Playstation 4: officially a thing

Last night at 11pm GMT Sony began a live presentation that many believed would herald the announcement of the Playstation 4. It began with “PS” appearing on a screen, only for it to cut to black, then show a montage about the history of Playstation, and how it strives against the norm. Then, it was officially announced: the Playstation 4 is happening.

I won’t recount the presentation in full, but having watched it all, I’ll go over some of the points I found most interesting. First up, the controller:

The Dualshock 4 will feature a PS Vita-style touch pad on the front, a share button, a headphone jack and a light bar. I’m most interested to see how the touch pad will be integrated into gameplay. Whereas the Vita’s touch pad is directly behind the screen, the Dualshock 4 will obviously be controlling things on an external display. The headphone jack is a useful touch, and as for the share button, I prefer single player games, so it doesn’t seem like a function I’ll get extensive use out of.

Secondly, Playstation 4 games were announced, shown and gameplay footage was shown for some. Three stood out to me. First up was “Killzone Shadow fall” – gameplay was shown of the player character entering an area through checkpoints and then all hell breaking loose- Helghast soliders breaking cover and a gunfight ensuing. What struck me is how generic the gameplay looked, and the graphics generally looking like something the Playstation 3 could easily handle. The shooting looked functional enough, but that’s as good as I’ll go. The second stand out was inFAMOUS: Second Son; a confirmed PS4 exclusive.

No gameplay footage for this one, but a trailer all the same. It’s set in a police state with a hardcore love of surveillance. A number of people develop super powers and set about fighting back against their oppressors. Suckerpunch’s previous two inFAMOUS games were excellent, and the trailer definitely had their mark on it. No sign of Cole MacGrath, but given that his ultimate fate was determined by the ending of inFAMOUS 2, I won’t be surprised if this features all new conduits.

Third was a game that was shown at E3 last year: Ubisoft’s “Watch Dogs”. The original trailer showcased protagonist Aiden Pearce’s all-powerful phone that let him hack into all sorts of useful things, and get a wealth of real time information on anyone the player looks at. The game also showed off some combat, and generally looked promising.

This demo (running on a playstation 4) showed, among other things, Aiden hacking into another man’s bank account, predicting and preventing a crime and stopping a subway train, climbing onto the roof and starting it up again, all with his phone (apart from the crime prevention- that involved a gun). Like with Killzone, the graphics look like a Playstation 3 game, but that certainly doesn’t make them less impressive- the game looks great. The gameplay shown combined with the intriguing premise and mechanics made this the best game shown for me.

Other games were announced, including a PS4 version of Diablo III, but I’ll let you watch the video itself to find out what they were. It was also mentioned that the Playstation 4 will not be backwards compatible, but cloud system Gaikai will stream the entire PS1, PS2 and PS3 catalogues.

Thirdly, the list of third party partners that will be developing for Playstation 4 was projected onto the screen:

Gaze upon them, Playstation fans and become joyful and exited to the point where you need to sit down for a minute. Highlights include Rockstar Games (Grand Theft Auto, Manhunt, The Warriors, Red Dead Redemption, Max Payne 3; just in case you have no idea who Rockstar Games are.), Telltale Games (The incredible Walking Dead game released episodically last year), Yager (Spec Ops : the line; how military shooters SHOULD be), Grasshopper (Suda 51- Killer 7 and No More Heroes) and Ninja Theory (DmC: Devil May Cry; a blueprint on how to reboot beloved franchises properly).
The best news about this? That’s not even the full list.

Finally: revamps to the Playstation store.
Early on in the presentation two things caught my attention about the Playstation Store; firstly, digital games can be played while they’re downloading and secondly Sony are looking to make it so that ANY game can be instantly tried out before purchase with a touch of a button.

So much more was said about the Playstation 4- I haven’t even touched upon the relationship between PS4 and PS Vita, more games were announced, and a new take on sharing content with friends was explained. I highly recommend checking out the footage from the presentation, particularly if anything I mentioned here piqued your interest. The console itself wasn’t shown off, but a vague release date was given: “Holiday 2013”

By James Lambert

DmC: Devil May Cry Review

Last year I wrote a piece on the demo for “DmC: Devil May Cry”- Ninja Theory’s reboot of the popular Capcom series, of which I’m a fan. In said piece I basically wrote that the gameplay was solid, but the story telling in the demo and the new depiction of Dante were both lacking. Well, I recently picked up a copy of the full game and I was very pleasantly surprised indeed- not only is the gameplay fantastic, the story is intriguing and well told and despite a few moments where Dante is irritating, immature and needlessly sweary he’s likable and has some real human moments. I also mentioned the level design being boring, which thankfully is not at all true of the full game.

The story involves Mundus (the primary antagonist from the first game)- now a humanoid demon king that resembles a cross between Frank West and Lex Luthor controlling the entire human race through a spiked soft drink and an aggressively brainwashing TV news network run by a man who totally isn’t Bill O’Reilly. Half demon, half human Demon hunter Dante is now a half human, half angel creature called a “Nephilim”, and is an angsty young man who prefers getting drunk and picking up women to actively pursuing and killing demons. It’s revealed that due to his past Dante grew up angry and troubled, and his backstory is well implemented, even if the “angry young man” angle is a little cliche. As the story goes on he has some genuinely nice moments, and grows into a more compassionate character by the end. Unfortunately he has irritating moments- particularly dialogue involving childish, sweary insults that are supposed to be amusing but completely miss the mark. The worst example of this is during the “Succubus” boss featured in the demo, where Dante and said boss throw swear words back and forth in dialogue that is almost painful after a while. Also irritating is the scene near the start of the game involving a white wig- an obvious dig at the old games that is unwelcome, but not to the point where it ruins the game. The game features Vergil (Dante’s brother) who rather than being a wayward man who loves the competition that comes with fighting Dante is now a behind-the-scenes puppeteer leading the fight against Mundus and has one moment where he acts completely out of character in an move that makes him seem insipid and borderline psychotic. He’s not as good as he once was, unlike Dante, who’s largely likable while being different to the old Dante. The story is enjoyable and intriguing, and is a different kind of plot to what was seen in the old games.

Gameplay wise it’s as fun as it ever was – even better in fact. The combat seems faster, smoother and more satisfying than ever before, with all five of the game’s melee weapons feeling useful and fun to use. Ebony and Ivory – Dante’s guns – feel more useful also, either for damaging enemies or simply keeping your combo running. Speaking of which, your combo meter now only drops down to the start of your current letter rank, inside of combat as long as you don’t get hit. This is a lot easier than in the old games (where it continuously reduced to zero) which some people have said reduces the hardcore feel to the game, but I felt that it was more fair, and was a nice change. The game’s platforming sections also control better now, and feel a lot more integrated into the plot- Dante’s demon and angel weapons (accessible via the shoulder buttons) either pulling Dante towards platforms or pulling them towards him. This also extends to the combat, and said demon/angel dynamic features in certain enemy types, as well as opening up secret areas. The combat has been carefully crafted to feel similar to the previous games whilst also doing its own thing, and succeeds- every battle feels interesting and fun, as you try out different combinations of weapons and techniques, with each one feeling valid. The boss fights are pretty straightforward – they’re standard “learn the enemy’s attack pattern and attack at the right moment”, but every boss is well designed, fun to fight and memorable, particularly the boss fight against the aforementioned totally not Bill O’Reilly character in which Dante fights enemies in a live news feed. The “Devil Trigger” function of previous games has gone from increasing Dante’s speed, damage and increasing his health to freezing enemies in the air so Dante can leap up to them and freely attack them- dealing more damage and regaining health; the system feels as useful as always.

Similarly excellent is the level design. The cutscenes show off the human world, with the unseen effects of Mundus’ control subtly shown. The missions themselves take place almost entirely in “Limbo”- the demon world featured in the game. Structures can fly apart and seemingly have a life of their own, key phrases spoken by an unseen demonic force appear written on surfaces, and of course demons pour out of the woodwork to attack Dante. As well as limbo itself looking good, there are various levels featuring some unique, interesting level design that really stands out, particularly among level designs in a lot of recent games.  Ninja theory has really worked hard to create a believable, great looking world that can stand alone compared to the older games, and it constantly throws levels at you that are memorable and fun to play. The standout for me was the prison underneath a river- physical manifestations made out of reflections on the water that reminded me of Silent Hill Downpour.

There are a couple of things to dislike with “DmC: Devil May Cry”- Dante occasionally has annoying, crude and childish lines, and Vergil is a different, worse character to how he was portrayed in the old games – but these things don’t ruin the game. Ninja Theory have approached the notion of rebooting a popular franchise like “Devil May Cry” and run with it- the combat, story and level design are all lovingly crafted, and it’s a very fun, interesting and rewarding game to play. As a fan of the old games, this reboot is amazing, and well worth the money of existing fans and newcomers alike- it’s a great start to the new year, and a game well worth picking up.

By James Lambert

Hotline Miami Review

Yes, yes I know this is late (the game came out in October 2012), but it flew right under my radar and I only just played it this weekend. Despite the delay in me buying the game, I still feel compelled to give my thoughts on it; “Hotline Miami” is one of the most interesting, addictive and downright fun games I’ve played for sometime, and if I had played it when it was released it would have been guaranteed a spot on my best of the year list.

Created by a team consisting of two people, the game is a top-down, retro-graphic, ultra-violent blood bath in which you navigate a series of areas floor by floor murdering everyone you come across. It’s heavily influenced by the Nicholas Winding Refn film “Drive” (which was also awesome) in both its style and soundtrack- a quiet, merciless killer in a distinctive jacket murdering mobsters to an 80s-esque synth score that instantly gets stuck in your head, in a good way. Thankfully, all that killing is complimented by a solid plot- you are a nameless hitman/mass murderer (nicknamed “Jacket” by fans due to his letterman jacket, as seen in the picture above) who receives answering machine messages informing him of his next hit. As the game progresses it becomes increasingly apparent that Jacket is mentally unstable, and questions are raised as to why he’s doing what he’s doing, what’s going to become of it and who the hell is leaving all those answer phone messages. The story is intriguing and well-paced throughout the short run time, and the increasingly viceral hallucinations Jacket has and visits to a trio of criptic, masked figures compliment it nicely. There are a couple of anti-climactic moments, but generally the story is solid, especially when you consider that given the gameplay style, the story could have been pretty much ignored all together.

Speaking of gameplay, it’s definitely the stand-out feature. As previously mentioned it’s from a top-down perspective, and Jacket clears out buildings of their inhabitants a floor at a time using any combination of stealth, gunfights and running around with a melee weapon painting the walls blood red. Before entering a mission you’re given a choice of what animal mask to wear, with each one granting a different perk. One mask makes your fists lethal and your execution moves faster, another prevents dogs from attacking you, and yet another allows you to kill an enemy and disarm him with a tap of the space key. The masks largely come down to preference, but each one has a definite use, and it’s a great inclusion to the game. Both you and the enemies die in one hit, and the enemies often seem to have almost superhuman reflexes in regards to turning and killing you, particularly enemies with guns on the other side of windows. This isn’t much of a problem though as you can instantly re-spawn upon death- restarting at the beginning of that floor with the same weapon you were carrying when you arrived. The instant re-spawns allow you to rapidly adapt and change your on-going plan of action; everything seemed to be going well until you alerted those two guards who rushed in and shot you, so maybe next time go a different way, use a different weapon and the like; some would say it’s best to play the game quickly- charging in and killing all who stand in your way, but I found the tactical method far more practical and satisfying when I cleared a floor. The tactical option is slightly offset by the fact that weapons spawn randomly, but you can be sure of the presence of a certain few. The game is also very brutal and violent- enemies can be sliced up, mashed into bits and blown in half upon death, and that’s not counting the finishing moves; the most prevalent being crouching over a downed goon and repeatedly slamming his head into the floor, or  approaching an enemy slumped against a wall and kicking him in the face so hard his brains fly out the back of his head. The violence – along with the atmosphere and soundtrack – really do remind me of the brutal violence in “Drive” (as I write this I’m watching parts of that film); the retro graphics also stop the violence being too explicit, but for those who enjoy a bit of gore, there’s plenty to love. The soundtrack is also excellent- it’s all incredibly catchy synth and fits the game perfectly.

Any negative points? Well, the bosses are all irritating (except for the first one) and it can often be initially tricky to work out exactly what you need to do in between your numerous deaths at said boss’ hands. They don’t take too long to figure out, but they can be annoying. The enemy A.I is also quite unpredictable in a bad way; they alternate between being seemingly deaf and stupid- ignoring their dead friends and gunshots close by – to spotting, turning on the spot and killing you despite you quietly approaching them from a considerable distance away. Again, the instant re-spawns stop this from being too much of a problem, but it can seem a little unfair sometimes. Also worth mentioning is the dreadful forced stealth level; the screen lurches around like a pro-active drunk, the screen keeps going fuzzy and if you continuously move for too long Jacket will stop and clutch his head in pain. This mission is mercifully quite short, but is the worst part of the game by far.

If you’re going to buy it, you’ve probably bought it already, but if not “Hotline Miami” is a fantastic game worth picking up. It’s an addictive, brutal game that rewards enacting a plan, with a good story, an awesome soundtrack and a great atmosphere. It’s one of the most fun games I’ve played for some time, and if you can handle the violence, it’s a challenging, interesting experience well worth checking out. Sadly I got to it too late to place it on my best of 2012 list, but it was definitely one of the best games released last year. Consider this an honorary place.

By James Lambert