PC Gaming Master Racism

This year, we reached the end of an era. After 8 years, the two largest games console manufacturers announced that they would be retiring their current hardware at the end of the year, and introducing so called next gen systems. And there was much rejoicing. Despite the fact that the Xbox one reveal was best, if hyperbolically, described as a fucktastrophe, there was a certain amount of hype surrounding both the Xbox One and PS4. Solid 60 frames per second! Unprecedented texture quality! All of the RAM! Truly, the future is here, we cried in our droves. Truly, we have reached the pinnacle of technology and found ourselves equal to the technological gods. And yet, as we all gloried in the light of the next gen revolution, there came a snigger of derision. From the darkest, most technologically obsessive corners of the internet came the voice of the PC gamer. “Only 8 gigabytes of ram?”, “8 core processors? Really?” and “how many teraflops? You’re adorable”. Because the unfortunate fact remains that ‘next gen’ has been here for quite a while. It’s always been here, in the form of the LED lit, Windows controlled, water cooled bastard known as the Personal Computer.

All this is a very roundabout way of saying that for all the hype surrounding Microsoft and Sony’s latest efforts, the not so humble computer is more powerful than any console. Eventually. Because the greatest Achilles heel for the PC is, and has always been, the heavy investment needed to get a gaming rig. An average of £400 will buy you a new console, and all the peripherals needed to make one go. Not including a TV of course. But if you don’t have a TV, you probably don’t have any desire to play video games. You hipster twat.

But digressions aside, the fact remains that PC gaming is an expensive bandwagon to get on. To have a computer, or ‘rig’ as the cool kids call them, capable or running current level games with any level of success requires a processor, motherboard, power supply, case, some RAM sticks, a hard drive and that all important graphics card. And that’s not including the operating system, a monitor, mouse or keyboard. All in all, a pretty sizeable investment. And it’s not as simple either. Consoles are, ultimately, streamlined and specialised PCs, and what they lose in power and versatility they make up for in ease and simplicity. But, as is the case is repeatedly made, the only way for serious gamers is PC. Now I don’t want to get embroiled in the PC Gaming Master Race debate, as much as I’d like the traffic, and potential subscriptions to my YouTube channel Overgamerisation and twitter @r_williamssmith (subtlety ho!). Suffice to say, anyone who seriously denigrates another person based on how they play their videogames is an asshat of the highest order.

I’ve been a console gamer for as long as I’ve been playing games. To me, computers were a work tool and nothing else. And that was fine, because I didn’t care. But now, the more invested and interested in video games I become I find myself shifting towards the PC side. All the indie titles, as well as all the mainstream console titles I know and love plus a whole crap ton of eclusive titles and loads more content for all of the above. And all this is given more urgency by the fact that my trusty laptop is slowly falling apart.  It’s over 4 years old, which is ancient in technology terms and I need a replacement. If that wasn’t a factor, I suspect that PC gaming wouldn’t have ever cropped up on my radar. But it is, and it has, so let’s take a look at a few pros and cons, shall we?

As I said earlier, cost in the main obstacle to beginning pc gaming. But the argument held up by its exponents is that the overall long term savings make it worth it. And they sort of do. Aside from all of the games that are available for free, almost any games outside of the Call of Duty bubble will be cheaper than the console version by a margin of around 25% as a matter of course. This is of course thanks to services like Steam and websites like Good Old Games which have rendered the pc an almost entirely digital platform without any of the problems and cost associated with the console digital services. Then of course there’s the legendary Steam sale, when the dark lords of Valve use sorcery and dark arts to drop the prices of all the biggest titles by an unholy amount. So there’s plenty of savings over the console’s lifespan.

And speaking of lifespan, whilst the PS4 and Xbox One will, from the moment they are released, have a big ominous timer hanging over them, counting down the days until the PS5 and the Xbox Potatocakes. PC on the other hand, is immortal. Kind of. The components can be replaced as and when required to take advantage of the advances in technology for less than the new console will inevitably cost. In this way, PC is able to push the envelope as far as things like graphics and in game options, offering performance and customisability that far out ranks consoles.

However, the PC’s greatest strengths namely the power, versatility, overall cost saving and upgrade potential, are also potential weaknesses. Not everyone wants to pay over the odds for a gaming machine that’s fiddlier, less initially user friendly and hatefully expensive. And that’s perfectly fine. Not everyone wants to invest that heavily. And it could be argued that PC gamers are doing themselves a disservice by coughing up so much extra for the added complication. But none of this changes the fact that my laptop is failing, and the next generation is fast approaching. As I said, if I didn’t need a new computer it’d be an easy decision: PS4 all the way. But since the cost of a PS4 at launch combined with the cost of a new laptop equals a desktop more powerful than both of them combined I can’t help but feel my decision has been made for me.

So long consoles, it’s been real, but I’m joining the Master Race. Someone pass me the LEDs.

Reuben Williams-Smith

@r_williamsmith

(Oh and also, since I’m totally student broke at the moment, I’ll have to wait a while to finalise my decision. However, once I finally have the cash to make a choice I’ll post another update and maybe make some kind of video of me failing to build a gaming machine. So stay tuned failure fans!)

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A few thoughts on… Ubisoft’s new take on game development

So just now I read a story on The Escapist (http://www.escapistmagazine.com/news/view/125997-Ubisoft-No-New-Games-Unless-They-Can-Be-Made-Into-Franchises) in which I learned that Ubisoft are not planning to release any new games that cannot be turned into franchises. They stated that apparently that’s what people like and want, and that gamers need “A chance to decide that [Watch Dogs] is going to be hot”. Notice the wording there was “That” and not “If”. You don’t get a chance to decide if it’s going to be good, just that it’s going to be good. 

Anyway, this new move from Ubisoft is a foolish one for one main reason: how will they decide what’s going to be successful? Through market research and focus groups? You know- those things that definitely always work out well for publishers and the games they publish? I’m reminded of when David Cameron said the government should be giving funding to independent films that will definitely go on to be “King’s Speech”-style blockbusters. This is a stupid, misguided way to do things. Supposing Ubisoft releases Watch Dogs and it tanks? Do they then recall every copy of the game and burn them? What if it gets to the point where every one of their games goes up in smoke and they’re terrified to take a chance on anything else? Unlikely, yes, but possible all the same. One reason they gave is that the “Fire and forget” style of development doesn’t work for triple A games, and that it’s too expensive. The very wording of that statement seems to be the problem here- “Fire and forget”. You know what? Don’t “Forget” about it then! Release a game and keep supporting it- develop meaningful DLC for it (by “meaningful” I mean at the very least don’t make it ripped content or on-disc. Create some extra content that makes sense and adds something without feeling like it should have already been included), create patches (if neccessary) and the like. If the problem is it’s too expensive to “Fire and forget”, then don’t bloody forget about it. 

So yeah, I think that’s a bad move by Ubisoft. Only time will tell if this new system will work for them, but I for one hope it doesn’t.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert

DLC Review: The Walking Dead: 400 Days

“The Walking Dead” by Telltale games (the one in canon with the excellent Robert Kirkman comic series and not the one in canon with inferior television adaptation) was my game of the year in 2012. It dragged a harrowing emotional response out of me where other games have consistently failed, and was generally a damn good game. I was really looking forward to this: cheap (£4 in the UK) DLC consisting of one bonus chapter made up of five stories; the decisions in which carry over to season 2. The only way I’m going to be able to review the add-on properly is with the aid of spoilers for its ending, but before then, I’ll comment on it spoiler free, which is actually very easy to do. Did you like “The Walking Dead”? Are you looking forward to Season 2 and want something that will both tide you over until its release and act as a bridge between the two seasons? Get this. It’s cheap, it’s connected and all five stories are excellent. Nothing on par with Season 1, but what do you expect; none of them have a lot of time to work with. They all have some decent decisions and reasonably brutal moments, and if you’ve played the main game you know what you’re in for. Basically, if you’re going to buy this you probably already have, and if not, it requires the main game to run, so it’s very much attached to the original story.

Right, from here on out there are spoilers for the DLC. You have been warned.

So after all five stories are finished (you select them via pictures on a board dedicated to missing persons) a newly introduced woman named Tavia follows visible smoke to a campsite in the woods. What does she find at the campsite? All five playable characters, and one of said character’s sister, who was close to her during her section. Now, why is this a problem? Well, every character’s section ends on a cliff hanger, with some being more bleak than others. One woman accidentally smashes a woman’s face in with a rebar and then flees with the latter’s husband, who has taken her in. A prisoner blows a man’s foot off to escape their chains and leaves him for dead; fleeing with a fellow inmate. The character with the sister I mentioned has to choose between escaping from her group at great risk to herself and sister, and executing another member of the group (I chose the latter because I’m a complete bastard and I love bleak character conflict and drama, particular the kind this game has). Every section ends on a cliffhanger, a dark one at that, and yet the game simply ignores the horrible situations they all end up in and makes it so they all end up safe and sound at a camp in the woods. What’s the bloody point? Seriously- what the hell is the point? The sections are all excellent, yes, but why even bother showing us the conflict if the revolution is skipped over in favour of a tacked on section where everything’s fine and they’ve all conveniently found each other. It feels like Telltale made this just to give us some choices to make, and the only thing that carries over is the final decision of who leaves the camp with Tavia. “The Walking Dead: 400 Days” is a great idea and started off really well, but then it shot itself in the foot and in my opinion undid all of its good work. Fans of the original game should still pick it up, but this is definitely a disappointment in my eyes.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert

The Last of Us Review

Alright, let’s get this over with. A lot of people have heaped a lot of praise onto “The Last of Us”. Many describe it as Playstation 3’s best game- a triumphant swan song before the new console generation hits in November: game of the year so far: an emotionally stirring, console generation defining masterpiece that simply must be played by any and all with any affection for video games. Is it all of those things? No. No it isn’t. It is not by any means a bad game, and on the whole is actually very enjoyable and well crafted, but in my opinion at least, it can’t be described as anything more than “rather good”.

Firstly: the story. Opening with a very effective scene in which protagonist Joel witnesses the start of the outbreak (more on that later) first hand at the cost of his daughter Sarah, it then skips to twenty years later: Joel is now a rough, no-nonsense smuggler working in Boston with his partner Tess. After murdering a group of goons and their boss who owes the two a cache of weapons, the leader of a revolutionary group called The Fireflies tasks the two with escorting a fourteen year old girl named Ellie (immune to the infection) to another group of Fireflies in exchange for Joel and Tess’ weapons, which were sold to the group. The story then covers the better part of a year as Joel attempts to get Ellie to The Fireflies, who have a nasty habit of all being dead long before Joel arrives at their location. All through the game there was a problem with the story I couldn’t quite put my finger on, but I’ve finally worked it out: it’s presented in the same way the story in “Uncharted” is. Both games use the story as a means to contrive new reasons for the main characters to travel to different places and little else. Side characters turn up, add little to nothing to the plot and bugger off again, leaving the focus on central characters that don’t have a great deal of depth to them, although in this case Joel does have a decent arc, albeit a predictable one. This doesn’t work here- the story should be an integral, driving part of the game and instead it simply boils down to “Hey, no one’s here to meet us in _____, let’s go to ____and see if there’s anyone there”. Having said that, the story isn’t all bad, and indeed I think its biggest problem is that it feels light and rushed above all else. The ending is a particularly bittersweet stand-out that feels very right for this particular story, the section set during winter is excellent and the chapters all have a few set-pieces that are pretty good. Another problem the story has is that between chapters the story violently lurches forward, often to a new state, with seemingly little connectivity between where you are now and where you just were. The story isn’t bad overall, I just feel that the “Uncharted” template doesn’t suit this genre. I’d have liked to see more of what the infection has done to people (a few moments come to mind, one being a slog through a series of back gardens -a creepy idea in itself- and corresponding houses that provided missed opportunities for extra horror) , a slower build up and more instances of humanity’s dark heart other than a few fleeting glimpses. It didn’t live up to its potential is what I’m saying.

The previously mentioned outbreak manifests itself in two main ways: a wealth of greenery covering the environments, and mushroom-based creatures stalking around. The gameplay is split into two main modes: combat and stealth, with the two often blending together mid-encounter. The gameplay is where I have pretty much no complaints: human enemies and infected require different tactics to defeat, the stealth is done very well, and switching between melee attacks and shooting is very smooth. There are various methods to employ in each fight, with things like distracting enemies for stealth kills, all-out shooting, bombs and melee weapons all letting you do things your own way. It’s also fun and indeed encouraged to keep switching up your ideas even in mid-fight, and the combat stays consistently entertaining for the game’s runtime. The human enemies are pretty smart for the most part, and bullets do a heavy amount of damage to Joel, as well as stagger him, making stealth and cover the better choice. Joel also has two main advantages over his enemies: the crafting system and “Listen” mode. The former involves picking up bits and pieces from the environment to make items like health kits, shivs and molotov cocktails, but the catch is that certain objects require the same items to create: making a molotov will deprive you of a health kit, for example. The latter is a function that lets Joel focus his hearing to see enemies through walls, but only if they are making noise. This is particularly useful during stealth encounters, but during gunfights you’ll mainly use it just to see if anyone’s still alive. The infected enemies come in four main types, with two being particularly dangerous: the first two are quick, aggressive and often come in packs, while the latter two forms are clickers and bloaters: blind creatures that see via eco-location and can kill you in one hit, for some reason (I get why the bloaters can- they’re huge and really strong, but the clickers I don’t quite understand). The only problem I have with the infected is that they’re not scary. Even sections involving multiple clickers aren’t frightening because you can easily outsmart and stealth kill them, and once you get to grips with the game and start finding more weapons they stop being so much of a problem. The gameplay is easily the best part of “The Last of Us”: it’s involving, tactical and fun whether you’re against humans or infected, and it stays fun, too.

Overall, “The Last of Us” is something of a disappointment. The story often feels rushed and its events consequential, with the plot simply dictating where Joel and Ellie go next. Their emotional bond only really starts to develop later in the game, and until that point Ellie alternates between being annoying and just kind of “there”, particularly when compared to the likes of Elizabeth (“Bioshock Infinite”) and Clementine (“The Walking Dead”). The gameplay is good though- the stealth and combat are all great and moving between them feels smooth. This is a good game and definitely worth a look, but I can’t jump onto the bandwagon this time- this is not PS3’s best game or the game of the year so far. It is, however a good game in itself, and maybe that’ll be enough.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

Oh, and one last thing I wanted to point out: the story is at times eerily similar to that of “Bioshock Infinite”. A violent, stoic badass with a dark, horrible past voiced by Troy Baker escorts a young female companion through an entirely hostile landscape full of things said companion has never seen before and as a result finds interesting and enchanting. The companion and Troy Baker badass both develop a more personal bond by the end, and she finds and give him ammunition. I’m not saying “Naughty Dog” ripped it off or anything, but that is uncanny.

Thoughts on… Hotline Miami – the Playstation 3 version

So earlier in the year I wrote a late review for the Steam release of “Hotline Miami”- a top-down, 16bit, ultra violent homage to “Drive” and seemingly the 80s in general. A fluid mix of carefully planned stealth and hectic shootouts, the game was fun, interesting and original and definitely worth picking up. June 26th saw the European release of a downloadable PS3/PS Vita cross-buy pack for the game featuring a new stage, a new mask and – obviously – full gamepad control. Eager to dive back into the hazy, synth-filled killing sprees I enjoyed so much on PC, I bought the PS3 version and quickly ran through it. What follows here won’t be a review of the game as a whole (apart from the level and mask it’s the same as the PC release, the review for which is here: https://thereviewingfloor.wordpress.com/2013/02/03/hotline-miami-review/), but my thoughts on what has been added and on this port as a whole.

When I first started up the game the control felt awkward. Moving the stick in any kind of gentle/casual way in a specific direction will make Jacket instantly face that way, which for the duration of the mandatory tutorial section I thought was the only way to aim. It turns out, however, that if you push the stick out and hold it, you can then spin Jacket 360 degrees as you would with the mouse and keyboard set-up, which works a lot better and once you get to grips with it makes the game feel a lot more comfortable to play. Using the left thumb stick to move feels natural as does using the face and shoulder buttons to attack, but that was never going to be a problem; the central issue was always going to be aiming, at least for me anyway. Fortunately it turned out well, once I got to grips with it.

The new mask is called “Russell” and is a bull. It’s function is to make the game high-contrast black and white, with the exception of the blood and UI (namely, your ammo count and score). Much like the “Oscar” mask the filter has little gameplay use and is instead an aesthetic difference (although the Oscar mask made the game harder, it was purely because it made it hard to see- the enemies weren’t affected at all). As an aesthetic difference, it’s a cool one- high-contrast black and white may be slightly cliched but I’m a fan, and I think it works well here. The coloured blood gives a “Madworld”/”Sin City” kind of vibe, which is a plus.

The new chapter is called “Exposed” and set at the Euro Gamer Expo. Like “Highball” it is a story-less bonus chapter in a uniquely shaped environment, this time with little cover. I’m not a fan of the bonus levels myself (I prefer the multi-leveled story chapters), but it was a nice inclusion.

My small problems with the original PC game are still present (namely irritatingly unpredictable A.I and the crap forced stealth chapter), plus another thrown in for good measure: the game completely froze up on me a few times (usually just after I’d beaten a difficult section) and I had no option other than hard resetting the console. It was annoying, but nothing too serious, and I’ve beaten the game no problem.

The PS3 version doesn’t add a great deal, but that’s speaking from the perspective of someone who bought, completed and loved the PC version. For those who didn’t play it and are coming to it fresh, that’s not a problem, and considering this version is slightly cheaper than the full-price Steam release, it’s a win-win for them. If you haven’t already bought the game and can handle some violence, pick it up- this is an original, fun, challenging experience that offers far more enjoyment than several full price, triple A titles released in the last few months. If you already own the PC version, consider whether the new features are worth buying this version for.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

Oh, I’m finally getting “The Last of Us” tomorrow, so the review for that will be next, followed by one for “The Walking Dead: 400 Days”