Monday, February 3, 2014

Ubisoft Commentary of its Audience

I thoroughly enjoy the Assassin Creed series. Not every game is made equal, but I really enjoy the various historical settings, the characters, and the quirky first civilization plot. I’ve currently played all the console released games (played Liberations on the Vita), and can easily say that ACII is my favorite game, Ezio the most charismatic lead in the series, and AC Revelations is the weakest post ACI. So when ACIII was first announced, I was excited, especially because it was being made by the same team that made ACII, but also because of the new setting. When October 30th, 2012 came around, I opened up my new copy of ACIII and dived into this new world. You know what, I had a great time. However, it seems that a lot of people did not.
Our four leads
At first I was surprised by the reaction ACIII seemed to be getting among gamers. There was an overly underwhelmed response. People didn’t seem to like the setting or the main character that much. I, on the other hand, really liked Ratonhnhake:ton’s journey. Sure he wasn’t as fun as Ezio, but that’s due to the times and setting. Ezio was a young man, with no ambition or self-drive outside of bedding a girl or two, and suddenly he is thrust into a world he knew nothing of and has to shoulder a world of responsibilities. However, he never looses that sense of lightheartedness, and this is largely due to the setting of Renaissance Italy, a time period of great innovation in art and culture with beautiful architecture. 
Italy truly is a beautiful place
Colonial America on the other hand, was a harsh environment, an untamed wilderness. Coupled with this is the slaughter of countless Native Americans by the colonists, who themselves are fighting their British overlords. Its dark times full of revolution, and caught in the middle of it all is a young boy who not only has to avenge the death of his people and the theft of his land, but integrate himself into a new brotherhood of the Assassin’s that loosing a war against the Templars. Ratonhnhake:ton is angry. First his mother is killed by his father’s cohorts, then he leaves his people who start to grow apart from him. He finds his Assassin mentor to be slow and largely useless (but that is more to do with the exuberance of youth). Then his people are killed by the man he has been protecting (General Washington). This game has none of the lightness that held Ezio’s trilogy together. ACIII deals with difficult stuff, and there are no easy answers that await the protagonist or the gamer. It was a game that demanded a lot from the gamers, and it seems they did not like that.
Life was harsh for the colonists
That all comes to light in ACIV, which follows the exploits of Ratonhnhake:ton’s grandfather Edward. Throughout the game, the player gets some time in the present, hacking Templar computers and generally not knowing who they are working for. One of the computers you can hack leads to a video entitled ‘Market Analysis: C. Kenway’, and discusses the complexity of Ratonhnhake:ton story, the fact that he speaks the Iroquois language for most of his young life forcing the gamer to read subtitles, that he is an angry young man (with reason), and that you don’t get a sense of resolution at the end of the game. The final analysis decides that the character of Ratonhnhake:ton’s would be too complicated for the audience to accept, and thus they should abandon the character. It was interesting of Ubisoft to include this video, directly pointing at the mass consumer who play their games and stating that they weren’t smart or patient enough to handle a character of Ratonhnhake:ton’s complexity and muddied life. 
Not much love for our young Assassin
Sadly, the video essentially put an end to all hope of Ratonhnhake:ton’s story continuing via a new game focusing on him. It’s quite a shame, as I liked Ratonhnhake:ton, and I feel he deserves more time. I would have loved to see him trying to live in a world where his people are continuously marginalized, killed, and treated lower than animals. I would have been interested in seeing whether or not he could justify fighting against the Templars for a free America (probably not) while a newly freed America does its best to put an end to Native Americans nationwide. Sadly, we may never know; Ratonhnhake:ton was in his late 20’s/early 30’s by the end of ACIII. Who knows how he would have changed by the end of his story arc? After all, by the end of AC Revelations, Ezio is no longer the same man he was in ACII. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Does the Steam Box Confuse Anyone Else?

I don’t understand the Steam Machines. I know I can’t be the only one, but for some reason this annoys me. Not the Steam Machine; the total confusion. The root of my problem is, ‘who are they for, why do they need to exist, and what new aspects to gaming they will bring about?’. I’m just at a total loss.
I'm going to sit here until someone explains it to me
When I first heard about the Steam Machine rumors, I couldn’t help but laugh. I knew Valve made a ton of money from Steam, but why they would make a box built around that platform was mind boggling. I just chalked it off to fan rumors used to explain the total lack of new Half Life.

But time when on, and the rumors picked up steam. Then one day I saw the concept for a goofy looking controller that looks about as comfortable as a colonoscopy and I was like, there is no way this can be real. However, Valve admitted that they were partnering with other companies to make the box(s) with said controllers previously shown. 
This can't feel good
 So at first I expected one or two boxes; an entry level machine and a top of the line box that does everything including making pancakes. But for some reason I got 13 boxes. Made by different companies. With different specs. Different prices. Different designs (one that even rips off the PS4). And I was like ‘What!?’ And Gabe was like ‘What?’ And I said ‘Huh? What are you doing?’ And Gabe said ‘Not making Half Life 3’. So I tried to read the specs of the boxes, which turned out to be pointless because not only are they quite different, but some companies haven’t even finalized what’s in the boxes, and I don’t have time to read through 13 different specs that will change. So I gave up, believing that the Steam Machine is not for me.
The PS4... I mean Steam Box
But why not? Why should I give up? This should be right up my alley. A box dedicated to the Steam-verse and all the great things it offers. I should be all over this. It’s like a PC with a console interface. And that’s when it hit me. It is a PC with a controller. I have a PC. And I could buy a controller for it if I wanted to. In fact, everyone who has a Steam account has a PC, and I’m sure that some have controllers too. If I wanted to play using Steam, I could have done so for years. So why is Valve making boxes now?

The answer to that question was the Steam OS. Like any other OS made by any other company, it’s supposed to be the ‘be all end all’ OS. Great! So why can’t I just buy the OS from Valve and use that instead of Windows from now onwards? I could install it on my PC, get the Valve controller (or plug in my PS4 controller) and call it a day. Why do I have to shell out up to $6000 for a Steam dedicated box? I just don’t get it. Why Valve. Just tell me why?
Valve, now might be a good time remember the story of Icarus
I’m confused, frustrated, and feeling like an old man. I’m way outta my element with this whole concept. I’ve tried reading about it. I’ve watched videos were smart people discuss the machines, but none of it makes sense to me. I’m at a loss. I don’t use Steam, and unless the PlayStation brand goes away permanently, I don’t really see myself using Steam anytime soon. I don’t get it, or why Valve is doing it, and I have to come to terms with the fact that like Sex in the City, I will probably never understand what the hell is going on. I’m rising a white flag of stupidity. Valve, go easy on me. And please, for the love of God, just tell me if you have given up on the Half Life franchise. I won’t care if you have. It’s the not knowing that hurts.
This man feeds on your tears

Monday, January 13, 2014

Stop Wasting My Time!

Over the last couple of weeks, while surfing through the internets, feeling the wind in my hair, the smell of 1’s and 0’s in the air, I stumbled across a couple of articles; this one, this one, and this one. I clicked on these articles because their topic of discussion (the first two about Naughty Dog and the last about Half Life 3) was of great interest to me. So when I clicked upon the links, I was frustrated to find that not only were these articles speculative bordering on inane, but complete wastes of time.

The reason that I come down hard upon these articles is because of the leaps made by the authors surrounding their subject material. The first two articles, written by Giuseppe Nevla for DualSHOCKERS, chose to embellish upon a Sony Computer Entertainment Italy Facebook post that contained an image of a PS4 controller made out of coal with the caption ‘Naughty’ in it. From here, he goes on a journey, of what I can only assume was epic proportions, to claim that there might be some hint at a Naughty Dog game reveal in the coming days. He bases this on nothing substantial, and makes leaps so huge that the Ancient Aliens guys would be embarrassed by him.
Giuseppe essentially wrote what this guy does for a living.
Giuseppe’s next article is essentially a retraction of his previous article of 48 hours earlier. He tried to clothe the ridiculousness of said piece by exclaiming that because of the festive season of the holidays, and Sony Italy being the only Sony site that chose to celebrate this, was the cause of his, and apparently many others, confusion. That annoyed me greatly. If he were honest (I made leaps and bounds for internet hits), then I would not have cared. However, to pretend that his readers are so stupid that they would believe that he wasn’t trying to fish for hits is insulting. Hell, the comment section below his second article seems to read like it’s all Sony’s fault that these articles were written. What the hell is wrong with those people? Sony didn’t force Giuseppe to write nonsense. He did that all on his own.

The final article that irked me was Dylan Zellmer’s article on Half Life 3, or rather, why Valve may never make one. Instead of pointing out the painfully obvious (between Steam and their new ventures in hardware, Valve have no monetary need to make games anymore), he chooses to focus on a quote about the importance of level design, and how multi-player experiences might be more valued than that which was found in Half Life games from a developer’s point of view. It’s an interesting quote, that actually might reflect how this new style of development may be influencing the next installment of Half Life if Valve ever choose to make one, but by no means can one say that this can be interpreted as why Half Life 3 may never come out. It’s not even the full quote. It’s taken in complete isolation, used to promote the dialogue of the article, and probably has nothing to do with any game Valve may be making. By manipulating the source quote, Dylan has shown quite an apt that would make political extremists proud.
G Man was not amused.
Thankfully, Dylan provided a source for the quote for his readers to read through and make their own minds up. But the fact that the entire article (a Washington Post blog post), in which Gabe Newell is interviewed by Andrea Peterson about why Valve is the way it is as a company, has been misconstrued by an author using his views instead of the facts of the article (which doesn’t even mention Half Life 3) to write speculative jargon should be embarrassing to both author and However, like my good buddy Giuseppe from a couple of paragraphs above, Dylan’s articles comes off as a fishing for hits expedition. Cheap and a waste of precious time.

There have always been people writing nonsense (I’m sure I’ve done my fair share of it), to get readers. There is nothing wrong with that. People should be allowed to write crap so that it is no longer inside of them. However, they should not be presented as news articles. Leave the speculations to blog posts, where all three of these articles belong. There is no need to claim this as news. If you write well, about real news topics, then you will get the hits you deserve, and the recognition that may lift you up to a better place. Until then, leave speculative tat to the blogosphere.
In this case mine.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

What’s in a Voice?

Voices can tell you a lot about a person. Sometimes people rush through their words, blending them into an incomprehensible mess, leaving the speaker breathless. Other times people stress each syllable, emphasizing the individual sounds in the words to stress a point. Voices can be high pitched, nervous sounding, betraying a sense of unease. Other times, a voice can be deep, effortlessly filling a room, commanding attention. Voices are important, and when a character has such an identifiable voice, it is difficult for the viewer to accept a change. In this case, I talk of Big Boss, from Metal Gear Solid.
A worn looking Big Boss
Back in 1998, with the power of the original PlayStation, game technology was limited, and to get the full motion capture of modern games, such as The Last of Us, was not even a factor in game development. Characters were blocky, with full facial features limited to CGI cut scenes. However, Hideo Kojima, creator of Metal Gear, never chose to add CGI cut scenes in Metal Gear, choosing to stick with in game engine cinematic, not taking the gamer out of the experience. So how were the game creators to provide some character to these blocky avatars? By depending upon the actors providing the voices to flesh out the various personalities involved.

The poster child for the Metal Gear franchise is Solid Snake, the better half of the two leads, with the other being Naked Snake/Big Boss. David Hayter has provided the voice for both Snakes since 1998 over 9 games, with the sole exception being in Guns of the Patriots where an Old Solid Snake (David Hayter) has a conversation with Big Boss (Richard Doyle). However, after 15 years of David Hayter, Hideo Kojima sees fit to drop him in favor of 24 star Kiefer Sutherland. When I first heard this rumor, I found it incredibly amusing. I really enjoyed 24, and a large part of that was because of Kiefer, but I never expected this ‘news’ to become real. However, come June of this year, it became official that Kojima had done the unwanted and dropped David Hayter.
David Hayter
My initial reaction was one of disbelief. How could anyone other than David Hayter play Snake? But then the trailers came out, with one or two lines from Kiefer Sutherland sneaked in. It’s been six months since the announcement and still little can be heard of Snake’s new voice leaving some to question how the VO for Snake is coming along and if Kiefer is any good in the role. But why should this matter for anyone, let alone me? It’s just a game.
Kiefer Sutherland
Well, Metal Gear Solid changed the way I play and view games. Up until then, games were just a fun pastime that consisted of Sonic the Hedgehog and Spyro the Dragon, but there was nothing meaningful in those games. It was essentially save the princess story line, with the princess substituted for either animals, dragons or crystals. But Metal Gear Solid changed everything for me. There were characters that had voices, talking about intricate plot details that mostly went over my head, forcing me to pay attention to the little scraps of information I could understand. The gameplay was intricate, with weapons that felt real (at least real for the time), boss battles were fun (Psycho Mantis anyone), and Solid Snake was so cool. It wasn’t that Snake was beating down the nameless commandos that littered the levels with ease, or that he took on a tank, a Cyborg Ninja and Metal Gear. It was his gravelly voice that made him stand out. It was his voice that gave his featureless face character.

David Hayter brought strength to Snake. There was a sense of ease about the character. He may not have been in control of every situation, but you got the impression that he was not to be trifled with. And when someone had the upper hand on Snake, you knew that the solider was planning some way of overcoming the current obstacle. In Metal Gear Solid, Solid Snake is a solider annoyed by the industrial war complex, tired of being dragged into battle to clean up other people’s messes. In MGS4, Solid Snake has become an old man, tired of continuously fighting, but driven to leave a better world for the next generation. The character had grown, his face had weathered, and his voice betrayed the frailty within. Snake was a dying man; years of war and smoking had done their damage. David Hayter changed his voice entirely to make sure that there would be no doubt that this was Solid Snake, but a Solid Snake at the end of a very long, and arduous journey.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention David Hayter’s excellent work in MGS3, arguably the best game in the series. MGS3 follows the exploits of Big Boss, but before he had earned the title of Big Boss. At the beginning of the game, Big Boss was cocky, knowing he was a good solider, but foolishly believing he is better than most. His voice has a sense of unearned calmness. He’s a man who believes to be in control, but really has no hold over the situation, which falls apart around him very quickly near the beginning of the game. From here, Boss is beaten, battered, betrayed, shot, tortured, humiliated, eventually learning the truth behind his mentor’s actions. By the end of the game, Boss sounds defeated. There is no arrogance about him. He is in a state of immense thought, saving his few words for matters of consequence. This follows through into the next game Peace Walker, which has Boss trying to ascertain the truth of his mentor’s actions, and to decide for himself if they were right. David Hayter did the character and his journey proud, evolving the voice to suit the situation.
Ready for some new Metal Gear!
So now we enter a new era. Kiefer Sutherland takes over one of gaming’s most iconic roles from a man who built it up. Let’s hope he knocks it out of the park. If it’s half as good as Jack Bauer, then we are in store for a hell of a ride. And who’s to say that David Hayter won’t return to voice Solid Snake one day in a future game? Until then, I have the old Metal Gears. I’ll be able to replay through all the excellent games in the series, and MGS2. I’ll be able to listen to forgotten dialogue, and remember information long since trivialized to the far reaches of my brain. I, like always, look forward to Metal Gear, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store this March in this new era of Metal Gear.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

My Games of the Year: 2013

2013 was quite a year for gaming. There were so many well received games one could feel overwhelmed on where to start. For me it was slightly easy, I’m a console gamer, and specifically a PlayStation gamer. So, unfortunately for me, games like Gone Home and the Stanley Parable left me in their wake, hopefully giving me the finger until the day I decide to finally play games on PC too. But until then, I proudly grab a dual shock and declare war on whatever villain dares cross my path. Now there will be some glaring omissions, money was tight for me, so games like Bioshock Infinite, Tomb Raider, Beyond Two Souls, God of War, and Grand Theft Auto V, are waiting in the wings until some sort of Game of the Year edition comes out that collects everything or they come down in price. So for now, out of the games I played this year, these are my favorites, and the top three in this list will stick with me for a long time to come.
No to mention all the money spent on next gen.

10) Sound Shapes (PS4)
Sure this game came out on the PS3 and Vita in 2012, and I loved it. So when it came time for me to get my PS4, I immediately downloaded this bad boy and had a blast, making it my first PS4 platinum. Sound Shapes is tremendously fun, and I can’t wait to see what Queasy Games does next.

9) Contrast (PS4)    
I really enjoyed my time with Contrast. It was a tremendously charming game, and I immensely enjoyed playing as the imaginary character Dawn, who could not be seen by anyone, just as she could see no one save for her creator Didi.   

I’ve always felt Killzone has taken itself too seriously. It also doesn’t help that I’ve never really felt the need to fight the Helghast besides the fact that they are shooting at me. I always thought it would be better if they introduced an alien enemy to fight, uniting the two human adversaries. Regardless, Shadowfall is immensely beautiful, implementing the touchpad effortlessly and kept me hooked until a slightly sloppy end.

I haven’t spent nearly enough time with Resogun yet, but the time I have spent has been thoroughly enjoyable. Much like Super Stardust, the game comes fast and hard, but is so addicting. I had a blast playing it thus far, and once I’m back home in front of my PS4, I’ll be playing it again.

One day, I was looking to play something thoughtless while waiting for a friend to give me a call. Two hours and three missed calls later I was hooked. I had no idea what this game was before going into it, but man was I floored. It was colorful, loud, and just so smooth I couldn’t help but get through the game with three perfect scores. It didn’t hurt that is was free for PS+ members.

Assassin’s Creed currently ranks as my number three favorite franchise of all time behind Metal Gear (1) and Uncharted (2). So short of this game being an AC Revelations clone, it wasn’t going to take too much for me to like this game. But I didn’t realize how much fun I was having with this game until close to the end when I, I mean Edward, became an assassin for the first time. That’s when it hit me, this game was huge and immersive, and I was content with just being a pirate. FYI, it plays a hell of a lot better on the PS4 vs PS3, but the graphical difference in negligible.

For me, Sly Cooper was always that third wheel of the PS2 generation when compared to Ratchet and Jak. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it a lot, but not near the level of Ratchet let alone Jak. However, Sly scratched an itch I had long forgotten I had. With games like Into The Nexus and Puppeteer not till the end of the year, I was craving a game that was pure PS2 era platforming, and Thieves in Time, especially on the Vita, was just the game I needed. Not to say that the Vita version was superior to the PS3 version, but it did allow me to play through the game on the subway to and from school. Sly sneaked back onto consoles, and I hope to see more of his adventures. Hopefully, Jak too will take note of how to make a successful return one day.

5 years. That’s how long I’ve waited for a new Metal Gear. I did not release how much I was missing this franchise until I started playing through Revengeance. It had the zany Metal Gear character that is unique to this franchise. It had a polish that Platinum Game has focused since its days as the great Clover Studios, and it had the MGS 4 Raiden, the only Raiden that matters. This game was so new, yet felt so familiar, I genuinely forgot it came out this year. I thought that I had had this game for generations, having fond memories of playing it back in the day. Do yourself a favor and pick this up, it is terrific.

I had no expectations going into this game. I can’t even remember the last JRPG I played (Valkyria Chronicles if you count it). From the beautiful animated cut scenes to the seamless gameplay, to the large world map, this JRPG may have started on a sad note, but never relinquished that sense of wonder and optimism that good Japanese games manage to capture. The characters never border on annoying, and the voice acting is great. I’m having a blast (not quite done with it yet), and this game has me coming back for more.

When I finished Uncharted 2 for the first time, the words that came out of my mouth were ‘I can’t believe I was a part of that’. It was such a roller-coaster ride of adrenalin that by the time I was done I just wanted to dive right back in. The Last of Us on the other hand was entirely different. I was drained, physically and mentally. I felt a sudden urge to hug a giraffe. I was afraid more of random strangers than clicking sounds in the distance. But most of all, I was pleased with Joel, with the decision he made. I’ll try to be as vague as possible; when I found out towards the end what the ‘bad guys’ were planning on doing, I was furious. There was no way I, as in me not Joel, would allow them to do what they were planning. I had come too far for that, and thankfully, so had Joel. I did what I had to do, and a couple of days later, I did it again. This journey was a tough one, with a muddied conclusion, where the line between good and bad is nonexistent. The voice acting and motion capture was done so well, I’m struggling to think of another game that comes close to it. Naughty Dog was brave to tell the story it told, and I for one am privileged to have played it.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

My First Two Weeks With My PlayStation 4

I wanted to write a 24 hour, instant, from the gut, opinion piece of my time with my PS4. It would have been easy, I would have written about how good/meh/good again Killzone Shadow Fall is, and how I’m afraid of playing Knack because of the reviews, and it would have totaled a paragraph or two in length. But I decided that I needed more time with this new beast from the house of Sony, so I held my thoughts, only for me to regurgitate them now. Side note; still afraid to play Knack, maybe after some… a lot of… whiskey.
Still don't know why I dropped $60 for this.
Let’s start with the most important part of any console; it’s controller. The PS3’s DS3 was fine. It fitted the mold that had been established since its introduction on the PlayStation, but Sony always seemed afraid to do anything major to it. The DS4 on the other hand is a great step up. It reminds me of the old PS3 boomerang concept controller, but you know, a serious effort this time. It’s really comfortable, fitting in my hands nicely. I also am fond of the touchpad, which so far in Killzone and Assassin’s Creed IV has been implemented nicely, but nothing revolutionarily. When it comes to live streaming from the PS4 I am genuinely surprised at how easy it is to just tap a button, choose my service of choice, and just go. I plug in the headset and begin talking. It’s really intuitive, and something I intend on using more once the holidays have passed.
On second thought, disregard everything I said about this controller.
The L2/R2 triggers have been given a vast overhaul this time. They are really comfortable to rest my fingers on, and I never feel like I am wrestling to keep them in place. The joysticks too have been vastly improved. I’m no longer having to readjust my thumb placement on them mid game and risk loosing a life due to a momentary lapse in concentration. I just haven’t had to think about the DS4, it’s just sat between my hands and has worked well, unlike the DS3 which upon reflection I was constantly battling with. Finally, the DS4 has a built in mic, which has been great when I played through Sound Shapes and Killzone, listening to various in game sounds/audio logs. Pro tip, its volume can be adjusted in the settings section under controller. The DS4 is great, comfortable, and feels solid in my hands.
Finally some triggers I can use.
Let’s move on to the user interface of the PS4. I’m surprised at how clean it looks and how easy it is to navigate. The shadow of the PS3’s XMB is still there, with the basic tabs you would need such as settings and friends list, but the meat and potatoes is a level below, where all your media is kept. First on the list is the recent games you’ve played/downloaded. Moving along you have various tabs that contains apps such as Netflix or Music Unlimited. It’s grouped smartly, and once you’ve logged on, it’s a simple click and you’re off. On the games front, once you’ve made your selection, the game loads up quick (Killzone very much so), allowing you to jump right in and begin the campaign/multiplayer without much effort. Want to take a quick break and check some messages, load up Netflix, or sync trophies, just hit the PS Home button and it flips you back to the main PS4 interface. All this points to an interface that feels like it was designed with ease, for a gamer who might change his/her mind halfway through a game and want a change in scenery. A vast improvement over the PS3.
It makes me feel so relaxed.
Now let’s talk some games. I’m going to start with Killzone Shadow Fall, which started great, dragged in the middle, only to bounce back in the final third. I’ve always found Killzone a little odd, mainly because I’ve always thought a far more interesting storyline would involve some alien force invading to kill off the Vectans/Helgans, forcing these formally two enemies to be allies. It would be interesting see how a fragile alliance works, with a lot of research going into battling aliens and keeping the former advisories from taking advantage of any lapses in security. However, we got the cold war this go around, which was fine, but I get the impression that Gurrilla took this far more seriously than they should have. If they had had a little fun with it, I might not have laughed at the end when The Flower Duet (Lakme) played. Overall, Killzone is very pretty, controls well, but like that stupidly hot girl from high school, would have been better served doing porn than attempting Shakespeare.
Sadly, no shiny Batnipples anywhere in this game.
Moving onto Assassin’s Creed IV. I bought the game on the PS3 and spent the $10 upgrade price to get it on the PS4. I’m a big AC fan. It’s my third favorite franchise of all time (after MGS and Uncharted), so barring it being an AC Revelations clone, there wasn’t much that was going to disappoint me. Thus far (I’m not even close to complete because I keep distracting myself by following the shiny objects here and there) I’ve had so much fun. I briefly compared my PS3 and PS4 version, and though I’m no expert, I could barely tell a difference in graphics between the two versions (Killzone does have it beat graphics wise). However, its story has been so much fun, and the lead, Edward, has so much charisma it really forces me to question why Connor did his best Harry Potter from The Oder of the Phoenix impression throughout ACIII. ACIV is great, but you can get a very pretty version on the PS3/Xbox 360, and outside of some controller enhancements, there is no need to get a PS4 just for this.
You can hear the dub step, and now that it's in you head, it will never leave.
Now it’s time to move on to the true killer app for PS4, and no, I’m talking about Sound Shapes or Resogun. I’m referring to remote play via PSVita. Now obviously, this would require you to have invested in a PSVita, something I did on its day one, and boy have I been glad. Gravity Rush and Tales from Space notwithstanding, the Vita has been a great little handheld, and definitely needs a price cut, but is a worthy addition for any gamer. However, when I put down the money to get one, I had no idea that I would be using it to stream my PS4 when others in my house want to use the TV. But you know what, I’ve been using it so much, that at times I’ll just find myself remote playing my PS4 through Vita while having Netflix on in the background via PS3. It’s a great little extra that I never thought I was going to use. It doesn’t hurt that Ubisoft released a companion app for ACIV that allows me to use my iPad as my in game map. I wouldn’t recommend streaming a first person game, let alone online multiplayer, but if you need to run around and collect items, why use the TV when you could watch some good old Legend of Korra or Star Trek? The PS4/Vita combo is great, and I can’t wait for the possibilities of the PSVita TV (if my daydreams are to be believed, it will be able to do everything!).
Killer app indeed!
So where do I stand with my PS4? I’m loving it. Just like I love my PS3, my PS2, and my PlaySation before it. But could I recommend it to someone who isn’t just looking for a new piece of kit? No. Wait a year. See how the PS4 does compared to the Xbox One. See if there will be more games that tickle your fancy, and if not, see if the Xbox has them. Look at the services offered by both companies, and see if there is something that you prefer over the other. Ultimately, your choice should be personal, so do the research, see if a friend or two has one or the other console, and compare. Figure out what you want, and don’t be afraid of spending some money. The PS4 is very good, just not good enough if you aren’t a gamer who needs to play Killzone, and eventually InFamous, The Order 1886 (incidentally the year the great Arsenal FC was founded as Dial Sq) and of course, Uncharted. Oh, and if you do get a PS4, do yourself a favor and invest in a Vita, it’s worth the price. 
One box to rule them all?

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Legend of Korra: Darkness Falls & Light in the Dark Review

Finally, the Vaatu has come back, to civilization. Man what an episode. I’ve had a week now to sit on my thoughts and figure out how much I valued this two part finale, and whether or not it lived up to the season or exceeded it. This episode was by far the best balanced this season has offered, and brought everything together nicely.

Let’s start with Mako/Bolin Vs. Unalaq/Desna/Eska. What a mismatch. Don’t get me wrong, Mako and Bolin are both accomplished fighters, but Desna/Eska alone have already proven this season that they can hold their own against Korra, and Unalaq has been so emboldened by his recent victories, there was no way Mako/Bolin had a shot at this one. Poor kids, maybe they will have a more important role in the seasons to come other than cannon fodder.

Let’s move to the spirit world, where Tenzin/Bumi/Kya are on the mission to save Jinora. This allowed us to get a deeper insight into this daunting yet charming world. Once again we are introduced to a spirit that has little to no love for humans, but she ended up inadvertently helping our trio. Put into a spirit ‘prison’ Tenzin is confronted with a lot of the complaints that I’ve personally leveled against him since season 1. Tenzin is not centered, not in control of his feelings, not as spiritual as he would like, and does live within his father’s shadow. It’s something that has been apparent since season 1, and something that has always bothered me. What makes all these insecurities meaningful now, is that fact that they led up to the moment where Tenzin must overcome the fog of doubt within in order to save those that he loves. And whether he was able to able to accomplish this with the help of his father, or by himself is immaterial, because Tenzin has grown, and it was necessary if the characters was to ever be depended upon again. Once finally cleared of all that held him down, Tenzin was able to save his family. On a side note, it was great to see a mad Zhao the Moon Killer, and surprising to see just how many humans were trapped in the fog of madness.

Now for the main match, Korra/Raava Vs. Unalaq/Vaatu. I expected this to be a difficult fight. Fighting evil always is, and Korra has had a long journey this season. But when Unalaq and Vaatu fused to become the Dark Avatar, I did not expect them to be as powerful as they were (after all, they were limited to only one form of bending). However, Unalaq fought Korra to a standstill. As seen previously, Yakone brought Aang to his knees, but Aang was able to Avatar State out of that situation. Here, Korra was up against someone who could match her almost power for power, and no Avatar in the known history of this universe has ever had to fight against something as powerful as a Dark Avatar. Korra had no reference point for this. She was truly on her own.

So Vaatu extracted Raava from Korra. Then Vaatu, in a very ultimate evil move, extinguished the light of Raava, seemingly destroying Korra’s connection to her past lives, and left to plunge the world into 10,000 years of darkness. When Amon blocked Korra’s ability to bend earth/water/fire, Korra was really shaken, but she still had air ending, and she still (at the time unknown) had Raava. Now everything she has ever known about herself was taken from her. She gave it her all, lost, and was stripped bare of everything she thought it meant to be Korra. Thankfully, a rejuvenated Tenzin was able to guide her thoughts and help her realize that there is more to her than Raava. It’s a very human problem, trying to reinvent oneself once everything you have ever known fails you, but she lived up to the task in a very Korra way, by becoming a giant blue mecha spirit thingy. With Korra off to fight Vaatu, Jinora off to find the light for Korra, Tenzin, Kya, Mako, Desna, Eska and Bolin are left to protect Korra’s body from an army of dark spirits.

Have you ever been in one of those situations where you are so painfully overwhelmed, that nothing but doubt governs your mind despite the fact that you still have to keep fighting, and no matter how hard you fight you end up losing? I have, and just when I was at my limit, a helping hand came along to ease the burden. That was the role Jinora played in this fight. She was the dark horse, the grand unknown, and ultimately the most important person the Avatar needed in order to ensure victory for peace around the world. Jinora has had an exceptional season, guiding Korra and Tenzin, and if we are to ever see these characters all grown up, I get the feeling that Jinora will be one of the greatest, if not the greatest spiritual leaders this world has ever seen. I’m glad that ultimately victory hinged on a human, and not the Avatar or some spirit.

With Vaatu defeated, Unalaq’s body destroyed, it was time for some housekeeping. Korra may no longer have the connection to her past lives anymore (at least for now), but I’m not so sure if that’s a bad thing. Korra has always been a free spirit, someone unafraid of making big decisions and dealing with the consequences head on, so I feel that now she is free of these shackles, she will do just fine. Korra is the new Avatar Wan for the next 10,000 years of Avatar, and sure, I’m going to miss Aang, a lot, and I can’t even imagine this show without a little Kyoshi, but like Unalaq said, the world is entering a new age, and who better than Korra to lead them through it.

More notes; the always great Varrick sprung outta jail in absolute style; Korra and Mako are thankfully no longer an item (but Asami too has to get over him); Bolin, despite his best(?) efforts could not win Eska back; and Korra chose not to close the spirit portals, allowing the spirits into the human world freely, reversing Wan’s legacy. I’ve said before that I’m not convinced that Wan was a very good Avatar, and I don’t know if what Korra has done is the right thing, but she has shattered the glass ceiling that separated humans and spirits, and now her role in the brave new world will be instrumental in shaping it for the next 10,000 years.

This season was not as smooth as season 1, but the story it told was easily more important than everything that has come before it. I’m going to hold judgment over the entire season until I watch it again, but this two part finale was really a joy to watch. It was animated beautifully, complimented by a great sound track. It wrapped up a very bold season that undoes many things that this show has set up since debuting in 2005. The rest of Korra is going to be defined by this season, for better or for worse, and if the show continues past Korra, the rest of the series will be held to what happened in Book 2: Spirits, at least until the next big reset. So now we have to wait till the next season, Book 3: Change, in 2014, but until then, I’ll be going back and watching this season, and going back to the beginning of Avatar and re-watching Aang’s adventures once again, because why not.