Tag Archives: PlayStation

Days of Play and the costs of digital distribution

This month marks Sony’s annual Days of Play sale, and I’m seeing lots of European digital PS5 owners expressing disappointment at the small discounts on offer. Demon’s Souls, a remake that’s now six months old? £60.89. Bargain.

But I have to ask. What did you expect?

This isn’t America, where there’s borderline price-fixing on retail game releases. The benefits of convenience are slightly more understandable when you’re paying $70 no matter where you buy.

Here, in Europe, we have actual competition on pricing, which means physical games are almost always cheaper and drop dramatically much faster. It’s been the case for years, going back to annual price wars in supermarkets over each year’s FIFA or Call of Duty selling the games for below cost.

I remember it being cheaper for us to load up the Video Game Centre with copies of Grand Theft Auto IV from Asda than to buy them from the distributor.

And as a result, digital buyers are paying a premium for what? The convenience of not having to swap discs? Great. I’ll suffer the walk to the shelf and keep the option to sell a game if it turns out to be shit, thanks.

I always assumed it was some deal to keep the retailers sweet by not undercutting them. But now that Sony and Microsoft both sell systems without disc drives and I think it unlikely that the next generation will have discs as an option at all, we’re seeing that, with much of their install base over a barrel and so even less incentive to discount, they won’t.

I’m trying to think of another entertainment industry where the platform holders have pushed to digital and no only blatantly just pocketed the savings on manufacturing, distribution and retailers’ margins but actually increased prices. And it boggles my mind that so many people defend it.

I have almost all modern music, including all the new releases, at the tip of my finger for £9.99 a month. Thousands of movies to stream for a similar cost, and digital 4K versions routinely on sale for under a tenner. Games, though? £70 for Returnal. Good luck with that.

Something has to change. Hopefully, Microsoft’s Game Pass is showing the way of the future, because £70 a game with no demo and no returns isn’t it.

Meanwhile, I just got physical copies of Ghost of Tsushima and The Last of Us Part II for less than the digital version of Tsushima alone. I’m buying physical games as long as the option exists.

Jedi: Fallen Order is my favourite Souls game

While many complain about the dearth of PS5 software – not sure what they expected, given the way new consoles work – I’ve been using mine to partake of some of the best games of the last few years, many of which I skipped due to indifference or poor performance on my launch PS4.

Ratchet & Clank was OK (and free!), Titanfall 2 was superb (also free!), and now I come to another Respawn Entertainment game: the awkwardly punctuated Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order.

I’ve got so many screenshots that are just me in a high place, admiring a beautiful vista like this.

Fallen Order barely has an original bone in its body. The developers have borrowed freely from Metroid, Uncharted and the Souls series in particular – all classics, to be sure, but if originality is important to you, there’s not much of it here. Even Force powers don’t really do much more than The Force Unleashed did years ago, or any more recent action games with telekinetic heroes.

But, frankly, I’ve always been enough of a Star Wars fan that ‘something good but now it’s in the Star Wars universe’ is a winning formula for me, and none more so here. If I’m going to occasionally get spanked by random mooks, better a Scout Trooper or Nightbrother than some skeleton, I say. Mercifully, bonfires meditation circles are more liberally distributed here, though.

I spent the whole game with BD-1 in Gulf livery, because why wouldn’t you?

And think about those climbing sequences in Uncharted, but now it’s a crashed Venator-class Star Destroyer, and being spotted devolves into actually enjoyable combat rather than a Naughty Dog gunfight. There’s even that Shadow of the Colossus boss where you climb up his beard, only now for some reason it’s an AT-AT.

One moment where I’d choose Kow Otani’s score over John Williams’.

And you know how netting new abilities in Metroid unlocks new areas in previously explored zones? This does that, but new Force abilities are accompanied by flashbacks to Jedi training.

Plenty of Star Wars fan service, too, though not obnoxiously so. You get to play through a formative moment in Cal’s past and Star Wars lore, and it follows Rogue One and Rebels in its brilliantly terrifying treatment of an iconic villain. It even confirms a fan theory that links The Clone Wars and The Force Awakens.

Silly hair, slightly derpy face, but a good performance had me liking Cal Kestis by the end. Strong supporting cast too.

Nostalgia isn’t all it has to lean on, though – which, frankly, is more than can be said about a lot of post-Disney Star Wars. All of these pilfered ideas are executed with quality and the same eye for the cinematic that made Titanfall 2’s campaign so impressive.

There’s a next-gen update for Fallen Order coming in June, so if you’ve so far missed out and are desperate for something to play on that new hardware, it gets my hearty recommendation.

The PS5 saga

Peanut standing guard
Peanut standing guard

I’ve been buying most consoles at launch since the N64, when Nintendo brought its console to these shores with an initial shipment of only 20,000 machines, and I was able to walk into an independent retailer (remember those?) on a random Saturday a couple of months before launch and put my name down.

An optimist can take the current absurd difficulties in getting hold of a PS5, now three months after launch, as evidence of how the industry has grown since then, but I’ve never seen anything like this. Even the absurdities of the PS2 hype cycle didn’t feel this bad.

The truth is almost certainly a perfect storm of factors causing shortages and supercharging demand. It’s a pandemic, so people are stuck at home and looking for new toys. Also, it’s a pandemic, so manufacturing and logistics have been severely affected. Furthermore, it’s a pandemic, and chip shortages are affecting everything from GPUs to in-car entertainment systems, and no doubt consoles as well.

And, notoriously, this particularly high demand means scalpers abound, and this time more than ever they’re packing bots that can seemingly order dozens of machines while mere humans are still loading the page.

I actually skipped out on the launches of the new consoles this generation, mainly due to being in the middle of moving house and so occasionally having less than no money. I rather naively expected to be able to waltz onto Amazon come February or March and be able to grab one whenever.

This proved optimistic.

I’d followed a number of Twitter accounts and Discord servers that shared intelligence on incoming shipments, and eventually managed to purchase one from Game. I missed out in the initial wave, but grabbed one in the third of the day, after they’ve filtered out the bots and repeat buyers.

But then, an hour and a half later, this same system filtered me out and they cancelled my order. That or, I suspect, they simply oversold their stock.

A couple of days later I managed to get an order in with Very. Unlike Game, Very charged me, so I thought I was safe. But then, like Game, Very cancelled my order. They held onto my money for an expensive PS5 bundle for almost a week after that so yeah, I’ll be avoiding Very in future.

At this point, I was increasingly despondent and even chanced a couple of eBay bids as the average selling price – currently about £200 above RRP – approached what I was willing to pay.

But then, last week, I happened to be looking at my phone when this tweet pinged a notification.

Some of the prominent alert services missed this one, so on the off chance, I checked Smyths’ disc consoles as well. They were in stock and I ordered one without trouble. It was such a low-key drop that people on Discord were questioning whether it even happened.

In other words, I love Smyths now. I’ve always liked them in the absence of Toys R Us and for their convenient location in Bournemouth, but my feelings are now more romantic in nature.

The PS5 is lovely. Not to look at – it’s an ugly abomination – but in its performance and the visuals it can put out. My launch PS4 has not kept pace with the ambitions of developers nor modern TVs, meaning anything recent on my 65″ OLED runs like a PowerPoint presentation on a hazy day, with the audio accompaniment of a jet engine.

This one, though? I’ve never seen such pristine image quality. Close-ups in Spider-Man: Miles Morales look absolutely flawless, with no aliasing, shimmering or any undesirable artefacts like that, and all in 4K, HDR, 60 frames per second. With ray-traced reflections in people’s eyes.

It’s astonishing – certainly the most impressive generational leap in a while, assuming you have the TV to get the most out of it.

Those screenshots are 15MB each in full quality PNG, incidentally 😬

It’s early days on this generation, though, and it’s looking like COVID-related developments will have taken a belated toll on numerous 2021 releases – Gran Turismo 7 has slipped in the last few days and rumours are swirling around Horizon: Forbidden West – so that post-launch lean period could be longer than usual.

At least I’ve got all those PS4 games that I’ve stopped playing in the last couple of years because they ran like arse. Like Shenmue III… 🤔

Retrospective: Silent Hill

Much of my gaming time over the last couple of months has been spent compensating for this generation’s dearth of creativity by delving deep into the back catalogue, saying goodbye to hardware backwards compatibility by enjoying some of my overlooked classics on the PS1 and PS2. One of these was the original Silent Hill, perhaps not afforded the credit it deserves in the wake of its admittedly better, more widely ported sequels, and certainly in the shadows of Resident Evil in the PS1’s survival horror canon, but one worthy of revisiting.

Silent Hill

As you’ll see above, it’s also responsible for possibly my favourite screenshot ever. (Courtesy of the Silent Hill Wiki.)

Despite its formidable reputation, I didn’t find Silent Hill scary. Its reputation for creeping psychological horror seemed overstated, with nothing that had me cursing it beyond a couple of cheap jump scares – an unexplained window breaking or sound of unseen objects clattering to the floor. Perhaps it’s too difficult nowadays to look beyond the rough edges and see a vicious creature torn from a tormented psyche when they look more like melted cake ornaments. Low-poly ones at that.

Shorn of what is arguably its raison d’être, though, Silent Hill is still worthy of your time. Firstly, a well-documented bug in the PS3’s backwards compatibility and some mixing issues aside, it’s one of the earliest games to have impressed me with its sound design. Akira Yamaoka’s dissonant soundtrack complements the Lynchian weirdness wonderfully and, along with the unsettling industrial sound effects, is by far the aspect of the game that has aged best.

When Silent Hill was re-imagined as Shattered Memories, it dropped combat entirely. This led me to believe that the combat, so often the weak point in games that aspire to more than action, would be terrible, but it’s really not. Ammo is scare enough to be valuable without discouraging you from pulling the trigger when necessary, and relying on melee combat is actually a realistic proposition. Simply by not having combat be a total drag, it outdoes most survival horror games, which is intended to be higher praise than it might sound like.

Not a life-changing classic, then, but another example of a clever, original franchise that has devolved into shooting and jump scares in this generation. People banging on about the depressing frequency with which this has happened may be getting tiresome, but you know how publishers can make us desist? Stop doing it.