The Game Junkie week: Tearaway & Ryse: Son of Rome

Tearaway: the game this is making me use my PS Vita lots

2013-11-08-134142I’ve already mentioned Tearaway on Game JunkieNZ 2.0 before, in a preview,  but I’ve been playing the full version quite a bit lately, and I can say without a doubt that it’s one of – if not the – best game I’ve played on the PS Vita. I’ve played it during the day and I’ve played it during the night.

If you’re  a fan of platform games then I can recommend Tearaway wholeheartedly, from its cute world made entirely out paper, to its endearing lead character, its great soundtrack and not forced use of the hardware’s touch capabilities. Tearaway should be played by everyone who owns a PS Vita but sadly, I think that the game will be overlooked a little as it was released around the same time frame that the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4. Part of me can’t help but feel that Media Molecule’s next big amazing game will be ignored by many gamers because they’re too busy Xbox One-ing and PlayStation 4-ing.

I’m not going to ramble on about Tearaway apart from say if you want an amazing game for your PS Vita that will make you smile and laugh then buy it. Just buy it.

Ryse Son of Rome (Xbox One)

RyseSonfRomeRyse is definitely one of the Xbox One’s showcase launch games thanks to its amazing graphics. It look freaken fantastic. It really does but it’s been getting a lot of mixed reviews, mainly because of  about it’s one-note combat and short game length.

It’s true that the combat is repetitive, made up of blocks and heavy strikes, but dammit, I enjoyed the game.

Detailing the rise of Roman general Marius Titus and his revenge against the barbarians that murdered his family, Ryse is, for the most part, an enjoyable romp, despite the fact that the story is a little ham-fisted at times. The game’s maker Crytek isn’t going to win any Oscars for story telling.

Yes, it takes liberties with history but what game hasn’t done that in the past? The voice acting is for the most part superb, with Titus voiced with conviction. Part of me can’t help but feel that perhaps many people are critical of Ryse because it hasn’t reinvented the wheel, which is what they were expecting. I don’t know. I’m probably wrong but apart from a few frustrating moments near the end, I wanted to finish the game.

Key to the success in Ryse’s combat  is blocking incoming attacks, which leaves enemies open to attack where Titus will hack and slash until a red skull appears above their head. When the skull appears, pressing the right trigger activates  the game’s cinematic execution sequences where you have to press the corresponding coloured face button (either X or Y) to match the coloured outline that has flashed around the enemy. Get it right and the executions are brutal: slow motion arms chopped off or swords through the chest. If you miss the prompts, Titus still kills the enemy anyway – you just don’t earn as many experience points.

Ryse is a linear affair – there’s chance for exploring the environment – and squad mate AI falls flat at times. Sometimes I thought Titus was the only Roman soldier fighting the barbarian hordes. During one “Stop the siege towers mission” I had to almost single-handedly take on the enemies while some of my fellow Romans just stood there. It didn’t lessen my enjoyment of the game but it did make me raise my eyebrows.

Every kill earns experience points, which can be used to upgrade Titus’ skills (health, focus, combat), but something that made me raise an eye brow again was that you can use real money to purchase gold that can be used to upgrade skills. While you’re not forced to buy gold –  you can still grind your way through killing foes – this sort of in-game micro-transactions just doesn’t sit right with me.

Ryse: Son of Room doesn’t re-invent the wheel and it can be repetitive, and it seems I’m in the minority, but I really enjoyed it. I really did.  I guess that’s what makes us all different as gamers.

Next on my list of Xbox One games to finish are Dead Rising 3, Forza Motorsports 5 and Zoo Tycoon. I’ve played NBA Live 14 and it’s not worth playing, believe me. 2K’s NBA series has nothing to worry about.

Game Junkie impressions so far: The Xbox One

It’s a familiar logo, a familiar boot-up sound and a familiar colour – Xbox green – but it’s a completely new experience and a completely new console: The Xbox One, Microsoft’s next-gen machine.

Pride of place: The Xbox One doesn't look out of place sitting above my Panasonic DVR.

Pride of place: The Xbox One doesn’t look out of place sitting above my Panasonic DVR.

It’s bigger than the 360 –  about 10 per cent, apparently and putting the latter on top of the former shows by just how much –  but the new console’s unobtrusive look means it’ll blend in with all your other entertainment hardware without problem. It’s not some space-age looking piece of kit that’ll catch a visitor’s eye,  and it sort of reminded me of the old Mitsubishi Black Diamond VCR I used to own. Not much to look at but functional.

Breaking up the blackness are a silver accent around the Blu-ray drive and a white touch-sensitive Xbox button on the right hand side.  The “brick” power pack of the Xbox 360 is back and the console runs near silent, which is perhaps why it’s the size that it is: plenty of room for air to flow around?

Kinect is mandatory this time but it’s a much more advanced design to the original

Kinect camera: The new Kinect is bigger than the old one and shinier, too (yes, that's my reflection you can see).

Kinect camera: The new Kinect is bigger than the old one and shinier, too (yes, that’s my reflection you can see).

Unlike the Xbox 360, Kinect is mandatory this time but it’s a much more advanced design to the original, featuring a 1080p HD sensor that can even pick up your heart rate (granted that was using the game Kinect Fitness).  It was easy to set up, with the Kinect adjusting itself until it was happy, and a neat feature was that once set up, Kinect could differentiate between my profile and that lf my son’s,  even noticing when I had handed the controller to him.

Another impressive feature was that if left in standby mode, the Kinect will wake up the console as soon as you walk into its field of view field of view, greeting me with “Hi, Gerard!”. You can still use the traditional controller to sign in, if you want.

Microsoft says the Xbox One’s controller has been radically overhauled and while it feels a lot more organic, a lot smoother,  I can’t say I noticed much difference: It feels nice to hold, though. The  button layout is similar to that of the Xbox 360 (although I don’t think the bumpers are solid as those on the Xbox 360), with the Xbox button having moved upwards. There’s a much improved D-pad and menu and view buttons replace start and back. It’s powered by two double AA batteries but I think there’s a plug and charge kit available if you want to go the non-AA way.

Old with new: Here's the old controller alongside the new Xbox One, er, one.

Old with new: Here’s the old controller alongside the new Xbox One, er, one.

The Xbox One’s dashboard has the live tiles like Microsoft’s Windows 8 “Metro” interface, and it takes a little to get used to. There’s a central tile that shows your most recent activity – game, application – and pressing the  Xbox button on the controller will pause the game/app, taking you back to the dashboard.  Click on the central tile again and you’re taken back to the game or application, exactly where you left off. No pause, no waiting.

There’s also a Game DVR function that I’ve been playing around with. It records up to five minutes of game play footage (I’m not sure how it determines when and what footage to capture) then you can save the clips, edit and add a voice-over using Upload Studio and Kinect.

It’s a pretty neat feature  and I’m looking forward to playing around with it. You can also do “Picture in Picture”, where it overlays one game play clip over another, but for some reason the recorded voice over was echoey.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment for Kiwi gamers, though,  is that voice commands aren’t enabled for New Zealand at launch (no doubt that’ll be updated with a patch at some point but when? Who knows: It took Microsoft a long time to get voice commands for us Kiwis with the Xbox 360s).  Stupidly, I didn’t actually know that until I found out from Xbox’s NZ PR person earlier this week, so spent the first night with the console saying things like things like “Xbox, go to games” and “Xbox resume Ryse: Son of Rome” , wondering why nothing was happening.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment for Kiwi gamers is that voice commands aren’t enabled for New Zealand at launch

It’s sad but hopefully it won’t be too long until voice commands are New Zealand-ified. [Sidenote: Something I’ve noted about Xbox One application delays – the YouTube app is delayed in NZ at launch – is that we’re lumped in with Ireland and Austria. We’re not even anywhere near each other so I don’t understand the delay? Shouldn’t we be alongside Australia?]

While voice commands don’t work, Kinect still does and I used it to feed a giraffe in Zoo Tycoon by  holding an outstretched hand and did some fitnessy things playing Kinect Fitness, where it told me what my resting heart rate was (it was 77, if your interested).

Perhaps one of the strongest multimedia applications for the Kinect is that you can make Skype calls. I made a Skype call to my wife t his morning [her at work 6km, me in my living room at home] and it was flawless. The preview unit Xbox One that I have at the moment had a sizeable patch on Tuesday night (over a 1Gb) and apparently the Skype functionality was enabled with that.

Using Skype with Xbox One was a far more pleasant experience than using it on a laptop or with a camera on a desktop computer. A nice feature is that the Kinect follows the user when you move around, meaning I was always in the shot.  It even followed me when I squatted on the ground and stretched up really high. Using Skype on the Xbox One is a joy.

I’ve still lots to test out with the Xbox One – I haven’t watched a Blu Ray yet or really checked out the Store, apart from a few downloadable games – so this is a “review in progress” that will evolve and update as I discover more,  but it seems a solid console so far, despite many of Kinect’s much-touted features not enabled for our region.  I haven’t had the chance to compare it against the PlayStation 4 yet, either: the unreliability of couriers and my heading to Melbourne for five nights tomorrow meant things just didn’t work out.

The launch games I’ve played are a bit of a mixed bag, to be honest: I didn’t like Crimson Dragon much at all;  Zoo Tycoon is fun for those that like to micromanage things;  Dead Rising 3  is fun but didn’t initially screen next-generation (or is it current-generation now?) to me, apart from the masses of on-screen zombies and Forza Motorsports 5 looks great and it’s what you’d expect from Turn 10 studios. I’m playing a fair bit of Ryse Son of Rome and I’ll post a review next week sometime when I’m back in NZ but for the most part, I’m enjoying it,  apart from some niggles.

As I said, this is a review in progress so I’ll post more updates as I discover more stuff. Feel free to ask me any questions and I’ll answer them if I can (I might not be able to, but I’ll try if I can).

Update: I’ve had some more play time with the Xbox One and I think it’s a solid, solid console. I’m still making my way through Ryse: Son of Rome (I’ve completed about 88% so far) but have yet have playthroughs of other stuff. I’m doing a review of EA’s NBA Live 14 for NZ so I’ll get onto that t his weekend. The only issues I’ve heard relating to launch consoles is that some people are suffering “crunchy” drive issues, where the drive gives off this horrible clunking sound. I know of one Xbox Live friend who had issues with his launch-day Xbox One – only to have the replacement one do the same thing! Here’s hoping his third one is trouble-free.