Tag Archives: Sony

Best of 2015 #5: Until Dawn

Until DawnUntil Dawn seems to attract faint praise, with reviews I’ve read and podcasts I’ve listened to featuring turns of phrase like “best 8/10 game ever” or “Night Trap but not crap”. The thing is, these statements are frequently tempered with a clarification that the game actually is very, very good. It’s what the first wave of ‘interactive movies’ promised to do, minus the bad acting and VCD-quality FMV. And it shows up the games of David Cage as the pretentious nonsense they are, even matching them on the technical level where they admittedly shine.

It’s apparent that I love the same teen slasher movies as the developers, with the films that I came of age watching, like Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer, clearly represented, along with classics old and new. The slow mechanics even make the dash of The Descent that’s in there less annoying than it has invariably been when action games introduce the late-game mutant enemies.

I’ll be interested to see whether Until Dawn keeps its appeal after a few years, when so much of the fun this time around came from chats with friends about your route through the game, who made it to the end in your playthrough and the horrible deaths of the characters that didn’t. Even completionists didn’t always need to chase that perfect run where everyone survives, the game making your one of several hundred permutations feel like yours alone. It’s a linear, narrative-led adventure without feeling as restricted and like a choose-your-own-adventure game as, say, something from Telltale.

I saw Until Dawn available for as little as £15 in the run-up to Christmas, not far off what you’d pay for a new horror movie on Blu-ray. And I guarantee you this will give you more entertainment.

Thoughts on E3 2015

Gone may be the days when I’d spend the entirety of E3 week online, downloading 640×480 videos to burn to CD-R and watching press conferences regardless of the hour, but this year’s left me feeling more positive than most recent ones. Even when the last couple carried the sweet nectar of new hardware to freshen up some tired console lineups, it all seemed strangely uninspired.

Sure, Nintendo stayed true to form and disappointed. But that doesn’t get me down since I got fed up with ploughing that tract long ago now. It’s the regular disappointments, to varying extents, that I’ve suffered from being variously in the Sony and Microsoft camps over the last three years that have got me down. I’m struggling to remember a year when one or the other didn’t stumble since the immortal E3 2006, and having both on top form? You’re back into a time when even Nintendo was worth watching there. Circa 2004, maybe.

Microsoft thankfully grew out of the Kinect years and realised that you can only headline so many press conferences with Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty. It has the feeling of a platform holder that knows what it’s doing again, like it did when people like Peter Moore and Ed Fries were in charge. Great games and, it must be said, a much more impressive 2015 line-up than Sony. That means the Xbox One actually has a 2015 line-up.

Sony, though. The Last Guardian, the Final Fantasy VII remake and, seriously, Shenmue III? All they needed was a surprise Half-Life 3 announcement and we’d be out of long-running development sagas to make fun of. Sony dazzled, and it certainly made for better theatre, but it felt like a distraction from the mediocre PS4 release calendar for the rest of the year.

I guess that makes Microsoft’s conference the cute girl next door to Sony’s international supermodel. The better option, albeit with less razzmatazz, but man, that girl has Shenmue III…

Shenmue III reaction

I’ve never given up hope that Shenmue would get its conclusion, and it seems that my faith has been rewarded.

Shenmue III Kickstarter

It’s funny, though. For years I’d always suggest Shenmue III as a dream E3 announcement as a joke, opening myself to a ribbing, but in the last couple of years it started to feel like a real possibility. Yu Suzuki started to make public appearances more often, dropping hints that were taken as hope by some, trolling by others. He was pictured with Sony’s Mark Cerny at a time when Sony was openly courting developers, and then Suzuki uttered the words “to be continued” after the Cerny-hosted GDC postmortem.

This all left me more disappointed that it didn’t materialise at E3 2014 than I had since 2002. But I still had the feeling that there’s no smoke without fire. Something had changed, even if I wasn’t sure precisely what.

Fast forward to this E3, and this tweet:

Surely he’s not that cruel? Even if Suzuki thought that was just a cool-looking forklift, he knows what people are going to read into that, right? But the seeds were sown, and I started to believe. I put the possibility of Shenmue III somewhere below the similarly MIA The Last Guardian and Final Fantasy VII remake, both of which were all but leaked in the days beforehand, but I went to bed last night with my fingers crossed.

It’s going to seem like I’m making stuff up here, but I genuinely dreamt that Shenmue III was announced last night. It was an MMO in my dream, and I remember seeing all the NPCs in the various neighbourhoods with player handles above their heads.

Sorry, Barney.
I’d like to apologise to my brother for the early awakening.

I then inexplicably woke up at 4:30am – normally it takes a good few runs through the snooze button to get me up when the alarm goes at 7:30 – and checked my phone to see the news on GAF. $300 plus shipping went into the Kickstarter fund immediately. Then came much celebrating and annoyed texts from those I’d bothered with early morning messages. They’ll forgive me eventually.

I’m just absolutely ecstatic. It’s hard to believe that this has finally happened, after all the jokes and teasing aimed at those who’ve been carrying the torch for so long. I’ve spent the morning on Twitter, sharing reactions that mirrored my own, finding out which tiers my Shenmue-loving friends have pledged at. People who remember my old Shenmue website have been emailing me out of the blue to share their happiness too.

What a day.

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.

Best of 2013 #5: The Last of Us

The Last of UsI’m confident that The Last of Us will be sweeping up more than its share of awards this season, so understand that this isn’t an attempt to be contrary. If I’m criticising BioShock Infinite for propping up an ambitious storyline with flawed gameplay, it’s only fair that the current darling of Naughty Dog’s ‘dedicated’ fan base gets the same treatment. The Last of Us suffers from gunplay that hasn’t really improved since Uncharted, occasionally frustrating stealth mechanics, a poor final act, and generally fell foul of my boredom with the whole zombie thing.

But enough criticism. This is a celebration.

Like BioShock, this game hangs an impressive storytelling achievement on that somewhat uninspired skeleton. The Last of Us’s story is downright brave, hitting an early high with its opening sequence and peaking with the horrific winter chapter. The performances of its cast put most games to shame, both in the work of the actors and how they’ve been rendered digitally. In that respect, The Last of Us is the fulfilment of the promise that Uncharted showed within Naughty Dog. The characters are likeable, subtle, understated. They’re like actual human beings.

It’s only my opinion that the actual game side of things lets down the achievements elsewhere that keeps TLOU out of the highest echelons of my list. And if it wasn’t for the need to counteract the more enthusiastic cheerleaders out there, this entry would appear more flattering than it is.