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Posts tagged: Playstation 4

What is Destiny’s destiny? A review of Bungie’s latest

Title: Destiny
Genre: First-person “persistent online shooter”
Platform Reviewed On: Playstation 4
Developer: Bungie
Publisher: Activision
Release Date: Sept. 9, 2014

Researchers have established a link between visual cues and chemical responses in certain areas of a gamer's brain. It's these reactions that make us sign up for another round of Call of Duty multiplayer, just to unlock that next killstreak or weapon. The release of endorphins causes the Halo: Combat Evolved player to risk close-quarter dismemberment simply to run up behind an unsuspecting opponent and strike them in the back of the head with a satisfying, one-hit-kill “thwack” from the pistol, and there is science behind that giddy squeal that jumps from your lips when you open a chest of rarefied loot in the Borderlands series.

Destiny, Halo-creator Bungie's latest foray into console gaming, succeeds in lighting up these areas of the brain with spectacular frequency and diversity. But much like an 8th-grade science project, chemical reactions alone does not a winning, AAA-title make.

While the gameplay is simple to pick up for anyone who's jumped into a console first-person shooter in the past 15 years, Destiny promises you more from the outset. You're constantly online, tasked in the campaign with protecting Earth from encroaching alien threats as a “Guardian,” a futuristic space marine powered by the presence of light. That's about all the exposition you're going to get. You have a fine robotic companion voiced by Peter Dinklage to give you the nuts and bolts of why you're shooting a particular set of enemies. But really, the rinse-and-repeat level design and addictive pursuit of better weapons and armor will keep you slogging forward, rather than a great narrative experience from Bungie.

Character advancement screen
Expect constant updates on your character's progress as Destiny plays out.

The world is populated by other human-controlled characters in deference to the game's massively multiplayer online game aspirations. These are the most thrilling moments of Destiny. Even if you haven't got friends to play with, you'll be thrown into the same overworld map (confined currently to Earth, the Moon, Venus, Mars and an asteroid field) with other human-controlled characters and occasionally you'll be thrown together to fight a common, massive and bullet-munching boss. These random encounters cause organic moments of teamwork and strategy that elevate Destiny above its bare-bones presentation and oft-repetitive gameplay.

The most important parts of Destiny are great. Gunplay is satisfying and diverse. Despite the open-world setting, enemies will react intelligently to your tactics and you never feel as though you're an overpowered god on the battlefield, in spite of constant loot drops and character upgrades. The tight gameplay begs additional playthroughs as each of the game's three classes, which only slightly change the way you'll play the game.

A screenshot of a Guardian looking at Earth from the Moon's surface.
Space…Bungie's first frontier. And man do they know it well.

The multiplayer suite is robust, as you'd expect in an online game, but those looking for a Halo-like competitive experience will be disappointed. The Crucible, Destiny's form of player v. player (PVP) combat, is woefully lacking in options at present and doesn't allow private lobbies for friends to team up. The map selection is also currently scant. If you play for more than an hour, you're going to be repeating maps several times. It's a testament to Bungie's longstanding expertise in crafting solid multiplayer maps that this repetition does not significantly detract from the experience.

In short, Destiny is going to scratch your first-person shooting, role-playing-game and massive-multiplayer-online gaming itches. But for how long, and to what extent, largely depends on your expectations and Bungie's continued commitment to adding new content.

Verdict: 3.5/5 stars

‘The Last of Us’ is art, don’t call it a game

Title: The Last of Us: Remastered
Genre: Cover-based stealth shooter
Platform reviewed on: Playstation 4
Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Release Date: July 29, 2014

Acclaimed film critic Roger Ebert once (in)famously said, “Video games will never be art.” He clarified those statements in a 2010 blog post, saying, “Let me just say that no video gamer now living will survive long enough to experience the medium as an art form.”

With 'The Last of Us,' Naughty Dog retorts with, “Mr. Ebert – respectfully – shove it.”

It's not that 'The Last of Us' does anything particularly new. Its zombie apocalypse story and decaying wasteland backdrop of a dying America might be called trite by the most cynical among us, given the proliferation of games like Fallout, Left 4 Dead, The Walking Dead and DayZ. The gameplay leans heavily on Naughty Dog's money franchise, The Uncharted series, and its stealth and puzzle-solving components are certainly no more robust than other standouts in those franchises.

What makes 'The Last of Us' a masterpiece – and the greatest video game I have ever played – is the sum of its parts.

Joel gazes at a water tower in 'The Last of Us: Remastered'
You're going to want to stop and enjoy the native 1080p display.

You play (for the most part) as Joel, an aging smuggler who is haunted by the death of his young daughter in the game's harrowing opening moments, just as the “infection” that we've come to understand as the zombification of the world is taking hold in Austin, Texas. Quickly in the proceedings, you'll meet Ellie – a 14-year-old girl who is immune to the virus that's turning everyone into a brain-sucking monster, slowly but surely.

You're outmatched in 'The Last of Us,' whether you're battling infected, bandits or soldiers. Bullets are scarce, health packs must be crafted and if you're spotted in open combat with multiple foes, you're going to die in spectacularly gory ways. This is a mature game, for more than just its grown-up story.

Joel and Ellie share a moment in 'The Last of Us: Remastered'
Your relationship with Ellie will evolve throughout the game.

Naughty Dog challenges every trope of video games that we've come to hold dear: clear themes of good vs. evil, 'winning' and attaining a conclusion that rewards diligent gameplay. You may hope that you can shape the narrative of Joel and Ellie through your choices, but the developers rob you of such a satisfying ending. Without giving anything away, in the end you'll wonder if your quest was worth it, and if the characters you'd grown to love were really worthy of that affection.

But that's the reason you should play 'The Last of Us.' It is less a “game” than an emotional experience that will challenge everything you know about the medium. It's also a hell of a lot of fun, and now that it's been re-released in a high-definition package with all the downloadable content to date and spiffy new graphics for $50, there's no reason not to pick it up. As a matter of fact, stop reading. Go play it.

Ellie pets a giraffe in 'The Last of Us'
The game's quiet moments will bring a tear to your eye.

Here's a bonus look at the multiplayer in The Last of Us: Remastered, which is also top-notch.

Verdict: 5/5 stars

We’ve seen games like ‘Second Son’ before, but not this pretty

Title: Infamous: Second Son
Genre: Open-world action
Platform reviewed on: Playstation 4
Developer: Sucker Punch Productions
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Release Date: March 21, 2014

Enjoy your powers in Infamous: Second Son.

With the promise of the next generation of console gaming comes the anticipation of a game utterly unlike anything you've played before. We expect deeper, more engrossing narratives coupled with intuitive gameplay overhauls that just may you sit back, sigh, and wonder how you ever got by with two buttons on an NES controller.
'Infamous: Second Son' doesn't do that. It merely takes a franchise that was a standout experience on the last generation, gives it a spit-shine and an interesting new set of characters and abilities. But while it doesn't push gaming forward in any way, it's still one hell of a good time.
The story sucks you in immediately. You're Delsin Rowe, a member of the Akomish tribe whose past is clearly checkered. The player is immediately introduced to the spray-tagging mechanic, a nice use of the DualShock 4's motion sensing and built-in sound system. While motion detection and the controller's touchpad are nothing more than gimmicks at this point in the PS4's life cycle, they're used to good effect in 'Second Son,' immersing you further into the game world without becoming too much of a hindrance.

Boss battles are infrequent, but they do break up the open-world gameplay of 'Second Son.'

From there, you're off on the grandest of the game's many fetch quests. You must attain cement-altering powers from the game's main antagonist: Brooke Augustine. As the leader of the Department of Unified Protection who has captured all of the element-controlling superheroes known as “Conduits” (or Bio-Terrorists) in the game world, Augustine has made Seattle her base of operations. You'll have a blast shredding it to pieces with smoke, neon and video powers, each with its own set of visual and combat goodies.
Seattle looks gorgeous, Delsin's character is incredibly detailed (down to the buttons on his denim jacket) and you'll want to stop on a rooftop all Batman-like and watch residents go about their day in a society on the brink of dystopia. In particular, Delsin's relationship with his sheriff's deputy brother, Reggie, is a high point in the game. These guys feel like brothers, and when the weight of the narrative gets too heavy, they're bantering always brings it back to a lighthearted spot.
Delsin and Reggie drive to Seattle to fight Augustine and the D.U.P.
The highlight of the game's story is the relationship between Delsin and his brother, Reggie.
Combat, however, is a bit of a mixed bag. Delsin becomes much too powerful as the game progresses. Unlocking a “karmic streak,” or Delsin's version of a power attack, for the neon power is dangerously close to game-breaking.
The game rushes to an inevitable showdown with Augustine. It packs a wallop and ingeniously includes the “learning a new power” schtick in the final boss battle that makes Delsin feel like a badass. Getting there, however, is another story. Expect some frustrating falls during the parkour that lead to “Game Over” screens.
Infamous: Second Son is the first truly exclusive, next-gen game on the PS4. For that reason alone, I recommend playing the title. But it isn't the huge leap forward in terms of gameplay you'd expect from a next-gen game. It's a better-than-average open world game designed with the last generation in mind that looks simply stunning and is written by people who understand the power of video-game storytelling. I recommend a bargain-bin purchase.
Verdict: 3.5/5 stars

‘FEZ’ takes players on perspective-altering journey

Title: FEZ
Genre: Puzzle/platformer
Platform reviewed on: Playstation 4
Developer: Polytron Corporation
Publisher: Polytron Corporation/Trapdoor
Release date (original): April 13, 2012


A little taste of the superb level design in 'FEZ.'

The resurgence of the platform genre can be attributed to the rise of the independent developer and the insatiable nostalgia of the modern gamer. 'FEZ,' from the somewhat schizophrenic mind of Phil Fish, plays on both of those themes to construct an experience that is as mind-bending as it is accessible, even if its physics hold it back from greatness.

You play as Gomez, a marshmallow-looking protagonist. Our only clues to his existence are his two-dimensional build and his penchant for the drums. Early in the proceedings, you're granted the titular “fez” by a nice old man who wants you to throw your entire world into a fit in order to save it. Once the fez is on your head, Gomez has the ability to shift the perspective, which the gamer accomplishes by hitting the trigger buttons of the controller. This causes the three-dimensional world to spin on its axis, revealing another two-dimensional plane that Gomez must then traverse in pursuit of yellow, phosphorescent cubes that will save the world from imploding on itself.

That's it. You now know what 'FEZ' is all about.

Have you ever had this level of joy, ever, in your life?

But, like Texas Hold 'Em, 'FEZ' will take you seconds to learn and much longer to master. Thankfully, trial and error is rewarded in the game, as falling off a ledge or a distance that Gomez can't stomach – death in most platformers – simply ends in you respawning within seconds at the point where you launched on your last, unsuccessful jump.

The level design in 'FEZ' is brilliant. You'll never find yourself in the same atmosphere for very long, and well-placed 'warp gates' that send you to hubs in the overworld keep things from devolving into monotonous back-tracking. In addition, 'FEZ' is chock-full of secrets and collectibles that beg experimentation, rather than simply looking up the solutions online.

Quoth the raven…

Where 'FEZ' falls short is in perhaps the most important of platforming features, and that is in tight gameplay. Gomez's momentum feels a tad off, and what he possesses in cuteness he lacks in responsiveness. Jumping takes a while to get used to, even to those who have wasted hours on Mario, Sonic and the like. 'FEZ' falls well short of the other great puzzle-platformer of the past generation, 'Splosion Man,' which features a protagonist that handles like an absolute dream.

Also lacking in 'FEZ' is any sort of story whatsoever. You'll complete the game and be treated to a trippy sequence that will cause your 'Matrix' sense to tingle, but alas, there's no all-important reveal to be had here (at least, not in your first playthrough). There's a new game plus option, which is laudable. But without a platinum trophy, I really have no desire to go through the game's seven hours again – even with the promise of puzzles that can only be solved the second time around.

Things get weird in the final act of 'FEZ.'

Verdict: 3.5/5 stars

War is pretty and conventional in ‘Battlefield 4’

Title: Battlefield 4
Genre: First-person shooter
Platform reviewed on: Playstation 4
Developer: EA Digital Illusions CE (DICE)
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: October 29, 2013

Watch Kip play (miserably) a portion of 'Battlefield 4.' 

If the “Fallout” series teaches us that war never changes, the “Battlefield” series' message is “war is constantly changing, and we're going to make it look as pretty and chaotic as possible.”

Battlefield 4, the latest entry in the series, is no exception, especially on the Rolls Royce of the latest generation of consoles, the Playstation 4. This review would have come quicker if there weren't a host of game-breaking bugs that plagued both the single- and multiplayer modes on consoles. Most of those issues have been ironed out, finally, and I'm happy to say Battlefield 4 is a passable way to kill in high definition.

You'll be buying Battlefield 4 for the multiplayer, however. The single-player campaign shoots (no pun intended) to mimic the high cinematic production values and frenetic pace of EA's main competitor, the “Call of Duty” franchise. As it stands, the ridiculous plot is laughably short, even by modern first-person standards (you'll complete the game's six missions – that's right, 6 – within a span of 8 hours on normal difficulty).

It always helps to have a little superior firepower.

There's barely enough time to gain attachment to your squad, though DICE pulled out the stops and hired Michael Kenneth Williams of “The Wire” (Omar) and “Boardwalk Empire” (Chalky White) fame to lend his likeness and voice to Irish, who becomes a blithering crybaby early in the proceedings.

The conceit is standard for the genre; you're a highly trained Marine on a top-secret mission to prevent the Chinese, the Russians and basically every other gas-masked, cigarette-smoking baddie from seizing control of a Chinese civil war and plunging the entire world into chaos. It sounds much cooler than it is. Most of the time you'll be watching Irish and Hannah (a Chinese intelligence officer who the writers give a lot of secrets that are never revealed) curse at each other as various clingers-on get sent to their grisly deaths.

Michael Kenneth Williams plays Irish in "Battlefield 4"
The character models are gorgeous and true-to-life.

This would be excusable if the game didn't try to shoehorn drama by making you pick which of these characters will become a martyr in the game's final act. And I'm not spoiling anything for you by saying so that isn't already broadcast by the title's very public online trophy list.

Gunplay is satisfying. An impressive arsenal of weaponry looks, sounds and feels authentic, and you'll unlock even more interesting equipment as you push forward in the campaign. There's also a scoring system so you can compare your shooting-gallery abilities with your friends. The AI is passable, though on the easier difficulty settings they'll basically sit down and beg you to pump them full of lead.

The real reason to play any Battlefield game is the multiplayer, and 4 delivers in spades on Playstation 4. Though there are a dizzying amount of game modes, Conquest is where you'll want to spend most of your time. The developers through jets, tanks, seacraft and ATVs at you to span massive maps with 63 other players. That's right; 64 players can go at it online in a slugfest whose scope is positively dizzying. If close-quarters combat is more your style, there are deathmatches and skirmishes that bring that number (and associated vehicles) down to a more manageable number.

The occasional graphical glitch (like disappearing Irish) is to be expected in a game this pretty.

Battlefield 4 is a mismatch of a potential scope-busting console first-person shooter in its multiplayer and a single-player campaign that isn't quite ready to compete with the big boys in wartime storytelling. Still, those who can't get enough of aiming down their sights should give this one a try.

Verdict: 2.5 / 5 stars

Who watches the ‘Watch Dogs’? A Review

Title: 'Watch Dogs'
Platform reviewed on: Playstation 4
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: May 27, 2014

If there's anything I've learned from two generations of open-world games, it's that they must do one of two things well to be successful:

1) establish a likeable, relatable main character that causes you to engage with the story; and/or
2) give you the freedom to wreak havoc to your wildest dreams.

Option #1 allowed me to overlook the stodgy Grand Theft Auto IV, with its overly realistic physics and boat-like car driving mechanics. Option #2 endears me to the Saint's Row series, which in spite of its insipid plots and screw you-attitude to telling a believable story, actually allowed you to blow feces on people in its second installment.

Of course, the classics of the genre - Grand Theft Auto 3, Grand Theft Auto 5, Fallout 3, etc. - do both things well, focusing things for a narrative thrill ride yet also unleashing the player to his or her own devices in a satisfying way.

Despite offering neither of these things, Watch Dogs - heralded as the first exploration of the open-world genre to take advantage of next gen architecture - stands as a decent open-world title, but nowhere near the top echelon of its predecessors.

You play as Aiden Pearce, a skilled hacker whose niece fell prey to some nasty dudes who were pissed about a botched heist you pulled a few months prior to the game's setting. You're out for revenge, but the revenge story never takes - mostly because Aiden isn't remotely the most interesting character in a cadre of roguish types.

Aiden Pearce checks his pockets outside the proxy for the Chicago Tribune tower in 'Watch Dogs.'

You'll spend a lot of your time as Aiden Pearce looking forlornly at gray buildings.

Pearce's sister and her son, Jackson, also are never fully fleshed out as believable characters. There's a Little Miss Sunshine-esque tinge to Jackson, who won't speak because of the trauma at seeing his kid sister die. He finally does speak to Aiden, in what is meant to be one of the game's many supposedly touching moments that just fall flat. The same goes for the love interest in the game, a goth-punk Englander named Clara, and another hacker you'll meet as the game goes along.

The villains aren't particularly memorable, either, though the game does allow you to take down one of them in a very unique way that takes advantage of the game's mind-numbingly simple hacking mechanic. There's one prevalent minigame that appears throughout the title for intruding certain systems, and it never reaches the level of real thought-provocation or (mercifully) annoyance.

The only character who really stands out as interesting is the mostly absent Jordi, another “fixer” who's in the game for the money, not the glory. He'll appear at times to offer comic relief, stealing the show in the process. He disappears for much of the game's final third, however, only to reappear in a scene that makes little sense, much to the game's detriment.

On the second option for greatness, Watch Dogs again fails. Car chases are made less fun by the inability to fire from the vehicle, a developer choice obviously meant to force the player to use the hacking mechanic to manipulate the environment. However, when you consider GTA3, released 13 years ago, enabled the player to fire out windows, it seems odd Ubisoft didn't offer that option in Watch Dogs. It becomes increasingly annoying when your pursuers will have passengers who can fire, but you cannot.

Watch Dogs essentially funnels you from one sandbox stealth moment to the next, and it's here that the game sets itself apart from other open-world titles. Stealth in Watch Dogs works, and it's a blast to infiltrate certain areas while trying to remain unseen. The brilliant line-of-sight mechanic allows Aiden to take out groups of enemies using explosives in the environment and carried on enemies to take out thugs without even firing a bullet. The game shines when it combines these stealth mechanics with, say, unlocking a CtOS tower, the operating system that runs a living, breathing Chicago and opens up new activities on the mini-map.

Ubisoft deserves much praise for creating Chicago in the game with a high degree of fidelity to the real thing. It's actually thrilling to lead cops on a chase through Millenium Park, past the Bean and around the Willis Tower. Major props are also in order for the City Hotspots, which act just like social media in the real world. Check-in with your phone to learn real historical facts about the places you visit, with a wry sense of humor from the game's writers.

Aiden Pearce visits a city hotspot in 'Watch Dogs.'

Aiden Pearce visits a 'City Hotspot' in 'Watch Dogs' for the Playstation 4.

Gunplay is also satisfying, though once you unlock the upper tier of weapons and max out your focus meter (the obligatory bullet-time mechanic in Watch Dogs), gunfights become needlessly simple. That is, unless there's a poorly designed mission flaw that will cause enemies to spawn behind you unannounced in certain sections of the game, and without a logical reason. One rooftop fight, in particular, made no sense to this player and led to frustrating mission restarts late in the game.

You could certainly do worse than picking up Watch Dogs. There's a meaty amount of content here that is satisfying to play, if not up to snuff in terms of its highest quality peers. The story opens the door for the obligatory sequel, since the title's already made oogles of dollars. Let's hope Ubisoft looks to the things that made past entries in the genre great - while remaining true to what sets Watch Dogs apart - in the next installment.

Verdict: 3.5/5 stars

Un-boxing a Playstation 4

Remember, remember, the 15th of November… as Playstation 4 un-boxing day!

After an exhaustive search through the box, we discovered to our delight that Sony has thrown in an HDMI cable, which they skimped out on when I un-boxed my old PS3. Of course, now I don't need it, because I bought one for my PS3. Thanks, Obama.

Here is a thoroughly annotated photo of the contents:

Can't wait to get it home to play.

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