Monday, March 17, 2014

Updates, Release Dates, and a date that will live in infamy... (Warframe, Watch_Dogs, inFamous 2nd Son)

Another busy two weeks in video-game world, some of which I already hinted at, and will now wrap up next to some not-so-new news:

Warframe on PS4 got an update. I mentioned that, somewhere. Now, with Warframe, Updates are always a bit of a celebration, since the already intolerable community, as behooves a game community, always wants everything, right now, and then a lot more of that. And Warframe has that little problem of its PC version getting more frequent updates, and those a lot sooner. Nobody cares why, but they bitch like there's no tomorrow.

Okay. Update 12. Updates on Warframe usually bring content. New Frames, new Weapons, new game modes, and maybe a new event. This one had it all, but that's not really the point. My point. You can read all about what it brought on the official release notes of the update here. The subtle changes are the stars here. And those stars are shiny. When Warframe debuted on the PS4, it was fun. Complicated, buggy and pretty weird, yes, but fun. It wasn't pretty, though.
Now, it is. Digital Extremes have added a lot of polish in this latest update, textures, effects, even new animations. Along with a revamped HUD (I still have to get used to), something akin a game manual that is actually in the game, hugely improved resource management and mod-"crafting" system, it's an overall improvement in User Convenience that is quite astonishing, really. And very welcome. Sure, there are still some frame-rate dips, but less so than you might expect with dialed up graphics. That did introduce an almost constant but mostly negligible screen tearing issue, though.

But even with those issues, it's a tremendous update to push Warframe out of its obvious Beta state on PS4 and into a game that could very well tide you over until Destiny arrives.

Look and See (but make sure to click the HD button on the bottom right):

Next up, Watch_Dogs. As in, yes, it's coming. There is a Date! Do you remember Watch_Dogs? That game where Smartphones take over the world? Well, Chicago, but still. A man and his Phone fighting injustice. With a lot of hacking, some guns, a baton, cars and streetlights. It was supposed to release even before the next-gen launch, but delayed, until some days ago, indefinitely. Now, the wait is... not over, exactly, but the end is in sight: May 27th 2014. In that respect, as a little reminder, here`s the recent story trailer to freshen up your Watch_Dogs frenzy:

Now, you noticed, didn't you? The graphics? Kinda... meh. And not really as "Wow" as last year`s E3 gameplay demos. As it happens, you're not the only one. The internet, especially neogaf, went completely bonkers - that`s a British medical term for shit-fuck-crazy, by the way. "Downgraded graphics" was the phrase of the day.

Maybe in response, maybe in expectation, there was a Live Stream Interview Q&A with the devs on Twitch two days later, on March 7th. Which, unsurprisingly, was instantly audio- and chat-hacked. The first 30 seconds of sound were looped, combined with the audio of a, presumably Canadian since French, Volkswagen commercial, and hundreds of "people" asked in the chat what Ubisoft's problems with Transvestite Girls is.

The chat-free and clean-audio version you can watch here in full (be warned, though, there's no gameplay beyond what can be seen in trailer above; but you will notice how they start over), but to sum it up, this is what happened during the delay (or not):
  • The graphics have not changed or suffered. The story trailer was simply to show the story, not the graphics. However that makes sense.
  • The systemic environment got an overhaul to really get working as flawless as possible. Watch_Dogs boasts a complete systemic environment, where everything you do effects the world around you, and those effects ripple through the complete game world.
  • Hacking on the move and targeting got an overhaul, to make it easier and more intuitive to interact with your environment even in high-pressure situations.
  • There was no additional content added during the delay - except maybe a few costumes and little animations. The main objective for Ubisoft Montreal was to make the experience they promised.

Some more interesting points:
  • The Multiplayer, where people can enter your game to hack-steal some data from you, is not about killing each other. It's about observation, hacking, hide-and-seek and escape.
  • You can play completely offline if the "I think someone's watching me" Multiplayer is too much for you.
  • The windy city has weather that people, objects and the player character will react to naturally and coherently.
  • That Canadian chief designer sure is a kidder.
  • You cannot make friends with crowd NPCs - or do some sexting (that`s hot-and-heavy texting, you know). You can use hacked personal info to distract enemies with inappropriate messages, though.
  • It will release on May 27th, for all major platforms. That's not the Wii-U.

And, lastly, with the impending release of the highly anticipated inFamous: Second Son, IGN had a 3 hour live-stream with gameplay from the game. And there's really no need for words with three hours of the game present. Well, okay.
The Dude runs weird. And the guy playing is not that good. But overall, it looks amazing. The in-game Seattle looks huge, and the claim is, as always in inFamous games, that everything you see you can reach, climb and jump down from.

But enough words, for now. Here's where the video does the talking (and the people talking on the video).

For all your PS4 or Xbox One needs, especially the European needs, head over to Amazon UK - best deals in Europe (mostly). For TV or Movie Streaming needs, as well. Yes, I do buy there myself. Exclusively. Unless I find a better deal, elsewhere...

Friday, March 14, 2014

Zombies... again? Yes, but Interactive!

Zombies! Yay!
As my last post hinted at, there's a new Zombie Game out for PS4: Dead Nation: Apocalypse Edition, a revamped version of the PS3 game from 2010, including that game's DLC. Which makes it the Apocalypse Edition. Obviously.

1942 - in 1985
Finnish Developer Housemarque might be best known among the PS4 crowd for PS4 Launch-Title Resogun, an apparently very addictive game I completely failed to understand. I played Resogun once, kept throwing the to-be-rescued humans to their death, and moved on to something else. Maybe it's because I am old enough to have actually played Space Invaders and 1942 at the Italian Arcades I spent most of my time in during our family holidays, but I don't see the novelty.
This was the beginning...

It's possible Resogun might grow on me, but it's just as possible I had already outgrown it.

Anyway, Dead Nation is a completely different animal - because: Zombies! God, I am tired of Zombies. I had had my fill shortly before all the hype began back in... 2002 or something. I will even come right out and say I don't like the Walking Dead TV series. Sure, when there's zombies it's fun, but all that soap-opera drama? No way, Jose!

Dead Nation, however is fun. It's one of those "isometric camera" games, which is not quite top-down, but more of an "elevated, yet slightly drunk, observer that occasionally hangs his head and nods off" camera. And while everything that happens on screen is a bit smallish, it looks and works quite well.
You move with one stick, you aim with the other. You shoot, throw grenades and flares and stuff, open boxes and trunks of cars for money to buy stuff - including that throwable stuff, but mostly weapons and upgrades. Oh, and you kill a lot of zombies. With guns, grenades, beating their brains in or using the environment. Shoot a car, it will explode. Shoot a car with a car alarm, and it will first attracts zombies, then explode. And since the main goal - besides killing zombies and surviving - is to get as many points as possible for life-changing bragging rights, you'll soon start to try and set-up combos, whether lining zombies up for a "charged, and thus capable of multiple head-shots" Rifle shot, or luring a pack of zombies into a car-alarm bomb. Of course, there's a risk to that, as every time you take damage, it will lower your Combo-Counter.

And so quickly do you have the recipe for an addictive experience. Add in Leaderboards, A Friend-Challenge Menu, Two-Player Online and Offline Co-Op, several game modes and difficulties, a good variety of weapons and armor pieces, sterling graphics and lots of zombie-killing-fun (that`s a lot off add-ins), and you already have an entertaining, albeit somewhat repetitive, way to kill some time, alone or with a buddy.

But, hark. There's more.
Watching other people play videogames has, apparently, become a legitimate pastime some time ago - when I wasn`t looking. And I don't mean joining a buddy on the couch to give completely obvious and excruciatingly annoying commentary to his gameplay, hoping against hope that you will annoy him enough to let you play. No, for the pathological online, there's whole gaming streaming services, like It's a novel concept for me, and I don't claim to understand - or see the appeal. But lots of people do. Enough for a gaming streaming service to exist, at least.
Streaming games is a concept that both next-gen consoles readily embraced. And the PS Companion App even updated to feature a browser for PS4 games being streamed right at any moment.

But Dead Nation: AE pushes that concept a bit further. If you stream your gameplay live on Twitch, playing the "Broadcast +" game mode, your viewers, via twitch chat, can actively alter your game. There are over 30 different "votable" effects on your gameplay, and viewers get a choice of two at a time, one positive, one negative.

Of course, with all the jerks you inevitably encounter on the world-wide-web, getting something positive is rather... rare, I would say. Then again, the viewers that voted for horrible things to happen to you will make a named appearance as a zombie in the game soon thereafter, and if there ever was a perfect opportunity for a flamethrower Zom-B-Q... Oh, didn't I mention that? Yes. There`s a flamethrower :)

Now, if all that still didn't get you hot and bothered, that's cool. But since it's free with PS+, and as PS4 owners pretty much all have PS+ to play online, well, what would be the harm in downloading and trying it? Look, I even made a video of the first mission, just for you:

For all your PS4 or Xbox One needs, especially the European needs, head over to Amazon UK - best deals in Europe (mostly). For TV or Movie Streaming needs, as well. Yes, I do buy there myself. Exclusively. Unless I find a better deal, elsewhere...

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Thievery, Zombies, and a shiny (but sinister) Future...

Where stuff happens!
It's been an interesting, and very enjoyable, two weeks on PS4. The long hoped-for Thief Remake made it's debut (on PC, PS4 and Xbox One), then F2P title Warframe drastically improved its look with new PS4 Update 12.0, and just a few days ago, addictive, top-down Zombie-Shoot-Fest Dead Nation: Apocalypse Edition made its way into everyone's PS Plus Instant Game Library - for free. Plus, other stuff.

And yes, the order of the Headline is intentionally chronologically incorrect - it's for dramatic purposes. And attention. Definitely attention. In fact, the whole headline is incorrect, as I will only be looking at Thief this time around.

So, let's start with Thief. Which, due to its extremely ambiguous title (Thief), was apparently expected to be an action title. At least, that's what it seems like, reading some of these reviews. "The combat is clunky, and facing more than one opponent becomes quite difficult," or some such could be read all over the net. And while this is, at least partly, quite accurate, there is a distinction between a Thief and an Assassin. Starting with the name. Obviously. One is supposed to be sneaky. The other, efficiently lethal, with "sneaky" being mostly optional.

And just to get it out of the way, yes, Thief looks and feels a lot like Dishonored. Prettier, and maybe a bit more shallow, but there are differences. Efficient Lethality being one of them.
The settings of Thief and Dishonored are quite similar: 18th Century Steam Punk World, a sinister Ruler, a plague in the streets, and a dark, brooding protagonist. In the case of Thief, that man is Garret, Master Thief with memory issues, inadvertently becoming the linchpin in an ever revolving, and very sinister, conspiracy. There's stealth and sneaking, ranged combat and Melees, story missions and side missions, and lots of places you never need to go to finish the game, but would be amiss to not visit at least once.

What's different is, Garret is not a killer. "Steel and Thieves don't mix well", he says. "Are you going to use those shadows?", he asks. Despite the misleading, action-heavy title (Thief), the game tries very early on to impart to you a certain attitude, which can be summed up by: "If you have to hit, hit quietly." Yes, that does sum it up, you nay-sayers. It's one of those "reading between the lines" things.
"If you have to" implies it's not strictly necessary, but an option. "Quietly" intimates that big and raucous bar-brawl melees might not be in your own best interest. Because you're a Thief. It's like a common theme throughout the game (that game being named Thief). And thieving is what it does best. No, not that kind. Fine, it might "borrow" from Dishonored, but Dishonored in turn "borrowed" a lot from the original Thief games, which makes it a bit confounding to ascertain exactly who the egg and who the chicken is, here.

The Stealth mechanics are solid, the movement fluid, the thievery often exhilarating. The enemy AI is mostly competent, but, sadly, still pretty confined in their ways. What combat there is, is a bit repetitive, but it works well enough for something that is clearly meant to be avoided.
 "Repetitive" is a thing with Thief, though, but in a slightly weird way. Weird, in that part of the things you do over and over again are great and a lot of fun, while it is the movement through the city from one objective to another, that can definitely become a bit tedious after the 10th time. And the fact, that apparently every small path between crates or something else you can squeeze through has one support beam you have to move out of the way by tapping a button, is quite annoying, at least to me.

And yet, that beam is preferable to the unfortunate prevalence of loading screens when moving between areas of the City. It's not as bad as Dishonored, but it's close. The loaded areas are bigger in Thief, and feel a lot more... well, alive, for the most part, but with this generation of consoles being the "next-generation" after all, it's not something you'd expect from a game of only 21 GB.

Especially looking at the not so much jaw-dropping visuals. Thief really shines when it's dark and gloomy (Ha!), with ominous and coherent lighting, but up close things get clunky. Then there's the lack of really interactive objects. While some bottles can be picked up, and some more glass wares destroyed by arrows (sadly, excluding windows of any kind), the majority are indestructible and/or immovable filler material.

Some things you think you should be able to climb you simply can't, and the wonderful rope arrow needs a very special kind of crossbeam to work.

And then there are the bugs. Nothing world changing or game-breaking (yet), but they are a bit annoying at times, mostly because they do rip you out of the immersion that is so essential to enjoying the game.

Thief is not the prettiest or the biggest or the most unrestricted "mini-sandbox" game, ever. But what it is, is a very immersive, and very gratifying, First-Person Stealth experience. It lives from exploration and experimentation, with an addictive sense of discovery - and the Thieving is simply exciting. Finding a hidden trigger in a bookshelf or behind the frame of a painting, in the few more seconds that the guards are distracted by the now dark and damp fireplace you just shot a water arrow into, is quite a blast, really.
Not to mention the superpowers. Yes, there are powers, like a sort of "Important-Stuff Vision", additional eyeball zoom, quicker lock-picking and slo-mo targeting, but I never played with any of that.

Which brings us, neatly, but by total accident, really, to the wonder of custom difficulty. There are a lot of options, from the above mentioned eschewing of your Focus-Powers to Alerts or Damage causing instant Game Over to no checkpoint saves to no aiming reticule to... oh, well, you get the point. If you want the challenge, try experimenting, but be warned: Those options can only be set and changed when starting a new game, and finding out after 15 hours that you cannot work without knowing where exactly your bow is aimed, is a bit of a drag.

The way I play it? Master Difficulty, No Focus Powers, Damage results in Game Over, Only Specialty Arrows. And, as a further tip for the immersively interested, I turned off the interaction prompts in the graphics menu. It makes looking for and finding hidden switches a lot more gratifying, if there's no huge "Over Here" button prompt once you get close to anything. Not using the Mini-Map (you can switch that on and off with a simple D-Pad Down press), is another thing to add to the feeling of genuine exploration. Just don't expect to find everything on every mission, though. Even feeling like you had a complete and proper look around will most likely net you only half the special collectibles hidden in safes and chests around the game world. But don't be disappointed - be encouraged to know, that there is still so much more to discover.

Discovery is the word, really. I'm about 30 hours into the game, and I have just about finished a bit
less than half the story missions. I did a lot of stealing and exploration though, about 10 small and three bigger side missions, and playing with my constraints, necessarily adds definitive (but forced) replay value - since I'm also going for a "no man or animal touched" and "no alarms or detections" playthrough. And once that is done, there's the Challenge mode (I never played), which will probably get some DLC maps, to chase high-scores by chain-stealing or finding hidden stuff, real quick like. As I said, 30 hours, about half the game. But then again, my first Dishonored playthrough took over 55 hours, so if that`s your kind of thing, you will know what I mean.

Dishonored was an amazing game. Thief is not quite up there when it comes to deep and varied gameplay, but is undoubtedly the superior stealth experience. The higher the challenge, and the smaller the help you accept from the game, the more wonderful the experience.

Don't expect a First Person Assassin's Creed. Don't expect Dishonored 2. Don't expect medieval Splinter Cell or Hitman: Absolution. Your job is to steal - and that's best kept in the shadows.

Know your role, and Thief won't pick your pocket. And while the console versions are not really a "steal", it's still well worth to rob your piggy-bank.

So, I was forcing it a bit, there. I got excited.

But, here's some gameplay, for those still interested:

And, as you can see: First, it's dark. Maybe too dark, and I don't know why, really. Second, turning off the Interaction Prompts and Loot Glint in the Options/Graphics menu turns "walking quickly around, looking for prompts" into "searching slowly and thoroughly for whatever you can find or interact with". It's a completely different experience, and, if I may say so, a better experience.

For all your PS4 or Xbox One needs, especially the European needs, head over to Amazon UK - best deals in Europe (mostly). For TV or Movie Streaming needs, as well. Yes, I do buy there myself. Exclusively. Unless I find a better deal, elsewhere...