Monday, October 10, 2016

Gears of War 4: Review

Hard to write a new review when busy with work. Nonetheless I'll be reviewing this game and Forza Horizon 3 at a later time. For now here's what i thought about Gears 4 after completing it within 3 days (a few hours a day so i think that adds up to about 10-15 hours of campaign play and a few hours of versus mode play).

I'm reviewing it without having played Horde yet. Yep, it's hard to find time to play games when you got a job and two kids!

Here we go:

For the campaign the one thing that stood out for me was the AI. I was playing the game at HARDCORE difficulty, and the AI was doing some interesting tactics where they'll rush at you, they'll grab you from cover if you're nearby, they'll flush you out with grenades and more. Interestingly enough the AI of your squadmates is also pretty good and they'll do their best to help you when you're down.

There was one act in the game with a major boss fight where I took a few tries to beat the level. It's because the boss itself had a lot of lackeys giving you a hard time and it has this one enemy type which is extremely hard to kill. I'm talking Destiny-boss type of enemy where it has tons of HP and you have to shoot at it for quite a while. Actually I recall three types of enemies in the game that are like this. One might argue this is 'bullet spongy-ness' and some people don't like that. But for the type of game that Gears is, I think it completely fits. Gears is essentially "Contra" in the modern age, and you're shooting at things for a long time before you take them down. For some reason it works in the context of the levels where you encounter these types of enemies.

That said, this AI thing is the one thing I couldn't stop thinking about. Yes a lot of reviews have said the graphics are amazing and that's true. For me it was the remarkable AI which made some encounters (in HARDCORE difficulty) really challenging, but in a fun way.

The new characters are alright. They do the banter so it feels like Gears and it kind of feels like the Avengers where they're all quipping every so often. It's good, I don't dislike it, and it's just the thing that makes Gears, Gears. If they made a super serious Gears of War game it just wouldn't work. They just have to always emphasize the camaraderie between the characters and I think this game does a great job.

Having the stodgy old vet by your side is really good, too. Of course Marcus is more than just a vet, though - he's the savior of the world from the last four games so I'd say he's really important. There's one funny bit where.... SPOILER

I can't believe Marcus Fenix is still a Sergeant! After all that work he put into saving the world from the Locust, you'd think he'd have ranked up several places. Or maybe I just don't understand how the military works. But yeah, he deserves more after what he's done in the previous games.


The new enemy types are alright. The "Juvie" unfortunately is exactly the Wretch from before. The Drones are your standard enemy soldiers...the Pouncer is a really good enemy design, because they jump from cover to cover and you just have to keep running from them. The Snatcher is also really good design, too, where it can take one of your teammates so you have to constantly watch out for it so you don't lose the game (i've had this happen a couple of times because it will escape from you after it kidnaps your teammate). The Carrier is really good, it has this awesome attack where it shoots out these 'missiles' from its chest, just fantastic work on that one. Overall I see these feel like preliminary 'new' enemy types, and most likely it will be Gears of War 5 which will really push the kind of creativity with monster design that you expect from the series.

The 'Deebees' (the robots), I wasn't originally excited to fight these since I originally thought they didn't fit. But later on when actually playing the game, i realized, these are pretty good enemy types as well. They're a bit more suicidal than your usual Swarm Drone. The standout ones are the Guardian which resembles one of the flying enemies in Halo (the healing unit), and the larger DeeBee carrying either the trishot or the overkill gun.

Speaking of weapons, the overkill gun is really strong. I got to play just a little multiplayer but I can imagine having that weapon in multiplayer is going to make anyone really overpowered. It just has a few shots, though, so it runs out fast.

I have a lot more to say about Gears of War 4....with the multiplayer, i have an average connection here in the Philippines and my upload speed is below 1mbps. But the multiplayer works fine and smooth, and the matchmaking was pretty quick. It goes at 60 fps in versus multiplayer so it really feels crazy fast. I enjoyed the little time I had with it, though honestly it's likely better to review it after more hours of play.

Overall, is Gears 4 a worthy sequel? I'd say yes. It feels like a good part of the Gears family of games and it shows that the series is in good hands now.


I think CliffyB's latest game, "Lawbreakers", sorry man, i think it's going to flop. And The Coalition will probably hire him for a future Gears sequel. Mark my words!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Replay: Halo - Reach (via Xbox One Backward Compatibility)

So there I was, staring in awe at the latest footage for Call of Duty Infinite Warfare out of E3. In the scene they had, the player would ride a spacecraft, fight through waves of enemies and capital ships, and eventually board one, switching from fighter ship controls to first person shooter in just a few steps.

When I was watching this, I thought it was an innovative scene and something that I haven't experienced it seemed interesting to me.

Then a few weeks after Activision had shown COD:IW, I had installed Halo Reach on my Xbox One. I had finished this game years back and already forgot about most of its campaign missions.

Then I arrive at one mission in the game which was about the same in concept as what COD:IW had shown at E3 2016. Of course, Activision's version was newer and shinier, but Bungie had already pulled off something similar years back, with hardware running on 512MB of RAM (now tiny by today's standards).

Replaying Halo Reach, I realized this game was really trying to merge the 'Modern Warfare' sensibility of games at the time, with the sci-fi fantasy setting of the Halo universe. The 'modern shooter' was becoming incredibly popular and i suppose there were some people who were more interested in playing something that reflected gunfights in the 'real' world (the world now), rather than playing something that had aliens and robots everywhere. It was a major trend at the time of Halo Reach's release that games have some realistic edge, so Halo Reach seemed to me to be a reaction to that.

Playing the campaign again, you get to appreciate all the nice little details Bungie put in this game. They would hint at some backstory about the Spartans, and how they were really for enforcing the rule of law across different planets. You get to meet some regular citizens and they don't exactly like the Spartans; they're seen as an extension of some authoritative hand that seeks to subjugate the colonies on various worlds that the humans had occupied.

You get to meet Spartans other than Master Chief. Honestly, Spartans usually just have the same character, they're just all about duty and getting the job done. You won't get much drama out of them. For me, they stay interesting even with the flat characterization. Most of the time you're shooting things instead of listening to someone lament about their personal situation. Right now I don't have a lot of time to game since I'm getting older, but this immediate and direct approach to gameplay is becoming a lot more appealing to me.

The campaign itself is below 10 hours but I found it long enough. You go to various locations and there are some scenarios which differ from the usual 'get from point A to B' because they introduce some new vehicle or some new method of engaging enemies.

The game lets you use the DMR as the replacement for the battle rifle....though this is technically in the past, so maybe the DMR was the precursor of that weapon. It's alright, but i missed the cadence of the sound of the Halo Battle Rifle in this game.

Okay I said there isn't much drama with the characters, that is true in the sense that you won't hear them crying about the invasion or how hard it is to battle aliens. The drama that IS in this game is how every Spartan dies. Even you. The planet that the game takes place on, Reach, is well known in Halo lore as the place where Master Chief was trained, and also as one of the first planets that the Covenant 'glassed' (basically they rain down plasma on everything, turning everything into 'glass' by superheating it). Watching each Spartan fall were good moments in the game, yes they were sad, but in a sense they were well implemented. You could really get a sense that they were heroes in their own way, fighting a battle that you already know would be a lost cause.

Overall, I enjoyed replaying Halo Reach. This game really has good replay value because the scenarios they put in the levels don't play out the same every time you play it. You get a lot of options in each encounter (as with most Halo games) and that makes every fight fun in its own right. I think if i play it again in a few years in the future, it will still be fun.

Monday, March 07, 2016

My Prediction for What's Coming for Xbox One This Year

There's lots of talk about the announcements Microsoft made a few weeks back. Summing these up:

1) Essentially their goal is to make every Xbox One exclusive a Windows 10 exclusive also.

2) The Xbox One will eventually be an 'upgradable' console.

My reaction to #1 - It's a damn shame that Microsoft doesn't want to sell its Xbox One console as hard as it should be. As an international user, the marketing is pretty abysmal for Xbox One, particularly here in the Philippines which is now pretty much Playstation dominated. Dropping exclusive games for Xbox One is great news for PC users, but it really doesn't encourage Xbox One gamers to keep their machines.

I mean, you already get a lot of pressure from outlets like Digital Foundry saying the Xbox One is inferior to the PS4 (even if, to be honest, the difference in performance is so small to even be worthy of discussion). This does not help sell the console at all, and is just a strange move from MS. The only reason I can think of is that they just have to push Windows 10, which is increasingly becoming difficult to sell since people are either sticking to their old OS or just buying tablets and mobile phones with their extra disposable income.

Maybe I'm being too negative about it and maybe its a 'good' thing eventually. But I don't know why Microsoft wants to treat their Xbox buyers this way. It's pretty easy for the Xbox crowd to just switch to Playstation, and this is just going to push them to switch, because why stick with Xbox if there isn't any true exclusive games?

My reaction to #2 - Some people think that Microsoft is going to let you buy some kind of special hardware that will just connect to the Xbox One you have right now, and magically your console is going to be a 4K 120FPS machine. I seriously doubt this. As a former member of the 'PC Master Race', I really doubt they're going to get the bandwidth needed to upgrade the Xbox One through USB 3 or through the Kinect port at the back.

My prediction - this is what is going to happen:

1) The whole point of the recent Microsoft announcement is to 'soften the blow', when Microsoft announces a new Xbox One revision later this year. Whether or not this new revision will come out this year is arguable, but possible.

2) I think deep down, Microsoft is sick of losing in Digital Foundry resolution wars. So they're going to go overboard and release a super Xbox One which goes way beyond PS4 graphically. It's going to be so good that --- it will be very expensive.

3) This new 'Super Xbox One' will be natively BC to the old 'Xbox One' games and 360 games (using the same method Xbox One is using currently for 360 BC).

4) They will justify releasing this 'Super Xbox One' by saying it is completely back compat to your already existing library.

5) They're going to call it 'optional' so (hopefully) other Xbox One users wont get mad for being asked to buy the console again.

6) This new 'Xbox One' will have the 'modular ports' feature that Phil Spencer was talking about at that recent conference. As it stands, the CURRENT Xbox isn't upgradable, but it's logical to think that they're going to release another Xbox this year which has this 'upgradeable' capability.

7) There's going to be a lot of confusion and anger about this one. Because some people just bought the Xbox One last year.

8) Releasing another Xbox may help them market internationally. For starters, it shouldn't have the E3 2013 baggage the current Xbox One has (notice how a lot of people STILL think the current Xbox One can't play used games? Releasing a new console forces their retailers to train all the sales staff again, so none of them will say 'always on, always connected', anymore).

I honestly don't know how to feel about Microsoft's plan. I look at companies like Sega and Nintendo, who've released weaker hardware in the past, but they didn't let that get them down...well, usually. It should be possible to keep on pushing the hardware. Or, maybe Microsoft already reached the limit on performance and they just want to match or surpass the PS4 in terms of sheer numbers. In any case, it isn't good news for Xbox one owners to be asked to buy another system.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Street Fighter 5 - REALLY disappointing, but let's try to salvage it a bit (for single-player warriors)

Tip for people who bought the horrifically disappointing Street Fighter 5.

1) Go to Training Mode
2) Pick the character you want to get good as.
3) Pick an unfamiliar opponent, like Nash or something.
4) Make sure your network settings are set to find a ranked match or casual match.
5) Now when training mode starts, pause the game. Look for the menu page where you set the gauges (the V Trigger, EX meter, life bar, etc). Set all these to NORMAL.
6) Look for the menu page where you set the Player 2 behavior. Set it to CPU, and set the AI level to 8.

For some reason, the AI of the game at level 8 is incredible. It's loads better than Ultra SF's and is a good way to see some strategies usually employed by human players. I'm no super fighting game player, but i think its good enough, at least, for an average fighter to enjoy, since there's no arcade mode at all.

1) You can get 'knocked out', then the training mode resets the match (without reloading the entire game --- which is the problem with Survival and that's what makes it unfun)
2) Meters are all set to 'normal' so you can get used to building them up at a normal fighting pace.
3) Matchmaking is left turned on so hopefully you can find a human opponent -- hopefully not everyone sold their copies yet.

This game is at a real crisis right now. If players lose patience with the way it's 'designed' they're going to drop out, and the game is not going to be as big as Street Fighter 4.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Is Microsoft destroying the XBOX One by sending its exclusive games to Windows PC?

First and foremost we all know that Microsoft is a software company.  For the past few years, its primary bread and butter, Windows has lagged.  The world began to shift towards mobile devices and began to leave the PC behind.   They can bank on corporate solutions but even that isn't enough to keep them relevant in the minds of regular consumers.  What is relevant now to regular folks (not really the MIS team in your office) are Google and Apple.  Microsoft is beginning to be a thing of the past...

The truth of that matter was that the fault lay squarely on Microsoft's shoulders.  Before Google or Apple, MS had already dabbled into mobile and consumer devices.   While Redmond had a vision for the future, it is unfortunate that the rest of Microsoft (it's regional offices and whatnot) resisted the consumer centric platform and focus more on corporate sales. 

No demand, they say. 

Too small of the market, they say. 

Not worth the effort to talk to an individual and get a $300 sale as opposed to a multimillion corporate deal.

Yes, Microsoft the fault is with you guys.  So much of the vision lost in the endless rounds of redtape.
But now the rest of Microsoft has to find a way to boost its flagging reputation.  And the powers that be in Redmond feel that one way to get the Windows brand get its groove back is to introduce it as an entertainment hub and not just the thing you turn on to write your office reports.  

So the leper of the Microsoft brand finally comes to play --- the XBOX.  For years, people within Microsoft hated the XBOX.  They consider it a money pit, draining the revenues of Windows and corporate solutions to fund a product that consecutively lagged behind its Japanese rival, Sony Playstation.   Now the XBOX is the only 'cool' toy that Microsoft has left.  It's probably the only consumer centric device that survived through the years  and it is the key for Windows try to find a way to reinvent and make itself relevant again.  

Microsoft's overall strategy is to promote the Windows infrastructure as a single thing.   XBOX, PC, phone, watch, tablet --- those are all known as part of the Windows experience.

 But in doing so, is Microsoft negating the XBOX as a game console?

Microsoft has an announcement to make in a few weeks regarding XBOX and Windows.  But gamers who follow the industry already know that Microsoft is sending its 1st and 2nd party exclusive titles to the PC.

What does that mean?

The default reaction of many XBOX owners is negativity.   Gaming consoles  are defined by the games you can only play on that platform.   Microsoft's competitors Sony and Nintendo both have exclusive games that require their hardware to run.   Now Microsoft is giving people a CHOICE on where to buy their 'exclusive' titles, XBOX or PC.  And many feel that allowing that option will eventually make the XBOX less appealing as a platform.   Why should you buy an XBOX to play a Microsoft exclusive game when you can just upgrade your PC?  And if you have a decent enough PC and don't care about maxing out game graphic settings then use the money you get to from buying an XBOX to just get a Playstation or a Nintendo platform to get even more exclusive stuff.

Yes, I know its expensive to have a decent gaming PC and its more convenient to have a console that you can just plug and play (after a ton of patches) without worrying about custom settings.   I'm not a PC gamer because I don' t have the money to buy a gaming machine that can guarantee that I have the option to play 80% of the games in the market and I don't have the patience to actually figure out how tweak a PC to make these games run properly.

But Microsoft seems to forget that the whole console thing is like an exclusive membership. 
You get a console because of exclusive games that can only work on that console.  Once you remove this exclusivity the perceived value of that product lessens.   And no, please don't try to sell the XBOX as an entertainment hub for movies and whatnot because these days smart devices are everywhere that can do those things.   The primary benefit of the gaming console are its exclusive games.
The announcement of XBOX games migrating to the PC might make PC gamers happy...for years they felt neglected when Microsoft just made games for the XBOX.   But what about those who stood by the XBOX as a console for exclusive gaming?

Microsoft has to be careful now because this can backfire at their faces in the same way that E3 2013 destroyed a huge chunk of the headway created by the XBOX 360 platform.

It's  the same question as before...with all these changes what are the SPECIFIC BENEFITS to a console only owner. 

With all these talk of the Windows family, what value add does it offer to the person who just wants to play games on his XBOX?

Because right now, all the benefits are in favor of the PC.

Yes, I don't have to shell out so much money  for the hardware --- but is that the only benefit of the XBOX console now?  Apart from the cost, is the XBOX now indistinguishable from the PC?
Games for the PC are cheaper than XBOX games.   PC gamers do not have to pay for XBOX Live in order to play online for their current crop of games --- although I can imagine that Microsoft is probably going to require XBOX Live PC subscription to play multiplayer for their exclusive XBOX games.  

Sure MS can entice us with cross buy but is that necessary?  Sure if you want to play your game on the XBOX console at home and continue your game on your PC at the office (if you even can...)  But for more folks, cross buy is a neat checkmark feature not necessarily something that will be used all the time.

Right now, there is a lot of apprehension on the side of the gamers who supported the XBOX platform through the rough couple of years.  And if Microsoft fails to send its message across and give XBOX gamers exclusive reason to keep their XBOX then Microsoft has to go back to the drawing board.


The only benefit of having an XBOX is not to spend a ton of money in getting a decent gaming PC.  

Microsoft, please tell us what other benefits there are for owning an XBOX if the primary reasons of getting one (THE EXCLUSIVE GAMES) are all going to the PC.   I will still game on my XBOX but really Microsoft, what are console gamers getting out of the Windows integration?

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


- 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.

- 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.

- 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.