Delayed Reactions: the PS4

My PS4 arrived yesterday afternoon, and I’ll be damned if I wasn’t as giddy as a small child on Christmas morning when it finally showed up.

And after getting it all set up (which took almost no time at all, surprisingly enough), and then downloading Resogun and playing around an hour’s worth of Assassin’s Creed 4 (again), I come away feeling two very specific emotions:  (a) relief that I’ve finally entered the new console generation, and (b) some disappointment that there’s not quite anything new and dazzling to play just yet.  Indeed, the next big title that I’m looking forward to is… the super-deluxe-pretty Tomb Raider release, which is a game that I do in fact like quite a bit but have already beaten twice.

It’s OK, though.  I can wait.  At least the console’s in place, set up and ready to go.

Getting back to that setting up – man, Sony’s really picked up the pace with the PS4’s download speeds!  The Day One patch (which I think was up to version 1.52 when I got to it last night) was somewhere around 300-400MB, and it downloaded and installed everything within 5 minutes.  (Whereas on the PS3, it might still be downloading.)  Netflix and Amazon both downloaded and installed seamlessly, too – and without the need for a verification/validation code, which I believe I needed for both the PS3 and the 360 apps.   I’m not telling you anything that you might already know – I’m just saying, it was shocking to see how fast everything was happening.

And along those same lines, playing/installing Assassin’s Creed 4 off the disc took almost no time at all, either.

I don’t really know what to say about AC4 at this point; I’m not really sure how much of it I plan on playing, being that I just finished spending 60+ hours with it.  It’s basically a time-filler until Tomb Raider and/or Battlefield 4 arrive from Gamefly.  That being said, it’s immediately clear to me that this is the ideal way of experiencing it; the frame rate is perfectly smooth, the graphics are simply astonishing (colors are vibrant (that water!), draw distance is vastly improved, textures are sharp and detailed, and don’t get me started on the foliage), and the difference between the PS4 version and my shitty PC version is night and day.  Playing through that first Abstergo sequence sealed the deal; those sequences nearly broke my PC in half, for whatever reason, and playing them filled me with dread; yet on the PS4, they were smooth as silk, rock-solid frame rate, everything working the way it’s supposed to.

Moreover, the PS4 controller really is quite good.  I’m still very accustomed to the 360 controller, of course, but the PS4 controller fixes pretty much every problem I had with the PS3 controller; it feels really good to hold, all the buttons are in the right place, the d-pad is absolutely perfect (at least as far as entering text is concerned; I suspect it may be trickier when it comes to, say, fighting games).  More to the point, a game like AC4 requires near-constant controller manipulation (i.e., the simple act of running requires two simultaneous button presses), and not once did my hands cramp up.  (This was a constant problem for me with the PS3.)

So, yeah; I’m a happy camper.  Now I just need new games.

(I haven’t forgotten about Broken Age, by the way; I just need more time with it.  I played the first 20 minutes of Shay’s story on Tuesday night, and obviously last night was devoted to the PS4.  I hear it’s around 4 hours or so; I’ll be aiming to finish it over the weekend, and I’ll write something up on Tuesday.  Not sure if I’m going to address the whole “embargo” kerfuffle, especially as DoubleFine themselves ended up backtracking on it.  I’ll do my best to keep my write-up spoiler-free, at any rate.)

2014: the battle between old and new

You know, I can be full of shit sometimes.

I just wrote this 800-word post about 2014, and how I feel strange because for the first time in a long time I feel like I have absolutely no handle on what’s happening this coming year, and how I’m feeling a little cut off since I don’t have either of the new consoles just yet, and how I’m still not even sure if I should get one or wait for the Steam Machine or just buy a new graphics card for my PC, and how all of this is ridiculous since I have an absurd backlog of games to get through…

… and then, to prove my point, I listed the 27 games in my Steam library that I would like to get through, games which I either never finished or barely started, and which I was posting so that, later in the year when I inevitably start whining about not having anything to play, one of you could call me out and say, well, what about that gigantic backlog, and I could say, OH YEAH, right, the backlog…

… and then, after taking a brief moment to clear my head and open a new browser tab, I decided to check out the latest offerings in the Steam sale, and for some bizarre reason I actually came this close to buying Metro: Last Light, which is a game that I’m not even sure I liked all that much when I rented it on the 360 earlier this year.

NOT EVEN 5 MINUTES HAD PASSED SINCE I’D FINISHED PUTTING THAT LIST TOGETHER, PEOPLE, before I almost spent $10 on a game that I was only interested in buying because it was on sale.

I am an idiot.

Here’s the original post, and the backlog list, and a formal request – please punch me in the face, either in person, on this blog or on twitter (@couchshouts), if I do any whining about not having enough to play next year.  THAT’S my new year’s resolution – to finally get punched in the face.

(Please do not literally punch me in the face.)

*     *     *

I don’t “do” resolutions, but two things I’d like to start doing in 2014 – or, rather, stop doing – are (1) apologizing for taking long-ish breaks at this blog (i.e., anything less than one post a week – it should be understood by now that my available blogging time is in short supply these days) and (2) apologizing in general, but specifically if I let real-life intrude into this space.  This is a game blog, and I try to keep this blog focused on that topic… but it’s also my only blog at the moment (since my tumblr page is simply a place where I re-blog other people’s stuff and/or repost stuff from this blog).

I’d like to do a “What I’m Looking Forward To in 2014” post, but the truth is that this is the first time in a really, really long time where I feel like I have absolutely no idea what’s happening in terms of upcoming software.  I don’t have either of the new consoles yet (though I sorta came close to buying an Xbox One this past weekend, even though I’d still rather get a PS4 first), and so I’m not quite yet invested in either of their forthcoming lineups beyond obvious stuff like Watch Dogs and Destiny (and indie stuff like The Witness and Transistor).  I’m also still kinda waiting to see what the Steam Machine is all about, and I’m also wondering if I should just forgo new consoles entirely and just invest in a new graphics card for my PC.

(From my outsiders perspective, I’m starting to feel like this year’s E3 will be the first E3 in a long time that will actually matter; the new consoles are already in people’s homes, and everybody wants to know what’s coming next.  And it’s not even just about continuing older franchises – this is the best possible time to show off new IP, now that we’re all hungry for something to really put these consoles through their paces.)  

And yet, and yet, and yet… the truth is, all of this prognosticating is silly, as far as I’m personally concerned; I simply can’t afford to play all this new stuff.  I can only realistically afford one (1) console next year, and unless I start getting my freelancing career in order and can get review copies of games without having to pay for them, I will have to start being a lot more selective in terms of what I end up playing, Gamefly notwithstanding.

Moreover, I’ve got an absolutely absurd backlog of games in my Steam library, and I can’t keep ignoring it or pretending it’s not there.  I’ve said this before, of course, but it bears repeating if only so that I can remind myself that it’s out there.

If I start to bitch and moan that I don’t have anything to play, I want one of you to remind me of the list that I’m about to post below.  This isn’t everything that’s unplayed in my Steam library, but this is the stuff that I intended to play but never got around to finishing.

  1. Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs (played the first 30 minutes or so)
  2. Antichamber (I’ve already played quite a lot of it, but I never finished it)
  3. Dishonored DLC (I got halfway through the first one, never started the second one)
  4. Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon (did the first 15 minutes and then got distracted.)
  5. Guacamelee!
  6. Gunpoint
  7. Hitman: Absolution (I’m maybe halfway through this one.  I found it somewhat distasteful, but I’m also compelled to stay with it, for some bizarre reason.)
  8. Kentucky Route Zero
  9. Lego Marvel Superheroes (which I was enjoying quite thoroughly until AC4 came along)
  10. Magrunner: Dark Pulse
  11. Outlast (which I just bought yesterday, for some reason, I don’t know why)
  12. Papo & Yo (which I played a bit of on the PS3, but never finished)
  13. Path of Exile (in case I need a free-to-play Diablo fix)
  14. Rayman Legends
  15. Resonance (which I have literally no memory of downloading, but I’m glad to see it’s in my library)
  16. Rochard
  17. Rogue Legacy
  18. Shadowrun Returns
  19. Shadow Warrior
  20. Spelunky (which I also just bought yesterday, and which I’m afraid of, if that amazing Polygon eggplant run story is to be believed)
  21. System Shock 2
  22. The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing
  23. The Last Remnant (these last 2 were picked up during a summer Steam sale)
  24. The Swapper (need to finish)
  25. The Witcher 2 (which I need to re-start and get back into)
  26. Torchlight 2
  27. XCOM: Enemy Within

That’s 27 games of generally excellent quality that I’ve not finished – and in some cases, have barely started.  This is ridiculous.  This is financially irresponsible.  This is why I have no business buying a new console any time soon, and why I should maybe not worry so much about trying to stay on top of all the new stuff.  Until I put myself in a position where I can play new stuff and get paid to offer written opinions about them, I have more than enough to keep myself occupied for the time being.

*     *     *

I also finished Batman Arkham Origins over the weekend, though “finished” is a relative term, of course – there’s so much side stuff left to do, and I’ve already done a great deal of it, but I don’t think I can do any more.

The game itself is… OK.  A little disappointing, and certainly very exhausting, but I sorta knew going into it that I should keep my expectations low, and so in that respect I feel like I got my money’s worth.  I guess it’s just that I love these Batman games, and even if I knew this was a B-team effort, I can’t help getting excited for them.  The combat just got to be too much after a while – there’s combat involved in nearly every single part of the game, and like I said in an earlier post it gets to be ridiculous.

There’s also some annoying technical problems, at least on the PC; while the game looks terrific for the most part, it did lock up and crash on multiple occasions, and there’s one boss fight near the end where the frame rate got very, very jittery (where you’re fighting Bane (and minions) with your shock-gloves turned on) – and in a game where combat is very much timing-based, my constant deaths in that sequence felt very, very cheap.

From a narrative perspective, it’s certainly conceptually interesting to see a prequel with these characters, but it feels like wasted potential.  The voice acting is woefully uneven – the new Batman and Joker voices are certainly good enough, but Jim Gordon couldn’t have sounded more bored and stiff if he tried.  Moreover, Joker’s character arc does not make any sense to me.  ***SPOILERS*** Joker and Batman have that post-Bane standoff at the hotel; Joker falls out of the building (can’t remember how) and Batman saves him; Joker, now incarcerated and being interviewed by the future Harlequin, appears to have some sort of epiphany about his relationship with Batman; but in the game’s final confrontation, nothing about his epiphany appears to have affected his plan AT ALL.  And I’m still confused about the bounty and Black Mask’s part in all this, and how if Joker was Black Mask all along, why was he trying to kill Batman in the beginning of the game?  Especially since Batman appears to be relatively new to the scene, and this game is where he originally learns about Joker in the first place?  ***END SPOILERS***

All that aside, there’s nothing quite like entering a room filled with bad guys and taking them all out without ever being spotted.  And even then, the difficulty on those particular challenge rooms is very, very uneven; I had a beast of a time in the early game because the room layouts made for very crowded enemy AI paths, but towards the end I was clearing them with ease because the room designs meant that enemies generally walked alone a lot more often.  I’m not complaining, necessarily, because it’s still a rush to clear those rooms regardless, but it’s odd.

I am now trying to figure out what to play next.  And before you remind me that I’m also playing Zelda on the 3DS, let me retort that I’m not having nearly as much fun with it as I’d hoped.  I may try some of the shorter games in that backlog above; Kentucky Route Zero has been on my mind a lot lately, and I wouldn’t mind getting deeper into both Lego Marvel and Rayman Legends.  And also Shadow Warrior.

Have a very happy new year, everybody!

Delayed Reactions: Gotham – a city worth saving?

[This post is kicking off the new Delayed Reactions* feature that will likely see a lot of action in the coming months, as it’s going to involve impressions and review-ish pieces about stuff in my backlog (which is quite large at the moment).  I already did a “First Few Hours” post about Batman Arkham Origins, and so this piece (and pieces like it) will go a bit more in depth about what’s working, what isn’t working, and how I’m feeling about the game without being influenced by current review scores.]

If I had to pick one word to describe my feelings about Batman Arkham Origins at this point, I think that word would be “absurd.”

Absurd point #1:  Considering that the game is about a comic book superhero, I’m more than willing to suspend my disbelief in order to preserve narrative coherence.  And I’ll also note up front that my familiarity with Batman is strictly limited to the first Tim Burton film and the three Chris Nolan films; I don’t read the comics, I haven’t watched the cartoons or animated features.  But I understand that Batman is, among other things, a vigilante hell-bent on saving his city, a man with near-infinite resources and an ethical code that prevents him from killing, but doesn’t prevent him from beating the crap out of anybody in his way.  THAT BEING SAID, I’m 9 hours into the game, and I’ve probably taken out at least 500 bad guys already, and so it begs the question:  with the notable exceptions of Alfred, Jim (Not-Yet-Commissioner) Gordon and his daughter Barbara (more on her in a second), are there any citizens of Gotham that are not crooked, corrupt or just plain evil?  Even the police that I’ve come across are all mobster-controlled scumbags, which makes it very odd that Batman still feels obligated to have Alfred leave anonymous tips to the GCPD every time he captures a particularly notable baddie.  More to the point:  Batman’s need to “save” Gotham is, at this point, pathologically insane, because there is nothing worth saving, anywhere.  Frankly, the bad guys who keep saying that Gotham is past the point of saving are clearly speaking the truth.  There are never any citizens out and about on the streets, but there are gangsters on nearly every street corner, rooftop and sewer tunnel that you come across.  If there’s that much criminal activity, who on earth is there left to steal from?

Absurd point #2:   The key phrase in the previous point is that after 9 hours of gameplay I’ve had to fight what feels like 500 dudes already, and yet the game is telling me I’m only 20-25% complete.  There is SO.  MUCH.  COMBAT.  Let’s all agree that the Batman games have the best melee combat system out there right now as far as third-person action games are concerned (and I say this as someone whose never been particularly graceful as far as the combat is concerned, going back to the first game – I like it, of course, but I could never get very high scores in the Challenges, and that still continues in this game – I very rarely get graded above a “B” in the game unless it’s just one dude and I sneak behind him and perform a silent takedown, and the XP bonuses for shitty scores really rub it in, how not amazing I am at the game).  But let’s also agree that too much of a good thing ceases to be good and starts to become very, very tedious.  In this game, it’s not enough that you clear out a room full of a dozen guys armed with guns; halfway through the battle another wave will come in, for no apparent reason other than the developers seem to think that more combat is always the right answer.

Absurd point #3:  When you’re not endlessly beating dudes to a pulp in service of the main story, there are literally dozens and dozens of side quests which also involve beating dudes to a pulp, and it’s gotten to the point where I’m being reminded of Assassin’s Creed Revelations, where you literally can’t move 10 feet without something popping up on your HUD – a crime in progress, a Penguin arms cache, a hidden Anarky tag, an Enigma henchman and/or datapack and/or radio signal thing.   I can barely catch my breath and just look around without having to hit something.  On the one hand, I appreciate the desire to provide content; on the other hand, almost all these side missions end up being nearly identical in how they play out, so it doesn’t actually feel meaningful in any way – and considering that bad guys seem to respawn endlessly, it actually feels like I’ve done nothing to clean up the city.

The crime scene activities kinda sorta break up the pace a little bit, to be fair, but they’re also a little hackneyed and ridiculous (i.e., the “reconstructions” are cool but completely beyond the bounds of reality, and because there’s so many of them they eventually become a little eye-roll inducing, and in any event the crime scenes are not puzzles beyond you simply finding the next thing to scan), and they also almost always end with you finding the suspect in a group of baddies and you have to beat them all down, which, again, enough with the combat already.

Absurd point #4:  Origins is a prequel to the previous games; I’m not yet sure if it has any direct ties in to those games, or if it’s merely set on a previous day.  In any event, it’s “neat”, I suppose, to see Gordon in his pre-commissioner days, and to see Alfred looking a bit less, er, old.  Another notable event featured in this game is how Batman and Barbara Gordon meet and become allies – in Arkham Asylum, they’re already working together, and I was always a little curious to see how they met.  I won’t give it away (although it happens pretty early in the game, and the game is already a few months old, so I’m hopefully not spoiling anything), but the scene in question is so short that it comes off as silly.  He startles her; she recognizes him and immediately gives him all the info he needs; the end.  I was hoping for something a little more interesting; perhaps it’ll arrive a little later, but for now it just feels dumb.

I’m trying to enjoy the game; and there are times when I’m having fun.  I did ragequit the game last night, though, during a boss battle with Deadshot; I’d cleared out the room and took out most of Deadshot’s health, and then the room flooded in with armed bad guys again, and one shot killed me, and then it started over from the very beginning of the fight, and so I promptly turned the game off and went on with the rest of my life.


* Alternate titles for this feature include “Poor Lag Time”, “Telling You Things You Already Know”, and a revival of my little-used feature, “Everything Old is New Again.”

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