Jun 092011

With all the big news sites covering E3 from head to toe, it’s hard to avoid the headlines and the hype.  When casually following this year’s E3 news, you tend to make some assumptions, get excited about, lose interest in, and never want to hear again about different things coming to the gaming landscape this fall and beyond.  As a person with no credentials other than actually a player of games, I figured I’d take a look at a few things that I noticed out of E3.  I’ve broken up my thoughts into 3 parts, what I’m excited about, what I’m worried about and what over-hyped stuff I could do without.  These are loosely organized ramblings about what stuck out in my mind about E3.

What I’m excited about:

Batman Arkham City is an easy one.  After having some early hesitation about Arkham Asylum when it was first released but then being completely blown away by it, I’ve been eagerly anticipating Arkham City.  Admittedly, I haven’t seen too much about AC at E3, other than snippets about having a playable Catwoman character that makes me worry ever-so-slightly. I was pretty much sold on this game day one.  Gaming media types tell me not to worry, so I won’t.  This is easily my most anticipated game for 2011 and my only fear is that my expectations are so high, I may only be setting myself up for disappointment.

Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.  Some people would call me a terrible gamer for not playing any of the previous games in this series.  After playing Fallout 3, I did go back and play some Oblivion, but it just didn’t seem to hold up well even a few years later and I never got very far into it.  Since buying into a bit of media hype and seeing a bunch of Skyrim footage, I must say I’m interested in actually playing an Elder Scrolls game, properly, for the first time.  Looks like the buggy and sometimes ugly Oblivion/FO3/FO:NV engine is gone and new tech is in place.  The potential is there for an epic story that I could end up enjoying more than the last couple Fallouts, which I was pretty happy with, although New Vegas lost its luster fairly quickly and was almost relived to make it to the ending.

Prey 2.  Yeah, weird, huh?  Prey 2, the sequel no one wanted actually looks decent.  It’s hard to tell how it will shake out, but the media all seem to be pleasantly surprised by it, and what videos I have seen look interesting.  Oddly enough, Prey 2 doesn’t have much to do with the original Prey, but hey, you’re some bounty hunter guy in an alien city-world like Coruscant with everything having a Blade Runner-ish feel to it.  Assuming it’s as good as they say it is, this game could be a sleeper hit.  Maybe I shouldn’t have wrote it off the minute I heard that Prey 2 existed.  Go figure.

Assassin’s Creed Revelations.  I basically played the AssCreed games backward.  Dabbled in the first two games and wasn’t all that impressed, but got Brotherhood and absolutely loved it so much, it made me go back and play AssCreed 2, which I loved the second time around.  Again this is another title I haven’t followed too closely, but like Batman AC, I’m mostly sold on it.  It doesn’t even have to do anything revolutionary for me — just give me a tweaked Brotherhood experience and tie up the story and I’ll be happy.

Bioshock Infinite.  Loved the first, found the second to be ho-hum.  Bioshock Infinite is being made by Irrational, who did the first, so that’s reason alone to be optimistic.  Infinite changes up the environment, adds a supporting character reminiscent of Enslaved and looks to have a more varied gameplay experience.  I’m not 100% sold, but I’m definitely interested in it.  Ken Levine also made a compelling argument for PlayStation Move support in Infinite and says they’ve found some good ways to use motion control beyond what you’ve come to expect from games that use waggle.  I guess we’ll see.

Those are the notables that caught my eye.  Look for part 2 “What I’m worried about” coming very soon.

Jun 032011

Finally you can redeem your consolation prizes for being a victim of Sony’s security gaffes.  You get 2 games out of a list of 5, our details on that are still here.  Also, you get 30 days of Playstation Plus.  What does that do for you?  It allows you to enable automatic downloads of patches to games and firmware, gets you discounts on certain titles on the PS Store, access to some demos and trials not available to regular users, and even entitles you to some free games that you only keep as long as you’re a Plus member.  The free 30 days has no strings attached, doesn’t auto-renew and won’t automagically bill you next month.  Current Playstation Plus benefits are here.

Lastly, this weekend, PSN has some complimentary movie titles available for rent.  They don’t list out what movies are available, but it is safe to expect stuff from Sony pictures.  All they tell us is “A selection of “On Us” movie rentals are currently available to PlayStation Network customers this weekend only, where Video Service is available.”  So if you’re in the mood for a movie this weekend, log in and see what’s on the house.

Jun 022011

The PlayStation Store finally came back online late last night / early this morning.  Predictably, the service is getting hammered right now, so expect it to be slow and/or get random timeouts and obscure error messages as everyone scrambles to download stuff.  If you’re looking for the free stuff, it’s not up there quite yet, although they expect to post it up real “soon.”  For a reminder of the free games available to North American customers, check out our recap here with links to reviews and more info about each.

So now that the store is back up, what’s new to download?  Basically a ton of stuff, as Sony tries to catch up on the backlog of items publishers haven’t been able to sell for the past month and a half.  The list is way too long to detail here, so check out the full post on the PS blog.

A few suggestions would be:

  • Back to the Future episode 3 (now almost 2 episodes behind the PC/Mac version).
  • Redeem your L.A. Noire PS3 exclusive case and check out the Rockstar Pass for future DLC.
  • I will be definitely downloading the inFamous 2 demo, since I was a fan of the first one.
  • Any other code pack-ins from games you recently bought but haven’t been able to redeem.

I’d say skip the Red Faction Armageddon demo if you were a fan of Guerrilla.  After trying the demo on the 360,  it seems they took out everything that was fun about the last game and left us with a linear corridor shooter for Armageddon. Boo!

Expect a couple of store updates a week until Sony completely catches up on their backlog.  While quick updates are necessary to get everything back on track, it has to hurt the developers who now have their new releases buried in a pile of other content coming out at the same time.  Hopefully Sony will have appropriate compensation for those who make a living on the PS Store.

May 312011

Coming sometime in June, Brink will be getting its first batch of DLC, which will be free on all platforms. The update, called “Agents of Change” will offer two new maps, new abilities, attachments and outfits. Also, online stat tracking is going online for the PS3 and 360, with the PC version “coming soon.”  Lastly, you’ll probably be happy to know that they are raising the level cap to 24.

Here are the details:

New Maps

  • Founders’ Tower – The revolution finally reaches the island’s iconic spire and takes the battle for the Ark to dizzying heights.
  • Labs – Venture into the depths of the Ark’s original research and development laboratories, a submerged high-tech facility so far untouched by the civil war.

New Player Abilities

  • UAV – This stealthy and lethal device allows Operatives to automatically mark nearby enemies on their radar. For more explosive fun, they can even take direct control of the UAV and detonate it near unsuspecting foes.
  • Napalm Grenade – Soldiers can use this new grenade to cover an area in a sea of deadly flames.
  • Pyro Mine – Engineers can plant these mines and leave enemies in the epicenter of a massive napalm explosion.
  • Field Regen Unit – Medics can deploy these units to increase the health regeneration of any nearby teammates.
  • Tactical Scanner – This universal ability allows players to reveal the active buffs of their opponents, allowing them to pick off enemies more strategically.

New Weapon Attachments

  • Bayonets – Gain the edge in melee combat and cause extra damage with these deadly blades.
  • Weapon Shields – Take cover from enemy fire and prevent headshot bonus damage behind riot-style shields.

New Character Outfits

  • The Sad Punk – Add a touch of Steampunk to your Resistance character.
  • The Limey – Bring order to the Ark with this outfit inspired by traditional European police.

More at the Bethesda Blog

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May 312011

Ok, so my exclamation point in the title is totally sarcastic, I’m sorry.  It’s been rumored coming for a long time, and now it’s been unveiled.  The monthly subscription will give you access to extra content like map packs, as well as opening up social features, kind of like a CoD Facebook where you can post gameplay videos and track stats with your friends.  The WSJ oddly got the exclusive for the story which tells me that this is more about Activision showing off to investors than gamers.  WSJ is guessing that it’ll be somewhere around an $8 per month fee on top of the $60 price tag of each installment of CoD.

What worries me is the precedent this sets for other high profile games.  It was right around the time Modern Warfare 2 came out that we started seeing the $60 MSRP for PC versions of games (up $10 from the traditional $50), so is this the start of a “PlayStation Plus” type model coming to big budget titles or just a one off money grab by Activision, wringing every last dollar out of over-eager fans? Either way, the CoD series has been way over done for me, so I’ll be sitting out the next installments of the franchise along with any additional subscriptions.

May 262011

Sony took a break from being hacked on various fronts to announce that you can start to sign up for your year free identity protection/credit monitoring service.  I can’t think of any reason why you wouldn’t do this, so you might as well head over to this page here, and put in your PSN email address.  After doing so, they claim you’ll receive an activation code and instructions within 72 hours.    Do it.  It’s a great opportunity to check out your credit even if you’re not worried about Sony’s lack of security.  You’ll need to take action before the end of June, so don’t put it off.

May 242011

Sony alerted users on their blog that PSN will be partially down for maintenance for the bulk of the day.  They claim the impact will be minimal and chances are you won’t notice it.  They also took the time to mention that the PS Store won’t be coming back online today, but reiterate they are still on target for “the end of this month.”  While I’m sure there are a lot of people who will boycott the store in light of Sony’s lack of focus on security, the store also is the gatekeeper for code pack-ins in new games and also for downloading content users have already bought.

Of course, it hasn’t been all smooth sailing since PSN was partially restored.   A loophole was found (and subsequently fixed) that allowed unauthorized password resetting, a Thai Sony site was infected and taken over by a phishing scam, a SQL injection attack compromised a Greek Sony music site, exposing more customer data all while the CEO called the whole thing a “hiccup in the road to a network future.”  We’re still trying to figure out what that means, but do appreciate his dismissive attitude towards his company’s continued failures which have left their customers exposed.

UPDATE:  Another Sony music site, this one in Japan has fell victim to yet another SQL injection attack.  Yes, Sony is on quite the roll these days.  Also, I was remiss not to mention that PSN is still down in Japan, as they need to answer more questions and meet more guidelines before the Japanese government will allow them to go back online in their home country.  Is it clear that Sony simply can’t be trusted with your data or do they just have a huge target on them right now?  While it’s obvious they’re a popular target as of late, that doesn’t excuse them from constantly failing.  SQL injection attacks aren’t anything new.

UPDATE #2: Yes, this keeps getting more ridiculous.  Another site, this time the Sony Ericsson Canadian site has been compromised, just like the others, with more customer data stolen.    You just can’t make this stuff up.  Should Sony just uninstall the internet?

May 192011

GiantBomb and other outlets are reporting that the PlayStation Store will be up next week. This comes from a memo sent to PSN devs letting them know when they can start to sell their products again. Expect two store updates a week for the next two weeks so that Sony can catch up on all the releases that were missed due to the outage. Of course, this is also great news for those trying to redeem codes for extra content packed in to recently released games like L.A. Noire and gamers who have been waiting to catch up on Telltale’s Back to the Future adventure game episodes.

Hopefully this will mark the end of the Sony / PSN drama and things can go back to working normally.

May 182011
If you have been following any of the big gaming sites or even mainstream media, you probably already know that L.A. Noire is receiving glowing reviews and universal praise.  I decided to give it a shot and after just a couple hours with the game, I can see what all the excitement is about.

I hadn’t paid much attention to the game during its development cycle, and not a whole lot of news had come out about it to know exactly what to expect.  Of course, you see the name “Rockstar” on the box art, so immediately you think of GTA and Red Dead Redemption, just in a 1940’s setting.  You would be wrong.  True, there are a few small elements that may loosely compare to those games, but only in the most general sense.   As a quick disclaimer, I wasn’t much of a fan of any of the recent GTAs or RDR, but I am definitely a fan of L.A. Noire.

L.A. Noire is a crime solving game that is broken up into cases.  The cases are nice sized chunks of game play that have a beginning and end to them, and depending on how well you do on each case determines your character’s overall progression through the ranks.  As you level up, you can unlock more intuition points to help you find more clues and help you out when you get stumped.

The general case layout, at least in the first part of the game, is that you start out by investigating a crime scene, looking for clues and evidence.  A big part of the game is interviewing witnesses and potential suspects, and while you are doing that, you have to try and read their facial expressions and mannerisms, then compare it to any evidence you’ve gathered to decide if they are lying or telling the truth, which drives how to proceed.  The amazing part is that it actually works really, really well.  L.A. Noire has some of the best “face tech” we’ve seen in games, so you really have to pay attention to interviewees.

The few items that may only slightly resemble a GTA or RDR game is the driving and combat.  The combat is not a large part of the game, and your character cannot pull out a weapon at any time.  There are only specific instances that fit the context where you can draw your gun, and even then, you probably don’t want to shoot if you don’t have to.  The controls for that could be a bit tighter, but it’s forgivable given the fact that this game isn’t really about shooting and plays a small roll.  Most of the game is looking for and examining evidence along with engaging in dialog with your partner, witnesses, suspects and other persons of interest.

The driving in the game is probably the only part I find a bit unpleasant.  The amount of the city that you can travel in L.A. Noire is impressive, but I found the driving controls to be a bit too floaty.  Of course, being a cop, you actually don’t want to crash into other cars or objects, and if you do it enough, it can really hurt your case “score.”  Thankfully, they accounted for this, and in most cases, you can let your partner do the driving which results in what basically is “fast travel” to the destination of your choosing.  I expect to let my partner do the bulk of the driving for the remainder of the game.  There are some small side missions that you can take on while driving, which are radio calls requesting officers to respond to different events that you can accept or ignore, which could involve chasing down a suspect or diffusing a hostage situation.

The game’s presentation is some of the best I’ve seen.  They nailed the 1940’s setting completely (or at least my perceived image of it) with sharp visuals, period specific music, top notch voice acting and great dialog.  The game looks phenomenal and from what I’ve read, the PS3 version edges out the 360 version in graphical quality.  Also, the PS3 version has the advantage of being contained on just one blu-ray versus three DVDs on the 360.

So if you were on the fence about L.A. Noire and are looking for a great story-driven crime game, definitely check it out.  The game unfolds like a good crime drama and could definitely make for a good game to play with a significant other or friends.  Working together to analyze the evidence and talk about possible motives or suspicions of lying make it an interactive game for non-players too.  I’m definitely excited to dive back into the world of L.A. Noire and take on some new cases.

Looking to pick up L.A. Noire?  Check it out at [amazon_link id=”B002I0J5UQ” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Amazon and get a $20 credit[/amazon_link] for a limited time.

May 172011

More details keep trickling out about Sony’s compensation plans for the PSN outage. While the store is not up yet, when it does come back up, they have some free games waiting for you. The plan is that each user will get to choose two PS3 games from a list of five and you can also choose two PSP games from a list of four. The game titles are, of course, Sony published games, and if you had expectations of free third party games you would have been completely mistaken. Here’s your options in North America:

PS3 Games:

PSP Games:

A fairly decent list, although one could argue that most of those games are older and there are no AAA recent titles on that list.  I’ve only played inFAMOUS on the PS3 list and felt it was a very enjoyable open-world game, so if you’ve held out for that one, it’s easy to recommend for the low price of free.  Also coming is some free rental movies over a one weekend and some PlayStation Home free virtual items.

To recap, Sony will be offering one year of credit monitoring, two free PS3 games (and two PSP games if you actually have a PSP), some free movie rentals for one weekend (too bad if you’re out of town), 30 days of PlayStation Plus, and the promise of better security.  Of course, we have no well of telling how much more secure PSN is, although it’s been noted that Japan is not allowing PSN to go back online there because “Sony was incomplete in exercising measures that they said they will do on the May 1 press conference.”    You can read more into how the Japanese government is treating the situation with Sony, here.  That definitely makes me take pause a bit.

Has Sony done enough to win your confidence back?  There is no doubt their brand has taken a beating, and it will take time to win back customer trust.  The biggest issue is what recourse does the average gamer have against Sony if you didn’t feel you were compensated enough?  Not much, aside from not purchasing any new Sony products going forward.  Only time will tell on how badly the Sony/PS3 brand has been tarnished.