My Take On Bioshock Infinite (SPOILERS)

I got a new video card for my PC (an HD 7870), and got both Tomb Raider and Bioshock Infinite as part of AMD’s “Never Settle” bundle for free. I played through Bioshock first.

First, what I liked:

The graphics - The game looks really, really good. You really get the sense that Columbia is an actual place, giving you a sense of immersion that makes the setting feel more real. You can tell just how much work Irrational Games put into every single area, and they deserve every plaudit for their attention to detail. (If you can play the game on PC, do it–it runs beautifully at 1080p even on mid-range hardware like mine.)

The Skyhook - I just loved using this thing on it’s own. The exhileration and tension that comes from dashing on a little rail tens of thousands of feet up was captured amazingly well, and it really added an extra layer of excitement to…

The combat - The fighting mechanics have been improved and expanded upon in a big way from the first game. Though built around the same “magic ‘n bullets” structure, the addition of both Elizabeth’s ability and the Skyhook adds an extra punch to it that makes the firefights more fun.

Elizabeth - When I first heard that the game would essentially center around a long escort mission, I immediately got nervous. But hearing how she would actually be a valuable asset in battle helped allay my doubts, and you really come to appreciate her assists with ammo and Salts during battle. They did an amazing job with Elizabeth; seeing her interact with the world as you travel with her, the way she grows over the course of the story (most of it anyway) and watching how she and Booker interact through the game really added a lot to the experience.

As for the stuff I didn’t like:

The ending - The twist revealing that Booker gave up his daughter to clear away his debts was done amazingly well IMO. It revealed that Booker, who had a long sordid history of horrible deeds, had hit absolute rock bottom–a parental sin so vile that he tried to redeem himself for it throughout the game, long before he even remembered what he did.

The twist revealing that Comstock is Booker on the other hand? Stupid, overwrought nonsense. It was done purely for shock value and added little of value to the story IMO. The Anna/Elizabeth reveal did more than enough to drive home the constant theme of redemption and rebirth. Not to mention how it was facilitated by the worst aspect of the story:

The magical metaphysics bullshit - Overpowered while conveniently vauge and cryptic, it was basically the writers saying “we can do whatever we want and get away with it”. Few things take me out of a story faster than shit like that. I dreaded what they would do with it from the moment we saw Elizabeth open her first tear into the future, and it made me feel empty to much of what happened after the Songbird takes Elizabeth away (outside of the Anna/Elizabeth reveal, of course). It’s hard to stay invested in a story that freely touts “infinite variables and outcomes”.

The glass ceiling imposed by Bioshock 1′s legacy - The first Bioshock was an absolute revelation for me. Rapture was a joy to explore and fight through; the game offers a pure sense of enjoyment that very few games in this generation or any other could match. The problem was that Ken Levine and co. knew what an impact the first game had, and crafted something that ultimately feels too similar to the original game to match it, let alone exceed it.

Infinite was basically a remake of the first game in a different setting. I rarely got the sense of wonder the first game brought, both because of how often I was reminded of the original and how much more uneven and, ultimately, inferior Infinite was. It’s a good game overall, sure, but it’s hardly the revelatory experience that has critics lining up to bow at Levine’s feet.

I’d give it an 8/10.

Posted in PC, Playstation 3, Xbox 360 | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

We’re Never Going To See Another Generation With Sales Like This One

The current generation was special in a lot of ways.

It was the first in which online functionality became standard, and the first in which global network infrastructure allowed for online play (albeit inconsistently in practice). It was the first built around high-definition graphics, bucking 30 years of precedent in terms of visual quality. We also saw Nintendo come back in force with the Wii, after a middling showing with the N64 and a colossal failure with the GameCube, as Sony shot itself in the foot with the PS3 and allowed both Nintendo and MS to win sales and market share.

One of the most interesting aspects of the current generation has been the sales. I’m a total sucker for sales data with video games, and this gen has offered plenty to sate my appetite.

This is the only generation in my lifetime in which 3 consoles all sold at least 70 million units, with the top seller (the Wii) only selling 30% higher than the other. You wouldn’t think that based on how fanboys gloat and mock each other over the numbers, but all three consoles did great this gen. Even Sony, with it’s convoluted $600 mess of a PS3, managed to recover. It’s a far cry from previous generations, in which either Sony or Nintendo monopolized the entire market (the 16-bit era being an exception).

The handheld space was even more interesting. For over 15 years, Nintendo had a complete lock on the handheld space with their Gameboy line. Sony stepped up to the plate with the PSP, and put up a much better fight than any of Nintendo’s previous competitors–one of the few cases where being outsold 2-to-1 is still a monumental achievement. Together, both handhelds sold over 200 million units globally.

I don’t expect to see either situation play out next gen.

The PSP and DS line were the last dedicated handhelds sold before smartphones and tablets were a factor. That’s already depressing sales in the west, where the PS Vita is selling like dogshit and the 3DS is selling far less than in Japan. I’ll be surprised if Nintendo’s newest unit sells as much as the PSP at this rate; there’s no way in hell it’ll hit the DS’s 150 million units sold. No dedicated handheld will ever see those numbers again.

Nor do I expect to see a repeat of current gen numbers in the console space either. If Nintendo is going to be leaning on their core fans to push units this time, the system  will sell little more than the N64 did. The price differential  won’t be as wide as it was with the Wii and it’s competitors, and people will hang on to their PS3s and 360s for a while. That will also depress PS4 and 720 sales, as they cannibalize each other from the off due to launching around the same time. I expect the market for the next-gen consoles to be smaller than it was for this one.

This generation was an anomaly that won’t be repeated any time soon.

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New Street Fighter IV Update Announced @ PAX East: Really, Capcom?

So, yeah. Capcom announced another update to Street Fighter 4.

Honestly? I’m not too excited.

I don’t even have my copy of Arcade Edition anymore. I have a lot more fun watching the game than playing it. It’s not like they needed a new version to prop-up a flagging competitive scene, as Version 2012 is a solid fixture in tournaments just like the last 3 versions. I doubt most outside of the hardcore set are going to be flocking to PSN/Live to download this.

This will be the 5th version of SFIV, which first came out here in ’09 and in Japanese arcades in ’08. Did we really need another version of the game 5 years out?

Why can’t they put those resources into, say, Marvel vs Capcom 3? It still has lots of problems, yet Capcom disbanded the team working on it a while ago and have said outright that they aren’t updating it, despite repeated requests from the fans all over the web. This, despite Marvel getting played just as often as SFIV. Are they really that unwilling to deal with Marvel to get anything done?

Beyond that…surely they could put those resources into a new fighting game? That’s what I really want. I don’t want them to keep updating old games, and I don’t trust them enough to bring back any of my old favorites anyway. After how badly they handled SFxT, the last thing I want to see out of Capcom in it’s current form is Capcom vs. SNK 3 or a new Rival Schools.

No, what they should do is an entirely new fighter with no relation to any of their other franchises. Not another cross-over, reboot, sequel or update; something that takes place in it’s own universe, with it’s own story, characters, and fighting mechanics. That way, it won’t come with the baggage of community expectations, and they can try new things.

But Capcom has the stomach for that. Hell, they aren’t even willing to commit to a proper sequel to Darkstalkers unless they see solid sales for the latest online package. But they can only trot out the oldies so much before people start getting bored with it and stop buying their stuff–and it’s not like people trust Capcom much lately anyway.

When are they going to make a new fighting game IP?

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Dead or Alive 5+ Demo Impressions + Team Ninja Can’t Have It Both Ways

So I downloaded the demo for Dead or Alive 5+, the upgraded Vita port for DOA5, a few days back. A few thoughts:

- This has the best combat in the series by a mile. The combat feels much more polished and fluid; the arbitrary and overpowered counter system from older games has been overhauled, making it more difficult to utilize and less broken. Team Ninja did bang up work here.

- They also did an amazing job with the conversion to the Vita. Character models look great, the game runs at a smooth 60FPS, and the controls are tight and responsive. The only real problem is the lowered detail on the backgrounds, but that’s not a huge deal–and the destructible environments are still as over-the-top as the PS3/360 versions.

- The amount of training options they give you is truly impressive, and puts most fighters to shame. Like Virtua Fighter, the game offers command tutorials for each character, and the basic tutorial mode goes through all of the system mechanics in detail. Capcom, take note; THIS is how you allow people to get into the gameplay, not by charging them for handholding pay-to-win mechanics or throwing some useless combo trials at them.

Hats off to Temco for stepping up to the plate and delivering a very satisfying experience. I’ll definitely be picking this up one of these days. There is one thing about the game that I found kind of irritating, though.

In most of the promotional material for the game, Temco Koei and Team Ninja has been working to dispel the series’ softcore porn reputation–one that the loudmouth previous head of the team, Tomonobu Itagaki, shamelessly played into. The main slogan, “I’m A Fighter”, has been plastered all over the games ads and trailers; they even showcased various athletes and martial artists in one promo.

Then, at the same time, they’ve been promoting any number of DLC costume packs with bikinis and the like with trailers like this. And the Vita version has a first person mode, which has you using the touch controls to tap all over your favorite DOA girl. None of which is surprising, considering that when the team said they’d shrink the series’ iconic titties the fans pushed back hard.

Temco clearly wants the game to be seen in the same light as the likes of Tekken and Street Fighter. Indeed, the game itself is crafted just as well as any other fighter that’s come out of the latest boom. But all the glossy promos in the world aren’t going to convince me  they’re willing to cast off the bouncy legacy left behind by Itagaki, lest they risk leaving money on the table and pissing off their core fans.

I’d say they either go all in on leaving the tits and fanservice behind, or just stop with the “I’m A Fighter” claptrap. They can’t have it both ways–and the schizophrenic promotion isn’t fooling anyone. Nor does it have to, seeing as the game is great regardless.

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Will A Price Cut Be Enough For The Vita in The West? I Doubt It.

Many fans of Sony’s zombified Vita have had little to get excited about as of late. But the recent price-cut in Japan has provided a brief respite from the usual doldrums. Sales have been gangbusters recently, with the Vita actually beating the 3DS in Japan last week. Being a Vita owner myself, it was nice to see that, even if I know it won’t last long.

This new sales momentum has given a new wave of hope to the Vita’s long-beleaguered fanbase. “Cut the price globally, Sony!” they’ve cried out on forums and gaming news sites. “If it worked out so well there, it will work out here too!”

I don’t think so. There are a few reasons why:

- In the West, smartphones and tablets are hurting both the Vita AND the 3DS. The latter hasn’t sold nearly as well outside of it’s native territory. That’s the main reason Nintendo lowered their 3DS sales projections through March (albeit not nearly as much as the Wii U, which is still set to underperform). Here, casual consumers have very few fucks left to give for dedicated gaming handhelds, especially those that don’t play Pokemon. Sony really has it’s work cut out for it if it want’s to change that dynamic.

- A $50 price-cut on the hardware isn’t enough. That would just bring the Vita in line with the 3DS XL, and it would still be more expensive than the regular 3DS. Sony needs to cut the price on their memory cards, too, because people are not paying $80+ for a 32GB card in 2013. Not when both the 3DS and smartphones come with SD card support.

- While there have been several hot selling games in Japan to coincide with the Vita’s price-cut, the release line-up here is completely fucking barren. I can only count three games I’m sure to buy for mine this year: Muramasa doesn’t come out until June, Killzone: Mercenary won’t come out until September, and Tearaway doesn’t even have a release date. There are several big selling IPs from the PSP days that haven’t even been mentioned for the Vita. Where is God of War? Grand Theft Auto? Gran Turismo?

And on top of that, the Vita’s current library is full of neutered console ports just like the PSP was–a situation Sony is actively exacerbating with their misguided Cross Buy program. Cut down versions of Sly Cooper and Ratchet and Clank are not going to send Vitas flying off the shelves. People here didn’t want a portable PS1.5 BEFORE the iPhone and iPad came out. What made Sony think it portable PS2.5 would be any more appealing now?

Sony needs to do a LOT more with the Vita than just cut the price. They need to take several rounds of decisive action to prove the Vita is still worth investing in here, at a time when most of the excitement for mobile gaming in the West has shifted to smartphones and tablets.

Both dedicated handhelds have been offering gaming experiences that no iPhone or Galaxy could ever match. That’s been the central argument for both the 3DS and the Vita from the start. Nintendo stepped up to the plate when things went badly, yet even they’re still seeing lackluster sales outside of Japan. Can Sony do what it takes in a situation even Nintendo is struggling with?

Only time will tell.

Posted in 3DS, PSP, psvita | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Why I Liked Chains of Olympus Better Than God of War III

My first God of War game was the first PSP prequel, Chains Of Olympus.

It’s my favorite PSP game of all time, and easily one of the best I’ve played on any console. I can’t count how many times I’ve beaten the game on either the PSP or the VIta. I recently got God or War: Saga for the PS3, which included the HD renditions of the PSP games, and I’m midway through my second playthrough of COO on the PS3. It just never seems to get old.

After playing through COO, I was super excited about God of War III, and picked it up as soon as possible. I had no idea that Ready at Dawn, who made the PSP games, wasn’t even affiliated with Sony; seeing Santa Monica, the main developer for the series, wrap up the trilogy on the PS3 had me super excited.

However, while I do like GOWIII okay…the experience doesn’t hold up nearly as well.There are several reasons why Ready at Dawn’s first take on Kratos’s story was better:

- More intuitive controls: One thing that’s bugged me about the console GOW games is how Santa Monica insists on using every goddamned button on the DualShock just because it’s there. This isn’t a problem with COO; the lack of extra shoulder buttons means that they have to streamline and simplify the controls, which makes handling Kratos feel much more natural in and out of battle. They actually addressed this in the Ascension demo, with the use of weapon drops reorienting the controls in a way that works as well as the PSP games. I felt it was long overdue, frankly.

- A better story: With COO, the narrative was more solid all around. Unlike GOWIII’s plot, which hinged on a cheesy, awkward retcon of the first game’s use of Pandora’s Box, the story was straightforward and convincing. Kratos was also a more relatable figure in COO, rather than the bloodthirsty lunatic we got in most of GOWIII. That bloodlust made it impossible to feel any sympathy for Kratos’s vengeance, which made a lot of the game feel hollow. His belated realization of how much death and destruction he cause by the end (which was disappointing sequel bait) did little to make up for things.

- A proper sense of scope: COO made excellent use of the PSP’s limited hardware to create something that lookedgreat. Seeing how they managed to create something of such visual fidelity put the game head and shoulders over the PSP’s sea of neutered PS2 ports. GOWIII, on the other hand, served to show how problematic the PS3′s accursed hardware is. Between the wildly inconsistent character models, the fluctuating framerates, and the weird issues with texture pop-in, I constantly get the sense that Santa Monica’s vision for GOWIII was beyond what they could pull out of the system back in 2010. The beauty of GOW: Ascension only makes the third game look that much more constrained by the Cell architecture.

All in all, the physical and technological limitations of the PSP forced Ready at Dawn to design COO more intuitively, a key factor in what made Chains of Olympus work. They didn’t have the latitude to go apeshit like Santa Monica did with it’s $40 million+ budget for 3, which only served to work against the game by allowing for more blockbuster-type set-piece design.

I’ve heard that Ascension is even more oriented towards such massive visual scale, to the point that you can barely tell what’s going on at times because Santa Monica is constantly pulling away to show you how EPIC everything is. I’ll see for myself once I pick the game up, which should be soon.

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A More Powerful Wii U With No Tablet Wouldn’t Have Sold Any Better

Long before the Wii U’s dismal performance post-December, a common complaint about the system has been it’s design. At issue for many e-critics is how the software neither looks nor runs any better than current gen offerings. One alternate approach I heard someone wish for on NeoGAF was, essentially, a beefed up Wii; a box that continued to use the Wiimote as the main controller, abandoning the $100+ Gamepad for a console closer in power to the PS4 and NextBox.

That certainly would’ve given the Wii U a stronger argument against sticking with the PS3/360. At the end of the day, neither Nintendo nor the third parties have done much to convince people it’s a truly “next-gen” experience yet. Indeed, it’s likely that it will never convince many Sonyheads or MS fans anymore than the Wii did. The tablet being utilized in a genuinely intriguing and sellable way is also still an open question.

But I’m still not convinced a more powerful box with no Gamepad would’ve sold any better.

To begin with, a central reason for the Wii’s success was that it offered a more accessible experience for less. The fact is, the Kinect has already proven itself to be a viable alternative for the casual/family set as the Wii’s sales have fallen off in the past few years. Right now, Kinect Adventures is far and away the top selling game on the 360, and with Kinect 2.0 in every NextBox it’s sure to have an even bigger impact. A more powerful Wii-mote box would have a hard time differentiating itself in light of that.

Price would also be an issue as well; a $300 box may not have offered a big enough leap to satisfy the core unless it was sold at a big loss, while anything more expensive would be too close to the likely PS4/NextBox prices for comfort. And there’s also the issue of Nintendo fans sitting on their hands until the next Zelda or Metroid game come out, which would have depressed sales no matter how the WiiU was built or priced.

The main issue for me isn’t that the Wii U is designed too poorly to do well. I’m still not convinced of that. The problem is how badly Nintendo cocked up the system’s launch; the barren software landscape and stupid decisions with the networking functionality and OS would’ve screwed up any consoles early months on the market. Indeed, I expect the dismal sales it has now to stay dismal through to fall at least.

And there’s also the long-standing bad blood between Nintendo and MS/Sony fans, most of whom were probably never going to buy a Wii U no matter what. I doubt Nintendo has much purview to take their advice in light of that.

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