The Crew 2 (PS4) Closed Beta Review

I was invited to participate in the most recent closed beta for The Crew 2.  I streamed the footage, which you can view here if you’re interested. I wanted to review it to give those who didn’t get a chance to participate some insight into the game in case they were considering picking it up. Let me clarify that I have not played The Crew and in general I don’t buy modern racing games, outside of Mario Kart, but I do have a lot of experience with the genre.

The first thing I’ll say about The Crew 2 is that it’s a nice looking game. It has a wealth of detail in both the landscapes and the vehicles. I was very impressed by how good the water looks, how detailed the character models are, and the level of specifics that went into the vehicle models and paint jobs. While it may not be the nicest, most realistic looking game I’ve ever seen, it’s exactly what I require in a realistic modern racing game to be happy. That being said, there’s a wee bit too much brand placement in this game. I know that makes sense and has to happen because of the way these companies contract to have their vehicles and names in games, but it’s really over the top in this. At the start of every race you get a 3-2-1 countdown that comes off like the vehicle is modeling on a runway. And the brand name placement makes NASCAR look subtle on some of the stuff you’re driving. What’s interesting is that a lot of the branding is fabricated with made up brands to help make the real ones look less obvious but that just clutters the screen more. But overall it’s a nice looking game. One visual issue I did have with the beta, which I’ve had with countless others, is that the edges of the screen cut off. This didn’t affect my racing performance at all but it did prevent me from seeing all the HUD information including some of my stats, even in the pause menu.

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I really liked the photo mode in this beta. It allowed me to really make the snapshots I wanted with lots of control while maintaining the integrity of what you actually pulled off. You can choose when and where your pictures are taken from but you can’t alter the reality of them. If you were at point A you can’t shift your vehicle to point B because it would look cooler for the photo. That being said, finding the post event photo ops was not easy. The game claimed there was some kind of radar system but I couldn’t figure out how to use it. And since the photo ops are timed, it really hurt my experience. I was only able to get to one photo op in time and that was in a plane, which seemed to trigger automatically. To be clear, photo ops are an active challenge that leverages photo mode to net you rewards. You can enter normal photo mode whenever you want to take your own pictures.

Gameplay wise, I was very impressed by a number of things in this beta. The first was that my default avatar was African American. I don’t know if this was because Ubisoft knows I’m Black from my user data or if the default for this game is Black or maybe it’s random, but I really appreciated my default avatar representing me/not assuming I was Caucasian from the start. I actually ended up using one of the other characters, also Black, but right away was I pleasantly surprised by this occurrence. The map system works really well and teleporting to your next event is very fast. You can also of course drive to them, which was a big selling point of The Crew, but I never did that. The one thing I didn’t like about the map system was that at full view it didn’t show all the smaller events. You had to zoom into certain regions to see many of the events. The full view only shows you the main attractions. You can use the filters to show certain smaller events on the large view, but I wasn’t able to have everything showing at the same time. This may look cleaner but it doesn’t help the player as much when it comes to actually playing the game.

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I really liked how the map is instantly dynamic, allowing you to go from your local surroundings map at vehicle view all the way out to the full map view just by adjusting your zoom in real time with the shoulder buttons. No having to scroll between multiple map menus to see where you want to go next. You can just zoom in or out to whatever level of the map you want. At vehicle view you can even see the path you’ve driven for the last 10 minutes and rewind through it to recap where you’ve been and what you did. Great for capturing those awesome moments that took place when you weren’t recording. I also liked that you could pause during events without it affecting your progress. I didn’t try any races with other real players though so I can’t speak to how/if that works in a multiplayer scenario.

Since this is a racing game, let’s finally talk about actual racing gameplay. Probably the most noteworthy thing I can say about The Crew 2 is that your vehicle matters. In the 90 minutes that I played the beta, I drove off road vehicles, street racing cars, speed boats, planes, an F1 racecar, and an off-road motorcycle. Each of these vehicles handles differently. I don’t mean that the controls are different, because other than for a few subtleties they don’t. What I mean is that they genuinely feel different. Driving the speedboats is nothing like driving the planes. Even just driving the off road cars feels totally different at a control level than the street racing cars. Things like resistance, handling, vibrations in the controller when gears shift, and so on all feel very specific to the type of vehicle you’re driving. The specific vehicles in each category feel slightly different from each other as well, but it’s not as pronounced until you compare base level vehicles to much higher end stuff. This creates a very personal and dynamic experience for the player because you tend to do the events and vehicle types you’re better at. So for me that meant mostly ignoring street racing, which I suck at, and leaning heavily on off road and plane events. Your vehicle progression matters too.

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You can upgrade seven different internal aspects of your vehicles, like the gearbox, axel, and tires in the case of cars, to improve things like top speed, acceleration, and handling. But you don’t get these upgrades by paying for them with in game currency. You have to win the upgrades by completing events and then picking up loot. The amount and quality of loot you get appears to be dependent on the type of event you do, your performance in it, and some form of RNG. Loot comes in the form of specific parts in one of those seven aspects and can range in quality level from normal to rare from what I saw. And you can get up to 15 types of the same part, improved with each iteration of that loot drop. I actually really liked this system but it also felt limiting because you don’t necessarily get the upgrades you want when you want them. Say your car handles really well but the top speed is too slow. I couldn’t see any way to influence the type of loot you get for a specific vehicle so it’s possible, depending on how the algorithm works, to keep improving handling and not be getting the speed improvements you want early on. And these aspects matter a lot. I did a speed boat race where I drove the course perfectly with no errors but I got blown away by all seven NPCs because their boats were simply way faster than mine. I have no doubt that I could have returned to and won that race later after getting some upgrades but who knows how long it would have taken to get the upgrades I required to match their top speeds? To the best of my knowledge, there is no way to purchase performance upgrades for vehicles.

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You win money by completing events of various types. Money seemed to be distributed fairly enough, but you will still have to put the time in to get the nice vehicles you really want, which I don’t consider a bad thing. I appreciated being able to test drive the nicer stuff without being able to afford it because it motivated me to want to earn enough to unlock those vehicles. Money is used to buy new vehicles, but not performance upgrades for them. Every vehicle you buy requires time on the track and victories to upgrade them via loot drops. Some vehicles also can’t be purchased, but have to be won by completing challenges. The most common challenge I saw was “defeat your rival” but the beta didn’t let me get far enough to get a rival so I could beat them. The Crew 2 allows you to create the experience you want. It can be single player, multiplayer, or in the middle ground as a shared world that allows you to isolate yourself from other players while interacting with them indirectly. World records are a key component of this. There are countless challenges scattered throughout the map that have already been completed by others. The game shows you the current world record and allows you to attempt to beat it. It also records your accomplishments and adds them to the map for other people to try to beat. You can have an active crew of up to four players, a friends list, and up to seven friends in any one session/lobby at the same time. My only complaint about the gameplay was that it didn’t have enough tutorial resources for specialized events/occurrences. For example, one world record I attempted was a water drift in the speed boat. While it did show me the ghost image of the record being broken, I couldn’t figure out how to initiate it or what constituted a valid record attempt. Eventually I just gave up and moved on to something else. Some sort of tutorial or manual in game that was easily referenced would make the experience a lot more accessible in many such occasions.

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While I found the gameplay to be very good overall, I did have a few complaints and glitches occur. As I previously stated, the game assumes too much knowledge on the player’s part. I had to replay some events after a failure not because I wasn’t good enough to complete them but simply because I didn’t understand what I was supposed to be attempting to do. It’s not always as simple as win the race. A top land speed challenge was one such example of this. I went through it not sure what I was supposed to do the first time. It was only after I failed it that it explained to me what I was trying to accomplish. I completed it successfully the following try. I should have had this information before my first attempt. Along with this, there doesn’t appear to be any way to restart events mid-attempt. Meaning if you’re attempting a record and you know you failed, you still have to finish the race/event before you can try again. This gets old really fast with longer races. It’s sensible in a multiplayer scenario, but when you’re playing solo or only with NPCs, you should be able to restart mid-event. I couldn’t figure out how to logout of the game or return to the main menu. It auto logged me out after being inactive for a period of time, but when I tried to quit the game I couldn’t figure out how so I just exited the application with the PS button. I experienced a small number of glitches, which is fine for a beta. The beta froze one time, but it didn’t freeze my PS4. I simply had to close and restart the application. There was also one time where the game didn’t automatically change my vehicle for the event I was traveling to. This just happened to be when I was going from a boat event to a car event so it ended up tossing me onto a highway in a speedboat. Changing your vehicle is easy to do from the pause menu so it wasn’t a serious issue, but every other event I traveled to initiated an automatic vehicle change.

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One thing I really liked about this beta was the writing. The game has a plot of sorts, but not a set in stone story. Yet it comes off like you’re playing a game with a story. You are a new and upcoming racer trying to make it to the big time. You do this by joining racing crews, each led by a different and very realistic character who gives you a chance to join their crew. Each crew is different, focusing on different types of events, vehicles, and career choices/ideals. You can join all crews concurrently, so that’s a non-issue. I liked that each of these crew leaders came off as real people and you felt pressure to try to impress them so they would let you join their crew. And you feel the need to get into their crews so you can jumpstart your career. They even give you free vehicles when you get in but tell you it’s an investment in their own success through you, which is a nice realistic narrative touch. You even have a manager/mechanic who you have a seemingly close relationship with. While playing it, I really felt like I was my character because of the dialog, even though your character doesn’t actually say anything. But you see him in all these interactions and in the various vehicles while driving, which is an important touch.

The thing I both loved and hated the most about the driving, no pun intended, narrative and tied in gameplay mechanic was the follower count. The game has a social media mechanic where you have to collect followers. You do this by winning/completing events, doing stunts, setting records, and other such achievements. The amount of followers you gain for any specific accomplishment is based on the difficulty and popularity of what it is. You can gain a few for pulling off a random stunt. You can gain more than 1000 for winning certain races. Followers aren’t just for show. They are the limiting factor of your career. Money can buy you new vehicles, but followers buy you popularity which translates into access. The logic being that companies won’t sponsor you for races if they don’t think people will take the time to tune in and watch you participate. Your player ranking isn’t based on performance or experience. It’s based on follower count. When you start the game, you’re a “Rookie”. This lets you participate in level 1 events. You have to amass enough followers to reach the “Popular” rank to unlock more events. You can level up all the way to “Icon” but the beta stops you from getting past Rookie.

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Followers stand in place of experience. They do pretty much the same thing. I don’t know if real players can follow other ones to add to their follower count, but I could see that happening in The Crew 3 if not in this game. I think this is a really realistic mechanic that emulates the current real world of racing and entertainment in general. Followers mean everything today. So kudos to Ubisoft for realizing that could work effectively in a game. At the same time, this is exactly the type of thing I personally hate about the modern era and I don’t want to see my games affected by social media popularity any more than they already are. Imagine a world where follower count is tied to your actual social media following or even just in game following and you can’t access certain content until you’ve amassed enough real world followers. That’s a scary thought.

The sound was good. I feel like music is lacking in this game, but that also adds to the realism so maybe it’s not a bad thing. It’s crucial to a game like GTA, but this isn’t that sort of RPG style character role so maybe it’s not necessary. The effects sound exactly how I expect and want them to in a racing game. No complaints there.

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This was a good beta. The Crew 2 is a good racing game. I know I won’t personally buy it because it’s not really my genre, but I can very much appreciate that this is a high quality, ultra-realistic racing game that remains accessible to an audience of gamers that don’t know much about actual vehicles. Yet it still makes you at least start to think about internal parts and upgrades. It walks the line very well and plays in a way that all racing game enthusiasts can enjoy. If racing games are your thing, I can definitely recommend this game based on what I played. It has a ton of replay value, a seemingly lengthy progression system that retains balance, and long term goals with realistic achievement rates. Other than the lack of defined end game, I can definitely endorse purchasing The Crew 2 from what I’ve seen and experienced in this beta.

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Ode to a Backpack

More than 20 years ago, when I was just a boy, my parents bought me a backpack. I was going to attend a church camp in the summer and they required all students to bring a backpack. My mother didn’t want me to use my school back pack so she decided that I needed one specifically for activities. It was a simple all black Everest brand backpack. It had two pockets in the front, one smaller pouch behind those, two netted side pockets, and then the main pouch. Even by today’s standards, it was a pretty nice simple back pack. Today you can’t even find a four compartment backpack from them on their site or Amazon that still falls within the normal backpack category. What I did not know then was that this backpack would be my closest companion for two straight decades.

Old Faithful

If backpacks could talk, the story mine would tell would be more interesting than the lives of most people. It has been to multiple states including CA, IL, WI, PA, TX, MI, NC, AZ, CO, NV, FL, AL, and NY. It has been to and lived in multiple countries including the USA, France, Hong Kong, Thailand, and Taiwan. It’s transported thousands of dollars in products like laptops, gaming systems, mp3 players, and countless articles of clothing. It’s aided in crimes like transporting illegally obtained alcohol (past cops), smuggling alcohol into college dorms for underage drinking, and pirating digital content. It’s been used regularly in multiple jobs, been to countless theme parks and tourist attractions, and has traveled more than 100 miles by bike and on foot. It’s truly lived an amazing life for a backpack and I’m surprised it’s lasted this long.

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Sadly, my backpack is ready to retire. I honestly thought this day would come sooner and I’ve been worried about it for several years. The inner lining is pretty much gone, the main zipper has bunches of threads caught in it, and it only has two of its six original zipper pulls. But it stuck it out for a very long time. And honestly it could last even longer if not for the weather here in Taiwan. After so much wear and tear, the main seam finally popped and the hole is slowly growing as more and more of it opens. I could try to patch it but the threads are already pulled so much that it would be cheaper and less time consuming to just buy another back pack. And with the amount of rain we get here having holes, even when patched, is no bueno. But this back pack has been so good to me for so long that I felt it needed a proper memorial in the form of this blog post.

Holes

I’ve had this back pack longer than most of my friends. My relationship with this backpack is four times longer than the one I have with the woman I will most likely end up marrying. It’s been with me through thick and then. I’ve been homeless with it. I’ve traveled around the world with it. It’s been with me through multiple relationships, jobs, and adventures. I can honestly say that if I had to choose between saving my backpack and a complete stranger I’d have to think about it.

Substitue

It’s been a great run, but all good things must come to an end. The hard part now is replacing such a backpack effectively. I own other backpacks I’ve acquired in one way or another over the years but none of them can replace this one. They’re either too big and bulky or too small and fragile. I need something at the same normal size with the same quality, which is much harder to find in today’s cheap mass produced production system. And it needs to have just as many pockets. I’ve been using a temporary backpack I already owned of similar size and style, but it doesn’t compare. The pockets are all in the wrong places, it’s of a cheaper overall quality, and it’s a pull string and buckle main pocket instead of a zipper, which I hate. And already the buckle is giving me problems after just three days of use because of low quality workmanship. I’ll have to explore the markets of Taipei and find a replacement backpack worthy of the mantle. I don’t know how long it will take, but I won’t rush the decision and I’ll spare no expense. Well maybe that’s not entirely true, but I am willing to spend a decent amount of money for a solid backpack to replace this one. I don’t want to have to replace it for at least another 20 years. To that end I say farewell backpack. Thank you for your service, loyalty, and strength. Good night sweet prince. I bid you adieu.

New Hotness

*After writing, but before publishing this piece I was able to find a new backpack that met all my conditions. All black, has the two front pockets, a smaller pouch, and main pouch, zippers with pulls, and two netted sides. It also has some amenities old faithful didn’t like a laptop pocket inside the main pouch. I’ll probably use for my Switch though. Plus I was able to find it for a very fair $13.41 including taxes. Hopefully this is the last post like this I make for another 20 years.

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Knight vs Plumber: GOTY 2017

I got my Nintendo Switch in December of last year. Technically I bought it in November but I didn’t open it until Christmas. I was always going to buy one but I had been waiting till the right time. Up until that point I didn’t see the value in buying one yet. But it was Super Mario Odyssey that finally pushed me over the edge. From the very first E3 reveal trailer, I couldn’t wait to play that game. I no joke was on the brink of shedding tears watching those trailers leading up to the release. So it should be no surprise that Odyssey was the first game I played when I finally opened my Switch. But it wasn’t the only game I purchased when I picked up the console. I actually bought several games at the same time and the other one that I was most excited about was of course The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

In 2017, Super Mario Odyssey and Breath of the Wild duked it out for Game of the Year. Both won high profile awards. But even the creators of Odyssey stated publicly that they thought BotW was the better game. Both games were highly praised and both games also had haters in the form of trolls and keyboard warriors. And of course because so many people don’t buy Nintendo, there was a lot of noise about how neither game mattered enough to warrant being GOTY. But I wanted to decide for myself which game was actually the best. So I played them back to back with BotW going second.

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For me it was important to find out which game is actually better from both subjective and objective standpoints. I wanted to get the full experience of each game and be able to make an informed final decision about not only which game I liked more but which game is actually better based on the objective standards that all games are compared by. This meant pursuing 100% completion in both games.

I of course started out with Super Mario Odyssey. As I said, this was the game that made me finally buy a Switch and it came out first so it was the same experience that everyone else had when judging between the two games. It took me 60 hours to get a full 100% completion in Odyssey. That’s 1000 power moons, all costumes, all possessions, all souvenirs, all collectibles, and time spent playing Balloon World after the fact. I have a full understanding of the game and everything it currently has to offer. I can say without hesitation that this is the best 3D Mario platformer they ever made. It was perfect. Challenging at times, but totally doable, including the final challenge level. The lite open world aspect running as a singular continuous experience rather than pulling you out every time you got a power moon was a vast improvement over the classic system. The graphics are beautiful. The sound effects are great. I wasn’t super impressed by the music, but I can’t really remember a Mario game where I particularly was outside of the original Super Mario Bros. for SNES so that’s no real detractor for me with this specific franchise. There actually was a bit of story in this one that went past save the princess. It really is a glorious game that’s the culmination of the hopes and dreams of all Mario fans who have been playing since the original Super Mario Bros. more than 30 years ago.

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What I especially appreciated about Odyssey was that it was the perfect length. It wasn’t a game that’s too short where at the end you think that was amazing but I wish there was more to do. It also wasn’t a game that felt like it dragged on and just wouldn’t end. When I finished it I felt perfectly content. I didn’t want to play anymore and I didn’t feel like I hadn’t played enough. I have always subscribed to the $1 should equal around 1 hour of play theory and I think the fact that game took me 60 hours is very perfect because games cost about $60 today. Super Mario Odyssey Is objectively an excellent game, which we can see from the reviews and many awards it won. But it was also a great game in my personal opinion. I had a blast playing it and I truly hope they just make a sequel instead of milking it to death with paid DLC.

I ultimately did not get a 100% completion in Breath of the Wild. I wanted to and I spent most of my time playing it under the impression that I would. But eventually I just burned out. I put 160 hours into that game. It is a magnificent gaming experience from start to finish. Beautiful scenery, different gameplay then we’ve ever had in a Zelda game before, actual character development, more than three main characters, a much more robust economy, tons of gameplay variation, way too many armor sets, and more puzzles of various types and sizes than I can remember seeing in any console adventure game ever. But it gets to be too much. 900 korok seeds to find, 120 shrines, 16 full armor sets, 18 single armor pieces, most of which need to be leveled up, and fairly challenging and lengthy DLC, which I also completed.

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Breath of the Wild is the kind of game I would have loved as a kid. Back when maybe one game a quarter came out that I genuinely had to have. Back when I couldn’t afford to buy games so I had to wait till my birthday and Christmas to get games. A game this long and epic would have been amazing. I would have played it forever and did every single little thing. But today who has the time? I don’t personally know a single person who got all the seeds. Most people online say they didn’t get that far. I didn’t get all the armor sets. I only maxed out four complete sets and a few single piece items. It’s just too much. Especially with the ridiculous and ever growing backlog I already have. I started the game on February 27th. I played it multiple days a week up until April 19th when I finally went and defeated Ganon because God of War was coming out the next day and I wasn’t going to delay playing that.

The Legend of Zelda - Breath of the Wild Screenshot 2018-04-20 02-42-17

I don’t have too many complaints about Breath of the Wild. And a game being too long is the best complaint a game can get in 2018. The issue comes down to the fact that the length is often padded with monotony and collecting, the worst type of padding. You spend so much of the game trying to find resources rather than new things. Once you have all the shrines, which takes quite a lot of time, you spend most of your time trying to find materials to level up armor and korok seeds. Both of these tasks are not really fun. They’re enjoyable the first few times because you’re learning and discovering things. But by the end of the game you’re just warping to map points waiting for minerals to respawn and setting up campfires waiting for star pieces to fall out of the sky and dragons to pass by, since you can only get one of four types of materials from a dragon a day. And there are three different dragons to deal with . . . It’s just a lot of tedious work in the late game. And that is a turn off when you have plenty of other games to play, as most do in the current gaming landscape. That’s not to say that the game’s not worth the money. It absolutely is. I got way more than 60 hours of enjoyable organic gameplay. Even if I had never taken the time to beat Ganon, it would still have been worth the money. But it begs the question of how am I supposed to grade the game? Do I say that because I got more hours of great gameplay than in Odyssey that it’s length is better even if I ultimately felt like it was too long? Or do I say that the length wasn’t balanced enough and because I left the game feeling like I hadn’t finished it that took away from my overall enjoyment? Hard to say. But I can say that I most likely won’t ever dive back into the game. I wouldn’t say that about Odyssey if they added more free content though. I’ve already taken the time to go back in to get added costumes by playing Balloon World for quick coins.

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It’s very difficult for me to ultimately decide which of the two games I liked more. Super Mario Odyssey was so fulfilling in every way. I’m also more of a Mario fan than a Zelda fan in general to begin with. Breath of the Wild was more than fulfilling. It was overwhelming. And it was overwhelmingly good. Super Mario Odyssey impressed me for a Nintendo game. Breath of the Wild impressed me for a video game. And that’s why it won Game of the Year. It might not be my favorite game ever, but it absolutely does everything at the highest caliber of quality.

So after playing both games for a combined total of more than 200 hours of gameplay, I have to conclude that Breath of the Wild is the better of the two games and was the correct decision as Game of the Year 2017. But in any other year that would have gone to Super Mario Odyssey easily. I highly recommend both games and I’m glad to have taken the time to play them. I’ve actually put more hours into my Switch this year than any other platform so far.

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Black Friday 2017

Once again, the day commeth upon us. A day that liveth in infamy. The very speaking of its name strikes fear into the hearts of children and ire into the hearts of men. A day where the strong and diligent are rewarded and the weak and lazy punished. A day of love. A day of hate. I’m talking about Black Friday!

Looking back at Black Friday 2016, I have to say that it was pretty disappointing. I was not able to achieve even half of my gaming deal  goals. Here’s what I started with.

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A decent list of games overall. A fair haul for any gamer worth his salt. But looking at my post showing what I actually managed to snag, at the prices I wanted of course, I didn’t manage to get much.

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A measly 5 games out of 16. That’s super depressing. I remember years where I managed to snag more than 80% of my list for fair prices. Now it’s become terribly impossible to get anything at a good price that isn’t over a year old. Sadly, a lot of publishers have started the intentional practice of releasing their games later in the year so they’re either to close to Black Friday so they don’t have to give a price drop. Often they even wait till after Black Friday has passed so they don’t even have to deal with it. Horizon Zero Dawn Complete Edition is a good example of this with it’s December 5th release date.  So now I make my lists and continue to value the games with the same metric I always have, but I’ve accepted that I won’t be able to get nearly as many games as I’d like to until Christmas season or even next year. But let the records show I that I do keep track of these lists forever. To date I now have 11 of those 16 games and have given up on three of them because of lack of interest or lack of supply (glances at Devil’s Third). Some games still haven’t come down to an appropriate price point. Looking at you Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan. And I’ll most likely be retiring that from the list at the end of this year. But I was diligent for the entire year in my desire to buy it at a fair price.

As it tradition, here is my Black Friday/Holiday Season shopping list for 2017 with my ideal price points. As always, if you see a deal that’s at or below my numbers please take the time to shoot me a link. You can leave a comment here or tweet me @GameChangerDOC. Note that these aren’t necessarily the prices that you’ll see for all these games/products. Again, these are not necessarily prices you will see. They’re prices I’m willing to pay. And I have no illusions about the fact that many of them I won’t see at the prices listed below. I’ve accepted that. As always, I’ve created this easy reference picture for deal hunters on the go.

Black Friday 2017 with Prices

1. Injustice 2 Champions ED – $30
2. Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark – $10
3. TMNT: Mutants in Manhattan – $10
4. Nioh Gold edition – $50
5. Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2 Full – $20
6. Horizon Zero Dawn GOTY ED – $40
7. Uncharted Lost Legacy – $15
8. Cuphead – $10
9. Assassin’s Creed Origins Full Edition – $25
10. Crash Bandicoot Trilogy – $15
11. South Park: The Fractured But Whole – $30
12. Star Wars Battlefront II – $20
13. Shadow of War – $15
14. Knack II – $20
15. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice – $15

Just a quick note about Star Wars Battlefront II. It’s on my list because my friend wants to play it, but I honestly don’t care if I never get that game. I am so fed up with EA and their bullshit microtransactions/loot crate models and even just the idea of supporting them in any way puts a bad taste in my mouth. I care so strongly about this issue that I took the time to mention it here in this completely unrelated post.

Thanks for taking the time to help a gamer win his hunt. Much appreciated as always. Happy Black Friday and may the deals be ever in your favor. Also Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers out there.

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Gaming Photography – Tomb Raider

Now that I’ve finally built my gaming PC, I have gotten serious about gaming photography. It’s a hobby that I’ve always been interested in but could never do properly before due to technological limitations. The PS3 has no native photo capabilities, the Wii U might as well not have any photo capabilities because they’re super limited, inconvenient, and impossible to share outside of Miiverse, and the PS4 screenshot function is average at best. It lets you take photos and the quality is actually pretty good, but there’s so much delay when you try to take them and checking your photos requires you to exit the game you’re playing and go to the capture app. It’s super inconvenient and slow. It’s impossible to know if you got the photo you wanted in time to preserve the scene in a cinematic scenario. But with my PC and Elgato HD 60 Pro I can instantly take beautiful in game photos with the touch of a button and quickly check them in real time. Obviously I can also take beautiful PC game screenshots as well.

I make it a point of only taking natural in game shots. I don’t use photo modes or alter the brightness/color settings except in special situations. I’ve already become a gaming photography snob, lol. I don’t consider myself a pro at this point because I’m only just starting out but I plan to make photo posts a regular part of my blog. I also post them on my Twitter and Instagram often.

 

Recently I finished Rise of The Tomb Raider on PS4. You can actually watch my playthrough series on my YouTube channel. Here is a collection of some of the best photos I took from the game. I saved 209 photos but I’ve only included the top 10 here for purposes of time and storage space on my WordPress.

Let's Play Rise of the Tomb Raider Screenshot 2017-07-04 23-29-06Let's Play Rise of the Tomb Raider Screenshot 2017-07-09 23-11-51Let's Play Rise of the Tomb Raider Screenshot 2017-07-18 05-02-00Let's Play Rise of the Tomb Raider Screenshot 2017-07-22 13-34-38Let's Play Rise of the Tomb Raider Screenshot 2017-07-25 15-38-19Let's Play Rise of the Tomb Raider Screenshot 2017-07-25 16-07-53Let's Play Rise of the Tomb Raider Screenshot 2017-07-28 15-04-37Let's Play Rise of the Tomb Raider Screenshot 2017-07-29 14-51-24Let's Play Rise of the Tomb Raider Screenshot 2017-08-02 20-23-46Let's Play Rise of the Tomb Raider Screenshot 2017-07-28 14-57-28

Please let me know what you think of my shots. Any feedback is appreciated because I would like to improve my gaming photography skills.

Spider-Man Homecoming Review – 6.8/10

This week I saw Spider-Man: Homecoming and Transformers: The Last Knight. I actually wrote reviews for both but the Transformers one got deleted because of a bug and I was not in the mood to rewrite an entire review. So here’s the introduction for my review of Spider-Man: Homecoming:

SpiderMan Homecoming

Spider-Man: Homecoming was an interesting experience. The best way to describe it is that it’s really two different films in one. It’s one part comic book film and one part high school drama.

You can read the rest of the review right here.

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As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

The Ubisoft Conundrum

I don’t like Ubisoft. I wouldn’t say I hate Ubisoft. And I certainly can’t say that I don’t play and sometimes enjoy their games, but I don’t like them. I’ve been playing Ubisoft games for quite a long time. Not counting Rayman, which I was never really a fan of and thus never played seriously, I’ve been playing Ubisoft games on a regular basis since before Prince of Persia in 2003. That in no way makes me the hardest of the hardcore Ubisoft fan/user, nor am I claiming to be, because they’ve been making games since 1986. But the point is that in the last decade I’ve shelled out several hundred if not over a thousand dollars out just to play their games specifically. And it’s even more important to note that I continue to give them my hard earned money. Yet, I am not at all happy with the company right now, nor have I been since at least 2014. That’s not to say that they haven’t made games worth playing since 2014. That’s not even to say that I haven’t at times enjoyed games from them since 2014. What I’m unhappy with is the company as a whole because of various poor decisions, a noticeable decline in the overall quality of their games, increased plot based paid DLC, and a general disregard for the opinions of their consumers, especially the loyal ones.

Several weeks back I found myself in an interesting scenario. I play a lot of games, but I’ve never been a trophy hunter type of guy. For me the story is what I play for and I take little to no pleasure in working my ass off to get that 100% if I don’t legitimately enjoy the tasks being requested of me. If you take the time to look up my PSN or Steam accounts, you will see that I have a very limited number of full completions and a measly eight platinums. I respect platinum hunters, but I just don’t have the patience or the time to do what they do. But I still make it a point to get at least one platinum a year. That’s platinum, not just hundred percent. Admittedly I don’t usually go for the hardest platinums. In fact, I’ll admit that I usually go for the easiest one I can unless there’s a game that I just really want to platinum like Skyrim. Still my most prized platinum by the way. I still hadn’t gotten this year’s platinum and we’re winding down to 2017 pretty fast so I needed to get on that. Ultimately I decided that my best bet was to platinum The Division.

At the time of this story, I had not played The Division for several months. The last time I had played it was before the Underground was even released. I think the last expansion I had done was the Clear Sky Incursion. And honestly I had to Google that to remind myself. Like so many others, I got fed up with the end game and just kind of stopped playing, never wanting to go back. It’s Destiny all over again. But when I was going through my trophy list I realized that the only trophies I had left to get the platinum were the collection ones.

platinum
Thanks to Kyndig_Vellanti for the assistance.

One of the worst things about AAA Ubisoft games is the fact that every single one of them makes you waste time collecting pointless bullshit for trophies. Going all the way back to at least Assassin’s Creed (2007), but almost assuredly before, they have been making players collect all sorts of useless garbage after the game has already been completed in order to get that platinum. Feathers, book pages, maps, puzzle pieces, and all sorts of other junk. It’s the worst experience ever. And since it almost never takes place before you finish the game, you don’t even get any serious benefits for doing it. Collecting in The Division is one of the worst examples of collecting bullshit because there is so much to grab and it’s hidden all over the place. Subways, on top of buildings, in gang territory. It’s just a bad time. But I wanted that platinum so I logged in.

As with all games of this sort, walking back in is exceedingly difficult because it’s been patched and updated several times since the last time I played. My gear was at least two gens behind the current standard and low and behold all the basic map NPCs have now been powered up, making me inadequate to say the least. Plus there’s trying to relearn the controls. And I hadn’t collected shit. I literally had an entire map’s worth of collecting to complete. Ultimately I couldn’t even get through the first area before I got super fed up and quit. Hopefully I’ll convince a friend who still actively plays to take pity on me and escort me around the map collecting trash in order to get this trophy before New Year’s. But what’s important is what happened that same day.

In the midst of me trying to deal with my The Division trophy woes, I received an email. See this happened to be the weekend of September 15th. For those of you not aware, that was the weekend of the For Honor closed alpha. I have been anticipating For Honor impatiently since the E3 reveal in 2015. I know that I’m ultimately gonna be unhappy with it and I’m well aware that I am mostly likely going to regret buying it altogether, yet I can’t wait. Even though they got me on The Division and have been selling me shitty Assassin’s Creed games for the most part of the last decade, this game looks amazing. Like the 14 year old COD fanboy or the douchebag who preorders HALO a year in advance, I just can’t seem to control myself when it comes to this game. I’ve actually considered paying the full $60 price tag for it and that never happens. Especially not with companies I don’t trust like Ubisoft. So when I got this email, I was ecstatic. I tweeted, I made a Facebook post. I cleared my schedule for the rest of the weekend. Had to rush play and write a review I had committed to getting done that weekend. I even told my girlfriend that I wasn’t available that weekend. I was ready to play the For Honor alpha.

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For me alphas and betas are a serious thing. These are not demos and I hate the fact that people play them that way. For a number of reasons stemming from corrupt business practices and laziness, developers don’t really put out demos anymore. There’s a few that come out every year and certain key ones like Pro-Evolution Soccer, but for the most part you are now forced to buy before you try, borrow a copy, or get into an alpha/beta. But that’s not actually the purpose of alphas and betas. Yes I’m sure developers want people to try the games and tweet about how awesome they are to raise the hype, but let’s remember where public betas came from and why they exist. The reason that developers put out or are supposed to be putting out early builds of games is for user feedback. That’s the only legitimate reason for alphas and betas. Players are not supposed to be testing them for purchasing purposes, though that does happen. They’re supposed to be critiquing them on a serious level and submitting feedback about how the developer can make the game, which is supposed to still be in production, better before it hits the shelves. That’s the point of alphas and betas and that’s how and why I play them.

I take my pre-build feedback very seriously. Whether it’s a game I have a serious interest in like when I played The Division closed and open betas, or a game I don’t particularly have an interest in like when I played the Trackmania Turbo closed beta, I always take the feedback seriously. I clear my schedule. I take notes. I write blog posts about it for users to see. I make sure to provide developers with as much information as possible to help them ultimately release the best game they can. For example, I submitted, and then published publicly as well, about 15 single spaced pages of feedback on The Division closed and open betas. And this is serious feedback. Not trolls. Not “this game is so awesome I can’t wait to buy it”, but actual useful feedback based on mechanics analysis and comparisons to other games in similar genres. I am very thorough and in a perfect world we all would take pre-build feedback at least that seriously. You do a disservice to the developers, future purchasers of the game, and serious beta testers who were denied a spot when you play a beta and don’t leave feedback or don’t leave serious, detailed, quality feedback. The reason that this is so important is because a lack of feedback gives developers an excuse to release bad games.

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Now I’m not gonna say that all my feedback is necessarily what every other player wants in a game. And it’s ridiculous to think that Ubisoft or any developer actually takes the time to read every piece of feedback they get and seriously takes the time to consider implementing it into their games. What I will say unarguably is that if developers aren’t given feedback about an issue and then they release the game with this issue then you can’t rightfully blame the developer for doing it. They may honestly not have noticed or thought about it. But if even just one person plays a beta and tells the developers something like “spray paint skins for guns shouldn’t count towards your inventory limit” and they release the game having not made that correction, it’s on them if 70% of their player base is unhappy about that issue. They were warned. It may have only been by one person, but there is no legitimate excuse on the developer’s side because someone let them know it was a problem. That’s why pre-build feedback is such a serious issue.

Do you think No Man’s Sky would have ended up the way it did if they had done a proper widespread closed or open beta? It’s absolutely possible, but I seriously doubt it. Unless you think Sean Murray and the rest of Hello Games genuinely don’t care about user satisfaction, which admittedly could be true, the feedback would have led to a different game. Their issue was a lack of feedback. It was their fault for not doing a proper public beta, but it doesn’t change the fact that they at least have the excuse of saying “well we just didn’t know because no one told us before release.” I do my best to take that excuse away from developers and that’s how I approach all pre-builds.

While I don’t assume that Ubisoft takes all my feedback to heart, I did assume up to the For Honor alpha that they seriously appreciated my dedication to leaving thorough pre-build feedback. So I was not surprised when I got that email because I had been invited to a number of closed betas by Ubisoft in the past and believed that I was on their shortlist, especially considering I had signed up for this particular alpha and beta the very first day the application went live, and truth be told I signed up multiple accounts. But sadly I didn’t actually get to play the alpha. I got that email, but no code was ever given to me. I tweeted them and created a customer service ticket but I was ignored. The saddest part is that they didn’t actually fully ignore me. They did initially respond but then never got back to me. Thus I never got to play the alpha that I had waited so long for and I never will. And just to be clear, my disappointment in missing the alpha was/is not some fanboy impatience about getting to play the game. Not at all.

My issue is that now I haven’t been able to give Ubisoft feedback about how not to ruin yet another game in their current release pool. Now they have an excuse. Sure other people may have left feedback and again they may never have actually read my feedback. But my having not been given the opportunity to personally leave any feedback means that now if they release a shitty game that I end up buying, I won’t be able to say that I let them know about all the problems. I won’t have proof that they should have known better because I gave them the information. I’ll have no legitimate grounds for accusation. I’ll just be another whiny fanboy who purchased a bad game and did nothing to try and solve the problems beforehand. That’s what I take issue with. And while yes that position may be slightly arrogant, if we all took pre-build feedback that seriously do you think games would ultimately be better or worse?

just-dance-2016

The third thing that happened was that I then tried to play Just Dance. I play Just Dance regularly. I’m quite good at it and no I’m not ashamed of it. So hate come at me, but I bet I’ll beat you on the dance floor. Just Dance is a franchise that I own several editions of, but I have to say that it is now in decline. Up until 2015 it was improving with each year, but 2016 was a complete drop in quality while at the same time raising the price. They dropped the base price to $40 but added a subscription service so now you have to pay extra money every month if you want access to all the songs from past editions, many of which I’ve already paid for. Just Dance players had waited years for the ability to play past songs without having to change discs and this would have been a great feature had it of been free or a flat rate price. Now it’s just a feature that many players, such as myself, don’t use but wish we could. That’s not the only problem with 2016 when compared to 2015 and other past titles, but it’s the biggest one and it’s a problem that will be taken into the 2017 version as well. I say tried to play on this particular occasion because the servers were down. It’s possible that it was because of the alpha that I couldn’t get access, but I play Just Dance on the Wii U so that shouldn’t necessarily be the case, but who really knows with Ubisoft. Then ultimately I opted to continue playing Assassin’s Creed: Unity which wasn’t a bad game mechanically, but it certainly had its issues which should surprise no one considering its disappointing initial release. And even if it had no bugs gameplay wise, it still wouldn’t change the fact that they haven’t written a good Assassin’s Creed game since Revelations or arguably before that depending on your opinion on Ezio’s final title.

Remember that all this took place over the course of less than 24 hours. So basically I had a really shitty night and overall weekend experience. But what’s important to note is that all three of these gaming mishaps and the fourth game I ultimately settled for were all published by Ubisoft. More importantly they’re all properties at the forefront of the company’s current portfolio. I was interacting with supposedly four of their current best IPs, granted Unity is not the newest Assassin’s Creed because we’ve had Syndicate for a year now, which I know I’ll inevitably end up buying. But why? That’s the question I’m suddenly asking myself. Why am I still buying and playing Ubisoft games? I know the company disappoints me much of if not most of the time. I know they no longer write good stories. I know they’re products are now riddled with overpriced DLC and a combination of broken and troublesome mechanics. I’ve written several pages on the various problems I have with Ubisoft even before this post, yet I keep buying their games.

ac-unity-glitch
I did not experience this glitch, but I wanted to remind you of it.

They must actually have a piece of Eden because otherwise I must be insane. And I’m not alone. Ubisoft sells millions of games every year. And so many people are unhappy with them as a company. Watch Dogs 2 is already getting tons of hate and it’s not even out yet. I know tons of people who have completely given up on Assassin’s Creed ever actually being good again. But so many people, even while knowing how bad the company is right now, continue to give them loads of money and put up with their bullshit, myself included, and I can’t figure out why. Why don’t we just give up on them and put the horse out of its misery? I don’t claim to have the answers to these questions. I honestly can’t understand how we keep allowing ourselves to be duped. What I can do is tell you what buying Ubisoft games looks like for me and ask if your current experience with the company is similar in hopes of discovering some real answers.

I never buy Ubisoft games at full price anymore. Honestly I don’t pay $60+ for any games anymore because I’ve learned my lesson. The last game I preordered was Destiny and I’ve never stopped regretting it. The last game I paid full price for was probably Destiny as well. And before that it was God of War: Ascension by my recollection. The last Ubisoft game I paid full price for was probably Assassin’s Creed: Revelations and honestly that was for the multiplayer, but specifically to get the Ottoman Jester as a playable character, because yes it’s been that long since I fully trusted them. Take note that I’m only discussing AAA titles here, but I do play their smaller projects as well and many of them are quite good such as Valiant Hearts and Child of Light. But I don’t pay full price for those either, just for the record.

child-of-light
Probably one of the best RPGs of the modern era.

What usually ends up happening is I play one of their games and I finish it. I always finish their games. Almost always do I leave the game disappointed. Not always angry, but that has happened on more than one occasion. Looking at you Assassin’s Creed III. Usually it’s just some combination of dissatisfaction and apathy. Then they announce a new game. Usually it’s an Assassin’s Creed game, but not always. At first glance I’m usually not surprised, because 9/10 times it’s a sequel to a series that I’m either not interested in or think needs to end. In the latter case I usually tell myself I’m not interested at this time. Not that I won’t play it, just that I don’t need it right now. Then I end up seeing some footage and I think it looks really good and I actually might enjoy it. Then Ubisoft announces that it will have a gold edition and lots of paid DLC. This of course disgusts me and causes me to lose almost all interest in the title. About a month or two after release, usually during a flash sale, I see the gold edition of said game at a discount, but only about 10 to 20%. I don’t even consider buying it. About four months after that I see the gold edition at a discount again but now it’s at about 50% of the release price. I’m still not sold. Then almost a year after release Black Friday rolls around and I have mostly forgotten or moved past the idea of playing the game but it comes up on Amazon (as an example site) for $20 or less. I end up telling myself it’s only $20 and buy it begrudgingly because I’m confident that I will ultimately be left unsatisfied with the game.

By the time the game arrives, they’ve usually announced or even released a sequel to that game which I’m not even considering at this point because I just got this installment, but I don’t play it right away. It goes on the shelf and I ignore it for quite a while. Sometimes I get to within a couple months of the next Black Friday before I actually put it in the console. Then I start playing it and something happens. I’m actually enjoying myself. I realize that I really missed this free-running system and the weapons antics. I missed the rich gameplay settings and colorful NPCs. I start to ask myself why I was mad at Ubisoft in the first place. Then I keep playing the game. About half to three quarters of the way to the end I am reminded why I get irritated by their games. By the end it’s gotten repetitive, poorly written with tons of plot holes, lots of collectibles are still on my map, and the flaws with the gameplay have become more pronounced as the harder and larger groups of enemies have now become a normal occurrence. Irritated and impatient, I finally make it to the end of the game and the cycle repeats itself. But no matter how unhappy I get with their games, the cycle always repeats itself. I’ll probably end up getting both Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate and Far Cry Primal this Black Friday.

ubisoft-club

I don’t really know why I keep falling into this Ubisoft trap. It must be really good marketing and some combination of nostalgia and consistency, but I know I’m not alone in this. I have no idea what the real reason is, but I’m curious to know how you all feel about Ubisoft and if you have similar experiences when buying their products. Is there another developer that you have similar feelings about? Let me know in the comments so we can discuss it more.

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As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.