Taipei Game Show 2019

Once again, I had the pleasure of attending Taipei Game Show this year. It’s one of my favorite shows because of how hands on it is. It’s also one of the better game conventions that’s both completely open to the public and extremely affordable, with a single day ticket price of just $10. I will say though that the ticket price is up 50% from last year so while it’s not high, that increase in price percentage wise is worrying for the future of the show. I will qualify that statement by saying Taipei Game Show is one of the best shows for high quality free swag that’s open to the public. Every year I get a fairly good haul of stuff I probably don’t need and this year was no different.

The best thing about gaming events in Taiwan is the large number of playable demos. I’ve been to company specific events like PlayStation Gaming Festival Taipei and neutral events like Taipei Game Show over the last few years and consistently events in Taiwan always focus on having playable demos open to the public rather than just footage and demos only available for VIP invited visitors. This is the main reason I keep going back every year.

sega booth

In general, I’d say this was a weaker show than last year’s. At last year’s show, the bulk of games on display to try were unreleased titles or games that were very new. At this year’s show there was plenty of new stuff that hadn’t been released yet, but there were also a lot of demos for stuff that was already out.  Even some stuff that I’d already beaten. Take the Ubisoft booth for instance. They had Just Dance 2019 on their main stage, which is fine because they always have that year’s Just Dance running with people dancing because it makes for a good show. But their other offerings were lacking. They of course had The Division 2 Beta and that’s exactly what should have been there. That was the main portion of their booth. But the only other games they had on display to try were Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Starlink: Battle for Atlas, and Trials Rising. That means of the five games they had on display three of them had already been released last year. And I personally own all three of them so unless you wanted to wait in line for over an hour to try The Division 2, which I didn’t having already played the alpha, I just tried Trials Rising, which I’ll discuss in detail in my demos review section of this post.

It wasn’t just Ubisoft that was featuring a lot of already released stuff though. Bandai Namco always has a large booth, and this year was no different. But the only game I tried from them was God Eater 3. The main focus of their booth was Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown, which makes sense because it literally came out this month. But they were featuring demos for Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum ‘n’ Fun!, Katamari Damacy Reroll, and a bunch of Gundam stuff that’s focused on the Asia market that I’ve never heard of, as per usual. The only game that they had that was truly special for a show was One Piece World Seeker, which I didn’t even get to try because I didn’t realize they had it until the show was closing for the day. They did no special promotion for it. No large display, which they had for two or three other games, including Ace Combat 7, no posters, no special One Piece swag. They just had it set up on a few screens and you had to notice it on your own, which sadly I didn’t.

bandai booth

As usual, there was no XBOX presence there. Other than PC gaming, which is a big thing at the show every year, Microsoft has no showings at Taipei Game Show. You can buy some PS4 and Switch games at the show every year, but not a single XB1 game could be found. Speaking of which, they had physical copies of Kingdom Hearts III available which is awesome because the game launched in Taiwan the day I attended, which shows just how on top of their game SONY really was for the show.

The thing I found most disappointing about the show this year was the limited Nintendo presence. They didn’t take the time to show up in person like PlayStation does every year. You only get glances of the Switch through third party developers/publishers like Ubisoft and Bandai Namco. But an actual Nintendo booth and store would have been so much better. PlayStation had their own official booth and store, selling new physical games and merch, like they do every year. You could even buy Death Stranding t-shirts this year, though they didn’t have any new footage or gameplay for the game being shown, because of course they didn’t. In a way PlayStation is uncontested just about every year at Taipei Game Show because they put in the investment to make a spectacular booth and feature a huge number of playable demos including PSVR offerings. Most of the demos I played at the show this year, as is true every year, were at the PlayStation booth. And really I don’t think it should be that way. It simply is because enough other companies don’t care enough to participate, which is sad to say the least.

playstation booth

On the PC side of things, it was kind of disappointing because though most of the big Asian players attended such as Nvidia, HyperX, Gigabyte, Cooler Master, ASUS ROG, MSI, and even ThermalTake, they all focused on parts rather than games. They were selling parts in their booths, which is fine, but really that was the main focus of their booths. Showing off and selling products that could be used for gaming rather than focusing on actual gaming. And while this makes perfect sense from a business perspective, as these are hardware companies, it really detracts from the spirit of the show. They could do a lot more to feature more playable demos for new and yet to be released games and make that the focus of their booths while showing off their hardware. In my opinion, this would be the more appropriate way to do things. Of all the PC booths I saw, only ASUS ROG had a demo for an unreleased game. They had a small section where you could try out the PC version of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice as evidenced by a single mid-sized poster on the far side of their booth. In comparison, PlayStation had a giant statue of one of the game’s bosses and a small Japanese hut shaped structure where you could try out the game complete with Japanese style stools/backless chairs. This was the only PlayStation demo I experienced that did not require you to stand. The point is that PlayStation put in that much investment to display a game that isn’t even exclusive to their platform, meanwhile these PC companies were doing the bare minimum to talk about actual games.

cm booth

On the swag front, I’m always really impressed most by the mobile app companies and indie studios. It shows just how much money mobile apps make in Asia, because their swag is on a whole other level compared to companies like PlayStation and Nvidia. The swag for the PlayStation booth was game specific. Meaning you got different stuff for trying different games, with most games having no special items at all. Every PlayStation demo gave you red envelopes with a 7 day free trial for PlayStation plus. This is very standard for Taipei Game Show as it always happens right before Chinese New Year, so the envelopes are culturally specific to Asia. Over the years I’ve gotten red envelopes from numerous brands. This year only PlayStation had them. But certain games also gave you special items for trying them. Dead or Alive 6 gave a lanyard and collectors pin. A VR game called Focus on You gave a full sized couch pillow. But most of the time you just got the envelopes. And remember that this is after waiting forever in those long PlayStation lines. Meanwhile some random mobile app company gave me a fairly large stuffed cow, which I named Mr. Moo Cow, for trying three apps over the course of maybe 10 minutes. I will clarify that trying the three apps gave me the chance to draw a prize and that’s what I won, but they had lots of great prizes and plenty of those cows to give away.

An indie PC game studio that I’ve never heard of gave me a full length mousepad of very good quality. Again I drew this, but the same logic applies. SEGA gave out blue lanyards. Nvidia made me travel to five different locations around their booth as well as one at another booth they were partnered with for the chance to draw a prize, which ultimately got me a Monster energy drink and some stickers. Of all the larger companies at the show, I’d have to say the best single swag item was from Bandai Namco. It was a Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum ‘n’ Fun! themed neck pillow. But it required you to try five different games they had on display, all of which had their own separate lines. Sadly I didn’t have time to complete this. I even offered to pay for the pillow because I really wanted one and they refused to let me buy it. Overall I was very happy with my swag haul, but my point is the larger companies in the industry really could stand to step their game up.

swag tgs 2019

I will say though that Ubisoft impressed me this year by thinking more outside the box with their swag. Last year they had a system where you tried any game, of which they had several compared to this year, and you got a prize draw. You went to the claims table and they had you play a Just Dance themed prize machine like the one in Just Dance 2018 and you won a random prize, of which they had a large variety of prizes you could win. I got an Assassin’s Creed Origins t-shirt, a Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle t-shirt, and a Rabbid Mario hat. It was a really nice system because most of the prizes were really good and the system was entirely random so you didn’t have to wait to try a game you didn’t necessarily want to try to get the swag you wanted. It did however mean that you could get swag you absolutely didn’t want or repeat prizes. They also had a special For Honor keychain which was only available to those who waited in line to try that specific game, which I of course did. This year they didn’t have general swag. You only got a 5% coupon to the Taiwan UPLAY online store. But their game specific swag for The Division 2 was very creative. You got a “Tommy the Teddy Bear” backpack charm which consists of a teddy bear with a bowtie and a The Division 2 keychain. But the really cool part is that it comes with an in game activation code that will give your character in the game the teddy bear charm for their backpack as well. That’s cool swag. It makes a direct connection between the live event and the game. It’s limited edition, which players really care about for some reason, and it motivates people to buy the game. And it was still cheaper to make than the neck pillows or Mr. Moo Cow while being just as valuable to the gamers at the show. Kudos to Ubisoft.

tommy the teddy

Now let’s talk about what’s really important at game shows: the playable demos. I had the privilege to play seven AAA/large studio demos for games that weren’t yet released at my time of playing (I’m counting Kingdom Hearts III because it wasn’t available in the US for another four days) as well as a few indie titles. Sadly, the three indie titles I recall playing, one on PSVR and two on PC, weren’t anything special so I won’t take the time to go over them in this already long blog post. So let’s just talk about the big stuff. Please note that at Taipei Game Show demos only last 10 – 15 minutes due to the sheer number of people waiting to play. They simply can’t let people play for as long as I would have liked to, and that makes sense. So be aware that my assessment of these demos should be taken with a grain of salt because I didn’t have time to change any settings or get super comfortable with the controls. Also note that the demos in Taipei Game Show are mapped for Asian players, which is different from standard button maps in the West. For instance, on a DualShock 4 controller O is the confirm button in Asia, while X is the confirm button in the West. These sorts of things do really make a difference. I remember going to Taipei Game Show back in 2016 and trying Attack on Titan for the first time and absolutely hating it because of the button map and my inability to read the directions, since they’re always in Chinese or Japanese at Taipei Game Show. Then when I got to try the game at home with an American button map and English directions I absolutely loved the game.

red envelopes

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

Of all the demos available, this was the one I was most excited to try. Obviously Kingdom Hearts III was more important overall, but that was set to release less than a week from the event so trying the demo for 10 minutes wasn’t really that important in the grand scheme of things. Sekiro on the other hand is one of my top games for this year that won’t be out for some time. The only game I wanted to play more than Sekiro is Ghost of Tsushima, which sadly wasn’t available to play. Though they did have a giant poster and a guy dressed up like a samurai to promote the game and taunt my very soul. But thankfully I at least got to try the next great soulslike title.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice was a rough demo experience. Obviously the game is difficult, which it should be. But it’s also not the same gameplay as Dark Souls or Bloodborne, so you can’t just walk on with that past experience and expect things to just click right away. This is a completely different animal. For starters, the pace of the gameplay is much faster than even Bloodborne. You’re zip-lining around the level, dealing with long range attacks like rifles, and having to dodge the view of spotters stealthily hidden throughout the world. It’s as much about stealth as it is about combat performance. And you are not very powerful in the grand scheme of things. Basic samurai go down in a few swipes, or instantly with a stealth kill. But even the first tier armored samurai were quite the amount of effort/attacks to take down. And the first mini-boss was pretty much impossible for me to bring down in the 10 minutes I had. This is because he had four other enemies in the area with him, two of which couldn’t be stealth killed. The three of them together were just too difficult for the items I had. The long range attacks are severely lacking. At least what was available to me in the demo. I really hope to be able to get a bow and/or rifle in the full game. I really hated the button map in this demo. I hate to be one of those people that makes excuses like that for not being able to beat a game, but honestly if I can’t remap that game and that’s the final layout for the US version, I’m gonna have a terrible time. It did not work for me at all. It’s not that it’s drastically different from Bloodborne. It’s that what you’re doing in Bloodborne with the controls is vastly different and that makes all the difference in the effectiveness of the button layout.

sekiro__shadows_die_twice_gx

I want to be clear in saying that I don’t think it’s a bad game after playing the demo. I’m fairly certain I’ll be buying the Collector’s Edition day one. It’s very challenging, which is what it’s supposed to be. But there are definitely things I want to see changed in the final product from what I experienced in the demo. That’s of course assuming the conditions leading up to the point in the game the demo took place in are inevitable for the items, skills, and damage I was getting in the demo. It’s very possible that the experience I’ll have based on my preferred play style will net drastically different outcomes from what I got in the demo.

Dead or Alive 6

I’m a big Dead or Alive fan and have been since I bought the third installment on the original XBOX 18 years ago. I had played the earlier games causally in arcades but DOA3 is when I really fell in love with the franchise. It’s still in my top five fighting franchises and I play every game. Really I don’t expect things to be too different from game to game and I prefer it that way because the DOA formula is nearly perfect in my opinion. I just want some new fighters, new stages, and maybe some new special moves and I’m pretty much fine with it.

What I got from this demo is almost exactly what I wanted. The graphics are good. The roster includes all the characters I wanted, including Hyabusa, and the gameplay is much the same. There are some new specialty attacks, similar to what you get in the latest Soul Calibur, but by and large it’s the same buttery smooth, fast paced gameplay fans of the franchise are accustomed to. There was also a great selection of costumes for all the fighters. I’m very much looking forward to playing this game.

doa6

Devil May Cry 5

I’ve never beaten any of the DMC games, unless you count DmC: Devil May Cry (2013) by Ninja Theory. But I’ve always wanted to play them all. I’ve been very impressed by the things I’ve seen about DMC5 so I finally bought  1 – 4 remastered on PS4. The DMC5 demo delivered both what I wanted and expected. It’s fast paced, smooth, visually gruesome, and slightly comedic. I was very happy with the gameplay, though I do feel that I didn’t fully understand the robotic hand system they implemented. I thought it was a bit weird, but I also liked that you could completely destroy your hand and then have to fight with one arm. The different arm types were cool as well because it allowed you to create a more customized gameplay experience based on your preferences. The gameplay was fair. I’d recommend playing this one on hard if you’re a hardcore fan of the franchise or genre. I beat the boss in the demo with little fear of dying. But overall I was very happy with it and I’ll certainly be buying the game.

devil-may-cry-5

God Eater 3

God Eater is a franchise I’ve always been interested in but never had the time to really play. I actually own the first two games on PC, but I’ve never played either of them. I really like the genre because of games like Toukiden and Monster Hunter World. But when you have games like Monster Hunter World available the motivation to take the time to play anything else in the genre becomes sorely lacking. But I still wanted to try this demo.

Personally I struggled a lot with this demo. A large part of that comes from the fact that it wasn’t in English. I had such a hard time trying to figure out the weapons controls. I kept accidentally changing from the sword to the gun mode and then couldn’t get the gun to fire properly. The demo had me running around looking for monsters but very few were spawning in the level. I actually ran out of time before the real monster showed up so my whole demo experience was really lousy. I hope they release a public demo because I’d genuinely like to try it again with a full understanding of how the gameplay mechanics work before passing final judgement. That is to say the game is not at all intuitive.

god-eater-3

Kingdom Hearts III

I have waited more than a decade to play Kingdom Hearts III. I have watched as Square Enix dished out garbage handheld spin off title after garbage handheld spin off title. I have seen Sora travel to worlds that made up my childhood and fight alongside some of my favorite characters growing up. But in all these years I have never seen his story get a proper conclusion. It is my hope that I will finally get this in Kingdom Hearts III. No I did not need to play a demo for a game that will literally be released before this blog post is even published. But of course I took the time to wait in line and play it anyway.

The game dropped me directly into Toy Story world. I don’t know how far into the game that was/is, but it seemed like it was quite a ways in because I was really OP. I could combo through the air for what seemed like forever. I had magic attacks that were super powerful. It was definitely fun but it did not feel earned. The team up moves were amazing and quite beautiful. I also really liked that Buzz and Woody fought alongside me without me having to sacrifice Donald or Goofy from my team. The demo definitely did its job in making me excited to play the game. But I’m hoping they don’t just drop me in at that level of power from the start. The gameplay was very smooth overall, as is to be expected. And the AI for my team mates was very effective as well. I can’t comment on Donald’s healing AI/ability at this point because I didn’t take enough damage to require healing.

kingdom hearts 3

At the end of the day, I already preordered the game months ago so playing the demo didn’t matter much to me or have any impact on my decision to buy and play the game. But I am really looking forward to finally getting to play it. As I write this post, I’m preloading it onto my PS4.

Space Channel 5 PSVR

I didn’t actually know this game was in the works. Space Channel 5 was one of my favorite games from the Dreamcast. It’s one of the only games that I enjoyed with my sisters as a kid. Even my mom liked watching us play it. I’m a big music/rhythm game fan and SC5 was one of the best from that era. The blend of story, challenging gameplay, and sci-fi graphics made for a great music game experience. And it featured Michael Jackson. So I was both shocked and ecstatic to find out that a VR version of the game was in the pipeline and available to try.

I have to say that it worked very well gameplay wise. You really had to do the moves and keep to the rhythm. It was responsive, mostly fair in its judgement of your move accuracy, and quite fun. The demo didn’t have any of the more challenging dance battles because it was only the first level, but from what I experienced I think it could end up being a stellar overall gameplay experience. What I didn’t like was that they changed the level structure and presentation. In the original game you play as Ulala and travel through the stages dance battling aliens and rescuing people along the way. In this demo you played as Ulala’s trainee and the entire concept of traveling through the stage was removed. You just stayed in the same place the entire level and the aliens came to you, bringing their hostages along with them. This lazy way of doing the level really took away from the overall experience of the original game. And playing as a trainee was kind of a bummer. Especially since she never talked back to Ulala. I would have much preferred an entirely new story as the third installment of the franchise with this new system rather than change up the process of the original game in this manner. The gameplay is quite solid though so hopefully we’ll see something like that in the future whether it’s Space Channel 5 or a new IP altogether.

sapce channel 5

Trials Rising

I only tried this game because I played and liked the beta for Trials Fusion and didn’t want to play Starlink: Battle for Atlas or Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, both of which I already own. And I certainly wasn’t going to wait two hours to try The Division 2 beta. Especially after having already played the alpha. So I tried the one game that was completely new to me.

Trials Fusion is extremely hard. I’m so glad you can continue from the very plentiful and automatically applied checkpoints because wow is it difficult to get past the various obstacles in a given course. The ramps and angles are so unforgiving. Timing is everything and you rely on luck way too much. I crashed so many times trying to get through a single course that it got depressing. I don’t know who the target audience is for that game but it’s certainly not me.

trials rising

The only two demos that I didn’t get to play but really wanted to were One Piece World Seeker and Concrete Genie. Both of these were under marketed, as in not marketed at all, so I wasn’t even aware of them till the booths were already closing up for the day. This was probably my biggest complaint from the show this year. There simply wasn’t enough put into providing people with information. Usually there’s an information booth in every main intersection. This year there was nothing. No people walking around to ask for directions. No help desk inside the floor. You could get assistance about specific booths from booth employees, but for general help about the show you were on your own with nothing more than a printed map, which I had to go out of my way to find because they weren’t handing them out at the door like they always have in past years that I’ve attended. There should have been a list of playable demos made available online before the show started so you could plan what you wanted to try in advance.

One thing I noticed about a number of demos, both indie and AAA, was that many of them had intros that were way too long. If you tell me I only have 10 – 15 minutes to try out a game, less than a minute of that should be taken up by story introductions. I didn’t wait in line for an hour to get plot points. I just want to try the gameplay and see the graphics. Between that and loading times, so many games were just wasteful in their time management of that 10 – 15 minute span of time. A VR demo I tried from an indie studio had me sit through 10 minutes of introduction with Chinese subtitles and not enough volume before I got to fire a single bullet. This is not OK.

just dance bracelet
My prize for competing.

I’ll end this post by sharing a rather interesting experience I had at the Ubisoft booth. If you follow me on Twitter, then you’re probably aware that I’m a big Just Dance player/fan. Though I’ve never formally competed, based on my online performance for the past two or three installments of the franchise, I genuinely believe and tell people that I’m in the top five players in Taiwan. At least on Nintendo platforms. While I was at the Ubisoft booth waiting in line, I mentioned to one of the employees that spoke English that I was a big fan of the franchise and that I was a top player in Taiwan. As they do every year, they had Just Dance, 2019 in this case, running on the stage. But this year they allowed anyone to walk up and play rather than limit it to invited guest players only like they usually do. I actually didn’t want to play because I had only played about three hours of Just Dance 2019 at this point, having just opened the game earlier in the week. This employee went and told the guy in charge of the Just Dance section of the booth that I claimed to be a top player. He, also being able to speak English, came and asked me if I’d play. I felt like I had to at this point otherwise it would look like I was lying about my skill level. After reaching the stage, they introduced me to the host and Ubisoft’s brand ambassador for Just Dance in Taiwan. The host seemed to be an active Just Dance player but he wasn’t actually playing at that time. The brand ambassador was introduced to me as the number one player in Taiwan. I chose to introduce myself by my Just Dance online name rather than my real name and to my surprise they both recognized my Nintendo Switch User ID from previous Just Dance versions. The brand ambassador was quite good. He had already mastered all the 2019 songs, which makes sense if you started playing it day one because it’s been out since October. I just got a late start because I usually close out the year with the previous version before starting the installment for the next year. I will say without argument that he was better than I was consistently. But of the four to five players playing, I was getting second place and the ambassador was not blowing me out of the water. At times I was even ahead of him but he was ultimately closing out each song in the lead. I actually really would have liked to play against him in some songs from 2018 because I do believe that I was at his level of play. Ultimately they interviewed me after I was done playing and featured my interview in this official Ubisoft Taipei Game Show video. See if you can figure out who I am.

So that’s it for another solid Taipei Game Show. Here’s looking forward to a great year of gaming and attending again next year.

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The End of E3?

Sony recently announced that there would not be a PlayStation presence at E3 in 2019. The reason hasn’t really been expressed yet other than some bullshit PR speak about looking for new options to connect with their fans, but many theories are of course swirling around the internets. Now I’ve been very critical of E3 for many years now, as has been shown on this very blog. I’m a 100% in support of Nintendo’s choice to do pre-recorded Directs. I love the fact that they do multiple a year because they produce them in advance for less money than the price of doing a single E3 presentation, which gives the public even more information about games (and pricing) in advance of release. I have many complaints about the E3 format, specifically the fact that it’s not open to the public. They did allow for some public passes to be sold at this year’s E3 and I did commend them for that in my E3 2018 post. But in general it’s still too little.

My main problem with E3 is that in 2018 it’s still a media focused shill operation. We don’t actually need established gaming media events in 2018. We have the technology for studios and publishers to convey information and demos directly to the public. The media no longer serves as the gateway between consumers and studios. I can directly tweet a studio a question or complaint about a game and get a response, and I have. In fact I tweeted and got a response from Ubisoft last month. Now in this specific case it wasn’t about the experience of playing a game but I did have a question about a game and got an answer directly from the publisher in a matter of hours. What do I need IGN for when I can talk to the developers or their direct representatives directly? We can have playable demos. Sadly these have become less common as technology has progressed, which makes no sense, but the point is I don’t need to watch some asshole I don’t like play a game I’m curious about to decide whether or not I want to buy it if the developer can let me try it myself from the comfort of my home, which they have been able to do since technically the PS2. Or before if we count demo discs. I don’t need to read some crappy paid review/long form ad to figure out if I should buy a game if I can just try it myself before buying it. That’s why betas are referred to as stealth demos now.

Tweet Ubisoft Big

The point is that we don’t actually need media focused gaming events anymore. The media are little more than shills for the gaming industry or political activists pretending to actually know anything about what gamers are really thinking. It makes way more sense to either have only gaming events that are open to the public to see and try new games or do away with such events altogether and have all publishers make their own Nintendo Direct style videos and release playable demos for download. I’m not saying E3 should be ended permanently. I’m saying what E3 currently is should be ended permanently. It’s an outdated concept. So if it’s for the right reasons, I’m all for Sony pulling out of E3 indefinitely.

At the same time, we don’t actually know if Sony pulled out of E3 for the right reasons. There are a number of theories floating around. Some of them, if correct, are completely valid and acceptable reasons for Sony to not attend E3 2019. Others, not so much.

 

nintendo direct e3 2018

If Sony has decided to quit E3 in order to revolutionize the way they present games to the public by making their own direct to consumer presentations, events, and demos, then I am all for it. I would love to see a PlayStation Direct. Even better if, like Nintendo, they do multiple a year. I would love it if PlayStation made prerecorded videos about upcoming titles and released demos to go with them. If that’s the future of PlayStation presenting information to consumers, bring it on. Even if it’s the same presentations they already do at E3 but as their own PlayStation focused event/stream, I’m fine with that. They have PlayStation Experience already, and that’s better than E3. It is open to the public to buy tickets. It does have playable demos for the public to try. If this is the future, cool. But I don’t necessarily believe either of these reasons are why PlayStation pulled out of E3. Let’s also not forget that they cancelled PSX 2018 as well.

Another theory going around, and I do believe this is the correct one, is that Sony doesn’t have any new big projects for the PS4 that haven’t already been announced so they didn’t want to spend the money, time, and effort to attend E3. This is a bullshit reason that is completely unacceptable. Let’s be clear about a few things. Assuming there are no other PS4 projects in the works that we haven’t already heard about, that in no way means that we don’t want/need more information, gameplay footage, and demos of projects we do already know about. I still don’t know what the hell Death Stranding is about. Or even what the gameplay actually is. I want more information about The Last of Us 2. I would quite literally consider masturbating to more footage of Ghost of Tsushima. And where’s gameplay footage of Nioh 2 while we’re at it? I don’t need them to announce a single new game.

ghost of tsushima
Ghost of Tsushima

There are plenty of games I already know about that I just want to see more information and footage of. That’s enough of a reason to go to E3. If that’s the reason they’re not going, it’s bullshit. I pay too much money for games, DLC, paid online subscriptions, and such for them to be pinching pennies. I overpay for the privilege to see E3 footage. That’s part of the deal. If they want to save money, I better damn well start seeing those savings translated to me, the consumer. If their cost of operation goes down, prices need to go down. Because profits sure as hell aren’t. And prices sure as hell haven’t. The excuse of “we don’t want to put the effort in to show you games we know you’re going to buy already” isn’t a valid one.

Even more worrisome is the theory that the PS5 will be announced soon and that all the aforementioned games and any other projects currently unannounced will be released for that console. Personally I don’t need a PS5 any time soon. I’m very happy with my PS4 hardware wise and I don’t even have a PS4 Pro. It plays my games fine and they look beautiful. If it still runs games smoothly, it’s all I need. So delaying everything to the PS5 doesn’t help me. Rushing out the PS5 doesn’t help me. Because I don’t want to buy a new machine to replace a machine that still works just fine. Now hopefully the PS4 will be like the PS2 where even though the next console is out, they continue to release games on the predecessor for like another decade because they still run acceptably. And let’s be honest, PS5 games will run way better on the PS4 than PS3 games ran on the PS2. So there’s not really any reason to force me to buy a new console. But even if we assume, all the new games will be on the PS5 and PS4, that’s no excuse to skip E3. They don’t get to slack off for a year and just ride the high while waiting for what their analysts believe is the best time to announce/release the next console. I’m a consumer today. I just bought multiple PS4 games in the last month. They haven’t stopped taking my money so they don’t get to stop doing their jobs. One of their jobs is relaying information about upcoming games to the consumers. So even if all the aforementioned games are being released for the PS5, if they’re going to be released on the PS4 as well, and they should be, then they need to be talking about them now. Not after they decide to announce the PS5. Especially if we’re talking about games that have already been announced to the public.

no ps5

Now I hope I’m wrong. I hope this isn’t a PS5 delay ploy. I hope we’re about to enter the age of PlayStation Directs. I’m fine with E3 ending altogether, because we know XBOX can’t carry that event on its own. And I have no love for some middle man company that makes its money by charging companies that actually make products for the “privilege” of showing those products off in a physical venue while selling tickets for profit in an age where a kid in Malaysia can download 4K HD porn on his phone. That doesn’t make any sense. And if all those hack journalists have to work just a little bit harder to write think pieces about how the world is being destroyed because edgelords are beating up feminists in Skyrim Cowboy Edition, I’m fine with that too. Hopefully this is the beginning of something great. An age of gaming transparency where consumers have direct access to publishers and developers, the likes of which we have never seen before. Most likely it’s not.

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Starlink: Battle for Atlas Editions Matter

A couple months ago, I published a review of my first hours playing Starlink: Battle for Atlas. While I stand by the views expressed in that review, it has come to my attention that it may have been misleading due to information that I was not aware of at the time of writing. So don’t consider this post a retraction of that review but rather a clarification of some specific points.

I praised Starlink and continue to do so. It’s a phenomenal game that I never put down feeling disappointed. But having done more research and now finished the game, my perspective has been altered, or more appropriately refined, slightly. Every play session I had, in the 30 hours it took me to complete the game, was enjoyable. Whenever I stopped playing, I was excited to play it again as soon as possible. While I was playing it, I always felt like there was a lot of content, albeit much of it was repetitive a la the No Man’s Sky formula. It definitely feels like a large amount of fulfilling content tied to a story I found interesting, until I reached the end, which was surprisingly abrupt, even though it was after almost 30 hours of play. While the gameplay can get repetitive due to the farming and planetary take over mechanics inherent to the game/genre, I still think it’s a great overall experience that appeals to players looking for games like No Man’s Sky with more direction. What I was not aware of though is how vastly different my gameplay experience was to that of other players. More specifically to players who don’t also have the Digital Deluxe version of the game.

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The review copy of Starlink I received wass the digital deluxe edition on Switch. When I first started the game, I was under the impression that most of the content I had access to was available to all players with the exception of StarFox related content for PS4 and XB1 players. What I learned after already playing 20 hours was that this was/is completely false. Apparently anyone who didn’t buy the digital deluxe edition is playing a completely different game than I did.

My version of the game gives me full, unadulterated access to 10 pilots, 6 ships, 15 weapons (not including the default Arwing lasers), and all the StarFox story content. All ships, including the Arwing, all weapons, and all pilots can be used interchangeably in real time for every single portion of the game. You can even play the StarFox missions without using StarFox. Every pilot, weapon, and ship has independent experience points and can be mastered through use. Each pilot has special abilities and attacks that are useful in specific situations. Each weapon and ship can be modded with four to five mods that drastically affect performance. You can have up to three saved loadouts that can be hot swapped in the menu screen whenever you want, including mid battle. I had full control of my gameplay experience. I could tailor my loadout(s) for each individual enemy to be perfectly suited to take them down.

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I needed a ridiculous amount of experience to max out everything, which I didn’t end up doing due to a lack of content, so I was never needlessly gaining XP. The RPG elements of the game were a critical part of my gameplay experience and added to the diversity and strategy of playing the game. For me, Starlink was a robust, multifaceted space fighter shooting game with RPG elements, a solid plot concerning several playable characters, and an arsenal of weapons at my disposal. I do think it was ultimately too short for the amount of pilots, ships, and weapons available though. But this wass not the game many people appear to be playing.

Something that needs to be noted about my version of Starlink is that the content is all seamless. When I was playing the game, I couldn’t tell what was vanilla content and what was deluxe edition content. There are no content walls. There are no purchase this to unlock this moments. There are no separate menus for DLC content. The story doesn’t break apart for each character. The cutscenes aren’t broken up between different characters. Everything in the game seems like it should be there and the game would suffer if any part was removed. Even StarFox content has been almost perfectly weaved into the rest of the game. Other than the differing art style, the characters appear in basically all the group cut scenes, as do all the other pilots. So I honestly can’t even imagine what this game would look like without all these pilots present. Yet this is apparently how the game is for everyone else.

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I had assumed that everyone had access to all the weapons and ships but that some of the pilots may be in the story but not playable without those specific toys. What I have come to learn is that actually nothing is available to vanilla physical edition players except the toys that came with their version. Even worse is the fact that the XB1 and PS4 physical starter packs come with less content than the Switch starter pack for the same price, due to the lack of StarFox.

The Switch physical starter pack comes with two pilots, two ships, and three weapons (not including the built in lasers on the Arwing that don’t take XP to get stronger). The XB1 and PS4 versions only come with one pilot, one ship, and three weapons, don’t have StarFox pilot or content, and don’t have a built in default weapon on the ship. All additional pilots, weapons, and ships have to be purchased separately for all versions. This is ridiculous. It’s literally all my fears for gaming brought to life. People have been making EA DLC jokes for years but this is the extreme version of that.

StarFox Starter Pack

Playing Starlink with only two pilots, three weapons, and one ship would be like paying $60 for Smash Bros and getting only two fighters, one map, and only hammers, hearts, and bombs as usable items with everything else being available as paid DLC. And these physical starter packs cost $75! That’s insane. Especially when you consider that for $60 you can get the vanilla digital edition and start with five ships, seven pilots, and 12 weapons. You are literally getting bent over by buying the physical edition. Expanding your arsenal of ships, pilots, and weapons is also considerably cheaper via DLC in digital form. You could probably buy a second digital deluxe edition of the game and have change left over with the amount of money you would spend buying all the content in physical form. For just $5 more than the physical starter pack you can get the digital deluxe edition and that’s without taking sales prices into account. As I write this, it’s currently $60 on the eshop.

I think this is a real problem. Not only for the game itself, but for the precedent it sets. This is more predatory than amiibo and that’s already bad to begin with. Not to mention the fact that this pricing scheme ruined the image of a perfectly good game that should have been in the running for Game of the Year. It definitely shouldn’t have won, but the digital deluxe edition would have been worthy of nomination if it was the standard edition.

Physical DLC

At first I didn’t understand why this game was being ignored. It was old news just a couple weeks after it released. I was having a blast playing it and I didn’t understand why no one else was even talking about it. Now I do. This is a phenomenal game that has everything I wanted from this genre, but the bulk of players are essentially playing a beta version of the game, and that sucks for the developers too. Their game was ruined by greed. And the gameplay experience is ruined for the players who don’t have all the content as well.

The difference in weapons, ships, and pilots is so severe that it’s honestly like playing a completely different game. For example, I have six ships. That means that in any battle I can have my ship blown up six times before it’s game over. I have never gotten a game over even though I played on hard. But if I only had one or two ships I would have been getting game overs constantly. I have 15 weapons to choose from with elemental properties, range properties, and ammo style properties. Some are rapid fire. Some are burst fire. Some are single fire. Some are short range. Some are long range. I have five different elemental types to choose from, all of which were required to solve certain puzzles along the way. I honestly can’t imagine playing the game without all these options. Elements matter. There are fire and ice type enemies. If you only have one fire weapon, one ice weapon, and nothing else, you are basically playing with one weapon against any fire or ice type enemy because using the enemy’s element powers them up.

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Of course people aren’t enjoying the game. They’re not getting to play the full game with the entire experience. Every character can max out each ship and weapon plus their skill tree. I’ve mastered some weapons with StarFox, no ships with anyone, and only managed to max out StarFox’s skill tree before finishing the game. But that’s because I played as all 10 pilots throughout the course of the game. Whenever I maxed out something with a specific pilot, I wouldn’t use it with that pilot anymore so that I never wasted any XP. If I was limited to only one pilot, one ship, and two weapons, I’d have  maxed out everything long before the end of the game and would have wasted tons of XP. It’s also important to note that every pilot has a skill that enhances all other pilots. That means that the more pilots you have the more benefits, which I did take advantage of with all 10 pilots, you get for the entire team.

I think this whole thing is a real shame and a scary look at the potential future of games distribution. Starlink: Battle for Atlas is a great game. I encourage everyone to buy it. It’s lots of fun and 30 hours of content isn’t terrible by today’s standards. But please make sure you buy the digital deluxe edition, otherwise you’re not only not getting the full game experience. You’re getting flat out conned into spending more money than you need to for not even a quarter of the experience you get with the digital deluxe edition. It’s a shame this game was ruined this way. It’s a shame most people won’t play it because of this system. And most of all it’s a shame that Ubisoft felt like this was an acceptable practice. I hope they patch it so that everyone can at least get the minimum number of pilots, weapons, and ships that the base digital version offers. Otherwise this is just highway robbery.

Again, I don’t retract my original soft review of the game. Everything I said in it was accurate and I do stand behind the game for its graphics, story, and gameplay. But I now have to qualify it by saying that I was speaking specifically about the digital deluxe edition and that’s the only version I endorse people to buy.

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Black Friday Aftermath – 2018

If you’re reading this it means you survived another Black Friday. Congratulations. I hope that you’re not too traumatized, either physically or mentally, from any of the horrors you might have seen while out hunting for deals. As has been the case for a number of years now, my Black Friday was once again a purely digital shopping experience. It wasn’t all fun and games while I sipped cocoa in my pajamas, but I do miss the thrill of being on the ground hunting in the traditional way like the shoppers who came before me.

Let me start by saying that in general this was a much better Black Friday than last year’s. Black Friday 2017 was as bad as the rest of 2017. This year we had some actual deals and even in a fully digital marketspace, like I had, we had to actually shop around and locate the best prices. I bought double the number of games I did last year because there were just so many great deals between the various digital storefronts I visited. Many stores were changing prices throughout the last week through Cyber Monday, so it was imperative to stay diligent in the pursuit of discounts. This is the way Black Friday is supposed to be.

Black Friday Thumbs

As far as my personal list going into Black Friday, I managed to snag seven of my hoped for titles. That’s two more than last year but due to the volume of titles in this year’s list compared to last year’s, it’s only a 5% increase in success rate. That being said, I did actually manage to find a couple more titles from my list at the prices I wanted but was unable to get them because of limitations like “in store only”, which I cannot do, or I found the game at/below the price I wanted on the wrong platform. For instance, I wanted to pay $10 for Shaq-FU: A Legend Reborn. I specifically wanted it on Nintendo Switch, for reasons I still can’t summarize or justify properly, and never found the price I wanted. I did end up purchasing the game but I paid $15 for it, which is 50% higher than what I wanted to pay. I found a copy of it on PS4 for $5. That’s a failure on Nintendo’s part for their hubris and mine for my stubbornness. I also found some games at the right price but decided not to buy them yet. Middle-Earth: Shadow of War Definitive Edition is the best example of this. I found it for $20 but chose not to buy it last minute because I haven’t finished the first game yet. Overall though, I managed to pick up a lot of games for great prices.

Pirate Booty

Here’s what I managed to get from my original shopping list.

  1. Crash Bandicoot N Sane Trilogy (Nintendo Switch) – $25
    1. I overpaid by $5 to get the Switch version. I actually did find the PS4 version at my desired price but I really wanted it portable for some reason.
  2. Injustice 2: Legendary Edition (PS4) – $18
    1. I beat my desired price by $2.
  3. Cuphead (PC) – $7
    1. It took some maneuvering but I managed to beat my desired price by $3.
  4. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice (PC) – $15
  5. Shaq-FU: A Legend Reborn (Nintendo Switch Physical) – $15
    1. I overpaid by $5 to get the Switch version. I actually did find the PS4 version at half my desired price after already purchasing but it was an in store only deal.
  6. Just Dance 2019 (Nintendo Switch) – $25
  7. Sonic Mania Plus (PC) – $9.28
    1. I gave up on the Switch version but was able to get the PC version for $5.72 below my desired price by purchasing the game and DLC separately.

I also managed to find South Park: The Fractured But Whole, Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise, and Assassin’s Creed: Origins at or below the prices I wanted but was unable to get them or chose not to get them because of extenuating circumstances.

I also managed to find a Garmin Vivosmart 4 Fitness Watch for $99. $10 higher than I wanted to pay but it came with a two year warranty so I felt that it was worth the extra cost in case my girlfriend breaks it.

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What is more impressive is the number of games I got that weren’t on my list because of how good the deals were. I bought three times the number of off my list games than I did last year. And I actually wanted to buy more but couldn’t because of in store only limitations and some region locked prices. The one I was most angry about not being able to get was a physical version of The Banner Saga Trilogy on PS4 for $10. Best Buy screwed me with an in store only deal.

  1. Wolfenstein 2-Pack (The New Order + The Old Blood) (PC) – $9.89
  2. The BIT TRIP Collection (Includes 6 games) (PS4) – $0.99
  3. Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy (PC) – $4.79
  4. 1 Year PS Plus – $40

While this wasn’t the best Black Friday I’ve ever had, it was a great improvement over last year’s disappointing month of lackluster sales. I’m most happy about the fact that I finally managed to get Cuphead. I’ve been waiting to be able to get that for under $10 since before it released. I had started to lose hope that it was ever going to happen.

Runner 3
A difference of 52% in price between USA and Taiwan.

One thing that surprised me a lot this year was how vastly different the prices were between the Taiwan and USA digital markets. Because I live in Taiwan but have American accounts that I started when I was still living in the states, I end up looking at both sets of prices for UPLAY, Steam, and a few other digital stores. Taiwan gets considerably better prices. For example, the reason I didn’t buy Assassin’s Creed Origins was because if I had wanted it on PC, which admittedly wasn’t my ideal platform, from the US UPLAY store it would have cost me $39.99 but with the 20% additional discount they were offering for 100 UPLAY coins I could have gotten it for $32. In the Taiwan UPLAY store the starting price was $31.50 and the 20% off dropped it down to about $25.20. I absolutely would have bought it at that price but the Taiwan UPLAY store wouldn’t allow me to claim the additional 20% discount. Issues like this kept me from buying some other games I really wanted as well.

In general, I’m happy to see that Black Friday this year was much better than last year. I saw some amazing deals that were irrelevant to me such as God of War for $17. If I didn’t already own it, I would have for sure purchased it at that price. The Steam sale had a lot of great deals but the store wasn’t organized as well as I’ve seen in past years so I actually missed out on buying some games because some prices were limited time only, causing me not to see some stuff till it was already too late. The PSN sale was fairly decent but the Ubisoft titles, which were some of the most noteworthy in the sale, were not discounted nearly enough.

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GOG was a straight disappointment because they really only offered the same sales we’ve now seen countless times. Like The Witcher 3 GOTY for $20. That’s a great game but that price is nothing new. The point of Black Friday is to have the best deals of the year. Not the same deals over and over. And a lot of their prices weren’t even better than Steam and PSN. I was actually going to buy The BIT TRIP collection on PC but the price on GOG for all six games was like three times higher than on PSN. Their price for Runner 3 was way higher than Steam’s limited time promotion for the game and almost three times higher than the Steam Taiwan price.

For physical stores, Best Buy and Amazon had the best deals this year. Best Buy actually had the best deals but because so many of them were limited to in store only, it was impossible to fully take advantage of all their offerings for me. Something I noticed on multiple store fronts, including digital, is that prices weren’t fixed or constantly descending. This is not supposed to happen on/during Black Friday weekend. All prices are supposed to be fixed or continue dropping as demand waivers and supply clears. Some prices went up and that goes directly against the purpose and practice of Black Friday where the main goal is supposed to be clearing stock for the Christmas season and New Year stock.

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Of course the most disappointing company for every Black Friday is still Nintendo. Whether it’s physical or digital, their prices are always the highest on the market even with the lowest hardware specs. The fact that I paid three times the value of Shaq-FU: A Legend Reborn is par for the course with them. The only game that was actually properly priced for the Switch was Just Dance 2019 and that only applies to the physical version. The reason I put $25 on my desired price list is not because I was guessing at the price. It drops to that on multiple stores every year and I almost always buy it from Amazon. But I could have gotten the physical version on any platform, including the Wii, for $25 just like with 2018, 2017, and so on. But the digital version on Switch was $28. I’ll never understand why they feel like that’s OK. I had hoped to buy Super Mario Party and possibly even Pokemon Let’s GO Eevee but those prices didn’t move a cent.

I hope this year was the beginning of a trend of making Black Friday meaningful again. Last year was worrying because it showed a continuance of a trend in declining Black Friday deals quality. This year went in the other direction. I hope that continues for Black Friday 2019.

How did Black Friday go for you this year? Did you see any notably great deals? How did it compare to last year for you? Let me know in the comments.

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Black Friday 2018

Do you hear that? That sound. It’s the sound of war slowly creeping towards us. The war for deals. Each year we commemorate this time of year with a battle. The battle to end all wallets. It’s a violent day. It’s a mad day. A black day. Black Friday!

When I look back at Black Friday 2017, I am not impressed. In fact, I flat out disappointed. I failed myself in battle last year. More accurately, the deals failed me. Of the list of 15 games I wanted to get during Black Friday deals last year, I only managed to get four of them. The deals just weren’t there. To this day, I’ve only managed to acquire six games from that list total. The prices for them simply will not drop by a reasonable amount. So there’s gonna be some repeats on this year’s list as well as new additions.

Black Friday 2017 Aftermath
Black Friday 2017

Last year I only wanted software, which is always my preference because hardware shopping can be even more troublesome than games. But this year I’m not so lucky. Along with a hefty list of games, I need two items of hardware as well. May the deal gods smile upon me in battle this year.

The rules of engagement, for those not aware, have not changed. There is a list of products I want for prices I have set based on a combination of factors. I will not go above my price range for any product. If I cannot find the deal, I simply take the L and continue waiting for that ideal price point. Once again, I recruit you into my deal force. I need you to help me find the deals I seek. If you see something on my list at or below the price I’ve listed available for online purchase, please, please, please take the time to leave a comment with a link or tweet me directly for me to see it even faster. And of course I shall I assist my comrades in arms as well. Link me your lists in the comments and if I see anything I’ll be sure to send you a link. So without further ado, here are my targets for Black Friday 2018.

Black Friday 2018
Black Friday 2018
  1. Crash Bandicoot N Sane Trilogy (Nintendo Switch) – $20
  2. Injustice 2: Legendary Edition (PS4) – $20
  3. Cuphead (PC) – $10
  4. Assassin’s Creed: Origins Gold Edition (PS4 or PC) – $30
  5. Middle-earth: Shadow of War Definitive Edition (PS4 or PC) – $20
  6. South Park: The Fractured But Whole Gold Edition (PS4 or PC) – $30
  7. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice (PS4 or PC) – $15
  8. Shaqfu (Nintendo Switch Physical) – $10
  9. Super Mario Party (Nintendo Switch) – $30
  10. Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise (PS4) – $20
  11. Shadow of the Tomb Raider Deluxe/Croft Edition (PS4 or PC) – $20
  12. Just Dance 2019 (Nintendo Switch) – $25
  13. Vampyr (PS4 or PC) – $15
  14. Unravel Two (PS4) – $5
  15. Shenmue 1&2 Bundle (PS4) – $15
  16. Sonic Mania Plus (Nintendo Switch) – $15
  17. Yakuza Kiwami 2 (PS4) – $20
  18. Nintendo Switch Bundle with Any Game – $200
  19. Garmin Vivosmart 4 or HR+ Fitness Watch – $90

Please note that while the platforms aren’t negotiable, the games can be in physical or digital form. They just have to be at or below the prices listed.

Black Friday 2018 Prices
Black Friday 2018 Prices

Probably the most important item on the list this year is the Nintendo Switch. It’s not for me. I already have one that I bought around Black Friday last year and I absolutely love it. It’s for my nephew. He’s 10 and I’d really like to be able to get him a console that he can enjoy with games appropriate for his age that are fun for the whole family. I’d like to be able to give him the best Christmas ever like when I was a kid and my parents got me a Nintendo 64.

As always, I have prepared a convenient graphic with target prices to make my list easier to reference for my comrades in arms. Save it, share, it, reference it, use it for yourself. Thank you in advance for helping your fellow gamer find and capture his prey. And as always, Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers out there. Happy Black Friday, and may the deals be ever in your favor!

 

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Spider-Man (PS4) Platinum Review – 8.4/10

I think this might be the first game I ever reviewed after I had already achieved the platinum trophy. Not the first game where I’ve finished the campaign, but specifically getting the full completion. Certainly the first open world game. For the record, I got the game day one and had acquired the platinum less than two weeks after it released. It just took me an extra week to get the review prepared. That’s short for any platinum. Much less an open world game. But length is not the only important factor when it comes to judging a game so while this is an important detail to consider, there’s a heck of a lot more to say about Marvel’s Spider-Man by Insomniac Games.

I was not actually planning on pre-ordering Spider-Man. I literally made the purchase just two days before it released and the only reason I did was because I happened to roll into some extra money that day and I wanted the collector’s pin for preordering the digital deluxe edition. Otherwise I would have absolutely waited for a price drop. And after having gotten the platinum, I would still recommend waiting for a price drop. Mostly because of how short it is. That being said, it was quite the entertaining experience, short or not.

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Spider-Man is a beautiful game. Not Naughty Dog beautiful, but for a comic book game, it looks very good. What I really liked about it was the character renders. I could see the real actors in the characters and because I recognized a number of them, that impressed me. At the same time, the filler NPCs are kind of low quality. They aren’t generic, which is nice. They do look, dress, and sound different. You can even interact with them on a minor level as individuals. Because it is a comic book game, it looks like what a game based on a comic book should look like rather than actually looking like a comic book or trying too hard to look like real life. It hits that visual balance almost perfectly. The world looks great as well. I’m not from New York, but I have been there and I was very impressed with all the landmarks the game has. I have heard a number of New Yorkers complain that things are missing or flat out removed from the map. But I guess that’s to be expected. What’s really cool is that they’ve also layered in a bunch of Marvel Easter Egg locations. This includes places like the Embassy of Wakanda, the Sanctum Solarium, and the Murdock & Nelson Attorneys at Law Office. If I have to explain to you what any of those are then you’re not a Marvel Fan and it will be lost on you anyway. It is a very nice map, but it’s also very small. The whole thing is made up of only nine Infamous: Second Son style districts, none of which are particularly big.

This is a very fast paced game. Think Arkham City on steroids. You’re moving quickly with just about everything you do. Fighting is fast paced and often includes 15 or more enemies on the screen at one time. Swinging, probably one of the most enjoyable aspects of the game, is extremely fast, free roaming, and variable. By all rights it should be a blur, but no such issues occur. The game truly handles like a dream. Even playing on an original PS4, I experienced no lag or other graphics related performance issues. The loading is a little slow, but not ridiculously so. The menus look really nice as well. They’re very simple. Not overly stylized or extremely detailed. But they present everything you need in a clean and clear manner that’s very accessible at a glance.

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Created in Photo Mode

The Spidey suits are without a doubt the most impressive visual aspect of the game. The level of detail is unreal for some of the 28 costumes available. The tips of the fingers. The fabric threads. The metal plating. It’s immaculate. The costumes look so good you can almost feel the fabric on some of them. But there are also a number of little things that really bring this game to life. Pedestrians in the streets. Planes flying over the city. The sunlight beaming on the water at dusk. Overall it’s a beautiful looking game.

The sound is expertly done in Spider-Man. It’s cartoony but practical. You hear the whooshes of his webs firing. You hear every punch and kick landed. The only thing that would have made it better was if little comic book style onomatopoeia appeared during fights. The voice acting is quite good. Each character was distinct. Many were played by actors you’re familiar with which really helped bring the audio visual experience to life. The music was good, albeit a bit repetitive, as is the case in most open world games. All in all, I was very happy with how the sound was handled in this game.

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The gameplay excels in a number of places but falls way short in others. The swinging is phenomenal. The best I’ve seen in any Spider-Man game, though I haven’t played them all. What’s good about it, albeit annoying at times, is that Insomniac Games really tried to create a realistic swinging experience. You have to take into account things like distance. You can’t just swing wherever you want. If you’re above the buildings, you have to wait till you fall beneath them so you have something to web to. You can swing upward but your speed will decrease due to drag and loss of momentum. Swinging and traversal is truly an art form. But at the same time they added a number of fail safes to make the experience more manageable for amateurs.   You can move in and out of swinging to parkour and wall running instantly. Spider-Man will automatically pass through, under, or between things like fire escapes and water towers when you swing into such confined spaces. It was made to be fun, not unruly. At the same time, this game sadly has terrible wall crawling mechanics. Wall running outside is great. It’s smooth and easy to control. But climbing around the inside of a room is just trash in this game. Simple maneuvers like crawling from wall to wall or wall to ceiling are so difficult. Spider-Man will do everything in his power to avoid changing between adjacent services. It’s easier just to jump off a wall and climb up the other one than to crawl between them. This was really depressing for me because what’s Spider-Man without wall crawling?

Episode - Screenshot 2018-09-17 19-24-00
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Fighting is real smooth. The pacing is fast but manageable. You have an arsenal of eight gadgets to choose from by the end of the game and they all do something quite different. What I also really liked was that when you run out of stock of a specific gadget the game will automatically revert back to basic web shooting. This is very crucial for a smooth gameplay experience. Chaining combos is really smooth and easy to do in this game, and that’s what makes it so fun. Combining gadgets in different ways makes it an experience all your own. One thing I really appreciated was that the game never stops moving. If you’re in the middle of a fight and you go to change gadgets, a gadget wheel pops up in true Insomniac Games style. But you can still get hit while it’s up. Time slows down while the wheel is up to give you time to think, but you can’t just stand there indefinitely. This balance between Dark Souls where you have no time and Ratchet & Clank where you have unlimited time worked really well for a Spider-Man game and felt very appropriate. But aiming certain gadgets and special techniques can be a real pain. You have auto aim but it mostly focuses on the nearest enemy in sight. Sometimes that’s not who you want to hit. In general though, the game plays and controls very smoothly.

Probably the worst aspect of the gameplay is its repetitive nature. The gameplay is really solid, but so much of the game is just busy work to level up your stats and gear. The game’s development system is dually based on XP and tokens. XP is gained through basically everything. Fighting, hitting milestones like distance running on walls, completing objectives, and locating special items. You can hit a maximum level of 50 and then continue to level up in a prestige way where you remain at level 50 but your stats continue to go up every time you earn a certain amount of points. Leveling is automatic as far as stats are concerned but you do have to spend skill points to learn new skills and techniques. Some skills are extremely useful and will become the cornerstone of your gameplay style. Others you’ll mostly ignore. By the time you hit max level, you can learn all the skills and still have five points to spare. The other means of development comes from tokens. There are six types you can earn. Tokens try to be more variable than XP but in the long run they just seem more repetitive. Crime tokens are a good example of this.

Episode - Screenshot 2018-09-20 19-10-19

In each of the nine districts on the map, random crimes can happen at any time that you’re not in a mission/challenge. Dealing with crimes is optional and successfully stopping them nets you one to three crimes tokens. These tokens, when used in combination with other types, can be used to unlock suits and develop/unlock gadgets. Each district has you stop 20 crimes to get 100% completion. There are only a few types of crimes committed by four separate groups of criminals. You have to stop five of each. Almost all the crimes are the same. You fight a group of enemies without dying and you get your tokens. Occasionally you have to take out some snipers, locate a missing person, or stop runaway vehicles, but mostly it’s just win a fight. That’s nearly 180 random fights to deal with for a full completion. Plus chasing them down when they randomly appear on the map. It gets old. All the types of tokens work similarly. You do the same things over and over in order to unlock gear. There are little bonus objectives in each of these token missions/challenges, most of which you ultimately need to complete to get enough tokens to unlock everything, but after a while it all becomes a grind. It’s artificial additional playtime and many of the challenges aren’t even fun. Especially the challenge token missions. Some of them are just terrible and you’ll replay them over and over to try to get the gold completion for the additional tokens.

The story missions are great. I’d say 90% of the main campaign missions are absolute gold. Sometimes you have to play as people other than Spider-Man or Peter Parker and that can be boring and annoying at times, but all the story Spider-Man stuff was great. The boss fights. The stealth missions. The chase scenes. I was happy with all of it. Even the photography missions were pretty fun once I got used to them. The side missions are pretty good too. Really if the game wasn’t padded so much and was priced around Insomniac Games usual stuff, it would be a shorter but ultimately stronger game overall. The gameplay is great for the most part at a mechanical level, but the full completion gets old. The fact that you can hit level 50 (max level) well before the end of the game without mindlessly grinding says a lot about how much padding is in such a small map.

Episode - Screenshot 2018-09-18 21-02-30

This was one the best written comic book games I ever played. The writing is the way a comic book game should be. The villains are justified while also being over the top. There are multiple villains that show up over the course of the story and they all make sense. They aren’t just popping up to give you something to do. The story weaves them all together very well. The way they wrote Otto Octavius was just amazing. If you know the characters you know he’s going to become a problem later on, but the way they developed him over the course of the game was MCU quality writing. I was so impressed by the campaign narrative in this game. But it’s not just the plot that’s well written. This is a Spider-Man game. That means dialog is everything and the dialog is strong. The quips are funny and cheesy. JJ Jameson is a radio host who randomly appears on your feed while swinging around the city and he’s hilarious. Modernizing him away from newspapers and into podcasting was the right touch.

What’s really important to note is that this game isn’t just about Spider-Man. It’s also about Peter Parker, Miles Morals, and Mary Jane Watson. All of them play major roles in the plot of the game and act as playable characters at some point in the narrative. It’s not just a story about heroes and villains. It’s a story about people. And even some of the villains get some real character development, which is a good thing. The relationships and interactions the characters have with each other, including the villains, is what really makes this a great comic book experience. Probably the best game Insomniac Games ever wrote.

Episode - Screenshot 2018-09-15 13-02-36

Defining the replay value is a bit tough with this one. Especially having gotten the platinum in a single playthrough that took only 30-ish hours, which as I’ve said is short for an open world game in my opinion. The truth is that if you get 100% completion there are still some things you can do, like try to get golds in all the Task Master challenges and finish all the base challenge objectives, but you don’t gain anything from doing it. You do continue to get stronger by collecting XP even after you hit max level, but you don’t really need it by that point. Now of course the difficulty you play on will also play a factor here. The game has no difficulty based trophies and lets you change the difficulty level mid-game whenever you want. I played through the whole game on the hardest difficulty so there’s no reason for me to play it again. But if you didn’t play it on hard, maybe you’d want to do that in a second playthrough. But honestly, having unlocked and completed everything, I don’t really have any interest in playing through the game again. It was a great one and done experience with nothing left that I feel the need to do. Especially since I unlocked all the costumes and gadgets already. There will be a New Game Plus mode added soon, but I really don’t see any reason to play it after having gotten the platinum. DLC is on the way, so there’s that, but that doesn’t factor into replay value and probably won’t add enough content to justify the $80 price tag for the deluxe edition.

Episode - Screenshot 2018-09-20 00-57-35

On the other hand, this game has without a doubt the best, most addictive photo mode I’ve ever seen. It’s an amazing experience. It’s not perfect. There are definitely limitations with it that shouldn’t be there. But it’s genuinely one of the most entertaining parts of the game. You have so many filters, frames, and stickers at your disposal. You can take pictures anywhere, including cutscenes. And they can be manipulated in so many ways. I almost took the time to make my own comic book with screenshots created in the photo mode. And you really could. I took literally more than 3,000 pictures over the course of the game. Which I’m still not finished sorting as I write this, by the way. That does add quite a bit of value and length to the overall experience. Especially when you consider the 28 costumes you can take pictures in.

Overall I’m very happy with how Spider-Man turned out. Insomniac Games did a great job. It’s not a flawless game and I think it was a bit overhyped with all the 9’s it received, but it’s definitely one of the top games I’ve played in 2018. I would absolutely recommend playing this game but I will also say you can stand to wait for a price drop.

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PlayStation Gaming Festival Taipei 2018 – Demo Reel

This week, I got to attend an event called PlayStation Gaming Festival. I’ve never heard of this event before. I don’t know if it’s an annual thing that happens in Taipei and I’ve just never heard about it before or if this was the first time, but I attended and I’m very happy I did. I don’t want to focus too much on the event itself. Pretty much it was just lots of different PS4 game demos, including some PSVRP titles, a swag shop, and a “Bring Your Own PS4” LAN party, which I took no part in. My one real complaint about the event was that they showed a lot of demos for already released games, which I found very odd. They showed Nioh, which really irritated me because at first I thought they had a demo for Nioh 2, which I really wanted to try. They showed Horizon: Zero Dawn, which is more than a year old. They were featuring Frozen Wilds content, but that’s still almost a year old. They had Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise, which is about six months old and Attack on Titan 2, which is about five months old. Both of these demos were featured, and I tried them, this year at Taipei Game Show so they didn’t need to take up space here. And most odd/irritating was that they had Assassin’s Creed: Origins. This was weird because they also had Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, which is the soon to be released latest title in the franchise. But rather than having four screens of that setup, they only had two and then two of Origins right next to it. They should have just been running four screens of Odyssey. I waited almost two hours to try Odyssey because of this odd decision. Overall it was a good event though and I did get to try a number of new demos for unreleased games, which is the only reason I went in the first place.

What I want to do here is give a short first impression of each demo I tried. Please note a few important details. All of these demos were in Chinese. Not the in game dialog, but the settings. Dialog language was different for each game depending on the title. Some were in English, some Japanese, and some Chinese. But the HUDs, tutorials, and all non-dialog text was in Chinese, which I do not read. So with certain games I struggled to figure out exactly how the controls worked. I can of course get the gist of most games based on general gaming experience, but for more nuanced controls and special gameplay such as secondary items, I was not able to master any of them because I couldn’t read anything. Along with that, many of the games were set to Japanese standards/settings. What that means is the X button acts like the O button and the O button acts like the X button. Many Western gamers don’t realize this, but in Asia they use an altered control scheme for most games. Each demo session only lasted 10 – 15 minutes. So obviously I wasn’t able to get a full grasp of most of the games I tried. So please take these micro-reviews with a grain of salt and understand that I am giving my account of each game based on very little playtime and less than ideal gameplay conditions. All that being said, I still believe that my insight, due to my general gaming and reviewing experience, can be valuable to people curious about the titles I tried.

PlayStation Festival

I will give one to three paragraph accounts of each demo I tried at the event with as much useful information as I can. Please note that the screenshots featured below were not taken by me. I was not allowed to take pictures of specific games during the event so I just pulled these images from Google for visual reference.

Spider-Man

Spiderman

This game was probably the main reason I wanted to attend the event. It is the hype of all hyped games right now, and SONY is aware of that fact. It was the most featured game at the event both in the number of demo units available and in the banners and advertising for the event as a whole. It was of course the first game I played.

Spider-Man very much was inspired by Arkham City. It’s a full open world filled with people and interactive objects. The combat is very similar to the Arkham games, but it’s been noticeably adapted for Spider-Man’s style of movement and abilities. Fighting is very smooth, but not easy to master. You can get by in earlier fights with button mashing, but technique will play a big role as you progress through the game. One of the things I couldn’t master with a Chinese HUD was the special combat items. You can bring up an item cache and use special objects in combat such as a web bomb. These are in limited supply though and I didn’t get to find out how to refill them. I really liked how your fighting and the HUD were linked. What I mean by this is when you take a hit, say from a stun rod, the HUD gets fuzzy and shakes as if you’ve suffered a temporary injury from the impact. This made you feel the consequences of taking damage a lot more than in the Arkham games because the disorientation can negatively affect your ability to play, thus leading to further damage. It’s a good mechanic. The fights are very showy. There are even moments where the game slows down during special attacks so you can get a perfect screenshot.

The city is a large open world, full of tasks that are indicated by symbols floating in the sky. You can track specific objectives or just free roam. You unlock more of the map by doing the Assassin’s Creed perch thing on top of specific points. The difference is that it’s way easier to traverse buildings as Spider-Man because he can web swing, climb smoother/easier than an assassin, and literally sprint up buildings like Alex Mercer in Prototype. That being said, I was not a huge fan of the web swinging. It works, but it wasn’t as fluid as it could be. Like with the Arkham games, you can’t just latch on to anything with no understanding of what it actually is you’re grappling. Only specific points on buildings and other web capable structures can be latched to. This means you have to actually swing based on the proximity of the buildings around you and even then you have your limits. It’s a very “realistic” system in that you have to actually think about where and how you’re swinging. But it’s not as fun as it could be because you notice the limits of your mobility relative to what you’d like to do. It reminded me a bit of the Attack on Titan game but I actually think that is smoother because you don’t have limits on what you can tether to as long as a structure of a certain height is around. Spider-Man’s swinging system works well enough and is in no way a deal breaker, but I was hoping for something smoother that would let me move through the large city map effortlessly. The world is alive. There are random occurrences happening all the time such as crimes you can choose to stop or just ignore them. I stopped a restaurant robbery and then got involved in a police chase. The problem was I couldn’t figure out what to do once I landed on the car because no button indicators appeared and everything I tried just moved me to different sides of the truck without ever entering it. Ultimately I got thrown off of it and the truck got away. I liked the fact that you could fail at stopping crimes without the game resetting as if you died or failed. Suffice it to say that if you liked the Arkham games, you will definitely like this.

Jump Force

Jump Force

The first thing that needs to be said about Jump Force is that it does exactly what it needed to do. It allows me to pit my favorite anime heroes and villains against each other in a three dimensional field of play with smooth, highly accessible gameplay, really nice graphics, and fairly similar movement and controls for all characters. Let me be clear. This isn’t Injustice or Smash Bros. Each character doesn’t have their own unique weight and movement that severely affects play style from character to character. Or at least that’s not how it was in the mode they had running in the demo. Goku isn’t flying around the stage while Zolo is left on foot trying to jump up and land a few lucky strikes. Luffy can’t hit Sasuke from across the screen with stretchy arms. Everyone feels very similar, and that’s a good thing. The game is about having a fairly balanced anime themed match up that focuses more on the player’s management of their HP, energy level, and use of mobility rather than depicting a truly realistic matchup between characters with different powers from different worlds. Frieza can get beaten by Naruto and Goku doesn’t automatically win every fight. The only noticeable differences between the characters is their special moves. Each character has four special techniques that are specific to them and have different affects and damage levels. This is where they actually differentiate somewhat. The basic combat is very easy to pick up. Even with the Chinese HUD, I was eventually able to figure out how to do specials with all six of the available characters in the demo. This is because they have the same two button commands for special moves. The idea is not for them to be hard to use. The art is in knowing when to use them. They can miss, by the way. My only complaint about the demo was that they clearly had the AI set to easy. I never lost a match. So I can’t really speak to how balanced it is because I was dealing way more damage with my attacks than what I was taking from the PC. I assume this was intentional to make the demo more enjoyable for amateur gamers.

Jump Force looks good. The graphics do the characters justice, even when coming from different shows with different art styles. I will say that Frieza looks super creepy as a 3D model. They stayed true to the drawings from the show. There is something so gratifying about seeing Naruto land a Rasengan on Frieza. Or Luffy a multiple hands punch combo on Sasuke. This game is about having fun. Unless there’s a more complicated mode of play, I don’t see it being taken seriously in e-sports for more than a debut season.

Overcooked 2

Overcooked 2

Overcooked is a super niche indie game that you either love or you hate. I was surprised by the number of people who waited in line to try the demo for the sequel at this event. It plays exactly the same as the first one, which isn’t a bad thing. It’s just a new set of levels and plot, which is really all it needed. The only added feature I noticed, which I saw another player do but never figured out myself, was that you can use a comment wheel to visually verbalize what you want done. This would be extremely useful for online play without mics because it allows players to communicate non-verbally. I enjoyed the demo, I will be buying it, and anyone who enjoyed the first one will probably do the same. I will be picking it up on Switch though.

Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey

Assassin's Creed Odyssey

I haven’t played Assassin’s Creed: Origins yet. That means, assuming the combat and movement system for Odyssey is similar to that of Origins, I have not been formally introduced to this new control scheme yet. I struggled immensely to climb, run, and fight because I couldn’t figure out the nuances of things like dodging, countering, and blocking or even just how to run and speed climb. I don’t even know if all these mechanics still exist in the game. And the demo wasn’t helpful, even if it had been in English. It just dropped me into some random far along moment in the game with a bunch of gear. I got my ass handed to me twice by a group of Spartan soldiers. The game was very responsive, and I don’t assume it’s that hard to play once you actually learn the controls through an early on tutorial. The one thing I was able to quickly figure out was the bow, which works well.

The HUD is a bit busy in Odyssey. There is a lot shown on screen while playing in both text and symbols. But I appreciated the wealth of information the game was providing me without having to access menus or press special commands. The graphics are great. The voice acting is very realistic, to a point where I was questioning my own pronunciations of Greek words I thought I knew, like drachmae. Odyssey also has a dialog system similar to Mass Effect. You are given text options and have to pick one. These appeared to affect the story and the missions made available to you. The demo didn’t give me enough about the story, but I got to meet Socrates (Sokrates according to the game) as a younger man and have a debate with him about a rebellion.

Just Dance 2019

Just Dance 2019

This was the first time I ever tried Just Dance with the PS Move. I do not like it. I will be buying Just Dance 2019 on the Switch. Overall, it was pretty much the same thing. The song menu was much different than that of previous games. It’s a scrollable menu of songs similar to when you scroll through a PSN sale as opposed to the usual rotating song reel you see in the previous games. And, assuming this wasn’t Just Dance Unlimited, it seems like they brought back access to some older songs I remember from previous versions of the game.

Sonic Mania Plus

Sonic Mania Plus

Sonic Mania Plus has already been released, but it is fairly new so I guess it made sense to have at this event. Up until now, I hadn’t played it before. It is the same stressful, 2D gameplay I remember from my childhood. I wasn’t interested when I first heard about it, but after playing the demo I might consider it when it goes on sale.

Soul Calibur VI

Soul Calibur vi geralt

Soul Calibur has always been one of my favorite fighter franchises. It’s smooth, has good graphics, individual character styles, and some of the best cameo appearances in all of gaming. In this installment, you get to play as Geralt of Rivia from The Witcher series. The game plays like the past ones. The spirit bar is the more traditional Street Fighter style one than the orbs you had in one of the more recent installments. Overall the game plays very well. They didn’t do too much to change the formula other than make the specials slightly easier to use and give you the ability to dodge them. There are also standoff sequences like in Injustice: Gods Among Us, where your spirit bar faces off against your opponents to decide the outcome, but I was not able to implement/initiate this consistently.

It’s still the great looking game it always was, complete with sexy, super revealing Ivy costume. The game looks good and plays well. Certainly a fighter worth buying that has stayed true to the roots of the franchise mechanically and stylistically.

The Legend of Heroes: Thors Military Academy 1204

The Legend of Heroes Thors Military Academy 1204

I randomly tried this game by a Japanese developer called Nihon Falcom. Apparently this is one in a long running franchise of at least 14 games. It was in Japanese and I only sort of understood what was going on, but the gameplay was phenomenal. This is a turn based RPG that has you play with an active squad of four, but it’s not as simple as old Final Fantasy games. The field of combat is a three dimensional space where you location matters. You can’t choose to move to specific locations on the field. Your movements for each character in your team is driven by your attacks. As you attack different enemies on the field, your characters will disperse accordingly. The way they’re grouped affects the effectiveness and reach of enemy attacks. The same goes for your attacks. This comes into play with reference to magic attacks that have to be aimed. Even though I couldn’t read any of it, I was able to pick up how combat works fairly quickly and I found the system to be very satisfying. It’s a system where you walk around the map and enemies appear on the screen, but when you make contact with them a battle mode ensues.

The graphics are solid, but very Japanese. It looks like many 3D JRPGs with an aesthetic that’s both mature and youthful at the same time. Something I thought was really interesting is that you can use any of the members in your party as your on screen avatar when outside of battle and you can change them instantly just by scrolling through them with L1. I’ve never seen this in an RPG before done in such a convenient, efficient way. The game also has a “Hi-Speed Mode” that can be easily toggled on and off just by tapping R1. It speeds up everything including your movement outside of battle. I found it extremely useful since I couldn’t actually understand/read anything the characters were saying. Since I don’t know how connected the stories actually are, I don’t know if this is worth buying as the 14th game in a franchise. But if I only cared about gameplay, I would probably pick this one up.

Code Vein

Code-Vein

I had heard the name before, but I really didn’t know anything about Code Vein. Since the demo was in Japanese, I still don’t know much. The best way to describe it is that it’s Bloodborne with a DmC aesthetic. I don’t know why I was in a series of cliffs tinted to look like Hell. But there sure were a lot of demonic looking creatures that kept respawning every time I died. The game plays like a Souls game but it’s even faster paced than Bloodborne and has a stereotypically JRPG anime art style, which isn’t a bad thing. I enjoyed the faster paced combat but I didn’t feel like there was enough of a balance between attacks and stamina. It feels as limiting as Dark Souls as far as number of consecutive attacks you can pull off before running out of stamina, but with the faster paced movement you feel it a lot more. They need to up the stamina amount to reflect the increase in movement speed or else you always feel too tied down. The game is challenging, like any Souls style game. I don’t think I saw a single person beat the demo boss and I couldn’t even reach the boss. But that’s fine. Thus is the nature of games in this genre. With practice and proper character development, which I assume plays a factor, it should be totally manageable.

While the core gameplay feels like a Souls game, Code Vein has a lot more technical additions. The HUD, which was in Chinese, has eight specialized actions/abilities, and quite possibly the ability to rotate wheels to more actions like in Nioh. That’s a lot of extra stuff to have to keep track of. I’m sure it’s like any other game, where you’ll only use maybe four of them a majority of the time, but it really crowds the screen. The HUD takes up so much of the bottom right corner that if you aren’t using a large monitor, which they were at this event, I could see it being a real problem. While I wouldn’t call it a bad game by any means, this isn’t something I’ll be picking up with all the other Souls style games currently on the market.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider

Shadow-of-the-Tomb-Raider

The latest installment of the current Tomb Raider franchise looks like another hit. The gameplay is pretty much the same. Seemed to be the same controls mostly, still working against Trinity, and another larger build minority character is there to help Lara with her adventure. This one looks really good visually. There was a scene where I was swimming through a cave and suffocated, but I wasn’t even sure if I was playing or watching a cinematic until after I died the first time, because the graphics blend perfectly now. It seems superfluous to say any more about Shadow of the Tomb Raider. It’s going to be very similar to Rise of the Tomb Raider gameplay wise because the formula works and there’s no need to really change it.  If you played the last two, you should certainly buy this one based on what I experienced in this short demo. I know I’ll be getting it.

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