Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Titanfall - the closest to a 'Halo' like multiplayer shooter experience on Xbox One

I will admit, I was initially doubtful of Titanfall. Having tried the beta last year, it didn't feel right to me. I tried it on PC at the time and I had a few minor gripes:

- Your Titan went down pretty quick in the beta. 
- There was this weapon called the 'Smart Pistol' which shoots enemies without aiming
- The parkour didn't feel very critical to the gameplay (at the time)

Couple that with the knowledge I had that it won't have a single player campaign, and I ended up dismissing the game entirely. 

So when it finally came out on Xbox One  I wasn't the first in line to buy it. In fact, I bought Titanfall during the recent Black Friday sale where it cost $13 to buy the game, the season pass and all the map packs together. It's a huge steal at that price, so I went ahead and picked it up.

Now note that I picked up this game after I had played the much hyped Destiny from Bungie Studios, Battlefield 4, and Halo Master Chief Collection. These other FPSes were good in their own way, but each one irritated me a bit with their multiplayer implementation:

- Destiny - requires you to grind to be formidable in multiplayer. You can't really have several characters that are viable for multiplayer UNLESS you play all of them religiously....it's a huge time sink and with my priorities to my family and job, I can't give the amount of time needed to have a character worthy of multiplayer. You always have that niggling feeling your character is dying because of equipment or lack of skills. Which is pretty irritating. And the netcode is just OK; not terrible, but not the greatest either. 

- Battlefield 4 - quite laggy when I tried it. Maybe it improved now but I've already sold the game. 

- Halo Master Chief Collection - the single player is excellent, but the multiplayer...oh the multiplayer. Why doesn't it work!!!?? This is a true tragedy for FPS games. This is like the granddaddy of all the multiplayer games we have now on console. And 343 really botched it by overpromising and underdelivering. The list of issues for multiplayer for Halo MCC never ends and it seems to me that it only favors players in the USA right now (in terms of getting you connected to other matches). Maybe I'll blog about this in the future but I'm not very pleased with 343 Studios right now. 

Now, back to Titanfall. This little game that I thought I would just spend around 10 minutes with (for the price i got it for) has now spent about 20 or so hours of my time. And it is glorious. 

This is, i think, the BEST ONLINE MULTIPLAYER SHOOTER ON CONSOLE today. And there's only one reason for this:

The netcode.

Titanfall's netcode is possibly the best netcode I have ever experienced on a first person shooter for consoles, ever since Halo 2 or Halo 3 on the original Xbox. I don't remember feeling like the fights are unfair, or that lag is making me die faster than the other players. 

Titanfall boasts that they use dedicated servers to accomplish this, and once you experience it, it's something else. It's the gold standard of the multiplayer FPS experience. You shoot something, it will get hit, and it will probably die when you expect it to. You get shot at, and you won't die so quickly if your connection is terrible. In my case, I don't really live in the best place for internet connectivity (Philippines) so my bar was set pretty low for a multiplayer-only FPS on console. That's actually the reason I didn't even consider it when the game launched. How would I enjoy an FPS with no single player in a country that has terribly bad internet in the first place? 

And after having played this for 20 hours, with netcode this good, they've made a believer out of me. The netcode and the dedicated servers completely change the game and make this far, far better than the games I've already played now on the new current-gen (Xbox One). 

Other things I love about the game:

- The titans don't die as easily anymore. 
- It seems the smart pistol isn't as strong as the beta version. 
- Parkour-ing genuinely feels right and very useful for handling various situations. 
- the ridiculous amount of action on screen when there are titans, pilots, grunts and all the effects going off everywhere at a smooth, consistent 60FPS. 

I feel pretty sorry for not buying this when it was still 'hot' now. That said, it still has a healthy user base. Probably not as huge as Call of Duty AW's installed base, but enough to get in a game in seconds. 

Yes, seconds. I am so amazed at how they handle matchmaking. They get you in a game very, very fast, and there's practically no waiting, even in a server that's not very populated. I'm not sure how they did this, it's almost as if they warped the time-space continuum to accomplish it but it's brilliant. They get you in any game if they can't get in you in a start section for a match, and once you get in, it just works. 

It's really all about the shooting, whether you shoot at AI grunts, enemy pilots....this game just looks and feels right as a multiplayer shooter. And the Titans add a lot of depth and complexity to encounters since you have to watch out for them and use the environment to your advantage. It seamlessly moves between indoors, outdoors, high elevation, low elevation....just amazing. And a lot of epic moments can happen while you play. Even ejecting out of your titan after a heated fight can be exhilirating every time it happens, because there is just so many possible interesting scenarios that can occur. There was one scenario where I was shooting another titan, we both ejected, then i chased after the pilot in that titan, then won the firefight with him. There was another where the titan i was fighting had ejected, and as the pilot was in the air, i shot him down and got the kill. There's many moments just like this and when it happens to you, it feels cinematic, it feels good, it feels like something you cant get out of any other game right now. 

Unfortunately, Titanfall came out in March 2014, and because of this, a lot of media outlets are going to ignore nominating this game for shooter of the year. I think this game deserves it. It has set the gold standard for multiplayer shooters in terms of netcode, performance and sheer excitement / FUN you can get out of every game you play. Destiny shouldn't win the honor of shooter of the year. Yes you get 300+ hours out of it, but what exactly are you doing in those 300 hours? Grinding for items and you don't get a good item every time? Diablo handled that better. Destiny doesn't deserve recognition for bad design in extending game longevity. Titanfall, however, does deserve it, for the consistently amazing online experience, and I doubt any new player is going to come off playing Titanfall without enjoying it on their first run, or without getting some awesome experience they'll never forget.

Titanfall IS the best multiplayer shooter of 2014.




Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Xbox One does NOT require Internet; local Philippine stores spreading false stories about Xbox One

I read online that (unfortunately) most people are still not aware about all the changes that MS implemented for the Xbox One since E3 2013. As we all know, E3 2013 was a disaster for Microsoft and it permanently tainted their reputation with a lot of gamers.

I do follow the news daily and I know that Microsoft has made amends. I think more people have to know that a lot of their policies were already changed, even before they actually released the Xbox One in the marketplace.

What irritates me a bit is how one of the local stores, Datablitz, seems to be promoting these false notions. I heard that their clerks would tell potential buyers that the Xbox One requires a patch every week, and, in native tagalog, they would say "yan ang sakit nung Xbox One"....which is a really stupid, incorrect thing to say. Do their sellers know the products that they are selling? Do they even want to sell them and make any money? Regardless of what platform they favor, it's a pretty stupid thing to say when you're trying to make a sale, when you spread false information.

At the very least they have to keep updated with what's going on in the console game business. I find it ridiculous that they're still spouting these falsehoods long after most of the more informed gamers have read about these facts on the Internet. All it takes is a simple google search.

Sadly, there would probably be a lot of players who don't follow the news on games daily and will be misled by what Datablitz store clerks would tell you. So in an effort to get the word out, I'm writing this blog post.

http://news.xbox.com/2013/06/update

- Xbox DRM is no longer true - you don't need an internet connection to use your Xbox One daily, but you DO need to connect it for the first time, when you first buy it. This is because it will download a patch that will make your console's firmware updated. You can't immediately play the Xbox One when you get home after buying it. You need that first download. After that, you can go offline and play your games offline if you like.

- You do NOT need to download a patch weekly on Xbox One. You only need it when you first unbox the system/bring it home. Firmware updates for Xbox One exist but the release timing is not periodic. Sometimes there's an update, sometimes there isn't. If you don't have an update, it doesn't matter; your games will still work offline.

- The Xbox One does NOT require you to be online all the time to play games on it. The Xbox One completely works OFFLINE (unless your game is Destiny, which requires Online and is not really Microsoft's fault but is the basic design of the game itself)

- You can buy/sell used games. Proof: my copy of Dead Rising 3, Ryse and Shadow of Mordor are all used games and they all work, online or offline.

 - Yes, the fact that you have to read this is Microsoft's fault. But what's done is done. At the very least, consider that they actually listened to feedback and overturned ALL of their horrible policies even before they released the system officially.

- Xbox One will work outside of supported regions - proof: I'm playing it.

- Xbox One DLCs work and can be downloaded outside of supported regions - proof: i bought the Dead Rising DLC which turns the game into a brightly colored arcade game.

So there. Spread the word and get your facts straight.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Forza Horizon 2 Review: Automotive Nirvana

There is a place where you can drive endlessly for miles, as fast as you want, as much as you want. Where you can purchase expensive sports cars relatively easily because of all the money you get just by driving around for fun. Where you can go off the road in your McLaren P1 and not worry about the consequences.

This is Forza Horizon 2. And as you can probably tell by now, I'm absolutely smitten with this game. 

Every car fantasy that inspired classics like Daytona USA, Ridge Racer, and even Gran Turismo has culminated into this one ridiculously amazing racing game. You're put into a huge, open world where you can drive wherever you want, and participate in various types of races in different sorts of weather and all kinds of road environments. You've got the choice of over 200+ cars, and can tune, upgrade, and customize their look all you want. All sorts of colors, paints; you name it, this game has it. This game has all kinds of environments --- city type environments, countryside type environments, beach side, mountain ridges, hills....it's just all so overwhelming.

I've been playing this for almost two weeks now, and it still blows me away when I fire it up. This game is using some mezmerizing spell for its graphics; I can't explain it, it looks real but it doesn't look real --- it's a midpoint between game graphics and full on CG when you're driving. We've come very far in video games, my friends. Hard to believe Microsoft managed this in their second year. They've built Forza Motorsport 5, which does turn heads and is still a very well designed racing game, then they released THIS game, Forza Horizon 2, the year right after. Even if it took them more than a year to make Horizon 2, that's incredible project planning right there.

The multiplayer works. The single player works. I got about 3 game crashes and that's about it when it comes to game 'bugs'. The driving physics is Forza 5 - lite but it's realistic where it counts. It's definitely an arcade racer but it's the best kind. Subjectively speaking, the controls are perfect; they give you a challenge when you go off-road, and they still ask you to work for your wins. The game has a 'rewind' feature which makes things easier but not using it or turning it off gives you bonuses, so you can go all hardcore and enjoy it as it is meant to be played. If you're a guy like me and you have a life and responsibilities, the rewind feature is welcomed and appreciated.

Whoever directed the teams that made this game deserves a raise, a vacation, a garage with all 200 cars from the game and a palace. It's just so good and have a hard time putting this game down. Granted I'm a racing game enthusiast (somewhere between arcade racing fan and sim fan --- not either of the two extremes) but this game just wins me over and I can't help but gush about it. 

I feel sorry for the ones who have not played it. You'll never get a taste of virtual automotive heaven.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

My take on the never ending resolution debate

I generally don't agree with most gamers when it comes to having games always be 1080p. 1080p is nice to have, but it's not something I need for my game to feel worth it. I'd rather be sure that a game plays smoothly, or that a game has a sound gameplay mechanic, than be actually counting individual pixels on my screen. 

That said, I believe that Digital Foundry is doing a huge disservice to gamers by creating ridiculous expectations for game graphics. I just find it a bit irritating that most game discussion now boils down to resolution debates, and whether you're getting value for your money or not. 

If you're still doubtful that your spending on a new console was a waste of money, it probably was. You move on to a new generation of systems to get to play the games you want, not to count the pixels and declare one company a winner over another, or get to trample down on another person because of their choices. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Destiny: A Review after Level 20

Destiny is the hot topic of the week in the games industry. A lot of people are saying that basically it was overhyped to be this fantastic, large-scale game, only to turn out to be a shooter with MMORPG elements. I have to agree with some parts of what most are saying: advancement in Destiny requires that you play the missions over again. Finishing the game is a good thing to go for, and when you do finish it, you'll notice the whole single player campaign is about 16 hours long (or even less, if you're good as speed runs). But the impression I got from the 'end' of the game is that it isn't the real end, and that this game is something like a TV series or a saga that you would have to follow for a few weeks or months to get the most entertainment out of.

So, in the time that Destiny is asking us players to wait for them to release more story content, they're asking us to play the missions over again, with different play mechanics or harder challenges. From this point forward, a lot of people are going to tune out and begin their complaints. But I'll never understand what is the true worth of that $60 that you spend on a game. Is it supposed to be 40 hours every time? Is that even a justifiable request of any game developer?

Because when you create something, inevitably you will have to make compromises. Either you get your game out in 3 years or you get your game out in 10, and be dated, like Duke Nukem Forever. Maybe sometimes gamers are just too entitled when it comes to what they expect out of their games. While publishers can do a lot of nasty things to players, like endless paid DLC, on this front I think it's the players that are being unfair already.

But I suppose where Activision / Bungie made a mistake was with their ridiculous marketing promises. "More than a game!" their trailer said. That's just too far out of a promise to make, and when you give that kind of a statement, players are going to remember that. I think Bungie could have been more upfront about the kind of game they are making instead of overpromising like that. They have done it in the past (remember Halo 2 and their E3 demo?) and I'm surprised they never learned from that experience.

So, on both fronts, there are mistakes on both sides which are cause for the disappointment with the game. I just say that, take Destiny for what it is. It's a really good shooter that handles combat very well. It has a good item system which can be as addictive as the Diablo series. It isn't really an MMORPG, even if some of its mechanics feel like it should be. If you're thinking about buying Destiny, know that it is a shooter with action RPG elements; don't go into it expecting Mass Effect, because it isn't that way at all. Know that you will be asked to play the levels over to make the most out of developing your character. And, subjectively, replay of the missions can be fun (because of the level design, the enemy placement, enemy variation, and their artificial intelligence). I'm enjoying jumping between replays of campaign missions, strikes with other players, and competitive multiplayer matches. Getting new items is a nice bonus to keep on playing the game, and watching your character get stronger and stronger over time is also enjoyable as well.

Of course I know that eventually I'll move on from Destiny; there are more game worlds to conquer and I don't know how well Bungie has really planned out their weekly 'updates' to this game. But as a single product, if you managed to avoid all the ridiculous marketing somehow, it's a good game that has some really enjoyable moments. It does lack extra characters and mission variety, that is true....but the gun battles and the level design is just fantastic, and I wish more FPS games would do it the way Bungie does.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Toxic Games Community. Is there any hope left for it?

Gamescom 2014 just happened and there's been a lot of anger over the Rise of the Tomb Raider going exclusively to Xbox One. That was yesterday. Today we found out that it's not really a true exclusive but a timed exclusive.

So in the past 24 hours, all I've been reading on Neogaf is just page after page of vitriol loaded posts. It's pretty upsetting. Personally, it doesn't bother me that ROTR is going to be exclusive to any platform at all. It's just one game. It's a great series, and we all know how iconic Lara Croft is. But still, the level of anger and the stuff people are saying online about it is kind of ridiculous. In the first place, if the game was fully exclusive to Xbox, it's not like Playstation owners don't have enough games to play anyway. They've got practically every multiplatform title coming for them, supposedly in full 1080p so they already get the best versions of everything. They've got Uncharted 4, which is probably going to be out at about the same time, and will be practically the same game (with the same level of respect and pedigree that it always gets)

So why are Playstation people so upset? Hell, I even saw PC people upset, which is really stupid, because usually anything Xbox exclusive is practically Windows exclusive, so if they exercised JUST a little bit of patience, I'm sure they will get the game eventually. At first I thought it was a bit funny to watch the rage but at some point it's just too much. I can't imagine being someone at the marketing departments of any game company or at Sony, Microsoft or *gasp* even Nintendo. The level of anger and hate they're getting on a daily basis, it must be tough to read that all day. And it's not even about something that important. It's Video Games, man. It's entertainment products. It's expensive, luxury items, hell it's about toys. But people were calling out Microsoft and calling them the Great Satan of our time for doing what is essentially a simple business decision.

There's nothing immoral or unethical about buying exclusivity for ROTR on the Xbox One. In fact, I'd say it was a smart move on Microsoft's part to help move consoles. They're clearly losing against the Playstation (though compared to Nintendo, they're doing just fine). So what's wrong with digging into those coffers and buying exclusivity? It's also a good move on the part of Crystal Dynamics. Tomb Raider, over time, has lost a bit of luster and is not really as big a deal as something like the Uncharted series. I think they wanted their series to get more attention by associating with a specific platform. In many cases, that does work. Look at how Gears of War blew up by associating with the Xbox. Originally that game could have come out on everything, but if it did that, I don't think it would have been as special as it turned out to be today. Also, focused development has its perks where a game developer doesn't have to make a game work on every platform available. One hardware for one game can make the game be the best it can be. Just look at Nintendo's exclusive games and how they all just surpass what is on the PS4 and Xbox One in terms of art style, polish and flair. Exclusivity does have its benefits.

I really don't see what's wrong with the whole ROTR exclusivity deal. This thing has been happening since time immemorial in this industry, and usually it doesn't really do that much damage when one game is on one platform and not another. I think, the worst that can happen to any major game console maker is to lose multiple third parties, like what is happening with Nintendo right now. Playstation losing Tomb Raider would not have caused much of a dent to that console's installed base.

But the level of anger on forums is insane. I read one theory that Microsoft was out to 'destroy console gaming' by doing this, which is a hell of a stretch. I read another one about how Microsoft doesn't care about gamers....well, maybe that is true, the truth is they only care about money. But that is true of all of them. That's the other thing I don't get. People think these developers do this because they 'care' about gamers. Well, the truth is, they are doing this to put food on the table. It's all about money and that isn't going to change anytime soon. It's just strange how some people associate games companies like their family members or like their 'friends'. They aren't your friends, guys. They're there to take your money. So treat them as such. Try to be objective about what these companies are doing. They're in business to make money. So instead of losing your cool and posting so much anger online (which you'll just share with everyone else and just make everyone feel miserable), the solution is simple: if you don't like something, don't buy it.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

RYSE: SON OF ROME - A worthy tribute to 300, Troy, and Gladiator

I got this game a few weeks ago and I'm really enjoying it. As a showcase for the Xbox One it definitely works; it demonstrates what 'next-gen' visuals should be all about. Great art direction, extremely sharp CG level graphics...this game is just beautiful. And it's a first gen game! Imagine how good Xbox One games will get after 2-3 years. It's mind boggling to think about after seeing this game.

The combat reminds me of old games like Golden Axe but with hyper-realistic graphics, great voice acting, sound effects and music. This game is a like a big tribute to major films like 300, Troy and Gladiator...it just has a lot of great moments that make you think back to those films, but---this game manages to have a character all its own. A lot of the action involves button mashing and good timing with QTEs...it just feels good to play. Maybe some would say it's repetitive because there are just a few enemy types but I don't know....have they played Double Dragon? Final Fight? Enemy types in those games are also repetitive and taking them out is always done the same way, but why didn't we complain about repetitiveness back then, and we're complaining about it now? I think the button mashing part --- it is gameplay, so long as you feel that the game gives you good feedback. Compare this game with something as mindless as, say, Dynasty Warriors. In that game, the enemies just literally stand in front of you while you turn them all into Chop Suey. In this one, the enemies fight back and they put up a good fight (perhaps i picked a higher than normal difficulty level, though....but still, I am really enjoying it and it never felt poorly balanced even with the higher setting). 

This game is pure entertainment, it's watching a film but really being a part of it, too. There isn't any story branches or decision making, but that's a different genre, this is all about action, action and more action. Maybe don't play it all in one night. Play one chapter a night and you will enjoy the experience. 

I read in the news that the developers of this are having rough times financially. Which is a real shame. It isn't their fault....actually the failure of Ryse in the marketplace is what is causing their financial woes, and that failure was really due to Microsoft bungling their launch last 2013. A lot of really good games (include Dead Rising, Forza and this one) were ignored by many gamers because many were really angry with Microsoft and their ridiculous DRM plans. Including me. 

I'm glad Don Mattrick is so fired. Ok, he resigned....but still, it's his damn fault that the Xbox brand is messed up right now.

Ryse could have been the new 'Gears of War' for Microsoft. As a first gen game this is far better than Kameo or Perfect Dark was for the 360 way back when. It's well polished for the genre that it's in, and it's really entertaining. I highly recommend this game to anyone considering an Xbox One.