Buying the Hype - My Xbox One Experience

If there's one thing Giant Bomb needs right now, it's another idiot opinion on the Xbox One. I always aim to please, so here we go.

I'll kick this off by saying I now have all 3 major systems (well, if you consider the Wii U major anyhow!) And I've essentially owned every major system since I got old and stopped being a poor punk working part time at Electronics Boutique. So there, you can't pigeonhole me in any particular "bucket" or camp. I want good video games, that's the extent of my philosophy.

With that out of the way, let's get to it. I picked up the PS4 on day one (mostly because of the $100 difference) but just completed the set 2 weeks ago with a $375 Titanfall Bundle. ($449 -10% off Mover's coupon - $50 reward cert.) I'm happy I got a killer deal. I'm just not all that happy with the system itself.

First, my minor pros:

  • Design - I prefer it over the weird PS4 Trapezoid. Though I wish it weren't such a tank.
  • Controller Battery Life - So far it's VERY good.
  • Auto Sign In - I like that it says "hello" to me when I walk into the room. It doesn't feel TOO 1984 to me. I'm ok as long as it doesn't start singing Bicycle Built for Two.
  • Achievements - Nothing new, but I still love achievements, and I like the implementation here.

My minor gripes:

  • HDMI Pass through - On more than one occasion, this has caused issues. The Xbox tends to "lose" the TV signal. I'm also a bit miffed that the Xbox One has to be on any time I want to watch TV.
  • UI - It's like they tried to streamline something that should't be streamlined. I much preferred the "pages" like setup of the current 360 UI. I'm also not a fan of the vertical blocks of icons with the ellipsis underneath. Maybe it's that I don't have Windows 8, but this UI sucks for a game system.
  • Controller - The 360 controller was better. The PS4 controller is better. The rumble triggers are cute. And yes, I played Forza 5. I wasn't impressed with the triggers. And why is there still no internal battery? I'm not throwing away money on another Play and Don't Charge kit.

The Major Good Stuff:

  • Titanfall - I'm not an FPS guy. CoD, Battlefield, none of them. Titanfall is the first game of its kind to really appeal to me. I think it's because I like to be able to run away, I'm not really sure. Great game, but I worry that it doesn't have staying power.
  • Zoo Tycoon - This actually might be my favorite game on the system. One of the best things about it is it's a fantastic game for me to play with my young kids. I love the great graphics, solid strategy, and real educational value.
  • Price - Well, the price I got it at anyway!

And here we come to the real problems I have. I can't think of any other "Major Good Stuff" about the Xbox One experience. There are a whole lot of things that would be incredible, if they only worked the way they are advertised.

Voice commands should be awesome. I really thought they would be next level, but maybe the next level isn't good enough yet. I'm tired of repeating myself, first of all. "Xbox, Watch TV." "XBOX, WATCH TV!" And then the understanding is so limited. "Xbox, Watch HGTV." "Xbox, I didn't say BET." Eventually I give up, and it's "Xbox, go Fuck yourself."

And gesture controls? Don't even get me started. Only once have I seen gesture controls of a UI that worked well, And that was in The fucking Minority Report. That shit wasn't real. In real life, I look like a frantic moron just trying to go to the next page.

Motion control with Kinect in games is still way too hit or miss. The hype was that the Kinect 2.0 could do stuff like measure your heart rate. Too bad it can only make out my kids about 50% of the time. They see something like the Kinect Sports Rivals demo and get all excited, but then they try to play it and their hopes are destroyed.

Maybe I'm old and crabby. But the fact is that I was sold on a bill of goods with the Xbox One (and especially the Kinect 2.0) and Microsoft has not delivered. I'm happy with the purchase, since I got it at such a great price, and I also have faith that it will be worth it in the long run. I'm fully covered on "exclusives" now, so I can enjoy all there is to enjoy in gaming. I just thought the Xbox Entertainment experience would blow me away. I thought I'd be slinging voice commands, I thought it would enhance my TV viewing experience in some way, and I thought maybe it could be the "One" box to fill all my needs. It just isn't cutting it - at least not yet.


Nintendo's Holiday 2013 Wii U Failures - No Good Bundles?

Honestly, they didn't fail for me. I'm the proud new owner of a Wii U, courtesy of the Skylanders bundle I got for $220. Admittedly this is more because my 5 year old had it at the very top of his Christmas list, and when his requests line up with my own desires, it's kind of a done deal.

Two other notes before I get to my real point. Skylanders is awesome, and I'm surprised at the quality of the game itself. Swap Force is my first foray, and I already have the new figure fever thanks to it. And Super Mario 3D World is incredible. Now back to failure.

For a system trying to make gains, the Holiday Bundle is often a real winner. Think back to the 2009 PS3 Holiday Bundles, for instance. There were different variants for each store, and each one had KILLER games along with the newly releases "Slim" 120GB system. One bundle had Infamous and Uncharted, another had Infamous and Killzone 2, I personally picked up the Walmart bundle that had Batman Arkham Asylum, Infamous AND the Dark Knight Bluray.

This is the kind of push the Wii U needed to compete this year. If they weren't going to slash the price for holiday, they needed some amazing bundles. But the fact is I looked all season for a Wii U, looking for a great bundle and didn't find it. The Black Friday offers were tepid at best. Free gift cards, free Wiimotes, stuff like that. Imagine a $249 bundle with the two Mario U games AND Wind Waker?

So why didn't Nintendo come out swinging this past holiday? Did they just think 3D World would drive demand, along with the lower price compared to the PS4 and XBox One? We may never know.


How Important is a Game Series' Reputation?

Sometimes a game comes along that makes me wonder, how important is reputation to a game's reception? In this particular case, the game is Tomb Raider, which I just recently completed. You see, it may have been my favorite game all year (even though I technically finished it in 2014.) It's just one of those games that sucked me right in. Moreso than the Last of Us, Rogue Legacy, and any number of other top games I played last year.

So was it a bit underrated? Think about it this way. Replace Lara Croft with Nathan Drake and make it Uncharted 4. Is it now a strong GOTY contender? In its early days, the Tomb Raider franchise had a good reputation. But it got too, well, "top heavy" and fell on its face. Has the reputation of the series suffered so much to cost what is a great game?

But this is more a philosophical question than a specific one. Do we give too much rope to franchises in good stead (Gears of War, Metal Gear, etc.?) Conversely, are we too tough on game series that have fallen on hard times (Tomb Raider, Mortal Kombat, etc.?)


Both Sides Now - Dark Souls and Animal Crossing: New Leaf

I have a massive backlog that just keeps getting bigger. Rather than get focused on finishing some games and knocking that pile down to size, I've elected to get deep in one or two games at a time and see how high I can make that stack of unplayed games.

So how the hell did I start playing two completely different games at roughly the same time?

Well, for Animal Crossing, I had a recent business trip that necessitated a lot of quality 3DS time. Going into the trip I knew my town was neglected, weed-ridden, and likely overrun with pig prostitutes. This being an election year, I made an effort to clean up my town. Dark Souls was more a product of a lot of podcast talk recently. Hearing about the exploits of Jeff Green and Vinny made me want to give it a whirl. I also hoped to see how I would measure up in this "ultra difficult" game.

But I digress. The combination of these two titles may be the most complete distillation of what I love about gaming. While on the surface they are so different as to be incompatible, but there is harmony there if you allow yourself to see it.

I realized this as I labored in Animal Crossing to work that Bell market. I have 2 kids under 6, and of course they both live in my town. So I was working that Bell market not to expand my own home, but to pay off that bastard Tom Nook so he'd lay off my kids. I was sending another 20k bells to my 5 year old son when I realized Animal Crossing, for me, was basically real life. I try my best to be a good Mayor, work hard to get my kids in a good position, and am willing to dip into many markets to make a buck. It was kinda chilling, yo.

Animal Crossing recreates the working life in many details, but completely ignores the stress. It's a beautiful thing, and the perfect gaming experience to unwind, and sink back into the couch.

And after that, I can get my head kicked in by a Taurus Demon. Dark Souls is like the P90X of gaming. It tests your reflexes and your patience. It has more "oh shit" boss moments than I've ever seen before. And it has an obtuse collection of systems that you have to learn to survive.

The key, however, is that it's honest. Sure it's crazy difficult, yes bosses will often 2 shot you the first time, but it never feels cheap. Every time I die (as I do so early and often,) I feel like I made a mistake. I tried to rush through a section I was very familiar with. I foolishly rounded a corner without my shield up. I tried too hard for the flashy parry and riposte. I stupidly tried to fight on a precarious walkway rather than draw the enemy back. There are a million mistakes you can make, and it only ever takes one.

Where Animal Crossing represents optimism, Dark Souls represents utter brutality. These 2 games together represent wholly different parts of the gaming spectrum, but also perfectly complement each other. After a tiny mistake costs me 20k souls in Dark Souls, what better way to recover than to try to catch golden bugs on the island of Animal Crossing? When the grind of fishing and bug collecting loses it's luster, it's often the perfect time to grab a sword and "totally" a few demons and undead dudes. It's my new chocolate and peanut butter, my lemon pepper.

So what are some of your favorite video game pairings?

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From Second Thoughts to Total Satisfaction: My Early PS4 Experience

My purchase of the Playstation 4 was impulsive. I never really made a decision on which next gen system I'd want to get. And I certainly didn't expect to be buying either right at launch. Both had intriguing benefits, I had my preferences with exclusive titles, and of course there's the whole $100 difference.

So for the past 5-ish months I've gone back and forth. Ultimately I figured to just wait it out well past launch. Let things develop, see if one takes an obvious advantage.

But then November 15th came - and with it came the "new, shiny" itch. Still, I figured I'd just buzz through Best Buy the next morning, MAYBE pick one up if they were on the shelf. Around 11:15 I logged onto Amazon for the hell of it, and saw the "Launch Edition" was available. Click on that, click on ACIV, and it was done.

Anyone who did something similar knows the next steps. Excitement, but a little nervousness. Did I make the "wrong" choice? Did I just blow $400+ just before Christmas on a whim? When I got my system, I hesitated to even open it. I thought about flipping it on Amazon to get an Xbox instead, or even maybe a Wii U.

But "new, shiny" kicked back in, and before long I was playing Resogun. An hour into that, and I knew. If owning a PS4 is wrong, I don't want to be right.

In many ways, Resogun is the perfect way to break in a new system. Uncomplicated but deep gameplay, beautiful sights and sounds, along with that "just one more run" mentality to complete the package. It won't change your life, but it'll whet your appetite for the next gen.

I also played a bit of ACIV, which thus far is the first in the series to grab me since ACII. I look forward to many more hours at sea.

I even picked up Killzone, regardless of it's largely negative reviews. At this point I'm thinking it's gotten a bad rap. There's no innovation to be found, but it's beautiful and plays well. (My opinion is probably a little higher since I've almost completely avoided the CoD craze.)

As far as the system itself, there are many things to love. I'm more excited about the sharing features than I ever expected to be. The streaming and the ease of sharing video is fantastic. I also like the "friend stream" kind of social features they've built in. One other unexpected joy I'm getting out if it is the way they've been using the speaker on the controller. It was great the first time I heard it in Resogun, and I LOVE the way KZ uses it to play the audio logs you find in the game. It's making me hope for a Bioshock Infinite PS4 version JUST so they can do the same.

So I went from unsure to elated. I'm thrilled about the system and what's to come. And there's plenty to hold me off until InFamous. I've told family members they can buy me any PS4 game they choose. With so few, they are unlikely to screw it up. For once I'm not going to proscribe EXACT games to get. (Sure, NBA Live will be returned, but I'll try about anything else.)

So who else is with me? Who's on the PS4 bandwagon, and proud of it?


Playstation 4, Xbox One, Wii U and Second Thoughts

I'm terrible at making decisions. Awful. I go back and forth forever on the most minor of decisions. You don't want to go out to dinner with me, trust me. I'm the guy who keeps telling the waitress "No, I need another minute or two." Car dealers HATE me because my indecisiveness makes me a very effective barterer. When I walk away, I'm not faking it.

So for months now I've been debating. PS4 or Xbox One. I've even thought maybe I'm better off with the Wii U based on what's available now, 3D World coming on Friday, and the future of that console. (I do have young kids, too - and my 5 year old loves LOVES Mario.)

But, I pulled the trigger on launch night. I couldn't help myself. I had the money, and I logged onto Amazon at exactly the right time to see an "Add to Cart" button on the regular "Launch" edition. A click for that, a click for ACIV, and one more click, and a PS4 was on its way.

So here it sits in the Amazon box next to me, unopened. I'm debating whether or not I want to put it on Ebay instead, recoup what I put in and make a little profit, and maybe take more time to decide. Or just buy the Wii U for significantly cheaper, with a couple extra games.

I like the PS4 for the price, the PS Plus games, and I tend to favor the PS exclusives. (I'm looking at you, Uncharted and InFamous.)

I like the Xbox One for the integration, the voice commandy stuff is cute, and I like the idea of Skype. I just wonder if I'd actually use it. Titanfall also seems to be the killer app, potentially.

The Wii U is way less powerful. Has archaic online functionality (still.) But Mario man, Mario. Seeing Mario in HD kinda gets me a little crazy-eyed. And the thought of an HD Zelda too? It also has the benefit of being something I can play WITH my kids, rather than having to wait for them to be in bed.

So there you have it. The Amazon box sits next to me, and I have no idea what I'll do. Maybe just keep it, and buy a Wii U as a complement in a month or two. Maybe sell it, wait it out a bit, and make a decision later. The problem is, I may never make a decision at this rate.

So, any PS4 owners with major second thoughts out there? Or are you generally happy?


The Walking Dead (Telltale) - Overrated GOTY Contender, or Pure Storytelling Brilliance? *SPOILERS*

To break up a bit of my recent Mass Effect Trilogy monotony, I finally buckled down to get through The Walking Dead. I played the first 15 minutes or so long ago, but never got around to playing it in earnest. (On a side note, I'm still probably only a quarter of the way through ME3, but what a big lot of wasted potential that series feels like right now...)

Anyhow, back to zombies and seriously bad situations. The Walking Dead was in many of the conversations around Game of the Year in 2012. Telltale has had major hits like Sam & Max and Monkey Island, but also some huge misses like Jurassic Park. They are trying very hard to keep the Adventure game alive, and I for one am glad for it. My first compelling PC gaming experience came in the form of Quest for Glory (the beautiful, at the time, VGA remake), so I have a soft spot in my heart for that style of game.

In some ways Quest for Glory is quite similar to The Walking Dead. A game based on the point and click adventure, but with some added action-y bits to keep players engaged. You spend the majority of your time interacting with the environment, and trying to piece things together to move on in the story, but you also have to do some good old-fashioned Zombie killing. And who doesn't like that, right?

But you know all this, and that's not what I'm here for. Is The Walking Dead truly GOTY material, or is it a bit of trickery, inviting emotional involvement that leads to an overrated gaming experience?

The story is as engaging as a video game story gets. It manages to coax out emotional responses to levels rarely seen in gaming. Sure, people will rant and rave about the death of Aeris, but it did not have the emotional resonance of the fate of Duck and his mother. The Walking Dead just has a mix of great voice acting, engaging visuals, and storylines that hit home. If there ever WERE a zombie apocalypse, you could see these very events taking place.

However, The Walking Dead falls short of pure brilliance for one reason - Episode 5. (Fair warning, if you ignored the SPOILERS declaration, here they come!) The story up to this point had wound around in interesting ways. The journey to the motel. The cannibal family. The train. The doctor. All the episodes, up to this point, had a balanced blend of tragedy and hope. There were horrible things that happened in every episode, horrible decisions that had to be made. Save Carley or save Doug? Shoot Duck yourself or make Kenny do it? But in the final episode, it seemed to devolve into basically punching me in the groin repeatedly. The hope was gone, and despondency was all that was left. By the end, I realized I just spent many hours playing a game where basically every character I liked died horribly.

In the words of Josh Baskin, "what's fun about that?"

Let's compare it to A Game of Thrones, for instance (I'm sure there are many fans of that show here.) Let's say, for the sake of argument, they kill off Arya, Tyrion, Sansa, Jon Snow, Daenerys, Bronn, Samwell and Bran. Would you want to keep watching?

I sure as hell wouldn't. And in the end, that's kinda how I feel about The Walking Dead. Cruel because it has to be, but it just takes it all too far. It's a game that was excellent for about 80% of the run, but got too wrapped up in its own cruelty to be truly great.


Mass Effect 1 is Superior to Mass Effect 2 *Spoilers*

I speculated about this in a previous post, when I was still in the early stages of ME2. I had played ME1 4 full times before moving on to ME2, and my last post about it was probably a little early to make any real judgments.

Well, last night I did a number on the big human reaper thingy, told Cerberus to Fuck Off, and made it back safely with the entire crew intact. (I am a completionist, so I finished all the loyalty missions before moving on with the story.) With the entirety of ME2 in my rearview (excepting DLC anyway) I'm ready to make my final stand.

ME1 is a superior game to ME2. There, I said it. Now let's talk turkey about the WHY.

The actual game play in ME2 is far better, you can't argue that. ME1 had that odd, shooter-y but not a shooter dice-roll-driven FPS crap going. I wasn't even sure early on if aiming made any real difference in ME1. At least with ME2 Bioware decided whether to shit or get off the can, moving completely to a pure FPS experience with some RPG layers. It certainly led to a far more engaging game play experience. (But if one thing frustrated me again and again, it was the cover/jump over stuff system. I can't tell you how many deaths were due to "taking cover" in plain sight instead of vaulting over an object to take cover on the OTHER side.)

In the graphics department, ME2 once again wipes the floor with ME1. ME1 has this sort of bluish gray "tinge" to everything. It's washed out, dreary and boring. ME2 on the other hand is bright and beautiful. Where ME1 had an awful lot of empty spaces, the environments in ME2 are always full and detailed. Each place you visit feels more like a "world."

But here is one of the areas where ME1 shows itself as the better experience. The first game makes you feel like you're actually exploring a world. Sure, it's bland in many areas and awfully empty, but one of the hallmarks of Space Opera is the exploration. ME2 is a series of loading screens, each place split into vignettes. And your path through them is almost always the ONLY path. Not much room for wandering in ME2, where ME1 gave you the keys to the car (errr...Mako) and let you find your way.

I play games like Mass Effect for the story, not for the shooting. The shooting is just a nice way to get there. From a pure story perspective, ME1 spins a superior tale overall. ME2 wins on the character stories, but ME1 had the far more engaging overall narrative. The entirety of Mass Effect 2 felt like some kind of diversion. Almost like a huge chunk of DLC to tell us some side story about the Collectors. After what I saw as a great story in Mass Effect, I was not pleased. Mass Effect had a bit of mystery, a chase across the galaxy, and 2 great villains. Mass Effect 2 had some new race I've never heard of, no chase at all, we knew exactly where to find them, and an enemy you basically killed over and over and over again.

And the "Human Reaper?" That was ridiculous. That was lame. That was ridiculame. At the end of Mass Effect I was happy to see Sovereign go down. I killed that motherfucker Saren and I was happy about it. The whole "Human Reaper" fight was just something to get through to see the ending, which had none of the punch that Mass Effect's ending had.

I felt invested in Mass Effect, and the story actually moved me at a couple different points. (Like when the Council makes Shepard a Spectre, for instance.) Mass Effect 2 was shinier, played better, and had a better sex scene (Miranda for me), but in the end felt more empty than all of barren landscapes in Mass Effect 1.


Bioshock Infinite: Sometimes the Critics Are Wrong

There's always room for opinion. For every steaming pile of shit game there are at least a few who enjoy it. Similarly, for every great game there are always at least a few detractors.

Bioshock Infinite landed with towering expectations. It came bearing the lineage of the first Bioshock, who many (myself included) consider one of the greatest of all time. Trailers 2 years back did nothing to quell the hopes that Irrational could do it again.But there were of course doubters. Much of the love for Bioshock hinged on atmosphere and an amazing plot twist. Like M Knight Shyamalan will tell you, it's tough to repeat success through plot twists.

The reviews out of the gate were stellar. Jeff gave it the whole 5 star treatment. Sessler may be the president of its fan club. Critics left and right gushed about it. Before I even booted the thing up, I was hearing "Game of the Year" and even "Best of All Time."

Well, I have to tell you, they were right. Holy shit but they were RIGHT. I've never, EVER sat there watching the credits roll at the end of a game just running through all the implications of the ending I just witnessed. I love games, but they don't follow me into the next day, or make me try to talk to my non-gaming wife about them. It just doesn't happen. Even the best games, i finish them, and I'm done. Hell, usually I'm seeing if I can skip the credits somehow.

But Bioshock Infinite is just that good. One of the most fully realized, most lively worlds I've seen in a game. A story that kept me searching for as many audio logs as I could find. An excellent (though admittedly not Bioshock-holy-shit-level) twist that changed everything. And, IF you played it on Hard, very satisfying, sometimes frustratingly hard game play. And to top it all off the best companion character I've seen.

I could go on, but if you played it you probably know. And you should agree. At this point you might be confused at my title. You see, there is a small subset of folks who insist Bioshock Infinite is a bad game. Uninspired, poor gameplay they will tell you. A "meh" story they'll say.

Well, I'm here to tell you, sometimes even opinions can be wrong. Sometimes things can be empirically good, so that there isn't room for hate. You can certainly "not care" for the game play. You could be unmoved by the story. But if you are saying Bioshock Infinite is a bad game, you aren't just flaunting a rebellious counter opinion. You are just plain wrong.


Is Mass Effect 2 Really Better than Mass Effect 1?

In my last blog entry, I talked about my backlog problems, and noted my difficulty in breaking free from Mass Effect 1 and moving on to Mass Effect 2. That blog post and its discussion was a bit cathartic for me, and I finally dumped ME1 halfway through my fifth play through and went on to the nearly-universally-lauded-as-superior ME2.

So far, I'm not convinced.

Now granted I'm probably only 10 hours or so in. I'm still tooling around putting my team together. (So far I have Grunt, Jack, the Professor guy, the English-accented merc guy, Archangel and the two Cerberus lackeys.) So I haven't seen all that much of the story, though as of now I'm just about to try to take on some Collector dudes. So with that in mind I'm certainly not making any final judgement or anything.

But as of right now I liked what ME1 was a lot better.

The visuals are empirically far superior to the first game. This isn't just the graphics themselves, but also the menus, the UI, all the overlays and whatnot. All better, for sure. The women are also a lot better looking. I mean Miranda, smoking hot. The best body genetic engineering and 3D modeling can buy.

But everything else? I just don't know.

  • All of a sudden I'm playing basically a pure shooter with RPG conversations and character progression. Not only that, but all the skills got dumbed way down. Is that really all the skills you get per character?
  • Surveying was stupid in ME1, but they made it even worse here. So now I have to actually SCAN the planet and then launch a probe? What am I playing here exactly? Aren't I Shepard? Don't I have people to do that kind of shit for me?
  • We're swearing now? I'm no curmedgeon, I love me some "fucks" and "shits" where they fit. Hell, I listen to the Bombcast for fuck's sake. But now I can't play this game with my kids in the room. Just so they can make it "grittier?" The first time I heard someone swear it totally pulled me out of the game.
  • And space travel got a whole lot more confusing. Now I need to worry about fuel, and I toodle around a little toy galaxy in a little toy spaceship to get from place to place. It just feels silly.
  • No more Mako missions? Oh wait, that's categorically better.

I'm still enjoying it, and the worm could certainly turn, but right now I'm kind of missing what Mass Effect was that Mass Effect 2 isn't. In a lot of ways it feels not so much a sequel as a total reboot. A sequel refines and improves on the original, it doesn't totally rewrite nearly every system. But that's exactly what happened with ME2. ME1 was a Space Opera, a clean Sci-Fi RPG that sometimes tricked you into thinking it was a shooter. What I've seen about ME2 so far is that it's a gritty, Sci-Fi shooter with a good story. Those two things are actually totally different in my mind.

Again, this isn't to say there is anything I would call BAD about ME2. Many of the changes can easily be recognized as improvements. I like the research elements so far, it's a good story, the characters are great, and it is just a lot of fun. It just isn't really Mass Effect 2.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to see how to move forward in a romance sub-plot with Miranda.