Tag Archives: Impressions

Thoughts on the PS4

Although their commercial performance has been heartening amid reports of the slow death of the console market, the long-overdue launch of a new hardware generation has been greeted with a lukewarm critical response. I can understand the disappointment that the days of launching a system alongside a bone fide classic seems to have died in the years since Halo, but I’m shallow, damn it, and I wanted a new toy. It’s been eight years. I’m only human.


This round of launches has brought two firsts: the first Xbox launch at which I haven’t jumped in, and the first PlayStation launch where I have. Past habit would have put it the other way round, but anyone who’s been following the two consoles will understand. The Xbox One has been woefully mismanaged, and even after numerous 180s, it’s still facing an uphill battle to win me over. I’ll get one eventually, but I’m past giving Microsoft the benefit of the doubt. The downright scummy F2P business model in full-price games shows that it might not be a bad idea.

The PS4, on the other hand, while the most technically impressive is also the most pleasantly nostalgic. I like that it’s a games console first and foremost. It’s not a trojan horse for a new media format and it’s not diverting large chunks of its processing power to things I don’t want. It’s got a great controller – so good, in fact, that hardcore Sony fans now feel comfortable admitting how bad the Dual Shock 3 was. It has a premium online service that actually gives you something for your money. It’s been built to avoid the kludgy, obnoxious amount of time spent watching progress bars on the PS3. It’s svelte and looks nice – another first for a launch model PlayStation in my book.

Maybe I’m being optimistic here, but I hope that a console designed by the newly humbled Sony, likely to be a clear market leader this generation with the best third-party ports and the lion’s share of newly resurgent (please?) Japanese support, can be a kind of benevolent dictator. Think of the PS2 coupled with the hardware advantage of the original Xbox and the superlative first-party line-up that Sony pulled out of somewhere in the PS3 generation. Let Nintendo and Microsoft learn from their mistakes this time around and come back stronger, like Sony has after suffering through its own third console curse.

Let’s just hope the success doesn’t go to their heads like last time…

Uncharted 3 is Way Overrated

This is an industry with a media that seems built on hyperbole, and the embarrassment of riches that the last month has brought us has taken it to new heights. Arkham City was one example, even inspiring some hacks to further undermine review scores with hyperbolic trash like this, but I found it hard to get too riled up when the game turned out to actually be bloody amazing.

When it came to Uncharted 3, though, I just don’t see it. Perhaps the urge to come out against it is a reaction to the utter insanity provoked within the community by some very reasonable criticism of an apparent sacred cow, or maybe I’m right, thanks to having the unusual ability to look beyond the phenomenally pretty graphics and be put off by PS2-era design issues that have no business being in such a supposedly polished, modern game.

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception

Opinions, eh? Yeah, fair enough, but I’d love someone to argue in favour of Uncharted’s pathetic enemy AI. I thought that old trick of all enemies suddenly gaining omniscience as to your position as soon as one of them is alerted had died out around the time of Metal Gear Solid, but it apparently stowed away on the trip from the 90s when Naughty Dog was dragging Indiana Jones into the present. Otherwise quite competent stealth sequences take a nosedive if you’re spotted, as laser sights converge on your hiding place after someone caught a glimpse of you 20 feet from your current hiding place. Dive under water and swim away, climbing up on the far side of a boat where no one can see you should help, right? Nope. They all know where you’ve gone.

But, hey, if the fight descends into carnage you can always just shoot them. Oh, wait. The gunplay is shit too thanks to inconsistent aiming and enemies who seem to shrug off headshots before dying from a bullet to the arm. The janky aiming has been acknowledged by Naughty Dog and will supposedly be changed to something more like Uncharted 2 – I’ve never been a fan of the shooting in these games, mind – in a patch, but how does it even make it into the final game? What wasn’t great has been broken.

One other complaint is one that’s more endemic to the game, though. Uncharted 3 is extremely linear, and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing because I love a rollercoaster ride of a game as much as anyone, it does a terrible job of hiding the tracks along the way. It’s inconsistent in corralling you onto the right route, making what looks like a viable path – or evenslightly to the left or right of the one true path – result in a quick trip back to the last checkpoint. I’ve even had bits where an attempt to drop an entirely safe distance to the ground results in instant death, while scripted falls from much higher are taken in Drake’s stride. I’ve always treated Uncharted as a bit like the post-2003 Prince of Persia games, being great platformers once you get past the annoyance of substandard combat, but I felt like Uncharted 3 wasn’t nearly as solid in that respect as its predecessors.

My last complaint is a spoiler, so I’ll keep it brief and advise anyone who hasn’t finished the game to stop reading.

Besides the fact that fighting Ghost Rider is frustrating as hell when piled on top of the issues with the game’s combat, am I the only one who thought the game’s final act was Uncharted 2’s all over again? Swap the train ride for the admittedly awesome horseback chase; throw in another the lost city that’s somehow never been spotted from the air despite sitting in the middle of a perpetual sandstorm – an able substitute for Uncharted 2’s blizzards – full of annoying, apparently supernatural enemies; and then the escape by the skin of your teeth as it collapses around you with all of its treasures. Haven’t we been here before?

I didn’t hate Uncharted 3, as much as I might seem down on it; maybe it was inevitably going to disappoint after such staggering highs as Uncharted 2. I can’t escape the feeling that this was somewhat rushed, perhaps with Naughty Dog working on its new project, which, based on its existing pattern, will surely be Unkarted.

iPhone 3G Impressions

After a bit over a week spent unlearning eight years of bad phone habits – like having to press buttons to do things – I think I’ve got a pretty good handle on what the iPhone 3G is all about. It’s far from perfect and thankfully all of my issues can be fixed in firmware updates, but overall it’s a fantastic device and I love it. Here are my observations and suggestions.

First, a few criticisms and suggestions for the thousands of daily visits I get from Apple’s iPhone team:

Expand the Bluetooth functions. I understand the need to lock down certain aspects of the hardware, but why can’t I send files to and from it over Bluetooth to use the phone as a portable drive? Almost every phone on the market allows that and they have nowhere near 16GB or storage. Also: I can understand the battery concerns of syncing iTunes, but being able to sync my contacts and calendars wirelessly would be nice.

Let me use my own ringtones. Kindly allowing me to pay extra to turn one of a selection of songs on iTunes into a tone is frankly rubbish. Yes, it’s cheaper than the £3 extortion that some official services provide, but very rarely will I have a song as a ringtone that’s ever likely to be on iTunes, and other phones let me stick any old MP3 on there. And what about when the tone I want isn’t actually music, like the codec sound from MGS? Don’t assume that I’m pirating a song for the purposes of a ringtone. Thankfully there’s iToner to avoid this problem, but I shouldn’t need a third-party app to give me such basic functionality.

Interface standardisation? Apple is usually good about creating interface guidelines and it’s a major reason why OS X is so nice to use, but why aren’t the built-in apps on my iPhone uniform? Why is the button to compose a new email in the bottom-right, but the one to compose a new text message is in the top-right? Why can I turn the phone and type on a landscape keyboard for when I occasionally need to enter text on a web page while email has no support for landscape orientation? Just be consistent.

Give me options for how my contacts work. I like the Address Book integration, and the ability to pick someone’s name and have all their contact information – home phone, work phone, mobile, email addresses, etc – available with one tap. However, why doesn’t searching for ‘dad’ bring up my dad’s details when his nickname field is filled in as ‘Dad’? And why does a call from home not just say ‘Home’ – it’s the home number on my personal Address Book entry, after all – rather than ‘Home to Olly Dean and three others’? Wouldn’t that make more sense?

Let me charge from my USB hub. I have a hub plugged into the back of my 360, which powers several devices like my HDMI switch. You’d think, given that the iPhone is generally charged over USB, that I could charge it from that without having to leave my laptop on or go hunting for hen’s teeth a free power socket, but no. I’m not entirely sure why, either. Even if it’s slower than sucking the full power from an active computer, at least let me do it. I don’t care if it takes all night rather than an hour, because I’m not using it overnight.

And now, with that out the way, let the gushing begin… Continue reading iPhone 3G Impressions

Indy IV Impressions

Indy IV Poster22 May 2008 had the potential to be a very, very good day. Still on a high from United being champions of Europe and double winners (again), I had a free trip to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. I wasn’t expecting Raiders, but anywhere from Temple of Doom upwards would have been considered a success in my book. Frankly I just didn’t trust Spielberg’s ability (and George Lucas’s influence) to avoid schmaltz and constant age jokes. Yes, Harrison Ford is old; I’ve noticed.

I was following my usual policy of slight pessimism that I take to anything with ‘George Lucas’ in the credits, with the logic being that you can’t be disappointed when you have low expectations (unless it’s Star Wars Episode III). In this case, keep your expectations realistic and you’ll probably have a good time. Just don’t expect Raiders.

Firstly I’ll address the elephant in the room and say that yes, Ford is old. Apart from one point near the end when I noticed how grey his hair was, though, it was never an issue. He’s still the man and the action is split well between him and Shia LaBeouf, to the point where you never feel like it’s being held back. It feels much more like another Indy film than other recent ‘comeback’ movies – Die Hard 4.0, Terminator 3, Rocky Balboa – ever did for their respective series.

I felt like I was right to be worried about the Lucas/Spielberg effect, though, with a few too many moments where you can picture them talking about how awesome this would be on screen – skip the rest of this paragraph if you’re avoiding spoilers – like that painful Tarzan-swinging sequence, getting off a cliff in a truck via a conveniently placed tree that just happens to drop them gently into the water (straight out of a live action Wile E Coyote cartoon), the swordfight between cars and, most bafflingly, Indy being thrown miles in a fridge without receiving a scratch, the unexplained native tribesmen who are just there (see the graveyard and the end sequence).

The CG animals everywhere had Lucas written all over them, because he was doing the same stuff in the Star Wars prequels. Similarly, everything looked like it was shot on a soundstage with CG coming out of its arse. So much for the back-to-basics stunts and practical effects.

Anyway, you should really skip the next paragraph if you haven’t seen it. While I won’t be specific, I’m about to talk about the ending and the nature of the quest in this film.

The MacGuffin in the Indiana Jones series has always had a supernatural element and this is no different, but it just seemed a bit too ‘out there’ to me. Whereas Raiders and Last Crusade got heavily into theological legends, those could be explained away with something simple like “the wrath of God” or “the cup of Christ”. This one doesn’t have anything that elegant, and there’s a reason why this stuff usually has to be drowned in technobabble to make it work in film. I won’t even start on trying to reconcile it with the religious revelations (the Judeo-Christian god clearly exists in the Indy universe) of the those previous films, because they don’t seem compatible to me.

Overall, I think it’s a good summer action film, made much better by Harrison Ford back in form and the fact that it’s still Indiana Jones. Just know that “swinging with the monkeys” is the new “jumping the shark”.