Transistor (PS4) - Review

Oh my the guys over at Supergiant Games have done it again. Ever since the launch of their successful first title Bastion, I’ve wondered if the San Francisco independent developer could make lightning strike twice. I’m happy to say that yes they have and their latest game has a lot to give.

You take control of Red, a widely popular vocalist in the city of Cloudbank who is now rendered completely silent aside from her ability to hum. After being saved from her demise, she discovers a mysterious sword - part USB stick embedded with a conscious and of unknown origin called the Transistor.

The art in Transistor is simply stunning.

The art in Transistor is simply stunning.

Red sets out on her way through the city trying to uncover answers around what has happened with the Camarata in her sights. Though their motives are unclear, between them are the Process - a robotic group of enemies that have started attacking the inhabitants of the city and it’s the Process whom you will be fighting.

For those who have played Bastion, the evolution of its art style is on full display in Transistor. Cloudbank is a gorgeous digital city that utilises a much darker palette with strikingly contrasted lighting that I found myself getting lost in. Gorgeous skylines reveal themselves when traversing bridges or ascending towers and every detail looks like it has been meticulously hand crafted; from the buildings in the backdrop to dressings in the foreground. Throughout the game motion graphic-ish cutscenes provide both a breakup from exploration and a pleasing narrative that more than makes a case for intriguing writing and voice work are much more impactful than fully animated cut scenes.

The soundtrack is handled by composer Darren Korb and vocalist Ashley Barrett and like Bastion, Transistor is an aural delight. From start to finish, the soundtrack is one of the best I have ever heard. From the electro sounds in combat to the impactful character moments, there is nothing to fault here. The audio more than complements the visuals, and away from the game it’s something that does more than serve a purpose of fulfilling its designated role. It’s moving and encapsulating at the same time while telling a story beyond the one that the game tells, it speaks for the world of Cloudbank where no narrative is to be found.

As you are thrust into the world, the storyline isn’t exactly laid out for you. The voice in the Transistor acts as the narrator while talking to Red, but as she cannot vocalise herself; almost of the conversation is one sided for a lot of the game. Scattered throughout Cloudbank, you will come across terminals which Red will comment on news stories, reply to messages, and converse with the Transistor through typing and deleting text which gives insight into her thought processes. The silenced protagonist and talking Transistor are the only way in which you will directly be able to interpret the storyline and the greater fiction of what is going on will need to be pieced together which will no doubt allow a lot of players to come to their own assumptions at they attempt to connect the dots. Deciphering the background and the setting to Transistor requires you to interpret and analyse text e.g. character profiles, messages, news stories, ect. It’s a smart move here, as it allows you freedom to interpret the world as you seem fit and surely will give birth to a lot of interesting forum threads and discussions regarding backstory.

Story is told with the aid of vibrant artwork.

Story is told with the aid of vibrant artwork.

In Transistor your combat abilities are called functions. These come from traces. Traces are the essences of the people who are dead in physical form and float above their corpses as a cube that once inhabited them (still with me?). Each function has 3 attributes as they can either be equipped directly to use in combat, can be used to augment a specific skill, or can be used passively. Each has a memory value assigned to them that forces you to choose what combinations of abilities you can equip without exceeding your total memory allowance. This opens up an insane amount of different gameplay possibilities as everything can be used to augment everything. If you’re the type of person who likes to sneak around - you can, if you find it easier to drop bombs and kite enemies over them -  go for it, or if (like me) you find it easier to create temporary clones of yourself and smash your distracted enemies - you’re free to do so. The flexibility and experimentation of combining your functions never makes combat feel stale as you are constantly searching for the right way to play. Respeccing Reds abilities is as easy as accessing a check point and reconfiguring them the way you like - there’s no penalty here. Experimenting with a function in each slot will give you an understanding of how to best implement it and also serves as a way to unlock more of the backstory of the denizen it came from.

The combat mechanics in Transistor are a mix of real time action, and pausing to execute strategic plays. A bar that refills over time is at the top of the screen, and once it’s full all of the four functions that you have assigned to the face buttons of the DualShock4 are available in direct control combat. I found that while you were waiting for your bar to recharge you were somewhat vulnerable but you are free to use any quick movement abilities to get away from enemy attacks. Once the bar is filled you can press the R2 trigger to enter turn mode and the battlefield will pause. From here, you are able to plan out attacks on your enemies and strategically reposition Red. Each function you use will use up a portion of the bar at the top, so strategic planning is a must. While paused, you can go back a step (as many times as you like) by pressing L2 and replan your strategy. Once you have planned out your movements, it’s as easy as pressing R2 again to watch them all unfurl. Be warned though as some enemies will teleport to different parts of the map, making some abilities miss. Yes, you can use your functions in direct control mode, but executing the abilities feel like they take longer and are less accurate while you’re running away from your foes so hitting the R2 trigger as soon as your bar is filled will allow you to land a flurry of abilities before things get too out of hand. Though Red can interrupt her enemies attacks she isn’t invincible, losing all of her health will trigger a turn mode and from here you are given a chance to plan out your abilities to survive. Losing all your health once this has been initiated will render a function unusable until you pass a checkpoint, losing 2 will mean you’ll have to pass 2 which adds to the intensity of each battle and both highlights how dependant on specific functions you become and the different ways which others can be used while you wait for your preferred functions to come back online. The only time you will restart from a terminal is if you lose all 4 equipped functions but most players won’t come across this.

The combat system is worth the price of entry alone.

The combat system is worth the price of entry alone.

Like Bastion there is a hub world that is accessible through back doors that you find scattered across Cloudbank that lead to a sandy beach setting in the middle of space. Inside you can attempt various challenges that present you with a specific combination of abilities in the form of doorways to gain experience (though it’s not alot of xp) and unlock music tracks. I found these useful as not only does it open your eyes to what can be done with abilities but it also offers suggestions to really hone a configuration of them that are best suited to your play style.

For those who do enjoy upping the difficulty you can activate Limiters that make the process stronger in various ways. The payoff here is that you get an increase in experience. I found that I was able to get over more than half of the game with 2 of them turned on before I had to dial them back.

The new game plus mode in Transistor is called Recursion and it allows you to take all of your already unlocked functions, start over at a harder difficulty, unlock further abilities, and test your best function sequences.

Transistor is visually stunning and aurally delightful, with systems and mechanics that are well worth the price of entry alone. The story behind Cloudbank is mysterious, and the main plot between Red and the Transistor takes turns that end in a tear jerking finale. There’s nothing to dislike here and after pouring over it, Transistor is a unique experience that can’t be fully relayed in words and can only be partaken in. My only regret is that I can’t go back and experience it all again for the first time.


SCORE 4.5/5


below is my full playthrough (potato quality)

Itsa .com!

After ALOT of procrastinating I had a look at the old pile of shame and identified that there's a metric tonne of titles to plough through. Luckily (or unluckily) Wolfenstein: The New Order and Transistor are being released this week. Which means I'm going to be smashing my way through them for review. In a motivational effort, I've decided to renew my old ".com" domain, nothing will change, it just means it's easier to find and point people to. 

hmm...maybe I should get some business cards made up...

Either way I'm still determined to get through the looming pile, and I have been working on write ups for Hotline Miami, Stick It To The Man, Mercenary Kings, Octodad, and Trials Fusion so my goal this week is to get those published.

From what I have read around the place, W:TNO is about a 20 hour game and I'm expecting about 15ish hours from Transistor and they both launch on the 20th (tomorrow) with Watch_Dogs being a week from then, it's going to be pretty busy until the release of Valiant Hearts on the 25th of June as I'll be playing catch up, but once I'm well ontop of things it'll be smooth sailing.

so yeah; the list looks like this now:

  • Stick it to the man
  • Hotline Miami
  • Mercenary Kings
  • Octodad
  • Trials Fusion
  • Lego Marvel
  • Pixel Junk Monsters Ultimate HD
  • Dead Nation
  • FEZ
  • Doki-Doki Universe
  • Gravity Rush
  • Towerfall
  • Muramasa
  • Wolfenstein
  • Watch_Dogs
  • Sports Friends

Over the weekend I was able to get a bunch of mates together and play Sports Friends. All I can say is holy shit. Yes there will be a write up and yes you should go and get it just for Super Pole Riders.

Also, I'm going to really get back into the gym. I've been slacking big time lately and trying to work everything into a schedule hasn't really been happening, when I pull the trigger on that it'll be posted up here.

So for now, welcome to dombryce.com and if you feel inclined to do so, don't forget to follow on Twitter

Flower (PS4) - Review

The scenery is colourful and vibrant.

The scenery is colourful and vibrant.

Flower isn’t really a game. It has the trappings and pseudo-mechanics of a game, but it can only really be summarised as an experience.

Learning the controls takes about a minute; you use the gyroscope of the DualShock 4 to navigate the world and pressing X will propel you forward. That’s it.

The game has six levels (or dreams) that are represented by 6 separate flower pots on a desk in a dreary apartment and each stage is preceded by some washed out scenes of life in the city. These provide a great contrast against the rolling hills that you’ll be moving over while playing the game.

You play the part of the breeze, which is marked by the swirl of petals you collect from each and every flower as you pass it by. Certain colours of flowers act as triggers that affect parts of the environment and they spur you on to explore each level. There’s no HUD, or dialogue but there doesn’t need to be. In some levels the right amount of flowers will restore vibrant colour to a washed out landscape, in others they’ll open up other areas for you to progress to or start up windmills to power nearby streetlights.

Flower is a visual delight with colours literally exploding all over the screen make it gorgeous and the vibrant rolling hills and plains never get old. Flying close to the ground, the wind will part blades of grass and as you ascend into the sky you can see wind currents blow across the field below. Musical notes are keyed to a lot of the flowers, so you’re often immediately and dynamically adding to the soundtrack as you fly around. The audio here is just as impressionistic as the visuals and as a result, the game is a real treat on the senses.

You can finish flower in one sitting as I did but that’s not the point here. The compilation of unique art, sound, and control scheme have really taken me back and made me appreciate unconventional design as a whole.


SCORE : 4/5

Touch My Katamari (PSVita) - Review

The original Katamari Demacy first came to life back in 2004 on the PlayStation 2. Back then Australia didn’t get it at launch (and never did get it) and out of curiosity I bit the bullet and imported a copy of the game and an NTSC PS2 Console a couple of months after its release. Back then the concept of games with unique gameplay mechanics, and visual style as the original KD on a console such as the PlayStation were rare at best and the amazing independent game development scene that today is a growing component of the industry at large didn’t even exist.

Since Katamari Damacy, a lot of “iterations” have followed in it’s wake on every Sony platform after the launch of the PlayStation 2 and others; most notably the Nintendo DSi, and both the iPhone and Windows Phone platforms. Heck there was even a PC version called Katamari Online that was published for Korea that almost follows the same plot as the XBox 360 version but no one in the west payed it any fanfare.

It looks like a Katamari game, and feels like a Katamari game

It looks like a Katamari game, and feels like a Katamari game

Over the past 10 years, not much has changed with the Katamari Damacy universe and I’m a firm believer in “don’t fix what’s not broken” but after seeing pretty much the same game come out time after time, it makes you wonder at this stage if Namco are scared to make any real impactful changes to the tried and tested formula that is synonymous with the series.

For those who are fresh to the franchise and haven’t had any facetime with any of the previous titles, you play as the Prince of the cosmos who is tasked by his father the King of the cosmos to roll a ball called a “Katamari” that when it rolls over items that are smaller than it, will stick to the Katamari and add to it’s size through a snowball effect. You start off by picking up coins and eventually progress to much larger things including buildings, land masses, and eventually planets. All of the levels have a certain size that you are tasked to get your Katamari to within a time limit and you don’t always start of by picking up pocket-sized items. These Katamari are then turned into planets by the King (whose vocal cues comprise of record scratch samples and witty text dialogue) and are added to the cosmos system.

In Touch My Katamari there is one gameplay change that I think is well overdue, and it’s the ability to squish and stretch the Katamari. What this allows you to get into tight spots that you couldn’t due to the size of your Katamari in previous games. This is done by quick swipes of your fingers across either the back touch surface or the screen. It’s something that could have been implemented when the franchise made its way to iOS but feels right at home here on the Vita.

The new "squish" your Katamari mechanic is something that has been long overdue.

The new "squish" your Katamari mechanic is something that has been long overdue.

Though the level layouts are different, they feel like iterations on the ones from the previous games, as do the characters, storyline progression and objectives. Sure there are challenge levels such as rolling up enough healthy food items to grow your Katamari as large as possible when each item has a calorie value and instead of a time limit and the round ends when hit the calorie cap, but objectives as those are but a light play on the core mechanics that have been on display for the last decade.

With the addition of the resizable Katamari mechanic and now that the Katamari legacy is accessible on Sony’s latest handheld might just be enough for fans of the series and those who finally decide to bite the bullet to pick this title up (heck it worked on me) but after playing through the storyline in a few hours there wasn't really much to keep you playing beyond it. For completionists, there are unique items to roll up in each level and the implementation of leaderboards are a nice addition to see how you rank amongst friends.

I really think that the foundation that has been laid down by the original Katamari Damacy needs a good shake up. Touch My Katamari is a great compilation of things that have been executed the previous iterations of games in the series and would be a great first foray into the universe for those who are new to it, but it feels like something is missing that not even a treasured property such as this can fulfil.

 

SCORE 3/5

Sony PlayStation Vita In-Ear Headset - Review

I used to use the earphones that came with my Galaxy S4 to game on the go but I wanted to have a dedicated set of earphones that will live with my PSVita so that if I don't pack it in with my work bag to play during breaks, I wouldn't also forget to bring them which is a pain if you're trying to answer calls while both of your hands are busy working.

The small red accent on the right ear makes it establish which ear to put it into on the run.

The small red accent on the right ear makes it establish which ear to put it into on the run.

Luckily Sony make a set of earphones for the PSVita which also include a microphone for online play or sending voice messages via PSN. These earphones scream quality as the earbuds are of the in ear type that has been popular with most consumer electronics over the last couple of years, feel solid and are aesthetically pleasing. On first use, I had put them in the wrong which was no fault except my own as I was too eager to hear their sound quality. Please take note; unlike the earphones that everyone has been used to the in line microphone is attached to the left earbud and not the right. Luckily the earbuds themselves are marked with "L" or "R" but to make it easier, the right earboud has a small red accent making it easier to delegate it to the correct ear at a glance. The connector is a standard 4 pole 2.5mm jack connector which means it can be used with anything.

The in line microphone is crisp, and clear and can be used on pretty much anything but not only was it handy to use on the PSVita, I found it great to plug into the headphone jack of the DualShock 4 Controller which allowed full voice chat in games. On the dongle, you'll also find that the microphone can be muted but there are no volume buttons as the PSVita has them ontop of the system - something that I would have liked to see.

vita heaphones 2

The sound quality is pretty darn good, there isn't much to fault here. Everything sounds as it should, bass response is deep while mids and highs sit where they should and don't cut through you like a knife. Even playing Killzone: Mercenary was enjoyable as I could audibly hear the footsteps of other players while running around the map.

In the box you'll also find a couple of options regarding rubber grommet sizes to suit various ear canals but once you find the right one, the others can be tossed with the packaging. What I would have liked to see is a mini tote bag to put them in when not in use that would keep them from getting tangled up with other things in your bag or if not then make the cables flat to avoid tangling but now I'm really just nitpicking. 

For the price (when I last checked you can get them for under $20) these are amazing, and for those who like to stay up and game late at night, the whole household will thank you for getting a pair of these.

 

SCORE 3/5

RESOGUN (PS4) - Review

RESOGUN comes from developer Housemarque, the studio that brought us Super Stardust HD years ago on the PlayStation 3. And just like Super Stardust HD, you would be insane to not install RESOGUN on your PlayStation 4 if you’ve just picked one up and if you already have a PS4 and haven’t played this yet - what are you doing??. Lets just say that the game is a modern re imagining of Defender with a couple of extra tidbits thrown in. The most striking aspect is the visual fidelity of the game - it’s really something that you have to see yourself and I’m not even demo videos can relay what this is really like.

Each of the five levels has 10 electro pixel humans that when you save will provide power ups and extra lives so saving them is a must by picking them up and delivering them to a drop off point before they die in their glowing cells. You free the humans from said cells by killing a set of “keepers” that spawn somewhere on the level. If you fail to destroy them before they fly out the top of the map, the associated human dies and with it goes the chance for the score and power-up they would have provided if you’d saved them. When they spawn, a robo-lady voice will announce “keeper spawned” which blasts both through your speakers and from the DualShock 4 controller’s inbuilt speaker - it’s then a mad dash across the map to get to them, luckily they’re easy to recognise where they are as they glow the same green colour as the trapped humans.

RESOGUN looks damn impressive.

RESOGUN looks damn impressive.

While this is going on, you’re cutting through tonnes of enemies that are trying to destroy you at all times but luckily you have an arsenal of tools at your disposal. There’s the ability to boost, which lets you invincibly fly through enemies and bullets and then creates a little area of effect explosion when you stop. The boost charges up quick enough which is a good thing seeing as your main goal is to save as many humans as possible to maximise your score but it’s also available as an escape mechanism if you get into a tight bind. Another ability is overdrive which allows you to unleash a massive energy beam that destroys everything it hits and lets you go into a slo-mo state which allows you to rack up some serious combo points. Lastly is the bomb - a classic trapping of a dual stick shooter that you both start with and can be obtained if you save enough humans.

I found that there’s a strange ebb and flow to the gameplay that only gets deeper the longer you play the game. It’s a balance between shooting enemies to keep your combo multiplier up while dashing around the map to destroy keepers and save subsequent humans before their demise. The campaign is challenging and you won’t find that it’s something to breeze through on anything but it’s easier difficulty and herein lies why it’s addictive and will keep you coming back for more. At the end of each level there’s a boss fight which can be a real pain the first time you encounter it, even on multiple replays you’ll find it frustrating when you’re in the midst of battle but rewarding when you progress.

RESOGUN is an amazing game that looks amazing and feels right at home on the PS4. Those who have picked up a PlayStation 4 should definitely a go if not for the pretty visuals and the more time you sink into it, the more you will get out of it. There’s no hesitation in recommending this to anyone, and the price point only sweetens the deal.

 

SCORE 4/5

 

Rayman Origins (PSVita) - Review

Rayman Origins is as it suggest; the origin story of Rayman and his crew, but after last dipping into the series back in the day with Rayman 2: The Great Escape I couldn’t make heads or tails of it and it doesn’t really matter. All you need to know is that Rayman is on a mission and a lot of bad guys are going to get squashed along the way before the credits roll.

To combat these bad guys you’ll be using a slew of different traversal abilities, ranging from wall-running to deep sea diving with plenty of standard combat in-between. The first five worlds tend to revolve around a specific ability, where the remaining worlds utilise them more randomly. This seems like a smart design choice overall actually as it gives you ample time with each new mechanic before giving you a series of levels that force you to use several of them at once in rapid succession.

Origins has definitely one of the most challenging platformers I’ve played in a long while. It’s not difficult or hard but challenging. Towards the end of the storyline things do get difficult, but by the time you get there you’ve already overcome so many different obstacles and timing-based levels that you already know what you’re in store for. There are moments of frustration, especially with the treasure hunting side levels where you are forced to chase a runaway treasure chest while navigation obstacles purely on reflex, only leading to more trial and error than some may prefer.

The art looks gorgeous in Rayman Origins

The art looks gorgeous in Rayman Origins

Controlling your character in Rayman Origins feels tight and responsive just like any good platformer should. Rarely will you find yourself overshooting platforms or plunging to your death, but when you do the games checkpoint system will simply pop you back in nearby meaning you won’t have to start the level over, keeping your frustration levels minimal. Playing on the PSVita was fun and the levels were easily digestible in small chunks that play into being able to play on the go.

The universe presented in Origins is gorgeous, with each level feeling tediously handcrafted as you traverse through worlds comprised of jungle, lava, ice, and water. The great thing here is two levels don’t feel the same though they are in the same vein. The game looks as close to an interactive cartoon as possible, and you’ll want to stop and admire what it offers but rarely you’ll find time to which is the only downside I found with it.

Rayman Origins is an amazing platformer that never quite got as much spotlight as it should have. Those who take the plunge and pick it up will be rewarded with hours of gameplay and an experience from a genre that seems to have somewhat fallen by the wayside in a sea of multiplayer shooters, and action games. Go seek this out - you won’t be disappointed.

 

SCORE: 3.5/5

Call of Duty: Ghosts (PS4) - Review

Call of Duty: Ghosts is the tenth instalment of the long-running Call of Duty franchise. Ghosts is set in a new storyline that’s unconnected from any of the previous games in the COD franchise in a near-future following the nuclear destruction of the Middle East and the rise of oil-producing nations of South America as the world’s new dominant superpower (The Federation). Ten years after the Federation starts conquering lands northward towards the United States, both sides are locked in war with the front being the destroyed cities of the south western United States.

The storyline in Ghosts doesn't quite establish itself. You primarily play as Logan Walker, a silent protagonist who follows his brother Hesh around as the world goes to hell right before your eyes. An ill-defined enemy blows huge holes in the the United States (Murica!) and it’s up to the brothers who “conveniently” report to their father to fight back, and eventually join up with an elite legendary force known as the Ghosts against an underwhelming foe that seems to be barely connected to the main conflict. Don’t expect a storyline that will leave you with some life changing material here - it’s flakey at best, especially the corny dialogue with cheap emotion that really highlights that you’re constantly interacting with your father, your brother, and a dog. Some of the later missions have you play as other characters to give you a bigger picture of the battle at hand but they feel disjointed, almost as if those parts were from an entirely different game.

Spaaaaccceeeeee!

Spaaaaccceeeeee!

Plot points aside there are some interesting and cinematic points throughout such as a high speed chase on ice and the initial scene in space (spaaaacccceeee!) but those feel like diamonds in the rough, with a lot of rough and almost no diamonds. The campaign is pretty straightforward and somewhat predictable as you perform the same basic shooting tasks that you've been asked to do for years. The much touted sequence where you play as Riley (the dog) is a let down, and I would have liked to see something more but what more can you really do when you replace a sentry drone for a dog?

Let’s not sugar coat it here, the majority of the consumers of this franchise will completely skip over the campaign and head straight for the multiplayer. This year there are no UAVs to shoot down, strike packages are back, the dolphin dive has been replaced with a knee slide, you can lean out from cover, all of the launchers are free-fire, and knife kills now come with an annoying forced kill animation that leave you open for a counterattack. Gone is theatre mode, headquarters mode didn’t even make it into this iteration of the franchise, as is Hardpoint.

Call of Duty Ghosts keeps up this strange trend of reversing/removing changes made by other development teams but as a whole; the volume of changes are the most that this franchise has seen since Call of Duty 4 redefined console based shooters for the previous generation of consoles.

In extinction mode, you fend off waves of these little critters. 

In extinction mode, you fend off waves of these little critters. 

Just like every year, Ghosts changes up the way you unlock the same sorts of guns, perks, and create-a-class options. This year you have a squad of ten different soldiers, each of which can be visually customised with different head, hats, and clothing and each solider has multiple sets of loadouts which you can also customise to your liking. The choice between Assault, Support, and Specialist strike packages have made a return, and the perk limits feel like Black Ops II’s points-based class system in that you can opt to remove items from your loadout in exchange for more perks. Each perk has a point value associated with them and you’re free to choose any perk you like, provided you don’t go over your point total but gone are the “pro” versions of perks from previous titles.

Care packages are now obtained through the new “field orders” system that asks you to complete specific tasks to earn a Care Package drop. Some of these are simple, so when you pick up a field order briefcase it might tell you to kill one enemy from behind for example and these add to your total amount of points as you rank up. Perks unlock as you gain experience points, but everything else only unlocks when you earn squad points, which are a new type of currency in Ghosts. You’ll earn them by playing the game and they can be used to unlock pretty much anything except for cosmetic items. The thought process here is that instead of grinding to get to the gun you like, you can unlock it straight away without having to jump through hoops

Squad points can also come out of the new squads mode which is essentially a place to play bot matches in a variety of configurations. The core idea is that your long list of unlockable soldiers form a squad that other players can challenge when you’re not online, giving you some incentive to to outfit each soldier with some better gear than what they start with. If you like, you can take your AI-controlled squad in and match against another player who also rolls with his squad. Or you can opt for Safeguard, which is one of the wave-based survival modes in Ghosts. This one is set on multiplayer maps and has you teaming up with other players to take on dogs, soldiers, and other AI-controlled enemies. Aside from this mode, the squads sections feels like training wheels for those who are too squeamish for the real multiplayer modes.

The environments look stunning but it's still the same engine after all these years...

The environments look stunning but it's still the same engine after all these years...

The other wave-based survival mode is called Extinction, and it has aliens in it. It’s not a carbon-copy of the mode found in Black Ops II’s Zombie mode, though there are similarities. Instead, you and a team must carry a drill around from one alien hive to the next. As the drill works to destroy each alien hive, you have to protect both it and yourselves from a handful of alien types. As you play you earn currency, which can be used to buy additional weapons or power ups for your team. You’ll also earn skill points which are used to upgrade your character’s deployables, but these upgrades don’t persist from one round to the next. The goal is to get to the end of the level and then race all the way back to the start for extraction. The design of the aliens look like something out of a Lost Planet game and are interesting at best.

Right now there are no other first person shooters on the PlayStation 4 that are this massive and given that Ghosts pushes the same style of combat that the Call of Duty franchise has been offering since 2007, almost everyone purchasing it will have a pretty solid idea of what they’re going to walk into. Whether you love it or hate it, the formula hasn't really changed which isn't really a bad thing but at this stage it’s starting to wear a little thin. It’s still the “left trigger, right trigger” type shooter but the Call of Duty series could do with a couple of years off and a new design focus.

SCORE 3/5

Luftrausers (PS3 & PSVita) - Review

Developed by the two man studio Vlambeer, Luftrausers is a 2D shooter set in an alternative timeline where you play as a German pilot and are tasked with clearing the skies of other planes and destroying enemy ships. There’s no massive world to explore, no quests to embark on, and no “story” of any sorts but it doesn’t matter as the charm of Luftrausers is in its gameplay which will have you saying “just one more go” when you meet your eventual fiery death.

The tutorial is very brief. You’re boosted up from a submarine (because alternative history yo) and are launched into the skies: pushing up boosts your plane - letting go of it causes it to stall and drift downward, and x fires your gun. Shortly after getting the hang of the controls, you’re turned loose on a battlefield full of enemy fighters, homing missiles, blimps, and and sea-bound attack ships. From the outset, you’re given a basic machine gun weapon, and body/engine design and other can be unlocked via completing specific challenges for each part.

Though this looks cluttered, once you play Luftrausers it will all make sense.

Though this looks cluttered, once you play Luftrausers it will all make sense.

The combat can only be described as a ballet of bullets as you pirouette around the skies while trying to dodge enemy fire and kamikaze pilots. I found that flying in one direction for a while amassed a horde of enemy pilots that you can proceed to flip around and blow out of the sky adding to your combo multiplayer. Each kill you net will add to your multiplier and refraining from shooting will repair your ship adding to the risk vs reward gameplay.

The only downside to Luftrausers design is that once you’ve unlocked all parts for your plane and have found your preferred combination of plane parts, there isn’t much else to do except attempt to improve on your high score.

Luftrausers is an amazing shooter, and partnered on the PlayStation Vita it makes a perfect companion for those who are on the go and are looking for a quick gaming fix. The graphics are minimalistic and retro-esque and the controls are tight and solid. Wether you are picking it up on the PlayStation 3 or the Vita, you won’t be disappointed.

SCORE: 3.5/5

Killzone: Mercenary (PSVita) - Review

Killzone: Mercenary is another entry into the PlayStation-exclusive franchise developed by Guerilla Games Cambridge for the PlayStation Vita.

In this installment of the series you take control of Arran Danner, a voiceless gun for hire (hence the title of the game) who seems to be available to either the ISA or the Helghan for a price. From this perspective, it is refreshing seeing a different take on the theatre of war that has been become synonymous with this universe from the perspective of a third party and not through the lens of the good guys vs bad guys trope. Even the ISA (whom have been made out to be as the “good guys” of the series) are painted in a less-than-heroic light and this game provides some sort of insight to the conflict from the Helghan point of view but unfortunately like the other titles in the Killzone series; Killzone: Mercenary’s storyline is just as forgettable.

The single player storyline is split up into 9 different missions that have you bouncing around doing work for both the Helghast and the ISA and are able to be consumed in short sittings, making them perfect for the handheld device. Though the missions are short(ish) the game doesn’t really establish a solid plot line and before you know it you’ll be finished and left scratching your head over it’s importance as the game tends to get tedious and very repetitive  by tasking you to reach an objective point and fend off waves of enemies before proceeding with the next storyline beat.

Given that this has been developed for a handheld console It’s worth noting that the storyline for Mercenary takes place alongside those in the first and second Killzone games but don’t be misled that the storyline is long, infact I managed to boot it up and blaze through it in an afternoon without relative difficulty.

The game is powered by a modified Killzone 3 engine and on the Vita it does look pretty good but the fidelity of the graphics in certain places (mostly right at the end of the game) does seem to drop and in certain parts of the game when you a viewing a cut scene, items in the background (such as explosions) seem to lose all sort of detail.

Playing Killzone: Mercenary on the PlayStation Vita was a mixed affair and though the game play controls are solid (thanks to the dual analog thumb sticks) it was somewhat an annoyance when attempting a melee kill you are prompted to swipe the screen in a certain direction depending on the character animation forcing you to grip the machine in one hand. Taking down enemies can also be testing seeing as almost everyone in the Killzone universe is a bullet sponge and the only real effective way of blazing through groups of them is to aim for the throat and allow the recoil of the gun spray a burst of bullets which lead to a headshot. Fortunately the game does have a variety of weaponry to help you along the way in the form of primary and secondary sidearms, various grenades, armour, and gadgets called VAN-GURAD gear. This is a set of equipment that allows for various styles of gameplay. There’s the Mantys, which can be used to sneak up behind enemies to take them out silently without players risking players engaging in massive firefights. There also the Porcupine, which allows the player to shoot off homing missiles at different enemy targets by tapping them on the touch screen.

VAN-GUARDS, weapons, ammunition, and armour can be purchased with money that you receive from getting kills, picking up ammo off dead bodies, and completing missions. The different ways you can dispose of enemies net you different monetary rewards.This money can be spent spent at a Blackjack arms outlet which really are just chests scattered throughout the level. When accessing one of these vending machines, you can use money to buy new guns, grenades, armour, VAN-GUARDS, and ammunition, as well re equip previously purchased items - at a price. Unless you are the type of person who has a need to try all of the weapons and gear before making a decision on what you are going to use, you’ll end up making more money than what’s needed. There isn’t a vast selection of equipment available, and if you get your load out set for the way you like to play shooters, you’ll find that the only time these crates will be accessed is when you’re topping up your ammo supply.

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Aside from the single player campaign Killzone: Mercenary has an online mode as well. There are three different game modes to choose from in the form of Mercenary Warfare, Guerrilla Warfare, and Warzone. Basically they’re renamed Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, with Warzone allowing teams to duke it out while the modes switch between maps at the end of the round.

Though the maps are designed with alot of strategic possibilities, they are somewhat small. I found myself countless amounts of times being spawned in beside an enemy player, resulting in either a easy kill, or a quick departure to the spawn timer.

The netcode used here seemed solid, and after playing the online for about 10 hours, I only ran into 1 instance where another player was teleporting around the map. Given this was playing at home on wifi, and I’m going to assume it would be more noticeable for those playing over a 3G connection.

Killzone: Mercenary is a competent handheld shooter (one of the best I’ve seen actually) but it does feel like it falls short of the finishing line. The multiplayer can be fun, but the story is forgettable, gameplay does end up get repetitive quickly and the cast of characters seem two dimensional at best. The best way to consume this would be in short bursts if you have to venture into the story mode but I would advise to steer clear of it and stick to the multiplayer.

Fans of the series would be happy with this addition to the universe, and those who are looking for a shooter on the Vita would be pleased that the genre is covered but I would wait until this game is on the cheap before making a purchase.

SCORE: 2/5

Infamous: Second Son (PS4) – Review

*Disclaimer: This is the first game in the Infamous franchise I have played and am coming into this review fresh without any previous titles to compare it to.

inFAMOUS: Second Son is the third in the inFAMOUS series developed by Sucker Punch that have spanned across both the PlayStation 3 and the PlayStation 4 consoles. In Second Son, you take control of Delsin Rowe, a 24 year old Native American who is somewhat a part time dreamer and full time pain in the butt for local authorities whose brother is a Sheriff that serves as your inside contact regarding activity in Seattle throughout the game.

Seattle looks amazing

Seattle looks amazing

After a very short and intuitive introduction sequence and a series of events, you help a man from a fiery bus wreck and Delsin discovers that he can absorb abilities from prime conduits (people who have “powers”) and use them yourself. As the story progresses, Delsin comes into contact with other conduits and takes it upon himself to absorb their powers and use them to rid Seattle of a government sanctioned militaristic force called the Department of Unified Protection (or the DUP for short).

The DUP have used propaganda to instil fear into the public that conduits are “biological terrorists”, and are hell bent on locking away any conduits they come across. Lead by Brooke Augustine, their sheer brutality towards, and their use of concrete abilities on Delsin’s tribe the Akomish is the main driving force behind the storyline.

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Karma plays a role in inFAMOUS, and at major story points it forces the player to choose whether or not to make a “good” (spare a person) or “bad” (kill them) decision that will affect the flow of the story. When running about Seattle you can choose to either help or execute citizens that are in trouble which does help add to which moral side you’re leaning towards. When facing the DUP, you’re given the choice of either killing of restraining them to also add to your total moral count. Personally I chose the good path all the way, and it didn’t feel like the gameplay was lacking because of my choice, it just meant I was tasked with subduing enemies instead of killing them, which at times seemed like a challenge. After a bit of research you do get “execute” type abilities for each power if you do choose the evil path, and slightly different story missions but really they’re not vastly different from each other.

The first power you discover is smoke and with it comes the ability to pass through objects such as fences and deploy grenades on enemies which make them cough uncontrollably,  leaving them open to be dealt with quickly. You also discover a heavy projectile ability that is useful against the DUPs armoured vehicles, heavy enemies and helicopters.  Though you begin the story with smoke, you’ll come across boss fights which will allow you to acquire other powers which you will fuel from various sources around the city. Most of the powers have similar abilities but what they are all just different enough that with the acquisition of each one, gameplay feels fresh throughout. You can only have one power active at a time but by sucking up a source will instantly switch to the relative power. Each power can be upgraded via destroying blast cores in each area that of the city via blast shards and by harvesting them from drones scattered throughout. If you collect all the shards around the city, you’ll have just enough to max out every ability depending on your alignment and the way I played the game by clearing out every area before moving on with the storyline meant that once it was all over there was nothing to keep playing the game for.

Each district within Seattle contains a whole lot of objectives to complete including collecting blast shards, discovering audio logs that reveal some of the games backstory, destroying DUP cameras and blast cores, and also using the DualShock 4 as a means to graffiti walls via pre-set stencils so there’s not a lack of things to do. Though the storyline spans about 10 hours but collecting everything will stretch Second Son out to about the 12-15 hour mark and for those who are dedicated to obtaining the Platinum trophy will be spending about double that as you’ll have to play through the game twice.

Most of the enemies you will encounter use concrete abilities.

Most of the enemies you will encounter use concrete abilities.

Right now for the PlayStation 4, inFAMOUS: Second Son is the poster child for what is possible regarding exclusive games and having been spoilt with a super high end PC, this game looks amazing which makes me eager to see what’s in store as the life of the platform goes on given that this has been released in the launch window for the system. Having said that, the frame rate does tend to drop when there’s a lot of explosions on the screen but the level of detail of both the character models and the environment itself well and truly plants the flag that we’re well into the next generation of gaming.

InFAMOUS: Second Son is a brief but engaging experience. The way Delsin handles is a delight, combat controls feel tight, and the story beats come at a consistent pace. Paired with an open world with great visuals, right now this is a must have for anyone with a PlayStation 4.

SCORE: 4/5

Why I’m abstaining from "Special Editions" of games

Collectors/Ultimate/OMFGWTGPWEPWE!11!! Editions.

Almost every video game these days is released as the “standalone” version with a Collector’s Edition but are they really worth the price of entry?

My earliest memory of a game that came in the “Collector’s Edition” flavour was Half-Life 2. Given that I still haven’t played it till this day (yeah shame on me) it came with a DVD version of the game, a copy of Half-Life: Source, a limited-edition T-shirt, and a Half-Life 2 guide book all in an oversized box. Back then this was the shit. To get a free shirt with the logo of a game on it that you could wear out in public was great, not only would you spot others wearing it in the wild, it showed that you were a nerd – one of the few who were digging the latest title by Valve by donning a shirt with the logo on the front outside of your bedroom.

The Half-Life 2 Collector's Edition in all its glory

The Half-Life 2 Collector's Edition in all its glory

Since that day back in 2003, a lot has changed. Nowadays you’ll find that Collector’s Editions (CE) include a cavalcade of extra items including statuettes of characters in the game, clothing items, special art books, Making of DVD’s, Game themed mouse pads, both cloth and paper maps of the game world, key chain authenticators, mugs, the list goes on and on; not to mention the inclusion of “digital goods” that include unique in-game items, pets, and cosmetic changes that make you stand out in the game amongst a sea of other players.

Certain game titles are synonymous with specific items that are included with their Collector’s Editions. Take the Assassin’s Creed franchise for example, just like every release in the series; last year’s Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag had a statue of the main character packed into the box (at a premium price) and I can guarantee that the next title in the series (revealed as Assassin’s Creed: Unity) will also include a statue of the protagonist packed in with other extra in-game and physical goods.

Each World of Warcraft Expansion is a good example of “consistent bundling” with every Collector’s Edition for each expansion released containing (at least) a mouse pad, art book, unique in-game pet, soundtrack, making of DVD, and more recently additional in-game items for their other franchises to sweeten the deal. Not only have they maintained uniform with their CE’s, they have kept all of the artwork for the collectors editions in the same vein with all the boxes being the same size and the same style for the last 9 years.  

Some game franchises go way over the top with their Collectors Editions. Take Respawn Entertainments Titanfall; for a hefty premium over the price of the base game, devoted fanboys could own an 18” statue of a titan that lights up. It also comes with an art book and a poster but this is an extreme example of what could be achieved and delivered to the devoted followers of a franchise. 

One of the most insane CE's. Overpriced? If you can justify the cost then the choice is yours

One of the most insane CE's. Overpriced? If you can justify the cost then the choice is yours

Moving away from the “physical” CE’s, publishers are now touting Digital Deluxe Editions of their games for those who are not bothered about the bonus physical items (that aren't really a bonus because you’re paying extra for them), but still have all the cosmetic and in-game items without taking up physical space. I’ll admit, in the past I've fallen for these as they don’t take up any space in the brocave but looking back on it, there hasn't been anything in it that makes it worth it either.

Personally, I think I'm done with the whole “Collector’s Edition” shtick that publishers entice us with, with what seems like every title that is released. In my past experience, I’ve found that the CE bundles usually contain nothing that I would find interesting beyond the initial purchase or install process and in the case of multiplayer games, you are somewhat under the impression that you’re a unique little snowflake, only to find that once you log in and start playing, everyone around you seems to have the same idea.

Not only do I find that CE’s have (what feels like) bloated additional physical content, but the differences in the various packaging sizes they all come in can be a pain. As someone who at that the start of the year had completely cleaned out his game collection of boxes, CE’s and various paraphernalia I only have a certain amount of shelf space to store all these games and since having purchased a PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita, I’ve made a stand that moving forward, if it’s not the stock standard retail case that will uniformly sit in my library I’m not going to bother.

This decision came into full effect when I was staring down the gun at purchasing Call of Duty: Ghosts and was offered a Hardened Edition or a standard edition. Though the Hardened Edition came with bonus in-game content, a Season pass, and a Para cord wrist band, I denied myself its acquisition and (now having looked back on it), don’t regret not forking out an extra $60 for added items that would most probably sit on the shelf, packed away in the box and out of sight.

Now moving to completely digital copies is definitely an option when it comes to video gaming and with the current generation of consoles it's completely viable, but there are times when a physical copy is clearly better. Playing at a friends place or having them borrow your game is a great example, as is the minimal downtime to start playing once it's released instead of waiting for it to download, so is the occasion where a physical copy can sometimes be cheaper than the price set in the online store (for console any ways, Steam is amazing for cheap titles during their sales). Really this discussion is deserving of another post entirely and it's something that I'll be pondering about over the next week.  

Essentially, it all boils down to how much you are willing to part with to get extra “goodies” relating to your favourite title; and if you can justify paying extra for the contents within. If it's something that you can "live with" I say go for it but after seeing so many CE bundles come out over the years, I'm left asking myself "If these collectors editions are for collectors then what are they really collecting if it all sits packed away on a shelf, out of sight? Boxes?"