PlayStation Neo becomes … PS4 Pro

sony-announces-playstation-4-pro-147328048462I watched the PlayStation event this morning and, if I’m being completely honest, I was left a little underwhelmed. It was a low-key briefing – it only lasted about 45 minutes – with lots of talking, but I didn’t go away from the briefing yelling at the top of my lungs, “Yeah, yeah, I’m gonna pre-order me a PS4 Pro.”

The briefing revealed the aforementioned PS4 Pro  and also perhaps one of the worst kept secrets as far as PlayStation was concerned, the PS4 Slim which everyone knew about weeks ago but PlayStation acted at the event as if it was a surprise when they announced it today. That was just a little weird. The PS4 Slim will launch in NZ from September 16 for $489.95 for a 500GB console or $569.95 for  1TB model (September 29).

The PS4 Pro will retail in New Zealand for $639.95 and launch on November 10. That’s a really sharp price but the owner of a current PS4 that does all I need it to, I won’t be upgrading any time soon.

If you want the technical specs of the PS4 Pro, you can find them here (thanks Eurogamer) but my take on the PS4 Pro is that unless I have a 4K TV, which I don’t (and I’m not planning on buying one soon), I’m best to stick with the launch PS4 I have. I’m fine with that. The games look great on my PS4 and while Sony says owners of 1080p TVs will notice a difference with the PS4 Pro,  frankly, my eyes are getting so bad I can’t actually see the difference between 4K and 1080p unless I’m up really close and my nose is pressing on the screen (OK, I’m not that bad but, you know, old age …)

PlayStation said a firmware update next week will enable HDR (High Dynamic Range) capabilities on all current PS4’s, which is great, but again, that’s pointless on my 1080p TV as I’m pretty sure it can’t output HDR. Right now in my life, 4K and HDR gaming isn’t an option so I’ll stick with my perfectly fine current generation PS4.

frontps4proPlayStation sees 4K gaming as the future (but showing off 4K content over a 1080p stream is never going to do it justice) and the Pro will do 4K content playback but strangely, it doesn’t come with a 4K Blu Ray drive, and that does seem an odd omission, given that the recently released Xbox One S, which I believe is cheaper, comes with one as standard.

My take on this, though, is clearly Sony doesn’t see the future of 4K entertainment in physical media (ie Blu Ray discs), evidence by PlayStation’s Andrew House pointing out how many hours of 4K content would be on streaming service Netflix by the end of this year.

That said, I can see why PlayStation have come up with the PS4 Pro. It’s releasing its entrant into the VR wars, the PS VR, next month and the PS4 Pro will offer better VR performance than the current PS4. (I’m still tossing up whether I’ll get a PSVR so if/when I do, I’ll perhaps contemplate a PS4 Pro)

Also, if you’ve always thought about buying a PS4, but never got around to it, and do own a 4K TV then it seems November will be your lucky month, won’t it? The cynic in me also wonders whether PlayStation hopes that the PS4 Pro will help sell more of its own 4K TV sets …

Part of me can’t help but wonder whether PlayStation has jumped the gun here with the PS4 Pro in a response to Xbox’s Project Scorpio console which isn’t even due for release until the end of next year. Surely the PS4 Slim could have filled the gap until next year when the company could have announced its competitor to Project Scorpio.

The PS4 Pro will almost be a year old when Xbox’s more powerful console comes to market and I can’t help but feel that Microsoft have the upper hand here, given that Project Scorpio is more powerful than the PS4 Pro already – and  it’s hardware configuration could change dramatically between now and the end of next year.

Speaking of Xbox, the company couldn’t help having a dig at PlayStation in this tweet suggesting its own Xbox One S was a better option:

My son and I were talking about hardware announcement cycles this morning and it seems to me that games consoles are almost going same way as mobile phones, with a new model being announced almost every year.

To be honest, I’m contemplating whether might even just invest the money that I might put into a new console into upgrading my PC’s GPU (it’s got an Intel i7 CPU  and 8GB of Ram so I’m OK on that front. My GTX660Ti, however, is well past its use by date), connect it to my 55-inch TV using Steam’s Big Picture mode and do it that way, meaning I can still game from the couch using a controller (and to all those who  bleat “You’re not a real PC gamer if you use a controller!” I say, bollocks to you).

Right now, I don’t see any benefit for me buying a PS4 Pro console unless a 4K TV magically appears in my lounge to replace my two-year old LED screen, and that’s not going to happen.

I may be proven wrong but right now, I’m not jumping on the PS4 Pro bandwagon just yet. I’ll be watching with interest.

 

No Man’s Sky Trade & Fight trailers

PlayStation have released trailers two and three for upcoming space exploration game No Man’s Sky., titled Fight & Trade. The final trailer, which will be released in a few days, I’m guessing, is called Survive.

I posted the first trailer, Explore, on the site the other day but if you missed it, here it is:

No Man’s Sky is out on PlayStation 4 on August 10.

E3: The big guns come out to play

Day two of the E3 press conferences before the show proper and Microsoft and PlayStation held their press events. I woke up at 4.25am to watch the Microsoft one and I liked some of the announcements, especially the Project Scorpio console (although I’m tossing up now whether to save for a Project Scorpio console or save for one of the soon-to-be released AMD RX480 graphics cards (and probably a new motherboard to put it in).

Microsoft’s biggest cheers definitely came for the two consoles that had been rumoured but no-one really knew much about. There’s the Xbox One S, which is 40 per cent smaller than the launch Xbox One, has an internal power supply and it supports 4K Ultra HD, there’s the new console called at the moment Project Scorpio which promises “6 Teraflops”of GPU power. There’s a new Elite controller and you can customise your own one-of a kind Xbox One wireless controller but as far as Microsoft’s games went: I thought they were OK but not outstanding. I do like the cross play feature where someone with a game on Xbox One can play someone who is playing the same game on a Windows 10 laptop/PC.

Microsoft had Halo Wars 2 (I loved the first game), Dead Rising 4, Gears of War 4, Rare’s Seas of Thieves (which looks great), Forza Horizon 3 (which is set in Australia!), Recore,  Final Fantasy XV, Minecraft Realms (it was good to see famed developer John Carmack wearing a Samsung GearVR headset for this demo) and The Division Underground. All solid games but nothing really earth-shattering, in my view. That said, indie title We Happy Few looks genuinely interesting as did PlayDead’s Inside (the same developers that created Limbo).

Update: Thinking about things overnight, Xbox has scored a major win in hardware side of things by announcing Project Scorpio.  Yes, it’s 18 months or so until the console will be released (I suspect it’ll be revealed middle of next year sometime) but I’d say announcing Scorpio will really put the heat on Sony and it’s PlayStation Neo console which, I think, is due for release late this year. Microsoft are really gunning to win the console wars and build the “most powerful console ever” and looking at its speaks, it is indeed a powerful machine. It’ll be interesting to see whether Microsoft’s announcement yesterday has PlayStation worried about its Neo.

As far as games go (and let’s face it, that’s why people buy consoles/play PCs), though, for me, Sony won the battle, if there is such a thing. I love both consoles but personally, I felt that PlayStation’s games seemed a little fresher, a little more exciting.

I was pleasantly surprised to see a much older (but a bit of a dick towards his son) Kratos in the God of War reboot, The Last Guardian which seems to have been in development for decades finally got a release date, Horizon Zero Dawn looks incredible, Hideo Kojima’s new game Death Stranding which featured a naked Norman Reedus (from Walking Dead fame) wondering why he’s on a beach,  there was a very Last of Us-esque game called Days Gone which features zombies in an apocalyptic setting, Detroit Become Human (the next game from David Cage) and then there was the PS VR stuff which, frankly, made my eyes pop. I was even enthralled with the Call of Duty VR stuff that I didn’t know was actually Call of Duty until near the end (oh, and I’d easily buy a copy of Infinite Warfare just for the remastered version of Modern Warfare which has, without a doubt, the best COD mission ever in All Ghillied Up). Oh, and there’s a Batman Arkham VR game [breathe, breathe]

PlayStation has a new PS4 coming out called the Neo but nothing was show at its press event. I wonder whether PlayStation will reveal more at the Tokyo Games Show?

Looks, there’s something for fans of both consoles but for me, if I had to pick a console which had the strongest line up of games coming out, I’d put my money on PlayStation. I also liked how most of PlayStation’s press event was game footage and trailers rather than people standing on stage talking.

This is not an exhaustive list of every game announced but just those that caught my attention. Anyway, enough words. Here’s some moving pictures. Enjoy.

 

God of War (PS4):

Horizon Zero Dawn (PS4):

Infinite Warfare (ship assault):

Days Gone (PS4):

Halo Wars 2 (Xbox One):

We Happy Few (Xbox One):

Gears of War 4 (Xbox One):

 

Thoughts on what PlayStation and Xbox showed today?

How Mike Bithell’s Volume has made me play my PS Vita more

Fourteen days into 2016 and reckon I’ve already played my PS Vita more this year than I did for much of last year.

I put that down to two things: a) Going on holiday, so my Vita was a nice portable way to replay some of my favourites like Gravity Rush and TxK and b) I bought Mike Bithell’s (@mikeBithell on Twitter) Volume, which came out on the Vita on January 6. I’ve played my PS Vita more because of Volume.

I can’t express enough joy at what a great game Volume is, not only because of its addictive qualities but that it’s also one of PlayStation’s Cross-play buys, which means if you buy it on PS Vita you automatically get to download it for free on the PS4 (and vice versa).

Grab+3840x2160+Friday+May+29+2015+16_17_37The premis of Volume is simple enough: You take the role of burglar Tom who uncovers a plot involving a military coup and device called the Volume. Using the Volume to simulate high-profile heists, Tom must guide his avatar around industrial environments, avoiding patrolling guards, sentry turrets and dogs while collecting gems. The simulations are broadcast to the internet using the Volume, eventually leading to a stand-off between Tom and the evil Gisborne, who has taken over control of England.

Grab+3840x2160+Friday+May+29+2015+16_25_33Volume is very Metal Gear Solid-esque, with an isometric third-person, top-down perspective, in that stealth and creeping around to avoid detection is to the fore. Get spotted by a patrolling guards (each has a vision cone indicating its field of vision), you have to re-start the level. Each level short – some take less than a minute to complete – but they’re so addictive that you’ll find yourself saying “Just one more. Just one more”.

Bithell is a British indie developer who also make the cutesy game Thomas was Alone, which I like a lot, and Volume has all the trademarks of another hit for Bithell and his team. I initially purchased it for my Vita – and being able to play it on my PS4 for no cost is an added bonus – and if I had any gripe it was the size of the text on the PS Vita version: It’s just too small for my ageing eyes.

So, I tweeted that to Bithell, and guess what? He got back to me shortly after, admitting the text was a little small and he would look at fixing things in a patch. In a simple thing like replying to my tweet, Bithell has proven to me that he’s a developer who cares about his fans and those that pay for his games. That’s something I admire in a developer. Thank, you, Mike.

I’m hoping that 2016 is the year that I play my PS Vita more. It’s a fantastic handheld console but I feel disappointed that Sony have pretty much abandoned it by not supporting it like it should have with first party titles, and left any game development up to third parties.

That said, maybe that’s not a bad thing: Sony is clearly focused on the PS4 and PlayStation VR so perhaps doesn’t want to develop for the Vita half-heartedly. It’s sad, though, that the company hasn’t shown the console more love.

Putting Volume aside (briefly), there are some pretty nice games coming out this year. Games I’m looking forward to include Uncharted 4, Deus Ex Mankind Divided, Horizon Zero Dawn, Firewatch, Hitman, Quantum Break, Dishonoured 2, Crackdown 3, Mass Effect Andromeda and Unrave.

Sure, some have already been delayed already and I suspect many some of them won’t make 2016 but it’s a pretty great line up already, don’t you think? It’s a great time to be a video gamer.

What are you looking forward to this year?

 

Paris Games Week: Colour me impressed, Sony

Is Paris Games Week a new games show? I’ve never heard of it before (which doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been going for a while, of course).

Anyhoo, PlayStation had a press even 6am this morning NZ time and showed off a whole swag of games for the PlayStation 4and stuff, like PlayStation VR, Uncharted 4 multiplayer, some unseen footage from Guerilla Games’ Horizon Zero Dawn and a new game from David Cage, the guy behind Fahrenheit and Beyond Two Souls. I think it also announced a release date for No Man’s Sky.

I didn’t get up for the briefing (I was cuddling my pillow too much) so I watched some videos when I got home from work. Cage’s Detroit Become Human, which seems to be based on the Kara PS4 tech demo that Cage did, impressed, so did Guerilla’s Horizon Zero Dawn, which I’m also quietly optimistic about (at least from what I’ve seen so far).

Here’s a trailer for Detroit: 

And some footage of Horizon Zero Dawn: 

PlayStation also announced an on-rails game for its virtual reality headset, the imaginatively name PlayStation VR, called Until Dawn Rush of Blood. Here’s a trailer for that: 

There is also a new game coming from Media Molecule, the studio behind Little Big Planet. It’s called Dreams and it continues MM’s wacky game style. Watch it here: 

Then there’s Robinson: The Journey, from Crytek (the developers behind the original Far Cry). It has a futuristic feel to it but there are dinosaurs running around. It’s certainly interesting. Here’s the footage: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AOZtqDhQP44

There’s certainly a lot to digest, isn’t there? I’m a little bummed that it seems like Sony has given up on its handheld, the PS Vita. It’s quite disappointing, actually.

Here are some other trailers to keep your eyes occupied:

RIGS Mechanised Combat League

Gravity Rush (which first appeared on the PS Vita): 

Uncharted 4’s MP reveal: 

GT Sport (from Polyphony Digital, the makers of Gran Turismo): 

Street Fighter V 

Something called Matterfall: 

Some more Star Wars Battlefront: 

Seems like it’s a good time to own a PS4.

Let me know what you think in the comments.

Here’s 15 minutes of the Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End E3 game play demo. You’re welcome

I have to say that I’ve always been a fan of developer Naughty Dog and what it’s able to do with Sony’s PlayStation hardware, especially in the later years with the Uncharted series.

I was impressed with the Uncharted 4 trailer shown at Sony’s E3 press conference but after watching this extended 15 minute game play trailer, which you can watch here, too, all I can say is that the folks at Naughty Dog must be possessed of some sort of wizardry that lets them do amazingly wonderful things with the PS hardware.

Uncharted 4 looks like the staple game play that fans of the series have come to love but the attention to detail (that mud, that flame) is impressive.

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is out in 2016 sometime – so you have a bit of time to start saving. Thoughts?

Xbox and PlayStation bring the games to E3 2015

Firstly, I guess I’m sitting at two for three when it comes to pre-E3 predictions then, given that my three most anticipated games for E3 2015  were Mass Effect 4, a new Hitman game and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided.

OK, the Mass Effect reveal didn’t show game play footage but hey, EA has still announced it, as has SquareEnix with the latest game in the Hitman series featuring old baldy, Agent 47. All I need now if for SquareEnix to showcase the new Deus Ex game and I’ll be a happy man.

I was thinking earlier today about how I was going to cover today’s press events from Xbox and Sony: Would I write it up, game by game, announcement by announcement, giving my opinion on everything? Or would I just let the trailers speak for themselves?

I’ve decided that I’ll let the visuals speak for themselves. I’m not going to do these “Xbox/Sony Won E3” write-ups that inevitably appear after E3’s pre-show events.Frankly, they’re pointless (and I probably did them in the past).

Do you want to know who won? Gamers won, that’s who. Let’s stop this “X won E3!”bullshit. There was plenty there for Xbox gamers, plenty there for PlayStation gamers. Gamers won.

Tomorrow, I believe there is a dedicated PC gaming event so I’ll watch that as I’m sooooo close to plonking down close to $NZ600 on a new nVidia Geforce GTXC970 GPU so I want to see what I can do with it.

I got up at 4.15am to watch the Xbox press event and it had games like Rise of the Tomb Raider, Halo 5 Guardians, a compilation of 30 games from British developer Rare, backward compatibility with Xbox 360 games (I’m guessing it’s some form of emulation where you’ll have to download a digital version of the game, even if you own a disc copy), a rather impressive game from New Zealand development studio Aurora 44 (where are they based? Call me! Lets talk!) called Ashen (which had a real Shadow of the Colossus/Journey feel to it), a game from another Keewee Dean “Rocket” Hall called Ion, a rather impressive demo of Hololens and Minecraft (although, I’m sceptical about Hololens until it’s actually at retail and we can see it in real-world conditions) and a re-mastered version of the original Gears of War, as well as Gears of War 4.

It was a solid showing. I’ve got trailers for some of them below.

Gears of War 4: 

Halo 5 Guardians: 

Ashen: 

Ion: 

Sony

From what I’ve heard about Sony’s press event, it seemed to be full of fan service (I didn’t watch it. I was working) and no doubt wooed the crowd by finally showing The Last Guardian, a game that seems to have been written off as vaporware after around eight years in development.

Among the games Sony announced were: a remake Final Fantasy 7 and that Shenmue 3 was in the works, a new game (not a FPS) from Killzone developer Guerilla Games called Horizon: Zero Dawn, No Mans Sky (which looks fantastic but, if I’m being honest, I still have no idea what you do apart from fly around and discover other planets), a new Hitman game, a game that looks genuinely interesting called Firewatch, Dreams from Little Big Planet developer Media Molecule,  and, not surprisingly, an extended look at Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End.

The Last Guardian: 

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End: 

Dreams: 

No Man’s Sky: 

Firewatch: 

Hitman: 

I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you liked from Sony & Microsoft.

See the E3 hype following Sony & Microsoft pre-show conferences

Microsoft and Sony held their pre-E3 press events today. Both had games, games and games. Sony also had a TV device. Microsoft hardly mentioned Kinect at all (I think it’s needed for the Dance Central game).

Instead of prattling on, I’ve just posted some videos. Personally, I’m still super keen on Batman Arkham Knight, the time-lapse trailer for Ubisoft’s The Division, the fact that classic point-and-click adventure game Grim Fandango is heating  to PS Vita and PlayStation 4 and Sunset Overdrive: It looks the bee’s knees. Oh, and Crackdown: I loved the original Crackdown and despite being another bad guy being taken down, it could be interesting.

Watch and enjoy. Happy E3!

Batman Arkham Knight (and the Batmobile blowing shit up):  

The Division:  

Sunset Overdrive

Grim Fandango (featuring DoubleFine developer Tim Schafer pretending to be a small child):

Crackdown:

Far Cry 4: 

 

I’ll post more videos when I can be bothered.

Were you swept away by the hype? Did you get up outrageously early to watch the Microsoft livestream? Thoughts? You know what to do …

 

Two thumbs up to Sony for shrinking Sly Cooper

The Sly Trilogy

From: Sanzaru Games

For: PlayStation Vita

RRP: $55 (physical copy after a search of online retailers)

Before Cole McGrath, Delsin Rowe and the inFamous series came along and swept the PlayStation world by storm, developer Sucker Punch was more well-known for its game series featuring master thief Sly Cooper – a trio of games that appeared on Sony’s PlayStation 2 console.

Pint-sized criminal: Sly Racoon has been shrunk for Sony's PS Vita handheld.

Pint-sized criminal: Sly Racoon has been shrunk for Sony’s PS Vita handheld.

Although I got the PS2 late in its life cycle, I was fortunate  enough to play the Sly Cooper series – and loved them. They were the perfect mix of platforming action combined with humour and great looks. Now, all three have been shrink wrapped into one package for the PS Vita, and this could well be one of the best things Sony’s done for its handheld console.

Featuring master thief Sly and his sidekicks Bentley the turtle (the brains) and Murray the hippo (the brawns), the trio appeared in three games: Sly Racoon, Sly 2: Band of Thieves and Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves and they were great games, featuring exotic locations, dastardly villains and some genuinely funny moments. In 2010, the games were ported to the PlayStation 3 by Sanzaru Games, and went down a hit with fans of the franchise.

Of the three, Sly 1 was probably the weakest – and it’s the same here with this Vita port. Sly 1 saw Sly, Bentley and Murray having to retrieve a Cooper family heirloom – the Thievious Racoonus – from a band of rival thieves (led by a mechanical owl).

Perhaps the best game of the trilogy is Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves as not only does it look the best it also makes the most of the Vita’s touch capabilities: Namely the back touch pad to activate an in-game GPS-like ping – used so that Sly knows which direction to go. It’s simple and it works. The front screen is also used to activate Sly’s binoculars or Bentley’s tranquilizer dart.
2013-12-10-195128_1396878187The Trilogy looks great on the Vita, with the series’ trademark cartoony look vibrant and colourful on the handheld’s OLED screen. The only downside with the graphics I could see was during the cut scenes, where there’s some low resolution compression making itself present.

For a series that first appeared in 2002, Sly Racoon has become one of Sony’s most recognisable mascots, much like Crash Bandicoot, Jax and Daxter and Ratchet and Clank, and while to the cynical this could be seen as Sony just  re-issuing old games with a new lick of paint, it’s a great opportunity to play a great series for those who missed out first time around.

Oh, and as if in a nod to its heritage and how much it owes to Sly Cooper,  in Sucker Punch’s latest game, inFamous Second Son, there are a few hidden references to the Sly games. I won’t reveal where they are but if you’ve got Second Son, explore and see what you stumble across.

 

 

Fez review: Weird and mesmerising but a must-play

Fez: a game that started out on consoles and PC but seems perfectly suited to the handheld format.

Fez: a game that started out on consoles and PC but seems perfectly suited to the handheld format.

Say what you like about Fez creator Phil Fish (who spectacularly quit the game development industry last year and cancelled Fez 2 after a Twitter spat), indie game Fez is one of those games that is a delight to play, not only because of its twisted perspective but thanks to its 16-bit graphics style and some innovative game play features.

Fez was one of my most favoured games of 2012 and with the move to the PS Vita, I think it’s perfectly suited to the handheld.

The game sees main character Gomez in a flat 2D world but after stumbling across a giant gold polyhedron suddenly finds he can view the world in 3D. However, the polyhedron is shattered, the 32 cubes it’s made up from scattered about the game world and it’s up to Gomez to find them all, bringing order back to the world.

At first, Fez seems a simple 2D/3D puzzle game where the player guide’s a pixelated hero from place to place, collecting the shards from the exploded polyhedron, but then in an instant, thanks to the ability to rotate the game world 90 degrees creating a 3D playspace, the game opens up new possibilities to tackle problems.

But how?, I hear you ask. Like this: being able to change perspective on-the-fly using the Vita’s left and right shoulder buttons means suddenly a platform that was moments ago out of reach is now accessible. It’s mind-boggling and means that jumps that were seemingly unreachable before are suddenly much closer when you rotate perspective.  In a world punctuated by waterfalls, lighthouses, shacks and precarious drops, and where entering one door can lead to a completely different dimension, a change in perspective can literally mean the difference between one step closer to a wayward cube and a drop to the depths below.

Fez is a game that can be mesmerising and confusing at the same time, and often that confusion can lead to some frustration, especially when you get lost and aren’t really sure where you should go next. Some of the puzzles, too, might see you scratching your head (there’s one with a bell early on) and heading online for a walk through to help you solve them.

Minor frustrations aside, Fez was one of my most loved games when it came out on console and PC and now that it’s out on Vita, I can see it being one of my most loved and most played on Sony’s handheld. Fez + PS Vita = a gaming partnership worth discovering.