After a lengthy delay, Ubisoft’s highly anticipated Watch Dogs is finally in our hands. This is a game I had been looking forward to for a couple of years, and initially had it pre-ordered as a PS4 launch title. Sadly, Watch Dogs didn’t live up to my expectations, and not for the reasons you might expect. The features that set it apart from other third-person open world games are pretty neat, and really do make it feel unique. The biggest let downs for me, were the main character himself, a good chunk of the story missions, and the incredibly stupid AI.
In a nutshell, Watch Dogs is Assassin’s Creed in modern day Chicago. You play as a generic grovely voiced white dude with a 5 o’clock shadow, who won’t rest until he sees his mission through to the end. No matter the cost to himself or those around him. In all honesty, Aiden Pearce is a total piece of shit, and I was fully hoping to see him lying in a pool of his own blood when the credits rolled. The story is setup fairly quickly, and we learn that Aiden is a thief who crossed the wrong people, who inevitably exacted revenge on him, but his niece was caught in the crossfire. Aiden will rest at nothing to avenge his fallen niece, even if it means putting his sister and nephew in harm’s way, and countless civilians and police officers are killed along the way. By the time I had finished the story, I had killed dozens of cops, and yet Aiden is still walking around Chicago like he owns the place.
What’s super weird to me, is that I found it upsetting that this dude was on a killing spree in the name of his dead niece. I’ve played this type of game countless times, and it never really got to me. In Grand Theft Auto you play as criminals each and every time, and I fully enjoy it. Maybe that’s the difference here? Aiden Pearce is supposed to be a good guy, but his action prove otherwise. He’s a murdering thief, and I really couldn’t have cared less if he lived or died, because I felt like I was supposed to feel sorry for him, and that his action were somehow justified by the death of his niece. Instead, it pissed me of and made me hate him. Watch Dogs would have been a far better game if there were no guns, and no killing, period. If it was all about hacking, using environmental traps, and non-lethal takedowns, I bet it would have been a much more enjoyable game, and a more believable story.
In an attempt to offset all of the terrible things Aiden has done, Watch Dogs throws some morale decisions at you. Unfortunately, they pretty much fail entirely. For instance, while you’re roaming the streets of Chicago, you’re often given the opportunity to perform good deeds, like stopping a pick-pocket who’s making off with a woman’s purse. You can turn a blind eye, or chase the thief down. If you decide to chase the thief down and are successful in catching him, you keep the woman’s money for yourself. There’s not even an option to return it. Then there are thieves with guns, who will shoot wildly as you pursue them. Civilians scatter, and will often call the police when someone starts shooting, or even pulls out a gun. Regardless if you pull out a gun or not, you end up being the one the police are after when they arrive at the scene. So, why bother? Why bother chasing a dude down to retrieve a stolen purse when you’re just going to keep the money for yourself? Why bother stopping an gunman from killing innocent civilians when you’re going to take the blame for his actions? Pointless.
I played Watch Dogs on the PS4, and it didn’t blow me away in any regard. It looked good, but not great. Sound effects, especially vehicle sounds, were quite poor. Normally I would turn the volume up when I got in a high end sports car to hear the purr of the engine, but I found myself turning it down while playing Watch Dogs. I totally couldn’t stand the lead character’s voice; dude, clear your throat already! And one of the other main characters had a particularly annoying accent. When you jump in a vehicle or while you’re walking around, you can listen to a pretty wide selection of music, but there are no radio stations or anything. Just one big playlist featuring everything from 70s funk to Rise Against. Needless to say, I found myself hitting the “next track” button quite often. There are a couple gems in there, though.
Hacking. The one thing that makes Watch Dogs stand apart from the crowd. It’s neat. You can pull out your phone at any point and “profile” anyone and everyone. As you highlight people, you see a brief overview of their traits and habits. In some cases, you can tap into their bank accounts and steal money. With others, you can eavesdrop on phone calls and text message conversations that will often lead to side missions, such as potential crimes or gang hideouts. But the real fun occurs during missions, when you use security cameras and computers to hack your way through multiple floors of secured buildings, without stepping foot inside. It’s pretty gratifying when you’re able to complete an objective without being detected, and without killing anyone. Which leads me back to something I said previously; Watch Dogs would have been a much better game if they focused entirely on hacking and non-lethal methods of eliminating enemies.
The real star of Watch Dogs is the city of Chicago. I think it’s safe to say, it’s the most lively, realistic feeling virtual city I’ve experienced to date. It really is quite impressive. From the sheer size, to the amount of vehicles and civilians roaming the streets, to the seemingly endless amount of side quests and activities. There are even “hotspots”, where you can check-in, just like Foursquare. Each hotspot even has a mayor, who has visited most in the given week. At first I thought it was silly to have this sort of thing in a game, but when I came across some of the historical locations, my interest was piqued and I found myself seeking out other historical buildings throughout the city.
Two of Watch Dogs’ online modes are directly connected to the single player experience, which only makes sense in a game like this. While you’re playing, you get notifications that an online contract is available. Accepting the contract throws you into a cat-and-mouse type of game mode, where you are either hacking or tailing an opponent. Of course, it works both ways, and you may end up being notified that you’re being hacked and given a time limit to find and eliminate your pursuer. While this is kind of neat, I found it to be more of a distraction from the main story than anything else, and I disabled the online modes after a few hours of play time. There are also some traditional online modes, like races and a capture the flag type mode called Decryption.
Totally out of left field, are the AR (augmented reality) games and Digital Trips. These are solo games that are straight up wacky. One of the Digital Trips is a zombie driver game, while another has you bouncing on giant flowers, and even stranger still, there’s Spider Tank. Cash Run, one of the AR games, has you chasing after oversized pixellated coins through an obstacle course of sorts. Straight up weird stuff. Given the amount of rough edges this game has, I would have rather seen them smoothed out, than had these silly mini games.
In the end, I can’t say I really enjoyed my time with Watch Dogs. If I had rented it, I probably would have returned it without completing the story. At the 3/4 mark, I was simply going through the motions so I could be done with it and move on to the next game. I didn’t find the story compelling. I straight up didn’t like the protagonist. And the game play, with the exception of the hacking features, felt very generic, and even subpar. If you’re huge into open world games and aren’t sick of the Assassin’s Creed formula, you may have more fun with Watch Dogs than I did. If you’re on the fence about it, wait until the price drops.
All images used in this article were captured via PS4′s Share Button.
I’ll be the first to admit, that until I actually sat down with a controller in my hands and played the Destiny alpha for PS4, I wasn’t overly stoked about Bungie’s first non-Halo title in over a decade. Simply put, the gameplay footage I had seen to date didn’t really do much for me. It looked okay, but just okay. I was definitely on the fence about Destiny, and not even considering picking it up on day one. Now, having spent a few hours with the alpha, Destiny has jumped to the top of my list of most anticipated games set for release in 2014. In a word, Destiny is impressive.
I was hesitant to try an alpha for a game that’s still a few months out. Betas can be rough, and here we are given an alpha version to try. I was expecting unfinished menus, visual glitches galore, little-to-no voice overs. I couldn’t have been further off. The Destiny alpha was extremely polished, and felt very much like a finished protect. I sat down to play it 4 times, and just once it was unable to connect to the Bungie server. That was the only hitch during my time with it.
The alpha consists of 2 major story quests, and a number of minor side-quests across a desolate Earth. The map is absolutely massive, and there is no additional loading once you get into the game. The initial load time took up to a couple minutes, but you’re given some gorgeous screens to look at during this time, so it was hardly a bother.
Destiny is a beautiful game, especially when it comes to the scenery. With each new area I visited, I found myself taking a moment to soak it all in. Similarly, everything to do with the sound department is top notch. The music is quite familiar, thanks to the Marty O’Donnell, composer of Bungie’s Halo games. Sound effects, especially weapons and explosions are super impressive. The first time a Devil Walker fired its main cannon at me, the room shook, and I grinned from ear-to-ear. I can already tell the voice cast is huge. I recognized most of the main voices heard in the alpha. Of course, Peter Dinklage is the voice of Ghost, the AI which you carry around. But I’m pretty certain I also heard James Remar, Lance Reddick, and Jennifer Hale.
I really didn’t know much about the game itself. By that, I mean I figured it was going to be a lot like Halo, with more of a focus on multiplayer exploration. I didn’t realize it had so many RPG and MMO aspects to it. I don’t spent a lot of time with either of those genres, so I’m actually pretty excited about branching out when the full game arrives. I think the last RPG I played was Mass Effect 3, if you can call it that. An action-RPG, I suppose. Anyway, Destiny starts you out by selecting a class and creating a character. There are 3 classes in the alpha; Titan, Hunter, and Warlock. As you would assume, they range soldier to mage, with corresponding abilities and weapons to be unlocked and expanded upon. Player level is capped at 8 for the alpha, so only the first few abilities can be unlocked for each, but it’s enough to help you decide which class you’re going to invest the most time into.
For the first half hour or so, I played solo, until I crossed paths with a couple of hunters and joined their fireteam. The game immediately became a whole lot more fun. Enemies were easier to take down, and things were moving at a quicker pace. There’s no way I could have taken down the Devil Walker on my own. Even with 2 others, it was a difficult and time consuming task.
By far the coolest moment came in the form of a public event. Unfortunately, we were the only fireteam in the area, and weren’t able to achieve our goal, but how it all played out was just fantastic! As we entered a new area of the map, the sky quickly darkened and a number of dropships flew overhead, dropping bad dudes on the outskirts. Then a massive ship slowly crept in, and deployed a Devil Walker right in the middle of the area. We were given 5 minutes to destroy the Devil Walker, but unfortunately failed. When the time ran out, all of the remaining enemies in the area were teleported out in an instant and everything was eerily still. Awesome!
This alpha has given us an incredible first look at Destiny, and I think it’s safe to say that we’re in for a treat when the final game is released in a few months time.
All images used in this article were captured via PS4′s Share Button.
Mario Kart 8 is as Mario Kart as Mario Kart games come. Better yet, it’s the best game in franchise history, hands down. With only one major negative point, Mario Kart 8 delivers the crazy fun and addictive kart racing experience we’ve come to know and love, with top-notch visuals, excellent music, and plenty of content to keep us playing for ages.
As usual, Nintendo has stuck pretty close to the formula with Mario Kart 8. The only exception is that there’s more in the way of kart customization, and the tracks are pretty nutty, with gravity-defying sections that provide a truly exciting experience. To top it off, Mario Kart 8 is easily the best looking game on the Wii U to date.
Grand Prix is the core game mode we’re used to, which pits you against 11 AI players (or 8 AI and 3 other humans) competing for a cup at the end of 4 races. There are 16 new tracks, and 16 remade tracks spanning all of the previous Mario Kart titles, right back to the original SNES game. The older tracks feel pretty dull in comparison, as they don’t contain the same level of crazy gravity-defying sections, but some have been upgraded. They all look great regardless, and it’s pretty neat to see some of the classic tracks remade in HD glory.
The usual gang is back, along with each the Koopa kids. The baby characters are pretty silly, but my youngest daughter likes being them, so I suppose they appeal to the younger audience. You can also play as any Mii that’s on your Wii U, which is kind of neat.
One thing I really love, is the kart customization this time around. There are a pile of unlockable karts, wheels, and gliders, which are earned by collecting coins in races.
Mario Kart 8 can be played online with 11 other players, and there’s even a co-op split-screen mode, so you can have a buddy on the couch beside you playing online as well. In the time I spent playing online, I only had one game drop the connection, and I was in first at the time, so go figure. Other than that, it’s been surprisingly smooth.
Time trials are back, and even better than in previous games. You can now download ghosts from the top players in the world and see how they accomplished their record breaking times. This is a good way to learn the quickest routes for each track, and see how the best-of-the-best do it.
That negative point I mentioned earlier is Battle mode. The premise is mostly the same; each player has 3 balloons, and the person who pops the most balloons when the time limit ends is the winner. The downer, is that there are no battle arena tracks. Only the classic remake tracks are available for Battle mode, and they’re simply not suited for this game mode. It’s simply not fun at all.
Mario Kart 8 has some social features built-in. Primarily, you can share highlight reels and stamps earned on Miiverse. But it also supports uploading directly to YouTube in 720p from within the game. Here’s one of my highlight reels…
Since I started playing Mario Kart 8 and talking about it on Facebook and Twitter, I’ve been asked several times, “Should I buy a Wii U for this game?” That’s a really tough question to answer, since the Wii U is $300 at the moment. If there are other games that interest you on the platform, than yes. Otherwise, that’s a pretty big expense for a single game. Especially if you’re going to pick up several controllers for local multiplayer. It’s a great game, but hard to call a title like this, which is simply another iteration of a well known game, a “system seller”.
Oh jeez, another LEGO video game? I’ll admit, as much as I enjoy these games, I don’t find myself getting very excited about them anymore. That’s not to say I don’t still enjoy them. I do, very much so. But if you’ve played any of the previous LEGO games, you know what to expect here. And if you’ve taken the time to see one through to completion, it’s less likely that you’ll be able to handle the tediousness this time around. That’s been my experience, anyway.
From the time the game was announced, I had a bit of a hate on for it, as the timing just isn’t right. We all know the final movie in The Hobbit trilogy is set to be released at the end of 2014, so why release a game the same year that only includes 2/3 of the story? There will no doubt be a LEGO The Hobbit: The Complete Trilogy edition released down the road, which is nothing more than a cash grab. So yes, I’ve been harbouring some ill feelings towards this game for a while. But in the end, it’s a super fun game that’s loaded with charm, and is a blast to play co-op with my 6 year-old daughter. So, there’s that.
As perviously mentioned, LEGO The Hobbit re-tells the story of the first two movies in the trilogy. Like LEGO The Lord of the Rings, it uses bits of dialogue taken from the films instead of the grunts and groans of earlier LEGO games. This time around, cut-scenes felt quite short and dialogue was severely shortened to the point of just barely making sense. Some scenes were told differently than in the films to better suit the two player LEGO gameplay. Even when you play solo, there’s always a second character that you can switch to, so you’re not stuck with the limited abilities of a lone character. A good example of this, is when Bilbo meets Gollum in goblin town. The goblin that fell with Bilbo and is quickly killed by Gollum in the film, is merely stunned by the fall and assists Bilbo through this portion of the game.
Even though it only tells the story of the first two films, it’s still a lengthy game. And what it lacks in completion, it makes up for in side quests, although these are majorly tedious and obviously filler. The bulk of them are fetch and escort quests, which take at most a few minutes to complete. Similar to LEGO LotR, LEGO The Hobbit has you collecting objects through-out the story levels which characters in Middle-earth are after. Most of them cannot be obtained on your first play-through, so you’re looking at playing the entire game at least twice if you’re going for 100% completion.
LEGO The Lord of the Rings introduced the blacksmith, where you could use the mithril bricks you collected in Middle-earth to fashion weapons, clothing, and objects. LEGO The Hobbit takes this a step further, and introduces mining and material collection. Mining is especially fitting, given that the story follows a band of dwarves who are miners by trade. Through-out the story and Middle-earth, you come across LEGO sets which require materials to build. If you have the required materials, you thrown them into the mix and begin a building mini-game. The fashioned kit is then used to complete and objective. A nice touch from both the franchise standpoint, and also tying more of the building aspect into this LEGO game.
As far as LEGO games go, LEGO The Hobbit is top notch, with tons of content to keep you busy for hours upon hours. But the quality of that content is lacking, and the main story is incomplete. I didn’t see this as a waste of time or money, however, as it provided an excellent co-op experience with my daughter. If you have a little one to play this with, I’d say it’s worth picking up. Otherwise, you may want to wait for the price to drop.
All images used in this review were captured via PS4′s Share Button.
PS4′s first big post-launch exclusive is here, and it’s pretty damn impressive! inFAMOUS: Second Son is the third game in the franchise, yet it’s not a traditional sequel, and that’s likely a good thing, as I personally know several PS4 owners who haven’t played the first two games.
For those that are new to the inFAMOUS franchise; these games are open world, but heavily story driven. There’s always a clear focus on the task at hand, but plenty of opportunity to traverse the city and help or hinder its citizens. Whether you’re good or evil depends on your actions, which affects your karma. Subduing a hostile enemy will net you good karma, while incinerating him will grant you the opposite. There are also several major decisions set in front of you through-out the story which also sway your stance on the karma meter. From experience, it’s best to pick a side from the get-go, as karma affects your abilities and the end goal is to either be a hero or a villain, with maxed out powers.
Second Son takes place 7 years after the events of inFAMOUS 2, and the heroic demise of Cole MacGrath. People with abilities have come out of the wood work, and a military organization called the DUP has been formed to keep them in line, or rather, imprisoned. Second Son’s protagonist, Delsin Rowe, quickly discovers that he is a conduit whose powers far exceed most others. He has the ability to absorb superhuman powers from other conduits, which makes him especially unique.
Through-out the story, Delsin acquires a number of powers, which he can switch between by simply refuelling from a power source. Smoke and Neon are shown in the trailers, but I won’t mention the other two. Each of the powers comes with its own set of abilities, which are essentially all just variations of one. There’s a rapid fire shot that does minimal damage, a heavy shot that can take out vehicles and heavily armoured enemies, a mode of quick transportation, and a non-lethal weapon for temporarily incapacitating multiple enemies.
Then there’s the karma bomb. As you perform good deeds, the karmic bomb meter fills up, one line at a time. Once it’s filled, the karma bomb can be unleashed, and Delsin delivers an absolutely devastating blow to enemies within a large radius. Each power has its own karma bomb attack, and each is glorious to behold, every single time. If someone asked me to show them something cool on the PS4, this would be it, without a doubt.
Back to the story – Delsin and his brother head to Seattle after a prison break occurs on the outskirts of the small town they live in. Seattle’s now in lockdown as several conduits (labelled bio-terrorists) have escaped custody, and the DUP have gone on a bit of a rampage, essentially taking over the entire city and locking up every suspected conduit. Delsin is a bit of a miscreant, which is contrasted beautifully by his brother, who’s a cop. There’s this constant power struggle between the two, and for the first time, Delsin is the one with the upper-hand, given his new found abilities.
There are a number of side activities to keep you busy, between story missions, or once the story is complete. They range from breaking up drug deals, to destroying DUP outposts, to dealing with undercover DUP agents, and so on. There isn’t a huge amount of variety here, and if you blow through the story and leave this stuff to the end, I’m sure they would get tedious very fast. I found it best to take care of a handful of side activities between story missions. The story is much shorter than I expected, and even wrapping up all of the side activities didn’t take anywhere near as long as I thought it would. But Second Son is very much intended to be played as good and evil, so that has to be taken into consideration.
Character animation and voice acting are absolutely fantastic. Right from the get-go, I was blown away by the emotion portrayed on these digital characters’ faces. But impressive visuals don’t stop with the character models. Every aspect of Second Son is gorgeous. From the sprawling city streets, to the neon drain effect, to the massive amount of particles flying through the air with each explosion. Second Son is the new show piece for the PS4.
A really neat aspect of Second Son, is the Paper Trail; free additional content that’s bridged between the game and the Paper Trail website. It basically requires you to be a detective, by finding clues in the game, assessing them on the website, and unlocking the next mission in game. It’s a unique concept, and works pretty well. Paper Trail is definitely a slower pace than the rest of the game, given how much time is spent outside of the game itself, but enjoyable nonetheless.
After completing the story and all of the side activities, my only complaint is that I would have liked to have spent more time with Delsin in Seattle. Previous inFAMOUS games felt super long, but the quality of some of the story missions wasn’t quite as high as those in Second Son. So I guess that’s the trade-off. Quality over quantity. Regardless of its length, which is still likely around 12-15 hours, inFAMOUS Second Son is a very solid game, and super impressive in every regard.
All images and videos used in this review were captured via PS4′s Share Button.
Xbox One’s “system seller” has landed, and the hype got the best of me. I was planning to pick up an Xbox One later in the year, just before the Fall onslaught, but I found myself walking out of the nearest Future Shop with a Titanfall bundle just two days after release. I wasn’t immediately impressed by Titanfall, or the Xbox One for that matter. But after spending a few hours with it, the buyer’s remorse I was feeling had begun to subside. Titanfall isn’t exactly revolutionary, but it’s great fun none the less. Does it warrant purchasing an Xbox One? Well, that’s really up to you.
I skimmed a couple of reviews, and was surprised to see mention of a campaign. I thought Titanfall was strictly multiplayer? It turns out, it is. The campaign is simply multiplayer matches strung together with brief voiceover scenes as you’re transported to the battlefield. During campaign battles, the story is told via comms and a little picture-in-picture in the top right corner of the screen. Honestly, I barely grasped what was going on, as I was more focused on the action than that tiny window in the corner. The gist, is that there are 2 factions; the IMC and the Militia. Both are fighting over resources and territory in a distant corner of the galaxy called The Frontier. It seemed like an interesting enough concept, but the way it’s presented makes it difficult to absorb. Once you’ve completed both sides of the campaign, you’re able to replay any level you’d like, or jump into random matches. There are some campaign based achievements to score, so it’s worth replaying for them, if not the story.
Aside from the story fragments, there are some good reasons for completing the campaign. Primarily, this is how you unlock 2 of the 3 Titan chassis. Additionally, a decent amount of XP can be earned playing the campaign, as I ranked up to level 15 by the end of it.
When I posted a photo of my shiny new Xbox One on Instagram (and subsequently to Facebook and Twitter), some of my friends spoke up and said things like, “I didn’t think you’d be interested in Titanfall, since you’re not much of a multiplayer shooter guy.” They’re totally right, and Call of Duty is at the bottom of my list. Seeing as Respawn Entertainment is founded by Infinity Ward vets, it does make sense for them to question my decision. In all honesty, I can’t deny a great looking game. And from the initial trailer shown at E3 last year, Titanfall had my attention. I knew it was going to be a deciding factor for me to pick up and Xbox One, and after seeing massively favourable review scores, the decision was basically made for me.
The action is fast and furious, and while there are only 12 human players in a game, the battle still feels fairly large scale. I’ve spent most of my time playing Hardpoint Domination, which is essentially Battlefield’s conquest mode, where factions vie to control points on the map. I think this is more interesting than aimlessly looking for dudes to kill. It gives players more direction, and insures there will be congregations of players in specific spots on the map, as the power struggle plays out. The game modes are pretty typical, with Last Titan Standing being the only real standout. It has all players start in a Titan, with only one life. You can eject from your Titan when it’s destroyed, and have a chance to take down enemy Titans from the ground, but if the last Titan on your team falls, the round is over despite how many pilots are left.
There is one thing that makes Titanfall unique, and that’s what happens at the end of a round. When a team is declared victorious, the losing team has a chance to evacuate via dropship. A point is highlighted on the map for both teams where the dropship will appear, and one final frantic battles takes place before the scoreboard is brought up. It’s pretty difficult to reach the dropship if you’re on the losing side, and the opposing team can actually destroy it before it departs, so there’s a very slim chance you will get out alive. I’ve managed to do it a couple of times, and there is some nice bonus XP given, and a 50 point Achievement called Refuge the first time you make the extraction.
One thing I really like about Titanfall, is that rounds are short. I don’t think I’ve had one last more than 10 minutes, so it’s easy to jump in for a few rounds, even if you don’t have much time to spare. Unlike Battlefield 4, where I have to make sure I have at least 30-45 minutes to commit before jumping in.
If you’ve played a multiplayer shooter in the past 5 or 6 years, you know what to expect here. XP is calculated at the end of each round, and weapons and other upgrades are awarded each time you rank up. There are custom load-outs for pilots and titans, so you can customize both to your liking, and have several configurations at the ready. Then there are “burn cards”; perks which are limited to a single life in a round. These consist of “amped” weapons, unlimited grenades, reduced Titan build time, and that sort of thing. Burn cards make you play a bit more carefully, as to make the best of your perk. For example, I found myself turning tail and running from a Titan where I might have engaged it, when I had an assault rifle burn card enabled. Instead, I went looking for pilots and minions to kill.
Minions? Aside from the 12 human players in a round, there are AI players called minions which populate the map. There are two classes of minions; Grunts and Spectres. Spectres are synthetics, which can be hacked and turned to your side. Hacking a Spectre will also turn others near by, so you can end up with a nice little support unit in a matter of a couple of seconds.
Titanfall is surprisingly well balanced. You would assume that a pilot (human) wouldn’t stand a chance against a Titan, but you’d be wrong. Each pilot is equipped with an anti-Titan weapon, which can quickly bring down its shields and destroy its armour. Pilots can jump onto Titans, which is called “rodeo”, and fire directly at its core. This takes the Titan down pretty quickly, but leaves the attacking pilot vulnerable. More often than not, the pilot inside the Titan being rodeod will disembark and defend his Titan. When the Titan stops moving, the attacker has to decide to get off, or continue firing in an attempt to destroy the Titan. One of my Titan load-outs has the ability to set off a nuclear blast when it’s destroyed. So if someone tries to rodeo me and my Titan is already low on health, I’ll let him take my Titan down, eject, and watch him be consumed by the blast from a hundred feet above.
Pilots are equipped with jump-packs, which allow them to reach great heights very quickly. With it, you can double-jump and even run along walls, making it pretty easy to escape a Titan if you find yourself low on health.
There’s a pretty huge amount of replay-ability here, despite its seemingly shallow initial impression. And that’s entirely thanks to challenges. As you work your way through the XP levels, there is a huge amount of challenges to strive for. Most challenges have 5 tiers, which reward you with XP bonuses and burn cards when met. Once I really clued into how the challenges worked, I quickly started paying more attention to them; which ones I was close to achieving, and which would net the biggest rewards. Aside from netting you XP and burn cards, challenges also help to keep things interesting, in that they encourage you to continually use different weapons, ordinances, and abilities.
So, is Titanfall worth it? If you already have an Xbox One or a PC that can handle it and enjoy multiplayer shooters, then definitely, yes. Should you buy an Xbox One specifically for Titanfall? That’s a tough one. If there are other games you’d also play on the platform, then sure. But with its limited scope, it’s hard to gauge how long Titanfall will hold our attention. For now, just a few days in, it’s a hell of a lot of fun!
Update: March 29th. 2014 - After sinking more than 20 hours into this strictly multiplayer game, I’m pleased to report that it’s held my attention in a way that I didn’t expect. Even now with inFAMOUS: Second Son in my possession, I’ve found myself reaching for the Xbox One controller more often than the PS4′s. But that could have a lot to do with the limited time achievement; Early Adopter, which is awarded for reaching level 50 before the end of March.
Set just weeks before the events of The Last of Us, Left Behind puts the player entirely in Ellie’s inexperienced shoes. We know from any promotional material for this DLC, that Left Behind features another young female; Ellie’s friend, Riley. The story starts off with Riley returning “home” after being away for a number of weeks. Ellie had feared her dead, and there’s some immediate awkwardness between the two of them, so it’s pretty clear that they had some sort of falling out before Riley left. The girls set out on their own, as Riley has a special place she wants Ellie to experience. Over the course of 2-3 hours, we learn what happened before Riley left, why the unsettling feeling between them, and spend some time watching these girls enjoy each other’s company and have fun as friends.
There are some beautifully scripted and acted scenes in Left Behind. A few in particular, where the girls are having so much fun together, it seems like they forget about the world around them, at least temporarily. To see Ellie so happy and full of life was pretty heartbreaking, since we know the events of The Last of Us are just around the corner. But at the same time, it was great to be able to see Ellie in a different light.
But it’s not all hand-holding and skipping. There are flash-forward scenes, to a point in The Last of Us where Joel is injured and Ellie is out looking for meds. This provides the action, and also fills a gap in the main story. So essentially, we’re playing as two versions of Ellie. The younger, inexperienced Ellie. And the post-Joel, hardened Ellie, who is fairly capable of taking care of herself. While she can wield a bow, guns, and a knife. Ellie needs to keep her distance from enemies, as she’s still a young girl. She can’t stand her ground in a melee fight with, well, anyone. Sneaking and firing from a distance or great height are the only ways she can succeed in a battle.
For the first time, the player is put in situations where we have to deal with infected and humans at the same time. Often, Ellie ends up entering an area where neither are aware of the other’s presence. Which gives us a chance to decide how things will play out. In one case, I was able to clear a room by simply throwing a bottle. It’s a shame Naughty Dog didn’t think of this sooner, as I quite enjoyed these scenarios and would have loved more time with them in The Last of Us.
There’s only really one down-side to Left Behind, and that’s the price. While it’s top notch content, it’s still tough to justify $15 for 2-3 hours of gameplay. Not that that would have stopped me from buying it, had I known how short it was prior to downloading. But I suspect some people might want a little more bang for their buck.
If you played and enjoyed The Last of Us, there’s no doubt in my mind that you should experience Left Behind. For those that like to stretch their dollars, you’ll probably want to hold off until it’s on sale or the price is reduced. I enjoyed Left Behind immensely, and it’s made me want to revisit The Last of Us for another play-through.
Nintendo has done it again. And by “it”, I mean they’ve managed to convince me to buy yet another console strictly for playing Super Mario games. While I felt like a total sucker as I walked through the front door with the Wii U and a copy of Super Mario 3D World tucked under my arm, after just a few minutes of hands on time, that feeling of being duped quickly started to diminish.
From a technical standpoint, the Wii U belongs in the previous generation of game consoles, along with PS3 and Xbox 360. But since this is Mario and the gang’s first true HD outing, Super Mario 3D World feels more like a next-gen game, as it renders the world and its characters more beautifully than ever before. At one point, I actually made a comment to my wife regarding the lighting in a certain level, and that’s when I realized that Nintendo really has stepped things up with the Wii U.
Unlike most other Mario games, you have the opportunity to play as whichever character you’d like, and even switch at the beginning of each level. Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, and Toad all use the standard dash, jump, butt-stomp maneuvers to get through each level, but each character feels a little different. Luigi still has his sill high jump where his feet flap like crazy, and Peach can float for a second with each jump, which makes reaching the top of the flag pole quite a bit easier.
The maps look great, and can be freely explored for the first time. Players are no longer restricted to the main paths, and there are some nice secret areas to be found for those who take the time to explore. My favourite, is a golden train filled with stacks of coins, which will net you a quick dozen or so extra lives.
There’s an absolutely insane amount of content here, and replay value up the wall. Each level has you searching for 3 green stars, and a stamp for your collection, and for once, hitting the top of the flagpole actually counts for more than just points; it’s represented on the map which character finished the level and if the top was reached. As you would expect, there are 8 worlds to explore, each with a different visual theme. Unlike previous games, levels in each world aren’t bound to that theme, and the variation between levels is huge. Once Bowser has been defeated, there are still dozens of new levels to complete, which are much more difficult than those found in the first 8 world, and will truly test your skill, and patience.
What’s a Mario game without awesome power-ups and silly suits? New to the game, are the Cat Suit and Boomerang Suit. And of course, plenty of old favourites have returned; Fire Flower, Mega Mushroom, and Tanooki Suit. The Cat Suit is the clear focus in this game, and for good reason. Not only are the characters ridiculously cute while wearing it, but it features an effective swipe attack, and the player can scale walls to reach new heights and find hidden areas and stars. Even some of the enemies have been turned into cats, which is super weird, but hey, whatever.
Super Mario 3D World can be played co-op, with up to 4 players, and features drop-in, drop-out. If you’re going for completion, co-op isn’t the way to play, as other players can hamper your experience, without purposely trying to do so. With so much emphasis on precision jumps and quick reactions, it can be quite challenging getting through a level with 3 other players. But at the same time, playing co-op can be a blast if everyone is just playing to have fun. At the end of each level, the score is tallied up and the player with the highest score is awarded a crown, which they wear in the next level. So there’s a nice bit of added incentive for playing well and snatching up all of the coins. To add to the mayhem, the crown can be knocked off, and picked up by other players.
I really don’t have many negative things to say about Super Mario 3D World. The only thing that really bothered me, was missing simply jumps due to the 3D landscape, but that’s totally understandable, and after a while you get in the habit of tracking your shadow carefully.
Super Mario 3D World isn’t just another jaunt down a road paved with nostalgia. It’s an extremely fun and addictive modern platformer, bursting at the seams with charm, and absolutely loaded with content. This is the system seller the Wii U has needed since its release, over a year ago.
There were a lot of great albums released in 2013, and I’ve compiled a list of some of my favourite tracks. At the top of my list, and not simply because it starts with “a”, is A Wilhelm Scream’s long overdue full-length, titled Partycrasher. If you find yourself with a couple hours to burn and are open to discovering some great music you may not have heard, have a listen to my Best of 2013 playlist.
Being a huge fan of the Assassin’s Creed franchise, and having been sorely let down by Assassin’s Creed III, I anticipated Assassin’s Creed IV with much hesitation. Fully prepared to let this game pass by without a second look, had there been similar reports of the poor quality we were met with this time last year, I was more than pleased when review scores were hitting the high 80s and low 90s. Setting my reservations aside, I waited for the PS4′s release and picked up Black Flag on release day. It took a little longer than usual to get through the single player campaign, since I had a few other games on the go at the same time, but let me tell you, Assassin’s Creed IV could very well be the best game in the series. At least since Ezio’s introduction in Assassin’s Creed II.
Black Flag is absolutely massive. The map is just huge, and there are so many areas to explore, that I’m certain you could spend upwards of 40-60 hours if you’re looking to nab the 100% completion trophy/achievement. During the story, you’ll traverse much of the map, but there are numerous spots left completely untouched, and there are several different tasks to complete at most of them. There are 3 main cities; Kingston, Havana, and Nassau. In each of these, there are dozens of tasks to complete, buildings to upgrade, and collectibles to find. Aside from those, there are smaller islands with a handful of tasks, and tiny unnamed islands with usually just a single treasure chest.
Perhaps the coolest to explore though, are the dive spots, where you venture down into the depths via a large diving bell and loot chests from sunken ships. These sequences are pretty intense, as you have a limited supply of air, as you make your way from one barrel to the next, and you’re constantly being hunted by sharks.
Like in previous games, there are enemy strongholds, but this time they’re in the form of naval forts, which can be quite difficult to overthrow. Once you’ve destroyed their defences from the sea, you have to infiltrate the fort, kill the captains and its commander before you can call it your own.
And finally, there’s an endless supply of enemy ships to engage in battle with, including a number of extremely high ranking “legendary” ships, which I’m yet to conquer. I’ve taken down a few Man o’ War ships now, and felt a huge sense of accomplishment when doing so. They’re much larger than Edward’s “Jackdaw” brig, but size isn’t everything. Once a ship has been defeated, you have the option to destroy it, or board it. Boarding is clearly the way to go, as the benefits are far greater, and it’s just a hell of a lot more fun! As your crew pulls you in close enough to board, you’re given an opportunity to diminish the enemy forces on deck by firing at them with the swivel gun; a sort of mini cannon. Then you’re given at least one objective before the ship is yours; which is usually to kill a certain number of the crew. Once this has been completed, you’re presented with the choice to harvest the ship to repair the Jackdaw, lower your wanted level (by letting the ship go and the crew live), or take the ship for your own fleet. This decision completely depends on your situation at the time, but I learned early on that it’s a huge benefit to have a strong fleet.
From Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood onward, there have been assassin’s at your disposal, who you could call on while in battle to aid you, or send on missions of their own. In Black Flag, you have a fleet, comprised of the ships you’ve captured, which can be sent on trading missions. Often, you will have to clear the way before safely sending ships out, which consists of a short turn-based ship-to-ship mini-game. It can be a little tedious managing your fleet, and waiting for the turn-based games to play out (which only last upwards of 30 seconds), but the financial aid you receive from completing these trades is totally worth it. I was struggling to earn enough coin to buy the weapons I wanted and keep the Jackdaw well stocked, until I discovered how profitable the fleet missions can be.
The story itself is far more interesting than any of the previous games, and that could largely be in part to the diminished focus on the modern age. It starts out with Edward Kenway engaged in an argument with his wife in a tiny shack. He wants to leave to try his hand at privateering on the “new world”, in hopes of returning in a couple of years in a better financial position, so they can lead a better life together. One thing leads to another, and Edward ends up being gone for far longer than he promised, and gets himself into much deeper waters than he anticipated. Along the way, he befriends some very interesting characters, some of which are famed pirates, such as; Blackbeard, Calico Jack, Charles Vane, and Anne Bonny.
While there’s still a modern angle to the single player experience, it’s very minor and consists of you merely walking and running around an office building in first person, hacking computers and locating QR codes. There’s the odd one-sided conversation you’ll engage in, but that’s pretty much the extent of it.
When it all came to an end, I was surprised to find myself getting a little choked up. The final scene is pretty much perfect, and there’s a great scene that plays out while the credits roll, then concluded by another lovely little scene about half way through the credits. The combination of the three wrap things up beautifully.
I’m quite glad I waited to play Black Flag on the PS4, as it’s absolutely stunning! The foliage on the tropical islands and the water just look so great, and it runs incredibly smooth. I don’t recall a single noticeable framerate drop, which is quite impressive, given this is a multi-platform launch title. Every time I jump into the game and it starts me out on the ocean and it’s nothing but blue water and clear skies, I swear my jaw hits the floor.
I’m big into video game, movie, and television soundtracks. I listen to mostly orchestral scores, and do so quite a bit while working. I have all of the previous Assassin’s Creed soundtracks, but I rarely listen to them. I recall a theme or two that stood out in the past, but the Black Flag soundtrack is definitely my favourite to date.
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag should be a no-brainer for any fans of the franchise, and would be a great place for new-comers to start, as it has minimal ties to the previous games. It felt very much like a clean slate, but there are definitely some references to the previous games, especially if you go digging for details in the modern age. While I’ve finished the story, I’m eager to jump back into the world of pirates and work toward that 100% trophy.
All images used in this review were captured via PS4′s Share Button.
When it’s working, Battlefield 4 is an absolute blast! Sadly, EA/DICE have let us down yet again, with what could quite possibly be the rockiest Battlefield launch to date. It’s hard to believe, but I wrote about EA ruining the Battlefield franchise back in 2006, and it seems that not a whole lot has changed. Battlefield 4 shipped with a huge list of glaring bugs, frequent crashes, and even single player save game corruption issue. Thankfully now, six weeks post launch, things are a heck of a lot more stable than they were, but there’s still quite a ways to go. The most tragic part of this whole ordeal, is that Battlefield 4 is a really, really great game! Its competitive multiplayer is the best it’s ever been, and the single player campaign, while far from perfect, still provides half a dozen hours of fun.
Typically, I write about the single player experience first, then spend a paragraph or two covering the multiplayer, if I’ve spent any time playing it. In Battlefield 4′s case, multiplayer is king, and the real reason anyone would want to get their hands on this game. Keep in mind, I played Battlefield 4 on PS4, so my experience may differ from last-gen consoles, as things like player count are different.
I was eager to jump into a 64 player game of conquest, but unfortunately the servers were shit within the first week of the PS4′s launch. In that time, I played through most of the campaign, as the game was constantly crashing whenever I tried to play online. Not the best start, but I feel like it made the online experience even better when things finally stabilized, as I was truly blown away by the scale of these matches. In the grand scheme, 32 vs 32 doesn’t sound like a big game. But when you have dozens of soldiers on the ground, a pile of tanks and APCs tearing through the landscape, jets and helicopters battling overhead, and gun boats making sure that even the surrounding water is deadly, it really does feel like you’re in the middle of a battle.
As you would expect, and as is fully necessary, the maps are huge. But given the amount of players, frustrating moments spent looking for players to shoot or squad up with are few and far between. For starters, you can spawn on your squad members instead of a capture point, which is great for quickly getting back into the action, or supporting a squad member who’s under fire. Even if they’re in a vehicle, as long as there’s an extra seat, you can hop in. There are bonus points given to those that have someone spawn on them, and additional points if you help a squad (or even team) member by supporting, avenging their death, reviving, supplying with ammo, etc.
One of my favourite things about Battlefield’s online play over other conventional shooters, is that there isn’t a huge emphasis on your kill/death ratio. And not just because I’m rarely in the top 10, but because there are so many other things you can do to earn points, that it’s not just about killing people. As I mentioned previously, acting as a team player will net you points, along with other simple tasks like spotting enemies, repairing vehicles (with the engineer kit), and so on. In objective based games, the biggest points are typically awarded for completing objectives. It’s quite easy to rack up a few thousand points in a round while maintaining a very low kill count by focusing on objectives.
Similar to previous games in the franchise, Battlefield 4 allows you to choose what type of soldier you’d like to be, and fully customize your loadout. Weapons, equipment, gadgets, abilities, and vehicle upgrades are unlocked as you progress, and I found that after every couple rounds I would have something new to play with. My only beef with this system, is that there isn’t a way to customize your kits outside of a game. If you’re constantly switching between kits and unlocking things across the board, it can take some time to go through it all, and determine what you want to roll with. Since you can only do this in game, you lose out on actual game time, and your team loses out on a fellow soldier while you’re customizing your kits. Hopefully this is addressed in a patch down the road, but I know DICE have their hands full fixing bugs at the moment.
The level of destruction in Battlefield 4 is astounding. I’m sure you’ve seen the “levolution” trailer, where a skyscraper comes tumbling down, a battleship steams toward a small island, and a dam breaks, flooding the entire town. While those moments where a huge chunk of the map’s landscape is instantly changed are fantastic, it’s everything else that’s really impressive. When you’re on the ground and a tank rolls up on you; there’s really nowhere to hide. I learned early on, that if you don’t have an anti-tank RPG or some C4 on hand and a tank is approaching, turn tail and run… but not before you “spot” it.
Now, the single player campaign; it’s relatively short, the story is totally predictable and super cheesy at times, and it’s hard to take it seriously when you have points and awards popping up on screen the entire time. I do like that they have the multiplayer points system in the campaign, but it totally makes it feel more like a shooting gallery than anything else. One great thing about it, is that one of the main characters (a black dude named Irish, what?) is voiced by Michael K. Williams, AKA Chalky White from Boardwalk Empire. A huge improvement over Battlefield 3, is the music. It’s still on the heavy electronic side, but it’s not flat out aggravating, and there are some nice hints of the original Battlefield theme through-out.
I really wish I could give Battlefield 4 a higher score, but even 4/5 seems quite liberal, given how bug ridden this game has been since launch. I’m more so rating the game I know it will be, than the game it was at launch. At this point in time, it’s quite stable on PS4, and most of the glaring bugs have been sorted out, but there are still quite a few kicking around, and I’m glad DICE is focusing their efforts on cleaning up the core game, rather than producing DLC.
Battlefield 4 is a game for people who love first person shooters. Its competitive multiplayer is easily some of the best around, and no matter your skill level, can be an enjoyable experience. If you’ve been on the fence about Battlefield 4 due to the technical issues, rest assured that things are quickly being sorted out, and even now (at least on PS4) it’s totally stable.
Single Player Screenshots
All images used in this review were captured via PS4′s Share Button.
Killzone: Shadow Fall was the game I most looking forward to playing when the PS4 was finally released. Sadly, about half way through the campaign, I just wanted it to be over so I could write this review and be done with it. The single player campaign, while absolutely gorgeous, fails to fully develop what started out as a very intriguing story, and produced some of the most frustrating and tedious gameplay sequences I’ve experienced in recent years. The ending, similar to Killzone 3, is flat out bad. It’s a real shame that the Killzone franchise has been in a downward spiral since Killzone 2, with the exception of its multiplayer component, which remains quite fun.
A bit of backstory; Killzone: Shadow Fall jumps ahead 30 years from the events of Killzone 3. Helghan has been destroyed, and the remaining Helghast have been allowed to take refuge in a gated area of the planet Vekta, dubbed New Helghan. Tension remains high, as the Vektans anticipate a Helghan strike at any moment, which of course is inevitable, as we were shown at E3 2013. You play as a Shadow Marshall, which is a sort of tactical marine/spy; not your ordinary grunt, and tasked with various missions ranging from search and retrieve, to eliminate all hostiles, and even go under cover and infiltrate enemy fortifications. The story starts out very strong, with deep emotional roots that are basically snapped off about half way through. There are still some great moments later on in the campaign, but they’re spoiled by rotten gameplay sequences and the story, which falls flat on its face. By the end, I was left with a, “that’s it?” sort of feeling. Which is truly a shame.
There really isn’t much to say about the combat and gameplay mechanics. They’re all pretty standard fare when it comes to first person shooters. You can carry two weapons, but are only able to swap one of them, which is pretty frustrating. Weapons range from handguns, to automatic machine guns, to rocket launchers, and nearly everything in between. What sets Shadow Fall apart from its predecessors and most others shooters, is the added technology you’re packing. By holding right on the d-pad briefly, you can scan the area for enemies, allies, weapons, and collectibles. If you hold the button too long, you overcharge the radar, which emits a loud screeching sound, alerting nearby enemies of your position. Then there’s your trusty robot friend; a flying drone who can be directed to surpress enemies, stun them (effective against enemies with shields), deploy a one-way shield in front of you, or create a zipline for quick relocation.
There are two things that Killzone: Shadow Fall have going for it; audio and visuals. As you I expected, I was fully blown away by just how great the graphics are. It’s truly a next-gen game, in that sense. In fact, there isn’t anything else I need to say about this, have a look for yourself. The following screenshots were captured using the PS4′s Share Button by yours truly.
I’m not a huge multiplayer gamer, but I’ve always enjoyed playing Killzone online. Specifically Warzone, which is constantly shifting the objective and keeps players working together as a team, even if no one is using a headset. One thing Shadow Fall does differently than previous Killzone games, is that has done away with the experience system, and nearly everything is unlocked from the get-go. On one hand, this is great for new players, since you don’t feel like everyone has a huge advantage over you, but it leaves little incentive to keep playing as there isn’t much to strive toward. Killzone multiplayer is a lot of fun, so I’ll likely continue to play it myself, but I’m sure some people will be bummed that there’s no XP to be gained or rewards to unlock, with the exception of some grenade types and weapon scopes.
Killzone: Shadow Fall definitely has its ups and downs. Unfortunately, those downs are really bad moments in the campaign, which nearly forced me to throw in the towel a handful of times. I stuck it out to see how the story played out, which was a let down, to say the least. And the final-final (post credits) chapter was the worst of the bunch. Thankfully the multiplayer component remains strong, otherwise I wouldn’t even recommend this game as a rental.
The moment I’ve been eagerly anticipating since June is finally here; I have a PlayStation 4 in my living room! Having spent just over a week with it, I’m happy to report that I’m enjoying it immensely, and am quite pleased with my decision to side with Sony at launch for this new generation of video game consoles. In this review, I’ll cover many different aspects of the PlayStation 4, broken down into specific sections for easy reading.
The PS4 is surprisingly small. For whatever reason, I expected it to be bigger than the PS3, but it’s actually smaller than the slim model I currently own (second generation PS3). The slanted (or angular) design is super nice, and it looks very sharp sitting on my entertainment unit. It feels like a quality build and is very sturdy. There are no visible buttons on the front, but it does contain power and eject buttons which are the vertical lines between the two distinct panels. On the top of the console, between the shiny and matte panels, there’s a line of light which changes colour depending on the state the console is in. When it’s powering up, it’s blue. When it’s on and being used, it’s white. And while in standby mode, it remains lit, and a faint orange colour. The disc drive is on the front, along with two USB ports.
Overall, the console’s physical design is very sleek and it looks/feels high quality. It runs super quiet, even when installing games off a disc.
The most important console accessory, and the one that Sony completely failed with last generation; the controller. Thankfully, this time around they took some chances, and have produced what very well might be the best controller I’ve ever used. At this point, I have absolutely no beefs. It feels great in your hands; perfect weight, nice textures. The triggers are more like actual triggers now, with a concave shape that nicely cradle your fingers. The analog sticks are perhaps the best improvement, though. Spaced further apart to avoid thumb collisions, the surface is smaller, with a deep grove creating a nice ring around the edge. They have an almost sticky texture to them, which means your thumbs are less likely to slip off. The face buttons (X, Square, Triangle, Circle) are virtually unchanged, although they’re no longer pressure sensitive and feel snappier.
New additions to the controller are the share button, touchpad, and speaker. The share button is one of my favourite features of the PS4, and I’ll touch on this more later. It has replaced the Select button on the controller, and Options is now in place of the traditional Start button. There’s a large touchpad right in the centre of the controller, which also acts as a button. I haven’t seen many uses for it just yet, other than navigating map screens and acting as an additional d-pad, but I’m sure we’ll see developers toying with this down the road. Lastly, there’s a small speaker built into the controller. I’ve only noticed it being used in Killzone: Shadow Fall and Resogun so far. In Killzone, audio logs play through the controller speaker, while in Resogun, announcements are made via the controller.
While it isn’t advertised at all, the DualShock 4 still has the SIXAXIS accelerometer/gyroscope, so you can tilt the controller in any direction for use in games and the OS. I haven’t seen this used in any games yet, which is kind of surprising, but the one thing I have seen it used for is totally rad. And that’s the gyro keyboard. When you the keypad comes up on screen to type a message, you can click the right stick and it will change to gyro mode. This allows you to tilt the controller to make your way around the keyboard much quicker than you would using the d-pad. Message input has auto-complete, which is actually very well done, so text input using the controller is far less painful than it’s been in the past.
I actually do have one complaint with the DualShock 4, and that’s the battery life. It’s hard to say for sure, as I don’t typically play for extended periods, but I believe it only lasts 5-6 hours on a single charge. It’s simply a matter of plugging it into one of the PS4′s USB ports to charge it back up, which can also be done while you’re playing, but it’s still kind of annoying having to get up during session to charge it. I have two controllers, so I typically have one plugged in, and the other ready to go.
At first glance, you might think to yourself, “Yes! Cross Media Bar is a thing of the past!” And you’d be right, more or less. The PS4 OS still uses a horizontal icon navigation for the main sections, but it’s much more complex than PS3′s XMB.
One thing I was kind of dreading, was the mandatory full installation for games. But I’m completely blown away by how well PS4 handles this. No longer do you have to sit there and wait upwards of 15-20 minutes for a game to install. In most cases, we’re talking a matter of seconds before you’re able to jump in and start playing, and this is due to the way PS4 installs games. Instead of making you wait for the entire game to be copied to the hard drive, it installs the essentials first, which allows you to jump in almost immediately. The remainder of the game is installed in the background while you’re playing. To take this a step further, PS4 will check to see if a game has been installed once you pop the disc in, and will automatically start installing it if not.
Similarly, when a digital game has been purchased, it will download the essential components first, along with the first couple chapters of the game, then allow you to play while the rest continues to download in the background. In some cases, like with Killzone: Shadow Fall, you even have the opportunity to specify if you’d like the single player or multiplayer component downloaded first.
Another thing the PS4 does really well, is relating different bits of content. When you view a game’s details, you can see the DLC available for it, an activity feed that includes all of your friends’ activity, trophies, and more. You don’t need to hop onto the PlayStation store to see what’s new, it’s all right there at a glance, and in more detail with a single click.
Taking this a step further, in all of the social aspects, you have the ability to launch or buy the game you’re viewing content which is related to. For example, if I’m viewing a Twitch stream of someone playing Battlefield 4, if I have BF4 there’s a button that will say Start This Game. If I don’t have BF4, it will say Buy This Game. Same goes for viewing screenshots of videos shared by friends.
PS4′s operation system does a great job of keeping things close by for quick access. With a tap of the PS button, you can switch from the activity you’re doing, whether that be playing a game, using an app, or watching a movie, to the full PlayStation OS. Double tapping the PS button will instantly switch to the last activity you were doing. A good use for this, would be if you need to look up a walkthrough on YouTube. Normally I would do this on my phone or tablet, and have it sitting on the couch beside me. But now I can have a video playing in YouTube via the built-in web browser, and quickly switch back to my game with a double-tap of the PS button.
PS4 is built for this social era in which we live. The first thing you’ll see when the console boots up, is a What’s New feed similar to Facebook’s homepage. Showing what your friends have been up to lately, whether that’s simply playing games, rating games, earning trophies, broadcasting live via Twitch or Ustream, sharing screenshots and video, making new friends, etc. Each activity can be viewed in full, and you can like it to show your appreciation.
Players now have proper profiles, with their trophies, recent activity, personal info, and friends. All of which can be controlled via privacy settings similar to what social networks do. There’s an option to share your real name and corresponding photo with actual friends, so you can be more personal with those that you know, while leaving online acquaintances with your PlayStation persona.
A proper messaging system is now in place, which again mimics what you’d see on Facebook, Twitter, or your favourite messaging app. You can share screenshots and videos directly with friends here, as opposed to sharing to all.
Party chat has made its way to PlayStation, and I know a lot of people are excited about this. You can now chat with your friends outside of games, and each be playing completely different games, or none at all.
Easily one of my favourite features of the PS4, is the Share Button. I have it configured to take a screenshot with a single click, and pull up the Share screen when I hold it. Once the button has been held, a screenshot is taken, and a video clip of the last 15 minutes of gameplay recorded. Gameplay videos can be edited before they’re shared, so you can trim them down to just the awesome moment you want to brag to your friends about. Unfortunately, videos are saved at 720p and are pretty heavily compressed. So you’re not going to see any glorious 1080p videos, unless people are using their own capture devices. I’ve been uploading clips to YouTube, so feel free to check those out.
PS4 has built-in sharing functionality to Facebook and Twitter, via the Share Button. Videos and screenshots can be sent to Facebook, while only screenshots can be shared on Twitter. I’m hoping that down the road, more services will be added, like YouTube for videos. When anything is shared to these services, they also appear in the What’s New section for your PS4 friends to see.
The main reason I’m excited about the share functionality, is that I can use this content in my game reviews. I used to take my own screenshots and capture videos years ago, and I had a lot of fun doing that. But it became quite difficult to do when game consoles moved to HD and I jumped ship from PC to Mac. Now I’m able to capture screenshots and videos with the click of a button. I just wish there was a way I could easily move images and videos from the PS4 to my Mac. For now, I’m sharing to Facebook with privacy set to “Only Me“, then downloading and saving locally.
The PlayStation Store saw a huge overhaul a few months ago, and that interface has been carried over to the PS4. Actually, it’s probably the opposite. The new store was likely designed for the PS4, and rolled out to the PS3 when it was completed. This is a smart move, since the store is now exactly the same on PS3 and PS4. It’s big and clunky, but it runs super smooth on the PS4 and shows off the artwork nicely.
Sony released a PlayStation app for Android and iOS the week before the PS4′s North American debut, and it’s a great companion for the PS4. While I was at my daughter’s skating lesson this morning, I downloaded Sound Shapes from the app, and it was downloaded, installed, and ready to play by the time I got home. The app has loads of other great features, like allowing you to message friends, view What’s New, and even use your phone or tablet as a second screen. Before I discovered the gyro keyboard, I was using my phone to type messages on the PS4, which was super handy. I’ve seen this functionality with Apple’s Remote app, and I use it for typing on the Apple TV.
I know a lot of people are arguing that there really isn’t much to play on either of the next-gen consoles at launch, but I have more than enough to keep my busy for at least a few months. On day one, I picked up Killzone: Shadow Fall, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, Battlefield 4, and Need for Speed: Rivals. I downloaded the two PlayStation+ freebies (Resogun and Contrast) as well, and have also installed Flower and Sound Shapes, which I had previously purchased no the PS3, and was allowed to download for free on the PS4 thanks to Sony’s awesome Cross Buy feature. Leading up to the PS4′s release, I held off on playing any new releases so I’d have lots to play on the PS4. I’m the type of person who cares about graphics, physics, etc. So even if the difference isn’t huge from last-gen to next-gen, I’d still rather hold out and get that little bit of extra awesomeness. And so far, I’ve been totally happy with all of the games I’ve played. Reviews are forthcoming.
Next-gen is here! And from what I’ve seen and experienced in the first week alone, we’re in for a treat! Launch games are generally met with mixed reviews, and unfortunately this generation is no exception. That’s not to say there isn’t plenty to play right now, as I mentioned previously, there certainly is. I honestly couldn’t be happier with my PS4, and I look forward to seeing it grow over the next few years. But most of all, I can’t wait to see developers push it to its limits and deliver some truly incredible experiences.
It’s no secret, that I have a bit of a weakness for the LEGO games. I was crazy excited for last year’s The Lord of the Rings adaptation, and was taken by surprise when it was announced that the next installment would feature a huge roster of characters from the Marvel universe. With the likes of The Avengers, Fantastic Four, X-Men, Spider-Man, and dozens of other minor heroes coming together to fight a massive threat (quite literally), it’s quite cool to see how it all played out. If you’ve played and enjoyed any of the previous LEGO games, don’t hesitate to pick this one up. It’s definitely one of the best in the series.
Similar to LEGO The Lord of the Rings and LEGO Batman 2, LEGO Marvel Superheroes trades in the level hub for an open world environment, full of fetch quests, races, and other challenges to keep you busy long after the story has been completed. In fact, I finished the story at under 20% completion. That goes to show you how much additional content there truly is. And while there are a lot of minor side quests, there are 11 mini levels which new heroes and villains that didn’t appear in the story, which are unlocked upon completion. While there is no hub per-say, the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier sort of acts like one. This is where you spawn in each time the game loads, where you buy extras, create characters, and quickly access story and mini levels for replay. During the story, you often have to jump from the carrier and skydive down to New York City below. Some characters who can fly, like Iron Man, can fly to and from the carrier at any point.
Stan Lee makes a cameo in each of the 15 story levels, and the 11 mini levels. And rescuing him is one of the tasks you must complete in order to get 100% in each level. In most cases, you can’t save him during the first play through, as it often requires the power of a hero would isn’t currently active, so you’re guaranteed at least one additional play-through if you’re going for 100% game completion. Similar to other LEGO games, there are red bricks in the mini levels, a “True Believer” meter (stud collecting) in every level, and 10 minikits to be found in each of the story levels.
While other LEGO games have had characters with different abilities, Marvel Superheroes takes this about 10 steps further. Since each hero and villain has their own set of powers and abilities, nearly every one of them feels unique. Some characters have mannerisms snatched straight from recent films, which is just great. For example, you remember in The Avengers when Hawkeye jumped off the building, turned in the air, and shot an arrow? The way his body was contorted during that jump is how he jumps in the game. Similarly, Iron Man will do the fist to the ground slam, slow head raise when he lands hard. Little touches like this show that a lot of care was put into these beloved characters, even if they are in plastic minifigure form.
Visuals are pretty standard for a LEGO game. Things look plastic, and shiny when appropriate. The music is quite well done, in that there are quite a few themes that cater to specific characters. I don’t think there are any exact themes from the films, but they are definitely along the same line and totally recognizable.
I played the entire story split-screen co-op with my 5 year-old daughter, and we both had a blast! Even now, she gets upset if I play without her, so it looks like the two of us are in it for the long haul. I ended up getting all 1000 achievement points in LEGO The Lord of the Rings, and I might just go for it again with Marvel Superheroes.
As the dawn of the PS4 / Xbox One era approaches, I’d like to take a look back at the games that made an impression on me during the last generation of video game consoles. They aren’t necessarily the best games, or the most impressive, but these are the games that I have the most fond memories of, and will likely stick with me over the years. In alphabetical order…
- Assassin’s Creed II - PS3, Xbox 360
It took a while to get going, but was a huge improvement over the first game, which didn’t quite live up to its expectations.
- Batman: Arkham Asylum - PS3, Xbox 360
The first truly great Batman game.
- Batman: Arkham City - PS3, Xbox 360
Huge improvement over an already solid game.
- BioShock - Xbox 360, later PS3
The “Would you kindly…” reveal totally blew my mind!
- Call of Duty 2 - Xbox 360
Never grew tired of WWII games, and COD 2 is to this day, one of the best.
- Crackdown - Xbox 360
Agility orbs, get! Seriously, I don’t think I’ve every been so addicted to a game.
- The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - PS3, Xbox 360
Not a huge RPG fan, but I fell prey to Skyrim, and loved every second of it.
- Far Cry 3 - PS3, Xbox 360
So. Much. Fun. Decent story with lots of twists, too.
- Forza Motorsport 2 - Xbox 360
Had such a hard time putting this game down.
- Gears of War - Xbox 360
- Gears of War 2 - Xbox 360
Shockingly emotional story, that was also insanely fun and satisfying from beginning to end.
- God of War III - PS3
Destroying the gods who wronged Kratos was just so great.
- Grand Theft Auto V - PS3, Xbox 360
So big, so much polish, and an absolute blast.
- Half-Life 2: Episode 2 - PS3, Xbox 360
So many great moments, on top of the usual level of awesomeness.
- Halo 3 - Xbox 360
One of the first big bundle games, including a single player campaign, online co-op, online multiplayer, and a sandbox mode.
- Halo 4 - Xbox 360
First Halo title not developed by Bungie, and it might actually be my favourite in the series.
- Heavy Rain - PS3
Fantastic story and unique gesture based gameplay.
- inFamous - PS3
Very cool comic inspired cut-scenes and narrative. Crazy fun gameplay.
- inFamous 2 - PS3
Quite possibly the best first 5 minutes to a game in this generation. Awesome ending, as well.
- Killzone 2 - PS3
Seriously impressive visuals, even now at the day of next-gen.
- L.A. Noire - PS3, Xbox 360
Loved everything about this game. Incredibly motion capture, excellent story, super suspenseful, great setting and atmosphere.
- The Last of Us - PS3
Incredible experience from beginning to end. Some truly heart wrenching scenes.
- LEGO The Lord of the Rings - PS3, Xbox 360
I’ve been a big fan of the LEGO games, and LoTR was just so much fun. First game I hunted all the achievements for in years.
- Limbo - Xbox 360, later PS3
Very unique side-scroller that left a huge impression on me.
- LittleBigPlanet - PS3
It’s literally impossible to play this game, or even watch someone else play, without smiling.
- Mass Effect - Xbox 360, later PS3
I’ve never felt so invested in a game. I spoke to every single person to find out every bit of backstory I possibly could.
- Mass Effect 2 - PS3, Xbox 360
Played this 20 hour campaign 3 times, and never grew tired of it. Plenty of awesome DLC was released as well.
- Portal - PS3, Xbox 360
It might have only lasted a few hours, but I’ll remember it for years.
- Rayman Origins - PS3, Xbox 360
Perfect throwback to the golden age of side-scrolling platformers.
- Red Dead Redemption - PS3, Xbox 360
One of the best endings in any video game, ever.
- Rock Band 2 - PS3, Xbox 360
The first Rock Band game changed rhythm games forever. The second pretty much perfected the genre.
- Skate 3 - PS3, Xbox 360
The series that buried Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was never quite perfected, but this is the closest it came.
- Tomb Raider - PS3, Xbox 360
Undoubtably the best in the series. Only complaint is that I would have enjoyed more tomb raiding.
- Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune - PS3
I was blown away by the sheer scope of the single player campaign, and how good the voice acting and motion capture were.
- Uncharted 2 - PS3
Perfection. An incredible action-packed adventure.
- The Walking Dead - PS3, Xbox 360
Superb storytelling and incredibly suspenseful.
What’s on your list? Let me know in the comments, or via Twitter.
Leading up to its release, I had very little interest in GTA V. Mostly due to the fact that I’ve never completed a GTA game, despite having played all of the previous titles. I always reached a point of endless frustration that nearly lead me to throw my controller at the TV. In GTA IV that was due to obscenely long missions with very few (or no) checkpoints. Thankfully, I had no such beefs with GTA V, and throughly enjoyed the 30+ hours it took me to get through the story.
In a word, Grand Theft Auto V is massive. Everything about it. The world itself, the amount of story missions (69), the amount of side quests, the amount of activities, etc. There is just so much content here, and it’s all top quality stuff. Nothing feels tacked on or incomplete, and the most impressive thing about it, is that it’s not overwhelming. I never once felt like I was being pulled in a million directions, or that I didn’t or wouldn’t have enough time to complete the things I wanted to. You’re free to move at your own pace, and there’s no one pushing or pulling you in directions you don’t want to go. Personally, I enjoy taking care of the main story first, and only embark on the odd side quest. This is how I approached GTA V, and now that I’ve completed the story, I’ve spent several hours exploring Los Santos and the surrounding areas and getting to know some of the locals.
Unlike previous GTA titles, you assume the role of three very different characters. Michael; a retired bank robber, living wealthy in the hills of Los Santos with his family, who pretty much hate him. Franklin; a gangbanger from the ghetto who spends his days repo’ing cars for a crooked sales man, small time drug deals, etc. And Trevor; a psychotic redneck asshole who’s into everything he can get his hands on, from running guns to Cuba, to cooking meth for the locals. Each character has their own missions, which cater to their specific lifestyles, and their paths cross in some very interesting ways. Eventually, they end up working together, more or less, to perform some larger scale criminal activities.
The biggest missions in the game, are heists which involve not only the cooperation of all three of the protagonists, but also a few hand-picked specialists. Before each heist, you’re given a couple choices; how you want to handle the heist (an A, B choice), and who makes up the team. There’s usually a few setup missions before you can embark on the heist, which really makes them feel much more significant than other story missions. The best part about the heists, is that they are multi-stage, and have you swapping between characters through-out. Usually in a dramatic or cinematic fashion, which make for some of the most memorable moments in the game.
The map is said to be bigger than San Andreas, GTA IV, and Red Dead Redemption combined, but it honestly didn’t feel that big. GTA IV’s Liberty City felt absolutely huge to me, with its three islands. None the less, it’s an impressive space to wreak havoc, and quite beautiful in spots. There’s plenty to explore, and good reason to go off the beaten paths. Even nearing 40 hours of game time, I still have some large holes on the map.
Gameplay wise, I felt quite at home with GTA V, which is more than I can say for its predecessors. The cover system is much improved over GTA IV, and everything else feels pretty effortless once you get the hang of the controls, which are fairly standard for a third person shooter. Each character has a special ability, which can tip the scales in your favour, depending on the situation you’re in. Michael has bullet time, Franklin has bullet time while driving, and Trevor has “rage”, which increases damage dealt to enemies.
The story itself isn’t spectacular, but it leaves you never really knowing who’s in control, and if things are going to go as planned. There are plenty of bumps in the road which steer the trio in different directions, and some history between Michael and Trevor that’s dug up later in the game. In the end, a player choice decides which of the three possible outcomes will occur before the credits roll.
Alongside the story, are countless side quests. Some specific to individual characters, others random events that anyone can stumble upon. These includes things like sky diving and base jumping with an adrenaline junky, helping out friends in need with their every day tasks, gun runs, hijacking vehicles, and so on. There are activities which can increase player skill levels, like foot and bicycle races, shooting ranges, flying lessons, etc. And finally, if you just want to hang out and have fun with some friends, you can pull out your phone and call any of your contacts and invite them. Golf, tennis, darts, yoga, watch television, go to a movie, drinks at the bar, lap dances at the strip club… there’s plenty to choose from.
Then there’s GTA Online, a completely separate entity that shipped with GTA V and is free to play. It launched a couple weeks after the release date, and had a pretty rough start, but I hear things have smoothed out now, and GTA Online is said to be a lot of fun with a group of friends. I haven’t played it myself.
In the end, I’m blown away by the quality and sheer size of GTA V. To me, it feels like it has more substance than any of the previous games, and the violence and coarse language doesn’t feel so forced. Or maybe I’m just used to it now? In any case, I’m certainly glad I gave into the hype and picked up this game. It’s definitely money well spent, and despite having already sunk close to 40 hours into it, I anticipate several more before I’m done with it.
One unexpected side effect to playing GTA V, is that it made me despise Assassin’s Creed III a little bit more than I already did. It proves that it’s possible to create an absolutely massive open world game, without having to sacrifice quality. I firmly believe ACIII suffered due to hitting the yearly release window, and hope Ubisoft doesn’t make the same mistake with ACIV, which is due out in a few short weeks.
I’m still blown away by the Rayman franchise reboot, and just how much I adore it now. Rayman Origins was one of my favourite games of 2011, and one of the best platformers I’ve ever played. Rayman Jungle Run for iOS, proved that it could work very well as a touch-based side-scrolling runner. And now Rayman Legends has polished every aspect of those previous games, and added some new mechanics that make it the best game in the rebooted series to date. If you enjoy platformers in any shape or form, play this game!
Similar to Origins, Legends is divided into several worlds, with their own set of levels. Each ending with a boss fight, and a rhythm based musical level. There isn’t much of a story, which is fine by me as I don’t think platformers really need one. The premise, is that “teensies” (little blue characters with huge noses) have been kidnapped, and it’s up to Rayman and his crew to rescue them. Each level has 10 teensies to save, with the exception of the boss and music levels which are just 3. Some are out in the open, while others are hidden behind secret passages. It’s no longer just about collecting lums (little floating yellow things), and you can ace a level without collecting every single one of them. Teensies are the main reason for exploring levels, which will make this game a bit more easy to put down for those with serious OCD.
Gameplay is virtually untouched from Origins, with the only new addition being the ability to occasionally shoot boxing gloves at enemies, and some sequences that were clearly designed for touch screens. The latter didn’t translate all that well to controller based platforms, and I found them to be the quite frustrating at times. I played Rayman Legends on a Wii U demo booth a few months back, and in these sequences, gameplay shifts from the TV to the screen on the controller, where the player is no longer controlling the main character, but cutting ropes, moving platforms, and generally assisting the lead character which is now AI controlled. On other platforms, the player never loses control of the lead character, and now also has to handle these other interactions by way of a single button press. In some cases, it’s no big deal, as you occasionally have to press a button to move forward. But in the more challenging levels, there are some intricate jumping sequences that require character movements timed with platform interactions, which can be quite difficult.
For those that look at replay value in games, there is a lot to keep you busy in Rayman Legends. Each level has you collecting 10 teensies, and typically 600 lums. Over time, timed challenge levels are unlocked, which are variations of levels you’ve previously completed. There are a number of remixed Rayman Origins levels, which are now loaded with teensies to save. And there is a challenge section, with daily and weekly challenges to keep you coming back. Challenge levels include running as far as you can, or reaching the bottom of a pit as fast as you can, and that sort of thing. Your score is compared to friends and others online at the end of each run, and you’re constantly being encouraged to better your score.
Rayman Legends impresses on every level. The gameplay is excellent, and incredibly fun. It’s just challenging enough to have you retrying a level over-and-over until you finish it, or master it, without wanting to throw your controller at the TV. The artwork is absolutely stunning, and the music is delightful, and often quite humorous. Legends is just bursting with charm, and I really hope it gets the attention it deserves.
Sam Fisher’s back, looking and sounding younger than ever. This is mostly due to the fact that Michael Ironside is no longer the voice of Sam, but he’s also been given a bit of a physical makeover as well. Given that Blacklist is a direct sequel to Conviction, and that Sam looks younger than he did in Double Agent, things feel a bit disjointed for long time fans of the series. But fear not, Blacklist is absolutely a game worthy of the Splinter Cell title, even if it feels like you’re cheating on Sam with a more dashing, less rugged version.
I’m not super interested in modern military shooters these days, but Blacklist’s story is quite intriguing. In short, there is a group known as The Engineers, who have demanded that the US remove all of their troops from foreign soil across the globe, and if they fail to do so, there will be an attack on the US every 7 days. The game starts out with Sam and his old friend Victor leaving an airforce base in Guam, when it’s attacked. This serves as a precursor to the Blacklist, and hits Sam on a personal level, as Victor is injured during the attack. Sam is now tasked with leading a small team of experts in various fields, to find out who The Engineers are, and how they can be stopped.
Mission briefings take place on a Paladin aircraft, which serves as the team’s headquarters. Various aspects of the Paladin can be upgraded, which provide different advantages; improved radar while on the ground, access to new tiers of weapons, etc. Between missions, Sam is free to roam around the Paladin, and engage in brief conversations with his teammates. At this time, he can also call his daughter Sarah to check in. I made sure to do this after each mission, as Sarah would often speak of how things are in the US while the threat of the Blacklist attacks loom.
Missions range from pure stealth, to a mixture of stealth and action, to “shit just hit the fan, get the fuck out of there!” Stealth is the primary game play style, as you would expect in a Splinter Cell game. But there are a few occasions when it’s unavoidable to be loud. There are 3 different play styles, and you earn points depending on your actions, which go toward an aggregated score at the end of each mission. Ghost is stealth, which will reward you for sneaking around enemies and using non-lethal force. Panther is for sneaky predators. And Assault is for those who prefer handle every situation with guns blazing. Each mission can be mastered in each of the play styles, so there’s plenty of replay value in the single player campaign if you want to master each. The campaign is a decent length, with 12 primary missions, each ranging from 45-60 minutes in length.
Before each mission, you’re given the opportunity to customize Sam’s loadout. There are dozens of weapons, gadgets, and suit components that can be changed to suit different play styles. I ended up with 2, one for stealth, and one for assault. Once you select a new mission to embark on, you’re given some tips as to what type of mission it will be, and recommended equipment to take with you. This provides as an excellent heads up as to what loadout you should use.
Aside from the primary missions, there are secondary missions presented by each of the members of Sam’s team. They’re entirely optional, and most require you to play co-op, either split-screen or with an online partner. I didn’t end up playing any of them, as I didn’t have any friends on PSN that were playing at the time, and I don’t like playing with shitheads. I’ve heard from a few people on Twitter, that the co-op missions are pretty solid, and worth playing. So that’s some added value for those that are into co-op game play.
The old Splinter Cell team based multiplayer mode, Spies vs Mercs is back in Blacklist, although I didn’t spend any time playing it. I remember it from years ago, though. Spies are equipped with equipment and weapons to aid them in stealing targets or hacking computers, and played in third person. Mercs are played in first person, with a focus on assault and defense. Their goal is to prevent the spies from completing their objective. Mercs don’t have the same physical maneuverability as spies, but their heavy weapon loadout helps level the playing field.
I quite enjoyed the single player campaign, and would definitely recommend it for any long term fans of the franchise. While there have been some changes to Sam himself, the Splinter Cell formula is in tact and just as strong as it’s ever been.
Let’s get one thing out of the way right off the top – I’ve never played an XCOM game, period. Going into The Bureau, I knew very little about the XCOM franchise, other than the original 1994 game (UFO: Enemy Unknown, X-COM: UFO Defense) is a beloved classic in the PC gaming community, and 2012′s XCOM: Enemy Unknown did quite well, averaging 9/10 on Metacritic. What caught my eye about the Bureau, was the visual style. It’s set in the 1960s, and involves an alien invasion. Sign me up! Retro-futuristic is one of my favourite art styles, and The Bureau gave me plenty for me to gush over. While it wasn’t the greatest game I played this year, or even in the top 5, it had some moments that I’ll likely remember for some time, and overall I enjoyed playing through the campaign.
As previously mentioned, The Bureau: XCOM Declassified takes place in the US, in the early 1960s. You assume the role of Agent Carter, an operative who’s seen some action, and many bottles of whiskey in his time. It’s revealed that he was once well respected, distinguished in his field, and high ranking, but fell on some hard times and turned to the drink, which saw him demoted several times over until he eventually landed behind a desk. Certain circumstances bring him back to the field, and it becomes apparent that despite his recent troubles, he’s the right man for the job.
The Bureau: XCOM Declassified is said to be a prequel to the XCOM franchise, but I’m really not sure how much of it ties into other games, since I haven’t played them. But it’s clear that this is the first direct contact humanity has had with alien beings, and things aren’t going so well. The aliens have attacked and are invading earth, for no apparent reason. Agent Carter is positioned to train and lead other XCOM operatives, while fending off the alien threat and determining what they want. It’s a decent premise, but things don’t always connect as well as they should.
It feels like The Bureau was meant to be a much bigger game than it is. Between missions you return to XCOM HQ, where you can walk around and speak with other agents, your superiors, and scientists. The area is quite large, and some times they have you going from one end of the other simply to engage in a bit of dialogue. Normally, I’m all for digging deeper into the story and finding out all of the details, but it felt quite tedious in The Bureau. That may have just been due to the time it took me to find the person I was looking for, or the sheer volume of conversations to be had. Regardless, I was far more interested in getting back out into the field, than I was drudging around HQ.
While missions take place in all different locations, they all felt pretty similar. There’s a bit of exploring to do, and you’re encouraged to venture off the beaten path to find weapons and backpack schematics, but missions are linear otherwise. Some of the set pieces, especially later on in the game, were quite neat and memorable.
When you head out into the field, you get to take two agents with you. And back at HQ, you can hand-pick the agents in your roster, train them in whatever abilities you’d like them to posses, and choose their weapon load-out. Agents can rank up to level 5, and this can be done either by having them fight by your side, or by sending them on missions of their own via the map in HQ. It only takes 2 or 3 missions for an agent to be fully ranked up, so you end up with a stacked roster quite quickly, which is good and all, but pretty much completely devalues an otherwise devastating aspect of campaign missions. And that’s that agents can die in the field. If they go down and you don’t get to them before they bleed out, they die, and they don’t come back… for the remainder of the game. This should have a huge impact on the player, but since it’s fairly easy and quick to rank agents up, swapping a fallen agent out for another that’s fully ranked up is basically just a matter of reaching the next checkpoint.
There are many aspects to The Bureau that I found directly comparable to Mass Effect. The fact that you take 2 agents into the field, and access their abilities via a circular menu that (nearly) pauses the action. The HQ, which serves as a hub to find out more information about colleagues and launch missions from a map screen. Even some of the abilities themselves are very similar – lift, push, squad heal, etc. The dialogue menu is pretty much exactly the same as Mass Effect’s. These aren’t bad things, just observations. They all work well in Mass Effect, so it’s not surprising to see other games “borrowing” them.
Of the four difficult levels, I played on the second (normal), and I still found it to be quite difficult at times. The Bureau is totally unforgivable, when it comes to acting without thinking. There’s no run-and-gun. You need to hunker down, assess the situation, form a battle plan, and deploy. I learned very quickly that any other way of playing results in death. Agents, especially early on, are incredibly weak, and even when you’re telling them to stay in cover will go down quite often. Having to revive them frequently becomes a burden, and as such, you have to make sure that you’re in good shape health-wise, as you end up having to leave cover to offer aid.
About half way through the game, it really started to become fun to play, and most of the burden of weak teammates was gone. I had several abilities I could use with both of my agents, and myself included. The really cool thing about how abilities are assigned, is that you can queue them up and agents will follow your directions accordingly. For example, you could tell one agent to go to a specific location, get behind cover, headshot a certain enemy, then deploy a rocket turret. At the same time, your other agent could be moving to a different location, deploy a protective shield on you, then fire on a specific enemy. All the while, you’ve deployed a medic drone, lifted an enemy out of cover, and healed your squad. It’s pretty awesome and totally fulfilling to see your actions carried out in succession, especially when they work and you win the battle.
The 10-12 hours I spent playing The Bureau: XCOM Declassified were mostly enjoyable, with the occasional difficulty spike and tedious agent babysitting scenarios that disrupted things. The story was interesting, and fairly well told, while the characters were stereotypical to the point of being laughable. I’d like to see a sequel to this game, with more focus on the things it does well, and removal of the things that weren’t fully fleshed out and only served as a distraction.
Disney Infinity is a different breed of game, similar to Activision’s über popular Skylanders franchise, it’s a video game with collectible figurines attached to it. These figures are placed on the Infinity Base, then magically come to life on screen. To some, it may seem like a cash grab, and that would be true if the game were utter garbage. But thankfully, that’s not the case. Disney Infinity is a charming romp through some of the most beloved fictional lands of the past several decades.
At its core, Disney Infinity is a sandbox (or toy box) game, with different themed adventures spanning 6-8 hours each. It can be a costly investment, and will set you back $75 for the starter pack, which includes the game, the Infinity Base, a play set, a power disc, and 3 characters; Mr. Incredible from The Incredibles, Sully from Monsters University, and (Captain) Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean. The play set includes adventures from each of the corresponding films, so initially you’re looking at 18 – 24 hours of game play, and that’s without even touching The Toy Box (more on this later).
Each of the adventures in the starter pack are unique. In Monsters University, you set out to prove that MU is the superior school by pranking and competing with neighbouring students of Fear Tech. The Incredibles have to stop Syndrome and his giant robots from destroying Metroville. And Jack Sparrow sets sail to defeat Davy Jones, once again. I’ve only spent a couple hours playing by myself, the rest has been split-screen co-op with my 5 year-old daughter Addison, and we’ve both had a blast playing each of the starter pack adventures, although my favourite would definitely be Pirates. It allows you to scour islands for treasure, and explore the open ocean while battling other pirates and the British royal navy. The naval battles play surprising well, and reminded me greatly of those in Assassin’s Creed III. My daughter on the other hand, thoroughly enjoyed playing as Randy and Mike Wazowski in Monsters University.
Items and gadgets are collected in the adventures, for use in the Toy Box. Some are purchased with the game’s currency, while others are found in prize bubbles scattered through-out. Stars are awarded for completing objectives, as well as levelling up characters, which then translate to a “spin” in the Toy Vault; a slot machine which unlocks even more Toy Box items.
So, what is the Toy Box? Essentially, it’s a blank slate for creation. The items that you unlock while playing the adventures can be used here, and the options are pretty quite vast. It’s not super complex and advanced like LittleBigPlanet. There are some short tutorials to show you the ropes, but it honestly only takes a few minutes to figure out what’s what. My daughter and I have spent several hours creating our own toy boxes, and experimenting with different things. Along with your own toy boxes, there are pre-made downloadable toy boxes which include items from other play sets that you might not otherwise have access to. While you can’t edit toy boxes that contain items you don’t own yourself, you are able to jump in and have fun with them. Addison was ecstatic when she stumbled upon a bunch of animals in one of the downloaded toy boxes, including several colour variations of Bullseye from Toy Story, which is ridable, as you would imagine. There’s even a race track toy box, where you can control some of the characters from the Cars films, without evening owning the figurines.
As I’m sure you noticed, I’ve already acquired more than the starter pack, which was actually necessary to play co-op with my daughter. You see, characters can only be used in their corresponding story. So, you can’t go bringing (Captain) Jack Sparrow into Metroville, for example. I actually needed to pick up 3 more characters so I could play with my daughter. Thankfully, there is a 3 pack available at a reduced cost (cheaper than buying 3 individuals), which include one character from each of the starter pack adventures. Honestly, I wasn’t the least bit disappointed when I discovered how this worked, as I had planned on picking up at least all of the Monsters University characters anyway.
The figurines, which retail for $12.99 each in North America, are very well made and would be a great addition to any geek’s shelf. The fact that many of them have unique abilities in the game, make it more difficult for someone like me to keep my wallet in my pocket. For example, while playing The Incredibles, I had a tough time fighting numerous robots at once as Mr. Incredible. Where as my daughter played as Syndrome, and was able to pick up any robot with his zero point energy beam and hurl them at others, destroying multiple robots in one go. All of the characters from The Incredibles possess the same powers in the game as they did in the movie. Providing further incentive to collect each of the figurines, there are chests scattered through-out Disney Infinity that can only be unlocked by a character portrayed on the front. In each adventure, there’s a large vault door which requires each character from the given franchise to activate before it will open and reveal a themed Toy Box. While there’s plenty of fun to be had playing Disney Infinity with the starter pack, you’re constantly being reminded that there are other characters to buy, and nudged in that direction.
I ended up buying Disney Infinity for PS3 for no other reason than it’s the console Addison uses the most. She’s huge into LittleBigPlanet, and I can see us hanging onto the PS3 long after the PS4 has been released so she can continue to play her favourite games. As far as I know, there are no differences between the different platforms, and figurines are cross-platform compatible.
Being into video games and having a couple of daughters, you would assume there would already be several Disney games in my collection, but that’s not the case. Disney video games, like movie tie-ins, are known for being mediocre at best. I really wasn’t holding much hope for Disney Infinity prior to launch, as I figured it would simply be another sub-par game that would cost a fortune in the long run. I had intentions on trying to keep this game out of sight from Addison, as I knew she would want the figures more than anything else. Thankfully, Disney Infinity has proven to be one of the rare stand-out Disney games, and with such a massive arsenal of franchises to tap into, this truly are seemingly endless possibilities.