looking Kulu-Ya-Ku bird. I’ll get you yet.

To be continued …

Shadow of the Colossus review: An emotional rollercoaster

Thanks for PlayStation NZ for the review copy of Shadow of the Colossus. (The game was reviewed on a PS4 Pro, mainly using the performance mode but sometimes I switched to the cinematic mode just to check it out. Please note, the two videos included in this review show how to take down two colossi, so if you don’t want to know, don’t watch them.)

If a game is considered a success because of the emotions it arouses in a player, then, for me, Shadow of the Colossus is one of the best games of all time.

Despite its simple premise of a boy on a horse, traversing a vast, empty wasteland in search of 16 giants that he must kill in order to bring back his dead love, Shadow of the Colossus struck an emotional chord with me, so much so much so that I felt guilty about slaughtering some of the colossi, especially the ones that seemed to be minding their own business.

I took no pleasure in hearing their painful moans as I plunged a sword into their skulls, black liquid shooting from the gaping wound (each colossus has one or two glowing marks that must be repeatedly stabbed to kill them).  These massive beasts had done nothing to me but here I was, snuffing out their existence for my own selfish desires. I was feeling guilty about killing virtual giants, most of them shaking the earth as they crashed to the ground, lifeless.

I played the original Shadow of the Colossus on the PlayStation 2 then the remaster on the PlayStation 3 but for some reason, the game didn’t capture me then like it has now. I think I defeated the first two colossi, maybe. It could have had something to do with the less than friendly control scheme, which made for frustrating times and has been remapped here and is a vast improvement (ie it uses the R2 button for grab/hold, which is a much more ideal situation than the original game’s R1). Make no mistake, this is a re-make not a remaster. Be clear on that.

Apart from Wander (our hero), his horse Agro (is this the most wonderfully animated horse in all of video games?) and the colossi, the world is devoid of other life (apart from the odd lizard scurrying about and an eagle that follows Wander): There are no NPCs to converse with, no enemies that jump out from behind a rock to attack you, no traders to upgrade weapons,  and I think the game is all the better for it: It is singularly focused on what you have to do: Kill the colossi and not be distracted by side missions.

I started the game full of vigour and bravado, searching out the lumbering first colossus, and by the mid-point, I was starting to question that perhaps I was the monster, and not the beasts wandering the land. It tugs at your heart-strings and continues plucking as each colossus falls. Most of the colossus aren’t even aggressive towards you.

If you own a PlayStation 4 Pro, you’re in for a treat with Shadow of the Colossus, as the wizards at Bluepoint Games (longtime Sony collaborators) have given you a couple of nice options to play it in: A performance mode, which locks the framerate in at a buttery smooth 60 frames per second or a cinematic mode which pretties the graphics up but locks the frame rate at 30FPS. I played most of my play through using the performance mode: I mean, why wouldn’t you? With a game like this where jumps and perfect timing matters a lot,  a locked 60 frames per second is what you want, and guess what? The frame rate stays at that locked rate. I can’t say I noticed any hiccups or dips while playing. Sure, things look a little nicer in the cinematic mode but I don’t have a 4K TV yet, so I’ll save that mode for when I do have a newer panel.

The soundtrack deserves a mention, too. From the frantic orchestral pieces for each colossi to the quieter moments, the soundtrack is one that I could listen to time and time again. It’s fantastic. The game also has a pretty nifty photo mode, which I used to capture the images that accompany this review. Nice.

Shadow of the Colossus has faults: The camera goes wonky from time to time, obscuring your view of things and trying to climb onto Agro at times can be comical. I was also frustrated by a simple jumping puzzle against the third colossus, Gaius the Knight, for far longer than I should as Wander can’t sprint so I was forever missing the jump, plummeting to the cold water below, forcing me to try again and again and again until I got it.  Wander also can’t swim very well, which means the fight against the colossus that lives in water – Hydrus – extremely frustrating and more difficult than it should have been. I also felt that some colossi weren’t as impressive as others, for example, Gaius’ fight was awesome, Hydrus’ and Phaedra’s not so much.

Ultimately for me, Shadow of the Colossus is a game that evokes emotions –  whether that’s the intention or not by the game’s creators (I’m sure that is the intention) – both over what the player is doing throughout the course of the game and whether it’s all worth it. When a game makes you question what you are doing as a hero, as Shadow of the Colossus does, and makes you think whether you’re doing the right thing, it’s hitting all the right notes. Shadow of the Colossus hits all those notes for me.

 

 

Uncharted: The Lost Legacy media kit

Uncharted 4 (PlayStation 4) was one of my favourite games of last year: I always like the action that Naughty Dog crafted into the games featuring the likeable rogue Nathan Drake and its Indiana Jones-style of adventuring.

One of the new characters introduced in Uncharted 2,  was Chloe Frazer, a fellow treasure hunter.

In The Lost Legacy, the standalone campaign (which, I’m guessing, means you don’t need Uncharted 4 to play it – but it’ll certainly help with back story), Chloe is on a quest for a famed Indian artifact: The Golden Tusk of Ganesh. In order to find it – and keep it out of the hands of a ruthless war profiteer – she enlist the help of former paramilitary leader turned gun-for-hire Nadine Ross. The pair venture deep into the mountains of India’s Western Ghats to find the ruins of the Hoysala Empire and recover the legendary Golden Tusk of Ganesh.

The Lost Legacy is out next Wednesday (August 23) and will set you back $NZ69.95 (It’s PlayStation 4 only). Any impressions of the game are embargoed until tomorrow but I’m allowed to share photos of the media kit that PlayStation NZ sent me. PlayStation have always excelled at media kits when it comes to its marquee titles – and the one for The Lost Legacy doesn’t disappoint.

Look out for some impressions on The Lost Legacy next week – and details on how to win a copy of the game, thanks to PlayStation NZ.