The Last of Us 2 has a pacing problem [Spoiler Free]

Last night I finished The Last of Us 2; it took me about 35 hours. Granted I tend to be a slow gamer, but still it felt way too long even accounting for my methodical gaming style. This post is Spoiler Free, beyond just talking very generally about the game’s structure.

TLOU2 is part interactive movie, part adventure game, with a healthy dash of survival horror mixed in. The big issue for me is the movie part didn’t flow well since there were such long stretches between story beats. So you get some story (often via in-engine cut scenes) and then you play for a long time, then you get a little more story. This formula has worked nicely for prior Naughty Dog games like the first The Last of Us and the Uncharted series, all of which were some of my favorite games ever.

What bogs this one down is the scavenging. There are several categories of items you need to scavenge for:

Materials: This is stuff like rags, alcohol and bottles. You use this stuff to make health kits, Molotov cocktails and the like. I’ll lump bullets in this category too. Inventory space is quite limited so you never feel over-stocked, but since it is so limited you’ll often want to make sure you’re at capacity. Still once you are full you COULD stop scavenging except for the other categories.

Supplements and Field Manuals: These items are the focus of the skill system. You have to find Field Manuals to unlock skill lines, and supplements (jars of pills) are your currency to buy skills. You want as many of these as you can get, and if you miss a Field Manual it could really hamper you later. I didn’t max my skills by the time the game is finished.

Parts: Parts are the currency you use to upgrade weapons. Again, you want as many as you can get and I didn’t fully upgrade my weapons by end of game.

Collectibles: These are mostly for Trophy hunters.

The gameplay loop is basically move into an area, fight the baddies and/or solve some traversal puzzle, then spend a LOT of time exploring every nook and cranny of that area. You’ll want to replenish supplies you used in the battle, of course. More importantly you’ll want to make sure you haven’t missed any supplements, manuals, parts and (if you’re a trophy hunter) collectibles that may be there.

For me the action:searching ratio was probably like 1:4. In other words for every 5 minutes I spent fighting, I spent 20 minutes scrounging for supplies. It got really tedious.

Not only is it tedious but it impacts how you play the game. In theory you could stealth/sneak through an area, which would mean you don’t use up supplies (and keep your body count down). You’ll still want to scavenge the area for supplements and parts though. This is extremely hard to do while enemies are still alive, so effectively needing to scavenge takes stealth off the table. Generally I killed everything, then searched.

I don’t remember this being as much of a problem in the first game. Maybe the areas were smaller or the supplies more generous? There’s nothing like climbing through a building because you see a ‘glint’ the indicates something is there, and when you get there it is 1 bullet or 1 supplement (when you need 40 for your next upgrade).

One trick I did learn was to go into the Accessibility Options, pick the Navigation & Traversal option, and turn on Enhanced Listen Mode. This will let you send out a sonar-like ‘ping’ that will indicate the location of items that you can grab. It’s ‘smart’ too. If you can’t carry any more rags, it won’t ping rags, for example. I set it to maximum range and minimum time and used it a lot. I still missed stuff, though, based on the Trophies I didn’t earn.

I have a lot more thoughts on the game overall, but I’ll hold off until more people have played it, or I’ll just do a spoilerific post. I’m glad I played it, though I was also happy to have finished it so I can move on to other things.

Playstation 4’s 4.50 system software looks like a winner

This week Sony shared some information on their next Playstation 4 system software update, and the beta program is up and running. There’s an NDA in place so if I was in the beta program I couldn’t tell you.

So far this looks like a good update. The biggest feature for me, a heavy user of the Playstation 4, is support for external hard drives (finally). You can connect a drive of up to 8 TB to your PS4 and store your games and apps on it. For some reason save files, screenshots and video clips still have to live on the internal drive.

If you’re a casual PS4 owner, your best bet is to just upgrade your internal hard drive if you’re concerned about space. It’s easy to do and it means one less bit of clutter in your entertainment center. I think the biggest drive you can get that’ll fit in the PS4 (2.5″ drive that is no more than 9.5 MM thick) is 2 or 2.5 TB. Don’t hold me to that, I haven’t shopped for a new drive for a while, but that’s how things were last time I looked.

For heavy PS4 users (particular those of us who prefer digital to plastic disks) the external option is nice. Personally I have a 1.5 TB drive in my PS4 and a 1 TB drive in my PS4 Pro and both are full (with different content). I’m going to attach a 5 TB drive to the Pro, put everything on it and send the launch PS4 to storage (or maybe the TV in the bedroom). Since I can also use the internal drive, in total I’ll have 6 TB of space which should be sufficient for a while.

Another new feature is “Boost Mode” for the PS4 Pro. Sony has been a little coy about this. They didn’t mention it in their blog post but as soon as folks got their hands on the beta they started talking about it. Boost Mode is an experimental system that lets all games take advantage of the additional power of the PS4 Pro. Prior to Boost Mode, a game needed to be patched in order to get any benefit from the Pro. Now, in theory, every game will run better.

I’m still waiting to see some quantifiable data on this, but I would advise you to moderate expectations. Boost Mode probably isn’t going to take a 30 FPS game and make it into a 60 FPS game, for two reasons. First is that the game is probably locked to 30 FPS, and second is I don’t think we’ll get that much of a boost. I think the more reasonable expectation is that games that run at 30 FPS but sometimes drop to 20 FPS will now stay at 30 FPS. Ditto 60 FPS games that might drop to 50 here and there. Basically my hope for Boost Mode is that it’ll smooth out the gameplay of older games.

YouTube has some videos but they’re all done by amateurs. Hopefully someone like Digital Foundry will do some tests, and pump out some of those cool videos with frame rate and frame pacing indicators on them. Show us numbers with and without Boost Mode.

PSVR owners are getting support for 3D Blu-rays, which has some folk really excited.

You can now share stuff to the PS4’s activity feed directly, which is nice. It used to be that you had to share to Twitter or Facebook or something just to get a clip or screenshot into the activity feed. That was pretty silly.

They’ve tweaked Notifications and the Quick Menu. We’ll see what that means.

You can now use a screenshot as your “Theme” which is a nice feature that should’ve been there since Day 1. Better late than never.

That’s everything I’ve seen reported so far. Generally it seems like these system betas run for about a month before Sony launches to everyone so with luck we won’t be waiting too long for these new features.

Of course you STILL can’t change your PSN name, something folks have been clamoring for. PSN is old enough now that idiot kids who picked offensive PSN names are now responsible adults and are a little embarrassed by their PSN name and they want a way to change it. Heck I’d change mine (Dragonchasers) just to get something shorter for when my name is on-screen and blocking all the scenery!

Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas

The other day I was watching a Playstation Access (my favorite YouTube channel) video about an upcoming game, Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles. But this isn’t a post about Yonder, which sounds interesting but isn’t going to be out for some time. At the end of the video Hollie Bennett said something to the effect of “If you like this art style and want to play something now, check out Oceanhorn.”

I checked out PSN and found that lo and behold, Oceanhorn was on sale. It’s $10.49 for regular folks and I think it was $7 and change for Playstation Plus members (it’s also available on Steam and Xbox One). For less than $8 I thought I’d give it a go. Now listen, I’ve played for less than two hours at this point and I don’t want to get too distracted from the games I’m trying to finish, but Oceanhorn is only on sale for a week. Just in case it’s someone’s cup of tea, I thought I’d share my very very early thoughts.

Oceanhorn feels a lot like an old Zelda game. Your health is displayed as a series of hearts and you collect heart pieces to extend your health bar. You run around swinging your sword at every and any thing, cutting down grass and what not in the hopes they’ll give up a heart or coin when destroyed. You can also pick up and throw pots and rocks, either just to smash them to see what is inside or as a weapon.

At first glance you might think this is a Minecraft-alike based on the blocky shapes in the world, but nope, you’re not building things. Each island (and rather than have ‘levels’ the game has islands you sail between) is kind of a maze of blocky corridors that you have to find your way through, and at least at the start of the game you can’t jump. Every ridge is an insurmountable obstacle and you’ll have to find ramps to get up high (though you can walk off a ledge to go down). This is made more difficult by the fact that you don’t have a proper map, just a little mini-map.

In some cases you’ll encounter sliding block puzzles that bar your way too, and they’re the kind where you can only push blocks, not pull them (so there’s always a reset button nearby just in case). Oh and you have the old “I need to find something to set on this pressure plate” kinds of obstacles, too.

Your ultimate goal is to travel the world to find magic gems that are going to help you defeat the titular Oceanhorn (a sea monster) and find out what happened to your father, but you know how that goes. The first island you visit has a destination you can’t reach because of a landslide. You need a bomb to clear that out. You get bombs at, where else, Bomb Island. So you get in your boat and sail to bomb island but the bomb merchant has no bombs because something has gone wrong in the mines. So you go into the mines and clear out the mobs and solve that mystery so you can get bombs to go back to the first island to get through the landslide, etc, etc. Once you’ve ‘unlocked’ bombs you’ll find them in the same way you find coins and hearts.

In the meanwhile you’re earning experience and leveling up, which unlocks new abilities or gives you other rewards (but with no choices involved, you get what you get). For example one of the early levels gives you a gun to fire from your boat as you sail back and forth (sailing is automated, at least in the early game) and from there on in you’ll encounter floating mines you’ll have to clear with your gun. I have a strong hunch that eventually you’ll get a bow or something, too.

And that’s about all I’ve got so far. It’s a cute game and I had fun but it’s not going to take me away from the games I’m currently invested in. For less than $8 it’s a fun diversion and even at full price its only $15 or so. If I ever come back to it to play it more extensively I’ll do an actual review. Remember once again, this is based on less than 2 hours of playing.

Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture

An idyllic English villageLast night I finished Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. I wasn’t really sure what to expect going into this experience and in case you’re in the same boat I wanted to describe what it is. This isn’t a review or anything, it’s an explanation.

So here goes. Start with a well-produced radio drama performed by top notch voice actors. Now slice it up so that each scene is in a separate audio file. Now delete a random 1/3 of these files. Take the remaining files and scatter them around a well rendered 3D model of a small English village. Add an amazing soundtrack, and finally set the player free to roam around this village finding these snippets and let them piece together the story for themselves.

And that’s pretty much Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. There’re no puzzles and there is certainly no combat. It’s all about exploring a village completely devoid of human life and uncovering bits of the story. You’ll get these by finding radios, telephones, and light-based vignettes like this one:

I started off really enjoying this game. (Is it even a game? That’s a discussion for another time.) Then I got a little bit bored/frustrated. There’s no in-game map or compass and I guess I have a poor sense of direction because I kept winding up back at the same place, finding no new story elements. There are in-world maps like you’d find in a nature park or trail system, complete with You Are Here indicators and those do help, but wandering around an empty village could only hold by attention for so long.

The only thing moving in this world are insects and a wisp-thing. Or a ball of light. Or something. You decide when you play what this is. I have my own opinions. Anyway eventually I realized that this ball of light would actually guide me to new locations and once I figured that out my enjoyment of the game came back.

So you wander through this world following, in retrospect, a general path and as you do you encounter the shadows of several people. The story being told is 1 part science fiction dealing with what happened to everyone, and one part soap opera. And you just experience it. You can activate radios and phones, open doors and ‘open’ the vignettes and (aside from moving and looking) that’s all the interactivity here.

The biggest gripe I (and seemingly everyone else) had is the movement speed. You walk pretty slowly. If you hold R2 you can ‘run’ slightly less slowly. I think the slow movement was a design decision based on giving you time to ruminate on what you just saw but still there are times when it gets pretty frustrating. You need to embrace your quiet, contemplative self and just try to go with it.

So should you get Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture? That depends on if you enjoy radio dramas and exploring. If you do this game will be right up your alley. I’m glad I played it though it’s pretty short for a $20 game. (Six hours maybe? If you’re really into exploring you can probably stretch that some.) If money is tight I might suggest waiting for a sale.

Also, and this is a vague spoiler, but if you like your stories to end nice and neatly with all questions answered and all plot lines resolved, be warned that Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture does not tell that kind of story. There’re a lot of questions that you’ll have to come up with your own answers to based on interpreting what you’ve seen. I loved that aspect but I know some folks prefer a nicely wrapped up tale.

Everybody's Gone To The Rapture™_20150811182828


First thoughts on the Destiny Alpha

warlock_webI’ll be the first to admit I’ve been excited about Destiny, Bungie’s new game, so keep that in mind as you read the following happy thoughts. I got into the Alpha this evening (I guess everyone who applied did) and got to spend an hour or two playing. For some reason they start you at level 3 and I got to level 5.

Now let’s get one thing out of the way right off the bat. Destiny is a shooter. The basic mechanics of minute-to-minute gameplay will be very familiar. It’s nothing revolutionary in that aspect. It’s more the meta-game that’s interesting. Think of Diablo. The basic mechanics of Diablo are pretty simple right? But people love to play it to level up and gear up their characters. Destiny is like a first person shooter version of Diablo 3 in some ways.

You have two weapon slots but can carry a bunch of weapons (hit the Options button to open your inventory and decide which two are ‘live’). You have regenerating health (that even sounds kind of like Halo’s shield regen). I was playing a Warlock and he also has a grenade ‘spell’ that has a cooldown. There’s also a pretty fierce melee attack. I didn’t find a way to crouch but you can sprint and jump (and my class can do a kind of hover jump…maybe all can).

When you start the alpha you’re on Earth in that part of Russia we’ve seen over and over in previews. As far as I can tell this mission is strictly single player. You need to get to an objective far away and snag something. Along the way you’ll encounter lots of baddies to blast (and be blasted by). You’ll also be in danger of becoming side-tracked. I found an old bunker and when inside, got lost and finally stumbled onto a boss of level ?? (the universal symbol for “You’ve got no chance, kid.”). I liked that; I liked that I could go off the beaten path and find challenging things to do.

Once I finished this mission I was prompted to beam up to my ship and then navigate to The Tower. You don’t actually fly your ship through space…you just pick a destination and off you go. The Tower is the central hub of the game. I saw lots of other players there. I checked my mail. I turned in my quest rewards. I browsed vendors who had upgrades for guns, armor, ships and vehicles (purchased with a variety of currencies). I explored and find some odds and ends that seemed to give me…something (still figuring this all out).

Once I was bored of that I decided to try PvP in The Crucible. The only map they have open is a 6v6 conquest kind of thing, but there are icons for maybe half a dozen competitive game modes. But for now we have conquest. Y’know, occupy check points and gain points based on how long your team holds it. It was as fun as PvP FPS ever is (I’m not a huge competitive FPS player) and I earned some Crucible Points which I could spend on special gear.

When that was over I went back to Earth/Russia to check out the open exploration mode. While you’re roaming around down there killing baddies you can find missions. I captured video of me doing one. I found that there are at least two factions of bad guys and they don’t like each other much more than they like you, and you’ll often come across them fighting each other.

I’d just finished my mission when I noticed a blip on my radar; it was another player! We spent some time fighting together which was a lot of fun. At the time I was level 5 and we were encountering level 9 bad guys that could really soak up damage when trying to take them solo, but with two people flanking them, they went down fast. People who know me know that I LOVE this kind of random organic ‘grouping’ where you encounter another player and can help each other out without drawing up a social contract first.

If you really just want to play alone or with your friends, I believe that option will be in the final game but I didn’t see a switch for it in Alpha. The person I encountered (actually I ran into two) wasn’t on my friends list…it was just a random stranger.

And that was about all I had time for. And stomach for. I haven’t played a shooter in a while and after a couple of hours I was starting to get a little queasy. /blush.

During my time playing I found 4 or 5 new weapons, upgraded my helm, gloves and chest armor, found some “Materials” that I suspect will be used in crafting in the full game. Some of the loot you find is ‘encrypted’ and has to be taken back to the tower to be used. Think of this stuff as Unidentified Items in Diablo. I also unlocked a few new skills for my character.

Bungie has a website for the Alpha and I have a profile on there but I’m not sure how to make it public, or if you can. It’s nice that even though we’re only in Alpha they have their version of the “Armory” where you can check out your characters gear and stuff from the web.

Bungie says the alpha is a ‘tiny slice’ of the whole game, but I really appreciated that they included single player, co-op and PvP missions in it. I’m looking forward to playing more, and to playing with friends. So far I’m really enjoying it.

Playstation 4? More like GoreStation 4, amiright!?

Sony held its press event last night and man, it was good thing it happened at night because it was definitely rated M for Mature. The old Sony that we used to know and love…the one that brought us a mix of ‘serious’ shooters and quirky, colorful games..that Sony seems to be dying out. The new Sony seems to be targeting a specific audience: one that craves violence and gore. Let’s look at some trailers (and yes I’m cherry picking these and leaving out the few that don’t fit, like the Little Big Planet 3 announcement):

The Order 1886 has werewolves and I has a sad.:

Suda51 is always hyper violent. Here’s Let it Die:

If you loved Demon Souls and Dark Souls, maybe you’ll enjoy the blood-crusted new title from From Software, Bloodborne:

I was pretty surprised that Sony decided Dead Island 2 was press-conference-worthy but I guess they haven’t realized we’re getting sick of zombies:

Then we had Mortal Kombat X, which hit the “jeebus this is too much for me” line. Of course it also got the loudest cheers, reaffirming my suspicion that I’m way outside the mainstream when it comes to gaming

Solid Snake uses the ashes of a fallen soldier as cover-up. Disgusting and disrespectful:

I was disappointed not to see more color during the Sony presser. But I can’t just have a post full of negativity. I have to include one bright spot. Here’s a very cool looking indie title called No Man’s Sky. I can’t WAIT to play this oneL: