By Sparky_Buzzsaw 41 Comments
Edited - Somewhere along the way, the headings went back to a regular sized font. Apologies. Should be fixed now.
Hi there! I'm Sparky. You might remember me from such Giant Bomb classic blogs like the dead-on-arrival Doctor Whoganza or the critically acclaimed (but commercially floptastic) Disgaea series. I'm here to tell you today about a new blog, a three for one special. And if you read in the next ten minutes, I'll throw in a bonus section - for free!
When I'm not cruising the Internet Explorer on my laptop personal computing device, I like to play video games. A lot of video games. Probably an unhealthy, absurd amount of video games. See, video games are these fun boop-dee-beep electronic games you can play on your home television set. Sounds complicated and sciencey, I know, but trust me, I can game and so can you!
A couple of weeks ago, I purchased a newfangled Sony Playstation 4 (that's "four"), one of the newest and hippest gaming machines on the market today. These machines, known by "with it" youngsters as the "PS4," allow you to insert round diskettes referred to as "Blu-Ray discs." These discs allow you to play the latest smash hits with a "remote controller."
Through scientific witchcraft and some small amount of technical savvy, I managed to hook up my latest purchase and play through several such games. These are a far cry from the "Ponging" and "Pac Mania" of yesteryear, I assure you! Allow me to be your guide in this deliciously spine-tingling Jules Verne-ian world of entertainment and astonishment.
An Analysis of the Gaming Mechanism's Startup Woes - Collected Thoughts and Musings
As an avid gamesman and great lover of the chosen sport of the Doritos gods, I have quite a history with this Sony Computer Entertainment. I daresay I was quite the guru at each of its previous models - the PlayStation, the PlayStation 2, and the cleverly titled PlayStation 3. Therefore, it was quite the treat to turn on the power and see what gamers refer to as the "Main Menu."
Wait. No. My first impulse was to scream curses at the top of my lungs. OK, let's drop the old timey act and get real.
I meant to go this year without buying a new console. I lasted six months until Sony announced the white PS4 Destiny bundle at E3. The combination of its potential rarity and the sleek design were too much to resist, and I found myself hitting that pre-order button within a couple of days.
Fast forward to Destiny's launch and the arrival of my PS4. Amazon managed to get it to me the day of launch, a hugely pleasant surprise since most everything I order gets delivered a day or two later than advertised. It was the early evening, I didn't have much light left, and I had a hell of a busy day scheduled the day after, so I thought about leaving it in its box and waiting until I finished my business. That thought lasted all of about five minutes (though I did hold off on playing Destiny until the next day).
Being the sort of crazy nutjob I am, I opened the box and immediately leaned in to smell. There are certain smells I love beyond all others - rain, honey and lemon tea, my mom's homemade chicken and noodle soup. The smell of new electronics isn't quite up there with those, but it's close, and I do it every time I get a game or a device I've been looking forward to opening.
My nostrils satiated, I dug out the system and the cords and set everything up fairly rapidly. I then proceeded to spend a half an hour looking for the damnable power button. For those unfamiliar with the PS4, there are no designations on the machine itself to tell you where the power or eject buttons are. They're set inside a tiny groove on the face of the machine, and only by careful study of the instruction manual was I able to find either.
By that point, I was mildly frustrated, but not yet at that special moment I get when I hook up and unhook electronics I lovingly refer to as "let's burn this motherfucker to the GROUND"-itis.
And so the scene was set. A milk crate, on its side, nestled the PS4 within. I held the PS4's controller in my palms. The power came on. The screen flashed with a generic blue background. I sucked in my breath to let out a war cry of success, the modern geek's version of veni, vidi, vici.
Then the screen flashed black and I was left with one message in the corner of my screen - "no signal."
Fuck. Fuckity. Fuck. Fuck. FUCK.
Believing that a cable came loose, I unplugged and replugged in the HDMI cable to its HDMI switcher. The switcher's power button was a suspicious shade of nothing. I checked its connection to the TV. Nothing. Then I remembered users reporting problems with the HDMI cable and inputs at launch, so I figured it was that. I jumped online, just to be sure, and found a sea of causes and possible fixes.
At first, I thought I could reboot the system into safe mode and start it that way, but not even safe mode would come up on screen. This is when I started to get a bit panicky. But I persevered through a few more forums. Still, I found no answers that really seemed to solve my particular problem, save for one - a guy's switcher wasn't capable of certain high definiton graphics. Huh.
Remember the lack of light in that switcher's power button? Foreshadowing!
Problem finally solved, I sat down, again, and started up my shiny new gaming device.
Let there be light.
That first night, I basically set everything up. I hooked up my PS+ account, got my downloads started, and basically just checked out everything it had to offer.
The PS4's main menu is slick, far more intuitive and nicely designed than the PS3's, and seems more responsive. It still trails a bit in comparison to the Xbox 360's basic functionality and design (though it's far less intrusive with ads), but overall, I think I like the PS4's menus quite a bit more than anything I've seen before. Yes, trophies still take a head-scratchingly long time to sync. Yes, PSN still seems oddly crippled in terms of download speeds and fluctuations. And for my color blind friends, there are some odd menu choices, but these should be addressed soon with the addition of themes, or so I hope.
Those negatives aside, there's a slick, no-nonsense sleekness to all of it. Your games and recent apps are laid out after a generic "what's new" box. You press up, and you're taken to a handy, streamlined list of functions for the PS4, including PSN. Gone are the dozens of clunky menu items and sub menu items. Now your options are listed out in an aesthetically pleasing and accessible way. It's very well done.
Also gone (seemingly) is the clunky digital keyboard, in favor of a similar, if less chaotic, familiar keyboard. I still think this needs work - it's ridiculously hard to see the letters, and there needs to be a zoom feature to turn the keyboard into a half-screen or full-screen deal for the low vision. The contrast is also bizarre (seriously, the whole of the PS4's menus must have been designed by folks who've never had to deal with color blindness issues). But it's streets ahead of where the PS3 was at.
I can't say as I'm fond of the way the PS4 handles updates. It's relatively unclear if you're up to date on a game's updates - these should be installed automatically when you click a game, but instead, you're taken to an in-game screen that states you're not up to date and then popped back out to the main menu. When I installed Destiny's patches, I wasn't sure if I was installing a patch that had already been installed. It's by far one of the most annoying parts of the system, hands down, and I can't see them sticking with it. Or at least, I hope not. Please, Sony, just install the patches immediately upon the disc hitting the tray. It just makes sense.
The controller is cool, but the springs are already creaky and I've got this nasty feeling that the plastic on the sticks is a little cheap and brittle. If anyone knows of a better made third party controller, I'd love to hear from you.
And so that was my first night with the PS4. I played a touch of Minecraft, just enough to build a dirt bunker and oooh and ahhhh at the game's draw distance, but beyond that, I did no gaming the first night.
Have Gun, Will Travel (to the Same Locations Over and Over and Over Again)
Here's Destiny's biggest problem in a nutshell - the incentives for having to revisit the exact same areas a dozen times aren't enough.
In ten hours of Destiny, I've seen the same smallish areas at least that many times. And that's a very conservative number. Even when the game opens up its levels to you in a free-roam-esque state, it feels narrow and cramped. And when the rewards for playing those areas are a small amount of whatever the in-game currency is (sparklies or some such bullshit), the slight chance of a good weapon drop, and a small nudge towards your next level, there's just not enough to keep people coming back for more.
It's a fucking travesty, because Destiny is so close to greatness. The combat system fucking rocks. The game looks stunning. Seeing others randomly traverse through the world fighting the same giant crab robot things is genuinely cool as hell.
I like Destiny. I do. I have no regrets whatsoever about buying it. But this has been a year of games overselling and underwhelming audiences, and Destiny is, unfortunately, just another game in that pile. It never quite gets its inspirations right - it lacks the fluid, ever-changing nuances of firefights gone right and wrong from Halo. Its rigid skill trees and minimal loot system don't evoke any of the feelings of "just one more boss fight/treasure chest" of Borderlands or Diablo. And its multiplayer feels a bit half-assed, whether that be in its open world segments or through its competitive multiplayer.
Honestly, it's the kind of game I'll rip through, have a pleasant enough time with it, and then sell it off whenever its sequel pops up its head. This is, for all intents and purposes, the Prey or Shadowrun Returns of the current generation. It's generic and blandly pleasing, but I wish it was just a little bit more.
I like Watch Dogs.
Oh right, yeah, I forgot to mention I bought Watch Dogs when it came up on sale. And I like it. Neener neener boo boo.
What? Oh, don't look at me like that. I know I'm a hypocrite. I just rolled my eyes at Destiny for under-delivering, and here I am, praising 2014's King of PR Lies.
Except, here's the thing - Watch Dogs? It's fun. Through and through.
Sure, it's not the game we saw in the roughly 50 bajillion trade show previews. Not even close. This is a very basic sandbox action game with some pretty neat little tricks thrown in for good measure. I get that. I do.
And sure, it takes itself way too seriously, and it never actually invokes the heart of Chicago (whatever that might be. Pizza? It certainly gets the shitty corrupt politician side of things pretty well). And that ending is just a little limp and predictable, with the eye-rolling prerequisite numbers of people betraying the protagonist for random, arbitrary reasons.
But damn it, tell me you don't like the idea of setting up proximity mines, throwing out some sound lures, and then watching your carefully planned attack on a gang hideout go wonderfully smooth. It's a rush to play Watch Dogs well, even if those moments are a rarity for me. It's also a kick in the pants to break the game's systems wide open with over-powered weapons and some fine cheesing, ala Far Cry 3. Seriously, if you play Watch Dogs, pick up the proximity mine skill as quickly as possible and go into every fight with those, lures, and a grenade launcher, and you've just beat it. Easy peasy.
There are some frustrating decisions made on the ground floor. It's obvious the graphics were a bit unfinished or dialed down due to the underwhelming power of the new consoles (sorry, but they ARE underpowered). There's also a distinct lack of some of the fun things we associate with sandbox games. While you can buy new outfits, these are mild color changes to the hilariously French idea of what a cool American hacker would dress like. You can't customize or store cars (though you can order new ones, which I never did). Some skill trees feel underdeveloped, particularly the devices and driving skills, while other top-tier skills are head-scratchingly useless.
And finally, it's a little on the repetitious side. Some of the side quests are pretty cool - I love the gang hideouts and the convoy missions. But others, like finding the perfect little vantage point to look out and take a picture of a QR code, just aren't rewarding enough to warrant seeing them through. They're just too tedious.
The game could have also used a "skip ahead" feature, ala GTA V, particularly for a couple of late game missions that shift the focus away from the free-wheeling "do as you wish but get here/kill this" fun missions of the game. There's one mission in particular when you're being chased endlessly by cops as the city erupts around you that feels forced and lifted straight from GTA San Andreas without focusing on Watch Dogs' strengths.
But that said, hoooooooly shit, do I love the hacking aspects of this game. Well, aside from the hacking mini-puzzles, which are usually annoying and take away from the pacing of the game. What I'm talking about is the thrill of escaping from some gang or another, hacking a street light as they approach, and watching them get crushed by oncoming traffic. I'm talking about seeing waves of generic video game baddies get it from exploding pipes or electrical systems. Sure, like the rest of the game, these aspects could have used a bit more diversity, particularly in the mid-to-late game, but it's fun as hell.
So, What Else?
I also installed Rogue Legacy. I was a bit hard on that game when I played it on the PC early this year, but on the PS3 and PS4, it plays like a dream. I beat it (and Watch Dogs) tonight. I had 259 children, played for 19 hours, and I swore approximately 84,000 times. Yes, I know, I suck at Rogue Legacy, but that's what makes that game great. Even if you suck at it, have enough patience and you'll eventually beat it.
Minecraft is pretty great on the PS4. No having to dick with installing INFERNOGUY45's TOP MODSZORS on the PC, no launcher, none of that nonsense. You click the icon, you play Minecraft. Nice and fucking simple. I've been spending my time developing a small city on the lake, though that's mostly a front for me developing a mega mine and screwing around. I need to get out and explore the world. Uh, both in Minecraft and in real life, I suppose.
Wrap It Up, Buzz Boy
All in all, I'm supremely pleased with my purchases. Sure, Destiny is a little underwhelming, but there's enough there to tide me over until the wave of October and November releases. I adore Watch Dogs, and I look forward to seeing if Ubisoft can make better on its premise in future sequels. Minecraft is Minecraft, Rogue Legacy is that same questionable mix of addicting and frustrating. All in all, I'm glad I broke my New Year's Resolution and snagged myself a beautiful glacier white PS4. Now, bring on Dead Island 2 and Dying Light already, will ya?
In b4 MB's "master race lolzors" comment.