EA Access… To The Future?

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It’s a scene still fresh in the minds of consumers worldwide: Don Mattrick takes the stage. The room goes silent. Xbox One is revealed… and gamers balk.

The internet exploded with such ferocity, I was surprised the amount of virtual ink expelled hadn’t caused the collapse of our planet. But, why all the rage? Well, there were concerns that the new Kinect would double as Microsoft’s tap into our personal lives… which is hilarious when you think about how many people have broadcast themselves doing the horizontal Macarena (via Twitch and Ustream) on the PS4. But that’s neither here nor there. What really burned their asses was the idea that renting, borrowing or trading physical copies of games would become a thing of the past. Yes, Microsoft ignored the writing on the wall, and they paid a pretty hefty price for it. I mean, it isn’t exactly rocket science. Consumers want fair prices, convenience and flexibility. What did Microsoft come to the table with? High prices, convenience for a single market (the United States), and little-to-no flexibility.

But hey, I’m not trying to turn this into a Microsoft bitch-fest. No, all I’m saying is that they could have played a big part in making digital THE attractive next-gen business model, but blew it by opening shop in the middle of a torch and pitchfork store. Furthermore, Microsoft’s failure didn’t just hurt them, but the many publishers that were hoping to reclaim a chunk of the profit that Gamestop – and other retailers that have entered the used game market – have taken from them. So, while it’s clear that consumers don’t want a DRM machine in their living room just yet, that isn’t stopping big names in the industry from continuing to push their all-digital agenda.

Enter Electronic Arts, a company that’s come under fire within the last year for launching the oh, so broken Battlefield 4, not to mention the money hungry – and review score manipulating – Dungeon Keeper. Of course, the average consumer has already forgotten about such things. At this point, it’s ancient history. Water under the bridge. People have been conditioned to accept the business models that allow pay-to-play and even buggy content to thrive with little-to-no consequence, so what happens when another new business model rolls out? There are some that either love it or loathe it, but by and large, there’s a passive ‘take it or leave it’ attitude that permeates the gaming community, or at least a sizable chunk of it. All too often I’ve seen legitimate concerns waved off with such justifications as, “This is the future, so get with the times.” Or the classic, “That’s just the way things are, man.” People certainly have the right to care as little or as much as they want, so I’m not going to go off the deep end, suggesting they take time out of their busy lives to become industry activists. Instead, I implore each and every one of you to, at the very least, pay close attention to EA’s latest venture…

…And its name? EA Access.

It’s a subscription based model on the Xbox One that begins by offering consumers a ‘choice’. For $4.99 a month or $30 a year, you’ll be granted access to the EA Vault. Games contained within are yours to download and play for the length of your membership, which is a fantastic deal provided you don’t already own the four titles provided at launch (Madden 25, Fifa 14, Battlefield 4 and Peggle 2). There will be additional titles added in the future, of course, and once they’re placed in the EA Vault, that’s where they’ll stay for the program’s duration. Additional benefits include a 10% discount on all EA digital content – meaning games and DLC – as well as the ability to play upcoming titles five days before their official release (albeit for a limited time).

As it currently stands, EA Access is a smart idea that acts a win-win for almost everyone. I mean, to have access to an entire library of AAA titles for only $30 a year, delivered straight to your console? With discounts on games and DLC, to boot? Does it get more consumer friendly than that? Let’s see: Fair prices? Check. Convenience? Check. Flexibility? Check. Furthermore, it makes the prospect of PS Now pale in comparison. Sony said they intentionally shied away from EA Access because it was a ‘bad value’, but who are they kidding? This IS value, and I think people are going to sign up in droves to take as much advantage of it as they can.

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From a business standpoint, one might ask how EA are able to take games that are roughly a year old – because no, you’ll never receive the latest and greatest right out of the gate, because that wouldn’t make much sense – and throw them in a single package for such a cheap price. You’d expect they’d lose money, right? Well, fact of the matter is that because of Gamestop and various other retailers – hell, even Wal-Mart has joined the used game brigade – titles that have been out for nearly a year are virtually worthless, at least for the publisher. Most people are likely going to visit Gamestop and save some money by purchasing a used copy, and publishers like Electronic Arts never see a dime of that. So, basically, this program acts as the perfect lure to pull people away from the temptation of secondhand game shops. Why pay $20 for a single title when you can have access to an entire library for just a little more? Seems like an easy decision to me.

So yes, there’s many positives about EA Access. As it stands right now, gamers win, the publisher wins, and everyone’s happy. So, why do I have such a hard time being happy for ‘everyone’?

The short and simple answer is history. Looking back at the last couple generations of gaming, there’s an obvious domino effect. One idea always leads to another. What’s ‘well enough’ is almost never left alone.
Although it wasn’t the first console to offer DLC, Xbox was probably the most notable to do so. Why? Because while third parties were offering digital content for free, Microsoft published games sold their content for a nominal fee. Fast forward a bit, and along comes the Xbox 360. A great console, for sure, but thanks to the success of paid DLC on the OG Xbox, it was designed with microtransactions and DLC in mind. To start, they locked multiplayer behind a pay wall. Yes, if you wanted to play online, you had to pony up some dough for an Xbox Live Gold membership. Most, if not all publishers, joined the ‘charging for DLC’ party as well… but what if you didn’t feel comfortable using your credit card on the internet? Microsoft countered such concern with a ‘points as currency’ system, so all you had to do was hit up your local retailer for pre-loaded Xbox Live cards.

Sony had also ‘evolved’ over the last generation of gaming. Seeing the potential in digital revenue, they introduced the Playstation Store alongside the PS3. Fortunately, they were smart enough to keep multiplayer access free of any pay wall. Sony were undoubtedly envious of all the profit Microsoft reaped with Xbox Live Gold however, so they eventually decided to get in on the action… and POOF. Just like that, Playstation Plus was born. Sony didn’t want to echo what Microsoft were doing to a ‘T’, so instead, they tried to entice people with features and content. PS+ allowed demos and updates to download automatically, and granted access to content such as betas, storage in the cloud, full retail trials (timed demos) and ‘free’ games. Skip ahead to the launch of the PS4, and Sony have finally succumbed to locking multiplayer behind a PS+ membership.

In short, competition may keep the ball rolling, but not always for the best. Multiplayer, once free, became a critical tool for monetization. Digital content began as something small, but individual pieces were inevitably thrown into packs, and those packs are now bundled and pre-sold as season passes.

There are certainly exceptions to ‘the rule’, but the patterns are clear: We’re paying more money for the same amount of content, and throwing cash at services that never should have been behind a pay wall in the first place. That’s what businesses do, though… make money. If they want to KEEP making money, they have to mold us into ‘better customers’. And what’s the best method for that? The long con. They chip away at us little by little so we KEEP saying to ourselves, “Huh, that’s interesting. Well, that’s just the way it is, I suppose…”

And that’s why I’m concerned about EA Access. Sure, it’s a great deal today, but what about tomorrow? What are we giving up for the sake of a bargain? Can this really be good for gamers in the long run?

Doubtful.

I can’t predict the future, but I know this much: When a company reveals a great new business model – which EA Access seems to be – the rest will come running. Over the next 7 or 8 years, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Activision, Ubisoft and various others produce something similar. They’ll do everything in their power to convince people they have the best value, so things could get messy in a hurry.

How about a boost in XP? There goes balanced multiplayer. Exclusive DLC for subscribers? Great, even more content behind a pay wall. Exclusive access to games before they’re released?

Oh, wait… EA Access has already done that.

Looking even further ahead, I suspect this will allow consumers to be more comfortable with the prospect of an all-digital future. The implication here is that the next generation of consoles will likely be the very DRM machines we fought so vehemently against back in 2013.

Or not. Who knows?

EA Access could turn out to be a rare flower amongst a sea of decay, a step the company hopes will grant them a bit of good will with gamers worldwide. As I said, I can’t predict the future, and I don’t expect everyone who reads this editorial to agree with my predictions. That said, our money is what ultimately speaks to the publishing companies of the world. If you appreciate EA Access for what it is today, tell EA you support it by signing up… just consider what it could mean to the industry overall if this program turns out to be a huge success.

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Opinion-Bytes: …When It’s DONE

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What’s your idea of an optimal gaming experience?

Granted, this is a dangerous question. It often propels what’s meant to be a thoughtful discussion into heated debates about graphics and gameplay mechanics. One thing that people tend to overlook in these ‘debates’ however, is a far more basic necessity. First and foremost, a game has to work. Having grown up in the glam-tastic 80’s, I remember what it was like to grab a cartridge, jam it in a console, push the power button and play for hours on end. I’m not going to sit here and pretend like I never encountered an issue – after all, blowing in NES cartridges was practically a staple of my childhood – but my paranoia fueled brain had never been sick with concerns over game breaking bugs. When I bought a game, it worked. No fuss, no muss.

But today? We have to endure the rigmarole of firmware updates. As most of you are well aware, most games require a day one update to – and these are just a few examples – correct issues we never would have noticed in the first place, enable multiplayer support, or hammer out game breaking bugs. Furthermore, if consumers manage to stumble upon something in the post-launch window, developers are conveniently able to address those concerns through another patch. It’s nice to know that if a bug manages to squeak through quality control, I can (supposedly) rest assured that developers will be working ‘round the clock until I’m able to experience their game the way they intended. Of course, because nothing is sacred when money is involved, this once consumer friendly feature is now little more than a shadow of its former self.

What does this mean for us as consumers, exactly? It means that publishers are taking advantage of what they’ve perceived as consumer complacency. Now, once a game is deemed ‘good enough’ by the powers that be, it’s whisked away in its unfinished state to a pressing plant. The discs are then packaged, shipped, and held in stock rooms until release. All the while, developers continue to work on ensuring their product is 100% in time for launch.

I think most of us would agree that actions speak louder than words, so what’s the logical conclusion here? Simple – Publishers couldn’t care less if you’re spending your hard earned money on an incomplete product. They believe that as long as they have everything fixed in time for launch, most of the gaming community won’t even care… and to be fair, it’s not like we’ve proven them wrong. Despite the outcry from message board crusaders, there aren’t many people actually speaking with their wallet. How can we expect publishers to listen to our concerns while we’re still throwing money at them?

I know what some of you might be saying. “It’s a digital future anyway, so who cares if there’s a day one update? All that matters is that the game works.” Of course, the caveat is that not every game actually works at the time of launch. There shouldn’t be any precedent that allows publishers to kick a game out the door for competitive reasons rather than logical ones, because when they do, they’re basically gambling with our money.

And trust me, you’ve probably been affected by the stuff I’m talking about already, and multiple times at that.

We don’t have to look too far back to see what can happen when a game’s release is the product of a deadline. Yeah, you know where this is going – Battlefield 4. Single player campaign saves were corrupting, network issues were rampant, and while the experience has drastically improved ever since, people are STILL reporting problems to this day. Is there any question that this game wasn’t ready, and that the parties involved weren’t aware of that? It’s unacceptable by every stretch of the imagination, but what’s worse is how they’ve been tripping over themselves in the media as a result of their irresponsibility.

Some months ago, DICE had stated on the official ‘Battlelog’ that, “Resolving the launch issues is our #1 priority. In fact, we are so serious that we have the entire team working to stabilize the game and we will not move on to other projects until we are sure that Battlefield 4 meets – and exceeds – your expectations. It is the right thing to do.” Technically, the ‘right thing’ would have been to stop selling DLC and pull the game from shelves until it was fixed, but I digress.

Fast forward to February, and EA’s chief creative officer Rich Hilleman – in an interview with Nathan Grayson of Rock, Paper, Scissors – sang an entirely different tune. “Battlefield 4 has been an exceedingly successful product on both consoles and PC. From a sales perspective, from a gameplay perspective.” He went on with, “I don’t think most of my customers are willing to say – ‘it’s a bad product, I wish I didn’t buy it.’ That’s not the conversation we’re having now.” I don’t know about the vast majority, but I’ve had that conversation… with LOTS of people. “We did things wrong. We know that. We’re gonna fix those things. We’re gonna try to be smart about what customers want in the future.”

There’s so much wrong with his response, my head’s still spinning. I mean, money aside, how can BF4 be spun as an ‘exceedingly successful product’? Regardless of where you stand today, I think it’s fair to say it had one of the worst launches in recent memory. And as far as ‘trying’ to appease the community… well, allow me to counter that quote with another – “There is no try. Only do.” People just want their games to work. It doesn’t get any less complicated than that.

Broken Game

Another way this ‘patch it later’ attitude has affected the community, was with the entire next-gen console lineup. The Wii-U required a firmware update to activate most of its key features, while the PS4 and Xbox One were loaded to the brim with promise – Promise you’ll have this feature, promise you’ll have that feature… that is, as long as you’re willing to spend $400 to $500 up front. The PS4 and Xbox One – despite the fantastic gaming experience they provide – clearly weren’t ready to be released. So, why were they? Well, if you recall what happened last time, Microsoft had a yearlong advantage over Sony, and I don’t think either party was willing to risk a similar disparity this time around. So, once the consoles were in a playable state, they were kicked out the door. The end result? Well, PS4 owners are dealing with broken Share functionality to this day, and despite how far the Xbox One has come, it’s still paying the price for its lackluster reveal in 2013. I don’t want to spin near hyperbole here, but the early adopters have essentially paid for the privilege of beta testing next-gen consoles.

But that’s peanuts compared to what this means for us over the long term. To put it bluntly, I think we’re witnessing the death of video game preservation as we know it, and that scares me. I know, I know – Some of you have a tendency to play a game and trade it in just as fast. I’ve been there, done that… and have almost always regretted it. I wish I still had my NES, SNES, Genesis, N64, and the list goes on. But you know what? I could go to my local retro gaming shop today and buy these consoles with their respective games. Once I get it all home and set it up, all I’d have to do is grab a cartridge, jam it in a console, push the power button and play for hours on end. Unfortunately, that convenience simply won’t be possible with the games of today.

Batman: Arkham Origins was released with a bug that would cause save file corruption. Skyrim – much like any other title from Bethesda – suffered from broken quests, texture down-scaling, and massive load times after extended play. The Fable franchise also had its share of frustrating glitches and broken quests. Hell, even The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword had a bug that made game progression impossible. These are just a few notable titles off the top of my head, but a Google search of ‘game breaking bugs’ will reveal much, much more.

Of course, most of these issues were later resolved with updates, but here’s the rub – What happens when we decide to revisit these games in 20-30 years? I mean, the content on the discs themselves is incomplete, so when we inevitably come across a game or immersion breaking bug, we’re going to be screwed. After all, the servers for our console(s) of choice won’t be around forever, and when they disappear, so will the opportunity to acquire a much needed patch. Worse yet, if you have a console that needs to be reformatted, you can kiss all the functionality that came after day one goodbye.

This is why we need to fight to ensure that developers and publishers refuse to release a game until it’s ready, because otherwise, we’re just spending full price today for a wasted investment tomorrow. Technology may have brought us to a point where games can be more fulfilling than feature length films, but when we can’t even trust that a product is ready at the time of release, it’s clear the industry has lost sight of pretty much everything. Strip all the variables away, and gaming is just as valid a form of entertainment as music or film. Could you imagine if a couple of songs on an album had been cut off, only to later find an apology in the booklet that says, “Sorry, we couldn’t finish the songs as we intended because we couldn’t meet the deadline. Here’s a digital code to redeem the completed tracks in two weeks.” What if you went to the movies and saw a similar message from the director on a title card in place of what should have been the final moments of the film? Would you stand for it? Of course not.

Because of the ever changing nature of technology in general, it’s easy to rationalize anti-consumer policies by saying: “That’s just the way things are.” But the gaming community proved a year ago that nothing is ever ‘just the way it is’, because we pretty much forced Microsoft – and Sony, even if you’re not aware of that – to change their stance on DRM. The more you complain and the more you refuse to spend money on products that don’t deserve it, the more we can make things happen.

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

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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).