Category Archives: Sony

Horizon: Zero Dawn Review

Horizon: Zero Dawn (Available exclusively on PlayStation 4)
ESRB Rating: T
Number of Players: 1
Genre: Action RPG
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Guerilla Games
Release Date: February 28, 2017

Parent Talk: Horizon: Zero Dawn has been rated T for teen from the ESRB because of alcohol and tobacco references, blood, mild language, mild sexual themes, and violence.  Horizon is a breathtaking action RPG where players take on the role of Aloy, a young outcast that hunts majestic mechanical beasts to stay alive outside the safety of the populous cities.  The mechanical animals she hunts do not bleed, however enemy tribes you go up against are made up of humans, and while attacking human enemies you can expect a certain level of violence.  The game is never tremendously gory, even though the violence is realistic.

Plays Like: Have you had the chance to play through 2013’s Tomb Raider or Rise of the Tomb Raider yet?  If so, those two games give the best impression of what you can expect from Horizon in terms of general gameplay.  Horizon is a gargantuan open world that is fully realized in a way very few open world games achieve.  There is a wealth of open world tropes such as unlocking towers, except here the towers are giant moving dinosaur-like creatures.  Side quests, vehicular combat, and more are all featured.  It’s the way that everything comes together that is truly impressive.

Review Basis: Sony Interactive Entertainment was kind enough to send us an advanced review code.  I put in well over 35 hours with the game and completed the main storyline.  I played through the game on a regular PlayStation 4.

Horizon: Zero Dawn has been in development since 2011.  Guerilla Games wanted to work on something different after the release of Killzone 3 on the PlayStation 3.  While it’s true the company would go on to release another Killzone on both the PS4 and the Vita, internally the team was secretly plugging away on what would become Horizon.  At E3 2015 the game was shown off to the public for the first time and I knew then that this was going to be a special game, and now having completed the game, I can proudly say it is indeed one special game that all PlayStation 4 owners should experience.

The Great:

There are have countless open world games released since Grand Theft Auto III hit the scene way back in 2001.  Some goofy, some serious, some kid-friendly, others not so much, and some come together in such a way that leave you speechless.  This one falls in the latter category.  It comes together in such a way that will truly take your breath away.  There have only been a few games where I stop and move the camera around because I am so in awe of what I’m looking at.  I’ve done that at least a dozen times while playing this game.  Aloy’s world is incredibly unique, and without spoiling anything, you will see mountain ranges that are so vividly detailed you won’t believe you’re not watching a cinematic.  The dynamic weather system will have it snow one minute, and pour rain another, but in a realistic manner where it doesn’t just rain for no reason.  You’ll see the clouds start to move in, the sky gets dark and then it starts to rain.  It’s amazing to see in action.  When it rains and you’re running through the dense forest areas, you can’t help but stand there in shock at the sheer beauty of it all.

Each area of the environment has been meticulously put together so that there’s a logical sequence to the placement of villages, mountains, desert areas, etc.  You don’t just see a mountain pop out of nowhere, you’ll slowly see the land incline and then as the elevation increases that’s when the weather starts to change and it gets cold.  It may seem trivial, but it’s this attention to detail that runs through every aspect of the game.

The storyline is one area I can’t speak much about, but it’s far more interesting than the trailers have led you to believe.  Aloy is an outcast, she doesn’t belong to a tribe.  Her guardian, Rost, used to belong to the Nora tribe many years back but something happened as he was cast out.  Typically, criminals are shunned this way, but in the case of Rost there’s much more to his backstory than meets the eye, much like everything in Horizon.  Eventually Aloy sets her eyes on an event that will allow her to become one with the tribe and learn more about where she comes from, who she is, and what her place is in this unique world.  What happens next changes the scope of the game and over the next thirty hours or so players will try and piece together exactly where these machines come from, why they were built, and just who are these ancients everyone keeps talking about.  It’s all fascinating stuff, and classic elements such as finding detailed information hidden away in the game’s world can be exposed if you’re willing to explore every nook and cranny.  Believe me, it’s worth it as the back story the game doesn’t tell you is just as, if not, more compelling than the one you’re taking part in.

The gameplay is excellent.  The game that most closely matches what Horizon does is the reboot of Tomb Raider, where you explore a massive open world, take on main storyline quests, side quests, and harvest resources to expand your arsenal and increase the number of items you can hold.  Fear not though, you don’t actively have to look for resources, they’re scattered everywhere.  You’ll see trees, plants, and animals all over the place that you can run up to, press triangle and harvest the resource.  Animals must be hunted, but you can see them with your Focus, which works something like Detective Mode in the Arkham games.  That means you don’t really have to put much effort into hunting or harvesting, which is good because it could have easily detracted from the rest of the game.

There will be certain animal resources you will need to find to upgrade your quiver for example.  When you hunt boars, turkeys, foxes, racoons, and fish they have a random number generator which dictates which resources the animal will drop.  Often you will need either the green uncommon or blue rare drops.  Because there are so many animals everywhere though, it never becomes a hindrance or burden and very early in the game you will be able to upgrade most of your gear at least once so long as you invest a good twenty to thirty minutes hunting.

The combat system and to a larger extension the weapons are incredibly fun and engaging.  For the most part you’ll be using your bow and arrows to hunt down the bulk of your adversaries.  From hunting wild animals, which require one arrow to take down, to taking on human and mechanical beasts alike, the combat is incredibly fun to partake in.  There are several elements to the combat depending on the situation at hand.  So, let’s break down each one.  Wild animals we already discussed, use your Focus to see where they are, highlight them with a quick press of the R2 button and take them out.

Human enemies are smarter and require some finesse to take down.  Once again you can use the Focus to see through walls, and plan your attack as you can mark enemies, but you can also see their walking pattern which is incredibly important for when you’re hunting the machines.  I typically stay far back, mark all the enemies and then take them out with precision arrows, one of many different types of arrows available to you.  Like everything else in the game, ammunition needs to be made from resources you find.  Absolutely everything in the game requires resources, but fear not, you can also buy goods from traders you meet along the way.  The form of currency is metal shards which everyone carries so when you defeat a human enemy and loot their corpse you’ll likely find some shards as well as potions and other items of use.  The one wrinkle to watch out for with human enemies is that they can bring in reinforcements if one of them reaches the strategically placed alarm signals.  A good tactic is to snipe all the enemies surrounding the alarm, then use stealth to deactivate the alarm and wipe out everywhere else however else you want.

Stealth is important because Aloy has a wild array of weapons as her disposal so she doesn’t just need to use the bow and arrows.  You can also use her trusty spear.  If she sneaks up on a person you can press the R1 button to activate a stealth kill, which is not only satisfying, but incredibly useful as no one hears the sounds, but they may see the body so be careful where you perform the takedown.  The world is covered in beautiful long flowing grass, which is just perfect for Aloy to use as cover, and this is important when taking on the mechanical beasts.  This is where the combat changes dramatically.

The wonderful creatures you’ve seen in all the trailers may look majestic, but when you must take one of them down, things get nasty.  Each type of machine needs to be handled differently, and this is an element I absolutely loved with the game.  The simple Watcher enemies can be defeated with a nice clear shot to their front lens, but before long you’ll be facing much stronger enemies that require multiple strategies to take down.  One enemy I fought was something like a giant worm that burrowed into the ground and popped up rather unexpectedly.  He ripped me to shreds the first time I faced him, but then I looked through my inventory to see what options I had available.  The first thing I did was I used the Focus to highlight any potential areas of weakness on the creature.  These areas become highlighted in yellow.  The thing is you can’t just shoot them and be done with it.  Sometimes these spots are protected and the creature needs to be immobilized first so you can target that specific area.  Some enemies are weak against one of the three elemental attacks in the game, fire, ice, and electricity.  Some are weak against a specific weapon you have, so you really must plan your attack before just jumping in and going crazy or you’ll be destroyed.

In the case of the worm fight, I decided to use my Ropecaster, which shoots a rope into an enemy and ties them to the ground, but wouldn’t you know it, he just burrowed underground so that didn’t work. I then tried to use the Sling to shoot frozen grenades at the creature to see if I could freeze him, which typically causes extra damage, and while it was working, I found it was taking too long, so I finally used my Tripcaster, which shoots out a trip-line with a small explosive attached to it, and boy did that work.  Every time the creature would lunge at me, I would have it setup up so he would trip the line and cause an explosion.  Shortly after, the creature who once destroyed me, was now dead.  Talk about a feeling of satisfaction.  Every time you stumble onto a new machine, you will do the exact same thing, try and find a good strategy to use against it.  The best news of all, your strategy could very well be completely different than mine, and that’s where the game shows its biggest strength.

As you complete more and more missions you’re awarded with experience, which slowly levels Aloy up over time.  Every time she gains a level she unlocks a skill point which can be allocated to a wide array of unique and helpful abilities.  You might be able to harvest more resources from a single source, reload your weapons faster, run while staying in stealth and much more.  Speaking of upgrades, your weapons and gear can be retrofitted with enhancements that cause extra damage, or give some other perk in battle.  The best thing to do is mess around and have fun with these unique elements as you never know what the results will be.

As you progress far enough in the game Aloy will eventually learn to hack creatures so they fight for her, she can learn to ride some as mounts, and so much more.  One of the more incredible aspects of these features is that they come together in a game with virtually no loading at all.  It’s an impressive sight to behold.  When you die there’s a short load time, and the same when you first boot the game but outside that there’s virtually no loading whatsoever.  The only exception to the rule is when you fast travel somewhere.  Even saving your progress can be done in about two seconds at campfires, either manually or automatically.  It’s impressive considering how incredible everything looks.

And oh, those looks.  I already mentioned I stopped to look around a dozen or so times, but really, I can’t stress this enough, this game looks incredible in motion.  It’s breathtaking how amazing everything came together.  If you thought last year’s Uncharted 4 looked amazing, wait until you see this.  Keep in mind I played the game on a regular PlayStation 4, so I can only imagine how much better it looks in 4K with HDR on the PlayStation 4 Pro.  I won’t get into the finer details, but Horizon is one of the nicest looking videogames I’ve ever played, period.

The sound design is also superb.  From excellent voice acting to a beautiful soundtrack, the audio came together in such a way as to compliment the visuals.  The audio is also dynamic meaning it will change based on the environmental situation, so not only battles, but whether the weather is really coming down hard, or if there’s something critical Aloy happened to figure out while she was on-mission.

The So-So:

There are a few elements that didn’t come together quite as well as Guerilla Games may have hoped for.  The first of these is the dialogue tree.  While it’s great being able to ask questions, and get more information out of NPCs, the choices you make feel as though they don’t really have any consequences.  The system works great from the perspective of information gathering, but there’s little to no weight behind some of the choices you make.

Another element that is ok, but nothing overly special is the mission variety, particularly if you take part in the side quests.  Too often Aloy must race off to a location, Focus on the area to find tracks and then follow those tracks to eventually fight either a mechanical beast or a bunch of humans.  This was offset by what I mentioned earlier though, that each new enemy encounter is unique in and of itself, and I suppose that was Guerilla’s argument for perhaps not having more mission diversity.

One area that cracked me up on more than one occasion was the acrobatics system.  Much like in the Uncharted series, Aloy can perform some rather impressive acrobatic feats, however these are always scripted.  She can only jump up to a specific spot if it happens to have a yellow border, if not she can’t.  It’s bizarre when there are areas she can’t reach that are shorter than the ones she can, all thanks to this mysterious yellow border.

Finally, the last elements of the game design that you must watch out for are with very specific resources not always available everywhere.  Under most circumstances, you will easily be able to craft whatever you want; however, ammunition is the one exception and that can force you to fast travel back to another area to harvest a few specific resources you’re missing so that you can continue with a mission that requires you to hunt down certain creatures.  This rarely happens, but when it does it can be slightly annoying.  Thankfully you can always buy what you’re missing from traders, however I like to save my shards for big upgrades and often the prices can be a bit steep for ammunition.

The Ugly:

Much like most open world games, I experienced a game breaking bug while playing the game, that Sony had to send me instructions on how to revert to a previous save point and avoid the bug.  If not for cloud saves I wouldn’t have been able to review this game for you as I was already 14 hours in and wouldn’t have had the time to restart from the very beginning.  The good news is this bug has been squished in the day 1 patch, but be warned that there will likely be other bugs present.

The Lowdown:

Horizon: Zero Dawn is an outstanding accomplishment from Guerilla Games.  While I had a few nitpicks with the game, overall it came together in such a way that few new IPs do.  It is also a technical achievement that will leave countless PlayStation 4 fans floored when they see it for the first time.  It comes with my absolute highest recommendation.  If you dislike open world games, give this one a chance as it may surprise you.  If you’re a longtime fan of the genre, this is a no-brainer.  Horizon: Zero Dawn is already a contender for Game of the Year.  Job well done Guerilla Games.

Final Score: 9.5/10      

Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection Review

Uncharted ReviewUncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection (Available exclusively on PlayStation 4)
ESRB Rating: T
Number of Players: 1
Genre: Action
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Bluepoint Games
Release Date: October 7th, 2015

Parent Talk: The ESRB rates the Uncharted Collection T for teen because of blood, language, suggestive themes, use of tobacco, and violence. While there are certainly mature themes throughout the series, it’s not ultra-violent. Think of it like going to see a PG-13 action movie and you know more or less what to expect.

Plays Like: Let’s see here, there’s stealth, cover mechanics, gunplay, platforming, and puzzle solving to be had. The action takes place in third person, and personally I’ve called the Uncharted series the franchise that Tomb Raider should have been since the beginning. It’s kind of ironic that now the Tomb Raider series is a derivative of the Uncharted series, but that’s a topic for another day. This is as close as you will likely ever get to playing an Indiana Jones movie.

Review Basis: The Uncharted franchise is my favorite franchise established during the PlayStation 3 generation, so I know these games well. I played enough of each game in this collection to compare the remasters to their original counterparts and report back.

Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection is a remarkable collection of games. People tend to forget but the original Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune shipped back in 2007 from a developer mostly known for their mascot characters such as Crash Bandicoot and Jak & Daxter. To see them branch out into a more realistic action adventure was shocking. Nathan Drake had to prove himself, and prove himself he did. Today the Uncharted series is the jewel in Sony’s first party developed crown. With the forth entry in the series gearing up for release early next year, having a set like this hit now is fitting. Not only does it remind us of how far the series has come, but also where things are going.

Uncharted2The Great:

The fact this collection exists gives me an excuse to go back and play through all three of these games back-to-back-to-back one more time before the next installment is released. I consider that the very best feature of the game, giving me one more chance to experience these absolutely incredible games.

Uncharted3The Good:

  • Evolving gameplay. The cover mechanics of the first game get better and better as the series evolved, and that’s highlighted in this collection. The gunplay also got tighter the further the series went. Regardless of the improvements made, the series was fun from the very beginning. The mix of action and puzzle solving, and phenomenal storytelling make this a series you will want to play through again and the gameplay evolves at a natural pace, meaning you don’t ever feel completely restricted.
  • The incredible action set pieces are just as memorable today as they were when you first played through these games. If you never experienced these games from the previous generation, then you’re in for a real treat. From the dilapidated train wreck in Uncharted 2 to the incredible desert in Uncharted 3, it’s just amazing to behold in 1080p.
  • The amazing story flows from one game to the next in such a way that you really have to play the games one after another in order to tie the themes together and get the most out of the trilogy. This marks the first time I’ve ever played the games one after another, and I enjoyed the story more now than I did when the games were new. The first game is by far the weakest of the bunch in terms of the narrative, but it sets the stage for things to come.
  • The advances in motion capture technology came a long way from Drake’s Fortune to Drake’s Deception, and so too did the Naughty Dog’s cinematography skills. I find it interesting how a game based so much on the past, has itself a little history lesson in technological advancements. Naughty Dog became more and more comfortable in their newfound skills as the games progressed, and that’s evident as you play through them.
  • The 1080p resolution and smooth 60 fps gameplay are the way these games were meant to be played. I actually had to connect my PS3 because I never remembered these games looking this good, but to my surprise they were quite impressive even on the PlayStation 3.

+The soundtrack is also just as incredible as I remembered. The game also supports 7.1 surround sound, and it sounds superb. These games have never sounded better than they do here. The voice acting is also a highlight.

  • New features and modes make these games better than ever. For beginners there’s a new super easy mode called Explorer Mode, and then there’s the Brutal difficulty which makes Crushing look like child’s play. There’s also a Speed Run mode which keeps track of your progression versus your friend’s times, which is nice. There’s even a photo mode, and all new trophies. Finally there’s a render mode, which unlocks new skins allowing you to play as some of your favorite characters from the series.

Uncharted5The So-So:

+/- One element this series has always struggled with is the disconnect between the protagonists that are so rich and lively, and the mass murdering they perform throughout the three adventures. These games are filled with deep storylines and complex characters that are emotionally charged, yet none of them have any problems killing thousands of people.

Uncharted4The Bad:

  • Sadly all multiplayer modes have not been carried over from the original games, which will surely disappoint some fans of the series.

Uncharted1The Lowdown:

Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection proves Drake’s motto is true, Sic Parvus Magna or, Greatness from small Beginnings. This set is an absolute must buy.

Final Score: 8.5/10

 

Until Dawn Review

Until Dawn Box ArtUntil Dawn (Available exclusively on the PlayStation 4)
ESRB Rating: M
Number of Players: 1
Genre: Action Adventure
Developer: Supermassive Games
Publisher: SCEA
Release Date: August 25th, 2015

Parent Talk: The ESRB rates Until Dawn M for mature players aged 17 and up because of blood and gore, intense violence, sexual themes, and strong language. Ever watch a movie franchise like Saw, well if so you know what to expect here. If you haven’t, this is a horror videogame where you see people get ripped apart, decapitated, and much more. Under no circumstances should children be anywhere near this game.

Plays Like: The best way I can describe Until Dawn is if someone were to take the episodic nature of Alan Wake and apply that to a horror-themed version of Heavy Rain. The game plays almost exactly like that mash up. For those that don’t know either or those games, you are largely interacting with a seven to nine hour movie. You can move one of eight characters around a limited environment, correctly hit the right buttons during quick-time events, and study various objects in the environment. This isn’t your typical third-person shooter, no here it’s all about immersing the player in a highly disturbing world. The big twist is that your choices literally affect everything in the game from the storyline to segments of the game you’ll actually play through.

Review Basis: Sony Computer Entertainment Canada sent us a review copy a week in advance, and I played non-stop until I had not only completed the game, but went through it several times to see how I could affect the storyline.

I really enjoyed the heavy narrative of Heavy Rain. It was a tremendously unique experience. It didn’t play like your typical third-person action game, instead making you interact with the environment in bold ways uncommon for the genre. Until Dawn is very similar in-style to Heavy Rain, but instead of trying to solve the riddle of the origami killer, here you’re wrapped up in a terrifying tale of murder, suspense and dread, where your every action changes not only the storyline, but the entire game. Until Dawn is the butterfly effect realized in videogame form, and it will absolutely blow you away.

Until Dawn1The Great:

The one element that really makes Until Dawn standout from its peers is its incredible use of the butterfly effect. In reality the butterfly effect amounts to the smallest choices we make could have dire consequences in the future. Step on a blade of grass and that could bring about the apocalypse sometime down the road. Until Dawn excels at this because during any given moment there are literally dozens of choices you will have to make. Do you get angry at one character for something they did or said? Do you take the left path instead of the right path? Do you ignore the quick-time event and see what happens, or do you try your hardest to keep up with the ever increasing prompts? Some of these choices may seem trivial, but their consequences can be felt as you progress through the game.

There’s an extremely helpful butterfly effect menu system where you can see how each choice you made affected the outcome of the game. On one wing you’ll see the initial choice you made, and then you can swipe to the right using the DualShock 4’s trackpad to see the next outcome. This is extremely useful to keep track of where branches were made, especially if you want to experience the game again by going down a different path.

I should also mention the choices you make are permanent. There are no checkpoints here, no do-overs. Once you’re make a decision you have to stick with it throughout the entire game. If that choice leads to a character dying, there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it. This means there’s no Game Over screen, and that allows you to get extremely experimental during your future play-throughs.

Until Dawn2The Good:

  • You will be afraid, count on it. The first six chapters of the game are genuinely scary. You have no idea what’s going on, you know there’s a presence out there, something that’s hunting your friends down, but you don’t know exactly what. There are countless jump scares where I almost dropped my controller out of fright, and then there’s the genuine dread that starts to creep in as you’re all alone making your way to some foreboding area. I can tell you I actually had my hands start to shake at one part because I really didn’t know what was going to happen next. The tension slowly eases off towards the end of the game as more and more is revealed about what’s actually going on, but let me tell you, the first half is absolutely petrifying. That’s not to say the latter half isn’t scary, it’s just that you start to acclimatize to the jump scares, and the game really wants to flesh out the story so you get the complete package.
  • Speaking of the story, it’s great. A very traumatic event occurred a year ago in a cabin in the woods on a mountain side. Now everyone who was present is back to pay their respects, but all is not what it seems and now each of the eight friends are systematically being taken out. What is going on? Who is doing this? Will anyone make it until dawn? There are quite a few horror tropes featured and many clichés, but what separates the game from your run-of-the-mill teen horror story are the deep and fleshed out characters. By the end of the game you will absolutely hate some of them, and feel true pain when you let others die because of your poor decisions that led to them being massacred.
  • Core gameplay works perfectly. This is the one area that won’t be for everyone. Gameplay is broken down into several sections, each specifically designed to draw you further into the narrative. There are areas where you play in third-person, usually at times where you have to explore dark and scary places, then there are decision bubbles where you have to move the right analog stick to select one of two decisions, which will completely change the course of the game. There are also quick-time events that play out during key cinematic scenes, and finally there are targeting sections where you have to aim a reticle at a target very quickly or something awful usually happens.

Until Dawn3+ A surprising amount of replay is featured. There are quite a few collectable goodies you should be on the lookout for as these flesh out the storyline, and some can only be found in sections of the game that are unlocked by making certain choices. You can also go back and create new branches in the storyline that affect relationships between characters by changing the choices you make in each chapter. So while the game consists of only 10 chapters which last for at most around seven to nine hours, you could be playing for much longer if you decide you want to experiment with all the different story branches.

  • Fantastic cast of characters. Like Beyond Two Souls, Until Dawn features Hollywood actors such as Hayden Panettiere), Peter Stormare, Brett Dalton, Rami Malek, Meaghan Martin, Nichole Bloom, Galadriel Stineman, Noah Fleiss and Larry Fessenden. Each actor does a superb job of capturing the essence of the characters they play.
  • The audio visual presentation as a whole is absolutely incredible. From the dynamic camera angles that heighten the tension and suspense, to the sublime particle effects used to highlight snow and fog, it’s just a stunning game to look at and admire. Because of the limited interactivity, Supermassive Games were able to push the PS4 to its limits by creating breathtaking environments and one wonderful setting after another. This very well could be the nicest looking game of this current generation thus far.

Until Dawn4The Bad:

  • For someone like me, not having the option to use inverted aiming controls really hurts, and there’s one scene in particular where the only way to save a character is to very quickly aim at a specific spot, and because I’m so used to inverted controls my brain told my thumb to move the stick down, instead of up, thereby causing the character to die. That was very annoying to me as I was so close to saving him. I can only hope this gets patched into the game ASAP if it isn’t a day-one update.

Until Dawn5The Ugly:

I have to mention this because it occurred once, yet never again. During my very first gameplay session with the game I went through eight of the game’s 10 chapters, and since there’s no exit to main menu option I quit the game from the dashboard using the ‘Close Application’ command. When I tried to resume my game I got the following message: “Recovering partially installed data. This may take up to twenty minutes.” It took about seven minutes for the file to get recovered and then I was back where I left off, but it was odd just the same.

The Lowdown:      

Until Dawn truly surprised me as I had no expectations for it. I remember it being announced for the PlayStation 3 as a Move game (thankfully that decision was scrapped and the game now features either motion controls or traditional controls), but it really flew under my radar. So imagine my surprise when the game arrives and it absolutely blows me away. If you enjoy a good scare, close the lights, raise the volume on the TV and prepare yourself for one hell of a good time. Until Dawn might just be the very best PlayStation 4 exclusive of 2015. Don’t miss it!

Final Score: 9.2/10

 

E3 2014 Press Conference Impressions

Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo all held press conferences in LA…well ok Nintendo held a digital event, but whatever.  The point is that tons of new games were revealed, and we now have a much better idea what to expect from the next 12 months for each of the big three console manufacturers.  Here are my reactions to the press events.

Microsoft Press Conference:

Sony Press Conference:

Nintendo Digital Event:

What are your thoughts on the big three?

The Last of Us: Left Behind Review

Left BehindThe Last of Us: Left Behind (Available exclusively on PlayStation 3)
ESRB Rating: M
Number of Players: 1
Genre: Action
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Naughty Dog
Release Date: February 14th, 2014

Parent Talk: This is an M game if there ever was one.  You cut people’s throats open, crazed lunatics race after you looking for blood, and all other sorts of mature themes are present.  This isn’t a game for children, period.

Plays Like: While the core gameplay remains largely unchanged from The Last of Us, playing as Ellie feels different here.  She’s inexperienced, and virtually everything poses a major threat.  While not in combat Ellie and her friend explore a vast mall.

Review Basis: Sony sent us a review code, and I completed the story DLC within two hours.

One of the best, if not the best game from last generation returns with story-focused DLC that almost everyone needs to play.  Left Behind focuses on Ellie, and the events leading up to the beginning of The Last of Us.  The tale is split in two portions, one being the prologue, and the other when Ellie was protecting Joel when he was injured during The Last of Us.  This heartbreaking tale may be over within two or three hours, but it’s well worth embarking on because of just how incredible this universe is.  Do yourself a favor and read through my review of the full game to get a better understanding of the core gameplay mechanics (http://www.projectcoe.com/2013/06/05/the-last-of-us-review/).

LB1The Great:

Facing off against infected and normal humans at the same time was a breath of fresh air.  It dynamically changes the core combat you’re used to from the main game.  Now it’s possible to throw a bottle, make some noise, and then attract the infected to the humans who are trying to hunt you down.  Wait a few minutes, and watch as the two kill each other off.  Then you can go and finish off whoever’s left, or slowly help one side attack the other.  It’s fantastic fun, and I sort of wish more elements like this were in the original game.

LB3The Good:

+ The story between Ellie and Riley is amazing.  You really come to understand why Ellie acts the way she does at the beginning of The Last of Us.  Even though the story is only a few hours long, it’s pretty shocking.

+ The bulk of the DLC takes place within a mall, and nothing could be more normal than two girls hanging out at the mall, right?  I loved how Naughty Dog played on this simple idea, and yet this is set in a post-apocalyptic world, so it’s an entirely new experience for both Ellie and Riley.

+ Playing as Ellie is nothing new, but it’s interesting nonetheless.  The sense of danger is far greater because she doesn’t have all the skills that Joel learned throughout the years.  As such you really have to keep your distance and play smart.  Stealth kills are important because it’s very easy to get overrun by the infected.

LB2The So-So:

– I can’t help but say that $15 is a bit too expensive for this DLC.  Yes it’s incredible, but $15 is a lot of money for literally two hours.  I’m being generous too.  I finished the entire add-on in under two hours.

LB4The Lowdown:

Being able to play The Last of Us for even two more hours is a true joy.  It was one of the best games I’ve ever played, and this new prologue is spectacular.  Sure it’s over in a flash, but it tells a story that needed to be told.  You’ll look at Ellie in an entirely new way when you revisit The Last of Us at some point in the future, and that’s about the biggest compliment I can give this DLC.  Go download it right away.

Final Score: 9/10

Community Question – What Do You Think of PlayStation Now?

PlayStation Now will allow you to stream previously released PlayStation hits, up to and including games from the PS3 era like The Last of Us, on devices such as the PlayStation 4, Vita, and even your smartphone. What do you all think of this newly announced service?

TearAway Review

TearAwayTearAway (Available exclusively on PlayStation Vita)
ESRB Rating: E
Number of Players: 1
Genre: Action Platformer
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Media Molecule
Release Date: November 22nd, 2013

Parent Talk: TearAway is rated E for everyone and is the perfect game to give your children because there’s virtually nothing damaging in here at all.  There is some extremely minor violence when you’re forced to take out paper enemies, but that’s it.  I’d call it comic mischief myself.  Some young kids may have a hard time holding the Vita and making full use of the rear track pad and front touch screen though, so that’s a call you’ll have to make.  The Vita is also an expensive piece of hardware to let little kids use, but this is certainly a game they’d enjoy.

Plays Like: At its core TearAway is a 3D action platformer.  It features many interactive areas where players use the Vita’s various features in order to blur the lines between the real world and the digital one.  In total the game can be completed relatively quickly, in only a few hours, but there are plenty of collectables to keep you coming back afterwards.

Review Basis: Finished the game in around four and a half hours.

Every once and a while a game comes along that defines a platform.  Sometimes it’s because the game was so good it defied expectations, other times it changed the future of a particular genre forever, and then there are those games that define a platform because they highlight all the best features of the console they’re released on.  The latter is the case with TearAway, it defines the Vita because it makes perfect use of all the unique features the Vita has to offer without ever coming off as gimmicky or forced.  It’s the Vita’s first true killer app, and is easy the best game on the system.

TearAway1The Great:

Conceptually TearAway is brilliant.  Players take on the role of either a male envelope named Iota, or a female one called Atoi.  Both characters have the same goal, make it to the sun.  What’s unique is that you, as in the real you, are located in the sun.  This is thanks to the front facing camera frequently showing video of your face as you play the game.  Iota is on a mission to tell an exciting story about how he managed to reach you.  He’s not in this alone though, being an outsider partaking in his journey you have the ability to constantly alter Iota’s world by using the back track pad to pop your fingers through the paper and help him make his way through various obstacles.  It’s a genius way of seamlessly brining the real world and the game world together.  There will be times where you have to record snippets of your voice, other times where you’ll have to take pictures of your surroundings and so much more.  Each time you do this, the lines between the two “worlds” blur just a little bit more.  It’s incredibly good fun that justifies each and every feature on the Vita.

TearAway3The Good:

+ The link between the real world and the digital one is further enhanced by the stunning graphics.  Instead of going for the ultra-realistic, Media Molecule went for something that could actually take part in the real world.  This is because the digital world is entirely made up of paper.  With a stick of glue, some crayons and a good imagination, you could actually build TearAway’s entire universe out in the real world.  As you move Iota from one location to the next, levels peel back, or tear open to reveal something new and exciting.  It’s often breathtaking because of how charming the visuals look, and also how much detail was put into them.

+ If that weren’t enough, virtually everything in the game can be customized.  If you don’t like the way Iota looks at any given time, just touch him for a second or two and you can enter a customization menu that allows you to draw on his face, add objects to his body, and more.  Often you can even add different elements to the stages and other characters you meet.  There’s even a paper crafting mechanic built right into the game, whereby you can select from a wide variety of color paper, and draw whatever you want, cut it out, add unique items to it, and bring it to life within the game.  It’s pretty amazing.

+ Another area that is sensational is the interactivity of the game.  Most Vita games force touch screen inputs or the rear track pad in often bizarre ways that a button press could easily have emulated.  In this case though, each and every use of the Vita’s unique functions couldn’t be replicated with a button press.  From extending paper paths using the touch screen, to the already mentioned popping your fingers through the screen using the rear track pad, each feature proves useful, fun and highly creative.  This is how you make a Vita game!

+ The platforming is also top notch.  While all of these other features are great, they wouldn’t really do much if the core gameplay was lacking, but it isn’t.  Each of these interactive areas only enhance what was already there to begin with, a rock solid action platformer.  The first half of the game blends simple platforming and action, but later on the difficulty ramps up and your jumps have to be extremely precise.

+ One area that a lot of Vita games suffer from is their lack of portability.  Most games on the Vita are simply watered down console games, and it shows.  Their levels or missions are far too long to be of any use while gaming on the go.  That can’t be said for TearAway.  Here levels take maybe 15 to 20 minutes, however the game auto-saves every 15 to 20 seconds or so, meaning you can close the game at a moment’s notice.  Load times aren’t very long at all either, in essence there’s one load time upon boot up and that’s the only one you’re ever going to notice.  The entire game can be completed in only a few hours, but if you want to locate all the enemies, all the gift boxes, and all the confetti, it’ll take at least a dozen hours or so.

+ Finally, the lines between the digital world and real world come full circle with the inclusion of printable origami templates you can find in-game.  As you traverse the 3D world Iota will locate white-shaped objects that when he takes a picture of will come to life.  Doing this rewards Iota with an origami template of whatever it was he just snapped a photo of.  It’s the perfect way to wrap up the link between both worlds.

TearAway2The Lowdown:

TearAway is hands down the very best game on the PlayStation Vita right now.  I absolutely adored it.  The way it blends the lines between real world and digital world was spectacular.  I also loved all the different ways the Vita’s features were put to good use.  It never felt like a gimmick, and almost always brought a smile to my face.  The printable origami templates is another great touch.  Media Molecule is quickly becoming one of my favorite exclusive developers in Sony’s arsenal.  I love how they’re willing to think outside the box and take chances.  While this is a super easy recommend for anyone with a Vita, it’s hard to say whether players should race out and pick the system up for just this game.  While it’s fantastic, it is only a few hours long and I’d recommend players check out the rest of the system library to see if there are a few other games that tickle your fancy before taking the plunge.  That said, this is certainly a game everyone should at least experience.

Final Score: 9.5/10

Resogun Review

ResogunResogun (Available exclusively on PlayStation 4)
ESRB Rating: E10+
Number of Players: 1 to 2
Genre: Shoot ‘em up
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Housemarque
Release Date: November 15th, 2013

Parent Talk: I’ve got no idea how this game scored an E10+ rating as it’s a spaceship shooter based on Defender.  Children have been playing 2D arcade shooters since the creation of the genre way back in the early 70s.  I would easily allow my children to play this game.

Plays Like: Resogun takes its inspiration from the classic Williams Electronics hit from 1980, Defender.  You fly left or right around a cylindrical world, trying to rescue the last humans while taking out all the aliens around you.  Simple as that…if only it were simple.

Review Basis: Finished all levels, and played through the game a second time in co-op mode.

When Sony announced the PlayStation 4 they went to great lengths to talk about how they’re going back to basics and focusing on the games.  They spent a lot of time talking about indie developer because that’s where all the innovation will come from.  It’s true too, as AAA titles have a budget in the tens of millions, whereas indie developers often make their games for a fraction of the cost, and are willing to take chances.  Housemarque might not be an indie developer anymore, but they surely aren’t in the same league as the big boys with operating budgets in the millions, but that doesn’t mean their games can’t stand on their own.  Incredibly, Resogun is my favorite PlayStation 4 game on the market right now, including all the big AAA releases from third parties and Sony itself.  That speaks volumes to the talent at the studio, and how much of a sucker I am for arcade classics.

Resogun1The Great:

Ridiculously simple gameplay that’s insanely challenging to master.  Based on the arcade hit Defender, players move their craft around a large cylinder trying to take out the alien armada.  Once keepers drop, destroying them will free a human.  Your goal is to “save the last humans,” while trying to stay alive yourself.  Each stage is broken up into three phases, ending with a boss fight.  Rescuing the humans is essential if you want a high score, or if you plan to make it to the end of the stage.  When you defeat the keepers a human is released from their cell and you only have a limited amount of time to pick them up before an enemy will take them out.  Returning a human to the base nets you either points or an upgrade, such as an extra life, a shield bonus, etc.

Chasing high scores is a large part of the fun and the risk and reward system is always on your mind.  If you activate a bomb, which clears the entire screen of enemies you take a good chance at losing your score multiplier since you need to continuously shoot down enemy ships in order to keep the multiplier going.  So often bombs are only used as a last resort.

Overdrive is a special blast attack that consumes a tiny green meter located around your ship.  As you defeat enemies they explode into hundreds of tiny cubes, and if you collect enough of them you’ll fill your Overdrive meter.  The trade-off is that you can’t control the length of the overdrive, in other words once you activate it it’s gone until you fill the meter back up.  Another move, the boost is far more important to master as it uses a similar meter, although you can control how long you wish to boost for.  While technically a defensive move used for when you’re about to get overrun, the boost actually releases a small explosion once you stop.  A good technique is to boost right into oncoming enemies, and watch as they all explode.

Add extremely powerful bosses into the mix, especially in the later levels, and you have one of the very best arcade shooters released in a long time.  There’s always a constant risk and reward factor to each element of the gameplay.  Do you sacrifice a human so you don’t lose an extra life, or do you take the chance and perhaps get a weapon upgrade in the process?

Things only get more intense when you add a co-op partner to the mix, which I highly recommend you do.

Resogun2The Good:

+ By using voxel (also known as 3D cubes) graphics gives the game its own unique look.  When you destroy an enemy ship it explodes into millions of tiny cubes.  On top of that the particle effects are spectacular whenever enemy ships fire at you, which is all the time.  When you combine everything together, from the enemy ships exploding, to bombs being set off, to the particular effects, you’re left with the nicest looking arcade game I’ve ever played.

+ The soundtrack is techno-infused, and fits the setting perfectly.  All voice samples play out through the DualShock 4’s internal microphone for a little extra flare.  Ship explosions also sound great and there’s lots of bass for those with a good surround sound system.

+ Fun trophy list.  Can you rescue two humans within a second of one another?  Can you kill 50 enemies using only one boost?  I love when developers put time and effort into their trophies because it gives you an incentive to actually try and collect them.

The So-So:

+/- Having only five levels, and three different ships might grate on some people’s nerves.  The three ships play quite differently from one another in terms of the weapons they have available, but the limited levels will eventually start to feel similar to one another after a while.

Resogun3The Lowdown:

Resogun is my favorite PlayStation 4 game right now.  When I purchased my PS4 at launch Resogun, like Contrast was free for PlayStation Plus members.  This is an outstanding game for free, and a great game for the asking price of $10.  If you own a PS4, this is one you really need to play.

Final Score: 9/10

Killzone: Shadow Fall Review

Killzone Shadow FallKillzone: Shadow Fall (Available exclusively on PlayStation 4)
ESRB Rating: M
Number of Players: 1 to 24
Genre: FPS
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Guerrilla Games
Release Date: November 15th, 2013

Parent Talk: Killzone: Shadow Fall is rated M for mature because of blood, intense violence, and strong language.  You can sneak up on someone and slit their throat with a hunting knife, so yes, this is very much a well-deserved M rated game.  The interesting thing is that the series, while brutal, has actually been getting less and less graphic with each new installment.  There’s no question children should stay far away, but squeamish adults may actually be able to play through this one without too many problems, just be sure not to stealth kill too many enemies.

Plays Like: Imagine any modern day first-person shooter, and you know what to expect.  While the Killzone series has always felt unique in that the characters feel heavier than they do in something like Halo or Call of Duty, it’s pretty much your standard FPS fair.  You explore a massive alien world, take out thousands of enemies, spice things up with zero-g sections and non-linear missions variety, and away you go.  Shadow Fall is a bit different in that your main character isn’t quite as heavy as those featured in the rest of the series, but the core gameplay mechanics remain largely unchanged, albeit far more refined.

Review Basis: Finished the single player campaign, and tried my hand at the various online multiplayer options.

Sony has tried very hard to position Killzone as the PlayStation’s Halo, and while that has never really happened, the series has matured into a very fun, and serious FPS.  It may not sell tens of millions of units, but I’m pleased Sony put enough faith in the brand to make it the poster child for the PlayStation 4.  What fans are left with is without a doubt the single most technically impressive game of the system’s entire launch line-up, however a few odd development choices keep it from achieving true greatness.

Killzone Shadow Fall2The Great:

Welcome to the next gen.  This game looks absolutely breathtaking.  From trillions of particle effect, to wonderful lighting, animations, and spectacular environments, Killzone: Shadow Fall shows the early processing power of the PlayStation 4.  What games will look like in another year or so is beyond imagination.  I also really enjoyed the variety offered in the environments.  One minute you’re in space, the next you’re in a lush and beautiful mountainside.  It’s spectacularly well done, and brings the series already impressive technical presentation to an entirely new level.  For years the series has relied on grays and browns, but with Shadow Fall there’s color!

Killzone Shadow Fall1The Good:

+ The story is well done, even though it’s very cliché.  It’s great seeing both sides of the Vektan-versus-Helghast war.  Typically we treat the Helghast as some sort of menacing evil, but when you spend time seeing the regular people, you realize just how devastating the effects of the end of Killzone 3 have been on everyone.  The story dares to challenge your knowledge of the past games, and because of that is one of my favorite stories in the series thus far.  If you haven’t experienced the other games, fear not as there’s a wonderful intro that brings you up to speed.

+ Nice amount of mission variety.  You might have to disarm bombs on futuristic trains, or break into a spacecraft floating somewhere in space, or you just might be in the wrong place at the wrong time and have to prevent further damage from an ongoing terrorist attack.  Whatever it is you do, virtually every individual element is fun to play.

+ Fun and effective weapons.  All your typical FPS weapon-types are here from hand guns to shotguns and everything in-between.  Some even have secondary fire options.  The grenades, C4, and other explosives also feel much more powerful than their PS3 counterparts, which was a welcome surprise.

+ OWL, your companion-of-sorts proves to be extremely useful.  You use the track-pad on the DualShock 4 in order to command him to put up a shield, hack or disrupt a computer or turret, attack all enemies, or create a zip line for you to rappel off of.  It works perfectly.

+ You can also emit a sonar scan, which pulsates a light beam all around you.  This goes through walls and pinpoints where enemies are in the environment, but can also be used to locate other goodies, and often helps you figure out where to go next.

+ Most chapters feature one giant map, which allows you to use non-linear attack patterns.  This is a first in the series, as you can decide to take out enemies from ground level, from above, or try and get around them to take them out silently one at a time.  Unfortunately not every chapter allows this freedom though.

+ Speaking of great fun, the online multiplayer modes are great.  Warzone randomizes classic multiplayer modes like deathmatch, capture and hold, and more.  There are ten maps to choose from with some standouts including Penthouse and the Remains.  There are three classes, scout, assault, and support, each with their own unique abilities.  By far the coolest aspect of the multiplayer mode is the sheer amount of options you can customize within the Warzone.  You can limit weapons, classes, and typical stuff like that, but it goes a step further and allows you to change the location of capture beacons, alter your hold times, and pretty much anything else you can think of.  I also love the fact that bots are present to fill up maps, or to use as you see fit.

+ While the graphics steal the show, the audio is also extremely well done.  From great sound effects, to interesting use of the microphone in the DualShock 4 (audio logs play out exclusively through the controller), it all comes together to bring you deeper into the experience.  The soundtrack is also wonderful, featuring fantastic Vangelis-like tracks, to more in-your-face heavy music.

Killzone Shadow Fall5The So-So:

This is minor nitpick, but the lip syncing is off for many of the characters during cutscenes for some reason.

The Bad:

– No online co-op…really?!?  This has been a pet peeve of mine for a while now.  I don’t really care if it doesn’t make sense to the story, I just want to be able to play with a friend of mine through the campaign.  Is that truly too much to ask for?  (An online co-op pack is being released as DLC, but it acts more like a Horde mode than anything else).

– The pacing is completely off.  One minute you’re taking on what feels like an entire armada, the next you don’t see a single enemy for ages.  The zero-g missions can also be tedious as they feel like they go on for a little too long.  There’s a free-fall section that will have you ripping your hair out, it’s so frustrating.  I get that the developer wanted to spice things up with variety, but in the end the game feels really unbalanced as a result.

– Where’s all the fighting?  There are a few large scale battles, and they’re absolutely great, but far too often you spend your time simply moving from one location to the next, or trying to activate or hack a specific computer terminal with only a few enemies in along your path.

Killzone Shadow Fall3The Ugly:

The absolute worst aspects of Shadow Fall has to be the lack of a true map system or what I call intelligent nav points.  The vast majority of the time when you hit up on the d-pad, the nav point only shows you where your next true destination is, however it doesn’t lead to you said point.  That means in certain areas, especially those with long twisting corridors or other areas that are vast in size and scope, it’s super easy to get lost.  There was one section in particular that forced me to walk away from the game for a bit because I was getting so frustrated.  I just couldn’t see where I was supposed to go next.  Eventually I realized there was a small crevice I could fit under and away I went, but getting stuck like that is highly annoying.

Killzone Shadow Fall4The Lowdown:

Killzone: Shadow Fall is the perfect technical showpiece for the PlayStation 4, however it does suffer from a few glaring faults.  At times it can be extremely frustrating, annoying, and confusing.  Other times its rip-roaring good fun.  Thankfully the good outweighs the bad, but why certain designs choices were made to break up the pacing so much is beyond me.  I also can’t understand why they didn’t include a better mapping system.  Thankfully everything else came together well, especially the online multiplayer mode.  It’s a very fun game, but the few issues it has do bring down the experience.  If you have a PS4, this is one you really should experience if only for its pure technical impressiveness.

Final Score: 7.5/10 

PlayStation 3 Launch Memories

Here’s a very quick video I made talking about my PS3 launch memories.  I’m sure you guys have lots of memories yourself, so feel free to share them.

It’s fun to discuss our PS3 launch memories now that the PS4 is right around the corner. Only two more weeks to go!

On Online Professionalism, Transparency, and Critiques – Phil Fish vs. Marcus Beer Debacle

So Fez II got cancelled and Phil Fish quit the industry due to a culmination of a hate parade on him throughout the years, finally pushed over-the-edge by one Marcus Beer of GameTrailers. In this video, I delve into my thoughts in general of what went down and how we should improve ourselves as game journalists and fans alike. Please note that while I’m not taking the favorable way of going completely against Phil, I rationalize why and do fault him for certain things he has done and said. I may not completely know the details of how this beef came to be and neither I do recite the events in full chronological order, but the vital parts are mostly there. Besides, it’s not about the details here; it’s more about how these people acted in public.

The Sky: Art of Final Fantasy – Unboxing & Showcase

It had a very limited print run in the past, but now it’s back. Dark Horse recently republished this beautiful collection of artwork by Yoshitaka Amano, representing the Final Fantasy series from I to X. Allow me to unbox and showcase these art books for you, reminiscing the past as we flip through the pages.