Monday, August 24, 2015

Ode to the longest, possibly greatest, console generation

For the past few days I've had the opportunity to go through some older games. First, definition of terms so this isn't so confusing:

Current gen - Xbox One, PS4, Wii U
Last gen - PS3, Xbox 360, Wii

The last console generation started around 2005. 2005. Think about that. That was over 10 years ago. Hard to believe a console cycle lasted this long. Technically it's still 'current gen' for many players who haven't bought a new console yet.

When you play what is considered 'last gen' and you've already played 'current gen', you'll be surprised at how good last gen games are, even with comparatively less impressive graphics. One time I fired up the original Gears of War (inspired to play it over thanks to Microsoft's Xbox One backward compatibility announcement). The game holds up. It really does. Gears of War has this look that belongs to it, that no one else could ever pull off right. I'd dare say it does 'post-apocalyptic' better than Fallout 3 ever did.

I even got the chance to replay Bioshock lately. The introduction to that game, is probably the greatest introduction in the history of games. It's just pure interactive storytelling, and even if you already know what happens, you get an experience that you probably can't ever get in any other medium, and it's polished the most in this particular game. It's really old, by the way. I think the box said '2007'. (i dont remember the exact year when the game came out) Very few games have accomplished the ability to engage you so much as Bioshock 1's original introduction. It was so good that Bioshock Infinite could never match it, no matter how many millions of dollars 2K/ Ken Levine threw at it. It's basically a perfect storm of various elements that make it such a unique set piece that will probably be remembered for many years.

Would you believe I played Burnout Paradise for the first time a few days ago? There were just so many games that came out last gen, over the span of 10 years, that not everything has been played by everyone unless you're some crazy hermit who doesn't need a day job and still gets electricity at your home. I was really impressed by the game, too. The graphics looked really old, but the core gameplay and the crazy crashing mechanic still holds up. The game just feels good and there's a 'roller coaster ride' feel to the whole thing. I hope EA makes another one soon.

I guess I just realized one thing after this whole experience. We all complain that games are too short, are repetitive or never really innovate. At the same time, we've all got ridiculous backlogs of games that we've never finished, and some of them are truly gems despite what people on the internet will tell you. I propose this. Play your back-catalogue. You'll be surprised by the games you already have. Some of these games, I've already forgotten their mechanics or storylines and I find myself geniunely enjoying the experience of replaying them, after several years had already passed. Give it a shot. Play an old game from the 360/PS3 era which you haven't touched in a while. It's a great way to pass the time while waiting for the next big thing.





Friday, June 19, 2015

E3 2015 Conferences from the Big Three - My thoughts

Microsoft:

- They get a lot of points from me for actually announcing games that will be out in 2015.
- The Backwards Compatibility update is a huge surprise that I absolutely did not expect. Having BC is difficult and expensive to do, but somehow MS managed to do it, which leads me to believe the solution they found is an inexpensive one if they've decided it's practical to do QA work for the Xbox 360s gigantic library of games and make them all work on the Xbox One. If it was too complicated or expensive they probably wouldn't have bothered. But since they did, I think we're going to see full BC some time soon for all games. It's only a matter of time.
- Halo 5 looked fantastic, but 343 has a lot of work to do to restore faith, after the horrific launch of the Halo Master Chief Collection. I think they can do it, and I'd imagine they're certainly motivated now. If they screw this one up....MS might reconsider forming a new team to handle the Halo franchise.
- Gears Ultimate - not a big fan of remasters, but i did get to try the Beta two days ago. The game looks current gen, and the dedicated servers make it even better than the old version I played way back in 2006. Netcode is somewhere between Halo 5 beta and Titanfall, but since this is a beta, there's lots of room for improvement.
- Gears 4 - More of a first look than anything else, i do wonder what the story will be.
- Forza 6 - I now want to sell my copy of Project Cars.
- Recore - Keiji Inafune finally got some funding! I'm sure they'll do well with this game.
- Final word - a great showing with a nice surprise with the BC announcement. Wish they showed Quantum Break and Crackdown, but i think they just didn't have enough time.

Sony
- The Last Guardian - I didn't really play its predecessors, Shadow of the Colossus, etc...but it seems this got a good reaction. For me, i wish they told more about the background, the setting, the world, why it is going to be "interesting", etc. The gameplay bit looked like a puzzle game of some kind where you lead the giant 'griffin' / creature around the level. It's artistic, sure. But I need a better idea of what the game is to really like it more.
- Truly epic reveals with the Shenmue 3 and FF7R announcements.
- I do wonder if those two games will sell with today's gamers. I'm a big fan of Yu Suzuki ever since his days with the Sega Saturn/Dreamcast and arcade games. I do think he has a good sensibility of what makes a good game; however, times have changed so much ever since he was in the business. I think Shenmue 3 would do well only if he worked with an experienced Open World Game developer like CD Projekt Red or Rockstar...otherwise, their game may look dated once it does come out --- (and when is that? 2018?? man....)
- FF7R - was a shock, really. But the same question applies like Shenmue 3. FF7R is legendary because of the context of the time it was released. But by today's standards will it still work with gamers? Do JRPGs really still sell to the mainstream, considering how they've not been doing so great lately and have not really evolved from their core style of gameplay? I still believe in JRPGs but the problem is making general audiences play them. FF7R will sell well based on hype alone but will people be able to swallow such an old-school style game?
- For both Shen 3 and FF7R these are both mythical games that are just fantastic ideas in our imaginations....but will the reality ever match our expectations? I have a feeling this will be like the Star Wars prequels...the hype for those was through the roof, because we all imagined how good they would be. But will the developers actually deliver on the hype? Can their work ever match the version of those two games in our collective minds? I'm honestly not too sure. I'm of the opinion that those two games would have been better as games that stayed as myths, because I just don't think they could ever meet expectations. And today's gamers have really evolved in their taste in games. Perhaps gamers like me, a bit older at 30+, might enjoy the nostalgia factor. But how about the younger players? A lot of people in my age group have moved on. Shenmue only hit its 2 mil target because people were giving 500$ or more to the cause, but overall in terms of player base it's going to be so niche. I hate to rain on people's parades but I guess I've seen so many E3s already so I kind of know the score. It's all about the hype and building that sizzle. Sony certainly will be seen as the 'winner' of this E3 just because of these two announcements. But will these two games ever meet expectations and live up to the enormous hype they've built up over the years? Only time will tell. Maybe I'll dig this up in 2018 and see if I'm right or wrong.
- No Mans Sky - the dev on stage looked really stressed. Well, this game looks like it was built with some sort of randomizing dungeon engine. How will this be interesting? It's going to be a vast galaxy of randomized planets with randomized creatures, and atmosphere....but there has to be a point to it, a storyline or something. Otherwise I think this type of game can get boring quick. A technical marvel, absolutely. A programming masterpiece, yes, agreed. But a good game? I'm not so sure.
- Most interesting game to me was Horizon, the post-apocalyptic game from Guerilla Games. That one has great potential to be a franchise, if they do the world building, characterization and storyline very well. Gameplay already looks quite promising on that game.

Nintendo
- Not much to say really, I wish they gave some info on Project NX and the new Zelda Wii U game. Sadly, they decided to hold back on those reveals for a later time.
- Their Digital Event felt like a typical Nintendo Direct, which is kind of sad because this is E3, guys. It's all about building hype. At the same time I do understand they don't want to create insane expectations (like Sony has). But there has to be some sort of balance between the two. And Nintendo did not strike that balance at all.

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.