E3 brief thoughts


E3-2016

I’ll get this out of the way right from the off.  Are Sony and Microsoft about to royally shit on us, the games console buying public?  Yes it seems if you have purchased either a PS4 or an Xbox One recently or at all.  You see both companies are basically coming out with vastly improved versions of their consoles that they promise will not effect the existing machines, but really … how can it not?  I spent good money on buying both the Xbox One and PS4 and from day 1 the Xbox One has fallen behind due to a ropey launch and inferior specs compared to it’s rival.  Then for a while it’s been rumoured that Sony were going to announce a PS4.5 or PS4 Neo which would be compatible with 4K televisions and have improved graphics and extra processing power.  Er, Sony … hasn’t the bags full of cash already sent your way from the overwhelming success of the PS4 shown that you don’t need to improve the PS4?  That it already sells??  I can see why Microsoft has done this as it was losing the battle against Sony and struggling with certain multi-platform games, however the PS4 is a big success.  It’s baffling and like with how Sony got arrogant by over-pricing the PS3 at launch, seems like they’ve once again let their success go to their heads.  So yes, Microsoft will be launching ‘Project Scorpio’ towards the end of 2017.  I’m not entirely sure when the PS4 Neo is out, and in the mean time we’re getting the Xbox One S … a slimmed down, redesigned and pretty sexy looking version of their existing console.  Either way as an owner of both machines I am pissed off at the moment.  But I suppose the end of 2017 is a while away yet.

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In other news Sony showcased a rebooted Resident Evil despite it being called Resident Evil VII it was revealed as primarily a first person horror experience not unlike Amnesia.  I think one of the big surprises for me was the reveal of the new God of War … with a bearded, ageing Kratos walking around with what appeared to be his son.  An interesting concept that looked beautifully realised.  As did Horizon: Zero Dawn another PS4 exclusive which was first revealed last year but now we got some actual gameplay and it looked gorgeous.  Also we finally got a release date for the much delayed but highly anticipated The Last Guardian which as a fan of Ico I’m really looking forward to – even if the delays make me nervous of the final game’s quality.

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In Microsoft’s camp we got our first real look at Gears of War 4 which looked sweet.  Very effects heavy section they showcased along with some new weapons.  Nothing to really re-write the rule book but it looked like Gears and that’s good enough for me.  Also they showcased yet another Forza Horizon which I have no interest it – but it was pretty, and some Minecraft VR stuff which was it seemed more of the same from last year.  The big focus for them seemed to be hardware and again indie titles which was a bit tiresome.  Where were the big surprises?  And by surprises I don’t mean basically saying “sorry Xbox One owners, we hate you”.

I can’t say I have really studied e3 this year, as I’ve had other stuff going on but have taken a few brief glimpses of footage and come way underwhelmed.  Yes there are some good things on the horizon but with the hardware announcements mentioned above, also a very uncertain and worrying future as a current gen console owner.

A return to Destiny


Destiny

A while back I played a game called Destiny on my Xbox One.  It’s a game that was heavily hyped leading up to it’s launch in September 2014, and seemed to reach much of that hype on first appearance.  However I stopped playing it shortly after I finished all the single player missions that came with the game.  Recently however and with the prospect of similarly styled online action game The Division – I thought I’d give this another go, especially considering all the DLC that has been released for the game in subsequent months.

So I went ahead and purchased The Taken King Legendary Edition, which also came with The Dark Below and The House of Wolves expansions, and even more excitingly boosted my character’s level to 25.  Levelling up my character was something I had been struggling with when previously playing the game and I’ll admit I didn’t put in the right amount of time to really boost my level and stats.  Over the last week or so I have therefore being having a great deal of fun in Destiny and really appreciating the play style of the game, the various planets to explore and a ton of missions to go on.  The big draw of a game like this is the loot (which is either dropped during gameplay by defeated enemies or rewarded following completion of a mission).  Loot & experience helps improve your character’s abilities, by upgrading and swapping weapons, armour etc. and altering how your characters performs and looks.  It can be a labour of love to mould your character to your play style and make him (or her) as bad-ass as you can.

Destiny vistaNow the other big draw for me also is the sieges in the game where you get thrown into a mission with usually up to two other players and work together to defeat the enemy and again, collect loot.  Now I’m a bit of a novice at what is now being called PVE (player vs enemy) as apposed to PVP (player vs player) and the urge to go in all guns blazing, collect as much loot as possible is addictive even if on one occasion I did a bit of  an online no no by collecting all the loot following a siege and leaving my colleague with nothing …. and they’d done all the best work as I’d kept dying all the time.  I am not proud of this and well, have tried to share and be a better player ever since.

Destiny-Moon

It has to be said also that the look, the level design, the character models and the atmosphere in Destiny should be applauded.  The game looks jaw-dropping at times with epic vistas, creepy dungeons and plenty of effects, superb lighting, impressive water and reflections and a pulse-pounding score making this game feel epic and important.  There has been some talk of Destiny 2 lately, which I think would be a mistake – Destiny was hyped as a constantly evolving online world and just jumping to a sequel barely two years into this games lifespan seems too early.  Give us more DLC Bungle, support the game and let the community and the game world grow to what you originally had in mind.  The game already plays brilliantly – don’t ruin it now.

My character – isn’t he cool?

Destiny Character

The Division beta – impressions


One of the most hyped games for this year has to be Tom Clancy’s The Division, an open-world MMORPG set in a locked down New York after a pandemic outbreak.  I got access to the beta of the game over the weekend after pre-ordering, and I must admit it’s very good indeed.  I haven’t actually managed to partake in some of the much talked about co-op gameplay or the PVP dark zone sections, but just exploring the disaster-stricken New York streets, taking on scavenger gangs and completing side missions as well as the beta’s main mission … has been a lot of fun.

Division beta 1

screenshot captured directly from my PS4

Visually the game has had a bit of a downgrade since the initial E3 reveal but that was to be expected considering the game was first shown before the Xbox One and PS4 were even released.  But with that in mind, how do the visuals stack up in this near-finished version?  Very good indeed actually.  There are a ton of effects at work, impressive weather such as wind & snow considering the game is set at Christmas, and a wealth of detail on buildings, the road, and cars (yes you can still close that car door, folks!).  The lighting is very atmospheric and with what appears to be a dynamic weather and day / night cycle the game shows off it’s true beauty the more you play it.

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screenshot captured directly from my PS4

Gameplay-wise (with similarities to Destiny) you create your character (well, their face and gender but I didn’t do much with this aspect when first booting up the game), and then are introduced to the world, following the storyline of an agent flown into the crisis and having to make his (or her) way to the base of operation – a hub environment that you enhance and develop as you go on missions and complete tasks.  It’s a good idea and one that will mean there’s more than just a develop character / stats excuse to keep on playing.  I wonder if this is the only base of operation or if there will be others in different areas the player can develop?  The core shooting feels good too, with an excellent cover-based mechanic that enables the player to run to various areas of cover very easily, making for some exciting encounters.  The character / NPC designs are very detailed and slickly animated making this game feel very next-gen overall.  I think it will be a game that could become quite addictive also as more missions become available and various quests are discovered.  The enemy characters at this stage seem quite samey (all violent hoodies it seems) but that could change once the game is out and we could get boss fights.  It’s too early to be sure though.

For now The Division is looking to be a solid game to invest a ton of time in so I can’t wait till March 8th!

Rise of the Tomb Raider – impressions


Tomb Raider 1

I have literally just finished Rise of the Tomb Raider, the latest game in the famed franchise starring intrepid explorer Lara Croft.  The previous game, simply titled Tomb Raider was a very well made reboot for the franchise and saw our heroine shipwrecked on an island with more than a few dangers and adventures hidden within.  This game has Lara more as the adventurer we know and love and is more a straight-forward expedition to discover the ‘divine-source’ somewhere in Siberia, following in the footsteps of her father before her. 

rise-of-the-tomb-raider-8Developer Crystal Dynamics have created a very polished and detailed gaming experience that has all the climbing, exploring and ‘tomb-raiding’ you could hope for whilst also crafting a compelling, very well written story and believable characters.  Doesn’t hurt that it looks drop-dead gorgeous throughout.  The visuals on display here, with a wealth of effects and an epic scale are some of the best yet seen on XB1, with realistic rain, wind, smoke, fire, snow and water – also the little details to Lara herself from getting wet and mucky in water to a gradual coating of snow and grime on her clothing is quite something.  She also reacts realistically to climbing, leaping and falling or getting hurt that not for a second do you feel like this is just some videogame avatar, but a real, living and breathing person.  Quite an achievement, carried over it has to be said from the previous game. 

It gets pretty tough in combat, where as outside of getting shot exploring and solving puzzles is more about thinking your way through an area.  The combat however is at times fiendishly unforgiving and if you haven’t got enough bullets or you’re a crap aim or you have run out of bandages, you’re dead.  It’s also mostly set in Siberia apart from an epilogue that has Lara exploring a more sunny climate.  Flashbacks to Lara’s past, glimpses of Croft manor would have benefitted from a bit of gameplay thrown in, but the rest of the game is pretty immense with large open areas to explore and find secrets and hidden tombs in … so I can’t say I felt limited at all.  Also stealth, something that was hyped up (stalking and killing enemies in the forest wilderness) isn’t perfect as with the last game and getting spotted is all too easy…so going in all guns blazing is usually the best plan in the end.

screenshots captured directly from my Xbox One

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This kept my interest throughout, and Tomb Raider has always been gaming crack for me – I just can’t get enough of it.  So this met and exceeded my expectations no doubt. 

An essential purchase.

Update


Movie Night

What have I been up to lately?  Well I can’t recall if I had mentioned this but over the last few months I’ve begun a ‘movie night’ with my Dad.  Each Tuesday we watch a movie and have some popcorn.  It’s nice and also an excuse to get some movie watching in.  It’s not always a new movie though so sometimes I don’t have a review to post afterwards.  Last Tuesday was such a case, as we watched the horror ‘Oculus’ which I previously reviewed.  Again I enjoyed it and my Dad got a lot out of it too.  So in coming weeks you may get to see more reviews, but if there is a lull, it’s probably down to us watching something I’ve already reviewed (I have ‘John Wick’ lined up for Tuesday).

metal-gear-solid-5-the-phantom-painIn other news I have been playing a great deal of Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain.  It’s my first proper stab at a Metal Gear game since Metal Gear Solid 2, and even though I purchased Metal Gear Solid 3, I didn’t play it all that much, and I skipped Metal Gear Solid 4.  What do I think of this latest entry?  Like many games these days, it’s open world and huge, with side quests (ops) and a large storyline that I am only really touching the surface of.  Graphically it’s pretty lush.  The wildlands of Afghanistan are immensely detailed and atmospheric and look fantastic, especially with sand storms, day to night cycle and great textures, lighting and effects – even if the water is a bit last-gen.  I like the concept of mother base too, your hub location where you can build up your army (from kidnapping enemy soldiers) and adding to the facilities for developing better equipment for use in the field.  It’s very absorbing stuff.  It also plays really well.  Metal Gear pretty much invented the stealth genre and the ideas here work superbly, with the Fulton delivery system (the ability to attach a balloon to a knocked out enemy, animal or piece of equipment, and immediately send it back to mother base) proving a great deal of fun.  That’s not to say it’s easy as the game takes no prisoners if you get discovered, and the intelligent enemies will hunt you down and nine times out of ten, end your game swiftly.  I’m having a great time with it, but like I said – it’s still early days.

I also got my hands on Gears of War: Ultimate Editon, which looks great…it was always a very well made shooter and had some good characters and a great concept.  The gameplay hasn’t aged badly at all and you can see how the game has influenced a ton of games since it came out, especially with the rock-solid cover-mechanic and the satisfying gunplay.  Graphically it’s quite a step-up from the original, and the textures, lighting and everything looks really good.  I’d say some of the design; of the characters and levels has moved on a bit, but it’s still worth revisiting.

Garbage-20Other than this, I’m still in run up mode to November, where two things are happening…firstly on November 9th I finally get to see in concert my favourite band of all-time ‘Garbage’ of which it’s a special 20th anniversary tour to celebrate the anniversary of their debut album, and loads of things are happening online at the moment, such as regular updates on the band’s Twitter, Facebook, Periscope and Instagram accounts, as well as a re-release of the album in special packaging, on CD, Vinyl and digital complete with remixes, b-sides and specially re-mastered versions of the individual tracks.  I obviously have stuff pre-ordered, and am looking forward to it a great deal.  Next up is my 40th birthday on the 14th.  Now I’m not big on fuss or attention, it can make me uncomfortable…but hey I’m hitting the big 4-0 so may as well make the most of it.  Not sure what that’s going to be right now, but as I’ll be in London leading up to it, that’s a good a start as any.

On TV I’ve been finishing up season 3 of Orange Is The New Black which has once again been great.  I’m also watching Game of Thrones (currently working my way through season 3) and Australian prison drama Wentworth, which I highly recommend.

orange

I’m sitting here also at the start of a week off from work.  Damn work has felt gruelling of late.  I’ve also got my head in a slightly better place than it’s seemed to have been in a while.  Depression, thoughts of things that have happened to me in the past etc. can linger and it’s easy to wallow in it, but it never does me any good or solves anything … so even though moving completely on seems like the hardest thing to do some days, I’m trying my hardest.  I really am.  Having good work colleagues and a job I enjoy and a good family around me helps a great deal and makes me wake up to myself.

So here’s to relaxing, watching movies, playing games and a few days out.  I’m looking forward to it!