Tag Archives: PS4

E3 2014 Conference Review

The second E3 is usually when the big guns come out, the developers working on the second wave of games for the new consoles show off their labours, giving us the first proper taste of the games and franchises that will define this generation.

What we got if that was your expectation was a disappointingly conservative showing. Sequels, sequels, sequels, and a stubborn refusal to move on from the 360 and PS3, which is undoubtedly holding things back. Very few surprises and certainly none of the shocks that leave fond memories of fanboy meltdowns. Third-party exclusives haven’t been common for a while, of course, but my god do I ever miss those announcements that one was jumping ship or getting into bed with the enemy. There’s no excitement in platform holders’ conferences when you know that everything shown will be on the rival systems too.

This E3 may have been low on flash, then, but it was up there in terms of substance. It was full of impressive demonstrations of quality games, even if none of them were particularly memorable announcements.

As always, in order of appearance…

Microsoft

As the first to go and arguably the one with the most to prove, Microsoft felt like the one with the most potential for surprises. What it absolutely got right – and it really had to – was the focus on games. MS’s scramble to reposition the Xbox One has been done with admirable speed, and with the bombs like the Kinect-free version out of the way, all it had to talk about was the reason why people liked the first two Xbox systems.

Starting off with Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare felt like a misstep, as that’s a franchise in decline, with nothing to surprise and a disappointing lack of impact. It looked utterly uninteresting even for COD. I’m done with this series, I think it’s safe to say. When the next game was a cross-platform Forza, my will to live was quickly being sapped.

Once through the safe bets, though, there was some great exclusive stuff. Sunset Overdrive is unusual in a number of ways – it’s colourful, a new property, an exclusive, and a game from Insomniac that looks worth playing. Ori and the Blind Forest and Inside look beautiful, though I kind of feel like arty indie platform games are like modern military shooters at this point. The Master Chief Collection is astonishing value – four campaigns and over 100 multiplayer maps – when we’re being charged £55 for versions of The Last of Us and GTA V on the new consoles. I wonder if Crackdown was of its time and should be left alone, but I did adore the first one and will certainly give the new one a chance.

The lack of big surprises and the one more thing that would have topped off Phil Spencer’s turnaround of the Xbox division left me underwhelmed, but since that’s a problem for all three platform holders, I’m not going to hold it against Microsoft. When looking at what was there rather than what wasn’t, it was solid and safe. Nothing more.

B

Sony

Microsoft had patched many of its weaknesses in the weeks leading up to E3, leaving no easy wins like last year’s price and DRM announcements. In the absence of such freebies, Sony was much like Microsoft: lots of solid games, no surprises, little to really get giddy about.

Destiny was the opener – both conferences starting off with an Activision shooter, interestingly – and I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that Bungie’s game hasn’t set the world alight in its recent public showings. The alpha has convinced me that it’s a lot of fun, however, but to watch it on stage, it’s hard to see it coming close to making its supposed $500 million budget back. That white PS4, though. Wow.

The Order: 1866 was the headlining exclusive and hasn’t so far enamoured me – stunning-looking but it’s going to take something spectacular for an over-the-shoulder cover shooter to get me excited. LittleBigPlanet 3 is as uninteresting as the series has been since the disappointing first game. Uncharted 4 looks amazing if that is indeed, as has been stated, a real-time trailer. Bloodborne deserves hype simply for being a new action RPG from Hidetaka Miyazaki, the man behind Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls and whose touch was missing from Dark Souls II.

The return of Grim Fandango was a pleasant surprise, and as ScummVM was a fixture of my modded PSP, so will this be on my Vita. What it represents is also exciting: a sign that LucasArts under Disney hasn’t abandoned its point-and-click legacy in the way that the independent LucasArts seemingly had. Here’s hoping the excellent Monkey Island special editions will soon be getting some company.

Sony’s focus on indies still strikes me as a convenient and politically trendy way to plug the gaps in a thin release schedule. Nonetheless, I’ll take Hotline Miami 2, and assuming it has the gameplay to back up the concepts, No Man’s Sky deserves its accolades. Proof that a game can skimp on budget and development team size without giving up scope and ambition.

B+

Nintendo

Removed from physical E3 conferences as it’s removed from the hardware horsepower race, Nintendo brought its successful Direct format to the show. It worked well, I thought. All the games with none of the annoying, hooting, American crowds.

I’ll discount Smash Bros immediately, since I can’t stand it and find the astronomical hype around it baffling. I’ve bought the last three and still haven’t liked the series since the novelty of a Nintendo fighting game in the N64 one wore off. Following it with a Skylanders equivalent in Amiibo and Nintendo had a poor start in my opinion.

With the kids’ stuff and pretend fighting games out the way, though, Nintendo’s range of new announcements impressed me. Yoshi’s Wooly World gets some more mileage out of those shaders built for Kirby’s Epic Yarn and looks gorgeous, as Yoshi games have tended to through Yoshi’s Island and Yoshi’s Story. I love Nintendo when it gets creative like that a lot more than I do over another Mario Kart or Mario game that isn’t in the style of Mario 64, even if the experiments are not always successful.

The new Zelda is an exciting foray into open-world games – Nintendo being late to the party there again – with a nice art style that straddles cartoony and realistic. I’ll only temper the Zelda love with the caveat that it wasn’t Majora’s Mask 3D, which must surely be coming with the mask sightings increasing in frequency. Nintendo must be doing it deliberately, and I expect that to show up in a Nintendo Direct before too long.

Xenoblade Chronicles X (formerly X), Bayonetta 2, a follow-up to the excellent and underrated Kirby’s Canvas Curse, and Mario Maker, which is infinitely more appealing than another LittleBigPlanet, rounded up a strong line-up of exclusive releases. Hyrule Warriors was there, too, though Dynasty Warriors isn’t usually to my taste, so we’ll see on that one.

The biggest compliment I can give Nintendo is that if I was sitting on the fence and didn’t yet have a current console, the E3 showings would have had me leaning towards a Wii U, even despite the power deficit. Nintendo in HD is as beautiful and varied as we’d all hoped, with a commitment to smooth gameplay and flawless image quality that many third-parties could do with imitating – too bad it’s a generation late. Drop the price a bit more and I’ll happily be buying a Nintendo console for the first time in the better part of a decade.

A-

Perhaps my biggest complaint about E3 2014 is that so many trailers ended with the words “coming 2015”. It seems to me that this year’s biggest releases are GTA V, The Last of Us and Halo 1-4, suggesting that the games industry has finally outdone Hollywood in one respect: while Hollywood milks the 80s and 90s for remakes, gaming does it to last year. That’s a depressing state of affairs.

That’s a lie, actually. My biggest complaint was that Shenmue III wasn’t there. Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo: you’re missing out on an easy win!

Reports of my demise and so on…

It’s funny how getting out of the games media, despite leaving this site as largely my only outlet for writing about games at a time when a long-overdue generational shift has left plenty to talk about, has led to me writing almost nothing. Seriously, apart from last year’s top ten and coming out of retirement for one freelance review, posting on GAF is all I’ve done.

I aim to change that. I’ve given the place a facelift, and now I’m going to be more regular in posting impressions and opinion pieces. Honest.

My biggest dereliction of duty has been nothing about my PS4, as letting the opportunity to post impressions on  a new piece of hardware would once have been unthinkable. I’m more positive than a lot of places have been, being happy with the price/performance ratio and the focus on gaming at the expense of multimedia functionality, which will no doubt come through future firmware updates. It’s nice to have a non-evil Sony back, and I’m even hopeful at the prospect of the benevolent dictator situation that gave us such a great library in the PS2 generation. But maybe that’s from spending too long on NeoGAF.

The biggest criticism of the new hardware has been entirely predictable, as it happens every single generation: no games. I disagree. I loved Infamous: Second Son enough to make it my first platinum trophy, have put over 120 hours into Battlefield 4, and enjoyed Ground Zeroes (don’t pay more than £20), Assassin’s Creed IV, and the freebies from PS Plus. I liked Tomb Raider enough to give that another crack once the definitive version reaches a more justifiable price too. Just don’t be tempted by Killzone; any reviewers who scored it higher than a 5/10 are insane, and Infamous has supplanted it as the essential eye candy.

Admittedly I have been playing the PS3 more than the PS4, but Dark Souls II and Final Fantasy X HD are no mere games. The former captured my interest more than either of its predecessors and will happily be upgraded if the rumoured PS4 version turns out to exist.

But like I said, a software drought happens every generation, so you should at least give it a year before you start worrying. If you bought a PS4 without expecting this, you must be new at this early adopting lark.

In other news, a little over a month from now I’ll be heading to India for a fortnight, spending time in the Himalayas and the desert of Rajasthan. I’m not sure what sort of network access I’ll have apart from the odd forays into towns with Internet cafes, but whether they come before or after my return, this and Twitter will be my main repositories for photos for those at home. I hope you’ll enjoy them.

And no, I still haven’t given up on Shenmue.

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.

PS4

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…

E3 2013 Conference Review

Because you can’t have an E3 conference review without Nintendo, I’m putting today’s Nintendo Direct up against Sony and Microsoft’s conferences. I don’t see it as a disadvantage since a load of games shorn (mostly) of awkward executive banter can only be a good thing.

Without further ado, in the order in which they were shown…

Microsoft

The Xbox One had the most to prove after the disastrous reveal and preemptive clarification of the awful DRM policies, and while this showing won’t make that shadow go away, Microsoft did allay some fears. Not all, but some. Presentationally, Microsoft needs someone with charisma, who you could imagine successfully selling a used car; J Allard and Peter Moore are sorely missed when you’re forced to watch the automatons up there now.

But apart from that, Microsoft’s comfortably topped the other two for games, which is the important thing at these shows. New games from Swery and the Panzer Dragoon chap bring credibility; Insomniac is a nice coup, albeit not up there with Bungie in my book; Quantum Break, which looks like a serious Ghost Trick, intrigues; and, of course, there’s a new Halo, which gets bonus points for referencing Journey; Battlefield 4 looks like matching its superb predecessor; Metal Gear Solid V looked amazing, albeit multiplatform. Those are just the ones that tickled me; there were plenty more.

It’s just sad that Microsoft had to end on a sour note by saddling the hardware with a £429 price tag. That’s £4 more than I balked at paying for a PS3 back in 2007 – and I won’t be paying it for an Xbox One either. So once it has the DRM patched out, a substantially smaller second model released, and gets a couple of price drops, I’m right on board.

B-

Sony

Sony’s a weird one, as it was the conference that left me with the most positive impression, but one that doesn’t last when you really look at what was shown. Its success was down to the messaging, the flawless capitalisation on Microsoft’s missteps. Does the fact that it’s maintained the status quo by not setting out to control what we can do with our games really deserve to be the factor that ‘wins’ E3? I think it shows how low our expectations have become if it does.

(I must say, however, that I haven’t seen a crowd reaction in a press conference like the one to the announcement of no used game DRM. I hope Microsoft was watching.)

Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts III are nice, but Square Enix has forfeited the presumption of quality. We need a couple of releases of PS1/PS2 Squaresoft calibre before I’ll be buying its games regardless of reviews. And as I said, Bungie is a coup and Destiny looks great.

But where was Naughty Dog? Where were all those other great first-party studios? Where was The Last Guardian? Where was anything for the Vita? See what I mean about some notable omissions? I felt like I saw more games at the PS4 reveal back in February, and I pretty much did see as many Vita games.

A solid showing, then, but mainly on the PR front. Thankfully for Sony, that message was good enough to secure my day one preorder.

C+

Nintendo

In shunning the E3 dog and pony show – an approach that has served the company well at the Tokyo Game Show for years now – Nintendo may have set out to lower expections, and I can see why. Mario Kart, Mario, Pokémon, Smash Bros, Donkey Kong Country, The Wind Waker. Notice a pattern? As much as I love Nintendo’s characters, the line-up is depressingly conservative, lacking even the creativity of the GameCube days, where Nintendo published interesting takes on new or forgotten franchises rather than wearing out ideas within a couple of years of their debut.

Nintendo is seemingly a shadow of its former self. Wii U is a sales disaster, third-party support is non-existent, and unlike equivocal successes like the N64 where Nintendo could be counted on to provide classics to make the purchase worthwhile, that’s not happening here. I can see why Nintendo didn’t want to shine the spotlight on this line-up, because it’s worryingly thin.

I’m excited about Bayonetta 2, though, so that’s something.

D

PlayStation 4 vs Xbox One

Although I’ve resolutely been a multi-console owner since at least the 32-bit days, firmly believing that it’s impossible to get the full picture without having access to every game on the market, this is the first time I can remember a generation having such a clear frontrunner for where the best gaming experiences will be found.

In fact, I’ve tended towards the Xbox consoles for the last two generations, opting for the better online experience and typically stronger versions of third-party titles, keeping the Nintendo and Sony boxes for the more interesting first-party games.

PS4 and Xbox One logos

Like many gamers, though, I’ve found myself disillusioned by Nintendo and Microsoft in the home console field. The Wii was a disappointment and the Wii U a non-starter, and the Xbox 360 has been on autopilot since Kinect launched, Halo 4 being a solitary bright spot in period that hasn’t been much better than the non-existent years 4-7 of the original Xbox. Microsoft apparently doesn’t know how to close out a console.

Perhaps Sony is actually suicidal, the only one who hasn’t realised that traditional consoles are dead and therefore heading for catastrophic losses, while hardcore gamers are stuck in their ways and unable to see the conventional gaming model collapsing around them.

Part of me thinks the latter is true and that the AAA model is unsustainable, but that’s another story.

It’s bizarre that Nintendo and Microsoft seem to be surrendering the hardcore market so meekly. Admittedly, the rewards are colossal if you manage to be the one who cracks the code and turns a gaming console into something as essential as a DVD player or DVR, but it’s gamers who supported this industry through thick and thin, and the market was certainly healthier a decade ago when they were being catered to with original, challenging games and there were more than half a dozen publishers.

But let’s not forget that it’s early days. Neither console has many games revealed and Microsoft’s promises of software support are aggressive, as they’ll need to be against Sony’s fleet of world class studios. Sony clearly has the edge in raw power – and that coupled with the aforementioned developers is a formidable mix – but that hasn’t ever guaranteed success in the console market. The industry’s history is littered with superior hardware beaten by its weaker but better supported, better marketed competition. Then again, the last time Sony was so clearly in the driving seat going into a new generation, so on the ball about giving gamers what they want, saw domination like we haven’t seen before or since.

All we know for sure is that this E3 is going to be spectacular.

All consoles need suspend/resume

One of the announcements at the PS4 unveiling that I’ve seen get little media coverage is that it will follow in the footsteps of the DS, PSP, 3DS and Vita by supporting suspend/resume across all games. I suspect the reason for the muted response is simply that people don’t realise what a useful feature it is, and I think it’ll be hard to go back once we’ve got used to it.

PS4 suspend/resume

Strangely, this is a feature that became dear to me immediately before Sony’s announcement, when the reveal of Mario & Luigi: Dream Team led me to dig out the first game on my beloved Game Boy Micro. Years of snapping shut whatever iteration of the DS I’m currently playing has made partaking of an RPG on a handheld without it feel less practical, more difficult to fit into snatched moments of gameplay. As excellent as they are, the ports of the 16-bit Final Fantasy games with their requirement of seeking out save points in towns and dungeons just aren’t designed with modern gaming habits in mind.

Even with my increased willingness to play a long-form game when sat down in front of the TV, finding a suitable place to stop playing feels like it takes annoying liberties with my time, making it impossible to drop out at a moment’s notice without losing progress. Other media don’t do it. Most DVD players remember the position you left off if you switch off during the movie, and TV habits are now built around pausing live TV and resuming recordings where you last stopped them. And now games won’t either.

I’ve seen it written elsewhere that the PS4’s respect for its users’ limited gaming time is its best feature, and I’m inclined to agree. It’s an area where the PS3, with its 20-minute firmware updates, mandatory installations and 500MB patches that lock you out while they download, failed spectacularly, and it’s great to see Sony learning from its mistakes. It’s going one better, not even making downloading the whole game a requirement before you start playing. It never made sense to me that you couldn’t start playing the first level until you’d downloaded the final one, which you might not need for 20+ hours, and now a system’s been designed around fixing that oversight.

While the games were fairly uninspiring at this point – I can’t be the only one who laughed at how they followed Killzone 4, inFamous 3 and a racing game with a speech about “creative risks” – full credit to Sony for the design of the system. The PlayStation 4 looks friendly both to develop for and to play on, with genuinely innovative features that make me, not entirely liking the move away from dedicated gaming systems, want to jump in.

Your move, Microsoft. How many ads are you going to cram onto the dashboard this time?