Opinion-Bytes: The Witcher 2

HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE! Soundcloud file coming in the very near future…

Advertisements

Cluster-Bits: PS4 Launch Title Impressions, Why the Wii-U Completes Our Next-Gen Console Selection

Image

I seem to have a habit of making a lot of posts and then dropping off the face of the Earth for a few weeks, and for that I apologize.  It’s obviously been a little difficult with the holidays, not to mention a three year old that catches colds like it’s his job… and then, of course, mommy and daddy get the distinct privilege of catching said colds.  I also write Blu-ray reviews for a fairly well known DVD/Blu-ray review site, so that occasionally takes precedence over my blog… because, you know… free stuff.  So with that said, let’s get to it, shall we?

Despite how much I loathe Nintendo for the company they’ve become, our household has finally decided that the Wii-U shall be our second and final console in the next-gen war.  Xbox One has really failed to grab my attention, but the Wii-U?  They may not end up with as many great games, but Nintendo’s first party titles are generally amazing – That said, don’t confuse great first party devs with Nintendo being a great company, because those are two entirely different ideas.

I really didn’t have much reason to own a Wii, because most of the games were created for a single reason – to exploit motion controls.  A good amount of Wii titles were mini-games with a party vibe and lost their playability in a matter of weeks, if not days.  WarioWare, Cooking Mama, Trauma Center… all good fun for a little while, but certainly weren’t games that were designed to appeal for years to come.  I enjoyed the Mario and Zelda offerings, but outside of that, the Wii didn’t have much I appreciated.  The Wii-U had a slow start during its initial year, but more titles are coming… and with the catalog of BOTH consoles now at my disposal, I’ve finally found enough reason to bring Nintendo back into the house.  Besides, my wife and son actually enjoy Nintendo games and we can all play together as a family.  That’s a primary reason to buy-in right there.

So far, I’ve only been able to play through the first six worlds in the New Super Mario Bros. U, as I’m taking my time and attempting to grab every star coin along the way, but it won’t be long before I’ll be able to talk about Zelda: Wind Waker HD, Super Mario 3D World, and Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate.  I’m also working on getting a Wii backlog going, and have already picked up Donkey Kong Country Returns, Super Mario Galaxy, and a copy of A Boy and His Blob that I HOPE will work (can’t complain if it doesn’t though, as it was only $5).  Anyway, here are the titles I hope to pick up in the upcoming year:

Wii:

-Resident Evil 4

-Sonic Colors

-Zelda – Twilight Princess

-Zelda – Skyward Sword

-Super Mario Galaxy 2

-New Super Mario Bros Wii

-Super Paper Mario

-Muramasa

-Mario Kart Wii

-Okami

Wii-U:

-Pikmin 3

-ZombiU

-The Wonderful 101

I’m sure there’s more for both consoles I’d be happy to own, but that’s pretty much my tops.

Shifting gears, I promised reviews on some PS4 launch titles a while back… but since it’s been a while and I’ve played and completed much of what I picked up on day 1, I figured I’d provide my thoughts in a single blog post.  So, here goes:

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag: 

The Assassin’s Creed franchise is one that managed to escape me.  I don’t know how, and I don’t know why – Perhaps it had been the mixed reactions to the initial title?  Whatever the reason, I didn’t start collecting the AC games for my PS3 until mid-2013.  Up until the release of the Playstation 4, the only game I had a chance to play was the original with Altair and Desmond, and I loved it.  It was a little tedious as I got in the latter hours of the game, but it was still good fun.  Because I was interested in proceeding with the franchise, I decided to hold off on AC IV: Black Flag until I had a chance to catch up.  Once the reviews were released and began to call it a good starting point for new players however, I decided it would be worth picking up… and holy hell, I’m glad I did.  Black Flag is easily up there as one of the best games of 2013.  That’s my humble opinion, but many would tell you the same, with their only caveat possibly being The Last of Us.

I’m not going to insult your intelligence and give you an entire recap on what the gameplay entails.  There’s been 5 Assassin’s Creed titles before this… or 6, if you want to include the Vita’s installment.  What I will say is that as far as this game being n00b friendly is concerned, the reviews were spot on – A story arc has apparently closed in the previous game, and Black Flag does a pretty good job of filling you in on the events.  It doesn’t give everything away, mind you, but definitely gives you a vague gist of what happened.  The overall story used to be told strictly through modern day events, and while that still holds true in AC IV, you spend very little time in the present (near future?).  95% of the game takes place within the Animus, meaning you’re left to pillage and plunder as a pirate without much interruption.

And that’s the beauty of Black Flag – You really get to feel like a pirate.  The open world was actually pretty massive, and there was no shortage of things to do.  I could stop playing the main campaign whenever I wanted, and simply explore the seas and the land that I stumbled upon as an adventurer looking to line his pockets.  Throughout the entirety of the game, I was able to engage in TONS of naval combat and use my spoils to upgrade my ship and weaponry (not to mention my own like pirate town), and they got the naval combat right.  I was even able to attack seaside forts with the cannons on my ship, all while avoiding/attacking enemy ships and avoiding mortar fire from land.  Things got pretty intense, let me tell you.  Oh, and you can go out on a rowboat with harpoons and a hunt massive sea creatures.

Once I pulled up to land – be a it a small, uninhabited island or a town on the verge of becoming something more – I was able to look for animus fragments, treasure chests left in the open or even those of the buried variety, treasure maps, more sea shanties for my crew to sing aboard the ship, and hunt so you could craft better items.  The fact that you could do any of this at will without being forced to tackle the main story missions really helped to make my time in the Animus as immersive as possible, and I’d liken it being Batman in the Arkham-verse games – No matter what you do, you just FEEL the part the devs wanted you to be a part of.  A lot of people are claiming this to be the best title of 2013, and some even call it the best Creed game of all time (or, at the very least outside of AC II)… and although I haven’t had a chance to play the other games just yet, I can see why.  It’s not often I stumble upon a game where I could play the 15-20 hour campaign and then want to continue for another 20+, but that’s precisely what happened with AC IV.  So yes, it’s worth the money and then some – It’s worth it if you like a lengthy campaign, it’s worthy if you like a gameplay experience that can last for tens and tens of hours (the devs said there’s about 80 hours of content total), and it’s worthy if you’re a fan of the series, regardless of how you felt about the prior installment.  Pull the trigger on this one… or, at the very least, unsheathe your sword and ask for this game nicely.

Knack:

This game was met with polarizing reviews, and for the record, I can understand why.  Knack is not a title that everyone will enjoy, although it’s a title that everyone SHOULD enjoy.

Why all the hate, though?  Well, the gameplay mechanics aren’t exactly complicated.  You most run through each stage and collect block so Knack can get bigger and bigger, and at any given time you’re not given many enemies to deal with.  That said, there’s still a bit of difficulty because Knack dies quicker than you’d expect for a game that looks to be geared towards children.  So people complained that there wasn’t enough to do, the range of attacks wasn’t enough to contend with, and the growth and inevitable shrinking of Knack during each stage feels forced and takes away from the excitement of becoming a big, hulking beast of a fighter made out of relics.  I guess all I can say to those complaints would be, “Fair enough.”

But for me, I felt Knack was a hell of a lot of fun.  The story and graphical presentation were Pixar-esque, and exuded a certain amount of charm through and through.  That said, I feel one of the main characters were kind of irritating if not downright stupid at times, but it didn’t ruin the overall experience for me.  Anyway, Knack is, simply put, a beat ‘em up platformer that requires you to study enemy patterns in order to succeed.  Yeah, you might only face three enemies at any given moment (sometimes more, this is just an example), but it isn’t always easy to determine the most effective way to take them out.  Do you move in and attempt to get the ranged weapon user out of the way first, or should you clobber the guys up front because they’re quick and will destroy you before you even make it that far?  Or, do you play it safe and use the crystal energy you’ve accumulated and user a special power to obliterate them all?  As Knack, you have options, and it’s up to you to determine the best strategy.  This keeps the game challenging, especially in the latter parts of the game… but if you want some REAL fun, then you have to play on one of the harder difficulties.  ‘Normal’ may be too easy for seasoned gamers, so choose your difficulty wisely.

There are some interesting gameplay mechanics, and I enjoyed their utilization well enough, although there was a bit of hand-holding that will turn some people off.  Knack can turn into a pure crystal form for a short amount of time, and he can also accumulate ice and wood to bulk up, although they will break upon impact and melt or burn accordingly.  The problem with this idea is that you weren’t exactly free to gather materials at will… they were there, or they weren’t, and you sort of force fed everything you were supposed to do.  Same thing goes for Knack’s growth – Every level starts you out as tiny Knack, and you collect pieces throughout the level only to lose them once again by the end.  Rinse and repeat.  Would have been amazing if the ability to grow or shrink was dynamic and you could figure it out on your own, but once again, it’s all sort of built into the design of any given stage.

All this said, flaws and all, Knack is still a lot of fun.  It’s not ‘amazing’ or anything, but it definitely takes me back to the days where platforming was fun despite its simplicity.  I think if Knack ended up on a Nintendo console, people would have been raving about it and perhaps even calling Knack the next great mascot.

Battlefield 4:

I’ll have to update you all later on this one.  As you’re all aware, there’s been a slew of issues with this game on the PS4… well, and on every other platform for that matter.  I had started the single player campaign and experienced some crashes, and thankfully because I stayed away from the multiplayer mode, I hadn’t run into file save corruptions.  Not wanting to test fate any further, I decided to set the game aside play whatever else was at my disposal until Dice resolved a majority of their issues.  Needless to say, I was kind of upset that a game got released in this state, because it’s a hell of a promising title.  I’ll say that the controls look great, the campaign is average, and the graphics are incredible.

Need for Speed Rivals:

This franchise has been largely hit or miss for me.  There’s simply no consistency as far as the controls are concerned, and that’s troublesome.  Sometimes they’re very ‘arcade-racer’ like, and other times they’re a bit too realistic to have the amount of fun you SHOULD be having.  Fortunately, Need for Speed: Rivals seems to nudge itself between both styles of gameplay quite comfortably.  The car you start with is an impressive little machine, for sure, but you’ll have to be careful going around turns or when making last second decisions to go this way instead of that way.  As you race however, you accumulate points which allow you to purchase upgrades and make your vehicle stronger, faster and more responsive.  Although you’re faster and can handle turns with a bit of drifting (by tapping the brakes), you never feel unstoppable.  The ‘heat level’ from the cops keeps ramping up and soon there are choppers keeping tabs on you, and the police with even use electromagnetic gadgets to slow you down so they can hit you and damage your vehicle to the point of no return.  It’s a lot of fun trying to escape from the cops, and there are occasional checkpoints – posing as gas station/garages on the side of the road – that you’ll drive through to make your vehicle as good as new and keep the chase on.

But before I get ahead of myself, there’s something worth noting – The single player and multiplayer is rolled into a single package.  You’ll join a server with multiple other racers – although I typically get the feeling that they should allow more people per server – and you can challenge anyone you pass just by tapping a button.  You can even do certain objectives together as long as you’re both close enough to start around the same time.  Because you can begin any given challenge – be it from another racer or from an actual objective listed on the map – at any time, that means you can ramp up the fun by racing others while the heat is already on at the start… and this is where things really get interesting.

You have your own set of gadgets at your disposal.  You can use a small shockwave to make someone nudging your door to lose control of their car, blast the back of a car with an electromagnetic pulse (much like the cops), drop land mines that also deliver a temporary debilitating blast, and more.  Do I even need to explain how much fun this amounts to?  These tactics will slow your opponents down, thus making the cops thirstier for their capture.  Hell, performing a move at the right time could actually crash your opponents car, getting them busted since their car won’t be able to move.

Anyway, there are essentially two ‘campaigns’ you can play through – One as a racer, and the other as a cop.  You’re able to choose between which shortlist of objectives you’d like to complete next, and once you do, you’ll earn the right to buy a new car as well as additional upgrades.  This adds longevity to the gameplay while also providing you with two very different experiences.

That said, as fun as Need For Speed: Rivals is, I’m not sure how long it’s worth playing.  After a while, you get the sense that all you’re doing is the same old thing time and time again, and there just aren’t enough racers from the ‘real world’ at any given moment to add a sense of meaningful population.  I guess that’s just the nature of any open-world racing game, but regardless, I’m pretty sure this won’t be able to withstand the test of time.  If you’re an arcade racer fan however, by all means, this is a solid title.

Honorable Mentions:

Resogun:  Mix the gameplay of Gradius with the insane graphical style of Geometry Wars, and that’s Resogun in a nutshell… and yes, it’s as awesome as it sounds.  I put a lot of time into this game near launch – mainly when I didn’t have enough time to sit down and actually invest in another game’s single player campaign – and it was some of the most fun I’ve had with a free indie title in quite some time.  That said, I haven’t touched it in a while, because the experience is largely the same from one level to the next… just with a semi-modified layout as well as an increase in difficulty.  Each level doesn’t make itself feel diverse enough from the last, which is a shame.  I guess the ‘turntable’ game design makes this an inherent flaw as opposed to one made by laziness, but it’s still worth noting.  Also, it may be difficult to figure out what is going on at first, as the game doesn’t explain some of its subtle, yet oh so important gameplay elements.  Make sure you grab this for free before it goes away for good, because it’s still one of the best ways to kill time there is.

Escape Plan:  This was an unexpected surprise.  It wasn’t free, but if you’re into puzzle solving, it’s worth the coin.  You take control over two nearly-faceless ‘things’ in a world of black and white, and essentially have to get them from point A, to point B without succumbing to the dangers that await them.  I wasn’t sure how well it would hold up, but man, it’s addicting.

One is a skinny little dude while the other is something of a blob, and you have to use their strengths and weaknesses when planning a strategy.  The big guy is often used for turning big wheels or standing on pressure plate switches, while the little guy can fill himself up with air and then be controlled by tilting the DS4 in any given direction… although my favorite is when he drinks a gallon of coffee and tweaks across the screen at high speed.

The controls are hard to get used to at first, but it all seems to make perfect sense after a while.  Draw circles with your finger on the DS4’s touchpad, and fans will rotate to clear the room of a deadly gas or even to lift/lower platforms.  You can tap on a wall to lure enemies into a trap, or scare sheep into running where you need them to be.  You’re also able to push things in and out of the environment, and many of these objects will only stay that way for a certain amount of time… so whatever you plan on doing after you’ve moved them, you better do it quick.

I haven’t completed the game just yet, but every stage adds new complexities and subtly bumps the difficulty.  If you’re looking for something that’s challenging in a puzzle-solving sort of way, give this a go.

Trine 2:  Another one I didn’t have the chance to finish just yet… or, actually play that much, but that’s because I’ve spent most of my time dealing with all the other games that came out since launch.  It’s a stunner in almost every way from what I can tell though… the gameplay mechanics are intelligent and require platform puzzle-solving, and wow, everything is beautifully rendered.  This game made its debut on the PC, PS3 and Xbox 360, but Trine 2 looks better than ever on the PS4.

I’d like to give mention to some other titles, like Warframe or Contrast, but I just haven’t gotten around to playing them yet.  As you can see, I’ve been busy in the last month, month-and-a-half.  J

But then there’s the Wii-U… and once I’m able to delve into some games other than the New Super Mario Bros. U / Super Luigi U, I’ll discuss them.

Oh, and since I started writing this blog post… we’ve acquired a Nintendo 3DS XL… so expect some updates in regards to my experience with that (which thus far, is generally positive).

Bit-Review: Killzone-Shadow Fall

Yeah... it looks THAT good.

Yeah… it looks THAT good.

Killzone is the franchise that drew a line in the sand… even if it didn’t mean to. It’s not the best FPS series out there, but it has a strong following and for good reason, too – The graphics were jaw dropping and the gameplay actually felt fresh. Instead of merely complying with ‘twitch shooting’ mechanics, the devs opted for movement that took your weapon and armor weight into consideration. Furthermore, they implemented a realistic cover system which wasn’t some mere gimmick, but a vital tool for your survival. The Killzone Trilogy wasn’t a flawless experience by any means, but the alternative gameplay it offered over the likes of Call of Duty had been welcome with open arms. It comes as no surprise that Sony’s highest regarded FPS has made its way to the PS4, but now that it’s here, I’m afraid hype is probably going to work against it. It’s a fine entry in the series overall, but has some identity flaws that just can’t be overlooked.

You’re playing as a Shadow Marshal, which means you’re faster and more agile than the character in previous games. As a result, the controls are more in line with other shooters, as opposed to going against the grain with a weighted feel. As a fan, I was worried this would be a major detriment to the game’s enjoyment, but that wasn’t my experience at all. The gameplay is still heavily focused on cover and tactical maneuvers, so there really wasn’t much lost in translation. In fact, much has been gained – For starters, you have the ability to scan the area and detect and identify nearby enemies. Based on what you find, there’s a number of ways you can decide to dispatch them.

This is where the OWL comes in.

Your drone has been programmed to function in four distinct modes, each of which can be accessed by swiping the DS4’s touchpad (up, down, left or right). If you want to reach a ledge below, your OWL will provide a makeshift zip line. Enemies using high-tech shields? No problem, just have the drone blast an electromagnetic pulse, disabling your foes temporarily and leaving them open for attack. Furthermore, you can actually send your OWL in to attack for you. It’s capable of taking a couple of soldiers out on its own, but more than that, and it’s likely to come back for a recharge sooner, rather than later (it’s never completely destroyed). However, even in situations where the odds are against you, the drone’s attack mode is useful as a diversion so you can move into flanking position. Last but not least, it can set up a shield which will last as long as the OWL doesn’t take too many hits. As you can imagine, all of this brings an intriguing wrinkle to Killzone’s gameplay.

And I guess the best name for that wrinkle is ‘choice’, and the OWL offers plenty of that when it comes to dealing with the demon-eyed Helghast. The game actually tries to push us into the promise of freedom more often than not, but it’s merely an illusion. That’s probably the most disappointing thing about Shadow Fall in general – Lots of promise, yet never fully realized. The first level is semi-open and lulls you into thinking each level will be expansive and allow you to choose which objectives you’ll tackle in succession, but it isn’t long before the game sets you on a linear path that only LOOKS ripe for exploration. Some levels offer a fork-in-the-road approach to multiple tasks, but that’s hardly the sense of freedom this game hoped to evoke. The forks are often an illusion, too – Sometimes you can forego the obvious path by sneaking around in vents, but other times the vent is literally your only option to progress.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t have a problem with linearity. It’s worked well for the franchise and continues to work in the latest iteration, but the game was touted as being something more, meaning those who ultimately expected more will be disappointed. Go in expecting more of the same however, and you’ll find the level design to serve its purpose well. You would think having the ability to scan environments and deploy a drone would make you unstoppable, but the devs have ensured the scale will rarely tip in your favor. As with previous installments, you’ll need to find cover from afar and plug away at the opposition methodically. While other games reward a pray and spray mentality, Killzone will put you down in a matter of seconds. So, use what’s at your disposal – Hide behind plants, walls or whatever else in the environment… but be snappy about it. A fair amount of cover options are destructible, which can work both for you and against you. Of course, much like the game’s ‘open nature’ (lack thereof), such freedom is only an illusion. Certain parts of the game allow you to blast through walls, but most of the time it’s only the small stuff that acquires battle damage.

Speaking of damage, health generation has been tweaked for Shadow Fall. As most other shooters nowadays, you’ll notice the outer edge of your screen going red if you’re close to death, and hiding is an effective way to get back in the green… and I mean LITERALLY back in the green. The light bar on your controller has been utilized by the devs as a health indicator – Green, yellow and red. In addition, you’ll find adrenaline packs littered throughout the game… and you’ll need them. If you’re low on health and can’t get to cover in time, it will boost your health and slow down time (think of the COD: MW3 round winning kill cam) while aiming down the sights. If you get sloppy and fall to the ground, your OWL can use the adrenaline to revive you. Of course, if it’s currently charging because it had to flee battle with its tail between its legs, then you’re SOL.

Another thing you’ll notice, is that the AI isn’t very smart. Yeah, they’ll chew you up and spit you out if you leave yourself vulnerable, but their movement is limited. They pretty much get in position and hide, only peeking out on occasion to squeeze off some rounds. The AI in previous Killzone titles had been substantially better, so it’s disappointing to see it take a back seat to all the action.

Anyway, outside of the normal ‘infiltrate – cover – attack’ scenario, Shadow Fall gives you plenty of other objectives throughout its 10-12 hour campaign… and some of them are jaw-dropping cinematic pieces you have some control over. You’ll hang on to a rope dangling from a helicopter, free-fall through the air, fortify and hold down a small base, maneuver and battle through zero gravity, use small bots to sabotage equipment and more. The variety of gameplay is definitely welcome, and helps to keep things from getting repetitive. The only thing they recycle time and time again is using the OWL to hack into computers. This is first utilized to deactivate alarm systems, but quickly devolves into a ‘get to this terminal and hack it so you can get to the next objective’, which gets tedious.

Anyway, I’ve rambled on enough about the gameplay. As one of the first exclusive PS4 titles, it’s absolutely gorgeous and really makes me excited for the future of console gaming. Graphics aren’t nearly as important as the gameplay, so I won’t prattle on forever… but the graphics go a long way in helping to sell this tale of a ‘world that’s been divided’. You fly over a city, and the draw distance is just… nuts. No lack of detail in distant buildings, no artificial haze to hide details, no tricks whatsoever. I noticed the OCCASIONAL pop-in, but this only occurred with minor details. Lighting is amongst the best I’ve seen in a console title to date, and the colors? Shadow Fall isn’t nearly as drab as its predecessors, that’s for sure. There’s plenty of bright tones this time around, and even when the game is at its darkest, there’s still color being used to bathe us in atmosphere.

Last but not least – I have to address the story. It’s some time after the events in Killzone 3 (30 years, I believe?), and each side of the opposition is basically separated by their version of the Great Wall. Of course, there are some things at play that hope to change all that, and you find yourself smack dab in the middle of it. As a soldier, you were raised to believe in the black and white scenario – You’re good, the other side is bad. Fortunately, the plot attempts to put us in a position where the line between right and wrong is blurred, but it doesn’t do a great job of driving it home. It’s conceptually sound, yes, but much like the previous Killzone titles, the central cast are mostly unlikeable (with the exception of ‘Echo’).

So far, my experience with the multiplayer has been fun, but there’s nothing new or innovative to write home about. If you want a variety of standard multiplayer modes with a control scheme that feels good, and with graphics that look phenomenal… then you’ll have fun. I know I did, but once Battlefield 4 is working the way it should, I expect most players to gravitate towards that.

So, as I said in the beginning – The game wants to provide this and it wants to present that… but Shadow Fall never reaches the heights it strives for. It’s just another shooter with a mediocre plot that’s driven by dull characters… but that’s not to say it’s a bad game. For all the negativity I’ve spouted, it’s only because I have a responsibility to give it to you straight. Still, it’s important I stress that most of the negatives were outweighed by the positives, because Killzone Shadow Fall is still fun as hell. There wasn’t a single time I said, “Come on, just end already.” I legitimately had a good time, and wouldn’t mind going back to play through the campaign again. In the end, that’s what a game is all about – Being fun. If it plays great and I have great time playing it, what’s left to say? I recommend Shadow Fall for anyone who picked up a PS4 (unless you simply aren’t a fan of shooters). It’s not a ‘killer app’, but is certainly leaps and bounds above most other launch titles I’ve played in previous generations.

Keep an eye in the not-too-distant future for my review of Knack. For the time being, I’m compelled to share that the game isn’t the downer that most reviewers made it out to be. It’s simple, but a lot of fun. That’s all I’ll say for now! Until next time!

Bit-Review: Playstation 4 – Greatness Has (Almost) Arrived

"Sorry, I won't be coming in to work today... or all next week... or the week after that... or... you know what?  I'm sorry, but I'm deathly ill and have to quit..."

“Sorry, I won’t be coming in to work today… or all next week… or the week after that… or… you know what? I’m sorry, but I’m deathly ill and have to quit…”

The Playstation 4 has arrived to usher in the next generation of console gaming, and if you’ve been paying attention to the internet – like, at all – then you know it’s been a rocky start. The big name review sites have been unimpressed with first party and certain third party titles, and everyone’s in a tizzy over what’s become known as the ‘blue pulse of death’. I’m not here to provide opinions on the games just yet – as I’ll cover them in future updates – and I don’t think I need to discuss the blue pulse of death just yet. Is it an issue? Of course, but we really don’t have much statistical data to go on. No, I’m merely here to describe my experience with the PS4 thus far.
For those who don’t want in-depth impressions, here’s the short and thick of it:

PROS:

-The Dualshock 4 is the most comfortable controller I’ve ever used.
-The ‘Options’ button is an effective replacement for ‘start’ and ‘select’… and then some.
-Ability to view detailed list of updates and what they fixed/added is a huge step forward.
-‘Share’ is easily my favorite feature at the moment. Live commentary is fun… even if nobody is watching (I’m a sad, sad man).
-The user interface is simple, and gives you easy access to everything you want/need to know.
-Streaming video and switching between multiple apps has produced zero hiccups… like, at all.
-‘What’s New’ is a brilliant cascade that reminds you of your accomplishments, as well as your friends.
-Games have run with zero lag in my experience.

CONS:

-The included mono headset is functional, but that’s about it. Horrendously cheap addition.
-The charge on the DS4 doesn’t last as long as the DS3.
-There are some easy things that Sony missed – How about the ability to import Facebook friends?
-The UI overall will eventually need a better way to sort your apps.
-Certain features that were advertised are not yet live at launch (‘taking over’ someone’s game, for example).

User Interface:

I pulled my PS4 out of its box around 12:15 am, hooked it up to my A/V receiver and turned it on. The moment I finished setting up the network, it began to download the day 1 patch, and by the time I finished the overall initial setup it was already 1/3 of the way complete. It wasn’t long before I was up and running.

Finally playing around with the user interface, I was pleasantly surprised at how simple it was. I didn’t think I was going to like it at first, but it won me over and then some.

There are two reasons the UI will likely appease the masses – Information and social integration, and there are only two rows for accessing all the PS4 has to offer. That said, I can already foresee a problem looming in the distance based on this two row approach.

The ‘home row’ is made up of large icons that come with their own drop-down menus. The first of which is labeled ‘What’s New’, and gives you a nice and blocky mosaic that details what trophies you’ve earned, the games you’ve downloaded or updated, and what you’ve decided to share on Facebook and/or Twitter. It also shares what your friends have been up to. The following icons in the home row are for games and other apps/services. The drop-downs for games will show you how many trophies you have, how many of your friends have the game, provide a direct link for add-on content, and more. There’s even a ‘like’ button similar to what you’d find on Facebook.

Also in the home row is the ‘Live on Playstation’ icon, and this allows you to browse through live streams and spectate to your heart’s desire. You can also participate in text-based chat. Eventually, you’ll also be able to ‘take over’ someone’s game when they need help, but this feature wasn’t live at the time of launch.

The uppermost row is the stuff we’re already (mostly) accustomed to – The PSN Store, Profile, Friends, Settings, Notifications, etc. The Notifications section is probably the most appealing for me, because it’s more like a hard breakdown of what we’ve done as opposed to the pretty ‘What’s New’ layout. You can see when you’ve earned trophies, when you’ve updated games and when installs are ready, and it’s also where you can check your current upload and download status.

So, what exactly is the downside to this two row approach? Whenever you install a new app or game, it obviously makes the row longer. Any time you use a game or app, it puts it at the beginning of the row. After buying lots of games on disc or PSN, it’s going to end up being a chronological mess. Here’s hoping Sony comes up with some sort of grouping option in the future.

Sony also missed some features which have already been well integrated into other (mostly mobile) platforms. Facebook integration is heavily transparent on the PS4, so why not allow people to import friends from their Facebook profile? It’s small stuff like this that makes it almost painfully obvious that this is ‘just the beginning’… a work in progress. The potential is almost there, but there’s still a lot of stuff they can tweak to make the experience perfect.

Game Installation –

First time you put a game in the PS4, you’ll see its icon pop-up on the home row with a small status bar beneath it. This indicates that the game is currently installing on the hard drive, and the process is surprisingly fast. You’ll also be able to play a game while it installs…

Dualshock 4

This controller is my new favorite. The sticks have convex bowls that are surrounded by a raised circular ridge, which offers a firm grip for our thumbs. Stick movement is somewhat stiffer than those of the DS3, and in-game control is greatly enhanced as a result (no more ‘overshooting’ your target). The top triggers are wide and concave, and are by far the most comfortable fit on a controller to date. All hard buttons (directional and X, O, etc) have eliminated the ‘squishy’ feel from the DS3.

The major draw is going to be the touchpad, and it’s incredibly responsive. Its implementation is disappointingly sparse at the moment, but the promise is there. In Killzone, you have to swipe a certain direction to change the ‘mode’ in which your OWL bot operates (electro-shock, zip cord, attack, shield), and AC IV uses it for map navigation. Knack – as fun as it is – doesn’t use this feature at all. I’m sure other games will get around to it in the not too distant future, but it’s disappointing to see a lack of day 1 support. One thing I was hoping for, was that it would be utilized for mouse functionality in the PS4 web browser, but that’s not the case. You can’t even use the touchpad to navigate the PS4’s UI, despite Sony having showed that off at one time. As with many other things, I’m sure that will change with a future firmware update… which is a wise move on Sony’s behalf (so they can work out the kinks before implementing more features), but it’s still disappointing nonetheless.

And then there’s the light bar – It’s very, very bright, and each player will have a different color assigned – Blue, red, yellow, or pink. The light helps the PS camera identify which player is which, and if players manage to change their seating position, games can switch the split-screen to coincide with where players are sitting. Killzone made terrific use of this light in-game, though – The light indicates health, and changes from green, to yellow, to red. This isn’t much help during the day since you can’t see the light reflected in front of you, but it was helpful at night as I was far better able to gauge when it was time to take cover.

Let’s not forget the in-controller speaker, which I guess takes a cue from the Wii-mote. In Killzone, I picked up audio logs, and I was surprised when they came through the controller for the first time. In Knack, you can hear the blocks mixing together when collected. It’s a neat feature…

But there’s one thing the light and speaker aren’t good for – Battery life. Don’t worry, you can still sit down and marathon for hours at a time, but the charge just doesn’t last as long as the DS3. The upside? The DS4 charges faster than its predecessor. There’s also an aux jack on the bottom for headphones or the included mono headphone with mic, and as wonderful a feature as it can be – it’s awesome to hook some headphones to the controller instead of laying a lengthy cord across the living room from my receiver – I’m sure it doesn’t help matters much, especially when you decide to route all sound to the headphones exclusively.

The ‘Options’ button is a real treat, too. People cried foul when there was no sign of a ‘start’ or ‘select’ button, but this button is pretty much an all-in-one. Press it within a game and it will pull up the game menu. Press it outside of a game, and you’ll see options that are specific for a game or app. One of my favorite features of the ‘options’ button, is that I can pull up a game’s update history… and not just the dates of update, but the specifics as to what each patch fixed/implemented. People will need to remember to start using the ‘options’ button instead of looking for some sort of ‘settings’ menu, but once they do… bliss.

There’s also the ‘Share’ button, but it’s a major software feature and I’ll discuss that in a bit.

Last but not least is the audio jack, which allows you to use any headphones with standard audio plug, even if it has a mic. A nice feature on the PS4 is that you can actually choose to route all in-game audio to the headphones through the DS4. I found this to be preferable to dragging out a long extension cable to plug into my receiver.

All in all, a massive improvement and probably the best controller I’ve ever had the pleasure of using.

Included Mono Earpiece and Mic

It gets the job done, and will do in a pinch for anyone who doesn’t want to scramble and spend money on a better headset with mic… but what the hell was Sony thinking? The hard, rounded ear piece design is terrible and reminds me of the original ipod ‘phones… minus the soft pad. This thing won’t stay in your ear if you’re prone to moving around while you play, and when they do, they can get uncomfortable after a short amount of time. Couldn’t Sony have opted for something that would at least fit in our ear? Would it have been difficult to give us a basic bud with a rubber piece that would keep it in place? You’re going to want to replace this, no questions asked.

Console Design

The PS4 is sleek and surprisingly small. You think people may have lied when they said it wasn’t much bigger than a slim PS3 model… but if you haven’t seen the PS4 in the wild yet, wait until you do – The box is really slender and left me scratching my head. “My PS4 is in there? How in the…” Unlike the Xbox 360 or the upcoming Xbox One, Sony not only squeezed all the pertinent hardware inside the small machine, but the power supply, too.

Anyway, enough of my gawking – Let’s address this ‘wobble’ that everyone has been freaking out over. I’ve decided to use my PS4 in a horizontal position, and the wobble is a non-issue. If I push the front left corner of the machine done, it does have a teeny tiny wobble, but who cares? I won’t be pressing on the top of my console… ever. I put in a disc, the machine doesn’t move. I take out a disc, the machine doesn’t move. I hook a USB cable up so I can charge my controller, and the damn thing STILL doesn’t move. It’s stable, and nobody should listen to the hyperbole on the net.

I love the light that runs down the center of the top of the console (right side if you store it vertically). When the machine is turning on, there’s a blue pulse and when the UI launches, the light turns a solid white. Putting the console in standby – the mode in which USB power still works and will allow the PS4 to gank and install updates from PSN while you’re away – is indicated by a dim yellow light. I think Sony have really outdone themselves with the sleek slanted look, too – This makes the power and eject buttons much easier and natural to use, and it just looks so modern, if not somewhat futuristic. It’s certainly leaps and bounds better than the original, fat PS3 design… and I’m sorry, but the PS3 looked terrible. Major thumbs up to Sony.

Share

I know that sharing video feeds over the net isn’t exactly new, but including such a feature in a game console is something of a revelation. If I sound overly excited about the Share functionality, it’s because I am. It’s another one of those things that I thought I’d never really use, but it’s causing my inner-geek to leap for joy. Any time I’m not using bandwidth on my PC, I’m streaming my gameplay on the PS4… for now and ever more. But I’m getting ahead of myself:

How does sharing content work? Hit the ‘Share’ button.

Once you do, a menu pops up with three options – Share a screenshot, share a video, or stream.

Screenshot is self-explanatory.

When you choose to share a video, you’ll be brought to a screen where you can scroll through your last 15 minutes of gameplay and trim to your heart’s content. If you want to share all 15 minutes, you can. If you only want to share 10 seconds worth, you can. And just as an FYI – People have widely reported that you can’t include commentary over your gameplay for video sharing… but YOU CAN. By default the PS4 doesn’t record mic audio, but if you hit the ‘Options’ button in the Share menu, you can enable this feature. Upload your video – which currently only supports uploads to Facebook – and wallah, there’s your video WITH commentary. Youtube support is supposedly coming in the future… here’s hoping it’s sooner rather than later.

Streaming is also simple. At first you’ll have to setup a Twitch or Ustream account – which you can easily and quickly do from the PS4 – but after? Just tap ‘Share’, select the ‘stream’ icon, and then you’re greeted with a few simple options before telling the PS4 to start your stream. You can actually share a feed link with Facebook and/or Twitter, and you can select whether or not you want to include yourself via the camera or mic audio. Hit the ‘Options’ button and you can even change the quality of the stream.
Honestly, prior to launch, I didn’t see myself using the Share feature much. I figured it would be a hassle… but once I saw how simple and intuitive it was, I was hooked. If I’m playing, I’m streaming. End of story.

App Switching

How many times have we tried to do something on the PS3, only to be told, “Are you sure, because you’ll have to get the hell out of your game if you want to do that, dumbass.” Well, the PS4 hopes to rectify that… and so far, I’m impressed. I’m playing a game, and all of a sudden I randomly decide I need to do something else. I press the ‘PS’ button on the controller and go out to the main menu. Or, I double tap the PS button to immediately switch to the last app I was using. The transition is smooth, and that’s all I can really ask for, isn’t it? There’s no stutter, no slowdown… nothing. Just pure performance.

I’ve probably missed some stuff, but this wasn’t meant to be a full review. These are my initial impressions from the first week, and I only see the PS4’s features improving as time goes on. The fact that they don’t support other multimedia support out of the box (from external hard drives, for example) is really unfortunate, but mp3’s will be supported in the future, and I hope other video files will as well. Outside of that, this console is definitely a sharp contrast from what the Xbox One offers – If you want an all-in-one living room experience, the Xbox One will fulfill that (and reviews in this regard have been good, with the caveat that you should wait until certain kinks are worked out). If you want a pure gaming experience… well, here’s the PS4.

In short? Greatness has arrived… almost. The PS4 is a solid machine and runs as smooth as a baby’s behind, but it still needs a little work from a firmware standpoint. Outside of that, it’s definitely worth picking up now. Enjoy!

By the way – My experience with the games has been pretty stellar thus far. Killzone Shadow Fall isn’t a perfect title, but it’s gorgeous and still a solid Killzone title. Knack has been bashed by reviewers… but it’s a perfectly competent and FUN action platformer. Battlefield 4 has way too many issues to even think about playing at the moment though, unfortunately, but the devs should be issuing a patch early next week. Resogun is a free title on PS+ at the moment, and it’s ADDICTIVE. Think of a Gradius meets Geometry Wars, and you’ve got a grasp on what to expect. There’s also other free to play titles, but I haven’t had a chance to get to them. I’ll update on those in the future.

The Next Generation Has Arrived (Sorry for the Delay)

It’s been a while since I updated the gaming blog, but today is a special day – It’s November 15th, and it’s the date we usher in the next generation of interactive entertainment. The Playstation 4 has finally been released, and the Xbox One is due in another week. I attended a midnight launch and got my new system out of the box at 12:15am, and it wasn’t long before I was navigating the new UI and installing the day 1 update. I dabbled a bit in Killzone Shadow Fall, but didn’t really get into the thick of things until this morning. I’m too busy playing to give you a blow by blow, but I wanted to leave you with a link to my live stream:

TWITCH STREAM

This is where I’ll be broadcasting, so feel free to check it out. I won’t be playing day and night, so don’t be discouraged if I’m not playing. Just keep trying.

My initial impressions of the PS4? The user interface is really simple – It’s easy to navigate and the transitions are all smooth, even when you’re switching back and forth between games and apps. A huge improvement over the old operating system, to say the least.

My machine is quiet as a mouse. Anyone who was worried there would be any sort of ‘leafblower’ effect – especially due to the size of the console – shouldn’t be.

And yes, the size is small. The PS4 is about the same size as the PS3 slim, but its slanted, as opposed to rounded design, makes it appear even smaller. I know many are tempted to stand their console up vertically, but I went for laying it down flat. Why not?

I didn’t think I’d get such a kick out of the ‘Share’ button, but I did. It’s very satisfying to be able to upload a screenshot, video or even broadcast a gameplay stream WITH the mic on, at the touch of a button.

I know a lot of people gave the removal of ‘start’ and ‘select’ buttons some grief, but I honestly don’t think I’m going to miss them. The ‘Options’ button pretty much acts as a start button in-game, and also allows you access to a host of features/settings depending on the game or app you’re using. And besides, you can just press the ‘PS’ button and go back to the menu, and then go back into your game when you’re ready. Also, the speaker built into the controller is pretty slick.

Anyway, I’m off to play some more… but I’ll be providing some updates as time goes on. The games I pick up were Killzone, Knack, Assassin’s Creed 4 and Battlefield 4. Expect impressions on all of them as time goes on! HAVE FUN! And for the love of God, don’t HURT anybody if you’re out the wild trying to find one!

Bit-Review: DuckTales Remastered

D-d-danger lurks behind you...

D-d-danger lurks behind you…

The NES played a central role in my childhood. I remember walking around the corner to a friend’s house, spending countless hours playing the titles that were destined to become classics, and Capcom’s DuckTales was amongst the most memorable.

At the time of its release, Capcom was already a well-established company… but how they managed to land a deal with Disney is beyond me. In retrospect, I would have imagined Capcom’s reputation for producing crushingly difficult games would have sent mixed messages to the animation giant. After all, their target audience would have been the youngest of children. Could you imagine little Timmy picking up the latest Disney game, only to spend an afternoon crying because it proved to be just as punishing as Mega Man or Ghosts ‘N Goblins? Well, Capcom’s take on DuckTales was surprisingly well balanced. The gameplay wasn’t easy but not particularly challenging, yet hardcore players kept coming back to see who could find the most treasure. This addicting formula was rounded out with fun level designs and one of the catchiest 8-bit scores of all time.

If you didn’t get to experience this game as a child… I’m so, so sorry. You totally missed out… that is, until Capcom announced they’d been developing an HD remake of the original classic – DuckTales Remastered. Yeah, the first thing that flew out of my mouth was, “SHUTTUP AND TAKE MY MONEY!” The prospect of being able to play this title in HD was all I needed, but Capcom wanted to improve upon the initial experience. I wasn’t sure how that could be possible, but I was intrigued nevertheless.

Before I get ahead of myself, it’s important to discuss what made this title so much fun in the first place – Its gameplay. Scrooge McDuck traverses through the Amazon, Himalayas, Transylvania, African Mines and even the Moon, all seemingly for the sake of acquiring more wealth. I say ‘seemingly’ because the devs never bothered to fill us in on what’s drawing our beloved Unca Scrooge to these locations to begin with. That may sound appalling by today’s standards, but this was commonplace in the NES’s heyday. Anyway, in order to obtain these treasures, he has to battle his way through tough apes, giant spiders, mummies, bats, skeletons, goats, slugs, carnivorous plants and more… and that doesn’t even take the stage bosses into consideration. McDuck doesn’t venture into these areas with any projectile weapons, or even a blade for that matter. No, he uses his cane as a makeshift pogo stick, pouncing his enemies into submission. The cane also doubles as a golf club – Small boulder in your path? Stand next to it and give it a whack, hurdling it towards the next unfortunate creature. Yes, it sounds simple enough, but each level has its own series of challenges to overcome. You’ll have to carefully time your jumps from one careening mine cart to the next, or channel the spirit of Indiana Jones as you hop across a collapsing bridge while a massive boulder nips at your heels. If you want our feathered version of the Monopoly guy to survive, you’ll have to be methodical and precise.

Of course, getting from point A to point B is only half the adventure. As already mentioned, you’re continuously adding to Scrooge’s money vault, and this is perhaps the most challenging aspect of the game. Gems and treasure chests aren’t just sitting around waiting for someone to take them home. Nope, they’ll only be revealed after McDuck moves over their hiding spot, meaning you’ll want to walk and hop in every nook and cranny imaginable. Even still, you’re likely to blow your chance at retrieving certain treasures before you even have the chance to realize it… and shockingly enough, this never seems unfair. Missed opportunities will only demand multiple play-throughs, and even urge you to change your play style.

That’s pretty much the game in a nutshell. Everything worked so well in the original, so people pressed their hands together and prayed that Capcom would stay faithful to the original formula. Well, they did, and reviews of DuckTales Remastered has been mixed as a result. Seems kind of hypocritical to me, but I guess that’s the culture of gaming – Even if there’s nothing wrong with a product, you HAVE to find something to complain about. After all, what kind of news gets the most attention? Negative, of course.

So, how does the remake fare, exactly? In short, Capcom knocked it out of the park. This is about as faithful a translation as you can get – Level layouts are almost exactly the same. There’s a few minor tweaks, but they’re so subtle hardly anyone will notice. And oh, how gorgeous these diverse locations have become. Capcom actually enlisted the original series animation team to design the levels, so it actually feels like you’re playing in HD versions of the show. Furthermore, all the characters have been penned, inked and digitized as well. Last but certainly not least, the music has been lovingly recreated, and the result is pure sonic ear worm.

That wasn’t enough, however – In order to enhance the idea you’re actually playing through a DuckTales episode, there’s now a bunch of scripted segments that tie everything together. Their efforts definitely capture the heart of the show, but you know what really went a long way in driving this concept home? Getting the original cast to voice their respective characters. Yes – Scrooge, his nephews, Launchpad, Gyro, the Beagle Boys, and pretty much everyone else – they’re all here with fresh dialogue, and I dare say they sound better than ever (except for Magica DeSpell, who now sounds somewhat aged). Impressive, considering Alan Young – the voice of ‘Unca Scrooge’ – is over 90 years old.

As far as gameplay changes, there isn’t much to discuss. Certain boss battles have been modernized to be a tad more challenging, but all their classic moves are still present and accounted for. Honestly, the most notable change is that it’s easier to pogo. On the NES, you had to press A to jump, and then simultaneously hold ‘down’ and B. Oh, and move left and right at the same time. I’ll never know how I made it through my childhood with my thumbs still intact. If you’re something of a masochist, you can turn the ‘hard pogo’ control scheme on, but, uh… just don’t.

All in all, this is DuckTales as you remembered it… only better. Of course, there’s an inherent problem with this – Not everyone got the chance to enjoy the NES game or even the original series. So, how are young gamers going to react to the HD remake? Well, reviews from 20-somethings across the web are mixed, and understandably so. There was a LOT of hype for this release, so expectations were bound to get out of control.

As far as the gamers who ARE old enough to have enjoyed the 8-bit rendition, reception has been all across the board. Some herald it as the greatest HD remake of all time, whereas others have criticized Capcom for emulating the original design and gameplay to a fault… but me? I say if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it… this, coming from a guy who wholeheartedly supports major alterations (when appropriate, of course). I mean, take the upcoming Castle of Illusion remake for example – The original Sega ‘classic’ was a fun game, but the controls were dreadful and the level design left a lot to be desired. It appears the studio behind the HD version is changing things quite a bit, and for the better. To those who wanted something more from DuckTales Remastered… I honestly don’t know what to say. That’s a lie… of course I do – Get the fudge out.

That’s not to say there aren’t some minor issues. Some have complained that the amount of integrated cut-scenes is a pain in the tooshie. I actually enjoyed the story bits throughout my initial run, but they do become tiresome on multiple replays. At that point, all you want to do is collect treasure and bonk bad guys with your cane, and the cut-scenes do cut into that experience. Fortunately, you can press ‘start’ and select ‘skip cinematic’ from the pause menu. Capcom, it would be nice to see a patch in the future that would allow us to skip the cut-scenes automatically… just sayin’.

Last but not least, some have complained that Scrooge doesn’t always pogo when you want him to… but these complaints are a tad misleading. I actually found this to be a huge problem at first, but that’s because I was attempting to ‘hard pogo’ with the new control scheme. Once I stopped trying to do more with the controls than necessary, each and every goof-up from then on was a result of MY doing, and not from faulty controls. I can’t recall a single moment where I got frustrated and said, “GAWDAMNIT! I PUSHED THE RIGHT BUTTON!!! WHAT THE &%$#?!”

In all seriousness, this is a must own title. If you’re a fan of the 2d platforming resurgence, or just a fan of old school or arcade-style games in general, then DuckTales Remastered is the (nearly) definitive experience you’ve been looking for.